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Republicans delay Senate healthcare vote

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

President Donald Trump's party are divided on their plan to replace Obamacare.

Reporter vents fury at White House over 'fake news' claims

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A reporter for a Washington-area paper had strong words for White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders over her criticism of "fake news".

Inmates lured 4 fellow prisoners using drugs and cookies 'in bid to get on death row'

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Denver Simmons and Jacob Philip strangled and beat four men to death in a South Carolina prison.

US policeman in hot pursuit of own car

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A police officer in Ohio had to chase his own patrol car after it began rolling away during a traffic stop.

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: The Art of the Repeal

By Elaine Godfrey from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Today in 5 Lines

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate will not vote on the new GOP health-care bill until after the July 4 recess. During a meeting with Republican senators, President Trump said he hopes the bill can pass, adding that, “if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like. And that's okay, and I understand that very well.” The Pentagon said it has seen chemical-weapons activity at an airfield in Syria—a day after the White House released a statement issuing a warning to Syria. Three current or former Chicago police officers were indicted for allegedly trying to obscure the details of the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager shot by an officer in 2014. The Department of Homeland Security said it is “coordinating with our international and domestic cyber partners” after at least six countries were hit by a cyberattack.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Turning Back the Clock: The creation of Medicaid, and later, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, were major victories for racial equality in America. If the new GOP health-care plan passes, it would be a major blow to civil rights. (Vann R. Newkirk II)

  • Unnecessary Judgment: On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling on an important church-state case. But, argues Garrett Epps, both the majority opinion and the dissent got the issue wrong.

  • The Future of Planned Parenthood: Despite Republican threats to cut the organization off from funding, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said they won’t stop providing abortion services: “The minute we begin to edge back from that is the minute that they’ve won.” (Emma Green)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer other Democratic senators, holds up photographs of constituents who would be adversely affected by the proposed Republican Senate health-care bill outside the Capitol Building in Washington. Andrew Harnik / AP

What We’re Reading

A Health-Care Who’s-Who: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is delaying a vote on the Republicans’ new health-care bill to garner additional support for it. These senators will make or break the new plan. (Erica Werner, AP)

Better Care Is Better: Some conservative critics of the new GOP health-care proposal have called it Obamacare lite, while Democrats have cast it as evil. But both are wrong, argues Erica Grieder: There’s a lot to like about the Better Care Reconciliation Act. (The Week)

Actually Fake News: Donald Trump hung framed copies of an issue of Time magazine with his face on the cover in at least four of his golf resorts. The strange thing is, that Time cover is fake.(David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post)

Who’s Keeping Tabs?: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a total review of the Justice Department’s investigations into local law-enforcement agencies, but local officials say they’re committed to reform no matter what. (Caitlin Dickson, Yahoo News)

A ‘Social Anthropology’ of Washington: With the arrival of President Trump, his team, and their anti-Washington rhetoric, the U.S. capital’s social scene has changed dramatically. (Daniel Lippman and John F. Harris, Politico)


What Matters?: Here are four main takeaways from the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the new GOP health-care plan. (Haeyoun Park and Wilson Andrews, The New York Times)

Question of the Week

On July 4, 2008, former President George W. Bush presided over a naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation in Virginia. Eight years later, former President Barack Obama gave a speech honoring military families after a performance by artists Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monáe.

If you were president, how would you celebrate Independence Day?

Send your answers to and our favorites will be featured in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

The Moral Question That Stanford Asks Its Bioengineering Students

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

When students in Stanford University’s Introduction to Bioengineering course sit for their final exams, the first question that they have to answer is about our ability to write DNA.

Scientists have fully sequenced the genomes of humans, trees, octopuses, bacteria, and thousands of other species. But it may soon become possible to not just read large genomes but also to write them—synthesizing them from scratch. “Imagine a music synthesizer with only four keys,” said Stanford professor Drew Endy to the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Each represents one of the four building blocks of DNA—A, C, G, and T. Press the keys in sequence and you can print out whatever stretch of DNA you like.

In 2010, one group did this for a bacterium with an exceptionally tiny genome, crafting all million or so letters of its DNA and implanting it into a hollow cell. Another team is part-way through writing the more complex genome of baker’s yeast, with 12 million letters. The human genome is 300 times bigger, and as I reported last month, others are trying to build the technology that will allow them to create genomes of this size.

For now, that’s prohibitively expensive, but it won’t always be that way. In 2003, it cost 4 dollars to press one of the keys on Endy’s hypothetical synthesizer. This month, it costs just two cents—a 200-fold decrease in price in just 14 years. In the same time frame, the cost of tuition at Stanford has doubled, and is now around $50,000. Given all of that, the first question that Stanford’s budding bioengineers get is this:

At what point will the cost of printing DNA to create a human equal the cost of teaching a student in Stanford?

And the answer is: 19 years from today.

There are a lot of assumptions built into that answer. It will take a lot of technological advances to print the complex genomes of humans and to keep the costs falling at the same pace as they have done. But bearing those assumptions in mind, the problem is a mathematical one, and the students are graded on their ability to solve it. But the follow-up question is a little more complicated:

If you and your future partner are planning to have kids, would you start saving money for college tuition, or for printing the genome of your offspring?

The question tends to split students down the line, says Endy. About 60 percent say that printing a genome is wrong, and flies against what it means to be a parent. They prize the special nature of education and would opt to save for the tuition. But around 40 percent of the class will say that the value of education may change in the future, and if genetic technology becomes mature, and allows them to secure advantages for them and their lineage, they might as well do that.

There is clearly no right answer to the second question, and students are graded on their reasoning rather than their conclusion. But when both questions are considered together, they suggest, Endy says, that “in the order of a human generation, we’ll have to face possibilities that are much stranger than what we’re prepared for.”

Murder probe opened in Italy after Brazilian cleaner goes missing from cruise ship

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

36-year-old Simone Scheuer Souza was reported missing from the ship after it left Venice.

Brazilian leader denies bribery charge

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

In defiant TV speech, Michel Temer says the charge is baseless and an assault on his dignity.

Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The latest news after some of the Gulf states and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade.

Colombia's Farc officially ceases to be an armed group

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The president has hailed it as "the day weapons became words", after half a century of conflict.

Global ransomware attack causes turmoil

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Banks, retailers, energy firms and Kiev airport say they have been targeted by malware attacks.

Ransomware attack causes disruptions across globe

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Cyberattacks in Ukraine, Denmark and Russia, among others, target companies, banks and government offices.

Petya ransomware attack: Five questions answered

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Cyber-security expert tells Al Jazeera the latest attack appears to be more serious than a similar incident in May.

The Travel Ban Ruling Means My Kids Don't Belong

By Wajahat Ali from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

On June 26th, the Supreme Court allowed part of President Trump’s travel ban to take effect. Writer Wajahat Ali worries about telling his young kids. “I am now forced to tell my two, caramel-mocha skinned children with arabic, multi-syllablic names that their country might no longer want them,” he says. But, Ali argues that is also an opportunity for action and a chance to ensure that the American dream “remains an achievable reality for all citizens.”

Human trafficking: US downgrades China over record

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

China could face sanctions after the US named it one of the worst offenders of human trafficking.

Why Prison Education Is About More Than Lowering Recidivism

By Clint Smith from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Lance leans over his desk, his round belly situating his body tightly between the wooden chair and plastic desk—both too small for someone with his girth. A collection of yellow notepad papers, their edges frayed after being torn from their original binding, wrestle alongside one another in his hands. It is a Saturday morning, and the classroom is small, and silent but for the friction of Lance’s papers and the grinding on the pen he bites out of nervous habit. His large fingers fiddle about the loose sheets, verifying that they’re in order as he mutters to himself, quietly reading his story aloud, restless in the anticipation of sharing with his classmates. Lance is often the first person to arrive in class, having rigorously prepared the entire week, perfecting his assignment so as to leave his peers impressed.

In this way, Lance is not so different from students I previously taught as a high-school teacher in Maryland. He is brimming with the sort of intellectual curiosity all teachers hope to see in their students. What is different is that this isn’t a high-school classroom: It’s a state prison in Massachusetts, and Lance is serving the 46th year of his sentence.

When his remaining four classmates arrive, they form a semicircle of five desks around me. Lance is a short, stocky man with olive skin, a shaved head, and uninhibited inquisition. Tyrus is tall with black, matted dreadlocks that fall to the middle of his back and a thick Caribbean cadence ornamenting his speech. Leo is built like a linebacker but laughs with the unrestrained whimsicality of a child. Chad has a thick New England accent, imbued with Bostonian bravado that juxtaposes his small stature. Darryl’s long salt-and-pepper goatee curls under his chin. His fingers trace the round frames of his reading glasses when a book passage presents him with an intellectual dilemma. Between the five of them they have spent 151 cumulative years in prison. It is unlikely that any of them will be released.

Policy circles tend to predicate the purpose of education singularly on reducing recidivism and increasing post-release employment opportunities. According to that line of logic, then, investing time and resources in individuals who will not be released is a waste. If the purpose of education for incarcerated individuals is instead understood as something that exists beyond social and vocational utility, then prisons take on new meaning. Perhaps prison educators and policymakers would more fully consider how such spaces serve as intellectual communities that restore human dignity within an institution built on the premise of taking that dignity away. In a recently published article for the Harvard Educational Review, I argue that providing education to incarcerated individuals should not be based on a myopic conception of efficacy; instead people in prison deserve education because the collective project of learning is and should be understood as a human right. The community of learners that Lance and his classmates have built has nothing to do with whether or not they will one day be released. (The names of the inmates referenced throughout this essay are the same pseudonyms I used in the aforementioned article.)

In one of our workshops the class reads an excerpt of Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 novel, The Namesake, a story that centers around the protagonist’s—Gogol’s—struggle to assimilate into “traditional” American culture as a first-generation Bengali immigrant. The novel, a fluid meditation on family and identity, found resonance  with a group of men whose lives have, in many ways, come to be defined by the cages in which they’re kept. While Gogol’s existential struggle stems from straddling cultural bifurcations, Darryl’s stems from an effort to define himself beyond the criminal caricature the world has imposed on him. “Sometimes you get so caught up in how the rest of the world sees you,” he once remarked, “that you start to believe it.” The power of literature does not lie in resonance with the particular, but the way that the particular speaks to a broader, more universal truth. That an American-born black man who has spent decades in prison can see himself in the tale of a first-generation, Ivy-League Bengali immigrant speaks to how art, at its best, renders borders of difference obsolete.

That morning, moved by the book’s reflections on family, Darryl, serving his 43rd year in prison, wrote an essay. He described the despair of having the small moments—the ones that so often shape the contours of an individual’s relationships with loved ones—stripped away. An excerpt reads:

I am suffering in this place. Day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, walking up and down hallways; going from room to room in the same building, under surveillance 24 hours a day.

The keepers start the kepts’ day off with the intercom announcement at five minutes to 7 a.m. “Five minutes to count! Five minutes to count!” The kept stir to life from a night of visiting who knows what or where, perhaps a dream of being home with mother and siblings or wife and children, sitting at the table to eat a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, squash, and cranberry sauce. Then looking down to the end of the table and Taser in hand; turning around and seeing bars of the doorway which was not the same doorway he had entered through.

Silence filled the room after he shared his essay. Slowly, Leo began to nod his head. He looked towards Darryl. “Yea,” he said, pausing and then nodding for a few moments. “Thank you.”

To date, much of the research on prison education is centered on the correlation between prison education and recidivism—the tendency of an individual to reoffend. A 2013 meta-analysis by the RAND Corporation, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, found that incarcerated people who participated in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who did not. Furthermore, those who participated in such programs were 13 percent more likely to land post-release employment than those who had not. That number would likely be higher if discrimination against the formerly incarcerated weren’t so profound.

These data are compelling, but they disregard the fundamental role of prison education. Education a human right—a recognition of dignity that each person should be afforded. It isn’t merely something that attains its value through its presumed social utility—or, worse, something that society can take away from an individual who’s convicted of breaking the social contract. That’s true even for the men I work with, nearly all of whom are serving life sentences, as are nearly 160,000 other people across the country for crimes ranging from first-degree murder to stealing a jacket. This reality—that those I taught would never leave the prison’s premises—recalibrated my understanding of the purpose of prison-education programs. Do those serving life sentences deserve access to educational opportunities never having a future beyond bars? The answer is yes and necessitates that  in-prison education serves additional goals beyond reducing recidivism.

For Jill McDonough, a creative-writing professor at the University of Massachusetts who has taught in prisons throughout the state for the past two decades, prison educators and researchers should consider what education can provide that might not fit neatly into a spreadsheet. “I don’t need prison education to have quantifiable outcomes. I understand our incarcerated populations are our responsibility; we decided they don’t get freedom,” she told me, emphasizing that the criminal-justice system cannot simply remove people from society without subsequently providing them with the services they need. “If I were in prison, I’d want to take classes, to sit in a group of like-minded people excited and scared to challenge ourselves, to be able to give myself over to the work.” For McDonough, focusing too intently on quantifiable outcomes obscures what the essence of education, in prison or otherwise, is truly about. “I have been able to teach someone with a life sentence to write a sonnet, to hear that they worked on it with such focus that hours slipped by,” she continued. “That’s enough.”

Arthur Bembury, who is formerly incarcerated and now serves as the executive director of Partakers, an organization that provides mentorship to incarcerated men and women participating in the Boston University Prison Program, echoed McDonough’s belief that those serving life sentences shouldn’t be left out of the conversation around carceral education. “A lot of people ask why do we accept lifers into our program, if they’re not getting out? Why are we putting our resources behind somebody that doesn’t have a rap date?” he said. “One is: It instills a culture of dignity. And two: Lifers are a force within the prison system where they mentor other people.”

Substantial social science demonstrates the efficacy of offering educational programs that aren’t not geared toward vocational output, or even reducing recidivism. Prison-education programs focused on art and literature, for example, keep prisons safer, as people are less likely to engage in violence when they have there is something meaningful and edifying to look forward to.

Education, whether inside or outside of a prison, creates its value in ways that aren’t always simple to measure. Nor should they be. One does not read a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks with hopes that it will grant him a career in engineering; he does so because poetry helps him see something in the world that he might not have seen before. One does not read an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson because it statistically enhances her likelihood of staying out of the criminal-justice system; she does so because there is something to be gained from reading literature and exchanging ideas that tell her something about who she is in the world.

In a political moment defined by its obsession with cutting programs that “[sound] great” but “don’t work,” McDonough’s words may prove particularly essential: Committing to a set of values that may not reveal themselves neatly on a spreadsheet is just as important as adhering to the values that are easiest to calculate and assess.

These men are not perfect. They are complicated. They have made mistakes. In other words, they are human. And it is precisely this humanity that demands a space where they can ask and question and create and grapple with all that makes the world what it is—a place where social and intellectual community might be restored in a way that reestablishes an individual’s agency. The agency a carceral institution inherently attempts to strip away.

Democrats Don't Think Trumpcare Is Dead

By Clare Foran from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Republicans backed off a plan to vote this week on legislation rolling back much of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. But Democrats don’t think this is the end of Trumpcare.

“It’s far from over. McConnell said he’s going to come back to it soon,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said in an interview at the Capitol. “We’re not taking anything for granted.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday afternoon that the Senate would “not be on the bill this week,” as Republican Senators continue “discussions within our conference on the differences that we have.” But he added that “we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.” McConnell only needs 50 Republican senators to pass the legislation—assuming Vice President Pence breaks a tie —because Republicans are using a process known as budget reconciliation to evade a Democratic filibuster.

A number of Republican senators, however, have balked at the bill. Some conservative have argued it does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare, while moderates have expressed concern that it would too far in cutting Medicaid, the program that provides health insurance for low-income Americans. The Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday that the Senate bill would leave 22 million Americans without insurance over the course of a decade.

With little control over the levers of power in Congress, Democrats have attempted to draw attention to what they say will be the harmful impacts of the Senate GOP health care legislation.

Senate Democrats convened a flurry of press conferences this week to denounce the bill, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is technically not a Democrat, but is nevertheless part of Senate Democratic leadership, held rallies in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to rally opposition against the bill.

Now the message from Democrats is that the fight isn’t over.

“They weren’t able to pass their cruelest, and most hurtful version of the bill, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back with a bill that is still cruel, and hurtful,” Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said. “I do not believe that we are going to be able to preserve Obamacare unless we work every day, 24-hours a day, until the Republicans finally give up,” he added. “We have to keep our energy level high … That’s the only way we are going to win.”

Senate Democrats may be particularly wary of declaring victory too early after watching House GOP legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act stall out, only to be revived weeks later and passed.

The challenge now for opponents of the healthcare bill will be to keep the pressure on Republican senators during the July 4th recess, where they will return to their districts.

“If we survive this week with the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid intact, the lesson anyone who cares about health care has to learn is that it’s dangerous to take your eye of the ball even for a day,” Ben Wikler of the progressive advocacy group said in an interview before McConnell’s Tuesday announcement. “If Trumpcare isn’t passed, isn’t defeated, but is merely delayed this week, it is absolutely vital for anyone who cares about the healthcare system to dial up their pressure over the fourth of July recess.”

Of course, Republicans will be making their case for the bill’s passage too.

“The schedule may have changed a little but, but one thing hasn’t changed and that is that Obamacare is collapsing,” Republican Senator John Thune said on Tuesday during a press conference. “It is a failed system that needs to be replaced, and we believe the legislation that we’re trying to get up on the Senate floor and consider there will take America in a better direction.”

But even for their apparent reluctance to declare victory, some Senate Democrats evidently believe the road to passage for Republicans will be more difficult now that McConnell has delayed its vote.

“This bill is like a stinking fish, it’s just going to get worse,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in an interview. “We’re going to bring this to every state across the country. This is what we wanted. We wanted to be able to bring this debate out of Washington and back to our states. I think that’s going to be the death knell for this bill.”

Democrats also hope the delay will create an opportunity for constituents opposed to the bill to convey their objections directly to Republican senators.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough two weeks for the Republicans to be hearing from their constituents at home who have now been educated as to what the impact of these cuts will be on the services their families receive,” Markey said. “I think it’s only going to complicate dramatically the complexity of their political dilemma.”

Privacy in the Information Age Is Not a Lost Cause

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Is privacy a relic of the past given the array of governments and corporations determined to hoover up information about all of us as fully as technology permits it?

Julia Angwin doesn’t think so.

The Pro Publica journalist argues that those fighting to better protect privacy aren’t wasting their time, even as the Information Age accelerates. And she explained her optimism at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, with an analogy. Consider the Industrial Revolution, she urged.

Like advances in information technology, industrialization made societies more efficient, more productive, and wealthier––but those gains came at a heavy cost, for those who lived through the period of rapid industrialization made due with dangerous factories and horrific pollution, among other ills. At the time, those ills struck many as permanent features too entrenched or perhaps even too inevitable to counter.

But others fought for industrial reforms, pushing society toward measures that better protected the environment and workers. Indeed, the conditions that prevailed in the early years of the Industrial Revolution would be unthinkable in the U.S. today.

Why shouldn’t the Information Age prove as malleable to reformers?

And for now, Angwin offers a list of privacy tools on her web site that anyone can use to better protect information that they would otherwise give over to third parties.

Refugee advocacy groups slam 'Muslim Ban' ruling

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The US Supreme Court partially reinstates temporary travel restrictions on refugees and six Muslim-majority countries.

Dozens injured and hundreds evacuated along tracks after New York subway train derails

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The Brooklyn-bound A train flew off the rails and crashed into a wall in Harlem.

Saudi Arabia: Qatar demand list is non-negotiable

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Doha must 'amend its behaviour' or 'remain isolated', says Riyadh's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Dog in Florida is put down after being attacked by bees in front of horrified children

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The Leonards told local news of their distress as neighbourhood bees attacked the dog.

How One Pastor Is Bridging the Partisan Divide

By Yoni Appelbaum from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A recent study found that Methodism is one of America’s most politically divided denominations, with both congregants and their pastors roughly split between the Democratic and Republican Parties. That makes rising partisanship a particular challenge for pastors like Adam Hamilton, of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. He estimates his congregants are perhaps 60 percent Republicans, and 40 percent Democrats—slightly more liberal than the communities from which they’re drawn, but still a decidedly red-state congregation. And, he argues, it gives the ways in which he navigates those tensions broader import.

Hamilton wanted to challenge his congregants to address pressing social challenges, despite their partisan divisions. “I’d like for them to look at the news every day, and think: ‘I wonder how the Gospel calls me to respond to this,’” he said.

So Hamilton teamed up with a local TV news station for Sunday services. Newscasters at KMBC 9 News created segments to be aired at the church, which Hamilton would then discuss with his congregants. One of the first dealt with the struggles of Kansas City’s public schools, left with few resources by decades of white flight, which in 2011 had just had their accreditation revoked.

“You could feel the discomfort in the room, because our folks lived in the suburbs with the best school systems,” he recalled. But he stressed to his flock that this was, in fact their shared responsibility. “Do you think God cares about the 32,000 children, or the teachers?” Hamilton asked his congregants. “And if he doesn’t, what do you think God cares about?”

“We took this thing that was uncomfortable for people,” he said, and forced them to grapple with what it meant, through the prism of their faith.

They passed around the offering plates. But instead of asking for donations, Hamilton used them to distribute postcards with the contact information of teachers and administrators, urging congregants to reach out to them and offer help. Today, the church gives more than half a million in donations every year to six area elementary schools, and supports a variety of tutoring and enrichment programs.

Hamilton retold the story Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. He offered it as an example of how his United Methodist Church has found ways to bridge partisan divides to engage with its community. “We try to bring both the evangelical and social gospel together regularly,” he said.

Hamilton is engagingly unassuming; his church website refers to him as Pastor Adam. The church now claims nearly 20,000 congregants spread over its four Kansas City-area locations.

Predictably, he looks back to the Gospel for inspiration.

“Among his disciples, [Jesus] chose Matthew the tax collector, who was a collaborator with the Romans, and he chose Simon the Zealot, who was absolutely opposed to the Roman occupation, and he was willing to kill and terrorize to drive them out.” Hamilton sees a model in that approach. “In essence, he took a hardcore Democrat and a hardcore Republican, and asked them both to be his disciples,” he quipped.

But finding ways to respect divergent views doesn’t mean that people will agree. “We’ve had members of both parties running against each other,” he said, stressing that congregants could share goals even as they disagree over the means of achieving them.

The election of Donald Trump has proved particularly challenging. After the election, Hamilton said, his church had Republicans and Democrats who were distraught, but also fiscal conservatives excited about the course that Trump might steer, and a congregant who showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat. And even though Hamilton parts ways with the president on both personal and political matters, he says he’s hoping for the best. “I’m going to pray that the office will ennoble him,” Hamilton said. “And that’s about redemption, and about hope.”

For his own part, Hamilton strives to position himself as above partisanship or political ideology. “People ask me this question all the time: Are you liberal or conservative? I can’t figure you out. And I say, ‘Yes, of course,’” he said.

But it’s not that simple, of course. The United States is seeing a rising tide of negative partisanship; people orienting themselves in opposition to the views of their opponents. Hamilton tries to stay nonpartisan, distinguishing between campaigns and policy. “When it comes to speaking about candidates, I’m as neutral as Switzerland,” he insisted. “But when it comes to issues there’s a way of talking about issues.”

Even so, when he tackles controversial topics from the pulpit, he hears from congregants who disagree. Some say they stay with the church out of affection for their pastor and community, and despite his bringing these issues into the church. But engaging with particularly controversial topics can tip the balance. “Those sermons, I get people who stop coming to church,” he said.

He recalled a sermon on Trump’s travel ban. “I understand what’s behind it, because we’re afraid,” he said. But he pointed back to things Americans had done in the past out of fear that the country now regrets. He cited scriptural passages on caring for the stranger and the alien, and challenged the factual basis of the ban. He ended with an interview he’d filmed with a local family of Syrian refugees, and the testimony of his Iraqi translator, putting a human face on the question.

Many said they were deeply moved.

But a few weeks later, one of his staffers reached out to a man who hadn’t been to services lately, and discovered that the sermon had driven him away. Hamilton reached out; they talked, came to a better understanding of each other’s positions, if not perfect agreement, and reconciled. But for every such example, Hamilton said, there are likely hundreds of others who depart without giving him the chance to change their minds.

Facebook hits two billion user mark

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Five years after hitting the one billion mark, the social media giant founded in 2004 hit another milestone.

Neal Katyal: Senate's Obstruction of Merrick Garland 'Was Unforgivable'

By Rebecca J. Rosen from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

In March of last year, then-President Barack Obama nominated the federal appeals-court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Spring passed. Summer passed. Fall passed. Senate Republicans, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to hold a hearing to consider him, let alone schedule a vote. In November, Donald Trump was elected president and in short order named his own nominee. Within three months of Trump’s inauguration, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Court.

Speaking Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the Supreme Court attorney and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal sharply criticized this sequence of events, calling the GOP’s Garland blockade “unforgivable.” Katyal said:

Merrick Garland was the most qualified nominee, not just in our lifetimes but perhaps in the history of the United States Supreme Court. The chief judge of the D.C. Circuit for 20 years, the nation’s second-highest court. Never once been overruled by the Court in his 20 years. He was extraordinary. It was unforgivable, and a really sad thing for our system.

Katyal’s remarks were not couched as a criticism of Gorsuch or of the Supreme Court’s recently completed term. Katyal also noted that he had, in fact, supported Gorsuch’s nomination—despite criticism from some liberal advocates—on the grounds that he believed Gorsuch was qualified for the job. “I was very upset when Republicans voted against our Democratic nominee[s], Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, who I thought were extraordinarily qualified and would be great,” Katyal said. “And I felt like the same yardstick should apply to the other side.”

The Supreme Court just wrapped up its first term with Gorsuch on the bench, and he has already proven himself to be one of the most conservative justices. Katyal said that it’s too early to make judgments about his tenure. “Let’s wait and see. We have a lot of time with Gorsuch on the Court,” he said. But his panelmate at the event, the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, was ready to make one call: “Well I would imagine Trump is pretty pleased with his nominee at this point,” she said.

At least 57 dead after Isis prison in Syria is targeted by US-led coalition

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Observers say that the Isis jail was targeted at dawn on Monday, in the town, in eastern Syria.

The mysterious fall in Saudi foreign reserves

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Net foreign assets falling despite narrower budget deficit, mystifying economists and diplomats monitoring Riyadh.

U.S. and UK Revoke Visas for Nigerian Officers Connected to Human Rights Abuses

By Council on Foreign Relations from Human Rights. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Renewed Cyprus talks set to begin in Switzerland

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

FMs of three guarantor powers, the UK, Greece and Turkey, will join talks alongside Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders.

2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest, Part II

By Alan Taylor from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest is open to submissions until the end of this week, June 30. The grand-prize winner will receive a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions. National Geographic was again kind enough to allow me to share more of the entries with you here, gathered from three categories: Nature, Cities, and People. The photos and captions were written by the photographers, and lightly edited for style.

Modi and Trump: When the titans of hate politics meet

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Narendra Modi's meeting with Donald Trump was nothing more than a publicity stunt.

The Fight for Health Care Has Always Been About Civil Rights

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

It was a cold March night when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned his pulpit towards health care. Speaking to a packed, mixed-race crowd of physicians and health-care workers in Chicago, King gave one of his most influential late-career speeches, blasting the American Medical Association and other organizations for a “conspiracy of inaction” in the maintenance of a medical apartheid that persisted even then in 1966.

There, King spoke words that have since become a maxim: “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” In the moment, it reflected the work that King and that organization, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), were doing to advance one of the since-forgotten pillars of the civil-rights movement: the idea that health care is a right. To those heroes of the civil-rights movement, it was clear that the demons of inequality that have always haunted America could not be vanquished without the establishment and protection of that right.

Fifty-one years later, those demons have not yet been defeated. King’s quotation has become a rallying cry among defenders of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark 2010 legislation that has come the closest America has ever been to establishing a universal guarantee of health care. Their position is in peril, as the Republican effort to repeal the law and create a replacement that leaves 22 million more people uninsured over the next decade and will slash Medicaid enrollment by 15 million now sits just days away from possible passage.

People of color were the most likely groups to gain coverage and access to care under the ACA, and in the centuries-old struggle over health, they have never been closer both to racial equality of, access and to, the federal protection of health care as a civil right. But if Republicans have their way, that dream will be deferred.

Just as the ACA’s defenders find themselves between a once-in-a-generation victory and a potential equally devastating loss, so the MCHR found themselves in 1966. King delivered his address just months after breakthroughs a century in the making. In the height of the movement in the early 60s that brought sweeping changes in voting rights, integration, and education, civil-rights actors had also won major victories in a push for universal health care. Chief among those victories were two of the defining pieces of 20th-century American policy: the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

Of course, the Civil Rights Act might not seem like much of a health-care bill, and Medicare isn’t usually counted among major civil-rights victories, but as detailed in in health-policy researcher David Barton Smith’s The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health System, they were complementary pieces of a grand civil-rights strategy.

Key to that strategy was the 1963 Simkins v. Cone lawsuit, filed by dentist and Greensboro, North Carolina, NAACP leader George Simkins against segregation in the local hospital. In finding in Simkins’s favor, the The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the first time that institutions receiving federal funds could not abide by the “separate but equal” legal underpinning of Jim Crow. That ruling in turn helped shape Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars segregation and discrimination among entities that receive federal funding, and to this day provides the most effective legal mechanism for federal civil-rights cases.

The NAACP and the National Medical Association—the black professional organization that was formed because the the AMA was segregated—led by W. Montague Cobb fought for the passage of the first major American health reform policy in Medicare and Medicaid. They organized direct action, legal challenges, and lobbying efforts in support of the reform, in direct opposition to most of the rest of the segregated medical establishment.  “Medicare was in a very real sense a creation of the civil-rights movement,” Smith says. In the ensuing hearings, Cobb was the only leader of any medical association to testify in favor of Medicare and Medicaid.

In 1965, just a week before also passing the Voting Rights Act, Congress passed the amendment to the Social Security Act that authorized Medicare and Medicaid, with Cobb as the witness to Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing ceremony. The law’s effects on segregation were felt immediately. Since Medicare’s universal coverage of elderly people brought federal funds to about every hospital in America, it also bound them by Title VI’s nondiscrimination clauses, which essentially ended segregation in those hospitals—some of the last public arenas in which Jim Crow legally held sway. Medicare was the final federal legal blow for de jure segregation, and without it, there would still be few legal mechanisms to force hospitals to integrate. It’s hard to overstate how much Medicare and Medicaid themselves did to end formal segregation.

By the same token, it’s hard to overstate just how deeply that waning segregation had mattered in health outcomes. From the end of slavery onward, American health-care has been deeply bifurcated along the lines of race, and that bifurcation was always reflected in how well people lived and how early and often they died.

Jim Downs’s Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction explores how that bifurcation began, chronicling the role of the Reconstruction-era Freedmen’s Bureau in fighting severe epidemics among formerly enslaved populations. Although it is known mostly for its ill-fated and ill-administered attempt to guide freedmen through emancipation, in its brief life from 1865 to 1872, the bureau also became the first public-health agency for black people, as existing municipal and charity health infrastructure built for white people in the South denied them aid. “These institutions, which had historically offered universal support to the poor and dispossessed,” Downs writes, “began to claim that they would only assist ‘citizens.’”

After white supremacy brought Reconstruction to a violent and premature end, medicine evolved along those same dividing lines of white citizens and black outcasts. America’s developing peculiar, private, decentralized, job-pension-based health-care infrastructure was the only fit for a modernizing society that could not abide black citizens sharing in societal benefits, and one where black workers had often been carved out of the gains of labor entirely.

As German Prime Minister Otto Von Bismarck’s Health Insurance Bill of 1883 created the first modern national health-care system, and as many other countries moved down the path to truly nationalized, universal health care, America instead largely expanded the existing segregated system of local private providers and religious-based charity care. In essence, the United States’s peculiar private-based health-care system exists at least in part because of the country’s commitment to maintaining racial hierarchies. The results were deep racial disparities in almost every major disease, an enduring gap in lifespans and mortality, and the creation of entirely separate medical and public-health infrastructures.

According to Smith, key figures within the resulting isolated black health infrastructure  “ended up becoming the real leadership of the local chapters of the NAACP,” and spearheading local movements against Jim Crow. Emerging leaders in the mid-20th-century included people like Simkins and Cobb, as well as national NMA president and Mississippian T.R.M. Howard, who mentored the Evers brothers and Fannie Lou Hamer, and played a leading role both in the investigation of Emmett Till’s death and also in the creation of Medicare.

The Medical Committee for Human Rights inherited that mantle of health-care and civil-rights activism and organizing in the 60s. Thomas J. Ward’s Out in the Rural: A Mississippi Health Center and Its War on Poverty details how the MCHR coalesced from a group of black and white physicians participating in Freedom Summer in 1964. Among that group, public-health champions H. Jack Geiger, Bob Smith, and John Hatch pushed to build the first rural community health center in the United States, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and created community health centers as one of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” programs. They also set their sights squarely on universal health-care as a necessary component of the civil-rights agenda.

The passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 helped deliver some portion of that agenda, but as with every other civil-rights victory, the backlash was strong. The MCHR, NAACP, and NMA would encounter resistance to both the prospect of universal health care and to the use of existing systems to end health disparities that utilized the full muscle of white supremacy.

Even as members of the MCHR listened to King’s speech in Chicago, the AMA was digging their heels in against the prospect of integrating the expanding Medicare and Medicaid programs. Using the successful, red-baiting cudgel of “socialized medicine,” and armed with the first major political advertising firm, the AMA, health-care industry organizations, and their conservative allies had already defeated a 1947 proposal from President Truman to create a true national health-care plan. Although they could not stop the remnants of that plan from eventually becoming Medicare and Medicaid, that coalition was able to obstruct further progress towards coverage for “able-bodied” adults and the creation of a coherent universal guarantee to care. They might not have known it at the time, but for those activists in 1966, health care had already become a dead end.

After King’s death in 1968, and the disintegration of the civil-rights movement, opposition from the AMA-led coalition would stymy the last organized effort from the MCHR to create and pass a single-payer bill. That failure also cemented the basic composition of American health-care: a patchwork dominated by private employer-based insurance, where non-elderly people who couldn’t afford or didn’t have such offers, and didn’t fall into narrow special Medicaid eligibility groups were largely left out. And it’s no coincidence or secret that those left out were more likely than not to be people of color.

That basic shape remained all the way until 2010, when Democrats and President Obama pulled off the multi-pronged policy and legislative maneuver that became the ACA.

Obamacare, as that law came to be known, wasn’t the universal health-care guarantee or the single-payer system that civil-rights activists had pushed for decades, especially after the Supreme Court gutted the core provision of its Medicaid expansion to low-income adults and made it state-optional. Instead, Obamacare sidestepped the political pitfalls of such a plan by attempting alchemy, hoping to entice states to choose to expand Medicaid guaranteed coverage for low-income people, creating a subsidy and non-participation penalties instead of a guarantee for middle-income people, and generally trying to bend the health-care industry against its own exclusionary nature with large sums of money.

Still, even though the ACA isn’t a single-payer or universal system, it did a better job than the status quo ante at ensuring some sort of access to care. According to J. Nadine Gracia, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health at HHS—positions and an office that were themselves reauthorized and expanded by Obamacare—the ACA’s benefits were immediately realized in communities of color. “The Affordable Care Act is the most important law to help reduce health disparities since the passage Medicare and Medicaid,” Gracia said, “because the law is addressing issues of access, affordability, and quality of care, which have all been obstacles and barriers that relate to the health of minorities.”

For former Surgeon General David Satcher, whose work has helped popularize the concept of health disparities and kept the dream of universal coverage alive in the interim between Medicare and Obamacare, the ACA is a stepping stone. “I think we've made some progress with the Affordable Care Act, but as you know that has been greatly limited by the politics of Washington,” he told me. “We haven't gotten half as far as we could've gotten with that because the ultimate goal is that everybody will have access to quality health-care.” But if current events are any indicator, half as far may be as far as America gets.  

There is a broad consensus among health organizations (now including the AMA), former officials like Satcher, and the former titans of the civil-rights movement that the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) in the Senate and the American Health Care Act (AHCA), its sister bill in the House, will move America away from eliminating racial inequalities in health and health care. In addition to changes in private insurance that will make plans less comprehensive and less useful for sicker and poorer people—within which people of color are overrepresented—the BCRA also eliminates the ACA’s Medicaid expansion to low-income adults and constrains the underlying Medicaid program to the point where in the future states will have no choice but to cover fewer people.

In essence, the BCRA not only erases the ACA’s market-oriented experiment in health equity, but also strikes a blow at the previously established elements of “socialized medicine” that were longtime objectives of the civil-rights movement. In this—as is true of other civil-rights victories that were the bedrock of the 50s and 60s liberation movement, like education and voting rights—a central tenet of American freedom now finds itself in danger of simply vanishing. The country cannot follow through on its commitment to equal protection for life and liberty under the law without addressing fundamental inequalities in mortality.

It’s worth noting that much of the animus behind the opposition to Obamacare is tied to race. Studies have shown that racial prejudice is a good predictor of opposition to the bill, and its central policy of Medicaid has always been subject to implicit racial biases in public opinion. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that Republican voters tend to view Medicaid as welfare, with all the attendant stereotypes and dog whistles.

Much of that implicit opposition was summed up in a famous 2009 rant from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called the plan “reparations,” and said it reflected Obama’s belief that “this country was immorally and illegitimately founded by a very small minority of white Europeans … and it’s about time that the scales were made even.” The irony is that Mr. Limbaugh was correct about the bill in one respect: It did disproportionately help the poor and people of color, and in doing so, begin to correct a centuries-old injustice.

In a statement defending his signature policy in May, President Obama articulated just why the ACA was such a historic piece of legislation. “When I took office, millions of Americans were locked out of our health care system,” he wrote. “We finally declared that in America, health care is not a privilege for a few, but a right for everybody.”

Contrary to Obama’s statement, the ACA actually didn’t manage to make health care a right, nor has it allowed all of those locked-out people into the system. But it does come closer to those goals, and does grant access to millions of people of color who had been left out for generations. Unfortunately, the law has also triggered the same conservative immune response that killed single-payer in the past; the same kind of response that King so eloquently railed against in Chicago.

With 51 votes and a presidential signature, Republicans can begin turning back the clock.

Muslim girls complain of Polish racism on Holocaust study trip

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

German Muslim girls say they were racially abused in Poland while learning about the Holocaust.

How African Americans Use DNA Testing to Connect With Their Past

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

In 1977, Alondra Nelson remembers lying stomach-down, head-in-hands, in front of the television, watching Alex Haley’s miniseries Roots with her parents. “I knew that something special was happening because my parents didn’t let us watch TV in the evenings, and here, they were letting us watch eight nights in a row,” she told a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “They wanted us to see it for its historic nature.”

The miniseries, which traced Haley’s genealogy back to the Gambia, spurred many African Americans to start tracing their own ancestries. And it inspired Nelson’s own interest in genealogy and the social consequences of learning about one’s roots. Now, as the dean of social science at Columbia University, Nelson has spent more than a decade studying what she describes as a “new groundswell of root-seeking”—one propelled by genetic testing.

Today, there are dozens of companies that will sequence segments of a customer’s DNA and tell them about their ancestry. When Nelson asked the audience how many had made use of such services, at least a dozen people raised their hands. But in 2002, the industry was a nascent one. To find its early customers, Nelson had to go to old-fashioned genealogy clubs and societies.

The history of genetics as a field is steeped in eugenics and scientific racism. And yet, Nelson says that for many African Americans, DNA testing held a special appeal because many of the traditional methods of genealogy had been complicated by the history of slavery. Records disappeared. Names changed. People were trafficked across state lines. Stories were verboten because they were too traumatic. Ancestry testing offered a way of circumventing these obstacles, and airing stories that might never otherwise have come to light. “It’s an interesting story about race and genetics,” Nelson says. “When we talk about African Americans in science, it’s often a story of skepticism and distrust. But this ancestry-testing story is one of pioneering early adopters who are willing to do something different.

One such pioneer was Rick Kittles, a geneticist and cancer researcher who founded a company called African Ancestry Inc. His service provided only broad inferences about where people came from, but for many customers, that was enough. “It definitely wasn’t perfect, but many people said that if it’s a choice between no information or an inference that might be slightly off, I’ll take the inference,” Nelson says.

As tests became more precise, those inferences often proved to be unexpectedly moving. Nelson once met a group of African Americans whose DNA suggested that they had Sierra Leonean ancestry. They met for a ceremony of remembrance on the Ashley River in South Carolina, at a ferry landing where slaves were disembarked from ships and auctioned off. The actor Isaiah Washington was there. A man cast soil and stones from Sierra Leone into the river and said a prayer.

“We talk about the history of slavery in this country and it feels so abstract. But genetic ancestry testing can make it very personal,” she says. “The ceremony allowed for a social practice of healing, where people didn’t just have to sit with the knowledge. Many of the folks I talked to tell very moving stories about new relationships they began in their communities with their genetic test results.”

Nelson expands on this theme in her recent book, The Social Life of DNA. In it, she argues that DNA is more than a molecule that defines our identity; it also takes a social life beyond its influence within individual bodies. The communities that can arise from ancestry testing are a far cry from the cutesy images often used to sell ancestry tests, in which bemused people swap lederhosen for tartan. “This test was not just about identity in a narcissistic way, but about people trying to reconcile the history of slavery, and scaling up from their ancestry test to what it means for the history of the U.S.,” says Nelson.

When Nelson first looked at ancestry tests, they were mainly of interest to the 50-plus crowd. But they’re now capturing the interest of a younger demographic who are drawn to the quantified-self movement, and the power of dramatically revealing where you came from, reality TV-style. Nelson knows that power first-hand. “I didn’t want to do the test, but I thought if I was going to do it, it would be with a big reveal,” she says.

It happened in an Atlanta ballroom, with Rick Kittles and Isaiah Washington MCing. At the event, Martin Luther King III learned his ancestry on his mother’s side traced back to Africa, while his father’s line traced to Scotland and Ireland. He told a story about how we’re all related in the end, and spoke about his desire to go to Europe. Marcus Garvey Jr.’s son heard similar results—a mother’s line that descended from Africa and a father’s line that came from the Iberian Peninsula. He told a story that highlighted the horrors of slavery. “It was an example about how these results, even when they’re very similar, get taken up into these stories that are important to us,” says Nelson.

She learned that her mitochondrial DNA (which passes down the female line) traced back to the Bamileke people of Cameroon—a fact that delighted her mother. “She couldn’t wait to tell everyone,” Nelson says. “And then soon after, she developed a close relationship with a woman from Cameroon, whose family would spend holidays with us. Her son had grandparents’ day at school, and since his grandparents are in Cameroon, he invited my mother—the DNA Cameroonian—to be his grandparent for the day.”

Vulnerable 'Chokepoints' Threaten Global Food Security, Experts Warn

By Yasmeen Serhan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

More than a dozen supply chains and trade routes that facilitate global food trade are vulnerable to unforeseen crises or climate change, according to a new report.

Analysts at Chatham House, the U.K.-based think tank, released a report Tuesday identifying 14 critical junctures, or “chokepoints,” through which large volumes of global food trade pass that could be vulnerable to major disruption if they are not properly maintained—an issue that could adversely affect global food supply and prices. The report found that the weak and aging infrastructure of these chokepoints are not equipped to cope with natural disasters, which could occur with more frequency as the planet warms.

“Three principal kinds of chokepoint are critical to global food security: maritime straits along shipping lanes; coastal infrastructure in major crop-exporting regions; and inland transport infrastructure in major exporting regions,” the report reads, adding: “A serious interruption at one or more of these chokepoints could conceivably lead to supply shortfalls and price spikes, with systemic consequences that could reach beyond food markets.”

These chokepoints, which include key maritime routes like the Panama Canal, coastal areas like the U.S. Gulf Coast ports, and inland routes like the Roads to Brazil, are responsible for transporting a significant amount of the world’s food supply—a quarter of which is traded through international markets. The most important of these chokepoints are in the U.S., Brazil, and the Black Sea, which account for more than half of the world’s staple crop exports such as wheat, rice, maize, and soybean. A third of grain imports for the Middle East and North Africa, which is considered the most food import-dependent region in the world, rely on a single chokepoint.

Laura Wellesley, one of the authors of the Chatham House report, said the risk increases as climate change poses a heightened risk.

“We are talking about a huge share of global supply that could be delayed or stopped for a significant period of time,” Wellesley told the Guardian. “What is concerning is that, with climate change, we are very likely to see one or more of these chokepoint disruptions coincide with a harvest failure, and that’s when things start to get serious.”

Some of these routes have already been affected. The Panama Canal has been hit by drought, floods have affected roads in Brazil, and sandstorms have previously shut down the Suez Canal—all crises the report says could intensify because of global warming. To combat this, the report calls for investment in “climate-compatible” infrastructure, as well as for more global cooperation to plan for future crises.  

“The straits of Hormuz [which Iran has threatened to close] is a really interesting example of where the energy sector is sitting up and taking notice – the food sector should be doing the same,” Wellesley said. “Those same countries that rely on Hormuz to export their oil rely almost entirely on the same strait for their food supply.”

Facebook hits two billion users

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

More than a quarter of the world's population now use the social network every month.

A father's grief

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Muhammad has been looking for his family since an oil tanker blaze killed 150 people in Pakistan.

Your Summer Job Stories

By Hayley Glatter from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Last week, my Instagram feed was filled with photos of teenagers wearing blue leggings covered in white stars and tank tops decorated with American flags. It was Olympics Week at my former summer camp, and these counselors were not shy about their support for Team USA. I spent a total of 13 summers at camp—seven as a camper and six as a counselor—and though many of my campers are now counselors themselves, the photos still made me nostalgic for bug juice and tie-dye T-shirts. We asked readers to tell us about their summertime experiences, and both teens and former teens responded with stories of their warm-weather follies.

Like me, a number of readers turned to summer camp to make the most of the months between school years. Rosa cited her job as Camp Leader as the first step toward a kid-centric career: “Those early summer experiences made a tremendous difference to helping me become the educator I became.” Abby, who spent six summers volunteering as a camp counselor,  described the selfless joy of making a child smile: “You don't do it for the glory, or the prestige, or the experience that's going to land you a C-level position, and certainly not for the money. We all do it for the kids.” For Daniel, who will return as a counselor to his camp in the Catskills this summer, camp is a critical part of his religious identity:

Camp’s most important role in my life is as my primary Jewish space. I don’t have many. After my Bar Mitzvah, my family began attending synagogue less and less, to the point that we stopped maintaining a membership. So, Judaism-wise, I am left with this: a congregation of secular Jews in the mountains of New York State, spending the summer living and educating according to Jewish values, if not law.

I certainly relate to Daniel’s response, not only because my camp is overseen by a Jewish nonprofit, but also because so many of my most vibrant summer memories are tied to that religiosity—making challah over a campfire; walking past older girls practicing their bat mitzvah Torah portions; and learning from our Israeli counselors. These experiences strengthened my religious identity because, quite simply, they were fun and social—a balance to my Hebrew school education, where I learned the nuts and bolts of the Old Testament and how to read Hebrew.

Of course, not everyone spends their summers canoeing and making friendship bracelets with campers. Nell, a 17-year-old from Massachusetts, will be wearing many different hats this summer:

I will be working on a huge research paper for an institute at my school. I will also be an intern at my state house of representatives. And currently, I’m in the second of three weeks in Russia, where I’m living with a host family and seeing lots of Putin imagery. Each of these activities is strategic. It allows colleges to know more about me just by looking at my activities list. And everyone at my school has a strategic summer planned out.

Last year, I worked at my local grocery store. I didn’t hate my job, but I felt so astoundingly bored. My summer this year promises not only to be intellectually engaging, but also will give me more free time and ability to see friends.

But Clover, who grew up in rural Idaho in the 1980s, learned a lot from her less-than-glamorous experiences working at a grocery store—part-time during the school year, and full-time in the summer:

My primary job was to clean the meat department each night. I scraped the floor, bleached the butcher blocks and cutting boards, and disassembled the hamburger grinder, carefully scouring each part. I also dismantled the chicken rotisserie and cleaned each part. I bagged up all the scraps, knotting the trash bags securely so they wouldn't attract vermin to the dumpster area.

Read On »

Deadly blast targets police near Kenya-Somalia border

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

At least eight people, including four children, killed in suspected al-Shabab bombing in Lamu county.

Senate Republicans Put Off Health-Care Vote

By Russell Berman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Updated on June 27 at 6:05 p.m. ET

Senate Republican leaders have abandoned plans to vote on legislation overhauling the Affordable Care Act this week, bowing to opposition within their own party and demands from several senators for more time to consider the bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after meeting with Republican senators on Tuesday that he would put off a vote until after a weeklong July 4 recess. The move is an abrupt retreat for McConnell, who had been pushing to pass the bill this week just days after releasing it to the public.

“We're going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have, that we're continuing to try to litigate,” the majority leader said. “Consequently, we will not be on the bill this week, but we’re still toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.”

GOP leaders had argued that more time would not help the public perception of the bill, which is broadly similar to legislation the House passed last month that polls show is deeply unpopular. McConnell also wants the party to be able to move on to tax reform, which it cannot do procedurally until it passes a health care bill or gives up on the issue.

Critics of the bill, who had feared a rushed push to enact it into law, will now have at least two more weeks to pressure senators in their home states and marshal even broader opposition. Yet it would be premature to consider the bill dead. House Republican leaders were also forced to put off a vote on their bill earlier this year only to work out a compromise that allowed it to pass weeks later.

With that recent history in mind, Democrats held off on declaring victory.“It’s not over until it’s over, and it’s not dead until it’s dead,” Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said. “The fact that Senate Republicans have delayed the vote on their health care bill is welcome news, but it means we have to redouble our efforts to fight it over the July 4th holiday and beyond.”

McConnell, too, insisted the legislation remained very much alive. Despite an aggressive push to pass the bill this week, he tried to downplay the delay. “We’re still optimistic we’re going to get there,” he said. “Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anyone else would hope.”

With the bill in doubt, President Trump stepped in to try to play deal-maker. The president invited all 52 Republican senators to the White House for a meeting Tuesday afternoon after initially having little involvement in the Senate’s deliberations. “We’re getting very close,” Trump said at the outset. He was flanked on either side by two of the Senate bill’s biggest skeptics, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Collins announced her opposition on Monday and expressed doubts that the proposal could be tweaked to win her support, calling instead for Republicans to engage Democrats in bipartisan talks.Trump, who has mused repeatedly about allowing Obamacare to collapse on his own, framed the effort to pass the Senate bill in less than urgent terms. “This will be great if we get it done,” he said. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s okay, and I understand that very well.”

The engagement from the president comes amid tensions between Trump’s allies and Senate leaders after a pro-Trump super PAC launched ads attacking Senator Dean Heller over his opposition to the bill. Heller is considered the GOP’s most vulnerable senator up for reelection next year, and The New York Times reported Tuesday that McConnell told Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, that the move was “beyond stupid.”

McConnell made clear GOP leaders were not yet ready to turn to Democrats in hopes of a bipartisan agreement on fixes to Obamacare. “They’re not interested in participating in this,” he said. After meeting with Trump, however, McConnell acknowledged that if Republicans could not pass a bill on their own, they’d have to work with Democrats to stabilize the individual market. But Republicans, he said, were unlikely to win Democratic backing for the changes to Medicaid and the private market they’ve prioritized.

Democrats have told Republicans they would negotiate changes to the law if the GOP dropped its demand for repeal. And while the Senate falls short of a full repeal, Republicans have not relinquished the rhetoric they campaigned on for six years. “While the schedule may have slipped a little bit, we are intent on rescuing Americans from a failed system,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota said.

The Senate legislation would repeal Obamacare’s taxes and insurance mandates and phase out its Medicaid expansion, but it drew criticism from Republican senators on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Conservatives were miffed that it did not fully repeal the 2010 health law, while moderates opposed its deep cuts to Medicaid and blanched at a projection from the Congressional Budget Office that it would result in 22 million fewer people having insurance over a decade.

McConnell could afford to lose no more than two votes from the 52 Republicans, given blanket Democratic opposition. But at least five GOP senators—Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul of Kentucky—said they would vote against even bringing the bill up for debate this week unless changes were made.

“I don’t think we should be voting on it this week at all,” Johnson said on NPR Thursday morning, reiterating a position he’s held since the bill came out last week. “I think we need more time to gain feedback from our constituents, really review the bill.”

There were indications on Tuesday that the opposition to the bill among Senate Republicans went well beyond those who had publicly voiced concerns. Shortly after McConnell scrapped the vote, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas tweeted that he, too, was against the bill. “The Senate healthcare bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support,” he wrote. “I am pleased with the decision to delay the vote – now is the time to take a step back and put the full legislative process to work.” Moran is generally a reliable vote for leadership who headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2016 campaign.

Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginai followed suit soon afterward. They had voiced concerns with the bill previously but did not formalize their opposition until McConnell delayed the vote. “As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers,” Capito said. “My concerns will need to be addressed going forward.” Portman was facing mounting pressure from his state’s Republican governor, John Kasich, who joined Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado at a press conference Tuesday to denounce the Senate bill.

Conservatives like Johnson, Paul, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas were pushing for amendments that would lower premiums and eliminate—or allow states to opt out of—Obamacare insurance regulations, including the provision prohibiting companies from charging higher rates to people with preexisting conditions. Portman and Capito, meanwhile, wanted tens of billions of dollars more to help states fight the opioid epidemic and changes that would soften the $770 billion in cuts to Medicaid.

Despite those demands, senators and aides said McConnell had yet to open the bill up to more negotiation. One senior GOP aide told me Thursday afternoon there had been “zero movement” since the bill was released and that party leaders appeared to be trying to squeeze GOP holdouts into falling in line. With McConnell’s decision to delay the vote, it became clear that strategy had failed.

World Cup Garcia report piles more pressure on Fifa chiefs and Qatar

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Withheld Garcia findings detail methods used to secure tournament

The economic origins of the populist surge

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Inequality and joblessness will fuel and sustain the wave of voters’ anger

Grenfell Tower fire: German flats cleared amid cladding fears

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

An 11-storey block is evacuated in Wuppertal because it has panels similar to Grenfell Tower's.

From Chernobyl to supermarkets: A full list of every company hit by 'Petya' cyberattack

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Huge ransomware cyberattack is spreading across Europe - who's been hit so far?

The internet of things: industry’s digital revolution

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The likes of GE and Siemens are investing billions in the ‘industrial internet’ but will face competition from IT groups and start-ups

Trump looks to draw thicker red line in Syria

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Assad regime and Russia push back against White House chemical weapons warning

EU prises open Google’s search engine in new tech offensive

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Critics suspect antitrust action will be as ineffective as Microsoft clampdown

Sally Yates on Bob Mueller: ‘Folks Ought to Have Tremendous Confidence in Him’

By Emma Green from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Sally Yates said on Tuesday that “folks ought to have tremendous confidence” in Bob Mueller, the former FBI director who is leading the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired by President Trump in January, said Mueller “is the consummate professional. He is going to call it like he sees it. He’s going to do this the right way.”

Yates has many reasons to be suspicious of the Trump administration. In the week after the president’s inauguration, Yates found out via The New York Times that the White House had instituted a travel ban on citizens and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries. She had to “furiously” search for details on the internet from a car on the way to the airport, she said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. After a hectic weekend of chaos and protests at multiple American airports, Yates determined that she wasn’t comfortable defending the constitutionality of the ban: It “would require me to send lawyers into court to say this ban had nothing to do with religion,” she said. “I did not believe that to be a defense that was grounded in truth.” Shortly thereafter, she was fired from her post.

The incident led many to argue that the neutrality of the Justice Department was under attack. Although Yates was a political appointee, she was also a 27-year department veteran who claimed she had made her decision based on her legal judgment. When Mueller was appointed, those fears and questions emerged again about whether he would be allowed to conduct a thorough, neutral investigation into the Russia affair.

Yates doesn’t seem to think these fears are justified. She said she believes in Mueller and expressed “total confidence in the career men and women who are at the Department of Justice.”

“You have got thousands and thousands of career-DOJ people that are there that care deeply about the mission and the integrity of the Department of Justice,” she said. “There are also good Trump appointees at the Department of Justice now as well. I don’t think all is lost at DOJ. It’s going to withstand anything” in the coming months.

The real problem is different, Yates said: “There are facts here that should be alarming to us as a country that fall short of facts that would establish a basis for impeachment or for prosecution.” While Mueller is investigating whether any federal crimes were committed, which could potentially be grounds for prosecution or impeachment, “surely that’s not our bar,” she said. “That’s not the standard of conduct that we’re looking for from our president or our administration. It shouldn’t just be whether they committed a felony or not.”

No matter whether Trump has committed a crime, his administration has undermined long-standing practices of neutrality, respect, and integrity among the various agencies and branches of government, she said. “It’s not just that the president is making comments undermining the legitimacy of judges who issue opinions he doesn’t like,” she said:

We have got a delicate balance there between the three branches of government, and that balance has served us pretty darn well for many, many years now. The idea that that balance is being thrown out of kilter by not just disagreeing with what a court might do, but attempting to de-legitimize it … it concerns me that that can be really destructive and be further divisive.

“While I have total confidence in Bob Mueller and his ability to conduct this investigation,” she added, “I don’t think we should be putting all of our hopes in, ‘That will tell us whether anything bad happened here.’”

Yates wouldn’t comment on whether Mike Flynn, the former national-security adviser, should be given immunity for any involvement in potential collusion with the Russian government, even though she was acting attorney general when the FBI began probing him and likely has some knowledge of the case. “I don’t think I should be telling Bob Mueller how he should be doing his investigation,” she said, “so I’m going to defer on whether Mike Flynn should be given immunity or not.”

She also didn’t say what she’ll be doing next, but she once again ruled out launching her own political campaign—something her liberal fans have fantasized about. “Running for office [has] just never been anything that I could picture myself doing,” she said.

Trump may have kicked Yates out of her office, and she may not be stepping back into government any time soon. But even after her infamous exit, at least she has confidence in the people she left behind.

What The Big Sick Gets Right About Parenthood

By Inkoo Kang from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

This post contains spoilers for the entirety of The Big Sick.

Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is one of the year’s most satisfying romantic comedies—but it’s something else, too. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon about their rocky real-life courtship, the film is a remarkable achievement for the depth of its unusual B-plot: the fictional Kumail’s relationship with his future in-laws (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). It’s a singularly textured and honest portrayal, especially within Asian American pop culture, of the importance of parents in adulthood—as well as a candid look at the need to negotiate familial relationships when they become too dysfunctional.

A pharmaceutical lab’s worth of chemistry binds Nanjiani (who plays himself) and Zoe Kazan (who plays Emily), giving the first act its easygoing sweetness. But The Big Sick truly distinguishes itself when Kumail meets Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, about 45 minutes in. After five months of dating, Emily discovers in her boyfriend’s room a yearbook page’s worth of photos: headshots of women that Kumail’s mother had introduced to her younger son in hopes of arranging a marriage. Seeing no future for them as a couple, Emily breaks things off. Shortly after, she lands in the hospital, where she’s placed in a medically induced coma. Reeling from the sudden severity of their daughter’s condition (and fully aware of Kumail’s photo collection), Beth and Terry initially swat their daughter’s ex away like a fly.

It’s unusual enough for a film’s stakes to center on a guy’s relationship with his (ex-) girlfriend’s parents. In part because of the novelty of that premise, and in part because it’s executed so well, The Big Sick ends up being as much about Kumail’s incredibly intimate relationship with Beth and Terry as it does about his devoted romance with Emily. After being burned by the heat of Terry and (especially) Beth’s hostility, Kumail gets to know them as a couple and as individuals. A drunk Beth confides in Kumail about how no one in her family liked Terry at first. Worn out by the rollercoaster-like updates on his daughter’s medical status, Terry shares more than he perhaps should—that he cheated on Beth awhile ago and she hasn’t fully forgiven him for it. It’s the stuff movies are made of: A couple of strangers come into your life and a whole new world opens up that you didn’t even know existed.

With Emily lying in a coma, Beth and Terry are the only people in Kumail’s life who remotely understand what he is going through. (His juvenile friends at the comedy club provide little emotional support.) But the greatest comfort the older couple provides to Kumail is parental. Unlike his family, they’re willing to check out his standup (if only to distract themselves from their anxiety). And in contrast to his law-school-obsessed mother, they care little for status (they’re willing to overlook his shabby apartment and dingy air mattress).

That’s not to say that they’re perfect: Beth has anger issues (witness the instantly iconic scene where Hunter circles Romano like she’s stalking prey) and Terry at one point awkwardly asks Kumail his “stance” on 9/11 (in a scene that’s sure to be quoted for years to come for Nanjiani and Gordon’s flipping of the script on Islamophobia). But in this time of crisis, Kumail gets the attention and love from Beth and Terry that he needs. When Emily later wakes up, Beth plays an instrumental role in nudging the young couple together—so much so that it’s altogether possible that Kumail and Emily would never have ended up together if it weren’t for the older woman’s encouragement.

Kumail’s parents also occupy a crucial role in his romantic and emotional journey, though in a markedly different way. Played by Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher, the elder Nanjianis demonstrate at the movie’s outset that they’re more than willing to cut out of the family any relative who marries a non-Pakistani, non-Muslim partner. While the pair isn’t as well developed as Beth and Terry are, it’s poignant all the same to watch the comedian discover he can and should relate to his parents in new ways as he grows into a more well-rounded person.

It takes awhileKumail is used to dealing with his parents by being strategically passive and by conveniently compartmentalizing his life. He lets them believe that he’ll eventually marry the “right” kind of girl and take the LSAT because it’s easier than correcting them, and thus exudes a filial melancholy for most of the film that he sees as natural and inevitable. But Kumail finds that his methods of engagement (which will be familiar to many Asian American viewers) are unsustainable, and ultimately hurtful to everyone he loves. When his parents learn about Emily, they react—as she did in reaction to those headshots—as if they’re looking at a stranger.

A script less concerned with cultural realism and more insistent on Hollywood happy endings might have resolved with Kumail’s mother and father accepting Emily’s race and religion for the sake of their son’s contentment. To its credit, The Big Sick leaves the relationship between Kumail and his parents an open wound: The comedian moves to New York to pursue comedy without their blessing. “That’s a whole other story,” the non-resolution implies—the very lack of conclusion a kind of deference toward the intricacy of the situation.

Parents play a significant role in Desi-American romances like Master of None and The Mindy Project (as well as other recent works, from the documentary Meet the Patels to the standup special Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King). In those stories, their Indian- and Pakistani-American authors make a point of demystifying arranged marriage, even if none of their protagonists choose it for themselves. The Big Sick is no exception. “You know what they call arranged marriage in Pakistan?” Kumail asks Emily during a fight, deflecting from the fact that he’s been lying by omission to her for months. “Marriage!” Still, he can’t envision an arranged marriage for himself because he himself has stereotyped his parents’ relationship for years as utterly lacking in romance. While getting to know Kumail, Beth asks him what movie his parents saw on their first date (a set-up), and he admits he’s never asked them. In The Big Sick’s penultimate scene, Kumail finally asks his father, and the older man names a musical, then smiles as he hums a melody from one of its songs—his wife’s favorite.

Within the scope of the film, it’s a small development, but it indicates that Kumail’s own eyes are being opened: about what an arranged marriage could be, and about how tender his parents’ relationship has been. And while there’s something off-puttingly impersonal about Kumail’s headshot collection (reminiscent of an analog Tinder), the film leaves open the possibility that he might have ended up clicking with one of the women his mom picked for him—the nerdy-cool magician Khadija (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Vella Lovell)—had he been just a little bit more open to the idea. That’s the case even if Khadija doesn’t care for Kumail’s favorite show, The X-Files. Emily, for that matter, doesn’t seem all that impressed by his preferred horror movies, either.

The resourcefulness with which the film shows Kumail creating a route forward for himself—not simply following the American norms he grew up with or the Pakistani traditions his parents want him to embrace, but forging a third way based on his own romantic, emotional, and professional needs—is notable. And that’s why, for this Asian American viewer, at least, The Big Sick feels so substantial: It’s sensitive to culture while illustrating why it sometimes has to change, if only within a family.

The Big Sick makes room for the role of parents in one’s romantic life and affirms the importance of their approval and encouragement. The twist is that it’s Emily’s parents who serve as a real-life model of marriage and caretaking after Kumail has hidden too much of his life from his own mother and father to ask for support and advice. That a white couple plays that role for Kumail—including coaxing their daughter to reunite with her ex—is a reminder that the cultural gaps the film highlights aren’t so wide after all: Despite undeniable differences, forging bridges is possible. The Big Sick thus offers new ways of envisioning parental relationships—especially those that many Asian Americans navigate—in all their relatably messy, adaptive glory.

Can Americans Believe the President About Syrian Chemical Weapons?

By Krishnadev Calamur from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The White House said Monday night that Syria’s Assad regime was potentially preparing for a chemical-weapons attack that “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”  

“If … Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons,” the statement from the White House press secretary said, “he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

The New York Times, which called the statement “highly unusual,” noted: “Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was.” By Tuesday, the Defense Department appeared to have gotten on the same page as the president. Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen “actions suggestive of intent to use chemical weapons” at the al-Shayrat airbase for several days. That’s the same airbase the Trump administration said was used by the Assad regime to launch a chemical-weapons attack in April against civilians in Idlib Province. In that incident, President Trump responded almost immediately, launching more than 50 cruise missiles at the base near the city of Homs.

Monday’s White House statement said the activities “are similar to preparations the regime made before” the April attack. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., tweeted:

The White House insisted Tuesday “all relevant agencies—including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI—were involved in the process” leading up to the statement “from the beginning.” But as BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday, the manner in which the White House released its statement—the Pentagon’s clarification notwithstanding—only raises more questions about what the White House was referring to. Here’s more:

[F]ive US defense officials reached by BuzzFeed News Monday night said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, including one US Central Command official who had ‘no idea’ about its origin. The officials said they were unaware the White House was planning to release its statement; usually such statements are coordinated across the national security agencies and departments before they are released.

In Damascus, Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, rejected the White House’s claim. He told the Associated Press the statement suggested a “diplomatic battle” at the U.N. against Syria. Russia, which backs the Assad regime, also rejected the allegation. “I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons could be used,” Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said. Assad’s record on this issue is clearly damning, however: During the more than six-year civil war in his country, he has used chemical weapons multiple times despite an agreement involving the U.S. and Russia that aimed to remove his ability to do so; and he has found other ways to kill hundreds of thousands of his people. Syria and Russia have repeatedly rejected overwhelming evidence that Assad’s forces carried out the chemical-weapons attack in April, instead blaming rebels for the deaths. So it’s hardly unexpected that they would both reject any evidence the White House presents for its latest claim—even if it is accurate.

But the saga of the statement so far highlights the White House’s own credibility problems—and why Russia and Syria are in a position to exploit them.

It’s plausible, as the Times suggests, that the White House made its announcement based on intelligence that was not widely shared within the administration. Neither the Times nor Buzzfeed identified which specific officials had been surprised by the Monday night statement; maybe those officials weren’t in a position to know about it ahead of time anyway. On the other hand, it’s no less plausible that this White House would make a pronouncement without consulting the relevant national-security agencies— despite the administration’s claims to the contrary—and that the president has once again left his own government scrambling to catch up and coordinate. We’ve seen this happen on several significant occasions since Trump’s inauguration: He repeatedly described NATO as “obsolete” and appeared to make U.S. support for its partners in the alliance conditional upon their military expenditures, only to have James Mattis, his defense secretary, undertake a European tour in an attempt to reassure allies of America’s commitment. He publicly alluded to military action against North Korea, in apparent contradiction of the public statements of his own secretary of state.

There has been even more confusion over Qatar, a U.S. ally with which Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations severed links this month over its alleged support of terrorism. Trump lauded that stand. The U.S. State Department took a dramatically different approach, with the department spokeswoman declaring herself “mystified” about what the Gulf countries expected to achieve. Similar contradictions have surfaced with regard to Russia, which Trump wants closer relations with but which Mattis has said “we are going to have to confront;” and Syria, where the Trump administration’s stated policy preferences have ranged from political solutions to regime change.

What do all these contradictions amount to? They could signal mere inexperience; they could show internal policy debates being played out in public. But the more troubling possibility lies in what my colleague James Fallows has called Trump’s “credibility crisis.” The president’s willingness to disregard and distort facts, Fallows wrote, invites the question: “If an administration will lie about facts where the contradictory evidence is in plain sight, how can we possibly believe them on anything else?”

When the president releases a late-night threat of military action, which his own Defense Department won’t comment on publicly until the following morning, that question becomes all the more urgent.

Google case shows how Europe is still playing catch-up

From FT View. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A slow inquiry reaches an odd result but merits hard scrutiny

Syria war: Air strike on IS prison in Mayadin 'kills dozens'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The US-led coalition says it is looking into reports that more than 40 prisoners are among the dead.

Shocking image shows supermarket in chaos as global Petya cyberattack infects computers

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The ransomware outbreak hit systems across the world and locked down files.

Iraq veteran drove truck through gates of Florida mosque and crashed into cars before fleeing

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Shaun Urwiler, 42, is reported to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having fought in Iraq.

Redstone Arsenal on lockdown following reports of active shooter

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

US military post sends 'run fight hide' advice as FBI head to scene.

The Map Hidden in the Pacific Northwest’s Tree Rings

By Robinson Meyer from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A meteorologist can track a storm today using satellite or pulse-Doppler radar data. A weather historian can track a storm from a century ago using records—watching it crawl across the plains through the precipitation totals of yellowed farm journals and log books.

Now, two scientists may have found a way to track a storm—or, at least, track the average of all storms across the season—325 years in the past.

In a paper published this month in Science Advances, Erika Wise and Matthew Dannenberg, both paleoclimatologists at the University of North Carolina, teased three centuries of local climate history out of the ponderosa pine trees that dot the Pacific Northwest. Their finding will resonate beyond the Cascades: Because that region is so important to how moisture enters and fans across North America, the study helps answer important questions about how climate change will roil the United States.

At the center of the paper is an especially sensitive species nestled across an especially ecologically diverse region. From every October to March, storms roll in from the Pacific and break across the Cascades mountain range in Washington and Oregon. The direction of a storm’s path makes a big difference in the precipitation each valley and ridge in the region receives. And ponderosa pines scattered across the two states absorb the moisture, thriving in wet years and adding thin growth layers in dry years.

The paper relies on the relationship between the Cascades,  the Pacific, and thousands of ponderosa pines. All three create and respond to the annual storm track: the average of all the paths taken by winter storms within a year.

How so? “The storm track really affects the water on the eastern side of the Cascades,” says Wise. “If storms come east to west, there’s a big rain shadow. But if they come at a slight angle, there’s less of a shadow, and the eastern side is a little bit wetter compared to the west side.”

Ponderosa pines are nestled across this crucial region. They form stands in valleys, on ridge lines, and on the lee sides of mountains. Every year, like all trees, a pine inscribes the outside perimeter of its bark into its heartwood as a ring. Like many other trees, too, ponderosa pines mark wetter years—which often boost their growth—as a thicker splotch.

Six years ago, Wise began going out in the field, collecting data from dozens of stands of trees across the Pacific Northwest. From each stand, she or her colleagues would sample 25 or 30 different trees, taking two cores per tree. Once enough samples have been collected per stand, then a kind of average tree ring history emerges for the site. Every ring in this mean tree is associated with a year, and researchers can tell whether the year was wet or dry, depending on the thickness of the ring.

They also merged this new data with a broader, older library of tree-ring chronologies recorded across the Pacific Northwest.

Then, the authors collated this tree-ring data with the past 50 years of observational measurements for the region. People have been recording storm tracks in the region since the 1950s. By matching this data to the geocoded tree rings, Wise and Dannenberg could learn what kinds of storms soak a certain valley and what kinds leave them dry. (They also focused their analysis on storm tracks measured during the October to March rainy period. This is when low-pressure storms tumble out of the Pacific, delivering Oregon and Washington most of their annual rainfall.)

Then they went a step further. Using the correlations observed from those 50 years of known meteorological data matched to tree rings, they were able to back-track. They estimated years of storm tracks from the additional 275 years of data in the tree rings. And using other paleoclimate records—such as coral skeletons from the Pacific or ice cores from the Andes—they could augment their local tree ring data with knowledge of when a broader El Niño or La Niña event was convulsing the Pacific.

These are some of the storm tracks produced by Wise and Dannenberg’s study. Each line represents the average storm track for that year, and lines are grouped based on what regions they left especially dry or wet. In all the storm tracks in A, for instance, both the east and western sides of the Cascades were unusually dry. In B, the west side was wet, while the east side was dry. In C, the eastern side of the mountains were wetter than usual. In D, both sides received more rain than usual. (Wise and Dannenberg / Science Advances)

Wise and Dannenberg’s data also cleared up a mystery about the last half century of weather records. Basically since modern meteorological records began in the 1950s, storms seemed to be getting more and more intense. Since the 1980s, the average storm track had also been drifting further north.

Some computer models suggest that this northern drift is a result of human-caused climate change. If it were to continue, eventually it would push some important precipitation northward—which would bring farmland north with it, pulling it out of the United States and into Canada.

The tree-ring data puts these modern observations into context.  It strongly suggests that the mid-20th century was an unusually weak period for storms in the Pacific Northwest. They also trended more southernly than the historical average.

You can see both these trends in the two charts below, which measure storm landfall and storm intensity since 1693. Since scientists have begun directly observing storms around 1950, they have gotten significantly stronger. Since 1980, they have also arrived further up the coast, though that data is noisier.

These two charts reveal how storms have changed over the Pacific Northwest since 1693. The top chart measures the latitude at which the storm made landfall (a higher number means it arrived to the north), and the bottom chart measures storm intensity. The tree-ring data is black and the observational data is either orange or teal. (Wise and Dannenberg / Science Advances)

So if storms now seem to be more intense and more northernly, it’s partly a regression to the mean. But something else is going on, too. “If you look at end of the intensity record, that line keeps going up, up, up,” says Wise, of the chart above. At least according to the tree-ring data, rainy-season storms in the Pacific Northwest are now as intense as they have been in the last 325 years—a major finding.

Will this trend hold? As scientists collect more data in the years to come, they’ll now be able to see whether storms keep growing more intense—outside the bounds of what’s historically normal—or whether they return to the baseline.

Overall, the paper confirms what many scientists expect for the region. “This doesn’t change the projections of what we expect to happen in the future with storm tracks [in the Pacific Northwest,]” Wise told me. “They are expected to shift north and get stronger—this doesn’t disprove that at all.”

“Particularly for the Pacific Northwest, that will really change where the rain and snow usually goes. It might mean that Seattle’s wetter but Boise is drier. That’s why these shifts make a big difference—they are what brings water to the west,” she said.

But this study is important beyond just providing a long, long, long-term forecast for Portland and points east. It represents a step forward for tree ring science.

“This is a great example of where the field has been trying to go for a long time,” says Andy Bunn, an environmental scientist and tree-ring researcher at Western Washington University. “It’s an important, super novel paper.”

For the past four decades, climate scientists have been using the basic tree-ring mechanism to piece together the climate history of an area. Take enough samples of tree rings, and you can see whether the past 100 years of meteorological data represent typical weather for a region or something stranger.

Tree rings support other findings that El Niño can cause big changes in how storms hit the Pacific Northwest. In La Niña years on the left, the average winter storm makes landfall in the Olympic Peninsula (C), and the entire region is wetter as measured by the Standardized Precipitation Index (A). On the right, which showed El Niño years, storms make landfall at the Columbia River (D) and land east of the Cascades is drier than normal (B). (Wise and Dannenberg / Science Advances)

Wise’s research goes further, says Bunn: It uses tree ring data from across the northwest to suss out the enigmatic history of the climate across the Americas. Instead of writing a climate history of the Pacific Northwest, she pokes at the mysteries of how climate works in the first place.

“It’s moving the field of dendrochronology away from simple statistical studies that look at correlations, to looking at the atompshere as a dynamic system,” he said. (Dendrochronology—from the Greek dendron, meaning tree, and chronology—is the study of tree rings across time.)

“Dendrochronology has been interested in paleoclimate, but the application has been telling very cool stories about individual spots. What this does, which I think is so important and so neat, is it looks at the engine of the atmosphere and the oceans in a way that is more physically realistic. It’s more consistent with a larger understanding of the way the climate system and the Earth system works,” he told me. “It moves away from saying: Okay, here’s the wiggle of one record, match it to a wiggle of another record, and then let’s speculate about it.”

If the paper has weaknesses, they arise from the ambiguity of trees as a long-term historical record, he said.

“Trees are not thermometers or rain gauges. They are biological creatures—and when we look at tree rings, we’re looking at one expression of their biology that leaves a record in time. As we move from trying to document a pattern to trying to understand a mechanism, it means we’re moving from the physics of atmosphere to the biology of the species. And biology is just really complicated,” he said.

Wise and Dannenberg’s paper did a good job of dealing with many of those questions by working from a large sample size, he said. Wise also told me that they had to discard some data because it was older than the rest of their sample size: Some of the ponderosa pine cores she collected dated back to the 14th century. (“If you have two trees that go back to the 1300s, that’s great and interesting but you can’t really use it,” she told me.)

And there is one more deeper premise that runs beneath much of dendrochronology, Bunn said. “The bedrock assumption we make is: Whatever created the pattern we’re observing in the past, the same mechanism will create a mechanism in the present. We assume the same processes are creating that pattern. And that’s a dicey assumption in a world that is changing so quickly.”

FIFA publishes full 2014 report on World Cup bidding

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Decision by football body to release 430-page dossier follows the document's leak to Germany's Bild newspaper.

World Bank accused over child labour in Uzbekistan

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Human Rights Watch calls for bank to suspend loans to agricultural sector

Cash machines go down across Ukraine due to huge ransomware cyberattack

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

ATMs across Ukraine have been hijacked by ransomware, as thousands of computers go offline.

WhatsApp 'unsend' feature is finally revealed – here's how to recall embarrassing messages

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Ever wanted to undo a message you sent by mistake? Well, now you will be able to.

Another Global Cyberattack?

By Yasmeen Serhan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Computer systems across Europe may have been hit by another cyberattack Tuesday following reports of a breach that some experts bear similarities to last month’s coordinated global hack that spread across Europe and Asia.

The Ukrainian government was the first to report the cyberattack, noting the country’s institutions—including banks, the state energy distributor, and the country’s main airport—were affected. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko said the government’s entire computer network was down, and posted a picture to Twitter of a computer screen showing an error message.

Ukraine was not the only one to experience computer issues. Indeed, firms around the globe—including British advertising agency WPP, Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, Russian oil producer Rosneft, and French company Saint-Gobain—reported similar technical problems, though it is not clear if they were caused by the same attack.

It may be spreading further. U.S. drug company Merck announced its computer network was also compromised and that it is investigating the matter.

Though it is not known who was behind the attack, Ukrainian officials said it was caused by a version of the “WannaCry” ransomware that was responsible for last month’s cyberattack on hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries, which some attributed to North Korean hackers who used leaked tools believed to belong to the National Security Agency. Like last month’s cyberattack, the Tuesday hack took control over several computer systems and demanded users pay a digital ransom to access files. Computer experts say this malware, dubbed “Petya,” essentially renders computers inoperable by encrypting their hard drives.

Last month’s outbreak was ultimately curtailed after a U.K.-based researcher found a kill switch that he used to disable the ransomware.

French woman guilty of smuggling migrant partner but spared jail

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

An ex-far-right supporter is convicted in France of helping her Iranian partner illegally enter the UK.

How Theresa May abandoned David Cameron's playbook – and paid a terrible price

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Theresa May lost because she rejected Cameroonism, but now his approach to party management is keeping her alive. 

When she first became Prime Minister in 2016, Theresa May took an almost indecent glee in rolling back the era of David Cameron. His chancellor and closest ally, George Osborne, was sacked and the manner of his departure was briefed to the press. The Cameroon chumminess with the media was replaced by a layer of frost. Cameron’s strategy of delivering austerity to the young while channelling every possible benefit to the old was abandoned, as was the conscious attempt to reach out to affluent ethnic minorities and social liberals.

Then on 8 June, it emerged that May had rolled back another Cameron project: the first Conservative parliamentary majority in two decades, squandered with three years of the parliament left to run.

Abandoning the Cameron project – to make the party if not appealing, then at least not actively repellent to social liberals – now looks like a strategic error. She and her aides bought into the David Goodhart thesis: that politics was dividing between “somewheres” – that is, people with a strong sense of place and identity – and “anywheres” – global citizens who largely cluster in big cities.

But what she underestimated is that so-called anywheres are just as defensive of their place and their values. And they angrily defected from the Conservatives in decisive fashion across the country, but most strikingly in Canterbury, where Labour won a seat that the Conservatives have held continuously since the Great Reform Act of 1832. That also helped eradicate the party from Bristol and Cardiff, both cities the Conservatives entered the campaign hoping to turn blue. 

In turning her fire on Britain’s over-65s through the “dementia tax” and restriction of winter fuel payments, Theresa May reduced the Conservative lead among the retired. That cost her party votes across the country, without gaining any support from the young. Turnout among voters over 65 dropped slightly on 2015, as grey voters, unwilling to back Labour but also unwilling to stick with the Conservatives, stayed at home.

Similarly, with just three words in her 2016 party conference speech – “citizens of nowhere” – May undid 11 years of good work among affluent ethnic minorities by David Cameron, who worked to reassure Britain’s ethnic middle classes that they were better served by voting with their economic interests, rather than against a Conservative Party still defined in the minds of many by Enoch Powell.

Her predecessor’s success in 2015 was not just devouring the Liberal Democrats, allowing the Conservatives to make a clean sweep of Cornwall and much of the south-west, but in eroding his party’s “ethnic penalty”.

Simply put, in 2015, rich brown Britons voted in much the same way as rich white ones. That shift helped the Conservatives win seats from Labour and turn a slew of marginals into what looked like fortresses. The result which summed up that quiet shift was that of Grant Shapps, the party’s then-chairman, who ended up with a majority of 12,153 in a seat that had been Labour-held until 2005.

For most ethnic minority voters, who tend to hold a second citizenship either spiritually or materially, May’s attacks on “citizens of the world” and her public embrace of Donald Trump contributed to a sense of unease. “It’s like the second affair,” one Conservative MP despaired to me; well-heeled minority voters who had trusted David Cameron when he said his party had changed were doubly angry when it reverted to type under May.

The result was the loss on 8 June of a number of seats where affluent ethnic minorities clustered in great numbers – in Battersea, in Bedford, in Croydon Central – and the collapse of super-majorities in others, such as Putney, Gloucester and Welwyn Hatfield, all of which are now within Labour’s grasp at the next election.

May amassed a larger overall share of the vote – 42 per cent – than Cameron. But most in her party privately argue that, thanks to the collapse of Ukip and the continuing woes of the Liberal Democrats, this was an election in which the big two parties had a larger prize to fight over – and Jeremy Corbyn, not May, did the better job of thriving in the new environment.

That argument is bolstered by analysis by David Cowling, the BBC’s former head of research, which shows that May got a smaller share of the two-party total, at 51 per cent, than Cameron did in 2015, with 55 per cent.

And yet, she endures, after a fashion. The settlement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party means that while May is certainly not strong, she is stable. Her government can last the full five years, should her party wish. Although no one expects that lengthy a spell in Downing Street, May’s political lifespan now looks likely to run longer than was thought.

The perception of May within the Tory ranks has, ironically, come full circle. At first, Conservative MPs supported her not out of any great affection – she has never cultivated a phalanx of loyalists as George Osborne did – but because the other candidates had either been blown up or had blown themselves up. Grudging admiration turned into respect when their constituents seemed to fall in love with her. But as her maladroit campaign and her tone-deaf response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy turned voters against May, MPs, too, reverted to their original assessment.

Only dissatisfaction with the possible replacements keeps her in place. Conservative MPs look at the available field of talent at the top of the Cabinet table and find them all wanting – either through lack of talent, or, in the case of Amber Rudd, a majority so small as to make her leadership an ongoing psychodrama about her own survival. Small wonder that the two candidates most frequently talked up – Philip Hammond and David Davis – are largely spoken of as interim solutions, better placed to promote new faces in a bid to revive the party.

For that reason, May has cause to thank her predecessor. David Cameron’s reluctance to reshuffle his Cabinet means that the top of the Conservative Party looks much like it did when he first became leader. And it is the lack of a fresh alternative to Theresa May that means Conservative MPs adhere to her, not out of affection, but for want of anything better.

Photo: Getty

Dozens dead in 'US-led strike' in Syria's al-Mayadeen

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Monitor says suspected US-led raid killed dozens of people, mostly civilian inmates, at an ISIL-run jail in Deir Az Zor.

A growth warning from the US bond market

From FT View. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The flattening of the yield curve is another reason to hold rates

The Corruption Charges Against Brazil's President

By Yasmeen Serhan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Brazilian President Michel Temer has been charged with corruption by the country’s top federal prosecutor, just one month after allegations emerged that the leader approved bribes to silence a possible witness in the corruption scandal that has rocked the country.

The complaint, which was filed late Monday night by General Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot, accuses Temer of accepting bribes “in violation of his duties toward the State and society.” Janot called on Temer to pay millions of dollars in damages.

The charges come a month after the release of an audio recording of a conversation between Temer and Joesley Batista, the chairman of JBS, Brazil’s largest meatpacker, in which Temer can apparently be heard approving bribes. Batista, who presented the recording to prosectors as part of a plea deal, accused Temer of negotiating millions of dollars in illegal campaign donations for his ruling party, Brazilian Democratic Movement.

This marks the first time a sitting Brazilian president has faced criminal charges. But Temer may not face a trial. Under Brazilian law, the country’s lower house of Congress must decide if Temer should be tried—a decision that would require two-thirds of lawmakers to accept the charges.

Temer’s supporters say his ruling coalition has enough seats in the lower chamber to forestall a trial. But there are fears that support may wane if further charges—such as obstruction of justice, for which Temer is also being investigated—are levied against the president, forcing congressional members to defend him multiple times, as each charge would require a separate vote.

Temer’s approval rating slumped to 7 percent over the past month, which may also make it difficult for the country’s lawmakers—all of whom face re-election next year—to support the deeply unpopular president. Indeed, the corruption allegations have sparked widespread protests calling for the president’s ouster. Temer, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, has refused to step down.

Though Temer is the latest Brazilian leader to face corruption allegations, he is hardly the first. The country’s massive corruption scandal has implicated virtually every member of its political class, including dozens of lawmakers and a third of Temer’s cabinet. More than 90 people have been convicted.

As I previously reported, if Temer is forced to step down, then House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, a Temer ally who is also implicated in the country’s scandal, would become president in the interim. Congress would then be tasked with holding an indirect election and picking a new leader, who would rule until the next general election in October 2018.

Party animal German cops removed from G20 security duties

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Incidents included female officer dancing on a table while waving a gun, wearing only a bathrobe.

Pregnant Serena Williams poses naked on the cover of Vanity Fair

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The tennis star, who is six months pregnant, poses naked for photographer Annie Leibovitz.

EU fines Google €2.4bn over abuse of search dominance

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Brussels’ 7-year probe concludes group’s shopping service had ‘illegal advantage’

George Soros 'plotted to oust Equatorial Guinea's leader'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The claim has been made by a former British mercenary who led his own failed coup attempt in 2004.

The Surprising Space Ambitions in Colonial America

By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Many turned out to watch Venus pass across the face of the sun, a tiny, black dot moving against a white-hot backdrop. Scholars organized watch parties up and down the East Coast, from Rhode Island to Delaware, ready to learn more about their place in the world. The observations were described in published papers, and they were praised by European observers, who were impressed by a “new stage of maturity in the development of America.”

The year was 1769, and American space exploration was beginning to take shape.

The pursuit of space exploration has long been as much about geopolitical power as about scientific discovery. The tug-of-war between the Americans and the Russians on their way to orbit in the 1950s and 1960s is perhaps history’s best example of that, but it’s certainly not the first. Politicians, religious figures, and wealthy individuals have held up the study of the cosmos as a signal of great achievement since the colonial period and America’s early years, according to Alex MacDonald, an economist at NASA and the author of The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War.

In his first address as president in 1825, John Quincy Adams called for the establishment of a national astronomical observatory. “And while scarcely a year passes over our heads without bringing some new astronomical discovery to light, which we must fain to receive at second-hand from Europe, are we not cutting ourselves off from the means of returning light for light, while we have neither observatory nor observer upon our half of the globe, and the earth revolves in perpetual darkness to our unsearching eyes?”

Dozens of astronomical observatories began popping up across the states in the 1830s and 1840s. The funding largely came not from the government, but from private individuals and communities seeking to signal their ambitions for exploring the heavens. These days, the investments in space exploration by billionaires seems like a departure from a long record dominated by NASA and government funding. In reality, it’s a revival of 19th-century dynamics.

I spoke with MacDonald about this extended history of space exploration in America and the role of private individuals in making it happen. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Marina Koren: So, I had no idea that John Quincy Adams was so into space exploration.

MacDonald: Yeah, neither did I. John Quincy Adams was this fascinating character. He grew up with his father, the second U.S. president, traveling around the world. He spent time in Leiden, which is a European city famous for scientific research. He seems to have picked up an enthusiasm for science while there, and he took that into his presidency. In his first inaugural address to Congress, he essentially advocated for a federal astronomical observatory. He argued that because Europe had so many astronomical observatories and because the United States at that time did not, [building one] would show the world that America was prepared to contribute to the global scientific endeavor. He explicitly thought of this as a signal of the strength of this new union at the time.

Congress was not particularly pleased with the idea; they never actually supported his proposal when he was president, but he continued to advocate for the idea, and his advocacy ultimately ended up leading to the Smithsonian. John Quincy Adams argued that James Smithson’s bequest [of his estate to the nation in 1835] should be used for a permanent endowment that will perpetually fund science in America.

Koren: It was kind of surreal to read John Quincy Adam’s pitch to Congress, because he literally talks about how the Russians are outpacing the Americans in astronomy. It sound as if, in his mind, there was a space race.

MacDonald: In his mind, there really was. And he looked to the Pulkovo Observatory outside of St. Petersburg. A lot of observatories had been established for the determination of longitude and practical matters, but Pulkovo had really been established in order to have a very large telescope that would hopefully find new discoveries. John Quincy Adams argued that the United States needed to follow this model.

And his advocacy actually inspired others. A guy with a marvelously 19th-century name of Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel ended up going to Cincinnati—which in the 1840s was the sixth-largest city in America—and advocated, through a series of public lectures, the need for an astronomical observatory. He argued that because America had no czars like Russia did, that in America the people will have to take up the role of patrons of science. He advocated that Cincinnati should build the largest telescope in the world, which is a pretty ambitious notion. But the people actually responded strongly to this request. They end up importing the third-largest telescope in the world at the time, from Germany. And when they opened the observatory for the first time, John Quincy Adams made the last trek of his life for his last major speech to dedicate the observatory on what was renamed, and today is still called, Mount Adams.

Koren: The Cincinnati Observatory sounded to me like the product of a 19th -century Kickstarter. In exchange for contributing to the project, the public got certain perks, like membership to the city’s astronomical society.

MacDonald: Long before we had the Kickstarter, we had the same notion that went by the name public subscription. This type of process was also used for monuments, so whenever you go to monuments, you’ll often see dozens of people’s names on it. Well, those were the Kickstarter backers of whatever monument that was. The Cincinnati Observatory established a public subscription model for astronomical observatories which was then used in other cities, in Boston, Albany, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. People came together to determine that they wanted their own telescope for the observation of the heavens.

And what’s particularly interesting is that it wasn’t so much that they were interested in supporting science. Often, they would fund an observatory but they wouldn’t fund salaries for astronomers or instruments. What they were really interested in was this process of exploration. This actually led to a number of conflicts in some cities, such as in Albany. There was such conflict that the astronomers barricaded themselves into the observatory until the local constable had to be called out and threw them out. In Cincinnati and Boston, you also had these conflicts where the people who had paid for it essentially wanted to be able to use the telescope themselves, but the scientists wanted to be able to conduct long-term, careful research.

Koren: What was the strangest or most memorable story about this dynamic that you found?

MacDonald: One of the more unexpected stories was the case of the Georgetown Observatory, which was essentially funded by the Jesuit order. There was a Father at Georgetown in the 1840s who convinced one of the young students who was of particularly wealthy means to finance an astronomical observatory. And this information went back to the superior general of the Jesuit order in Rome, who was not very impressed because he worried that this was not exactly the right signal to send—[funding] astronomy rather than, for example, supporting the poor. So they would send letters back to Georgetown saying, we don’t suggest that you proceed with this project.

But Father James Curley, an Irish Jesuit, through some curious interpretation of the instructions—and utilizing the fact that it took weeks for letters to cross the Atlantic—proceeded with the project anyway. He believed it was going to be a strong signal of the Jesuit order in America. What I liked about that story is that both parties were concerned about what signal the astronomical observatory sent. One believed that this would show commitment to education and science, and one worried it would show commitment to science above social means. That’s a particularly illustrative example of how this signaling role of space transcends even nations, and really is a function of human communities.

Koren: So let’s zoom back out a bit. Today we hear a lot about space exploration moving more and more from the government’s domain and into the private sector. But your main argument is that private citizens actually have a much longer history in space exploration.

MacDonald: We are used to this standard space-age narrative, which starts with Sputnik, the Apollo program, and the space race, when in reality, private support long predated significant programs like Apollo. That’s not to say that there wasn’t public support as well. In fact, public support goes back to the origins of the country in a very small way. One of the first public appropriations for funds for science was actually by the Pennsylvania legislature, which appropriated funds in 1769 to support a number of expeditions related to the observation of the transit of Venus. And when the Declaration of Independence was first read out in Philadelphia, it was made from a raised platform that had been built as part of that observation.

But aside from small examples like that, if we look at the full history, from the colonial period to today, the vast majority of the time, it was the funds of individuals, civic societies, and philanthropic organizations, rather than public funding, that provided for astronomical observations and even for early liquid-fuel rocketry efforts. People like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, James Lick—they were funding, in today’s terms, billion-dollar projects. There’s a precedence for these modern private-sector examples that we have with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk that date back long before even the origin of NASA.

Koren: Can you describe the desire for space exploration over this long arc, from colonial times to the space race?

MacDonald: Let’s look at signaling, which is this concept used in economics and biology that states that credible information about the characteristics of an individual or group can be transmitted through costly action. We see the emergence of a public interest in space-related signals in the reaction to the work of a scientist named David Rittenhouse, who had designed the most complex orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system. He was held up by Thomas Jefferson as one of the three great Americans, along with Franklin and Washington, and his astronomical achievements were held up as a signal of the nation as whole. And that belief about the role of space exploration as a signal of strength continued all the way to the Cold War, because achievements in this field are hard. They signal something important about the technical and organizational capability of the nation.

Sputnik, which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, was interpreted by the world as a very strong signal. And it’s important to remember this was a period of significant asymmetric information—not a lot of people knew a lot of details about what was actually going on in the Soviet Union, and if you’re in the Soviet Union or the rest of the world, not a lot about what was going on in America. All you really have to go on was newspapers or radio communications, both of which could be really easily propagandized. But if you knew one thing about a country—that the country had sent something into space and the other country had not—you knew something important about their technical capacity.

And so from Apollo on, advances in space have served as a signal of America's technical supremacy. I don’t think that is a particularly new idea, but what is often forgotten is that the space race is one example of this signaling motivation that includes the transit of Venus expedition.

Koren: You write that the Apollo program “should not be seen as the classic model of American space exploration, but rather as an anomaly.” Why is that?

MacDonald: When I think about the Apollo program as being an anomaly, what I mean is that at the time, in the 1960s, geopolitical competition increased the demand for space exploration. Now, we don’t have that, and we have much more access to information. The demand for space exploration as a signal is not as strong as it was. So what’s happening is we’re seeing the rise of this other trend, which is the intrinsic motivation of individuals to contribute to space exploration coming back to the fore. And that’s very much what Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk represent. So we’re always going to have, throughout history, moments when the signal value is strong and when it’s not, and part of the point of trying to draw that long space age narrative out is to show that even without that strong demand for a signal, space exploration continues regardless, because individuals have used billions of dollars of their own funding in the past to make progress in this field.

Koren: Who do you think should be paying for space exploration, or who has does it better over the course of history?

MacDonald: It’s not a particular question of who does it better. The private sector in the history of space exploration has as many boondoggles and cost overruns and schedule overruns as the public sector. It’s not necessarily about efficiency. Both are always needed. Space is never wholly public or wholly private.

Koren: So what’s next?

MacDonald: The long space age can teach us that space agencies might do well to focus on missions that serve as effective signals of national interest and achievement. My personal favorite is thinking about orbital human missions to other planets. There’s always a lot of emphasis on human missions to surfaces, but in terms of the signaling potential, orbiting other worlds is a major step beyond anything we’ve done and significantly more affordable and achievable than human planetary surface missions.

The world has less confidence in Donald Trump than Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Angela Merkel is the most trusted leader from one of the four most powerful countries.

How the world's view of America has changed since Donald Trump took office

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

President has few fans in western Europe.

How Rudyard Kipling Turned His Guilt Into Fiction

By Joe Fassler from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Colum McCann, George Saunders, Emma Donoghue, Michael Chabon, and more.

Doug McLean

What makes fiction writers turn to fiction? Other forms of prose storytelling—essays, memoir, journalism—offer undeniable advantages, after all: immediate high stakes, flesh-and-blood characters who come pre-made, the thrill of knowing certain events really happened. How to make sense of the fabulist’s impractical knack for wholesale invention, the impulse to depart real life’s sure footing for the uncharted waters of myth?

In a conversation for this series, the novelist Scott Spencer explained the literary appeal of making stuff up. Using Rudyard Kipling’s heartbreaking short story “The Gardener” as a guide, Spencer explored the ways fiction helps us grapple with life events too complex, challenging, or shameful to take on directly. We discussed the way imagined characters and scenarios allow authors to reckon with—and perhaps ultimately master—the messiest aspects of experience.

Last year, the novelist Alexander Chee gave readers of this series some advice: If you want to bring your characters to life, take them to a party. Spencer’s new novel, River Under the Road, is proof of concept. As it tells the story of two Hudson Valley couples through the lens of 13 gatherings—a graduation celebration, a wedding, a housewarming, a fundraiser for the Mondale campaign, a detour through a New York sex club, a barbecue thick with opium smoke—readers see the way their public faces hide their private hopes, and chart the progress of their ambition and envy.

Scott Spencer is the bestselling author of novels including Endless Love, Waking the Dead, and A Ship Made of Paper, as well as two horror novels written as Chase Novak. His nonfiction has been published in magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone, and he’s taught fiction at Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He spoke to me by phone.

Scott Spencer: It must have been 10 years ago when I discovered Rudyard Kipling’s “The Gardener.” It was pure chance, and a bit of ingenuity on the publisher’s part: Penguin had made an edition that sat right next to the cash registers, part of an array of impulse buys. The little pocketbook was selling for only 95 cents, which doesn’t even get you a candy bar nowadays. So I brought it home with me and read it—and the emotional impact of the book’s second story, “The Gardener,” was nearly overwhelming.

Before that, I hadn’t much cared for Kipling, associated as he was in my mind with childhood reading and appalling politics. But I was struck by the blunt and delicate precision (I know, an oxymoron) with which he approached the subject matter: A woman named Helen loses either her nephew or her son in World War I, and is forced finally to confront the depth of her loss in a vast military cemetery in France—just she and a stranger, the gardener, amid acres and acres of humble crosses.

Kipling remains cagey about the exact nature of their relationship. The story can be taken at face value or it can (more popularly) be read as the story of Helen, an upstanding woman, raising her own child out of wedlock, pretending to her English village that he, Michael, is her dead brother’s son. Throughout his life, the boy calls Helen “Auntie,” though he pleads with her, out of love and a sense of emotional, if not actual, truth, to let him call her “Mother.” Being an honest and pragmatic woman, she allows this only occasionally, and in private.

On his 18th birthday, Michael enlists in the British Army, and is slaughtered shortly after, his body covered over by debris and unable to be located. Much, much later Michael’s body is discovered and finally Helen is able to travel to his grave in a military cemetery in France to pay her last respects. The story, which is not very long, moves with the efficiency of a fable—years go by in a half sentence. The tone is almost matter-of-fact, but we are being set up by a master craftsman for the story’s devastating climactic scene. Helen wanders through a vast expanse of graves, all of them marked with a number, not a name, each individual soldier located only through a painstaking process of record-keeping. (It was Kipling who lifted the phrase “known unto God,” out of the Bible and into the cemeteries and the monuments for unknown soldiers.) Then, while searching the endless sea of crosses, helpless, Helen comes upon a gardener. Kipling describes the exchange this way:

[The gardener] rose at her approach and without prelude or salutation asked: "Who are you looking for?"

"Lieutenant Michael Turrell—my nephew,” said Helen slowly and word for word, as she had many thousands of times in her life.

The man lifted his eyes and looked at her with infinite compassion before he turned from the fresh-sown grass toward the naked black crosses.

"Come with me,” he said, "and I will show you where your son lies."

That’s a shocking—I would say incandescent—moment in a story that is steeped in irony and filled with lies, a world of conventions ruthlessly enforced and feelings buried or swallowed. But when the gardener lifts his eyes the story is swiftly brought to a sudden spiritual climax that is beautiful and satisfying.

In my reading of “The Gardener,” Helen is a character who has held onto her secret, to her one great love affair, for her entire life. Though she has called this boy her nephew for 18 years, the man in the cemetery, who looks at her for only one moment, says he’ll take Helen to her son. “When Helen left the cemetery she turned for a last look. In the distance she saw the man bending over his young plants; and she went away, supposing him to be the gardener.”

The story ends, at least in my edition, with an asterisk in the text that links to a line from the Bible, John 20:15: “Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou; whom seekest thou?’ She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, ‘Sir, if thou has borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him.’”

It’s hard to talk about a Kipling story without talking about Kipling, a shameless apologist for English imperialism who coined the phrase “the white man’s burden” and who was the first person to refer to the Germans as Huns. He was a man who glorified war without ever having fought in one—and that’s where you get into the intense mix of grief and shame that Kipling surely brought to this story. Like so many young men at the time, Kipling’s son John was frantic to get into the war, but was at first turned down for duty because of weak eyes. His father, a person of almost unimaginable influence for a writer—the youngest Nobel prize winner, a darling of the English military and the British aristocracy—intervened, greasing the wheels and getting his son into the war, with the result that the younger Kipling was killed almost instantly.

When all hope of finding his son alive or dead was at last abandoned, Kipling, in his famous “Epitaphs of the War,” wrote: “If any question why we died / tell them, because our fathers lied.” You sense this same self-implication in “The Gardener.” After all, why were those boys clamoring to go over and get themselves blown up like that? Because a culture had been created that glorified that military sacrifice, and encouraged you to feel that your life was incomplete if you hadn’t fought for your country. Millions of English boys like John Kipling (and like the fictional Michael) were raised in this atmosphere of almost rabid patriotism, an atmosphere that Rudyard Kipling had not only exploited in his writing but also helped to create. And when war was declared, some six million Englishmen, many of them little more than boys, were put to battle; nearly one million were killed, and still more were grievously injured.

“The Gardener” gets to the grief and futility Kipling must have felt by the end of it all—for a while, he had nursed some hope that maybe John was still alive, perhaps taken prisoner. Though that alternative must have been terrifying, too, because were John to have been identified as Kipling’s son, he might be subject to particularly harsh treatment, since Kipling was so vociferous in his hatred of the Germans, and his characterization of them was feverish. In any case, the search went on for years, and every effort made to find the great man’s son. Kipling had worked to get John into battle and now he worked tirelessly to find what remained of him. Ultimately, a soldier did testify that he’d seen John hit by a shell, and that he was undoubtedly dead, his skull split open.

For me, the power of the story is in watching this artist grapple with his own material, in seeing what he has to do to get at his own feelings and reveal a profound truth. The simplest way to deal with this material would be to just tell the story of what happened to John, to write it as nonfiction or memoir. But there is a big difference between the biography and what ultimately unfolds across these nine or 10 pages. You’re watching life being transformed into art. To write this way is to seek a shape you can’t know until you see it, like reverse-engineering the skeleton key for a locked door you know you need to open.

Like most people, I find my own experiences—and my emotional responses to those experiences—fascinating and mysterious, even those that are a bit shaming, and a little repellent. As a writer, I try to turn my feelings and experiences into a different form entirely, something that gives me mastery over them, and also makes them meaningful to other people.

But when you take your own experiences and fictionalize them, make them bigger or smaller, engage in wit of the staircase, play the what-ifs out to their most far-reaching possibilities, you run the risk of your fictions taking precedence over your memories. When I look back at my life and think about what really happened, my memory is obscured by the stories I’ve created out of those incidents. In stories, as reality melds with art, the result sometimes feels truer than real life.

In Kipling’s case, he never found that grave. But in Helen’s case, Jesus leads her right to it. Was Kipling himself looking for an expiation of the shame he felt for his share of the responsibility for the loss of his son in such a useless and meaningless way—and all the other hundreds of thousands of wartime deaths? It could be said that all armed conflicts are a ludicrous and shameful waste of lives, but World War I has a special place in the history of futility—a war without clear purpose, a war whose resolution would ultimately make the world a far worse place. What moves me in “The Gardener” is the way Kipling so artfully seeks relief from his own complicity in the myths that led to war.

There are hints and a sense of buried truths in this story. Though my reading tells me that Michael is Helen’s son, there are readers who take her at her word and believe Michael to be her nephew. For those readers, the gardener saying, “I will take you to your son,” has a different, though still potent impact: Jesus is telling us that all those graves, the marked and the unmarked, contain the remains of all of our sons, that the loss and the grief is universal and without boundary.

Either way, we are left with the problem of a realistically presented story in which at the very last moment Jesus makes an appearance. If you read only the scholars and not the story, you would believe that some find the ending irritating. But I find “The Gardener” completely heartbreaking, and if the appearance of Jesus in the final paragraph doesn’t fully convince me of the existence of a world without end, it powerfully connects me to the desire for such a thing to be true.

I cherish the pathos mixed with relief we feel at the story’s conclusion, that experience that only art can give: an uncanny Nabokovian tingle, that sensation of the little hairs on your arm rising up for a second. That gardener is a reminder, as good a one as I know, a reminder that art can sometimes trump politics, and that stories can be transcendent.

What is Petya? Ransomware suspected to behind huge worldwide cyberattack

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Petya ransomware is believed to be behind an ongoing cyberattack against thousands of computers across Europe.

Draghi optimism on inflation sends euro higher

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

ECB president’s remarks will bolster expectations over talks on monetary stimulus withdrawal

What the EU’s €2.4bn antitrust fine means for Google

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Search group expected to appeal against the decision but must still pay the penalty

Mexico wall is Trump's worst policy, according to the world

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

It's not just unpopular among Mexicans.

What is Velocity Black? Gigi Hadid, Joe Jonas, Ellie Goulding go wild for VIP lifestyle app

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Luxury app is available in 60 countries and offers fine-dining, activities and concert bookings.

US deportations of Iraqis halted by Michigan judge

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The court rules the Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims and Iraqi Kurds faced danger back in Iraq.

A Major Church-State Ruling That Shouldn't Have Happened

By Garrett Epps from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the church-state case decided by the Supreme Court Monday, is a truly hard case. I can think of good arguments for either side, and even better arguments why—since there was no remaining dispute between the actual parties—the court should have stayed out altogether.

The court waded in, alas. And the majority opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, and the dissent, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, got the issue wrong.

In Trinity Lutheran, a church challenged the state of Missouri’s refusal to fund safety improvements at its daycare playground. In April 2017, however, the newly elected governor of Missouri ordered the state to grant the funding and not to enforce its no-churches funding rule. The church won what it wanted because the state decided to give it—this being, for any judges unclear on the concept, what is wistfully called “the political process” courts are supposed to support, not supplant.

Even after the fight ended, however, the Supreme Court insisted on deciding the no-longer-existent dispute. The resulting opinions illustrate the old adage that “if you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there, you’ll be lost.”

The issue in Trinity Lutheran is whether the Constitution requires that the church, located in Columbia, Missouri, be eligible for a state grant program that pays for non-profit organizations to put down recycled-rubber-tire surfaces that prevent playground injuries. The church operates a daycare center. Its application for a state grant was strong; the state rejected it solely because the daycare is run by the church itself. That meant a grant would violate a provision of the Missouri state constitution that provides, “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury… in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion…”

As someone who has spent nearly two decades studying church-state cases, I am frankly torn about this one. Denying playground surfacing to children based on the formalities of their daycare seems harsh; but constitutional micromanagement of state church-state relations has its own hazards.

To be clear: The rejection was not because the daycare was religious. Had it been operated by a separate religious non-profit with its own board (as it originally was) rather than directly being controlled by the church itself, it would almost certainly have been ruled eligible. (In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court held that St. Louis University—founded by the Society of Jesus, with a Jesuit president, a Jesuit philosophy, and guaranteed Jesuit membership on its board—was not ineligible under the Missouri constitution: “Mere affiliation with a religion does not indicate that a higher education institution is ‘controlled by a religious creed’ for purposes of Missouri's establishment clause,” the court said.)

But because the funds would flow directly into a church treasury and be spent by church officials, the grant would violate a widely held principle (as many as 38 states have similar language in their constitutions) against direct funding of churches and similar “houses of worship.”

All the parties agreed (though some others disagreed) that actually funding the playground would not violate the Constitution’s prohibition on “an establishment of religion.” The question was whether not funding the playground violated the church’s right to “the free exercise” of religion.

The chief justice painted a dramatic picture of the stakes. In his majority opinion, he compared the church’s plight to that of a 19th-century Marylander barred from public office because he was a Jew:  “If, on account of my religious faith, I am subjected to disqualifications from which others are free, [this is] a persecution, differing only in degree, but of a nature equally unjustifiable with that, whose instruments are chains and torture.”

Roberts did tersely admit that “Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion.” But, he said, the grant rejection constitutes something similar—discrimination against the church because of its “religious identity.” Because it is such deadly discrimination, he wrote, a denial of general funding grants to a church requires “strict scrutiny”—the constitutional equivalent of a death sentence.

All very well, except the entire factual predicate is spurious. The grant denial is not because the church is “religious”—religious-based non-profits, as noted above, are eligible to apply for the grants. It is because Trinity Lutheran is a “church”—a particular kind of organizational status that brings with it an enormous number of advantages (Churches, for example, are permitted to discriminate in hiring and promotion on the basis of religion; churches do not pay taxes that other organizations do).

Since the time of the First Congress, the prohibition on “establishment” has been conceived of as preventing churches—or “houses of worship”—from receiving exactly that: direct payments of tax funds. For more than 200 years, states have tried to avoid establishment problems by drawing a strict line between state funds and church treasuries. It’s hard to find “chains and torture” in that history.

So much for the chief’s misconception. Here is how Justice Sotomayor framed the issue in her dissent:

The Church seeks state funds to improve the Learning Center’s facilities, which, by the Church’s own avowed description, are used to assist the spiritual growth of the children of its members and to spread the Church’s faith to the children of nonmembers. The Church’s playground surface—like a Sunday School room’s walls or the sanctuary’s pews—are integrated with and integral to its religious mission. The conclusion that the funding the Church seeks would impermissibly advance religion is inescapable.

I actually find the idea that the playground’s surface is as “integral” to a “religious mission” as a church’s pews to be almost entirely “escapable.” Religion finds its way onto the playground; indeed, even if less orthodox, playground prayer is often more sincere—Dear God, don’t let that big ape hit me in the face!­­—than intercessions murmured under the pastor’s watchful eye. But it is not the kind of religion that is “integral” to a church’s mission. That kind of exercise takes more than a jungle gym and a zipline. And because that seems like a real difference, I can’t agree with Sotomayor that allowing the funding (as, to repeat, Missouri was already doing) violates the Establishment Clause.

Perhaps because the principal opinions were weak, separate opinions proliferated Monday. The church won, 7-2: Roberts’s opinion was joined in full by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the others, “except as to footnote 3”—disassociating themselves from Roberts’s muddled note mildly suggesting that this case does not create a rule that no state funding programs may ever under any circumstance exclude churches: “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

Thomas and Gorsuch each wrote his own opinion to suggest that the opinion should be much broader. They, and a number of those on the religious right, were hoping for a precedent that will, for example, require states to fund religious charities and schools even if they maintain policies that discriminate against female or LGBT employees and students. Clearly concerned about that kind of precedent creep, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate opinion to suggest that the opinion really had no application beyond funding for completely non-religious activities like playgrounds. Justice Elena Kagan joined Roberts’s opinion; Sotomayor’s pure separationist dissent was joined only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

One of the key precedents at issue in Trinity Lutheran was a 2004 case called Locke v. Davey, a challenge to a similar “no funding” provision in the Washington state constitution. The state had a college scholarship program for high achievers; but the plaintiff was refused funds to pursue a degree in “devotional theology.” He claimed religious discrimination; the court, 7-2, said that the state could legitimately choose not to directly fund a minister’s education.

In an opinion by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the court said the Establishment Clause would not forbid the state from giving the scholarship if its laws allowed, but that the Free Exercise Clause did not require it to do so if they did not: “These two Clauses, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, are frequently in tension,” Rehnquist wrote. “Yet we have long said that ‘there is room for play in the joints’ between them.”

On Monday, the justices showed no appetite for play—in the joints or anywhere else.

We’ve all seen playground quarrels escalate out of control. Often, left to themselves, the tiny combatants would quickly have forgotten the whole thing.

That’s what’s happened in this case.

Conservative justices have been eager to eviscerate any legal principle that limits churches in any way. The long-term aim is a rule that churches are entitled to every benefit, including tax funding, that secular institutions get, but not subject to any limits, such as anti-discrimination laws, that secular institutions must observe. Sotomayor and Ginsburg, determined to defend separation, forced the case into an Establishment Clause mold that ill suits it.

On the actual playground, meanwhile, church and state had a little spat, then made up and went for ice cream. After they left, the adults went to Defcon One, with results that will bedevil the rest of us for years.

Coins thrown into plane engine by elderly passenger for 'luck'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A superstitious elderly woman delayed a flight in Shanghai for hours after "praying for safety".

Association Between Patient-Centered Medical Home Capabilities and Outcomes for Medicare Beneficiaries Seeking Care from Federally Qualified Health Centers

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The patient-centered medical home (PCMH) may benefit Medicare beneficiaries receiving care at federally qualified health centers; however certain PCMH capabilities, including identifying high-risk patients, effectively using care plans, and supporting self-care, may be particularly difficult for the centers to develop.

Shocking video shows British thugs punch, kick and stab holidaymaker in Magaluf hotel

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

British victim taken to hospital after vicious assault at hotel on infamous Punta Ballena party strip.

Assad may be preparing a chemical attack, says US

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

US says President Assad would pay a 'heavy price' if it goes ahead with attack, which Damascus and Moscow denied.

Latest Twitter war in the Gulf: 'Boycott Harrods'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Social media users call for a boycott against a Qatar-owned luxury department store in London amid diplomatic fallout.

SRSLY #99: GLOW / FANtasies / Search Party

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: the Netflix wrestling comedy GLOW, a new fanfiction-based web series called FANtasies and the millennial crime drama Search Party.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s assistant editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links


The show on Netflix.

Two interesting reviews: New York Times and Little White Lies.

Screen Rant on the real life wrestling connections.


The show on Fullscreen.

Amanda Hess’s NYT column about it.

Search Party

The show on All4.

For next time:

We are watching Happy Valley.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we’ve discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #98, check it out here.


Kiev car explosion kills Ukraine's senior military spy

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Ukraine probes blast of Colonel Maksim Shapoval's car as 'terrorist act', saying it was caused by explosive device.

On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:

“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.


Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Photo: Getty

Serena Williams bares baby bump for nude Vanity Fair cover with fiance Alexis Ohanian

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

In the interview, Williams admits her 'heart dropped' after learning she was pregnant.

How drinking coffee can help you lose weight

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Could caffeine be the key to help scientists develop obesity treatments?

The best Super Nintendo games you won't be able to play on the SNES Classic Mini

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Nintendo's plug-and-play microconsole features 21 classic games, but where are these retro masterpieces?

How Do NIHR Peer Review Panels Use Bibliometric Information to Support Their Decisions?

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

This paper examines various aspects of the use of bibliometric information by members of award selection panels, based on interviews with ten panel members from three NIHR panels, alongside analysis of the information provided to those panels.

Brexit upheaval prompts French entrepreneurs to dream of home

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

How President Macron is creating a welcoming environment for business

'Indefinite isolation'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Gulf countries might 'ultimately, simply disengage from Qatar', a UAE spokesman says.

Sicily's Mafia allies with feared Nigerian Vikings gang in Palermo

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Emergence of Nigerian gang comes months after crackdown on Black Axe mafia group.

Fear of avian flu outbreak in South Africa as second case leads to mass bird cull

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The farm has been placed under quarantine over 25,000 of the infected birds will be culled.

NewsGrid - Al Jazeera's interactive news hour

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Live every day at 15:00 GMT, our interactive news bulletin gives you the opportunity to engage with our team directly.

Utah: Brian Head wildfire forces evacuations

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The wildfire in southern Utah has grown to become the largest active blaze in the United States.

It's happening again: 'Petya' ransomware attack on computer systems 'spreading worldwide'

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The strain of ransomware appears to be Petya, which locks down vital system files.

The horrors of urban warfare

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Urban warfare is bleeding cities dry and forcing millions on the move, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Ukraine hit by massive cyber attack

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Court: Dutch partially liable for Srebrenica deaths

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Court in The Hague confirms 2014 ruling that held state partly responsible for the deaths of about 300 Muslims.

Euro pops above $1.13 – first time since September

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Harry Potter and the Rift in Time: a Stephen Bush fanfic

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

It’s increasingly clear I did not know what the word grimaced meant.

Hello. I’m Stephen, and from 2000 to 2006 I wrote fanfiction, a topic I’ve written on before. But for our Harry Potter Week, I agreed to dig up a masterpiece from the deepest reaches of the Internet. So here, for the first time since 2003, unedited, is…

Harry Potter and the Rift in Time


A note on setting: as with the bulk of the Harry Potter fanfiction I perpetrated, this was written during what fans called “the long summer” – between the Goblet of Fire, published in 2000, and The Order of the Phoenix, published in June 2003. I wrote this a few months before The Order of the Phoenix came out.

Chapter One

Summer had ended, as summer always does.

Some profound stuff here.

And so Harry and Ron found themselves once again aboard the train to Hogwarts.

“Good summer, ‘arry?” asked the ginger-haired wizard who was Harry’s best friend.

I’m not sure why Ron has a Cockney accent, in truth. But don’t worry, in about, mebbe, three lines of dialogue, I will have forgotten to include it.

“Scar hurt a bit,” Harry grimaced broadly, “But no sign of-”

 Harry stopped and frowned.

Can you grimace broadly? More importantly, can you grimace and then frown? You know, I’m not certain I knew what a “grimace” really was when I wrote this.

Although it had been six weeks since the traumatic events that had seen the Dark Lord Voldemort returned to new and terrifying life, Harry still remembered it as if it were yesterday. “Kill the spare,” that awful voice had hissed – and with a flash of deadly light, Cedric Diggory had died.

“No sign of Voldemort,” he grimaced quietly.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that I did not know what the word “grimaced” meant.

Ron usually leapt to tell his friend that he should refer to Voldemort as “You Know Who”, but was so concerned about the expression of concern on the bespectacled wizard’s face that he was more concerned at comforting his friend.

Something I find intriguing about my fanfiction: I was worried about overusing the words “Harry” and “Ron”, clearly. But not that bothered about using the word “concern” as if it were going out of fashion.

“Well, that’s good, then, innit?” the lanky redhead said, adopting a tone of exaggerated cheer to boost his friend, “What are you thinking of picking for your special subject?”

Goodbye Ron’s inexplicable East London accent. It will not be seen again.

Ron and Harry were now in their fifth year in Hogwarts, which meant they had to pick two special subjects alongside their OWLs, which they would sit later in the year, before progressing to their NEWTs, which would allow them to pick a degree subject at one of the wizarding universities. Harry was hoping to study at Snaresbrookes, a specialist sporting university that had produced many of the Quidditch players that had wowed Harry, Ron and Hermione at last years Quidditch World Cup. Ron hoped to study at Theydon’s, the civil servant’s college, to follow his father and brother Percy into the Ministry of Magic.

It says a lot about how pushy my mum was that even in the privacy of my own fanfiction, the kids had to go on to post-16 education. And yes, I did use Central Line stations to help me name things and places.

Hermione, who was elsewhere on the train, hoped to go to Chigwell, the finest wizarding university in the known world.

I believe this sentence is intended as “foreshadowing”.

“Theory of Quidditch,” said the Boy Who Lived, his mouth smiling as he forgot the horrific events of his fourth year, “I’m not sure what I’m picking as my number two. What about you, Ron?”

In case you were wondering: this exchange quite literally heals Harry’s trauma at the events of the Goblet of Fire. Neither Cedric Diggory, nor his death, are mentioned again in any shape or form in the rest of the story. All it took was a conversation about what course he would be studying in fifth year.

“Not Whaddamancy,” Ron shuddered, “That’s Snape’s class. Fred says that Transference is easy, so I’ll pick that. And then Disenchantment, Dad says he uses what he learnt their all the time at work.”

Whadda...what now? The reason for introducing Snape’s specialist class will become apparent later on, but why on earth it’s not, I don’t know, Advanced Potions is not entirely clearly to me.

“I’ll pick Transference, then, if it’s easy.”

“OH NO!” said a smart voice from down the corridor, “You can’t pick like that!”

A smart voice? Me neither.

Harry and Ron jumped. They had been so preoccupied that they hadn’t realised that Hermione, who had been looking for them elsewhere on the train, had entered the carriage. Hermione plonked her bags down on a seat and sighed theatrically.

“You can’t just pick subjects based on what is easy,” Hermione said, “These subjects will shape our entire futures. You have to pick topics that will stretch and improve you. I’m taking Advanced Theory of Conjuration, Whaddamancy and Professor McGonagall says I can do Concalculus as well, as it would conflict with my timetable, like in third year.”

Something I believed very strongly growing up – and still believe now in truth – is that Hermione Granger is the true hero of the Harry Potter books. What I find unnerving about how obnoxious Hermione is throughout this story is that these were clearly traits I found admirable and saw in myself.  

If Harry and Ron had only listened to Hermione, they might have averted disaster. But instead, they looked at each other and grinned.

Ooh, foreshadowing!

“Transference it is,” said Harry.

“Transference for everyone!” cheered Ron.

Hermione frowned. If she had known the forces that were about to be unleashed, she wouldn’t have frowned.

Ooh, more foreshadowing!

She’d have screamed in terror.

The chapter could have really ended at “she wouldn’t have frowned”, but I had a lot of contempt for my audience in 2003, so instead you get this extra, extra bit of foreshadowing.


Chapter Two

When Harry and Ron arrived at the first Transference class, their hearts immediately sank. The transference teacher, Orpheus Gandar, had an imposing figure, with a shock of white hair. His robes were scruffy and the room stank of coffee. It was clear to see why – the cluttered classroom was filled with magical curios and half-finished coffee mugs, which made up nine-tenths of the stench in his class. The other tenth was coming from the rotting carcass, hanging from the centre of room, as if Professor Gandar had opened a butchers in the middle of the room.

Looking back, I am fairly certain that no amount of unfinished coffee cups could mean that a rotting carcass contributed only one-tenth of the smell in a room.

“What is that unholy smell?” sneered a fifteen old with shoulder length blonde hair.

“That smell, Malfoy, is coming from your mother,” quipped Seumas Finnigan.

Note the mispelling of Seamus Finnegan. I blame the fact I used to read the Guardian every day as a teenager. 

“What did you say about my mother, Finnegan?” grimaced Malfoy, bunching his hands into fists.

It’s increasingly clear I did not know what grimaced meant.

“Be quiet!” snapped Professor Gandar, “Behave yourself, both of you! Ten points each from Ravenclaw!”

“But sir,” sighed Ella Reubens, a dark-haired girl from Ravenclaw, “Malfoy is from Slytherin. Seumas is from Gryffindor.”

(She called Draco “Malfoy”, because she disliked him, and Seumas “Seumas” because she got on well with the Gryffindors.)

I find it a little sad that I did a nice little bit of subtle character writing and then immediately ruined it by drawing attention to it.

“Don’t interrupt!” spluttered Gandar, “10 points from Ravenclaw! 10 points from Slytherin! And 10 points from Gryffindor too!”

“Is that 10 points from Ravenclaw or 20?” asked Ella.

“It’ll be 30 if you keep it up,” Gandar snapped.

“Sir, that’s not fair,” protested Harry.

“Another 10 points from Gryffindor!” Gandar roared.

Orpheus Gandar: captain, leader, legend. The “shock of white hair” is ripped straight from the Target novelisations of old Doctor Who, but the trope - dotty old teacher who is inadvertently comic - seems to be pretty much the only teacher character I could write at this point. Across a wide variety of Harry Potter fanfiction, characters not entirely unlikey Orpheus Gandar appear again and again. The Hogwarts of my imagination was not a very professional organisation. 

“You better shut up, Potter!” sneered Malfoy.

“10 points from Slytherin!” Gandar roared, “Now, let me explain the carcass. Transference, as you all should know, is the study of transferring objects or people by magical means. Floo Powder, Apparition, weaving a magical carpet, constructing a flying broomstick, these are all fruits of the great art of Transference!”  

Ella smiled at Harry, who smiled back. Ella had a small, perfectly spherical head, very pale skin and a very long neck, with long dark hair. She and Hermione were part of a study group together, Harry remembered. He had never noticed how pretty she was before.

I know. You have a lot of questions. Why did I think that having a “perfectly spherical head” was an attractive trait? Why am I describing Harry’s love interest as if she were ET in a wig? Why does this plotline fill your heart with dread? The answers to these questions are: I honestly don’t know. 

“Now, an advanced wizard such as myself can transfer anyone or anything over great distance with as much ease as I make myself a cup of coffee,” said Gandar, helping himself to a half-finished mug and sipping from it, “But for you fresh things, you’d better start on something you can’t damage. I’ll show you what I want you to do.”

Gandar plunged his mug back down on a desk and whipped out a long white ebony wand.

What is white ebony, I hear you ask? I don’t know.

Shiftio!” he cried, with a flick of the wrist.

JK Rowling’s approach to coming up with the name of a new spell: a clever Latin-based pun. My approach: just add “io” to an English word. 

And a black hole opened up, and swallowed the carcass. Gandar flicked his wrist again, and the hole closed. He flicked a third time and another hole opened, this one on the other side of the room – spitting the carcass out and landing it directly on another hook on the other side of the room.

“There you go,” said Professor Gandar with a triumphant gulp of coffee, “It’s easy when you know how. Flick the wrist away from you to open the hole, flick the wrist towards to close it, to the side and think about where you want it to go to open it again, that’s the name of the game. Away, towards, side, think! Who wants to practice first?”

Chapter Three

It was in the fifth-year Gryffindor girls’ dorm. Lavender Brown was busily unpacking in one corner, Parvati Patel was writing a letter to her younger brother in another, and Hermione was reading a new copy of Advanced Conjuration: An Introduction when there was a knock on the door.

“I bet it’s your boyfriend, Hermione!” giggled Parvati.

“Shut up!” Hermione grimaced.

There it is again.

“Who is it?” Hermione called out.

“It’s Harry, can I come in.”

“I’ll come out,” said Hermione, as Lavender and Parvati giggled.

“Not your boyfriend then,” snickered Lavender.

If looks could kill, Hermione would have left Lavender chopped up and crucified on the nearest wall. Contenting herself with a sharp glare, Hermione left the dormitory.

“What was that about your boyfriend?” Harry asked, curiously.

I am unsure if one can ask something and not do so in a curious manner.

“Just teasing,” Hermione blushed again, “Nothing in particular. What can I help you with? How was Transference? Easy?”

“Pretty easy,” Harry confessed, “But we’ve been asked to practice with conkers, in groups, and I know you and Ella Reubens are friends, so…”

Now it was Harry’s time to blush. The bespectacled wizard looked at his shoes, which were Reebok.

Getting all the important details inThis is the kind of attention to detail that marked me out for a big future as a Serious Journalist.

“Yes, we’re friends,” said Hermione, “She’s nice. She’s very clever, too.”

“Does she have…a boyfriend?” Harry asked his footwear.

“Not anymore,” Hermione said, “She used to go out with Joseph Latymer, another Ravenclaw, but they broke up.”

“Great!” Harry said, a little too loudly, “Great. Do you think she might want to join a study group practicing transference?”

“Does she need a study group, seeing as it’s so easy?” asked Hermione, “I must admit, I’m a little disappointed that Ella would choose such an easy class. Still, I suppose she has always liked the theoretical side of magic. Her father’s a Muggle scientist and she’s always been fascinated as to how all of it works.”

“I just thought,” Harry’s eyes turned back to his trainers again, “I just thought it would be a good way to get to know her a bit, you know.”

“Oh!” said Hermione, “I hadn’t thought. Well, I’m sure she’d be happy to come around. We can all study together, me, you, her and Ron.”

“Won’t that be a bit awkward?” asked Harry.

Hermione beamed. “No. I think it’ll be just fine.”

Chapter Four

Later that day, Hermione, Ron, Harry and Ella met in Harry’s room.

I know what you’re thinking. Why do the girls get a dormitory but Harry gets a room to himself? I think what happened is that between the two chapters I realised that I didn’t want to have to explain what “Seumas”, Dean Thomas and Neville Longbottom were up to so I decided to give them rooms instead.

Harry’s room was neat and tidy, though the walls were covered with awards won for Quidditch and Chudley Cannons memorabilia, as well as one photograph of his parents and another of Harry, Ron and Hermione at a beach over the summer.

A few weeks passed between publishing the first three chapters on my LiveJournal and the remainder of the story, which is one reason why Harry and Ron have gone from talking about the summer as if they hadn’t seen each other in Chapter One to having a picture taken at the beach in Chapter Four.

“Very tidy,” Hermione commented, “Not like Ron’s room, it’s always messy.”

“That’s a bit unfair,” Ron grimaced, “Your room is always full of piles of books, anyway!”

Sadly, I did not use the time between Chapters Three and Four to look up the word “grimaced”.

“It’s very neat,” said Ella, approvingly, “My room is very messy, you should help tidy it for me sometime.”

My expectations of what mid-teens life would be like aged 12 were partially fulfilled. We really did use chat-up lines this bad.

“That’d be, uh, nice,” said Harry, looking at his feet again.

“Well, shall we practice some Transference?” said Hermione, brightly, “I’ve been reading up on it and I’m keen to have a go myself!”

Hermione whipped out a single glass marble.

“Okay,” said Ella, “It’s quite easy, actually. The theory is very interesting though. I think it may hold some explanations about how magic works. Far from being a slap in the face for modern science, I think magic can, in fact, be explained using Muggle science!”

“Really?” asked Harry. As pretty as Ella was, she was even prettier when she was explaining something.

Oh god.

“Yes,” Ella nodded furiously, “The First Law of Thermodynamics says that energy cannot be created or destroyed.”

“Which,” Hermione interjected, “Wizard theorists have long believed that the existence of magic rebuts the First Law. We create and destroy energy at all times – for instance, when we create an enchanted fire, or even an illusion, we are creating energy.”

“It’s not just the First Law that magic defies,” Ella continued, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics states the more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart.”

“That’s the essence of the second law of thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken,” nodded Hermione.

Doctor Who fans will find this exchange suspiciously familiar to one in Tom Baker’s final story “Logopolis”.

“But if energy cannot be destroyed and entropy is always increasing, how can magic work? My theory is that actually witches and wizards are simply transferring energy from one dimension to another, not creating it at all,” Ella said excitedly. Harry gazed fondly at her.

Just in case you hadn’t got it. Harry is into Ella.

“This is all over my head,” complained Ron.

“Don’t worry about it, darling,” said Hermione, reassuringly, “You know, Rowena Ravenclaw thought that all magic came from a higher plane of existence, and believed that magic users would return there upon death.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Ron.

“Haven’t you ever read Hogwarts: A History?” asked Hermione.

“It’s my belief that the Transference spell also works by moving the object or the person transfers into and out of another dimension,” Ella said, “In fact, the more I read about it, the more convinced I become. But sadly, it’ll be years until I can get to Chigwell – if I can get to Chigwell – to prove my theories.”

“Can’t you test it right now?” asked Harry, excitedly.

“How would I do that?” asked Ella.

“Oh, isn’t it obvious?” said Hermione.

“No,” said Ron.

“For a person apparating or even being transferred, the experience feels instantaneous,” Hermione said, “Or, in the case of Floo Powder, it takes a matter of minutes. The Transference Spell is meant to work by opening one hole, closing it, then opening another. What if we opened one hole, but didn’t close it? And then opened another? I think instead of a hole, it would create a tunnel, and energy would come pouring through.”

“That would be incredibly dangerous outside of a research environment,” Ella said, “Who knows what reaction it could unleash? No, I’ll just have to wait. And I’m probably wrong anyway.”

“I think you should do it,” said Harry, “I think your theory sounds like a good one, and we should try it out. We’re at Hogwarts, what’s the worst that could happen here?”

At the beginning of this story, Harry was traumatised by the death of Cedric Diggory. At best two or three days later, he has seemingly forgotten about it. All because Ron asked what courses to drop.

“Alright,” said Ella, “Hermione, shall you create one hole and then I’ll create the other.”

“Right you are,” said Hermione, “Here goes: Shiftio!

A small black hole, barely the size of a marble, appeared in the air.

“My turn,” said Ella, “Shiftio!

Another small black hole, again barely the size of a small black hole opened – and then the ground began to shake. The two holes began to pull at one another, until they resembled not so much two holes, but a long, black, gaping mouth. A howling sound, like a high wind, began to howl from the void.

A howling sound began to howl. This is great stuff.

“Oh no!” said Hermione, “We have to stop this!”

Hermione flicked her wrist, but it was no good.

“What’s happening?!” asked Ron.

“My theory was right!” Ella shouted above the howling wind, as she desperately flicked her wrist in a desperate bid to close the hole: “We opened a void into a realm of pure energy!”

“So what’s the problem?!” asked Harry.

“Because we blew open another hole!” said Hermione, “I’ve seen this before, with my Time Turner! Harry, we’ve opened a rift in time!”

Chapter Five

Harry’s room was certainly a mess now. His Quidditch Awards had been scattered across the room, as had his CDs and videogames. The wind whipped at the four of them, their robes billowing in the wind.

How did Harry, a man who has no Muggle money to his name, acquire CDs and videogames?

Something was coming through the void: a hulking, tentacled, monster. It was round and covered in short, cropped hair, like a tennis ball that had been dropped in an oil slick. It had six cruel tentacles, and one large, blood-red eye. As it oozed from the void, the wind stopped and the void closed behind it. And suddenly, the oozy blackness opened revealing a sticky red mouth.

Lovecrafts a hell of a drug, you know? I am not sure why I referred to the creature’s “six cruel tentacles” (and four friendly ones?) but it’s something I was fond of doing. The monster in Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage had “cruel horns” and if you search the word “cruel” in any of my fanfiction, the chances are you will find a body part.  

FREEDOM!” hissed the creature.

“Are you...a fairy?” asked Harry, nervously.

“I’ve studied the fairy books comprehensively,” said Hermione, “And that isn’t a fairy.”

There’s a lot going on here. Why does Harry think this could be a fairy? What are “the fairy books”?


The creature leapt at Hermione, pushing Ron, Harry and Ella aside. Hermione yelped as the beast’s jaws closed on her throat.

“Hermione, no!” cried Ron.

Harry grabbed his Firebolt from its case on the wall and beat the creature about the head with his racing broomstick.

You’d think I could have introduced the Firebolt when I described Harry’s room in the last chapter, or even when I set the scene at the start of this one, but no.

The creature roared with pain and released Hermione.


“You can eat from the Banqueting Hall like the rest of us,” snapped Harry, “Come on guys, run!”

The four heroes ran, the black shadow flying towards them.


“Can we fight it!?” yelled Ron as they ran.

“With what?” asked Hermione, “We don’t know what its weaknesses are, and we can’t use one of the Unforgivable Curses, even on that…thing!”

“Run!” cried Harry, “I’ll hold them off, with the Firebolt!”

Them? They are being chased by a singular entity.

“We’re not leaving you!” cried Ella.

“You’ve got to get help!” said Harry, “It’s Hermione it wants to eat! Go! I’ll be fine!”

Harry charged at the creature, his broomstick held high like a club, and smashed it into its face, once, twice, dodging and diving as it tried to whack at him with its tentacles.

“This way!” said Hermione, “To the library!”

“I don’t think this is time for a book!” said Ron

“It’ll have loads of teachers in it,” said Hermione, “Teachers who can help!”

The School Library was wood panelled, and lit by floating candles.

“I’d like to order a copy of Potion-Making for Practical Wizards, Volume Eight,” said Snape.

“Of course, Severus,” said Madam Pince, “It’ll be a week until it arrives on the goods train.”  

The plot of this story is literally about them using magic to transport things instantaeneously and yet it takes a week for them to transport a book. 

“That’s quite alright,” said the Potions Master, “Thank you so mu-”

Suddenly, a wizard with glasses and dark hair smashed through the library’s walls, tossed there by some unknown force. It was Harry Potter. At that same moment, at the other end of the library, Hermione, Ron and Ella ran through the library doors.

“What is going on, Potter?” sneered Snape.

“Sir, there’s a thing lose in the castle grounds – some kind of black thing, we were practicing Transference , and.”

“An Outer Horror,” sighed Snape, “We’ll deal with this.”

Snape pulled his wand from his robes. Madam Pince did likewise, as the creature barrelled through the hole it had made in the wall. The two teachers started hurling spells at the Outer Horror, but it kept advancing.

“Mr Potter, fetch Dumbledore at once! Run!” shouted Snape as he continued to cast spells, “Miss Granger, stay where you are, it’s you it’ll be after, thanks to that Time Turner of yours!”

Harry turned to run, but he didn’t need to. Teachers were pouring into the room, with Dumbledore at their head, each of them hurling spells at the creature, holding it back – but not hurting it.

“What do we do?” asked Ron.

“If only you still had your Time Turner,” said Ella.

“Time Turner,” said Hermione, “Time Turner! You’re a genius, Ella! I just need to turn back time! Shiftio!”

A large black hole appeared around the Outer Horror, and the vile creature began to be sucked into the void.

“WHAT?! NO! IMPOSSIBLE! THIS…CANNOT…BE!” it roared as it vanished into the hole. Hermione closed it with a flick of her wrist.

All was quiet. The beast had gone. Hermione had saved the day.

Having…endangered the day by coming up with the idea of testing Ella’s theory, but there you go.

Chapter Six

“The costs to the library are horrendous,” Dumbledore said gravely, “It will delay your education by a term, and you will all have to stay for a few extra weeks over the summer to make up the time.”
Dumbledore winked at Harry. Dumbledore knew that a few more weeks at Hogwarts and away from the Dursleys would be no punishment at all. But more was to come. Dumbledore had summoned Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ella, Snape and Professor McGonagall to his office to account for what had gone on.

“While curiosity is admirable, and experimentation is to be encouraged at a school,” Dumbledore said, “Doing what you did outside the bounds of a classroom was incredibly dangerous. In normal circumstances, I’d have no choice but to expel all four of you.”

Hermione let out a gasp.

“But with Voldemort on the prowl that isn’t an option,” Dumbledore said, gently, “Instead, it’s going to be 300 points off each of your houses and no trips to Hogsmeade either. Of course, that means that the House Cup will be gifted to Slytherin this year, as there is no way that any of your houses will be able to make up that gap.”

Snape grinned like a Cheshire Cat. Ron, Harry, Ella and Hermione looked glum.

I have a lot of questions for past Stephen. The four of them unleashed an abomination from above time, and their punishment is that they won’t win the House Cup or go on a jolly? They’re 15, they don’t care about the House Cup. Really not sure why I wrote Dumbledore as quite this irresponsible.

“What about Hufflepuff, sir?” asked Ella.

“Well, Miss Ruebens, as you know, Mr Weasley is a Hufflepuff, so they will have no chance of overhauling Slytherin either,” said Dumbledore.

I’m not saying that the other characters were realised in astonishing detail, but I really don’t know what is going on with my depiction of Dumbledore here.

“I’m a Gryffindor, sir,” said Ron.

“Are you?” gasped Dumbledore, “Well, the Sorting Hat’s not foolproof, clearly.”

Stephen’s version of Dumbledore. History’s greatest monster.

“Professor!” protested Hermione, angrily, “Ron is the most Gryffindor person I know. He’s brave, and kind, and honourable, and – and I love him!”

“I know,” Dumbledore winked, “I just thought you should come out and say it, and that the two of you should stop telling poor Harry that you were “off to research Potions” or whatever nonsense.”

I’m not saying this fanfiction was going to win any awards but this late “Dumbledore turns into the world’s least professional man” development has floored me. I think I intended for Dumbledore’s winking to reveal that he was really on their side, but instead he comes across as unprofessional and sleazy. 

“Anyway,” Dumbledore continued, “Unless anyone has a persuasive case, that’ll be 300 points from Ravenclaw and 900 points from Gryffindor.”

“Actually, headmaster,” Snape interjected, “The fault was mine. I had a conversation with Miss Granger about theoretical magic after her Whaddamancy class and I fear she took it as an instruction. I take full responsibility.”

“Hmph!” harrumped Dumbledore

My theory is that as I got to the end I started phoning it in, explaining why the quality, never particularly high, really drops off in this chapter.

“Well,” Dumbledore said, “Severus, we’ll talk about this between ourselves. You four may go.”

Outside Dumbledore’s study, the four teenagers looked at each other awkwardly.

“How long have the two of you been….?” Harry asked.

Ron and Hermione blushed.



“We spent a lot of time together this summer,” Hermione said, “And well, we were talking about last year and we realised how much we, uh, meant to each other.”
“We didn’t tell you because we didn’t want you to think that while you were holed up with the Dursleys we were having fun without you,” Ron said.

“It’s okay,” said Harry, “I’m glad. The two of you were driving me mad last year, I’m glad you worked it out.”

“And seeing as we can all still go to Hogsmeade, we could do a double date,” said Ella.
“A double date?” gasped Harry, “You mean?”
Ella grinned and held out an arm.

“Walk me back to Ravenclaw’s dorms?”

Dormitory update. They have dormitories again.

Ella and Harry walked off, arm in arm.


“Yes, Ron?”

“You know, I, uh, love you too, right?”

Hermione beamed.

“Yes, Ron. Meet you at mine? I want to talk to Snape.

“You aren’t half weird.”

Ron walked off, and Snape walked out.

“Miss Granger,” the tall and forbidding Potions Master said.

“Professor Snape,” gasped Hermione.

Why is she gasping? She knew he was in that room!

“I suppose you’re wondering why I lied for you, and blew Slytherin’s easiest chance at the House Cup in our history,” Snape said.

“Yes, sir,” said Hermione.

“You confirmed to me that while you can let your curiosity get the better of you, you are one of the cleverest witches of your age,” said Snape, “While I want you to be more careful in future – I don’t want that curiosity crushed.”

WORST. TEACHERS. EVER. Also why did I think they cared this much about the House Cup?

“Thank you, sir.”

“No need. And, Miss Granger?”

“Yes, Professor?”

“I do hope that you won’t disappoint me.”

Clearly I intended this to set up a sequel, because I ended it with…


Thankfully, it was. 

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Military action in Yemen: Who's for, who's against?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A Saudi-led coalition has begun hitting Houthi targets in Yemen. But who is supporting the action? And how?

Brexit, Parma ham and pork-barrel politics

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Divvying up the bureaucratic spoils of integration arouses European animal spirits

Merkel publicly drops opposition to gay marriage

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Chancellor defies her party’s conservatives to side with German public opinion

As Trump ditches Paris, California leads on environment

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Meeting Xi Jinping in China, Governor Jerry Brown steps up as the global face of progressive climate policy in the US.

Real-life superhero: Deadpool's Ryan Reynolds saves his nephew's life

From : World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Hollywood actor sprung into action after learning CPR.

Informing Pittsburgh's Options to Address Lead in Water

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

This Perspective reviews the history and recent developments related to the use of lead in Pittsburgh's water system and the costs, regulatory barriers, and feasibility of the policy options for remediation under consideration by decisionmakers.

The EU’s willingness to take on Google shows just how stupid Brexit is

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Outside the union the UK will be in a far weaker position to stand up for its citizens.

Google’s record €2.4bn (£2.12bn) fine for breaching European competition rules is an eye-catching example of the EU taking on the Silicon Valley giants. It is also just one part of a larger battle to get to grips with the influence of US-based web firms.

From fake news to tax, the European Commission has taken the lead in investigating and, in this instance, sanctioning, the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon for practices it believes are either anti-competitive for European business or detrimental to the lives of its citizens.

Only in May the commission fined Facebook €110m for providing misleading information about its takeover of WhatsApp. In January, it issued a warning to Facebook over its role in spreading fake news. Last summer, it ordered Apple to pay an extra €13bn in tax it claims should have been paid in Ireland (the Irish government had offered a tax break). Now Google has been hit for favouring its own price comparison services in its search results. In other words, consumers who used Google to find the best price for a product across the internet were in fact being gently nudged towards the search engine giant's own comparison website.

As European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it:

"Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

The border-busting power of these mostly US-based digital companies is increasingly defining how people across Europe and the rest of the world live their lives. It is for the most part hugely beneficial for the people who use their services, but the EU understandably wants to make sure it has some control over them.

This isn't about beating up on the tech companies. They are profit-maximising entities that have their own goals and agendas, and that's perfectly fine. But it's vital to to have a democratic entity that can represent the needs of its citizens. So far the EU has proved the only organisation with both the will and strength to do so.

The US Federal Communications Commission could also do more to provide a check on their power, but has rarely shown the determination to do so. And this is unlikely to change under Donald Trump - the US Congress recently voted to block proposed FCC rules on telecoms companies selling user data.

Other countries such as China have resisted the influence of the internet giants, but primarily by simply cutting off their access and relying on home-grown alternatives it can control better.  

And so it has fallen to the EU to fight to ensure that its citizens get the benefits of the digital revolution without handing complete control over our online lives to companies based far away.

It's a battle that the UK has never seemed especially keen on, and one it will be effectively retreat from when it leaves the EU.

Of course the UK government is likely to continue ramping up rhetoric on issues such as encryption, fake news and the dissemination of extremist views.

But after Brexit, its bargaining power will be weak, especially if the priority becomes bringing in foreign investment to counteract the impact Brexit will have on our finances. Unlike Ireland, we will not be told that offering huge tax breaks broke state aid rules. But if so much economic activity relies on their presence will our MPs and own regulatory bodies decide to stand up for the privacy rights of UK citizens?

As with trade, when it comes to dealing with large transnational challenges posed by the web, it is far better to be part of a large bloc speaking as one than a lone voice.

Companies such as Google and Facebook owe much of their success and power to their ability to easily transcend borders. It is unsurprising that the only democratic institution prepared and equipped to moderate that power is also built across borders.

After Brexit, Europe will most likely continue to defend the interests of its citizens against the worst excesses of the global web firms. But outside the EU, the UK will have very little power to resist them.

Photo: Getty

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

By Jen Stout from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 


A Palestinian family divided

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The Tailakh family, like hundreds of thousands of others, has been split apart by the Israeli occupation.

Qatari riyal strengthens amid GCC crisis

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The Qatari riyal has suffered drops since the beginning of the blockade by neighbouring Gulf countries and Egypt.

Battulga to face Enkhbold in first presidential runoff

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Third-place finisher demands recount as election officials fix Mongolia's first presidential runoff for July 9.

Students protest against constitutional assembly plan

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Clashes erupt on highway near Caracas as protests against President Maduro's rule near the end of its third month.

How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

Photo: Getty

The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

By Lizzie Palmer from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Macron’s novice MPs prepare to make their mark

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

New parliament raises questions on what to expect from group with mixed political views

The Tory-DUP deal has left Scotland and Wales seething

By Roger Scully from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

It is quite something to threaten the Northern Irish peace process and set the various nations of the UK at loggerheads with merely one act.

Politics in the UK is rarely quite this crude, or this blatant. The deal agreed between the Conservatives and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has – finally – been delivered. But both the deal and much of the opposition to it come with barely even the pretence of principled behaviour.

The Conservatives are looking to shore up their parliamentary and broader political position after a nightmare month. The DUP deal gives the Tories some parliamentary security, and some political breathing space. It is not yet clear what they as a party will do with this – whether, for instance, there will be an attempt to seek new leadership now that the immediate parliamentary position has been secured.

But while some stability has been achieved, the DUP deal does not provide the Tories with much additional strength. Indeed, it emphasises their weakness. To finalise the agreement the government has had to throw money at Northern Ireland and align with a deeply socially conservative political force. At a stroke, the last of what remained of the entire Cameron project – the Conservatives' rebuilt reputation as the better party for the economy and fiscal stability, and their development as a much more socially inclusive and liberal party – has been thrown overboard.

Read more: Theresa May's magic money tree is growing in Northern Ireland

For the DUP, the reasoning behind the deal is as obvious as it is for the Conservatives. The DUP has maximised the leverage that the parliamentary arithmetic gives it.

As a socially conservative and unionist party, it has absolutely no wish to see Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. But it has kept the Conservatives waiting, and used the current position to get as good a deal as possible. Why should we expect it to do anything else? Still, it is hardly seemly for votes to be bought quite so blatantly.

The politics behind much of the criticism of the deal has been equally obvious. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones – representing not only the Labour party, but also a nation whose relative needs are at least as great as those of the six counties – abandoned his normally restrained tone to describe the deal as a "bung" for Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was also sharply critical of the deal’s lack of concern for financial fairness across the UK. In doing so, she rather blithely ignored the fact that the Barnett formula, out of which Scotland has long done rather well, never had much to do with fairness anyway. But we could hardly expect the Scottish National Party First Minister to do anything but criticise both the Conservatives and the current functioning of the UK.

Beyond the depressingly predictable short-term politics, the long-term consequences of the Tory-DUP deal are much less foreseeable. It is quite something to threaten the integrity of the Northern Irish peace process and set the various nations of the UK at loggerheads with merely one act. Perhaps everything will work out OK. But it is concerning that, for the current government, short-term political survival appears all-important, even at potential cost to the long-term stability and integrity of the state.

But one thing is clear. The political unity of the UK is breaking down. British party politics is in retreat, possibly even existential decay. This not to say that political parties as a whole are in decline. But the political ties that bind across the UK are.

The DUP deal comes after the second general election in a row where four different parties have come first in the four nations of the UK, something which had never happened before 2015. But perhaps even more significantly, the 2017 election was one where the campaigns across the four nations were perhaps less connected than ever before.

Of course, Northern Ireland’s party and electoral politics have long been largely separate from those on the mainland. But Ulster Unionist MPs long took the Tory whip at Westminster. Even after that practice ceased in the 1970s, some vestigial links between the parties remained, while there were also loose ties between the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Labour. But in 2017, both these Northern Irish parties had their last Commons representation eliminated.

In Scotland, 2017 saw the SNP lose some ground; the main unionist parties are, it seems, back in the game. But even to stage their partial comeback, the unionist parties had to fight – albeit with some success – on the SNP’s turf, focusing the general election campaign in Scotland heavily around the issue of a potential second independence referendum.

Even in Wales, Labour’s 26th successive general election victory was achieved in a very different way to the previous 25. The party campaigned almost exclusively as Welsh Labour. The main face and voice of the campaign was Carwyn Jones, with Jeremy Corbyn almost invisible in official campaign materials. Immediately post-election, Conservatives responded to their failure by calling for the creation of a clear Welsh Conservative leader.

Read more: Did Carwyn Jones win Wales for Labour - or Jeremy Corbyn?

Yet these four increasingly separate political arenas still exist within one state. The UK was always an odd entity: what James Mitchell astutely termed a "state of unions", with the minority nations grafted on in distinct and even contradictory ways to the English core.

The politics of the four nations are drifting apart, yet circumstances will still sometimes mean that they have to intersect. In the current instance, the parliamentary arithmetic means the Tories having to work with a party that celebrates a form of "Britishness" viewed increasingly with baffled incomprehension, if not outright revulsion, by the majority of Conservatives, even, on the British mainland. In turn, the Tories and other parties, as well as the news media, are having to deal with the sudden relevance of a party whose concerns and traditions they understand very little.

Expect more of this incomprehension, not less, in the post-2017 general election world.

Photo: Getty

The Effects of Travel and Tourism on California's Economy

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

This report evaluates the role of travel/tourism in California's economy. It uses data on California tourism and California's labor force to provide insight about who works in tourism in California and how these individuals' careers evolve.

Don’t Believe the Hype About European Defense

By Luis Simon from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

If you’re a Europe-based think tanker, policy wonk, or commentator, Donald Trump and Brexit are great for business. Just about every Brussels pundit is leading off his musings about Europe’s future with some sort of Trump or Brexit hook. If you haven’t heard by now that either Trump, Brexit, or — ideally — both offer ...

US steels for Google fine

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Theresa May's magic money tree is growing in Northern Ireland

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Her £1bn deal with the DUP could make it even harder to push through cuts in the rest of the UK.

Going, going, gone...sold to the dark-haired woman from Enniskillen! Theresa May has signed a two-year deal with Arlene Foster, the DUP's leader, to keep her in office. The price? A cool £1bn and the extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland.

The deal will have reverberations both across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland specifically. To take the latter first – the amount spent in Northern Ireland in 2016/17 was just under £10bn. A five point increase in spending on health, education and roads is a fairly large feather in anyone's cap.

It transforms the picture as far as the fraught negotiations over restoring power-sharing goes. It increases the pressure on Sinn Féin to restore power-sharing so they can help decide exactly where the money goes. And if there's another election, it means that Arlene Foster goes into it not as the woman who oversaw the wasteful RHI scheme (a renewable energy programme that because of its poor drafting saw farmers paid to heat empty rooms) but as the negotiator who bagged an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland. 

Across the United Kingdom, the optics are less good for the (nominal) senior partner to the deal.

"May buys DUP support with £1 billion 'bung" is the Times"£1bn for DUP is 'just the start" is the Telegraph's splash, and their Scottish edition is worse: "Fury at 'grubby' deal with DUP". With friends like this, who needs the Guardian? (They've gone for "May hands £1bn bonanza to DUP to cling on at No 10" as their splash, FYI.) 

Not to be outdone, the Mirror opts for "May's £1bn bribe to crackpots" while the Scotsman goes for "£100 million per vote: The price of power".  Rounding off the set, the Evening Standard has mocked Foster up as Dr Evil and Theresa May as Mini-Me on its front page. The headline? "I demand the sum billion pounds!"   

Of course, in terms of what the government spends, £1bn is much ado about nothing. (To put it in perspective, the total budget across the UK is £770bn or thereabouts, debt interest around £40bn, the deficit close to £76bn).

But only a few weeks ago Theresa May was telling a nurse that the reason she couldn't get a pay rise is that there is "no magic money tree". Now that magic money tree is growing freely in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives have been struggling to get further cuts through as it is – just look at the row over tax credits, or the anger at school cuts in the election – but now any further cuts in England, Scotland and Wales will rub up against the inevitable comeback not only from the opposition parties but the voters: "But you've got money to spend in Northern Ireland!"

(That £1bn is relatively small probably makes matters worse – an outlay per DUP MP that you might expect a world-class football club to spend on a quality player. It's tangible, rather like that £350m for the NHS. £30bn? That's just money.)

For Labour, who have spent the last seven years arguing, with varying degrees of effectiveness that austerity is a choice, it's as close to an open goal as you can imagine. Theresa May's new government is now stable – but it's an open question as to how long it will take her party to feel strong again.

Photo: Getty

Edinburgh in the time of Harry Potter - growing up in a city that became famous for a book

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

At first, JK Rowling was considered a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. 

In an Edinburgh playground, circa 1998, I found myself excluded from one of the world’s first Harry Potter cliques. My best friend Sophie had a copy of a book with a title which seemed indecipherable to me, but she insisted it was so good she couldn’t possibly let me read it. Instead, she and the other owner of a book huddled together in corners of our concrete, high-walled playground. I was not invited.

Exclusion worked. Somehow I procured a copy of this book, rather sceptically read the praise on the cover, and spent the next day avoiding all company in order to finish it. After my initiation into the small-but-growing clique, I read the second book, still in hardback.

Edinburgh at that time was something of a backwater. Although it still had the same atmospheric skyline, with the castle dominating the city, the Scottish Parliament was yet to open, and the Scottish banks were still hatching their global domination plans. The most famous author of the moment was Irvine Welsh, whose book Trainspotting chronicled a heroin epidemic.

In this city, JK Rowling was still considered to be a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. She gave talks in the Edinburgh Book Festival, a string of tents in the posh West End Charlotte Square. By the time I saw her (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, hardback edition, 1999), she had graduated from the tepee to the big tent reserved for authors like Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen. At the end we queued up for the book signing, and she told me she liked my purple dungarees.

At that time, there were no films, and what the characters should look and sound like was a constant playground debate. Another member of the Harry Potter clique I spoke to, Sally*, remembers how excited she was that “she did the same voice for Hagrid that my mum did when she was reading it to me”.

About the same time, a rumour spread around school so incredible it took a while to establish it was true. JK Rowling was moving to the street where some of our Harry Potter clique lived. We started taking detours for the privilege of scurrying past the grand Victorian house on the corner, with its mail box and security keypad. The mail box in particular became a focus of our imagination. Sophie and I laboured away on a Harry Potter board game which – we fervently believed – would one day be ready to post.

Gradually, though, it was not just ten-year-olds peeping through the gate. The adults had read Harry Potter by now. Journalists were caught raking through the bins.

Sally recalls the change. “It was exciting [after she first moved in], but as it was just after the first book it wasn’t as much of a big deal as it soon became,” she recalls. “Then it just felt a little bizarre that people would go on tours to try and get a glimpse of her house.

“It just felt like an ordinary area of town with ordinary people and it made me realise the price that comes with fame.”

Edinburgh, too, began to change. As teenagers (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003) we liked to gather at the Elephant House cafe, on the bohemian George IV Bridge. We knew it was one of the cafes JK Rowling had written in, but we also liked its round wooden tables, and its bagels, and the fact you got one of the hundreds of miniature elephants that decorated the café if your bagel was late. It became harder and harder to get a seat.

We scoffed at the tourists. Still, we were proud that Harry Potter had put our city on the map. “As I grew older, it was fun to think of her writing the books in local cafes and just being an ordinary person living in Edinburgh with a great imagination,” Sally says. As for me, it was my trump card during long summers spent with bored Canadian teenagers, who had not heard and did not care about anything else relating to my teenage life in Scotland.

The last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published in July 2007, a month after I left high school. Not long after that, I left Edinburgh as well. The financial crash the following year stunned the city, and exiled graduates like me. I fell out the habit of reading fiction for fun. JK Rowling moved to a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh, ringed by 50 foot hedges. The Scottish independence referendum divided my friends and family. On Twitter, Rowling, firmly pro-union, was a target for cybernats.

Then, two years ago, I discovered there is another Harry Potter city – Porto. As in Edinburgh, medieval passageways wind past stacked old houses, and the sea is never far away. JK Rowling lived here between 1991 and 1993, during her short-lived marriage, and drafted the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the university district, students wear black, ragged gowns, and the fantastical wooden carvings of the Livraria Lello bookshop is tipped to be the inspiration for some of the aesthetic Rowling applies to the books.

I don’t know whether it did or not. But it made me realise that no city can possess an author, and not only because she could afford to any part of the globe at whim. Standing in the bookshop and watching the students drift by, I could imagine myself in some corner of the Harry Potter world. And simultaneously, perhaps, some tourists queueing for a table at the Elephant House were doing the same.

*Name has been changed

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Special Brew with George

By Will Self from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

My time in the gutter taught me how much the homeless deserve our compassion.

George begs beneath the NatWest cashpoint across the road from Stockwell Tube station. Sometimes you’ll see other people begging there, but mostly this is George’s pitch. He’s a wizened man with the weathered-walnut complexion of the long-term street sleeper and addict-alcoholic. George is small and very thin and has hardly any teeth; I rather like him.

His backstory will be familiar to anyone who has ever taken an interest in the homeless: his father a drug addict who died young; his mother an alcoholic who couldn’t cope. George and his sister were in and out of care throughout their early childhood and then vanished into the system.

I haven’t been able to get from George a straight account of the events that precipitated him into a gutter near me, but that is not surprising: alcoholics are usually pretty resentful people, and because they are so ill-used by their malady it is difficult for them to distinguish between the world’s bemerding and the shit they’ve got themselves into. George speaks of a young daughter’s untimely death and an estranged wife. Once he had both a home of his own and a decent trade – plastering – but now he gets plastered to forget about everything he’s lost.

I first began chatting to George in the autumn – chatting to him and giving him a pound or two. He’s good at begging, George: he keeps eye contact and speaks politely while maintaining an unthreatening demeanour. But anyway, I give money to homeless beggars: that’s my thing. I never ended up on the street myself, but 20 years of drug addiction will lead you down some crooked and filthy alleyways of human experience. I’ve begged for money in the street and got high with the homeless enough times not to shy away instinctively from their lowly estate. From time to time I’ll join them on their cardboard palliasses and take a swig of Special Brew.

Thomas Hobbes averred that charity exists solely in order to relieve the rich man of the burden of his conscience, but I’ve no wish to be so eased: I welcome the burden of my conscience, because it keeps my eyes down on the ground, where they are more likely to spot the Georges of this world, who are as deserving of our compassion as anyone.

I don’t consider giving money to homeless beggars to be an act of charity. I view it more as a redistribution of the tokens required for food, shelter and the warming overcoat of intoxication. I also prefer to give my money directly to people who need it, rather than having this act gussied up as something “fun” for me, or as a means of providing wealthy young people with ­careers in the charitable sector that give them a good conscience. Hence George and his predecessors – because usually, at any given time, I have a redistributive relationship with someone of his ilk.

The Big Issue vendors now wear fluorescent tabards that proclaim “A hand-up not a handout”, and of course I appreciate that many concerned people are working flat out trying to get the homeless off the streets and socially reintegrated; but as the years have passed, and all sorts of welfare provision have been pruned and cut and pruned some more, so the position of the Georges of this world – slumped beneath the vomitous cashpoints like so many personifications of the rising Gini coefficient – has come to seem altogether intractable.


As the winter nights drew in, I got to know George better, and as a consequence began giving him more money. After all, it may be easy to leave nameless hordes lying in the streets on frigid nights, but not people you actually know. If he was too obviously on the lash I’d proffer only a fiver or a tenner. Not because I’m judgemental, though – far from it. In my view, it’s perfectly reasonable to spend a tenner on booze or a bag of smack if you’re on the streets; it’s just that if George is bingeing he starts spinning yarns to hook in more drug money, and nobody likes being taken for a mug. However, if he was staying sober and going to AA meetings I’d dob George £15 for a night in a backpackers’ hostel.

Like many of the homeless, George avoids the free hostels, which can be veritable cesspits of abuse; he thinks he’s better off sleeping out, which may be true some of the time, but not in the cold and wet, because people die out there, they really do. The outreach workers do the rounds of our cities’ parks and wastelands every morning in the winter, shaking the figures bundled up in sleeping bags to check they’re still breathing.

At my instigation George got back in touch with the local authority’s services, because, along with the Big Issue’s hand-up, the only way for a street-sleeping alcoholic to clamber out of the gutter is for him to re-enter the system.

I live only three hundred yards from George’s pitch, and his bash (the rough sleepers’ term for an improvised shelter)is equidistant. On one faintly delirious occasion in December I was standing on the first-floor walkway of the former council block my flat’s in, talking to my Labour councillor about an unrelated local matter, when George crawled out from a concrete cranny off the courtyard below, where he had evidently spent the night. I observed to Councillor Bigham that we really should be doing more for the likes of George, and he agreed.

However, to me, George’s situation had begun to seem not so much a failure in social provision as a cosmic solecism. Since the resurgence of so-called Victorian values under the Thatcher regime, it’s become de rigueur to regard poverty as epithetic rather than environmental. The undeserving poor, it seems, are now all around us, victims of little besides their own bad character. But my feeling is that once a man or a woman is caught in the Kafka-like trap of homelessness, all bets are off: without a house you can’t get a job; without a job you certainly can’t get a house, and actually, it’s pretty bloody hard to get one even if you do have a job; of which more later.

A few days before Christmas George had a fit as a result of alcohol withdrawal and ended up in the nearby St Thomas’ Hospital for three nights. As soon as he was well enough to walk, he was pointed in the direction of the door. Then came some encouraging news: the local authority’s rough sleepers’ team had managed to secure George an inpatient detox. He’d have to wait a few weeks, but this time, after patching him up, they would also secure him some form of temporary accommodation, and then he’d have at least a hand on the ladder back into ordinary society. An ordinary society in which the bailiffs were already waiting for George with a view to collecting £4,000 in unpaid debts – because nowadays, no matter how stony broke someone is, the presumption remains that there’s blood to be squeezed from them.

On the day he went into the rehab facility I breathed a sigh of relief – but that evening I spotted the bowed and Buddhistic figure back under the cashpoint. Within hours of being admitted, George had got into a scrap with another client and been discharged, with the rider that he was not to be admitted to any London detox facility.

The good news is that today George does have another place secured at a facility; but now he’ll be heading to the West Country for a full three months of rehab – if, that is, he can hold out for another three weeks on the streets of Lambeth. This week, with my assistance, he’s gone to visit his sister in Liverpool – another child of the oxymoronic “care system” who, unsurprisingly, seems to have all the same issues as George, with this exception: she is at least housed. Why? Because she has a child, although, if George’s account is to be believed, she has some difficulties in looking after him. I get the impression that drink is often taken.


What does the sorry – and, some might say, drab – tale of George tell us? That the housing crisis in Britain is intractable seems a given, so long as planning policy is rigged, in effect, in favour of unscrupulous developers and the bourgeois buy-to-let bandits. The rising tide of neoliberalism in the past quarter-century (which I can’t help visualising as a vomitous tsunami coursing along London’s gutters) has had this psychic sequel: individuals no longer connect their dream of home ownership with anyone else’s.

We Britons are once-and-future Mr Wemmicks, firing our toy guns from our suburban battlements at anyone who dares to do anything in our backyards aimed at improving the commonwealth. Dickens wasn’t just the creator of the nimby avant la lettre; he also understood George’s predicament. In his celebrated long essay Night Walks, he describes a condition he terms “the Dry Rot in men”: a progressive deterioration in capabilities that leads inexorably to “houselessness” or the debtors’ prison. These are the Victorian values that contemporary Britain still vigorously upholds; yet it need not have been this way.

Reading The Autonomous City: a History of Urban Squatting, a new book by Alexander Vasudevan, put me back in touch with my youth during the 1970s and early 1980s, when to go equipped with a crowbar and a screwdriver in order to “open” a squat was regarded as the righteous contemporary equivalent of the Paris Commune or Mao’s Long March. The role of squatting in uniting those intent on pursuing what were then deemed “alternative lifestyles” (being gay, non-white or – gasp! – a feminist) with established working-class agitations for improved housing conditions was due for appraisal; Vasudevan observes that remarkably little has been published on the subject, but he makes good the deficiency with his carefully researched and discursive study.

Squatting has a long history – you could go back as far as Gerrard Winstanley and his 17th-century Diggers – but it is worth remembering that in the London of the mid-1970s there were at least 50,000 squatters and probably a great deal more. The squats could be terrifying and anarchic places; I remember them well. But they were also often havens for women and children fleeing domestic abuse and places where people afflicted with the Dickensian ‘‘Dry Rot’’ could at least find shelter. Moreover, as Vasudevan amply demonstrates, the squats were cynosures for experiments in autonomous living: hence the book’s title.

Squatting provided a buffer zone between the realm of commoditised place and space and utter houselessness, but over the past forty years this has been progressively encroached on, as squatters either made their peace with local authorities and were offered tenancies of one kind or another, or faced, in effect, criminalisation. A series of punitive measures, beginning in the 1970s, culminated in a law being passed in 2012 that for the first time made it an offence to squat in a residential building in the UK.

In This Is London: Life and Death in the World City, published last year, Ben Judah painted a compelling picture of the human crumbs being brushed from the stony skirts of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street: with nowhere to squat any longer and space at a premium as never before, London’s houseless are being driven on to the streets, while migrant workers from eastern Europe “hot-bed” in Zone 5 dosshouses. Meanwhile I sit typing this in my one-bedroom ex-council flat, which I rent for the princely sum of £1,350 per month.

On my return to London from university in 1982, I – a single man, no less – was offered a council flat. Granted, this was on the old Greater London Council “mobility scheme”, which aimed to match not particularly deserving tenants with substandard housing stock, but there it was: an actual flat in a 22-storey, system-built block in Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs. The rent, as far as I can recall, was about £40 a month.

Now George begs beneath the NatWest cashpoint opposite Stockwell Tube, while my Cubitt Town flat is long gone, demolished to make way for the burgeoning Canary Wharf development and the multi­national financial services companies it now houses. Space and place have become so comprehensively monetised in contemporary London that a begging pitch can acquire a rental value.

I have never asked George if he pays for his pitch; I do hope not, because shortly before heading off to Liverpool he told me he had been served with an antisocial behaviour order, banning him from going within 200 metres of the cashpoint. I couldn’t make it up – and I’ve been publishing fiction for nigh on thirty years. 

Photo: Barry Lewis / Alamy

“Rise like lions after slumber”: why do Jeremy Corbyn and co keep reciting a 19th century poem?

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

How a passage from Percy Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy became Labour’s battle cry.

“If I may, I’d like to quote one of my favourite poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley,” Jeremy Corbyn politely suggested to a huge Glastonbury audience. The crowd of nearly 120,000 – more accustomed to the boom of headline acts than elderly men reading out romantic poetry – roared its approval.

“Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number!” he rumbled. “Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you: ye are many – they are few!”

The Labour leader told the crowd that this was his favourite line. It’s the final stanza of Shelley’s 1819 poem, The Masque of Anarchy, written in response to the Peterloo Massacre earlier that year, when a cavalry charged into a non-violent protest for the vote.

Though it was not published in Shelley’s lifetime – it was first released in 1832 – the poem has become a rallying cry for peaceful resistance. It has been recited at uprisings throughout history, from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square.

Corbyn’s turn on the Pyramid Stage was not the first time he’s used it. He recited the stanza during his closing speech on election night in Islington, and the audience began quoting along with him:

It was also used by comedian and celebrity Labour supporter Steve Coogan at a rally in Birmingham:

During Corbyn’s second leadership campaign, his ally Chris Williamson MP told a public meeting that this part of the poem should be “our battle cry” . He delivered on this the following year by reciting the poem to me in his Renault Clio while out on the campaign trail in England’s most marginal constituency (which he ended up winning).

You can hear it echoed in Labour’s campaign slogan: “For the many, not the few”.

Corbyn’s election guru, James Schneider, told the Standard at the time that “it would be a stretch” to say the slogan was taken directly from the poem, but that “Jeremy does know Shelley”. Yet even he took the time to recite the whole stanza down the phone to the journalist who was asking.

Corbyn is famously a fan of the novelist and author Ben Okri. The pair did a literary night at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank in July last year, in which the Shelley lines came up at the end of the event, as reported by Katy Balls over at the Spectator. Okri announced that he wanted to recite them, telling Corbyn and the audience:

“I want to read five lines of Shelley . . . I think there are some poems that ought to be, like you know those rock concerts, and the musician starts to sing and the whole audience knows the lines? And sings along with them? Well this ought to be one of those, and I’d like to propose that we somehow make it so that anytime someone starts with the word ‘Rise’, you know exactly what the lines are going to be.”

Which, of course, is exactly what Corbyn did at Glastonbury.

“We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known”

The former left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot loved the poem and recited the lines at demos, and Stop the War – the campaign group Corbyn supports and chaired – took a line from it as the title of its 2014 film about anti-Iraq War action, We Are Many.

So why does the Labour left rally around some lines of poetry written nearly 200 years ago?

“It’s a really appropriate poem,” says Jacqueline Mulhallen, author of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (Pluto, 2015). “Shelley wrote a poem about the fact that these people were protesting about a minority taking the wealth from the majority, and the majority shouldn’t allow it to happen.

“He was writing at the beginning of industrial capitalism, and protested then, and 200 years later, we’ve still got the same situation: food banks, homeless people, Grenfell Tower, more debts – that’s why it has great resonance when Corbyn quotes it.”

“Shelley said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now”

Michael Rosen, the poet and former Children’s Laureate, also describes the poignancy of Shelley’s words in Corbyn’s campaign. “You’ve got a sense of continuity,” he tells me. “Shelley was campaigning for freedom, for free thought, for free love. He was campaigning for a fairer society; it was a time of incredible oppression. He said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now.”

Rosen celebrates the poem’s place in the Labour movement. “When any of us from the left quote people from the past, we’re saying that we have traditions... We’re making a claim on our authenticity,” he says. “Just in the same way as the right and the establishment draw on the pageantry of the Queen, or talk about Parliament or quote Winston Churchill. These are our traditions, which are different. You hardly ever come across it, either in newspapers or history lessons or anything.”

Rosen, a friend of Corbyn’s, believes his speech brings a left-wing tradition alive that is often forgotten. “We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known. What’s great about Jeremy calling on it is to remind us . . . This stuff sits in old museums and libraries, gathering dust until it’s made active and live again. It’s made active and live particularly when being used in an environment like that [Glastonbury]. He was making the words come alive.”

Read more: 7 things we learned from Jeremy Corbyn on The One Show

The Masque of Anarchy’s final stanza has been recited at high-profile protests throughout history – including at the 20,000 garment workers’ strike in 1909 in New York, the student-led demo in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, anti-Poll Tax protests, and at Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab Spring, according to Mulhallen. The way civilians were treated by the authorities in many of these protests echoes what happened at Peterloo.

So does Corbyn’s penchant for the verse mark a similar radical turning-point in our history? “It’s indicating a change in attitude that people should start thinking about redistributing the wealth again,” says Mulhallen. “People are becoming much more aware.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons and Getty

Survival of the smallest: the contested history of the English short story

By Chris Power from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Reports of the form’s death – and rebirth – have always been greatly exaggerated.

“The short story is enjoying a powerful renaissance”, ran a headline in the Spectator in September last year. “After decades of neglect,” it added, “the genre is very much back in fashion.” This isn’t true, but when it comes to short stories fake news is ubiquitous.

Other recent announcements of the short-story renaissance include one in 2014, when the Daily Telegraph called it “the perfect literary form for the 21st century” because brevity suits our dwindling attention span (more on the stupidity of that argument later); in 2013, when the short-story specialists Alice Munro and Lydia Davis won the Nobel and the Man Booker International Prizes, respectively; and in 2012, which Bloomsbury proclaimed “the year of the short story”, publishing five collections in as many months.

It is often said that publishers don’t like short stories because they don’t sell: it’s assumed this proves that readers don’t like them either. Yet, rather than accept the genre as a minority interest, there is always someone – a journalist, a prize jury, a publisher – announcing its comeback.

While bitter experience has shown poetry exactly where it stands in the marketplace, and the novel has shrugged off multiple reports of its death and maintained pre-eminence, the short story is continually characterised as the neglected form that will be great again. The funny thing is, when you explore its history you find the perception of a distant golden age, an undistinguished present and a return to glory has always been around: the short story has a problem with reality.

“The ’nineties,” as H G Wells wrote in the preface to his collection The Country of the Blind (1911), “was a good and stimulating period for a short-story writer.” Thanks to the range of journals available and the quality of their editorship, he believed, “No short story of the slightest distinction went for long unrecognised . . . Short stories broke out everywhere.”

By 1911 things were different. Kipling had gone off the boil (he hadn’t, in fact, but that’s another argument); so had Max Beerbohm and Henry James. Only Joseph Conrad, Wells thought, was producing work equal to his pre-1900 output, but this wasn’t enough to stop the “recession of enthusiasm” for the short story.

At the end of his 1941 study The Modern Short Story, H E Bates predicted that short fiction would be the “essential medium” of the war and its aftermath. In a 1962 article he admitted his mistake, and in the preface to a 1972 reissue of The Modern Short Story he wrote: “My prophecy as to the ­probability of a new golden age of the short story, such as we had on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s and 1930s was . . . dismally unfulfilled . . . Even before the war in England the little magazines to which writers of my generation contributed . . . were already dead or dying.” And dolefully he concluded, “This then is the situation of the short story today; if it is not quite one of unmitigated gloom it is certainly not bright.”

Yet that same year Christopher Dolley, in The Second Penguin Book of English Short Stories, noted that, “far from continuing its supposed decline, the short story is enjoying a revival all the more encouraging when viewed against the gloom surrounding the future of the literary novel”. Was Bates merely wrong or reactionary? It appears not.

The avant-garde author B S Johnson, said his collaborator, Zulfikar Ghose, conceived the 1964 collection Statement Against Corpses in response to the “wretched state” into which the English short story had fallen. The pair saw it as “our destiny to revive the form”.

In 2004, in an essay about (what else?) the renaissance of the short story, William Boyd remembered that:

When I published my first collection of stories, On the Yankee Station, in 1981, many British publishers routinely brought out short-story collections. Not any more. Moreover, there was a small but stable marketplace where a story could be sold. A short-story writer could place his or her work in all manner of outlets. The stories in my first collection, for example, had been published in Punch, Company, London Magazine, the Literary Review and Mayfair, and had been broadcast on the BBC . . . Today, in the UK especially, it has never been harder to get a short story published. The outlets available to a young writer that I benefited from in the 1980s have virtually dried up.

And yet Boyd identifies a new enthusiasm for the short story, primarily because of the boom in postgrad creative writing courses, whose workshop model well suits their composition and analysis.

Leaving aside the contradiction between the desolation of Bates’s postwar period and the thriving 1980s scene Boyd remembers, the number of magazines that paid writers for stories peaked between the 1890s and the 1930s. If you were prodigious enough during this period, it was entirely possible to earn a living from short stories. Never­theless, the authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and F Scott Fitzgerald, who might earn the modern-day equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds for a single story, were always outliers. As Philip Hensher notes in the introduction to his Penguin Book of the British Short Story (2015), what magazines were paying for stories in the late 1880s had barely changed by the 1930s.

If discussions of the short story’s reception lead us into boggy ground, so do attempts to define precisely what the short story is. In his introduction to the impressive Cambridge History of the English Short Story, the first single-volume study of its type, the editor, Dominic Head, avoids doing so, and this is very much par for the course. In his 1991 essay “On Defining Short Stories”, Allan H Pasco wrote that those few critics who devote time to the short story “hedge on definitions, origins, major traits, on just about everything having to do with the short story as a genre”.

William H Gass, proposing one of my ­favourite definitions, proceeds by exclusion before moving into abstraction: “It is not a character sketch, a mouse-trap, an epiphany, a slice of suburban life. It is the flowering of a symbol centre. It is a poem grafted on to sturdier stock.”

In the Cambridge History, Ailsa Cox inadvertently coins a workable, albeit squarely economic, definition when she describes contemporary short fiction as “the least lucrative form of literary endeavour, apart from poetry”. Gerri Kimber, discussing the difference between story, novella and novel, says the difficulty lies with each form using the same techniques. Yet uncertainty needn’t be a bad thing: blurred boundaries can offer greater possibilities. Richard Ford considers it “a relief to observe how many disparate pieces of writing can be persuasively called short stories, how formally underdefined the short story still is in the minds and hands of writers”.

The uncertainty about what the short story is extends to when it began. Boccaccio lurks somewhere in the background, as do Chaucer and anecdote-laden jest books of the Elizabethan era. Some anthologists have gone back to the Old Testament and called the Books of Jonah and Ruth short stories, but these, with oral tales and passages from Homer, represent the form’s prehistory.

The short story as we understand it today is a 19th-century development. “We all came out from under Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’” – a statement that has been attributed to both Turgenev and Dostoevsky – is where Frank O’Connor begins his highly influential 1963 study, The Lonely Voice. Walter Allen, however, in The Short Story in English (1981), identifies Walter Scott’s “Two Drovers”, published 15 years before “The Overcoat”, in 1827, as the first modern short story. Elizabeth Bowen, in her 1936 introduction to The Faber Book of Modern Short Stories, doesn’t go any further back than Maupassant and Chekhov, because, in her opinion, no one else has had such a powerful effect on the form’s development.

Maupassant, taught by Flaubert, brought an extreme objectivity and immediacy to the short story. Chekhov’s great innovation was to promote atmosphere above plot. His stories are less about what happens than how it is told; as Somerset Maugham jokingly said, “If you try to tell one of his stories there is nothing to tell.” Chekhov employs implication and melancholy to mysterious yet profound ends, and although James Joyce claimed not to have read him before he wrote Dubliners (published in 1914, but mostly written ten years earlier), the similarities in technique are striking. And to English and Irish readers, still, it is the stories in Dubliners – with their moments of epiphany, in which characters suddenly see themselves with all illusions stripped away – that define what is most commonly thought of as a short story.

There are undoubtedly skills that set you in good stead as a story writer, not least compression: it is logical that the short form should appeal most to those with the ability to say a lot in a short space of time (or to say a lot without saying much at all, as Raymond Carver achieved when he was edited by Gordon Lish). Beyond that, there are so many directions a writer can take. Most mainstream stories can be traced back to Chekhov or Maupassant, but not the postmodern provocations of Donald Barthelme, or the fable-like conundrums of Kafka, or the subverted fairy tales of Angela Carter, the thought experiments of Lydia Davis, nor even Alice Munro’s domestic Gothic. Perhaps it’s best to keep the definition simple, as John Barth does: short-story writers incline to see how much they can leave out, novelists to see how much they can leave in.

Edgar Allan Poe was even more practical than Barth in his 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales. There he described a short story as a piece of work intended to be read in one sitting of up to an hour. Simplistic, perhaps – but it works, and explains why the short story is anything but the perfect form for a short attention span (a myth that often accompanies the renaissance narrative). In 2010, for instance, Neil Gaiman said short stories were “a wonderful length for our generation . . . perfect . . . for your iPad, your Kindle or your phone”.

What does this even mean? Given the need for a piece to be read at a single sitting – say, half an hour for the average New Yorker story – and the compression that demands constant and close attention to the text, it is bizarre to talk up the short story’s suitability for time-poor readers. War and Peace is enormously long but its chapters are short, taking five or ten minutes to read. It also includes a list of characters and, as Flaubert pointed out, Tolstoy often repeats himself. There’s a book for a crappy attention span.

It is understandable but unfortunate that the Cambridge History limits itself to fiction from the British isles and former colonies. Various contributors mention Chekhov and Maupassant, but the book’s focus doesn’t allow their centrality to the development of the short story to be established properly. Katherine Mansfield is discussed in the context of modernism and post-colonialism, but her huge debt to Chekhov, and the part she played in extending his influence to a subsequent generation of writers, is not. Other writers suffer from compartmentalisation: it feels old-fashioned to address the work of Hanif Kureishi and Zadie Smith primarily in the context of multiculturalism. The author of the chapter on this, Abigail Ward, issues a sort of apology for the term, but it would have been better to explore their work in wider contexts.

In its defence, the book covers enormous ground – colonial stories, rural stories, queer stories, comic stories – and makes room for obscure writers beside the heavyweights. There are flaws to compartmentalisation, yet how else to avoid incoherence when the history of the short story, wherever it begins, rapidly fragments into concurrent histories cutting separate channels? At least, with this approach, an expert writes each chapter. Highlights include Heather Ingman on the Irish short story and Roger Luckhurst on weird fiction, that amorphous zone between horror, fantasy and surrealism. Luckhurst and Ingman are excellent guides: able, as several of their fellow contributors are not, to give a strong flavour of individual writers’ styles while situating them within a theoretical framework.

Given the wealth of material available, it is a shame that so much discussion of the short story is infected with ill-informed debate about its popularity. It would be much more valuable to discuss the writing, which encompasses some of the greatest fiction in English: “The Signal-Man” by Dickens; “The Dead” by Joyce; Katherine Mansfield’s “At the Bay”; Kipling’s “Mrs Bathurst”; J G Ballard’s “My Dream of Flying to Wake Island”; “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter. These, regardless of genre, are essential reading.

Quality, however, has little to do with popularity. The short story is and will remain a minority interest. This isn’t a defeatist position: if more weight were given to the work, and less to its popularity, some valuable stability could be established. Today, in qualitative terms, the short story is healthier in Ireland than in the UK, and yet there are good young writers out there, working with the form because it suits the stories they have to tell, not because it promises fame and financial reward. The renaissance is not under way and Nell Zink’s advice will be sound for a long time to come:

Don’t write short stories and poems unless you have a trust fund. No matter how perfect they are, no matter what prestigious magazine publishes them, each one will be 200 pages too short to pay the rent. 

Chris Power’s story collection, “Mothers”, will be published in 2018 by Faber & Faber

The Cambridge History of the English Short Story
Edited by Dominic Head
Cambridge University Press, 657pp, £99.99

Picture: Dea Picture Library

Psychics Who Hear Voices Could Be On to Something

By Joseph Frankel from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Jessica Dorner was lying in bed at her cousin’s house when her grandmother, a “pushy lady” in an apron who had been dead for several years, appeared in front of her. “I know you can see me,” Jessica heard her say, “and you need to do something about it.”

It was a lonely time in Jessica’s life. She was living away from home for the first time, and she thinks her grandmother was drawn by some sense of that. She eventually told her parents what happened, and according to her they were concerned, but not overly panicked. “My parents are probably the least judgmental people I know,” she said.

As Jessica tells it, over the next two years, spirits visited her every now and again. Her brother-in-law’s deceased father began forming before her, ghostlike, just as her grandmother did. And while the experiences were intense and at times made her feel “crazy,” she said, they were infrequent, and insists that they were never a real source of suffering.

Jessica later moved back home and got a job as a pharmacy technician, all the while figuring out how to cope with what was happening to her. At a co-worker’s suggestion, she went to the Healing in Harmony center in Connecticut. In 2013, she says, she enrolled in classes there that taught her to use her “gift.” A self-described psychic medium, Jessica tells me she hears voices that other people do not (in addition to sometimes seeing people others do not see), at varying intensity, and mostly through her right ear.

Meeting others like her at the center gave Jessica a sense of relief. “Just being around people who are going through similar things—that helps a lot, because I could talk to anybody about those things and not feel like I was crazy,” she said.

It was through a friend from the center that Jessica ended up in the lab of Phillip Corlett and Albert Powers, a psychologist and a psychiatrist at Yale. In a study published last fall in Schizophrenia Bulletin, Powers and Corlett compared self-described psychics with people diagnosed with a psychotic disorder who experience auditory hallucinations.

“A lot of the time, if someone says they hear voices, you immediately jump to psychotic illness, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia,” Corlett said. But research suggests hearing voices is not all that uncommon. A survey from 1991—the largest of its kind since—found that 10 to 15 percent of people in the U.S. experienced sensory hallucinations of some sort within their lifetime. And other research, as well as growing advocacy movements, suggest hearing voices isn’t always a sign of psychological distress.

The researchers at Yale were looking for a group of people who hear voices at least once a day, and had never before interacted with the mental-health-care system. They wanted to understand, as Corlett put it, those who do not suffer when “the mind deviates from consensual reality.”

What Corlett calls consensual reality—the “normative shared experience we all agree on”—is probably not something you spend too much time thinking about. But you know when it’s being violated. The sky is blue, the sun is hot, and as Corlett points out, most would generally agree that people don’t receive extrasensory messages from one another.

Jessica was quite frank with me about the way some people may view her. “We know these experiences are weird and they’re seen as weird,” she said. “You just can’t go into a room and say ‘Hey, I’m a psychic medium’ and people are gonna accept you.”

Finer points of what counts as reality can change over time, and vary based on geography or culture. For centuries people walked the earth believing the sun orbited around them, which today would be considered unreasonable. Who decides that consensus, and where along its boundaries voice hearers fall, depends on a wide range of circumstances.  

The anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, who has studied voice hearing in psychiatric and religious contexts, has written that “historical and cultural conditions … affect significantly the way mental anguish is internally experienced and socially expressed.” Noting that there is no question psychiatric distress and schizophrenia are “real” phenomena that call for treatment, Luhrmann adds that “the way a culture interprets symptoms may affect an ill person’s prognosis.” Every psychiatrist I spoke to shared the belief that unusual behavior should only enter into the realm of diagnosis when it causes suffering.

On the other hand, Luhrmann tells me “it’s a terribly romantic idea” to overinterpret the effects of culture. To say, for instance, that “anybody who would be identified with schizophrenia in our culture would be a shaman in Ecuador” is, in her mind, a clear mistake: “Flagrant psychosis” exists in some form in every culture where anthropologists have looked.  

In the past decade, researchers have taken a greater interest in the experience of hearing voices outside the context of psychological distress. In his book The Voices Within, the psychologist Charles Fernyhough—who describes hearing voices himself—traces the way thoughts and external voices have been understood by science and society throughout time.

Reflecting on Fernyhough’s book, Jerome Groopman notes that in the early parts of the Bible, the voice of God gave direct commands to Adam, Abraham, and Noah. It spoke to Moses through the Burning Bush, going by the Book of Esther, making itself known again to the apostle Paul in the New Testament. Socrates, who wrote nothing down, heard a “sign” from childhood. The voices of three saints guided Joan of Arc as she rebelled against the English. Groopman cites Martin Luther King, Jr.’s autobiography, in which he describes “the quiet assurance of an inner voice” telling him to “stand up for righteousness.”

The social context in which these people lived can impact how they’re seen. It’s impossible to say how the prophet Ezekiel was understood within his cultural moment. But in most places today, if a person claimed—as Ezekiel does—that he ate a scroll because the Lord commanded him to do so, some eyebrows might be raised. In a community where a personal, verbal relationship with God is normal, the reception may be different.

Powers and Corlett’s work orbits the idea that schizophrenia is, as Powers put it, an “outmoded” label that describes a cluster of different symptoms rather than a single unified condition, he says.

“Goodness knows what psychosis actually is,” Luhrmann said. “There are clearly different kinds of events in the domain we call psychosis,” and when it comes to the relationship between voice hearing and psychosis, she says, “there’s so much we don’t understand.”

Many now antiquated psychiatric diagnoses reified fear, misunderstanding, or prejudice toward people at society’s margins. At the time of the women’s suffrage movement in London, hysteria was leveled as a charge against women who broke social codes. A Mississippi psychiatrist in the 19th century proposed that slaves who attempted escape suffered from “drapetomania.” And until 1973, homosexuality was considered a disease of the mind rather than an accepted way of being in the United States—and was only fully removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1987.

In his book Hallucinations, the late Oliver Sacks details a controversial experiment in which eight participants showed up at hospitals throughout the U.S. in the early ’70s and complained only of “hearing voices.” All of them were immediately diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and hospitalized for two months, despite reporting no other medical symptoms, family history, or signs of personal distress. The single symptom, Sacks writes, was seen as cause enough.

People with psychiatric disorders do hear auditory hallucinations in relatively high numbers. According to Ann Shinn, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, 70 to 75 percent of people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and between one-third and one-tenth of people with bipolar disorder report hearing voices at some point in their life.

In the case of voice hearing, culture may also play a role in helping people cope.  One study conducted by Luhrmann, the anthropologist, found that compared to their American counterparts, voice-hearing people diagnosed with schizophrenia in more collectivist cultures were more likely to perceive their voices as helpful and friendly, sometimes even resembling members of their friends and family. She adds that people who meet criteria for schizophrenia in India have better outcomes than their U.S. counterparts. She suspects this is because of “the negative salience” a diagnosis of schizophrenia holds in the U.S., as well as the greater rates of homelessness among people with schizophrenia in America.

The influence of social context was part of what motivated Corlett and Powers: The two were interested in whether the support of a social group can help them understand where disorder and difference intersect. When they set out to design their study, they needed an otherwise healthy group of people who hear voices on a regular basis, and whose experiences are accepted in their social group.

Next, they needed to find some psychics. Corlett told me he got the idea to reach out to a Connecticut-based organization for psychics after noticing the ads for psychics and tarot-card readers on his daily bus route. When the two interviewed those participants, they noticed something striking: The psychics described hearing hearing voices of similar volumes, frequencies, and timbres as the patients. Powers and Corlett took this to mean that the psychics were actually hearing something. The two also vetted their participants with the same techniques that forensic psychiatrists use to determine whether a person is pretending to experience psychiatric symptoms, giving them more reason to believe what they were told.

Compared to their diagnosed counterparts, more of the psychics described the voices as a force that “positively affects safety.” And all of the psychics attributed the voices to a “god or other spiritual being.” The patients, meanwhile, were more likely to consider their voices a torment caused by a faulty process in their brain. Many of them described the voices as “bothersome,” and also claimed that the first time they told anyone what they were hearing, they received a negative response.

Just like Jessica, the psychics were more likely to say that they received a positive reaction the first time they spoke about their experience. Jessica’s mother, Lena, told me she maintained a supportive, nonjudgmental attitude toward her daughter’s accounts, just as she did when her other daughter converted to Scientology. She waited for Jessica to bring them up and discussed them with an open mind. She says she was happy Jessica found the center, adding that her only concern was that Jessica’s experiences did sometimes seem to be distressing her and leaving her “drained.”

When Jessica tells me about the people and things she hears, she describes a range of experiences rather than one consistent phenomenon. Her most meaningful episodes of voice hearing are those like the visits she had from her grandmother and her brother-in-law’s father. But she also describes things like hearing the number a friend is thinking, and the persistent and vivid presence of a childhood imaginary friend (her mother told me Jessica demanded the table be set for him at every meal). To Jessica, these experiences differ in degree rather than kind from the ghosts of the dead who appear in front of her with persistent messages for her and for others. Though these might not all fit into the popular conception of a psychic, she understands them to exist along that same continuum.

In his book, Fernyhough describes a series of experiments meant to provide evidence for the connection between inner speech and hearing voices. In one, participants were played recordings of other people’s speech alongside recordings of their own, disguised and distorted, and told to mark whether the voice was their own or someone else’s. Those who experienced hallucinations were more likely to misidentify their own altered voices. A much older experiment found a kind of unconscious ventriloquism among a group of people with schizophrenia: When participants began to hear voices, researchers noted “an increase in tiny movements in the muscles associated with vocalization.” The voices they heard came, in some sense, from their own throats.

(Sarah Jung)

These experiments suggest that auditory hallucinations are the result of the mind failing to brand its actions as its own. Watching what the brain does during these hallucinations may clarify how that works, and what differences in the brain create these experiences.

“When your brain signals to generate a movement,” Shinn, the psychiatrist at Harvard, told me, “there is a parallel signal [known as an efference copy] that basically says ‘this is mine, it’s not coming from outside.’” This helps creates the sense of where a person is in space, that their hand belongs to them and it is moving from point A to B. In this way, the body labels its motions, and a possible parallel may exist for speech and thought. When people hear voices, they may be hearing ‘unmarked’ thoughts they do not recognize as their own.

Beyond that, Shinn told me, what is understood about the experiences of people who hear voices is limited. She sees Corlett and Powers’s study as part of a growing interest in the lives of “healthy voice hearers”—an interest spurred, in part, by the Hearing Voices Movement. A network of advocacy groups, the Hearing Voices Movement presents an alternative to the medical approach based on the belief that the content of a person’s voices can reflect the hearer’s mental and emotional state. The groups encourage an approach in which, with the help of a facilitator or counselor, hearers listen to, speak back to, and negotiate with the messages they hear in hopes of learning to cope.

The hearing-voices advocate Eleanor Longden has said she considers her voices “a source of insight into solvable emotional problems” rooted in trauma rather than “an aberrant symptom of schizophrenia.” As Longden tells it, that’s how her own experiences with voices were understood when she first sought treatment for anxiety. Her psychiatrist told her how limited her life would be by her voices, she says, and the voices grew more adversarial.

Many mental-health-care providers—Shinn, Corlett, and Powers included—seem receptive to the Hearing Voices Movement’s critiques, including an overemphasis on medication and an imperative for patient-focused treatment. Shinn credits the network with encouraging an approach that treats voice hearing as more than a checklist item adding up to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and helping to reduce the stigma attached the experience of voice hearing.

But “there are certainly a lot of people for whom that will not be enough,” she says. For some patients, voices can be impossible to reason with, and the burden of other symptoms of psychosis—disordered thought, delusions, the inability to feel pleasure—can be too great. And Powers and Corlett expressed concerns that the Hearing Voices Network may promote a false divide: the idea that the voices’ perceived roots in trauma—rather than some accident of biology—means hearers should avoid medication. Biology and experience, they say, can’t be so neatly separated. (Longden has written that “many people find medication helpful,” and that the International Hearing Voice Network advocates for “informed choice.”)  

While Powers and Corlett don’t believe the psychics and patients are experiencing the exact same thing, the two are cautiously hopeful that about a potential lesson in the greatest difference between those groups: the ability to control the voices they hear, which is something the psychics, including Jessica, showed in greater number than their counterparts. “When I’m in certain situations, I’m not open,” Jessica said. For instance, when she’s at work, the voices “can come in,” she says, they “can hang out, but I’m not gonna talk right now. ... I still have to live this human life.”

While learning control was a major part of Jessica’s experience, so was learning to summon the voices she heard. Before training as a medium, she heard voices sporadically, she says, and began to hear them every day only after intentionally practicing at the center. Powers and Corlett acknowledge this general trend in their study: The psychics they spoke tended to seek out and cultivate the voice-hearing experiences.

In her work, Luhrmann has come across groups of people who—unlike Jessica—hear voices only as a result of practice. She gives the example of tulpamancers: people who create tulpas, which are believed to be other beings or personalities that co-exist along inside a person’s mind along with their own. “Somebody in that community estimated to me that one-fifth of the community had frequent voice hearing experiences with their tulpas, that their tulpas talked in a way that was auditory or quasi auditory,” Luhrmann said, a practice that she was told takes two hours a day to develop.“That’s connected to work. Psychosis is not connected to effort. It happens to people.”

Longden, the Hearing Voices Network advocate, describes how she later learned to extract metaphorical meaning from the sometimes disturbing messages the voices had for her. Once when the voices warned her not to leave the house, she thanked them for making her aware that she was feeling unsafe, and firmly reassured the voices—and by extension, herself—that they had nothing to fear.

Though Jessica has a different understanding of her voices’ source, it’s hard not to hear echoes of Longden’s account when she speaks about the sense of control she’s developed. Longden talks to the voices as aspects of herself that call for a response, while Jessica addresses them as visitors who need to learn the rules.

Instead of tying these experiences to a discrete diagnosis, Powers and Corlett imagine a new kind of frame for voice hearing. Drawing a parallel with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the two are interested in the extent to which the psychics they saw “might occupy the extreme end of a continuum” of people who hear voices. “Much of what we perceive and believe about the world is based on our expectations and our beliefs,” Corlett said. “We can see hallucinations as an exaggeration of that process, and the psychics as a sort of way-station on that continuum, and slowly but surely we can creep towards a better understanding of the clinical case and therefore better treatment. We haven’t had new treatment mechanisms in schizophrenia for many years now.”

The two freely admit the gaps between their ambitions and what they know so far. The study is preliminary, qualitative work—a follow-up brain-imaging study is in the works—and they did only interview a small number of people. Psychics, they say, are not so easy to come by.

Luhrmann speculates that most of the psychics are experiencing something separate from psychosis: “I think it’s also true that there are people who have psychosis who manage it such that they don’t  fall ill and avoid this stigma and who really function effectively.” This difference aside, she says, “it may still be possible to learn from people who have more control over their voices. .... to think about how to teach people.”

At least as subtext, Powers and Corlett’s study might suggest a kind of chicken-or-egg question: Were the psychics insulated from suffering because they were socialized to accept and cope with their voices, and were the psychotic patients suffering because they weren’t? The better question is: to what extent were the two groups experiencing the same thing?  

Shinn believes the fact that far fewer diagnosed participants were employed at the time of the study (25 percent, versus 83 percent of the psychics), and that the diagnosed participants experienced more symptoms of psychosis, suggests that they were suffering beyond the point of being useful comparisons. She thinks, rather, that a “constellation” of symptoms—not just auditory hallucinations or the stigma associated with auditory hallucinations—explain the difference in functionality. “The Powers study provides interesting results with potentially helpful clinical implications,” she added, “but they compare very different groups.”

Shinn, Powers, and Corlett are all adamant that people who hear voices and experience psychological distress shouldn’t turn away from conventional psychiatric treatment, and that a “symptom”—in this case, voice hearing—only calls for clinical attention if it is a cause of suffering. But for those who are distressed, the level of understanding of their experience and the treatments available to them are still lacking. As Powers notes, many of psychiatry’s more effective drug treatments were developed by accident. Shinn likens the current body of knowledge of schizophrenia to a group of people describing different parts of an elephant while looking through a high-power lens: There are robust bodies of work on the trunk, the tail, and the ear, but no clear picture of the entire animal.

Shinn’s all too aware of the ways in which the diagnosis can overshadow the patient. “There have been psychiatrists,” she says, “who will tell a patient: You have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and you need to modify or adjust your goals in life, forget grad school, forget that Wall Street career,” Shinn said. “And that absolutely can be compounding and impairing. I don’t disagree that that’s a problem.”

As Luhrmann put it: “Are those cultural judgments the cause of the illness? Absolutely not. Do those cultural judgments make it worse? Probably.”

Jessica doesn’t live near the center anymore. While she’d love to find fulltime work as a medium, she says, she’s focusing on her graduate studies to become a dietitian for now.

Still, she’s grateful for the community she found at the center, she says, and for the help they gave her. “I cannot imagine having no control over this,” she told me. “I don’t know, if I never went to the center, maybe I’d be diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

If only I could wangle a job in the John Lewis menswear department I’d get to say, “Suits you, sir”

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

So now that I have made the news public that I am even deeper in the soup than I was when I started this column, various people – in fact, a far greater number than I had dared hope would – have expressed their support. Most notable, as far as I can tell, was Philip Pullman’s. That was decent of him. But the good wishes of people less in the public eye are just as warming to the heart.

Meanwhile, the question is still nagging away at me: what are you going to do now? This was the question my mother’s sisters would always ask her when a show she was in closed, and my gig might have been running for almost as long as The Mousetrap but hitherto the parallels with entertainment had eluded me.

“That’s show business,” she said to me, and for some reason that, too, is a useful comment. (I once saw a picture of a fairly well-known writer for page and screen dressed up, for a fancy-dress party, as a hot dog. The caption ran: “What? And give up show business?”)

Anyway, the funds dwindle, although I am busy enough to find that time does not weigh too heavily on my hands. The problem is that this work has either already been paid for or else is some way off being paid for, if ever, and there is little fat in the bank account. So I am intrigued when word reaches me, via the Estranged Wife, that another family member, who perhaps would prefer not to be identified, suggests that I retrain as a member of the shopfloor staff in the menswear department of John Lewis.

At first I thought something had gone wrong with my hearing. But the E W continued. The person who had made the suggestion had gone on to say that I was fairly dapper, could talk posh, and had the bearing, when it suited me, of a gentleman.

I have now thought rather a lot about this idea and I must admit that it has enormous appeal. I can just see myself. “Not the checked jacket, sir. It does not become sir. May I suggest the heather-mixture with the faint red stripe?”

In the hallowed portals of Jean Louis (to be said in a French accent), as I have learned to call it, my silver locks would add an air of gravitas, instead of being a sign of superannuation, and an invitation to scorn. I would also get an enormous amount of amusement from saying “Walk this way” and “Suits you, sir”.

Then there are the considerable benefits of working for the John Lewis Partnership itself. There is the famed annual bonus; a pension; a discount after three months’ employment; paid holiday leave; et cetera, et cetera, not to mention the camaraderie of my fellow workers. I have worked too long alone, and spend too much time writing in bed, nude, surrounded by empty packets of Frazzles and Dinky Deckers. (For those who are unfamiliar with the latter, a Dinky Decker is a miniature version of a Double Decker, which comes in a bag, cunningly placed by the tills of Sainsbury’s Locals, which is usually priced at a very competitive £1.)

I do some research. I learn from an independent website that a retail sales assistant can expect to make £7.91 an hour on average. This is somewhat less than what is considered the living wage in London, but maybe this is accounted for in the John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street. It is, though, a full 6p an hour more than the living wage in the rest of the land. Let the good times roll!

At which point a sudden panic assails me: what if employment at that store is only granted to those of long and proven service? God, they might send me out to Brent Cross or somewhere. I don’t think I could stand that. I remember when Brent Cross Shopping Centre opened and thought to myself, even as a child, that this was my idea of hell. (It still is, though my concept of hell has broadened to include Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush.)

But, alas, I fear this tempting change of career is not to be. For one thing, I am probably too old to train now. By the time I will have been taught to everyone’s satisfaction how to operate a till or measure an inside leg, I will be only a few months, if that, from retirement age, and I doubt that even so liberal an employer as John Lewis would be willing to invest in someone so close to the finish line.

Also, I have a nasty feeling that it’s not all heather-mixture suits with (or without) the faint red stripe these days. The public demands other, less tasteful apparel.

So I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

Photo: Getty

'UK would support US over chemical attacks'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The defence secretary said the government would support 'proportionate' military action

Why the past 12 months have been the worst of my lifetime

By John Simpson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

We desperately need a return to calm and moderation.

Twitter is a weird phenomenon: a deeply selective, wholly unreliable Survation or YouGov in your pocket, with an even bigger margin for error. I’ve been tweeting for a year now, but I’m still useless at guessing what is likely to attract attention; so I was taken completely by surprise at the end of last week when a comment I jotted down received thousands of Likes and retweets. “It’s a year since Jo Cox was murdered,” I wrote: “the worst year for Britain in my lifetime. We badly need a return to Jo’s concept of moderation now.”

Fairly anodyne, you would have thought, but it seems to have touched a nerve. Clearly many other people feel that the past year, with its violence and disasters and wholesale political instability, has been a bad one. For days afterwards, my phone kept buzzing as more people retweeted it. There were, as always, a few contrarians who objected that other years since 1944 must have been worse; some said “much worse”. But that isn’t really true.

After D-Day, we knew the war was going to be won. Despite the bombs, the country was proud of itself and pulling together, and the likes of my father were hoping for a better world as soon as it was finished. The year of the Suez crisis, 1956, was pretty bad, but Anthony Eden was gone directly, and Harold Macmillan’s phoney self-confidence convinced people that things would be all right – and anyway the economy was growing impressively.

The period of the Heath government had awful moments: 1972, the year of Bloody Sunday and IRA attacks, was especially bad. Yet there was nothing like the appalling Grenfell Tower fire to divide the nation. And 1974 was humiliating for the government, but our membership of the European Economic Community offered a certain stability. We had a different, more forelock-tugging relationship with our political leaders then. The news bulletins used to talk reverently of “the prime minister, Mr Wilson”; now they just say “Theresa May”.

Today we have a prime minister who is held to have been mortally wounded by a series of personal failures and miscalculations; a governing party that has been self-harming for years over the question of ­Europe; an opposition that, until just recently, was regarded as hopelessly incompetent and naive; an economy that could be damaged by an ill-judged Brexit agreement; and a new vulnerability to terrorism, in which one atrocity quickly overlays the memory of the last.

There’s a newly hysterical tone in British society, which had always seemed so reassuringly reliable and sensible. The crowd that stormed Kensington Town Hall as though it were the Bastille or the Winter Palace mistook a man in a suit for a Tory councillor and beat him up. It transpired that he was an outside contractor who had spent much of the week helping the Grenfell Tower victims.

Above all, what was until recently the world’s fifth-largest economy has suddenly found itself on the edge of a trapdoor in the dark. “Back to the Thirties”, some people are saying. “Venezuela”, say others. Even Brexiteers who feel liberated and excited at the prospect of getting out of the EU can’t know if it’s going to work. Friends of mine who voted Leave because they were fed up with David Cameron or thought things needed a shake-up now show a degree of buyer’s remorse. Perhaps, like Boris Johnson in the BBC2 drama Theresa vs Boris, they thought the country was so stable that nothing bad would actually happen.

We’ve entered a period of sudden, neurotic mood swings. The opinion polls, unable to cope, tell us at one moment that Jeremy Corbyn is regarded as dangerous and useless, and at the next that a growing number of people see him as the national saviour. The Prime Minister’s “safe pair of hands” are now deemed too shaky to carry the country’s china. Ukip polled over 10 per cent in 450 seats in 2015, and in only two seats in 2017.

If any further evidence of neuroticism is needed, there is the longing that people have to be enfolded in the arms of a comforting authority figure. For some, it was the Queen, calming everyone down with a message of unity, or Prince William, hugging a grieving woman after the Grenfell Tower fire. For others, it was Corbyn doing the right human things while Theresa May walked past the tower ruins awkwardly, not knowing what to say.

It feels like being back in 1997, with the huge crowds in the Mall or outside Kensington Palace demanding to be comforted after the death of Diana. Then, the Queen was blamed for not being the mother figure we seemed, disturbingly, to want. Tony Blair had the right words at that time, and no doubt he would have had the right words after Grenfell Tower. But is it merely words and gestures we need?

It’s a bad sign when countries feel that they need an individual to sort them out. It’s because of its system, based on openness, inclusiveness and the rule of law, that Britain has grown strong and wealthy. Jo Cox said in her maiden speech in June 2015: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”

She was murdered by a fanatic who screamed, “This is for Britain! Britain will always come first!” The year that those words ushered in has indeed been the worst in my lifetime. The government slogan “Keep calm and carry on” was invented in 1939, when all-out German bombing seemed imminent. It is easy to lampoon but when it was rediscovered a few years ago it became popular, because it spoke directly to our national consciousness. We’ve never had more need of calmness than now.

Photo: Getty

Albania’s pro-EU Socialists on course for election victory

From Europe. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Poll seen as test of country’s commitment to reducing corruption

Crowd catches girl after ride fall

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

A father describes the moment it happened at a Six Flags theme park in New York.

£100m from West to clean up Russian nuclear base

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Western nations are giving Russia nearly £100m to clear up nuclear waste at Andreyeva Bay, a contaminated Cold War submarine base.

The robot that can pick up virtually any object

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

Scientists at UC Berkeley have created a robot that has learnt to pick up virtually any object.

Reality check

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 27, 2017.

The EU argues that the rights of the bloc's citizens should not change as a result of Brexit.

Brussels vows to retaliate over US steel tariffs threat

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Trade commissioner says Trump administration move would be ‘very bad’ for Europe

Mihai Tudose named as prime-minister designate in Romania

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

President Iohannis approves ruling coalition’s choice in bid to end crisis

Democracy 'infection'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Twenty years on, we review predictions for Hong Kong made when Britain handed the city over to China.

EU nationals respond with dismay to UK proposal on citizens’ rights

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

FT speaks to some expatriates whose reaction is unanimous — and negative

May gives ground on citizens’ rights but EU demands more guarantees

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Government’s opening offer includes concessions over EU nationals claiming benefits

Is East Chicago the Next Flint?

By Leah Varjacques from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Demetra Turner and her family moved into the West Calumet Public Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana in May 2016. A month later, she found out she would have to evacuate her new home due to extremely elevated levels of lead and arsenic in the soil and water. It turned out the public housing complex was sitting on top of a Superfund site, one of the most toxic in the country. East Chicago is one of many low-income, majority black communities that disproportionately suffer from environmental harm across the country. “We’re going through the same thing Flint went through – neglect,” says resident and activist Sherry Hunter. “And it all has to do with poor black people.”

For more, read the story ‘The Compounded Pain of Contamination and Dislocation.’

A prime minister held to ransom by the DUP

From FT View. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

May’s short-term partnership is not a blank cheque for her agenda

Why Italy’s €17bn bank rescue deal is making waves across Europe

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Critics say use of state funds to deal with failing Veneto banks undermines EU rules

Italy shows EU banking union still has far to go

From FT View. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Two imperfect liquidations need not stop financial integration

Italy shows EU banking union still has far to go

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Two imperfect liquidations need not stop financial integration

Berlin leads backlash against Italian bank rescue

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Germany wants to close EU loophole that allows senior debtholders to escape losses

Daily chart: The economic effects of Britain’s decision to leave the EU

By from European Union. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Main image:  THE British vote to leave the EU on June 23rd last year came as a surprise to financial markets. Most investors expected that the Remain camp would prevail. As soon as the first results were in, they dumped their holdings of sterling, which fell sharply against both the dollar and the euro. A weaker pound is, in essence, a sign that international investors are less keen to buy British assets and need to be enticed by a lower price. The result has helped British exporters, but has also pushed up inflation and squeezed real wages as imported goods became more expensive. That may explain why the British economy, which performed well in the second half of 2016, has recently shown signs of slowing. 20170626 17:14:25 Comment Expiry Date:  Tue, 2017-07-11

Theresa May's offer to EU citizens leaves the 3 million with unanswered questions

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

So many EU citizens, so little time.

Ahead of the Brexit negotiations with the 27 remaining EU countries, the UK government has just published its pledges to EU citizens living in the UK, listing the rights it will guarantee them after Brexit and how it will guarantee them. The headline: all 3 million of the country’s EU citizens will have to apply to a special “settled status” ID card to remain in the UK after it exist the European Union.

After having spent a year in limbo, and in various occasions having been treated by the same UK government as bargaining chips, this offer will leave many EU citizens living in the UK (this journalist included) with more questions than answers.

Indisputably, this is a step forward. But in June 2017 – more than a year since the EU referendum – it is all too little, too late. 

“EU citizens are valued members of their communities here, and we know that UK nationals abroad are viewed in the same way by their host countries.”

These are words the UK’s EU citizens needed to hear a year ago, when they woke up in a country that had just voted Leave, after a referendum campaign that every week felt more focused on immigration.

“EU citizens who came to the UK before the EU Referendum, and before the formal Article 50 process for exiting the EU was triggered, came on the basis that they would be able to settle permanently, if they were able to build a life here. We recognise the need to honour that expectation.”

A year later, after the UK’s Europeans have experienced rising abuse and hate crime, many have left as a result and the ones who chose to stay and apply for permanent residency have seen their applications returned with a letter asking them to “prepare to leave the country”, these words seem dubious at best.

To any EU citizen whose life has been suspended for the past year, this is the very least the British government could offer. It would have sounded a much more sincere offer a year ago.

And it almost happened then: an editorial in the Evening Standard reported last week that Theresa May, then David Cameron’s home secretary, was the reason it didn’t. “Last June, in the days immediately after the referendum, David Cameron wanted to reassure EU citizens they would be allowed to stay,” the editorial reads. “All his Cabinet agreed with that unilateral offer, except his Home Secretary, Mrs May, who insisted on blocking it.” 

"They will need to apply to the Home Office for permission to stay, which will be evidenced through a residence document. This will be a legal requirement but there is also an important practical reason for this. The residence document will enable EU citizens (and their families) living in the UK to demonstrate to third parties (such as employers or providers of public services) that they have permission to continue to live and work legally in the UK."

The government’s offer lacks details in the measures it introduces – namely, how it will implement the registration and allocation of a special ID card for 3 million individuals. This “residence document” will be “a legal requirement” and will “demonstrate to third parties” that EU citizens have “permission to continue to live and work legally in the UK.” It will grant individuals ““settled status” in UK law (indefinite leave to remain pursuant to the Immigration Act 1971)”.

The government has no reliable figure for the EU citizens living in the UK (3 million is an estimation). Even “modernised and kept as smooth as possible”, the administrative procedure may take a while. The Migration Observatory puts the figure at 140 years assuming current procedures are followed; let’s be optimistic and divide by 10, thanks to modernisation. That’s still 14 years, which is an awful lot.

To qualify to receive the settled status, an individual must have been resident in the UK for five years before a specified (although unspecified by the government at this time) date. Those who have not been a continuous UK resident for that long will have to apply for temporary status until they have reached the five years figure, to become eligible to apply for settled status.

That’s an application to be temporarily eligible to apply to be allowed to stay in the UK. Both applications for which the lengths of procedure remain unknown.

Will EU citizens awaiting for their temporary status be able to leave the country before they are registered? Before they have been here five years? How individuals will prove their continuous employment or housing is undisclosed – what about people working freelance? Lodgers? Will proof of housing or employment be enough, or will both be needed?

Among the many other practicalities the government’s offer does not detail is the cost of such a scheme, although it promises to “set fees at a reasonable level” – which means it will definitely not be free to be an EU citizen in the UK (before Brexit, it definitely was.)

And the new ID will replace any previous status held by EU citizens, which means even holders of permanent citizenship will have to reapply.

Remember that 140 years figure? Doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?


Narendra Modi embarks on a great tax gamble

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

An overhaul of the taxation system, which comes into effect on Saturday, aims to turn India into a single market

In the fight against climate change, humanity has a choice of two futures

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

We must fight man-made climate change, says Patricia Scotland. 

So here we are at this fork in the road. On one path, the risk of a future of chaos. A new world map with miles and miles of stormy ocean where there were once islands and schools and playgrounds, businesses and life.

A globe with acre after acre of arid desert where there were once fertile mountains and valleys, green vegetation and food.

A path where our existence is defined by pandemics and migration crises, as the earth’s population tries to squeeze into the ever-reducing areas of habitable land.

In this reality, all the arguments about progress and advancement are consigned to the pages of our history, the only agenda item at international meetings is survival.

But the other fork is an alternative path. From the window of an airplane, with wings that exactly resemble a bird’s feathers, views of healthy mangrove as far as the eye can see, miles of luxurious, green canopy, interrupted by shimmering blue oceans.

Nature in all its glory and striking colours, thriving. And when it meets a city it doesn’t mind pausing for a while, because this metropolis is powered by geothermal energy, and the office buildings are made of carbon-eating concrete that behave like trees, and the mall is modelled after a termite mound. Every roof is lined with solar panels.

Two sides of the same coin. The first possibility a dystopian apocalyptic vision; the other a reality, already happening, which may just prevent and reverse the existential threat on this precious planet we call home. 

Last month, representatives of Commonwealth governments met with climate change experts, academics and businesses to launch an alternative pathway to addressing climate change, one that moves beyond adaptation, beyond mitigation, to actually reversing the human effects of climate change. 

It proposes to regenerate the environment by taking excess carbon and carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, where it is poisoning our planet, and putting it back in the soil where belongs.

This initiative, Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change, in collaboration with the Cloudburst Foundation, creates the potential for climate change to become an opportunity for innovation and sustainable, eco-friendly economic growth.

Strong support from some of the greatest environmental advocates, including Prince Charles, Mary Robinson and Anote Tong, and powerful presentations from some of the finest minds in the climate change arena, gave us the gift of possibility.

World-renowned experts like Paul Hawken, Thomas Goreau, Janine Benyus and Ben Haggard pointed out that these innovations are already happening. And it is quite simple really. For years man has watched nature and copied nature and nature has always led the way. How else did we make human flight happen if we did not copy God's own 'animal aircraft'?

We see it in other ways too, and the truth is that we already have amazing examples of biomimicry – technology that mimics nature. The eco-friendly Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe is modelled after termite mounds. In China, the dry, barren plains of the Loess Plateau have been regenerated and restored to healthy green land; and we have similar examples of land regeneration in Rwanda.

What I am saying is that the genius of man, which created technologies that have huge benefits for human beings but detrimental effects on our environment, is the same genius we will employ to help us through mitigation and adaption, and ultimately to reverse climate change and stop global warming. But there is a fundamental problem. We have ecologists, scientists, environmentalists and academics coming up with these solutions working in silos.

So what the Commonwealth began to do last October, when we had our first climate change reversal workshop, is to bring them together. We invited 60 experts who are pioneering these approaches to climate change to Marlborough House. They explored how we can create an integrated plan on climate change reversal.

My goal is to be able to offer every Commonwealth country a package of multidisciplinary, multisectoral solutions to this multidimensional problem. Collaboration and political will are key, because we will need to weave the ideas into our curriculum, insert them in our building codes and business regulations and integrate them into our gender, agricultural and environmental policies.

But how will cash-strapped countries fund this? This is where initiatives like our Climate Finance Access Hub comes in. This programme gives countries the capacity to make successful applications for funding from the Green Fund and other climate change financing mechanisms.

We also have to listen to what the captains of industry are saying. At our meeting last month, Paul Polman, CEO of the mega-consumer goods company Unilever, stressed that when businesses consider investment they take into account sustainable development goals.

If there is no justice and peace, if there is hunger and destitution and if they are operating in cities which are not sustainable, on land that might be reclaimed by the sea or deteriorate into desert conditions, they are investing in a venture that will fail. So the regenerative approach does not have to come at the cost of economic growth. Actually, it will boost investment and development.

The Commonwealth has been at the forefront of the climate change discussion since the 1980s when it first became topical. Our milestones include the Langkawi Declaration in 1989 which commits us to protect the environment, and our leaders' summit in 2015, days before COP21, was instrumental in the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. But the empirical evidence shows us that even at 1.5 degrees, islands will disappear into the ocean.

This November when governments convene at COP23, we will be posing the question: which pathway will you take? But this is not just a question for governments and organisations, it is a question for every single individual on this earth.

So what are we going to teach our children? More than 60 per cent of the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth are under the age of 30. How are we going to harness this exuberance and abundant talent and transform them into innovative solutions? How are we going to run our businesses and manage waste and energy in our homes? What path are you going to take? One that risks our future? Or one that is built on the principle that we can work with nature instead of against it to progress and develop?

Patricia Scotland is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

Photo: Getty

Draghi: banks have to put aside more resources for crises

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Photo: Getty

Data for Development: The Case for Information, Not Just Data

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Data for Development: The Case for Information, Not Just Data

By Council on Foreign Relations from Human Rights. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Nigerian president's Eid speech in Hausa criticised

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Greetings in a regional language have stirred rather than quelled rumours over the president's health.

'I'm not a bad guy'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

El Hadji Diouf had a reputation for bad behaviour as a player, but tells BBC Sport's Stanley Kwenda this was unfair.

Harry Potter didn’t cure my depression – but for an hour a day, it helped

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

These books didn’t cure me. They didn’t even come close. But at my lowest moments, Harry Potter was the only thing I enjoyed.

Just over a year ago, I was on a plane to Japan being violently sick. I had filled exactly two-and-a-quarter sick bags with my half-digested ginger-chicken-and-bread-roll before I decided to think about Neville Longbottom. As the plane rocked from side to side with turbulence, I sat completely stiff in my seat, clutching my armrests, and thinking of Neville. I told my boyfriend to shut up. In an effort to abate my nausea, I distracted myself for the remaining hour of the flight by picturing the peaceful plant-lover over and over again, like a visual mantra. I wasn’t sick again.

I’m telling you this anecdote because this was the only time in my life that Harry Potter acted as some strange and magical cure (even then, the fact there was no inflight meal left in my stomach to throw up had more to do with it). And yet, a few years before this, Harry Potter did help me through my depression. When we talk of Harry Potter and depression – which we do, a lot – we imagine that the lessons of the book can teach us, in a Don’t let the Dementors get you down! way, to not be depressed anymore. What do you mean you want to kill yourself? Banish that beast to Azkaban with your silvery kitty cat Patronus!! For me, it wasn’t like that at all.

In 2013 I was depressed. And Harry Potter helped me through. But it wasn’t magical, and it wasn’t wonderful, and there was no lie-back-and-think-of-Neville instant fix. When I closed the cracked spine of the last book, my depression didn’t go away.

Here’s some context, as plain and painlessly as I can put it. I had just graduated from university and ended my four year long relationship. I was living at home and working three jobs a day to be able to save up to do a six-month journalism course in London (the course was free, but eating is a thing).

Early in the morning, my mum would drive me to the local hospital where I would print out sticky labels and put them on patients' folders, in between sobbing in the disabled toilets. Around lunch, I’d go to work in a catering department, where I printed yet more labels and made sure to order the correct amount of gravy granules and beef. At five, my mum would pick me up and drive me home (thanks mum), and I’d have an hour or so to eat something before going to work in the local steak restaurant for the rest of the night. (On weekends, I had a fourth job - I would wake up early to scrub the restaraunt's toilets. Yay!) 

It sucked – even though there was, at least, a woman in the hospital who liked to do an impression of a Big Mouth Billy Bass fish.

“You’re not just depressed, you’re depressing to be around,” said the boy I was not-dating, two weeks after I said we should stop not-dating and a week after I begged him to start not-dating me again. If I was being dramatic and poetic, I’d say he was the kind of boy who stopped at nothing to make you feel unloved, but if I was being honest I’d say: he was really bad at texting back. Still, tip for anyone wondering what to say to someone who is depressed: Not This.

This wasn’t, exactly, the moment I realised I was depressed. (For a little extra context, note that it was Christmas Eve eve!) For a few months, my tongue had felt constantly burnt. Every moment of every day, my mouth felt like I had just bitten into the chewiest, gooiest molten pizza and burned off all my taste buds. Except I hadn’t. Eventually, Google told me this was a little-known symptom of depression called “burning mouth syndrome”. After ignoring clues such as constant crying, and knowing-the-exact-number-of-storeys-you-have-to-jump-from-to-ensure-you-die, I realised what I was. You know, depressed.

And round about here was when Harry came in. I’d always been obsessed with Potty Wee Potter, from the lilac HP branded M&S fleece I wore as a child, to making my brand new uni mates don pillowcases and bin bags to dress up for a screening of Deathly Hallows, Part 1. But by 2013, I hadn’t read the books for a while. So I started again.

I can’t emphasise enough that these books didn’t cure me. They didn’t even come close. But one of the worst parts of my depression was my anhedonia – which is the inability to feel pleasure in things you previously found enjoyable. I would spend (literally) all day at work, dreaming of the moment I could crawl into bed with a cheese sandwich and watch my favourite show. But the first bite of the sandwich tasted like dust, and I couldn’t concentrate on watching anything for more than thirty seconds. I lost a lot of weight incredibly fast, and there was no respite from any of my thoughts.

Except: Goblet of Fire. Harry needs a date! And Hermione wants a House Elf revolution! Wait, does Ron fancy her? Harry can’t manage Accio and THERE’S AN ACTUAL DRAGON ON THE WAY. The fourth Harry Potter book is now my favourite, because its episodic and addictive structure meant I couldn’t put it down even when I knew what happened next. I couldn’t enjoy anything in my life at that time, and I’m not even sure I “enjoyed” Harry. But the books were a total and complete distraction, like slipping into a Pensieve and floating down into another world where you could lose track of the time before being yanked, painfully, up and out.

I didn’t learn any lessons from the Dementors. I didn’t learn that love would get me through. As valuable as these messages in Harry Potter are, none of them helped me with my depression. What helped me was – and I can say it and you can say it, because 450 million sold copies have said it – insanely good writing. Addictive, un-put-downable writing. All-consuming, time-consuming, just-a-second-mum-put-mine-back-in-the-oven writing. Writing that allows you to lose yourself in the moments you most want to be lost.

That’s not to say, of course, that the messages of Harry Potter can’t help people through dark times – they have and will continue to do so for many years. There is no right way to be depressed, and there’s no right way to stop. But for me, Potter helped me through my anhedonia when nothing else at all could. It wasn’t magic. It was something ordinary in a world where everything had changed.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Theresa May outlines plans for EU citizens living in Britain

From Europe. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

‘Fair and serious’ proposals to impose restrictions on some nationals already in UK

Saudi Arabia's Untested New Crown Prince: Mohammed Bin Salman Has High Hopes, But Rises to Power at a Dangerous Moment

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

RMT poised to rejoin the Labour Party

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The transport union is set to vote on reaffiliation to the party, with RMT leaders backing the move.

Plans are being drawn up for the RMT (the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) to reaffiliate to the Labour Party in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s significant gains in the general election, the New Statesman has learnt.

The union, which represents tube drivers and other workers across the transport sector, was expelled from the Labour Party under Tony Blair after some Scottish branches voted to support the Scottish Socialist Party instead.

But the RMT endorsed both of Corbyn’s bids for the Labour leadership and its ruling national executive committee backed a Labour vote on 8 June.

Corbyn addressed the RMT’s annual general meeting in Exeter yesterday, where he was “given a hero’s welcome”, in the words of one delegate. Mick Cash, the RMT’s general secretary, praised Corbyn as the union’s “long-term friend and comrade”.

After the meeting, Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary at the RMT, posted a picture to Facebook with John McDonnell. The caption read: “With the shadow chancellor John McDonnell arguing that we should affiliate to the Labour Party after consulting fully and democratically with our members”.

The return of the RMT to Labour would be welcomed by the party leadership with open arms. And although its comparably small size would mean that the RMT would have little effect on the internal workings of Labour Party conference or its ruling NEC, its wide spread across the country could make the union a power player in the life of local Labour parties.

Photo: Getty

Algerians champion traditional dress for Eid al-Fitr

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

An online campaign is urging Algerians to promote local fashion to mark the end of Ramadan.

New Cyber Brief: Reforming the U.S. Section 702 Intelligence Program

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Nigeria Security Tracker Weekly Update: June 17 - June 23

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Evaluation of CMS's Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Advanced Primary Care Practice (APCP) Demonstration

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

This report contains an independent evaluation of the Federally Qualified Health Center Advanced Primary Care Practice Demonstration for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Photo: Getty

The Evolution of Beauty reveals the true power of sexual attraction

By Mark Cocker from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Richard O Prum's book mimics the literary output of Charles Darwin.

In 1860, the year after Charles Darwin had published his On the Origin of Species, he privately confessed to a colleague: ‘‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, when­ever I gaze at it, makes me feel sick!’’ It doesn’t take a genius to work out the cause of Darwin’s nausea.

Natural selection, as he had defined it, was assumed to modify the physical structure and function of a species’ composite parts, so that they were all adjusted to their environmental conditions.

Overall, it was presumed to shape an animal to make it better adapted to its life circumstances.

But how on Earth could such a theory explain something as gloriously impractical as the five-foot-long, eye-spotted upper-tail coverts of a male peacock? Far from leaving the owner skilled at negotiating its environment or better at escaping predators, this ­ludicrous appendage appeared to make it less able to survive. The peacock’s tail seemed the most beautiful and elegant rebuttal of Darwin’s arguments.

At least it did until, according to the author of this remarkable book, Darwin came up with the answer. It was an insight every bit as world-defining as his original theory and he described it in a later book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Darwin argued that another evolutionary force was at play among life in the way that organisms select their prospective partners. Natural selection may lead to the survival of the fittest, but sexual selection, as we now call this other mechanism, does not necessarily make a species better adapted.

Mate choices based on aesthetic criteria, of which the peacock’s tail is a perfect example, can give rise to arbitrary, even maladaptive characteristics. And not only does ­sexual selection lead to the acquisition of such useless adornments, it also has a co-evolutionary impact on the desires expressed by the male peacock’s mate. In short, what helps shape life on Earth is the subjective feelings that operate largely within female organisms.

According to Prum, this is Darwin’s truly ‘‘dangerous idea’’, and one that patriarchal Western scientific culture has instinctively disliked. Prum explores in detail the antag­onisms that sexual selection has aroused over the 150 years since Darwin articulated the idea. While natural scientists from Alfred Russel Wallace to Richard Dawkins may have accepted its existence, they have also sought to collapse its significance and make it a subsidiary element within the general theory of natural selection.

They argue that mate choices may lead to beautiful and bizarre adornments but that these features are also ‘‘honest’’ indicators of the good genes and vigorous health possessed by their male owners.

Prum calls it the ‘‘beauty-as-utility argument’’ and characterises it as a majority view, one to which he has been a lifelong opponent. In The Evolution of Beauty he provides a detailed justification for his position, making his book both an objective description of how sexual selection operates and a form of scientific autobiography.

It also mimics Darwin’s literary output in two crucial senses. Like his great hero did, it has taken Prum decades to assemble the hoard of supportive evidence that underpins his views. He has also articulated his life’s work in prose that is as lucid as the arguments are sophisticated: Darwin couldn’t have put it better himself.

The author is a lifelong birdwatcher and many of his favourite organisms feature strongly in the array of case studies that make up a good deal of the book. But the bird family that launched Prum’s scientific journey is a group of tiny, intensely colourful Neotropical inhabitants called manakins. The males of the group perform a bizarre display that has evolved under a severe form of sexual selection that Prum ­describes as 54 ‘‘distinctive ‘ideals’ of beauty’’.

One of the better-known of these birds is the red-capped manakin, which performs a dance routine said to resemble Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Another, the blue manakin, often functioning in collaborative teams of up to seven males, does a Catherine-wheel-like flutter past the dowdy female.

In their relatively long lives, as many as 90 per cent of male blue manakins may never get to mate. As Prum points out, these birds ‘‘engage in the most ruthless sexual competition known in nature’’, but it is not a violent transaction conducted with teeth and horns. Appropriately for one of ­Brazil’s best-known birds, it involves a song-and-dance number, of which the super-picky females are the ultimate arbiters.

What makes this book so absorbing is that Prum expands the range of his material to speculate on a panorama of intriguing questions. To give a small sense of this eclectic span, he proposes that sexual selection could have played a very important part in shaping feathers in dinosaurs and in the evolution of flight by their avian descendants, and that it may even have led to the Old Testament story of how God made Adam’s partner from a spare rib. According to Prum, the real bone used to fashion Eve may have been a baculum, a penis bone, which is found in all primates except two – spider monkeys and ourselves.

Prum devotes the last third of his book to considering how mate choices may have been decisive in shaping aspects of human physiology and behaviour. This is likely to provoke much of the attention that the book rightly deserves, because here he dwells on the size and shape of the human penis, the existence of the female orgasm and the evolution of same-sex sexual relationships, all of which are hard to explain through natural selection alone.

Prum’s thoughts on these matters are compelling stuff, but the book’s chief achievement is to challenge our relentlessly anthropocentric perspective. The Evolution of Beauty enables us to see that the most intimate emotions and subjective choices made by mere beasts are decisive subjects for science. And it is these aesthetic sens­ibilities, as owned and operated by other animals, that have fashioned the manifold beauties of our world.

Mark Cocker’s new book, “Our Place”, will be published in 2018 by Jonathan Cape

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us
Richard O Prum
Doubleday, 448pp, $30​

Photo: Panayiotis Kyriakou / Eyeem

The tale of a stuffed echidna: what we see when we look at animals

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Picasso, missing nipples and how we relate to other species. 

Sometime in the 1940s, Pablo Picasso emerged from a cave in south-western France in a rare mood of humility. The Lascaux cave was occupied by humans in the Upper Palaeolithic Age; it was discovered more or less untouched as war raged across much of Europe. Scrawled on to its stone walls more than 17,000 years earlier were images of bulls, 12 feet long; a spindly-horned deer of the extinct Megaloceros genus; stags, aurochs, cantering dun horses; a dude with a bird head having an altercation with a bison. The animals seemed in endless motion. They flowed. They were crudely rendered but each composition was alive with the hidden harmony of things.

“We have invented nothing,” said Picasso, reflecting on what he had seen inside. By “we”, the painter meant the artistic and cultural vanguard of the early 20th century that had challenged the long-held assumptions of Western art, jettisoning (or, at least, reconfiguring) traditions that had calcified into a sort of rulebook since the Renaissance painters showed us all how it was done. For Picasso, Matisse and others, immediacy trumped “good sense” or mere technique. “It took me four years to paint like Raphael,” Picasso later declared, “but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

But painting like a child – freely, expressively, unconstrained by convention – was something human beings had been working at since the very beginning. It was nothing new. And, as all children do, the earliest of our species chose animals as their subject. This was a natural choice, since, as John Berger wrote in About Looking, animals were “with man at the centre of his world” until as recently as the 19th century: we depended on them for “food, work, transport, clothing”, and saw in them magic and kinship. Today, for most of us, they are a marginal presence, locked up in zoos; or they have been transfigured into toys and cartoons and logos and mascots; or they crop up sliced in our sandwich, or boiled into jelly in our Haribo. We can coo over cats and think of dogs as our best friend, while thinking nothing of killing 56 billion other animals for food each year. It’s a case of us versus them. 

Yet they remain a part of us, as we are a part of them. At the Grant Museum of Zoology in Bloomsbury, London, I looked up at a balcony display of five skeletons, arranged as if in a police line-up. Beneath them were their identities: orang-utan, chimpanzee, human, gorilla and gibbon. I asked the museum’s manager, Jack Ashby, whether he was trying to bridge the gap between animal and human by arranging the bones in such a way. He told me, “There is no gap. Up there are five different kinds of ape. Humans are displayed as a part of the animal kingdom . . . It’s interesting and important that, if you look at those five apes, it’s quite hard to tell the difference between them.” 

It was true. Stripped of all flesh, the chimpanzee and the human next to it looked like closely related cousins. The English surrealist painter and zoologist Desmond Morris once said that he viewed his fellow man “not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape”. But how far had we really risen?

I was at the Grant Museum to ask Ashby about its taxidermy conservation project “Fluff It Up”, in which several stuffed animal skins from its collection – some over a century old – are currently being restored to their former splendour. The specimens being repaired have been replaced in their glass cabinets, for the time being, by cuddly toys. And so it was that I stood with Ashby, a 35-year-old Cambridge graduate with an infectious enthusiasm for dusty, dead beasts, gazing at a fairground-prize-style doll representing an Australian echidna.

He told me the story of the absent echidna, whose feet had been positioned the wrong way by the original taxidermist back in the 19th century. Such errors were frequent. “Taxidermists often wouldn’t have seen the whole animal, let alone the live animal,” he explained, so they had to rely on guesswork. The settlement of Australia, which began in earnest in 1788, resulted in “a huge interest in marsupials and other [newly discovered] mammals – six-foot-tall, hopping kangaroos, these really strange, weird animals”, he continued. Echidnas and particularly platypuses – egg-layers – had “a huge amount of controversy around them, because there were no other mammals known to lay eggs. And these were obviously mammals, because they had fur and a few other mammalian characteristics: the way the jaw was arranged, the way the ankles looked. But echidnas didn’t have nipples.” 

I asked Ashby why this was so disturbing for natural historians in Europe. “Well, a defining characteristic of mammals is that they produce milk – ‘mammal’ comes from ‘mammary’,” he said. “Echidnas do produce milk, but it kind of oozes out of their skin, like sweat, and the young lap it up.” They were freaky.

Meanwhile, it took almost a century to demonstrate that the creatures did, in fact, lay eggs. Resistance to the theory was fierce. “I think that the people arguing against all this were uncomfortable with the idea of mammals doing something so reptilian as laying eggs, as it pulled the mammalian class down into the mud with the reptiles and the amphibians,” Ashby said. The way echidnas reproduced upset “the idea of the hierarchy of animal kind – that mammals are better than everything else, with man at the top of the tree”. So the natural historians of the 19th century were engaged in a debate about animals that was, in reality, a debate about themselves: one about humanity, and where we fit in the order of things.

Since July 2012, when an international group of scientists gathered at Cambridge University to refute the notion that consciousness was exclusive to mankind, there has been a growing consensus that many non-human species have an awareness of themselves not dissimilar to our own. We eat animals, we wear their skin, we forcibly domesticate them and exploit them in almost every conceivable way, but they are more like us than we are sometimes willing to admit.

Despite this likeness, they remain an other. It’s difficult to think of echidnas and cows as our fellows, especially since they can’t talk and tell us how they feel, or what they’re thinking. Yet throughout human history, we have talked through them – they have been symbols of our own inner lives. Picasso once said that an artist “paints not what he sees, but what he feels”. If he was right, those cave paintings in France were representative of how early man experienced the world, rather than what those animals were truly like. I suppose that’s what gives the images such power, millennia after they were scrawled on to those cold, stone walls. Human beings are Earth’s great narcissists. When we look at animals, we’re looking for our own reflection. 


Grant Museum

The Conservative-DUP deal is great news for the DUP, but bad news for Theresa May

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The DUP has secured a 10 per cent increase in Northern Ireland's budget in return for propping up the Prime Minister.

Well, that’s that then. Theresa May has reached an accord with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep herself in office. Among the items: the triple lock on pensions will remain in place, and the winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested across the United Kingdom. In addition, the DUP have bagged an extra £1bn of spending for Northern Ireland, which will go on schools, hospitals and roads. That’s more than a five per cent increase in Northern Ireland’s budget, which in 2016-7 was just £9.8bn.

The most politically significant item will be the extension of the military covenant – the government’s agreement to look after veterans of war and their families – to Northern Ireland. Although the price tag is small, extending priority access to healthcare to veterans is particularly contentious in Northern Ireland, where they have served not just overseas but in Northern Ireland itself. Sensitivities about the role of the Armed Forces in the Troubles were why the Labour government of Tony Blair did not include Northern Ireland in the covenant in 2000, when elements of it were first codified.

It gives an opportunity for the SNP…

Gina Miller, whose court judgement successfully forced the government into holding a vote on triggering Article 50, has claimed that an increase in spending in Northern Ireland will automatically entail spending increases in Wales and Scotland thanks to the Barnett formula. This allocates funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on spending in England or on GB-wide schemes.

However, this is incorrect. The Barnett formula has no legal force, and, in any case, is calculated using England as a baseline. However, that won’t stop the SNP MPs making political hay with the issue, particularly as “the Vow” – the last minute promise by the three Unionist party leaders during the 2014 independence referendum – promised to codify the formula. They will argue this breaks the spirit, if not the letter of the vow. 

…and Welsh Labour

However, the SNP will have a direct opponent in Wales. The Welsh Labour party has long argued that the Barnett formula, devised in 1978, gives too little to Wales. They will take the accord with Northern Ireland as an opportunity to argue that the formula should be ripped up and renegotiated.

It risks toxifying the Tories further

The DUP’s socially conservative positions, though they put them on the same side as their voters, are anathema to many voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Although the DUP’s positions on abortion and equal marriage will not be brought to bear on rUK, the association could leave a bad taste in the mouth for voters considering a Conservative vote next time. Added to that, the bumper increase in spending in Northern Ireland will make it even harder to win support for continuing cuts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All of which is moot if the Conservatives U-Turn on austerity

Of course, all of these problems will fade if the Conservatives further loosen their deficit target, as they did last year. Turning on the spending taps in England, Scotland and Wales is probably their last, best chance of turning around the grim political picture.

It’s a remarkable coup for Arlene Foster

The agreement, which ticks a number of boxes for the DUP, caps off an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster. The significant increase in spending in Northern Ireland – equivalent to the budget of the entirety of the United Kingdom going up by £70bn over two years  – is only the biggest ticket item. The extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland appeals to two longstanding aims of the DUP. The first is to end “Northern Ireland exceptionalism” wherever possible, and the second is the red meat to their voters in offering better treatment to veterans.

It feels like a lifetime ago when you remember that in March 2017, Foster was a weakened figure having led the DUP into its worst election result since the creation of the devolved assembly at Stormont.

The election result, in which the DUP took the lion’s share of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland, is part of that. But so too are the series of canny moves made by Foster in the aftermath of her March disappointment. By attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral and striking a more consensual note on some issues, she has helped shed some of the blame for the collapse of power-sharing, and proven herself to be a tricky negotiator.

Conservatives are hoping it will be plain sailing for them, and the DUP from now on should take note. 

Photo: Getty

Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders no longer sounds so outlandish

By Mehdi Hasan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Both men have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack.

Unlike many of us, Bernie Sanders never doubted Jeremy Corbyn. The week before the general election, the independent US senator from Vermont was addressing a crowd of progressive voters in Brighton during a whirlwind tour of the UK. An audience member asked him what advice he might have for the leader of the Labour Party. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn needs my advice,” Sanders replied. “I think he’s doing quite well.”

The week after the election, a delighted Sanders invoked Corbyn’s election performance in a New York Times op-ed. “The British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party,” he wrote, urging the Democrats to stop holding on to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology” and explaining how “momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers”.

Sanders and his growing movement in the United States offered more than mere rhetorical support for Corbyn.

With the help of former members of the senator’s presidential campaign team, Momentum – the grass-roots organisation set up to support and defend Corbyn in 2015 – ran 33 training sessions across the UK, preparing thousands of Labour activists.

Momentum’s national organiser Emma Rees says that the Sanders people made a “significant contribution” to the Labour campaign with their emphasis “on having empathetic conversations that focused on the issues the voter cared about, and actually trying to persuade voters on the doorstep rather than just collecting data”.

“In the final stage, I recruited a bunch of former Bernie volunteers from around [the United States] to . . . help get out a last [get out the vote] texting assignment,” recalls Claire Sandberg, who was the digital organising director for Sanders and spent the 2017 election campaign working with Momentum in the UK. “It was an amazing thing to see them volunteering . . . while we were all asleep the night before election day.”

Is it really surprising that Sanders supporters, thousands of miles away, would want to volunteer for Corbyn? Both men are mavericks; both have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack; both, in the words of Emma Rees, “have inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in the political process and to realise their collective power” and they want “to transform society in the interests of ordinary people”. Perhaps above all else, both men have proved that left populism can win millions of votes.

According to the latest polls, if another election were held in the UK tomorrow, Corbyn would be the winner. Sanders, however, has a much higher mountain to climb in the US and faces at least three obstacles that the “British Bernie” does not.

First, Sanders leads a growing grass-roots movement but does not have the support of a party machine and infrastructure.

Corbyn may have been a backbench rebel who voted against his party whip more than 500 times before becoming party leader, but he is a lifelong Labour member.

Sanders, on the other hand, is the longest-serving independent politician in US congressional history. He declared himself a Democrat in 2015 only in order to seek the party’s presidential nomination and promptly declared himself an independent again after he was defeated by Hillary Clinton last summer.

Such behaviour has allowed establishment Democrats to portray him (wrongly) as an opportunist, an interloper who is using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for his own benefit in a country where third-party candidacies cannot succeed.

Second, Sanders has to confront an even more hostile and sceptical media than Corbyn must. Under US law, Fox News is under no obligation to be “fair and balanced” towards Sanders – nor is CNN, for that matter.

Thanks to the UK rules on broadcaster impartiality, however, Corbyn was “able to speak directly to the voters who still get their news from TV instead of the internet”, Sandberg notes. “In contrast, Bernie was completely and totally shut out by broadcast media in the US, which considered his campaign totally irrelevant.”

Third, Sanders failed to connect with minority groups, and especially with African Americans, whereas black and Asian British voters flocked to Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for the anti-racism movement.

Two out of every three ethnic-minority voters voted Labour on 8 June. “Bernie would’ve won [the Democratic nomination] if he’d had a message that resonated with 50 per cent – just 50 per cent – of black voters, because Hillary got upwards of 90 per cent in many states,” the activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who is a supporter of both Sanders and Corbyn, told me in a recent interview for my al-Jazeera English show, UpFront, which will air later this month.

Nevertheless, she is confident that Sanders can learn lessons from his own campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and “build a winning coalition” next time which ties together the narratives of financial, racial and gender inequality.

Just as it was a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyn, it would be wrong to dismiss Bernie Sanders.

Despite media bias, and even though he doesn’t have a party machine behind him, Sanders today is still the most popular politician in the United States. And so this may be only the beginning of a new, transatlantic partnership between the two self-declared socialists. Those of us on the left who grew up watching Reagan and Thatcher, then Clinton and Blair, then Bush and Blair, may wish to pinch ourselves to check we’re not dreaming.

“I think by 2021,” Sandberg says, “we may see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Photo: Getty

Blue shark spotted on holiday resort in Majorca

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The shark was reportedly 8ft long and had to be put down after it was caught because of a head injury.

China is the 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room When Modi Meets Trump

By Tanvi Madan from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

In 1949, when an Indian prime minister and an American president first met, China was one of the two key items on the agenda. Almost seven decades after that Nehru-Truman meeting, President Donald Trump hosts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived in Washington late Saturday night. And once again, that issue will be on ...

A Military Assessment of the Islamic State’s Evolving Theory of Victory

By Michael J. Mooney from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Brace for it, America. Terrorist attacks like those seen over the past 19 months in Western Europe will soon be occurring within the borders of the United States. The Paris attacks of November 2015, the surge in Western Europe in the summer of 2016, and now in the United Kingdom all portend a very grim ...

Jonn Elledge and the Young Hagrid Audition

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. Except I didn’t.

I’ve been dining out for years now on the fact I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. It’s one of those funny stories I tell people when a bit drunk, under the no doubt entirely wrong impression that it makes me sound like I’ve lived an interesting life.

Except, when I came to write this thing, I realised that it’s not actually true. I didn’t actually audition for the part of Young Hagrid at all.

Technically, I auditioned to be Voldemort.

Let’s start from the beginning. In November 2001 I was in my last year at Cambridge, where I split my time roughly equally between pissing about on a stage, writing thundering student paper columns about the true meaning of 9/11 as only a 21-year-old can, and having panic attacks that the first two things would cause me to screw up my degree and ruin my life forever. I was, I suppose, harmless enough; but looking back on that time, I am quite glad that nobody had yet invented social media.

I was also – this is relevant – quite substantially overweight. I’m not a slim man now, but I was much heavier then, so much so that I spent much of my later adolescence convinced that my mum’s bathroom scales were broken because my weight was, quite literally, off the scale. I was a big lad.

Anyway. One day my friend Michael, with whom I’d co-written quite a bad Edinburgh fringe show eighteen months earlier, came running up to me grasping a copy of Varsity. “Have you seen this?” he panted; in my memory, at least, he’s so excited by what he’s found that he’s literally run to find me. “You have to do it. It’d be brilliant.”

“This” turned out to be a casting call for actors for the new Harry Potter movie. This wasn’t unusual: Cambridge produces many actors, so production companies would occasionally hold open auditions in the hope of spotting fresh talent. I don’t remember how many minor parts they were trying to cast, or anything else about what it said. I was too busy turning bright red.

Because I could see the shameful words “Young Hagrid”. And I knew that what Michael meant was not, “God, Jonn, you’re a great actor, it’s time the whole world got to bask in your light”. What he meant was, “You’re a dead ringer for Robbie Coltrane”.

I was, remember, 21 years old. This is not what any 21-year-old wants to hear. Not least since I’d always suspected that the main things that made people think I looked like Robbie Coltrane were:

  1. the aforementioned weight issue, and
  2. the long dark trench coat I insisted on wearing in all seasons, under the mistaken impression that it disguised (a).

Most people look back at pictures of their 21-year-old self and marvel at how thin and beautiful they are. I look back and and I wonder why I wasted my youth cosplaying as Cracker.

The only photo of 2001 vintage Jonn I could find on the internet is actually a photo of a photo. For some reason, I really loved that tie. Image: Fiona Gee.

I didn’t want to lean into the Coltrane thing; since childhood I’d had this weird primal terror that dressing up as something meant accepting it as part of your identity, and at fancy dress parties (this is not a joke) I could often be found hiding under tables screaming. And I didn’t want to be Hagrid, young or otherwise. So I told Michael, quite plainly, that I wasn’t going to audition.

But as the days went by, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. This was an audition for a proper, actual movie. I’d always had this idea I must have some kind of talent*, and that Cambridge was where I would find out what it was**. What if this was my big break?*** What if I was being silly?****

So when it turned out that Michael had literally started a petition to get me to change my mind, I acceded to the inevitable. Who was I to resist the public demand for moi?

And so, I graciously alerted the people doing the casting to the fact of my existence. A few days later I got an email back inviting me to go see them in a room at Trinity College, and a few pages of script to read for them.

The first odd thing was that the script did not, in fact, mention Hagrid. The film, I would later learn, does include a flashback to Hagrid’s school days at Hogwarts. By then, though, the filmmakers had decided they didn’t need a young actor to play Young Hagrid: instead that sequence features a rugby player in a darkened corner, with a voiceover courtesy of Coltrane. The section of the script I was holding instead featured a conversation between Harry Potter and a character called Tom Riddle.

I asked my flat mate Beccy, who unlike me had actually read the books, who this person might be. She shuffled, awkwardly. “I think he might be Voldemort...?”

Further complicating things, the stage directions described Riddle as something along the lines of, “16 years old, stick thin and classically handsome, in a boyish way”. As fervently as I may have denied any resemblance between myself and Robbie Coltrane, I was nonetheless clear that I was a good match for precisely none of those adjectives.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I went to the audition. I don’t suppose I expected Chris Columbus to be there, let alone Robbie Coltrane ready to embrace me like a long-lost son.  But I was expecting more than a cupboard containing a video camera of the sort you could buy at Dixons and a blonde woman not much older than me. She introduced herself as “Buffy” which, given that this was 2001, I am not entirely convinced was her real name.

“My friends always tell me I look like Robbie Coltrane,” I told her, pretending I was remotely enthusiastic about this fact. 

“Oh yeah,” said Buffy. “But he’s really... big isn’t he? I mean he’s a huge guy. You’re more sort of...”

Or to put it another way, if they had still been looking for a young Hagrid, they would have wanted someone tall. I’m 6’, but I’m not tall. I was just fat.

If they had been looking for a Young Hagrid. Which, as it turned out, they weren’t.

The section I read for was included in the final film, so with a bit of Googling I found the script online. It was this bit:

TOM RIDDLE Yes. I’m afraid so. But then, she’s been in so much pain, poor Ginny. She’s been writing to me for months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes. Ginny poured her soul out to me. I grew stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful enough to start feeding Ginny a few secrets, to start pouring a bit of my soul back into her...

Riddle, growing less vaporous by the second, grins cruelly.

TOM RIDDLE Yes, Harry, it was Ginny Weasley who opened the Chamber of Secrets.

I mean, you can see the problem, can’t you? I don’t remember this many years on what interpretation I put on my performance. I suspect I went beyond camp and into full on panto villain, and I dread to think what I may have done to communicate the impression of “growing less vaporous”.

But what I do feel confident about is that I was absolutely bloody awful. Five minutes after arriving, I was out, and I never heard from Buffy again.

So – I didn’t become a star. You probably guessed that part already.

In all honesty, I didn’t really realise what a big deal Harry Potter was. I’d seen the first film, and thought it was all right, but I was yet to read the books; three of them hadn’t even been written yet.

I had some vague idea there was an opportunity here. But the idea I was missing a shot at being part of an institution, something that people would be rereading and re-watching and analysing for decades to come – something that, a couple of years later, at roughly the point when Dumbledore shows Harry the Prophecy, and a tear rolls down his cheek, would come to mean quite a lot to me, personally – none of that ever crossed my mind. I’d had an opportunity. It hadn’t worked out. Happened all the time.

I do sometimes like to think, though, about the parallel universe in which that audition was the start of a long and glittering career – and where the bloke who played Tom Riddle in this universe is scratching a living writing silly blogs about trains.

*I don’t.

**I didn’t.

***It wasn’t.

****I was.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Harry Potter Week

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter.

Do you know what day it is? Today is Monday 26 June 2017 – which means it’s 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in the UK. That’s two decades of knowing and loving Harry Potter.

Here at the New Statesman, a solid 90 per cent of the online staff live and breathe Harry Potter. So we thought now would be the perfect time to run a week of Potter-themed articles. We’ve got a mix of personal reflections, very (very) geeky analysis, cultural criticism, nostalgia, and some truly bizarre fan fiction. You have been warned. 

See below for the full list, which will be updated throughout the week:

Jonn Elledge and the Young Hagrid Audition

Amelia Tait: Harry Potter didn’t cure my depression – but for an hour a day, it helped

Edinburgh in the time of Harry Potter: Julia Rampen on growing up in a city that became famous for a book

Brexiteers want national sovereignty and tighter borders – but they can't have both

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The role of the European Court of Justice is a major sticking point in talks.

Why doesn't Theresa May's counter-offer on the rights of European citizens living and working in Britain pass muster among the EU27? It all comes down to one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit talks: the role of the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission, under direction from the leaders of member states, wants the rights of the three million living here and of the British diaspora in the EU guaranteed by the European Court. Why? Because that way, the status of EU citizens here or that of British nationals in the EU aren't subject to the whims of a simple majority vote in the legislature.

This is where Liam Fox, as crassly he might have put it, has a point about the difference between the UK and the EU27, being that the UK does not "need to bury" its 20th century history. We're one of the few countries in the EU where political elites get away with saying, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" when it comes to checks on legislative power. For the leaders of member states, a guarantee not backed up by the European Court of Justice is no guarantee at all.

That comes down to the biggest sticking point of the Brexit talks: rules. In terms of the deal that most British voters, Leave or Remain, want – a non-disruptive exit that allows the British government to set immigration policy – UK politicians can get that, provided they concede on money and rules, ie we continue to follow the directions of the European Court while having no power to set them. Britain could even seek its own trade deals and have that arrangement.

But the problem is that deal runs up against the motivations of the Brexit elite, who are in the main unfussed about migration but are concerned about sovereignty – and remaining subject to the rule of the ECJ without being able to set its parameters is, it goes without saying, a significant loss of sovereignty. 

Can a fudge be found? That the Article 50 process goes so heavily in favour of the EU27 and against the leaving member means that the appetite on the EuCo side for a fudge is limited. 

But there is hope, as David Davis has conceded that there will have to be an international guarantor, as of course there will have to be. If you trade across borders, you need a cross-border referee. If a plane goes up in one country and lands in another, then it is, by necessity, regulated across borders. (That arrangement has also been mooted by Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Angela Merkel's government. But that Gabriel's centre-left party looks likely to be expelled from coalition after the next election means that his support isn't as valuable as many Brexiteers seem to think.)

On the Conservative side, a new EU-UK international body would satisfy the words of May's ECJ red line. On the EU27 side, that the body would, inevitably, take its lead from the treaties of the EU sans Britain and the ECJ would mean that in spirit, Britain would be subject to the ECJ by another name.

But it comes back to the Brexit dilemma. You can satisfy the voters' demand for non-disruptive control of British borders. You can satisfy political demand for sovereignty. But you can't have both. May – and whoever replaces her – will face the same question: who do you disappoint?

Photo: Getty

That's the Way It Crumbles: Matthew Engel explores Americanisms

By John Sutherland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The author is especially vexed by the barbarous locution “wake-up call”.

Perhaps, with the ascension of Ruth Davidson to political superstardom and the glorification of Sir Walter Scott on current Scottish banknotes (south of the border, we’re going for Jane Austen on our tenners), we will all revisit Ivanhoe. The story, you’ll recall, is set during the reign of the Lionheart King, who is away on crusade business, killing Muslims by the thousand. Like the good Christian monarch he is.

Scott’s narrative has a prelude. A Saxon swineherd, Gurth, is sitting on a decayed Druid stone as his pigs root in the dirt. Along comes his mate Wamba, a jester. The two serfs chat. How is it, Gurth wonders, that “swine” when it reaches the high tables of their masters is “pork” (Fr porc); cow ­becomes “beef” (Fr boeuf); and sheep turns into “mutton” (Fr mouton)?

The reason, Wamba explains (no fool he), is 1066. Four generations have passed but the Normans are still running things. They have normanised English – and they eat high on the hog. How did pig become pork? In the same way as “minced beef sandwich”, in my day, became Big Mac.

Ivanhoe should be the Brexiteers’ bible. Its message is that throwing off the Norman Yoke is necessary before Britain can be Britain again. What’s the difference between Normandy and Europa? Just 900 or so years. Scott makes a larger point. Common language, closely examined, reflects where real power lies. More than that, it enforces that power – softly but subversively, often in ways we don’t notice. That’s what makes it dangerous.

We’ve thrown off the Norman Yoke – but it remains, faintly throbbing, in the archaeology of our language. Why do we call the place “parliament” and not “speak house”? Is Gordon Ramsay a chef or a cook? Do the words evoke different kinds of society?

Matthew Engel is a journalist at the end of four decades of deadline-driven, high-quality writing. He is now at that stage of life when one thinks about it all – in his case, the millions of words he has tapped out. What historical meaning was ingrained in those words? It is, he concludes, not the European Union but America that we should be fearful of.

The first half of his book is a survey of the historical ebbs and flows of national dialect across the Atlantic. In the 18th century the linguistic tide flowed west from the UK to the US. When the 20th century turned, it was the age of “Mid-Atlantic”. Now, it’s all one-way. We talk, think and probably dream American. It’s semantic colonialism. The blurb (manifestly written by Engel himself) makes the point succinctly:

Are we tired of being asked to take the elevator, sick of being offered fries and told about the latest movie? Yeah. Have we noticed the sly interpolation of Americanisms into our everyday speech? It’s a no-brainer.

One of the charms of this book is Engel hunting down his prey like a linguistic witchfinder-general. He is especially vexed by the barbarous locution “wake-up call”. The first use he finds is “in an ice hockey ­report in the New York Times in 1975”. Horribile dictu. “By the first four years of the 21st century the Guardian was reporting wake-up calls – some real, most metaphorical – two and a half times a week.” The Guardian! What more proof were needed that there is something rotten in the state of the English language?

Another bee in Engel’s bonnet is the compound “from the get-go”. He tracks it down to a 1958 Hank Mobley tune called “Git-Go Blues”. And where is that putrid locution now? Michael Gove, then Britain’s education secretary, used it in a 2010 interview on Radio 4. Unclean! Unclean!

Having completed his historical survey, and compiled a voluminous dictionary of Americanisms, Engel gets down to business. What does (Americanism alert!) the takeover mean?

Is it simply that we are scooping up loan words, as the English language always has done? We love Babel; revel in it. Ponder a recent headline in the online Independent: “Has Scandi-noir become too hygge for its own good?” The wonderful thing about the English language is its sponge-like ability to absorb, use and discard un-English verbiage and still be vitally itself. Or is this Americanisation what Orwell describes in Nineteen Eighty-Four as “Newspeak”? Totalitarian powers routinely control independent thinking – and resistance to their power – by programmatic impoverishment of language. Engel has come round to believing the latter. Big time.

In its last pages, the book gets mad as hell on the subject. Forget Europe. Britain, and young Britain in particular, has handed over “control of its culture and vocabulary to Washington, New York and Los Angeles”. It is, Engel argues, “self-imposed serfdom”:

A country that outsources the development of its language – the language it developed over hundreds of years – is a nation that has lost the will to live.

Britain in 2017AD is, to borrow an Americanism, “brainwashed”, and doesn’t know it or, worse, doesn’t care. How was American slavery enforced? Not only with the whip and chain but by taking away the slaves’ native language. It works.

Recall the front-page headlines of 9 June. “Theresa on ropes”, shouted the Daily Mail. She was “hung out to dry”, said the London Evening Standard. “Stormin’ Corbyn”, proclaimed the Metro. These are manifest Americanisms, from the metaphor “hanging out to dry” to the use of “Stormin’” – the epithet applied to Norman Schwarzkopf, the victorious US Gulf War commander of Operation Desert Storm.

These headlines on Theresa May’s failure fit the bill. Her campaign was framed, by others, as American presidential, not English prime ministerial. But the lady herself is pure Jane Austen: a vicar’s daughter whose naughtiest act was to run through a field of wheat. She simply couldn’t do the “hail to the chief” stuff. Boris, the bookies’ odds predict, will show her how that presidential “stuff” should be “strut”. He was, of course, born American.

Engel’s book, short-tempered but consistently witty, does a useful thing. It makes us listen to what is coming out of our mouths and think seriously about it. Have a nice day.

John Sutherland’s “How Good Is Your Grammar?” is published by Short Books

That’s the Way It Crumbles: the American Conquest of English
Matthew Engel
Profile Books, 279pp, £16.99

Photo: Getty

Celebrate Labour's electoral success – but don't forget the working class

By Lisa Nandy from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face. 

In the moment when the exit poll was released on 8 June, after seven weeks of slogging up and down the streets of Britain, dealing with scepticism, doubt and sometimes downright hostility, we felt a combination of relief, optimism, even euphoria.
This election broke wide open some assumptions that have constrained us on the left for too long; that the young won’t vote, that any one individual or political party is “unelectable”, that perceptions of both individuals, parties and even policies cannot change suddenly and dramatically. It reminded us that courage, ambition and hope are what’s needed and what have been missing from our politics, too often, for too long.
We have learned to tread carefully and wear our values lightly. But in recent weeks we have remembered that our convictions can, as Jonathan Freedland once wrote, “bring hope flickering back to life” and meet the growing appetite for a politics that doesn’t simply rail against what is but aspires to build a world that is better.
In this election at least, it seems the final, anticipated fracture of Labour from its working class base after Brexit did not materialise. Shortly before the snap election was called, I wrote that while Brexit appeared to be Labour’s greatest weakness, it could just be our biggest strength, because: “Consider what remain voting Tottenham and leave voting Wigan have in common: Labour… We will succeed if we seek the common ground shared by the decent, sensible majority, and more importantly, so will Britain.”
But consider this too. The Tories ran a terrible campaign. It was, without any doubt, the most inept, counter-productive campaign I’ve ever seen in British politics. The day their manifesto hit the headlines, even in our toughest neighbourhoods, we could feel change in the air.

Arrogance is never rewarded by the British people, and Theresa May has paid a price for it. Yet, despite a Tory manifesto that was a full, square attack on older people, the majority of over-65s still came out for the Tories.
And despite the growing relevance of freedom, internationalism and tolerance in an era characterised by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Liberal Democrats managed to become bystanders in the political debate.

They stood on a platform that aimed to capture the support of those Remain voters for whom Brexit is the major question, but neglected the rest. And they quite spectacularly failed to foresee that those who were intensely angered by May’s conversion to a little England, hard Brexit stance would vote tactically against the Tories. Over those seven weeks, they all but disappeared as a political force.
As Bob Dylan once said, "the times, they are a-changin" – and they will change again. The recent past has moved at extraordinary speed. The Brexit Referendum, the rise and retreat of nationalism, the election of Trump and his crushing unpopularity just a few months later, the reversal in fortunes for May and Jeremy Corbyn, the astonishing phenomenon of Emmanuel Macron and pro-European centrism, and the dramatic rise and sudden collapse of Ukip.

Politics, as John Harris wrote last week, is now more fluid than ever. So now is the time, for hope yes, and for conviction too, but not for jubilation. We need some serious thinking. 
We should be cautious to rush to judgment. It is only two weeks since the exit poll sent shockwaves across the country. There is no comprehensive explanation for the multitude of motivations that delivered this election result and will not be for some time. But there are some early indictors that must make us think. 
After seven years of austerity, as John Curtice observes, the Tories made some of their biggest gains in some of the poorest areas of Britain. It is something I felt in all of the eight constituencies I campaigned in during the election. While the Labour vote rose significantly in towns like Wigan, so too did the Tory vote, despite little or no campaigning activity on the ground.

As Rob Ford puts it: “Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales… Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017”.
To acknowledge the growing, longstanding scepticism of many working class men and women towards Labour in towns across England is not to take away from the hard work and drive of the activists, advisers and politicians who helped to fuel such a dramatic turnaround for Labour during the short campaign. To have won considerable gains in wealthier suburbs is no small achievement. 
But if the future of Labour lies in a coalition between middle class young professionals and the working class, what is the glue that binds? While there is shared agreement about investment in public services, how are those interests to be squared on areas like national security and immigration?

I believe it can and must be done, but – as I said to conference when I was first elected seven years ago – it will demand that we begin with the difficult questions, not the easy ones.  
Just a few days before the election, statistics were released that pointed to a collapse in trade union membership. What does the decline of an organised Labour movement mean for who we are and what we can achieve?

These are not new questions. They were posed by Eric Hobsbawm in his brilliant lecture, "The Forward March of Labour Halted" in 1979 – a challenge laid down in the year I was born. Now, 37 years on, we are no further down the road to answering it. 
The most dramatic finding from this election was the support Corbyn’s Labour party appears to have won from middle class young professionals. They said he couldn’t do it and, quite stunningly, it seems they were wrong.

But a ComRes poll last week caught my eye – by a large margin those 30 to 44-year-olds would favour a new centre-ground political party over the current political settlement.

In an election where we returned strongly to two-party politics, it appears they moved to us. But what would a dynamic and renewed Liberal Democrat Party, or a British En Marche!, do to our support base?
After a hellish two years we have learned in Labour, I hope, that unity matters. The public and private anger directed towards each other, whether the Labour leadership, the parliamentary party or elected councillors, is desperately damaging and its (relative) absence in the campaign was important.
But unity is not the same as uniformity, and while two weeks ago I felt there was a real danger of historic fracture, now I believe the shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face, and must avoid. No one person, faction or party has ever had the monopoly on wisdom. The breadth of the Labour movement was and remains our greatest strength. 
Consider the Labour manifesto, which drew on every tradition across our movement and demanded that every part of the party had to compromise. Those broad traditions still matter and are still relevant because they hear and are attuned to different parts of Britain. Our country is changing and politics must catch up. The future will be negotiated, not imposed.
As we witness the age of "strong man" politics across the world, here in Britain our political culture has become angrier and more illiberal than at any time I can remember. The Brexit debate was characterised by rage, misinformation and a macho political culture that demanded that we abandon nuance and complexity, an understanding of one another and tolerance of different points of view.
But this is not where the future of Britain lies: it lies in pluralism. It lies in a politics that is nimbler, more fleet of foot, less constrained; a return to the great tradition of debate, evidence, experience and argument as a way to build broad coalitions and convince people; not shouting one another down, nor believing any of us are always right; an arena in which we listen as much as we speak; a political culture in which we are capable of forming alliances within and across party lines to achieve real, lasting change.
And ultimately that’s the prize: not just seeking power but, to paraphrase a philosopher whose work inspired millions, in the end “the point is to change it”.

We could sit tight in Labour and hope to see the current government fall apart. We might even inherit power, we could temporarily reverse some of the worst of the last seven years, but what then?

If we have learned anything from 13 years of Labour government it should be this: that to build lasting change is the hardest political task of all, and it requires now that we do not turn to the political culture, the tools or even the ideas of the past, but that we think hard about where the future of our movement and our country really lies.

Now is not the time to sit back and celebrate. Now is the time to think.

Photo: Getty

Mark Strong Q&A: “I suspected playing a barrister was more fun than being one”

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The actor talks David Bowie, studying law, and his favourite Simpsons episode.

What is your earliest memory?

Sitting in a pram in the sunshine in Myddelton Square, north London, waving at passers-by. My mum used to put me out in the street to keep me occupied, and she and various neighbours would lean on the windowsill and keep an eye on me.

Which politician, past or present, do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela stands head and shoulders above the crowd for his tolerance in the face of extreme suffering and his ability to unite a nation against all the odds.

Who was your childhood hero? And who is your adult hero?

David Bowie. His music and style were unique and he was the first to make me think about individuality and creativity. As an adult, Muhammad Ali, for the same reason – to thine own self be true.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

My theatre knowledge is pretty good, and I particularly love the plays of Arthur Miller – but I suspect it would probably be Arsenal Football Club.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

When Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson were writing and performing their plays and the “Vagabond Act” of 1572 viewed travelling Elizabethan actors as such a threat that regulations were imposed. Sounds like a fun time.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Simpsons. A favourite episode has Homer at the annual Springfield Chilli Cook-Off, where he eats super-spicy chilli made with a dangerous Guatemalan pepper grown by mental patients. The pepper has a powerful hallucinogenic effect and Homer wanders off into the strangest regions of his mind to find his soulmate, accompanied by a spirit guide voiced by Johnny Cash.

Who would paint your portrait?

Lucian Freud for the warts-and-all harsh reality, or Caravaggio for the dark beauty and intensity of his style.

What’s your theme tune?

For sheer drama and danger, Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Put it on your headphones and walk down the street and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Have you followed it?

A very special man named Sydney Stolerman once told me not to become an actor, as it was unlikely it would work out. He jokes to this day that it’s a good job I didn’t follow his advice.

What’s currently bugging you?

Injustice, greed, envy and intolerance. So-called leaders interested only in themselves. People unwilling to observe the social contract.

What single thing would make your life better?

Not being able to be contacted instantly anywhere in the world through modern technology.

When were you happiest?

I was pretty content at university. I had few responsibilities and was learning something I loved and partying with people I still love. But most of all at the birth of my children. An unbeatable feeling.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

I studied law so perhaps I might have made it to the Bar, though I gave up that idea when I suspected playing a barrister was probably much more fun than being one.

Are we all doomed?

Unless everyone gets serious about climate change and we stop electing world leaders who behave like paranoid teenagers, then undoubtedly. 

Picture: Stavros Damos

Provider Fraud in California Workers' Compensation

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

Workers' compensation fraud costs insurers and businesses billions of dollars each year nationwide. This report focuses on the intentional manipulation of rules and procedures by providers of health care services and supplies.

Labour MP for Midlothian Danielle Rowley: "I get my politics from my mum as well as my dad"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

The daughter of Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley on being the youngest Labour MP.  

Danielle Rowley, the new Labour MP for Midlothian, wants to get one thing straight. “A lot of people automatically assume all of my politics comes from my dad,” the daughter of Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Alex Rowley, says. “While I am influenced and inspired by him, I grew up with my mum and her parents. I have politics in all sides of my family.”

Both Rowley’s grandfathers were miners and Labour party activists. Her mother was a trade unionist and a case worker for the last Midlothian Labour MP, David Hamilton. “She was a very strong woman, a single parent, a hard worker,” Rowley says. At 27, she is upholding the family tradition by becoming Labour’s youngest MP.

When we meet in Portcullis House, in Westminster, she is dressed soberly in a navy suit jacket and blue print dress. She hopes to inspire young women in her constituency. “I grew up on a council estate,” she says. “I hope it shows them they can do any job they want to.”

Even so, Rowley’s election was a surprise. In 2015, Hamilton resigned and Midlothian went to the Scottish National Party’s Owen Thompson with a 23.4 per cent swing. Rowley, a campaigns officer for the housing charity Shelter, kept her expectations modest. After a nail-biting night, she won with a majority of 885. 

“Obviously I had the aim of winning, but I was not getting my hopes up too much,” Rowley recalls. “I was thinking I could really reduce the SNP majority, that was all. But every day on the doorstep I got more and more hopeful.”

Rowley’s father Alex is a firm supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale backed Owen Smith in the 2016 leadership contest), and is seen as being softer on independence than the official party line.

But Rowley says her anti-independence views come from her constituents: “People were fed up of the idea of another referendum.”

In 2014, the independence movement caught the imagination of much of Scotland’s youth – the majority of young voters opted for Yes. So why did Rowley buck the trend? “I am very strong willed,” she says. She spent the referendum working for Gordon Brown, and was there in Kirkcaldy when Yes supporters egged the Labour MP Jim Murphy. “I got a bit of egg on me that day. You can see me [in the photos] in a red raincoat ducking out of the way.”

She believes the same hope which pushed young voters towards independence may now be blowing in the sails of Labour. “I have got a lot of friends who were part of the Yes movement,” she says. “I think there is an assumption they would support the SNP, but actually most of them voted Labour.”

The Corbyn surge, then, is real. “People were fed up, but they needed to be given something to give them hope,” she says. “I think Labour gave them something to offer.

“Whenever we had younger voters on the doorstep, they were excited about the manifesto. Even some of my friends who hadn’t voted were excited about it.”

As for the suggestion – floated by the Labour MSP Neil Findlay – that it should have spent more time talking about Corbyn and less about independence, Rowley demurs. “You couldn’t have just opposing independence, you couldn’t just have the manifesto,” she says. “You had to have both.”

Steven Millar

Blood brothers

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 26, 2017.

A decades-old murder and how a Supreme Court decision means freedom for one man, and life in prison for the other

In pictures

From BBC News - World. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

The Islamic world has begun marking the holiday which ends the Ramadan fast.

Goodwill must prevail on EU citizens’ rights

From FT View. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

The UK government has to prove to Brussels it will not discriminate

Donald Trump’s bark is worse than his bite in Latin America

From FT View. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

South of the border, the president talks big and carries a small stick

Advertising agencies squeezed by tech giants

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

The industry has benefited from the growth in online publicity but it is starting to feel the impact of disruption

My companion in a pod on the London Eye was none other than Death, destroyer of worlds

By Michael Hodges from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

"The general would like to see the big wheel."

The first time I met General Mikhail Kalashnikov he was wearing fun-fur leopard-skin ankle slippers and his housekeeper’s cardigan. He was standing in the doorway of his dacha in the Urals, a cabin by the shore of the reservoir that fed the great arms factory at Izhevsk. I was writing a book about the AK-47, the gun Kalashnikov had invented in 1947: a gun so simple, children could use it. And, 60 years later, they increasingly were.

The housekeeper served elk soup. The general’s grandson Igor passed round pickled herring and beetroot salad, poured vodka and Chilean red wine, and translated.

As we talked, there were, according to the UN, 70 million AKs in circulation throughout the world. The real number was far higher and no one had any accurate idea of how many people had been killed by the gun across the globe or even, most painfully for the general, across the ex-Soviet Union. I asked about the people who had died until, angered by my questioning, the 83-year-old exclaimed: “I invented a gun to defend my motherland, to beat the fascists.”

A month later, the general came to London and a different translator called me. “The general would like to see the big wheel.” Big wheel? She meant the London Eye. In 2004, it was only four years old and people still stopped simply to watch it go round, partly because it cost so much to get on. I hoped Kalashnikov would be content to do the same, as I had even less money than he did. Eugene Stoner, the American inventor of the M16 assault rifle, had become a millionaire. Not Kalashnikov. He had earned only the fraternal gratitude of the Soviet people.

It was this comparative poverty that had brought the general to London; he was lending his name to the launch of a drinks brand, Kalashnikov Vodka, an attempt by a British consortium to cash in on his fearsome reputation.

When we met the next morning, Kalashnikov made it clear that he wanted to go on. In the ticket hall there were no concessions for Heroes of Socialist Labour, or holders of the Stalin Prize (first class) and Lenin Prize, three Orders of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, Order of the Great Patriotic War (first class) and Order of the Red Star. So I ruefully forked out.

I thought of the general as an engineer rather than a mass murderer, and so had come equipped with facts: “The wheel is 443 feet high. It travels at 0.6 miles an hour. It takes the wheel 30 minutes to make one revolution . . .” But his mind seemed elsewhere.

I now suspect that behind those impassive brows the old man was beginning to rethink everything. Kalashnikov had, in his own way, become Death, destroyer of worlds. As we passed over the Thames at 0.6 miles an hour he struggled with the immensity of his legacy.

Shortly afterwards a group of Chechen terrorists armed with AK-47s walked into School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia. At least 385 people, many of them children, died in the carnage. Kalashnikov Vodka never did get a UK licence. 

Photo: Getty


By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

A new poem by Gary Allen.

Gary Allen was born in Northern Ireland and has published 14 collections, most recently Jackson’s Corner (Greenwich Exchange)

Photo: Getty

Wilderness and wastelands in Rick Bass's hypnotic short stories

By Austin Collings from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

Hopefully, For a Little While will bring the American author the UK recognition he deserves.

There is no good reason why Rick Bass is eminently celebrated in America by the likes of Lorrie Moore, Annie Proulx, Joyce Carol Oates and Carl Hiaasen, and yet is seemingly unheard of here in the UK. Perhaps this book of hypnotic short stories, including seven new tales, selected from more than 30 years of writing, will provoke a much-deserved sea change and bring him the recognition that he deserves.

Away from the page, Bass is an environmental activist with renegade credentials. He was arrested in 2013 together with other high-profile demonstrators (including the actress Daryl Hannah) after blocking a main thoroughfare outside the White House. The object of their peaceful gathering was to protest against the contentious, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline (the revival of which Donald Trump recently ordered). Activism, he says, affects his literary voice.

His terrain is well worn: the epic skies, the wilderness, the wastelands, the animal kingdoms, the haunted lost souls and the violence of the Deep South, Texas and the mountainous west. However, loaded with images that jolt the reader out of complacency, he paints a world hinged between the real and the surreal.

His cast, young and old, are tough survivors, acting out the ancient rituals of love, hunting, paying the bills and skipping school; forever tiptoeing between peace and calamity. Bass has a gift for conveying human consciousness and all its vexing ­diversions and looping thoughts. From the first story onwards – the strangely sublime “Wild Horses” – a familiar, filmic voice-over voice lodged in my head and didn’t let up until I had absorbed the entire book.

“It would be easy to say that he lured me into the fields of disrepair like Pan” – so begins the magnificent “Goats” – “calling out with his flute to come join in on the secret chaos of the world: but I already had my own disrepair within, and my own hungers, and I needed no flute call, no urging.” It could be Sissy Spacek in Badlands, or any other poetically persuasive narrator with a sad Southern twang, guiding the reader through these ballad-like myths, sung from the heart of the land.

In the quietly compelling “Swans” the unnamed narrator describes a devoted husband’s physical and mental disintegration. The day-to-day grind of his prideful toil, and his circular thoughts, are both his character and his undoing.

“Field Events” is an alternative family fable centred around Bass’s most extraordinary creation: the bearded Homeric man-mountain AC, who is also equal parts Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. First seen swimming stark naked in a river, dragging a canoe behind him by a rope clamped between his teeth, he is soon partly adopted by two brothers, obsessed with their own physicality, who train him to be a discus thrower.

Eventually, drawing on his superhero powers and his dedication to serve the boys’ appetites for sporting immortality, he launches the mythical object halfway around the circumference of the Earth, pleasing not only the brothers but their ­elder sister, too – the diminutive Lory, with her “quick, high laugh not unlike the outburst of a loon” – with whom he has fallen deeply in love.

Certain ancient stories, ancient acts and tasks are played out repeatedly in Bass’s world, but not in the doom of human intention. Unlike Cormac McCarthy, to whom he has previously been compared (unfairly, in my eyes), he is not committed to pessimism – there is obvious despair, but also hope in all of his writing. Nor does he “omit half the human race from serious scrutiny”, as the critic James Wood once commented, speaking of McCarthy’s unforgivingly macho world-view.

He confronts female characters with unshrinking sensitivity and none more so than Jyl, who first appears as a teenager in “Her First Elk”, hunting for food in the wilderness after her father’s recent bereavement. She later returns in the 42 heartbreaking pages that make up “The Lives of Rocks” as a victim of the ruinous laws of cancer; her intestines now “scalded, cauterised as if by volcanic flow”. Fulfilling all of Bass’s elemental themes, the denouement of her tale is so devastatingly credible that you could be reading about the final days of your own existence.

What a rare find: a page-turner so generously crafted that, rather than turn the pages, you just want to sit and marvel.

For a Little While
Rick Bass
Pushkin Press, 480pp, £20

Photo: Getty

Mirror mirror: Will Storr's Selfie charts the history of self-obsession

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 25, 2017.

We all want to discover who we truly are – but what happens when we don't like what we find?

It’s often said that the self is a ‘story’,” Will Storr writes, early in this exploration of human identity and behaviour. “[I]t is built to tell us a story of who we are, and . . . that story is a lie.”

As evidence, he describes how the left side of our brain acts as a narrator, interpreting our surroundings and feelings, and weaving them into an unfolding tale with us as the hero. We might be acting instinctively rather than rationally, but the storyteller inside us makes up something on the spot to explain our actions – a process that psychologists call “confabulation”.

We know this comes from the left brain because of studies done in the Sixties on patients who had the connections between the hemispheres severed to reduce the intensity of their seizures. Researchers showed them pictures visible only to their left eye, which travelled to their right brain. But without a storyteller to interpret the images, “the patient would have no conscious idea that they’d seen anything . . . If a man’s right hemisphere was shown a picture of a hat, say, he would deny having seen anything at all – but then be alarmed when his left hand (which, of course, is controlled by his right hemisphere) suddenly began pointing at a hat, apparently of its own volition.”

Storr uses the storyteller self to explain the extraordinary life of one of his interviewees, John Pridmore, a rage-filled gangland enforcer who found God one night when he heard Satan’s voice listing all his sins. Over the next few weeks, he went to confession for hours at a time and walked seven miles to church in bare feet as penance for his past life.

“During the night of the Devil, John’s mind grabbed the ‘story’ that would form the structure of his new life from his culture,” Storr writes. “He was raised in a Christian country, by a Catholic mother. His plan for the future and his ­replacement identity would be built from ideas from these sources.”

These days, when a man spits at his mother, John only hits him – rather than killing him.

This is Selfie at its best. Storr is a magnificent reporter in the mould of Jon Ronson or Louis Theroux, uncovering unlikely, intriguing personalities and situations and navigating them with teasing ambivalence. His journey to discover the essence of selfhood takes him to a remote monastery, deep into state archives and to a Silicon Valley flophouse with delusions of grandeur.

The best set piece is his time at Esalen, a nightmarish institute in Big Sur, California, where people get in touch with their hidden selves through excruciatingly earnest group therapy. One woman’s hidden self is a cave-dweller; Storr finds her outside the seminar space urinating on the ground with one breast hanging out. (Luckily, his hidden self is a rude arsehole, so he tells her off.)

Esalen’s promise is that in order to become happier and more fulfilled, we need to get in touch with our innermost self. Unfortunately, the “encounter” movement, designed to encourage authenticity, sometimes had unintended consequences: an early study with nuns in 1964 did not, as hoped, make them happier with their lot, but “unleashed a firestorm of lesbianism and rebellion” (though that sounds fun, too). Half of the 615 nuns who took part asked to be released from their vows, according to one of the scientists involved.

Still, clearly, something was happening and people were keen to experience this revolution of consciousness for themselves. What happened encapsulates the sour side of the Sixties: Fritz Perls, who taught gestalt therapy at Esalen for five years, interpreted the need for casting off the repressive yoke of mid-century convention as a licence to wander around naked, “his erection arriving before him”.

Although some of the many women in his orbit apparently acquiesced to his advances willingly, others did not. He once spanked the West Side Story actor Natalie Wood over his knee during therapy, accusing her of “absolute phoniness”. During sessions, participants would be told that they were worthless, or encouraged to act out their anger. One threw an assistant out of the window.

By the end of the Sixties, a disturbing number of suicides had been reported among former guests at Esalen: a phenomenon that Storr links to the idea of “social pain” – the measurable psychological reaction we feel when being rejected by others, or seeing someone else suffer rejection. Just like physical pain, this seems to have emerged to regulate our behaviour; for normally functioning human beings, behaving unfairly or seeing unfair treatment causes a twinge that discourages repetition.

Storr also talks to the neuroscientist Bruce Hood, the author of 2012’s The Self Illusion, who points out another flaw in the Esalen plan: “the lack of a perfect, authentic self to actually uncover”. Later, however, this idea is undermined by another researcher, who suggests that some personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (moodiness and anxiety) – are relatively stable throughout our lives. “People in the Gaza Strip are super-anxious,” is how the behavioural scientist Daniel Nettle, the author of Personality, puts it.“But even within the Gaza Strip some people are more anxious than others.” We can try to change ourselves, but it’s like pushing a cart up a hill. It’s always easier to roll back down again.

The book is cautious to the point of vagueness about adjudicating between these competing claims and, to his credit, Storr has asked experts in the relevant disciplines to read the manuscript before publication. Yet there is a distinct disjunction between the flowing and glowing prose of his reportage and the thorny, caveated paragraphs of his scientific summaries.

Still, that is testament to the book’s ambition. Although the cover sells it as an investigation of modern narcissism (the “selfie” craze is generally accepted to have begun in 2010, when the iPhone added a front-facing camera), this is in fact a history of ideas. We journey from ancient Greek individualism through Christian self-abasement and on to the Sixties West Coast zeal for raising our “self-esteem”, finishing with Ayn Rand’s libertarianism and the gurus who sell advice on “crafting your personal brand”.

This is a Western history. Storr argues that in some Asian cultures, society was historically less individualist and that harmony, rather than success, was the highest goal. This brought its own problems: a South Korean professor tells him that the families of job applicants can be investigated for criminality or mental illness. The “taint” of such qualities is presumed to apply to the applicant, too.

One of the recurring themes is just how much snake oil has been sold to unhappy and directionless people in search of meaning. Storr charts how one American politician almost single-handedly created the self-esteem industry by arguing that high self-worth guards individuals against depression and even criminality.

The Californian John ­“Vasco” Vasconcellos was, to put it charitably, a crank. At 33, he had a breakdown and swapped his sober suits and cropped hair for “half-open Hawaiian shirts on the floor of the [California State] Senate, a gold chain nestled in his chest hair”. After a heart attack he asked constituents to sing songs to encourage his arteries to scrub themselves clean (“Touch and rub and warm and melt/the plaque that blocks my streams”). He took fellow legislators to the hot tubs at Esalen, preaching that “the people of America remained trapped under the old Christian delusion that humans were essentially rotten”.

What they needed, Vasco decided, was higher self-esteem. So, in 1987, he set up a state task force, which heard from a woman who handed out thousands of blue ribbons to people while telling them that they were loved. The press hooted in derision but the voters loved it. “Fan mail outnumbered complaints by ten to one,” Storr records. To crown his triumph, Vasco released a study from the University of California showing that there was a scientific basis for his claims. (It was bollocks, needless to say: the scientists’ objections were restrained by exploiting fears about their funding, and then airbrushed from the final report.)

Storr argues that here, once again, the model of the fashionable self fitted the politics of the age. In the Sixties counterculture, “radical authenticity” was supposed to smash convention. In the Eighties, the disciples of Ayn Rand – the high priests of neoliberalism – were happy to encourage the idea that the only thing holding people back was themselves.

Poverty could be recast as a personal, rather than social, failure; the suffocating support of the state could be loosened, and markets could allow human potential to thrive. (Incidentally, kudos to the author here for offering a definition of neoliberalism that goes beyond “bogeyman” and acknowledges the trade-offs inherent in any system: “Millions in the West have become wealthier since the 1970s and their standards of living have risen . . . but one of neoliberalism’s most negative effects is its tendency to concentrate the pain on our most vulnerable.”)

The legacy of the high self-esteem movement appears to have been an uptick in narcissism (insert your own Trump joke here), which has been intensified by social media and the need to perform an airbrushed version of your life for public consumption.

The book’s message must be that the perfect conception of the self lies between two extremes. We need to have a strong enough sense of free will not to succumb to fatalism and apathy, but also accept that often we cannot attribute failure to a character defect, or merely not “wanting it enough”. Amid all the therapy, education and affirmation designed to burnish and uncover our true selves, Storr asks a fundamental question: what idea of the self makes us happy?

This is where Selfie gets uncomfortable. The author is, by his own admission, a neurotic, perfectionist former alcoholic who is prone to suicidal thoughts. Indeed, the idea of suicide clearly captivates him (he gives descriptions of methods, contrary to Samaritans guidelines that aim to avoid triggering copycats). He wonders if the drive towards perfection is behind the higher rates of suicide since 2008, but concedes it might also be due to the financial crash and resulting life pressures.

In his description of one young tech entrepreneur who killed himself not long after an ill-advised remark led to an online witch-hunt, Storr comes close to suggesting that it was bad press that drove the man to it.

Austen Heinz ran a DNA manipulation company and had announced his collaboration with a woman developing vaginal probiotics for those suffering yeast infections. In a presentation, he told an audience that “the idea is to get rid of UTIs and yeast infections and change the smell of the vagina through probiotics”. This was reported as a “start-up dude” wanting to “make women’s private parts smell like ripe fruit”.

Storr seems to feel that Heinz was treated badly as his poor phrasing got sucked into a wider narrative of Silicon Valley sexism and privileged cluelessness. “To excoriate anyone for working on this specific area would seem eccentric at best: over-the-counter products for vaginal odour have been available in pharmacies for years, and nobody accuses their manufacturers of hating women,” he adds, ignoring the vast body of feminist critique of a beauty industry that convinces women that their bodies are gross and flogs them stuff to “fix” it.

It might appear that I’m quibbling here, but inevitably the line of argument reminded me of Jon Ronson’s choice of interviewees for his book on viral outrage, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. These included the journalist Jonah Lehrer, sacked from the New Yorker after a plagiarism scandal, who emerged as a battered and regretful figure. It’s always easier to empathise with people when we can see ourselves in them or imagine ourselves in their situation.

Ronson found it easy to justify sympathy for a well-known writer who insisted he’d genuinely made a error. Storr similarly tilts us towards the hounded perfectionist with bad social skills and against the ghastly press.

When you see the sleight of hand, though, it bumps you out of treating him as an omniscient, objective narrator. Perhaps that is fitting: after all, he’s just spent 300 pages convincing us that who we are shapes how we see the world, in ways we don’t even notice.

For this reason, Selfie is profound, uncomfortable, joyful, frustrating, ­fascinating, fragmented, inspired, heartbreaking, and occasionally riven with internal contradictions. Just like a person, really.

Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us
Will Storr
Picador, 416pp, £18.99

Picture: Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica

Who’s the daddy? Two memoirs that examine the complexities of fatherhood

By Erica Wagner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

Both Fathers and Sons by Howard Cunnell and Fathers by Sam Miller chase what can never really be known.

About three-quarters of the way in to his striking memoir, Fathers and Sons, Howard Cunnell writes about a support group he attends at the Tavistock Centre in London with his son, Jay, who is trans.

He observes the other boys, their “look” – short hair, shaved at the back and sides, low-slung jeans, Converse trainers, caps. He observes their expressions and manner: “a lot of looking down, faces set to blank, whether out of fear and unhappiness, or an approximation of the hard mask boys often wear”.

Then he observes the other dads, “all of us trying hard to look like there’s nothing unusual about being here . . . recalibrating our speech and body language to masculine when we talk to our new sons”.

He calls Jay “mate”, ruffles his hair and pretends to punch him, that manly sock on the shoulder that signals a certain kind of defined gender identity. He asks himself, “What do the dads who don’t come think? The ones who think there’s something wrong with their child?”

He has no answer to those questions: only his understanding of what it feels like to be judged, or to imagine such a judgement. Fathers and Sons begins not with Jay but with Cunnell’s own early history, with the sense of permanent loss and recrimination he suffered when his father abandoned the family – he, his elder brother, Luke, and their mother. In his childhood in Sussex, his mother’s love is no cure for the wound he carries with him always: “I want other boys to like me because that might give the lie to what I know about myself. That I am worthless. That’s why my dad left.”

The reader understands, then, that from his earliest days Cunnell, a novelist and academic, has been haunted by the absence of masculine love, forced to ask himself why that particular lack should leave such a hole in his life. When his beautiful daughter becomes – with suffering and struggles – his beautiful son, he is again accosted by those issues, this time from the other side of the generational divide.

What does it mean, a father’s love? Does it signify something different to a daughter from what it does to a son? Perhaps so, but then every love has a different shape. Sam Miller’s memoir, Fathers, comes at paternity and the question of what it means to be a father from a no less arresting angle.

Miller is the middle child of Karl Miller, the founding editor of the London Review of Books and great British littérateur who died in 2014. Miller, Sr wrote two volumes of memoir of his own, Rebecca’s Vest (1993) and Dark Horses (1998). But as Sam discovered when he was a teenager, he is not, in fact, Karl Miller’s son, but the product of an on-again-off-again affair his mother, Jane, had with a family friend, Tony White – who died suddenly at the age of 45 as the result of a blood clot in his leg. Fathers is Miller’s heartfelt attempt to come to terms with his complicated family, to consider the meaning of fatherhood and to grasp at the ghost of Tony White.

Where Karl and Jane Miller lived a mostly settled life in Chelsea, Tony, a friend from their university days and widely loved by their circle of friends, was a wanderer. A talented actor and footballer, he worked as a translator, a lamplighter, a lobsterman in the west of Ireland.

From his own memoir, it seemed that Karl Miller loved his friend unequivocally, despite the affair between Tony and his wife. Sam quotes Karl’s description of Tony on the football field. “Tony was big and strong and eager, forever being cut and gashed,” Karl Miller recalled. “His rich dark eyes, boundless generosity and zest and his lavish brushstrokes on the field of play held us together.” It is clear to Sam that his father’s affection for Tony ran deep – and this book also explores the seeming mystery of masculine love.

Tony is a shining figure, always out of reach and, after his death, he seems even more unreachable because his biological son is his spitting image. When Sam finds a photograph taken at a Christmas party that his parents gave the year before he was born, it gives him a fright: it shows Karl, staring straight at the camera, with Tony standing, half hidden, behind him. “The head in profile appears to be me, as a grown-up – some 13 months before I was born . . . The upper parts of our faces are almost identical. And I just can’t understand how more of my parents’ friends did not guess I was Tony’s son.” They might have guessed without speaking, of course.

Both of these books, in very different ways, chase what can never be known. Cunnell’s is the more artfully written, a meditation as much as a memoir, the fragments of his life presented with a novelist’s eye for detail and language. The author uses pseudonyms for those close to him, but that does not make the book any less honest.

There is plenty of darkness here – as Cunnell grows to manhood, he seems to be heading for self-destruction, his restless life marked by violence and heavy drinking – and yet his account is suffused with light. The light of the Sussex Downs that washes his childhood; “tin-coloured clouds” racing across the moon when he finds himself in Mexico; light that gleams from page after page, “a floating frame of light” that shines over Jay’s bed when he was a small child. These images of brightness, of sun and shadow, make a prism of the book. Narrow ideas of what makes a father, what makes a son, are opened out into a rainbow of possibilities.

Miller, who worked for the BBC World Service for nearly two decades, takes a much more documentary approach, searching for evidence, photographs and letters, which nearly always fail to give him the answers he seeks. No wonder, for he seems to be alone in the world:

I came across no likeness, no one in literature or in life, who seemed similar to me, who was brought up as the middle child of a married couple, and then learned his father was not really his father, and that the two men were friends and remained friends. I have not yet met my double. And my situation, my story, seemed both unusual and, in the way it played out, surprisingly uncomplicated.

Or, as this book proves, as complicated as any life. His quest for a deeper understanding of his paternity is punctuated by his accounts of the months and weeks before his father’s death, a time to which he returns in his mind, painting a loving portrait of father and son. Something is missing, and yet nothing is missing.

Perhaps Sam Miller’s memoir offers more of a sense of completion than the author knows. Fathers is a book that circles around itself, asking questions that can have no answers, looking for truth where none can finally be found, and it is all the more moving for that. 

Erica Wagner’s latest book is “Chief Engineer: the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge” (Bloomsbury)

Fathers and Sons
Howard Cunnell
Picador, 224pp, £14.99

Sam Miller
Jonathan Cape, 250pp, £14.99

Photo: Jonathan Cape

Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

By George Brock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

Photo: Getty

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

By Chris Deerin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty

Hyper-partisan Corbynite websites show how the left can beat the tabloids online

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Despite their best efforts during the election campaign, the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express failed to convince voters to give Theresa May a majority, let alone the landslide she craved. Instead, Labour made inroads thanks partly to increased turnout among younger voters who prefer to get their news online and from social networks.

The centre of power in the media has been shifting to the web for years, but during the election we saw just how well a crop of hyper-partisan left-wing news sites are using social media to gain the kind of influence once restricted to the tabloid press.

Writers for sites such as the Canary or Evolve Politics see themselves as activists as much as journalists. That frees them to spin news stories in a way that is highly attuned to the dynamics of social media, provoking strong emotions and allowing them to address their audience like a friend down the pub “telling it how it really is”.

People on Facebook or Twitter use news to tell their friends and the wider world who they are and what they believe in. Sharing the Canary story “Theresa May is trying to override parliamentary democracy to cling to power. But no one’s fooled” is a far more effective signal that you don’t like the Tory government than posting a dry headline about the cancellation of the 2018 Queen’s Speech.

This has long-term implications for the right’s ability to get its message out. Research by BuzzFeed has found that pro-Conservative stories were barely shared during the election campaign. It appears the “shy Tory” factor that skewed opinion polling in previous elections lives on, influencing what people are prepared to post online. If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Distorted reality

Television was once the press’s greatest enemy. But its “newspaper reviews” now offer print titles a safe space in which they are treated with a level of respect out of all proportion to their shrinking readership. Surely this must change soon? After all, the Independent sometimes gets a slot (despite having ceased print publication last year) for its digital front page. How is it fair to exclude BuzzFeed News – an organisation that invests in reporting and investigations – and include the Daily Express, with its less-than-prescient weather predictions?

Another problem became apparent during the election. Because the press is so dominated by the right, coverage from the supposedly impartial broadcasters was skewed, as presenters and guests parroted headlines and front-page stories from partisan newspapers. Already, some political programmes, such as BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, have experimented with including news from outside Fleet Street. One of the newspaper industry’s most reliable allies is looking for new friends.

Alternative facts

The rise of sites spreading the left-wing gospel across Facebook may be good for Labour but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the public. This was illustrated on 16 June in a post by a relatively new entrant called the Skwawkbox, which claimed that a government “D-notice” – now called a DSMA-notice – might be in place restricting news organisations from reporting on the number of casualties from the Grenfell Tower fire.

The claim was untrue and eventually an update was added to the post, but not before it was widely shared. The man behind the blog (who gives his name in interviews only as “Steve”) insisted that because he had included a couple of caveats, including the word “if” in the text of his article, he was justified in spreading an unsubstantiated rumour. Replacing an irresponsible right-wing tabloid culture in print with equally negligent left-wing news sites online doesn’t feel much like progress.

Blood and bias

Narratives about the corrupt, lying mainstream media (the “MSM” for short) have become more prevalent during the election, and it’s clear they often hit a nerve.

On 17 June, a protest over Theresa May’s deal with the DUP and the Grenfell Tower fire made its way past BBC Broadcasting House, where a small group stopped to chant: “Blood, blood, blood on your hands!” Hours later, in the shadow of the burned-out tower, I heard a young woman complain loudly to her friends about money being used to fly BBC news helicopters when it could have gone to displaced victims.

The BBC cites the accusations of bias it receives from both ends of the political spectrum as evidence that it is resolutely centrist. But while many of its greatest critics would miss the BBC if it goes, the corporation could do a better job of convincing people why it’s worth keeping around.

Grenfell grievances

Early reports of the attack on a Muslim crowd in Finsbury Park on 19 June exhibited a predictably depressing double standard. The perpetrator was a “lone wolf”, and the Mail identified him as “clean-shaven”: phrases it is hard to imagine being used about an Islamist. Yet the media don’t just demonise Muslims in its reporting; they also marginalise them. Coverage of Grenfell contained plenty of references to the churches in this part of west London and its historic black community. Yet Muslims and the relief work carried out by local mosques received comparatively little coverage. Community issues such as Islam’s requirement that the dead are buried swiftly were largely ignored, even though a large number of those killed or made homeless by the fire were Muslim.

I suspect this may have something to do with outdated ideas of what north Kensington is like. But it also must reflect the reality that just 0.4 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, according to a study by City University in London. The lack of diversity in the media isn’t just a moral issue; it’s one that affects our ability to tell the full story.

Photo: Getty

Brexit Big Brother is watching: how media moguls control the news

By Tim Walker from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

I know the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph well, and I don’t care to see them like this.

It would take a heart of stone now not to laugh at an illustration of Theresa May staring defiantly out at Europe from the British coast, next to the headline “Steel of the new Iron Lady”.

Those are, however, the words that adorned the front page of the Daily Mail just five months ago, without even a hint of sarcasm. There has been so much written about the Prime Minister and the strength of her character – not least during the election campaign – and yet that front page now seems toe-curlingly embarrassing.

Reality has a nasty habit of making its presence felt when news is remorselessly selected, day in and day out, to fit preconceived points of view. May and her whole “hard Brexit” agenda – which the public has now demonstrated it feels, at best, only half-heartedly enthusiastic about – has been an obsession of several British newspapers, not least the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

I know these papers well, having spent the best part of a quarter-century working for them, and I don’t care to see them like this. When I worked there, a degree of independent thought was permitted on both titles. I joined the Telegraph in 2002; at the time, my colleagues spoke with pride of the paper’s tolerance to opposing views. And when I was at the Mail, it happily employed the former Labour MP Roy Hattersley.

Would I be able to run positive stories about, say, my mate Gina Miller – who successfully campaigned for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process – in the Telegraph if I were there today? Or at the Daily Mail? Dream on: it’s two minutes of hate for that “enemy of the people”.

Morale in these newsrooms must be low. I am finding that I have to allow an extra half-hour (and sometimes an extra bottle) for lunches with former colleagues these days, because they always feel the need to explain that they’re not Brexiteers themselves.

Among the Telegraph characters I kept in touch with was Sir David Barclay, who co-owns the paper with his brother, Sir Frederick. Alas, the invitations to tea at the Ritz (and the WhatsApp messages) came to an abrupt halt because of you-know-what.

I don’t think Sir David was a bad man, but he got a Brexit bee in his bonnet. I was conscious that he was close to Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, and both had cordial relations with Rupert Murdoch. It became clear that they had all persuaded themselves (and perhaps each other) that Brexit suited their best interests – and they are all stubborn.

It seems to me unutterably sad that they didn’t sound out more of their factory-floor staff on this issue. We journalists have never been the most popular people but, by and large, we all started out wanting to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t plan to make it worse.

People used to tell me that papers such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph changed because the country had but, even in the darkest days, I didn’t agree with that premise. We are in the mess we’re in now because of personalities – in newspapers every bit as much as in politics. The wrong people in the wrong jobs, at the wrong time.

Would the Daily Mail have backed Brexit under Dacre’s predecessor David English? It is hard to imagine. He was a committed and outward-looking Europhile who, in the 1970s, campaigned for the country to join the EU.

I can think of many Telegraph editors who would have baulked at urging their readers to vote Leave, not least Bill Deedes. Although he had his Eurosceptic moments, a man as well travelled, compassionate and loyal to successive Conservative prime ministers would never have come out in favour of Brexit.

It says a great deal about the times in which we live that the Daily Mirror is just about the only paper that will print my stuff these days. I had a lot of fun writing an election diary for it called “The Heckler”. Morale is high there precisely because the paper’s journalists are allowed to do what is right by their readers and, just as importantly, to be themselves.

Funnily enough, it reminded me of the Telegraph, back in the good old days. 

Photo: Getty

After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

By Caroline Lucas from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 24, 2017.

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.


Like the AHCA, the Senate’s health care bill could weaken ACA protections against catastrophic costs

By Matthew Fiedler from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans unveiled the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), its Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bill. One provision of that legislation would greatly expand states’ ability to waive a range of provisions of federal law that affect health insurance. As both my Brookings colleague Jason Levitis and Nicholas Bagley have explained in pieces…

Changes to state innovation waivers in the Senate health bill undermine coverage and open the door to misuse of federal funds

By Jason Levitis from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

On June 22, Senate Republicans released their much-awaited health reform bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA). Much attention has rightfully focused on the bill’s myriad changes to the Medicaid program and to subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the legislation also makes potentially highly impactful changes to state innovation waivers,…

You Might Have Missed: Academic Journals VI

By Jennifer Wilson from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Weekend Reading: Kurds in a State, Jordan and the GCC, and Muqtada al-Sadr's Next Act

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Chinese acquirers face tougher due diligence

From FT View. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

An investigation illustrates the risks for targets of takeover bids

Barclays reels from its costly Qatar cash call

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Side deals struck with the gas-rich state in 2008 have put the bank and four former executives on trial

Dlamini-Zuma: Foreign Minister, Doctor, Ex-Wife

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

A sustained oil glut can have unsettling effects

From FT View. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

While a structural decline in demand is welcome, the timing is not

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

Photo: Getty

Cyber Week in Review: June 23, 2017

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Photo: NRK

The Gallows Pole's ultra-violence turns reading into a kind of dare

By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Author Benjamin Myers's capacity for the grotesque is constantly threatening to breach your tolerance of it.

Here is a tip for the squeamish when reading a Ben Myers novel. Imagine the worst thing that could happen to the characters, and then drop the book, because whatever Myers has imagined will definitely be worse than your version. The Gallows Pole is Myers’s sixth novel, and its territory is recognisably his own.

A northern, rural setting: here, the Yorkshire moors. An inspired-by-true-events story: this time, the Cragg Vale Coiners, a notorious ­late-18th-century gang of forgers. And a profane lyricism punctuated by the kind of ultra-violence that turns reading into a kind of dare. As in Ted Hughes’s Crow poems or David Peace’s Red Riding sequence, Myers’s capacity for the grotesque is constantly threatening to breach your tolerance of it.

“People will always need walls. Boundaries are what makes us civilised,” Myers has an itinerant “waller” say here. But the author is interested in what happens when those boundaries are uncertain, or broken. Beyond our self-created limits, there is a wildness both dreadful and transfixing, and David Hartley – the King of the Coiners – is its avatar here.

When we first meet him, we are told that he “appeared of the earth, of the moors. A man of smoke and peat and heather and fire, his body built for the hills.” A man of viciousness and visions, who sees stagmen dancing on the moors.

That relationship between man and land (and it is men, because Myers’s world is ­intensely masculine) is about to be ruptured for ever. The Industrial Revolution is coming. Ground that was a birthright to the labourers and farmers of Yorkshire is being bought up for factories; capitalists are even re-carving the waterways. Hartley and his men will take no share in the wealth this generates. They are the left-behind, and in this context, forging is not merely theft: it’s insurrection.

“Clip a coin and fuck the crown” is the Coiners’ cry. Their attack on the currency is also an attack on the nation state attempting to impose its rule on the countryside. Money is a circulating manifestation of the social contract, passing the impress of authority from hand to hand, and Hartley wants none of it.

The government takes their threat absolutely seriously and sends the relentless exciseman William Deighton (or “that cunt Deighton”, as Hartley inevitably calls him) after the gang. It is clear from early on that Hartley and Deighton, bound by mutual hate long before they ever meet, are willing themselves to destroy one another. Coercion and rebellion mirror each other, drawing purpose from their opposed positions.

Although the setting is historical, Myers’s obsession with place and power is urgently contemporary. Society is fragile. The walls can, and do, collapse.

Today the political shocks of Brexit and Trump make this obvious in a way it hasn’t been for a long time: the strand of malevolent machismo that seemed like deliberately shocking Gothic in Myers’s 2014 novel Beastings feels closer to home now. It seems as though Myers, seer-like, has merely had to wait for the world outwardly to become as he long ago divined it to be. Yet that is not to say there is no invention here, and Myers’s use of language in particular is notably creative.

The story is told between terse, third-person portions, and Hartley’s diary entries are written in a rich pidgin of semi-literacy. It resembles more than anything the dense, punning future dialect of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker; and like that novel it suggests a society where the bonds are so frayed that even words are unreliable. But where Hoban can fairly claim use of any word ever to have existed, Myers’s playfulness sometimes presses at the edges of his historical fiction: when Hartley writes “foghorn concollusion” for “foregone conclusion”, for example, the maritime vocabulary is jarring coming from this landlocked man.

Foregone conclusions are a problem in another way. Even if you don’t already know about the Coiners, Myers foreshadows the story’s end well in advance, and the plot occasionally sags.

Though his general register is frankly abrasive, Myers sometimes sacrifices tension to sentiment in the lead-up to a set piece: when a character has an unusual access of tenderness, you can hear death stalking in the background. Another weakness of his is in writing women and children – the latter tend to the syrupy and the former barely exist.

In The Gallows Pole, if a character isn’t likely to raise a hand in anger, he isn’t likely to interest Myers. His element is violence and, in his element, he is thrilling: intelligent, dangerous and near untouchable.

The Gallows Pole
Benjamin Myers
Bluemoose Books, 363pp, £9.99

Photo: Getty

The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

Photo: Getty

Who really controls the Labour Party now?

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Jeremy Corbyn's allies will struggle to achieve their ambition to remove general secretary Iain McNicol.

Jeremy Corbyn's advance at the general election confirmed his place as Labour leader. Past opponents recognise not only that Corbyn could not be defeated but that he should not be.

They set him the test of winning more seats – and he passed. From a position of strength, Corbyn was able to reward loyalists, rather than critics, in his shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

But what of his wider control over the party? Corbyn allies have restated their long-held ambition to remove Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, and to undermine Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader (Watson lost the honorific title of "party chair" in the reshuffle, which was awarded to Corbyn ally Ian Lavery).

The departure of McNicol, who was accused of seeking to keep Corbyn off the ballot during the 2016 leadership challenge, would pave the way for the removal of other senior staff at Labour HQ (which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the leader's office). 

These ambitions are likely to remain just that. But Labour figures emphasise that McNicol will remain general secretary as long he retains the support of the GMB union (of which he is a former political officer) and that no staff members can be removed without his approval.

On the party's ruling National Executive Committee, non-Corbynites retain a majority of two, which will grow to three when Unite loses a seat to Unison (now Labour's biggest affiliate). As before, this will continue to act as a barrier to potential rule changes.

The so-called "McDonnell amendment", which would reduce the threshold for Labour leadership nominations from 15 per cent of MPs to 5 per cent, is still due to be tabled at this year's party conference, but is not expected to pass. After the election result, however, Corbyn allies are confident that a left successor would be able to make the ballot under the existing rules. 

But Labour's gains (which surprised even those close to the leader) have reduced the urgency to identify an heir. The instability of Theresa May's government means that the party is on a permanent campaign footing (Corbyn himself expects another election this year). For now, Tory disunity will act as a force for Labour unity. 

Getty Images.

How and why "inspirational" Instagram accounts are stealing photos to spread lies

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

"They blew it up to make me appear bigger," says Amaya King, whose photo was stolen for the "before" shot in a weight loss picture.

The internet loves a glo up. Technically, they began before the term was even invented.

“Before” and “after” pictures of people transforming from ostensibly unattractive to ostensibly attractive were some of the first spam on the web (Doctors hate her!). Nowadays, there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to former “ugly ducklings” and on Twitter, people share their transformations every day with the words “glo up”. These posts are often seen to be life-affirming, and can accumulate hundreds of thousands of shares.

Which is great – when they’re real.

Over the last few weeks, a handful of Instagram profiles have been widely condemned across the web. Accounts such as @relationships.usa, @transformationfeed, and @course have been stealing people’s pictures and posting them with fake, emotionally manipulative captions.

When a Twitter user who goes by Anthony Ochoa posted two pictures of himself and his sister online, Transformationfeed stole the images and rewrote the caption to pretend that Ochoa’s father had died. The post got more than 20,000 likes.

These accounts, incidentally, also love a glo up.

“I started getting a ton of notifications on my Instagram,” says Amaya King, a 17-year-old whose picture was reposted by Transformationfeed. A few months ago, the account stole a picture that was taken two years ago at Amaya’s homecoming dance. They Photoshopped her arms and waist to make her look larger, before uploading the image next to a photograph of a tall, slim woman in a silver sequinned dress. “So this happened”, was the caption.

“They claimed that I was someone I wasn’t… At first I found humour in the fact that out of all the accounts in the world the account picked my picture,” she says. “But I was also upset that my picture was used without my consent and I was portrayed as something I wasn’t.

“I personally have struggled with weight and insecurities about my weight all my life and to see these posts just was disappointing.”

Having your image stolen to be a “before” is a naturally upsetting thing. Amaya thinks accounts that steal – or make up – transformations are “degrading”, and that people should be left alone to share their growth themselves. “It takes a strong person to not care about what others think, especially on social media. And overall this experience has taught me that as long as I am confident in myself and love myself, all other opinions are irrelevant.”

Amaya doesn’t know the lady in her fake “after” picture. Being held up as an aspirational “after” might seem like a compliment, but 22-year-old Janelle Mughannam was upset when her picture was stolen by Transformationfeed. Placing her image next to a woman she did not know, the account stole her selfie and captioned the post: “So many people told me I would never lose weight, but because of them I did.”

“The girl on the left is a different person. I found it super disrespectful to this girl and me,” says Janelle, who repeatedly commented on the picture to say it was fake, but had her comments deleted by the account.

“It’s not OK… They’re creating false hope and lies just to get some likes. It's super misleading and just so rude. A lot of things are fake online but most people are gullible and believe it.”

Janelle says she was flooded with messages from people asking her how she lost the weight (“I had to explain to them that I’ve always been a pretzel stick”).

Neither Transformationfeed nor Relationships.usa responded to a request for comment. Instagram also declined to comment on the accounts.

A thorough investigation by Rachael Krishna for Buzzfeed News found that many of these accounts that steal pictures are in fact affiliated, and share pictures with one another. The accounts are run by teenage boys.

The boys told Krishna these thefts were a mistake – and didn’t go into their motivations for stealing and misrepresenting other people’s photos. Nonetheless, a cursory glance at the accounts shows money is involved. Relationships.usa has a link to an online store called “Malistica” on its profile, and frequently posts pictures of jewellery that can be found on the site. By building up a high number of followers with fake pictures, these accounts can strike deals with brands to promote their products in return for a fee.


Bracelets are available at  @malisticaco  @malisticaco @malisticaco  Link In Bio

A post shared by couples (@relationships.usa) on

Picture theft is as old as the internet itself. From catfishing to “1 like = 1 prayer”, people have always taken others' photos for malicious means. Yet this new trend risks damaging teenagers' self-esteem, and it creates potentially troublesome back stories that could follow them across the web.


Picture: Twitter/Instagram

Who will take responsibility for the rise in far-right terrorism?

By Maria Norris from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Muslims are asked to condemn Islamist terrorism – should the mainstream right do the same when the attackers are white?

Following the attack on a Finsbury Park mosque, both Theresa May and Amber Rudd have issued statements and delivered speeches adopting hard lines against Islamophobia and right-wing extremism. May has gone so far as stating that Islamophobia itself is a form of extremism.

These pronouncements have drawn positive responses from prominent members of the Muslim community such as Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain. But it is important to question whether or not this change in rhetoric signifies a genuine change in government policy.

On the face of it, there are reasons for tentative optimism. The seriousness with which politicians took the Finsbury Park attack is a significant change. On this, the government is ahead of the media. While other terrorism attacks have been condemned as unjustifiable violence, some newspapers framed the Finsbury Park attack as a "revenge".

In fact, radicalisation is not a one-off event, but takes place in a web of institutional, social and ideological conditions. Furthermore this ignores a much longer story about the drip, drip, drip of Islamophobic or anti-Muslim discourse which permeates British society. 

The government has played a part in legitimising this anti-Muslim sentiment. Let’s not forget that Prevent has, since its inception, disproportionately targeted Muslims. The impression of an "us and them" mentality is only underlined by its secrecy. Moreover, the Prevent agenda has conflated a variety of other social policy concerns relating to gender equality, sexual violence, and unemployment as "extremism" issues. For example, Amber Rudd herself suggested that Islamophobia would decline if grooming stopped, which can not only be seen as victim-blaming, but further contributes to stereotyping Muslims as the enemy within.

So are promises to get serious about Islamophobia more empty words from the Prime Minister?

Think about timing. Far-right extremism has been deadly. Mohammad Saleem was brutally murdered in 2013 in Birmingham by a far right extremist. Mushin Ahmed was killed in 2015 (and was notably called a "groomer" by his attacker as his head was stamped on).

Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist this time last year. This is not even mentioning individuals such as Ryan McGee, who made a nail bomb and was intent on murdering immigrants.

Just twelve days ago, the Prime Minister claimed that Britain was too tolerant of extremism, and she was right. Just not in the way she meant it.

Britain has indeed been too tolerant of extremism of the far right kind. This is a rising problem, not just in the UK, but also in Europe.

According to the defence and security think-tank RUSI, far right extremists make up 33 per cent of the threat, with Islamic extremism slightly more at 38 per cent. Furthermore, one in four referrals to Channel, the UK deradicalisation programme, are from the far right.

We cannot forget the government itself peddles the tropes of far right hate. Think of David Cameron referring to migrants as "swarms", May’s hostile environment policy, complete with "go home vans" driving around in multicultural areas, and the uncritical embrace of Donald Trump’s presidency by the Prime Minister. 

The Muslim community has been told many times to fight terrorism from within, but will there be a similar response to far right extremism? The ongoing rhetorical attacks on multiculturalism, and the longstanding association of Islamist radicalisation with a lack of integration, rather than religiously inspired political violence, make it difficult to see how real change will happen.

This would require deep soul-searching, followed by serious changes in public debates about policies relating to both immigration and extremism. Until that happens, May’s words on Islamophobia will be nothing more than political PR.

But this PR also has a more sinister element. Although no specific new counter-terrorism legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech, there was a promise that the government would review existing counter-terrorism laws, with a spokesman stressing that new legislation would be brought forward if needed.

May continues to lobby for increased executive powers to fight terrorism, which she has done since her time as home secretary. The policy on right-wing extremism is likely to follow that of Islamic extremism: it will focus only on ideology and it will ignore the wider context of structural racism and white privilege.

Ask yourselves, will white men ever be stopped and searched to the same extent as brown men? Will white women be seen as easy targets for violent attacks as Muslim women disproportionately are? Will far right extremists fear for their citizenship status?

And does the solution to extremism, in any form, truly lie in further oppressive legislation and more government power? We also need to be aware that powers extended to address extremism are likely to continue to have a disproportionate effect on minorities.

As long as there is no change in government policy, the status quo will continue to reinforce the same divisive narrative which is the bread and butter of every extremist group. After the Queen’s Speech, we continue to see no evidence of any serious attempt to reform policy and seriously address far right extremism. May’s empty words after the Finsbury Park attack represent nothing more than an opportunistic political move from a weakened Prime Minister who is desperate for approval – and for power.

Dr Maria Norris is a political scientist researching terrorism and national security. She is a Fellow at the  London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

Dr Naaz Rashid is a Research Fellow at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex and is author of Veiled Threats: Representing the Muslim Woman in Public Policy Discourse (Policy Press 2016) about the UK government's engagement with Muslim women as part of its Prevent agenda. She can be followed on Twitter @naazrashid.

Photo: Getty

Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 


Okja begins as a buddy flick – but ends up in the slaughterhouse

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Korean director Bong Joon-ho works with British co-writer Jon Ronson on this tale of genetically engineered superpigs.

If Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio responsible for Spirited Away, were to branch out into live action, the result might be something like Okja – at least in part. It’s the tale of a genetically engineered breed of waddling grey superpigs, not so much porcine in appearance as manatee or hippo-like, created by the twitchy, imperious CEO of a multinational corporation, Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), in the hope of solving a global food shortage.

Each of these docile beasts is despatched to a different corner of the planet to be reared. The enormous Okja grows up in rural Korea, gambolling in the fields with her young companion, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun).

Okja is no dumb animal – she saves the child from falling off a cliff by using a rope to improvise a sophisticated pulley system. She should be working in crisis management, not ending up on someone’s fork. But eventually the day comes when Mirando’s representatives arrive to claim their several thousand pounds of flesh.

The early scenes borrow the leisurely rhythms of Mija’s idyllic days with Okja; she snoozes on the beast’s vast belly, softly rising and falling in time with her pet’s breathing. Yet once she follows the kidnapped creature to Seoul, where they are taken in by a band of animal rights activists, the film lurches from one style to another. What begins as a tranquil buddy movie finishes up in the blood-soaked slaughterhouse where Okja is due to end her days; it’s as though My Neighbour Totoro had morphed into Fast Food Nation.

The film’s Korean director, Bong Joon-ho, and his British co-writer, Jon Ronson, present viewers with a transaction that reflects the ethical and ecological implications of the story.

We can have our heart-warming tale of the bond between human and animal, but only if we accept also those parts of the plot which demystify that relationship and take it to its industrialised extreme. It’s a bold strategy that has worked before for this film-maker – in The Host and Snowpiercer he used the genres of horror and action, respectively, to smuggle through political and environmental messages.

But Okja risks falling between two stools. Young children who might enjoy the first third (and can see Okja on Netflix the very day it is released in cinemas, easily bypassing the 15 certificate) would be alternately bored and traumatised by the rest of it. Conversely, adults will have an awful lot of whimsy to wade through before reaching the meat of the movie.

There are compensations. The film is sumptuously designed by Lee Ha-jun and Kevin Thompson, and crisply shot by Darius Khondji. Swinton, who played the villain in Snowpiercer as a grotesque northern schoolmarm with oversized gnashers, puts in the distorting dentures once again in Okja as both Lucy and her sister, Nancy, with whom she is locked in an irresolvable rivalry. Lucy is bleached (pink skin, platinum hair, white robes) to the point of invisibility, whereas Nancy is a harrumphing Penelope Keith type in a quilted jacket.

Other capable actors are undone by the unreasonable demands placed on them. Shirley Henderson, as Lucy’s assistant, has been directed to talk at comically high speed for want of any actual funny dialogue, and Paul Dano would be more plausible as a winsome animal rights activist if he weren’t leading the Animal Liberation Front. The group’s portrayal here as a group of touchy-feely flower children (“This is a non-lethal chokehold, OK?” one member says, as he disables a security guard) is laughable.

But no one comes out of Okja quite as badly as Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Dr Johnny Wilcox, a wacky nature TV presenter who is like Steve Irwin trapped in Timmy Mallett’s body. The film is at its most wrong-headed in scenes where Dr Johnny, left alone with Okja, first forces her to mate with another superpig (a pointless episode that serves no plot function) and then tortures her.

It’s that risky trade-off again: enjoy the knockabout chase sequence in which Okja fires turds at her adversaries, and later you must endure the darker side of the same narrative. It will be a forgiving audience indeed that doesn’t recoil from this approach, which is too much stick and not enough carrot.

Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

By Felicity Cloake from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment

Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Photo: Martin Whitfield

Corporate leadership: The war for talent

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

To buy or build the next boss? The changes of regime at General Electric and Uber highlight the shifts we are seeing in how companies choose their senior executives, says Andrew Hill. GE has always meticulously groomed its leaders in house and had John Flannery primed ready to take over when Jeff Immelt stood down. But that model is becoming rare

How the fire at Grenfell Tower exposed the ugly side of the housing boom

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Nobody consciously chose to harm those at the bottom of society, but governing in the interests of the rich has done it nonetheless.

It’s impressive, in a way, how quickly we slot horrific new events into the beliefs we already hold. In the Grenfell Tower fire – a tragedy that, at the time of writing, is presumed to have cost 79 people their lives – some on the right saw a story about poorly built high-rise ­social housing. The left, however, saw it as fresh evidence of the damage that seven years of austerity had done to local councils.

The fire does feel symbolic: of the inequality at the heart of one of the richest cities in the world; of a government unable to look after its people. But reality rarely slots neatly into our prefabricated narratives and, although the details are still emerging, it already seems as if many of those assumptions were flawed. Experts’ theories about why the fire spread so fast have focused not on the poor quality of the building’s original 1967 design but on problems with the external cladding installed in a £10m refurbishment last year.

What’s more, while most councils have struggled with years of centrally imposed cuts, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) isn’t one of them: it is sitting on reserves worth £274m and, in 2014, found enough money to give council-tax payers a rebate of £100 per head. And yet, it seemed, it could not find the cash to pay for sprinklers or the £5,000 extra it would have cost to use a fire-resistant form of cladding. There was austerity in Kensington, but it was the product of conscious choice, not financial pressure.

Voting intention by housing type in the 2017 election

For a whole week, those who survived the fire faced a second indignity: the uncertainty regarding where they could now live. The day after the tragedy, the housing minister Alok Sharma offered his “guarantee that every single family from Grenfell House will be rehoused in the local area”. This was both morally and politically right – but whether he would have made this promise if he had been more than a couple of days into the job seemed an open question, because few in the housing sector believed it was one he could keep. The council already had more than 2,700 households waiting for accommodation (actually quite low for inner London). It was possible to give priority to survivors of the fire, but it would require pushing others yet further down the list.

Nor did it seem likely that the homes on offer likely to be adequate replacements for those that have been lost. “Most people made homeless in London have a very long wait in temporary accommodation,” Kate Webb, the head of policy at the housing charity Shelter, told me. “And even that is going to be outside of their area.” In the immediate future, at least, it seemed likely it would be much easier to find bed and breakfasts in Hounslow than permanent new homes in Kensington.

In the event, the naysayers, myself included, were wrong: on Wednesday afternoon, after the print copy of this article had gone to press, the Evening Standard reported that the Greenfell families would be rehoused in 68 apartments in the luxury Kensington Row development, at a cost of tens of millions of pounds. The deal, specially brokered by the Homes & Communities Agency on behalf of the government, was great news for those families. But it is striking that it took a tragedy and national scandal on the scale of Grenfell to make it happen. And those homes – which were always earmarked as social housing – are now not available to the 2,700 other families on RBKC’'s waiting list. They will not be receiving similar treatment.

It doesn’t feel like this should be difficult: Britain is rich, London richer and RBKC the richest borough of all. Yet the shortage of available homes reflects not just some kind of moral failure on the part of the council but a genuine shortage of property.

Who is building houses?

To be blunt about this: we have not been building enough for a very long time. In the decade after the 2001 census, London’s population grew from 7.3 million to 8.2 million, an increase of roughly 12 per cent. The capital’s total number of homes, however, increased by just 7 per cent. Both trends have continued since, with all sorts of entirely predictable results: higher rents, overcrowded homes, hilarious news items about renters going to see “studio flats” that turned out to be a bed in a shed with a tree growing through the wall.

London’s housing crisis is the biggest and most visible in the country yet it is far from unique. In Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol – in almost any city with a decent jobs market – housing costs have soared in recent years. In other parts of the UK, house prices are lower; but so, unfortunately, are wages. The result is a collapse in property ownership among the under-40s – and, one is tempted to suggest, flatlining national productivity and unexpected enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

We know how to fix this (in that we know how to build more homes) but we haven’t, for two main reasons. One is that we have inadvertently constructed a housing market in which nobody has both the interest and the capacity to build more. Private developers bid for land based on the price they believe they will be able to sell new homes there for. As a result, if prices fall, they stop building: look at a graph of housing supply over the past 50 years, and it is abundantly clear that the private sector will never give us the homes we need.

This would be fine if other organisations were allowed to build but they are not. Housing associations are restricted by government finance rules. Councils were explicitly banned from fully replacing homes sold under Right to Buy; today, they lack the money and, after decades of disempowerment, the expertise, too. The 2004 Barker review argued that the UK needed to be building 250,000 new homes every year just to keep up with demand. It feels telling that the last year we managed to do this was 1979.

Total government grant to local councils

The other reason we haven’t built enough homes is that we place such tight restrictions on what we can build. Land-use restrictions such as on the green belts prevent our cities from growing outwards; rules on tall buildings prevent them from growing upwards. These are often legal, but are rigidly enforced by public demand.

Last year, for instance, the Friends of Richmond Park, residents of the west London suburbs, fought a noisy campaign to stop tall buildings from being built 14 miles away in Stratford, in the East End of London, because they would ruin their protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral. The buildings wouldn’t prevent west Londoners from seeing St Paul’s, you understand: the buildings could simply be seen behind it. All these restrictions, all these campaigns, are there to protect something good. Between them, they add up to a shortage of housing that is blighting lives.

It is hard not to notice the parallels between the Grenfell Tower fire and the broader housing crisis. RBKC bosses chose to promote electorally motivating tax cuts for the borough’s largely rich residents over fire safety in its social homes. As a nation, we have consistently chosen to protect the views and house prices of those who have housing over the needs of those who don’t. Nobody consciously chose to harm those at the bottom of society but governing in the interests of the rich has done it nonetheless.

The survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster were left homeless by the tragedy, and it looked for several days like that they would have nowhere else to go. Both of these things may well have been avoidable. But austerity is not just a policy: it’s a state of mind. 

George Eaton: The Grenfell Tower fire has turned a spotlight on austerity's limits

Photo: PA

Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

Getty Images.

A year in my life as a Brexit bargaining chip

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

After Brexit, like many other EU citizens in Britain, I spent a year not knowing what my future held. Here's what that was like.

I moved back to the UK in January 2016. I like to say “move back”, because that’s how it feels – I loved living in London so much during my Erasmus year that I always intended to come work here after graduation. 

I am French, and a journalist, and live in north London. I refer to the UK as “home”. By all appearances, in January 2016 I am part of what budding Brexiteers call the “liberal elite”, even though I rent a single room and my most expensive possession after my laptop is a teapot.

But by June, I have been given a new label. I am now one of the 3 million “EU citizens in the UK”. As Britain heads toward turbulent negotiations to leave the European Union, following a referendum in which I did not have a vote, I have become a “bargaining chip”. 

This is my account of that year.

April 2016

Moving back includes chores such as getting a UK phone number, a National Insurance number and opening a bank account – three tasks that go even smoother that I thought they would. For the bank account, I have been advised to go to Lloyds Bank, which makes it “easy for Europeans”. (A thread on Twitter recently proved it also is more inclined to help refugees than other banks.)

I also eagerly register to vote – another right of mine in the UK under EU rules, for local and European elections. And I am excited: I will have a vote in the London mayoral election.

I closely follow the referendum campaign. “Vote Remain” signs and stickers are omnipresent in my  neighbourhood.  I feel reassured. So do the other EU nationals quietly passing me in the street. “I don't recall seeing any Leave Campaign. It made me think it would be an easy win,” echoes Tiago Gomes, 27, a Portuguese musician.

In the pub, I get into a testy exchange with an acquaintance who holds French and British passports and is proudly campaigning for Leave. I struggle to understand why. Maybe, just like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he knows he has a way out, if it all goes to shit.

Worried that people could wrongly see me as a Brexiteer because of my Union Jack Converses, I put a “I’m IN” sticker on each roundel.

May 2016

I vote in the London mayoral election. I have voted many times in France, but this is different – I am almost a Brit! I even take a happy selfie with my polling card, like a proud 18 year-old.

This turns out to be the only UK election I will ever have a vote in, as a friend will note a few months later.

June 2016

Jo Cox MP is murdered on the streets of her constituency. I report on the murder all afternoon and when I get the tube home, I feel shaken. A Leave supporter enters the tube carriage with an England flag. I want to ask him: "Do you even know what happened?" But I say nothing.

The violent turn taken by the campaign is felt in London, too. Samir Dwesar, a 27-year-old parliamentary assistant, remembers the abuse he suffered while campaigning for Remain: “I was called a p**i, and told to go back to ‘your f’ing country'.” Samir is British and has lived all his life in Croydon, South London.

Yet I am hopeful on 23 June 2016. I blow up “I’m IN” balloons, taste EU referendum cupcakes from my local bakery. I’m living history.

And it is history. I doubt anyone in Britain, and especially the country’s EU citizens, will forget the nightmarish morning of 24 June 2016. My heart sinks as I read the BBC news alert informing me I am no longer home – not really. On my wall, a poster of the Private Eye cover “What Britain will look like after Brexit”, which I found hilarious in April, looks like a doomed omen.

The mood is low among all Europeans. For Nassia Matsa, 27, a Greek woman from Athens who has lived in London for 9 years, it is even worse: 24 June marks her birthday. “Nigel and Boris ruined my birthday,” she says.

At least in London we are not alone. I discover many Brits identify as European. When I finally leave my house, my neighbourhood is still plastered IN signs and EU flags. “I found myself offering support to my British friends,” says Matsa. “Were talking about Brexit with an Italian, Swiss, Croatian, French and me, and all of us Europeans were comforting a Londoner who was ready to cry.”

July-August 2016

I go to France for a summer holiday. Everyone keeps asking what my situation will be in the UK after Brexit. My answer is always the same, and still hasn’t changed: I have no idea. My dad spends months repeating that Brexit will not happen: “They’ll realise it’s a mistake.” (They don’t.)

Bad adverts with Brexit puns bloom on the Tube. "We're Out," proclaims one for a city lifestyle app. I don’t laugh. But at least I don't have any Facebook friend boasting about Brexit. Mikael David Levin, a 24-year-old Italian who has lived in London for 16 years, does. "Their statuses frustrate and irritate me," he says. "They do not know how 'lucky' they are to be born in the UK."

After David Cameron’s resignation, the Tory leadership election and Theresa May’s premiership, the discussion focuses on when to pull the trigger, and what to do with people like us in the meantime. We are now, officially, bargaining chips.

September 2016

I start flying with my passport when I visit my family in France, even though I know my French ID is still valid until Britain officially leaves. At Stansted airport, the limited life expectancy of the “EU only” line makes me gloomy. Alex Roszkowski, a 27-year-old Polish-American who has lived in London for a year and a half, tells me he may now carry both his passports on every trip, as well as “copies of [his] lease, numerous old envelopes with [his] name and address, [his] business card".

Those EU citizens arriving in the UK have surreal experiences too. Joseph Sotinel, 28, who moved to London from Paris in September, encounters a bank official, who tells him: “Thanks for coming to the UK, you are still welcome no matter what.”

“It was as if I had done something heroic,” he says. “It was absurd.”

October 2016

Registering all EU citizens in the UK could take 140 years, according to a cheery statistic.

We are seeking an early deal to secure the rights of EU citizens, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers must provide a list of their employees, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers won’t have to provide a list of their employees, says the British government. EU citizens will need a “form of ID” in post-Brexit UK, says the British government.  EU citizens must be prepared to leave, says the British government.

Literally no one knows what will happen to EU citizens.

November- December 2016

EU nationals who have decided to apply to permanent residency or British citizenship start receiving letters urging them to leave the country. I fear mine could follow and think about it every time I get post. I read an article advising EU citizens to collect proof of living in the UK. As I am a lodger currently working freelance, I start keeping every single one of my shopping receipts in a box, and consider asking British friends for reference letters.

Matt Bock [unrelated to this journalist], a German freelance renewable energy project manager, worries about how to provide documentation showing he was living in the UK before Brexit too: “I don’t have an employer, I am outside the UK for a large amount of time for work, I am a freelancer largely paid by my own German company, I don’t have private health insurance, I am not married and I haven’t even been here for the prerequisite 5 years.”" He has chosen not to apply to right to remain because his chances of success are "remote", and says he is "ready to leave if need be."

As I, like Matt and many EU citizens, start thinking about moving back home, others rush to move to the UK. Alexandra Ibrová, 26, a Czech PhD student, moves to London on 28 December, worried she could not get a National Insurance number after 15 March. “I was trying to get the appointment before that date because it is actually the only official document that proves that you have been living here before the cut off date,” she says.

January- February 2017

Gina Miller’s legal challenge forces the government’s Brexit bill to go to a vote in Parliament. I am hopeful, for about five minutes, that the Labour MP Harriet Harman’s amendment to secure my rights has got a chance. It doesn’t. I complain about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to my local Labour councillors during their Sunday canvassing. “As a traditionally left-wing voter, I'm more angry with Corbyn's Labour than with the Tories,” echoes Marta Maria Casetti, 39, from Italy, in London since 2006.

March 2017

The day before the triggering or Article 50, the Haringey LibDems send me a letter in “support” of EU nationals. I am now a bargaining chip and a stat on a micro-targeting list.

On 29 March, Theresa May officially begins the Brexit negotiations, even though 2017 is the worst possible time to leave the EU. It has almost been a year that 3 million people living in the UK have been left in limbo.

I don’t own a house or have children at school in the UK. Many EU citizens do – they have built their family life in this country, and now fear they may lose it all overnight.

Adriana Bruni, 44, an Italian who married an Englishman and has lived in Chelmsford for six years, says her family would not exist without the European Union: “From today [29 March], a family like mine will never be formed in the same way again.” Bianca Ford Epskamp, a Dutch national and school governor who has lived Dorset since 2001, adds: “Both my children are born here, go to school here, have made friends. I've always been employed, contributed, paid taxes, do voluntary things. Morally, it’s draining.”

Elena Paolini, 51, an Italian translator married to Brit who has lived in London for 27 years, says she doesn’t believe EU nationals will be deported, but she is concerned about her access to the NHS, pensions or bank accounts. She asks out loud the question that has been floating in all our minds for months: “Will I be considered a second rate citizen?”

As for me, I used to say I wanted to be British. I don't say that any more.

Update on 23 June 2017

Last night, Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels the UK government would offer the same rights as Britons to EU citizens who arrived "lawfully" before Brexit. I can't help but think that it took a year to guarantee rights me, and the other 3 million, already had and took for granted up until 23 June last year.



Jeremy Corbyn faces a dilemma as Brexit solidifies: which half of his voters should he disappoint?

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club.

Imagine a man who voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975. A man who spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, saying that it “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. A man who voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

You don’t have to imagine very hard, because that man is Jeremy Corbyn. When campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015, he told a GMB hustings, “I would ­advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free-market policies across Europe.”

When Labour’s Brexiteers gathered to launch their campaign in 2016, several seemed hurt that Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were not there with them. “It is surprising, when we voted against the advice of the chief whip on a number of European issues over the last decades, that Jeremy and John, who have always been in that lobby with us, that they would want to lead a campaign that isn’t even asking for a renegotiated position,” said the MP Graham Stringer.

I mention this because since the election campaign started in April, I keep having an odd experience – people insisting that Corbyn is not a Eurosceptic, and that he will use Labour’s new-found strength to argue for a softer Brexit. Others claim that Labour’s current position on freedom of movement (ending it) is the obvious, common-sense – even progressive – choice.

This matters. Look, if the evidence above doesn’t convince you that the Labour leader is intensely relaxed about exiting the European Union, I don’t know what else would. Yet it’s clear that some Labour activists strongly identify personally with Corbyn: they find it hard to believe that he holds different opinions from them.

The second factor is the remaking of Brexit as a culture war, where to say that someone is a Eurosceptic is seen as a kind of slur. Perhaps without realising it, some on the left do associate Euroscepticism with Little Englanderism or even flat-out racism, and see it as a moral failing rather than a political position.

But I’m not impugning Jeremy Corbyn’s character or morals by saying that he is an instinctive Brexiteer. He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club. You can disagree with that premise but it’s a respectable line of reasoning.

Also, the Euroscepticism of Corbyn and his allies will undoubtedly give them an advantage in the months ahead; they are not consumed by fatalism, and the members of McDonnell’s shadow Treasury team feel that the removal of European state aid restrictions can help revive ailing bits of the British economy. They have a vision of what an ideal “Labour Brexit” would be – and it’s not just sobbing and begging Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to take us back.

We do, however, need a reality check. Now that the necessary humble pie has been eaten, Labour’s unexpected revival at the ballot box means we can begin to treat Corbyn as a normal politician – with the emphasis on the second word. He’s not the Messiah, but he’s not a joke either. He is a charismatic campaigner who is willing to compromise on second-tier issues to achieve his main objectives.

From the general election, we can see just how good a campaigner Corbyn is: he can fire up a crowd, give disciplined answers to interviewers and chat amiably on a sofa. That throws into sharp relief just how limp his performances were last year.

He might have little else in common with Theresa May, but they both looked at the EU referendum and thought: yeah, I’m going to sit this one out. He called on activists to accept the EU “warts and all”; and said he was “seven, or seven and a half” out of ten in favour of staying in it.

For both leaders, this was a pragmatic decision. May did not want to be overtly disloyal to David Cameron, but neither did she wish to risk her career if the result went the other way.

Anyone in Labour would have been equally sane to look north of the border and back to 2014, and remember just how much credibility the party immolated by sharing stages with the Conservatives and allowing itself to be seen as the establishment. By limiting his involvement in the Remain campaign and whipping his MPs to trigger Article 50, Corbyn ended up with a fudge that gave Labour some cover in heavily pro-Brexit regions of the country.

That’s the politics, but what about the principle? I can’t shake the feeling that if Corbyn campaigned as hard for Remain in 2016 as he did for Labour in 2017, we would still be members of the European Union. And that matters to me, as much as left-wing policies or a change in the rhetoric around migrants and welfare claimants, because I think leaving the EU is going to make us poorer and meaner.

That’s why I worry that many of my friends, and the activists I talk to, are about to be disappointed, after waiting and waiting for Labour to start making the case for a softer Brexit and for the single market being more important than border controls. As Michael Chessum, a long-standing Momentum organiser, wrote on the New Statesman website, “Recognising the fact that immigration enriches society is all very well, but that narrative is inevitably undermined if you then choose to abolish the best policy for allowing immigration to happen.”

Labour’s success on 8 June was driven by its ambiguous stance on Brexit. To Leavers, it could wink at ending freedom of movement when they worried about immigration; to Remainers, it offered a critique of the immigrant-bashing rhetoric of recent times. But can that coalition hold as the true shape of Brexit solidifies? Over the next few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest decision will be this: which half of my voters should I disappoint?

Photo: Getty

Ed Miliband is interviewing David Miliband on the Jeremy Vine show

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Sibling rivalry hits the radio.

David was the chosen one, the protege, the man destined to lead the Labour party. 

But instead his awkward younger brother committed the ultimate sibling betrayal by winning the Labour party leadership election instead.

Not only that, but he lost the 2015 general election, and between those two dates, tinkered with the leadership election rules in a way that ultimately led to Jeremy Corbyn's victory

It seems, though, radio can bring these two men of thwarted ambition together.

Your Mole can reveal that Ed Miliband will interview his brother on the Jeremy Vine show, at 1pm during the two-hour show, which starts at 12.

But David, who is president of the International Rescue Committee, is there to discuss something more serious than family drama - his recent TED talk about the refugee crisis.  

Although the Mole understands that although the Miliband brothers will reunite on air, they will still be separated by the body of water that is the Atlantic Ocean...


Support to the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

This report provides a strategic view of the analytical capabilities that are needed by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center to allocate resources to and assess the performance of installation and mission support activities.

From hard to soft to the “people’s Brexit”: Theresa May’s Britain is in one hell of a frightful mess

By Jason Cowley from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Nobody told me there’d be days like these.

Theresa May became Prime Minister only because of Brexit. Her insouciant predecessor, whose most substantial contribution to this year’s general election campaign was to star in a photograph of his and his wife’s feet as they lay side by side in bed, resigned because of Brexit. May’s successor will become prime minister because of Brexit. The defining question of British politics is Brexit and its effects and consequences.

So much time, energy and anxiety are being wasted on Brexit, and for what? For Britain to negotiate a new relationship with the European Union that will be, in every way, inferior – socially, economically, culturally – to what we have already, and at a time of dangerous instability in the world, when a clown and braggart occupies the White House. Nobody told me there’d be days like these, as John Lennon once put it in a song. Strange days indeed – most peculiar, mamma.


David Cameron’s decision to hold the 2016 referendum at the height of the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War was an act of spectacular folly by a politician who believed too much in the myth of his own good fortune (“Lucky Dave”, they called him). Michael Portillo has described it as the greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister. After Cameron’s resignation last summer, Theresa May seemed like the only grown-up in a cabal of entitled and squabbling leadership contenders and Conservative MPs duly organised her coronation.

When she became Prime Minister, May delivered a fine speech in Downing Street: she would create a different, more communitarian, even post-liberal conservatism, and she would fight against “burning injustice”. She understood that the vote for Brexit was also a vote of protest against a failed economic model; against austerity, against stagnant wages and in-work poverty, and against ultra-globalisation. People were weary. “I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle,” May said. “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”


Opinion polls seemed to suggest that May was admired and trusted. She was cold and austere but she also seemed serious, and these were serious times. Yet May’s actions were never equal to her early rhetorical positioning and she never reached out to the many millions who had voted Remain and felt excluded.

By the time of the general election campaign, she was reduced to repeating soundbites and clichés. She had become the Maybot. The promising “Red Tory” language of the early months of her premiership – when she spoke about the common good and the need for greater social responsibility – had gone altogether. This is a source of much regret to her maligned former joint chief of staff Nick Timothy.

“My biggest regret,” he has said, “is that we did not campaign in accordance with the insight that took Theresa to Downing Street in the first place.” With her authority and confidence shattered, May will be gone soon: in seeking to deliver the hard Brexit her Eurosceptic supporters in the party and press demanded, she has succeeded only in creating more confusion and tumult.


May used to tell us with supreme wisdom that “Brexit means Brexit”. In her Lancaster House speech in January, she explained her preference for a “clean” Brexit (ie, Britain should leave the single market and customs union and be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice). Her use of the word “clean” was philosophically very interesting, especially when you consider its opposite: dirty, as in a dirty or unclean Brexit.

One of the many satisfying outcomes of the general election was that it has reopened the possibility of an alternative to hard (or clean) Brexit, for which there is no mandate in the House of Commons. I have been keeping a note of the different kinds of Brexit that are being touted.

What is clear is that the adjectives “hard” and “soft”, when prefixed to Brexit, are now quite passé. Emboldened by the improbable revival of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson favours what she calls an “open” Brexit, and so now does the preposterous Boris Johnson, too, who waits like a big, overheated, hungry dog for the door of 10 Downing Street to open for him, the saliva of ambition dribbling from his mouth.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s serious-minded barrister supreme, is against what he calls an “extreme Brexit”, even if we are not sure what he is actually for, and the Guardian opposes what it calls a “chaotic Brexit”. Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer and educationalist, supports a “sane Brexit”. The Labour activist Sam Tarry wants a “people’s Brexit”. The commentator Philip Stephens has called for an “intelligent Brexit”, as one would expect of an FT panjandrum; and ­Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing Eurosceptic who leads a party of parliamentary Remainers, wants a Brexit that protects jobs and workers’ rights. Perhaps we should call this a “Bennite Brexit”. Do please let me know if you spot any other variations.


My own preference – and I write having been no great enthusiast for the EU before the referendum – is for “no Brexit”, such is the mess into which this country has been dragged by a former Conservative prime minister who believed the simple mechanism of a binary plebiscite could settle an internal party dispute; one that had festered since Ted Heath took Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973. This as well as his desire to assuage the populism of Nigel Farage and appease his tormentors in the press: and all at the time of his own choosing. Strange days indeed – most peculiar, mamma.

Photo: Getty

The High Court is right to rule the benefit cap is "unlawful" for lone parents with small children

By Debbie Abrahams from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The idea this ill-judged policy helps people transition from the social security system into paid work has been exposed as a myth. 

Thursday’s High Court decision that the benefit cap is "unlawful" for lone parents with children under the age of two is another blow to the Tories failing austerity agenda. It is failing on its own terms, it's failing our communities, and it’s failing the most vulnerable in our country – including the victims of domestic violence and those facing homelessness.

The judgment handed down by Mr Justice Collins was damning. Upon considering the impact of the benefit cap, he concluded that “real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

The government’s claims that this ill-judged policy helps people transition from the social security system into paid work have been exposed as a myth. Seven out of eight households hit by the cap have very young children, are too ill to work or have a work-limiting disability. The spiralling cost of childcare has left many unable to find or afford good quality childcare in order to allow them to work. In some cases, families lose up to £115 a week, pushing them into deeper into poverty.

Labour warned the government of the impact this policy would have on lone parents with very young children during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act. We tabled amendments to exempt lone parents with young children. They refused to listen and thousands of families have been pushed into poverty as a result, including survivors of domestic violence.

Many parents are perpetually stuck in insecure, poorly paid work on a zero hours contract, with the majority of their earnings spent on childcare. Alternatively they are unable to find work which fits around their childcare responsibilities and are then subjected to the benefit cap resulting in families struggling to make ends meet. Just under 320,000 children now live in households likely to be affected by the new lower cap, which was introduced last November. This is at a time when one in four of our children are growing up in poverty.

Despite these obvious barriers facing families with young children, particularly lone parents, it has taken a brave group of campaigners to challenge a government which lacked the foresight to see the real damage they are inflicting with another one of their disastrous austerity cuts. The Government’s own evaluations show that only 16 per cent of families impacted by the benefit cap move into paid work compared to 11 per cent who would have moved into work anyway.

For too long, this government has pushed our children into a lifetime of poverty, as punishment for parental circumstances, whilst continuing to give hand-outs to the privileged few.

What a difference a year makes. Only last July, the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street pledged to “fight the burning injustices” facing our society. Not only has she failed spectacularly, her government continue to pursue policies that are further entrenching these injustices.

It is clear that the benefit cap hits the poorest in our society the hardest. This judgment is a further blow to Theresa May’s unstable minority government and I implore the Prime Minister to accept the High Court's judgement and end this discriminatory policy against lone parent families.

This is the latest in a series of judgments found against the government in relation to their austerity programme. After rulings on the bedroom tax, Personal Independence Payments and now the benefit cap, the government should now accept the ruling instead of spending yet more taxpayers’ money on an appeal. 

Labour has proudly stood against the benefit cap, its discrimination against parents with young children and the government’s cruel austerity programme which has caused too many people real misery.

A Labour government would immediately implement the High Court ruling and only a future Labour government will transform the social security system so that, like the NHS, it is there for the many in our time of need.



Modi and Trump: The Virtue of Low Expectations

By Thomas Lynch from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

Next week will mark Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fifth visit to the United States as prime minister and his third official audience with a U.S. president. His last four visits occurred against a backdrop of more than a decade of bipartisan political support in Washington and New Delhi for increasing strategic engagement between the ...

Attack! The Renaissance of the Air Force Tribe

By Mike Benitez from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

“Fighter pilots make movies, attack pilots make history.” Navy A-6 community motto, made famous by Flight of the Intruder “ATTACK!” A statement, written in all capital letters, topped with an exclamation point. A simple word with layers of meaning, it simultaneously exhorts leadership (Follow me!), resilience (Hang in there!), and support (Help is on the ...

The new French revolution: how En Marche! disrupted politics

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The rise of Emmanuel Macron's party has shattered the accepted wisdom.

Alexandre Holroyd bears many similarities to his new boss, Emmanuel Macron. Like the French president, a former banker, Holroyd started his career in the private sector, at the management consultancy firm FTI. At 39, Macron is the youngest ever French president; Holroyd is nine years younger. Both are strongly pro-European and confident in their common mission.

“The Assemblée Nationale is going to profoundly change,” Holroyd told me, sipping fizzy water in a café near St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 16 June. Two days later, in the second round of the French legislative election, he was elected France’s MP for northern Europe – one of the 11 constituencies for French expats around the world – representing Macron’s party, En Marche! (“Forward!”), which swept to a resounding victory.

“People said, ‘These newbies from En Marche! won’t know what to do,’” he told me. “But they will reflect French society: diverse, equal, with multidisciplinary experiences.”

Macron’s election in May capped a remarkable 12 months for the former economy minister, who left the Parti Socialiste (PS) government to run as an independent candidate. But the real power – of the kind that will allow him to implement the liberal reforms he has promised France – arrived only with the legislative election victory.

En Marche! won 350 of the 577 parliamentary seats, a majority that should enable the president to pass laws in the house easily. And the party did so by selecting younger, more socially diverse candidates than is usual in French politics. As with Holroyd, most of the candidates for En Marche! were running for office for the first time. When the National Assembly reopens, three-quarters of the faces will be new.

The renewal of the political class was one of Macron’s main campaign pledges. “There was this will to stop the two main parties’ [the PS’s and the Républicains’] sectarian obstructionism,” Holroyd said. “The French people are fed up with it.”

Much like a Silicon Valley start-up disrupting a sector of the economy – Uber with taxis, for instance – En Marche! sought to disrupt French politics. Macron launched it in April 2016 as a “political club” while still serving in François Hollande’s government. Three months later, more than 3,000 people attended its first event in Paris. The movement welcomed people of all political parties, allowing them to sign up for free online.

Today En Marche! has more than 240,000 supporters. The party’s main source of funding was individual donations and during the presidential campaign, it raised €6.5m. (Macron also took out an €8m personal loan.)

The rise of Macron and En Marche! has shattered the accepted wisdom of French politics: 39 is too young for a president; one cannot be “neither left nor right”; a career in the private sector does not lead to politics; no one can run for the presidency without the support of a pre-existing party.

Yann L’Hénoret, the director of the documentary Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise (available on Netflix), described En Marche! as a “very young” team in which “everyone could give their own view” before Macron had the final say. “Young people are said not to be politically engaged. I saw the inverse, every day, all the time,” L’Hénoret told me.

En Marche! members set up more than 4,000 local committees across France and beyond. Anyone interested in Macron’s project could create one and invite family members, friends and neighbours to take part. “Engage in a march, a conversation, a dinner,” the movement’s website suggested.

The groups then started “the Great March”, a canvassing initiative. “It was like an audit of the society,” said Holroyd. A dual citizen of France and Britain who grew up in west London, he became one of the early marcheurs in July 2016, when he quit his consulting job to set up the London committee. He had never been a member of any party before but Brexit acted as a trigger. “I saw my father’s country tearing itself off from Europe and realised I would regret it if I didn’t contribute to Macron’s project, whose European values I profoundly share.”

A graduate of London’s Lycée Français and Kings College, Holroyd could easily engage with his French expat peers – something that helped him win 70 per cent of the vote in the second round. “The only other party to go and talk to the people was the Front National,” Holroyd said. “The particularity of En Marche! is that many members came from the private sector. It’s exceptional in politics that people in the party have professional experiences. It spoke to many people.”

As En Marche! crowdsourced its candidates, it also ensured that its policies resonated with their locals. During the London “march”, 95 per cent of the participants told the committee that they were expats in the UK because of the economic opportunities here. Macron wants France to be able to entice professionals, too. Financially and socially, his goal can be summed up as: “Make France attractive again.”

Achieving a parliamentary majority has boosted Macron’s hopes of implementing major changes. Reforms may start as soon as this summer, with a liberal reorganisation of France’s rigid labour laws, which currently offer strong protection for workers. “France must invest in the industries of the future,” Holroyd said, quoting his president by the word. “Renewable energy, denuclearisation, ecological transition . . . We must become champions in these fields.”

Despite the scale of the victory, Macron’s team will have noted that the turnout was at a historic low on 18 June – at 42 per cent – suggesting widespread voter apathy. And despite its much-praised social diversity, En Marche! has only one working-class MP for every five middle-class ones. “We are conscious that we’ll be in a difficult situation if, by the end of the mandate, things have not changed for the people who have been left behind for years,” Holroyd said. “Those in outer suburbs, in post-industrial and rural lands.”

If they are to succeed, Macron and his MPs will have to find a way to win them over.

Photo: Getty

A year on from the Brexit vote, it’s striking how little we know about where it will lead

By Anand Menon from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

So many questions, so few answers.

One year on. Anyone who hoped we’d know what Brexit might look like or even, heaven forbid, that we’d be inhabiting a post-EU UK by now, must be thoroughly disappointed.

Even those with more modest expectations are feeling slightly uncomfortable. Because, a year on, we don’t know that much more about what Brexit means than we did on 23 June last year (well, we know it means Brexit, I suppose).

We do know some things. First, that divorce talks are preceding trade talks, as the EU insisted – and David Davis denied – all along. Second, what the European Union wants in the initial negotiations is crystal clear and indeed on its website, if you’re interested.

Third, the government, for the moment, remains committed to the kind of hard Brexit it has laid out since the Conservative Party conference. Nothing that has been said or done since the election indicates a softening of that position.

That’s it. That’s essentially all we have to show for the last year. This isn’t to say that stuff hasn’t been done. Both the European Commission and the British civil service have been beavering away on the Brexit issue.

Papers have been written, careful, detailed analysis carried out. In fact Brexit has dominated the work of Whitehall since the fateful vote.

But for all this work, it’s striking how little we know about where this process will lead. The government’s commitment to a hard Brexit might not survive. Whether it does so or not will depend on what happens with the things we don’t know. The known unknowns, to coin (well, quote) a phrase.

First, we don’t know how long the prime minister will remain in post. This is obviously important, not least given Theresa May herself has seemingly single-handedly been defining the kind of Brexit Britain should seek. Yet there is more to it than that. A leadership election would take time, and eat up yet more of the two years stipulated by the EU for the Article 50 process. It would also open the rift within the Conservative party over Brexit. Always a good spectator sport. Never a recipe for effective government.

Second, we don’t know how parliament will behave. Much has been made of the "soft Brexit majority" in the Palace of Westminster. But remember last June? When the significant majority of pro-remain MPs were expected to kick up a fight over Brexit? The same MPs who nodded the triggering of Article 50 through with hardly a glance? We just do not know yet how MPs will behave.

And their behaviour will be shaped by both inter- and intra-party dynamics. Both the large parties are internally divided over Brexit. The Labour leadership seems happy to leave the single market. Many Labour MPs, in contrast, are fundamentally, and publicly, opposed to the idea. Whether loyalty (not least given the prospect of another election) triumphs over opinions on the EU remains to be seen.

As it does for the Tories. I imagine the phrase "do you really want to risk a Corbyn government" will soon trip off the tongue of every government whip. Whether this threat will prove effective is anyone’s guess. Tory Remainers certainly seemed to rein in their criticism of the prime minister following the "chocolate leather trousers" affair.

Maybe this was simply a case of keeping their powder dry until the legislation needed to make Brexit work hits parliament in the autumn. We’re about to find out. And it will matter much more now the Tories have lost their majority. 

Indeed, I think this, more than anything else, is why the prime minister called the election in the first place.

One crucial determinant of how MPs behave will be what public opinion does. Regular polling by YouGov since the referendum has, until recently, shown virtually no movement in attitudes towards Brexit.

Around 52 per cent think it was a good idea, and around 48 per cent a bad one. Sound familiar? There has, in recent weeks, been what could best be described as a slight wobble. What we don’t know is what will happen in the weeks to come. Should the polls show a swing away from Brexit, might politicians swing with it, increasing the pressure on the PM to modify and soften her stance?

Turning from Westminster to Whitehall, will a government with no majority adopt a different style to a government with a small one? This matters, particularly when it comes to business. The May Government before the election was notable for the way it put politics above economics, focusing on the need to "take back control" even if this meant the potential for real economic damage. A number of business leaders report getting short shrift when they visited ministers to voice their concerns.

But can a weak government be so dismissive? We know what most businesses want – certainly the kinds of business that get to knock on ministerial doors. They want single market and customs union membership. They want, in other words, a soft Brexit.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, it would seem, has been listening to them from the start. Will his colleagues now start to do so, too?

And if government policy does start to shift, this in turn will open up a whole host of new unknowns. Most importantly, might the EU be open to some sort of deal whereby we limit free movement but get some kind of single market membership? That discussion has simply not happened, because of the way in which Theresa May closed it off by stipulating a hard Brexit.

Most EU observers think a compromise is unlikely in the extreme. Yet while the EU won’t be more generous to a non-member state than to a member state, there is no reason a non-member state should buy into all of the core EU principles entirely, so there might be some room for compromise. Again, we don’t know. And we won’t unless we decide to ask.

So many questions, so few answers. That is the story of Brexit to date. One year on, and those answers are about to get clearer.

Anand Menon is the director of The UK in a Changing Europe. Read their report, EU referendum: one year on, to find out more

Photo: Getty

“They should be on bended knee apologising”: Chris Williamson warns Corbynsceptic Labour MPs

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 23, 2017.

The MP for Derby North on his return to Parliament, why Labour won in marginal seats, and how party unity could have led to a Labour government.

At 5am on election morning, Chris Williamson was ceremonially tearing up some binbags. Two dustbin liners had been taped over the gold and green “Chris Williamson MP” sign on his Derby North constituency office since 2015. When it was announced that he’d won England’s most marginal constituency back from the Tories, he headed down to the old office with his team, and they tore the binbags down, dust raining upon them.

“Those black bin liners taped round were like a reminder whenever you glanced up that, one day, it’d be nice to pull that off,” he grins. In his two years away from the Commons, having been beaten by 41 votes last election, Williamson had been using the office as an advice centre.

Before then, the former bricklayer had represented the Midlands constituency from 2010 to 2015, having served as a local councillor – and twice as council leader – for two decades.

All photos: Umaar Kazmi​

Now he’s back, and squatting in a vegan-friendly café along the river from Parliament as he waits to be given an office. His signature flatcap sits on the table beside a glass of sparkling water.

“I’m not a fan of that place anyway, really, it’s horrible and oppressive, and not really fit for purpose,” he says. “That’s the slight downside. It goes with the territory I suppose. If we could move out of Westminster, that would be nice – somewhere like Birmingham or Manchester or Derby even – the centre of the country, isn’t it?”

“New Labour’s dead, buried and finished”

Perhaps this distaste for the bubble is to be expected, as Williamson is an ardent Corbynite. I followed him on the campaign trail before the election, and he was championing Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and leadership on every doorstep. It seemed a rather brave move among many undecided voters at the time, but has now been vindicated. You can almost tell from his trainers, crumpled polo shirt and contended expression that Williamson is supremely comfortable in the most left-wing Labour party since he became an MP.

“New Labour’s dead,” he says, his eyes twinkling. “No doubt about that. It’s dead, buried and finished. It's a regrettable chapter in our history. Historians will think ‘my God, what were they doing?!’” he cries.

Williamson believes he won due to Jeremy Corbyn’s character, the manifesto, a “fantastic” local campaign, and an “outstanding” national campaign. He thanks Momentum activists rallying so many people that they often had 20 teams canvassing simultaneously in his seat. And he praises an online campaign that targeted different demographics – Ukip voters in particular would mention his videos.

“If they’d been more supportive then we’d have got over the line”

“We targeted some elements of our campaign to specific cohorts,” he says. “For example, we did a message online to people who had supported Ukip previously about how a Labour government would genuinely take back control, take on the corporations, bring back the utilities into public ownership – rather than controlled by international, global corporations many of which are ripping us off.”

Williamson adds that young people were enthused by the pledges to scrap tuition fees, abolish zero-hours contracts and raise the minimum wage. He also saw Tory voters switch, attracted by a policy programme that he describes as “common sense” rather than radical.

He admits that people warned him to “disassociate yourself from Jeremy if you’re going to win” when he began campaigning. But he tells me he would “have sooner lost than gone down that road”.

But he has strong words for those who were more sceptical, saying they “let down their members” and lamenting that “if they’d been more supportive over the intervening period, then we’d have probably got over the line”.

Williamson calls on all the Corbynsceptic MPs to apologise: “They should be down on their bended knees and apologising, in fact. Not just to Jeremy but to the entire Labour movement.”

However, he believes his party is “more united” now than it has been for the 41 years he’s been a member, and is happy to “move on” – expressing his gratitude for how much warmth he’s received from his MP colleagues, “given how critical I’ve been of them!”

It may be Chris Williamson’s time in the sun – or the “sunshine of socialism” as he puts it, quoting Keir Hardie – but he does have jitters about his majority. It is 2,015 – the digits matching the election year when he was defeated by the Tories. “It’s a reminder that we lost then!” he laughs.

> Now read Anoosh on the campaign trail in Derby North with Chris Williamson

Umaar Kazmi

Film Screening and Q&A: Cries from Syria

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky presents his powerful new film about the Syrian civil war.

Growing the U.S.-India economic relationship: The only way forward

By Joshua P. Meltzer, Harsha Vardhana Singh from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The June 26 White House meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and United States President Donald Trump will be an opportunity to reaffirm America’s commitment to deeper bilateral economic ties and to signal support for India, an economic and demographic powerhouse in Asia. While starkly different, the two leaders are both strong nationalists,…

South Africa's Democratic Alliance Weathers Twitter Scandal

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

A Trumpcare debacle is at risk of becoming real

From FT View. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Republicans are rushing through a bill that deserves to fail

Executive choice: to build or buy the next leader?

From The Big Read. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

In an era of looser networks and job-hopping, GE’s painstaking method of selecting its new CEO is becoming the exception

Watching Bob Dylan on stage made me yearn for the gigs of my youth

By Tracey Thorn from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Somewhere along the line, I’d lost the punky irreverence that made me delight in iconoclasm for its own sake.

A couple of weeks ago I failed in my journalistic duty. I went to see Bob Dylan at the Palladium, intending to review it, but I found to my dismay that I simply couldn’t.

I had assumed I would enjoy it, you see; that even if I didn’t love every musical moment, at the very least it would be something to be in the same room as a legend.

What I didn’t bargain for was that I’d hate every musical moment, not even make it to the end of the evening, and would then get home and sit glumly in front of the blank screen of my laptop, until the wordless hours forced upon me the realisation that, somewhere along the line, I’d lost the punky irreverence that used to make me delight in iconoclasm for its own sake, and I’d become respectful.

It wasn’t just that I knew, and wearily accepted, that a negative review would provoke angry responses, along the lines of, “Who do you think you are, puny songstress Tracey Thorn, slagging off our trailblazing genius Bob Dylan?”

It was that, at some level, a part of me would have agreed with them. I’m under no illusions about our respective status in the story of popular music: Dylan has a starring role, is a game-changer – a Nobel Prizewinner, for heaven’s sake. I had come to praise him, and I wasn’t sure the world needed me to bury him.

All I can tell you, briefly, is this. He doesn’t play guitar, spending the show either at the piano or standing at the mike. The hits are few and far between, and when he does a song we all know and love, “Tangled Up In Blue”, the crowd almost bursts into tears of relief – yet he sings it like a man who knows neither the words nor the tune, the sound mix reducing his vocal performance to a kind of endless two-note drone: na-NA-na-NA-na-NA-na-NA.

This from a man beloved and revered for his lyrics. If you’re nodding in understanding now, let’s leave it at that, and if you’re outraged and of the opposite opinion, again, let’s leave it at that.

After the show, someone tells me he has terrible arthritis and that’s why he can’t play guitar any longer. And I think of that wide-legged stance he adopts, both at the piano and standing to sing, and I wonder if he needs a hip replacement, and I feel nothing but sympathy. So perhaps I’m not cut out to be a critic, if I only like writing about things I like.

It set me thinking, though: what do I want from a gig? What are the nights that are seared on to my memory, and why?

There was Prince in his pomp on the Lovesexy tour, when even a long show at Wembley couldn’t contain all that he was, forcing him to carry on into the night at an after-party, unstoppable, untouchable.

Or the Smiths, young and triumphant at the Hacienda in 1983, where we wore secretive little badges printed with the word “Handsome”, and Morrissey hurled gladioli out to the audience, where they were caught and brandished, then dropped and trampled into a pulpy mess on the floor. Or the Kate Bush comeback gigs at the Apollo, which left me dizzy and weeping, more dishevelled than if I’d been on stage.

But nothing can match those vivid gigs of my teenage years, where the night out mattered more than who was on stage, where what I wore mattered more than what they sang. At Ian Dury and the Blockheads in 1978 at Hemel Hempstead Pavilion, the atmosphere was more party than concert: balloons and streamers filled the air, and I was in a blazer covered in badges, dancing in front of the stage with a menthol cigarette in one hand and a plastic glass in the other, and I got off with a plasterer called Mick.

It was sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, indeed. Or snogging and smoking and dancing. No wonder I count it as one of the best gigs of my life – but was that down to the band, or the being in a room full of hormones and possibility, on the brink of discovering who I was, buzzing with nicotine and electricity? Past a certain age, can any gig hope to conjure up that type of feeling? Even Dylan? 

Photo: Getty

Is new Netflix drama To The Bone glorifying eating disorders?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

We spoke to people with experience of eating disorders about To The Bone, a film about anorexia coming to Netflix next month.

A gaunt and thin girl sits at a stylish breakfast bar in an all-American, middle-class home. A plate of bland food is placed in front of her: pork, noodles, green beans and a bread roll. In a flash, she identifies the calories in each foodstuff from memory, raising a fist in triumph when her sister confirms she is correct. “It’s like you have calorie Asperger’s,” the sister says with an eye roll.

This is the opening few seconds of the trailer for Netflix’s To The Bone, a film which will be released on the streaming service this July. It premiered at Sundance this January, and has all the indie hallmarks you’d expect – quirky supporting family members, jangly music, dark jokes, an eccentric British love interest, sarcasm, and rousing emotional speeches. It also features lead Lily Collins (who has been open with her struggles with eating disorders in her teenage years) at a starkly low weight counting calories, performing surreptitious exercise regimes, weighing herself, and avoiding food.

The trailer has been watched over a million times since it was published less than two days ago, and has provoked a divided response from viewers who have experienced eating disorders. While some praise the film for its representation of anorexia, others feel that the film’s light-hearted tone and detailed depiction of the extreme food-avoidance behaviours are a dangerous combination that could be both glamourising and triggering.

17-year-old Maya*, a Lily Collins fan from France, told me she was pleased by the trailer. “I love Lily Collins, and I know she knows the subject well because she talks about her own experiences in the book she wrote last year.” She adds, “It seems to be a movie with a ‘happy ending’, and I think it’s important for people with anorexia to be given a little hope, like, ‘Yeah, you can survive this.’”

But even she is reluctant to comment on whether or not a portrayal like this is helpful as a representation of eating disorders more generally. “I’m not a doctor, nor a psychologist,” she says. “I don’t think only one film could represent all the different kinds of eating disorders, but I think we will get to see one example.”

“I actually cried when I first watched the trailer,” says 18-year-old Tony, a fan of Lily Collins and someone who has struggled with eating habits they describe as “similar to the ones that Ellen [Collins] has in the trailer”.

While Tony acknowledges that it might not represent everyone’s experiences, they remain hopeful about the drama. “What matters is that it’s a representation that feels authentic to both Lily Collins and the writer/director Marti Noxon, both of whom have been very open about their struggles with anorexia in the past. It also feels like an authentic representation of my own personal experiences, and that gives me high hopes for it.”

“My first reaction was that it looks like a fairly decent portrayal of a particular type of anorexia and would like to watch it,” Liv, 25, told me – but adds, “It looks like it’ll be representative of a certain type of eating disorder which the media and society thinks is what anorexia is – they’ve chosen an ‘accessible’ eating disorder involving an obsession with calories, being thin, being in control.”

Putting aside the fact that jokes relying on autism stereotypes perhaps don’t signal the best start to a supposedly sensitive exploration of mental health, eating disorder charities like Beat now advise that the media avoid specifics of behaviours around food in the depiction of eating disorders. This is both because they put an emphasis on food, rather than the emotional issues that lie at the root of most eating disorders, and as they can encourage audiences to adopt the same techniques. Numbers – be they related to weight lost or gained, days gone without eating, or calories consumed, are considered particularly triggering – as are images of people at a very low weight. To The Bone heavily features all of the above.

“I am cautious to divide any form of mental health representation into ‘good’ and ‘bad’,” says Bethany Rose Lamont, the editor-in-chief of mental health journal Doll Hospital. “It’s simply too reductive and encourages a sense of moral panic that does not support those struggling, whilst still fanning the flames of fear.”

Nevertheless, she does have deep concerns about To The Bone, which, she argues, is grounded in thinspiration aesthetics. “As someone who has struggled with anorexia for over a decade I’m intimately aware of the interplay of images and illness. Often the consumers of mental health screen culture are struggling with their mental health themselves – there’s a reason why Cassie from Skins is so popular on thinspiration tumblrs!”

“We talk about recovery from deprivation of food, disordered eating and so on, but it’s also important that we talk about recovery from thinspiration images,” she continues. “Thinspiration has a distinct language and aesthetic: youth, whiteness, model looks, great make-up, knock knees, shining hair, oversized shirts to accentuate one’s smallness. It is also highly addictive and was my drug of choice for many years.”

She adds: “Whatever the earnest intention of this film project might be it is important to discuss how the images we have seen runs parallel with the language of thinspiration. Images have power, images of ‘thinness’ particularly, as anorexia itself is such a deeply visual illness. It is very easy for a film highlighting the horror of this devastating illness to unintentionally fall into this visual language or play into the ‘anorexic gaze’.”

Sadhbh O’Sullivan, who struggled with disordered eating throughout her teenage years and was diagnosed with anorexia at 19, had a similar reaction. “This mental health/tragedy porn is so so irresponsible,” she tells me. “Because when you’re anorexic you surround yourself with visuals like this trailer, which is so reminiscent of thinspo. You feel a compulsion to keep looking at it; to surround yourself with jutting bones and gaunt faces.”

In fact, images and quotes from the trailer, which features close-ups of Collins’s underweight body and the repeated mantra “I’m in control”, have already begun to appear in thininspiration communities on social media (which I won’t link to, for obvious reasons). “Honestly, Lily Collins looks so freaking good in it, I’m just using it as thinspo,” one user writes. Others discuss over the widely-reported amount of weight Collins lost for the part. Another writes they are “thinking about Lily Collins doing sit ups, wondering why I am just laying here”.

Liv notes her concerns that Lily Collins has been presented as still beautiful at a dangerously low weight. “She has clearly had her hair and make-up done to make her look prettier. That sort of gothic hollow look is what I would have aspired to look like when I was a teenager, but in reality when I was in hospital with other anorexics no one looked good. Everyone was really hairy with lanugo, had very hollow faces, and couldn’t really talk much as we didn’t have the energy. This side of anorexia isn’t really portrayed in the trailer.”

“The fact is that the reality of an eating disorder is really, really boring,” says Carrie Arnold, author of the book Decoding Anorexia. “Oh look, someone is counting calories again. They’re weighing themselves for the eleventy billionth time. They haven’t left their room in days except to purge.”

“It’s also not representative of the experience of an average person with an eating disorder,” she adds. “Most people with EDs are average or above average weight. They’re not necessarily young, affluent, or white, either.”

This is something that particularly troubles Sadhbh. “My anorexia never looked like Lily Collins’,” she tells me. “Though I desperately wanted it to.”

For many viewers, watching the trailer alone has been a triggering experience. “I’m not surprised,” says Arnold, citing the screen’s “long history of glamourising eating disorders”. From Skins and Gossip Girl to Pretty Little Liars and Black Swan, eating disorders seems to only exist in TV and film when it’s being experienced by a strikingly beautiful, vulnerable young woman.

“When this pops up without warning it can trigger something that sends you spiralling,” Sadhbh adds. “Though I’m technically recovered, anorexia never really leaves you.”

“This trailer has been a horrible, painful reminder of that.”


*Some names have been changed.


Oliver Stone on interviewing Vladimir Putin: "There are two sides to every story"

By Kirstie McCrum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The director says his conversations with the Russian president, like all of his works, speak for themselves.

“You’re going to start with this blogging bullshit?” Oliver Stone raises his voice at a reporter, a look of fury on his face.

The director has been asked about the veracity of a video shown to him by the Russian president in his recent Showtime series, The Putin Interviews. The hapless Norwegian journalist who is asking the question notes that bloggers have taken exception to the footage’s true provenance.

What bloggers think of Stone's work, however, is clearly of no consequence to him. When another journalist asks if he’s afraid to be seen as Vladimir Putin’s "PR guy", though, he erupts. 

“Do you really think I’m going to go and spend two years of my life doing a tourist guide book? You really think I’m that kind of a filmmaker? Do you have no respect for my work?”

Stone is on fiery form at Starmus science and music festival in Trondheim, Norway. His series on Putin was filmed over two years. The final four hours of footage were cut from an original 19 of recorded interviews, which covered such diverse topics as “Russia in the 1990s and the 2000s, the American expansion of Nato, the American support of terrorism in Central Asia, Syria from his point of view, Ukraine, nuclear arms…”

Critics, however, have termed it a hagiography, and argued it offers Putin a deferential platform to share his view. Others have dismissed Stone as a propaganda poodle. 

Stone counters the criticism: “I researched it, I did the best I could, and I think it proves the old adage that there are two sides to every story.”

Whether because of naivety or professional courtesy, on the face of it, in the interview series the 70-year-old appears to buy into everything Putin tells him. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," is all he'll say at the conference.

Later on, in the calm after the storm, we speak alone. “This was a special deal,” he tells me. “He was very congenial and articulate and willing to talk. He grabbed the moment.

“People need to keep something in mind. They said I was soft on him - that’s nonsense.

“You can’t have an interview where you’re asking hostile questions. He would have just tolerated it and said what he did, and then after that first interview he would have not have done a second or a third.

“I was interested in the long view. Nobody in the West has gone that far with him that I have seen.”

The long view is a speciality of Stone’s, as he reveals with his address at Starmus to a packed auditorium. As befits a science festival, he addresses the development of the atomic bomb and the modern digital arms race of cyber warfare.

In his view, “politics invariably gets a stranglehold on science and takes it in the wrong way”. He cites J Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the nuclear bomb, and computer analyst Edward Snowden’s life following his decision to turn whistleblower. 

Stone directed the film Snowden, a task which involved navigating numerous obstacles, including gaining access to the real Snowden, by then in Russia, himself. 

“Science gets slaughtered by politics,” he tells me.

In the shadow of the criticism on the Putin front, he admits that from an American perspective, for him to become involved with Snowden was, well… “beyond the pale". 

But despite – or perhaps because of – the Academy Award-winning director’s commitment to the truth, he’s not letting go of various facts as he sees them.

“There is no evidence as far as I’m concerned for the Russian hacking allegations,” he says, adding that this was an “assessment” from the US security services which turned into a “farce”.

He has read the detail for himself, he says – and he also appears on film looking like he believes Putin when the president says it’s nothing to do with him.

Back at home, the American domestic political situation has him as appalled as ever. He is critical, not only of Donald Trump, but the system the US president operates in. 

“It seems that the president does not have the power he thinks he has," he says. "You get elected, you think it’s a democracy, but there is this mechanism inside, this Deep State – intelligence agencies, military industrial, the generals, the Pentagon, CIA combined with other intel – which seems to have some kind of inner lock.”

Although Stone places characters at the heart of many of his films, he finds Trump hard to figure out.

“I don’t know what Trump’s mind is like, I think so few people do," he muses. "He says super-patriotic things suddenly like 'I love the CIA, I’m going to really support you, I love the military, I love generals, I love all that beautiful new equipment' – that he sold to Saudi Arabia.

“He also said, and it’s very disturbing, ‘the next war, we’re going to win’. As if you can win a war where you use cyber and nuclear and various weapons. He’s thinking this is a game like a child.

“The purpose of war is not to have one.”

Stone believes – as Trump initially seemed to profess – that Russia will be the chief ally in future for the United States: “They can be great partners in every walk of life, it’s crazy to have them as an enemy."

Nevertheless, he is not as slavish to the official Russian line as many have countenanced.

“I was able to shoot this documentary because of my reputation," he says. Some people say he pulled his punches, I counter.

“Gloves off, gloves on – the truth is, he sees things his way," Stone says. "I’m not there to change his mind, I’m there to show his mind.”

In his view, an observant watcher will learn about Putin just by watching him. "The camera doesn’t lie – the camera tells you things, body language, eyes – you can get a feel sometimes," he says. "I think if you watch all four hours you’ll see that we got an enormous amount of information."

Perhaps those who sit through those four hours will be satisfied that they know more about Putin – or about Stone himself. After all, if the camera doesn't lie, it doesn't lie for anyone.

As I leave the room, Stone raises his voice after me: “Don’t change my words.” He’s smiling broadly as he speaks.

Photo: Getty

Why the 2017 election was much worse for Theresa May, and much better for Jeremy Corbyn, than it looked

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

To understand the 2017 result, you need to understand the 2015 one. 

There is a lot stuff talking about the election as if Theresa May did quite well – and a lot talking about what Jeremy Corbyn did right, focusing on his vote share rather than his more important gain, vastly increasing the number of winnable seats.

The 2015 election result was so bad for Labour, as I wrote immediately after, before Corbyn was even on the ballot, that they had lost two elections in one night.

Seats like North Swindon, Labour-held until 2010, had Conservative majorities in excess of 10,000. They needed a swing of 1997-proportions to get a majority of one, and to gain close to 100 seats. Their vote was badly distributed, going up in seats they held and retreating in seats they needed to win to form a government.

In 2017, the picture is very different. Labour needs a swing of just 3.5 per cent to win a majority of one, well within the reach of the possible. A swing of just 1.4 per cent from Conservative to Labour would gain the party 30 seats and put them in office in a minority administration – not one in which they could carry through all of Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto, but one in which they would be able to easily govern from a centre-left perspective with the help of the nationalist parties and the Liberal Democrats.  

In contrast, to get into minority administration territory after 2015, Labour needed close to a six-point swing. Just 15 seats would have fallen into Labour hands on a 1.5 per cent swing, well below the 33 seats that Labour gained on 8 June.

Vote share is not all that relevant under first past the post. What matters about Corbyn’s performance as opposed to Ed Miliband’s is that his vote is efficient under first past the post and he has created an electoral map where Labour can honestly talk about winning the next election. (Regardless of who had won the Labour leadership in 2015, their best case scenario was not victory but creating the conditions for victory at the election after that, as I wrote at the time.)

Nor is vote share that useful a metric to talk up May’s dire performance. Ultimately, there were four reasons why Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn got such a high vote share: 1) The collapse of Ukip following the referendum, 2) The failure of the Liberal Democrats to revive in a big way, 3) Voters who had never voted until the referendum continuing the habit in the election, and 4) First-time voters motivated by Corbyn.

Neither May nor Corbyn can take credit for the first three, and only Corbyn can take credit for the fourth.  The others were the result of decisions taken by, variously: David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Tim Farron, Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall.

Most of the increase in vote share was about what happened to the minor parties. Their collapse and failure increased the size of the marketplace for the big two.

And on this metric you get a better idea of Corbyn’s success and May’s failure. Corbyn took 48.5 per cent of the Labour-Conservative combined score, up from 45 per cent under Ed Miliband. Theresa May in contrast took 51 per cent of the two-party combined score, down from 55 per cent under David Cameron.

I will write in more detail about the 2015 result, and what the 2017 result has done for the prospects of the four major parties. But the most important thing to understand is this: while there are legitimate arguments that 8 June 2017 might be “peak Corbyn”, the election result was a very good one for Labour and a very bad one for the Conservative Party. That has nothing to do with their expectations before the exit poll – and everything to do with the actual pattern of votes and seats across the country. 

Photo: Getty

Cheer the Exeter boys in skirts, but we'll have real progress when it's no longer news

By Glosswitch from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

You have nothing to lose but your pockets!

When I first learned that the boys of Exeter’s ISCA Academy were arriving to school wearing skirts, I couldn’t help wanting to cheer. Good for them! It’s about time someone tackled the blatant sexism of gendered dress codes head on.

There’s no reason at all why boys shouldn’t wear skirts, or dresses, or anything else arbitrarily coded as “feminine”. Make the most of it, lads! You have nothing to lose but your pockets!

And why stop there? If we’re serious about increasing equality between the sexes, it’s about time we challenged anything that needlessly exaggerates difference. Clothing might seem a trivial matter, but gendered dress codes reinforce much broader beliefs about how boys and girls should look, think, feel and behave.

The rule that states “a boy should not wear a skirt” sits alongside the one that states “a boy must not be vulnerable, passive or weak”. A boy must not, in other words, be like a girl, because girls are inferior (hence it’s not so controversial for a girl to wear trousers. For girls, wanting to be like a boy is seen as aspirational).

My delight at the Exeter schoolboys’ protest was of course tempered by the fact that theirs is not a protest in favour of gender neutrality per se. The boys aren’t actually fighting for the right to wear skirts, but wearing skirts in protest at not being permitted to wear shorts.

I have to admit to finding this a little disappointing. While I applaud their bravery in taking the teacher who told them to “wear a skirt” at her word, I do start to wonder whether this is a protest that still depends on the idea that girls less important and more trivial than boys. After all, the boys don’t really want to dress like girls on a daily basis; on the contrary, they’re using the sheer ridiculous of such an idea as a means to an end. It’s all a bit of a joke, but it’s one that risks coming at the expense of their female counterparts. It’s like arriving at school in clown shoes or a Donald Trump mask; it makes the point precisely because that’s not really the person you’d want to be.

I had similar concerns on reading of the French bus drivers who launched a skirt-wearingr protest in Nantes. Cheering them on feels like the liberal thing to do, yet there’s a problem with the idea that men who use skirt-wearing as a form of protest are courageously challenging gender norms on behalf of us all.

If we genuinely accept that there is nothing shameful, unnatural or undesirable about male people wanting to dress in a feminine manner, then surely we should encourage those who do so. But wearing a skirt to draw attention to yourself because you want something else – in this case, to wear a different type of “men’s” clothing – reinforces the idea that there is something not quite right about the skirt-wearing man. Just let him wear shorts and “normal” service can resume.

One of my own sons has worn a dress to school on more than one occasion, not as a form of protest, but simply because he wanted to. Admittedly these have always been on non-uniform days; on an average day his main nod to femininity is wearing his long blonde hair in a French braid.

I used to have parents asking me why I allowed  him to look the way he does or what I thought was “really behind it”; these days I’m more likely to get people telling me how cool or brave he is (when they’re not telling me how good he is at football “for a girl”). I find this change in attitude reassuring, although I worry whether things will change again when his body starts to look more obviously male. Will people still find it courageous if it’s neither a protest nor a childish phase, but just a male person who doesn’t consider “girl stuff” off-limits?

I wish the Exeter boys well in their protest. The head teacher at their school has said she would be “happy to consider” a change in the school’s uniform policy. My guess is this may be to allow boys to wear shorts, but let’s hope she goes a little further than that.

There’s nothing demeaning or ridiculous about being a boy who wears “girls’” clothes;  we’ll know we’ve made real progress the day it doesn’t make the news.

Photo: Getty

A Saudi prince comes close to absolute power

From FT View. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Mohammed bin Salman has a vision but ruling the kingdom will be risky

Philip Hammond's house gaffe is a reminder of what the Tories lost when David Cameron left

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's blunder confirmed an old fear about the Conservative Party. 

Philip Hammond got into a spot of bother this morning describing the need for a transitional agreement with the European Union by comparing it to moving into a house, saying: "you don't necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it”.

This immediately surprised a lot of people, because for most people, you do, in fact, move all of your furniture in on the first day you buy a house. Or rent a house, or a flat, or whatever. Most people who buy houses are part of housing chains – that is, they sell their house to raise some of the capital to buy another one, or, if they are first-time buyers, they are moving from the private rented sector into a house or flat of their own.

They don’t, as a rule, have a spare bolthole for “all their furniture” to wait around in. Hammond’s analogy accidentally revealed two things – he is rich, and he owns more than one home. (I say “revealed”. Obviously these are things you can find out by checking the register of members’ interests, but they are, at least, things that are not immediately obvious hearing Hammond speak.)

That spoke to one major and recurring Conservative weakness: that people see them as a party solely for the rich. Focus groups conducted by BritainThinks consistently showed that when people were asked which group of TV families might vote Conservative, the only one that people consistently picked were the “posh couple” from GoggleBox.

David Cameron’s great achievement as Conservative leader was in winning two elections – the first, in 2010, the most successful night for the Conservatives since 1931, with 97 gains overall, the second, their first parliamentary majority for 23 years – despite being a graduate of Eton and Oxford leading a party that most voters fear will only look out for the rich.

He did it by consistently speaking and acting as if he were significantly less well-to-do than he was. Even his supposed 2013 gaffe when asked what the price of bread was – when he revealed that he preferred to use a breadmaker – projected a more down-to-earth image than his background suggested His preferred breadmaker cost a hundred quid and could easily have been found in any upper-middle class home in any part of his country. One of Cameron’s great successes was in presenting himself as an affable upper-middle-class dad to the nation, when he was in fact, well-to-do enough to employ a literal breadmaker had he so chosen.

This is slightly unfair on Philip Hammond who went to a state school in Essex and is by any measure less posh than Cameron. But his gaffe speaks to their big post Cameron problem (and indeed their big pre-Cameron problem) which is that while many conservative ideas are popular, the Conservative Party isn’t. Most of their big politicians are a turn-off, not a turn-on.

And until they can find a genuine replacement for David Cameron, miserable results like 2017 may become the norm, rather than the exception. 

Photo: Getty

The moonwalkers: what it's like to belong to the world's most exclusive club

By Kirstie McCrum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

"The blue and the white and the brown just hung in the blackness of space."

It’s been almost 50 years since man first walked on the moon – and there were only a grand total of six missions.

From 1969 until 1972, as humanity reached out into space, these men – and they were all men – were at the forefront of scientific research and discovery.

But in 2017, the six survivors – now with a combined age of 505 – are the rare members of an exclusive club. The other six moonwalkers have already passed away.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was on Apollo 11, Charlie Duke was on Apollo 16 and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt was an Apollo 17 moonwalker. For the first time, at the Starmus festival in Trondheim, Norway, the three have come together to discuss their experience.

The three share “a special relationship, no question about it”, according to Duke. He tells me: “Our experiences are different but they’re the same in so many respects.”

Aldrin – unable to appear in person due to doctor’s orders – quips on camera from his home in Florida that President Dwight Eisenhower was advised that they should send a philosopher or maybe a poet up. His response, possibly apocryphal, came: “No, no - I want success."

As a result, it is up to these scientists to find the words to describe the off-Earth adventure which is the defining event of a moonwalker's life. 

A poetic description comes from Texan resident Duke. First and foremost a test pilot, his interest in space was piqued by the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957. He joined Nasa in 1966.

Now 81, Duke served as mission control support throughout many Apollo missions, most notably as the voice of Capsule Communicator when Neil Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon in 1969.

He tells me: “Once we left Earth’s orbit, we turned our spaceship around and there was the whole Earth 40,000km away.

“The blue and the white and the brown just hung in the blackness of space. That contrast between the vivid blackness and the bright Earth – this jewel of Earth I like to call it - was right there.”

Aldrin started his career as a mechanical engineer, before joining up as a jet fighter in the US Air Force during the Korean War.

His gung-ho spirit and enthusiasm for space have not deserted him even at the age of 87 – he appears onscreen at the festival wearing a "Get your ass to Mars" T-shirt.

The most memorable experience for him came when he congratulated Neil Armstrong, the first of the team to walk on the moon (he died in 2012). But in the lunarscape, memories get confused – the men remember the moment differently.

“After the landing, I looked over at Neil, and we smiled. I remember patting him on the back and he remembers shaking hands. So here were two first-hand witnesses and we couldn’t agree on what actually happened when we got there.”

For Aldrin, the significance of the moonwalk was looking at the moon’s surface from close-up – the lunar soil, or regolith – and what happened when an astronaut's boot stepped onto it. 

“It was so remarkable, the way that it retained its exact form,” he marvels, 48 years on.

Aldrin's fascination with the moon's surface was shared by Schmitt, the 12th, and so far, last, man to walk on the Moon. A trained geologist, he was also the first scientist to do so.

In Schmitt's case, the rocky surface of the moon was enough to draw him into lunar research, which he still conducts at the age of 81.

“The commander told me as soon as I got out I had to look up and see the Earth," he recalls. "I said ‘Well, chief, you’ve seen one Earth, you’ve seen them all’."

In truth, having spent three days looking at the Earth from his craft, Schmitt’s priority was in looking down at the new surface under his feet.

After landing in a valley deeper than the Grand Canyon, his chief concern was just getting to work collecting samples in a lifesize laboratory.

While the moment on the moon may be the initiation into an elevated celebrity, it is followed quite literally a fall back to earth. 

In his post-Moon life, Duke found God.

“A lot of us have a letdown [afterwards]," he admits. Duke was 36 when he landed on the moon in April 1972. By December, the Apollo programme was over. "In January ’73, the thought occurred to me, ‘what am I going to do now?’"

Achieving his life's ambition before hitting middle age turned out not to be as satisfying as he expected. "Because you’d climbed the top, you got to the ultimate high when you were still a young man - and the drive that took you to the ultimate high was still there," he says. "That was a struggle."

In the years since, Duke has looked at his experience as a religious one. Yet he insists God wasn’t present for him when he touched down on the lunar body.

“The Moon flight was not a spiritual experience," he says. "I didn’t understand the wonder of God’s universe. I was enjoying the beauty and the excitement of this mission.”

The three men agree that Mars is the next step for the future of humanity, but there are safety and speed concerns.

“There is potential important work to be done in better physiological understanding of human exposure to long duration space flight which is going to happen whenever we go to Mars,” says Schmitt.

“Anything we do as human beings that’s productive and worthwhile carries risk, either physical of psychological. Radiation, physiological exposure to weightlessness for long durations, and the danger of landing on a distant planet where the atmosphere is not going to be much help - but you do accept the risk that it might end up as a one-way trip.”

But after all of that - the life, the death, the heartache - Duke says he would go back up there if he could.

“At my age now I wouldn’t volunteer to go to Mars - but I would volunteer for a round-trip to the Moon again.”

Starmus Festival runs in Trondheim until Friday June 23. For more information, visit Starmus.

Photo: Getty

The NS Podcast #222: Queen's Speech Special

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

Helen and Stephen discuss what was left out, watered down and generally squished around in the Queen's Speech - from prison reform to fox hunting - and what kind of stage it sets for the coming parliamentary term. Will Labour's stance on immigration have to change? And what Brexit deal could secure a parliamentary majority? Clue: it's a royal mess.

Quotes of the episode:

Helen on domestic violence: "The big lesson of the last couple of weeks is that the involvement of domestic violence in Terror has finally made (slightly more men) take it slightly more seriously. As actually now it becomes part of an anti-radicalisation process."

Stephen on Conservative strategy: "If you look at the back end of the Conservative government in the 90s: when your parliamentary situation is rocky, the best way of dealing with that is just for parliamentary not to sit all that much. Don't bring the pain."

Helen on Brexit: "There is an interesting complacency about the dominance and attractiveness of the British economy [...] whereas actually our economy has recovered quite badly and our productivity is still quite low. I wouldn't be that smug about the British economy."

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed:, or listen using the player below.

Want to give us feedback on our podcast, or have an idea for something we should cover?

Visit for more details and how to contact us.




Spinning around: what our political fables reveal about us

By Hannah Rose Woods from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Do the stories we tell ourselves need to be true?

How should we make sense of politics in an age of uncertainty? In times of doubt and turmoil, we reach for familiar narratives that shape the mess of current affairs into a coherent form. And the messier the present gets, the simpler we need the stories we tell ourselves to be.

“Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting.” So begins the author Rebecca Solnit’s recent psychological study of Donald Trump – a sinister fairy tale in which the president of the United States is envisaged as a child emperor, cosseted in a palace of mirrors  which are there only to indulge his self-regard.

Writing the appalling rise of Trump as a cautionary tale for children was a stroke of brilliance. It makes the inexplicable explicable: Solnit is knowingly playing on the unsettling sense that something has gone terribly wrong in the grand narrative of modern history – how can this man be president? But it also offers a measure of hope to the reader. We know how such fairy tales end: no one, least of all those in power, will escape being held to account by those below them.

If US politics currently looks like something out of a Brothers Grimm story, post-election Britain resembles Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The New Yorker’s satirical article “The Book of Jeremy Corbyn” recently styled the Labour leader as a sandal-wearing prophet of the people, emerging from the desert to challenge Theresa May’s avaricious “High Priestess”. The right-wing media is implicated: “And the chief scribes wrote upon tablets, saying, Jeremy is false of tongue. He hideth wickedness in his heart. And his sums do not add up . . . And nobody paid any attention.”

These fables, by reaching for the fictional, often cut straight to the truth. They have the ring of psychological accuracy to them. In our “post-truth” world of “alternative facts”, in which the weirdness of current events seems to outstrip even the imaginative capacities of political satire, this kind of storytelling seems to be a particularly fitting medium in which to tell the truth.

How often have you looked at the news during the past few weeks and months and thought, “You couldn’t make it up”? Why not, then, make it up? Why no reach for myths, fairy tales, or archetypes to make sense of reality?

Yet invented stories can distract us from the truth. We call political storytelling “spin” for good reason: we know that there are media moguls and spin doctors out there, behind the scenes, weaving a narrative that distracts us from what is really going on. And the stories that politicians choose to present us with are revealing. You can learn a great deal about a person from their favourite story.

The Conservative Party’s favourite allegory is the assassination of Caesar, which has been used at least since the ousting of Margaret Thatcher to interpret every instance of strife within the party’s upper echelons. When asked for comment on the resignations of Theresa May’s advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, for instance, Jacob Rees-Mogg reportedly quipped, “When Caesar is under attack, the Praetorian guard must sacrifice themselves.”

Rees-Mogg’s spiritual classmate in Latin grammar, Boris Johnson, made a similar analogy following Michael Gove’s leadership bid after the EU referendum, alluding to a speech by Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as he announced his decision to bow out of the leadership race.

This is very telling. It suggests that the Conservative Party has, of late, been focused on its own internecine disputes at the expense of the national interest. While the country is left in disarray – the result of two Conservative prime ministers calling for a national vote in failed attempts to shore up their own power – Tory politicians are busy reaching for grand Shakespearean comparisons for themselves and wondering who is going to stab whom in the back.

You may notice that they play all the main characters in their allegory and that we plebs don’t feature very much in this classical storytelling. In addition, no one seems to have realised that the events of the Ides of March make for a terrible contemporary analogy, because the death of Caesar led to civil war.

Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations are due to begin this week. May’s language of “hard Brexit” has become increasingly confrontational, to the point that it seems as if she genuinely conceives of Britain’s relationship with the EU as a kind of diplomatic war. Indeed, war stories are frequently reached for by Brexiteers, who describe the referendum as a Battle of Britain-esque stand against Europe (forgetting the Polish, Czech, Irish, French and Belgian squadrons that fought alongside British pilots).

But we are not at war over Brexit, and it damages the political debate to use a poor reading of Second World War history as a way of conceiving of our position in Europe. Narratives are reassuring, but there is a fine line between fiction and fantasy. Telling a story is, in a way, an exercise in power, because the storyteller chooses which parts can be left out of view.

We need to question the stories we are given and why we are being given them. And we need to ask whether the stories we tell ourselves are true. 


Canada's Military Gets More Cyber, and the Headaches That Come With It

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Israel’s artists are celebrated abroad; less so at home

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

IT WAS a red-letter day for Hebrew literature. On June 14th David Grossman, one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, won the Man Booker International Prize for “A Horse Walks Into a Bar”. Also on the shortlist of six was another Israeli, Amos Oz. For a small country whose politicians normally gush over any international accolade, the response was uncharacteristically terse. It took Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, nearly 24 hours to post a single sentence of congratulation.

Mr Netanyahu’s reticence is indicative of a cold war between right-wing nationalists and the country’s left-leaning cultural elite, epitomised by Mr Grossman. The two men clashed in 2015 when Mr Grossman was among a group of writers who renounced their candidacy for the Israel Prize for Literature after Mr Netanyahu tried to remove some judges whom he claimed were “anti-Zionist”.

Mr Grossman received the Booker for one of his least political books. But for more than three...Continue reading

Syria’s multi-sided war escalates yet again

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

ON JUNE 18th the unexpected happened. For the first time since America’s involvement in the skies over Kosovo 18 years ago, an American fighter plane shot down a hostile jet. America targeted the Syrian plane after it bombed American-backed forces battling to drive the jihadists of Islamic State (IS) from their capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The downing of the Syrian plane and a string of recent air strikes and skirmishes between ground forces backed by America and Iran, have opened a new chapter in the multi-sided Syrian war. This raises concerns of further escalation in a conflict that has already sucked in neighbours and regional powers. Russia, enraged by the attack on the regime it supports, threatened in retaliation to track American warplanes with its missile systems should their pilots stray west of the Euphrates river. And Iran, which already supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, with ground troops, escalated its involvement on June 18th by firing a...Continue reading

Stop spoiling Hungary’s prime minister: What to do when Viktor Orban erodes democracy

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  When Hungary’s prime minister erodes democracy, Europe should punish him Print Headline:  Stop spoiling Viktor Orban Print Fly Title:  Human rights in Hungary UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  Stop spoiling Hungary’s prime minister Main image:  20170624_LDP001_0.jpg IN 1989, during the dying days of the Soviet Union, a long-haired 26-year-old dissident called Viktor Orban addressed a crowd in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square. The charismatic young liberal told the Russians to withdraw from Hungary. He rejected “the dictatorship of a single party”. He called for free elections. How things change. Today Mr Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, is one of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends in Europe. His country is increasingly dominated by one party, his own. ...

Britain and the European Union: Let the Brussels games begin

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  The Brexit negotiations get under way Print Headline:  The David and Michel show Print Fly Title:  Britain and Europe UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  Britain and the European Union Location:  BRUSSELS Main image:  20170624_brp502.jpg ONE referendum, one election and 12 wobbly months later, Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union at last began on June 19th. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, came to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. The two men beamed for the cameras and swapped gifts: a walking stick for Mr Davis, an account of a hubristic Himalayan expedition for Mr Barnier. There was no attempt to disguise the symbolism. The talks themselves ...

When the gloves come off: British business prepares for a bare-knuckle fight with the government

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Business squares up for a bare-knuckle fight against too hard a Brexit Print Headline:  When the gloves come off Print Fly Title:  The government and business UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  When the gloves come off Main image:  20170624_BRD001_0.jpg IT HAS been a dispiriting year for many British businesspeople. Most voted to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum. They accepted defeat, but then looked on in horror as Theresa May, the new prime minister, veered towards an extreme form of hard Brexit, promising to leave the single market and customs union and to impose harsh migration restrictions. This has been accompanied by a ceaseless flow of vitriol from politicians on all sides, triggered in part by the controversial bankruptcy of BHS, a ...

Licence to bill: Klarna, a Swedish fintech unicorn, gets a full banking licence

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  A Swedish fintech firm’s move to become a bank is part of a trend Print Headline:  Licence to bill Print Fly Title:  Financial technology UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  Licence to bill Main image:  20170624_FND002_0.jpg BANKS moan incessantly about over- regulation. Yet their banking licences come with perks: in most places only licensed institutions can accept deposits and offer current accounts; within the EU, “passporting” means a bank licensed in one country may operate across the single market. So some European financial-technology (“fintech”) upstarts have started to seek banking licences. On June 19th, Klarna, a Swedish payments firm valued at $2.25bn, became the latest—and the largest so far—to get one. European fintech firms have various ...

Lexington: Why nationalists are so bad at foreign policy

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Donald Trump, a skilled populist, is oddly unworried by global unpopularity Print Headline:  The costs of “America First” Print Fly Title:  Lexington UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  Lexington Main image:  20170624_usd000.jpg NATIONALIST politicians come in many varieties, from blustering to downright scary, but most share a common flaw. They forget, or do not care enough, that foreigners have politics, too. The marrow-deep hopes, fears and grievances of their own citizens fascinate them. But all too often, nationalist and populist leaders behave as if other countries are bloodless technocracies, guided by coolly weighed interests. President Donald Trump is guilty of just this error whenever he predicts that other governments will bend to his will ...

A Zambian opposition leader fights treason charges for not stopping his car

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Failure to park lands a man in the dock

TRAFFIC offences rarely undermine democracy. In Zambia, however, the government’s pursuit of a high-profile traffic offender has done just that. On April 8th a convoy of cars carrying Hakainde Hichilema, the main opposition leader, did not stop on the side of the road to make way for a motorcade carrying Edgar Lungu, the president. Two days later police raided Mr Hichilema’s home and whisked him to prison. On June 8th a magistrate sent the case to the High Court, where Mr Hichilema (pictured) and five others face charges of treason for allegedly putting the president’s life at risk. Mr Hichilema, a businessman, denies the charge, saying it is motivated by “hatred” and “political competition”.

In politics, as on the road, Mr Hichilema has not been giving way to his rival. He continues to dispute the results of a presidential election held last August. Official tallies gave him 47.6% of the vote and Mr Lungu...Continue reading

In Africa, city elections are where the action is

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Who’s the boss?

AT A street corner in Kangemi, a neighbourhood of tin-roofed shacks and new brick tenements in the west of Nairobi, men huddle into what are called street parliaments. Standing several deep, they debate politics, each man speaking in turn, with a moderator at the centre. “We are done with these thieves,” says Jeremiah Mukaiti, a 53-year-old caretaker. “We need change.” Others pipe up with similar complaints. “The government is doing nothing. They steal money, and their promises come to nothing,” says Cyrus Injiloa, a 36-year-old security guard.

Much of the talk is about the general elections, which are scheduled for August. Voters will pick from candidates running for president right down to those standing as municipal councillors. Uhuru Kenyatta, the president, will probably win a second term; no incumbent Kenyan president has ever lost an election.

Go down a level, however, and politics is far more competitive,...Continue reading

Understanding Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

FROM the moment he was named deputy crown prince in April 2015, Muhammad bin Salman seemed destined for the throne. The favourite son of King Salman, aged only 29 at the time, was handed control of the kingdom’s economy and made responsible for its defence. His youthful face was plastered on billboards around the kingdom—but with him, always, was the image of his older cousin, Muhammad bin Nayef, who as crown prince stood between the king and his favoured successor.

That is no longer the case. On June 21st King Salman dismissed the crown prince and replaced him with Muhammad bin Salman, who sealed the changeover by kissing his cousin’s hand as the former crown prince left the Safa palace in Mecca (see picture). “I pledge allegiance to you through the best and the worst,” said the demoted prince. Video of the exchange went viral. The authorities are keen to give the impression of an orderly transition. State media reported that 31 of the 34 princes in charge of succession approved...Continue reading

The challenges of getting a (real) passport in Africa

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

AFRICANS who want to travel have long endured gigantic hassles when trying to obtain visas, not just to rich countries but also to other African ones. Ugandans now face an extra hurdle before they even reach a foreign embassy. On June 12th the government said it was running out of new passports and would ration them. They will be issued only to people suffering medical emergencies, or needing to travel for government business or to study. Everyone else will have to wait, possibly for months.

Uganda says the shortage is because of a surge in demand. It is not the only country where getting identity documents has proved difficult. Until last year Zimbabweans would spend nights sleeping outside the passport office to avoid losing their place in the queue. At one point, no more were issued because the ink ran out. Nigerians, too, faced a passport drought when the company printing them slowed supplies as it haggled with the government over the price.

The shortage is...Continue reading

Charlemagne: Germany’s Russian gas pipeline smells funny to America

By from European Union. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  A proposed Russian-German gas deal smells funny to America Print Headline:  Put that in your pipe Print Fly Title:  Charlemagne UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems Fly Title:  Charlemagne Main image:  20170624_EUD000_0.jpg LIKE vinyl records and popped collars, rows between the United States and Europe over Russian energy are making a comeback. In the early 1980s Ronald Reagan’s attempts to thwart a Soviet pipeline that would bring Siberian gas to Europe irritated the West Germans and drove the French to proclaim the end of the transatlantic alliance. The cast of characters has shifted a little today, but many of the arguments are the same. In Nord Stream 2 (NS2), a proposed Russian gas pipeline, Germany sees a respectable project that will cut energy costs and ...

The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

By Peter Watts from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.


Daniel Day-Lewis is a genius, but I'll shed more tears for actors who don't choose to stop

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

I've always felt respect rather than love for the three-times Oscar winner.

Imagine learning of the closure of an exquisite but prohibitively expensive restaurant that you only got round to visiting once every four or five years. There would be an abstract feeling of sadness, perhaps, that you will no longer be able to sample new, satisfying flavours twice a decade in that establishment’s uniquely adventurous style. A nostalgic twinge, certainly, relating to the incomparable times you had there in the past. But let’s be realistic about this: your visits were so infrequent that the restaurant’s absence now is hardly going to leave an almighty black hole in your future. If you’re completely honest, you may even have thought upon hearing the news: “That place? I hadn’t thought about it for yonks. I didn’t even know it was still open.”

That sums up how I feel about the announcement this week that Daniel Day-Lewis is retiring. What an actor: three Oscars, a method genius, all of the above. But prolific is the last thing he is. It would be disingenuous to say that any of us had imagined seeing too many more Day-Lewis performances before we finish strutting and fretting our own hour upon the stage. I’m 45; Day-Lewis’s first, brief screen appearance was in Sunday Bloody Sunday, which came out the year I was born. So even allowing for another 30 years on this planet, I still wasn’t reckoning on seeing new screen work from him more than five times in my life. It’s a loss but, given the proper support and counselling, it’s one I can live with.

Looking at Day-Lewis’s recent work-rate helps bring some perspective to the situation. He is currently shooting the 1950s-set fashion drama, Phantom Thread, for Paul Thomas Anderson, who solicited from him a towering, elemental performance in There Will Be Blood, which won him his second Oscar. But before that, the last time we saw him on screen was four-and-a-half years ago in Lincoln (Oscar Number Three). Prior to that, a full three years earlier, was Nine, a woeful musical spin on Fellini’s that is one of the few blots on an otherwise impeccable CV. In 2007, it was There Will Be Blood; in 2005, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller; and in 2002, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York—the film that enticed Day-Lewis out of his first retirement.

Oh yes, there was an earlier one. The retirement which didn’t take. After making The Boxer in 1997 with Jim Sheridan, who directed him in My Left Foot (where he got Oscar Number One for playing the writer Christy Brown) and In the Name of the Father, the actor went off to become a shoemaker’s apprentice in Florence. A Daniel Day-Lewis spoof biopic surely couldn’t have come up with a more characteristic career swerve than that. This, after all, is the man who lived in the wild for weeks before making The Last of the Mohicans, and who endured physical deprivations to prepare himself for In the Name of the Father, in which he played Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four. He also famously stays in character, or at least refuses to drop his assumed accent, posture and demeanour, between takes on set—an easily-ridiculed trait which actually makes a poetic kind of sense. Here’s how he explained to the Guardian in 2009:

“If you go to inordinate length to explore and discover and bring a world to life, it makes better sense to stay in that world rather than jump in and out of it, which I find exhausting and difficult. That way there isn’t the sense of rupture every time the camera stops; every time you become aware of the cables and the anoraks and hear the sound of the walkie-talkies. Maybe it’s complete self-delusion. But it works for me.”

So the method immersion and the physical consequences (he broke two ribs during My Left Foot and contracted pneumonia while shooting Gangs of New York) make him a target for mockery. There have been accusations, too, that his workings-out as an actor are often clearly visible in the margins. “All that screaming and hyperventilating,” remarked the filmmaker and Warhol acolyte Paul Morrissey. “You may as well have a ‘Men at Work’ sign when he’s on screen.”

But no workman operating a pneumatic drill ever announced his retirement through the world media. (And with such petulant phrasing from his official spokesperson: “This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.”) Making plain this retirement, rather than simply getting on with it quietly and without fanfare, serves a number of functions. It’s going to be very beneficial indeed to Phantom Thread when it opens at the end of this year: the distributors can go right ahead and advertise it as Day-Lewis’s final performance without fear of contradiction. That’s the sort of promotional boon that only usually happens in the case of posthumous releases. And coming right out and saying “It’s over” also helps remind the world that Day-Lewis is still there, even if he won’t be for very much longer. It puts him right back in the headlines. It’s a wise career move—to use the words with which Gore Vidal responded to news of Truman Capote’s death—for a career that is now at its flickering end. 

But I’ll save my tears for the next actor whose life ends prematurely—another Philip Seymour Hoffman or Heath Ledger—rather than one who has the luxury of being able to call “Cut!” on his career at a time of his choosing. Perhaps I’m taking this news better than some of my colleagues because Day-Lewis, though a master of his craft, has always been an actor who engendered respect rather than love. One component of his mastery in recent years has been a studious coldness. No one has yet put it better than the comedian Adam Riches, who described Day-Lewis as “the greatest actor never to have appeared in anyone’s favourite film.” 

Photo: Getty

Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Photo: Getty

The Chancellor’s furniture gaffe is just the latest terrible Tory political analogy

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Philip Hammond assumes everyone has at least a second home.

“Right. Got to sort out Brexit. Go on the radio to avoid questions about it and all that. But first of all, let me work out where I’m going to put the ottoman and the baby grand. Actually, maybe I’ll keep them in one of my other properties and leave a gap in my brand new one for a bit, just to get a feel for the place. See where everything will fit in after I’ve grown familiar with the space. Bit of pre-feng shui,” mused the Chancellor. “What?”

These were Philip Hammond’s precise words on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. OK, I’ve paraphrased. It was a pouffe, not an ottoman. But anyway, he seemed to believe that the metaphor for Brexit we would most relate to is the idea of buying a second, or another, home.

“When you buy a house, you don’t necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day that you buy it,” he reasoned with the presenter.

Which, of course, you do. If you’re a normal person. Because you’ve moved out of your former place. Where else is your furniture going to go?

Rightly, the Chancellor has been mocked for his inadvertent admission that he either has an obscene amount of furniture, or real estate.

But Hammond is not alone. Terrible political analogies – particularly household metaphors – are a proud Tory tradition that go back a long way in the party’s history.

Here are some of the best (worst) ones:

David Cameron’s Shredded Wheat

When Prime Minister, David Cameron tried to explain why he wouldn’t stand for a third term with a cereal metaphor. “Terms are like Shredded Wheat. Two are wonderful, but three might just be too many.”

It’s a reference to an old advertising slogan for the breakfast staple, when it came in big blocks rather than today’s bite-sized chunks. It turned into a bit of a class thing, when it emerged that Shredded Wheat had been served in Eton’s breakfast hall when Cameron was a schoolboy.

Boris Johnson’s loose rugby ball

When asked if he wants to be Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said “no” the only way he knows how – by saying “yes” via a rugby metaphor:

“If the ball came loose from the back of the scrum, which it won’t of course, it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at.”

George Osborne’s credit card

In a number of terrible household analogies to justify brutal cuts to public services, the then chancellor compared the budget deficit to a credit card: “The longer you leave it, the worse it gets.” Which, uh, doesn’t really work when the British government can print its own money, increase its own revenue anytime by raising taxes, and rack up debt with positive effects on growth and investment. A bit different from ordinary voters with ordinary credit cards. But then maybe Osborne doesn’t have an ordinary credit card…

Michael Gove’s Nazis

In the run-up to the EU referendum, the Brexiteer and then Justice Secretary Michael Gove compared economic experts to Nazis:

“Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong and his theories were denounced, and one of the reasons of course he was denounced was because he was Jewish.

“They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said: ‘Look, if I was wrong, one would have been enough’.”

Gove had to apologise for this wholly inappropriate comparison in the end.

Iain Duncan Smith’s slave trade

Another terrible historical evocation – the former Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith compared the Tories’ “historic mission” to reform welfare and help claimants “break free” to the work of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce:

“As Conservatives, that is part of our party’s historic mission. Just look at Wilberforce and Shaftesbury: to put hope back where it has gone, to give people from chaotic lives security through hard work, helping families improve the quality of their own lives.”

Boris Johnson’s Titanic

A rather oxymoronic use of the adjective “titanic” from Johnson, when he was discussing the UK leaving the EU: “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a titanic success of it.”

I prefer the more literal reading of this from Osborne, who was present when Johnson made the remark: “It sank.”


Who Should We Let In? pulls the rug from beneath its viewers' complacent feet

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

A gold star for Ian Hislop's BBC2 immigration documentary.

People talk about context as if it’s a straightforward matter: a thing to be conjured with a click of the fingers. But taking the long view, the better to put contemporary stuff into perspective, is a difficult business, on television as in print.

It’s not that viewers don’t want a history lesson: sometimes they absolutely do. Rather, it’s that it is harder than it seems to connect yesterday and today convincingly. The past, whatever some of our historical novelists might like to believe, really is another country.

The Britain of Who Should We Let In? Ian Hislop on the First Great Immigration Row (22 June, 9pm) certainly seemed to me to be another country, its empire still intact, its class system a suffocating prison. But if we’re talking context, well, here it was; deployed quite brilliantly so as to pull the rug from beneath its viewers’ complacent feet.

I’ve seen few things on television this year more disgusting than Katie Hopkins praising a 1906 account of the so-called Yellow Peril as it manifested itself in Liverpool’s Chinese community. “It’s so contemporary,” she said, smilingly relishing the racial slurs and slanders of an Edwardian hack journalist whose accusations, later exposed by an alarmed Liverpool City Council as complete fabrications, mostly had to do with opium. No wonder that the ever-equanimous Hislop looked, just for a nanosecond, as if he might be about to throw up. I was pretty close to being sick myself.

Hislop’s tale, deftly told, began in Victorian times, when Britain maintained an open-door policy, a welcome that was born both of pride (why wouldn’t foreigners want to come to such a fabulous place?) and of moral leadership (a Times leader of 1853 spoke of “the asylum of nations”).

But then . . . ah yes, here come the politicians, as reliably opportunist as ever. I give you Sir William Evans-Gordon, the Conservative MP for Stepney, who made it his mission to point out to his constituents, and the rest of Britain, that Jews were not to be trusted; and his fellow Tory Mancherjee Bhow­nagree who, despite being Indian-born, insisted loudly to anyone who would listen that immigration ought to be controlled in Bethnal Green North-East, his own seat, as well as everywhere else.

Hislop drew a clear line from the resentment whipped up by this pair in the early 1900s to the attitudes of politicians on both sides in the 21st century (“It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration,” as a flyer distributed by one of his interviewees, Sayeeda Warsi, once put it). Yet he also reminded us that it doesn’t have to be this way. In 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, Britain warmly received a quarter of a million Belgian refugees.

Yes, a few of their hosts eventually began to grumble about their house guests: “garlic, blah, won’t even open a window, blah”. But in the main, the arrangement worked perfectly well until the end of the war, when, incidentally, most of these Belgians returned home to feast on their stinky food in peace.

As Hislop put it in a final, rather daring speech to camera, perhaps we should treat the arguments about immigration the same way we seem to regard immigrants themselves: with extreme scepticism and not a little ruthlessness.

The Keepers is a Netflix documentary series about the brutal murder of a Catholic nun, Sister Catherine Cesnik, in 1969. It’s a mystery, an attempt to discover who killed this beloved Baltimore Catholic high-school teacher. Leading the investigation are our unlikely heroines Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Fitzgerald Schaub, former students of Sister Cathy’s who have become, late in life, a pair of Nancy Drews. It is also, like Making a Murderer before it, a damning indictment of a certain kind of white, male power.

But what makes it special – akin to a richly imagined novel – is the way it portrays a particular society at a particular time. How unnerving it is to see grainy photographs of smiling young women with backcombed hair and groovy jeans, and to know that while others were thinking of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, their world continued to be ruled by priests and rosary beards. If I had a Kitemark, this one, haunting and highly addictive, would be stamped with it, pronto.

Free movement isn't free: the truth about EU immigration

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The UK does not need to leave the single market to restrict European migration - it already can.

In the Brexit negotiations, the government has unashamedly prioritised immigration control over the economy. The UK must leave the single market, ministers say, in order to restrict free movement. For decades, they lament, European immigration has been "uncontrolled", making it impossible to meet the government's target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

It's worth noting that non-EU immigration alone (which ministers can limit) remains 76,000 over this limit (owing to the economic benefits). But more importantly, liberals and conservatives alike talk of "free movement" as if it is entirely free – it isn't.

Though EU citizens are initially permitted to live in any member state, after three months they must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have "sufficient resources" (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be "a burden on the benefits system". Far from being unconditional, then, the right to free movement is highly qualified.

The irony is that the supposedly immigration-averse UK has never enforced these conditions. Even under Theresa May, the Home Office judged that the cost of recording entry and exit dates was too high. Since most EU migrants are employed (and contribute significantly more in taxes than they do in benefits), there was no economic incentive to do so.

For some Brexiteers, of course, a job is not adequate grounds for an immigrant to remain. But even beyond implementing existing law, there is potential for further reform of free movement – even within the single market.

As Nick Clegg recently noted, shortly after the referendum, "a number of senior EU figures" were exploring a possible trade-off: "A commitment by the UK to pursue the least economically disruptive Brexit by maintaining participation in the single market and customs union, in return for a commitment to the reform of freedom of movement, including an 'emergency brake' on unusually high levels of intra-EU immigration." Liechtenstein, a member of the single market, has recently imposed quotas on EU migrants.

Yet with some exceptions, these facts are rarely heard in British political debate. Many Labour MPs, like their Conservative counterparts, support single market withdrawal to end free movement. The unheard truth that it isn't "free" could yet lead the UK to commit an avoidable act of economic self-harm.

Photo: Getty

Give it up Daily Mail, you can't pretend you're nothing to do with Mail Online

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The newspaper's insistence on claiming it has nothing to do with its website borders on the ridiculous. 

Across the top of the Daily Mail’s front page on Thursday a banner screamed: “Fake news, the fascist Left and the REAL purveyors of hatred”.

No this wasn’t another attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, it was a full page screed against the Guardian and its criticism of the Mail’s rhetoric on Islam, which a number of commentators have suggested contributes to Islamophobia.

But leaving aside the Mail’s curiously thin skin when it comes to anyone suggesting it may have gone a bit overboard, the piece also exposes one of the newspaper’s more curious obsessions – its insistence that the Daily Mail in print has absolutely nothing to do with its website.

 “Earlier this week, a Guardian writer attacked the Daily Mail for carrying comments by the controversialist Katie Hopkins. That was a lie. The Guardian and its writer know that Ms Hopkins has nothing to do with the Daily Mail but works for Mail Online – a totally separate entity that has its own publisher, its own readership, different content and a very different worldview.”

The first part of that claim is technically true. Katie Hopkins is employed directly by the website and not the newspaper. Mail Online is a separate operation (albeit housed in the same building) with separate journalists and by and large, different readers. The publisher and effectively boss of the website is Martin Clarke, not Paul Dacre (though Dacre is, at least nominally, editor-in-chief of the whole group). Clarke and Dacre do not get on.

But the claim they publish different content is rather undermined by the fact the vast majority of articles in the print newspaper end up on the website. Yes, Mail Online produces many more articles, a fair chunk of which are quickly churned out celebrity gossip, but those sit alongside stories such as this one about Prince Harry by the print newspaper’s royal correspondent, which appeared on Thursday morning’s front page, just below that banner about fake news.

If anything, the website and newspaper have been growing closer together. In 2014, Mail Online was rebranded as in the US, in order to make it easier to sell digital advertising.

That’s another point remembering - the two businesses may be run separately, but they are still part of the same division of the same parent company, DMGT, which is controlled by the same person, Lord Rothermere. Both make money for the same shareholders.

All of this interconnectedness for the most part happens behind the scenes, but it does suggest the real reason the Daily Mail in print feels it has to resort to a full page attack on the Guardian to make its point is that its take on life is largely indistinguishable from its online relation. Both have an obsession with women's bodies that mixes salaciousness with prudishness, both have at best ambivalent views towards foreigners, and both have a voyeristic obsession with crimes and disasters. If you could print out gifs, the Daily Mail would be putting animated car accidents or bombing runs on its front page the same way Mail Online does with its home page.

Sure the Mail Online’s staff are web savvy in a way that the Dacre and the rest of the print newspaper’s management would consider borderline heresy, but their approach to journalism stems from the same place, the same culture, and yes, the same worldview.

The Daily Mail's insistence that Mail Online is nothing to do with it is rather like a negligent father denying paternity of a wayward teenager still living under the same roof. Unfortunately, the DNA tests don’t lie. Give it up Daily Mail, you and Mail Online are part of the same (un)happy family.

Photo: Getty

Ukrainians now have more freedom of travel - but less freedom of thought

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Ukraine's government is rightly concerned about Russian cyber aggression. But does that merit online censorship?

Ukrainians have sacrificed so much in their bid to be recognised as fellow Europeans. Their struggle to extricate themselves from Russian domination is written in the blood of the Euromaidan protestors and the toll of its military dead.

The slow progress of Ukraine’s emergence, into something resembling normality, passed another milestone on 17 May, when President Petro Poroshenko signed an agreement with the EU allowing for visa-free travel in 34 European countries. 

From Sunday 11 June Ukrainians with biometric passports will be able to travel in Europe and stay for 90 days within a 180 period. There are obvious economic benefits to the new agreement. Ukrainians will be free to travel and conduct business with much more efficacy. The new agreement will also reduce the insularity of Ukrainians, many of whom yearn for the cosmopolitanism they see in Western Europe. President Poroshenko was mindful of the symbolism of the agreement. He declared: "Ukraine is returning to the European family. Ukraine says a final farewell to the Soviet and Russian empire."

Perched on the periphery, Ukraine is now set to become more woven into the European mainstream. Ukrainians sense that the western door is slowly but inexorably opening, and that both recognition, and validation beckons. In this respect, it seems that there is much to celebrate.

However, as ever, Ukraine hangs uneasily in the balance between the old ways and the new. On 16 May, Poroshenko signed a decree blocking access to Russian social media websites Yandex, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Millions of Ukrainians sign in to these websites every day. Even Poroshenko himself uses them. Five Russian TV stations are already banned in Ukraine. Poroshenko says that "Ukrainians can live without Russian networks". And it is certainly a fact that Ukrainians have responded to the decree by turning away from the Russian platforms in great numbers. Ukrainian Facebook is growing by some 35 percent a day.

In the context of Ukraine’s continuing conflict with Russia, it is perhaps understandable that the government in Kiev wishes to limit Russian trolls, together with Russian state influence and misinformation. This is certainly also the case across the whole western world, which is keenly aware of Russian cyber aggression. Nevertheless, one must ask why countries such as Britain, France and Germany continue to allow their citizens to access Russian media platforms, when Ukraine does not. 

While the new travel freedoms for Ukrainians has unleashed optimism, the latest decree has indicated something a little darker about the future. President Poroshenko would do well to consider the actions of other European governments that he so ardently wishes to emulate. Closing down social networks is usually done by authoritarian regimes like North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia. But Poroshenko advocates democracy, and in democracy there is no place for such acts. It is surely a mark of a nation’s maturity to encourage freedom of thought, as well travel.

Mohammad Zahoor is the publisher of Ukrainian newspaper The Kyiv Post.



LISTEN: Boris Johnson has a meltdown in car crash interview on the Queen’s Speech

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

“Hang on a second…errr…I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Hang on a second,” Boris Johnson sighed. On air, you could hear the desperate rustling of his briefing notes (probably a crumpled Waitrose receipt with “crikey” written on it) and him burbling for an answer.

Over and over again, on issues of racism, working-class inequality, educational opportunity, mental healthcare and housing, the Foreign Secretary failed to answer questions about the content of his own government’s Queen’s Speech, and how it fails to tackle “burning injustices” (in Theresa May’s words).

With each new question, he floundered more – to the extent that BBC Radio 4 PM’s presenter Eddie Mair snapped: “It’s not a Two Ronnies sketch; you can’t answer the question before last.”

But why read your soon-to-be predecessor’s Queen’s Speech when you’re busy planning your own, eh?

Your mole isn’t particularly surprised at this poor performance. Throughout the election campaign, Tory politicians – particularly cabinet secretaries – gave interview after interview riddled with gaffes.

These performances were somewhat overlooked by a political world set on humiliating shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has been struggling with ill health. Perhaps if commentators had less of an anti-Abbott agenda – and noticed the car crash performances the Tories were repeatedly giving and getting away with it – the election result would have been less of a surprise.


Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.


The Conservatives' problems won't end once a DUP deal is reached

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Theresa May's handling of the talks has left a considerable dent in the Tory reputation for competence.

Theresa May's fascinating scale model of Tony Blair's premiership – minus the war, the landslides and the lasting social change – continues. On 18 April she was as popular as Blair in 1994. She's now more unpopular (-40) than Blair was when he stepped down in 2007, though not quite below his 2006 nadir (-44%).

Towards the end, cartoonists frequently portrayed Labour's last election-winner as a zombie. Now May gets that dubious honour too on the cover of this week's NS - "The Zombie PM" is our cover story. (In all reputable stores now. Subscribers get it cheaper.)

Other than Brexit, where as George notes, as far as Brexit goes, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that the Conservatives still had a comfortable majority, the Queen's Speech was notable for what wasn't in it as much as what was. The two-year gap before another one is partly about the complexity of Brexit, but partly, too, about avoiding moments of maximum danger as far as the government's parliamentary position goes.

The government's position will improve once that accord with the DUP is reached, which is expected sooner rather than later. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP's Chief Whip, has talked about how "a change in attitude" on the Conservative side has put the talks back on track.

May made life more difficult for herself by publicly announcing she would govern with the support of the DUP. As John Major said, announcing that the Conservatives had both more votes and seats than anyone else and inviting the opposition to come and have a go would have still meant a deal with the DUP, but one conducted in private and without exposing the Conservative brand to contamination among liberal Britons thanks to the DUP's more traditional flavour of conservatism.

She also made the third biggest mistake you can make, after starting a land war in Russia or betting against a Sicilian when death is on the line, which is to negotiate with the DUP in newsprint.

All of which means that, deal or no deal, the Conservatives will have to grapple with three entirely self-inflicted problems. The first is the unease that much of the DUP platform provokes in England, Scotland and Wales and what that will reinforce about the Tory party. The second is that it has left a considerable dent in the Tory reputation for competence. The third is that the DUP now know that when it comes to negotiations, they're a lot better at it than the Conservatives on the other side of the table.

All three of those problems will continue to make life miserable for the Zombie PM and whoever her successor ends up being.

Photo: Getty

To this former EU negotiator, the UK's chance of a good Brexit deal looks slim

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

The EU27 countries were ready to talk. But the UK has made things pointlessly difficult. 

Being "tough" and being "difficult" are not the same thing. Being tough can work, but only if deployed sparingly at strategic points in negotiations. Being difficult for difficult’s sake never works. It simply breaks trust and creates resentment leading to a justifiable unwillingness in partners to compromise. 

Successful negotiation in the EU is not, contrary to popular belief, about thumping the table and demanding you get everything you want for nothing in return. It’s also not about undermining your opposite numbers (oppos in Brussels-speak), or insulting their intelligence by making outlandish claims. Yet, in preparing for Brexit negotiations, the UK government has done all of these things with, it seems, gusto and pride.

Trust is key to a successful negotiation. Both sides must know that the other is negotiating in good faith. Both may know that walking away is an option in extremis, but openly threatening this undermines trust that a solution is being sought. Any compromises or concessions require trust and good faith.

Understanding your oppos is essential. Each has a complex set of constraints and expectations from their own side. Understanding their position allows you to identify solutions that satisfy their concerns and meet your objectives. If you have put yourself in the position that your overall line is fundamentally incompatible with that of your oppos, you have already lost.

An oppos’ issue with one of your lines may be less fundamental than it looks. You should be guiding your oppos towards being able to support, or at least not block, something as close to your preferred outcome as possible. The process is a long, complex one, and actions at any point will not be forgotten later.

Positions should be clearly prioritised, with built-in fallback positions. Everyone wants their priority to be your number one, must be got, can’t be traded priority, but they simply can’t all be. Many will have to be traded, and you should know which can be and for what.

Flexibility must be built into your position from the start. Not everything can be a red line. Oppos respect genuine red lines - they have them too. Claiming that every point is a red line though is crying wolf.

The pre-negotiation phase has been a disaster for the UK. The UK government first tried to divide the EU27, and then, when that didn’t work, set about deliberately breeding resentment and mistrust. The balance of power is such that the EU27 hold almost all the cards, but the government seems in a state of denial about this. Its Cabinet ministers hectored, smeared and threatened the very people they are asking for help and concessions from.

The EU27’s carefully drafted position papers synthesise a multitude of opening positions from 27 governments, the European Parliament, and the Commission. While these papers do not represent a final offer, they equally do not represent a first go at a vague wish list. The UK government knows this. Yet its approach has been to pretend that the EU27’s positions were mere posturing, particularly over the sequencing of negotiations (which the UK caved in on in the first hours of negotiations), citizens’ rights and the Four Freedoms. This was absurd and served to make UK look like it was not a serious negotiator.

Then came the ill-fated “No Deal Better than Bad Deal” rhetoric. This had a disastrous effect on the UK’s credibility, largely because it is demonstrably untrue. Of course the EU27 does not want the UK to walk away with no deal. It would cost them dearly, but they will deal with it if they must. The EU itself and its core principles are more important. Besides, everyone knows that no deal would cost the UK an order of magnitude more than the EU27, so this strategy served only to reduce trust.

The UK government has acted as if the EU27 countries are yet to discover the internet, and don't have access to UK news. The EU27, though, knows the UK has backed itself into a corner on so many issues that its positions are fundamentally incompatible with the positive outcomes it has said it will get. The EU27 knows that this government will now find it politically impossible to go back with a big exit bill, or accept freedom of movement, or European Court of Justice jurisdiction over anything, no matter what it gets in return.

Ruling out these things publicly, instead of explaining and managing expectations at home, shows the UK government is either willing to lie to its people or genuinely ignorant of the realities. This weakens any sympathetic voices for the UK.

Finally, it really helps to have the arguments, facts and moral high ground on your side in negotiations. The UK has showed again and again that it has none of these. The unwillingness to guarantee citizens’ rights was bad, but the threat to bargain over security cooperation was a moment of appalling moral weakness.

The EU27’s leaders very much want a deal, but the government’s approach has made any desire to look for solutions that suit the UK evaporate. Why bother when they don’t appear to want a deal anyway? Why give concessions when the UK's constraints are entirely of its own making?

In my view, the chances of this government getting any deal, let alone a good one, in only 21 months, are minimal. But I think it knows this. The Chancellor Philip Hammond, a lone moderate, pleaded for a transitional deal lasting up to four years. The level of complexity is too much for the UK's Brexit negotiators, their preparations too poor, and the messaging too self-defeating.

I can therefore only conclude that this government’s plan is to walk out of negotiations, which will, of course, be a catastrophe for the UK. And all for want of a little humility, trust, honesty, organisation and understanding. But the government just couldn’t help itself, could it? The negotiators had to be bloody difficult.

Steve Bullock worked at the UK Representation to the EU from 2010-2014 where he negotiated several EU regulations for the UK in EU Council working groups. He has also worked for the European Commission and the Department for International Development’s Europe Department. This article is based on a Twitter thread originally posted here. This was jointly published with The UK in a Changing Europe.


Commons Confidential: Jeremy in Jerusalem

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Theresa May didn’t know if she was coming or going even before her reckless election gamble and the Grenfell Tower disaster nudged her towards a Downing Street exit. Between the mock-Gothic old parliament and the modern Portcullis House is a subterranean passageway with two sets of glass swing doors.

From whichever direction MPs approach, the way ahead is on the left and marked “Pull”, and the set on the right displays a “No Entry” sign. My snout recalls that May, before she was Prime Minister, invariably veered right, ignoring the warning and pushing against the crowd. Happier days. Now Tanking Theresa risks spinning out of No 10’s revolving door.

May is fond of wrapping herself in the Union flag, yet it was Jeremy Corbyn who came close to singing “Jerusalem” during the election. I gather his chief spinner, Seumas Milne, proposed William Blake’s patriotic call to arms for a campaign video. Because of its English-centred lyrics and copyright issues, they ended up playing Lily Allen’s “Somewhere Only We Know” instead over footage of Jezza meeting people, in a successful mini-movie inspired by Bernie Sanders’s “America” advert.

Corbyn’s feet walking upon England’s mountains green when the Tories have considered Jerusalem theirs since ancient times would be like Mantovani May talking grime with Stormzy.

The boot is on the other foot among MPs back at Westminster. Labour’s youthful Wes Streeting is vowing to try to topple Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford and Woodford Green at the next election, after the Tory old trooper marched into Ilford North again and again at the last one. Streeting’s marginal is suddenly a 9,639-majority safe seat and IDS’s former Tory bastion a 2,438-majority marginal. This east London grudge match has potential.

The Conservatives are taking steps to reverse Labour’s youth surge. “That is the last election we go to the polls when universities are sitting,” a cabinet minister snarled. The subtext is that the next Tory manifesto won’t match Corbyn’s pledge to scrap tuition fees.

Nice touch of the Tory snarler Karl McCartney to give Strangers’ Bar staff a box of chocolates after losing Lincoln to the Labour red nurse Karen Lee. Putting on a brave face, he chose Celebrations. Politics is no Picnic and the Wispa is that McCartney didn’t wish to Fudge defeat by describing it as a Time Out.

Police hats off to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, who broke ranks with her predecessors by meeting the bobbies guarding parliament and not just their commanders. Coppers addressing Dick as “ma’am” were asked to call her “Cress”, a moniker she has invited MPs to use. All very John Bercow-style informality.

Photo: Getty

Abbottabad Revisited

By Bruce Hoffman from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight (Bloomsbury, 2017).   Osama bin Laden evaded the world’s greatest manhunt for a decade. The Exile reveals for the first time exactly how. What makes this account unique is the unprecedented access that the authors, ...

Does School Choice Mean Students Attend Better Schools?

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Researchers examined school choice outcomes in New Orleans following 2005's Hurricane Katrina, including exit patterns of students across sectors and school types in New Orleans and the destination schools of mobile students.

Washington Might Feel the Chill of a More United European Defense

By Stanley R. Sloan from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

President Donald Trump may have succeeded beyond his wildest imagination in his Europe/NATO policies. He boasts he has made our European allies do things that no other American president has done. And, to be honest, he has helped unite the Europeans. Unfortunately, he has largely united them against the United States, rather than behind it. ...

Caroline Lucas's Diary

By Caroline Lucas from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

Saving my Commons seat, feeling sorry for Black Rod, and banning the bomb.

At the start of the week, I was in New York, where 130 countries are involved in the process of negotiating a global ban on nuclear weapons. You might not have heard of these talks, but there have been positive developments. Some nuclear states have softened their opposition to a ban, with China, India and Pakistan all abstaining from the vote last winter.

In this, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – a coalition of peace campaigns united across 90 countries – is following a well-trodden path. Chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions and landmines were all banned before full-scale decommissioning and disarmament began. Stigmatising the weapons, rather than the hypocrisy of nuclear states lecturing non-nuclear nations, is the most effective way to prevent their proliferation.

You might hope that Britain would be taking a leading role in the talks, but our government is conspicuous by its absence. An hour-long meeting with a British ambassador who is a political counsellor to the UN left me none the wiser as to why we’re refusing to take part. Every time I pushed him for answers, I was met with the same answer: the UK simply doesn’t want to engage with the process. Though I very much enjoyed momentarily sitting in the UK’s seat at the UN, it’s a great shame that such a role was left to a single opposition MP.

Tragedy and farce

Almost exactly a year after Britain voted to leave the EU, David Davis was in Brussels to begin the exit process. Davis and his counterpart Michel Barnier were reported to have discussed the nuts and bolts of the negotiations, rather than going into detail on the content of any deal. What the government could have done on day one is guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, but instead – shamefully – it continues to use them as a bargaining chip.

Theresa May’s tendency to plough on as if nothing has changed is veering between tragedy and farce. With the majority of the public now favouring both Theresa May’s resignation and a referendum on the terms of any EU deal, there really is no excuse for business as usual – and it’s time the government considers a cross-party commission to guide us through this process.

Let us pray

Seats in parliament are hotly contested,  especially for backbenchers. Every day we have to put down “prayer cards” to reserve a space. On big occasions, the scrum to bag a decent spot can be rather unparliamentary. My usual perch is between the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru and in front of the newly famous DUP. That party’s leadership doesn’t always share my politics, and my speeches are often accompanied by heckling from the line of DUP men behind me.

The Northern Irish party now has ten MPs sitting in parliament, while I remain the single MP for a party that received 200,000 more votes. I’ll be doing all I can to represent the views of the people of Brighton Pavilion and the 500,000 who voted Green in this election – and I would imagine that I’m likely to hear more moaning from the DUP as I spend my time in the Commons holding to account the Conservative government that it is propping up.

Slamming doors

Well, that’s the Queen’s Speech done then, and the monarch now has two years to prepare for the next round of pomp and ceremony. Our democracy is the big loser here, with the Tories showing a marked disdain for debate and scrutiny. But spare a thought, too, for Black Rod, who now has to wait until 2019 to have the door of the House of Commons slammed ceremonially in his face. His real name is Lieutenant General David Leakey and he has a number of duties in parliament, but the Queen’s Speech is his big gig. I shouldn’t think he will take kindly to being sidelined in 2018.

I have my own tradition on Queen’s Speech day: talking about the environment. More and more, governments ignore climate change and environmental protection in their legislative plans, with the Tories abandoning their husky-hugging in favour of a dash for gas.

I’ll be tabling an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for an environmental protection act. It will be interesting to see which MPs are willing to put their head above the parapet by backing it.

As safe as houses

People died at the Grenfell Tower because it has become a politically acceptable choice to cut corners to save money. Despite the right-wing press attempting to blame the EU and green laws for the fire, it’s clear that the Grenfell residents are the victims of deregulation, neoliberalism and the marginalisation of people of colour and the poor.

The surviving Grenfell residents now need a chance to rebuild their lives, and that should start with being given new homes. There are more than 1,300 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, with 941 classified as unoccupied for council tax purposes. Around 50 of these have been unoccupied for a staggering 11 years. Surely it’s time to rethink a system that allows the super-rich to leave homes unoccupied while people are left homeless? Let’s hike council tax for unoccupied properties to stop our cities being used as land banks for the wealthy.

My thoughts are also with those affected by the vile attack on the Finsbury Park Mosque. Islamophobia is widespread in our society, propagated by the likes of Donald Trump and Ukip, as well as far-right groups such as Britain First. A tweet by J K Rowling about the radicalisation of the Finsbury Park attacker caused a stir, but she was right to say that the origins of right-wing violence need exploring just as urgently as
Islamic extremism.

After a scarring few months, let’s hope for a peaceful summer as Britain rebuilds its communities and mourns those who have died in these terrible incidents.

Managing Tunisia's Border

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

This report offers recommendations that could improve Tunisia's border management capabilities at ground, sea, and air ports and crossings, with the goal of addressing security concerns while improving the licit flow of people and commerce.

Anti-Corbyn MPs thought the election would be Labour's apocalypse. So, now what?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 22, 2017.

"I used to think that what I believed to be right was also popular."

On 21 May 2011, the followers of the American evangelist Harold Camping were braced for the Rapture, after which the world would end. They expected the planet to be bathed in fire and a chosen few to be taken up into heaven. Some had exhausted their life savings; others had quit their jobs in order to spend their last days with the people they loved. Then 21 May came and went, and the world didn’t end.

For Labour’s Corbyn-sceptic MPs, 8 June 2017 was, likewise, reserved for the apocalypse. Jeremy Corbyn would not only lose, but lose badly. At least Camping’s devotees had the comfort of the Rapture – whereas very few Corbyn-sceptics expected to be better off in the new world than in the old. (Possible exceptions include Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna, both of whom were quietly laying the groundwork for leadership campaigns.) Many of those contesting marginal seats were already preparing for unemployment and a life outside Westminster.

Now they face the question that those doomsday cultists did on the morning of 22 May 2011: what do they do with the rest of their lives? For some, Corbyn-scepticism – like doctrinaire Christianity – was a necessary prerequisite to salvation. Most Corbyn-sceptics in the trade union movement and roughly a hundred or so Labour MPs believed that the party could win power only if Corbyn’s creed was first rejected comprehensively by the electorate. Only a leader and a manifesto to its right could deliver a Labour majority.

Now a manifesto in the Parliamentary Labour Party’s comfort zone has put Labour on the cusp of power and delivered a vote share that recalls Tony Blair in his landslide-winning pomp.

The result has been the fracturing of the Corbyn-sceptics. Some are still irreconcilable, believing that the policies are wrong.

For others, however, the problem was always the messenger: they thought Corbynism could win but Jeremy Corbyn could not. This latter group includes several MPs whom the public might regard as Corbyn­ites.

Yet they were secretly sceptical of the leadership, if not the direction of travel, and hoped for plum jobs when the next left-wing leader was appointed. With Corbyn’s position secure for as long as he wants it, and with a shadow cabinet reshuffle that gave priority to the role played by loyalists, they face the less appetising prospect of a long tenure as foot soldiers.

Yet not everyone abandons a church just because its prophecies aren’t fulfilled – just ask the Jehovah’s Witnesses, still going strong despite having predicted half a dozen apocalypses that ended up getting lost in the post. Some Corbyn-sceptics still retain a loyalty to the old beliefs despite an election result that none predicted.

Many of these MPs are found in the bit of the party that worries about its stance on immigration. These are largely Brownites, although Caroline Flint, in many ways the model Blairite, has been one of the loudest advocates for a tougher line on migration. For them, the result validates rather than confounds their stance.

Why? Because Labour went into the election promising to end the free movement of people from the EU into Britain. One MP, who expected to back Cooper’s second bid for the leadership, puts it like this: “What did Yvette say in 2015? That we needed to speak to people who were concerned over free movement. In 2017, we conceded on free movement and we gained seats.”

They also point to the leadership’s decision (intended or not) to leave the welfare cap in place, restricting the amount that any household can receive in benefits. Those who believed that the party needed to signal that it had “got the message” on welfare can also claim validation.

Others believe that the result has to be understood not only through what Corbyn did, but what Theresa May did not do. “Elections aren’t won in the centre ground, eh?” says one MP. “We went way off to the left, then they went into this weird right-wing cul-de-sac, and we both lost.”

For other MPs, there is no validation to be found in the election result. Pro-immigration and pro-EU Corbyn-sceptics were relieved that they and their friends survived, but otherwise feel that the result was a bleak threefold rejection.

Corbyn’s advance upended their sense of how politics worked; the failure of the Liberal Democrats to break through showed the limits of an anti-Brexit platform; and Labour’s shift to the left is likely to continue for at least the next half-decade or more.

“I still know what I believe to be right,” a senior Blairite told me on election night. “It’s just I used to think that what I believed to be right was also popular.”

Those on the centre left are now asking themselves the questions that their more radical colleagues once did: why are their ideas so unfashionable? “When you look at what happened with the referendum, with [Hillary] Clinton and what is happening across Europe, the person who is unelectable isn’t Corbyn. It’s us,” one MP said to me.

For those still continuing to maintain a quiet Corbyn-scepticism, the next election will either confirm their continuing faith or shatter it completely. Labour will not forget to include a rollback of the welfare cap when it next goes to the country, and the Conservatives will not fight such a disastrous campaign again.

Until then, the party’s centre left faces a new challenge: to renew itself away from the leadership and to ensure its survival within the Labour Party. Some MPs talk of learning from Corbyn – not in terms of his present-day politics but his affable conduct during the years of New Labour hegemony.

For Corbyn-sceptics, however, the question must be: am I confident enough of the Rapture to give up everything I have?

Photo: Getty

The FBI’s Role in National Security

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

Want states to have health reform flexibility? The ACA already does that

By Jason Levitis, Stuart M Butler from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

A buzzword surrounding recent health reform efforts is state flexibility. The House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA), what’s known about the Senate bill, and other major proposals make prominent use of waivers, block grants, and other tools to give states power to address their unique circumstances. At the same time, concerns have been raised about…

A Queen’s Speech to reflect a sombre Britain

From FT View. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

A loss of authority following election has undercut May’s ambitions

China’s stock market is given a test, not a pass

From FT View. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

MSCI is right to be very cautious about putting A-shares in its indices

Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.


Gutter? Catahr? Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

By Loren DeJonge Schulman, Radha Iyengar, Mara Karlin and Erin Simpson from War on the Rocks. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

How do you solve a problem like Qatar? This week over Pimms Cups, we talk with Mara Karlin about all the Middle East dramas (and why she loves the SAIS cult). We lament the State Dept budget and UK politics, pay tribute to the USS Fitzgerald, and wonder if we’ll ever have a strategy in ...

Lol enforcement: meet the man policing online joke theft

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jun 21, 2017.

A story of revenge, retweets, and Kale Salad. 

A man walks into a bar and he tells a joke. The man next to him laughs – and then he tells the same joke. The man next to him, in turn, repeats the joke. That bar’s name is Twitter.

If you’ve been on the social network for more than five minutes, you’ll notice that joke theft is rampant on the site. Search, for example, for a popular tweet this week (“did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything” – 153,000 retweets) and you’ll see it has been copied 53 times in the last three days.

One instance of plagiarism, however, is unlike the others. Its perpetrator is the meme account @dory and its quick Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V has over 3,500 retweets. This account frequently copies the viral posts of Twitter users and passes them off – word for word – as its own. Many similar accounts do the same, including @CWGirl and @FatJew, and many make money by promoting advertising messages to their large number of followers. Twitter joke theft, then, is profitable.

In 2015, Twitter promised to clamp down on the unchecked plagiarism on its site. “This Tweet from [user] has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder,” read a message meant to replace stolen jokes on the site. It’s likely a message you’ve never seen.

Dissatisfied with this solution, one man took it upon himself to fight the thieves. 

“I'm a like happy internet kind of guy,” says Samir Mezrahi, a 34-year-old from New York who runs the Twitter account @KaleSalad. For the last six months, Mezrahi has used the account to source and retweet the original writers of Twitter jokes. Starting with a few hundred followers at the end of December 2016, Mezrahi had jumped to 50,000 followers by January 2017. Over 82,000 people now follow his account.  

“I've always been a big fan of like viral tweets and great tweets,” explains Mezrahi, over the sound of his children watching cartoons in the background. “A lot of people were fed up with the meme accounts so it’s just like a good opportunity to reward creat