Theresa May is taking on the fat cats – let's hope she'll include Tory donors

The Prime Minister does not name names.

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Texas and particularly its capital, Houston, where Hurricane Harvey has wrought devastation, is at the centre of the US oil and gas industry. More than 10 per cent of its GDP comes from the energy sector. Per capita, it consumes more oil and gas than any other American state. Many, perhaps most, of its Congressional representatives are climate change deniers who dismiss global warming as, to quote a typical comment, “a scare tactic used by groups with a political agenda”. So should we say unkindly that Texans have brought their misfortunes on themselves?

Heavy downpours in Houston are more than 150 per cent up since the 1950s. It has had four significant floods in the past three years alone. The US National Weather Service described “the breadth and intensity” of the rainfall that accompanied Hurricane Harvey as “beyond anything experienced before”. Tropical hurricanes normally weaken as they hit land because strong winds churn the ocean and bring colder water to the surface. Yet this didn’t happen with Harvey because the water’s surface temperature was so high.

Nevertheless, scientists are reluctant to attribute any particular weather event to climate change. And, even if they did blame carbon emissions for the storm, we could not tell Texans who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs and in some cases their lives that they would be safer if oil production and consumption stopped tomorrow. On the contrary, carbon emissions already in the atmosphere would most likely to continue to affect the weather for many years to come. Restricting them may benefit our grandchildren, but not us.

Hurricane Harvey shows the difficulty of convincing people that we need urgent action on climate change in a world where all sense of historical continuity and long-term thinking has been lost.

Fat cats

Stirring words from Theresa May on the iniquities of bosses who award themselves “pay rises… that far outstrip the company’s performance”. The “excesses and irresponsibility” of the fat cats, she writes in the Mail on Sunday, damage “the social fabric of our country”.

May does not name names. She emphasizes that executives who “put their own… interests first” are “a small minority”. But would she mind telling us if any Conservative Party donors are among those guilty of such deplorable behaviour and if she will order their donations to be refused in future?

Cheater teachers

Teachers at three of the poshest fee-charging schools – Eton, Winchester and Charterhouse – have been involved in allegations (not all of them proven) that pupils were given advance knowledge of exam questions. You may say the children of parents who can afford annual fees of £35,000-40,000 have enough advantages without needing any help from cheating. Yet at all levels of education, from Eton to the inner-city comprehensive, exams matter more than ever. They have just been reformed to make them more “rigorous” and to allow more “differentiation”. Projects and coursework assessment are out; the traditional end-of-course paper is back. A new GCSE grading scale allows distinctions between the “brilliant” and those who are merely very good, between the pupils who comfortably manage a pass and those who just scrape through. On these small margins depend children’s life chances, teachers’ careers and sometimes a school’s survival.

What we know about is the tip of the iceberg. In both the state and private sectors of education, cheating is endemic.

Just not cricket

I do not swear much. If I drop a pan while cooking or press the wrong computer key when close to deadline, however, a four-letter word may spontaneously escape my lips. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that professional cricketers swear when they get out or bowl a bad ball. During the second Test match against West Indies, the England all-rounder Ben Stokes swore audibly to himself. He was reprimanded and now risks a ban if he offends again.

The culprits are the television companies that bankroll the game. Stokes’s bad language was picked up by the stump microphones, “forcing commentators”, as the Times put it, “to apologise to viewers”. Whatever the sport, TV commentators always apologise for swearing. I find it infuriating. If the TV moguls don’t like it, they should remove their microphones or warn viewers that, if offended by swearing, they should turn the sound down.

Not-so-model village

In West Yorkshire, enjoying the generous hospitality of my old friend, the former New Statesman columnist and now Daily Mirror journalist Paul Routledge, we spend a morning in Saltaire, the model village founded in the 1850s by the textile manufacturer Sir Titus Salt. Now a Unesco world heritage site, it freed Salt’s workers from the pollution and overcrowding of Bradford and gave them decent houses with water supplies, gas lighting and “necessaries”, as he called the loos. Salt also provided pensions and rent-free almshouses for “‘persons of good moral character’… deemed either too old or unable to labour”. He added a park, allotments and a Congregationalist church built, rather incongruously, in the Italian Renaissance style.

I would have preferred the Bradford slums. Salt was a control freak. Residents – or “inmates” as he called them – had to wash twice a week and were fined if they didn’t. “Gathering or loitering of more than eight persons in the streets” was forbidden. No pubs were allowed and “anyone caught in a state of inebriation” was evicted. Salt banned washing being hung out to dry and would ride on horseback brandishing a sabre to cut down any washing lines he found.

Routledge leads us on a protest against the tyrant: a refreshing pint in the village’s only pub, named Don’t Tell Titus.

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 appears in the 31 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The decline of the American empire