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15 January 2020updated 20 Jan 2020 1:03pm

Climate change deniers, a royal debacle and the tyranny of open-plan offices

Even if half the planet’s population were burning, the global heating deniers would still blame a left-green conspiracy.    

By Peter Wilby

Climate change deniers, with Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers and TV channels to the fore, have an explanation for the unprecedented fires that devastated large parts of Australia. It’s all the fault of the greens.

“Ecological religious fundamentalism”, to quote a columnist for Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, has resulted in a virtual ban on hazard-reduction burning, which clears low-lying combustible material from bushland. Fallen timber is allegedly left in place to protect woodland creatures and rare fauna. If Australians continued the ancient land-clearing practices of the Aborigines – who are not usually held up by right-wingers as role models – all would be well.

It’s piffle. Australian fire services do more controlled burning than ever. They are hampered by funding cuts and, with the bushfire season lasting much longer, limited time in which weather conditions are suitable. Moreover, the recent fires, often spreading through the tops of trees and through embers blown by high winds, were so intense that they continued blazing in areas already burned.

Forget coal, oil and cows: even if half the planet’s population were drowning, burning or collapsing from heat exhaustion, the global heating deniers would still blame a left-green conspiracy.

A boardroom coup

The royals call themselves “the firm” but, if any other firm had blundered into two disasters in as many months, the chairperson would face the axe. The monarchy risks losing, in Harry and Meghan, the only members that give it the glamour and sex appeal that could attract what marketing folk call “younger demographics”. Senior employees (courtiers) leak to the press with embarrassing frequency. Top board members – Charles, William, Harry, Anne – are evidently at loggerheads. “Crisis meetings” come thick and fast. Elizabeth II has given sterling service but it is surely time for a boardroom coup or, as the PR people would spin it, a “mutual agreement” to move into an exciting new era.

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Toeing the line

Ahead of starting a new column for the Daily Mail, the former Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys says: “The Mail… does not demand that its columnists toe an approved line. That’s the big test of a paper’s integrity.” Would he mind testing that just a little more? By, for example, writing a trenchant column against Brexit, or how badly we need a Labour government, or how house prices need to fall steeply.

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The PM’s English

“Do you remember a prime minister with a regional accent?” asks Jess Phillips from Birmingham, trying to burnish her Labour leadership credentials. Harold Wilson from Huddersfield had a Yorkshire accent, at least to non-Yorkshire and particularly southern ears. Gordon Brown and Ramsay MacDonald both had Scottish accents and David Lloyd George a Welsh one (he even spoke the language), but I suppose Scotland and Wales don’t count as regions. William Gladstone had a Liverpudlian accent, though it became muted as he grew older. Some detected a faint Brummie accent when Neville Chamberlain spoke, but most people didn’t. So in that respect at least Phillips can continue to make her sales pitch.

The office bore

A few days ago an academic, seeking assistance with her research, phoned me from a bus, an odd location to pose complex questions about education. She said she made most such calls from buses because, in her open-plan office, it was “hard to talk without others sighing”.

The open-plan office is now ubiquitous but I sometimes think it was the worst invention of the 20th century. You can’t control your own environment, take an afternoon nap or avoid the office bore. Far from encouraging employees to collaborate and exchange ideas spontaneously, open-plan workplaces, according to a 2018 Harvard University study, lead to more communication by email and text. Shouldn’t someone start a Campaign for Real Offices?

This article appears in the 15 Jan 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Why the left keeps losing