Category Archives: Sunday Times

A story for our (Sunday) Times

There used to be an anthology we used in lower-school English classes.

It included this, by Jules Thurber:

The Little Girl and the Wolf

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

Problem: one would have to explain “Calvin Coolidge” — arguably, the most buttoned-up American President of all time:

Of whom there were more anecdotes than he deserved. But, I’m sure, if the class was dragging, I’d have woven in a few.


Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

On which note, there’s this advice to all sweet young things venturing on a  career in politics:



Filed under New Yorker, Quotations, Sunday Times, US politics

More Boulton bumble

Provided we bear in mind “news” amounts to no more than an edited version of as much “truth” as they feel we need to be told, we can’t go far wrong. Just keep digging for more.

And nowhere more so in the Murdochian edits of what might be in the “public domain”.

Which brings me to Adam Boulton’s Sunday Times slot. This week cozying up to the clichéd Elephant in the Room:

Not satisfied with eliminating the budget deficit, Osborne is bent on re-engineering Britain as a high-pay, low-welfare, low-tax economy. To this end, he is calling the shots on cutting tax credits. As a result the new government faces the biggest crisis of its short life.

My main gripe there is the “high-pay” thing. Evidence needed, Mr Boulton.

The official plaster-of-Paris fig-leaf applied to the offence is the (wait for it!) “national living wage“:

… a new, compulsory living wage from April 2016.

It will be paid to workers aged 25 and above. Initially, it will be set at £7.20 an hour, with a target of it reaching more than £9 an hour by 2020. Part-time and full-time workers will get it.

It will give a pay rise to six million workers but is expected to cost 60,000 jobs and reduce hours worked by four million a week, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

On paper it looks too-good-to-be-true:


Note the weasel-word: “forecast”. Note, too the wide variation of what it might mean. And — since we live in an age of recognising the cost-of-everything, but the value-of-nothing (especially the value of words, promises, pledges, aspirations, whatever) — what imposts it lays on employers. It should also lay a burden on government, to ensure it delivers, and on that ground, one has one’s doubts:

The National Living Wage’s introduction could mean an increase in black market payments to workers, a hospitality industry spokesman has said. 

Many employers will have to increase salaries when the new £7.20 an hour measure comes into effect next April.

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said it would have major implications for hotels and restaurants.

He told the BBC’s Inside Business programme there was a risk of more workers being paid “cash-in-hand”. 

Mr Neill said that while the hospitality industry was “in a much more difficult place than others”, various sectors were looking at “how we’re going to deal with this and, actually, how can you pass on the cost”.

To clarify: there are just two ways of “passing on the cost” —

  • billing the customer and end-user,
  • or diddling the employees, cooking the books, and by-passing any charges and taxes on employment (especially, social security payments).

Are we all sure:

  • the latter won’t happen?
  • or that official inspection will be adequate to sort out the rogue employers?

But, where I’m sitting (quite comfortably, thank you for asking), that’s not the Bigger Picture.

What that glossy incremental line-graph, an ever increasing basic pay-packet, ignores is the way it will primarily mean no more than absorbing the next wage-bracket above minimum into the “national living wage”. In theory, and on paper, the employee currently just above the £7:20 per hour rate should see a proportionate increase — so the current £9 per hour wage should rise by 25% by 2020 (say to £11:20 per hour), to match the increase in minimum.

Better believe it!

For, unless there is real pressure from the employees, that simply will not happen. Fair dos, there may be nugatory increases. But, without proper trade union pressures — precisely the thing this government is dead-set to eliminate — there won’t be justice done.

Which has other implications.

Especially for productivity, which is where — for the last decade — we have catastrophically failed.

Oh, and haven’t we heard of Adam Boulton’s high-pay, low-welfare, low-tax economy somewhere before? Something along these lines:

In bringing about economic recovery, we should all be on the same side. Government and public, management and unions, employers and employees, all have a common interest in raising productivity and profits, thus increasing investment and employment, and improving real living standards for everyone in a high-productivity, high-wage, low-tax economy

Now where was that? Ah, yes! The Conservative manifesto, foreward by Margaret Thatcher, for the 1979 General Election.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., History, Sunday Times, Tories., Trade unions

One has to wonder

Anthony Wells tacitly poses the question:

YouGov’s two sets of voting intention figures are CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15% in the Sun on Sunday poll, and CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% in the Sunday Times (Sun Times tabs are here, Sun on Sunday should be up tomorrow) – so still showing the two main parties very close to one another.

On which, I have just two observations:

  • One particular: the same polling operation (YouGov), paid by the same other operation (Murdoch, via News UK, a subsidiary of NewsCorp), produce two sets of numbers. Admittedly the statistical difference is slight, but it is the difference between a “tie” and a “lead” — which is also (especially for a reader of The Sun) the difference between three points for a 1-o win and a single point for a 0-0 draw . By (quite obviously) no coincidence that slight but telling difference represents different narratives, which — curiously but neatly — fit those of the two “news”papers.
  • More generally, that little lot about sums my view of opinion polls and their interpretation. And that is more significant.

To repeat myself:

Opinion polls, outside of an imminent (that is a span of days, not weeks or months) election are totally valueless. There is no constraint, no check on findings.

Since, by definition, such polls cannot be validated by votes-in-boxes, they are, also by definition, valueless.

However, they fill “news” columns, provide editors and their subs with a predictable supply of column fodder. They keep the paper’s tame “expert” in employment: this, without exception, is a university psephologist or another self-serving crony in the polling business —in both cases, then, with a vested interest in keeping this balloon inflated. As Private Eye always says, “Trebles all round”.

Above all, they are statistical constructs, derived from arcane algorithms based on assumptions about the population on which the small samples are based.

Hence, they exist within “margins of error”.

The bottom line

My objection is not to the polls, which are harmless, the wind-blown spinnings of a spider:

… so light a foot
Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint:
A lover may bestride the gossamer
That idles in the wanton summer air,
And yet not fall; so light is vanity.

[Which is Shakespeare’s better advert for Durex: the other is King Lear, Act IV, scene 6].

Yet, consider the spider.

Its work is neatly illustrated by the Independent on Sunday‘s two (usually reliable) commentators. John Rentoul opines:

David Cameron could not believe his luck. He was about to lose a by-election to the most irritating bunch of people a moderate Conservative prime minister could imagine, when Ed Miliband decided to distract journalists with a class-based comedy caper.

One of Cameron’s aides was so astonished by the Opposition’s mistake that he could hardly contain himself when we spoke the next day. The gist, with the expletives deleted, was that Miliband and his advisers had lost possession of their faculties, but this was mixed with outrage at their sheer lack of professionalism, as if he felt his craft had been insulted.

“The broadcasters were unsure if they were going to report it,” he said, of Emily Thornberry’s condescending tweet about England flags and a white van in Strood. “So they phoned Ed Miliband’s office and were briefed that he had never been so angry. It was like putting petrol on a fire.”

Got that? The whole narrative-thrust of the Rochester by-election is being dictated by the Downing Street spinners.

In parallel, Steve Richards then invites us into the age of anti-politics, concluding:

The loathed politicians agonise and differ over what to do about these big issues, but few notice. Thornberry has gone for taking a photo. White Van Dan is a celebrity. The main party leaders feel gloomy about being loathed and yet are perceived as arrogant and indifferent. Welcome to the mad world of British politics in a dangerous state of flux.

Hold on a mo: if you allow your narrative to be dictated by faceless spin-doctors, manipulating the crudest end of the Murdoch tabloid empire, what do you expect?


Back at the ranch, in the meanwhile, George Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” has just gone rotten pear-shaped, but was downgraded in The Times (once, proudly, “a newspaper of record) to page 60, on 22 November — you’d have found it sandwiched between nougat and toy trains:

Public sector borrowing between April to October this year rose £3.7bn compared to the same period the previous year, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) from April to October 2014 was £64.1bn…

Government cash requirement from April to October was £56.2bn, an increase of £20.3bn compared with the same period the previous year…

Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) was up £97.1bn in October 2014 compared to October the previous year.

The speed of the spinner’s tongue versus the eyes of even the most adapt commentators?

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., economy, George Osborne, Murdoch, politics, polls, Sunday Times, Times

A study in Natural History

I wonder how many will recognise what follows from its original title, there. A date might help:

first published in the Morning Post, October 20 1911; also in the Ladies Journal, November 11, 1911.

The opening stanza gives this little game away: it provided the title for subsequent publications, particularly after 1918 when the suffragists (note the subtle use of vocabulary there) achieved part of their aim:

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Read on, and get this:

Man, a bear in most relations—worm and savage otherwise,—
Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act…

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

From that to Ms Camilla Long’s “hobbits”.

I don’t apologise for returning to her spewed bile: anyway, this is my blog, and I don’t get paid for it.

In Ms Long’s de haut en bas (especially, as in that article,  since no working-class prod reaches more than 5ft 6in)down-her-nose Weltanschauung, all those women at yesterday’s Edinburgh Orange march were in swag upon swag of militant polyester, but dress[ed] like the Queen: neat handbags, pumps, ceremonial chains

Well, here they come, Cammy, my dear. Look them in the face, and do not flinch. You started it — doubtless reading the script the Boss didn’t quite need to dictate to you.

I trust you are woman enough to answer them in kind:


Because, I don’t know about your sensibilities, learned at “The House“, Camilla, dahling, but that lot in full cry would terrify the be-jasus out of me.


Borrowed from an old doggerel (with a touch of the MacGonagalls):

The political life of the Salmond
Will be shorter than anyone thinks.
At the end of the #indyref season,
La Sturgeon will be up to her tricks.
But Lamont’s political cuteness is never to be denied,
And Ms Davidson ’s wit should never easily be decried,
Which amounts to the end of the Salmond,
And the ladies’ inscrutable smiles.

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Filed under Murdoch, Scotland, Sunday Times

Guaranteed to turn marmalade toast to bitter gall

The Sunday Times misses the mark, by lang Scots miles.

Murdoch’s Sunday Times is a nasty, vicious, trivialising thing. In that it is the reflection of its master, now “best mates” with Alex Salmond.

My previous post was a jotting after being in Edinburgh yesterday. I’m not Orange. However, I do have to appreciate the viewpoint: even Gerry Adams and Máirtín make that leap. That is a recognition of the importance of the Orange sympathy across protestant Northern Ireland. Nor should it be scorned in lowland Scotland.

Yet the Orange don’t read the Sunday Times, do they? So it’s always Open Season when the Boss is calling the shots. And, I’ll lay odds, Camilla Long’s piece didn’t get the same page 2 prominence in today’s Scottish edition:

ON A small square of emerald behind Edinburgh Castle a furious Hobbit army gathers.

Nearly 15,000 Orangemen and women — none more than 5ft 6in — pour into the park, clutching fancy caps, braids, straps, pompoms, feathers, actual flutes of war and swag upon swag of militant polyester.

Even the mobility scooters seem ready for battle, pimped with “naw” slogans and fluttering Union flags.

One man, next to a burger van, has the pin of a “no” badge jammed through his ear.

And to help our mockery:



Oh, how droll. Definitely not one of us, say the ladies congregating at Moningside Parish Church. But sisterhood pervades under the skin, and I suggest a jerk of cross-class recognition. Good on you, love!

Even if your threads come from Primark, and not Jenners, you can still be Bonny Jean, and a lass o’ pairts. And your mother could well be buried under her maiden name, in the fine tradition of till death us do part. Some of us take pride in those differences.

A generation or so earlier …

Let us remember where these Scottish Orangemen come from. Some of them, those in the mobility scooters … ready for battle, are old enough to have laboured in the shipyards, the steel-works, the collieries that Margaret Thatcher’s government left derelict.

As for the Hobbitry, let’s look at a better writer than Ms Long, who went Down the Mine:

There is the heat—it varies, but in some mines it is suffocating—and the coal dust that stuffs up your throat and nostrils and collects along your eyelids, and the unending rattle of the conveyor belt, which in that confined space is rather like the rattle of a machine gun. But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron. They really do look like iron hammered iron statues—under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realize what splendid men, they are. Most of them are small (big men are at a disadvantage in that job) but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; wide shoulders tapering to slender supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere.

[For the record, Ms Long’s privileged background includes the Dukes of Newcastle: coal-magnates of Nottinghamshire and beyond.]

That’s not the case with the younger generation — the thick-set, bellied ones swinging the drum-sticks. But anyone with an eye notes the ex-service types who have seen it a’ in Basra and beyond. Ms Long heard:

A “yesser” from Leith calls them “a***holes” and “filth” in “ridiculous wee outfits” and “stupid hats”. They would “s***’ their pants if they actually had to pick up a rifle”.

The “yesser” and Ms Long should have looked more carefully. They must have missed the large Lee Rigby banner carried by one Lodge.

Those British Legion badges in the lapels, the poppy symbols, the Help for Heroes stickers are there by conviction, and from experience. A lot of rifle-picking-up has been done by these types. The majority of those 15,000 Orange marchers worked or work in “hobbit”-like manual trades. Nothing as challenging as the heavy-industrial phone-tapping, photo-shopping and text-inputting needed at News Corp, right? So what do they know of work, who only work at it?

If Camilla Long represents the effete Murdoch tendency, Jim White is more real for the Telegraph:

The drumbeat hammering through Edinburgh on Saturday morning rattled the rib- cage. Dogs within a fifteen-mile radius cowered as the shrill chirrup of the pipe band cut the air. Surely no one could have seen batons thrown so high, with such a flourish, along the streets of the city before.

For this was the Loyal Orange Order of Scotland thumping its noisy way through Scotland’s capital, determined to demonstrate its opposition to the very idea of an independent Scotland. This was the sound of the No campaign on a very noisy, very colourful march.

“There’s no doubt the Nationalist campaign has shown more pizzazz; it’s appealed to that part in the Scot that is passionate, proud, romantic,” admitted Ian Wilson, a past Grand Master of the Scottish Orange Lodge, who had helped co-ordinate the march. “But there’s nothing dispassionate about this organisation. We’re putting the passion back into the No campaign.”

As he spoke, the march was thumping on, led by the Black Skull band of Glasgow, in their full Scots Guards regalia. Behind them some 15,000 people snaked through the city, yelling out their desire to say No.

There were endless lines of men in black suits with orange sashes marked LOL (that stands for Loyal Orange Lodge, not Laugh Out Loud). There were women in vivid orange dresses, children waving Union flags…

This was the Orange Order, founded in 1795 to protect Protestant interests in Ireland and celebrate the memory of William of Orange, who defeated the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

It is best known for its annual march on July 12, celebrating William’s victory. Although most prominent in Northern Ireland, it also has lodges across the Commonwealth and the US as well as the significant presence in Scotland that it demonstrated yesterday. The Order in Northern Ireland has insisted it will stand with its Scottish counterparts to protect the Union.

This was democracy in action. Bands lined up as far as the eye could see. Groups of women in their Sunday best marched alongside them, carrying banners reading “Proud to be British, proud to be Scottish”.

Why did nobody notice the symbolism, especially important this day? Each Lodge is preceded by a member carrying the open Bible and a Crown: more than the sashes and the banners and the bands, the two unifying symbols of Orangism. And not to be scorned.

Later on Saturday, the Lady in My Life and I, filling in time before the evening train south, took drinks in a clubroom overlooking Princes Street and across to Edinburgh Castle.

At the next table were three archetypal Scots ladies, several classes different from those Camilla Long took time out to mock. Their sisterhood was in sympathy with the swag upon swag of militant polyester. I wonder what is their reading of Camilla Long.

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Filed under bigotry, Britain, broken society, Daily Telegraph, Military, Murdoch, Northern Irish politics, reading, Scotland, Sunday Times

The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife

What is the function of the political cartoon?

It occupies prime position on the editorial page. It frequently diverges from, even collides with the editorial stance.

I have several collections here from past masters. I’d suggest the present batch are more than holding their own by comparison.

I have to admit Gerald Scarfe, who was once the cutting-edge, isn’t doing it for me anymore: today’s in the Sunday Times, the limping dove-of-peace against the background of what looks like napalm, could have been recycled (and possibly is) from Vietnam or wherever.

Take, for comparison, four other views on the Gaza horror.

Chris Riddell, in today’s Observer, goes international for a change of scene, and comes up with:

Chris Riddell-Israel-Gaza-war

Look twice and you see not just the present, but  — in the second row — an anticipation of a continuing future.

If this (and it’s already up on the web-site) is tomorrow’s Independent, it’s a considerable improvement on Scarfe’s cliché:


Martin Rowson, for Saturday’s Guardian, and Dave Brown for the same day’s Independent, both conflate 1914 and 2014:

martin rowson cartoon 1.8.14


That second one derives from John Singer Sargent:


Sargent was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information: it was for a Hall of Remembrance. It derived from Sargent’s visit to the Western Front in July 1918, but was completed only in 1919. Before the Armistice, such a depiction would have been as welcome as rats in the Commons’ dining rooms. Now it hangs (2.3m by 6.1m — that’s twenty imperial feet long) in the Imperial War Museum.

Virginia Woolf mused on this one, which she seems to have seen at the Royal Academy:

A large picture by Mr Sargent called ‘Gassed’ at last pricked some nerve of protest, or perhaps of humanity. In order to emphasise his point that the soldiers wearing bandages round their eyes cannot see, and therefore claim our compassion, he makes one of them raise his leg to the level of his elbow in order to mount a step and inch or two above the ground. This little piece of over-emphasis was the final scratch of the surgeon’s knife which is said to hurt more than the whole operation.

The final scratch of the surgeon’s knife: that’ll do for me: it defines remarkably the point and purpose of the editorial cartoon.

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Filed under Dave Brown, Guardian, Independent, Literature, MArtin Rowson, Sunday Times

Gus Christensen and co.

That previous post on housing was essentially a lament that the omniscient Economist had no answer to London’s affordable homes problem (short of building across the inner Home Counties — which might, just might, finally collapse the transport networks).

Today’s New York Times has a somewhat similar account of a similar problem:

Affordable Island in the Sun
Roosevelt Island Maintains Its Mix

Roosevelt Island, which is considered part of Manhattan and not Queens, was famously conceived as a utopia for working- and middle-class New Yorkers in 1969, and the architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed its master plan. Most of the apartments on the island were subsidized through state and federal programs, and various buildings were developed to house tenants of different income levels, so that someone receiving a Section 8 grant, for instance, might live next to a teacher in a rent-regulated unit.

The story is topped-and-tailed for “human interest” by Gus Christensen:

Gus Christensen was, until six months ago, a managing director at Evercore Partners, the boutique investment bank, a position preceded by stints at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs and an education at Wharton. Some years ago, befitting that profile, he was a Republican; but eventually the religion of the free market lost its hold on him, so much so that his politics migrated aggressively to the left. Last week he posted on Twitter a link to a tabloid piece about a billionaire who was buying a $70 million pied-à-terre for his children at 740 Park Avenue, with the hashtag #Signoftheapocalypse.

Mr. Christensen is running for the State Assembly in the 76th District, which runs east of Third Avenue on the Upper East Side and includes Roosevelt Island, a community that might be seen as a template for the kind of equitable and more economically integrated city that he and other progressives, fearing the eclipse of all but the wealthiest faction of the plutocratic class, want to see achieved.

Christensen was profiled at some length in Esquire —

It is tax day, April 15th, and a rainy one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where Gustavus “Gus” Christensen, a Democrat running to fill a rare open city seat in the New York State Assembly, works from his compact, ground level home office. Christensen sits in front of a closed HP laptop.  His campaign manager, on the payroll for about a month, sits in front of a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display. Outside, commuters are soaked in the downpour.

The Assembly district that Christensen hopes to represent is the (relatively) poorer half of the wealthiest Congressional district in the United States.  The 42-year-old candidate left a post as managing director of Evercore Partners, a boutique investment bank, to run for the seat. He previously worked at J.P. Morgan (pre-merger with Chase) and Goldman Sachs.

Typical Wall Street, floor to ceiling on the diploma wall, too. Graduate school for Christensen was the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and he was a Yale undergraduate where he served as campus coordinator for moderate Democrat Paul Tsongas, then contesting the Democratic Party presidential primary.

For his first race, Christensen believes he’ll need to raise half a million dollars. He’s already gathered $145,000 from donors and has lent his campaign another $250,000.  It will be an expensive election. Three cycles ago, candidates in the neighboring district spent $3 million to fill an open seat. Inflation, it seems, is everywhere in New York. That’s one of the reasons Christensen is running.

There’s also a Bloomberg “In the Loop” interview, which covers much of the same ground.

250px-NYCS_map_F.svgI have to say, with his emphasis on housing and decent provision for schooling, Mr Christensen sounds like my sort of man. I don’t overlook, either, that he has seen the weakness of outcasting affordable accommodation to remoter spots (as for The Economist,  remember, that was the Green Belt):

The population of the island has grown by 20 percent over the past 10 years, and the demands on infrastructure are intense. One real problem for Roosevelt Island, as Mr. Christensen put it, is that

“there are just too many people on the F train in the morning”.

Rather like boarding the Northern Line south of East Finchley or Golders Green any morning, and expecting a seat.

Meanwhile, if you read Adam Boulton in today’s [London] Sunday Times, you got an eyeful of all that is wrong with Ed Miliband:

Today two of Miliband’s closest allies in the shadow cabinet are Rachel Reeves, who gave her first preference to Ed in 2010, and Tristram Hunt, who hotly backed his brother David. Brainy, academic, metropolitan middle-class professionals, they are also very much in Ed Miliband’s mould, which tells you a lot about his approach to politics.

Miliband believes he can answer doubts about his personality with two other P-words, policy and principle. In Miliband’s view, last week’s promised clampdown on the jobseeker’s allowance wasn’t a knee-jerk attempt to stem the flow of working-class voters to Ukip. It was a carefully calculated plank in his plan to combat youth unemployment.

The announcement was just a taster of the policy platform — on growth, on infrastructure, on education — that Miliband’s Labour will roll out through the summer, culminating in the party conference, an event that has so far proved a successful marshalling point for this Labour leader. The problem with this policy process comes when it intersects with reality. Not everyone sees things his way.

I wasn’t clear,. there, whether Brainy, academic, metropolitan middle-class professionals was Boulton channelling Pope:

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.

I, on the other hand, feel that Christensen, Reeves, Hunt, and Miliband are models of precisely the kind of caring, thoughtful progressives of which we need many more.

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Filed under Democratic Party, Elections, equality, House-prices, Labour Party, New York City, New York Times, social class, Sunday Times