Morning call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers

1. No room at the inn? We can still be hospitable (Times)

John Sentamu, archbishop of York, compares the plight of destitute asylum seekers to Mary and Joseph, and urges compassion and hospitality.

2. How the noughties were a hinge of history (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf looks back on a decade of Western decline.

3. An optimism that has drained away (Independent)

Hamish McRae looks to the decade ahead, arguing that 10 years from now, the West will no longer call the shots.

4. University funding: Shape of cuts to come (Guardian)

The Guardian editorial spells out the potential consequences of the 6.6 per cent university cuts, and says that this points the way to a series of major cuts to come.

5. Mandelson's cuts follow years of futile expansion (Times)

Meanwhile, at the Times, Ross Clark argues that Labour has got the universities it deserves after a decade of misguided policy.

6. No time for thought (Daily Telegraph)

Fast-track degree courses will turn the clock back 20 years, and result in a two-tier education system.

7. Apprenticeships alone won't give hope to a lost generation (Independent)

While apprenticeships are a good step in tackling youth unemployment, says Anna Fazackerley, there is no point spending money and effort when they are not useful to the employer.

8. Dark matter holds the key to the universe (Guardian)

We've moved a step closer to understanding the nature of dark matter, writes Paul Davies, and thus transforming our knowledge of the cosmos itself.

9. The Neglected War (Times)

The Times leading article draws attention to Mexico's war on drugs, where celebration has quickly turned to tragedy.

10. Here are a few predictions to keep you going until new year (Independent)

Finally, Steve Richards leaves us with some political predictions for 2010.


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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.