Attack of the academics

Profs turn on the Tories.

Colin Talbot, professor of public policy and management at Manchester Business School, has told the FT and BBC Radio that Conservative plans to save up to £2bn of government spending by controlling public-sector recruitment would translate roughly as cuts of up to 40,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, Tim Besley, the professor of economics at the LSE who back in February co-ordinated a letter by "deficit hawks" to the Sunday Times supporting spending cuts by the Tories, told the Guardian that too much "election froth" over tax reduction risked distracting voters from the importance of "deficit reduction".

And in a letter to the Independent, 22 leading British scientists praised Labour's "strong record of commitment to science and science-based enterprise", adding:

The international science journal Nature . . . recently called the Conservatives a "vision-free zone". The Conservatives' continuing failure to address this critique is making us concerned that this lack of vision actually reflects a lack of commitment.

Those of us who have long pointed out that the Tories have no policies on certain vital issues, and contradictory and ill-conceived policies on others, now seem to have the backing of some of the country's leading academics. Nice.

(Hat-tip to Left Foot Forward for the references.)


UPDATE: On the specific issue of the Tories and their business friends tying themselves up in knots over deficit reduction versus tax reduction, I think Dan Roberts made the right point in the Guardian: "Until recently many business leaders were united around Tory calls for more fiscal discipline and belt tightening. Now they appear to favour lower taxes over lower deficits -- a contradiction that has been slow to filter through the growing political noise."

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood