5 things about this week (10 January 2019)

by Stephen Tall on January 10, 2019

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Let’s pick up where I left off, and see if I can make a proper go of it this time, eh?


78 days to Brexit and the paradox that is its simultaneously mind-numbingly boring and risk-takingly thrilling denouement. Throughout the autumn, barely a day seemed to pass without a ministerial resignation. Into 2019, and its government defeats which are all the rage (literally). Frankly, it’s all too much to process.

And not just for the public, I suspect. MPs, too, seem to be caught in the traffic-light daze of the enormity and complexity confronting them. Brexiters and Remainers alike are queuing up to reject Theresa May’s deal and the infamous ‘backstop’, without seemingly caring over-much if they could really do any better; at least in a way which both honours the referendum result and squares the circle of the Northern Ireland border.

James Kirkup, journalist-turned-think-tanker, has today written a thoughtful piece in The Times praising the Prime Minister’s deal:

In truth, the deal would leave Britain able to choose, though from a range of imperfect options. But that’s what Brexit means. Having rejected a first-class trade deal with our closest partners, we are left to choose between second-best alternatives. Most adults eventually accept that growing up means giving up on fairytales of perfection and instead choosing between least-bad options. Mrs May’s deal, backstop and all, is the least bad option open to Britain. MPs should vote for it.

Well worth a read in full (yes, it’s paywalled but you get two free articles a week for registering). Of course, it’s rationale is predicated on our politicians being able to look beyond their slogans and consider politics as the art of the possible. So a crushing Commons defeat for Theresa May still seems the most likely outcome of the big vote.


I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks’ holiday in Spain with my in-laws, celebrating New Year and its Fiesta de los Reyes. Brexit was, incidentally, barely mentioned on the news programmes; other European countries have their own domestic worries, and the UK’s hara-kiri simply baffles them.

I decided to take a break from Twitter, too, but obviously couldn’t completely stick to that. My occasional lapse did at least mean I didn’t miss out on this excellent article by the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis, which I’m highlighting for two reasons.

First, its subject – the toxic debate about gender self-ID – is one I’ve written about here before. Indeed, it was a big part of the motivation to re-start my blog because it felt a better medium than Twitter to highlight my deep concerns about the undermining of single-sex spaces for natal-born women.

Secondly, Helen Lewis is the writer who first got me interested in this subject (and identity politics more generally). She has written extensively and sympathetically about the need to improve rights and services for transgender people, while also highlighting the problems associated with self-ID. And as a result, has been regularly traduced as a ‘transphobe’ and ‘TERF‘ for the latter (with the former ignored).

Her article is gloriously angry, but also makes a very serious point about woke activism:

Supporting better funding for gender identity services doesn’t make you a radical activist. It just makes you someone who is destined to be disappointed by a Conservative government. Supporting self-ID, by contrast, in the face of all the evidence it might have unforeseen consequences for everything from prison populations to crime statistics to women’s participation in competitive sports – now, that makes you look right-on.


I’ve gone done a podcast. Well, everyone has these days. It’s “the classic ‘two dudes talking’ format” – to quote my co-presenter, Mark Pack – with the idea of filling the gap in the market for liberals chatting politics and stuff. You can have a listen here and let us know what you think…


Tonight we’ve submitted our online application for a primary school place for our soon-to-be-4 year-old. We’re lucky in Horsham; all the nearest six schools we visited (ie, within 2 miles) are Ofsted-rated ‘Good’ and do well in national tests. And no, that’s not the be-all-and-end-all, but still.

Indeed, precisely because they’re all clearly good schools, it made our decision a bit trickier. And, to be honest, us as parents a bit fussier. He loves music, is half-Spanish, extremely energetic — so our ideal is a school with instruments and mutlilingualism and plenty of outdoor space. Fingers crossed.

One school which was quickly ruled out was the one with the motto, ‘Be sensible and safe’. To be clear, I’m not advocating ‘stupid and dangerous’ as preferable for kids. But — not to go all new-age hippy — I would prioritise exploration and risk-taking (within a safe environment).

On which note, it’s well worth reading Jonathan Haidt and Pamela Paresky’s article in today’s Guardian, By mollycoddling our children, we’re fuelling mental illness in teenagers:

Children’s social and emotional abilities are as antifragile as their immune systems. If we overprotect kids and keep them “safe” from unpleasant social situations and negative emotions, we deprive them of the challenges and opportunities for skill-building they need to grow strong. Such children are likely to suffer more when exposed later to other unpleasant but ordinary life events, such as teasing and social exclusion.

… free play, in which kids work out their own rules of engagement, take small risks, and learn to master small dangers (such as having a snowball fight) turns out to be crucial for the development of adult social and even physical competence. …

How can we raise kids strong enough to handle the ordinary and extraordinary challenges of life? There’s a powerful piece of folk wisdom: prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. As soon as you grasp the concept of antifragility, you understand why that folk saying is true.


Cultural corner… Having been away, I’ve only just caught up on BBC1’s latest Agatha Christie adaptation, The ABC Murders. I’m pretty open to re-interpretations of classics, but they should at least respect the canon. Yet Sarah Phelps’ version transformed Hercule Poirot from a deeply religious, retired Belgian policeman, whose patriotic integrity is part of his DNA into an atheistic ex-priest, who deceives his country and closest friends. However stylish the cinematography, the thing was badly done. Niall Gooch has written an excellent critique of it here.

But let me end on a positive. I read Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle while on holiday and absolutely loved it. Described as Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day (with a dollop of gothic horror) it is scintillatingly original, and especially impressive for a debut.

And that’s it – hopefully for another week, rather than another four months this time…

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Waited years for an in-focus shot of me casually throwing a child in the air. I finally have one. Thank you @flo_westbrook for this great pic (among many others)

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