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26 September 2018

Why John McDonnell’s plan for a £500 dividend to workers will prove to be a vote-loser

The public will resent the idea of neighbours who work for big companies getting the extra cash.

By Peter Wilby

Proposals from the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, that companies with more than 250 employees should hand 10 per cent of their shares to the workers, enabling them to draw dividends of up to £500 a year, look good. But they will probably lose more votes than they win. Fewer than 0.1 per cent of businesses in the UK have more than 250 staff. In total, they have 10.6 million workers – at least a third of whom won’t be eligible for shares because they work for foreign-owned firms – while smaller businesses have 16.1 million. Another 5.4 million work in the public sector and 4.8 million are self-employed.

Politicians and newspaper editors rail against fat cats because those are the kind of people they mix with. Normal people just mix with their neighbours. And they will hate the idea of their neighbours – who, if they work for a large company, are probably already regarded as having a cushy number – getting an extra £500.

Him, too

Extraordinary goings-on at the world’s most august literary journal, the New York Review of Books (NYRB). Its editor, Ian Buruma, has lost his job after publishing an article by Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian star broadcaster whose career ended after allegations of sexual misconduct from more than 20 women, some of which resulted in criminal charges, but no convictions. A round robin circulating among the paper’s distinguished contributors calls Buruma’s ousting “an abandonment of… the free exploration of ideas”.

The accusations against Ghomeshi – of hitting, biting, choking and verbal abuse during sex – were made in 2014, before the #MeToo movement took off. As Ghomeshi writes, “I was the guy everyone hated first.” He is contrite, after a fashion. He was “emotionally thoughtless”, “arrogantly” gave himself “a free pass”, and “leveraged [his] status to try to entice women”.

But the article doesn’t, as editors often put it, “quite work”. Ghomeshi doesn’t consider why his sexual behaviour was so violent or why the women were so angry. Its publication – and the headline “Reflections on a Hashtag” – seems to put #MeToo on trial, not the mentality of men who get a kick out of abusing women. Though the NYRB runs pieces on current affairs, not just book reviews, Ghomeshi’s platitudinous piece sits oddly in a literary paper. If I were Buruma, I would have advised him (I think) to take it elsewhere, fearing that publication in the NYRB would give him spurious respectability. If I were Geordie Greig, editing the Daily Mail, I might take a different view. Ghomeshi is entitled to freedom of expression, but in the appropriate context.

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None of that means Buruma deserves to lose his job – though if, as the NYRB claims, he failed to consult any female staff before publication, he deserves censure. Editors, particularly when they want to draw attention to their publication (“making a noise”, we call it in the trade), can make calamitous mistakes, as I did on more than one occasion. But I survived, for a few years, because the mighty echo chamber of social media didn’t then exist.

Guilty consciences

Humans are not responsible for the mutilated bodies of cats found across south London, the police say. There is no “Croydon cat killer”. Foxes are responsible.

I reject this verdict but not for the reasons many other people reject it. Humans are indeed the murderers. The foxes are innocent. They scavenge the bodies of cats that have already been killed by cars, usually at night. And cars are driven by humans, many of whom ignore speed limits when, they say, roads are almost completely clear. But the point of speed limits in urban areas is nothing to do with how many vehicles are around, but with giving yourself time to stop or slow down when a car unexpectedly emerges from a residential driveway or a cat scampers across the road.

Distressed cat lovers would rather believe in conspiracies, cover-ups and rings of ritual animal abusers than recognise that the cars most of them drive are killing machines.

Sky seen off

Rupert Murdoch’s ambition was to own the whole of Sky, not just the 39 per cent he currently holds. The ambition of many MPs and journalists was to thwart him. Now money has done what politics and journalism couldn’t: the US firm Comcast has beaten Murdoch’s Fox in a bidding war for Sky. But Murdoch, at 87, isn’t finished. He still owns the Sun, the largest-circulation UK newspaper; the Times and Sunday Times, the UK’s largest-circulation upmarket papers; the Wall Street Journal, the world’s most influential financial daily; and President Trump’s favourite viewing, Fox News.

And in his native Australia, he owns two-thirds of daily and Sunday newspaper sales. He has just seen off another Australian prime minister, the right-wing Liberal Party’s Malcolm Turnbull, whose crime was to hesitate over ending government action on climate change. Murdoch has been seeing off Australian PMs since Labor’s Gough Whitlam was overthrown in 1975. His visits are almost invariably followed by his papers suddenly rounding on some politician who displeases him. One victim, the former Labor PM Kevin Rudd, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald last month, called him “a cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy” who “has produced a cowering, fearful political culture across the country”.

Walter presents

Shanker Singham (St Paul’s School and Balliol College, Oxford), co-author of the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs’ newly published plan for “a prosperous post-Brexit UK”, and allegedly “one of the world’s leading trade and competition lawyers”, says: “Either I’m a deluded Walter Mitty fantasist or I’m meaningfully influencing the government’s thinking at the very highest levels. Pick one.” Why do we need to pick? 

This article appears in the 26 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Brexit crisis