Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: New Scottish Conservative Logo

In my latest OU contribution I take a look at the Scottish Conservative and Unionists' new logo, trying to offer a balanced critique of its strengths and weaknesses as well as the significance of branding to the Conservative Party. Read it here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dilettante on Tory Hoose: What fate awaits the SNP beyond a 2014 defeat?

In my latest article for Tory Hoose, the Scottish Conservative Home, I speculate on the various fates that may await the SNP beyond a defeat for secession in the 2014 referendum. Read it here.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: Votes for Grown Ups

My latest TSJ article rebuts a previous contibutor's case for votes at 16. I've made the general case against it before, so this time I have some fun taking apart the crux of his argument. Read it here.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: Puerto Rico chooses union

Just a short piece, drawing attention to the other election that took place alongside President Obama's re-election on Tuesday night, when Puerto Rico voted in a (non-binding) referendum to become the 51st member of the United States of America. Read it here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: In Defence of Government Secrecy

My latest article for The Commentator, prompted by the Anonymous threats against Zynga, makes the case for protecting state secrets and corporate privacy and calls for a concerted international strategy for tackling criminal hackers and leakers who pose a threat to national security. Read it here.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: Am I the only one on the right?

My latest TSJ contribution looks at the reasons why right-of-centre students are under-represented in student media, the negative impact this has, and challenges my editors to go rustle me up some friends.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dilettante in the Trinity News: The future's bright, but Orange?

In the early October issue of the fortnightly Trinity College Dublin student newspaper Trinity News, an article was published about unionists and the Orange culture in Northern Ireland. You can find the issue here, the article is on page 12. As the only unionist on staff, I was asked to write a response, which they published in the following issue which you can read here (page 18). 

Alternatively, you can read my slightly longer submitted version over on Open Unionism here.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Dilettante in BullsEye: Political youth movements need autonomy

The October issue of BullsEye, the magazine of European Democrat Students, is finally out and can be read here. This is the first issue since I took over as editor-in-chief. The theme is 'Youth Engagement with Politics', and I offer an article on the need for political youth movements to be trusted with some autonomy by their parent parties.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Dilettante on the Tea Room: The Guardian Sells Out

My latest contribution to The Commentator's new Tea Room blog pokes fun at the fact that the Guardian sold its front page to Vodafone, whose tax efficiency it had so persecuted. Read it here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Dilettante on Gossip Tory: Conference Coverage

Realised I didn't post these earlier, I did a couple of short pieces from the Conservative Conference for Gossip Tory, which can be found here and here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: The Death of the British Party Conference

My latest Commentator contribution draws on my recent experience of the European People's Party congress in Bucharest, and the puzzling survival of the democratic party conference throughout Europe, but not in Britain. Read it here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Dilettante on the Huffington Post: Salmond's Choice

My latest HuffPost contribution responds to the recent SNP defections over NATO looks at the risks Alex Salmond has to take if he goes all-out for victory in 2014. Does he think his chances of victory are high enough to risk a defeat that would shatter his party? Read it here.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: The State of Unionism at the 2012 Conservative Conference

This is a week later than I was planning on submitting it due to by post-conference flu and Romania, but I hope still timely enough to be interesting. Here is my eyewitness guide to the state of unionism at the Conservative and Unionist Party conference 2012.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dilettante on the Tea Room: Where art thou, our besiegers?

My first piece for The Commentator's new 'Tea Room' blog, where I recount how I secretly missed the usual crowd of rag-tag reds that ordinarily lay siege to the Conservative conference. Read it here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: We need two 'One Nation' parties to maintain a one-nation UK

In my latest contribution to The Commentator, I make the case at Ed Miliband's appropriation of the 'One Nation' political label should galvanise the Conservatives to improve their own credentials in that regard, and that only when both parties are 'one nation' will the integrity of the UK be safe. Read it here.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Dilettante in Crossbow: Conservative devolution policy post-2014

I'm posting this from Romania, where'd I'm attending my first EDS conference as the editor of BullsEye, which I should have for you soon. In the meantime, here is the Conference edition of Bow Group magazine Crossbow, in which I offer my thoughts on what Conservative policy regarding devolution should be come 2015. It ended up being given a slightly misleading title, but you can find it on page 25. Read it here.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: The market empowers pupils and parents

In my latest TSJ offering, I tackle another contributor who believes the market is ruining education in England and Wales. Read it here.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Dilettante on the Nolan Show: Are the Conservatives the party of the rich?

A little late this, due to my not having my laptop on me in Birmingham. On Sunday night I appeared on the Nolan Show to debate the National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party about whether the Conservatives were the party of the rich. Listen here, starting at one hour and seven minutes in.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Dilettante on 5 Live Drive: Cameron and Scotland

I appeared alongside John Pienaar for the opening segment of 5 Live Drive, talking to Peter Allen about Cameron's conference speech and Conservative prospects north of the border. Give it a listen here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dilettante on HuffPost: The challanges facing the constitutional convention

Irish Ferries have conspired to misplace my luggage, so most of my conference-related pieces are going to have to wait until I return home. In the meanwhile, the Huffington Post carries a piece I submitted before I left, on the challenges facing David Cameron's proposed 'constitutional convention' in search of a final, stable devolution settlement. Read it here.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Dilettante in Trinity News: Your Education, Your Responsiblity

My first article for the independent university paper has gone up this week, in which I make the case for a fees-and-loans system of higher education funding and decry the alternatives. It's been a while since I got to pitch fees to an audience of student activists, so this was good fun.

You can view the printed version in on-the-page format here, go to page 16. They have cut some paragraphs for length and added the odd typo (including substituting a 'T' for the 'W' in the first word, which given its prominence is fairly unfortunate). Sadly I don't have a word-processed version with their edits, so if you're finding that hard to read I've reproduced my submitted version below. Enjoy!

Your Education, Your Responsibility

When travelling abroad, it is always nice to catch sight of something familiar from home. That’s how I felt when I opened the pages of the Trinity student press during Fresher’s week and discovered a raging debate about fees.

The problem of paying for higher education is one that the UK and Ireland share. It is a topic that splits students along ideological lines and provides them with a keystone issue by which to measure political parties in which they might otherwise take little interest. Indeed, the fees issue has come to define, and may well destroy, the junior partner in Britain’s current coalition, the Liberal Democrats.

Ireland and Britain also seem to share the fact that the majority of students (or at any rate, student activists) passionately believe that someone else should pay for their degree, whether through the retention of the old grants system or the imposition of a graduate tax, and are strongly averse to identifying students as consumers.

The case I want to make to you is simple: that a fees-and-loans model is the best and fairest means for paying for university; that higher education is treated as a fundamentally private good (and we should be glad of that); and that students are ill-served by any refusal on the part of their advocates to adopt a consumer mentality.

Before beginning, it is worth pointing out that I do not subscribe to the notion that tertiary education is a ‘right’, a belief which renders any debate about the costs and benefits of higher education entirely otiose. Rather I take the view that spending four years enrolled in a university is not a fundamental part of the human condition but something that must be justified on its merits and it is in that spirit that this case is offered.

The one irrefutable point around which the funding debate rages (and I use that word advisedly) is that higher education has to be paid for somehow. The question is who pays for it. Under a grant model, the burden of your undergraduate degree is shouldered by the population in general. Under a graduate tax, successful graduates pay for their own degree and the degrees of those less successful. Under fees-and-loans everybody pays for their own, with the up-front cost met by a low-to-no-interest government loan to remove any barrier to entry posed by cost.

Put that way, I feel the unfairness of the first two suggestions is apparent. Although a relatively light burden during the age when university was simply another stage in the life cycle of a narrow professional class, the cost to the taxpayer of grant-funding university today would be phenomenal, and would fall on great swathes of people who don’t enjoy the advantages of higher education and never will. It also provides no incentive to make the most out of a degree, and could lead to people using it as an excuse to postpone adult life for four years without taking academia seriously.

A graduate tax takes this even further and conjures a whole set of perverse incentives. Those who feel they have a good chance at making a success of themselves, and those wealthy enough to afford it regardless, may well prefer to take out even a commercial loan and face the repayments rather than sign off a section of their income for the rest of their lives. If no opt-out existed domestically this could drive many of a country’s best and brightest abroad. In either scenario, those high achievers who are expected to pay for the rest will be out of the system.

If they’re not, it does not strike me as fair to have a funding system that provides no disincentives to the lazy or aimless – whose university education will be free if they make little of it – whilst thrusting the costs onto the hard-working and ultimately successful.

In contrast, a fees-and-loans system combines personal responsibility with equality of opportunity. Government loans ensure that everybody can go to university if they choose to, whilst income-based repayments (as in the UK) ensure that graduates only pay back when they can afford to. The upside is that everyone has to take ownership of their degree. If they feel that they will receive sufficient reward from it (whether in terms of income, personal development or any other measure) to justify taking on the student debt then they will go to university, and the system will incentivise them to take as much from the opportunity as they possibly can. On the other hand, those who might have simply drifted into university for want of anything better to do will be forced to give the decision, and the potential alternatives, proper consideration.

“Ah”, the opponent of fees might say, “but higher education is a public good. It is in the government’s interest to have a better-educated workforce, and so it should pay for our degrees”.

This is true up to a point. It is certainly in the national interest to have a pool of graduates, particularly in areas where it sees potential for economic growth (such as Ireland’s high-tech sector). Yet it is surely impossible to sustain the conceit that every degree is a public good, which it is in the public interest to pay for from general taxation.

If the government genuinely treated degrees as a public good, then both the number of degrees it funded and which subjects received those degrees would be government decisions, decided centrally. The government would, in line with its own priorities, work out which degrees were in the public interest and provide them. As with all things government decides, this would doubtless fall prey to opinion polls and popular perception.

For an Arts student, let alone someone studying a subject not held in high public esteem (beware any subject with the word ‘studies’ in the title), the outlook would be grim. How many historians or psychologists would the public be willing to pay for, if it were actually presented with parties which had to dole out degree places as a matter of public policy?

In these austere times, reducing the higher education budget by cutting ill-regarded courses would look like an easy win to a government with its back pressed to the financial wall, and “do we want to pay for [insert degree] when we’re cutting [vital public service]?” is a question that “give us more stuff” education activists probably don’t want politicians asking the public.

Rationed places, distributed according to centrally-determined intake priorities, are a long way from equality of access or opportunity, and like most central planning serves to disempower the people who use the service, students.

Happily, the government operates a different system: one where a student can choose to study whatever they like within the limitations of the grades they left school with. Students are free to follow their personal preferences, even when this leads to low take-ups for subjects the government and the public want more of and very high take-ups for popular courses neither government nor public thinks are very useful (in the UK those positions are represented in totemic fashion by mathematics and psychology respectively), or when the number of ‘graduate jobs’ fails to grow at a rate commensurate to the number of graduates and produces large over-qualification levels (as in Britain).

In short, the government treats a degree as a largely private good, whose benefits accrue primarily to the individual who holds it. Government and others such as businesses and the universities themselves can fund the public good within this framework via bursaries and scholarships, but it is the private-good framework that affords students the freedom of choice that we cherish.

By removing barriers to entry and allowing students to choose where they go, the government allows us to act like empowered consumers. Although it doesn’t sit easily with a student self-image that casts us in the mould of workers, with unions and strikes to match, the fact is that our relationship with our university is that of consumer and provider, and we are ill-served if we refuse to recognise this.

Students need a Which?-style consumer information and advocacy organisation to help them make informed choices about what degree to choose and lobby to ensure they get the best possible value for money. If the government does not allow the price mechanism free reign in higher education (and few people in Europe want the American system) then the need for such a group is all the greater, because of the vast difference between cost (which would be nationally uniform in most systems) and value for money.

 An organisation that tracks graduate employment, student satisfaction and a host of other measures for each degree, and makes that information easy to find and compare, will serve prospective students far better than sit-ins and walk-outs by empowering them to make well-informed decisions. We’ve not got one yet because such an approach lacks the anti-capitalist style and class-warfare glamour with which much of the ‘student movement’ is so unhelpfully enamoured.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Dilettante Campaigns: The USI doesn't amplify our voice, it drowns us out.

I'm new to the phenomenon of being able to blog on Facebook, but the Yes campaign in Trinity College's referendum on disaffiliation from the Union of Students in Ireland asked me to contribute a short article laying out why I was voting Yes to disaffiliation. You can read it here, or I've reproduced it below.

The USI doesn't amplify our voice, it drowns it out

One of the key planks of the argument advanced by those who want to maintain Trinity’s affiliation to the Union of Students in Ireland is the notion that it provides us with national representation. The ‘Vote No’ section of the USI website reads:

“Through membership of USI, your students can ensure that their voice is heard on a national level with direct access to the Minister, Department of Education, Government and the Oireachtas.”

This does sound appealing, and supports one of their key lines that Trinity on its own is simply too small to effectively represent her students on the national stage. Yet giving that sentence a second thought reveals that it is predicated on a falsehood: that the USI currently represents Trinity students to any of those institutions.

There is a world of difference between the USI operating in our name, and actually representing our views. This referendum has been sought precisely because the USI is not representing Trinity students. The majority of Trinity students do not support a free education campaign, yet that is the course of action the USI has taken. We do not endorse occupations and other faux-radical tactics, yet still the USI deploys them.

This is a fundamental problem with being a perennial minority in an organisation that, via a democratic internal structure, has to represent the views of the majority of its members. The USI can point out that the views of Trinity students are in a minority nationally and that it is pursuing the policy preferences of the majority of Irish students as a whole.

But this doesn’t change the fact that our views are not represented. We are drowned out or, to stretch the ‘voice’ analogy, shouted down by the rest of the membership. Our participation in the USI does not mean that Trinity’s views are placed on the national stage. 

Thus the views that the USI takes to the Minister, Department of Education and so on are not our own at all. Rather than being represented, our numbers and prestigious institution are instead pressed into the service of promoting views with which we disagree.

USI membership is not a fundamental part of the student condition. It is an organisation that offers services in exchange for a substantial membership subscription, and members have every right to expect concrete benefits to justify continuing that membership.

First and foremost amongst those services is national representation, which for the reasons outlined above Trinity does not receive. If nobody can hear our voice through the USI megaphone, what reason is there to keep using it? Without the representation we’re entitled to expect, ‘solidarity’ is just another word for doing what we’re told.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: 'Loyal' is the hardest word

Two posts in one day! My OU piece today is a response to an article in the Irish Times (once a unionist paper, it reveals) on Ulster Day and the Covenant. Specifically, a section where the author tries to explain the Covenant (and one feels, by extension, unionism) without reference to the working classes, the union or British identity. Read it here.

Dilettante on The Student Journals: A Halfway-Foreign Fresher's

In my first TSJ contribution since returning to university, I branch out a little and offer an account of my experiences as a second-time Fresher and first-time Irishman. Please read it here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: Never let evidence contradict a good narrative

In my next Open Unionism contribution, I take a look at a Guardian article offering a 'just you wait' response to the Mail on Sunday poll showing strong support for the Union amongst Scottish under-16s. Read it here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: ‘One Ireland, One Vote’ displays a chauvinist nationalism that all democrats should oppose

In my latest Open Unionism contribution, I take aim at the James Connolly Society's 'One Ireland, One Vote' campaign and the chauvinist strain of nationalism that underpins it. Read it here.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Dilettante on HuffPost UK: No need for a post-Union Jack

My first article for the Huffington Post UK went up today, offering my thoughts on the apparent dilemma about what to do with the Union Jack in the event of Scottish independence. Please read it here.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dilettante on the Nolan Show: Private Schools and BUPA

I took part in a debate on the Nolan show last night, responding to Lord Adonis' suggestion that Education Secretaries should not use private schools, nor Transport Secretaries cars. Predictably, I thought this was utter nonsense and had great fun saying so. Listen here.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: The NHS - Safety Net or Straightjacket?

In my latest Commentator piece, I respond to a post by Robert Colville over at Telegraph blogs about the potential impact of the divergent lifestyles of rich and poor on the future of the NHS.I argue that, this being Britain, it is not the NHS that is in jeopardy but the lifestyle liberties of the expensive poor. Read it here.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: Are the Northern Isles the start of Salmond's Northern Ireland?

In a rather (but not totally) tongue-in-cheek piece for OU, I assess the potential impact on the independence debate of the SNP's recent concession that the Northern Isles would have the right to self-determination in the event of Scotland voting to secede from the UK. Read it here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Dilettante at The Student Journals: Hail Pistorius, Herald of Change

In my latest TSJ article, I try my hand at something Olympics related by musing on the implications of human enhancement - or 'transhumanism' - on the future of sport.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Dilettante in Crossbow: Conservatives and Unionism

I've contributed an article to Crossbow, the journal of the Bow Group think-tank, on the historical relationship between the Conservative Party and unionist politics. Read it here.

P.S. I get my laptop back at the weekend, ought to be back to writing properly then.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Dilettante at the Telegraph: Phil Collins' one-party state

My final Telegraph piece from last week responds to a paywall-protected op-ed by Phil Collins, who mooted that only by mimicking New Labour could the Conservatives dream of winning another election. I counter that if the Conservative 'modernisation' strategy is ever predicated on this assumption, we might as well wind the party up. Read it here.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Dilettante at the Telegraph: Why the courts will always favour the left, in Britain and America

My latest Telegraph pieces reflects on the US Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, and the parallels that can be drawn with Cameron's dream of the British Bill of Rights. The conclusion? That entrusting the defence of certain values to the courts rather than Parliament is bad politics for the right, on both sides of the Atlantic. Read it here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Dilettante on London Spin: Fight the Good Fight

Reviving my irregular London Spin column, I set the stage for the upcoming CF elections and outline the duty of all press and candidates to get stuck into each other's proposals. Read it here.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dilettante at the Telegraph: A senate must be justified on its own terms

My latest Telegraph piece argues that Lords 'reforms' amount to a two-part operation which involves the creation of an entirely new constitutional institution, the case for which must be made separately and put to the public. Read it here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dilettante at the Telegraph: Westminster must not be afraid to challenge SNP gerrymandering

In my next Telegraph offering, I make the case that Westminster should not be afraid to intervene to ensure a fair referendum if the SNP prove either unwilling or incapable of delivering one. Read it here.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dilettante at The Telegraph: The Brighter Side of Light Pollution

On placement at the Telegraph, I've been given the opportunity to write for their online Comment section. In my first piece, I look at two photographs intended to demonstrate light pollution and argue that, so unfortunate is the context, they instead remind us of all the good that those earthly star-scapes represent. Read it here.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: Go on, Gove!

My latest post for TSJ makes the case in support of Michael Gove's challenge to the vested interests of the education establishment. You can read it here.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: The Problem of Devolution and England

My latest post at Open Unionism addresses the serious problems posed to unionism by the unbalanced devolution settlement and several of the mooted solutions. Going to attract some EngNat rage, I fear. Give it a read here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: A Defence of Exams

In my latest TSJ contribution, I challenge Deputy Editor Ali Gokal's assertion that university exams are 'not fit for purpose'. If only my GCSE-year-old self could see me now...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Dilettante on Tory Hoose: Conservative Friends of the Union must choose a role.

In my latest contribution to Tory Hoose, I examine the confusing nature of the new Conservative Friends of the Union, and set out the role I think they should play. Read it here.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: Bigotry and Narrow-Mindedness Make Poor Reading

For my latest TSJ contribution, I decided to take down a rhetorically frenzied but ill-supported assault on the backgrounds of David Cameron and his cabinet. Good fun, and managed to make it something more productive than a straight-up fisking.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dilettante in Bullseye: The UK's master class in how not to reform Higher Education

In the latest edition (Issue 48) of the European Democrat Students magazine BullsEye, the theme is 'knowledge is power'. To that end I submitted a piece highlighting the UK's experimentation with higher education policy and making the case that European policy makers should consider it a master class in how not to do it. 

You can either download the PDF here and skip to page 23, or the text is reproduced below.


The UK provides a master class in how not to reform higher education

When European policy makers turn their attention to higher education, they would do well to pay attention to what is happening to universities in the United Kingdom. Because for the past decade or so our country has been engaged on a quite radical experiment with higher education: a drive to get 50% of all school-leavers to progress to university or college before getting a job.

The justifications for this vary from person to person. For some, it was a matter of aspiration – of allowing many more people to enhance their studies, learn new skills and maximise their potential. For others, it was a class-motivated attempt to break open the elite world of the universities. Still more saw it as a way of building a new economy now that global competition had rendered British manufacturing uncompetitive. Others simply saw it as a cynical attempt to keep school-leavers off the unemployment figures for a few years.

This host of competing justifications is symptomatic to why the whole thing has become such a mess: it was started without any clear objectives. It didn’t really get much further than “wouldn’t it be nice if more people went to university?”.

As a result, overqualification rates in the UK are already high and are still rising. The employment market is flooded with graduates, creating a paradox where on the one hand a degree is essential to get a foot in the door, while on the other hand its value is decaying as ever more graduates emerge with similar qualifications.
The number of graduates on the market also means that employers are now using degrees to filter applicants for what used to be school-leavers’ jobs. This means that these jobs are no longer open to people just out of high school and more people are forced to go through university, just to ‘stand still’ in employment terms.

While they go through university, these students take on the burden of tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt from student loans and living costs. This is because the state can no longer afford to totally subsidise students as it did when the numbers were tiny. Tuition fees are now a part of higher education and they will only go higher.

Perhaps worst of all, having a degree in Britain is now seen as being superior to a vocational or technical qualification, even when something is supposed to be a vocation or technical trade. Perhaps the most striking example is nursing, where the mutation of nurse training from ‘hands-on’ to academic has led to reports that a new breed of nurse unwilling to get their hands dirty. Even areas such as pre-school childcare are now seeing increasing calls for graduate recruitment, as if a degree is a magical scroll that guarantees good outcomes.

Taken together, all this has serious implications for the British economy. As the ideological drive to expand higher education goes on, more and more young people are sucked through the system. The debts they incur, combined with the lost income from three to four years of work they miss out on, means that many of our young people are left financially dependent on their parents well into what used to be considered our adult lives.

It has also led to increased disenchantment, as people led to expect the high-earnings and job security of the last generation of graduates find themselves in a world where degrees are common and competition ferocious. It is hard enough to go through university and emerge owing the government tens of thousands of pounds, but when it fails to land you a traditional graduate salary or job prospects the disappointment is fiercer still.

It also leads to a greater sense of entitlement amongst the workforce. The UK already has a problem with native workers refusing to apply for menial or low-status jobs, leaving them to be filled by immigrant labour which is then resented by the very people who never applied for their jobs. This is only exacerbated once 50% or more of British workers have some form of degree and the expectation of a job to match.

When European countries debate how they are going to modify their higher education provision to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, Britain should be used as a salutary lesson in how not to do it. As an increasingly globalised economy subjects jobs in the primary and secondary sectors to increasing competition from overseas, it can be tempting to try to see university as a magic wand.

Most fallaciously, it is claimed that mass university education is necessary in order to ‘equip students with skills’ for a modern economy. Given that the British model almost totally neglects technical areas, one really has to question quite how many History of Art degrees a modern European nation needs to compete in the global economy.

The only way the UK has managed so far is by having the government invent swathes of arcane public sector jobs, with artificially high salaries and extraordinary pensions. This is the reason the UK has such a serious deficit problem: for the last 15 years the government has been borrowing to bridge the gap between the reality of our uncompetitive economy and the shrill entitlements of its people. Now the money has run out, the wheels are coming off.

There are many good reasons to invest in education beyond the age of 18, from making sure the nation has enough engineers, to contributing to scientific breakthroughs which advance the limits of knowledge, even to ensure a sufficient number of lawyers, historians, and a poet or two.

But take it from someone who lived it: “Wouldn’t it be nice?” is not one of those reasons.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Dilettante on 5 Live: The state of the Coalition

So blogging is still light while I settle in and try to find a paying job - should have a few pieces up next week.

In the mean time, I did I short bit for the Tony Livesey show about Cameron and Clegg's 'Rose Garden II' moment, which can be found here. Skip to the 40 minute mark to here me and Lib Dem Voice co-Editor Stephen Tall.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Dilettante at The Student Journals: The progressive double-standard on Votes at 16

It's been a hectic month, with my moving out of my Manchester apartment and trying to find a job, so writing has been light.

However, I do have a new article up over at TSJ highlighting the double-standard of 'progressives' who support votes for 16-year-olds on the one hand whilst forbidding them from smoking, drinking, driving and watching violent or pornographic material on the other.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: The Guardian comes out for Jim Crow on inter-racial adoption

In my latest submission to The Commentator, I take on a fairly nasty racialist article published on Comment is Free that compares inter-racial adoption with an 'internal slave trade'. You can read the CiF piece here and my response here.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: The cost of 'fair access' will be higher fees

In my latest contribution to the ASI blog, I outline how undermining the competitiveness of our best universities will make them less attractive to the international students who fund them, leading to much higher fees for all domestic students.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Dilettante on The Student Journals: Students are consumers, and should be thankful for it

My latest TSJ contribution is a defence of one of my earlier pieces about the relevance of student 'unions'. Another contributor, Tom Newham, rebutted that piece by asserting that higher education was a public good, not a private one.

So in my next article I have set out why I believe students benefit from higher education being treated as a private good. Read it here or below.


Students are consumers, be thankful for it

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how student unions in their current form are ill-serving student interests. Fellow contributor Tom Newham then rebutted me. In wont of anything compellingly better to address in my new article, I’ve decided to have a go at rebutting him in turn. Happily, his piece was angled in such a way that I can attempt that without simply repeating myself, so here goes.

First, let’s deal with his practical objections to my proposal for a consumer comparison service for students being of greater use than posturing ‘unions’. Tom is right when he points out that, for the moment at least, fees are capped at £9,000 p/a. However, this does not invalidate the worth of a ‘Which?’-style organisation, because there is a world of different between value for money and price.

Denied a market pricing mechanism, a lot of very different degrees from different institutions will be masquerading behind the same price without being of the same value. Things such as graduate employment levels, facilities, big-name lecturers, teaching time and quality, industrial placements, travel opportunities, city liveability and more will all go unaccounted for in the price of a degree.

This makes it harder for students to make an informed decision and serves to make a university-focused consumer information organisation more useful than if the price mechanism were in operation, not less. By allowing prospective students to easily compare different courses over a broad range of criteria, such an organisation would do immense good.

Beyond the technicalities, the meat of the distinction Tom drew between himself and I was that I view tertiary education as a private good, and he a public one.

Now, I make no secret of the fact that I consider a degree to be a largely private good, and as I will explain students should be very glad that it is such.

Tom asserts that “the public sees [degree level education] as a vital public good.” Perhaps, if pollsters ask them a certain way, they do. But the problem is, how much degree level education to the public think is a public good?

Once you start using the ‘public good’ defence, you need to fit higher education into a national-utilitarian mechanism for calculating that good and what level of it the public good actually requires.

With higher education, especially the arts, this can be difficult. It is easy to view a public road as a public good, for example, or a public park. But is every degree inherently a public good? It would be hard to persuade the public of that.

If university degrees were seen in such a fashion, then the distribution of funding would have to be centrally planned. The publics’ elected representatives would calculate how many degrees of a given type the country required, and would fund those. There would be ferocious competition for those places. ‘Hard’ subjects like the sciences, medicine and engineering would be overwhelmingly favoured, in line with rational centralisation and popular prejudice.

That isn’t how higher education works in Britain, though. Instead, the government loans school-leavers the money to study anything they like, within the scope of their A Levels. It is left to students to choose what they want to study, where they want to study it and how far they want to study it.

This privilege, the ability to choose for yourself in accordance with your interests and desires and without reference to a central plan drawn up with the interests of the majority in mind (the power, in short, to be an empowered consumer) stems from the fact that your university experience is largely a private good.

Yes, a certain number of graduates in a certain range of subjects are good for the nation. But in all likelihood, your degree is not, in any meaningful capacity. If like me you are or were an Arts student, the chances of your degree being viewed as a ‘vital public good’ plummet yet further.

If higher education were drawn up with a view to ‘the public good’ then the radical expansion thereof launched by Labour would not have happened. That expansion was not driven by the needs of the British employment market, as the inexorable rise in graduate overqualification makes clear. It also rendered tertiary education vastly more expensive, ending forever the days of free tuition.

If a government – Tory or Labour – were to run higher education purely through the prism of the public good they would pare it down dramatically, and there would be intense political focus on which degrees received funding. It would be an undoubtedly meritocratic but elite niche to which most of us would not have access.

Instead, British higher education operates on the belief that more people should have the chance to better themselves by having a shot at higher education. The government loans us the up-front cost so that one’s material station in life is no barrier to entry, and it is then up to us to choose our path through university to try to make that loan worthwhile – whether the reward is material, intellectual or spiritual.

It is this that allows us to act as empowered consumers – choosing our field and place of study  – rather than the meek receivers of an allotment of degree opportunities calculated and distributed by the state.

In short, British governments view their role as ensuring broad access to a private good, not the utilitarian supervision of a public one. And if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of students studying history, theatre, gender studies or any other niche or ‘soft’ degree which popular prejudice and political pressure would probably not stand to see subsidised in any numbers, you should be very thankful for that.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dilettante on Gossip Tory: UKIP defections are a sign of wishful thinking

Despite the continued confusion at GT over whether or not I'm still Chief Reporter there (the editor said I am, their site overseer clearly thinks otherwise) I've got an op-ed published about the recent defections from the Conservatives to UKIP and why it's a bad, bad idea. Read it here.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Dilettante in BullsEye: Self-Determination and the Serbs

In the latest edition of the European Democrat Students magazine BullsEye (Issue 47), I have an article entitled "...and justice for all? Self-determination and the Serbs", in which I highlight the punitive double-standard being operated against the Serbian people by the foreign arbiters of Balkan territorial disputes. The comparison to Northern Ireland is quite neat.

You can either head over there and download the e-zine for the pretty double-page spread, or the text is reproduced below.


...and justice for all? Self-Determination and the Serbs

The Balkan conflicts are inextricably tied to questions of race, identity and territory. The tragic collapse of Yugoslavia was marked by the clash between the irredentist aspirations of its various nationalisms.

The wars that scarred the region were eventually ended by NATO intervention, and today the situation is monitored by international bodies such as the UN and the European Union.

Whilst definitely a good thing, the fact that powerful foreign actors have such a massive influence over the course of events in the Balkans means that we have to take our responsibilities in the region very seriously. We must also make sure that we properly understand the assumptions – and prejudices – that underlie our policies.

When it comes to the settling of disputed borders then this boils down to one question: is our policy to arrive at borders that strike as fine a balance as possible between the competing desires of the region’s peoples? Or is it to deliver collective punishment to the Serbian people for the crimes of the Milošević government?

I ask because it appears that the foreign powers that are arbitrating the political settlement are operating a racially- or culturally-motivated double-standard.

 On the one hand, the borders of non-Serb states are held to be inviolable, despite large and geographically contiguous Serb populations being trapped within them. That has been our policy with the Republika Srpska and Krajina.

On the other, Serbia herself can happily be partitioned if a non-Serb population wish it so. That has been our policy with Kosovo and would presumably be our policy should Vojvodina wish to secede from Serbia proper.

So the question is what – other than its Serb character – makes the Repulika Srpska so different from Kosovo that the latter can be granted a right to self-determination that is denied the former?

Yet this problem runs even deeper than that, because the indivisibility of non-Serbian states is held as inviolable even while those states are being created from Serbian sovereign territory.

Case in point: North Kosovo. North Kosovo is a Serb majority area that is geographically adjacent to Central Serbia. If it were allowed to remain within Serbia there would be no awkward boundaries or problematic exclaves to deal with.

Surely North Kosovan Serbs have the same right to remain in Serbia as Kosovar Albanians have to secede from it?

 As an Anglo-Irishman, I can well understand the situation in North Kosovo because it mirrors the United Kingdom’s own experiences in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is perhaps this experience that leads to Britain being one of the only international peacekeepers giving partition a  fair hearing.

In short, a stable and contiguous population find themselves entangled in a nationalist project to which they do not subscribe, and face being torn from a state of which they are loyal and contented citizens.

As a democrat and anti-nationalist, my view is that in both instances partition (if not the eventual shape of that partition, which is more debateable) was the only just solution, because the alternatives are based on competing and equally valid nationalisms.

For example, the Kosovar nationalist who asserts ‘North Kosovo is Kosovar’ is no different either rationally or morally from the Serb nationalist who asserts ‘Kosovo is part of Serbia!’ Each of them is doing exactly the same thing: claiming that they have the right to overrule a group’s self-determination on the basis of nationalist ideology.

For the international authorities arbitrating the situation, declaring one of those statements a defensible fact and the other an irredentist outrage is nothing more than choosing an arbitrary favourite. That should not be our role.

The just solution, in circumstances like these, is a partition that adheres as closely as possible to the desires of the people on the ground. No nationalist on either side should be allowed to lay claim to great swathes of people who do not wish to be part of their project.

The British Unionists who fought for the preservation of Northern Ireland’s place in the Union understood this well. In the preface to the pamphlet Against Home Rule: The Case for the Union the Conservative leader – and staunch unionist – summed up the case for partition:

“Every argument which can be adduced [cited] in favour of separate treatment of the Irish Nationalist minority against the majority of the United Kingdom, applies with far greater force in favour of separate treatment for the Unionists of Ulster as against the majority of Ireland.”

To paraphrase: As Belgrade cannot compel Pristina to be Serbian, so Pristina cannot compel North Kosovska Mitrovica to be Kosovar. As Belgrade could not compel Sarajevo to be Yugoslav, so Sarajevo cannot compel Banja Luka to be Bosnian. There is nothing to render one nationalism superior to the other.

On the one hand, North Kosovo could remain within Serbia. Perhaps the three Albanian-majority districts of Serbia adjacent to Kosovo's eastern border could be offered the opportunity to join Kosovo in exchange.

As for the Western double standard, the only possible stem that I can see is the legacy of Milošević and his cohort of Serb ultra-nationalists who tore Yugoslavia to pieces. The Serbs do not deserve the same rights to self-determination as the other former-Yugoslav peoples, the argument runs, because they caused all this horror in the first place.

Yet this cannot – must not – be the international position. It goes without saying that Milošević, Mladić and Karadžić were monsters; that they and their followers must face justice and that their victims must see justice done.

But key to their evil was its racism, the crime of treating human beings as indistinguishable representatives of their race or creed rather than individuals. We must not fall into the trap of exercising the reverse policy.

We must always be vigilant that we punish the individual, and never the race. The people of North Kosovo should not have their right to self-determination abrogated because of the crimes of other Serbs.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: It is secondary education that needs to 'get real', Mr Ebdon

In my latest contribution to the ASI blog, I update and reprise my earlier assault on Simon Hughes and try to explain how state educators are using their political power to try to keep their outcomes and achievements as far away from the rigours of 'the real world' as possible.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dilettante on Tory Hoose: If we cannot justify British government, how can we justify Britain?

In a contribution to the Scottish Conservative website Tory Hoose I comment on David Cameron's mention of more powers to Holyrood in the event of a 'No' vote in the referendum, more specifically Alex Massie's assumption that it means he's offering Home Rule. I make the case that Home Rule is an anti-unionist outcome.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Dilettante on Open Unionism: Not 'uber-' unionists Tim, just unionists.

Over on OU, I draw attention to the latest attempt to rhetorically recast opponents of ever-looser-union as extremists, from ConservativeHome Editor Tim Montgomerie.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: What turns doctors into dictators?

In response to the British Medical Association's recent proposals to ban smoking in cars, I update my ConHome USA article and summarise the way that public attitudes towards 'preventable death' have had a profoundly malign and illiberal impact on the medical profession.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: The shape of a regulated press

 My latest piece for the ASI blog is a response to last week's Question Time, and warns that a 'regulated' free press would be shaped by the more sanctimonious readers of unpopular newspapers in line with their own prejudices.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Do Students Need a 'Union'? Dilettante on The Student Journals

 In my latest TSJ contribution I posit that the framing of student issues in labour rather than consumer terms damages students interests for the sake of playing up to the left-wing fantasy of 'solidarity'.

 An abridged version of this article also appeared on the Adam Smith Institute blog.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: Could industrial 'Patriarchy' ever survive the market?

In my latest article for the ASI, I posit that the economically groundless and nakedly sexist employment practises Cameron hopes to counter with boardroom quotas could not - and probably have not - survive the rigorous competition of the free market.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Dilettante on The Commentator: Why mandates matter in the fight for the Union

In my latest Commentator article, I point out that even devolutionary unionists have to start defending the legitimacy of Westminster and the British parliament before they find themselves unable to justify the continued existence of the British state.

As expected, a cybernat immediately starts getting nasty in the comments.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dilettante at the Adam Smith Institute: Would Salmond make a colony of Scotland?

I'm on a two week internship with the ASI as a prize for winning the Young Writer on Liberty award. The placement involves writing blog pieces for them and my first is on Scotland: I look at the SNP's proposals for post-Union Scotland and ponder whether it will end up a very large Overseas Territory.

They decided to change my original title on this one.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Tyranny of the 'Anonymous': Dilettante on The Student Journals

In my latest TSJ article I attack the so-called 'Anonymous' hackers after their attack on Stratfor, and make the case that these people represent the rise of a new and totally unaccountable form of censorious internet dictatorship.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Help me pick my Orwell Prize submissions

The start of a new year means that it is Orwell Prize nomination time. It's a nice opportunity to look back over the writing I did in the last year and try to pick out the ten I'm most proud of.

However, given that being long-listed is relatively unlikely I thought it might be useful if I used the opportunity to see how other people rate my pieces. So instead of narrowing down to ten pieces I've narrowed down to twenty.

Some of these I'm definitely submitting, some I'm probably not, but anybody interested in letting me know which they'd send is welcome to either leave a comment or email me at henrychhill[at]

Update: Bold indicates articles finally selected. Thank you to all who offered their suggestions.


20) White Poppy? White Flag

21) Long Live the Kings*

*Added afterwards.