Drama students: how universities raised a generation of activists

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This week: On Monday, tents sprung up at Oxford and Cambridge as part of a global, pro-Palestinian student protest which began at Columbia University. In his cover piece, Yascha Mounk, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, explains how universities in both the US and the UK have misguidedly harboured and actively encouraged absurdist activism on campuses. Yascha joined the podcast to discuss further. (01:57) Next: Bugs, biscuits, trench foot: a dispatch from the front line of the protests. The Spectator’s Angus Colwell joined students at tent encampments this week at UCL, Oxford and Cambridge. He found academics joining in with the carnival atmosphere. At Cambridge one don even attended with their

How universities raised a generation of activists

It was only a matter of time before America’s student protests spread to the UK. In Oxford, tents have been pitched on grass that, in ordinary times, no student is allowed to walk on. The ground outside King’s College in Cambridge looks like Glastonbury, complete with an ‘emergency toilet’ tent. Similar camps can be found at UCL, Manchester University and more. There have been no clashes with police, but that may yet come. In Leeds, for example, pro-Palestinian students tried to storm a university building, leading to bloody clashes with security guards. From the Sorbonne to Sydney University, the movement has gone global. Its ostensible cause is hardly ignoble. It’s

Jim Ede and the glories of Kettle’s Yard

Jim Ede started early. At the age of 12 he used £8 of his hard-won savings to buy a Queen Anne desk. No bicycle, air pistol or football for him: this solid piece of old furniture was the thing, the first step in a long life of acquiring objects that lived, breathed and spoke to him. To call him a compulsive collector is to understate the passion that over the years saw the desk followed by an avalanche of stuff, from porcelain and glasses to pebbles and feathers, textiles and above all paintings, drawings and sculpture. Each acquisition admired, loved, cherished and shared for its uniqueness – what Gerard Manley

We have lost an unforgettable teacher and one of Britain’s great critics

Tanner, the critic RICHARD BRATBY Michael Tanner (1935-2024), who died earlier this month, had such a vital mind and stood so far above the common run of music critics that it’s hard to believe he’s gone. For a philosopher to concern themself with the inner game of opera is not unknown (think of Friedrich Nietzsche and Roger Scruton). To do it as perceptively and as readably as Tanner is rarer. For two decades, starting in  1996, his weekly Spectator opera column offered as thorough and as stimulating an education in musical aesthetics as one could hope to receive; intellectual red meat served with forensic clarity and a mischievous, subversive smile.

Death of a choir

Always make your redundancy announcement when the people at the receiving end of it are on a high. This seems to be the favoured method of today’s managing executives, who perhaps imagine that adrenalin will somehow anaesthetise the blow of getting the sack. For the Cambridge student choir St John’s Voices, the news of its imminent disbanding and the redundancy of its director Graham Walker came just two minutes after the light was switched off at the end of a three-day recording session of Russian choral masterpieces last week. Does egalitarianism have to be promoted at the expense of up-and-running excellence? In a two-paragraph round-robin email to the choir that

Why are the photo agencies punishing Kate?

Media scrutiny of the Princess of Wales and her personal photoshopping of her Mothering Sunday photograph has been intense. One important set of players has escaped attention, however: the picture agencies. It was they – AP, Getty Images, AFP, Reuters, Shutterstock and PA – who issued a ‘mandatory photo kill’ of the image. They doubted what PA called its ‘veracity’. I hope it is not unduly cynical to point out that these agencies hate the fact that HRH distributes her own pictures (without charge). Her homemade pics take the bread out of the agencies’ mouths. Suppose other world figures get the DIY habit: what will become of the professionals then?

Douglas Murray

Who put the toddlers in charge?

Regrettably, we must conclude that our culture is being dictated by two-year-olds. I do not literally mean children of two years of age, some of whom are among my favourite conversationalists. I mean people with the mental age of a two-year-old. That is, people who have never been told ‘no’ and have gone through their adult lives behaving as such. These are people who have never been told ‘no’ and have gone through their adult lives behaving as such The rot began with the green lunatics. I’m all for saving the environment. Most people are. But the moment vandalism became an acceptable way to persuade people of your cause was

Lord Byron had many faults, but writing dull letters wasn’t one of them

In 1814, at the height of his fame, the poet, libertine and freedom fighter Lord Byron had his head examined. Not by a proto-psychiatrist but by the German phrenologist and physician Johann Spurzheim, who, after making a detailed study of the no doubt amused Byron’s cranium, pronounced the brain to be ‘very antithetical’ and said that it was an organ in which ‘good and evil are at perpetual war’. Two centuries after Byron’s death, this dichotomy is as pronounced as ever when it comes to analyses of the poet. His defenders point to his wit, his poetic genius, his heroic efforts in defence of Greek liberty and his personal flair;

Cheerful meanderings: Caret, by Adam Mars-Jones, reviewed

The novelistic tube or nozzle through which experience is squeezed in order to be bletted on the page in words, and in turn create the illusion of experience in the reader, is a slender one. Novelists have often perversely focused on the narrowest of lives. Xavier de Maistre wrote an entire travelogue in the 1790s about 42 days spent in his room, while Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s debut novel in 1985 was about a character refusing to leave his bathroom.  Should undertakers ever have suntans? And when does ‘mummy’ become ‘mum’ as a form of address? These spectacular exercises in technique present a parallel to what has always been the case, the

Frederic Raphael settles old scores with a vengeance

Last Post is a collection of reminiscences, anecdotes and a settling of old scores by Frederic Raphael in the form of imaginary letters to many of the people who have been part of his long life. You might expect a nonagenarian’s critical faculties to have ‘mellowed by the stealing hours of time’, but far from it. Raphael’s intelligence and acerbic wit are undiminished.  George Steiner suffers a sustained attack for being gauche, malicious and too obviously ambitious Those who have crossed his path will be aware of his ability to ‘verbalise easily’ and, as he himself confesses: ‘It is one of my failings that I know how to hurt people.’

What the Cambridge dons drink

In June last year, King’s College Cambridge made more than £1 million from an auction of just 41 lots from its wine cellar. Not bad for a college that until just a few years ago had a hammer and sickle flag hanging in its student bar. But the Marxist sympathies of some of its legendary fellows and students stand little chance against the viticultural genius of the cellar’s buyer: Peter de Bolla, a scholar of 18th century literature and aesthetics. Included in the bonanza sale were 12 bottles of 1999 Echezeaux, an apparently legendary grand cru from Henri Jayer, for which someone bid £100,000. De Bolla had bought them on

Shamebridge: why is Cambridge so embarrassed about its past?

Finding Cambridge’s ugly side isn’t easy, but a walking tour of the city promises to show you it. Uncomfortable Cambridge, which bills itself as the ‘perfect introductory tour’ of the city, suggests tourists are wrong to think this is a place of beauty. Rather, Cambridge is a place we should be ashamed of – or at least feel a bit awkward about. The university is at the heart of the one-and-a-half hour tour, which costs £14 per person. Our guide begins by telling us that Cambridge isn’t as guilty as Oxford, which is good news – but it’s mostly downhill from there. St John’s College, where William Wilberforce and Thomas

Shame should not be heritable

Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope claims it was ‘inevitable’ that a university ‘as long-established as Cambridge’ would have links to slavery. Now that faculties gorge on racial guilt as Cambridge dons once famously feasted on roasted swans, what was really inevitable is that a body christened ‘The Advisory Group on the Legacies of Enslavement’ would find links to slavery. Why, it must have frustrated the authors of the report released last week that their three-year inquiry didn’t manage to dredge up any evidence that the university ever directly owned slaves or plantations. Rather, it’s the money that was tainted; lucre having always passed through dirty hands somewhere along the line, there’s no

Prince Charles and a living history lesson

When I was a lobby journalist, I never went to the State Opening of Parliament. I much regret it, because when I finally went this week, as a peer, there was no Queen. The printed programme on our seats described itself as ‘The ceremonial to be observed at the Opening of Parliament by Her Majesty The Queen’, but in fact the Prince of Wales stood, or rather, sat in, because of his mother’s ‘mobility issues’. He read well, sticking to her understanding that to give any expressiveness to the Queen’s Speech would be to verge on constitutional impropriety. Imagine how inappropriate it would have been, for example, if the phrase

The culture wars have crept into Oxbridge admissions

The characters in Sarah Vaughan’s thriller Anatomy of a Scandal include rich Oxford undergraduates from Eton whose main preoccupations are drinking and trashing rooms. They are what it is fashionable to call ‘privileged white males’; while the typical female Oxbridge student is ‘slim, tall, well dressed. Entitled… they knew they belonged there’. The truth, however, is that although Eton is one of the top academic schools in the country, its ‘beaks’ are puzzled by the sharp reduction in the number of their brightest pupils gaining places at Oxbridge. The number of offers has halved between 2014 and 2021. Not very different to Vaughan’s narrative is the argument of the Sutton

Why Falklanders should fear China

In a lecture I recently gave to mark the approaching 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, one of the questions I asked was whether Argentina would have another go. I concluded it would not, because the military protection of the islands, neglected in 1982, was now strong. In passing, though, I did note that China now has a close relationship with Argentina, over arms trading, the hog industry, soybeans, help with the pandemic etc. Argentina, I said, was now likelier to support China, not the West, in international forums. This week, Xi Jinping has declared his support for Argentina’s claim to ‘the full exercise of sovereignty’ over the islands. This

The CCP training programme at the heart of Cambridge

‘Use the past to serve the present,’ declares the website of the China Centre of Jesus College, Cambridge. It seems a sensible motto, until you know that it’s the first half of a maxim of Chairman Mao’s, and that the second half is ‘make the foreign serve China’. The China Centre is directed by Professor Peter Nolan, a fellow of Jesus and an expert on China’s economy. In the 1980s, he studied China’s collective farms and edited a volume that referred to itself as ‘a preliminary attempt to construct a new socialist political-economic strategy for Britain’. Nolan helped to advise Wen Jiabao, China’s former prime minister, on entry into the

Is Putin the reason my house is so cold?

Justin Webb is normally one of the least self-righteous BBC presenters, but he was out-Maitlising rivals on the Today programme on Tuesday. In that special, shocked tone broadcasters usually reserve for stories about racism or paedophilia, Webb contrasted ‘the final goodbyes not said’ by those who followed the rules with the Prime Minister’s birthday party/gathering in the Cabinet Room. He quoted Adam Wagner, ‘the human rights lawyer and Covid rules expert’, that it had been ‘obviously a birthday party’. It was ‘not denied’, Webb gravely intoned, ‘there was birthday cake’. How does he prevent himself bursting out laughing? The longer this story runs, now with added police, the more preposterous

Is Cambridge university ashamed of Winston Churchill?

When I first started at Churchill College, Cambridge, I was proud that I had joined an institution whose very existence was a testament to the legacy of a personal and national hero. As I walked around the college grounds, I felt that I was now part of a community that was much bigger than myself; a community partly defined by the life and times of our country’s greatest leader. Standing for the college toast at my first formal dinner, the words ‘To Sir Winston, and the Queen’ almost made me believe that my own life was now, in a small but important way, linked to the life of the great

The legacy of Stephen Toope

Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, has begun this academic year by announcing it will be his last in the post. Professor Toope says, no doubt truthfully, that he wants to see more of his Canadian family, dissevered from him by Covid. But I think it reasonable to relate his departure to wider issues. When he arrived in 2017, the ‘Golden Era’ of UK/Chinese relations still, in theory, existed. Cambridge uncritically welcomed Chinese government and business participation. In 2019, speaking in China, Professor Toope hailed the China Development Forum’s ‘Greater Opening Up for Win-Win Cooperation’ and praised President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. A preface composed in his name