A united Britain will have the upper hand over a divided and declining European Union

At any normal time, the ruling class will rob, mismanage, sabotage, lead us into the muck,” wrote George Orwell, soon after the Second World War. “But let popular opinion really make itself heard, let them get a tug from below – and it is difficult for them not to respond”. At the outset of this new decade, the UK’s ruling class has most definitely felt a powerful “tug from below”. Popular opinion has been expressed, repeatedly, and we’re finally leaving the European Union.

Whether it was Ukip’s victory in the 2014 European election, or David Cameron’s 2015 majority after he promised an “in-out referendum”, the electorate sent the same signal. The Leave vote prevailed in 2016 – with a referendum…

Of course the PM was right to ditch Davos – this corporatist charade has nothing to do with prosperity

So Boris and his ministers will not be attending Davos, next month’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps. This is one contribution to reducing carbon emissions that is to be welcomed. No doubt we will be told by the Left that the fact that he does not want to fly to an expensive ski resort to hob-knob with the global elite is because he is insular and narrow-minded. In reality, this decision fits perfectly with a more complex political strategy.

The first group that will be enthused by his decision is composed of the people David Goodhart called “Somewheres”. "Somewheres" in the main, connect strongly with “place”. They are not especially mobile, have strong geographical…

Letters: Unconvincing candidates to restore the standing of the Opposition

SIR – The BBC has shown us five women and one man who are front-runners to be the new Labour Party leader – Lisa Nandy, Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry.

I think back to Harold Wilson, Richard Crossman, Anthony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Denis Healey, Patrick Gordon Walker and Shirley Williams.

Is it my imagination or were they far more substantial characters than any of the present bunch?

John Wallbridge


SIR – Lisa Nandy, a candidate for the Labour leadership, whom you profiled yesterday, is the sort of politician (of whatever political affiliation) that the country does not need.

She studied politics at university and entered…

The Tories must use victory as a chance to make the fresh case for freedom

This being my last column before the election I will reiterate the prediction I made all those weeks ago (or maybe it was months ago – I’ve lost track of time), and state baldly that the Conservatives will win with a comfortable majority. That expectation was, back then, a political assessment of public opinion. Now it is a moral imperative. The idea that large numbers of British voters could contemplate the possibility of an anti-Semitic prime minister is simply insupportable. 

I certainly saw nothing in Friday’s debate that causes me to change my forecast of the outcome. So let’s assume, for the preservation of our sanity, that the cataclysm is safely avoided and that the result is a foregone…

Pushing girls to study science won’t solve sexism

I’ve been optimistic about progress towards gender equality for two reasons. First, it’s increasingly recognised that we need better, diverse thinking to solve today’s complex problems – and involving more women in decisions is a good place to start.

Second, we can radically overhaul working practices in our new digital era to suit everyone better – both men and women. If we can devise ways of successfully combining careers and family life, true gender equality will finally be possible.

But there’s a problem. Technology is an enabler when it comes to shaking up the ways we think and work, yet women are woefully under-represented in technology generally and data science specifically.

That reality…

Will David Gauke and his fellow "moderates" be able to forgive themselves for Prime Minister Corbyn?

It is disingenuous to believe that a vote for Jo Swinson is anything but a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

That David Gauke was no fan of Brexit or the Prime Minister is a known known, common knowledge to a cohort of people so vast that they are outnumbered only by those for whom the man himself is an unknown. Until recently a cabinet minister, Gauke is one of those Tories who have viewed Brexit as less of a winter of discontent than an all-out retreat from Moscow: disastrous, humiliating, with comrades dropping like flies.

Finding himself trapped on the outside looking in, as Boris Johnson tries to keep the Conservatives in power, seems to have tipped Gauke into despair. He has joined the ranks of that small group of former Tories who have implicitly backed, if not openly joined, the Liberal Democrats. By doing so, he has exposed what many Tories have long suspected: that a group of glorified Lib Dems have  dominated the upper echelons of the Party, hoping for a better prospect of power.

Gauke has, to his credit, somewhat justified himself by declaring his intention to run as an independent at the upcoming general election, and by suggesting that he is as frightened by the idea of Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 as he is of a Hard Brexit. The British people, he says, need to vote for the centre.

It’s that old trope again – that to be considered reasonable, you must be a centrist. And qualifying as a moderate or a centrist these days means being opposed to Brexit.

It is disingenuous to believe that a vote for Jo Swinson is anything but a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. That the pair have not entered into a formal alliance does not dispel this. Corbyn may justly believe he will get a majority, but Swinson, should she get the seats, will happily oblige him if it means stopping Brexit. Under Swinson, the party has been transformed into a single-issue protest group, while Corbyn’s proposal for a Brexit deal and subsequent referendum is so absurd, it begs the question – why not simply forgo the facade of its faux democratic process and opt for remain, too? It would at least save time.

Of course, neither party wants to frighten potential voters who may be put off by the other. Both need to be able to allow their supporters to vote with a semblance of a clear conscience. But we all know that this is what will happen, should the opportunity present itself. Swinson gets to stop Brexit, Corbyn gets to be prime minister. To suggest any other outcome is fantasy.

Gauke’s protestations about the economic harm of a Corbyn government therefore seem a little farfetched given that he is, by extension, endorsing this potential government. The claim that Labour will spend £1.2 trillion may or may not be an accurate figure, but either way, the taps are set to be turned on. And that’s before we even begin to contemplate the costs that the nation will incur should a "green new deal" be pushed forward with the ferocity some on the left are demanding.

But the biggest cost to the country won’t be financial, and that is the thing so many of the nice, reasonable, civilised and well-to-do men and women that make up the political centre so often fail to comprehend. The true cost will be social and political. It will be the dismay, and distrust, incurred by at least 17.4 million people, and in truth, many millions more, at seeing the way their only form of political agency — their lonely, solitary vote — has been ignored. If that happens, and the parties of remain game the system to toss out the referendum result before it was ever implemented, that sense of betrayal will hang over this nation. As history shows us, betrayal on this scale is rarely forgiven. 

A renegotiated relationship with Europe, or a nation sold out? Mr Gauke should consider which of those will be costlier, when he and his fellow centrists consider what they have done.

The key to educational success? Side with the teacher, not your child

It takes a village to raise a child. Parents and teachers should be a team – in total harmony in their shared goal of helping children develop in both learning and life. You should always back the teacher in front of your child. That used to be common sense. Unfortunately, it no longer is. There needs to be a united front where the teacher and parent are seen to be working together, but when I made this simple point on social media this week, I received a blast of online criticism.

This is what can happen in schools: a child is given a detention and says to his parent, “The teacher is picking on me” or “The teacher is racist”. His aggrieved parent marches into school to complain, thinking that they are helping their child.

But stop and think: you want to show your child you are supporting him, but by doing this you are actually undermining him.

Sadly, you have now given your child approval to hate that teacher. Trust between pupil and teacher is crucial if the child is to succeed. Without the parent noticing, their child is now likely to make less effort with their work, will ask fewer questions in lessons and their success in that subject will reduce. Indeed, their happiness at school will likely suffer overall.

Exactly this.

True that schools need to improve but so do parents.

Teachers cannot fight society.

If society wants kids to be able to do what they like, parents refusing to back teachers when kid is disciplined, then teachers will give up.

Society is responsible. pic.twitter.com/Ah28th6hGz

— Katharine Birbalsingh (@Miss_Snuffy) November 10, 2019

The vast majority of teachers are good people doing a hard job, working long hours for not much pay. One of their main motivations is to give your child an excellent chance at life. Setting a detention takes up a teacher’s time. They have to supervise the child after school instead of getting on with their work. They need to log it on the system or ring home.

It’s a hassle – and that’s why teachers often don’t want to set detentions. Parents should hope their child is so lucky to get a teacher who cares enough to set a detention for their child.

Here’s the reality: if you as a parent complain about it, the likelihood 
is that the teacher will drop their standards for your child and stop giving out detentions. Why? Because they don’t want to get abuse from parents. It is easier to just let your child submit mediocre homework or chat at the back of the class. When faced by this combative impasse, detentions stop and the parent 
stops complaining.

Of course, in rare circumstances there might be a genuine safeguarding concern. In that case, as a parent, you might want to have a quiet word with the head. Clearly there are situations that might need investigation and the head is best placed to deal with this.

But I’m not talking about serious accusations of bullying or abuse. That’s a whole different order of magnitude from petty grievances 
and gripes. My conviction is simple: that the overwhelming majority of teachers care for the children in their classes and want them to succeed. Their ability to do a great job is hampered if parents undermine 
them at every twist and turn.

When you go marching in to “give that teacher a piece of your mind”, all you are doing is letting off steam and seemingly taking your child’s side. Yes, teachers make mistakes. But do you really want to win the battle and lose the war? Do not underestimate the power of the relationship between teacher and pupil and how much you as a parent can influence it. Sometimes waiting, biting your tongue and thinking is the best strategy.

It is the same for divorced parents 
as it is for teacher and parent. Both parents need to be in agreement. 
Lack of consistency is like poison to a child. Why do children from broken homes on average underachieve in comparison to their peers who have two parents at home? Because their parents do not present a united front. When children are surrounded by inconsistency and unpredictability, they fall through the cracks.

Children depend on their parents 
to expect the very best of them. 
 Being a good parent does not mean indulging your child’s every whim. 
It means making sensible decisions and pushing back when your child 
is behaving like a child.

Kids are kids. It is what makes 
them so adorable. But a good parent needs to trust their school if the 
child is to succeed.

Katharine Birbalsingh is the headmistress and founder of 
Michaela Community School

Letters: Nigel Farage’s intransigence over Brexit could cost him and the country

SIR – Nigel Farage could have gone down in history as the man who stiffened the sinews of the Conservative Party and ensured that we left the European Union – but I fear he is more likely to go down as the man who caused us to stay put.

I know pride is at stake, but he must accept that after three years of political wrangling most people want to see a negotiated settlement. His desire for the Government to ditch the Brexit deal will simply not be realised. The only result if he persists with his present course is likely to be no exit from the EU, and a hard-Left Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Graham Lilley
Edge, Gloucestershire

SIR – If the campaigner Gina Miller’s tactical voting site for Remain supporters succeeds and 30 per cent of Remain supporters do indeed vote tactically, what then? Her pro-referendum coalition of opposition parties will most likely be led by Jeremy Corbyn. Has she heard of shooting yourself in the foot?

Fay Thompson
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire


SIR – Allison Pearson (Features, November 6) is absolutely right: the fight is now between sanity and a Labour government.

I have massive doubts about the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, but – using familiar terminology – even that is preferable to the catastrophe of falling off the cliff edge into Marxism.

Eve Wilson
Hill Head, Hampshire

SIR – I was initially inspired to see from your headline that Lord Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, despairs at the behaviour of Labour’s hard-Left (Comment, November 9).

However, he lost the moral high ground by stating that he would still, if eligible, be casting a vote for his local Labour candidate. How shameful.

Dr Alistair A Donald
Watlington, Oxfordshire


SIR – If I am at home for an election I take my postal vote to our nearby polling station, as I have little faith in our postal system even when its employees are not on strike.

Those with a postal vote who are away on December 12 and concerned that they might be disenfranchised (Letters, November 9) could ask a trusted person to deliver it by hand, in its sealed envelope, to any polling station within their constituency.

David Pynn
Malmesbury, Wiltshire


SIR – Now that pianos have proved so popular in railway stations, might we roll them out in polling stations?

I live in a small village and some years ago when our polling station was empty the teller, whom I knew, asked me to play the piano in the corner. I played a waltz of my own composition, and was startled to be greeted at the end by a large round of applause – the room had filled up while I was busy.

James Dixon
Stanningfield, Suffolk


Planning for floods

SIR – Criticism of the Environment Agency for inadequate flood defences (report, November 9) is unjustified, especially as its objections to flood-causing developments are routinely ignored by planning authorities.

Our climate is getting warmer and therefore we will experience more rain and more heavy downpours. At the same time, we are increasing the extent of impervious surfaces around towns within river catchments. Increased flooding is inevitable.

We cannot reverse climate change quickly, perhaps not at all, but we can mitigate this aspect of it by banning new impervious driveways and car parks and by modifying existing ones.

Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire

Boris Johnson cleaning up at an opticians in Matlock Credit: DANNY LAWSON/ AFP/Getty

SIR – Do Boris Johnson and his advisers not have any common sense?

In allowing himself to be persuaded to pose with a mop at a flooded home in Matlock, he is gifting headlines to the media and his political opponents. It is crass and stupid.

Valerie Goodchild
Bangor, Co Down


Bravery remembered

SIR – I would like to pass on my thanks to Admiral Lord West of Spithead for his letter (November 8) regarding the landing on the island of Walcheren, 
75 years ago.

My father Barry McClory was a Royal Naval signalman on LCF36, which provided covering fire for the landing troops at Westkapelle. Though he had first seen active service at the D-Day landings, Walcheren occupied most of his memories when talking about the war. He was 19 years old. LCF36 was eventually holed and managed to limp back to Portsmouth. Other craft in the flotilla were not so lucky. There were very heavy losses.

It should be noted that the Services do still commemorate the remarkable feats and bravery of the men that took part in Operation Infatuate I and II. When my father passed away in January 2013, the Royal Marines sent two buglers to escort his coffin into the church. These young men saluted my father, played the bugle part of the Evening Hymn and then the Last Post at his burial. His family will always be grateful for the honour they gave him.

Patricia Roberts

SIR – The Remembrance Festival at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday honoured the key role that Polish soldiers, under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders, played in bringing the drawn-out battle at Monte Cassino to an end.

The original decision to exclude any Polish personnel from the VE day celebrations (in order to appease Stalin) was considered by many to be an insult to the Polish nation. This moving performance has gone a long way to put matters right.

Richard Widenka
Battle, East Sussex


Availability of GPs

SIR – It is all very well for the Government to promise 6,000 more GPs by the end of the next Parliament (report, November 9), but full-time doctors are becoming a rarity as more and more choose to work part-time.

Thus the actual number of appointments that become available will fall well short of expectations, even if the above target is reached.

J H Reeves
Bradfield, Berkshire


Exercise caution when teaching the art of yoga

Don’t try this at home: a sadhu (holy man) practising yoga at Pashupatinath, Kathmandu Credit: www.bridgemanimages.com 

SIR – Following the report (November 4) that yoga teachers may risk injury attempting challenging poses for the sake of a good photo opportunity, it would be a shame if readers were put off practising this ancient art.

A good yoga instructor will teach students by example to be careful about proper alignment so that the body is not forced into harmful positions; they will use props where there is stiffness or injury, in order to avoid further injury, and will encourage students to work with ahimsa (non-violence) so that the body is not forced into positions that may harm it. As the late yoga master B K S Iyengar advised: “If you work mindlessly, you will injure yourself.”

Yoga can bring about remarkable health improvements if these principles are followed.

Jill Johnson
Chairman, Iyengar Yoga Association
Altrincham, Cheshire


SIR – I was sad to read (report, November 7) that a vicar has banned yoga classes in his church hall.

I used to attend yoga classes in our local Friends Meeting House. The benches where the congregation sat were stacked on the side to give us room for our mats. The class was much enjoyed aside from the fact that we were not allowed to block out the draught whistling under the Georgian doors, for fear that our exit might be impeded in the event of a fire.

Julia Rudebeck
Lewes, East Sussex


Diesel trade-off

SIR – If Bristol bans diesel vehicles (Letters, November 9), where are residents to turn when they need a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter or any other tradesman?

We all use diesel vehicles. Good luck persuading us to carry all our tools and materials on the bus.

S M Howard
Aldershot, Hampshire

Take a bow

SIR – I shall approach washing-up more philosophically since reading Malcolm Bailey’s letter (November 9).

I have had Dupuytren’s contracture in my left hand since the mid-Nineties but never needed surgery, possibly due to my doing the dishes and regularly bending the fingers back. However, I may also be stretching the tendons and maintaining my dexterity in my activity as a longbow archer: 
I draw the string with my left hand.

John Bedford
Thatcham, Berkshire


A merry monarch

A statue of King George IV in Trafalgar Square Credit: CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

SIR – The success of King George IV’s visit to Ireland in 1821 (Letters, November 8) may have owed much to his particular frame of mind at the time, since while he was en route he got the news that his estranged wife, Caroline, had died.

It was claimed that the rest of the passage to Dublin was taken up with eating goose pie, drinking whiskey, “in which his Majesty took most abundantly, and singing many joyous songs”. This fits in with what happened on his visit to Edinburgh the following year, when an extra supply of Glenfiddich had to be obtained urgently for fear of running dry.

Roger Hudson
London W8


Dogged determination

SIR – Our red setter used to take one of the logs from our log-pile (Letters, November 9) to play with, chew and own. Later, when my husband tossed it into the fire, our dog followed it and started to pull out the burning log.

Luckily, no damage was done to dog or hearth.

Felicity Guille
London SW6


Blind tasting

SIR – My local butcher has started making “Peaky Blinder” sausages.

When I asked what was in them, a customer behind me whispered: “Razor blades”.

Dr John James
Lichfield, Staffordshire


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‘Free’ tuition backfired horribly on the poorest pupils in Scotland. Now Labour wants to follow suit

Why should a shelf-stacker at Tesco pay extra tax to give a middle class school pupil a free degree?

The party manifestos are yet to reach the printers, so we will have to wait to hear the fetching strap lines deployed to encourage us to read their contents. In 2017 Labour’s effort was the Blairite “For The Many, Not The Few” while Theresa May went for “Forward, Together”.

May I make my own suggestion? “Be Careful What You Wish For”. You can have that one for free.

All too often, political parties seize on policies that happen to be superficially popular, even if the mechanics and consequences are less clear. Few will be surprised to hear that politicians like to promise the earth and consider how (or if) to keep those pledges only after the votes have been safely counted. But Scotland’s experience under the SNP already yields concrete examples of radical policies adopted to complement "progressive" election leaflets, even though the truth points in the opposite direction.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, should pay close attention here. Interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning about her party’s election offer, she confirmed that, like 2017, Labour will promise to scrap university tuition fees: “If Labour get into power on December 13, we will abolish tuition fees, no ifs no buts.”

“In spite of the fact that in Scotland, where they don’t pay them, the figures for access for poorer students are worse than they are in England or Wales?” asked the BBC’s Justin Webb. No answer was forthcoming, Rayner chose instead to head off on a slightly more comfortable tangent. It’s little wonder that politicians on the Left – the SNP included – are reluctant to face up to the realities of their own rhetoric.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but charging students for their university education is actually the best way of making sure poorer kids get the same opportunities to learn as better-off young people. This was at the heart of the House of Commons debates back in 2004, when the Conservative Party, led by Michael Howard, not only opposed the government’s plan to introduce “top-up fees” for universities, but went much further and promised to scrap fees altogether.

If Howard had been hoping to widen the prosperity and opportunity gap, to offer better off middle class kids a built-in advantage, then his policy was spot-on. We were a long way from David Cameron’s modernisation project, after all. But if you wish to preside over a massive expansion of further and higher education (and if you want Britain to keep up with its international competitors, you do), then you have to find a way of paying for it without imposing an unfair burden on the general taxpayer: why should a shelf-stacker at Tesco pay extra tax to give a middle class school pupil a free degree which he will use to improve his own income?

If a government chooses to eschew fees, as the SNP administration in Edinburgh has, then a consequence is less funding, which inevitably means rationing places. And when you ration places, guess who is most likely to lose out? Step forward working class would-be students.

The scare stories about working class university applicants being put off by the prospect of incurring debt – or, more egregiously, the false claims about “upfront” fees being a disincentive (they’re not a disincentive because they’re not upfront) – are entirely off the mark. Cuts to maintenance grants are far more likely to dissuade poorer students from completing their courses, as has happened in Scotland.

So, why won’t Angela Rayner or the Labour Party as a whole accept the entirely visible negative consequences of “free” tuition on the very communities they claim they want to prioritise? We must conclude, sadly, that the word “free” has a lot more political power than the word “consequences”. It is particularly disappointing that Rayner, who is more thoughtful than your average Corbynista and comes from exactly the kind of background that would suffer most under her own government’s regime, refuses even to answer questions about her policy.

A Labour government will expect us all to contribute more so that pupils leaving Eton can enjoy a debt-free education at Oxford or Cambridge, while any funding pressures – and there will be funding pressures – will ensure that those who need a university most, bright kids from poorer backgrounds, are the most likely to find that their place has been given to a high-paying overseas student. That’s what has happened in Scotland. The facts and figures are all there for Rayner to peruse.

Perhaps, when Labour politicians finally understand that it’s better to have a policy that’s right than to have one that happens to be popular, they will once again be ready for government.