Friday, April 18, 2014

Theme: Britain

  • I was born in central London two years after the Second World War. My parents were first-generation British Jews, brought up in London’s East End by their immigrant parents who had escaped from the Eastern European pogroms in the early years of the twentieth century. Since my birth in 1947, no one has ever said to me ‘You would all be dead. Your mother, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed.’Read more
  • In 2013 we will see political prevarication in defence of the status quo come to the fore, and government become gridlocked by indecision as the might of those with financial power is brought to bear on it, and seeks to undermine democracy.Read more
  • Last week, the Labour leader Ed Miliband made a much-hyped speech about ‘cultural integration’. He faced the usual problem: how to placate that section of Labour’s traditional, white working class constituency which opposes immigration, without at the same time alienating minorities and the anti-racist Left. And he reached for what has recently become the usual solution: restating that least contentious of propositions about ‘integration’, that everyone in Britain should speak English.Read more
  • Since the late 1990s, immigration has been a far more important issue in Britain than in almost any other European country. Indeed, for much of the new millennium it has been the issue which most troubles voters. Although opinion polls now show that concerns about the economy figures more prominently, the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey reports that 51 per cent of respondents seek a major reduction in immigration. Moreover, polls indicate growing hostility towards Muslims in particular: a 2012 Guardian poll found that only 28 per cent believe that Muslims want to integrate into British society.Read more
  • The national curriculum for England and Wales, introduced at the end of the 1980s, made it mandatory for schools to teach English grammar. Yet the myth still persists that grammar has not been taught since the permissive 1960s. For politicians in need of a populist gesture, that belief has been the gift that goes on giving.Read more
  • If you take the news peddled in the popular press as simple fact, it would not be surprising if you got hot under the collar about how your taxes are spent. All too often there are stories about public sector employees doing a very bad job for wages funded by taxpayers. But huge cracks appear in such yarns once you examine such stories and the papers that print them. Read more
  • While analysing multiculturalism in the UK, the Netherlands and France in my recent Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011), I had to confess that I had little idea what David Cameron’s “big society” project was going to mean for what remained of multiculturalism in the UK. I had my suspicions, of course. It was already clear that the “big society” seemed like a ruse. Read more
  • In the spring of 2001, at the Conservative Party Conference in Plymouth, Margaret Thatcher made a joke. She was then seventy-five, and had been out of office for more than ten years, much of it spent as the hectoring conscience of her party. Now she told the faithful that on her way to the conference hall (that old standby of the stand-up), she had passed a cinema that was showing a film called The Mummy Returns. No, jokes were never her forte.Read more
  • Philip Larkin started writing poems in 1938 when he was fifteen or sixteen and very nearly stopped about ten years before he died at sixty-three. His reputation, during his lifetime, was based almost entirely on three collections published at intervals of approximately ten yearsRead more
  • The Enchanted Glass originally appeared in 1988, with the middle-aged Elizabeth II in a pink hat and white gloves waving from its cover; twenty-three years later she’s still waving, and guaranteeing the stability of the British Crown for some years to come. Read more
  • Researching an earlier book on the culture of late colonialism in the Upper Zambezi Valley of what was then Northern Rhodesia, I read a great many colonial memoirs, letters and reports, and interviewed ex-colonial officials. There were two things that surprised me: one was the importance of Worcestorshire sauce, the other, the importance of gardens.Read more
  • “We Are All Socialists Now: The Perils and Promise of the New Era of Big Government” ran a provocative cover of Newsweek on 11 February 2009. The financial crisis had swept through the economy, and the state had intervened, pumping money into the economy, bailing out larger banks and other failing financial institutions, and taking shares and part ownership in private companies.Read more
  • Mrs Parry is a woman battered by events that were outside her control. I met her in the centre of Ashington, a 27,000-strong community about seventeen miles north of Newcastle. Read more
  • Edmund Burke’s time has come. The idea that the eighteenth-century Irish-born British statesman and writer is especially relevant today, in an age that is often described as “postmodern,” may seem odd, or perhaps presumptuous.Read more
  • We don’t have superheroes in Britain the way they do in the US. John Constantine, the brutal magus anti-hero of DC Comics’ Hellblazer, once observed that Britain is a country where no one would have the nerve to wear a cape in public, even if they did have powers far beyond those of mortal men. Read more
  • When you think of the Beats, you think of free sex and flaming sunsets, of bulbous '49 Hudsons easing towards the horizon on dusty highways that seem to go on for ever. You don't think about roundabouts, recycling centres and Rover estates.Read more
  • Sometimes, the self-referential, apolitical worlds of art and architecture intersect with politics in unexpected ways. One such telling cross-over took place during the winter's student protests; on the same day as the 30 November demonstration across central London, there was a story in the local and architectural press that, for me, summed up much of what students were fighting against. Read more
  • There are two histories of suicide: one of the despair, hopelessness, and anger that shaped the doing of the deed, and the other of its legal, social, and cultural consequences. The first is concerned with motives, states of mind, and the chains of causation and circumstance that might lead someone to take their own life. The second attends to the plight of survivors, the response of society, and the fiscal, judicial, and declaratory actions that dealt with the body and goods of the deceased.Read more
  • Minds across the globe will automatically couple Shakespeare and England as they will Coca Cola and the USA. Yet it was with Britain that Shakespeare was first joined by another writer. The prefatory poem to the consecrating, expensive edition of the first folio of 1623 trumpets: “Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show / To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.”Read more
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