Treasury Forecasts – Politics or Truth?
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Treasury Forecasts – Politics or Truth?
Giving with One Hand and Taking with Two …
Friday 20thMay: The proposals in the Queen’s speech are cold comfort for great British universities which owe their excellence to freedom not bureaucratic control, writes John Marenbon.
These days legislation about the universities usually comes in a glossy free-market wrapping, but its contents are drably dirigiste. Just five years ago the Coalition transferred much of the financial cost for teaching from the state to students. They are now obliged to pay the full costs of cheaper, mainly humanities, courses and given loans to repay them. But instead of allowing a proper market, one where better universities could charge more for their courses, which may in fact cost more to provide in terms of teaching and other support, the government capped the fees. As a result almost every institution, from the most illustrious to the humblest, charges exactly the same.
Although these fees are supposedly private payments from customers (i.e. the students) to the universities, as providers of a service, the government has refused to stand aside. Rather it has used the threefold fee increase to exert greater control, by threatening to reduce the fees a university can charge unless it meets targets in admitting candidates from unprivileged backgrounds.
The new White Paper, with its predictably philistine title, Success as a Knowledge Economy, follows the same pattern. It will become easier for private institutions to gain university status and these new universities will be allowed to compete with existing ones, perhaps putting some of them out of business. But what appears to be a move to free up the market is accompanied by another extension of bureaucratic power. Universities will be assessed, not just on their research, but on their teaching, and those found wanting will be punished financially.
Despite the wrapping, the government does not merely seem to lack faith in the free market which it claims to be enabling (no one thinks that we need government checks to ensure Tesco gives value for money: when it doesn’t, the customers desert it for Sainsbury’s or Walmart). It is also half-hearted in promoting that market. A few more private institutions at the edges, probably geared to providing profitable vocational courses, will do no harm. What the real aim should be for a government which values freedom - both in the market, and in teaching and research - is to release the great universities from their bondage: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE, and others in the Russell Group.
Thursday 12th May: This week a Reuters poll showed Donald Trump surging ahead to rival Hillary Clinton in the polls for the US Presidency. 41 per cent of those polled backed Clinton and 40 per cent supported Trump, a dramatic rise on his recent ratings.
Here, Professor Harold James from Princeton University, reflects on the possibility of a Trump victory in November and the impact it might have.
When Donald Trump on 15 June, 2015, announced that he intended to run for the Republican nomination, almost no one took him seriously. The major political commentators all suggested that he was an entertainer, a superficial media celebrity, whose efforts would be a flash in the pan, and that he could never capture the nomination and certainly never, never become President.
He has certainly already both won the Republican nomination and destroyed the Republican Party. He also stands a better chance of entering the White House than most commentators think. It is obvious that extreme statements about women and Hispanics and Moslems have put off many potential voters; and equally that efforts to make good the damage have added to the alienation. It did not help his popularity among female voters to say that ‘I like women’. Social conservatives and feminists alike are unlikely to thrill to the follow-up: ‘All of my women, past and present, know I like women. In fact, I love women’. And Hispanics will not see Trump’s gesture of eating a taco on Cinco de Mayo as an embrace.
Friday 6thMay: The results of England's council elections show voters are disillusioned with the two main parties. This week's Politeia blog argues that political parties and the authorities are failing democracy.
Whatever the 'spin' put by the political parties on the 2016 local council elections for England, the news is not good for either main party. But it is even worse for those who value a vigorous democracy.
The main parties suffered some losses. The Conservatives had small losses (though the London mayorship, a big loss, is expected) and have little to celebrate, and Labour, with somewhat bigger losses, even less.
In a healthy democracy things should be different. The Opposition should be making big gains at this stage in the electoral cycle. One year after its second general election defeat, Labour should have had time to recover, win support for its alternative view of the future, attract electorate-wide support – and be helped by a government suffering in the polls from the painful, but necessary measures needed to meet its longer term goals. That picture, however, does not fit the Conservatives for many voters. Rather they see a government keen to keep on board the disaffected, too hesitant on the tough decisions needed at home, too pusillanimous about those needed for abroad. The result was a tired one, a wearied electorate unfired, unenthused by the stalemate they reinforced in the ballot boxes.
Labour’s Policy Won’t Wash –
Anti-Zionism is an open door to Anti-Semitism
Friday 29th April: This week the Labour Party descended even deeper into chaos. First, it suspended the MP, Naz Shah. She had commented on social media that the population of Israel should be transported to America. Then one of Labour’s most influential elder statesmen, Ken Livingstone, a member of its ruling NEC, came to her defence, with the bizarre claim that Hitler had been a Zionist. Here John Marenbonexplains why the anti-zionism endemic in the Labour party is objectionable: but for too many of its members, proscribing it would be a step too far.
Professor Marenbon writes ...
Labour responded to the furore this week about anti-semitism in its ranks, by announcing that anti-semitism is racism and not to be tolerated. But hostility to Israel can be permitted, or even adopted as party policy, it suggests, in view of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
That distinction between hostility to Jews (anti-semitism) and hostility to Israel (anti-zionism) is not so straightforward in practice.
In the case of Naz Shah, theMPwas suspended from the Party because she wanted to ‘relocate Israel into United States’, adding that ‘America has plenty of land to accommodate Israel as its 51ststate’. Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone, defending Ms Shah, emphasized that she and other people in the Labour party are attacking Israel, not Jews: ‘I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years … I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-semitic.’ Livingstone went on to try and make the distinction even clearer by asserting, on very doubtful historical evidence, that none other than Hitler was a Zionist. This led to Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, being promptly suspended from the Labour party.
But things are not so clear cut. Although there are anti-semites who are not anti-zionists, and anti-zionists who are not anti-semites, the two views cannot be completely disentangled.
If ‘anti-zionism’ is taken to mean opposition to Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, then such a view should be tolerated, and respected, even by those who disagree strongly with it. Indeed many loyal Israelis, who have served courageously in Israel’s army, could be called ‘anti-zionists’ in this sense. However this weak sense is not the obvious meaning of the word. An anti-zionist is, as the name suggests, someone opposed to Zionism. Zionism’s aim, which in fact is now fulfilled, was to establish a Jewish national state in the biblical homeland of the Jews. Those who call themselves ‘anti-zionists’ are thereby declaring that they want to undo the project of Zionism – that is to say, to destroy the State of Israel (whether by transporting its inhabitants to the deserts of Nevada or throwing them into the sea).