Nick Harkaway

Entries by Nick Harkaway

Let Margaret Thatcher Go

(1) Comments | Posted 18 April 2013 | (11:50)

Winston Churchill won a war, the Economist tells us, but he was never great enough to get an -ism named for him. Thus, apparently, Margaret Thatcher was a greater Prime Minister than Churchill - for this week, at least. It says something about the mood on the Right, both in...

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Cheese Triumphant, Bees And Fish Not So Much: An(other) Open Letter to David Cameron

(0) Comments | Posted 29 December 2012 | (15:08)

Dear Prime Minister,

Well done! I must say, that was quick work! I will confess I was a bit worried because I hadn't heard from you, but you seem to have sorted out this whole cheese business in double quick time. And the genius of it, if I may say...

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The Coming Crisis in Cheese: An Open Letter To David Cameron

(6) Comments | Posted 27 December 2012 | (14:52)

Dear Prime Minister,

I appreciate that you have a lot on your plate right now, what with trying to legalise gay marriage in the face of some of the silliest opposition in the history of British politics, and a somewhat less agreeable attempt to reintroduce the Star Chamber in anti-terror...

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It's Not About the Money

(2) Comments | Posted 19 November 2012 | (10:23)

Britain's membership of the EU is up for discussion - and it's liable to be a wretchedly stupid discussion. It's a hard truth to say aloud, but Britain is pathologically incapable of a serious debate on this issue, because a kind of dogwhistle version of Godwin's Law applies: whenever the EU is mentioned, it's almost guaranteed that someone will invoke - if only by implication - the Blitz and Dunkirk. As soon as that happens, we're in idiot country. You'd think the Dastardly Hun was poised on the beaches of France waiting to bring doom and horror to the cast of Dad's Army. You say I'm being unkind? We can't even play an international football match against Germany without WWII being mentioned. In fact, we can't even advertise beer without falling into a xenophobic, triumphalist (and, just for completeness, quietly homophobic - the missing poster in the line-up read 'rear gunners drink lager shandy') rant about the Luftwaffe. (Yes, they're very funny. They're also not really very funny at all.)

So the public conversation about the EU will take place in three arenas: there will be a largely-incomprehensible and clouded debate about the economics of the EU - it will cost XYZ to leave, it will rejuvenate our economy because PQR - which will shade into issues of sovereignty in the form of whether our government can set aside human rights which it finds inconvenient and whether the banking community can continue to function in the blissful absence of real regulation it has used to such good effect over the last decade. And there will be a background of people humming the theme to The Dambusters.

And the ghastly irony of this is that the first two arguments will miss the point entirely, while the third is closer to the mark, if only by chance: the EU was created to prevent us from going to war with one another.

If you go back to the roots of the modern European project, it's absolutely overt. The 1950 Schuman Declaration is about the prevention of a repeat of the wars which shattered Europe in the first part of the 20th Century. The economic structure is a means to an end, as well as a way of kicking the nations of Europe into a recovery.

We're smug in 2012. We think that Europe could not ever go to war with itself again. Our confidence is misplaced. The far right is on the rise in Greece and elsewhere. It's relatively easy to imagine an extrematised and factionalised Europe if our economy tanks for a few more years - and it's not even very hard to see an internally hostile Europe by 2050 if we don't get our energy policy sorted out and we're all in competition for limited power supplies while increasing desertification moves up from the south into Europe's farmlands.

Peace is not a state, it is a choice, and you have to remake it every day. It's possible to get a sort of stability, a habit of peace, but it's like an egg balanced, spinning, on its point: lose your momentum and your equilibrium is gone, too. Bad news for the egg.

It's idle to pretend that the EU is an unalloyed positive. It's a mess, as it must inevitably be given that it is created by the intersection of squabbling political groups with differing understandings of what is right and what is necessary. It's unrepresentative and mired in red tape. It costs too much. Like democracy, it's a rotten way of doing things until you consider the alternatives. The point about all this is that it's the tithe we pay to our own nature to have one more obstacle between us and Dresden and Coventry. We should improve it. We must. But until we can say with honesty and confidence that we've mastered our will to (self-) destruction, the claim that we have no need of a European Union lacks intellectual integrity and practical wisdom.

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On Poppy Burning

(0) Comments | Posted 12 November 2012 | (11:04)

At 10:59 on 11 November this weekend, I was sitting with my wife and daughter in a restaurant. The alarm I'd set earlier went off, we waited until 11:00 and then sat in silence for two minutes - as much as you can with a two-year-old, and I have to...

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Why Google and David Cameron Share a Problem

(1) Comments | Posted 28 May 2012 | (12:11)

Google StreetView, it transpires, did not scoop up private data from wireless networks by accident. The system included a bit of code called "gstumbler" which was expressly designed to rake in what it could. The people at Google's core apparently had no idea this was going...

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Illiberal Democrats

(0) Comments | Posted 4 April 2012 | (16:16)

Disclosure: I should state for the record that I am married to Clare Algar, the Executive Director of the small but plucky band of heroes known as Reprieve. This speaks to my possible bias, but also to a basic understanding of what's at stake; it was my good...

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The Shell Game

(0) Comments | Posted 28 March 2012 | (11:48)

The UK, like much of the rest of the world, is in a dire financial mess.

Our government labours to conceal this, or at least ignore it, because it is in the nature of the financial system that the appearance of being in a mess causes all kinds of...

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Cambridge, Protest, and Newts

(0) Comments | Posted 17 March 2012 | (14:06)

On 22 November 2011, Owen Holland, a PhD student at Cambridge University read a poetic protest at an appearance by David Willets, the UK's Minister for Universities and Science, and prevented Willets from speaking (or so thoroughly annoyed him that he stormed out, depending on who you ask)....

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