In Newman’s footsteps

One of the many inevitabilities of higher education policy discussion is that, sooner or later, someone will raise the question of what universities are actually for. So inevitable is this phenomenon, in fact, that I’ve seen it mooted that it be named Newman’s Law, after John Henry Newman, who famously asked this question back in 1852. But in trying to give a definitive answer, I think we’re missing a trick. Because there is no single answer. Rather, there are many. And they are all equally valid. Continue reading

A more radical National Trust? Let’s do it.

The new Director General of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, has told the BBC that the charity needs to be more radical, taking a different approach to conserving the buildings and land that it owns. So here’s an idea. Let’s turn the National Trust into one of the country’s largest providers of affordable housing for hard-working families. Continue reading

Our greater challenge… and why I’m not entirely optimistic about our chances

A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were out campaigning for the country to be given a say on whatever Brexit deal our Government manages to negotiate with the European Union. As I was blowing up some balloons (never let it be said that I do things half-heartedly), a chap in his early sixties marched past, newspaper in hand.

“Less than a year to go until we get our country back,” he grinned.

“Er, yes. Good luck with that,” I replied.

Needless to say, I didn’t offer him a balloon. Continue reading

It’s the little things

My new favourite author, Michael Perry*, has a theory about making it as a writer. It is, he says, like shovelling horse manure. If you keep at it long enough, sooner or later you’ll have a pile so big that people can’t ignore it any more.
Pencil

In my writing, as in life more generally, I have a tendency to forget this. I seem always to be aiming for the one big idea. The thing that will bring everything together. A towering monument to my own accomplishment.

This is, sadly, just as unlikely as it is pompous. Continue reading

What we think we think

With the general election coming up, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time talking to people about politics. Not just about the various candidates and their parties, but about what these parties stand for and the vision of the future that they are painting for our country. Yet the more people I talk to, the more I become convinced of one simple fact. None of us really know what we think about anything. We just think we do. Continue reading

Just asking

The Prime Minister explained yesterday that she will not allow the Scottish people to hold a legally-binding referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. At least, not in the near future. Her rationale was that, until the UK has agreed a Brexit deal with the European Union, the Scottish people would not know what they were voting for or against. Continue reading

It’s not all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…

A lot of people, me included, have spent the past few days, weeks and months worrying about the impact of our Government’s approach to leaving the European Union on the future of our country and of those we love. We’ve recently been presented with a whole load more to worry about with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. And to cap it all, the lovely (if presumably somewhat gloomy) people at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with their Doomsday Clock, have decided that we are now one step closer to global catastrophe. Continue reading

Oh. Erm, well…

It was another of those ‘Brexit’ moments. I checked the online news this morning and assumed I must be reading it wrong. So I read it again. And again. But the news remained the same. Donald Trump has been elected 45th President of the United States. And depending on whom you believe, it’s either the dawn of a new political era or the end of days. Personally, I’m guessing it’ll be somewhere in the middle. Continue reading