A Sure Start for the therapeutic state

  The UK government really cares about children. So much so that it has spent more than £3billion over four years to make parents in deprived areas give their children ‘warmer parenting’, relying less on smacking and criticism and more on talking and affection (1). Whatever else you say about the politics of behaviour, it […]

Examination, examination, examination

‘The time for reform has come’, said Mike Tomlinson, leader of the government-commissioned working party on the future of England’s schools examinations system, as he produced his interim report on 14-19 education. What, again? Over the past few years England’s exams have undergone more reform than the pupils sitting them have had hot dinners. Each […]

Playing with truants

To boost our seasonal spirits, the UK government is entering the New Year with a new phase of its war on truancy. Not content with locking up parents whose children persistently play hooky from school, it has now teamed up with travel agents to issue £100 fines to parents who take their children out of […]

Harry Potter and the Meaning of Life

Once upon a time, it was record shops that staged high-profile midnight openings to sell the latest hot release to queues of impatient fans; it was senior politicians who found themselves grilled on national TV by the BBC’s flagship interviewer Jeremy Paxman; and it was intellectuals and literary novelists who shaped great debates about moral […]

Reader, I disparaged him

What are women like? One minute they are voting for the predictable romantic hero Mr Darcy as their dream date, in a publicity poll for the women-only award, the Orange Prize for Fiction. The next, they are producing books about practical marriage management, arguing that the secret of a professional woman’s successful marriage is to […]

An anti-independence culture

Okay, I love my mum’s Sunday dinners. But that never seemed like a reason not to learn to cook my own. The nice thing about adulthood is that you no longer have to wait for your parents to dole out treats. Or maybe I’m just weird. Two headline-grabbing surveys reported on 21 March 2002 painted […]

Post-radical depression

We all know about ‘Chick Lit’ – the phenomenon of young female writers getting big advances for novels based on the singleton lives of themselves and their friends. What’s next, it seems, is ‘Guilt-trip Lit’, where the menopausal mothers of the women’s fiction world turn their attention to the fucked-up lives of their grown-up children’s […]

Good v Evil need not apply

  For the second week running, I found myself watching BBC1’s Sunday War Report. Chaired by John Humphrys, veteran of Radio 4’s Today programme, this seems like the BBC’s latest attempt at information-populism, combining breaking news with interviews with feature reports with Peter Snow (famous for his election-time swingometers) gabbling breathlessly through an electronic presentation of what troops/planes/bombs […]

Apologetic imperialism

If you want to understand the world as it really is not, it’s often a good idea to read some of the columnists in the UK press. This week, the Award for the Most Unreal Analysis goes to the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting. Bunting used her slot on Monday 8 October to launch a bitter attack on […]

Growing up scared

As aeroplanes were crashing into New York’s World Trade Centre, I was halfway through an online quiz to find out if I am suffering from a ‘quarterlife crisis’. Sometimes, the news really puts things in perspective. The quarterlife crisis, apparently, is the twentysomething’s version of a midlife crisis. It refers to the condition of graduating […]

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