Optimum party numbers
How many people should you invite to your Christmas party? The most sociable number, according to scientists in Sheffield, is a handful—or several hundred. The audibility of speech over background babble plummets as the first few guests arrive, but then bottoms out: it is just as hard to converse in a room of six as it is with 100. But boost the party to 500 and audibility slightly improves—perhaps because as the background gets more uniform, we are less liable to be distracted by half-heard gossip. If, though, you expect to regret what you said the night before, inviting just eight guests maximises the chance of your indiscretions getting lost in the chatter.
Oxbridge rules no more
The belief that Britain is run by an Oxbridge clique persists here and abroad. A member of the Prospect team has won a large bet with a prominent foreign correspondent who assumed it was axiomatic that most of the Labour cabinet attended either Oxford or Cambridge. The actual number is seven, just under a third of the current cabinet of 22 (at time of writing). They are Blair, Clarke, Falconer, Hoon, Hutton, Kelly and Miliband. (Hewitt has a master’s degree from Cambridge, but that doesn’t count.) Although the redbrick, Robbins-report and university-of-life (in four cases) make-up of the current cabinet may suggest Oxbridge is losing its grip, no less than 15 of the 22 members of the shadow cabinet are Oxbridge graduates. And it remains an astonishing fact that since Baldwin, no British prime minister who has won an election and been to university has attended any other than Oxford. None of this would change if the Oxford man David Cameron were to become prime minister, but it would if he is beaten by Gordon Brown, a graduate of Edinburgh.
Who’s to blame for BCCI mess?
One of the most humiliating climbdowns in English legal history occurred on 2nd November, when lawyers for Deloitte, liquidators of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), withdrew their £1bn lawsuit against the Bank of England. BCCI collapsed in 1991 owing £10bn to creditors; the liquidators blamed the Bank for failing in its regulatory duties. The case’s place in the record books is assured thanks to the 119-day opening speech by Nicholas Stadlen, lead counsel for the Bank. The 12-year-long case is also the most expensive in history, costing the Bank £75m and Deloitte £38m over the last two years alone.
Most experts thought the case was doomed, as Deloitte’s lawyers brought it on the obscure grounds of “misfeasance in public office.” So who’s to blame? Partly it’s a failure of legal process—the law lords were simply wrong to let the case go to trial. In addition, should the finger be pointed at Deloitte, their lawyers or the creditors for whom they were acting? Advice between them is subject to legal privilege, so to find out we must wait for the judge’s comments when awarding costs, or until BCCI’s creditors sue their advisers.
Inspired by the Prospect/ Foreign Policy list of top global public intellectuals, the group blog Crooked Timber invited its readers to put forward names for a list of the top public intellectuals in 1905. Suggestions ranged from the predictable (HG Wells, Tolstoy) to the provocative (Karl Lueger) to the peculiar (Sherlock Holmes). But the quality of debate on the website proves a good foil to those who suggested that the Prospect poll was nothing more than a gimmicky parlour game.
David Cameron’s leisure activities at university have been making the headlines, but what really separated the goodies from the baddies on 1980s British campuses was your position on Barclays Bank, the subject of an NUS boycott for its activities in apartheid-era South Africa. A few Tory diehards struck the deliberately provocative pose of continuing to bank with Barclays despite the boycott. Was Cameron—who started at Oxford in 1985, a year before the end of the NUS campaign—one of them?
Will Prodi get the prod?
Romano Prodi’s recent victory in Italy’s Union of the Left “primary” means the ex-president of the European commission will run against Silvio Berlusconi in next April’s election. But the stiletto is not long for sheathing in Italian politics. Prodi is only leader of the left because party chiefs can’t agree on anyone else. There is a plan B hidden in Rome’s political catacombs: to replace Prodi, after a year or so, with the popular Walter Veltroni, former Communist and mayor of Rome.