Your essential weekend reader — my personal pick of the week’s must-reads

by Stephen Tall on February 17, 2013

Papers - Some rights reserved by NS MewsflashIt’s Sunday lunchtime, so here are a baker’s dozen of thought-provoking articles to stimulate your thinking juices culled from all those I’ve linked to this last week. You can follow me on Delicious here.

The lesson from Poundland: work pays – Tim Harford looks at the workfare which didn’t work and the workfare which did work. Guess which one the Government scrapped? ‘It is ironic that this is one of the few areas where the government is carrying out rigorous tests of what works, and yet few people seem interested in what those tests discover.’

Britain’s strength is its weakness – Anatole Kaletsky says unpredictable times are just around the corner: ‘Britain is in the process of transformation from a haven of political and economic stability into one of the world’s most unpredictable economies.’

After Mid Staffs, Labour must be brave and take on the cult of the NHS – Peter Watt contrasts the furore over horsemeat (no-one harmed so far as we know) with the shrug over the Mid-Staffs hospital report (1200 unnecessarily dead): ‘There is an attitude about the NHS that makes it all but un-challengeable.’

How Twitter almost destroyed me – yes, I know it’s by James Delingpole, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically wrong. Stopped clocks ‘n all that, y’know: ‘Twitter is a publishing medium more dangerous than any that has ever before existed. The problem is that it is once trivially ephemeral and hideously permanent.’

Lord Snooty v the Gimp, or why politics isn’t a game for the voters of Eastleigh – You didn’t think I wouldn’t mention Eastleigh, did you? Rafael Behr on voter perceptions. ‘Lord Snooty v the Gimp – it is an unkind but not an uncommon account of the battle between the leaders of the two main parties. It is what focus groups have been telling Labour and Tory strategists for two years and what constituents have been telling MPs, which is why none of them feels confident about the next general election.’ PS: Rafael tells me Nick Clegg is likened to a ‘jellyfish’.

Take a bullet for the team – David Runciman with an absolutely fascinating review of the Profumo scandal, including a de-bunking of Mandy Rice-Davies’s famous “He would, wouldn’t he?” quote: ‘The ability of a scandal to destroy a government usually has very little to do with the merits of the case. It depends on timing.’

Briefing: What is the government doing to inheritance tax? – Jonathan Jones has the killer stat: ‘Of the roughly 560,000 deaths in 2009-10, inheritance tax was paid on the estates of just 14,600 — or 2.6 per cent.’

Not everyone is anti-EU: young people and the Eurosceptic vote – Stuart Fox examnes the generational differences: ‘It is possible that the demands for anti-EU sentiments from politicians will wane over the coming elections as the older, more hostile, members of the electorate are replaced by younger voters more supportive of – or at least less hostile towards – Britain’s relationship with the European Union.’

Barack Obama’s Israel trip: Hope not yet lost, but close – The Economist on the Israeli strategy to avoid the blame for the failure of the two-state solution: ‘[it seems] to be one of cynical, trivial concessions to the Palestinian Authority in order to convince the international community that the failure of the peace process is not your fault, combined with stronger restraint and control of the Palestinian population and expansion of Israeli territorial domination.’

Pope Benedict XVI: A Good Resignation – Alexander Lee argues that, whatever the controversies surrounding his reign, the current Pope leaves the position stronger: ‘the fact that the Church will proceed smoothly to elect a new pontiff during the Lenten period illustrates that the papacy is, for the first time in its history, well-supported by a smoothly-functioning Curia, and grounded in a sense of electoral authority that has finally overcome the instabilities of the past.’

Labour’s influences: The most important chart in British politics? – The Economist on the increasing gap between wages and economic output: ‘in the boom years between the 2001 election and the 2007 financial crisis, a period when the Labour government was pouring money into public services and tax credits, incomes growth was stubbornly sluggish.’

Are the Republicans Beyond Saving? – Elizabeth Drew takes a pessimistic view of the GOP’s prospects: ‘Americans who long for a group of moderate Republicans with whom a Democratic president might deal … are in for a disappointment. That Republican Party is gone and the base of the party isn’t going to permit its return, at least not for the foreseeable future.’

UK banking reforms: What’s new? – not much, suggest Stephanie Flanders, considering the Government’s proposed ring-fencing of investment from retail banking: ‘We should perhaps also remember, the toughest ring fence in the world would not have prevented the failure of Northern Rock – which did not have any “risky investment bank activities” to speak of.’

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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