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.”…