Black humour in Scotland Yard?

The gathering of the clans

Glencoe was the sight of the massacre of the MacDonalds - so it was perhaps not the most prudent name for the police operation to manage demonstrations marking the convergence of G20 leaders on London this week. Black humour in Scotland Yard perhaps?

On the eve of the protests, Socialist Unity predicted police brutality. Recalling Gleneagles, John Wright wrote: “It was inevitable that there would be trouble, though it was not started by protesters... [w]hat began as a good humoured protest by a group of protesters, the self styled Clown Army, who many will have seen on demos up and down the country engaging in silly antics, soon gave way to ugly scenes of riot police charging into peaceful protesters lashing out indiscriminately”.

And as President Obama flew in and the crowds descended on the City, Anna Bragga at The Green Room was “shaken and appalled” by the policing, finding herself “condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters”. She concluded by calling on Green Party representatives to hold the Met to account for its poor handling of the day.

Not everyone was protesting against unregulated markets. Conservative Home posted images direct from the small but fiesty “pro-capitalist” counter demo. The banner asking “Who is John Galt?” held aloft by students from York University was thought witty by some, alienating by others. Meanwhile their comrades at Samizdata highlighted a study of free banking in 19th century Scotland, arguing that it illustrates a paradigm of the true laissez faire capitalism from which we have long since strayed.

Reactions to the summit were drawing a wry smile from Hopi Sen, who noted: “British Conservative Eurosceptics finding exciting new ways to contort themselves into admiration for the stance of the EUs most statist and regulatory governments,” while suspecting that their warmth towards the French and Germans would be fleeting. Hopi was among the legions of bloggers not invited to blog live from the G20, leaving a rather forlorn Tom Watson tapping away in the “vast airport hangar style media lounge” with little company...

For more thoughtful takes on the summit, read Obsolete on Brown's last throw of the dice and Andrew Brown on the Pope siding with the protesters.

What have we learned this week?

That Iain Dale is a quite wicked man - teasing his poor readers on April Fool's Day with a post claiming that criticism from bloggers (“whose boots I am not fit to lick”) has driven him to withdraw from the Orwell Prize.

Around the World

The Goy's Guide to Israel watched the inaugural session of the new Israeli government and analysed its players based on their choice of outfits, from Bibi's “disgusting spotted mauve tie” to Marina Solodkin's “delightful shawl”.

Video of the Week

This hand shot footage of clashes between police and protesters in the City reflects quite poorly on both.

Quote of the Week

“Oh, and then they trashed RBS. Nice one, guys! Destroy the institution that's owned by, uh, us. The taxpayer. Well done.”

Sadie Smith is unimpressed.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Google’s tax worries, Oxford’s race dilemma and the left-wing case for leaving Europe

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong.

As a Gmail user and a Google searcher, am I morally compromised by using the services of a serial tax avoider? Surely not. Google gets roughly 95 per cent of its revenues from advertising and much of that from clicks on the ads that surround its offerings. I have long observed a rule never to click on any of these, even when they advertise something that I need urgently. Instead, I check the seller’s website address and type it directly into my browser.

Taking full advantage of its services without contributing to its profits strikes me as a very good way of damaging the company. More problematic are pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca (zero UK corporation tax in 2014) and GlaxoSmithKline (UK corporation tax undisclosed but it has subsidiaries in tax havens), which makes many prescription drugs and consumer products such as toothpaste – I chew it to stop me smoking. To boycott all such companies, as well as those that underpay their workers or pollute the planet, one would need, more or less, to drop out from the modern world. Consumer boycotts, though they have a certain feel-good factor, aren’t a substitute for electing governments that will make a concerted effort to tax and regulate big corporations.

 

After EU

David Cameron is finding it hard to get changes to EU rules that he can credibly present as concessions. But the talks that would follow a vote for Brexit would be a hundred times more difficult. Ministers would need to negotiate access to the single market, renegotiate trade deals with 60 other countries and make a deal on the status of Britons living in the EU, as well as EU citizens living here. All this would create immense uncertainty for a fragile economy.

With a current-account trade deficit of 4 per cent, the dangers of a run on sterling would be considerable. (This apocalyptic scenario is not mine; I draw on the wisdom of the Financial Times economics editor, Chris Giles.) But here’s the question. If the UK got into the same pickle as Greece – and George Osborne had to do a Norman Lamont, popping out of No 11 periodically to announce interest-rate rises – Jeremy Corbyn would walk the 2020 election. Should we lefties therefore vote Out?

 

University blues

Hardly a Sunday now passes without David Cameron announcing an “initiative”, either on TV or in the newspapers. The latest concerns the under-representation of black Britons at top universities, notably Oxford, which accepted just 27 black students in 2014 out of an intake of more than 2,500. As usual, Cameron’s proposed “action” is risibly inadequate: a requirement that universities publish “transparent” data on admissions and acceptances, much of which is already available, and a call for schools to teach “character”, whatever that means.

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford – with its disproportionate numbers from a handful of fee-charging schools, such as Eton – would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong. Cameron rules out quotas as “politically correct, contrived and unfair”. But quotas in some form may be what is needed if young people from poor white, as well as black, homes are ever to feel that they would be more than interlopers.

In the meantime, Cameron could tell elite universities to stop setting ever-higher barriers to entry. As well as demanding two A*s and an A at A-level, Oxford and Cambridge are introducing tests for “thinking skills” and subject-specific “aptitude”. Whatever the developers of such tests claim, it is possible to coach students for them. State schools don’t have the resources to do so or even to research the complex requirements of the various colleges and subjects. Oxbridge admissions tutors must know this but evidently they don’t care.

 

A fine balance

The latest government figures show that, despite the former education secretary Michael Gove introducing £60 fines for parents who take their children on term-time breaks, the days lost to unsanctioned holidays are up by 50 per cent to three million in four years. This was a predictable result. Previously, the sense of an obligation to respect the law and set their children an example of doing so persuaded most parents to confine absences to school holidays. Now a modest price has been placed on term-time holidays. Parents do the sums and note that they save far more than £60 on cheaper flights and hotels.

A similar outcome emerged in Israel when daycare centres introduced fines for parents who arrived late. Previously, most preferred to avoid the embarrassment of apologising to a carer and explaining why they had been delayed. Once it became just a monetary transaction, many more happily arrived late and paid the price.

 

Minority report

Here in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, we are dancing in the streets. Well, not quite, but perhaps we ought to be. According to an analysis by the Policy Exchange think tank, Loughton is the third most integrated community in England and Wales, just behind Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, but above 157 others that have significant minorities. We are well ahead of fashionable London boroughs such as Islington and Hackney, where residents obviously keep Muslims and eastern Europeans out of their vibrant dinner parties, whereas we have bearded imams, African chiefs in traditional dress and Romanian gypsies dropping in for tea all the time.

Again, not quite. I’m not sure that I have met that many non-indigenous folk around here, or even seen any, except in the local newsagents. Still, I am grateful to Policy Exchange for brushing up Loughton’s public image, which was in need of a facelift after the BNP won four seats on the council a few years ago and a TOWIE actor opened a shop on the high street.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war