He told you!

How many times in my childhood did a playground battle of words end with “he told you!” (the British equivalent might be “burn!”). This was the point of no recovery – once the killer put-down had been delivered the only option for the vanquished was to summon what was left of their dignity and slink off to fight another day.

Such antics aren’t confined to the playground. Think of the millions of people who live in the world inhabited by Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle, and the millions more who take pleasure in watching the back and forth of “oh no he didn’t!” and “oh yes she did!” on daytime TV. Lest anyone think themselves immune to the pleasure of a good put down, how many people relished repeating the Dowager Countess’s latest zinger around the office coffee machine on a Monday morning?

We like to think that what we want from ... Read More

Next stop: Norway

As MP Nigel Evans said this morning, British politics is starting to make the House of Cards look like Teletubbies.

First came the shock referendum result on Friday morning, followed by David Cameron’s resignation a few hours later.

Then came the (ongoing) bid to oust the ineffectual Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour leadership, culminating in a massive majority of Labour MPs voting in favour of a motion of no confidence (which Corbyn continues to ignore).

Then this morning came the news that Michael Gove, adopted son of an Aberdeen fisherman and one of the brightest minds in Westminster, had decided to stab fellow Leave campaigner and Tory heir-apparent Boris Johnson in the back and declare his candidacy for the Conservative Party leadership, causing Johnson to drop out of the contest before it even started.

Johnson is politically popular and would have been a far better standard-bearer for the Tories in a general election than ... Read More

Britain and the E.U.: a loveless marriage

Why do people settle?

So many people end up in relationships which rock along without passion, or jobs which pay the bills but are at best a way to kill time.

Of course there are lots of reasons: the need for money, family obligations, children or just an unawareness or inability to believe that things could be different.  But I reckon the biggest reasons we settle are inertia and loss aversion: we prefer not to do today what can be done tomorrow, and choose the devils we know to those we can imagine.

Inertia and loss aversion are pretty much the only reasons Britain has been given for staying in the E.U.  David Cameron, desperately trying to keep Britain in (and keep his job) has repeatedly told us all that’s wrong with the E.U.  “But we must reform the E.U. from within – the British aren’t quitters!”  Hardly a positive case.  And Jeremy Corbyn, ... Read More

How to win Brexit with hypnosis

The referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU (Brexit) is scheduled for the 23rd of June, and at this point it seems like “Remain” have all of the momentum. The “Leave” campaign has been dogged by internal divisions from the start and has spent most of their time rolling their eyes at the Prime Minister’s latest bit of histrionics. Cameron’s campaign hasn’t been particularly innovative – like a latter day Jeremiah, we are bombarded with numbers plucked from his fervid imagination which prove that Britain absolutely couldn’t survive outside the EU – but in the absence of any real opposition it has so far been effective.

Personally, my view is that the EU is an anti-democratic holdover from utopian 20th-century visions of centralised control, and the sooner we rid ourselves of its shackles and reassert true self-government (not the fiction of democracy implied by the EU’s purposefully labyrinthine decision-making process) the ... Read More

Trus-Ted or Busted?

The National Enquirer is reporting that Ted Cruz had affairs with at least five women, including a $1,000-a-night prostitute.  Despite this story not being reported by the mainstream media, for the past day the Cruz and Trump campaigns have been going at each other over who’s responsible for the story.  Cruz naturally blames Trump, who has disavowed all knowledge but noted that the Enquirer has often been right (reminding us of O.J. Simpson and the former Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards, whose serial infidelity during his wife’s battle with cancer makes him the sleazy politician par excellence).  Others are now suggesting people close to the Rubio campaign as the initial source.

For what it’s worth, I think Trump probably isn’t the source (despite his friendship with the Enquirer’s publisher), but probably is the reason these allegations have surfaced now.  His slightly bizarre threat earlier this week to “spill the ... Read More

Did Occupy Wall Street Create Donald Trump?

Is Donald Trump’s success due to his individual skills as a politician, or does it reflect more fundamental changes in the electorate?  In the last post I looked at Trump the politician, commenting on his formidable skills of persuasion (if you don’t think Trump is persuasive, ask yourself whether it’s possible to think of Jeb! Bush without thinking “low energy”).

But although Trump is right to take some of the credit for the rise of Bernie Sanders (which began precisely at the point Trump reminded us of some of the less palatable aspects of the previous Clinton presidency), the dual rise of a Sanders the socialist and Trump the increasingly-populist suggests, I think, that a broader shift in the electorate is also underway.

In both Trump and Sanders there is more than a little longing for the “golden years” of decades past, economically if not necessarily socially. Trump may be ... Read More

Donald Trump is a Persuasive Genius

How many times must the pundits dismiss something outrageous that Donald Trump has said or done as the “final straw” or “a step too far” before they realise that he’s not playing the game they think he’s playing?  Each time we’ve heard “he’s done it now”, not only do his poll numbers improve but his challengers fall further and further behind.  At what point to do we start to think that their reassurances that “Trump can’t win” might be based more on hope than good reason?

Just think what we’ve already witnessed: Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly, “that face” Fiorina, “pathological” Carson, “low-energy” Jeb, the New Jersey 9/11 rally, the New York Times reporter, plans to build a wall and deport 15 million illegal aliens, and now a call to close our borders to Muslims.  And yet Trump’s poll numbers in Iowa (and generally) are at the highest levels they’ve ever been ... Read More

Flags of Our Fathers

The day after the shooting in Charleston, one of the British tabloids led with the headline “America’s Shame”.  Reading that headline, it struck me that describing the actions of a lone, hate-filled shooter as bringing shame upon a nation of 300 million people is, in one sense, really quite extraordinary.

And yet in the context of the US’s history of slavery and racism, the headline didn’t seem that outrageous.  Indeed, it is shameful that in America today a young man would shoot nine “nice people” in a Bible study purely because of the colour of their skin.  I can’t escape the fact that I am implicated in the shameful actions of my fellow countrymen, particularly as a de facto representative of the US in a foreign country (as I was reminded when my cab driver at midnight last night asked me to explain why the US is “such a violent country”).

Harvard ... Read More

The day after the night before

Wow, what a surprising night. Going into the election results last night I expected what most people were expecting: the Conservatives to win the most votes, up a handful over Labour, but unable to form a government; and Labour and Ed Miliband limping into power on the back of a shaky supply and confidence agreement with the SNP.

Which would have been a disaster, regardless of what you think of Labour, Ed Miliband and the SNP, because it would not have been a stable government: every single vote in the House of Commons would have been subject to such horse trading that in this increasingly hyper-partisan world the only measures which would be able of mustering a majority would be precisely those bills which were so short-term and pandering that they should never have seen the light of day. What a relief, then, that instead we have a Conservative majority government.

Alongside ... Read More

To Serve and Protect?

I’ve been reluctant to comment on the Ferguson story thus far, in part because I haven’t been sure what I could add to what’s already been said. And, admittedly, I find it liberating not to have to engage with US race relations on a daily basis (Britain has its own problems, but race plays less of a role when much of the discussion about immigration, for example, has to do with other Europeans).

That said, two things have struck me since the decision of the grand jury not to return an indictment.

The first is that many police forces in the US seem to have lost their way. People talk about the militarisation of the police in terms of increasingly violent methods used to apprehend suspects. But there is a far more disturbing way that policing can become militarised: when police develop an attitude that they are engaged in a war with certain members of ... Read More