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Student intolerance, the rise of the New Young Fogeys and John Major’s antique diction

NS Editor Jason Cowley on young fogeys and John Major’s antique diction.

I was recently a guest at a dinner at ­Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. Two formidable women hosted it: Ngaire Woods, the founding dean of the school, and Louise Richardson, who is a ­political scientist and the 272nd vice-chancellor of Oxford University but the first woman to hold the position. I sat next to her and we spoke, among other things, about the new code of censorship operating among students. In her appearance on Desert Island Discs last week, Professor Richardson, who is Irish, expressed bewilderment at the attitude of many students.

“I’ve tried to understand it,” she said. “Students and young people today, because of social media, operate in an echo chamber of like-minded people and are less exposed to contrary views . . . But a university is exactly where you should hear these views, and part of education is about hearing them and countering them reasonably.”

Her comments made me think about ­Malia Bouattia, the new leader of the National Union of Students, who is an advocate of “no-platforming” and has stated that Muslim students are being spied on by the state. We have tried to speak to her about her positions and the new culture of campus intolerance that has led even to the likes of Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell being “no-platformed”. So far, she has remained bashfully elusive. But perhaps if Ms Bouattia or one of her colleagues is reading this, she will get in touch. The invitation for her to write our weekly Diary remains open.

Age becomes them

On Desert Island Discs, Louise Richardson also said that this generation of students “has been more cosseted by their parents than earlier generations”. This was certainly the view of Jean Twenge, the American ­author of the book Generation Me, when I interviewed her for a Radio 4 Analysis documentary I’ve made exploring the attitudes and behaviour of this millennial generation – at the NS, we’ve called them the “New Young Fogeys”. For the programme, my producer, Katie Inman, persuaded me not only to retrace my journey to school, which most mornings meant negotiating a way through an intimidating group of schoolboy smokers gathered at the bottom of a narrow alleyway between two gardens, but return to my old sixth-form college in Essex. In conversation with some of the students, I was struck by how much less free they seemed than I was at their age. Less free to make mistakes, to take risks, perhaps because they are so aware of the consequences of behaving badly. It wasn’t adventure or rebellion they sought – but order and security. If they were fogeyish in attitude, it was, one of them said, because “social and financial pressures” had made them so.

Beating retreat?

The feuding among Tories during this wretched referendum campaign has been something to behold. Whatever you think of David Cameron and George Osborne, you cannot accuse of them, in this instance, of not acting in what they consider to be the national interest; whether it was in the national interest to hold the referendum in the first place is another matter altogether. By contrast, the huckster-in-chief is ­Boris Johnson. He once professed to be a liberal cosmopolitan but – along with Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and the rest – is advocating Ukip positions on immigration, as if Britain really could be turned into a walled island, as if retreat into nationalism and isolationism were in any way an appropriate response to the challenges and threats of globalisation. In the May issue of the ­Atlantic, Robert Kaplan persuasively wrote that “The West, if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster.”

It is the Brexiteers, not the Prime Minister, who are courting disaster.

Attlee’s ethos

I have an early proof copy of John Bew’s forthcoming biography of Clement Attlee. If Labour is to return to power, it is not to Tony Blair and Harold Wilson to whom it should turn for inspiration but to the ethos and example of Attlee. “Much of what Att­lee achieved was tied to a 20th-century project,” Bew writes in the prologue. “If something is salvageable from his government’s legislation, it is ethos rather than process. This unobtrusive progressive patriotism – built of a sense of rights and duties, a malleable civic code rather than a legal writ, with its emphasis on the ‘common wealth’ above individual self-fulfilment. . .” Citizen Clem promises to be one of the highlights of the autumn season.

Copper-bottomed turn

I always enjoy watching television interviews with John Major; I enjoy his antique diction and circumlocutions; his stiff, formal manner, like a senior clerk in a Dickens novel, and his elaborate courtesy, as if he is a long-time student of Nancy Mitford’s essay “The English Aristocracy”. He was in fine form on the Marr show last Sunday, as he raged about the machinations of the Brexiteers. “The belief that an unelected elite is running wild is yet another piece of copper-­bottomed Leave nonsense,” he said. (The italics are mine.) The proposition of the Outers was “nonsense on stilts” (a phrase popularised by Jeremy Bentham). The NHS was “about as safe” with Boris and co “as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python”. People were being “invited to vote for a pig in a poke”. It was a joy. Which other senior public figure today speaks as he does? 

Jason Cowley’s Analysis documentary, “The New Young Fogeys”, is on Radio 4 on 13 June at 8.30pm

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 09 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A special issue on Britain in Europe

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.