Catching the Eye

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Here are a few of the stories that came across my desk(top) this week:

Yanis Varoufakis explains in UnHerd why poor farmers across the EU are revolting, and what cannot be done about it.  It begins:

Manos, a sixth-generation farmer from Thessaly, put it to me bluntly when I asked him to explain why he was prepared to drive his tractor 400km to Athens to camp outside Parliament: “If I don’t, my farm will soon follow our village school, co-op, post office and bank branch into oblivion.  ...

Happily, English farmers are free from all this EU-angst; after all, they're blessed to work with Defra.


Jo Johnson writing in the Times reports that the government has responded to a report published in late 2023 by a House of Lords Committee.  It called for changes to secondary education in England saying that the curriculum is too focused on academic learning.  The DfE rejected the majority of the recommendations, including a call to find out why a third of pupils do not achieve Grade 4 or above in GCSE English and maths.  Johnson wrote:

The national curriculum imposed on schools since 2010 is both too limited and overstuffed. Pressure to meet the requirements of the English baccalaureate (EBacc) incentivises a narrow focus on eight academic GCSEs — maths, two English, three sciences, a foreign language, and geography or history: it is the same as the curriculum announced in 1904.

It goes to show that whilst ministers come and ministers go, the civil servants in the DfE's curriculum team continue to do what they are really very good at: stifling innovation.


The Economist Schumpeter column has a feature on the problems US universities are having in finding new Presidents.  Schumpeter wrote:

Clark Kerr, a mid-century Berkeley chancellor, quipped that the role involved providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students and athletics for the alumni.  Mr Kerr’s summation points to a deeper truth—that a university president’s job is mainly about keeping a motley crew of interested parties happy. Achieving that balance is becoming nearly impossible. Students, who are meant to be instructed by universities, are instead pushing them around.

Schumpeter concluded:

The truth is that the background of applicants is not the problem. An identity crisis is engulfing America’s universities. They are torn between their responsibilities to learning and social justice—and that is a tension any president will find hard to resolve. This carries wider lessons for all organisations. Institutions unmoored from a clear purpose, whether that is knowledge-seeking or profit-seeking, are destined for periodic crises. Even the cleverest captain would struggle to steer such a ship.

Business Green reports that energy companies, green campaign groups, trade organisations, and heat pump manufacturers have teamed up to call on the government to provide a "clean heat discount" for households that use electric heating.  It says:

The organisations calculated that exempting electrically heating homes from the Renewables Obligation, Feed-in Tariff, Energy Company Obligation, and Great British Insulation Scheme levies could save consumers on average £130 a year if implemented for the 2024/2025 tax year.  Currently, per unit of energy used, electricity is currently loaded with almost nine times as many levy costs compared to gas, which distorts the price of running a heat pump, despite this clean tech being many times more efficient than a gas boiler. James Dyson, senior researcher at E3G, said "To ensure everyone gets a fair deal as we transition towards clean heating, we need to modernise electricity pricing, and ultimately make it cheaper."

We certainly do.  I've been paying these regressive taxes since they were introduced as I've used electric heating since 1978.  I think I've paid my dues, as have very many people who are much less able to afford it than I am.  I hear that the Treasury is thinking about thinking about it.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Thank you for another poignant look at governmental policy. Your last comments remind me of an Exxon public service advert after the Exxon Valdez fiasco (1989). It showed multitudes of Alaskan marine mammals and birds celebrating the fact that Exxon had made a decision to start thinking about beginning to explore methods of preventing future oil tanker problems.