Contributions from John Rentoul, David Lammy and othersby Prospect Team / October 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Don’t give up on Twitter
Rafael Behr’s article (“How Twitter poisoned politics,” October) was in many respects a model of civil persuasion. I have long tended to the view that all Twitter has done is allow the expression of views that would in the past have been restricted to pub conversations.
However, it becomes harder to resist the conclusion that airing fringe views gives them greater currency. Behr is right that social media has coarsened the public debate, as abusive commenters have moved from below the line on news websites to Twitter. The impact on Westminster is certainly disproportionate to the number of Twitter accounts in use.
Even so, Behr gives too much weight to scare stories. There is no evidence that automated accounts or Russian troublemakers have influenced British politics. And he gives too little weight to what is still wonderful about Twitter: the speed with which we can find expertise in any subject; and the way we can discover valuable new voices.
My view is that we will get used to using it—and whatever communications technology comes next.
John Rentoul, Chief Political Commentator, the Independent
If Oxford changes
Alan Rusbridger’s piece about Oxford’s intake (“If Oxford shrugs,” October) was poignant. The problem boils down to the pace of change, and whether Oxbridge has the right outreach strategy.
There are individuals—and colleges—doing a lot to change things. Cambridge’s recent announce- ment of a foundation year is encouraging. But there is more to do.
It may be that a change of strategy is in order. In the US, money and privilege can buy a place at a top institution. But the Ivy League, aside from being more racially di- verse than Oxbridge, also attracts more white working-class students through a generous grants system.
Over here, the London bor- oughs of Barnet and Richmond collectively send more young people to Oxbridge than Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds combined. Often, Oxbridge says, “these kids don’t apply.” But they should be actively approaching talented young people from deprived backgrounds and saying, “if you study here, you can come for free.”
David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham
Brexit blame game
There’s a degree of optimism surrounding Sue Cameron’s article on Whitehall and Brexit (“Chequers-mate,” October) that notwithstanding “politicians’ failure to agree on what they want” civil servants could yet “have converted [Whitehall’s] darkest hour into its finest.” Though one can hardly exonerate political leaders, senior officials must also face scrutiny, particularly given damage already done to the UK’s reputation.
The 53 per cent staff turnover in the Brexit department is not the fault of political leadership, simply a reflection of the continuing cult of the generalist, valued over ensuring experience in key positions. In turn, officials experienced in negotiations would know that current levels of secrecy across government are inimical to success, both for cross-government working and persuading others of your position.
Early in the talks EU negotiators wondered if the UK team’s apparent lack of knowledge was some kind of clever tactic. Now they shake their heads and hope a deal may be reached in spite of this.
David Henig, former Assistant Director at the Department for International Trade
Scant chance of one-state
Avraham Burg (“Two states of denial,” September) offers a refreshingly candid perspective on the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians. He notes that the two-state solution is effectively dead and Israel killed it. And he sketches a most attractive alternative: one state with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of religion and ethnicity.
The problem is that the Likud- led government is the most right- wing and overtly racist in Israel’s history. The impulse to change is unlikely to come from within Israel. Nor is there any hope of pressure from the outside; Donald Trump is the most pro-Israeli president in American history. So while I share Burg’s enthusiasm for a one-state solution, I remain cautiously pessimistic about the prospect of realising it.
Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations, Oxford
Daniel Levy must have been going round with blinkers on if he really thinks Jeremy Corbyn and his cohort aren’t condoning anti-Semi- tism (“Community politics,” Oc- tober). Anti-Semitism has leaked into the mainstream in a way un- precedented in living memory.
Eight-five per cent of Jews believe Corbyn is anti-Semitic and that there is significant anti-Semitism at all levels within Labour, according to Jewish Chronicle polling. Levy writes that Corbyn “commits to root out anti-Semitism.” But for evidence of how meaning- less his words are, we only need look at Labour’s disciplinary process. There are hundreds of reports of anti-Semitism by party members that are still to be addressed.
Judith Ornstein writes for the Times of Israel
Life after death
What a delight to see Laurence Sterne peering out of the pages of Prospect (“A very naughty boy,” October), especially in this anniversary year of the novelist’s death. Buried in Archers Fields, exhumed, anatomised and reburied, he was then dug up again (thereby hangs a tale) and reburied in the “sweet retreat” of Coxwold. Goodness, the man was as active after death as he was during life.
David Garrick lamented the lack of a stone marking his grave: “Shall Pride a heap of sculptur’d marble raise / Some worthless, unmourn’d, titled fool to praise / And shall we not by one poor grave- stone learn / Where genius, wit, and humour, sleep with Sterne?”
Patrick Wildgust, Shandy Hall
I am afraid of the WTO
On first reading Ruth Lea’s article (“Who’s afraid of the WTO?” October) I was almost convinced that we have little to fear from a no-deal Brexit scenario. The numbers Lea quotes all seem to suggest that the UK would have greater export opportunities outside the EU than from remaining in. Then I realised she had not factored in the politics involved.
In the first place she seems to think the prospects for exports globally will continue to improve, if we leave the EU. She makes no reference to the risks associated with this position. In particular she fails to mention the weakness of almost all African economies, the worsening Sunni/Shia political turmoil in the Middle East and the growing possibility of an increasing number of economy-threatening dictatorships in Latin America. This leaves Asia and North America as the most likely substantial export markets for our goods and services. As far as Asia is concerned Japan has just signed a new trade deal with Europe, China has a growing debt problem, which is likely to slow down its economy and the trade fashion in the USA is tariff barriers. That really only leaves India, which would almost certainly demand favourable immigration rules as part of any trade deal.
In the second place the WTO is in a mess with no indication of who is likely to succeed Roberto Azevêdo in 2021, the USA threatening to pull out, and lots of angst about what to do with China’s interpretation of WTO rules. The WTO is no firm rock on which to anchor our future trade agreements. I remain a Remainer.
Charles Bevan worked at the UN
Aimee Cliff argues that plans for a 24-hour capital are not working (“London’s 24-hour nightmare,” October), and clubs are closing.
In Sadiq Khan the capital has a Mayor who is working hard to stand up for night-time venues. Sadiq understands that these venues are at the heart of our communities—they are a vital part of London life and important for the capital’s prosperity. London’s night-time economy contributes £26.3bn to our city and supports one in eight jobs in the capital.
That’s why the mayor developed his vision for a 24-hour London and appointed the capital’s first ever Night Czar. Part of my job is working closely with every borough to support the exciting growth of the night-time offer across London.
The Mayor created the first ever Culture at Risk Office 18 months ago, and this has already supported nearly 200 night-time spaces at risk of closure. He has created the most pro-culture planning framework the capital has even seen, including the bold Agent of Change principle. This will help protect venues by putting the onus on developers to meet the cost of soundproofing and noise-reduction measures.
This is just a small portion of the work we are doing to stand up for the capital’s life at night. But we can’t do it all ourselves, and partnership is key to the success of London as a 24-hour city.
I’m happy to say that London is already seeing some positive changes. After a decade of decline, the number of grassroots music venues in London has remained stable for the last two years. LGBT+ venues have also stabilised after suffering a 61 per cent decline in the past decade.
We know that we have so much more to do, and we will keep working night—and day—to ensure that Londoners can enjoy a thriving and diverse life at night that works for everyone.
Amy Lamé, London Night Czar