Why is Generation Y more right-wing?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the so-called ‘Generation Y’ recently.

The term describes the 18-33 demographic (those born in the 1980s onwards) that is allegedly more liberal, in the classical sense, than previous generations. The change is reflected in the increase in Tory affiliation, from 10% of those Gen Y folk polled in 1997 to 20% today.

Ipsos Mori pollster Bobby Duffy, who led the research, suggests “They believe people need to take greater personal responsibility rather than looking to the state – perhaps reflecting the fact that they have had less support themselves than other recent generations.”

I think that’s right. A welfare state depends on a spirit of trust and reciprocity existing between its recipients. ‘I owe it to pay him a pension because he subsidised my university tuition’ etc.

But what if your university tuition, or housing, or childcare costs, are no longer billed, in part, to someone else. You become less prepared to foot other people’s bills, right, especially groups like the unemployed who are unlikely to have been able to return the favour in the past, present or future.

It’s important to remember that the welfare state grew out of and was designed on a system of social insurance. You pay in, and you get out. That’s long since stopped being the reality, but what the polling represents, I think, is that the public’s understanding of welfare remains largely informed by the principle of insurance, not redistribution.

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Interview: Andrew Adonis

I interviewed Andrew Adonis earlier this year, shortly before an Oxford Union debate. We were due to meet before the debate but sadly he had to cancel on that and so we spoke on the telephone instead.

He’s a lovely man, so nice in fact that I struggled to say anything rude about him in the interview write-up, which is unusual for me.

He’s in politics for the right reasons, which perhaps is why he never rose high enough in the Labour governments to really command education policy.

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The Politics of Privilege: an interview with Lord Strathclyde

The Politics of Privilege

This is an interview with Lord Strathclyde, the former Leader of the House of Lords, whom I interviewed a month before he resigned from Cabinet. It was published in Cherwell a few days after he did.

Call me boastful, but I am especially proud of my conclusion in the final paragraph in which I suggested he was ready to leave politics.

For that brief period when Lords reform was still hot earlier last year, it must have looked like his retirement (redundancy?) from politics was imminent. I don’t get the impression he’d have minded much.

I wrote that before news emerged that he had resigned, but also before it was published. So, alas, my magical prophetic skills will have passed unnoticed…

How To Lose Friends and Educate People

This is an interview with Toby Young, reproduced from Cherwell. Toby had a series of (pretty impressive) jobs in media as a young man, though he claims they often ended in him getting fired. This culminated in a stint at Vanity Fair in New York. He later wrote up his experiences in the bestselling How To Lose Friends And Alienate People. Today he is a political columnist and education campaigner, setting up West London Free School in September 2011. I cannot profess any pride in the puntastic title, it was dreamed up by the Editorial team.

Sat outside the Turl Street Kitchen I look up to see a mediocre William Hague lookalike approaching. It’s Toby, of course, and I find him transformed from the social liability ofHow to Lose Friends & Alienate People to the affable and focused founder of the West London Free School. The story is hilariously well told, documenting his attempt to break into the close-knit celebrity circles of the States, from his pilgrimage there in 1995 to his escape home five years later, tail flailing between his legs. On the face of it Toby has every reason to be fed up with life. A low point perhaps was when Simon Pegg, having just come from Run, Fatboy, Run, was told to ‘fatten up’ in order to play him in the film adaptation of How to Lose Friends.

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Yet Toby Young is now far from the hapless caricature he presents. The son of Michael Young, a Labour peer, his upbringing was political and firmly anti-establishment. Lord Young drafted Labour’s radical ’45 manifesto and was a leading protagonist on social reform, championing comprehensive education, a struggling system Michael Gove’s free school project threatens to dismantle. He ‘wasn’t very keen on meritocracy’ despite famously authoring the phrase that Tony Blair would come to espouse as New Labour’s public philosophy. In the past Toby has called his father a ‘blinkered ideologically hidebound socialist’ and he is largely critical of what his father stood for, if affectionate towards the man himself.

The inter-generational irony personifies the turbulent history of British state education. Despite persistently failing at state schools, Toby wasn’t entered into any of the local private schools which were surely within his parents’ means. Though never bitter, he clearly abhors the worst of the state system. ‘Having seen how bad state schools can be I was nervous about sending my own children to the local state school’. Isn’t this just a naked appeal to self-interest? It’s perhaps a less noble motivation than those which fired his father’s ‘utopian socialism’ a generation before. Would he be turning in his grave? ‘I think he would have applauded groups of parents, groups of amateurs, coming together to try and take control of a public service. He believed that small was beautiful.’

And that’s the point of free schools; that in devolving power locally to extraordinary individuals you can harness their energy and innovation. The parents of West London certainly think so: in its inaugural year WLFS attracted almost ten applicants to every place, making it the most competitive state school in the country. However, last year only 24 free school ap- plications were approved; the vast majority failed to make a viable business case. I put it to him that private capital may be the answer. After a lengthy pause for consideration, Toby endorsed the idea: ‘Provided the market is properly regulated, there is no reason why for-profit educations managements organisations (EMOs) shouldn’t be allowed to set up and operate free schools’ with ‘an array of minimum standards to which all schools need to comply’.

As for the concerns that free schools will suck the best teachers and pupils from neighbouring schools, he argues ‘a bit of competition is no bad thing. People are a bit wary of hitting that note too hard because it seems a bit cut-throat…but I’d argue it has a positive impact [on surrounding schools]’. This is the revolutionary principle that may strike the heart of the British educational establishment; that you should be able to shop for education like you do for groceries or foreign holidays. If rich parents can pay for choice, why can’t everyone else?

I was yet to fully comprehend what drives Toby; I hadn’t quite gleaned that anecdotal nugget which, once revealed, allows all the other facets of an interviewee’s character to fall into place. Then he helped me out: Toby is a Brasenose alumnus, but really he shouldn’t be. Having successfully applied, he needed to meet the unusually generous offer of three ‘B’s and an O-level ‘pass’ in a foreign language. Failing to exhibit the immodesty that would later make him famous in America, Toby told me that ‘my father and I concluded that getting three A-level B’s was simply beyond me’. And right they were; he received a ‘C’.

Remarkably though ‘I got this letter, and it wasn’t addressed to me personally, but it was evidently sent to successful candidates’ referring to the impersonal circular we all received having got our places. Alas it was a mistake. A week later he received the personal letter confirming he had failed to get the requisite grades and ‘wishing [him] success in his university career’. Despite an embarrassed Toby imploring him not to, his father rang up the college to explain the predicament. What ensured between the PPE tutors was an extraordinary philosophical exchange about whether a clerical error was grounds for admission. Apparently it was.

The lesson: that what constitutes success is marginal; that failure can be so easily grasped from its jaws. And whilst he had plenty of the latter, he excelled in student journalism. It was, he confesses, ‘my only real success’. He started a new magazine, based on the genius insight that – with a nod to Cherwell and Isis – ‘if I named it after a bigger river it would be a bigger magazine. I came up with the brilliant wheeze of calling it after a different river for each issue, the first being the Danube’. It only lasted two issues, though he subseuqently became the editor of Tributary, Oxford’s now defunct equivalent of Private Eye, whose previous editors included Andrew Sullivan and Niall Ferguson.

Toby was by all accounts, an awful Union hack. ‘I was extremely unsuccessful; no one voted for me. I failed to get elected to Treasurer’s Committee [now Secretary’s Committee]. I got nowhere.’ He had competition though; Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were both contemporaries. No doubt the London mayor’s famous bombast in the Chamber trumped Toby’s somewhat pernickety campaign. The two have been friends since their days on the Spectator. He reflected, ‘I spent Saturday night at Boris’s victory party, which I probably wouldn’t have done when he won the Presidency of the Union’.

Showing how far he has strayed from his Labour roots, in 2002 Toby famously made a £15,000 bet with Nigella Lawson that Boris would be Tory leader within 15 years. Last Saturday the odds became a lot shorter. What about his own political ambitions though? No doubt he would relish the opportunity to rile up lefties – ‘I’ve always enjoyed baiting liberals’. Toby has the CV, the connections and a unique brand of ‘anti-charisma’ that could carry him into Parliament. He’s ambivalent – ‘Being an MP would remind me of those Oxford days shinning up the greasy pole’. Though he didn’t say as much, he considers what he does to be political.

His radical impulses are satisfied by free schools, which he wants to do more with. A book, about ‘class, education and British society’ is also in the pipeline. Though thoroughly hostile to Lords reform, he is enticed by the opportunity it presents. ‘I might stand for election in the House of Lords if indeed the changes that the Coalition are thinking of introducing [85% elected second chamber] go through’. Toby Young is a colourful character. His haphazard career. his cheerful approach to failure – ‘failing upwards’ as he puts it – and his DIY approach to solving social problems are all endearingly British. Not in the foppish style that has served Hugh Grant so well in Hollywood, but rather actually endearing to the British. He’s like a train without tracks; forceful, unpredictable and bewildering. And remarkably successful, if he won’t mind me saying.

Interview: James Delingpole

This is an interview I did with James Delingpole, the fiery right-wing commentator, some months before I started this blog. Reproduced, as so often, from Cherwell

James Delingpole would make a poor politician. Nor would he mind me saying so. His colourful social commentary reminds me of George Galloway (he might mind me saying that). How about this on New Labour: ‘they raped our country…and we just had to spread our buttocks and take it’. Needless to say, Delingpole’s politics bear no resemblance to the Respect Party MP – in fact they are light years away from any mainstream figure. In our hour-long interview the right-wing journalist and author was characteristically impassioned, though I discovered a reflectiveness to Delingpole that did not leave me short-changed.

When discussing politics Delingpole is belligerent, ‘detest[ing] nuance’. For the author of How to be Right, subtlety and understatement – whilst noble Conservative virtues – are in fact rather ignoble in the face of the Bolshevistic threat the country faces. To avoid total capitulation to the ‘lefty, socialist consensus’, which the Cameron Coalition represents, James demands fellow conservatives employ ‘the tactics of the Left’, though beyond a shouty obstinacy it’s not clear what this entails.

On the one-hand I understand Delingpole as ‘terribly English’. Our tea is made splendidly (I wonder whether he has gleaned the insights of another, albeit more famous, novelist-cum-polemicist on this) and as we bask in the evening sunlight of his south-London semi, it is evident that the garden is immaculately well-tended to. He was famously portrayed in the Channel 4 docu-drama When Boris met Dave as a wet, naive schoolboy with aristocratic pretensions. The comparison with Charles Ryder of Brideshead Revisited is inescapable. We can only suppose therefore that the producers were confused when they modelled Delingpole on Evelyn Waugh’s other creation, Sebastian Flyte (on-screen James is shown – wholly inaccurately – to gander merrily about Christ Church with his teddy-bear). Alternatively, his frankness – what Delingpole would coyly describe as ‘fucking off lefties’ – is attributed to his West Midlands roots, the culture whereof is very ‘call a spade a spade’.

On the other-hand he is not at all self-conscious, being entirely immune to embarrassment. At times this has translated into an admirable audaciousness, such as when he broke what he later popularised the ‘Climategate’ story in 2009. A number of prominent climate scientists from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit were exposed conspiring in data fraud, employing ‘Mike’s nature trick’ to hide an ‘inconvenient’ set of results. Irrespective of your conclusions about the veracity of anthropogenic global warming, Delingpole undoubtedly performed a great service to the public in exposing the fraud. Most journalists, including global-warming sceptics, would not have touched the story but in his insolence, Delingpole did – it propelled him from blogospheric obscurity to become the media’s most infamous climate-sceptic and right-wing bogeyman. ‘Most people in the media I despise’ notes Delingpole; indeed the feeling, especially since ‘Climategate, is mutual.

Matt Ridley of the Spectator probably pinned it down most accurately when he characterised Delingpole as a ‘radical 18th-century pamphleteer lambasting the Whig establishment’. At least Delingpole thinks so. He has ‘always detested arbitrary authority’ though in his view, the last decade has seen the Conservative party he instinctively belonged to become the embodiment of that philosophy, rendering him a ‘Radical’. Funny, because Delingpole is a staunch conservative in almost every sense, save for a distinctly liberal use of expletives. Nor, it quickly emerges, is he fired up by the sort of social issues that many of his right-wing contemporaries proselytise about mercilessly. His defining life experience? ‘Taking my first E’ – imagine a Mail commentator confessing to that.

And what of the evidence that Delingpole’s brand of ‘libertarian conservatism’ is catching on? He certainly doesn’t do himself any favours. When Rowan Williams recently waded into a Westminster catfight about the Welfare Bill, James wondered aloud on his Telegraph blog whether the outgoing Archbishop was in fact the Antichrist. Understatement of the century? ‘I’ve never been known for my diplomacy’. Quite.

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That aside, I put it to him that – all too often – he preaches to the converted; the only people likely to be persuaded are those who already subscribe to his rather niche brand. Is he the Polly Toynbee of the Right? ‘I totally accept that criticism…I’m not a politician; I’m not there to bring people over’. In fact he’s quite firm on that point, that ‘I’m best at being James Delingpole, so why should I try to be someone else?’ which bemuses me. Surely if you ardently believe in a cause, you want it actualised, and in a democracy that means bringing people over. Delingpole has no time for that, slamming the Cameroons for adhering to the cosy centre ground rather than ‘actually doing what is necessary’ to save the country.

I wasn’t convinced by this apparently disdainful attitude to public opinion, so I challenge him. In Delingpole’s bastardised Platonic ideal, I counter, only conservative solutions can rescue the nation, and if the public doesn’t want them, stuff ‘em! Unsurprisingly he’s not persuaded, referencing Thatcher as a politician who moved the centre ground rather than chasing it. His theory is that the next Labour government, led by a ‘monkey in a red rosette’ will test the consensus to destruction by ‘borrowing even more money and spunking it against the wall’ – leading to a seismic public mood shift. Interesting theory, perhaps Cherwell could get back to Delingpole about that one in a decade’s time.

From the transcript of our interview, Delingpole does not come across well. In-between insurrectionist ramblings are narcissistic ones – ‘it’s boring being right’ is a common afterthought – and the claim that the ‘Climategate’ revelations have ‘saved Western civilisation’ is, to put it kindly, dubious; less kindly, it was ‘weapons-grade bollocks’, to coin one of James’ phrases.

He does not share the avuncular manner of my other interviewees, quite the contrary. Yet I’m glad for it. Delingpole’s talent – and a rare one at that – lies in telling you how utterly wrong you are without being patronising. It’s hard to tell whether Delingpole’s style or substance will infect a broader demographic. Having recently escaped to the countryside, will James’ inner street-fighter mellow with age? The answer is that, by cultivating the habits of an English gentleman in his private life, he doesn’t have to. ‘Lefties’ should anticipate irritation for some time yet.

James’ ‘latest masterpiece’ on the environmental movement – Watermelons – can be found here

 

Fair Observer: The PCC Elections and the re-birth of localism

Fair Observer  in my understanding models itself on ‘The Economist’, certainly in terms of tone and content. It’s a pretty low profile web outfit, but I was attracted to writing for it for three reasons: (1) Atul, its Editor and a former Oxford PPE-ist, was kind enough to contact me during the PoshGirls scandal, not to goad, but to offer some words of support. I appreciated that. (2) the content was generally very high quality, the sort of stuff I’d aspire to write and (3) its claim to have global nous seems genuine; Fair Observer has contributors from 5 continents and in all walks of life. I was attracted by the project Atul is attempting to pioneer, even if I think he’ll have a tough time establishing a market niche.

Reproduced from Fair Observer

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With the creation of new Police and Crime Commissioners last year, along with recent inaugural elections, the British government’s attempt to politicise the post of the Chief of Police appears to have come at a wrong time.

The PCC Elections are emblematic of the Coalition’s attempt to push power and democracy downwards and outwards. But will democratising the police refresh the flabby institution, making it more accountable and responsive to the community it serves, or will it turn the police into a political football, having a corrosive effect on the quality of the service?

Defenders of PCCs say that policing is already a political issue. How could it not be? If politics is about how we best live together, the importance of both individual and collective security will form a central part of public discourse. Political parties have disagreed about policing ever since Robert Peel established the world’s first professionalised force in 1829. The function of the new PCCs, the government argues, is not to ‘politicise policing’ as their Labour critic claim, but to push the politics down from a national to municipal level.

And if this exercise in decentralising one function of Britain’s leviathanic state can be shown to work, it may prove to be simply a harbinger of further devolution from London to the localities.

Why Westminster Rules

Among the club of liberal democratic states Britain remains its most centralised member. The legacy bequeathed by earlier generations was born of noble intentions. During the Second World War the country unified – and centralised – to kill Germans. So why couldn’t it do the same to lift people out of poverty and squalor? These pressures, manifested in Labour’s landslide 1945 election victory, led to the creation of a comprehensive welfare state – its proudest achievement: the National Health Service. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health who pioneered the NHS, famously ordered that should a bedpan pall in some provincial hospital ward, its echo would reverberate around Whitehall. The Atlee government believed first in social justice, but they were quintessential centralisers, asserting not just the primacy of public over private but of national over local. Both features would become central to British national life.

The Thatcher government challenged the first of these with its programme of liberalisation and denationalisation. It left the second untouched however, leaving swathes of the public sector unreformed, inefficient and out of date. The Labour government of Tony Blair began to force change through the public sector, introducing market incentives into healthcare and freeing schools from the deadpan hand of the education authorities. It bowed to nationalist sentiment and devolved power from Parliament to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed, to Greater London, now the fiefdom of Boris Johnson. For the first time the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – the haughty principle that what is decreed in Westminster shall be – was formally repudiated. But as the conflict in Iraq escalated, Blair’s authority evaporated and his reforming allies were marginalised. The ascendancy of Gordon Brown to the Premiership in 2007 ended further attempts at reform, a victory for the vested interests in the public sector that had supported Brown’s rise.

Giving people a say

Whilst David Cameron’s government has been less than successful in reviving Britain’s fledgling economy, it has breathed new life into the public sector. Of special noteworthiness, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has made thousands of state schools ‘independent’ within the public sector, giving them powers to emulate their outstanding rivals in the private sector. More radically he has permitted local parent groups to set up hundreds of ‘free schools’, allowed to teach to their own curriculum. Projects like Toby Young’s ‘West London Free School’ in Ealing, which emphasises a ‘classical curriculum’, promise to shake-up the British class system in a way not attempted since the advent of comprehensive (non-selective) education five decades ago, ironically pioneered by Toby’s father, the late Lord Young.

‘Giving people a say’ is the mantra of this government. And in education at least they have been faithful in executing it. But what happens when the people don’t really fancy a ‘say’ in how their services are run?

The government intended the PCC elections to capture the interest of local people, and to attract candidates prominent in their local area. That plainly hasn’t happened. Few serious and successful local figures have been willing to take the plunge into what remains an ill-defined role, the powers of which are wholly ambiguous. Moreover the public has been largely unwilling to invest time into learning about the non-party candidates. The information conferred by a ‘Conservative’, ‘Labour’ or ‘Liberal Democrat’ candidate has therefore been all that the public are willing or able to take in, strongly prejudicing their choice against candidates they might otherwise warm to.

More politics = better politics?

The tension, ultimately, is between the general public’s two conflicting instincts: (1) for a greater say in how they are governed and (2) an unprecedented loathing of the political class. The second of these feelings is currently the strongest. In light of the scandal over British MP’s expenses claims, as well as crises in journalism and finance, the whole British Establishment has been thrown into disrepute.

This cynicism has already undermined for a generation attempts to empower urban towns and cities. In May eleven of England’s largest cities were granted referenda on whether they wanted directly-elected mayors. With the exception of Bristol and Salford, part of Greater Manchester, they refused. So it is unsurprising that turnout in the PCC elections was next to abysmal: 18% nationally with many of those spoiling their ballots. The message, it seems, is unambiguous: the public simply does not want more politicians.

That is why Michael Sandel, the Harvard philosopher who has spent the autumn in Britain, has provoked derision at his call for more politics, not less. Despite its scepticism the public should listen to his argument. Sandel describes healthy societies as those in which people of different incomes and cultures rub along together, in which they share a similar understanding of what their welfare consists in. In Britain communities are divided between regions as well as within them. It means that a banker living in Chelsea, West London, has more in common with, say, a landlord in Edinburgh – not to mention his kinship with another banker in Hong Kong – than he does with his near-neighbour. This is no way to cultivate a sense of place and local identity. Yet far from encouraging that, the British state as constituted governs its citizens in such a way that alienates groups from one another.

If the effect of Police and Crime Commissioners is merely to add a new layer to the political class then another nail in the coffin of localism will have been struck. If, on the other hand, people see policing as a means to put right what is wrong in the community, then the PCCs could, in time, become a vital catalyst in rebuilding what has been lost since 1945: an identification with, and pride in, local bodies. Ultimately, the dubious mandate of the newly-elected PCCs will be forgotten if they make a success of it. It only takes a small number of charismatic, reforming characters to imbue the role with the significance it surely merits. When a previous Labour government introduced a mayoralty to London in 2000, it took a couple of election cycles and two sparring candidates – Ken and Boris – to embed the mayoralty firmly in the public consciousness. The government could not have picked a worst time to expand the political class, but having done so the public will eventually come to thank them for it.

Book Review: ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ by Richard Aldous

The book has been out a few years now, but I read it fairly leisurely over the summer and thought it would lend itself to a novice-like review. I’m keen to get a knack for book reviewing but this is my first ever proper attempt.Image

‘It is surprising that there has been no earlier attempt to write a book on their relationship’, opens Richard Aldous in his biographical account of Gladstone and Disraeli, the Liberal and Conservatives giants who carved up a fat chunk of the nineteenth century between them. He’s totally correct. Westminster politics is nothing if it isn’t bitterly antagonistic. Aldous tells a story about the two men that makes the Blair-Brown rivalry seem like a childish fall-out in the sandpit.

The Lion and the Unicorn is more historical drama than political biography. It stresses, above all, their mutual loathing. Later in life Disraeli would call Gladstone the ‘A.V. [Arch Villain]’, Gladstone affectionately termed Disraeli the ‘Grand Corrupter’. They shared all of the characteristics that made them adversaries, and none that made them allies: a celebrity status, an eloquence rivalled only by the other and an attitude to principles coined best by Groucho Marx – ‘if you don’t like them, I have others!’

Aldous maintains a vivid and energetic narrative style. Each passage, 3 to 4 pages each, is episodic and the passages together are loosely chronological. It’s a style that works with the tone, pace and attention-grabbing situ-dramas that unfold from page to page (this can get irritating, but only if the book is read in one or two sittings without interlude). Even a nineteenth-century novice will have their imagination caught by Aldous’ powerful and witty account. The message of the book is imprinted firmly on the reader’s consciousness: politics is personal, and ugly, and thrilling.

This is not at the expense of scholarship however. It is difficult, though not impossible, to find assertions not adequately substantiated. Aldous has immersed himself in diaries, speeches and contemporary journals. Famously Disraeli was an accomplished novelist; the apocryphal line ‘When I want to read a good book, I write one’ is often attributed to him. It turns out that Gladstone, dismissive of Disraeli’s literary ‘dalliances’ had read every one of his works. “The first quarter clever, the rest trash” is how Gladstone judged Vivian Grey, Disraeli’s first novel. Yet it didn’t stop him reading the others.

Occasionally one feels that Aldous has not scratched far below the service. Concluding a chapter on Disraeli’s first yearin Parliament, he writes scathingly: ‘Disraeli had lived his whole life under the influence of [Lord] Byron. Now…he was dismissed by society as a sensationalist without either temperament or prospects. He was, at best, an amusement, or, at worst, an ostentatious Jewish upstart’. This rough and ready torpedoing of Disraeli’s nascent political character is probably unfair; Aldous’ characterisation seems just a little too close to that of the eponymous hero in Vivian Grey. Boris Johnson, the London Mayor probably better suited to Disraeli’s generation than his own, had always been derided as similarly louche – until he became the country’s favourite Tory.

To the extent that the two have a popular reputation today, it is Disraeli as the eccentric and Gladstone as the statesman. By delving into the personal Aldous turns that on its head completely. He spends a lot of time – too much, you think at first, until you to realise the full extent and persistence of the problem – talking about Gladstone’s sex life. His diaries recount “vigorous” masturbation, “which returns upon me again & again like a flood”. Later he became infatuated with prostitutes, visiting ’80 to 90’ of them between 1849 and 1852 under the guise of ‘rescue work’. Without any bite of his own, Aldous presented Gladstone as a rank hypocrite, preaching stern Christian virtue by day and prowling Soho by night.

Disraeli by contrast, though famed in his youth for affairs with older women, had found true love. The reader takes great pleasure in their relationship. After the first reading of the 1867 Reform Bill, Disraeli had routed Gladstone in the Commons debate. Already late in the evening, he declined the deluge of invitations from Tory grandees in favour of returning home to Mary Ann, the widow he’d married three decades previously. By now over 70, she waited up into the early hours for ‘Dizzy’ with a bottle of champagne and a Fortnum and Mason’s pie. “Well my dear” Disraeli remarked, “you are more like a mistress than a wife”.  Aldous is good for those anecdotal nuggets. They embellish his tale, rooting political history’s great happenings in genuine humanity.

Aldous is not obviously sympathetic toward to the one or the other, but in this work I noticed that Gladstone was flattered by one big omission: his 1862 Newcastle speech for instance, in which the then-Liberal Chancellor endorsed the Confederate States of America.

The book has much to recommend it, if you’re the right reader. To those interested in the art of politics, be aware: it is more entertaining than instructive. To those looking for another angle on Victorian Britain, it’s probably best to head elsewhere – Aldous either dispenses with the relevant details or tries to interpret too much through Gladstone and Disraeli’s battles. With those qualifications any student and advocate of Conservatism will have a thoroughly pleasant weekend leafing through The Lion and the Unicorn; no comparable study currently on the market is so crackling with political drama.

OK to Sell Internships?

Reprinted from the Huffington Post:

Is it okay to sell internships? We know that the Conservative Party certainly thinks so. Their ball last year raised tens of thousands of pounds flogging off plum internships inImage finance, industry and the media to Tory donors.

Cases like that one immediately invoke repulsion, but what if the money raised is going to a good cause?

Take a look at this now-elapsed charity auction raising money for an extremely worthy cause. There were 50 lots, selling all manner of sparkly items and experiences. Some of the most popular lots though were those selling work experience placements and one, a two week placement at the Sunday Times, finally went for over £2820.

It sounds like a lot, but in the context of a promoting a son or daughter’s fledgling career it’s a small investment to make.

The internships were advertised as ‘experiences’. The recipients as well as their benefactors will surely sleep easy in the knowledge not that they’ve bought a step up in life, but simply a worthwhile ‘experience’. The word is evasive, equating a market in internships to one in any other leisurely activity. Of course we all know it isn’t.

Can one imagine a society in which jobs – especially the lucrative, coveted ones – were auctioned off, rather than allocated on the basis of merit? A country in which young people scour the Sunday supplements in search of a profession they can afford to enter, rather than one they might excel in? No, but in a more insidious way it remains the state we are in. A tight jobs market requires applicants to have interned, for which they must typically have performed unremunerated labour or, as these ugly cases represent, bought outright.

Sellling off internships stinks; it is intrinsically immoral. There can be no justification for it. Yet in the fiercest job market for young people since the early 1980s young people are in no position to end the practice.