Recent Articles

Politicians and their private lives: what matters?

by Gracchi     April 8, 2008 at 7:07 am

As good liberals what should be our attitudes to the private lives of politicians?
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Intelligent Design in Britain and America?

by Gracchi     April 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Intelligent Design is an acceptable form of creationism. Why do I say that? Well, there are many reasons- but a new one was supplied by a recent set of data from the economist magazine. The Economist set out to survey social attitudes in the UK and US and compare them. Take a look at the stats, in a pop up box, for British and American attitudes towards evolution. Roughly 60% of Brits and 30% of Americans believe in evolution, 10% of British people and 40% of Americans believe in the Bible’s account of creation and 20% of both populations believe in Intelligent Design (my figures are rough as the economist doesn’t provide figures irritatingly, just a pictoral graph). The Intelligent Design number is fascinating- despite the differences between the UK and the US generally, we see that the UK is a much less religious place than the US, intelligent design seems to have a similar appeal.

What is that appeal? Well I’d propose that actually the intelligent design figure is a false one- what is actually going on here is that 30% of Brits and 60% of Americans believe in a supernatural account of the creation of the species and believe that it is a scientific explanation. Once you have crossed that divide there are two ways of putting that belief: the mildly more acceptable intelligent design and the downright crazy Creationism. In the UK a more secular society, 2/3 of those that believe in a supernatural account of creation beleive in Intelligent Design, in the US a more religious country only a 1/3 of those that believe in a supernatural account believe in Intelligent Design.

Its an interesting statistic which suggests the importance of social stigma in forming beliefs (the utility of in other contexts political correctness peut-etre) and also the way in which Britain is a very different country from the US.

Why we need to talk to terrorists.

by Gracchi     March 27, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Robin Simcox has typically blasted the idea of negotiating with terrorists over at the Henry Jackson Society– according to him, negotiating with terrorists is betraying our values and ceding ground to a universal caliphate. He defines terrorists as including everyone from Hamas to the Taliban to Osama Bin Laden to a kid on a council estate with some stupid ideas. There are two things wrong with Mr Simcox’s analysis and two reasons why I think we should definitely negotiate with terrorists- lets think about two kinds of terrorist threat and then we might dig into them both to see if we can solve them through going and talking to people who are involved in terrorist activity. continue reading… »

Barack Obama’s speech on race

by Gracchi     March 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Barack Obama today gave a crucial speech. He had to respond to his critics who had brought up the fact that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, had in the past made racist comments about white people and had condemned the United States. Obama took the stage in order to explain why Wright was his pastor and why he beleived that that still made him a fit person to be President of the United States. My instant thought is that he succeeded completely in doing what he had to do. Though how it goes down with the electorate is obviously a different matter. continue reading… »

Globalisation and the Welfare State

by Gracchi     March 13, 2008 at 8:59 am

Most people on the British left are free traders or fair traders- we do not oppose globalisation and do not expect it to make real differences to the way that government policy in the UK works. That might seem counter intuitive. Afterall competitive pressures you might assume will lead to arguments for diminishing the welfare state to become more powerful over time. Essentially the welfare state often supplies through its payments a floor to the kind of wages and conditions that companies can offer, and as cheaper labour comes to the market, you would expect governments to adjust welfare provisions downwards both to enhance competition and to lower tax rates. Well that’s not actually true.
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Why the left must embrace campaigning than laws

by Gracchi     March 11, 2008 at 4:21 pm

The Fast show had a sketch where a character every week sitting with a group of middle class friends made a social faux pas and ended the sketch by saying ‘I’ll get me coat.’ The Sketch illustrated a principle that David Willets’s lecture at the LSE on 20th February attempted to elucidate in more academic and less amusing way.

Basically Willets argued, rightly, that law is much more than just an act of government. Law embodies convention. In some sense what is written in the law is an expression of the conventions by which we operate. As Willets demonstrates for reasons to do with game theory and also evolution, such conventions are neccessary to maintain a stable functioning society. He does not really go farther than making this point- and its a sensible point and his talk is well worth reading, but I think it leads on to some important consequences particularly for us on the liberal left.
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The dottiness of an ex-Cambridge don

by Gracchi     March 7, 2008 at 12:59 am

The former Chancellor of Cambridge University, Lord Broers, yesterday morning, asked a question in the House of Lords. He said,

My Lords, have the Government considered increasing the age at which young people can buy alcohol to the level in the United States? I have observed in the university world that young American students coming to this country are amazed at the alcohol consumption of our undergraduates.

Lord Broers’s solution is daft, just think for a moment about where that would leave the ages of consent. He seems to be saying that you should be able to vote (age, 18), drive a car (age, 17) and even have a child (age, 16) but that raising a pint in a pub at the age of 20 is somehow beyond your ken. Its interesting that Lord Broers seems to want to make childhood extend so long that it takes people into their twenties, thinks that a pint in a pub is a more serious act than voting for a government or even having a kid, and considers the best way to deal with a problem for some is to make something illegal for all. What’s interesting about Lord Broer’s comments is their paternalism: ultimately irresponsible people voting doesn’t matter because voting doesn’t matter, but irresponsible people getting drunk at midnight on the street does matter because one might be leaving the opera then. Furthermore if 10% of 19 year olds in the UK can’t handle their drink, that’s obviously a reason for the other 90% to have alcohol forcibly removed from them.

We will never solve the problem of young people drinking in this way- as the minister noted a prohibition would be deeply ineffective- it would also alienate teenagers rather than persuade them. Public information campaigns- the drink driving campaign is a great one to emmulate- even city centre planning regulations- are likely to be much more successful instruments in dealing with this problem. Raising the drinking age would merely criminalise a large segment of the population who are behaving perfectly sensibly and betrays an attitude of mind where the first response to a problem is what should be the last resort- having recourse to the statute book to ban someone from doing something.

British Foreign policy in an era of weakness

by Gracchi     March 4, 2008 at 6:40 pm

British Foreign policy is an interesting beast at the moment. Politicians talk a lot about punching above our weight in the world- as though Britain was a middle weight boxer in a heavy weight world and the seat on the UN security council not to mention troops in South West Asia signify a country with aspirations to world power status. But the UK is in a rather odd position- a position mirrored by many of its European partners. We are a small island state- which for historical reasons has been incredibly powerful- and yet has a population of only 50 million.

Compare that to the behemoths of China and India with over a billion people each, the United States or Brazil with 300 million or even Russia with a population of 150 million. The truth is that the UK is only so powerful because proportionately its people are more wealthy than the Brazilians, Chinese or Indians- but its in the interests of the people of the UK that that doesn’t continue to be true.
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Clinton vs Obama in Ohio

by Gracchi     February 27, 2008 at 8:49 am

Last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t really alter the dynamic of the campaign. Heading into the primaries in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania we are where we have been for the last couple of weeks: we know that the states naturally favour Senator Clinton but that the momentum is with Senator Obama. The debate last night didn’t seem to really strengthen either candidate massively- what we learnt about the two was much of what we already know. Both senators are intelligent individuals- both have star power and both seem to find the debating format of politics in the states congenial. The contrast between this debate and George Bush’s efforts in 2004 was stunning: both of these candidates are far out of the league of the present President.

If one candidate won in terms of their manner and the way that the debate went, it was Senator Obama. Hillary came across on several occasions as mean spirited and picking up on trivial points.
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Civil and Religious Law in England: Contra Canterbury!

by Gracchi     February 8, 2008 at 2:25 am

I have heard Rowan Williams speak and unlike some from this website am fairly well disposed to him- he gave a fascinating talk on art and philosophy at Cambridge in 2005. I suppose that makes me a perfect advocate of the argument that today the Archbishop has made a complete idiot of himself. Partly he has made an idiot of himself through the fact that whatever Rowan Williams does understand, the media isn’t one of the things that he gets. Partly though he has made an idiot of himself because he has advocated a concept of law which I think is dangerous and creates a special privilege for established Churches in this country which they should not have.

Williams’s speech has usefully been put up on the Guardian website. Reading it one notices a couple of things. Williams is not really talking about Sharia – the discussion of Sharia is just a bridge into a much more important theoretical issue which is the attitude of the law to the citizens who live under it.
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