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Democratic Deadlock and Security Concerns in DR Congo: Where to Now for the European Union

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Dec 07, 2016.

Institutional and civil society actors will discuss the role of the European Union to support a credible democratic process and help prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Democratic Deadlock and Security Concerns in DR Congo: Where to Now for the European Union

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Dec 07, 2016.

Institutional and civil society actors will discuss the role of the European Union to support a credible democratic process and help prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Christiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho accused of 'avoiding millions' in taxes

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

European Investigative Collaborations claims it has 18.6 million documents which 'reveal murky financial transactions'.

Oakland fire: Nine die during California club night

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

At least nine people die in a fire during a club night in Oakland - another 13 are missing.

Chapecoense plane crash: Thousands attend memorial service

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Thousands attend a service in Brazil's Chapecoense stadium to honour players killed in a plane crash.

Bana al-Abed tweets JK Rowling that she 'almost died' after Aleppo bombing destroyed her home

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The seven-year-old girl, who tweets about how the conflict in Aleppo is affecting her, was feared dead.

Nine dead, many missing after fire at California rave

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Fire officials say there were as many as 70 people inside the warehouse after the blaze struck during a dance party.

Coal mine explosion in northern China kills 17

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Ten miners still trapped after the blast in China's Inner Mongolia region, second deadly mine disaster in days.

Fidel Castro's ashes make their final journey across Cuba

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Cubans have been lining the streets from Havana to Santiago as Castro's ashes make their final journey.

If there’s no booze or naked women, what’s the point of being a footballer?

By Hunter Davies from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Peter Crouch came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

At a professional league ground near you, the following conversation will be taking place. After an excellent morning training session, in which the players all worked hard, and didn’t wind up the assistant coach they all hate, or cut the crotch out of the new trousers belonging to the reserve goalie, the captain or some senior player will go into the manager’s office.

“Hi, gaffer. Just thought I’d let you know that we’ve booked the Salvation Hall. They’ll leave the table-tennis tables in place, so we’ll probably have a few games, as it’s the players’ Christmas party, OK?”


So the captain has to cancel the booking – which was actually at the Salvation Go Go Gentlemen’s Club on the high street, plus the Saucy Sporty Strippers, who specialise in naked table tennis.

One of the attractions for youths, when they dream of being a footballer or a pop star, is not just imagining themselves number one in the Prem or number one in the hit parade, but all the girls who’ll be clambering for them. Young, thrusting politicians have similar fantasies. Alas, it doesn’t always work out.

Today, we have all these foreign managers and foreign players coming here, not pinching our women (they’re too busy for that), but bringing foreign customs about diet and drink and no sex at half-time. Rotters, ruining the simple pleasures of our brave British lads which they’ve enjoyed for over a century.

The tabloids recently went all pious when poor old Wayne Rooney was seen standing around drinking till the early hours at the England team hotel after their win over Scotland. He’d apparently been invited to a wedding that happened to be going on there. What I can’t understand is: why join a wedding party for total strangers? Nothing more boring than someone else’s wedding. Why didn’t he stay in the bar and get smashed?

Even odder was the behaviour of two other England stars, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. They made a 220-mile round trip from their hotel in Hertfordshire to visit a strip club, For Your Eyes Only, in Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Don’t they have naked women in Herts? I thought one of the points of having all these millions – and a vast office staff employed by your agent – is that anything you want gets fixed for you. Why couldn’t dancing girls have been shuttled into another hotel down the road? Or even to the lads’ own hotel, dressed as French maids?

In the years when I travelled with the Spurs team, it was quite common in provincial towns, after a Saturday game, for players to pick up girls at a local club and share them out.

Like top pop stars, top clubs have fixers who can sort out most problems, and pleasures, as well as smart solicitors and willing police superintendents to clear up the mess afterwards.

The England players had a night off, so they weren’t breaking any rules, even though they were going to play Spain 48 hours later. It sounds like off-the-cuff, spontaneous, home-made fun. In Wayne’s case, he probably thought he was doing good, being approachable, as England captain.

Quite why the other two went to Bournemouth was eventually revealed by one of the tabloids. It is Lallana’s home town. He obviously said to Jordan Henderson, “Hey Hendo, I know a cool club. They always look after me. Quick, jump into my Bentley . . .”

They spent only two hours at the club. Henderson drank water. Lallana had a beer. Don’t call that much of a night out.

In the days of Jimmy Greaves, Tony Adams, Roy Keane, or Gazza in his pomp, they’d have been paralytic. It was common for players to arrive for training still drunk, not having been to bed.

Peter Crouch, the former England player, 6ft 7in, now on the fringes at Stoke, came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”


Park impeachment filed as South Koreans step up protest

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Up to 1.7 million people gather in Seoul in what is called the largest-ever mass protest in South Korea's history.

University of Southern California professor stabbed to death due to 'personal dispute'

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Police confirmed it was not a random act and that the professor was targeted by the student.

We need to resist censorship of cyberspace

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

I'm among the liberal US journalists and professors whom Google warned were targeted by government-backed attackers.

India's Narendra Modi defends clampdown on cash economy

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

While PM has been praised for his intentions, he is facing flak from political opponents and prominent economists.

MH370 relatives campaigning for answers on missing flight

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Relatives of those who died on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 travel to Madagascar to lobby for the search for debris to be expanded.

Thai activist arrested for sharing king's profile on Facebook

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

A Thai activist is arrested under a royal defamation law for sharing a profile of the new king.

Fidel Castro: Contested legacy, competing narratives

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

We analyse the competing narratives around Fidel Castro; plus, the UK's new surveillance law, the 'Snoopers' Charter'.

Aung San Suu Kyi's shameful silence on the Rohingya

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Mehdi Hasan on Myanmar's leader turning a blind eye to anti-Muslim violence.

Game of oil: Behind the OPEC deal

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

OPEC member nations have agreed to cut oil production, but how will the deal affect the global economy?

Egypt's top court upholds law restricting protests

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The law, which was passed in 2013, effectively bans street demonstrations, settling a years-long court battle.

French baby opens eyes after doctors threatened to cut life support

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Doctors believed she would never recover and threatened to 'pull the plug' but her father thought otherwise.

Oakland nightclub fire: Nine people dead and 25 missing after massive inferno at Rave Cave

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Around 20 people are still unaccounted for as police say there may be many casualties.

Show of force

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Concern is growing over the rising power of Iraqi Shia militias in the battle for Mosul, Orla Guerin says.

Ban Ki-moon: South Korea's next president?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The outgoing UN secretary-general discusses the failures of the UN, Syria's war, the Trump era and serving South Korea.

NewsGrid - Al Jazeera's interactive news hour

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

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

Afghan Taliban hang university student in public

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Kabul Polytechnic university student was accused by the group of killing a senior Taliban official.

Trump-Taiwan call: China lodges protest

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

China lodges a protest with the US over Donald Trump's phone call with the Taiwanese president.

Massive funeral for Brazil footballers killed in crash

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Chapeco city expecting some 100,000 people - half its population - to descend on Conda Arena to remember the dead.

Football Leaks: Ronaldo and Mourinho accused of tax avoidance

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho were part of a tax-avoidance scheme, a huge document leak alleges.

Kanye West kept in isolation away from 'concerned' Kim Kardashian after leaving hospital

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

West continues to be treated for 'medical issues' at a secret location.

Elton John set to retire after almost 50 years in the music business

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Singer said to want to spend more time on the Elton John Aids Foundation, sources close to him say.

Italy votes for new constitution amid political turmoil

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The December 4 vote could alter the country's constitution and reform the 70-year-old republic.

Donald Trump speaks directly to Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

President-elect speaks with Taiwan' leader in a break from the US' "one China" policy triggering protest from Beijing.

Syria's President Assad recaptures more than half of eastern Aleppo from extremists, reports say

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Battle for northern city has been deadlocked for four years but government has made new breakthroughs.

Syrian forces tighten grip on besieged Aleppo

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Capture of Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood means government now controls about half of eastern Aleppo.

Malaysia: Myanmar pursues ethnic cleansing of Rohingya

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Malaysia says Myanmar behind exodus of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya to neighbouring countries.

Thousands flock to Yarl's Wood protest over government's 'hostile climate for migrants'

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Tenth protest calls for closure of Bedfordshire facility over allegations of sexual abuse and brutality.

Fund to protect heritage sites in war zones approved

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Around 40 nations agree to create safe havens for endangered art works as well as protecting heritage sites.

Looking for love in Virginia: How a tiny advertising agency changed the image of a state

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The provocative ad campaign that took on Old Dominion.

The allegations of abuse in sport are serious – but we must guard against hysteria

By Peter Wilby from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

This week in the media, from Castro and the student rebels, hysteria over football coaches, and Ed Balls’s ballroom exit.

From the left’s point of view, the best that can be said of Fidel Castro, who has died at 90, is that – to echo Franklin D Roosevelt on the Nicaraguan dictator Anatasio Somoza – he may have been a son of a bitch but he was our son of a bitch. Denying Castro’s dreadful record on human rights is pointless. According to the highest estimates – which include those who perished while trying to flee the regime – the death toll during Castro’s 49 years in charge was roughly 70,000. His immediate predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro overthrew, murdered, again according to the highest estimates, 20,000 but he ruled for a mere seven years. For both men, you can find considerably lower figures, sometimes in the hundreds. It depends on the politics of the estimator, which shows the absurdity of such reckoning.


Murder is murder

What is certain is that Batista ran a corrupt regime with close links to the American Mafia and presided over outrageous inequalities. Even President Kennedy, who ­approved a failed military invasion of Cuba in 1960, said that, on Batista’s record, “I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries”. Castro, on the other hand, created a far more equal society where illiteracy was almost wiped out, and free health care brought life expectancy up to levels comparable to those in the US and western Europe. You could say that the numbers saved from early deaths by Cuban medicine under Castro easily exceeded the numbers that faced firing squads.

But nothing excuses torture, murder and political imprisonment. There isn’t a celestial balance sheet that weighs atrocities against either the freedoms from ignorance and disease that the left favours or the freedoms to make money and hold private property that the right prefers. We should argue, as people always will, about which freedoms matter most. We should be united in condemning large-scale state brutality whatever its source.


Spirit of ʼ68

Though his regime became an ally (or, more precisely, a client) of the Soviet Union, Castro wasn’t a communist and he didn’t lead a communist uprising. This point is crucial to understanding his attraction to the mostly middle-class student rebels in Europe and America who became known as the ’68ers.

To them, communist rulers in eastern European were as uninspiring as the cautious centrists who hogged power in Western democracies. They were all grey men in suits. Castro had led a guerrilla army and wore battle fatigues. As the French writer Régis Debray explained in Revolution in the Revolution? – a book revered among the students – Castro’s band of revolutionaries didn’t start with a political programme; they developed one during “the struggle”. Their ideology grew organically in the mountains of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra.

This do-it-yourself approach seemed liberating to idealistic young people who didn’t want to bother with the tedious mechanics of bourgeois democracy or the dreary texts of Marxism-Leninism. They had permission for “direct action” whenever they felt like it without needing to ­formulate aims and objectives. They couldn’t, unfortunately, see their way to forming a guerrilla army in the Scottish Highlands or the Brecon Beacons but they could occupy a university refectory or two in Colchester or Coventry.


Caution over coaches

Commenting on Radio 5 Live on the case of Barry Bennell, the Crewe Alexandra coach convicted in 1998 of sexual offences against boys aged nine to 15 (the case came to fresh attention because several former professional football players went public about the abuse), an academic said that 5 per cent of boys reported being sexually abused in sport. “That’s one boy on every football pitch, every cricket pitch, every rugby pitch in the country,” he added.

This is precisely the kind of statement that turns perfectly reasonable concerns about inadequate vigilance into public hysteria. The figure comes from an online survey carried out in 2011 by the University of Edinburgh for the NSPCC. The sample of 6,000 was self-selected from emails to 250,000 students aged 18 to 22, who were asked about their experiences of physical, emotional and sexual harm in sport while aged 16 or under. “We do not make claims for the representativeness of our sample,” the researchers state.

Even if 5 per cent is accurate, the suggestion that abusers stalk every playing field in the land is preposterous. After the Jimmy Savile revelations, just about every DJ from the 1960s and 1970s fell under suspicion – along with other prominent figures, including ex-PMs – and some were wrongly arrested. Let’s hope something similar doesn’t happen to football coaches.


Shut up, Tony

Brexit “can be stopped”, Tony Blair told this magazine last week. No doubt it can, but I do wish Blair and other prominent Remain supporters would shut up about it. The Brexiteers have spent 20 years presenting themselves as victims of an elite conspiracy to silence them. Committed to this image, they cannot now behave with the grace usually expected of winners. Rather, they must behave as though convinced that the prize will shortly be snatched from them, and treat any statement from Remainers, no matter how innocuous, with suspicion and resentment. Given enough rope, they will, one can reasonably hope, eventually hang themselves.


Strictly Balls

Perhaps, however, Nigel Farage et al are justified in their paranoia. As I observed here last week, the viewers of Strictly Come Dancing, in the spirit of voters who backed Brexit and Donald Trump, struck more blows against elite experts by keeping Ed Balls in the competition even after judges gave him abysmal ratings. Now it is all over. The BBC contrived a “dance-off” in which only the judges’ votes counted. 


Venezuela suspended from Mercosur

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Trade group revokes Venezuela's membership over its failure to comply with Mercosur's democratic principles.

Katie Holmes denies 'secret marriage' rumours, reveals she's still single after Tom Cruise divorce

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Holmes and Foxx have been romantically linked for years ever since her split from Tom Cruise.

BlackBerry Android phone with QWERTY keypad shown in leaked photos

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The device had been confirmed by BlackBerry CEO last month.

Mass Effect Andromeda developers assure fans that facial animations are still being polished

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

BioWare unveiled a brand new gameplay trailer at The Game Awards this week.

Rohingya in Rakhine state suffer government retaliation

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Military uses indiscriminate violence in pursuit of Al Yaqeen fighters who demand equal rights for Rohingya Muslims.

Huawei Android Nougat road map revealed: Which devices will get the update in 2017?

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The Huawei P9 has already received a beta build of the latest update.

Sam Heughan teases 'big surprises' and a 'different' Claire and Jamie in Outlander season 3

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Heughan also reveals what will bring Clare and Jamie together in season 3.

Here's what Robert Pattinson thinks about Kristen Stewart's sexy dance video for Rolling Stones

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The blues cover album happens to be The Rolling Stones' first studio album in a decade.

Saudi labour minister replaced, councils reshuffled

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The changes come as the Gulf kingdom prepares to implement social and economic reforms amid economic hardship.

Huawei Mate 9 review: A big-screen experience without the thrills

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Huawei's attempt to fill the Note 7 void falls short with a handset that disappoints as much as it impresses.

How Muslims Defined American 'Cool'

By Emma Green from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

In the opening to her new book, Muslim Cool, the Purdue University professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer makes an ambitious declaration of intent: Her research “poses a direct challenge to [the] racialization of Muslims as foreign and as perpetual threats to the United States.” For more than a decade, Khabeer has worked with young Muslims, largely in America, who are interested in art, fashion, and activism—and think about all of these things through the lens of hip hop. While she studied people from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, she focuses on the intersections between hip-hop culture, black culture, and Islam, arguing that all of these cultures define what is “cool” in the United States.

Khabeer is a Muslim who defines herself as a “hip-hop head.” She’s arguably a product of “Muslim cool”: “Hip hop is the soundtrack to my life,” she writes. “Growing up in Brooklyn and particularly being a teenager during the golden era of hip hop made my connection with it even more meaningful. I was black and Muslim … and the music and culture of hip hop were replete with Islamic references and pro-black and pan-African messages.”

While Muslim Cool celebrates the spiritual grounding of hip hop and tries to tease apart its complex relationships with race and religion, the context surrounding the book is perhaps what’s most challenging about it. During this election cycle, rhetoric about Islam has been disturbing and violent. Last year, hate crimes against Muslims increased, and at various points, Donald Trump has proposed religion-based bans on all Muslims seeking to enter the United States. The idea that Muslims create “cool” in American culture while also being severely marginalized is dizzying.

I spoke with Khabeer about the dynamics of “Muslim cool” in American culture and politics. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Green: What is “Muslim cool”?

Khabeer: “Muslim cool” is a term that I’m using to describe a way of being and thinking about what it means to be Muslim in the United States. It’s engaging blackness to counter anti-blackness, as it appears in Muslim communities as well as broader American society.

Muslim cool manifests itself in different ways: conversations and ideas, but also style, fashion, and activism. I worked with young Muslims, ages 18 to 30, who were multi-ethnic. They were black, South Asian, and Arab Americans who were engaged in art-space activism, and particularly hip-hop-based activism.

I’m also juxtaposing Islam and hip hop. For a number of Americans, that might be unexpected, because they don’t necessarily put those two things together, but I found that looking at those two things together gave me some critical insights into the way race and blackness function in the U.S. today. These young Muslims are resisting anti-blackness in their activism and their style, but they also find themselves reproducing it. And I think that is really key to how race and blackness function in the U.S.

“The reason we love Muhammad Ali is that he stood up for justice, and the reason he did that was because he was Muslim.”

Green: Everything you’re describing—style, fashion, music—are the building blocks of what makes something “cool.” And yet, there’s some cognitive dissonance. One could argue that Muslims in the U.S. are, politically speaking, marginalized and demonized.

In that context, what does it mean for Muslims to be “cool”?

Khabeer: In mainstream U.S. conversations about Muslims, yes, I think “the Muslim” is made into a threat or a terrorist—something really scary. But in the hip-hop community, Muslims are more like prophets. And that’s where the “cool” comes from.

People don’t recognize Muslims right in front of them. Donald Trump wants to ban Muslims and wants [Muslim immigrants] to register [with the government as they enter the United States], and then he’s like, “Muhammad Ali is a great guy.” Muhammad Ali’s greatness is inextricable from his blackness and inextricable from his Muslim identity. The reason we love Muhammad Ali is that he stood up for justice, and the reason he did that was because he was Muslim.

In the United States, we have a mainstream, but we also have multiple streams—we have multiple communities. While the mainstream conversation dominates [culture] and pushes policy on some level, it’s not the only conversation.

“‘Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn’ [is] not exactly a revolutionary mantra.”

Green: In those “mainstream” conversations you describe, whether it’s politicians making speeches, TV news broadcasts, or articles in the newspaper, Muslims are often portrayed in narrow stereotypes: Arab, foreign, immigrant. Of course, this doesn’t reflect reality: U.S. Muslims come from all sorts of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and a large portion are African American, as you point out in your book.

How has the cultural notion of who “Muslims” are shifted over time in American history, especially when it comes to this divide between your concept of “Muslim cool” and the stereotype of Muslims being “scary”?

Khabeer: I don’t know if I think it’s changed, but in the United States, black cultural production has always been a source of culture and cool. When we think of “cool,” we think of something that goes against the grain. To be black is to always be against the grain already.

That “cool” has always been about resistance and revolution, and this is why black Muslims fit in that really well. I think hip-hop music has always been about that, even though the music that is commercially profitable doesn’t seem as explicit around those kinds of questions.

Of course, we can’t romanticize things, because hip hop has always had a lot of different messages. Take the Sugar Hill Gang. One of their lines is “hotel, motel, Holiday Inn.” That’s not exactly a revolutionary mantra.

“Islam, particularly as it is practiced by black people in this country, is fundamental to hip hop and to our notions of cool.”

Green: One of the things you’re arguing is that hip hop—and, by extension, Islam—are really pervasive in American culture. Especially in the realm of politics, I think it can be easy to talk about “Muslims” as though they are defined by their religion and hermetically sealed off from the rest of culture. How does your research push back against that?

Khabeer: In the book, I talk about young people who are engaging hip hop, and thereby engaging the black experience, to really understand who they are in the world, who they are as Muslims, and who they are as racial minorities. Then they do something with that—they become activists, or work on some racial-justice issue. They appreciate a particular culture, find what’s meaningful to them, and are in community with those people.

This is opposed to appropriation, which is like: This thing exists, you think it’s cool for your own reasons, and you take it up and you use it. The people who created it and the issues that are important to them—it doesn’t really cross over. Many people understand hip hop as black music, but not something beyond that one-dimensional frame—it’s just entertainment. They appropriate, rather than appreciate.

What I am arguing is that Islam, particularly as it is practiced by black people in this country, is fundamental to hip hop and to our notions of cool, to our notions of what it means to exist.

“The struggle against racial inequality in the United States is a long one. But art has always had a really important role.”

Green: The phenomenon you’re describing—young people who are racially conscious, artistic, and drawing from a deep faith tradition in their work—isn’t new. Something similar arguably happened during the civil-rights era, for example. But over time, a lot of those former young people grew up, and this year, many of them voted for a presidential candidate—now president-elect—who enforces stereotypes around what it means to be black, Muslim, etc.

Do you think there’s staying power to the kind of youth-led artistic and political movement you’ve observed, and if so, what does that look like?

Khabeer: I think that yes, there’s staying power. The struggle against racial inequality in the United States is a long one. But art has always had a really important role, whether it was enslaved African Americans who were using spirituals as encoded messages to get to the North, or authors writing poems and imagining new worlds. That is the staying power.

Part of what art is about is translating messages to people. Part of what music has done, also, is educate people. Here’s an example: I gave a talk at the University of Nebraska in Omaha on the Thursday after the election. A young white student, who was male, asked me, “I’m from a rural town in Nebraska. I’ve come to college, and it has basically blown my mind. What do I do with all that information? Do I go back?”

And I was like, “Yes, you go back. That’s exactly what you do. That’s your cousin, not mine. That’s your aunt, not mine. You have a relationship with these people—you know them better than I would, and you know where they’re coming from, and you also understand how to bring them to a different understanding.”

I think the staying power comes from that: People working in their communities.

Iran VP: Syria war images 'bother me'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar on her country's support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

New DDoS botnet army could rival Mirai in launching large-scale attacks targeting parts of US

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Security researchers have uncovered a new botnet waging daily, massive attacks.

Saudi central bank systems reportedly hit by Iran-linked malware Shamoon

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Other government entities were targeted by the powerful malware in November.

Pilot in Colombia plane crash accused of 'mass murder' amid speculation plane ran out of fuel

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Another pilot speaking anonymously said his actions were 'pure irresponsibility'.

Captain of KLM plane suffers heart attack at Glasgow Airport

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Cardiovascular problems are a common cause for denials of medical certificates for airline pilots.

Mosul: Thousands facing 'catastrophic' water shortages

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Some Iraqi civilians forced to drink sewage water after major water pipeline was destroyed during fighting with ISIL.

Why is there an International Day of Persons with Disabilities?

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Broadcaster Mik Scarlet gives a potted history of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

UFC president Dana White reveals the reason why he stripped Conor McGregor of featherweight belt

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The Irishman had won the featherweight title after knocking out Brazilian Jose Aldo at UFC 194 almost a year back.

Winter digs in for Europe and the Middle East

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Massive cold plunge spreads rain and snow from Scandinavia to the eastern Mediterranean.

Slavoj Zizek on a 'clash of civilisations'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Mehdi Hasan challenges philosopher Slavoj Zizek over his position on Europe's refugee crisis.

University student publicly hanged in Afghanistan over alleged assassination of senior Taliban official

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Faiz ul Rahman Wardak, a fourth-year student, was hanged 60 km outside the Afghan capital.

Aleppo siege: Syria rebels lose 60% of territory

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Close to two-thirds of rebel-held areas of east Aleppo have now fallen to Syria's government.

In North Carolina, the election just won't end

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

An incumbent that won't concede and exponential legal challenges threaten to keep it going even longer.

Italy's Referendum: Not 'Italexit,' but Still Critical

By Krishnadev Calamur from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Italians vote Sunday in a referendum that is being called the most significant vote in Europe this year—bigger even that Brexit, the vote in which the U.K. chose over the summer to leave the European Union.

The referendum Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his political future on concerns proposed constitutional changes that would weaken the Senate, strengthen the central government in Rome, and, consequently, make decision-making in the EU’s third-largest economy more efficient. The proposal would also amend the country’s complicated electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies and result in Rome gaining more power over the regions. Renzi says the changes are needed to streamline Italy’s government, but his critics—including members of his own center-left party—say the referendum is an attempted power grab by the government.

Renzi’s proposed changes were approved by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate earlier this year. But they failed to gather the two-thirds majority required in each chamber, prompting him to seek a referendum on the matter. Indeed, he was so confident the proposal would pass, he pledged to quit if voters rejected his proposed changes. But it’s been a year of shocks for the political establishment in Europe (and indeed the U.S.): Following the success of the Brexit campaign, which defeated the better-funded “Remain” side, Italians appear poised to hand Renzi a defeat. Brexit comparisons abound. But Matteo Garavoglia, a nonresident Italy Program Fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me that they’re overblown.  

“As it is often the case with a referendum, people do not vote on the question itself,” Garavoglia said. “For most people it is, as very often the case, a vote for or against the government.” He added the similarity between the two situations ends with the populist tone of the campaign in Italy, with “crass slogans that have nothing to do whatsoever with the substance of the proposed referendum on the constitutional reform.”

Indeed, Italy’s relationship with the EU is not in question. Italy was after all one of the founding members of the bloc, and most Italians still view membership favorably. “No Italian would seriously argue leaving the European Union,” Garavoglia said. “It would be absolutely suicidal for Italy.”

Still the political developments in Europe this year have obscured the widespread economic problems across the eurozone, many of whose 18 members have not recovered fully from the global recession of 2008. The EU’s formula for the most imperiled nations—Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Greece—was austerity, a prescription that stung the most vulnerable citizens in those countries. In the political backlash that resulted, far-left and far-right populist movements made gains, the establishment lost favor, and the political parties that seemed secure across Europe since the end of World War II were severely weakened. Amid this, the economic vulnerabilities remain. Italy, for instance, is struggling with massive public debt—130 percent of GDP—and a fragile banking sector where about 20 percent of loans are seen as troubled—problems that Renzi says he will be able to tackle if Italians vote “yes” in the referendum. If they vote “no,” it could unleash a period of political uncertainty and, consequently, economic uncertainty.

“If Italy were to enter a phase of uncertainty, with shaky governments, with a new government, and be attacked on the financial markets, this would be a huge problem,” Garavoglia said. “Not just for Italy, of course, but for the rest of Europe. Italy is just too big to fail.”

In the event of a “no” vote, Garavoglia says, Italy could expect to see a speculative attack on Italy in the bond market. But it’s the political repercussions that could be bigger. Several scenarios have been outlined: The president would ask Renzi to form a new government; or the president would appoint a respected technocrat as a caretaker prime minister to shepherd the electoral law and pass the budget for 2017. This could lead to instability and a general election that could propel the populist Five Star movement, which is riding high in the polls, to power.  

If Renzi triumphs, and his constitutional changes are put into place, it would remake modern Italy, handing the central government more power, at the expense of the regions and the legislature. The repercussions would be felt far beyond Renzi’s tenure in Italian politics.

“The fundamental question that should be asked is this: Is Italy a sufficiently mature and sophisticated democracy to handle a concentration of power in the hands of the executive?” Garavoglia told me. “Are the democratic institutions strong enough to handle this or is it better not to touch things? This is a country that had Mussolini and fascism, and, more recently, 20 years of Silvio Berlusconi.”

Apple iPad activation lock screen can be bypassed due to iOS bug, say security researchers

From : World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Apple has not yet acknowledged the issue.

MH370 relatives go to Madagascar in search of debris

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Relatives of those who died on flight MH370 travel to Madagascar, seeking a wider search for debris.

The Case for the Cuba Embargo

By Siddhartha Mahanta from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

On November 26, the New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez held a press conference at the Union of Ex-Political Prisoners of Cuba, a human rights group based in Union City. Known colloquially as “Havana on the Hudson,” Union City is home to a large population of Cuban exiles and immigrants who settled there in the 1960s and 1970s, many of them perhaps more inclined to celebrate than mourn the passing of long-time dictator Fidel Castro the day before.  

But the American-born Menendez, whose family moved to the United States in the 1950s, was in no mood to celebrate. “Too many families have been torn apart. Too many killed and imprisoned. Too many tortured, too many hungry, a nation destroyed and millions enslaved,” the senator said, surrounded by members of the group. “[A] Castro”—Fidel’s brother, Raul—“still rules 11 million Cubans with an iron fist. Time has made Americans numb to those harsh realities. But for the people of Cuba, they are the nightmare they live every day.”

For Menendez, Fidel’s death was a reminder of how much America has forgotten. (The walls of the room where he spoke were covered with pictures of those who’d been beaten, tortured, or killed under the Castro regime, reminders of “what Fidel Castro’s legacy is truly all about,” Menendez said.) In his view, grand gestures like the Obama administration’s December 2014 opening to Cuba offered Raul Castro far too much—gradual re-integration into the global economy and a softening of the 54-year trade embargo—in exchange for far too little in the way of political liberalization.

Obama has made the argument against the ongoing embargo, which he says did little to change the behavior of the Castro regime, or compel economic or political liberalization. “Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect—cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere,” he said in July 2015.

But in an interview on Thursday, the senator defended the embargo as a measure that had created a sense of “economic necessity” for the Castro regime, and argued that it had in fact forced Cuba into substantive changes such as reducing the size of its military. The regime’s capacity to support anti-colonial revolutions in Latin America, the Congo, Angola, and elsewhere, was reduced as well. And the U.S. dollar, which was illegal in Cuba until 1993, is now openly traded. All of this, Menendez said, was made possible by the economic hardship the embargo created for the regime despite never being fully enforced thanks to various loopholes available to international subsidiaries of U.S. companies. “I think we would all say these are good things for the Cuban people to some extent, and certainly for the people of the hemisphere in terms of greater stability,” Menendez said.

Obama’s diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, premised on what he called the failure of the previous policy, in Menendez’s view failed to take into account changes in the international environment that could have made that policy work better. Cuba’s longtime regime patron Venezuela, which has provided oil in exchange for Cuban doctors, along with security and trade assistance to Havana, has experienced its own economic and political crisis in recent years, which could have further degraded the Castro regime’s position, making it more susceptible to  U.S. pressure for real change, Menendez argued. He also pointed out that the number of Cubans seeking to come to the United States has continued to grow since Obama’s opening. “[If] things were so great two years after this new opening, people would be staying, not coming,” he said.

“I have talked to those who are presently residing in Cuba and who struggle every day within the belly of the beast to try to create change in their country. ... The Ladies in White have told me about the difficulties and the challenges, the beatings and the arrests and the torture, and have told me that, in the last two years, things have only gotten worse. Because the regime’s message is, ‘We only care about doing business. We don’t care about human rights and democracy because we hardly talk about it anymore.’ [Cubans] feel, in that [sense], abandoned.”

Critics of America’s long-standing policy of isolationism towards Cuba often point out that the country has, in fact, thrived in certain key respects under the Castros, including healthcare and literacy.

As Menendez has suggested in the past, the better approach in Cuba would’ve resembled something closer to Obama’s strategy with Burma. There, in Menendez’s words, the president said, “‘You want to have a relationship with Burma, then you have to release political prisoners. … You have to hold legislative elections. You have to permit the UN special rapporteur for human rights to come in, and then you can have a relationship with us.’ And guess what? All those things happened.” Burma’s democratic reforms are still fragile, however, and the country could easily backslide.

Now, with the death of Fidel Castro, “the intellectual leader of first a revolution and then a dictatorship,” comes “a symbolic end from the leader of the movement that enslaved the Cuban people,” Menendez said. This, in turn, opens up an opportunity for Washington to steer Cuba away from a state-controlled economy that seems poised to enrich members of the Castro family. “When we do business, allow business to take place and engage with [Cuba], we strengthen the regime that oppresses its people, not the people themselves.” (Menendez is doesn’t see much potential for change under Raul. “Raul Castro has more blood on his hands than Fidel did,” he said at his press conference.)

To help the Cuban people, Menendez pointed to things like Title II of the LIBERTAD Act of 1995,  which he helped write, that were designed to engage Cuban civil society. “We used to have programs of parliamentarians from former communist blocks or dictatorships who transitioned to democracy to talk about how they did it, and go visit with human-rights and democracy leaders inside of Cuba. We used to … help Cuban democracy and human rights movements … communicate with each other on the island, which in and of itself is an incredible challenge for them. We could use our surrogate transmissions into Cuba through radio and television Marti to allow the voice of the Cuban people to be the voice that gets transmitted back, not just our broadcasting.”

Yet it’s unclear how much political and economic reform in Cuba actually matters for America’s interests. After all, Cuba hasn’t posed a serious threat to the United States since 1962, and its influence in the Western hemisphere has, as Menendez pointed out, been waning for decades.

Menendez argued that democracies are, largely, less likely to go to war with other democracies, and more encouraging of open markets. “They create greater stability. And so that would be true for Cuba as well. It is in the national interest and security of the United States to have a country in the Western hemisphere that is democratic, creating greater opportunities for its people. Because it’s the command and control economy of the Castro regime that really creates the desperateness of the Cuban people.”

Castro in Africa

By Jamie Miller from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

For nearly three decades, Fidel Castro devoted vast amounts of Cuba’s limited resources to the project of exporting his revolution to Africa, even as it stuttered at home. As leader of Cuba, Castro advocated a radical departure from the prevailing post-war liberal internationalism, premised more on the ideas of Frantz Fanon than those of Adam Smith. Decolonization seemed to offer a prime laboratory for that vision. Cuba volunteered doctors, nurses, military advisers, and troops to support what Castro and Che Guevara saw as progressive regimes—“sister countr[ies],” in Havana’s terminology—in Algeria, Eastern Congo-Kinshasa (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo), Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea-Bissau, and, later, Ethiopia.

In the days since his death, and in parallel with obituaries detailing his record of violence and repression at home, Castro has been widely celebrated for his role in southern Africa in particular, a region where he supported Angolan revolutionaries pitted against the U.S.-backed apartheid regime of South Africa. And yet Cuba’s role on the continent also illuminates some of the contradictions of advancing an anti-imperial agenda, premised on social and racial justice, in part through the execution of proxy wars abroad.

Beginning in the 1960s, Castro and Guevara developed a relationship with Angola’s People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), then locked in an anti-colonial struggle against Portuguese rule. When Portugal’s armed forces staged a mutiny in 1975, a power vacuum ensued. The MPLA was well-positioned to take over, but the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) had ideas of their own, forming a fragile alliance. Both would have been utterly uncompetitive, were it not for their foreign backers: Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre (the newly renamed Congo-Kinshasa), South Africa’s apartheid government, and the United States. It was an alliance of rare disrepute. In the second half of 1975, tensions between the three Angolan movements became skirmishes, before erupting into open warfare. A minor conflict in a distant African country, ruled for 500 years by a country back in Europe, suddenly came to be seen as a test of wills for different political blocs and their visions for the world’s future.

Each side ratcheted up their contributions in response to the other. Cuba’s contribution soon increased from doctors and technicians to military advisors, infantry, and officers. On the other side of the conflict, South Africa and the United States each saw the MPLA’s rise as a potential triumph for global communism. In August 1975, President Gerald Ford told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “I have decided on Angola. … [I]f we do nothing, we will lose Southern Africa.”

Both the United States and South Africa launched separate covert programs to funnel aid and weapons to the FNLA and UNITA, only to find that their rag-tag forces needed much more. Many of the fighters lacked boots and basic military gear. Few had handled sophisticated firearms before, let alone mortars or mines. Though some units had waged guerrilla campaigns against the Portuguese, none had experience in the conventional warfare needed to seize land from the MPLA. The allies realized that a support role would not be enough; they would have to take the lead, deploying regular troops under their own command.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Congress and American public opinion were extremely hostile to another military commitment abroad in a place even more unknown to them than southeast Asia. But elements in the apartheid regime were deeply concerned that an MPLA government in Angola might become a springboard for the African National Congress and for the South West Africa People's Organization, which contested South Africa’s control over South-West Africa (what today is Namibia), through an expired League of Nations mandate. With the white South Africans volunteering a full military effort, the Ford administration decided to let them do America’s dirty work. The South Africans could, and should, have secured an explicit quid pro quo for offering to be America’s shock troops, but failed to do so.

Due to the diplomatic toxicity of South Africa’s apartheid policies, the operation was conducted in absolute secrecy. Perhaps only a few leaders in Pretoria understood its full extent. Few American officials knew what was going on either, and those that did lied about it. When the operation was exposed in December 1975, President Ford instructed his African embassies to tell their host governments, “The U.S. in no way sought or encouraged the South Africans to become involved in Angola nor was our advice sought.” This was not true. In his memoirs, Kissinger’s account of the entire enterprise in Angola can only be described as extremely misleading.

While the Western alliance hid its actions and hoped for the best, Castro saw Angola as an ideal opportunity to pursue his African campaign. When Cuban emissary Major Raúl Díaz Argüelles returned from Angola in early August 1975, he told Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother and eventual successor: “[MPLA leader Agostinho Neto] wants to make the situation in Angola a vital issue between the systems of Imperialism and Socialism… [T]he sides are clearly defined, the FNLA and UNITA represent the international Imperialist forces and the Portuguese reac­tion, and the MPLA represents the progressive and nationalist forces.” Cuba agreed wholeheartedly with this framing of the conflict, and when South Africa’s military intervention was uncovered, the Havana-Luanda alliance found it had a public relations bonanza on its hands.

For Castro, however, what was at stake was much more than just a Cold War win. In the initial conflict, South Africa’s military surged northwards until it was halted by the Cubans in late 1975; a nearly 13-year stalemate ensued. Over 337,000 Cuban soldiers served in Angola, of whom over 2,000 died, according to official figures. But Havana’s contribution went far beyond the military. As historian Edward George notes, “For a generation of Cubans, internationalist service in Angola represented the highest ideal of the Cuban Revolution.” Waves of doctors, teachers, and engineers flooded war-torn Angola, while thousands of talented Angolan students received scholarships to study back in Cuba. Washington and Pretoria offered nothing of the kind. As the revolutionary cause stalled in Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, and elsewhere, and Havana’s clients in Ethiopia turned out to be (among other things) murderous thugs, Angola became the showcase for Castro’s ideology.

The main target of this policy was not so much the United States, but South Africa’s apartheid regime. From the late 1970s onwards, black political mobilization intensified, the country’s racially stratified economy stalled, and white manpower and expertise became ever scarcer, as the lure of a less-complicated life in Australia or Britain grew. In this context, Cuba forced the apartheid regime to fight a costly war of attrition, thousands of miles from South Africa. Into the 1980s, its government repeatedly increased taxes to pay for the sustained military effort. Vast quantities of political and economic resources were divested in an effort to circumvent military sanctions and produce sophisticated weapons systems at home. The government itself became steadily militarized. Conscription for white males was extended to fully two years; this only boosted emigration, while many returned home from the front disillusioned, or worse.

Castro’s military was never quite able to land a knock-out blow on the battlefield. Part of that was due to ongoing American support for the UNITA-South Africa alliance in southern Angola. America’s covert operatives were useful, but it was the diplomatic protection and copious funding that was invaluable, because the South Africans and UNITA struggled to provide either. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and  George H. W. Bush hosted UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi at the White House, despite the fact that his organization was known to traffic in conflict diamonds, conscript child soldiers, and impose strict discipline in its ranks through burning dissenters at the stake. The MPLA’s human rights record, too,  was hardly spotless.

America’s political alignment with the apartheid regime remains a black spot on its national past. Even as late as 1986, Reagan vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, the very same year that South Africa’s Broederbond, a shadowy ethno-nationalist organization for Afrikaner elites, itself disavowed apartheid. When choosing between defending the paragon of global racism even when apartheid’s most ardent backers were themselves looking in new directions, and maintaining a hard line against Cuba, Washington chose the latter. In the third world, it was yet another public relations victory for Fidel Castro—all in spite of his human rights record and Cuba’s unappealing economic model at home. No wonder coming to terms with his legacy is so difficult.

None of this should obscure the many failures and contradictions of Cuba’s African foreign policy. Most of Castro’s partners calcified into one-party regimes manifesting few of his lofty ideals. Castro’s opposite number in the MPLA’s Angolan regime was José Eduardo dos Santos—still the leader of Angola today. Few of Cuba’s allies fully reciprocated Castro’s generosity. In this context, it seems likely that much of the enduring enthusiasm on the part of Havana for its African mission stemmed from its ideological value. Foreign successes perhaps helped to obscure that the revolution was stalling badly at home. Then there was the unmissable irony at the heart of the whole policy: Havana made judgments about which third-world movements most resembled its model for the future, and then put its credibility in the hands of local leaders with their own priorities—similar to what Washington was doing at the same time.

But there was one big win. Cuba’s deeply improbable campaign in distant southern Africa was an important factor in the demise of apartheid, though it was not, as some claim, the dominant or decisive one. The South African system was imploding anyhow, as the Broederbond’s 1986 epiphany attests. But the war did accelerate a loss of white confidence in the regime and its apartheid model. Cuba’s campaign indirectly forced white voters and their family members to personally sacrifice in defense of apartheid—sacrifices they were, ultimately, unwilling to continue making.

By contrast, Castro was prepared to bear the costs of his vision, and to force them upon Cuba. “The cost in human terms is enormous,” he told Neto. “This effort requires great sacrifice for tens of thousands of families who have a son, or a father, or a brother abroad.” As this revealing statement suggests, Fidel Castro’s African adventure—improbable as it was—was hardly without contradictions.

Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

By Jason Cowley from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show


Mind-reader, lover and crazed zealot – why the enigmatic power of Rasputin endures

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

As Douglas Smith wisely surmises in his new book, trying to separate the mythology of Rasputin from the man himself is nearly impossible.

The first would-be murderer to land a blow on Grigory Rasputin was a peasant woman named Khioniya Guseva, whose nose had been eaten away by a disease (not syphilis, she told her interrogators emphatically) and who had been a devotee of Rasputin’s rival Iliodor, the self-styled “Mad Monk”. In June 1914 Guseva pursued Rasputin through Pokrovskoye, the Siberian village that was his home, and stabbed him with a 15-inch dagger.

Rasputin recovered. From thenceforward, though, death dogged him. As confidant and adviser to the tsar and tsarina of Russia, he was detested by monarchists and revolutionaries alike. By the time he was killed, two and a half years later, myriad plots had been hatched against his life. The minister of the interior had tried sending him on a pilgrimage accompanied by a priest: the priest had instructions to throw Rasputin from a moving train. A colonel in the secret services planned to lure him into a car with promises to introduce him to a woman, then drive to an isolated spot and strangle him. His madeira (Raputin’s fav­ourite drink) was to be poisoned. Peasants were bribed to lead him into ambushes. A strange lady turned up at his flat (as strange ladies often did) and showed him a revolver: she had brought it to kill him with, she told him, but had changed her mind after gazing into his eyes. No wonder that by the time Prince Felix Yusupov invited him to come by night to the cellar beneath the Yusupov Palace Rasputin was suspicious and fearful, and had all but given up the noisy, night-long parties he used to enjoy.

His legend has been recounted many times. The peasant who became an all-­powerful figure at the Romanov court. His priapic sexuality and his rumoured affair with Tsarina Alexandra. His “burning” eyes. His ability to hypnotise and beguile. His gift for healing, which miraculously preserved the life of the haemophiliac heir, Tsarevich Alexei. His devilish influence over the imperial couple that led them into repeated mistakes, eventually precipitating the 1917 revolution. His debauchery. His supernatural power, which obliged his murderers to kill him not once, but thrice – with poisoned pink cakes, with gunshots at point-blank range and eventually by drowning him. All of this, everybody who knows anything about Russian history, and many who do not, have heard. Douglas Smith retells the story, pruning it of absurdities, greatly expanding it, and demonstrating how very much more complicated it is than the legend would have us believe.

Rasputin’s public career began in his thirties, when he arrived in St Petersburg in 1905. Smith’s account of his life before his debut in the city is the most fascinating part of this book. It describes a world of isolated peasant communities with few books (in 1900 only about 4 per cent of Siberia’s inhabitants could read) but many holy men. This is the world of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov: violent, physically harsh, but spiritually ecstatic.

At the age of 28, Rasputin – married with children, still living with his father and helping to farm the family’s smallholding – left home to become a pilgrim. This was not an egregious decision. According to Smith, there were “about a million” pilgrims criss-crossing Russia at the time, walking barefoot, begging for food and lodging, trudging towards the holiest monasteries or seeking out revered starets, or church “elders”.

Rasputin would be away from home for years at a time. He would walk 30 miles a day. For three years he wore fetters, as many pilgrims did. After he laid them aside he went for six months without changing his clothes. He was often hungry, either because he could get no food, or because he was fasting. He was repeatedly robbed by bandits. But, for all his tribulations, on his return he would tell his children that he had seen marvels – cathedrals with golden cupolas and wild forests. He became part of a network of priests and visionaries which spanned the vast empire. He talked with everyone he met on the road, acquiring a knowledge of the narod, the Russian people, that its rulers never had. Smith’s account of his wandering years conjures up a richness of experience that makes the way the nobility later sneered at the “illiterate peasant”, the “nobody” who had got hold of their tsarina, seem indicative not of Rasputin’s shortcomings, but of their own.

In 1905 Rasputin was in the Tatar city of Kazan, drinking tea with a famed healer called Father Gavril. He told Gavril that he intended to walk on to St Petersburg, still hundreds of miles to the west. Gavril said nothing, but thought: “You’ll lose your way in Petersburg.” Rasputin, who already had a reputation as a mind-reader, responded as though he had heard, saying that God would protect him.

He was not the first holy man to be feted in the capital. Four years before he arrived in St Petersburg a French “sage” called Monsieur Philippe was holding séances in the city, and had soon “enraptured” the royal family. Nicholas and Alexandra prayed with Philippe and sat up until the small hours listening to him talk. They called him by the sobriquet they would soon give Rasputin, “Our Friend”, and they counted on him to guide the tsar in crucial talks with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Eventually Nicholas was prevailed upon to send him away, but other starets or “holy fools” succeeded Philippe at court (including Mitya “the Nasal Voice”, whose speech impediment made his words incomprehensible but who was nonetheless credited as a prophet). Rasputin may have been exceptionally charismatic – someone who met him soon after his arrival in the city described him as “a burning torch” – but, as one of his sponsors in high society said, “our Holy Russia abounds in saints” and the ruling class was just as enthralled by them as were the peasantry.

So, what was it about Rasputin? The eyes certainly – there are numerous references in contemporary descriptions to his “compelling”, “mesmeric”, “brilliant” eyes, their “strange phosphorescent light” and the way they stared, as though penetrating another’s mind. There were also his skills as a performer. He would talk eloquently and for hours. Smith quotes some striking accounts of Rasputin at prayer. For him, prayer was not a matter of closed eyes and folded hands and silent communion with God. It was a performance. He vibrated like a taut bow-string. He turned his face towards heaven and then, “with great speed, he would begin to cross himself and bow”.

He was all dynamic energy. He was unpredictable and frightening. His conversation could be bantering and light but then he would turn on someone standing on the fringe of a party and, as though he had read her mind, begin to scold her for having sinful thoughts. Then there was the erotic charge. In this compendious and exhaustively researched book, Smith debunks dozens of untrue stories about his subject, yet there is no denying Rasputin’s propensity for stroking and kissing women he barely knew and (once he was sufficiently celebrated for this to become easy for him) leading them into his bedroom and making love to them while people in the next room continued to drink their tea, pretending not to hear the thumps and moans. He was “so full of love”, he said, that he could not help caressing all those around him. Alternatively, he claimed (and many of his devotees accepted) that his sexual activity was designed to help his female followers overcome their carnal passions: he used sex to free them from sex. Smith treats this belief as being probably sincerely held – if almost comically self-justifying.

By the end of his life pretty well everyone in Russia believed that Rasputin was having an affair with the empress Alexandra. Everyone, that is, except for Alexandra and her husband. She wrote to Rasputin that it was only when she was leaning on his shoulder that she felt at peace; still, she could see nothing improper in their relationship. Tsar Nicholas, coming home late at night, as he frequently did, to find his wife closeted alone with Rasputin, reacted only with delight that “Our Friend” had blessed them with a visit. Rasputin was accused of “magnetism” – of using a form of hypnotism to dominate others. Whether or not he deliberately did so, he certainly had a magnetic personality.

Yet all these attributes are those of an individual. One of the important themes of Smith’s book is that, remarkable though Rasputin may have been, he could not on his own have brought down the tsarist autocracy, as his murderers thought he had, or saved it, as the tsarina believed he could. He was seen as the heretic who was shaking the foundations of the Orthodox Church, as the corrupter who had rendered the monarchy untenable, as the Satanic sower of discord who broke the ancient and sacred ties that bound the narod to the tsar. He was seen as a peace lover who, as one of his many biographers wrote in 1964, was the “only man in Russia capable of averting” the First World War. Rasputin himself said that it was only his continued existence that kept the tsar on the throne.

When Rasputin’s assassins dumped his body in the Neva, his mourning devotees took pailfuls of water from the icy river, as though his corpse had made it holy, while all over Russia his enemies rejoiced. His murderers – Prince Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitry and the rest – were hailed as the heroes who had saved the Romanov regime and redeemed Holy Russia. But nothing changed. Two months after Rasputin’s mauled and frozen body was dragged from beneath the ice, the revolution began. The tsar abdicated, and the joke went around that now the royal flag was no longer flying over the imperial palace, but only a pair of Rasputin’s trousers.

Early on in the process of planning his book, Smith writes, he wisely decided that to confine himself to the facts would be absurdly self-limiting. “To separate Rasputin from his mythology, I came to realise, was to completely misunderstand him.” In 1916 an astute observer of Russian politics noted in his diary that: “What really matters is not what sort of influence Grishka [Rasputin] has on the emperor, but what sort of influence the people think he has” (my italics). It’s true, and Smith agrees. “The most important truth about Rasputin,” he writes, “was the one Russians carried around in their heads.”

Smith, accordingly, gives us a plethora of rumours and canards. Over and over again in this book he tells a sensational story, full of salacious or politically complex detail and drawn from an authoritative-sounding contemporary source, only to show in the next paragraph that the story cannot possibly be true. As a result, we get an admirably encyclopaedic account of the fantasy life of early-20th-century Russians, as well as a multifaceted image of the Rasputin of their imagination. We do sometimes, though, get bogged down in the mass of material – factual or fictional – being offered us. This book will be invaluable to all subsequent writers on the subject, but general readers may wish, as I did, that Smith had at times allowed himself a clarifying generalisation rather than piling case history upon unreliable memoir upon clutch of mutually contradictory reports. This is a richly illuminating book, but it is not a lucid one.

At its centre is Rasputin, and for all the multiplicity of contemporary descriptions, and for all Smith’s laudable scholarship, he remains an area of darkness. By the time he came to fame he was no longer illiterate, but his own writings are opaque and incoherent. It is hard to read the man between the lines. Photographs (there are some haunting examples in here) seem to tell us more, but they are enigmatic.

Just occasionally, in this great, rambling edifice of a book, we glimpse him, as though far off down an endless corridor: a young seeker, vibrating with energy and self-mortifying religious fervour; a charismatic celebrity, already talking as he strides into a salon in the shirt an empress has embroidered for him; a hunted man walking home, tailed by a posse of secret agents, and drinking himself into a stupor as he awaits the attack he knew was bound to come.

And yet, for the most part, despite Douglas Smith’s herculean efforts, the man remains inscrutable. “What is Rasputin?” asked the Russian journal the Astrakhan Leaflet in 1914. “Rasputin is a nothing. Rasputin is an empty place. A hole!”

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s books include “The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio – Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War” (Fourth Estate)

Rasputin by Douglas Smith is published by Macmillan (817pp, £25)


"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

By Samira Shackle from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 


Polish pension U-turn prompts alarm and cheer

From Europe News. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Ruling party seen to disregard EU fiscal rules but villagers back retirement reform

Italian referendum: 5 things to watch out for

From Europe News. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

A rejection of Renzi’s measures risks political instability and market turmoil

The tech enabling a man with quadriplegia to drive

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The semi-autonomous Corvette has been modified to enable Sam Schmidt to drive on public roads.

Austrian election in 60 seconds

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Bethany Bell explains why Austria is facing a Christmas presidential election - its second of the year.

Too close to call

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Two candidates in Austria's presidential election held their final campaign events before the vote.

Palace in ruins

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

The palace of a Ugandan king and he has been charged with murder - why?

Post it

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

What role do postcards and letters play in this digital age? Some businesses think there is a gap in the market.

The matador fighting bulls and sexism

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Twenty-five-year-old Conchi Rios is one of only four female matadors fighting bulls in Spain.

Man vs bull

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Spain is a divided country over arguably its most famous tradition of bullfighting.

Spirited away

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Spirited Away enjoys a 15th anniversary re-release, further cementing the central role of director Hayao Miyazaki in Japanese animation.

So, Why Can't You Call Taiwan?

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Updated on December 2 at 7:49 p.m.

It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.

Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.

Trump’s call was first reported by the Financial Times, but the Trump campaign soon confirmed it and issued a readout of the conversation:

President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations. During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.

Why would Trump not speak with Tsai? Here’s where the strangeness starts. The U.S. maintains a strong “unofficial” relationship with Taiwan, including providing it with “defensive” weapons, while also refusing to recognize its independence and pressuring Taiwanese leaders not to upset a fragile but functional status quo. It’s the sort of fiction that is obvious to all involved, but on which diplomacy is built: All parties agree to believe in the fiction for the sake of getting along.

The roots of this particular fiction date to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China was routed by Mao Zedong and the Communists, and Chiang fled to Taiwan. The U.S., in Cold War mode, continued to recognize the ROC in Taiwan as China’s rightful government, and so did the United Nations. But in 1971, the UN changed course, recognizing the People’s Republic of China—or as it was often called then, Red China—as the legitimate government. In 1979, the United States followed suit. Crucially, the communiqué proclaiming that recognition noted, “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”

Officially, this has also been the policy of Taiwan for almost a quarter century. Under the 1992 Consensus, another artful diplomatic fiction, both Taipei and Beijing agreed that there was only one China and agreed to disagree on which was legitimate, as well as maintaining two separate systems. During the Bush years, the U.S. said it would defend Taiwan in an attack, but Bush also pushed back on Taiwanese moves toward independence.

Despite recognizing the PRC, the U.S. has kept close ties with Taiwan since 1979. The State Department notes that “Taiwan is the United States’ ninth largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s second largest trading partner.” More importantly, the U.S. has sold some $46 billion in arms to Taiwan since 1990, which are intended as defensive. Last December, the Obama administration sold $1.8 billion in anti-tank missiles, warships, and other materiel to Taipei. Of course, the “defensive” purpose to all of this is against China, the most plausible aggressor against Taiwan. Naturally, the arms sales have consistently annoyed the Chinese. (Recently, China has been on a campaign of land-grabbing and saber-rattling across the South China Sea, trying to assert greater control and influence.)

Though the triangle between the U.S., China, and Taiwan sometimes flares up, the general goal of all three has been to maintain the fragile status quo. By speaking to President Tsai, and praising U.S. relations with Taiwan, Trump threatens to upset that delicate balance. Reaction to the call was immediate and, for the most part, aghast.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, told the FT. “Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”

Ari Fleischer, Bush’s first White House press secretary, noted that he wasn’t even allowed to refer to a Taiwanese government. My colleague James Fallows, not generally a man given to overreaction or caps-lock, was blunter: “WHAT THE HELL????” he tweeted.

As is typically the case with Trump, it’s hard to tell whether this blithe overturning of protocol is intentional or simply a result of not knowing, or caring, better.

There are various reasons Trump might be intentionally poking China. Trump spoke harshly about China throughout his presidential campaign, accusing Beijing of currency manipulation, land-grabbing, and taking advantage of the United States. He also showed a willingness, if not an eagerness, to slaughter nearly every sacred cow of American foreign policy.

Some Trump confidants have suggested existing policy on Taiwan should become one of them. John Bolton, who served as Bush’s ambassador to the UN, has been advising Trump, and Bolton has been a very public advocate of the U.S. cozying up to Taiwan in order to show strength against China.

Even if the provocation is intentional, that doesn’t mean Trump has acted wisely. “I would guess that President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Hill.

Some observers suggested that the call fits with the pattern of Trump intertwining his business and political interests, pointing out that he’s currently seeking to open luxury hotels in Taiwan.

But it’s also possible that Trump just stumbled into the matter, Being There-style. Trump tweeted Friday evening that Tsai had called him, presenting himself as just the guy who picked up the handset. It’s unclear how studied the decision to take it was, or whether it was studied at all. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, assailed Trump for not taking it seriously. “Foreign policy consistency is a means, not an end. It’s not sacred. Thus, it’s Trump’s right to shift policy, alliances, strategy,” Murphy said in a pair of tweets. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start.”

It’s also hard to know how big a deal Trump’s call is. China did not immediately comment. A White House official told The New York Times that the administration was only informed of the call after the fact, and said the fallout could be significant. There were other questions. Wouldn’t Beijing see that what Trump did was a blunder, but not a major shift in policy? Isn’t the Chinese government sophisticated enough not to take Trump at face value?

Trump’s previous conversations might provide hints on whether foreign governments will take Trump seriously. As Uri Friedman wrote today, Trump’s conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already had repercussions. The Pakistani government put out a readout that read suspiciously like a near-verbatim transcript of Trump’s words, capturing the tone the president-elect uses. His promise to “play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems” might sound to an American who just observed the election as so much Trumpian space-filling, but it made headlines in Pakistan, where some interpreted it as a nod to Pakistan’s conflict with India in Kashmir. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told the Times it appeared Pakistani officials had taken Trump’s words too seriously.

China is perhaps a more sophisticated foreign-policy player than Pakistan; it’s certainly a more important one. But as Fallows points out, a China that sees Trump as buffoon probably isn’t good for American interests either.

For the time being, the most important thing to watch is probably for Beijing’s announcement. That will be the first clue as to whether Trump’s phone call will set in motion a huge realignment of American policy and relationships with China and Taiwan—or if it will be another Hainan Island incident, barely remembered 15 years on.

Donald Tusk is merely calling out Tory hypocrisy on Brexit

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

And the President of the European Council has the upper hand. 

The pair of numbers that have driven the discussion about our future relationship with the EU since the referendum have been 48 to 52. 

"The majority have spoken", cry the Leavers. "It’s time to tell the EU what we want and get out." However, even as they push for triggering the process early next year, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk’s reply to a letter from Tory MPs, where he blamed British voters for the uncertain futures of expats, is a long overdue reminder that another pair of numbers will, from now on, dominate proceedings.

27 to 1.

For all the media speculation around Brexit in the past few months, over what kind of deal the government will decide to be seek from any future relationship, it is incredible just how little time and thought has been given to the fact that once Article 50 is triggered, we will effectively be negotiating with 27 other partners, not just one.

Of course some countries hold more sway than others, due to their relative economic strength and population, but one of the great equalising achievements of the EU is that all of its member states have a voice. We need look no further than the last minute objections from just one federal entity within Belgium last month over CETA, the huge EU-Canada trade deal, to be reminded how difficult and important it is to build consensus.

Yet the Tories are failing spectacularly to understand this.

During his short trip to Strasbourg last week, David Davis at best ignored, and at worse angered, many of the people he will have to get on-side to secure a deal. Although he did meet Michel Barnier, the senior negotiator for the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative at the future talks, he did not meet any representatives from the key Socialist Group in the European Parliament, nor the Parliament’s President, nor the Chair of its Constitutional Committee which will advise the Parliament on whether to ratify any future Brexit deal.

In parallel, Boris Johnson, to nobody’s surprise any more, continues to blunder from one debacle to the next, the most recent of which was to insult the Italians with glib remarks about prosecco sales.

On his side, Liam Fox caused astonishment by claiming that the EU would have to pay compensation to third countries across the world with which it has trade deals, to compensate them for Britain no longer being part of the EU with which they had signed their agreements!

And now, Theresa May has been embarrassingly rebuffed in her clumsy attempt to strike an early deal directly with Angela Merkel over the future residential status of EU citizens living and working in Britain and UK citizens in Europe. 

When May was campaigning to be Conservative party leader and thus PM, to appeal to the anti-european Tories, she argued that the future status of EU citizens would have to be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Why then, four months later, are Tory MPs so quick to complain and call foul when Merkel and Tusk take the same position as May held in July? 

Because Theresa May has reversed her position. Our EU partners’ position remains the same - no negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and Britain sets out its stall. Merkel has said she can’t and won’t strike a pre-emptive deal.  In any case, she cannot make agreements on behalf of France,Netherlands and Austria, all of who have their own imminent elections to consider, let alone any other EU member. 

The hypocrisy of Tory MPs calling on the European Commission and national governments to end "the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories", while at the same time having caused and fuelled that same anxiety and uncertainty, has been called out by Tusk. 

With such an astounding level of Tory hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency, is it any wonder that our future negotiating partners are rapidly losing any residual goodwill towards the UK?

It is beholden on Theresa May’s government to start showing some awareness of the scale of the enormous task ahead, if the UK is to have any hope of striking a Brexit deal that is anything less than disastrous for Britain. The way they are handling this relatively simple issue does not augur well for the far more complex issues, involving difficult choices for Britain, that are looming on the horizon.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber.



Obama blocks Chinese takeover of tech group Aixtron

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Presidential order cites evidence the deal could impair US national security

The desperate families fleeing eastern Aleppo

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Tens of thousands of Syrians are fleeing the daily shelling and airstrikes, each with their own desperately sad stories.

Standing Rock: US veterans join North Dakota protests

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

US military veterans will protest alongside activists in North Dakota against an oil pipeline.

Hackers try to steal $45m from Russia central bank

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Regulator buries disclosure in 70-page report on risks to financial system

Kafka in the Bull City

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

DURHAM, N.C.—There’s not a lot of love lost between the North Carolina State Board of Elections and its subordinate board in Durham County these days.

Exasperation was written on the faces of the members of the county board Friday morning after they met to consider an NCSBE order that they recount more than 94,000 votes by Monday evening. The three members of the board huddled in a closed meeting, trying to figure out how to comply with the order. When one member, Democrat Dawn Baxton, emerged briefly from the room, reporters asked how much longer things would take. Baxton suggested the Second Coming might come sooner. When she emerged again, 20 minutes later, Baxton asked whether the press had been praying in her absence.

It’s not the reporters who need prayer: Divine intervention might be the only thing that could allow Durham County to meet a state-imposed deadline for the recount. The vaguely Kafkaesque story is a crisp illustration of the friction when state government and local government collide, and how that friction sometimes scrambles partisan lines.

The trouble started on election day, when Durham counted those roughly 94,000 votes late in the night, due to software delays. When they were added to the statewide total, they changed a decent lead for Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, into a very narrow lead for his challenger, Democrat Roy Cooper.

Since then, Cooper’s lead has remained consistent, and has even grown a bit, standing at a little more than 10,000 votes. State Republicans have gone through a series of steps to try to prevent Cooper from being certified as the race’s winner. In counties around the state, Republicans filed protests and challenges, alleging ineligible voters and irregularities in counting. Nearly all of those were thrown out, and those decisions were not appealed. But the situation in Durham County has remained unresolved. (It’s not the only outstanding issue—there is also a pair of protests in Bladen County, while a conservative think-tank has filed a suit to try to keep the votes of some same-day registrants out of the tally.)

Tom Stark, a Republican lawyer here, argued that late tabulation of the votes raised questions and was grounds for a hand recount of the county’s votes. The McCrory campaign, in turn, announced that it would withdraw a request for a full state recount if Durham County recounted its votes. (That offer may have been a bluff: Candidates can only automatically demand a recount if the margin of the race is less than 10,000 votes, and McCrory is no longer inside that range.)

Under state law, every county board of elections has a 2-1 majority for the governor’s party and the state board has a 3-2 edge, meaning Republicans control the process from top to bottom. (This was also a controversy before the election. After a federal court threw out a voting law and demanded restoration of early-voting days, which are disproportionately used by Democratic voters and especially African Americans, some county boards found other ways to limit hours—a move urged by the executive director of the state GOP.)

Durham County considered Stark’s challenge last month, decided it was without merit, and rejected it unanimously. But Stark appealed to the state board, which held a three-hour meeting Wednesday to consider it. In short, Democrats argued that the fact that Durham County calculated the votes late didn’t amount to an “irregularity” in any formal or legal sense, and that therefore there wasn’t any grounds for granting the recount. Republicans, including Stark, conceded that they had no evidence of malfeasance, but said that a recount couldn’t hurt and would only help to instill faith in the cleanliness of elections. (There’s a cynical irony to this argument, which is that Republicans in the state have spent the last three years arguing, also without evidence, that elections are tainted by widespread fraud.)

The board voted along party lines, 3-2, to order that Durham conduct a recount, but decided that could be done via machine rather than by hand, a time-saving measure. That still left unresolved how long the recount might take—and with that, when the outcome of the governor’s race might finally be decided. On Thursday, Durham County Board Chair Bill Brian, a Republican, told The News and Observer he was guessing the recount would be resolved by the end of next week.

But later that day, Durham received the formal order for the recount from the state board. The NCSBE demanded that Durham County produce a plan to recount the votes by Friday at noon, and to have the count finished by 7 p.m. on Monday. Thursday night, the Durham County board announced an emergency meeting for first thing Friday morning.

Brian is a dry-humored, burly, white-bearded man with a knack for expressive faces—imagine a sardonic Santa. Friday, he was expressing annoyance, complaining about what he called an “unreasonable” order from the state board. When the board emerged from a closed session, Brian announced that it was requesting an extension of the deadline for the recount to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and asking for an emergency state board hearing to grant it.

Brian then explained the litany of complications attending the state board’s order. In order to count the ballots, the county is supposed to have teams of two supervising each voting machine used to recount votes, and each team is ideally comprised of one Democrat and one Republican. The board was finalizing a plan to use 26 machines, so that means they needed 52 people—52 people who would work long shifts the entire weekend for the princely sum of $13 per hour. Even if they were able to find full crews, given an estimated 13 seconds per ballot, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests it would take around 13 hours to count all of the ballots.

So far, so good. But Durham County first has to get employees of the company that makes the voting machines to certify them. Brian had also read in local media that he was supposed to appear at a state board meeting on Saturday, though he’d received no notice. As a result, the board expected that they could start counting no sooner than Sunday morning. Even then, 13 hours would put the board comfortably ahead of 7 p.m. Monday, right?

Well, no. Because the NCSBE had ordered Durham County to count not just the governor’s race but every race, employees would then have to tally write-in votes for every seat, down to soil-and-water commissioner separately. Brian estimated that would take another 36 hours.

“Somebody always has a great idea, oh, we’ll just bring in new machines,” Brian said. But he rejected that, too: For every new machine, the board would have to find a new pair of workers—one Democrat, one Republican—background-check them, and pay them. (Brian semi-sarcastically invited the members of the state board to come chip in, pointing out that would guarantee at least three Republicans and two Democrats.) Even if there were plenty of applicants, it did not appear that the board of elections could plug in all 26 machines at its building without overloading the building’s circuits; electricians scurried around the room during the conversation trying to test the system. The board couldn’t just move the machines to another county building, though, because then they’d have to come up with a security plan for moving the ballots and locking them up overnight. That, of course, would require more money.

The board was guessing the whole process, which almost no one expects to change the result of the contest, would run $35,000 to $40,000. It was a rare point of certainty. “Right now, the money is coming out of the pockets of the people of Durham County,” Brian said. “At the end of the day, that’s the one thing we do know.”

Brian doesn’t seem like the type to lose his temper, but there was no question about his frustration. Baxton sat to Brian’s right, scowling. Margaret Cox Griffin, the third member, sat to the left, expressionless. Marie Inserra, a lawyer for the county, sat quietly for 25 minutes, before unleashing a furious outburst at the state for failing to upgrade software when it had a chance.

“The order that we received from the state board was an order that, it seems to me, was designed to cause us to fail,” Brian said. “Everybody knows this [process]. It’s no different for the state than it is for us or any other county.”

Although as Brian drily noted last week, “Everything is politically motivated in an election,” the tussle between Durham County and the state board doesn’t really break along party lines. Despite the partisan structure of the county board, its members have an incentive to appear to the local community untainted by political consideration. They’d considered the Stark complaint, found it wanting, and rejected it. Yet the state board, which seemed untroubled by the plain party-line vote, had come in and overruled them. That wasn’t just a pride-bruising reversal; it made Durham County look bad by suggesting there might be foul play. Even worse, the brunt of that decision was landing on the county board and its employees, who were getting ready to work all weekend to conduct a recount they didn’t they could finish to achieve a result that likely wouldn’t matter. Brian even took a mild swipe at the state GOP, which had asked for a hand recount. Brian said that would create a logistical nightmare—and then mused that perhaps that was the point.

Brian wouldn’t say point-blank that meeting the NCSBE deadline was impossible but everything else he said telegraphed it. “I’d rather not go on record saying that. I don’t know how we can get it done. No one yet has presented a plan that can get it done by 7 p.m. on Monday.”

Nonetheless, he said he expected the state board to reject Durham County’s request. And what would happen then if Durham County failed to meet the deadline?

“We have no idea,” Brian said. “Maybe I'll go to jail!” It was hard to know for certain, but it appeared that Brian might prefer incarceration to his current plight.

Europe funds Mars mission but not asteroid shield

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Space ministers agree to spend €10.3bn over next three years

When Pro Surfers Learn to Farm

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

What happens when a group of professional surfers get tired of the global surfing circuit? This charming short documentary tells the story of how three friends abandoned their sports careers for the whimsical calling of growing organic vegetables on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. “Surfing’s quite similar to farming in the way that you can do what you can to have a productive crop, but sometimes nature has different ideas,” says Matt Smith, one of the founders of Moy Hill CSA Farm. This film comes to us from the world-traveling web series The Perennial Plate. To learn more about this series, visit its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan

By Uri Friedman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

Some are interpreting the phone call as a disaster. “With one phone call, Donald Trump might have upturned America’s relationship with both Pakistan and India,” Jeet Heer wrote at the New Republic. But you don’t need to reach for the most dramatic potential consequences to appreciate the significance of the exchange between Trump and Sharif.

Reports of the call haven’t yet remade U.S. alliances in South Asia, but they did generate headlines like this on the front pages of Pakistani newspapers:

The News International

The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.

One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.) Barack Obama’s remark at a press conference about a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria very nearly compelled him, a year later, to launch air strikes against the Assad regime for violating that red line. George W. Bush’s decision to include Iran in an “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address torpedoed U.S.-Iranian cooperation on fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Words needn’t be spoken in public to have an impact on world affairs. In 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev met with John F. Kennedy in Vienna and verbally beat the new U.S. president to a pulp. A couple months later, Khrushchev approved the construction of the Berlin Wall—a move some scholars attribute in part to Khrushchev’s perception of Kennedy as weak and inexperienced.

For these reasons, as Daniel Drezner notes at the Washington Post, political scientists such as John Mearsheimer and Anne Sartori have found that governments don’t bluff or lie to one another as often as one might think (Mearsheimer contends that governments are more likely to deceive their own people). “States often are tempted to bluff, or dissemble, but a state that is caught bluffing acquires a reputation for doing so, and opponents are less likely to believe its future communications,” Sartori writes. “The prospect of acquiring a reputation for lying—and lessening the credibility of the state’s future diplomacy—keeps statesmen and diplomats honest except when fibs are the most tempting.”

Given all this, Trump’s communications style—his loose talk and impulsiveness; his theatrics and bravado; his tendency to exaggerate and be untruthful; the vague, mixed signals he sends—would seem to indicate that international crises and chaos lie ahead. They might. But another lesson of Trump’s phone call with Sharif is that it’s too early to say whether Trump’s way with words will prove an asset or liability (or both) on the world stage.

Already, foreign leaders are adjusting, however haltingly, to the Trump Era. “We don’t have to take each word that Mr. Trump said publicly literally,” an adviser to Japan’s prime minister observed recently. In a world in which Trump is taken seriously but not literally, his call with Sharif might not signal that he’s going to broker peace in Kashmir or become the first U.S. president to visit Pakistan in a decade. Instead, it could be a sign that he is going to approach relations with Pakistan and India more as a transactional businessman than a traditional American president, looking to strike deals rather than adhere to past precedent. As the Russia expert Fiona Hill recently told me, “I tend to look at Trump as a real-estate mogul. You look at a building and say, ‘I’m just going to tear that down and build up something new.’ He’s not exactly Mr. Preservationist.”

Similarly, Trump’s public demands that NATO members spend more on defense, or risk losing U.S. military protection in the event of Russian aggression, have been criticized as undermining the deterrence mechanism that has helped maintain peace in Europe for seven decades—the understanding that an attack on one member of the alliance will be considered an attack on all members. But since the U.S. election, NATO’s secretary-general has joined Trump in calling for increased European defense spending and EU leaders have announced plans to do just that. In making his demands, in wondering aloud, Trump is poised to achieve what his tight-lipped predecessors in the White House never could: a NATO that is less dependent on U.S. military power. Uncertainty and challenges to convention won’t necessarily make the world more dangerous. But they may not make it safer either. One of the key questions of Trump’s presidency will be whether the benefits of unpredictability outweigh its costs.

Patrick Gaspard, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Appointed Vice President of the Open Society Foundations

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The former senior advisor to President Obama will join the philanthropy as vice president of programs starting January 2017.

Iceland election: Pirate Party asked to try to form government

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Iceland's Pirate Party is asked by the president to try to form a new government, after snap elections.

Swamp or no swamp, Goldman swims on

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The investment bank’s network reaches the White House, again

Valls puts Socialist crown before loyalty

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

France’s PM has enraged the left but is better placed to win nomination than in 2012

My family’s tears for Castro’s Cuba

From Analysis. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Son of a Cuban émigré, John Paul Rathbone asks what Fidel’s death means for the republic’s people

Campaign 2016

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Campaign 2016

Always Shine’s Sobering Female Rivalry

By David Sims from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Sophia Takal’s new film Always Shine is an effective, tense psychological thriller with deceptively low stakes: the fate of a friendship between two actresses, played by Caitlin Fitzgerald and Mackenzie Davis. Beth (Fitzgerald) is more pliant and flirty, jovial at auditions, and seems to be booking many more roles than Anna (Davis), who is far blunter and more eager to call out gender discrimination in their line of work. Things between Beth and Anna begin to disintegrate as they take a weekend vacation together. Takal turns their banal-seeming conversations into a thrill ride, questioning the ways women perform for each other, and the people around them, in an oppressively sexist industry.

Always Shine, which is in limited release now and debuts on VOD Friday, is the latest project in a career year for Davis, who (unlike her character) is one of Hollywood’s most intriguing new stars. Curiously enough, her biggest roles in 2016—in Always Shine, the AMC tech drama Halt and Catch Fire, and the new season of Netflix’s Black Mirror—involve tumultuous but layered female friendships, a still-uncommon theme in mainstream pop culture. In October, Davis appeared in “San Junipero,” the most widely praised installment of the third season of Black Mirror, as the awkward, lovelorn Yorkie. The rare Black Mirror episode to present a slightly hopeful take on the future of technology, “San Junipero” saw Yorkie navigating a virtual world in search of love, then struggling to reconcile her new connection with the free-spirited Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her much more circumscribed lifestyle in the real world.

Also hinging on a complex relationship between two women is Halt and Catch Fire, which aired its brilliant third season this year. Davis’s first major role was playing the lovable and deeply frustrating programmer Cameron Howe, who attempts to navigate the burgeoning tech scene of the ’80s—and all of its institutional sexism—with her business partner Donna (Kerry Bishé). Their relationship has its share of conflicts, though they don’t arise over a man, or some manufactured twist in the women’s love lives. Instead, Halt and Catch Fire takes care to make their differences of opinion feel organic, rooted in their wider views of the world. “There’s nobody getting knifed,” Davis told me. “It’s people breaking your trust, small moments becoming a huge deal.”

A much more avant-garde work, Always Shine puts an edgier spin on a similar dynamic—an intense female friendship—with a script drawn from real-life experience. “[The film’s writer/director] Sophia Takal is extremely open ... about her vulnerabilities and her demons, her competitiveness, her jealousy, things she feels insecure about,” Davis said.“It felt embarrassing how much I connected to [the script]. I felt like someone was portraying me in a very honest way.” The movie has the same nightmarish feel as Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, or David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, in which the identities of both female leads begin to meld as their personal rivalry grows. Takal’s script builds its psychological tension around the anxieties Beth and Anna perceive in each other; she plays with, and subverts, the appearances actresses often have to maintain as they try to break into the film industry.

“The sort of poisonous female friendship that’s depicted in Always Shine, it’s not the cause of the movie. It’s the result of an environment that tells women that they’re supposed to be a certain way or they have failed,” Davis said. “They’re constantly trying to fit themselves into smaller, tighter, more perfect boxes. And when they see somebody doing it effortlessly, it’s this indictment against them for not doing it the right way. And I have absolutely had that experience, and I knew Sophia had.”

As with so much art of the moment, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the election. For Davis, the ideas about gender and social expectations that undergird Always Shine were magnified in media coverage of the former presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. “She’s been criticized her entire public life for being too much or not enough in any direction, and there’s no place she can land where it’s just silent,” Davis said of the critiques Clinton received for her image, including how much or how little she was smiling. “There are thousands of politicians that don’t have to receive the level of ... vitriol that she does.”

In Always Shine, the effort to project the right image becomes a dark competition. As Beth and Anna vie for attention both from Hollywood executives and from the patrons of a local bar near their weekend getaway, their interactions become malicious. “I think it’s cool to make [their dynamic] as active and dangerous as Sophia makes it, instead of this purely internal experience of trying to adjust and exercise in a different way,” Davis said. “There are so many off-limits things for women, and finding that narrow groove in which it’s okay for you to exist, is going to cause someone to explode. And this movie is about that explosion.” Throughout her burgeoning career, Davis has been unafraid to reckon with those kinds of explosion and their aftermath—and Always Shine is one of her boldest achievements yet.

Introducing the Series on Market and Government Failures

By Clifford Winston from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Though a key priority for the Center on Regulation and Markets will be on improving the regulatory process, the Center will also draw on policy research from industrial organization, urban economics, transportation economics, and other sub-disciplines of economics to examine how successful is government intervention at addressing market failures such as externalities, public goods, imperfect […]

Introduction to the Series on Regulatory Process and Perspective

By Philip A. Wallach from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

“Regulatory process” is a phrase that can’t help but sound boring— to many people, it sounds like “arcane arcana,” and even for those interested in the policy substance of regulation, focusing on process issues can seem rather dry. But if you know how to look, regulatory process is anything but dull: it is at the […]

Introducing the Series on Financial Markets Regulation

By Aaron Klein from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, which called for increased capital and liquidity for banks, restrictions on proprietary trading, and enhanced supervision for large banks.  Dodd-Frank increased federal regulation over finance, creating three new regulators. The Financial Stability and Oversight Council was created to oversee […]

After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Photo: Getty

Spain to tackle deficit with €4.65bn tax rises

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Deal with opposition raises hopes for progress in meeting target agreed with Brussels

Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

By Christian Wolmar from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 


Japanese man sends rubbish to revenge school 'bullies'

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

A man in Tokyo has been arrested after 500 items of rubbish were sent to alleged bullies.

Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

By Neal Lawson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.


Deaths in the dorm

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Turkish officials investigate if negligence was a factor in a fire that killed 12 people in a dorm.

How Trump Could Wage a War on Scientific Expertise

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned 19 common chemicals from common antibacterial washes, because manufacturers hadn’t shown that they were safe in the long run, or any better than plain soap and water. In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated a rule forcing dozens of states to reduce levels of ozone and other air pollutants coming out of power plants—a move that would protect hundreds of millions of Americans from lung diseases.  In the same month, the EPA and the United National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enacted a rule that limits the carbon dioxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and tractors.

In a few months, these regulations could vanish, along with over 100 others designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Americans.

To an extent, regulations are necessary. Laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and many others have been instrumental in improving health, saving lives, and protecting the environment. These rules are multiplying. Their opponents argue that they limit businesses, stifle innovation, add red tape, and cost jobs. Their defenders say that they boost efficiency, create employment in new sectors, and are moral imperatives regardless of costs.

It is clear where president-elect Donald Trump stands. “The monstrosity that is the Federal Government with its pages and pages of rules and regulations has been a disaster for the American economy and job growth,” he said during his campaign. Come January, he will have the power to take on that perceived monster.

As has been widely reported, a Trump administration can easily repeal regulations that were enacted by federal agencies in the final months of the Obama administration. But with the help of a few key new bills that are currently making their way through Congress, he could also thwart the very infrastructure of science-based policy making, transforming it from a process that’s merely frustrating into one that’s also futile.

In 1996, under the guidance of Newt Gingrich, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It allows them to issue a “resolution of disapproval” that repeals rules issued by independent agencies like the EPA or FDA, or even by the Executive Branch. And it makes the process very fast, immunizing it against delaying tactics like filibusters.

It sounds powerful, but there are two catches. First, the rules must have been enacted within the last 60 session days of the Senate. Second, the resolution must pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President. And since no President would willingly negate their own regulations, the CRA is typically an impotent device.

It only becomes powerful under a very particular set of circumstances—when an incoming President wants to negate their predecessor’s recent works, and when their party controls both houses of Congress. That’s what happened in March 2001, when George W. Bush repealed a Clinton regulation that protected workers from ergonomic injuries—the only time in history when the CRA has been successfully used. And it’s what might happen when Donald Trump gets inaugurated in January. He’ll walk into the Oval Office with a Republican-controlled House and Senate behind him, allowing him to shoot down any significant regulation that Obama passed after mid-May.

The list includes the FDA’s ban on chemicals in antibacterial soaps. It includes EPA rules on methane and ozone emissions, formaldehyde levels in wood products, and efficiency standards for heavy vehicles. It includes rules on drilling for Arctic oil, managing wastewater from fracking, and protecting elephants from poaching. “There’ll be strong incentive for the Republicans to go after as many regulations as they can,” says Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen.

They could also do so en masse. On November 17, the House of Representatives passed the Midnight Rules Relief Act—an amendment to the CRA, which allows Congress to disapprove of many regulations in one fell swoop. (The amendment is still awaiting Senate approal.)

Even without the amendment, the consequences of the existing CRA could be severe. Once a rule is repealed, the CRA stops agencies from issuing another that’s “substantially the same,” unless they’re specifically authorized to do so by Congress. “The CRA is like a nuclear bomb,” says Narang. “It not only kills a regulation but leaves a radioactive legacy.”

The CRA kills regulations in the past. Other bills could stop the regulations of the future from ever becoming law at all. The most prominent of these, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, is something of a spiritual opposite to the CRA. If it passes, it would mean that any major regulation—those with economic costs of more than $100 million—must be approved by both chambers of Congress within a 70-day window. Its proponents have billed it as a way for Congress to claw back some of the rule-making authority that they say the President has wielded too freely.

But critics say that the Act would allow Congress to block important legislation by simply doing nothing. “It would slow progress on all fronts, but on environmental policy, where there is such unified Republican antipathy, it would almost certainly result in a total freeze,” write David Roberts and Brad Plumer at Vox.

As it is, making regulations isn’t easy. Agencies have to recruit scientific experts, do research, compile evidence, go through peer review, face pushbacks from industry, and give the public many chances to comment. At any time, they could be sued or challenged in court. The REINS Act would allow Congress to discard all that empiricism for what amounts to a downvote. “It substitutes a political judgement for all the analysis and public process,” says Rosenberg. “You’d just have a popularity contest.”

Wendy Wagner, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin adds that the Act would encourage industry lobbyists to circumvent the regulatory process by directly targeting members of Congress. “It lets the richest parties know that they have yet another bite at the apple,” she says.

That may not be a bad thing, says Susan Dudley, director of the George Washington Regulatory Studies Center. “If people don’t like the decisions, they can vote out the guys who voted for it out,” she says. “Right now, Congress has the best of both worlds. They can pass sweeping legislation but then delegate the details to regulatory agencies. If their constituents don’t like it, they can stomp their feet and say regulatory agencies have gone rogue. The REINS Act might make our elected representatives more accountable.”

“That’s a great idea if it were 1789,” counters Wagner. “Now, the rules are often 100 pages long. To imagine that all members of Congress have the time or energy to fully read or understand them is simply not credible.” Even if Congress were to seriously consider every rule on the cards, that would equate to almost a day of extra floor time per week—an unmanageable workload at a time of historically low productivity.  

That said, there’s no guarantee that REINS will happen. Its most recent incarnation, proposed in January 2015, passed in the House and now awaits Senate approval. All past iterations have died at that point, even at times when the Republicans controlled the Senate with a greater majority than they’ll enjoy in 2017. (“[The] proposal must be seen as an exercise in political theater,” wrote Ronald Levin from the Washington School of Law, just last year.)

But the REINS Act will find a champion in Trump. Even though signing it represents a surrender of executive power, he has already promised to do so, and to “work hard to get it passed.”

REINS is far from the only threat to science-based policy-making. There are others, all bearing respectable titles, and all cloaked in principles that scientists themselves fight for.

Take the Secret Science Reform Act, which was passed by the House in February 2015, and was sponsored by Lamar Smith who chairs the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. It would stop the EPA from developing rules unless all the information they used was “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

That sounds great! For years, scientists have been trumpeting the value of free publications, of openness in methods and results, and of efforts to improve reproducibility. But the Act’s focus on reproducibility could be used to ignore decades-long epidemiological studies that are impractical to duplicate, or on one-off events like oil spills.

The call for openness is also problematic. When the EPA creates public health regulations, for examples, it often relies on studies that use medical records, which are confidential and cannot be legally released. “It’s a catch-22,” says Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy. “You have to release all the data before you put the rule forward, but you can’t release all the data.”

The cumulative effect of these acts would be to “gut the scientific foundation of many of our landmark health and public safety laws, like the Clean Air Act,” says Halpern. “They’re not going after the laws directly but going after how the government can use science to fulfill those laws.”

If all this happens, it will be more than just a war on regulation. It will be a war on expertise itself, on the role of science in informing American society.

That society, incidentally, is generally supportive of regulations. Both Democrat and Republican voters say that the government should play a major role in ensuring safe food and medicine, protecting the environment, and setting workplace standards. Two in three people support the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions, and three in five say that stricter environmental protections are worth the economic costs.

Trump clearly disagrees. He has appointed committed deregulators to key positions; climate skeptic Myron Ebell, for example, is leading the transition team for the EPA. And in a YouTube video, released 21st November, he said that upon entering the Oval Office, he “will formulate a rule that says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”

“So important,” he added.

Other countries have related systems, but with important differences. The UK runs a misleadingly named “one in, three out” rule, where the costs of any new regulation must be offset by changing existing ones to save three times that amount. But the National Audit Office concluded that in enshrining that rule, the government hadn’t properly assessed either the costs of existing regulations or the benefits of deregulation. Meanwhile, Canada has a one-for-one policy, but one that explicitly excludes any protections to health, safety, or the environment.

There is no sign that Trump will push for such exceptions. His blanket approach “doesn’t make sense,” says Narang. “The decisions won’t be made on science, but on whether you can find two rules to get rid of.”

Dudley argues that the policy might encourage policy-makers to review existing regulations more frequently. “The scientific method is that you have a hypothesis, test it, and then revise it based on data,” she says. “But we never go back and test regulations. The incentives aren’t there for evaluation, so that could be an advantage of one-in-two-out.” Still, she argues that the policy may be unworkable, since removing a regulation typically takes as much time as creating a new one.

Indeed, creating regulations is already a tortuously slow process. After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010—an obvious and high-profile disaster—it took five years to improve safety requirements for the blowout preventers that are meant to avert such explosions. Under REINS and similar bills, that span of time would be even longer—perhaps infinitely so.

“I wouldn’t say regulations are perfect but we want them to be based in science, and to come from really strong evidence,” says Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy. “There may be a wholesale turning away from that science to this narrative of ‘regulations are bad.’”

How Gold Went From Godly to Gaudy

By Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

For a would-be populist hero, the optics were jarring. During his recent 60 Minutes interview, Donald Trump perched on a throne-like gilded Louis XV chair—just one of the many gold-plated objects the president-elect surrounds himself with, from his plane to his apocryphal toilet. Indeed, critics and designers alike have wondered if he will turn the White House into the Gold House—a replica of one of his defunct casinos or his Trump Tower penthouse.

Gold has always been the color of absolute power and those who aspire to it, as a sumptuous new exhibition at The Frick Collection illustrates. Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court (on view until February 19) has been in the works for five years, though the curator Charlotte Vignon told me that, as of the November 8 election, “the timing is right” to reexamine the aesthetics and politics of gold décor. As a symbol of wealth, power, and eternity, gold inspired centuries of bloody wars and dangerous mining endeavors. But in more recent history, its meaning has become more complex: Its association with dictators, celebrities, and artists has also transformed it into a sign of excess, corruption, and cultural domination.

A detail from a marble and gilt bronze side table (Michael Bodycomb)

Because of its high cost and its unearthly beauty, gold has always had a strong association with royalty. In ancient Egypt, gold was reserved for deities and Pharaohs, who were considered to be gods among men. The biblical Book of Kings describes how “all the household articles in the palace” of King Solomon were pure gold. The “household” part is key: Any ruler can have a gold crown, but performing quotidian tasks such as eating, sleeping, sitting, and, especially, defecating on gold takes luxury to a whole new level.

The modern history of gold décor begins with King Louis XIV, who revived the ancient practice of gilding, or applying a thin gold veneer to objects. In addition to beautifying, gilding protects against corrosion, and, in some cases, has even enabled objects to pass for solid gold. But unlike pure gold or delicate gilt plaster or wood, gilt metals—particular bronzes—are durable materials, making them suitable for objects that need to function as well as shine, like clocks. Gold and gilding were crucial to enhancing Louis’s image as the self-professed Sun King—an Apollo bringing light to an unenlightened world.

Upon assuming absolute power in 1661, Louis began transforming a humble brick hunting lodge in the swamps of Versailles into the greatest palace in Europe. To fill its 700 rooms, he appointed a furniture czar, explaining that “there is nothing that indicates more clearly the magnificence of great princes than their superb palaces and their precious furniture.” Versailles became a showplace for the French furniture industry’s finest examples of gilded wood and bronze. Far from being cold and static, their gleaming surfaces danced in candlelight and firelight, maximizing available illumination with the help of with priceless mercury-backed mirrors and rock-crystal chandeliers, an effect that the art historian Mimi Hellman called “the aesthetics of the glint” in the book Paris: Life and Luxury in the 18th Century.

It was a look so unique, so self-aggrandizing, that it granted the king a kind of material immortality. “You haven’t seen anything if you haven’t seen the pomp of Versailles,” the Vicomte de Chateaubriand remarked in his memoirs after a visit to the palace in the 1780s. “Louis XIV is still there.” Commoners, too, sought to distinguish themselves in the eyes of posterity by collecting gilt bronzes, as the 18th-century journalist Louis-Sébastien Mercier wryly observed in his Tableau de Paris: “Every man may tell himself, during his lifetime: These bronzes and pictures which have cost me so much, and which I hide from curious eyes, will serve as evidence, after my death, for judgment of my tastes.”

If Louis XIV promoted the art of gilding, Pierre Gouthière perfected it in the mid-18th century. According to legend, his gilt bronzes imitated gold so perfectly that Marie-Antoinette herself was fooled. Scholars are still debating whether these gold-plated objects were intended to deceive, or considered prestigious in their own right. Vignon argued that what gilt bronze lacked in intrinsic value it made up for in skilled and costly labor. Sculpting models, which were then cast, chased, gilded, and polished, was a time-consuming and technically challenging process. “At that time, these objects were more than just trappings of power,” Vignon told me. “They were cutting edge, they were original, they were interesting—like the latest Apple phone.”

In 1767, Gouthière was appointed gilder to King Louis XV. His work was so heavily in demand that he managed to extract commissions from both of the rival factions at court, united respectively around the king’s mistress, Madame Du Barry, and his granddaughter-in-law, Marie-Antoinette. The Frick exhibition reunites a monogrammed gilt bronze window knob that Gouthière made for the Du Barry’s Salon en Cul-de-Four at Louveciennes with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s series The Progress of Love, painted for the same room. But, as Vignon pointed out, “when the painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun wrote about her visit to Louveciennes 20 years later, it wasn’t the paintings she remembered; it was the chimneypieces and the gold locks on the doors.” That is, objects crafted by Gouthière.

When did gold become gaudy? The work of Gouthière and his contemporaries was considered modern and tasteful, not garish and over-the-top. “When you read the descriptions of Gouthière’s mounts in catalogues of the time, they talked about taste and elegance,” Vignon told me, adding that these merchants were not just trying to justify Gouthière’s high prices, but also celebrating his mastery of his craft. Louis XVI acquired several examples of Gouthière’s work for the national art collection, in recognition of their lasting value. He could not have known that the rich culture of craftsmanship and patronage that produced them was about to disappear forever.

Knob for a French window (Th. Hennocque)

Rather than going out of style, the taste for all that glitters became frozen in time with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. “[Gold] became a cliché, very soon after the Revolution,” Vignon said. “These objects became symbolic of a time of absolute power and an elitist society—so much so that it ended in a bloody revolution. It makes sense that people looking for absolute power would continue to associate themselves with that kind of interior.”

Indeed, the gilded “Louis Style” became part of the decorative vocabulary of 19th-century imperialism and 20th-century despotism, as regimes of questionable legitimacy sought to bolster their cultural and political authority through elaborate visual propaganda. (In 2011, The Telegraph dubbed the look “Dictator Chic.”) Saddam Hussein built dozens of grandiose palaces of marble, crystal, and gold leaf, which Vanity Fair cheekily compared to Trump’s similarly decorated properties. People have been quick to point out that Muammar Gaddafi, too, shared Trump’s taste in gilded chairs. But it’s not just dictators and despots who adhere to the gold standard; even the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the President of the French Republic, is filled with 18th-century gilded furniture today. “It seems to be a huge paradox about the representation of power,” said Vignon, who was born in Paris. “French power is still expressed in the language of ancien régime!”

In popular culture, entertainers like Elvis “The King” Presley and Liberace, the “King of Bling,” used the power of gold to project an air of royalty, untouchable and otherworldly. Elvis’s 141 gold records paled beside his 24-karat gold-plated piano, his gold-trimmed Cadillac, and his $10,000 gold lamé suit. Liberace, too, had a gold disco ball of a suit to match his glittery gold Bradley. And the artist Jeff Koons chose rococo-style gilded porcelain as the medium for his deliberately kitschy life-sized statue of Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” and his chimp, Bubbles. Fittingly, the piece was displayed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in 2008.

The more-is-more vibe of the 1980s—when Trump Tower was built—brought a fresh revival of the ornate 18th-century style, epitomized in fashion by designers like Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood and in interiors by Angelo Donghia, Trump’s decorator. It’s an aesthetic Trump has clung to in his homes and hotels, even as fashion has moved on to minimalism and industrialism and beyond. “I think Trump is using objects like that to express power, but without taste and refinement,” Vignon said. In the 18th century, she added, gold furnishings “were not only luxury objects. They were also an expression of cutting-edge craftsmanship. When it is not new and it is only an expression of power, it’s not interesting.”

A vase (Joseph Godla)

Of course, tackiness is in the eye of the beholder; one man’s Versailles is another man’s Graceland. But men (and women) who would be the Sun King should remember the cautionary tale of another king, the mythical Midas who greedily wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Trump, for his part, is aware of the story: His father once bragged about his son that “everything he touches turns to gold,” and Trump has made that boast his brand, even titling one of his books The Midas Touch.

Of course, the fictional King Midas came to realize that his golden gift was actually a curse. (Elvis came to a similar conclusion about his beloved gold Cadillac, putting it into storage because it was so impractical to drive.) In Ovid’s version of the story, Midas begs the gods to take back his power, only to get saddled with a pair of ass’s ears instead. In Aristotle’s version, Midas dies of starvation. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s telling, Midas accidentally turns his beloved daughter into a gold statue. But it was Gouthière, the man with the Midas touch, who gave the legend its most chilling twist; he once designed a vase with handles fashioned from the golden visage of Midas himself.

Politicising investment makes the world poorer

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

China and the US are feeding an insidious form of crony capitalism

As the falcon flew towards us, its face looked alarmingly like Hannibal Lecter’s muzzle

By Richard Mabey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

In your faces, twitchers!

The BBC2 programme Springwatch may have made the RSPB’s reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk the Mecca of popular birdwatching, but Cley on the north Norfolk coast is still its Alexandria, a haven for wanderers of all species and a repository of ancient and arcane knowledge. I learned what little I know about birding there in the early 1970s, sitting at the feet of the bird artist Richard Richardson as he gave his sea-wall seminars on the intricacies of behaviour and identification. Richard could put a name to any bird, but he never believed that this process rigidly defined it.

The reserve at Cley has been gentrified recently, with smart boardwalks and a solar-powered visitors’ centre, but something of its old, feral spirit remains. On a trip early this winter, we were greeted by birders with the news: “Saker! Middle hide.” Sakers are big, largely Middle Eastern falcons, favourites with rich desert falconers. No convincingly wild individual has ever been seen in Norfolk, so it was likely that this bird had escaped from captivity, which reduced its cred a mite.

The middle hide proved to be full of earnest and recondite debate. The consensus now was that the bird was not a saker but a tundra peregrine – the form known as calidus that breeds inside the Arctic Circle from Lapland eastwards. We had missed the first act of the drama, in which the bird had ambushed a marsh harrier twice its size and forced it to abandon its prey. It was now earthbound, mantled over its dinner on the far side of a lagoon. It was bigger than a standard peregrine, and in the low sun its back looked almost charcoal, flaring into unusually high white cheeks behind its moustachial stripes.

Then it took off. It swung in a low arc around the perimeter of the lagoon and straight towards our hide. It flew so fast that I couldn’t keep it focused in my binoculars, and for a moment its face looked alarmingly like Hannibal Lecter’s muzzle. At the last minute, when it seemed as if it would crash through the window, it did a roll-turn and showed off the full detail of its tessellated under-plumage. In your faces, twitchers!

It was a thrilling display, but that didn’t entirely quieten the identity anxieties in the hide. One or two dissenters wondered if it might be a hybrid bird, or just a large but eccentrically marked common peregrine. The majority stuck with the tundra option. This form migrates in the autumn to sub-equatorial Africa, and days of north-easterlies may have blown it off-course, along with other bizarre vagrants: an albatross had passed offshore the day before.

Calidus means “spirited” in Latin. The Arctic firebird treated us to ten minutes of pure mischief. It winnowed low over flocks of lapwing, scythed through the screaming gulls, not seeming to be seriously hunting, but taunting a blizzard of panicky birds skywards. At one point, it hovered above a hapless tufted duck that dived repeatedly, only to resurface with the quivering scimitar still above it. Then it took another strafing run at the hide.

Does it matter whether the peregrine was a rare variety, or just an odd individual? Naturalists often categorise themselves as either “lumpers”, happy with the great unlabelled commonwealth of life, or “splitters”, rejoicing in the minutiae of diversity. I swing from one to the other, but, in the end, I can’t see them as contradictory positions.

The bird from the tundra was a hot-tempered peregrine to the core. But its strange facial markings – however much their interpretation panders to the vanity of human watchers – are the outward signs of a unique and self-perpetuating strain, adapted to extreme conditions and yet making a 6,000-mile migration that might take in a visit to a Norfolk village. Lives intersect, hybridise, diverge, in the counterpoint between what Coleridge called “uniformity” and “omniformity”.

Next week: Felicity Cloake on food


Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

By Caroline Lucas from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.



Where Hillary Clinton Fell Short

By Andrew McGill from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

It now seems likely that Hillary Clinton will get fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. More distressingly for Democrats, she fared worse in Democratic-leaning cities that anchor swing states, including Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. To critics on the left, that’s evidence of a campaign that dragged its feet, and a candidate who took her base for granted. Her defeat, in their minds, was an unforced error.

But the numbers show something different. There’s no question Clinton faltered in some Democratic cities, but the gaps between her haul and Obama’s in those locations were modest. The vast majority of her deficit came instead from counties that Obama lost in 2012: They didn’t like him, but they really hated her.

As of Thursday, ballot counts collected by the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections show Clinton received fewer votes than Obama did in 87 percent of U.S. counties. That sounds worse than it really is. Some of those counties are pretty small, and the remaining 11 percent include a few megacities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago. Let’s put it another way: Accounting for population density, she scored worse than Obama in areas that are home to roughly half the people who voted this year, and scored the same or better than Obama with the other half.

Where did she fare the worst? Line them up, and it doesn’t look good—they’re a bevy of heavily Democratic counties.

Top Ten Counties Where Clinton Performed Worse Than Obama
County Primary city Obama 2012 Clinton 2016 Deficit
Wayne County, MI Detroit 595,846 519,444 -76,402
Cuyahoga County, OH Cleveland 447,273 398,271 -49,002
Milwaukee County, WI Milwaukee 332,438 288,986 -43,452
Erie County, NY Buffalo 237,356 197,686 -39,670
Sonoma County, CA Santa Rosa 153,942 116,027 -37,915
Macomb County, MI Detroit suburbs 208,016 176,317 -31,699
Honolulu County, HI Honolulu 204,349 175,696 -28,653
Suffolk County, NY Greater New York 304,079 276,953 -27,126
Genesee County, MI Flint 128,978 102,751 -26,227
Lucas County, OH Toledo 136,616 110,833 -25,783

With the exception of Macomb and Suffolk, Clinton still won all these counties. She just didn’t win them as decisively as Obama did. That hurt her: Counties, unlike most states, are not winner-take-all, and every vote counts toward the statewide total that determines who wins the electors. Clinton needed to run up the score in Democratic centers as high as she could to counter Trump’s overwhelming lead among rural voters. When she went to the liberal well, they didn’t give her the votes.

But they didn’t cost her the election, either. Among the 2,700 counties where Clinton got fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, she still held her own in most of the places her predecessor won, winning many of them and picking up 90 percent of his votes in the process. All told, she ended up with a 1.8 million vote deficit compared with Obama in these communities. That seems like a lot. But that wasn’t her big problem.

It’s in the regions Obama lost that Clinton felt the most pain. In red counties, she received only 84 percent of the president’s votes in 2012, finishing 2.1 million behind. Even if Clinton matched Obama in turnout for every county he won that year, that wouldn’t erase her deep disadvantage in conservative areas that the president himself couldn’t clinch.

Granted, things get a bit tricky in the swing states. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan, if Clinton had matched 2012’s turnout in Obama-friendly counties, she might have been able to pull out victories. But these states didn’t necessarily see Democrats stay home on Election Day. Rather, it seems likely that many Obama voters flipped to Trump.

And Clinton’s critics miss an important point: She actually performed better than Obama did in nearly 400 counties. Some of these places are quite hefty, population-wise. Here’s where she exceeded her predecessor the most:

Top 10 Counties Where Clinton Performed Better Than Obama
County Primary city Obama 2012 Clinton 2016 Surplus
Cook County, IL Chicago 1,488,537 1,611,869 +123,332
Harris County, TX Houston 587,044 706,471 +119,427
Los Angeles County, CA Los Angeles 2,216,903 2,329,231 +112,328
Maricopa County, AZ Phoenix 602,288 702,907 +100,619
Miami-Dade County, FL Miami 541,440 624,146 +82,706
Travis County, TX Austin 232,788 306,475 +73,687
Orange County, CA Anaheim 512,440 585,683 +73,243
San Diego County, CA San Diego 626,957 694,091 +67,134
Santa Clara County, CA San Jose 450,818 510,231 +59,413
Orange County, FL Orlando 273,665 329,894 +56,229

Clinton killed it in California (which still has 600,000 ballots left to count, many of which will probably go Democratic, given the state’s blue status). And she performed very well, compared with Obama, in many of the country’s major population centers. If you factor in these successes, Clinton’s net turnout actually tops Obama’s in the areas that went Democratic four years ago. In the end, she beat Obama’s take by 120,000 among those counties, with gains in the coasts canceling her popular-vote losses in the Rust Belt. That’s not a weak showing.

“Democrats did better this time in places that were already blue , and did worse in places that were already red,” said Barry Burden, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It sort of is a battle of the many versus the few. You add up those smaller rural places, and they were enough to swamp the bigger urban areas, and even suburban counties.”

Unfortunately for Democrats, Clinton won in all the wrong places. Her strong showing in diverse, dense counties will have a place in history. But because of the Electoral College, her surpluses in California didn’t help her compensate for deficiencies in Michigan. And because she was so deeply unpopular in conservative communities, her net turnout will still fall below Obama’s. There’s also the insurgent popularity of Trump himself, who gained 1.5 million voters over Romney. Some of them were Democrats.

So Clinton won the popular vote, but she lost the election; she didn’t top her predecessor’s total, despite heavy turnout from places that liked him the most. Democrats will have to figure out how to capitalize on her successes—while at the same time avoiding her defeats—come 2020.

Investor nerves build ahead of Italian poll

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

‘No’ vote expected to lead to higher bond yields, lower share prices and weaker euro

Italy’s Generation X fed up with gerontocracy

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Youth unemployment at 36% drives support for Renzi reform

Nine new pieces of technology that we should leave behind in 2016

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

A look back at the worst new inventions of the last year.

We live in an era of constant change and innovation, of driverless cars, of solar roof tiles, of breakthrough Alzheimer's drugs, and knives that are simultaneously chopping boards. But for every one of these exceptional innovations, there are ten redundant technological advancements designed to do nought but get our fists shaking in rage. Here are some of the worst inventions of 2016 that, we hope, will not be joining us in the year of our Lord 2017. 

LuDela Smart Candle

Although the world's first "smart" candle is only available for pre-order and the company has not started shipping yet, we suggest the team save themselves the trouble (and stamps) and call the whole thing off now. The real flame of the LuDela candle is controlled by your smartphone (why must we defy God so?) and you can light it or put it out via an app. A single candle will cost you $99 - that's 78 Great British Pounds.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Like the world's first smart candle, but now with 50 per cent more fire. 

The Digitsole Smartshoe

It is said that deep down, humans just want to connect, which is the only possible explanation for these Bluetooth-connected smart shoes. They automatically tighten themselves, absorb shock, and also "warm your feet" (whose shoes aren't doing this already? Seek guidance). In addition to this, there is also a spikey part (a spike, you might say) just above the heel, presumably to aim towards the bullies asking you why the hell you have an app where your feet should be.

Facebooks' Trending algorithm 

Via Getty

After Facebook fired the humans behind their Trending sidebar, fake news stories (and a video of a man having sex with a McDonald's chicken sandwich) were promoted to the masses on the social network. Whether or not this paved the way for President-Elect Trump is unclear, but what is clear is that we're all committed to saying it did anyway.

LVL Wearable Hydration Monitor

LVL advertises itself as "the first fitness tracker that tracks your body's hydration in real time", seemingly having forgotten about the existence of the brain. 


This app is widely considered to be the Facebook of the road, something absolutely no one asked for, ever. Though its creators discourage the app's use while actually driving, there is basically no way of ensuring people will listen. "Karmatic" allows you to send audio and text messages to other nearby drivers as they hurtle along inside their metal cages on wheels, while its predecessor, "karma" will ensure that you get grieviously injured if you do so while driving yourself.

Samsung WELT, the first smart belt

Can any of us truly claim that we still deserve to live?


Whereas "invention" used to mean toiling away with graph paper, graphite, and graft, it now simply entails looking around at things you own and saying, "'Ere, Jerry, can we put the internet in that?" Meet Qube, a smart bin which even after reading its entire Kickstarter page, you will still have no idea what it does.


Though no everyday consumer has yet slipped these into their ears, the AirPods were possibly the most rage-inducing invention of 2016. And though you do not yet own them, your mum has already mistaken them for some new heads for her electric toothbrush, and your dad has already laughed, laughed, laughed mockingly in your face at the frivolities of our age. 


Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

By Jolyon Maugham from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.


Italy’s referendum: a guide to the FT’s coverage

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

A round-up of our news and analysis on a vote in which country’s stability and reform are at stake

Has Brexit, like indyref, changed the political axis to Leave vs Remain?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

In Scotland, a referendum changed the debate. 

Not that long ago, politics in Scotland seemed to follow a familiar left-right divide. It was a Labour stronghold, and the fact there was only one Tory MP left seemed only to burnish its left-wing credentials. In the Scottish Parliament, too, the Labour narrative dominated.

Even when the Scottish National Party captured Holyrood, this left-right split was still taken for granted (the SNP were still, at that point, doing a good impression of becoming a centrist replacement for the Tories). 

But then came the Scottish referendum, and a Yes campaign that captured the imagination of not only SNP members, but Labour voters, and Greens. Meanwhile, sceptical No voters on both left and right found themselves in an uneasy coalition.

Labour backed the winning side, but ended up the biggest losers. While Ruth Davidson rebranded the Scottish Conservatives as the pro-union party, and Nicola Sturgeon put the SNP in touch with the wider left-wing Yes movement, Kezia Dugdale has been caught in the middle. The party lost all but one MPs in 2015. 

“That is the axis – independence,” Daniel Johnson, a Labour MSP who bucked the trend and won Edinburgh Southern in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, told me in August. “We have to move it on from there. But, by default, that is what it will be.” I heard similar sentiments from Labour campaigners, exhausted after months and years of campaigning with little to show for it. 

Now, after another referendum, are we seeing a similar axis emerge in the UK between Remain and Leave? Just over a year ago, Lib Dem MPs were booted out of constituencies across the land. Now, a Lib Dem, Sarah Olney, has defeated the Brexiteer incumbent, Zac Goldsmith. The result is already being cheered as a victory for the coalition against hard Brexit.

Certainly, her support cut across party lines. She received the support of the Greens, which didn’t stand a candidate and, more crucially, many Labour and Tory voters.

There are important differences. The SNP, on the losing side of the Scottish referendum, nevertheless had a disciplined party, a high profile leader and a track record of centre-left government. Indeed, New Labour supporters often mutter darkly that it has "stolen our clothes". The national party with the clearest message on Remain, the Lib Dems, is by contrast, a diminished outfit after their own devastating defeats in 2015. 

Scotland’s parties also look more politically homogeneous, with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party all offering versions of the centre left. Under Davidson, the Conservatives have targeted the “tenement Tories” with a focus on social mobility and blue-collar traditions. It is unsurprising, then, that for many voters the overwhelming distinction is Yes to independence, or No.

In the UK as a whole, by contrast, the Remain vote is split between  the devolved nations, the metropolitan elites – Exhibit A, Richmond – and young people who may or may not be able to influence the constituency vote. 

If any party can stitch these groups together, it should be Labour. But the party is now locked in internal agonising over Brexit, and the direction of its leadership. Embracing a new axis could open the door to a soft Brexit progressive alliance, but might also mean abandoning Scotland to the SNP, and the North to Leave.

For now, it is ploughing on. Unlike the Greens, it stood a candidate in Richmond. Despite being a well-respected transport expert, he lost with just 3.7 per cent of the vote. Some things, at least, are like Scotland.    


The lesson of 2016 is that identity matters – even for white people

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Talking about being white American, or being religious, isn’t considered "identity politics". But that doesn't mean people don't identify with those traits.

How do white people feel about being white? It’s a difficult question. First, majority identities are rarely as deeply ingrained in our psyches as those that make us feel threatened, or different from the norm. “The more power an identity carries, the less likely its carrier is to be aware of it as an identity at all,” Gary Younge wrote in his book Who Are We. “Those who have never been asked: ‘How do you manage childcare and work?’ or ‘How can you prove that you will return home after this holiday?’ are less likely to think their masculinity or Western citizenship and the privileges that come with them are anything but the normal state of affairs.”

For most of the 20th century, to be white in Britain was to be utterly unexceptional. In many places, it still is: Worcester, where I grew up, is 92.4 per cent white. There, white people are just people.

Second, for pollsters there is a huge roadblock when it comes to surveying our attitudes to race: “social desirability bias”. Before answering the question, we do a mental check. Will this make me sound racist?

Yet we must investigate majority identities, simply because so many of those who hold them do feel under threat. The election of Donald Trump was powered by white voters who were concerned about immigration, about jobs going overseas and about becoming a minority in the US by 2045. The places in Britain with the strongest concerns about immigration are those where the demographics have changed most quickly. In Boston, Lincolnshire, where 75.6 per cent voted to leave the EU, the migrant population increased by 460 per cent between 2004 and 2014. And as I have written before, Ukip has its strongest support among those who feel “English, not British”, even though England utterly dominates the UK in terms of population.

Enter YouGov. The polling company offered to work with me on questions that would tease out attitudes to race, and asked them of 1,632 adults (online, to reduce social desirability bias to a minimum).

In total, 46 per cent thought Britain was a “Christian country”, against 35 per cent who did not. There was a split between Remain and Leave voters (only 42 per cent of the former said it was, compared to 54 per cent of the latter). The numbers grew with age, from 19 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds to 65 per cent of over-65s. There was no real class, gender or geographic divide.

The figures for whether Britain is a “white country” told a similar story: 40 per cent overall said it was, while 42 per cent said it wasn’t. Leavers were more likely to say it was, by six points, but the real split was by age (50 per cent of over-65s said it was, compared to 31 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds) and geography, with London showing the lowest level of agreement.

“It’s not as big a difference as we see in other things between Remain and Leave, which is a story in itself,” said Adam McDonnell of YouGov. He pointed to a whole range of issues, such as the death penalty, benefits and immigration, where there is now a stark “Brexit divide”. (Since the referendum, the firm has added EU referendum vote to its crossbreaks, along with age, gender and class.) One reason for the relatively small split on whiteness might be that voters often adopt the positions held by their favoured parties, “but the idea of Britain being a white country was not brought up explicitly by Leave or Remain”.

YouGov also asked respondents how important eight factors were to their identity: job, parents, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, religion and where they lived. The most important were parents and nationality: 88 per cent of Ukip voters said the latter was very important or quite important. Other results were more surprising. “Ethnicity is a more important part of people’s identity than religion, with 54 per cent saying it is very or fairly important,” says the researcher Chris Curtis. “Among Leave voters this rises to 65 per cent.”

Looking at the figures, it becomes apparent that older voters are much more socially conservative than Generation Z, and they have a stronger feeling that Britain is a white, Christian country. Because their turnout rates are so much higher, that matters. Any party that wants to win over older voters will need to speak to their sense of patriotism and national identity.

This course will be contentious. In the US, the academic Mark Lilla caused a storm just after the election when he called for the end of “identity liberalism”. Recognising and celebrating difference was “disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age”, he argued. Reading closely, Lilla’s problem didn’t seem to be so much with the concept of identity politics as with the right being better at them. He argued that the next decade “will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny” and urged the media to “begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion”. Got that? Talking about being American, or being religious, isn’t identity politics. Only talking about being a woman, being black or being transgender is.

Unsurprisingly, many read Lilla as saying that feminists and minority activists need to pipe down, as it means white men feel neglected. I don’t agree with the prescription but the diagnosis is not absurd: even progressive men often complain to me that left-wing discourse treats them as villains.

The lesson of 2016 is that even those with majority identities now feel under threat – and, as a result, they experience those identities more keenly. And if more white people feel white, that changes politics.

YouGov surveyed 1,632 adults online from 22-23 November. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18-plus)

Daily Mail condemns migrant numbers – while mourning the death of migrant Andrew Sachs

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The actor fled to Britain from Nazi Germany.

The Daily Mail is angry about what it views as “record” official migrant numbers. Unsurprising, really, and even less so considering this is actually a wildly inaccurate interpretation and immigration in the UK has not seen a sharp rise.

What is slightly more curious is that the Mail has splashed on this story alongside a picture of the Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs, who has died. Sachs himself was a migrant, who fled to Britain from Nazi Germany. He is also best known for playing one of Britain’s most-loved migrants, Manuel, the Spanish waiter. Readers have pointed out the poor taste of running this tribute beside a classic Mail scare story about migration figures.

Here’s a picture of the great pulped tree of hypocrisy:

Sachs, whose father was a Jewish insurance broker, was born in Berlin in 1930. Eight years later, he and his family fled Germany for London, where they settled and found safety. A Jewish organisation called Jewish Voice has criticised the paper for running a story complaining about more migrants from Europe “than ever before” beside a Sachs tribute: “Andrew Sachs came from a German-Jewish Migrant family. How bad taste for the Daily Hate to have that title next to him.”

But the more your mole thinks about this front page, the more it makes sense. Manuel, a European migrant who is subjected to daily verbal and physical abuse, whose accent and level of English is perpetually mocked, and who is restricted to the low-paid service sector? Of course the Mail is paying tribute.


The Effects of Military Change-of-Station Moves on Spousal Earnings

From New RAND Publications. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Military spouses' career earnings are significantly and negatively affected by the permanent change-of-station moves required by their military spouses.

Why Zac Goldsmith's defeat matters

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Today's Morning Call. 

The Liberal Democrats have won a remarkable victory in Richmond Park. The numbers that matter:

Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) 20,510 (49 per cent)

Zac Goldsmith (Nominally independent but let’s face it Tory) 18,638 (45 per cent)

Christian Wolmar (Labour) 1,515 (4 per cent)

It’s a 23 per cent swing to the Liberal Democrats and a 30 per cent increase in their vote. It’s a shot in the arm for Tim Farron’s team, and a hammer blow to Theresa May. Yes, Goldsmith may have worn a different rosette for this one, but he had the covert support of the Conservatives nationally and their overt support locally.

What does it all mean? The Richmond result means that Tory backbenchers now know that Brexit is putting jobs at risk: theirs. We now know for certain, that the pattern we witnessed in the Witney by-election and in local results, that the Liberal Democrats are doing well in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote in June, is not a fluke. It is a trend. 

What matters though is perhaps not whether the Liberal Democrats can cohere the 22 per cent of voters who believe the referendum should be overturned behind their flag. What matters is that Brexit appears to have cleansed the Liberal Democrats of the sins of coalition, at least as far as Labour voters are concerned. That party’s vote share, which went up in most Conservative-Liberal battlegrounds in 2015, was well down in Richmond Park last night, with Wolmar losing his deposit. 

And that really should spook Conservative MPs. Because while seats that voted Remain in a landslide are rare, Conservative seats which the Liberal Democrats held in 2010 where the Labour vote in third place is bigger than the Tory majority…aren’t.

French President Francois Hollande has announced that he will not be a candidate in next year’s French presidential election and will not contest the Socialist Party’s primary. In practice, it may mean less than we think for next year’s election. Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister from the party’s left,  looked likely to beat Hollande in the primary any way and starts as the favourite against Manuel Valls, the sitting Prime Minister, and great hope of the party’s right flank. Anne-Sylvaine Chassany has a potted history of Hollande’s rise and fall.


David Davis has admitted that the government is considering continuing to pay into the EU’s budget after Brexit in order to secure access to the single market, as Morning Call readers first read way back in September.  “Davis backs soft Brexit in blow to hardliners” is the Times’ splash.


David Freud, the Conservative peer and architect of the Universal Credit, has retired from the government. I’m told that Freud’s retirement is genuinely the result of his personal preferences, not a commentary on the troubled UC programme. I explain what its future might be in greater detail here.


93 per cent of British Muslims feel a “fairly” or “very strong” attachment to Britain and, just as with the rest of the population, identify the NHS, unemployment and immigration as the biggest issues facing the country. More than half want to “fully integrate”. The findings are part of a ICM survey commissioned by Policy Exchange, the centre-right think tank. The full Policy Exchange report can be read here.


Tony Blair has launched a new institute to “inform and support the practising politician”, aiming to boost support for the pro-globalisation centre. Julia has the details.


Tom interviews Zadie Smith about multiculturalism, cultural appropriation and her new novel Swing Time.


George on why Richmond Park will scare Tory MPs

Paul Nuttall plans to destroy Labour. Helen asks if he can succeed

Get Morning Call in your inbox every weekday – click here to sign up.

Photo: Getty

Keith Ellison and the Battle for the Democratic Party

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 03, 2016.

Deciding who will chair a political party probably isn’t the most effective place to fight for the soul of that party. Did Reince Priebus or any of the people who supported his run for Republican National Committee chair foresee president Trump? But DNC chair is the slot that’s open now, so that’s where Democrat are hashing out their differences.

Almost all of the pressures on and contradictions within the party can be projected onto Keith Ellison, the U.S. representative from Minnesota, who announced his bid for the spot shortly after the disastrous election for Democrats. That follows several years of disastrous cycles for the party—despite President Obama’s two terms, Democrats have been pummeled at the state and national levels—and the party stewardship of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which is widely viewed as shiftless and failed. With the Democratic field for 2020 diffuse and enigmatic, the chairmanship is one place to fight the battle.

The central disagreement within the Democratic Party is being described as a debate between economic populism and identity politics, which were supposedly represented by the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, though that gloss is so simplistic as to be misleading. And of course that’s also not really the question: It’s less about which approach to pursue, than how to reconcile those two strains. The Democratic Party can’t afford to abandon the espousal of minority rights, but as the presidential race showed, it also faces difficulties winning a presidential race without appealing to white working-class voters. There’s also a generational struggle, between the aging, typically more centrist wing of the party and a younger, more liberal wing.

Ellison, who at 53 is part of the younger guard, sits at an interesting intersection for these issues. On the one hand, as a black man and one of two Muslims in the House, he can’t really avoid identity politics. (This is also the refrain from people of color, queer people, and others during the debate: We didn’t choose identity politics; we have no choice but to live them.) But Ellison is also an economic progressive and the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and he was an early and fervent endorser of Sanders’ presidential bid, back in the days when Sanders was struggling to gain supporters of color. (In a moment that has gone viral, he also predicted that Donald Trump could win the nomination when few others believed it.)

Ellison has already collected a hefty list of endorsements, ranging from middle-of-the-road Democrats—like outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his presumptive successor, Chuck Schumer—as well as leaders of the party’s progressive wing, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Sanders. On Thursday, he released a platform for his run for DNC chair, which emphasizes a “focus on working people,” putting “accountability and inclusion” not far behind it. But the leading bullet points are about the nuts-and-bolts work of building grassroots support and revitalizing a party whose local parties have been battered.

In a speech last week, Sanders criticized what he portrayed as a myopic focus on identity issues among Democrats. “It’s not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” he said. “No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.” The Vermont senator wasn’t saying it wasn’t important to have women and people of color in leadership; he was saying it was insufficient.

Ellison has tried to reconcile these two ideas in a slightly smoother fashion. “It’s about the money. A lot has been made about the white working class. I think we’d better take a look at the working class of all colors,” he said on the Keepin’ It 1600 podcast. For many young liberals and leftists, Ellison’s attempt to fuse these ideas may look like the future of the Democratic Party, fluent in both identity issues and progressive economics.

But the biggest impediment to Ellison winning might be his past. Critics are focusing on statements he made, particularly involving Israel and Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Ellison has said he was never a member of the Nation, but he was involved with the group, including helping to organize a Minnesota delegation to the 1995 Million Man March. He also defended Farrakhan, an open anti-Semite. He has also been critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.

These statements have been known for a while, and Ellison has apologized for them in the past. He said he should have looked into Farrakhan more closely and disavowed the leader once he had, and during his run for chair he has said that he supports the Democratic Party positions in favor of Israel and its right to self-defense, for a two-state solution, and against the Boycott-Divest-Sanctions Movement. For the most part, that seemed to satisfy the Jewish left. The progressive group J Street backed Ellison, and so did Schumer, a stalwart defender of Israel. The Anti-Defamation League issued a long, carefully worded statement, basically saying that Ellison needed to be very clear about distancing himself from past comments but that they took him at his word.

On Thursday, CNN published a report detailing more of Ellison’s past statements. One episode involved a speech by Stokely Carmichael, the civil-rights leader, at the University of Minnesota. The university’s president criticized Carmichael, then going by the name Kwame Ture, for suggesting collaboration between Nazis and Zionists. Ellison, in turn, defended Carmichael and his right to speak on campus: “The University's position appears to be this: Political Zionism is off-limits no matter what dubious circumstances Israel was founded under; no matter what the Zionists do to the Palestinians; and no matter what wicked regimes Israel allies itself with—like South Africa. This position is untenable.” That comment upset conservatives, although many on the right have spent the last year warning that liberal students trying to bar controversial speakers from college campuses posed a threat to free speech.

In addition, a tape emerged that is apparently of Ellison speaking in 2010, complaining that U.S. policy in the Middle East was too focused on Israel. “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” he says in the tape. “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic?”

In response, the ADL changed its mind. “Rep. Ellison’s remarks are both deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. His words imply that U.S. foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests” and added that they “raised the specter” of myths about Jewish control of the government. Ellison responded in an open letter that the audio had been “selectively edited and taken out of context” and restated his support for Israel.

Will this be enough to derail Ellison? It’s likely that younger Democrats as a whole, which is to say the party’s base going forward, are less concerned than the ADL. They tend to be less tied to Israel and more friendly to Palestinians, while Louis Farrakhan is a dim and distant figure, assuming they have any idea who he is, or what the Nation of Islam stands for. (The very oldest Millennials were 14 at the time of the Million Man March.)

Schumer, meanwhile, has not changed his mind.

"I stand by Rep. Ellison for DNC chair,” he said in an emailed statement. “We have discussed his views on Israel at length, and while I disagree with some of his past positions, I saw him orchestrate one of the most pro-Israel platforms in decades by successfully persuading other skeptical committee members to adopt such a strong platform. As C‎hair of the DNC he has committed to continuing to uphold that platform and to convince others that they support it as well.”

Is there anything Ellison could say to redeem himself in the eyes of critics for these comments, and if so, what it would be?

Even if he can find those words, or even if the current controversy is not enough to stop him, Ellison still won’t have a totally clear path to the chairmanship. For one, there’s more than one vision for changing the party, and Ellison may still focus too much on identity issues for some Democrats’ tastes—he’s also still a long way from the lunchpail economic liberalism of Tim Ryan, the Northeast Ohio congressman who unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic House leadership this week. Meanwhile, the Democratic establishment still carries some punch, as demonstrated by both Clinton’s nomination and Pelosi’s reelection as leader. Obama loyalists are also said to be uneasy about Ellison and seeking alternative candidates. Ellison could represent one future for the Democratic Party, but the current leaders aren’t necessarily ready to accept relegation to the past.

Why Obamacare Might Not Die So Quickly

By Russell Berman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Updated on December 2 at 1:30 p.m.

Don’t be so quick to kiss Obamacare goodbye.

Yes, the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in Congress will in all likelihood signal the death knell for the Affordable Care Act—eventually. But as Republicans confront the complexity in policy and politics of replacing the law, they are leaning toward a strategy that would actually leave it on the books for as many as three more years.

Conservatives in the House have been touting the plan since the first days after the election, and it was confirmed by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, in an interview with Politico. It goes like this: The House and Senate would repeal most, though not all, of Obamacare with simple majority votes in January as soon as Trump takes office, but they would set the date of enactment starting in 2019 or even 2020. The delay would allow for a semi-orderly transition for the health insurance market, and it would buy time for Republicans to coalesce around a replacement package and—they hope—persuade at least eight Senate Democrats to cross party lines, break a filibuster, and pass it into law.

This is a potentially perilous strategy for several reasons, each of which illustrate why overhauling an industry that comprises one-fifth of the American economy is an enormously difficult task.

The Politics of Repeal Itself

The Affordable Care Act has been unpopular for most of its brief existence, but the idea of repealing it has always been even less popular. That continues to be the case even after the November election. A poll released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that just one-in-four Americans support full repeal. Another 17 percent want the law scaled back, while a higher percentage want lawmakers to either make no changes or expand it. An often overlooked dynamic in health care polling is that a big part of the opposition to Obamacare has come from people who believe it did not go far enough to begin with. Those same people think repealing it entirely would make the system worse.

So Republicans will be going against public opinion when they vote to scrap the law early next year. But they will do so anyway because their conservative base demands it, and because they will never be as unified as they are in the immediate, heady aftermath of their electoral victory.

Still, there is no guarantee that Republicans will even have enough votes to repeal most of Obamacare without a replacement ready. The party’s majority is comfortable in the House, but not the Senate. The GOP is likely to have 52 Senate seats come January, assuming its nominee, John Neely Kennedy, wins a runoff election in deep-red Louisiana later this month. A budget procedure known as reconciliation allows Republicans to repeal most of the law with a simple majority—50 votes plus the vice president. Some consumer protections, including the ban on insurers discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, would likely have to stay in place.

Can they pass it with such a slim margin? Probably, but there are already two question marks. One is Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the centrist Republican who voted against repeal in late 2015. The bill she opposed then is likely to be similar if not the exact same one that comes up in January. Asked on Thursday how she might vote if the measure came up again, Collins did not answer directly. Instead, she issued a two-paragraph statement on the law that made no mention of repeal. “Under the incoming administration, Republicans and Democrats have a new opportunity to fix Obamacare, and there is a lot to fix,” she said. Collins cited the problem of rising premiums but also noted the consumer-protection provisions of Obamacare that, she said, “enjoy widespread support.”

Many of my colleagues have ideas about ways to reform health care, myself included.  I look forward to evaluating all legislative reform proposals introduced in the new Congress to increase the availability of affordable, quality health care for millions of Americans.

A spokeswoman for Collins, Annie Clark, followed up after this article was published to note that the Maine senator had voted against the repeal bill in 2015 because it also defunded Planned Parenthood. “Senator Collins has long supported the effort to repeal and replace,” Clark said. She added that Collins would have to see the specifics of the repeal bill next year before deciding how to vote on it.

The other potential problem is Senator Lamar Alexander, who as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, will have a lot to say about the repeal effort. Alexander voted for repeal last year, but in recent days he has made clear that he prefers a different strategy for ending the ACA: “replace and then repeal.”

Explaining his position, Alexander cited Trump’s interview on 60 Minutes, where he promised there would be no gap between the exit of Obamacare and the arrival of its replacement. In a statement on Thursday, he said he wanted repeal to occur in stages:

Immediately in January, Congress and the administration can begin to repeal Obamacare and provide relief from the Obamacare emergency. And as President-elect Trump has said, Congress should replace and repeal at the same time, which requires figuring out how to replace it before fully repealing it. To avoid the historic mistakes of Obamacare, that replacement should be implemented step-by-step to minimize disruptions and make sure the changes in the system work well. Conservatives especially know that a comprehensive health care solution—even a Republican one—for a country of 320 million people in 50 states won’t work.

The Problems With Delay

In theory, the delayed death strategy seems reasonable, even responsible. Republicans don’t want to throw 20 million people off their health insurance if they can avoid it, and even the most ardent critics of the Affordable Care Act understand that a transition period is needed. “That gives us time to put the replacement in place and not just strip the rug out from under people,” said Representative Steve King of Iowa, who has been fighting Obamacare since its inception. “We need to give people confidence that we’re planning for that.”

In practice, however, delay could be a disaster. Insurers have already been leaving the Obamacare exchanges, leading to fewer options and higher-priced plans for shoppers. Repealing the law could cause a further exodus long before the measure takes effect. As Robert Laszewski, the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, told Vox’s Sarah Kliff: “The problem is when you have an insurance market, and the new administration declares it DOA, it will go into death throes.” Laszewski and other industry experts have said that Congress could mitigate the fallout by temporarily increasing subsidies for insurance companies, but that is exactly the kind of policy that Republicans derided as a “bailout” and successfully killed a couple of years ago.

The Challenge of a Replacement

There’s a reason the Republican Party hasn’t been able to agree on a single, comprehensive legislative alternative to Obamacare in the last six years: Conservatives are divided on the details, health policy is incredibly complex, and the plans they have come up with will be difficult to sell to the public—especially once Democrats start highlighting the many people who will lose Medicaid coverage or face higher costs as a result. Recall that Democrats only barely passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 when they had 59 seats in the Senate, or seven more than the GOP will control next year.

Republicans, including Trump, have said for example that they want to keep the popular provisions of Obamacare covering people with preexisting conditions and adult children included in their parents’ plans. But those consumer protections only work economically in tandem with the many other policies embedded in the Affordable Care Act that allow insurance companies to pay for sick people while still making a profit. One of those is the mandate that all individuals buy insurance, which Republicans will surely ax.

Politically, Republicans need the delay, because unless they get really creative with the budget reconciliation process, they will require 60 Senate votes—not 51—to pass a new health law. That means they’ll need a group of Democrats to join them, and party leaders believe, or at least hope, that the passage of time will create the political conditions for bipartisanship. The thinking goes: Obama will be long out of office, and Democrats will have come to grips with the demise of the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, Republicans would use the urgency of a deadline for protecting millions from losing insurance as a cudgel to force Democrats to cooperate. “The blame will fall on the people who didn’t want to do anything,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters this week.


If Republicans set the deadline at the end of 2018, they would try to pressure the handful of Democrats who represent red states and face difficult reelection races to side with them. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are all prime targets. Or the GOP could wait three years and bank on the likelihood that Republicans will expand their majority in the midterm elections.

But the politics could just as easily go the other way: Democrats who have struggled to defend Obamacare for years will now be on the offensive, running ads against the Republican proposal. If Republicans can’t get the votes for a new law, they will face pressure themselves to extend provisions of Obamacare that are set to expire in order to save constituents from losing insurance or subsidies that help them pay for it.

The Affordable Care Act won’t survive in its current form long past Trump’s inauguration. As my colleague Vann R. Newkirk II explained, the law gives the secretary of health and human services broad administrative powers, and Trump’s nominee, Representative Tom Price, is a leading conservative critic in the House. Even without immediate legislation, he could make regulatory decisions that undermine the law, such as declining to promote the insurance exchanges and the website through which people enroll in them. But Price can’t kill off Obamacare himself, and the law’s ultimate demise might be farther off than people think.

I Dialed a Wrong Number and Stumbled Into International Phone Fraud

By Sarah Zhang from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to call Cuba. I got an error message—which, okay, international telephone codes are long and my fingers are clumsy—but the phone oddly started dialing again before I could hang up. A voice answered. It had a British accent and it was reading: “...the moon was shining brightly. The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine…”

Apparently, I had somehow called into an audiobook of The War of the Worlds. Suspicious of my clumsy fingers, I double-checked the number. It was correct (weird), but I tried the number again, figuring that at worst, I’d learn what happened after the Martians took away the excavating machine. This time, I got the initial error message and the call disconnected. No Martians.

Now I was really intrigued. Why would doing the same thing yield  two different results? I called again. A British voice answered, “And yet the animals never gave up hope. More, they never lost, even for an instant, their sense of honor and privilege in being members of Animal Farm.”

Really? Animal Farm? Isn’t reading from George Orwell’s allegory of Stalinism a little too on the nose for Cuba? To confirm this surreal game of telephone I’d found myself in, I googled the quote to find it indeed, in chapter 10 of Animal Farm, posted online in full on

So that was my first experience with telecommunications fraud when calling Cuba.

* * *  

Cuba is one of the most expensive countries to call from the U.S. It’s partly because of the embargo’s legacy—which makes directly connecting the U.S. and Cuba phone lines difficult—and partly because of Cuba’s limited and outdated telecommunications infrastructure. It costs almost a dollar a minute to call Cuba from the U.S.

To get around this tightly restricted market, a great many fraudulent and ingenious ways of making money have sprung up around calling to Cuba. Global capitalism abhors a vacuum.  And so, of calls from North America and Europe, the ones to Cuba are the most likely to be fraudulent in some way, according to the Communications Fraud Control Association’s 2015 global survey. And telecommunications fraud is no small thing. In all, fraud costs the telecommunications industry an estimated $38.1 billion a year.

Ironically, the people actually making money off this fraud may not even be in Cuba. Here’s how the fraud in my War of the Worlds / Animal Farm case probably worked, according to industry fraud investigators I spoke to.  I was calling with VoIP, or voice over IP, meaning my phone call was routed through the internet infrastructure rather than through traditional phone lines. VoIP is cheaper because it automatically searches for the cheapest route from point A (in my case, Washington, D.C.) to point B (Havana, Cuba). Like cheap airfare that requires many layovers, the cheapest way to connect with Havana can pass through many countries. It might go across the Atlantic to Europe and back. It might make half a dozen or more hops through different carriers.

Somewhere along the way, I encountered a less than scrupulous carrier. Big telecom companies are carriers, but dozens of smaller ones all over the world sometimes offer cheaper rates through certain countries. It turned out that the Cuban number I called was indeed invalid—it came from an outdated webpage, I’ve since found—and some carrier was diverting or allowing the diversion  of calls that went to invalid Cuban numbers to an audiobook some percentage of the time. (That’s why I sometimes got the recording and sometimes the call just ended after an error message. I know this because I’ve now dialed that same number at least 10 times.)

The recordings can be random. “We get everything from fake rings, heavy breathing, adult entertainment, lottery reading, psychic readings, music—so random recordings,” said one veteran industry fraud analyst. The goal is just to get people to stay on the phone as long as possible. Calling Cuba and getting an audiobook of Animal Farm (the free public domain version) was probably just a weirdly resonant coincidence.

My phone call never actually made it to Cuba. The fraudsters make money because the last carrier simply pretends that it connected to Cuba when it actually connected me to the audiobook recording. So it charges Cuban rates to the previous carrier, which charges the preceding carrier, which charges the preceding carrier, and the costs flow upstream to my telecom carrier. The fraudsters siphoning money from the telecommunications system could be anywhere in the world.

The rise of VoIP has made it easier for calls to hop through multiple countries—and this kind of fraud has become more prevalent in recent years. Crossing all these international borders also makes this fraud extremely difficult to prosecute. “It’s always a challenge to get law enforcement agencies to assist with investigations. Cooperation between three or four countries is a big drain on resources,” says Colin Yates, who consults on fraud management for telecommunications companies.

Defrauding people who call wrong numbers is, relatively speaking, pretty small scale fraud. But there are also organized crime rings that actively seek out victims for similar scams, all of which fall under the umbrella of international revenue share fraud (IRSF).

In Spain, police in 2014 cracked a crime ring that was stealing cellphones from tourists. The crime ring wasn’t interested in reselling the actual phone hardware so much as exploiting the SIM cards. By using all the phones to call international premium numbers, similar to 900 numbers in the U.S. that charge extra, they were making hundreds of thousands of dollars. Elsewhere—Pakistan and the Philippines being two common locations—organized crime rings have hacked into phone systems to get those phones to constantly dial either international premium numbers or high-rate countries like Cuba, Latvia, or Somalia .

(When I called Yates in New Zealand, by the way, he apologized for missing my first call and not calling back immediately. My number had shown up without a U.S. country code, so he didn’t recognize the number and suspected it was a case of fraud. This is the M.O. of another common scam called Wangiri, Japanese for “one and cut.” Fraudsters use software to automatically dial hundreds of numbers and hang up after one ring. When victims call back, they’re connected to an expensive international number.)

Stamping out international revenue share fraud is a collective action problem. “The only way to prevent IRFS fraud is to stop the money. If everyone agrees, if no one pays for IRFS, that disrupts it,” says Yates. That would mean, for example, the second-to-last carrier would refuse to pay the last carrier that routed my call to the audiobooks and the third-to-last would refuse to pay the second-to-last, and so on, all the way back up the chain to my phone company. But when has it been easy to get so many companies to do the same thing? It costs money to investigate fraud cases too, and some companies won’t think it’s worth the trade off.  “Some operators take a very positive approach toward fraud management. Others see it as cost of business and don’t put a lot of resources or systems in to manage it,” says Yates.

After this episode, my workplace’s phone company said it would change the carrier it used to reach Cuba. I tried the number again this week: “El numero que usted solicita, no esta asignada a una morada.” Then in English: “The number you are calling has not been subscribed.” And the call ended, like it should have.

I called again, just to be sure. It rang for a while, the error messages played, and then: “The whole farm was deeply divided on the subject of the windmill.”

How Airlines Decide What Counts as a Near Miss

By Richard Korman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

One morning last April, a Delta Airlines passenger jet stormed down a runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, hitting 138 mph. It was about to leave for Miami when an air-traffic controller realized he had given the plane clearance to cross the path of another jet that had just landed. He hurriedly told the pilot to abort takeoff, which jolted the passengers and risked damaging the aircraft. Fortunately, there was plenty of runway left for the plane to stop.

What happened that day became one of thousands of incidents captured each year in commercial aviation’s multilayered incident and accident reporting system. The apologetic air-traffic controller filed a report to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, which decided it wasn’t a potentially disastrous near-miss, and graded it a C, for no danger. Reports like these, which can be matched with technical information on speed and altitude automatically transmitted from aircraft, are submitted under agreements between the FAA, airline operators, service companies, and unions. Many are made anonymously.

Like spy-agency analysts scrutinizing a constant river of messages, airline and FAA safety experts work to head off disasters by searching for trends in these incident reports. By any index, the system has saved lives and money; the most recent commercial aviation fatality occurred in 2009, when a regional jet crashed outside of Buffalo, N.Y. But recently, ground-level safety incidents at U.S. airports have been on the rise: As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, hazardous “runway incursions” jumped 25 percent this fiscal year, increasing for a third year in a row.

There are questions about whether the FAA and airlines are learning all they can. Predictive safety depends on faithful reporting of these incidents, which the FAA defines, in essence, as unexpected mishaps: incidents that could affect safe operations and that involve no serious injury or substantial aircraft damage. Yet there’s no clear line between what does and doesn’t meet this definition. Publicly, only abbreviated summaries are posted for most incidents, and others get longer accounts scrubbed of some details.

Much of what happens in the skies and on the runways, therefore, stays in the skies and on the runways. The safety of flying depends in part on how much data the aviation industry decides to collect—and on what mishaps it determines are truly dangerous.

* * *

Safety experts have known the value of near-miss tracking and root-cause analysis in preventing tragedy since at least 1931, when engineer Herbert William Heinrich theorized in Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach that there were 300 near-misses for every 29 accidents and every one serious accident or fatality. In Heinrich’s model, the near-miss incidents are the bottom of a pyramid, the accidents are the next level up, and the fatal accidents are at the top.

Few now take the ratio literally, but the study of precursor events, aided by the processing power of computers and data mining, has helped to revolutionize safety management. In commercial aviation, separate reporting programs exist for airlines, air controllers, pilots, and technicians. The thousands of confessions, complaints, and other electronic data that roll in each quarter detail faux pas big and small, such as a clipped wing on a taxiway, or an unusually turbulent stretch that shakes up the passengers and crew.

The FAA sees anonymity in this reporting as key. “We certainly would not get the transparency and type of data without the anonymity,” says Peggy Gilligan, the organization’s associate administrator of aviation safety.

The closest analogy in day-to-day life to such anonymous or non-punitive data collection would be if every time you accidentally blew through a stop-sign or cut-off another driver on the freeway, you filed a report with your insurer without having to worry about your rate going up or policy renewal being turned down.

Recently, I spent a few days wading through what is publicly available via the Aviation Safety Reporting System, where anonymous reports are organized by types of calamities. I read about how one crew of a Boeing 757 forgot to lower the wing flaps for a daytime landing because their attention was diverted by the crew of a plane ahead who said there was a coyote at the edge of the runway. In another report, the weary pilots of a regional jet on a multi-legged journey landed at an airport without permission. “These kinds of schedules are ridiculous. … [I]n hindsight I’m grateful nothing else happened,” a crew member wrote.

Another database, the FAA Incident/Accident Data System, which is operated by NASA on behalf of the FAA, has a different look and feel and lacks these unedited crew narratives. You can still spot the bare-bones about the Atlanta airport runway incursion involving the two Delta flights, but the database’s advantage is perspective; it shows that there were a dozen runway incursions at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in 2015, most neither close nor very dangerous.

* * *

Recently, a team of scholars that wanted to know if the FAA and airlines were learning from all of their recorded incidents turned to the FAA Accident/Incident Data System and yet another database, the National Transportation Safety Board’s aviation accident database. The National Transportation Safety Board investigates incidents and accidents to make safety recommendations to the FAA, and the FAA has become increasingly cooperative in sharing high-level safety information with the organization.

In an article in the journal Risk Analysis, the researchers lauded the FAA and the industry’s accomplishments of recent years. But when they compared prior accident and near-miss data from 64 airlines over a 17-year stretch, from 1990 to 2007, they found that airlines learn mostly from incidents that conjure the memory of a prior accident. And that could lead pilots and controllers and mechanics to slip into a frame of mind where they routinize close-calls and last-minute adjustments, a natural human tendency toward “the normalization of deviance,” the researchers wrote.

“It’s the ones that don’t scare you that we want the most attention on,” says Robin L. Dillon–Merrill, a professor at Georgetown University and one of the paper’s three co-authors. The researchers write in the study: the “prior near-misses, where risks were taken without negative consequence, deter any search for new routines” and “often reinforce dangerous behavior.”

The reaction to the journal article from Mark Millam, a vice president at the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for aviation safety, was typical of multiple experts I spoke to about this study. He conceded that the paper was “an interesting statistical analysis,” but he also had trouble accepting any of the conclusions, because airlines and the FAA have so much data that isn’t made public. (The FAA did not reply in detail to what is in the study, and pointed to their successes in safety as well as incident reporting.)

Dillon-Merrill and her co-authors relied on the FAA Accident/Incident Data System, so the study was based on FAA definitions of near-misses alone. That includes, for example, bird strikes near airports. The FAA considers bird strikes “valuable safety information” that could affect aircraft design or bird-nest control near airports, but they usually don’t trigger engine failure or other damage that could cause a crash or force a dangerous emergency landing.

* * *

Dillon-Merrill certainly acknowledges that classifying events as near-misses is a delicate matter. She believes that the best way to define and use near-misses is as an infrequent alarm or warning signal. Set the criteria too low, she warns, and there is the danger that incident will be so common that they are ignored as pesky nuisances.

There are other perspectives. One is that the relentless collection of data the past two decades has reached a point of diminishing return. After a while, says Shawn Pruchnicki, a former pilot and faculty member at the Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies, “everyone assumes more data is better, but more isn’t better.”

Pruchnicki, like others who take what’s called a human-factors approach, believes in nurturing a culture that copes with and manages suddenly hazardous situations. Obsession with data, he says, is part of an obsession with rules, and long prescriptive rules are confining. An aborted takeoff, such as the one in April in Atlanta, may not be the culmination of mistakes, but a symbol of a resilient and flexible system. “It’s all about understanding how the system responds to unfavorable events, how we respond, not the nitty gritty details.”

However carefully near-misses are categorized, Dillon-Merrill and her co-authors suggest commercial aviation make incident reporting even easier than it is and collect even more reports on even smaller and less obvious incidents.

So how far should this go? If a pilot swerves or changes altitude suddenly to avoid a mid-air collision, or needs to hit the brakes and abort a take-off, and in neither instance breeches the required separation between aircraft, and no one is hurt and nothing damaged except the peace of mind of the passengers, does that automatically qualify as an incident?

“If something is shaking the passengers up, I believe it should be further investigated,” says Dillon-Merrill—even if it’s ultimately not classified as an incident.

“Unless the passengers are shaken up by everything,” she adds.

The Women 'Computers' Who Revolutionized Astronomy

By Jenny Woodman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

In the 1880s, Edward Charles Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, started amassing what would eventually become the world’s largest collection of photographic plates of stars—500,000 slices of the sky captured on glass.

Many of the images were carefully ferried from observatories not just in North America, but also Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, and Chile. In the Peruvian Andes, a single Harvard astronomer would pack the delicate plates into two wooden crates and carry them down from a mountain, nicknamed Mount Harvard, “on muleback and across a suspension bridge,” according to The New York Times. From there, they traveled on a train to Lima before making it on board a Boston-bound boat to the university.

To analyze this abundant stream of data, Pickering relied on a team of women. Some came to him with college educations, and others received on-the-job training. Gathered in a small library, adjacent to the observatory, they would work for about 25 cents an hour, six days a week, calculating the temperature and motion of the stars via these astronomical plates.

By discovering new stars, nebulae, and novae—and going on in their careers to shape the then-emerging field of astrophysics with their spectral analyses of stars—these “Harvard Computers” gained recognition around the world over the decades for their contributions to astronomy. Their efforts paved the way for women who would work in computing, engineering, and aerospace industries as human computers.

A negative of the Andromeda galaxy from the Harvard archives
(Jenny Woodman)

The stories of the women who followed in the Harvard ladies’ footsteps have recently been documented in books such as The Rise of the Rocket Girls and Hidden Figures. But the Harvard Computers’ story remains largely unexplored. In The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, out on December 6, Dava Sobel, the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, has painstakingly recreated their efforts to explore the heavens.

I spoke to Sobel about her newest book and the women of Harvard College Observatory. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

* * *

Woodman: Who were the women Pickering recruited? What were their day-to-day lives like?

Sobel: When he arrived at the Observatory, in 1877, Pickering found astronomers’ family members—wives, sisters, daughters—already acting as assistants. As the need for personnel increased, he sought additional women who were good at math and had office experience. Within a decade, he hired his first female college graduate.

By then, Pickering’s focus on photography had created a new source material for the ladies, in the form of glass photographic plates. The women worked, usually in pairs, with one partner looking at a plate and speaking aloud her findings to the other, who recorded them in a notebook.

Woodman: What were they looking for?

Sobel: At first, much of the women’s work entailed computing the actual positions and brightness of individual stars by applying mathematical formulae to the nightly notations made by the male observers. With the glass plates, they could discover new stars. While some of the photographs portrayed the stars as dots to be counted and catalogued according to sky coordinates, other images displayed the stars’ light as tiny strips, or spectra, bearing distinct patterns.

A few of the women were challenged to make sense of these patterns by devising a scheme for sorting the stars into categories. Annie Jump Cannon’s success at this activity made her famous in her own lifetime, and she produced a stellar classification system that is still in use today. Antonia Maury discerned in the spectra a way to assess the relative sizes of stars, and Henrietta Leavitt showed how the cyclic changes of certain variable stars could serve as distance markers in space.  

Woodman: The observatory directors—Pickering and his successor, Harlow Shapley—were really quite progressive. They advocated for women’s suffrage and gave credit to the “computers” for the work they were doing. Pickering even used crowdsourcing and citizen science. He knew that there was no way the observatory staff could perform the necessary observations, so he reached out to amateur astronomers for data collection. I was surprised to see something so popular today occurring in the 1800s.

Sobel: Crowdsourcing, yes. Having all these women who had a college education and a telescope, why don't you volunteer to help us? [Pickering] really was terrific.

Woodman: These women, to me, were so wonderful, but their story often reduced to jokes about “Pickering’s Harem.

Sobel: Maybe [the women] are unsung heroes, but in their own time, they were not unsung at all. Here they were getting their name in all the publications, getting invited to be foreign members of astronomical societies.

Woodman: You begin your book with Pickering’s benefactress, Anna Draper. She funded much of Harvard College Observatory’s work during Pickering’s reign in order to honor her late husband, Henry Draper, a devoted and enthusiastic amateur astronomer. What intrigued you about her?

Sobel: Her circle is really interesting. She was very privileged. She mentioned somebody in her letters to Pickering who was the head of the Library of Congress at the time. She was friendly with judges. She knew Edison. She got Edison to give some equipment to Harvard. She had a tremendous reach.

Woodman: Yes, Anna’s reach was one of the many coincidences that were necessary for the observatory’s success. That’s something that struck me about the story of Cecilia Payne, one of the more famous astronomers at Harvard. She just happened to be at Cambridge where her professors were discovering atomic elements (and winning Nobel Prizes for their efforts). Then, Cecilia arrives at Harvard in 1923 as the first graduate student under Shapley, armed with all this new knowledge, which would transform astronomy.

Sobel: I agree with you. I think it's an incredible coincidence!

Woodman: Is there one of the ladies you feel a particular affinity towards?

Sobel: I'm just crazy about Annie Jump Cannon. She had a great wit. She did not have a heightened sense of self-importance. When she really did something, then she didn't shy away from it. I love a comment she made about how when she got put on the [Committee on Classification of Stellar Spectra, in Bonn, Germany, in 1913]—since she was the person who had done most of the world's work in that area, she had to do most of the talking.

A page from Annie Jump Cannon’s line-a-day diary in the Harvard archives
(Jenny Woodman)

Woodman: I visited Harvard’s archives, and I was surprised to open a box filled with those tiny leather-bound books, Annie’s journals. She kept line-a-day diaries for so many years. I tried reading them and found it quite challenging, between their brevity and the handwriting. How did you go about piecing together such a rich narrative about Annie?

Sobel: I selected certain years. I looked through 1920 because I wanted to know how she reacted to the right to vote. Then, I wanted Adelaide Ames’s death.

Opening those [archival] boxes and seeing all the little books inside, I was just knocked out by that. It really felt like a sonic boom. There was something so girlish about them. She had stuck to it her whole life; I've never seen anything like that, such a complete record. She saved every program from every opera, every libretto—this woman is deaf, or she's described that way. Apparently, she could hear well enough to continue her love of music, lifelong. I tried to communicate to the head of the archives that the record of her life is complete to an extent, considering the time period. I think it's exceptional.

Her correspondence with the guy who was the head of the Royal Astronomical Society—his letters to her about the conditions on the ground during World War I. He had two sons in the Army; one of them had shell shock and was sent somewhere for treatment. He wrote her long [letters], the detail of what the food situation was like in London and how young men had disappeared from the streets. It was magnificent. She reciprocated in her letters.

She had that kind of correspondence with so many people. She got involved with everybody's children. Then, she would correspond with the children. The correspondence goes on for some number of years and then there's an invitation to the wedding. She was just a thoroughly wonderful character.

Woodman:  Because women had such a tangible presence at the observatory for so long, when Shapley, Pickering’s successor, decided to launch a graduate education program and begin granting doctoral degrees, he offered the first spots to female students, right?

Sobel: Yes, special grants in aid to women, secured with Pickering’s help, became the first stipends for graduate students—all of whom were female during the program’s first three years.

Woodman: Why is this story so important for us to read today?

Sobel: [One of the plate curators] made a really funny remark, which was: “Women have always been in the past, they just haven't been part of history.” The more I learned about the [women], I discovered that they did real work. They were given tremendous responsibility and autonomy. It wasn't scud work, although it's often portrayed that way.

I first heard about the [Harvard Computers] from Wendy Freedman, who was part of Carnegie Observatory; she was in charge of one of the Hubble key projects. She mentioned Henrietta Leavitt because of the period-luminosity relation and how important that was, still, in figuring out the age and size of the universe. I had never heard of Henrietta Leavitt. That got me interested in her and that period. Then, I realized there was a whole room full of these women, and that was remarkable.

Beaver rifles through Christmas decorations at a dollar store in America

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

A beaver's been caught rifling through Christmas decorations at a dollar store outside Washington DC in America.

Renzi pleads for support ahead of Italy’s referendum

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Country will ‘never go anywhere’ if reforms are rejected, says prime minister

“Trump is a great opportunity for us writers": Zadie Smith on fighting back

By Tom Gatti from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The author of Swing Time on Michael Jackson, female friendships and how writers can bring down Donald Trump.

In a packed college lecture hall at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 22 November, Zadie Smith joined me on stage to talk about her fifth novel. Swing Time is the story of an unnamed narrator and her childhood friend – “two brown girls” – which begins at a church hall dance class and never quite lets them go, throughout their divergent lives. Despite being a little jet-lagged from her flight from New York – where she lives with her husband, the poet and novelist Nick Laird, and their two children – Smith spoke with the cool, lucid intelligence familiar from her essays and criticism as well as her fiction. “You’re so quiet compared to American audiences,” she said to the crowd. “American audiences say thing like, ‘Uh huh! Yeah!’ just randomly in the middle of things.” Met with reverential silence, she was free to navigate fluidly between racial identity, female friendship, Barack Obama’s legacy and her love of Mad Men.

New Statesman Swing Time is about many things, but it is dance that gives the story its rhythm and arc. What’s your own relationship with dance?

Zadie Smith For me, it’s a joy. I’m a 41-year-old woman; I don’t dance that much any more. My children don’t enjoy me dancing in any context, but I love to watch it, and I found out writing this book that I love to think about it.


NS As a child, the narrator is absorbed by classic musicals and through them she discovers a handful of black dancers – the Nicholas Brothers, the young Jeni LeGon – who take on huge significance for her. Did these figures have that kind of impact on you?

ZS No, Jeni LeGon is someone I only found out about writing this book, so I had to construct what it would have been like to know about her aged five or eight; it’s like a fake memoir. But I loved that kind of early dance, and I recognise the instinct a lot of black and Asian children of my generation might have: the sense of counting the brown faces wherever we saw them, in a slightly desperate way. I definitely did that, in my everyday life, switching on the BBC and hoping to see Daley Thompson, or whoever – this kind of search for a reflection.


NS There were major black stars in the 1980s: the narrator’s friend Tracey idolises Michael Jackson and Prince.

ZS Michael Jackson’s a really interesting example, because he’s such a traumatising figure for a whole generation of kids! You were offered him as this wonder – this incredible black dancer – who then you had to watch throughout your childhood become un-black. You had to have this magical thinking and believe that he had a mysterious skin disease that does not manifest in that way in any other human on Earth, and that all this surgery also had nothing to do with it. It required a great deal of denial, and I think it did something very odd to a generation of children. He certainly loomed large in my mind as a figure of such penetrating self-hatred and self-disgust. Perhaps I have a suspicion of role models exactly for that reason, that you’re offered something – a model of behaviour or thought – but it can only ever be narrow. And then, when it goes traumatically wrong, as it did in poor Michael’s case, you’re left slightly rudderless.


NS You wrote that the Nicholas Brothers remind you of a line that a mother tells her daughter, that she needs to be twice as good as the other kids. This sentiment crops up in NW and in Swing Time, too.

ZS When I meet black British kids of my generation, that’s what all their mothers said to them. But with the Nicholas Brothers, I was also thinking about talent, because the novel is about different relations of power: in friendships, in families, between countries.

One of the things power is based on is the feeling that someone has a natural right to a certain amount of things. If you’re born into a situation, what accrues to you because of that? If you’re born into an unfortunate situation, what do you deserve in replacement for that? Politics lies along those lines. But talent is interesting because people on both sides of the political divide tend to think of it as a natural bounty not to be interfered with. The Nicholas Brothers are so extraordinarily talented that it’s a kind of offence to our most democratic thoughts. Why do these boys dance like that? How is it possible to have those kinds of gifts in the world, and what should you get because of them?


NS Did the Nicholas Brothers get the recognition that their talent deserved?

ZS Well, it was complicated, because they would do these extraordinary routines, but the studio always ensured they weren’t integral to the plot, so that when the films went south of the Mason-Dixon line, you could just cut the offending scene. So that was their experience – a very painful one, I think. But they were extraordinary professionals and Astaire spoke so well of them.

When I was a kid, what preoccupied me even more than the movies themselves was the idea of what was going on behind the scenes, between these black actors and the directors, the producers, the other actors. Because even though someone like Fred Astaire was a supporter of these artists, he didn’t actually actively help them on set. There’s a moment in Easter Parade when a maid comes in with a pug in her arms, and that maid is Jeni LeGon. Astaire knew who she was and how talented a dancer she was and yet he allowed her to appear for 35 seconds in a movie, passing him a dog.


NS In Swing Time, the narrator goes on to work for a pop star who is busily incorporating African imagery and clothing into her routines. What’s your take on this idea of cultural appropriation?

ZS Aimee, the pop star, says something that I don’t disagree with, which is that art involves an act of love, and of imitation. I would maybe use the word “voyeurism”. I think of myself explicitly as a voyeur, somebody who wants to be inside other people’s lives. To write On Beauty, I wanted to know: what’s it like to be a middle-aged, white male academic? Or in The Autograph Man, what’s it like to be a young, Chinese-Jewish guy who collects autographs? I guess sometimes the reader thinks it’s not appropriation when I’m writing about an older, black American woman – but I’m not an older, black American woman. It’s all voy­eurism on my part. But the way it’s argued a lot of the time, on both sides, is so vulgar.

Also, I feel that the identity facts of your life are so profoundly contingent – where your parents happened to be on the day you were born – that I can only take identity ­seriously as an act of commitment and love. I don’t think it runs through your blood. It is a compulsion. You have chosen to become, for example, British, even if you were born British and your great-grandfather was British. Being British is a kind of engagement; you have to commit to the idea of a culture.


NS In terms of identity, the narrator defines herself by the light other people cast on her. She’s almost a negative space.

ZS I felt that I wanted an “I” who was like a void, partly from my own sensibility – I recognise myself as a person of some passivity – but also in response to the performance of a certain kind of persona, particularly among young people. My students have a very firm sense of their “I”, or say they do, and they take that “I” on to the various social platforms and into their lives. It’s a type of presentation. But the kind of person that I was thinking about is asking, “What did I do here, there and then? What does it mean?” She’s working out, “Who am I?” but it comes from action, not from a series of staged performances. I knew it would be a slightly unnerving experience, because we’ve got so used to opening a book or reading a blog or watching Instagram and being presented with this full technicolour person with all these qualities. I felt that maybe in my novel, I could try something else.


NS When asked about the target audience for their book, writers usually say that they don’t write for an audience, or they write for themselves. But you have said that Swing Time was written explicitly for black girls.

ZS That’s how I felt when I was writing it. I did have somebody I was trying to speak to, and that might be no different to writing the kind of book – as writers often say – that you might have hoped to read when you were young. I was aware of an explicit imagined reader. I can’t deny that was in my mind. These are not normal times, and I think even writers as domestic or comic as I generally am find themselves in a more political place than they would in peaceful times. Being in America the past few years, I felt I had a lot of things that I had to get on paper, to get off my chest.


NS One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the relationship between the two girls. Do you think there’s something particularly fraught and complex about female friendships?

ZS I feel that perhaps in the past – because so much was written by men, because the women were with the children – relations between women have been depicted with very simple concepts like envy, or the idea of the bitch fight. And now that women are writing so much more frequently and the men in their lives are helping with the children, I think you’re getting for the first time in a very long time a different depiction of intimate female relations.

One of the things that strike me is that the much-vaunted envy between women is also a kind of radical imagination, in that women are always in each other’s business; they can imagine each other’s lives with great intensity. When I was writing this book, I was with my daughter at a children’s party, parting from another girl who wanted to know every little thing about where we were going next. I compared that with my son, who, if he’s saying goodbye to a friend, is just like, “See ya!” and doesn’t even remember they exist until the next morning.

That ability of girls to project their imagination into somebody else’s life can have toxic elements, but also seems to me an extraordinary fictional instinct, and might explain the domination of women in the novel historically, when so many other art forms were practically blocked for them. The novel, to me, is a woman’s art. I don’t say men don’t have enormous achievements in it, of course, but it has a strong female element, exactly because of that projection, which can be called empathy, I suppose, but is also a deep curiosity and voyeurism.


NS We tend to associate male relationships with power struggles, but aren’t female friendships equally involved in exchanges of power and power games?

ZS Right. I think it can be sometimes invisible to men, because the form of the power game can be so inverted. There is a very funny Amy Schumer sketch of four women meeting in a park in New York and competitively downgrading themselves: “You look nice!” “No, I look like something pulled out of the trash.” On it goes until they explode. All women will recognise that, and it’s a compulsive English habit. I do it all the time. Someone says to me, “You look nice.” I say, “Oh, Topshop, 15 quid.” That habit maybe doesn’t look like power from the outside, but all women know exactly what they’re doing when they’re doing these things.


NS In your fiction, mother-daughter relationships seem equally fraught.

ZS Even though I know a lot of women have difficult relationships with their mothers, what’s amusing, and kind of moving, too, is the amnesia. When they have children, women cannot imagine the idea that maybe this lovely two-year-old will one day do ­anything to avoid calling you between Sunday and Sunday – they can’t conceive of it, even as they’re doing it to their own mothers. I guess I never had that illusion about motherhood. I always thought, “This is going to be terrible,” so anything that’s good is a kind of bonus. I was very surprised when my kids started saying the normal things that kids say, that they love you.

Then there are the sweet delusions of what you want and what the child wants. I can’t tell you how many times people in New York have said to me things like, “I’m going to go and get a massage, because if I’m happy, the child’s happy.” You want to believe that you want the same things at the same time, but exactly the opposite is true. The child wants everything, and it’s the mother’s decision how much she’s going to give. I find that battle kind of comic and sweet and interesting, and certainly having children has reanimated it in my fiction.


NS What was your involvement in the recent BBC television adaptation of NW?

ZS When they started, I was pregnant and I just couldn’t engage with it at all. So I just said, “Do whatever you like.” I saw it only two weeks ago on my laptop – very anxious, with my husband, Nick, late at night – and I was just so happy and amazed at that scriptwriter [Rachel Bennette] and all the things she cut so effectively. I’m not in the habit of being moved by my own material, but the power of it struck me, particularly the section with Felix. You see so many people stabbed, all the time, in movies and on TV, and you never really understand the weight of the life being lost – and the actor playing Felix managed to die.

I’m going to try to adapt Swing Time for TV, probably with Nick, because he’s much more of a plot guy. I’m excited. I love telly.
I don’t have original taste – I love all the usual suspects. I think Mad Men is stunning.
I felt like it was a dream life that I was in, and when it was gone I felt really depleted, like I couldn’t have that dream every night, with all those beautiful men and women in it.


NS You’ve long been associated with the idea of “multicultural London”, but what comes out strongly in your recent work is a sense of division. Do you feel more pessimistic about London as a mixed community?

ZS Particularly in America, I’ll be asked, “Are you a supporter of this thing multiculturalism, and now can you admit that it’s failed?” What’s being said is that the conditions of your childhood were a kind of experiment, and it turns out it hasn’t gone well, so we’re going to revoke that – it’s over now. I find it kind of unnerving, because millions of people around the world are still living with each other in mixed situations, and I also don’t accept the premise that a homogeneous society is by its nature more peaceful and more likely to succeed. The Romans, the Greeks, the Northern Irish, England for 400 years . . . There’s no reason to believe that. I never felt that a heterogeneous society was perfect. But I think there are promising things in my community, and I don’t accept the idea of an experiment shut down, finished: these are people’s lives.

But what certainly is the case, I feel, is that you cannot, on the left or on the right, assume that a historical situation will remain in perpetuity. If you value things in that ­society, you have to restate them, reimagine them, and the kind of housing crisis we have in London now makes various conditions I grew up in impossible. There will always be rich and poor but, as [Thomas] Piketty makes the case, the gap is so extraordinary now. To have allowed it to get to this almost feudal situation, I don’t see how it can’t create deep cracks within civilised life. The ­division in London is a financial one. It feels extreme and it has extreme consequences.


NS In 2008, you wrote an essay full of cautious hope that Obama’s mode of speaking might be the thing required to pull the country together. How do you feel looking back at that moment now?

ZS On the morning of this election, I heard a young black girl on the subway ­speaking very loudly about why she’d voted for Trump. One of her reasons – a kind of “Face­book fact” – was that Obama created fewer jobs than Bush, which I believe had been going round the right-wing sites. In some of the big car towns, Obama saved so many jobs – but it’s hard to sell the counterfactual idea that there would be 800,000 fewer jobs here had this not happened.

But I think another counterfactual will be in his favour soon, and that is all the ways in which Obama is calm. Recently in New York, we had a small terrorist attack in Chelsea. Try to imagine Donald’s response to that. And so I think that over the next four years, all the ways in which Obama has not done many things that would have led us into terrible situations will become very clear, very quickly. It’s a painful way to secure your legacy, but that’s the way I see it.


NS As a New Yorker, what has your experience been over the past few weeks?

ZS I left the morning after it happened, because I had to go to Europe. When we turned up at my son’s daycare, the teachers were crying. My friend told me that the pizza delivery guy came that evening and burst into tears at the door. It was traumatic.

My gut feeling is that the job of American journalists and writers is going to be to somehow defy the normalisation of what’s happening. I think there are positive signs. It blows my mind that a man who is meant to be preparing to be leader of the free world watched Saturday Night Live [in which Alec Baldwin played Trump] and tweeted three times about it. So, in one sense, it’s a great opportunity for all of us artists, comedians, writers, because he’s so easily wound up! It gives the press an opportunity to be a real fourth estate and do something significant. Which could perhaps lead to impeachment. It’s promising, from our point of view.

“Swing Time” by Zadie Smith is published by Hamish Hamilton


Vietnam, Two Brave Men, and the Paths They Took

By Arnold R. Isaacs from War on the Rocks. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Not long ago, in the span of just three weeks, I said goodbye to two friends. Robert Timberg and Gordon Livingston didn’t know each other, as far as I know. Though both were successful authors, their books were on very different subjects and professionally they followed different paths — Gordon as a psychiatrist and Bob ...

Getting South Asia on Track: Ideas for the Next President

By C. Christine Fair from War on the Rocks. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

During the presidential debates, the myriad policy challenges in South Asia were not discussed. Yet it is South Asia where some of the most obdurate and intractable policy challenges reside. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops continue fighting the longest war in American history. Pakistan, formally feted as an ally, continues to behave as an enemy by ...

Caroline Lucas: Lib Dem Richmond victory a "hammer blow" to hard Brexit

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

The Greens did not stand a candidate against Sarah Olney. 

Caroline Lucas has called the Lib Dems' victory in Richmond over Zac Goldmsith "a hammer blow" to hard Brexit.

The co-leader of the Green party, who has backed the idea of a progressive alliance against the Tories, argued the Greens can "take a great deal of credit for Zac's toppling". The local Green party decided not to stand a candidate against the Lib Dems' Sarah Olney.

Goldsmith resigned from the Conservative party over the plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, but his independent campaign was supported by his old party. 

The consequent by-election, though, became a referendum on Brexit and Goldsmith's failed dogwhistle campaign to be London mayor. 

Lucas said: "The regressive alliance has been beaten and the Government has suffered a hammer blow to its hard brexit plans."

She praised Olney for opposing the expansion of Heathrow, her commitment to electoral reform and a desire to prevent "post-referendum chaos".

Olney won with a swing of 30.4 per cent to the Lib Dems. Goldsmith's support dropped by 13.1 per cent, while Labour's dropped by 8.7 per cent, to just 3.7 per cent of the vote.


Why the Lib Dems' Richmond by-election triumph will scare Tory MPs

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

New Conservatives have long feared they could be punished for Brexit. 

Lazarus has risen. The Lib Dems' Richmond by-election triumph confirms their return as an insurgent force in British politics. Tim Farron's party overturned Zac Goldsmith's elephantine 23,015 majority with a vintage swing of 21.7 per cent (their biggest since 1997). 

The victory will be commonly described as a "shock" today. But all the signs, as Stephen noted earlier this week, were there. The Lib Dems won a swing of 19 per cent in the recent Witney by-election and have long been advancing locally. In Richmond, they turned an ostensible referendum on Heathrow (the trigger for Goldsmith's resignation) into one on Brexit. The seat, which voted 69-31 for Remain, revolted against the incumbent's Leave stance. In a competitive field, Goldsmith (who lost with dishonour in London) may have had a worse 2016 than any other politician.

By not fielding a candidate, the Conservatives avoided the humiliation of defeat. But the result is also a rebuke - and a warning - to them. Were last night's swing replicated on a national level, the Tories' majority wold be wiped out. By-elections are a historically poor indicator of general election results but marginal MPs will still endure sleepless nights. If Goldsmith can squander a majority of 23,015, they will ask, what chance for us? Bath, Cheltenham, Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham are in the Lib Dems' sights (though its former south west heartland is staunchly eurosceptic).

Even before Theresa May became Prime Minister, new MPs pleaded with her not to go to the country for fear of a Lib Dem revival. Their warnings have been vindicated. An early general election, which May has long inclined against, is now even less likely. 

Since May became PM, much of the political pressure on her has been for a "hard Brexit". But Richmond gives supporters of a "soft" exit (or none at all) a rallying point. For the first time, the principle of blocking Brexit has been endorsed at the ballot box. Marginal Tories risk being caught on the wrong side of their constituents. 

Though the Conservatives have the most to fear from the result, it will also deepen Labour anxieties (it won just 3.7 per cent in Richmond). If Brexit becomes the new dividing line in British politics, the party risks a three-way squeeze between the Lib Dems, Ukip and the Tories. As Labour learned to its cost in Scotland, referendums can have painful afterlives. 

Getty Images.

Whither Hong Kong?

From New RAND Publications. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

This Perspective considers the future trajectory of the Special Administrative Region in light of the 2014 prodemocracy street protests and their aftermath.

Lib Dems beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

With a campaign fought around their opposition to Brexit, the Lib Dems overturn Zac Goldsmith's 23,000 majority.

The Liberal Democrats have defeated Zac Goldsmith to win the seat of Richmond Park, south-west London.

Goldsmith resigned from the Tory party and contested the by-election as an independent, citing his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. But the Lib Dems fielded Sarah Olney - who only joined the party in 2015 - and fought a campaign on their opposition to Brexit. Goldsmith backed leaving the EU in June.

Olney received 20,510 votes to Goldsmith's 18,638 - overturning his previous majority of 23,015. The Greens, Ukip and the Tories did not stand a candidate. Labour, along with the smaller parties, lost its deposit.

Sarah Olney becomes the Lib Dems' ninth MP - and their only woman in the Commons. 

She said: "The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear - we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win."

As my colleague Stephen Bush wrote yesterday, the Lib Dems have been increasingly bullish about their prospects in Richmond Park all week, despite an early poll of the seat which put them well behind: "Richmond is ripe with the voters that the Liberal Democrats believe represent their path back: affluent, educated, part of that small group that might not have voted for Tony Blair and David Cameron, but felt the benefits of both administrations, and, broadly, hasn’t been actively distressed by the result of an electoral contest – other than the European referendum."

The result in Richmond will make many in Labour and the Conservative party nervous. For Tories who won their seats from Lib Dems in 2015, this is a sign that there is a small but significant block of voters for whom Brexit is a motivating issue. (Nearly three-quarters of voters in Richmond voted Remain.) For Labour, the concern is that a political discussion polarised around pro/anti-Brexit lines leaves them out of the picture - as has happened in Scotland, where the narrative is framed around independence/unionism. 

This is the second good result for the Lib Dems' anti-Brexit strategy: in the by-election on 20 October, they reduced the Tory majority in Witney by 20,000. The Oxfordshire seat, previously held by David Cameron, is also affluent and Remain-voting. The party has also done well in local elections since the referendum, particularly in the south-east of England.

However, don't start ordering your "Prime Minister Farron" baseball caps just yet. By-elections are notorious for wild swings, and the Lib Dems' polling is still low nationally . Plus, the party threw the kitchen sink at Witney, with the leadership privately saying that they had activists braced for an autumn general election, who would instead be deployed there.

Also in "smaller parties quite chipper" news, the Greens are claiming credit for the win, saying that by not fielding a candidate, they helped the Lib Dems defeat a "regressive alliance". In 2015, the Greens received 3,548 votes in Richmond Park, while Goldsmith was defeated by 1,872. 


Brussels cool on sanctions if Austria turns right

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

EU officials keen to avoid repeat of policy 16 years ago that fuelled nationalism

François Hollande: party unifier became a liability

From Europe News. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

One-time consensus-builder presided over a meltdown of France’s Socialists

The World Next Week: December 1, 2016

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Syria's humanitarian crisis escalates, Italy holds a constitutional referendum, and Cuba mourns Fidel Castro.

To destroy Islamic State, we must follow it into the desert

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 02, 2016.

Fighters will try to use a "time of wilderness" to their advantage. 

In coming months, the Islamic State will lose its strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa in Iraq and Syria. Yet evicting the group from these cities alone will not be sufficient in stopping future attacks or deterring its military capabilities since the self-proclaimed caliphate will still govern a wide swathe of key Syrian territory. The international coalition must prioritise retaking this land if it hopes to defeat the Islamic State once and for all. 

After Raqqa’s fall, the Islamic State will retreat to Syria’s vast and overlooked Deir Ezzor province where it is already well entrenched. This arid stretch of eastern Syria straddling the Euphrates river valley has so far failed to get the attention from policymakers it deserves.

The “time of wilderness” experienced by the Islamic State’s predecessor group offers an instructive lesson. In 2007, the US boosted its troop numbers Iraq as part of its surge strategy. It buffeted these forces by enticing Sunni tribal leaders in the western Anbar province, many of whom were disgusted by the then Islamic State of Iraq’s savage tactics, to buy in. While this booted the militants from their Anbar strongholds and diminished their numbers, surviving fighters subsisted for years in hard-to-reach corners of Iraq, eventually re-emerging as an even more powerful foe.

Deir Ezzor and its village belts and mid-sized towns is more than a wilderness – it is an enormous hinterland. Here, Islamic State can reorganise, refit and reassert itself following losses in northern Syria and Iraq. Just as the group slowly mushroomed from a handful of worn-out guerillas into a more conventional fighting force between 2008 and 2011, so too it may use Deir Ezzor and its obscure villages as shelter.

It has already fashioned Deir Ezzor into a fortress. Only a sliver of Deir Ezzor city, the provincial capital, and its adjacent air and military bases remain under Syrian regime control. Many of the city’s inhabitants cut off from the outside world by strict siege. The Islamic State wields total control in its countryside, and in towns like al-Mayadeen, al-Bukamal and the Iraqi border town of al-Qaim those who have dared challenge its authority have met gruesome fates. To secure its position the Islamic State has either roped the local tribes of the Euphrates river valley into its fold or cowed them into submission through brute force. 

Syrian activists have also reported that the Islamic State is preparing to transfer some of its senior leadership to the province. The killing of top-tier commander Abu Sayyaf at the hands of American special forces soldiers in a major Deir Ezzor oil installation in May 2015 suggests that the presence of leadership in the region is nothing new. 

From Deir Ezzor the Islamic State can continue to mount conventional military operations. This could mean trying to seize the regime airbase, and push into the soft underbelly of the Syrian regime in eastern Homs, or spearheading toward Palmyra and its nearby oil fields. The Deir Ezzor pocket will continue to afford the Islamic State a springboard for guerilla or conventional attacks. To prevent the Islamic State from surviving as a rural insurgency, the international coalition must hunt the terror group into the depths of this desert flank.

The Syrian regime lacks the manpower and the operational capability to retake Deir Ezzor, even with the backing of Russian airpower. Likewise, Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has poured cold water on the notion that Iraq’s popular militias enter the Syrian theatre. Should they defy him and try, an advance by the mostly Shia militias could upend eastern Syria’s ornate social fabric and add fuel to the sectarian fire. 

The international coalition’s current battle plan for Raqqa, focusing on using mostly Kurdish militias to retake majority-Arab territory, inspires little confidence. This ethnic mixture could sow seeds for future conflict. Instead of replicating this, the coalition should entice Euphrates river valley tribes and other Sunni Arab opposition forces to push on Deir Ezzor. In other words, they should mimic the 2007 Anbar recipe for success. 

If successful, an opposition-held eastern Syria could also pressure the Russians - and by extension the Syrian regime - into a tighter bargaining position. The regime would be forced to accept opposition control over the Iraqi border and the core of the country’s oil and gas infrastructure. This could open the door for a more earnest attempt at a negotiated multilateral settlement. It would remove the Islamic State as a variable in east Syria, give the opposition much-needed safe haven, and force the regime and its backers to accept the limits of their force projection.

The fight against the Islamic State will continue long after Raqqa and Mosul’s liberation. The US should not yield in its determination to pursue the terror group to the farthest stretches of Syria. If it fails do so, the Islamic State may just re-emerge once again, revitalized and born anew as it has before.

Ignoring Deir Ezzor means ignoring a key piece of the Syrian tapestry. It is only by recapturing Islamic State-held territory in its totality, including these desert flanks and fringes, that the US and allies can hope to put the final nails in its coffin. Until then, Deir Ezzor will remain the missing piece in the puzzle of destroying the Islamic State. 

John Arterbury is a Washington DC-based counterterrorism consultant who recently served as a Fellow for Georgetown University’s Global Futures Initiative. 


UK open to paying for single market access

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Davis and Hammond concede they cannot rule out budget contributions to Brussels

By the left: Heirs to Hollande line up

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Current PM, two firebrand exiles and an MEP lead early race

Understanding Migration and Asylum in the European Union

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The real crisis around migration is in Europe’s poor response to irregular migrants and asylum seekers, including the EU’s ability to keep people safe and secure.

Understanding Migration and Asylum in the European Union

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The real crisis around migration is in Europe’s poor response to irregular migrants and asylum seekers, including the EU’s ability to keep people safe and secure.

Will Democrats Miss Their Last Chance to Win a Senate Seat?

By Clare Foran from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Democrats desperate for good news following Hillary Clinton’s defeat believe they might find it in the red state of Louisiana. Republicans will control Congress when Donald Trump takes office next month, but Democrats have one last shot to win an additional Senate seat in the Louisiana runoff election on December 10. Foster Campbell, the Democrat running against Republican John Neely Kennedy, recently reported an impressive $2.5 million fundraising haul, and national media has framed the race as a high-stakes fight, with CNN’s Don Lemon describing Campbell as “the last hope for the Democrats in this election cycle.” Amid all that buzz, however, Democrats risk pinning their hopes on a race they are unlikely to win.

The Democratic Party faces long odds in Louisiana, and a last-minute influx of donations and interest in the Senate race won’t suddenly change that. The president-elect won Louisiana with 58 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 38 percent, and the state legislature remains a Republican stronghold despite the election of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards last year.

On November 8, a crowded field of Senate candidates squared off, and Kennedy and Campbell advanced to a runoff as the top two competitors. Even then, however, Kennedy had an advantage over Campbell, winning 25 percent of the vote to his Democratic challenger’s 17.5 percent. Since then, polling has suggested that Kennedy has amassed a double-digit lead. “It’s not clear that Foster has given voters a clear reason to vote Democrat in a red state that Trump just won in a landslide,” Josh Stockley, a political-science professor at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, said in an interview. “There may be national interest in the race, but it’s important not to lose sight of the state’s fundamentals.”

It’s possible that Democrats need to devote more time, energy, and resources to the state—not just in this race, but as party members reflect on their post-2016 priorities. Campbell certainly seems to believe there should be more investment from the national party. “They haven’t done hardly anything,” Campbell told me in an interview when I asked if he thinks the national Democratic Party should do more to help in his race. “This race is being watched all over America, and they are missing in action. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is missing in action. ... They just got the living hell beat out of them, so why aren’t they down here fighting like they could be?”

He went on to add: “They really could do a lot more. On a scale of 1 to 10, they haven’t even reached the 1 mark yet—the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the national Democratic Party, I haven’t heard anything from ’em.”  

Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, insists that the Democratic National Committee has worked “hand in glove” with the state party to make contact with voters and get out the vote ahead of the election. “They just lost the presidential race so they are struggling to find normal again,” he said, “but this lifeline of Louisiana, the potential of hope here, is something that's really palpable, and it’s something that they want to be involved in. I couldn't thank them enough.”

Handwerk noted, though, that the “DSCC certainly has been sitting on its heels, and that’s ultimately regretful in our eyes.” He also cautioned that Democrats “run the risk of permanently giving up the South if we do not make necessary and ongoing investments.” The DSCC did not return multiple requests for comment over a period of several days.

Then again, there may be valid reasons for the party not to invest heavily in a red state like Louisiana. Democrats must decide how best to direct finite resources. If the Louisiana Senate race looks unlikely to yield a Democratic win, the national party may be engaging in an act of self-preservation if it decides to withhold investment. “These decisions are strategic, and I’m sure they’re making a cost-benefit analysis,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist and president of Bannon Communications. “It looks like a tough race, and the DSCC just spent a ton of money on Senate races and will be even more pressed for cash in 2018 when they have to defend a number of incumbents. I don’t think this is personal, or ideological. I think it’s a very pragmatic choice.”

Of course, it’s one thing to make cost-benefit analyses over how and to what extent Democrats should invest in individual races. But even if Democrats had all the money, volunteers, and infrastructure they could want, voters might still reject the party and its candidates if its overarching message doesn’t appeal to a broader coalition of Americans.

One of the questions Democrats are grappling with at a national level is where the party went wrong in the presidential election after some voters who had previously supported Barack Obama flipped to Trump—and what it will take to win them back. In Louisiana, Campbell’s message of economic populism—he has expressed opposition to trade deals and describes himself as a candidate willing to fight “powerful corporate interests”—might help win him voters that would otherwise be drawn to the Republican Party in the Year of Trump.

At a national level, the Democrats may also need to draw more from an economic-populist message to convince voters to turn out for them—after all, that message was popular not only among Trump voters, but among Bernie Sanders’ supporters, too.“The more we can articulate ... what we’ve done for working men and women in the past, and what we’re trying to do for working men and women today, the better off we are,” Campbell said, referring to the Democratic Party as a whole. He added: “We dropped the ball, and we need to get back in control of our whole message, and talk about helping people.”

As they analyze which races to prioritize in future elections and attempt to rebuild political power over the next four years, Democrats will need to seriously consider how to expand their coalition. As the party does so, it will need to find ways to keep dispirited Democrats politically active and engaged in a time of uncertainty. And while a surge of last-minute attention to the Louisiana Senate race may have given some Democrats hope for redemption, it also risks leaving them disillusioned if they don’t get the outcome they’re looking for in the election.

From Guatemala to the United States, and Back Again

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The short film Reverse Migration is about two men from Central America who return to invest in their community. They are both from Cajolá, a town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, moved to Morristown, New Jersey, and then back to Cajolá. For Guatemalan men, there’s often tremendous pressure to leave the country and make money in America. “Our trips to Guatemala deepened our understanding of the powerful forces at play in the push to migrate,” write two Rutgers University professors on the film’s website. “Reverse Migration expands on that understanding by examining the pull factors that encourage migrants to return.”

This film appears in the fourth issue of Newest Americans, a collaboration between Rutgers University-Newark, Talking Eyes, and VII Photo centered around America's changing demographics. More information can be found on the Facebook page and Twitter account. This short film is part of an ongoing series on The Atlantic from Talking Eyes Media about movement, location, and identity called State of Migration.

How Stigma Sows Seeds of Its Own Defeat

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

In the Western world, the percentage of people who say that it is essential to live in a democracy is in precipitous decline. In the United States, only 19 percent of millennials agree that it would be illegitimate for the military to take control of government. The president-elect routinely speculates about authoritarian policies, like stripping citizenship from those who burn the American flag in protest.

During a bygone crisis in global politics, when the liberal order was under sustained attack, Friedrich Hayek published this diagnosis of the challenge before liberals:

If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction; the arguments do not move in a context familiar to us; and they rarely give us direct answers to the questions we are asking. This may be inevitable because no statement of an ideal that is likely to sway men’s minds can be complete: it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion, presuppose much that is accepted by all men of the time, and illustrate general principles in terms of issues with which they are concerned.

The passage resurfaced this week when Will Wilkinson, in-house philosopher at the Niskanen Center, cited it to suggest that the Sisyphean task of saving liberalism is now ours, the boulder at our feet, the struggle of the hill looming once again.

“If the old truths are not updated for each new age, they will slip from our grasp and lose our allegiance,” he wrote. “The terms in which those truths have been couched will become hollow, potted mottoes, will fail to galvanize, inspire, and move us. The old truths will remain truths, but they’ll be dismissed and neglected as mere dogma, noise. And the liberal, open society will again face a crisis of faith.”

Across the Western world, liberals are grappling with how to execute that project. And while I have no pat answer, I do see an obstacle to success that’s worth understanding.

Maddeningly, the very success with which the generation that defeated fascism and Communism beat back that bygone crisis of faith in liberalism leaves us ill-prepared to repeat their success. They built up stigmas against illiberalism. Those stigmas were well-earned. But their strength and endurance sowed the seeds of their collapse.

* * *

In “Too Much Stigma, Not Enough Persuasion,” I argued that the coalition that opposes Donald Trump needs to get better at persuading its fellow citizens and winning converts, rather than leaning so heavily on stigmatizing those who disagree with them. With Trump’s victory in mind, I wrote that among the many problems with relying too heavily on stigma rather than persuasion is that it just doesn’t work.

Noah Millman and Matt Yglesias have smart insights on the same subject.

And one of my readers, Maxwell Gottschall, has a useful coda that applies not just to opposing Donald Trump, but to the larger defense of the liberal project, the constitutional order, and republican government.  Sure, he acknowledged, wielding stigma is often ineffective. But even when it does work to achieve ends that liberals favor, like undermining support for racism or authoritarian demagogues, stigma achieves those victories in a relatively weak, dangerously tenuous manner.

As he put it:

Stigmatization of an idea, by design, intends to convert, not persuade, by bypassing reason and going right for our tribal desire to fit in. But I think the rarely noted effect of this conversion happening is that it robs the converted of the tools to persuade others going forward.  In other words, if you haven't been persuaded by the merits of a political idea, how do you persuade others? You can't without resorting to the same sort of stigmatizing argument.

This, I think, at least partially explains the left's staleness over the past two years, and the cultural center-left elite's utter shock at the inadequacy of its invincible ascendant coalition. Stigmatization doesn't just turn off perfectly good people who aren't racists but supported Trump (as a blasé example). And it doesn't just make you complacent (which it does). I think it actively contributes to ideological rot.

Liberals may find it easier to see this weakness in their opponents.

Think back to the late ‘90s, when supporting gay marriage still carried more stigma than opposing it. The notion that a majority of Americans would ever support a man marrying a man was met with mockery. Homosexuality carried a strong stigma. Marriage just was between a man and a woman. Yet social conservatives would soon be shocked at the inadequacy of their once invincible coalition.

A small subset of orthodox Christians had reasons other than animus, or fear of change, for opposing gay marriage. They believed that marriage ought to be a procreative sacrament, saw all the ways that premise was undermined by secular society, and opposed all of them, not just the extension of marriage rights to their gay and lesbian neighbors. But most Christians had never bothered to think through the logic behind traditional marriage, never mind tried to persuade others that its premises were worth defending.

Whether wittingly or unwittingly, they were totally reliant on the stigma against homosexuality to preserve their notion that marriage was between a man and a woman. As it turned out, most Americans had long since stopped caring about preserving marriage as an institution focused on procreation. As the stigma against homosexuality faded and their status quo bias was challenged by persuasive arguments in favor of gay marriage, large numbers were willing to change their position. They realized that they had no rational reason to oppose gay marriage.

Today, pioneering gay-marriage proponents like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch express dismay that, after majorities came to embrace their position, the coalition that used persuasion to accomplish one of the great civil rights expansions of the 21st century shifted from a posture of persuasion to a posture of stigmatization.

There is, of course, value to stigmatizing anti-gay animus, and it is possible that stigma directed even at opponents of gay marriage who are motivated by reasons other than animus has bolstered the civil right in some jurisdictions—it’s hard to know for sure. Even presuming that is so, the larger point is neatly illustrated by this hypothetical: If Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees overturn the judicially created right to gay marriage, returning the matter to the states; and if the pendulum of public opinion or political power unexpectedly shifts, so that the legality of same-sex unions is threatened in many jurisdictions and overturned in some, who would be most effective at reasserting the case for same-sex marriage rights?

In the realm of opinion journalism, would proponents of gay marriage be better off if masses of swing voters read columns by someone with my background spending years persuading others that gay marriage is a moral imperative and a boon to society, at a college and a series of magazines where the subject was openly debated? Or would the pro-gay marriage coalition be better served by a journalist who is a bit smarter than me, and a bit more eloquent, but who came up in an era when social stigma long prevented opponents of gay marriage from raising the issue, and so had never before had to defend it?

* * *

With regard to gay marriage, or any single issue, reliance on stigma may not ultimately matter. If I had to guess, marriage equality won’t be challenged or overturned. There are many factors beyond stigmatization that shape our politics and culture.

But if Friedrich Hayek is right, if Americans ought to heed Will Wilkinson’s warning when he posits that “liberal norms and institutions are under constant corrosive pressure from natural, deep-seated illiberal tendencies,” and that failing to constantly refurbish the case for liberalism will cause our culture “to drift toward defensive avidity and mutual distrust” and our politics to drift “toward primal zero-sum tribal conflict,” then it is vital to understand the dismaying way in which bygone successes at inculcating liberal norms—successfully stigmatizing even that which ought to carry stigma—tend to sow self-destructive seeds.

For all its flaws, academia today is much improved in some respects over bygone iterations. It is committed to opposing rather than reproducing racism, sexism, white supremacy, and other bigotries that contributed to subjugation across many generations. And yet, for all the popular anti-oppressive efforts that manifest in American life, I wonder if today’s students are as well-equipped as older cohorts to persuasively articulate why racism or sexism or denial of equal rights to gays and lesbians is wrong, let alone to explain the value of other aspects of the liberal project on which they’ve never focused, having never lived when they were seriously threatened.

Perhaps the cohort’s surprisingly illiberal attitudes in survey data is due in part to a lack of ability or opportunity, among those who do support liberal norms, to argue for them. Maybe theirs is just an extreme instance of a handicap that affects all liberals.

To overcome it, Americans need to avoid leaning on stigma even when it seems both solid and warranted. Insofar as a position is worth defending, it is worth defending on its merits.

Countering Violent Extremism by Engaging Women

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

In many countries, women are well-positioned to detect early signs of radicalization because their rights and physical integrity are often the first targets of extremists. In addition, they are well-placed to challenge extremist narratives in homes, schools, and communities. This session will address strategies to counter  violent extremism by capitalizing on the contributions of women.

Securing Peace by Addressing Conflict-related Sexual Violence

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

This session will examine the devastating use of sexual violence against civilians by armed factions and extremist groups. Research shows that postconflict societies more effectively recover and rebuild when women participate in reconstruction efforts and their experiences in conflictincluding wartime sexual violence—are addressed. Responding to conflict-related sexual violence includes promoting justice and accountability, training security forces in protection measures, investing in services for survivors, and including women in developing solutions to the factors that place them at risk.

Hollande will not seek second term

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

French Socialists primary opens up after president rules himself out of election

Hajléktalanüldözés helyett megfizethető lakhatásért dolgozik az AVM Pécs

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Megvédik az önkormányzati bérlakásokat és informálják a lakosságot a hajléktalanságról. 2014-ben kezdte meg működését, idén már teljesen önigazgatóvá vált A Város Mindenkié csoport első önálló helyi sejtje, az AVM Pécs.

Renzi should stay on after Italy’s referendum

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Rome needs reform but stability is the priority

The fight for Britain’s working-class voters

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Ukip’s new leader should scare a complacent opposition Labour party

Weak pound drives Europe’s online shoppers to UK

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Sharp jump in number of parcels being sent to continental Europe and Ireland

The essential scan: Top findings in health policy research

By Paul Ginsburg from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

What’s the latest in health policy research? The Essential Scan, produced by the Schaeffer Initiative for Innovation in Health Policy, aims to help keep you informed on the latest research and what it means for policymakers. If you’d like to receive the biweekly Essential Scan by email, you can sign up here. Increased aspirin use by […]

The President's Inbox: Defense

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

In this episode of The President's Inbox, CFR's James M. Lindsay, Robert McMahon, and Carla Anne Robbins examine President-Elect Donald Trump's defense priorities. 

Leader: The age of Putinism

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign ­influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin. In Syria, Russia’s military intervention has significantly strengthened the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. Under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, Mr Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hospitals and schools. Syrian government forces and their foreign allies have moved closer to regaining control of the rebel-held, besieged eastern part of Aleppo, a city in ruins, after a period of intense fighting and aerial bombardment. In Europe, Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg, through the streets of which the great philosopher Immanuel Kant used to take his daily walk.

Across the West, however, Mr Putin is being feted. As Brendan Simms writes on page 30, the Russian president has “annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes”. Yet this has not deterred his Western sympathisers. In the US, Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian autocrat as a fellow ethnic nationalist and “strongman”. The president-elect’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence is an invitation to Russian expansionism in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Mr Trump is far from alone in his admiration for Mr Putin. In France, François Fillon, the socially conservative presidential candidate for the Républicains, favours the repeal of European sanctions against Russia (imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea) and a military alliance in Syria. In return, Mr Putin has praised his French ally as “a great professional” and a “very principled person”.

Perhaps the one certainty of the French election next spring is that Russia will benefit. Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader and Mr Fillon’s likely opponent in the final round, is another devotee of the Russian president. “Putin is looking after the interests of his own country and defending its identity,” she recently declared. Like Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen seems to aspire to create a world in which leaders are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of rebuke.

In Britain, Paul Nuttall, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, has said that Mr Putin is “generally getting it right” in Syria. Mr Nuttall’s predecessor Nigel Farage named the Russian leader as the politician he admired most.

Mr Putin, who aims to defeat the West by dividing it, could not have scripted more favourable publicity. But such lion­isation masks Russia’s profound weaknesses. The country’s economy has been in recession for two years, following the end of the commodities boom, the collapse in the oil price and the imposition of sanctions. Its corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state now accounts for 70 per cent of its GDP. Its population is ageing rapidly (partly the result of a low ­fertility rate) and is forecast to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, while life expectancy is now lower than it was in the late 1950s.

Yet this grim context makes Mr Putin an even more dangerous opponent. To maintain his internal standing (and he is popular in Russia), he must pursue external aggression. His rule depends on seeking foreign scapegoats to blame for domestic woes. Not since the Cold War has the threat to Russia’s eastern European neighbours been greater.

How best to respond to Putinism? The United Kingdom, as Europe’s leading military power (along with France), will be forced to devote greater resources to defence. Theresa May has rightly pledged to station more British troops in eastern Europe and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements, providing for a ceasefire in Ukraine, are implemented. The Prime Minister has also condemned Russia’s “sickening atrocities” in Syria. Germany, where Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor, will be another crucial counterweight to a pro-Russian France.

It is neither just nor wise for the West to appease Mr Putin, one of the icons of the illiberal world. The Russian president will exploit any weakness for his own ends. As Tony Blair said in his New Statesman interview last week, “The language that President Putin understands is strength.” Although Russia is economically weak, it aspires to be a great power. We live in the age of Putinism. Donald Trump’s victory has merely empowered this insidious doctrine.


Is this the final end of Iain Duncan Smith's schemes?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The resignation of David Freud has observers wondering if Duncan Smith's universal credit is to be killed off at last. 

David Freud, the Conservative peer and junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, has resigned.

Freud is the last minister to still be in the post David Cameron appointed him to back in 2010 and is in many ways the true architect of the universal credit, Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship scheme for the reform of the welfare system.

The idea behind the reform is that, instead of claiming multiple benefits, whether they be tax credits, jobseekers’ allowance or housing benefit, you would claim one benefit that would be topped depending on your needs and eligibility. By simplifying the benefits system, it would, at a stroke, cut down on administration and make it easier to make sure that no-one is punished for working, eliminating the so-called “benefits trap”.

It’s a lovely idea in theory, but in practice, it hasn’t worked. Most complex cases have proved too much for the system, which was supposed to be rolled out to six million people by this year. It has instead reached a mere 400,000 claimants, overwhelmingly single young men without dependents, as they are the easiest benefit claimants to process.

The scheme’s problems were the cause of numerous turf wars in the government, between the Treasury, which regarded the plan as a waste of time and money, and the DWP, where a handful of true believers around Duncan Smith saw the scheme as the way to “make work pay”.

By the time that Duncan Smith flounced out of the government, morale – and the reputation of the DWP on Whitehall – was on the floor. Stephen Crabb, who was sent there with a brief to repair the damage, made a start on turning things around, but his frontbench career was brought to an abrupt and unexpected end – or, at least, a significant pause – after stories emerged that he had sent explicit texts to a young woman.

Damian Green, a longtime ally of Theresa May’s, was sent in to continue fixing Duncan Smith’s mess. Green has known May since the two were at university, though their political friendship rests more on his time as a junior minister at the Home Office. May can be difficult to work with, but Green managed well, and along with Karen Bradley and James Brokenshire, also her juniors in the Home Office and now at the trouble spots of Culture (negotiating the renewal of the BBC’s charter) and Northern Ireland (negotiating Brexit and its impact on the peace process).

Many believed that Green’s brief was to give universal credit the last rites, though he has told friends that it is a “good benefit” that is “worth saving”. That Freud, its architect, has left the stage, however, means that once again, people are wondering if the scheme is to be scrapped.

However, I’m told by several well-placed sources that Freud’s exit is the result of a genuine desire to retire rather than because Green has been tasked with killing off the reform, though one unnoticed aspect of the autumn statement was that it made it significantly easier for the government to do so. Why? Because Philip Hammond abandoned any pretence that the Conservatives will hit a surplus by 2020. Meeting that target meant driving through substantial working-age welfare cuts, and the promised “savings” that universal credit being implemented would bring. Now, neither is necessary, meaning that the scheme is far easier to kill.

What is more likely, however, is that the department continues to spend money advertising the benefit, that vanishingly small numbers continue to move across to it, at least for this parliament, before it is quietly smothered after 2020. 

Photo: Getty

The NS Podcast #186: Sexting, schools and scripts

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The New Statesman podcast.

This week, Helen and Stephen discuss sex education, Jeremy Hunt's moves to stop sexting and how technology is changing childhood.

George joins with the latest from the Lobby. Then Stephen and Anoosh pay a visit to James Graham, the writer of the hit West End play 'This House'.

And finally, you ask us: who is the most influential person in British politics?

(Helen Lewis, Stephen Bush, Anoosh Chakelian). 

Related reads:

- Now read our digital culture writer, Amelia Tait, on how little Jeremy Hunt understands technology. 
- Stephen Bush on John McDonnell's promises to the affluent and the old.
- And Anoosh's review of James Graham's Channel 4 drama, The Coalition.

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.


Fat Macy's: How one man escaped the Catch-22 of the benefits system

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Tarek's descent into homelessness was typical. His escape was not. 

"What’s wrong, Tarek?"
"Nothing... I’m just broken."

Tarek came to London in 2006 from South Yorkshire. He started working in McDonalds, where he used his wages to send money to family overseas and to care for his blind uncle. He was living in a privately-rented apartment, but the landlord sold it and the rent shot up. He couldn’t afford it. "That was it, that was the beginning of homelessness," says Tarek, deadpan. "Friends disappeared."

He ran out of renting options. For a month and a half, he rented a sofa for £200 a week in a crack den. During that time, he kept going to the council and saying he was homeless and needed help. "I begged for a place for one month," says Tarek. "They said they couldn’t help me because I’m young and healthy and they need to save money.

Then he lost his job. "That’s when it really became a struggle," he said. "I started doing stuff I didn’t want to do."

Tarek couldn’t apply for benefits because he had no fixed address, so he slept in libraries and hospitals for three months. He had nightmares about his mother telling him to come home. He didn't feel he could. 

The council referred Tarek to a room in a hostel in North London. While living in the hostel, Tarek received £147 every two weeks in the form of Jobseeker’s Allowance. Service charge took £50.16 of that sum and housing benefit was paid straight to the hostel at £281.88 a week. Living on the remaining £50 a week was tough, but it got more complicated. As soon as you start working more than17 hours a week, housing benefit is slashed. As a resident of the hostel, once he found a job, Tarek would have to pay expensive rent on a paltry salary. So he stuck to shift work. 

Residents move on through council housing, which can mean waiting a long time, or by finding a privately-rented apartment. The latter requires saving money for a deposit, but when you’re juggling a minimum wage, part-time job, meagre benefits and high rent, saving money is impossible. 

"The system is f**ked," is Tarek’s diagnosis. "The system should help us to be better people. Not demolish us by taking away our independence. When you’re living in there, you see the people working there like they’re evil, because they’re doing their job." It is not unusual for residents to languish in what is supposed to be the temporary accommodation for up to six years.

"You get a job, your housing benefit stops, you have to take a day off to go to the job centre to sort it out. You lose your job because you’re not reliable… It’s a Catch-22," recalls Tarek. Not working was what tipped him over the edge, resulting in a crisis that landed him in a cell for a night with an accusation of dealing class-A drugs. He sat in the cell wondering what happened. "Two years ago I was studying for my business management and IT bachelor degree," he recalls. "How the f**k did I end up here?" What kept him going was the thought of two cold beers that he had put in the fridge before his arrest.

Lost in a swamp of rent arrears, back payments and benefit slips, Tarek was evicted from the hostel. But this time there was a silver lining.

While he was in the hostel, Tarek had been involved with a social enterprise called Fat Macy’s, which employs residents of the hostel to cook for supper clubs around London. The cooks work as volunteers but for each hour they work, £10 goes into a deposit for a flat, thereby skirting the benefits complication. Tarek had £1,200 in savings from his work with Fat Macy’s. So instead of ending up on the streets again, he quickly moved into a flat in Kentish Town, sorted himself out and got a job. "I have the biggest title on earth - sales and administration support coordinator," he says. "The title is big, the money isn’t. I [am] just trying to stand on my feet."

Fat Macy’s has been useful to Tarek because it allowed him to sidestep the system. As the film I, Daniel Blake, and Tarek’s story among countless others show, the system surrounding homelessness (hostels, benefits etc) entrenches those it is trying to help. 

The founders of Fat Macy's, Meg Doherty and Fred Andrews, see their project as a way to give tailored support to YMCA residents, and give them a leg up and out of the hostel. But Fat Macy’s goes further. It allows people to feel useful and employed by being useful and employed. The idea behind the reformed benefit, Universal Credit, is that work will always pay more than benefits, and will be paid into your account every four weeks to get you into the salaried mind-set. But surely the best way to adapt the mind-set is to actually work, and see how the process and the act makes you feel. 

"Fat Macy’s," says Tarek. "Fat Macy’s is the bomb."

This December, Fat Macy’s is running supper clubs at the Printworks Kitchen, Clerkenwell. Tickets are £30 for three courses and a welcome cocktail.

Fat Macy's

This week, Daniel Hannan was mainly wrong about European immigration policy

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Hannan fodder 2: Attack of the clones. 

Very rarely, perhaps just once in a generation, a politician gives a speech so great that their words will resonate down the decades to come. Cicero’s denunciation of Catiline. Churchill, on the Iron Curtain descending across Europe.

And now, apparently, Ukip’s only MP Douglas Carswell, who just gave a speech in which he singlehandedly turned the tide on Britain’s anti-immigration sentiment.

Pretty impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree.

If you are thinking that this sounds a bit convenient – a bit, “I have a girlfriend, you don’t know her, she goes to another school” – then I have news for you. It is you, Remoaner, who are the real villain of the piece.

Let us not reveal the true depth of our prejudices on this occasion: we shall take it on trust that such a person exists, and was thusly moved, for Daniel is an honourable man. Instead of questioning the veracity of the story, let’s attempt a close reading of Hannan’s interpretation of it.

“I just met a brilliant young Bulgarian who, upset by Brexit, planned to go home. Then she heard @DouglasCarswell speak and changed her mind.

I can envision such a brilliant young Bulgarian being upset by Brexit, and interpreting it as a signal she should make her excuses. I can even, just about, accept it as plausible that it was Douglas “Abe Lincoln” Carswell who changed her mind: after all, she may reason, if even a Ukip MP is saying, “No, you are welcome here”, then, perhaps, she is.

Where I struggle is that, brilliant as our young Bulgarian is, she must surely be aware that there’s a very good chance she isn’t going to get the slightest say in the matter – and the most inspirational speech in the world isn’t going to change that.

“She was so taken with his vision of an optimistic global UK that she decided to make her life here.”

I feel a bit like somebody’s gaslighting me here. It’s not that I’m questioning the sincerity of Douglas “Demosthenes” Carswell or anything, but are UKIP in favour of an optimistic global UK now?

Is that what it campaigned for in the run up to the referendum?


Which party does Douglas Carswell think he’s in?

“Exactly the kind of immigrant we want.”

I am intrigued to know exactly what the words “exactly the kind of immigrant” mean in that sentence, as well as the identity of the “we” in question. But since Daniel Hannan has blocked me on Twitter, I suppose I shall never know.

I don’t wish to imply Hannan is not concerned about the rights of Britain’s European residents: I’m quite sure that he is. Where he seems to struggle, though, is in comprehending exactly how they came to be here in the first place. Here’s another outraged tweet he sent this week on a similar subject:

Leave aside the use of the word “migrants” to mean “refugees fleeing from a war”. Focus instead on the first half of that sentence.

There is, of course, exactly such a reciprocal arrangement on offer right now: it’s membership of the European Union, the body which Daniel Hannan has spent the last 20 years campaigning to remove Britain from.

So a question Hannan and Carswell may wish to ask themselves is why, exactly, the rights of Britain’s European residents are suddenly up for grabs. It was not the Remain campaign which stirred up anti-immigrant feeling in an attempt to win the referendum.  It is not we negative Remoaners who allied with Nigel Farage in order to achieve our open, optimistic goals.

If Britain’s Europeans are feeling frightened and considering leaving the UK right now, then Hannan and Carswell must take a hefty share of the blame for that – and going round convincing them to stay, one bright young Bulgarian at a time, cannot change this uncomfortable reality.

Now, if you happened to have a story about how Douglas “John F. Kennedy” Carswell managed to change the mind of a brilliant young Brexit minister, then that would be an entirely different matter.

Douglas Carswell, the greatest orator of our age. Image: Getty.

No education, no home - the UK's creeping immigration policy is a recipe for an underclass

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

A relentless expansion of border control leads down a dangerous path. 

Back in 2015, Theresa May’s department, the Home Office, had an idea. What if schools withdrew places for children if they came from families found to be living in the country illegally? And what if schools themselves carried out immigration checks?

The suggestion came to light through a leak to the BBC. If the idea had become policy, it would have effectively forced children who might have been born in the UK to go to the schools everyone else shunned, because of the status of their parents. 

In fact, the idea was reportedly rebuffed, after Education secretary Nicky Morgan predicted outrage. She was right – the leak has provoked widespread condemnation.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner calling it “chilling”. She told The Staggers: “Punishing innocent children for the ‘sins’ of their fathers in this way, really is beyond the pale. 

“What will they think of next? Withholding hospital treatment for a child with meningitis? What other public services can be barred to people from other countries?”

In fact, the drive to cut immigration is already creeping into essential services. It is the conclusion of a distinction that right-wing politicians and newspapers have been drawing for some time.

A hidden housing crisis

The news about school places broke on the day it became a criminal offence for landlords to rent homes to tenants who they suspect of being illegal immigrants. When a softer version of this policy was first introduced under the Coalition government in 2013, it was framed as a way to prevent rogue landlords exploiting vulnerable migrants. Now, that pretence at welfare has all but been dropped. 

This policy is problematic in two ways. It places the burden of responsibility of private landlords and letting agents, untrained in the arts of border enforcement. Since there is already a demand for rented properties, it is easier for them to ignore anyone with a complicated immigration status, or indulge in plain old racial discrimination. 

A study by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that under the existing Right to Rent rules, 42 per cent of landlords are unlikely to rent to someone without a British passport, and more than 25 per cent would be less likely to rent to someone with a foreign name or accent. 

Second, if illegal immigrants are unable to rent legally, where do they go? In its 2015 evaluation of the pilot Right to Rent scheme in Birmingham, the Home Office itself noted six out of thirteen representatives from community organisations reported that it led to people becoming homeless. 

And far from preventing beds in sheds, the report noted that some landlords and letting agents “felt that the more exploitative end of the sector could increase as a result of Evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme, as immigrants unable to provide the required documents might be channelled into this part of the private rental sector.”

A healthcare divide

Along with "benefits scroungers", right-wing newspapers have zeroed in on “health tourists” supposedly taking advantage of the NHS (the fact migrants tend to be able-bodied taxpayers is less commented upon). 

In England, overseas patients do not have to pay for access to GPs, although non-EU immigrants must pay a healthcare surcharge worth £150 or more. But the responsibility for policing what patients are and are not entitled to is increasingly falling on doctors. The Department for Health is already trialling a scheme where patients are asked to show their passport before getting hospital care.

Dr Steve Mowle from the Royal College of GPs told The Staggers his organisation had consistently opposed proposals to charge some patients for GP access: “It is not – and must not become – our role to act as border patrol, or make decisions as to who is and who is not entitled to our care.”

Ensuring the NHS remains accessible is not just a matter of principle. “Barriers do exist – perceived or otherwise -  that might deter vulnerable groups, such as refugees, from seeking medical assistance, and this is very regrettable,” Mowle said. “The last thing we want is for patients to suffer – and be living in the community with potentially contagious diseases – because they are scared to, or can’t afford to, access healthcare.”

The makings of an underclass

Every time the government draws up an immigration policy which steps outside the normal boundaries of border control, there will no doubt be a justification.  After all, to a large section of voters, it may seem strange that “illegals”, as they see them, are benefiting from public services. But add all these policies up, and a more sinister picture emerges.

If someone finds all their legal avenues to everyday life closed off, they may indeed leave the country. But, if the United States is anything to go by, it seems equally probable they will simply disappear, into a network of rogue landlords, exploitative employers and no healthcare. Their children will grow up afraid of authority, invisible in the country that is their only home. 

“At a time when the government claims to be concerned about integration, about cracking down on rogue landlords, traffickers and slave masters, it is shocking that it is pursuing a set of hostile immigration policies that seems almost custom made to give those people more power,” said Chai Patel, the legal and policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. He described May’s attitude as “deeply concerning”. 

Shadow education secretary Rayner, too, is worried May is creating “an American-style sub-culture” of the dispossessed.  “It’s not the British way,” she told The Staggers. “We are a welcoming, island race which is open and always looks outward.”

Another Labour front bencher, shadow Home secretary Diane Abbott, believes the focus on immigration is a sign of weakness. 

“There are two failures at work,” she said. “The first is on the economy, where the Institute for Fiscal Studies says this government and its predecessor will have presided over the worst outcome for living standards since the 1920s. 

“The second failure is on immigration policy itself. Every clampdown is met with climbing immigration numbers. The second policy is meant as a distraction from the first.”

In fact, as the leak on schools shows, the more May’s track record comes under scrutiny, the more her suspicion of immigration seems genuine. Yet not so long ago, the economic or public good argument won out. Post-Brexit, though, the former draconian Home secretary has been handed a mandate for immigration control. And now she is in the driving seat. 


Angela Merkel: ‘Her life’s work is in danger’

From Analysis. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Can the chancellor’s re-election campaign counter the anger over immigration?

Angela Merkel: ‘Her life’s work is in danger’

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Can the chancellor’s re-election campaign counter the anger over immigration?

Why orphanages are not the answer to Hurricane Matthew’s devastation

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

For this year’s New Statesman Christmas charity campaign, we are supporting the work of Lumos in Haiti.

Two weeks after Hurricane Matthew made landfall, I found myself driving along the Haitian coast, 40 miles north of Port-Au-Prince. The storm had barely impacted this part of the country when it hit in early October. There were a few days of rain, some felled trees, and locals complained that water ate away at the beachfront. But nothing remotely comparable to the devastation in other parts of the country.

In an odd turn of events, I found myself traveling in this relatively untouched central zone with two young American women – missionaries. “And there’s an orphanage,” one pointed out as we zoomed by. “And here’s another one too,” the other said, just on the opposite side of the road. They counted them like a memory game: remembering where they’ve popped up, their names, how many children are housed within their walls.

The young women spoke of the neglect and abuse they witnessed in some of them. No matter how “good” an orphanage might be, it simply cannot replace the love, attention, and security provided by a safe family environment. “And it doesn’t matter if the kids look OK. It doesn’t mean anything. You know it’s not right,” the younger of the two quietly says. She was a volunteer in one that cared for 50 children at the time. “Most people who live and work in Haiti don’t like the orphanage system. We keep getting them because of Americans who want to help but don’t live in Haiti.”

In the quick mile of road that we covered, they identified nine orphanages. Two of the orphanages housed less than 10 children, six averaged around 40 children. One housed over 200 children. All but one was set up in the months following the 2010 earthquake. There was a significant increase in the number of orphanages across Haiti in the next four years.

The institutionalisation of children is still the go-to response of many Western donors. US funders have a quick and relatively cheap access to Haiti, not to mention an established history of support to orphanages with nearly seven years’ investment since the earthquake. Many local actors and organisations, international NGO staff, and others in the child protection sphere share the same fear: that many new orphanages will crop up post-hurricane.

But it’s not just orphanage donors who do not understand the true impact of their interventions. Humanitarian relief workers have a gap in institutional knowledge when it comes to best practice in emergency response for this particular vulnerable group of children.

Nearly two months on from the hurricane, rain and flooding continue to hamper humanitarian relief efforts in the south of Haiti. Over 806,000 people still need urgent food assistance and 750,000 safe water, and 220,000 boys and girls remain are at risk, requiring immediate protection. But what about the virtually invisible and uncounted children in orphanages? These children cannot line up to receive the food aid at relief agency distribution centers. They cannot take advantage of child-friendly spaces or other humanitarian services.

We must find a way of reaching children in orphanages in an emergency, and bring their situations up to an acceptable standard of care. They have the right to clean water, food, medical attention, education, and safe shelter – like all other children. But therein lies the catch: orphanages cannot just be rehabilitated into perceived best options for vulnerable families. A balance must be struck to care for institutionalised children in the interim, until family tracing and reunification can occur. Simultaneously, families must be strengthened so that they do not see orphanages as the only option for their children.

We know that nine orphanages per mile does not equal a good emergency response. Housing children along an isolated strip of road segregates them from their families and communities, and violates their best interests and their human rights.

Since I visited Haiti last, Lumos, in partnership with the Haitian government and local partners, has documented over 1,400 children in 20 orphanages in the hurricane-affected South. Vulnerable families have been strengthened in efforts to avoid separation, and we are working with the government to ensure that no new children are placed in orphanages.

We are all worried that, without concerted messaging, efforts to raise awareness among donors, relief agencies, and families, the orphanage boom will happen again in Haiti. And though Haiti is susceptible to natural disaster, its families and children shouldn’t have to be. In seven years we cannot find ourselves repeating the same sorry mantra: “and there’s another orphanage, and another, and another. . .”

Jamie Vernaelde is a researcher with Lumos, based in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter: @jmvernaelde

This December, the New Statesman is joining with Lumos to raise money to help institutionalised children in Haiti return to family life. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, funds are needed to help those who have become separated from their families. Please consider pledging your support at

Thanks to Lumos’s 100 per cent pledge, every penny of your donation goes straight to the programme. For more information, see:


Commons confidential: Putting on the Ritz

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Turns out, the young ’uns give even thirsty MPs a bad name.

Smoking is banned in enclosed workplaces including hotel bars and reception rooms but the prohibitions are, in the finest Leona Helmsley tradition, for the little people rather than the Pol Roger Brexit elites. The one-time City speculator Nigel Farage and the gruesome gathering of tycoons untroubled by the costs of an EU exit were, a witness informed me, puffing away on fags at the glitzy anti-establishment establishment bash at the Ritz on the night that a £59bn Brexit bill was presented to the nation.

The backslapping soirée was hosted by the billionaire twins Sirs David and Frederick Barclay, the mock-Gothic-castle-owning habitués of tax havens and proprietors of the five-star Piccadilly boarding house. My snout recalled how Freddie announced ever so grandly: “This is my house and people can smoke if they want to.” I trust that Fred’s hostel is well versed in the smoking ban law.

Jeremy Corbyn’s reincarnated chief whip, Nick “Newcastle” Brown, believes that he is the first Labour bigwig since Arthur Henderson to hold the same party post multiple times in three decades. Brown did the enforcer’s job for Tony Blair in 1997-98, Gordon Brown in 2008-10, Harriet Harman in 2010 and now Jezza in 2016. Uncle Arthur was Labour’s chief whip in 1906-1907, in 1914, in 1920-24 and in 1925-27. Tickled to learn that Henderson was awarded the 1934 Nobel Peace Prize, Newkie Brown was overheard musing: “Perhaps they’ll give it to me if I bring peace to the Parliamentary Labour Party.” Do that, and he’d be invited to run the UN.

The charm of Justin Madders is the shadow health minister’s easygoing nature. Which is probably just as well. The agreeable Ellesmere Port MP and former lawyer received a thank you note and photograph after attending a cancer charity’s event. The picture was of Tories. A high-profile Corbynista could learn from the mild Madders. She asked a paper to use only flattering snaps of her.

I may start an occasional series on jobs that haunt MPs decades after they made it to Westminster, after the shadow cabinet member Teresa Pearce recalled her experiences as a gym receptionist in the days before Lycra was fashionable. “I did it to get free gym use,” explained the Erith MP, “but I also had to clean and monitor the sauna on naked pensioner Tuesdays, so it was not worth the grim sights I had to witness.” Some things once glimpsed can never be unseen.

Westminster staff whisper that empty Tesco wine bottles have been found on the terrace. The finger of suspicion points at drunk and disorderly young researchers, particularly Tories, preloading before piling into the bars. The young ’uns give even thirsty MPs a bad name.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor(politics) of the  Daily Mirror


The best film soundtracks to help you pretend you live in a magical Christmas world

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

It’s December. You no longer have an excuse.

It’s December, which means it’s officially time to crack out the Christmas music. But while Mariah Carey and Slade have their everlasting charms, I find the best way to slip into the seasonal spirit is to use a film score to soundtrack your boring daily activities: sitting at your desk at work, doing some Christmas shopping, getting the tube. So here are the best soundtracks and scores to get you feeling festive this month.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Although this is a children’s film, it’s the most grown-up soundtrack on the list. Think smooth jazz with a Christmas twist, the kind of tunes Ryan Gosling is playing at the fancy restaurant in La La Land, plus the occasional choir of precocious kids. Imagine yourself sat in a cocktail chair. You’re drinking an elaborate cocktail. Perhaps there is a cocktail sausage involved also. Either way, you’re dressed head-to-toe in silk and half-heartedly unwrapping Christmas presents as though you’ve already received every gift under the sun. You are so luxurious you are bored to tears of luxury – until a tiny voice comes along and reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas. This is the kind of life the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack can give you. Take it with both hands.

Elf (2003)

There is a moment in Elf when Buddy pours maple syrup over his spaghetti, washing it all down with a bottle of Coca Cola. “We elves like to stick to the four main food groups,” he explains, “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” This soundtrack is the audio equivalent – sickly sweet, sugary to an almost cloying degree, as it comes peppered with cute little flutes, squeaky elf voices and sleigh bells. The album Elf: Music from the Motion Picture offers a more durable selection of classics used in the movie, including some of the greatest 1950s Christmas songs – from Louis Prima’s 1957 recording of “Pennies from Heaven”, two versions of “Sleigh Ride”, Eddy Arnold’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Eartha Kitt’s 1953 “Santa Baby”. But if a sweet orchestral score is more your thing, the Elf OST of course finishes things off with the track “Spaghetti and Syrup”. Just watch out for the sugar-rush headache.

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

There are some Christmas-specific songs hidden in each of the iconic Harry Potter scores, from “Christmas at Hogwarts” to “The Whomping Willow and The Snowball Fight” to “The Kiss” (“Mistletoe!” “Probably full of knargles”), but all the magical tinkling music from these films has a Christmassy vibe. Specifically concentrate on the first three films, when John Williams was still on board and things were still mostly wonderful and mystical for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Perfect listening for that moment just before the snow starts to fall, and you can pretend you’re as magical as the Hogwarts enchanted ceiling (or Ron, that one time).

Carol (2015)

Perhaps you’re just a little too sophisticated for the commercial terror of Christmas, but, like Cate Blanchett, you still want to feel gorgeously seasonal when buying that perfect wooden train set. Then the subtly festive leanings of the Carol soundtrack is for you. Let your eyes meet a stranger’s across the department store floor, or stare longingly out of the window as your lover buys the perfect Christmas tree from the side of the road. Just do it while listening to this score, which is pleasingly interspersed with songs of longing like “Smoke Rings” and “No Other Love”.

Holiday Inn (1942)

There’s more to this soundtrack than just “White Christmas”, from Bing Crosby singing “Let’s Start The New Year Off Right” to Fred Astaire’s “You’re Easy To Dance With” to the pair’s duet on “I’ll Capture Your Heart”. The score is perfect frosty walk music, too: nostalgic, dreamy, unapologetically merry all at once.

The Tailor of Gloucester (1993)

Okay, I’m being a little self-indulgent here, but bear with me. “The Tailor of Gloucester”, adapted from the Beatrix Potter story, was an episode of the BBC series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends and aired in 1993. A Christmastime story set in Gloucester, the place I was born, was always going to be right up my street, and our tatty VHS came out at least once a year throughout my childhood. But the music from this is something special: songs “The Tailor of Gloucester”, “Songs From Gloucester” and “Silent Falls the Winter Snow” are melancholy and very strange, and feature the singing voices of drunk rats, smug mice and a very bitter cat. It also showcases what is in my view one of the best Christmas carols, “Sussex Carol.” If you’re the kind of person who likes traditional wreaths and period dramas, and plans to watch Victorian Baking at Christmas when it airs this December 25th, this is the soundtrack for you.

Home Alone (1990-1992)

The greatest, the original, the godfather of all Christmas film soundtracks is, of course, John William’s Home Alone score. This is for everyone who likes or even merely tolerates Christmas, no exceptions. It’s simply not Christmas until you’ve listened to “Somewhere in My Memory” 80,000 times whilst staring enviously into the perfect Christmassy homes of strangers or sung “White Christmas” to the mirror. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Go listen to it now—and don't forget Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which is as good as the first.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

“No peace, no pussy”: why Spike Lee's take on Aristophanes succeeds

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Lee's film, in which the women of Chicago decide to go on a sex strike, is often muddled – but never dull.

No one could ever accuse Spike Lee of dodging a fight, but there was a time when he was known for his films as well. Nowadays he gets attention only if he stokes controversy, whether righteous (he was among the celebrities who boycotted the Oscars this year when it overlooked black talent) or irresponsible (he tweeted what he believed wrongly to be the home address of George Zimmerman, the man acquitted of second-degree murder after shooting the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin). But it would be a shame if audiences got the idea that he had lost his flair. Though he received stick from some Chicago residents over the title of Chi-Raq, intended to reflect the high rates of gun crime in that US city, the movie, if often muddled, is rarely dull.

Then again, no film that transposes Aristophanes’s Lysistrata to South Side Chicago has any business being boring. That play depicts women withholding sex from Athenian men in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. (Lee made his name with She’s Gotta Have It but this is more like He Ain’t Gonna Get It.) Chi-Raq isn’t the first mainstream US movie to be based on ancient Greek literature: Walter Hill’s 1979 thriller The Warriors was inspired by Xenophon’s Anabasis, and Lee tips his hat to that film here with a scene in which its best-known line (“Warriors, come out to play-ee-yay”) is paraphrased. He and Kevin Willmott wrote the screenplay in verse. Or, as the nattily dressed narrator Dolmedes (Samuel L Jackson) puts it in one of his addresses to the camera: “In the style of his time/’Stophanes made dat shit rhyme.” This is not as irritating as it sounds, with the possible exception of the line: “It don’t get no gooder/You’re sweeter than granulated sugar.”

The Trojans, whose purple-and-violet gang colours extend to their graffiti and the marbled surfaces in their homes, are at war with the Spartans, who are kitted out in zingy orange. The Spartans’ leader, Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), wears a sequinned orange eyepatch. The women have no room in their fruit bowls for apples.

When a child is killed by a stray bullet, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), the girlfriend of the Trojan gang leader Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), proposes to her Spartan counterparts a sex strike. “No peace, no pussy” is their battle cry. The men respond with “Do your duty, drop the booty”.

One risk is that the larkiness can jar with more sombre scenes in which the parents of real gun-crime victims brandish photographs of their dead children. Yet there is no disputing the potency of the hoarse, booming sermon given by the neighbourhood pastor. It is one of the oddities of Chi-Raq that the strongest rhetoric on the persecution of African Americans (who are passed from “third-rate schools to first-rate prisons”) is delivered in an all-black church by a white actor, John Cusack.

What is doubtful, at first, is whether Lee can remember how a film hangs together. It seems inconceivable that the director who created in Malcolm X one of the most explosive openings in all cinema – real-life footage of the beating of Rodney King intercut with a burning US flag – would consider it wise to begin with a five-minute overture during which hip-hop lyrics unspool on an empty screen, followed by a summary of statistics about the death toll in Chicago. The film takes some time to recover from this assault on its momentum.

That it does is thanks in no small part to Parris, whose magnetism would be evident even without her many close-ups or the satisfying tracking shot in which her high heels clip-clop perfectly in sync with the beat on the soundtrack. Lee’s films have not always been friendly to women (Jungle Fever and even She’s Gotta Have It contained problematic moments), so it is encouraging to see the sisters afforded some agency here, even if they are denied the chance to announce their strike to the men. The bawdy, revue-style humour is only fitfully funny, but it is amusing to see city officials trying to weaken the women’s resolve by blasting out sultry soul music, much as delicious roast chicken is placed outside the prison cells of hunger strikers.

Breaks-it: The unstoppable rise of free-range eggs in Britain

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  The unstoppable rise of free-range eggs Print Headline:  Breggs-it Print Fly Title:  Batteries not included UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Breaks-it Main image:  20161203_BRP508.jpg IN THE past decade British chickens have laid about 100bn eggs, with most of them coming from caged hens. A change of EU regulations in 2012 banned the smallest battery cages, but chicken-lovers say this is not enough. Footage secretly obtained by Animal Aid, a campaign group, in Lincolnshire in 2013 showed caged chickens barely able to move. Now consumers’ changing tastes may do more than Eurocrats ever could. The latest edition of the government’s quarterly egg statistics suggests that in the third quarter farms produced about as many free-range eggs as caged-hen ones ...

Changing how business is run: A soft green paper

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  The prime minister’s plans to rein in business look increasingly soggy Print Headline:  A flagship policy takes on water Print Fly Title:  Reforming corporate governance UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Changing how business is run THE “vision thing” can be tricky indeed. Helpful to get elected, it can come back to haunt you afterwards. When Theresa May was running to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party in June she declared that her “mission” was to “make this a country that works for everyone”, not just for the privileged few. It was enough to swat her rivals. It may also have helped her into a near-record lead (according to one recent poll) over the opposition Labour Party, normally the more egalitarian of the two. But actually fulfilling her mission has proved harder, especially when it comes to her ...

End of the affair: Turkey’s effort to join the EU is on life support

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  Turkey’s decades-long romance with the EU is fading fast Print Headline:  End of the affair Print Fly Title:  Turkey and Europe UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  End of the affair Location:  ISTANBUL Main image:  20161203_EUP503.jpg JUST before the Gulf war in 1990 (which he backed despite popular opposition), Turgut Ozal, then president of Turkey, squeezed into an army tank, posed for the cameras and proclaimed: “I am taking the shortcut to the European Community.” A quarter-century later Turkey’s dream of joining the European Union is all but dead. Denouncing the purges that followed July’s brutal coup attempt, on November 24th the European Parliament called on EU leaders to freeze ...

Politics this week

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Headline:  Politics this week UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Main image:  20161203_WWP003_290.jpg Fidel Castro, who led a revolution in Cuba and ruled as a communist dictator for 47 years, died at the age of 90. He was an unyielding antagonist of the United States, which tried many times to assassinate him. In 1962 Mr Castro helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear war by inviting the Soviet Union to station missiles in Cuba. His brother, Raúl, formally replaced him as president in 2008, but he was the symbolic leader of the Latin American far left until his death. See article.  Colombia’s congress ratified a revised peace agreement with the FARC, an insurgent group with which the government has been at war for 52 years. Legislators opposed to the deal walked out before the vote. Colombians rejected the original agreement in a plebiscite in October. To avoid a second vote, President Juan Manuel Santos submitted the new deal to congress for ratification. A plane ...

Business this week

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Headline:  Business this week UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy After months of haggling OPEC members agreed to the first cut in oil production in eight years. Non-OPEC members are expected to chip in with a cut of their own. Iran, which had been reluctant to reduce output so soon after returning to international markets, agreed to a token increase. The deal will reduce global production by almost 2%. Oil prices jumped in response. See article.  Property bubbling The Case-Shiller national index of home prices in America rose to a new peak in September, climbing 0.1% above the previous peak reached in July 2006, before the bust in the housing market (adjusted for inflation, the index is still 16% below that mark). The index increased by 5.5% in the 12 months to September, helped by buoyant markets in Dallas, Denver, Portland and Seattle. But house prices in cities in the forefront of the previous boom, such as Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix, remain well below their all-time highs. The OECD gave the thumbs up to Donald Trump’s plan to boost ...

Charlemagne: France’s election shows Europe’s line against Russia is fraying

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  François Fillon is a harbinger of Europe’s ebbing will to resist Russia Print Headline:  Bear cave Print Fly Title:  Charlemagne UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Charlemagne Main image:  20161203_EUD000_0.jpg VLADIMIR PUTIN must wonder what he did right. From the refugee crisis to Brexit, Europe’s troubles have allowed the Russian president to portray himself as a bulwark of stability in a region of chaos. America’s election brought an apparent Kremlin sympathiser to the White House. And now France is on the same track. François Fillon’s victory over Alain Juppé in the presidential primary of the centre-right Republican Party leaves an avowed friend of Mr Putin as the favourite to occupy the Élysée after next spring’s election. (Mr Fillon’s most serious ...

Trade with the European Union post-Brexit: There is a case for staying in the customs union

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  It may make sense to stay in a customs union with the EU, at least for a while Print Headline:  Customs of the country Print Fly Title:  Trade with the European Union UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Trade with the European Union post-Brexit Main image:  Whose rules, what origin? Whose rules, what origin? ARGUMENTS rage over whether post-Brexit Britain should try to stay in the EU’s single market, perhaps by joining Norway in the European Economic Area (EEA). This week a report for Open Britain, a pro-EU lobby group, by the Centre for Economics and Business Research gave warning of the high costs of leaving the single market. Theresa May is keen not to rule anything out. But the prime minister also knows that EEA members have to accept free movement of ...

A costly distraction: A bad time to be cutting Britain’s corporate-tax rate

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  Cutting the corporation-tax rate to 17% makes for bad politics and an uncertain economic return Print Headline:  A costly distraction Print Fly Title:  Cutting corporation tax UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  A costly distraction PHILIP HAMMOND, the chancellor, made a few tweaks in his Autumn Statement on November 23rd but otherwise stuck to the fiscal policy set by his predecessor, George Osborne. A central plank of this stance is to keep cutting corporation tax, which is levied on company profits. The government hopes that will persuade businesses to invest in Britain. It might, but on political grounds it still looks unwise. As firms have become more mobile, governments have had to work harder to keep them. The corporate-tax rate has tumbled across the OECD group of rich countries in recent years (see chart). Britain has ...

Bagehot: Keir Starmer, a Lilliputian against a giant

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  Labour’s forensic spokesman cannot tame the forces Brexit has unleashed Print Headline:  Keir Starmer, noble Lilliputian Print Fly Title:  Bagehot UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Bagehot Main image:  20161203_BRD000_0.jpg SIR KEIR STARMER draws a horizontal line. He labels its left end the World Trade Organisation and its right end the European Union’s single market. “We want to be as close to that as possible,” he says, circling the second. “Trade and services without impediment, common regulation.” Immediately to the left of the circle he draws a box with swift, straight strokes. “That’s where we want to be,” he says. But what does it mean? Three horizontal lines shoot across the page. He labels the top one “peace and security”, the next “jobs and growth” ...

Mad as hell: A perfectly timed book on populism

By from European Union. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Print section Print Rubric:  Politicians and pundits had better start understanding populism. It is not a passing trend Print Headline:  They want their countries back Print Fly Title:  Political trends UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Mad as hell Main image:  20161203_BKP001_0.jpg The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics. By John Judis. Columbia Global Reports; 182 pages; $12.99 and £8.99. POPULISM has already upended the politics of the West. Americans have elected a president who has described NATO as “obsolete” and accused China of ripping off their country. Europe’s second-largest economy, Britain, is preparing to leave the European Union (EU). But the populist revolution still has a long way to go. The far-right Sweden Democrats ...

Sudan, a rump state run by an alleged war criminal

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

DR MUNA ABDU, an ophthalmologist, is worried. “I am afraid of leaving my country for a long time,” she says, her back to the Blue Nile, dark but for the lights of a few riverside restaurants as it flows towards its embrace with the White Nile in Khartoum. But she still plans to move to Saudi Arabia, where she will earn $6,000 a month—a sum that would take her three years to make in Sudan.

On some measures Sudan’s economy is recovering, after the southern part of the country broke away to form South Sudan in 2011, taking with it 75% of the old nation’s oil revenues. GDP has grown at around 3% a year since 2013. Inflation is in double digits, but well below its level in 2012-14, when it averaged almost 40%. However, on the black market the Sudanese pound trades at only a third of its official value against the dollar. There are just $800m of foreign exchange reserves left in the central bank, according to the IMF—enough to cover only a month of imports.

Businessmen are quick to blame American sanctions. These have been in place since 1997 (Khartoum harboured terrorists including Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s) and were extended in 2007 because of the...Continue reading

Binyamin Netanyahu is in a commanding position

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

THESE should be the best of times for Binyamin Netanyahu. At no point in the Israeli prime minister’s almost 11 years in office has he enjoyed such supremacy at home, coupled with an absence of any serious difficulties or pressure from abroad. In the past few months he has expanded his coalition’s majority from only one to six; tamed his most ferocious critic, Avigdor Lieberman, by giving him responsibility for the defence ministry; and purged his own Likud party of several rivals. The Knesset (parliament) is about to pass a two-year budget which should ensure political stability until 2019. The economy is growing at a sprightly 3.2% a year. 

The opposition is in tatters. The main opposition grouping is the Zionist Union; its hapless leader, Yitzhak Herzog, has seen his credibility with his colleagues, and according to the polls with many of his voters, seep away towards Yair Lapid’s small Yesh Atid party.

These are sunny days, too, for Israel’s foreign relations. Boosted by trade in technology and arms, ties with African and Asian nations are flourishing. Mr Netanyahu has met Russia’s president Vladimir Putin four times in the...Continue reading

Assad’s forces advance into eastern Aleppo

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

WHEN Russia dispatched its warplanes to prop up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, Barack Obama warned Moscow that its Syrian adventure was doomed to fail. Russia will get “stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work”, Mr Obama confidently predicted in October 2015. Russia’s air force has since proven the American president profoundly wrong.

On November 28th pro-government forces backed by Russian bombers finally punched through rebel lines in the east of Aleppo. The breakthrough came two weeks after pro-regime forces launched an operation to recapture the rebels’ last big urban stronghold. With the regime now in control of at least a third of the city’s east, the fall of Aleppo looks almost certain.

For months the regime has sought to strangle the city’s rebel-held east into submission. A siege has slowly sapped the strength and morale of its defenders. As the blockade tightened, Russian and Syrian warplanes relentlessly bombed civilian infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools and bakeries in a bid to drain support for opposition fighters by making life unbearable for the east’s 250,000 or so remaining civilians. These tactics, which have forced...Continue reading

A report shows HIV in retreat in many African countries

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

FOOTPRINTS painted in bright colours on the floor pass through the bustle of the Themba Lethu clinic in Johannesburg. They lead to a room where every week dozens of men are circumcised. Heterosexual men who get the snip cut their chances of contracting HIV by more than half, since the foreskin is delicate and tears easily. In South Africa, the country that has the world’s largest number of HIV-infected people, such initiatives can save a lot of lives.

Even more important has been a huge expansion in the number of infected people receiving antiretroviral drugs. These not only keep people alive but also suppress the virus, making its carriers less contagious. In September South Africa became one of the first African states to adopt a “test and treat” protocol whereby anyone infected with the virus can get the drugs immediately, instead of waiting until the immunological symptoms of full-blown AIDS appear. By this time the patient may have infected other people.

Some researchers predict that several African countries will soon achieve “epidemic control”, meaning that fewer people are newly infected each year than die of the disease. New data from the American...Continue reading

Kuwait fails to keep up with its neighbours

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Trouble in the family business

KUWAITIS often compare their country with the other states of the Gulf, leading to something of an inferiority complex. Yes, it has the second highest GDP per person in the region (and the fourth-highest in the world), thanks to its large oil reserves and small population. But it has fallen behind countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in terms of dynamism and international appeal. Nowadays even Saudi Arabia looks more freewheeling, economically speaking.

Still, Kuwait distinguishes itself in one respect. It is the closest thing to a democracy in the Gulf. The ruling Al Sabah family is firmly in charge—it limits speech and appoints the most important figures in government, including the prime minister (who selects the rest). But a 50-member National Assembly is elected by the people (including women) and is often truculent. Indeed, in an election on November 26th voters kicked out over half the incumbents in favour of candidates who promised to confront the government over recent austerity measures.

The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, cited “security...Continue reading

Young queer people must stop ignoring the older generation’s fight against AIDS stigma

By Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

In our quest for conservatism, we’ve forgotten the bold activism that gave us the rights we have today – now we need it more than ever.

For those of us who are too young to remember the “plague years” of HIV/AIDS, it’s difficult to appreciate just how recent they are or how bad they were.

In an age of rapidly-expanding rights for (at least some) LGBTQ people, it’s perhaps understandable that the days when queers were openly despised and left to die feel like ancient history.

But earlier this week, in a debate about HIV awareness, a member of the Northern Irish Assembly admitted that, until a charity worker explained the facts to him, he didn’t know that HIV “also affects heterosexual people”.

Shortly before this, one of his DUP colleagues told a constituent that he wouldn’t wear a red ribbon for World AIDS Day because other diseases should be prioritised, diseases that “afflict far more people that are not always as a result of lifestyle choices”.

And this year, AIDS charities had to fight a legal battle to force the NHS to fund pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a highly effective preventative treatment for individuals at high risk of contracting HIV.

All these incidents emphasise that, while a generation of young, queer people might want to put the panic and prejudice of the AIDS epidemic behind them, the events of those years continue to poison public discourse, and endanger queer health.

To lots of people, AIDS remains a gay disease, which gay men contract because of their “lifestyle choices”. The logical next step is that neither the NHS nor the hard-pressed taxpayer should be obliged to fund treatment for a minority of people who have only themselves to blame. Of course, this stigma is compounded by the fact that the disease also disproportionately affects other marginalised groups – sex workers, drug users and immigrants, particularly black Africans.

This public indifference, and the continuing racist and homophobic stigma, is why infection rates are static at about 6,000 a year – despite medical and political advances. It’s why people still refuse testing because they can’t deal with the prospect of a positive result. It’s why two in five people don’t get a diagnosis until after treatment should have begun.

And the stigma goes both ways. Those living with HIV/AIDS are stigmatised because the disease is associated with queerness, but we must also recognise that modern homophobia is inextricably linked with AIDS, and the gay panic of the Eighties and Nineties.

No one seems to talk about that anymore. In major campaigns for marriage equality, HIV/AIDS is not up for discussion; it doesn’t chime with the sexless, happy-go-lucky, love-is-love narrative that defined the marriage equality movement.

But by embracing that extraordinarily conservative narrative, young queer people not only undermined the identity and wellbeing of their own generation. They also severed ties with the generation that bore the brunt of AIDS, erasing the countless thousands who died, and abandoning those who are still living and traumatised by what they saw in those years.

We forget that all we have achieved – marriage, non-discrimination laws, relative physical safety – is built on that generation of activists who, even as they were dying, demanded better from government and from society.

As AIDS historian Sarah Schulman puts it, the two generations are “separated by the gulf of action fuelled by suffering on one hand, and the threat of pacifying assimilation on the other”. While many people see the normalisation of LGBTQ relationships as the ultimate marker of progress, Schulman points out that “the young [have] the choice to live quietly because of the bold fury of the old”.

As young queer people, this is our inheritance, for better and worse. Now, as Donald Trump appoints his breathtakingly homophobic leadership team, we’re suddenly scrambling to dust off the AIDS generation’s modes of radical resistance, the ones we hoped weren’t necessary anymore.

World AIDS Day offers a chance to reflect on the fact that queerphobia – alongside racism, misogyny, ableism – never went away. The western AIDS epidemic may have ended, but the stigma survived, the myths survived, the distrust and judgement survived.

Like any other group, we ignore our history at our peril.


Is the World Service about to become more powerful than ever?

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

With a £289m investment and 11 new language services, the BBC's planned expansion reminds us why the World Service matters.

Is the World Service poised to become more powerful than it has ever been? The announcements this past fortnight of the bold expansion of its foreign and English-language services sounded – at a time when sackings and cuts are straining all floors of the BBC – near-fantastical. More political analysis, more science, more arts, 11 new language services (bringing the station’s total to 40), including Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Yoruba and Korean, all suggesting an unstinting and auspicious belief in the communitarian power of radio, of listening.

That the new Foreign Office investment in the station of £289m (largely from overseas development budgets) is wise is bloody obvious; which is not to say that it was a given. What other broadcaster, what other defining national brand, could reasonably aim to reach half a billion people weekly by 2022? Coming at the end of this dire year, the plans sound like a direct response to world events. When I put this to the controller of World Service English, Mary Hockaday, she reminds me: “We’ve been hoping for this for a couple of years now – but, yes, every month that goes by just strengthens the argument. The essential decision that there would be government investment came pre-Brexit and Trump, but off the back of the Arab uprisings, the changing nature of global superpowers, China, Russia – a lot of really important disruptive things going on.”

Hockaday (who started her career as a trainee on the World Service, and was a correspondent in Prague) is petite and urgent in person, laughing a lot, especially when she remembers radio as a child. Her parents had one going in every room of the house (mine still do), lest you should find yourself in some dread inch of corridor where you couldn’t hear the reasoned human voice.

It seems to me that at a time when television is in full flux – either constantly flicked around or ravenously binge-watched – radio exists now in a unique area: stations can develop a real tone. The charismatic Hockaday is clearly enjoying “thinking about growing everything” and freely (and unusually) uses words such as “delight” and “willingness” and “spirit”. I’ve met many controllers, but none so euphoric. 


Russian Revolution given social network treatment

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Internet project gives daily updates from major figures in a Facebook-style format.

Why did the BBC make a new drama about serial killer John Christie?

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

I try to imagine the meeting where they decided to commission the series. “Hey, what about if we bring the guy to a whole new generation?”

When the BBC, in its rapidly diminishing wisdom, decided to commission a new drama about John Reginald Christie (Tuesdays, 9pm), one of the most hateful serial killers who ever lived, what went through its mind, I wonder? Try as I might to imagine the meeting – “Hey, what about if we bring the guy to a whole new generation?” – I keep drawing a blank.

Christie’s case is certainly historically important. That an innocent man, Timothy Evans, was hanged for two of the murders committed by Christie played a part in the abolition of the death penalty 15 years after Evans’s state-sanctioned killing in 1950 (and 12 after Albert Pierrepoint put the rope around the real culprit’s neck). Nevertheless, it seems to me that Richard Fleischer’s 1971 film, 10 Rillington Place, starring Richard Attenborough as Christie and John Hurt as Evans, is unlikely ever to be improved on. What is the point of revisiting a story that a lot of people already know inside out, if all you’re able to do is tell it less well?

The reason Fleischer’s film seems to get better and better down the years isn’t to do with the quality of its direction, nor even the performances by its actors, astonishing as they are. When it was made, Christie’s sooty, rooming-house Ladbroke Grove was still close enough to touch, a proximity that contributes hugely to the film’s extraordinary atmosphere. Beside it, the BBC’s three-part series Rillington Place, shot in a run-down corner of Glasgow, has the feeling of a facsimile. The harder its production designers work on making everything look bruised and peeling, the stagier it seems.

Is it more delicate than Fleischer’s film when it comes to the nature of Christie’s crimes? Yes, much more – though I’m not quite sure why the drama’s writers (Tracey Malone and Ed Whitmore) and director (Craig Viveiros) should have come over all politely 21st century about his fetish for having sex with dead women, when it was the BBC that brought us the festival of misogyny that was The Fall. However, this doesn’t absolve it of the accusation of prurience altogether. “Next time!” boomed the trailer at the end of part one, a queasy-making pitch that suggests it is every bit as concerned with building suspense as it is with pursuing its producers’ somewhat woollier stated aim of trying to “understand” how Christie got away with his crimes.

Its virtues lie entirely in its central performances, which, so far, are pretty good (though we haven’t yet seen much of Evans, played by Nico Mirallegro). Tim Roth is a wholly convincing Christie, a certain owlish beneficence concealing the putrid nastiness within, at least at first. The whisper – Christie’s voice was damaged by gas in the First World War – is exactly right. You lean in to hear him, just as you imagine his victims might have done, mistaking the soft tone for kindliness.

But it is perhaps the part of Ethel Christie, the long-suffering wife whom he will shortly strangle and bury beneath the floorboards, that is the more challenging role. How to explain why she stayed with him for so long, enduring so many provocations, suspicion simmering away inside her all the while? (She and Christie married in 1920; the bodies of Evans’s wife, Beryl, and his baby daughter, Geraldine, were found in an outdoor wash-house at 10 Rillington Place in 1949; Ethel was murdered in 1952.)

Samantha Morton plays her with sympathy and understanding. Ethel, we grasp, is one of Christie’s innocent victims, but she is also a creation of her age. She is loyal and dutiful to a fault, desperate to be loved or, at any rate, to remain married. There is a terrible willingness in her.

“I couldn’t care for Reg any more than I do,” she tells her doctor. “I just couldn’t.” Unlike some of her husband’s more knowing lines – “I’ve been hopeless without you. I’ve got myself into all sorts of bother,” he tells her, when she comes back to him after a stay with her brother – it’s a statement that comes with no irony. In Ethel’s world, doubt is a thing to be dealt with as briskly as possible, like washing pegged out on a line. In this sense, she will walk to her own execution, postwar orthodoxies having long since sealed her fate. 


Why is John McDonnell promising so much for the affluent and the old?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The shadow chancellor's promises make electoral sense, but mean a lot of pain for the young and the poor. 

If Labour wants to get back into power any decade soon, it’s going to have to take a bite out of the grey vote. The Conservatives’ electoral hegemony has two poles: dual-earner couples earning above average incomes, and the over-65s.

Despite all the talk about how Theresa May planned to focus on the “just about managing”, it was David Cameron’s coalition that were the big winners from the Autumn Statement last month, or at least half of it. For dual-earner couples, there was another increase in the income tax threshold, and the promise of more to come, as well as a hike in in the point when the 40 per cent rate takes effect, from 40p on every pound earned above £42,000 to 40p on every pound earned above £45,000.

But there may be trouble ahead for the other pillar of the Conservative coalition: the old. In 2010, the coalition introduced the triple lock – where the state pension is increased every year by whichever is highest: inflation, the increase in average earnings, or 2.5 per cent. At the 2015 election, Cameron pledged to keep it in place until at least 2020. Now Hammond says that it may have to be scrapped at the next election.

The response from John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor? To back the hike in the 40p rate and to pledge that Labour will maintain the triple lock until 2025. He’s thrown in a swathe of guarantees to pensioners as well: TV licenses, the winter fuel payment and free bus passes will replace in place and without means-testing until 2025 at the earliest.

The politics of this are fraught. Although politicians often like to throw around the phrase “hard choices” like confetti, the choices for Labour on this really are hard. If the party can’t win back some of the over-65s – Labour lost this group by 24 points in 2015, as opposed to a mere six points in 2005 – it will never win an election again. But as one senior supporter of Liz Kendall observed to me recently, the state “already spends too much on the old and not enough on the young”.

Labour faces a Catch-22: if it promises to redistribute from the affluent elderly to the straitened young, it will never win power to redistribute from the old to the young. If it promises not to redistribute from the old to the young, it may win, but it won’t redistribute.

With the 40p rate – which, as I’ve written before, benefits only the comfortably-off – again, Labour is going to have to make inroads into this group to win again.  The politics of any income tax rise are dangerous for Labour. At every contest since 1979, with the exception of 2010, Labour has either promised not to hike income taxes and won, or promised to raise them, and lost. (In 2010, the party had broken its 2005 promise and increased taxes, but pledged not to do it again.) And although the pledge to increase taxes was not the only thing that went wrong for Scottish Labour in 2016, it is striking that an explicitly leftwing offer not only from the national leadership but from the Scottish party as well met with heavy defeat.

In the New Labour years, fiscal drag papered over the cracks. (Essentially, people got richer, and paid more tax without Labour having to go into an election promising to raise them.) The Conservative threshold raise, as well as giving more and more money to the rich, will further reduce the amount of money flowing to the state, leaving Labour with the tricky question: go into an election promising a tax rise, or severely limit the horizon of what it can do in office.

So the politics of both backing the 40p rate change and handing out goodies even to affluent pensioners make sense. But when you add that to the party’s commitment to McDonnell’s fiscal rule – maintaining a day-to-day surplus while having more wriggle room to borrow to invest – it means that for Labour to keep its promises, it will have to enact further, heavy cuts to social security for working-age people.

And again, the electoral case for this is strong. Labour won’t win if it’s not trusted to run the economy, and crucially not to “overspend”, as voters believe it did in its last stint in government.

The problem, I suspect, is that this won’t work for McDonnell with swing voters for the same reason that party activists aren’t kicking off: neither group really believes that the shadow chancellor intends to keep these promises. But if it doesn’t, the problem for his successor remains the same as  his: how to win office without sacrificing power. 

Photo: Getty

How podcasts are reinventing music journalism

By Caroline Crampton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Let’s talk about songs, with the people who sing them.

I was in my teens when DVDs overtook VHS. As an avid recorder of live TV onto tapes – I loved those codes you could type in to schedule recordings and was an expert at pressing the red button at exactly the right moment – I was sceptical about this new technology. Until I experienced my first DVD extra, that is: the behind-the-scenes documentary for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I still remember the mixture of shock and pleasure I felt at seeing footage that revealed not just Middle Earth, but the crew who had brought it to the screen. Catching a glimpse of the thousands of seemingly mundane tasks that had gone into creating the final polished footage deepened my enjoyment of the final film.

In the past few years, a group of music podcasts has appeared that are seeking to give listeners this same access to the minutiae of creative decisions. They vary in approach, but have one thing in common: they are broadening and changing the scope of music journalism. Whereas critics working for print publications or established TV or radio networks can find themselves constrained by the available space or the requirement to get a rock star to give a headline-grabbing quote about politics, these podcasters are free to put as much emphasis as they like on the details of a single song.

Perhaps the best-known example of this is Song Exploder, a music podcast created and presented by Hrishikesh Hirway. It is a member of the US-based network Radiotopia, which often presents itself as a collection of “storytelling” shows. Hirway’s format, in which he interviews a musician about a single song and invites them to “explode” it – ie, take it apart layer by layer so listeners can hear how it was constructed – perhaps doesn’t initially sound like it would produce a strong narrative. You quickly realise the depths that this podcast is capable of exploring, though. In Hirway’s episode about U2’s “Cedarwood Road”, for instance, Bono explained that the song’s lyrics reflect his anger about his childhood. And in the one about Death Cab for Cutie’s “El Dorado”, Ben Gibbard reflected on the fact that the writing the song was part of how he processed his feelings about getting divorced. The stories are there in the way the music is made.

The audio techniques that Hirway uses to complement his discussion with each artist are the true star of the show. As the interviewee talks through the decisions they made about instrumentation, lyrics, production and the rest, isolated elements of the song are played – just the backing vocals, say, or the bass line. Hirway explained to me over email that this blending of words and music was integral to his original vision for the podcast.

“In my own experience making music, I had built a lot of my songs track by track, rather than with a live band recording all at once,” he said.  “It's a special kind of listening experience, where you can hear all kinds of new details and beautiful moments that ultimately get flattened or washed out in the fully-mixed version of the song. I thought that more people should get to hear songs that way. I thought others might feel the same sense of magic that I did.”

Even though Song Exploder episodes are very short – frequently under 15 minutes – there is a sense of space and wonder that the format produces. Hearing the ethereally isolated vocal track from your favourite song, or the wobble of a synthesiser that you learn has been recorded directly into a cassette player, can stop you in tracks. On top of that, Hirway works hard at giving his interviews a sense of intimacy. As far as possible, he edits his own voice asking the questions out of the episodes, so that nothing can get between the artist and the listener. He does this, Hirway said, because he wants the show “to feel like the opposite of criticism”.

“The show isn't about me,” he said. “It's about the sounds of the song and the artist's creative process. . . Instead of having someone external to the music give their opinion and interpretation, Song Exploder is only supposed to be about the intent of the author. Keeping myself in the interviews takes away from that, because it makes the audience aware of an intermediary between the music and them.”

A skilful interview with a songwriter can completely change how you hear the most familiar of songs, as the Sodajerker on Songwriting podcast frequently demonstrates. “Sodajerker” is the name of Liverpudlian songwriting duo Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, and since 2011 they have been recording in-depth interviews with songwriters, with the aim of revealing the craft behind the music. Their guests have included Paul Simon, Alicia Keys, Joan Armatrading and Rufus Wainwright, and they are just coming up to their hundredth episode.

Unlike Song Exploder, their show doesn’t have such a strictly-defined format. At the beginning and end of each episode, Simon and Brian introduce their guest and then at the end they reflect on what they have learned from the conversation. It’s what happens in between that makes the show special – as songwriters themselves, the interviewers know how to focus in on the details of the process that the listener would never otherwise be aware of. They are particularly good at developing a good rapport with their guests, and shape their show around these easy, free-flowing discussions, interspersing them with clips from the guest’s songs. The latter are used to illustrate a particular musical moment that has come up in the conversation, and also to provide an audio breaker. Barber told me that they try and keep their show under an hour – musical extracts are useful punctuation in among all the talking.

One of my favourite questions that the Sodajerker duo often ask their interviewees refers to exactly how a song is written: are melodies sung straight into a phone, or lyrics typed on a laptop, or notes scrawled on bits of paper? It’s such an obvious-seeming inquiry, yet it never fails to illicit a fascinating response, as the songwriter in question responds with an anecdote about how a new tune lived in their phone’s voice memos for months, say, before it got to the studio.

The chemistry between the hosts helps, too. Barber told me over email that he and O’Connor had been “friends since our school days and [are] working together regularly, so we already had the rapport of best friends”. However, when it comes to recording, they try to stay in the background and allow their guest to take centre stage. “We never make the episodes about us. We shut up and listen,” Barber said.

“We are very deliberately focused on the work and the songwriting process, as opposed to tales of the road or the trappings of fame. Many of our guests have said that they find that refreshing,” he said. Their list of guests is impressive, especially given that theirs is an independent podcast, and Barber explained that a lot of work goes into securing the interviews, and then preparing for them.

“Some people we’ve pursued like bounty hunters across a course of years and either eventually landed a chat with them, or accepted that it’s unlikely to happen,” he said “Others we’ve approached and had a personal reply within minutes agreeing to our invitation. It really depends on how the artist operates. . . These days we receive a constant influx of pitches from managers and other reps, so we are often spoiled for choice and have to say no to loads of talented folks. Being offered the interview with Paul Simon is our crowning achievement in that regard,” he explained. Paul McCartney would be their dream guest, he told me – “the holy grail”. With their Liverpool connection (although they sometimes have to travel for interviews, most of the show is produced there), listeners can only hope their quest for the Beatles legend will be successful.

Both Hirway and Barber agree on the fact that podcasting as a medium lends itself particularly to this style of music journalism, which prioritises exploring the creative decisions behind the songs over revealing aspects of the musician’s personality. “It’s an easier connection than text or video; both [podcasts and music are] natively made to be listened to, and only listened to,” Hirway said. “So, to illustrate a musical idea – a potentially abstract and difficult task – all you have to do is put the words and the music together.”

Barber added that he sees an accessibility benefit too – “because of the very low barriers to access the recording and distribution of audio these days, podcasting affords anyone with a passion or a point of view an opportunity to share their ideas with the world”. This works both ways, too. The explanatory style of these shows means that the listener doesn’t necessarily need any prior knowledge of the music being discussed to find the conversations interesting or illuminating.

For me, Meet the Composer, a podcast from New York’s classical music radio station WQXR, epitomises this. Host Nadio Sirota’s interviews have a lot in common with those done by Hirway or the Sodajerker duo, but her guests are all contemporary classical composers. From her show, I’ve been introduced to the work of people like Anna Thorvaldsdóttir and Donnacha Dennehy, and as I’ve become immersed in the detailed discussions and extensive clips, I've felt all the usual barriers to finding and appreciating new classical music fall away.

It turns out that musicians really like to talk about the work that goes into their music, and podcasts provide them with the perfect place to do so. It has long been the case that niche subjects with dedicated audiences have found a natural home in podcasts, but now it seems that the medium can also provide an alternative for areas that are well covered by traditional media, too.

Do you have ideas for podcasts I should listen to or people I should interview? Email me or talk to me on Twitter. For the next instalment of the New Statesman’s podcast column, visit next Thursday. You can read the introduction to the column here

Keystone/Getty Images

Eurozone unemployment rate back below 10%

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Sharp disparity remains between bloc’s most prosperous and poorest members

Gareth Southgate — the genial dweeb who is England's best hope

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The new manager's blend of stability, strength and calm could be just what the England team needs.

Roughly, there are three aspects to football management: recognising talent, deploying talent and maximising talent. No one has the slightest clue whether or not Gareth Southgate can do any of them, and yet he is now the manager of the England football team, not just the choice but the only choice.

To significant extent, this simply reflects the changed state of the game; the explosion of the Premier League and Champions League means that international football is no longer the pinnacle. Saturation coverage has created cultural staples and financial imperatives, such that the finest players gather at the richest clubs to guarantee the highest standard. The last classic World Cup was 1998; the last classic Champions League was the last one.

Of course there is still something special about tournament football, but it no longer compensates for the lack of daily engagement and the buzz of regular competition. At this summer’s European Championships, the only manager of serious standing was Italy’s Antonio Conte, and no one expects that he will return to the international game anytime soon.

Unlike Southgate, Conte was appointed after excelling at club level, most particularly with Juventus, winning three consecutive league titles — the question was whether he would take the job, not whether he had earned it. But when he chose to move on, there was no candidate of similar status and in June the federation simply appointed Giampiero Ventura, the best available Italian.

It is true that Southgate’s installation reflects a drop in standards; the FA once felt confident enough to reject Brian Clough, twice a European Champion, while Bobby Robson won a European trophy with Ipswich Town and Terry Venables was admired throughout the world. Southgate, on the other hand, took Middlesbrough down to the Championship before being appointed manager of England under-21s, his muddled tactics and selection helping them to bottom place in their group at the 2015 European Championships.

As a personality, Southgate is not obviously inspirational, a genial dweeb with a barely believable smile, prone to middle-management cliche; less manager, more assistant to the regional manager. But, on the other hand, he is not full of vacuous machismo and swaggering entitlement, which, amazingly, means he is not lacking substance and is capable of learning. He was appointed captain of Crystal Palace at the age of 23, and last summer guided England to victory at the Toulon tournament; he might look and sound soft, but he is not.

In the club game, his lack of elite-level experience might count against him, but at international level, it is harder to foresee. Most obviously, there is less scope for it to grate, but beyond that, he has played in the semi-final of a major tournament, and under England’s best manager of the modern era — Venables. Nor will he be competing against greats of the game; Jogi Löw and Fernando Santos are reigning World and European champion; Otto Rehhagel won a trophy with Greece; and even Raymond Domenech reached a final with France.

This is possible because success comes down to very few games played over a very short period of time. The team or individuals within it can override anything the manager does or doesn’t do, and in a truncated format specific moments are regularly decisive.

Accordingly, the job of an international manager is not to improve players – there isn’t time – nor is it to motivate them for the daily grind – there isn’t one. Rather, the skill is to identify the best players and combinations, devise a system to get the best from them, and adapt things for particular circumstances. But that is general, with England, comes a specific, too: Southgate will need to build an environment and mentality that enables his team to play with freedom when the pressure comes.  

There is no reason to think him incapable of this; rather, to the contrary. He has some good, young players, and the security of knowing that because things can’t get any worse, he has time. Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City were no one’s idea of a championship-winning combination, yet that is what happened. Different jobs demand different skills, and it might just be that stability, strength and calm are precisely what England needs.

Over the course of the last generation, everything that has been tried has failed. The only unexplored option is the promotion from within of someone younger, fresher and relatively untainted. Sure, it still might not work, but consider how nice it would be if it did. In the context, it’s worth a try.


Daniel Harris is a writer and can be found on Twitter @DanielHarris


Five Star eyes Renzi scalp in Italy referendum

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Political upstart enters crucial stage of campaign to sway vote on reform

Britain’s EU patent opt-in

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Decision offers a cheaper and easier way to protect intellectual property

Tony Blair unveils not-for-profit institute: "It's what I would have wanted"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The former Labour PM revealed his plans for a centrist platform to The New Statesman last week.

Tony Blair has announced he is bringing together his three research organisations into a single not-for-profit institute - and adding a fourth dedicated to the political "centre ground".

The former Labour Prime Minister revealed his plans for the new policy platform in an interview with The New Statesman in November.

In an announcement on his website, Blair repeated that he does not wish to return to frontline politics.

He said: "This is not a think tank. There are enough of those, many doing excellent work we would want to utilise. It is a platform for engagement to inform and support the practising politician.

"It is what I know I would want were I still in the frontline of politics."

The new institute will bring together the Initiative for the Middle East, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Africa Governance Initiative under one umbrella organisation.

The fourth "pillar" will be a platform designed to enable "a reasonable an evidence-based discussion of the future". 

The commercial side of the organisations has been shut down and its assets gifted to the new institute.

Blair, a Europhile in office, said it would focus on the "European debate" but not exclusively: "The Europe debate is a lightning rod for the whole of politics."

He said: "This is not about my returning to the frontline of politics. I have made it abundantly clear that this is not possible.

"However, I care about my country and the world my children and grandchildren will grow up in; and want to play at least a small part in contributing to the debate about the future of both."

The continuing controversy over Blair's legacy to Labour was evident earlier in the week, when most of the parliamentary party was absent for a debate about his decision to go to war in Iraq.

Some MPs, like Ben Bradshaw, see him as a much-needed centrist and practical voice for critics of a hard Brexit.

But others believe New Labour missed many of the crucial pressures on daily life that led to the vote in the first place.


Immigration may now have peaked - but at a cost

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The anticipated fall in newcomers to the UK will hit the public finances. 

Unlike some of her cabinet colleagues, Theresa May believes in the government's net migration target. But throughout her time as Home Secretary, the aim of reducing numbers to "tens of thousands" a year was never met. After her arrival in Downing Street, the numbers are little changed. Today's ONS figures show that net migration stood at a near-record high of 335,000 in the year to June 2016. Though the government cannot control immigration from the EU, it was, as usual, non-Europeans that accounted for the bulk of the total (196,000).

For some, such figures, are proof that the net migration target should be put out of its misery. After May entered Downing Street, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson both argued for the abandonment of the pledge (the latter is reported to have told EU ambassadors that he still favours free movement). But May, borrowing a line from Samuel Beckett, intends to fail better. 

There are signs that she may get her wish. To migrants, post-referendum Britain appears a less attractive destination. The number of new National Insurance registrations has fallen among foreign workers, including a by 17 per cent among those from eastern European. International student numbers have fallen by 30,000 to 163,00, the lowest total since December 2007. 

Jonathan Portes of the the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has predicted that EU immigration could fall to 60-80,000 a year, levels last seen in 2009-12. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), reduced vacancies and increasing anti-foreigner sentiment are likely to be the main deterrents. 

But reduced immigration will come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Voters may yet only miss them when they're gone. 

Getty Images.

New Ukip leader Paul Nuttall plans to destroy Labour – can he succeed?

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Nuttall has inherited a fractured party, with funding issues and Nigel Farage's ego to manage. Yet his boldness has many in Labour worried.

It is quite unusual to be the support act at your own coronation, but that is what happened to the new Ukip leader on 28 November. As Paul Nuttall gave his victory speech, photographers snapped away – at his predecessor Nigel Farage.

Earlier, Donald Trump’s new best friend had shown no sign of retiring gracefully. Farage took credit for the US election, claiming that Ukip had shifted the international “centre of political gravity”, and boasted what a great year 2016 had been.

Farage’s zombie-like persistence is not the only worry for Ukip’s incoming leader. Just 9,622 people voted for Nuttall. That was almost 7,000 more than for his nearest rival, Suzanne Evans, but it represents a pitifully small membership base compared to Labour or the SNP. (In the 2015 general election Nuttall stood in his native Bootle, on Merseyside, where he won 10.9 per cent of the vote.)

The party’s future funding will also be an issue. The big spender Arron Banks favoured another candidate, Raheem Kassam, who withdrew before polling day. And for all that Ukip might rail against the EU gravy train, the party depends on it. Many of their key lieutenants’ main source of income is the €8,000 a month that they receive as MEPs.

Nuttall inherits a fractured party. The self-described “unity candidate” must now manage the egos of Farage (who has vowed not to be a “backseat driver”) as well as Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, an ally of his rival Suzanne Evans.

Nuttall’s political views are, unsurprisingly, hardline. He has questioned the “credibility and motivation of scientists on board the global warming wagon” and once wrote a blog (now deleted) arguing that the “very existence of the NHS stifles competition . . . [which] drives quality and choice”. He supports the death penalty for child and serial killers, and would like the burqa to be banned from public buildings.

He has contributed frequently to Breitbart, the news website and house journal of the “alt right”, on which he has argued that there is “an unholy alliance of the left and Muslim community”. He said the UK should accept more refugees, but only if they are rehoused in “Hampstead, Crouch End and Notting Hill, or to be even more prescriptive, slap bang in the centre of luvvie land”, to annoy celebrities such as Benedict Cumberbatch who have called for a more humane approach.

Nuttall is a keen proponent of women’s rights – when it suits him. Born into a Catholic family, the 40-year-old supports restrictions on abortion and opposes sex education for primary-school children. Like many on the far right, he has made a show of decrying the “silence” of feminists over the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, at the end of 2015, and the sex abuse cases in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. (He has far less to say about male violence when the perpetrators are white.) He has also called for those with HIV to be banned from the UK and warned that our open borders could lead to an outbreak of ebola.

David Renton – an Old Etonian barrister and former member of the Socialist Workers Party who taught him history at Edge Hill College in 1999 – told me that he always had the sense that, even at 23, Nuttall was testing the limits of acceptable speech. According to Renton, in an essay on the causes of the Holocaust, Nuttall worked in two footnotes to books by David Irving. “I wasn’t expecting this, because Irving wasn’t on the course reading list,” Renton says now. “This was after his libel trial, and historians regarded Irving as an unpleasant, racist crank who was beyond the pale.”

Renton says that when he raised it, Nuttall blamed his girlfriend, who he claimed had taken the references from the internet. “I didn’t want to think the worst of him. He had attended at least one left-wing meeting at the college and, perhaps naively, I thought his ideas were in flux and I was willing to accept his denial.” Yet the incident left him uneasy.

True to form as a scourge of political correctness, Nuttall hasn’t worried about diversity in his top team: he named Peter Whittle, a Ukip member of the London Assembly, as his deputy, and Paul Oakden remains party chairman.

His acceptance speech was an indication of what he regards as the low-hanging electoral fruit for his party: white, working-class voters in the north of England. “I want to replace the Labour Party and make Ukip the patriotic voice of the working people,” he said. Unlike the “north London Islington set”, he will not talk about climate change or Palestine: such issues don’t affect “real working people”.

His boldness has many in Labour worried. Dan Jarvis, the MP for Barnsley Central, has said: “The Ukip fox is in the Labour henhouse.” Before the 2015 election a Fabian Society pamphlet warned that Ukip was as much a threat in Labour seats such as Great Grimsby and Dudley North as in such higher-profile Tory targets as South Thanet. Labour responded to his appointment by accusing him of wanting to privatise the NHS.

Nuttall’s success depends on three factors: how much money he can raise, how the Brexit negotiations pan out – and whether Farage can bear to surrender the limelight. 


Vladimir Putin offers olive branch to the US

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

President uses annual address to denounce ‘myths about Russian aggression’

It's not the press stuffing up Britain's Brexit hopes - it's the government

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The Prime Minister and her Cabinet are weakening Britain's chances of a decent deal. 

One thing that's easy to forget here in Britain, where most of us are fluent in just one European language - our own - is that what gets written here doesn't just get read here.

There are real diplomatic consequences to the frequent eruptions of Conservative backbenchers about European intransigence, to tabloid hit jobs on European politicians, to the right-wing press soft-soaping Donald Trump.  The government's silence on what Brexit  actually means also means that European politicians are relying on our largely anti-European papers for a readout as to what it is that Theresa May's priorities are.

There's an irony that one of the biggest barriers to a good Brexit deal are those who most sincerely believe that there will be a good Brexit deal. They have sapped away at European goodwill and complicated the diplomatic picture.

That's why Downing Street is stepping up its briefing of the European papers' London correspondents, in a bid to restore some of the damage to the UK's soft power before the Brexit negotiations get underway. (George Parker and Kate Allen have the story in the FT.)

Will it help? Well, it won't hurt.  But the diminution in Britain's stock around the European table doesn't mostly reside on Fleet Street - and not just because most of the papers have long since moved away from that famous address - but in Whitehall. It's not the papers' fault that Boris Johnson's jokes are putting the backs up of European diplomats, or that he is now embroiled in a row over whether or not he has been telling ambassadors he privately backs the free movement of people. (His spinner says he hasn't, but four ambassadors disagree.) 

It's not the papers' fault, either, that the Home Secretary's conference speech mooted drawing up lists of foreign workers - a subject that irritated the political class here and did even more damage on the Continent. Nor is the media to blame for the Prime Minister's "citizens of nowhere" zinger and all the damage that's done.

So it's a good move to start briefing the European papers. But if Downing Street really wants to tackle Britain's increasingly lonely international position, changes are going to need to start closer to home. 


Polls are open in Richmond Park, where the Liberal Democrats are confident that their candidate, Sarah Olney, will narrowly defeat Zac Goldsmith. I'd be surprised if they didn't - and my wider thoughts on the shape of the contest are here.


Laura Kuenssberg has got hold of leaked papers from Theresa May's time at the Home Office in which she urged for schools to carry out immigrant checks and for the children of illegal immigrants to be "deprioritized" as far as their school choice was concerned, resulting in them being sent to worse schools. The change was resisted by the Department for Education and its then-Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan. Downing Street's policy is not to comment on leaks.


Keir Starmer tells the Guardian's Heather Stewart that Theresa May should make a unilateral offer to those EU nationals already living here in order to boost Britain's bank of goodwill before talks start in earnest. 

TODAY'S MORNING CALL... brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.


John McDonnell has told the FTthat Labour will keep the triple lock for pensioners in place until 2025, as well as committing to continue other universal pensioner benefits, like free bus passes, TV licences and the winter fuel payments until then as well. 


Mark Carney had harsh words for practically everybody at the launch of the Bank's latest Financial Stability report. For Theresa May - the government needs to tell business much more about its Brexit plans. And for her EU counterparts, he warned that mistreating the City of London., "the investment banker of Europe" would be bad news for everyone. 


Antonia Quirke meets Matt Kaner, Radio 3's new in-house composer, who has to write  a new piece every week.


George on how the Remainers hope to beat Brexit

Richmond Park is a glimpse of the future, says Anne Perkins

Anoosh meets Gisela Stuart

Photo: Getty

Siren call of Austria’s far right finds its audience

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Loyalties shift from Social Democrats to Freedom party in 11th District of Red Vienna

Undercover as an eastern European migrant in London, I discovered the pain of Brexit Britain

By Ben Judah from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Ben Judah used his eastern European childhood and languages to live as a newcomer to the UK. Here’s what he found.

Living undercover as a broke eastern European migrant in Brexit Britain, I learned that minimum wage, health and safety, and “The Rules” in general exist only for natives and those established enough to fight for them. Not for the desperate. Not for the migrants who arrive with nothing.

This is how I entered their world.

I started at Victoria Coach Station, our miserable Ellis Island.

For weeks, I kept coming here. To see the point from which our society is changing. I kept coming until I knew which Eurolines brought in which types of people: the Polish men, tense, lugging bags of tools; the Bulgarians in puffer jackets, with worried faces; the Roma, with return tickets, straight off to the streets to beg.

I spent much of my childhood in the Balkans. That world, it used to feel so far – but now it’s super close. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from watching the Balkans – the faces, the rural voices – unload every morning at Victoria Coach Station. What, in the daze of arrival, did they see?

The earlier the bus, the cheaper, and the migrants, poorer. The closer to first light, I soon found, the less likely the person arriving was to be armed with a plan. It’s so easy to jump from Bucharest and Warsaw to London by bus. Many do so on a whim. A broken heart, a brutal sacking, or just a yearning to try your luck. London is where the runaways come.

That didn’t surprise me. In another life, as another Romanian, Polish, Ukrainian person, I know I would have longed to be one who just goes.

What surprised me was how many, on how little money, were willing to risk giving up their own country for “England” (they never say “Britain”). Sometimes it was an interview at a salad factory. That was enough to leave Romania, vowing never to return. Usually it was £100 in the back pocket and a vague “call me” from a village mate already jobbing in the UK. Often, a rumour the Big Issue was “hiring Gypsies”.

Morning after morning, I met the same blind optimism. “England is a mini-America,” I often heard. “London, she never turned anyone away.”

Not every migrant arrives like this. Most EU migrants – the vast majority – arrive with jobs, plans and professions. Yet at the same time, every year, tens of thousands of eastern European migrants arrive without jobs. Thousands of them arrive with next to nothing. These lives matter, even if they only tell a small part of a huge story.

For my new film Undercover Migrant, I decided to follow them, using my eastern European languages from my childhood, into a London underworld of fetid doss houses, beggar gangs, and illegal touting spots where a labourer’s daily wage is one portion of chicken and chips.

We shot the film consecutively: day-by-day, as if I really had just arrived. I started at the beginning, at Victoria Coach Station with nothing.

Undercover Migrant/VICE

Romanian is the rough sleeper’s language here. This is where I met Ionut and Lucian, two Roma beggars from Romania. They had just arrived. They could hardly comprehend the wealth now surrounding them: super-cars and icing sugar mansions.

After scavenging for cardboard, the one essential you need to bed down outside; we found a spot down in the tunnels under Hyde Park Corner. As we fell asleep, the boys kept talking about the Queen, and how they wanted to sleep in Buckingham Palace above – “for just one night” – to see what this fairytale was like. Why did this Queen allow us to sleep like this?

The worst-off migrants often spend their first nights like this – on the street. Today the majority of London’s 7,500 street sleepers are migrants, and a third of them are eastern European. Squats and doorsteps tend to divide into “English” and “Polish” zones. There are frequent fights.

How do you get into work if you arrive with nothing? No money or means, no proper address – and no proper address means no National Insurance number. This is why many head immediately to the illegal touting spots that mushroom outside the hardware stores along the North Circular ring road and the edge of London.

So, waking up on the street, this is where I went to next. Touting for work undercover, the lowest wage I ever saw here was one chicken and chips for a whole day’s work. All day, exploitative recruiters drift in and out looking for labour – without insurance, or minimum wage.

There is no way anyone living off the touting spots can afford their own room. This is why the next step up from the street is a doss house. These are pretty easy to find. These are where crooked landlords are cramming as many as they can into overcrowded, illegal, cheap rooms. Undercover, the worst doss house I ever lived in was 15 shoved into three rooms. They shared beds, and one night worker time-shared a bunk in the day.

How common is this? In 2015, the ONS estimated that there were 209,000 jobs in the country paying less than minimum wage. Yet the government has prosecuted only three firms for paying less than minimum wage since 2014. Little surprise the touting spots thrive.

I found my doss house the same way everyone else does: online. Romanians, Poles, Lithuanians – the main communities migrating here each have web portals where the migrant can find all the numbers they need. These are some of the busiest classified sites in London. There are mobiles for forklift truck lessons. There are mobiles for bosses after tillers. And there are numbers for shared rooms.

Undercover Migrant/VICE

You can’t call up in English and get an answer. You can’t call up in accented Romanian and get an answer either. They hang up immediately: police. To infiltrate, I posed as a Ukrainian laborer, with a Romanian-born friend taking the lead. We were both here looking for work.

Doss house are not just a Romanian story. One LSE study estimates that 40 per cent of immigrants to London from poorer countries in the 2000s have been accommodated through “an increase in persons per room”. For thousands of migrants, these damp rooms smelling of mildew are where the bright, naïve, hopes of Victoria Coach Station come to die.

We found the numbers of half a dozen doss houses in Ilford, deep in east London, and settled into the first one we found. Nobody was working in the house. They were heading out for work at the touting spot everyday and mostly returning emptyhanded. It didn’t take long for one labourer in the house to tell us this place “is like Rahova” – the name of Romania’s most infamous prison. A name that, in Romanian, rings of hopelessness.

There’s a conspiracy theory that migrants are jumping on buses in Warsaw and Bucharest, all experts on the A to Z of our benefits system, here to live the life of Riley in our council estates. But from what I’ve seen and the people I’ve met this couldn’t be further from the truth. Britain’s worst-off migrants don’t know their rights. And they are being exploited. These are our most vulnerable.

In the new VICE documentary Undercover Migrant, journalist and author of This Is London Ben Judah walks in the footsteps of EU migrants and goes undercover to unearth the conditions newcomers are up against in Brexit Britain. Watch the full-length film now on

Undercover Migrant / VICE

An Italian No vote will derail essential reforms

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Prime minister Renzi is heading in the right direction but needs more time

South Korea political crisis causes cinema slump

From BBC News - World. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Moviegoers are staying away amid mass demonstrations against country's president.

Is it time to start treating politics like a surreal sport?

By Eleanor Margolis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Eleanor Margolis wonders if she would feel comfortable placing a bet on the outcome of the French election.


Online, Skybet lists sports alphabetically. Somehow, like a sofa in a flowerbed, politics has been dumped between netball and pool. In the probable words of an utterly tedious Twitter conspiracy theorist, “Well it might as well be a sport”. Which is exactly why – in the sludge of 2016 political weirdness —  I’m wondering whether I should start to treat it as such. Man.

My uncle, just like everyone else’s, has told me a couple of things about betting. Number one: if you’re betting on a dog, look out for the one who shits right before the race. Number two: the bookies don’t know politics. Bet on politics.

So, just before the US election, I placed my first ever political bet. A fiver on… Clinton winning 53% or more of the popular vote. Those were the days. A few of my more prescient friends put consolation bets on Trump. So far up on my high horse I could see Kent, I outright refused to profit, potentially, from the US being plunged into a neo-fascist sinkhole. That’s not a sport, right? That’s people’s actual lives. How could anyone be so cold and objective?

In retrospect — an especially inconvenient thing when it comes to betting — this is like when I go to Nottingham Forest matches and bet on my team (this is my little tradition because I am your dad), even when I know they’re going to lose because they’re not very good at football. I bet with my heart, not with my head. Which, it turns out, is expensive. So my question is, politics-wise, can I actually afford not to bet on Marine Le Pen winning next year’s French election?

When I asked my girlfriend — a real life French person — if it would be too sad and nihilistic for me to bet on Le Pen, she shrugged Frenchly before telling me about the vastly unpopular Jacques Chirac’s landslide victory against Le Pen Senior in the 2002 election. The French, she tells me, know a thing or two about what happens when you let the far-right win. Apparently they’re not keen on it. As it stands, Ladbrokes’ odds on a Le Pen win are 5/2, lagging slightly behind eyebrow-haver François Fillon’s 4/7. Which feels, to me, remarkably Trump v Clinton, a week before the US election. And also means I’d have to put far more than I’m probably willing to – with or without morals — on Le Pen, to make things interesting. My dad claims he was certain of a Trump victory right back when the tangerine despot’s odds were 100/1. 

But I still haven’t decided whether to put a few quid on Le Pen’s scarily banal 5/2. This isn’t, I continue to figure, some footballers versus some other footballers. What would I even do with my Le Pen blood money, were she to win? I’d like a blender. But how important is it to me that my kitchen appliances don’t have albeit tenuous links to the resurgence of the European far-right? A little bit important, I think. Plus, I’d have to refer to the blender as the Le Pender. Which would be hilarious for a grand total of nobody.

Perhaps I should just bet on whichever French politician shits before the race. 


Abuse victims have broken football's culture of silence - now we must act

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The words of politicians are not, on their own, enough. 

Bravery within sport is an overused phrase. Players and teams are regularly heralded as being "brave" for a heroic performance or a result that they’ve managed to secure in a crucial and difficult game.

However, over the past couple of weeks we have witnessed courage on a level that is truly deserving of that accolade.

The men who have come forward to speak about the abuse they have suffered have shown an incredible level of the stuff. Their stories are undoubtedly horrific. Indeed, as somebody who has played in a team sport from a young age and who entrusts my own children to coaching from others, I find their stories particularly poignant and heart-breaking. But we owe it to these brave individuals to ensure that appropriate action follows the warm words of politicians. We must help right the evil wrongs visited upon them and learn from the haunting experiences that they went through as children to ensure it never happens again.

Former Bury and Sheffield United defender Andy Woodward was the first player to come forward to speak about the abuse that he experienced as an 11 year old at the hands of one of his coaches, serial paedophile Barry Bennell. During Woodward’s interview with The Guardian he spoke about the masculinity in the changing room and how this culture makes it difficult for players to come forward and speak about the abuse that they’ve experienced. He hopes that his actions will serve to break down the stigma that leads many to remain silent and hopes that others will now feel empowered to come forward to speak about their experiences.

Since then, more than 20 former footballers have come forward with allegations of historical child sex abuse in football. Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie, fears that "we are on the brink on many more revelations". Former Tottenham and Liverpool midfielder Paul Stewart, who has also spoken about his abuse, suggested that sport could face allegations on the scale of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

These allegations have rocked the political, sporting and footballing world and it’s now incumbent upon all of us to ensure that we put the proper safeguards in place to ensure that this cannot happen again. I look forward to the review in to Duty of Care in Sport - led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson - which is due to be published shortly. Having met her recently and discussed this, I know she will leave no stone unturned.

Since the allegations have come to light the English FA have announced an internal review of the situation. The Culture, Media and Sport select committee chair Damian Collins MP has said that this inquiry should have a much wider scope and look to assess whether there is a cultural problem within sport. It is difficult to argue with Mr Collins’ approach. We need to ensure that monsters like Bennell cannot abuse the trust that we place in them.

Police Scotland have released a statement which confirms they "have received reports in connection with non-recent child abuse within football" and are working with the relevant authorities as part of a UK-wide approach.

The Prime Minister has praised the bravery of the men who have come forward. The England captain, Wayne Rooney, has spoken of his horror and urged anyone who has a similar experience to report it and not suffer in silence.

For anyone who has been affected in any part of the UK, I would strongly urge you to seek help and support.

These revelations encapsulate one of every parent's worst fears. The allegations are abhorrent and deeply tragic. Anyone who abuses their position of trust to prey on young children must be brought to justice. This is the way that we protect our children from harm and respect the bravery of those who have come forward to report their experience.

The NSPCC have set up a dedicated helpline (0800 0232642) for victims of sexual abuse in football. The Scottish Football Association have also setup a dedicated email address – – for people to get in touch confidentially.

Gavin Newlands is the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, and the SNP spokesman for sport.


Elephants in Afghanistan: The Military’s Counterinsurgency Failure

By Jason Dempsey from War on the Rocks. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Earlier this year, several former ISAF commanders and diplomats wrote President Barack Obama, imploring him to freeze troop levels in Afghanistan until the next administration takes office. Obama ultimately agreed to keep 8,400 troops in country, but while President-elect Donald Trump said many things about many foreign policy during the election season, he gave few ...

Ankara’s Turkmen House of Cards

By Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu from War on the Rocks. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The Mosul operation has made the predominantly Turkmen city of Tal Afar the latest focus of Turkey and Iran’s sectarian struggle for influence in post-Islamic State Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned against allowing Iran-backed Shiite militias to liberate the city. He deployed troops to the Iraqi border to back up his words. ...

Trump will feel at home with eastern Europe

From Europe News. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are used to a billionaire businessman in power

Supporting Effective Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices

From New RAND Publications. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

This implementation guide provides a framework for programme planners who seek more information on how to effectively plan and implement evidence-based practices in a real-world context.

Humanitarian airdrops are already happening in Syria. So why can't we do more?

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Dec 01, 2016.

The international community is sitting on its hands. 

While airdropping aid to besieged areas in Syria comes with logistical challenges and potential risks, it is still the best peaceful option available. However, the lack of will among international actors meet their responsibility remains the main obstacle to its implementation.

The United Nations aid chief recently reported that the number of besieged Syrians has more than doubled over the past year to nearly a million. The vast majority of besieged areas, around 50, are encircled by the Syrian regime, while one area is besieged by Isis and one by some rebel forces. The most recent besieged area has been the rebel-held eastern Aleppo in which more than 250,000 people are trapped without access to food or medicine. A UN official stated that people in Aleppo received aid for the last time at the beginning of July and estimated that people began running out of food in mid-November. The ongoing Syrian regime offensive - supported by Russian and Iran-backed forces - to capture the rest of the eastern side has worsened the situation. Intense airstrikes have killed at least 500 people and wounded more than 1,000 more in the past two weeks alone - and put all hospitals in that area out of service.

The international community is dramatically failing to end the widespread use of siege tactics for military gain in Syria. The existence of three UN Security Council resolutions on Syria – 2165, 2191 and 2258 – give its agencies permission to cross conflict lines to deliver aid wherever needed without asking for permission from the Syrian regime. Just 10 per cent of requests made by its agencies to dispatch aid convoys to besieged or hard-to-reach areas in Syria received approval last year - but UN officials remain cautious about delivering aid without government consent, due to the increased risk of attack on aid convoys.

The UN could not get permission to deliver lifesaving aid to besieged areas, but it did not want to risk sending unauthorised aid convoys to help people. This dilemma led to growing calls for airdrops instead. As a result, the International Syria Support Group, a coalition of 20 countries and organisations, threatened to begin aid airdrops if the Syrian regime failed to grant the UN land access to all besieged areas by the start of June. Although the Syrian regime did not comply, the international community failed to enact the pledge. Countries gave their reasons ranging from risk to logistical factors.

The main concern is the possibility of aircraft delivering aid being shot down. The same risk, theoretically, applies to all the fighting jets operating inside Syria, without the regime’s permission, as part of the US-led international coalition against Isis. Yet, that did not stop any of the countries operating inside Syria on that front. The Syrian regime and Russia are the two actors capable of downing rival aircrafts, which makes such risks calculable. These actors know that attacking any international plane will have serious consequences, which is what has forced them to stay away so far. Therefore, convincing the Syrian regime and its allies not to attack a civilian plane carrying aid, should be easier that convincing them not to attack a hostile fighting jet.

The lack of visible drop zones to reduce the lethal risk of dropping aid on civilians, is a frequent logistical concern – as is distribution once they’ve been dropped. Although these concerns are valid and are important to work through, the engagement of local civil society groups and administrative bodies will help to overcome them once a decision on the policy level is made. Moreover, the UN’s programme to airdrop aid to the regime-held area in Deir Ezzor, a city besieged by Isis in eastern Syria, has been successful and effective.

According to Valerie Szybala, executive director at The Syria Institute, airdrops to Deir Ezzor have been regular since April this year – happening several times a week, with a tremendous impact on improving humanitarian conditions there.

The Security Council’s authorisation to airdrop aid to besieged areas in Syria allows the UN to do so without violating any laws. The UN has also been successfully airdropping aid in Syria to a regime-held area for several months, which demonstrates its capability.

So if airdrops are already happening, there can be only one conclusion - it is a lack of will from the international community that is hindering the delivery of a lifeline to a million starving Syrians.

Haid Haid is an Associate Fellow at Chatham House and a Syrian columnist and researcher.


What's missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence

By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

If we treat gender purely as a matter of self-declaration, the system is open to abuse. 

One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.

That creepy men would abuse mixed-sex intimate spaces in order to breach women’s privacy seems, perhaps, a predictable outcome; but it’s not something that the UEA students’ union took into account when it recommended installing more gender-neutral toilets.

“It’s about extending safe spaces to everyone regardless of gender. Once you’re in a cubicle, what does it matter who’s in the cubicle next door?” said LGBT+ officer Richard Laverick at the time. “All issues surrounding toilets and safety would occur regardless of the existence of gender neutral toilets,” said a blithe 2015 report into facilities on the UEA campus. But who you share a space with makes a considerable difference to how safe it is – especially for groups of people liable to become victims of male violence, which means women and transwomen in particular.

The advantage of gender-neutral toilets is that they’re accessible to all. The disadvantage is that, by being accessible to all, they can become unsafe to some – which means they’re not really accessible to all in practice. Mallaband could, it’s true, have committed his crimes by sneaking into a women-only bathroom. But being obviously in the wrong place would have put him at risk of being challenged or caught. Gender-neutral facilities removed that barrier, and something done with all good intentions in the name of trans inclusion ended up putting women in danger.

In case you’re tempted to write Mallaband off as a rogue male, the University of Toronto last year rolled back some of its gender-neutral bathrooms in halls of residence after two female students reported being filmed in the showers; in Toronto in 2014, serial rapist Christopher Hambrook was convicted of entering women’s refuges under the name Jessica and assaulting two vulnerable women; and in 2013, transwoman prisoner Paris Green was moved out of Cornton Vale women’s prison near Stirling after having sexual relationships with female inmates. (Green still had full male genitalia.)

“Inclusion” and “equality” are words with strong positive connotations, and those positive connotations can sometimes smother the problem of competing rights in a warm feel-good fuzz. On 1 December, Parliament debates the report of the Women and Equalities Committee into transgender equality: from reading it, you would have very little idea that the rights of women and the rights claimed by trans people have any points of conflict. But there are conflicts, and they can only be resolved if the House of Commons takes them absolutely seriously.

That’s particularly true when it comes to three of the report’s key recommendations: firstly that the Gender Recognition Act be updated in line with the principles of gender self-declaration, secondly that the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Equality Act should be changed to “gender identity”; and thirdly that the Equality Act be amended so that single-sex services no longer have a right to discriminate against a person whose acquired gender has been recognised under the Gender Recognition Act.

For trans people, moving to a system of self-declaration and privileging identity over reassignment means moving away from a system that makes doctors and lawyers the arbiters of their identity. The process of acquiring formal recognition for one’s gender should be as unintrusive and simple as possible, but making legal sex contingent only on the individual’s account of themselves means there’s no way to tell the difference between a good-faith claim that reflects a genuine subjective experience, and the kind of claim made by Hambrook, who said he was a woman so he could rape women.

Not all claims to be a woman deserve the same respect. The inquiry report frequently mentions the deaths by suicide of two transwomen prisoners held in the male estate, and implies that housing them in a women’s prison could have been lifesaving. Perhaps it could (although it is worth noting that self-harm and suicide are terrifyingly common among both male and female prisoners), but what’s most remarkable here is that the report never acknowledges how vastly unlike the two were.

The first, Vicky Thompson, was held in a category B prison for robbing a teenage girl of a mobile phone and stealing cosmetics. Thompson, who was only 21, had identified as a woman since her teens. The second, Joanne Latham, was being held in a close security centre (CSC, reserved for the most violent and dangerous offenders) for the attempted murder of a female flatmate and two fellow inmates, aged 38, and had only changed name a few months earlier. These are very different cases, with very different needs: Latham had not even made an application to be rehoused, and in any case, CSCs don’t exist in women’s prisons because women don’t commit the same extremes of violence as men.

The inquiry’s report offers a simple definition of gender at its start. Everyone has a gender identity, it explains, and most people’s matches their sex; trans people, however, have a gender identity that differs from their sex. This is clear, intuitive – and totally unsupported by science. There is no evidence that gender identity is a universal property, and no proof at all of any single mechanism that leads to people being trans. Instead, there are a whole collection of experiences that are now bundled under the label “trans”.

And yet the inquiry proposes that this hazy concept should supercede the physical fact of sex. If those running single-sex services lose their right to exercise discretion when it comes to employing or accommodating trans people whose gender is legally recognised (as the report recommends), then it becomes impossible for women to organise on the basis of being female. Women will continue to be oppressed as women, and subject to male violence on account of our female bodies; but our tools of resistance are sorely diminished if refuges or rape crisis centres can no longer meaningfully define themselves as female-only spaces.

In a way, it’s regrettable that gender is not “something in our heads”, as the report suggests it is. If it were, then fixing all the social problems around it would be as easy as identifying everyone for the gender they really are and treating them accordingly. But then, look at some of the examples in this piece of how women are treated: spied on, raped, and then told that any space apart from the class of people who do the spying and raping is illegitimate. That is how gender works, and any legal framework of trans rights needs to recognise that male violence is real, endemic – and the true threat to women and trans people.

The Remainers aim to beat Brexit by playing a long game

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Many MPs who hope for a second referendum are keeping their powder dry. 

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Leavers had no plan for victory. The Remainers had no plan for defeat. Brexit's meaning was deferred as both the Conservatives and Labour were absorbed by leadership contests.

In Theresa May, the Leavers found a new figurehead. As a “reluctant Remainer”, she made the transition with ease. The pro-Europeans, however, were left with no equivalent. Jeremy Corbyn comfortably defeated his Labour opponent Owen Smith, who had promised a second EU referendum. Sadiq Khan and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon are regionally restricted. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats have just eight MPs.

The Remainers are still a leaderless tribe. Yet in the courts, in parliament and in the media, they have acquired the representation that they previously lacked. The businesswoman Gina Miller (who launched the Brexit legal challenge), the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the New European newspaper have emerged to fill the post-referendum void.

If, as expected, the government loses its appeal against Miller’s case, MPs will secure a vote on whether to invoke Article 50. The SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens’ co-leader Caroline Lucas and Northern Ireland’s SDLP will all oppose doing so. They will be joined by a small number of Labour rebels and perhaps just one Conservative (the reliably Europhile Ken Clarke). Labour MPs have been deluged by emails from party members threatening to resign if they walk through the Leave lobby. One backbencher predicted that the revolt would grow as “the awfulness of it [EU withdrawal] sinks in”. But parliament will not block Brexit.

Pro-EU Conservative MPs fear deselection by Tory activists. Their Labour counterparts fear deselection by the electorate. Although 48 per cent of voters backed Remain, only 35 per cent of parliamentary constituencies did. The new Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, aims to exploit any softness on Brexit. Even Labour MPs with majorities weighed, rather than counted, fear being swept away. “Outside of London, there is no such thing as a safe seat,” one Labour MP told me. Were MPs to obstruct Brexit, the result would be an early general election and, most likely, an increased Conservative majority (an ICM poll published on 29 November put the Tories 16 points ahead of Labour).

Some predict that public opinion will move once the economic consequences of leaving the EU are felt. The proposal of a second referendum, recently endorsed by Tony Blair and John Major, stems from this belief. Few Remainers, however, are prepared to follow their lead. To question the people’s will at this juncture, they warn, reinforces every stereotype about the pro-European cause: elitist, undemocratic and remote.

Political objections to a second referendum are accompanied by technical ones. As the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock has said, any vote in 2019 would merely be on the terms of divorce (“a relatively minor piece of the Brexit puzzle”), not the UK’s new relationship with Europe (addressing trade and immigration). It would likely be too soon for the public to declare the project a failure.

Rather than seeking to stop Brexit, most Remainers are attempting to soften it. The Stronger In campaign has morphed into Open Britain, a group committed to maintaining single market membership. On 28 November, for the first time since the referendum, a cross-party coalition of MPs (the Lib Dem Nick Clegg, the Tory Anna Soubry and Labour’s Chuka Umunna) appeared under its banner. In the era of Brexit, Leave and Remain could become a more salient divide than left and right.

Single market withdrawal would come at an economic price. Yet for both May and the EU, politics is taking precedence. The Prime Minister’s vow to control free movement and to end the supremacy of the European Court of Justice is incompatible with remaining in the single market. Her European counterparts fear that a generous deal for Britain would only strengthen insurgent nationalists such as France’s Marine Le Pen.

This alignment of interests is pushing the UK towards a hard exit – but the Remain resistance is gathering strength. The campaign group British Influence is seeking a judicial review of whether the UK’s membership of the European Economic Area – which allows non-EU members such as Norway to operate inside the single market – would automatically end with Brexit. Should the government again be defied by the courts, MPs will win a vote on this defining question. There is a latent parliamentary majority for single market membership. At some point, Brexiteers fear, it will be unlocked.

A separate confrontation is looming over whether the UK will agree to a transitional deal or tumble over what May called the “cliff edge” in her Confederation of British Industry speech last month. Tory Remainers such as the former education secretary Nicky Morgan and the former attorney general Dominic Grieve hope to create the political space for May to compromise. Around the cabinet table, they hope that Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and Damian Green will prevail against the three Brexiteers, David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

In public, few Remainers dare to give voice to the thought that the UK may never leave the EU. In private, far more confess that they hope and believe that the status quo could endure. In this regard, they now resemble the Leavers of old. Until the referendum, few Brexiteers publicly declared that the UK should depart from the EU. Borrowing a Trotskyist tactic, they made demands incompatible with continued membership. The call for a “soft Brexit” derives, in part, from a similar logic. The Leavers won by playing a long game. The Remainers hope to triumph by doing the same.

Getty Images.

Renzi’s risky gamble might bring good unintended consequences

By Carlo Bastasin from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Italy’s constitutional referendum is set to take place on December 4 in a climate of overheated tension. Prime Minister Renzi has framed the referendum as a vote on his personal standing and, consequently, on the destiny of the government, in a make-it-or-break-it quest for popular support. The gamble is proving reckless. Although most Italians agree with […]

A Cuban Homecoming After 50 Years

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Roberto Carlos Zaldivar left Cuba on January 21, 1962, as part of a mass exodus of unaccompanied minors that fled the island to the United States. It has been over half a century, and Zaldivar has never gone back. This short documentary by his daughter, Raquel, documents his homecoming to the city where he was born and raised. It’s a story from two lenses, Raquel writes: “that of someone whose life was forever changed by abruptly having to leave his home, and that of someone who has spent her whole life wondering about a mysterious place she has never known.” More of her work can be seen at

Hutchins Roundup: Trade liberalization, hospital competition, and more

By Louise Sheiner from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that counties more exposed to trade liberalization with China exhibit higher mortality among white men from suicide and some other causes, hospitals do not appear to compete on quality in the market for some conditions where we would expect a lot of competition, and more. Trade liberalization with […]

Austria’s challenge to the centrists

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The rise of the far right must serve as a wake-up call for the continent

British banks’ capital is only half the problem

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Stress tests show improvement but profit remains weak

Labour voters in Richmond must put their tribal loyalties aside

By Vince Cable from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

There's only one option to beat the coalition for hard Brexit. 

There has been much talk in the last year about a "progressive alliance" to provide effective opposition and alternative to the Conservative government. The Brexit process has made such co-operation more urgent.

There has been a lot of social media chatter and well-intentioned speeches at public meetings from leading Labour figures, Caroline Lucas of the Greens and myself and other Lib Dems.  But so far the discussion has been theoretical and abstract.

There is now an opportunity to make such co-operation real. In the Richmond by-election on Thursday, a nominal independent, Zac Goldsmith, is defending his seat supported by the Tories and Ukip, which has withdrawn from the contest. The Lib Dems’ Sarah Olney can win the seat on a platform of opposition to the "hard Brexit" where the Tory government seems to be heading, and which, as a Brexiteer, Goldsmith supports. It will also show resistance to imminent plans for NHS cuts which will put pressure on services at local district hospital, Kingston.

Goldsmith precipitated the by-election, resigning over the Tory government decision to proceed with Heathrow expansion. On this particular policy there is no disagreement between the candidates. My party has long argued against further airport expansion in the South East on environmental and economic grounds. The Greens have a similar position. The local Labour party similarly. Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s support for Gatwick reflects a possible compromise which I and my Lib Dem colleagues in the Coalition government also agreed to consider when David Cameron and George Osborne pushed exclusively for Heathrow in the Davies review of airport capacity.

It is clear, however, that whilst Heathrow is an important issue for local residents, there is greater and more immediate concern over Brexit. In the referendum, 70 per cent of local residents opposed it.  The confusion and in-fighting in government adds to the sense that there could be a very messy, unsatisfactory, outcome with Britain’s participation in the single market, the customs union, collaborative research and shared high standards for the environment all at risk.

There is an emerging front of opposition in parliament. Keir Starmer for Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP are in a very similar place. Were the pro-Brexit candidate to be defeated in this election it would reinforce, powerfully, the growing resistance to a "hard Brexit". 

Another theme emerging strongly in the by-election is the sense of alarm that a popular, well-run, local hospital is being impacted by NHS financial pressures. Kingston hospital, like many others, is full of frail, elderly, patients - many with dementia - who cannot leave because of the crisis in local social care provision. The way in which the Conservative government, and the local Conservative MPs have allowed this situation to develop is, rightly, a leading issue in the by-election.

It is striking that the political right has been disciplined enough to rally behind Goldsmith. They clearly understand the potential political significance of his losing. The progressive opposition has been less united. No doubt tribal tradition and raw emotions from the Coalition years play a part. But to the great credit of the Greens, they have stood aside to offer support to Sarah Olney who they know can win when they cannot.

Several leading Labour figures urged their party to do the same, but the advice was not heeded. Individual Labour supporters can however make a difference. Tactical voting played a big part in getting a Labour government, and Lib Dem MPs, elected in 1997 and after. In the current, dangerous, state of British politics such self-discipline is needed again.   


A debate on the Iraq war reveals Tony Blair's most loyal friends - and enemies

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

At the word Chilcot, most of the Labour party went AWOL. 

Tony Blair is haunting the Labour party. Summoned by the clang of Brexit, he has been spotted in the pages of this magazine, and even called upon by nervous Remainers in the streets. But his ghost looms the largest in the place that was for so many years his home, the House of Commons.

Whatever the motive of the Scottish National Party to celebrate St Andrew’s Day by holding a debate on the Chilcot Inquiry, it certainly spooked Labour. Where once the word “Iraq” packed the chamber, on this November afternoon the green benches of the opposition were almost empty. Perhaps the MPs who had crammed the seats moments earlier to watch Prime Minister’s Questions had suddenly become very busy with urgent constituency work. Even Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader and a long-term critic of the war in Iraq, seemed to have vanished.

Scotland's former First Minister and SNP MP for Gordon Alex Salmond introduced the debate, which was signed by members from seven parties. He opened with some uncomfortable number crunching.

“There are 179 members left in this house who were present when the debate took place on March 2003 on the war on Iraq,” he noted. “I remember the date exactly because it was the exactly same number of British soldiers who died in the conflict.”

Martin Docherty-Hughes, an SNP MP whose brother served on the frontline in Iraq, noted the former "member for Sedgefield" had privately observed the many consequences of invading Iraq. It seemed, he said, the "soothsayer whispering a self-fulfilling prophecy in the ear of the then-President of the United States had a clear picture of the outcome of the decision to invade Iraq.".

The SNP described the debate as about “parliamentary accountability”. But a more accurate title would be simply “Tony Blair”. 

As the SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh put it: "We don't require to be sensitive to the internal Labour party issues when choosing a topic for debate. That is their problem."

Indeed, outspoken Iraq critics like Paul Flynn aside, those Labour MPs who did show up were bodyguards for a past leader’s legacy. 

According to Ben Bradshaw, the Chilcot Inquiry was actually a vindication for a persecuted Prime Minister. “The lie that our Prime Minister lied has been paid to rest and the SNP can’t stand it,” he declared.

Ian Austin found Salmond, whose party nearly wiped out Labour in Scotland at the last election, particularly infuriating. The former First Minister, he recalled, had been against intervention in Kosovo. “You want to show some humility,” he declared. He wanted the canny Caledonian to “apologise for his lack of judgement and mistakes over the years as well”. 

Liz Kendall and Pat McFadden also took up Blair’s defence. The existing "member for Sedgefield", Phil Wilson, praised his character and also managed to mention he had known Blair since 1983. 

But the most impassioned speech, perhaps, came from a hereto underappreciated Blairite – Michael Gove. “History,” declared the unloved Tory Brexiteer, “I think will judge him less harshly than some in this house do.” Deciding whether or not to go to war was “a finely balanced” act, he said. 

Gove also noted that the recriminations over Iraq made it harder for the present government to intervene in Syria. “It is a dereliction of duty to look backwards, to try to blame Tony Blair, when the people of Aleppo are suffering now,” he said. 

Indeed, it might be hard for Syrians cowering in their homes as bombs fall overhead to understand why the parliamentary accountability of 13 years ago was the most pressing issue to debate, or why Tony Blair needs such impassioned defending. 

But they would have been more bemused still by the parliamentary tradition of the maiden speech, which saw Robert Courts, David Cameron's successor as MP for Witney, interrupt the discussion on conflict in the Middle East with a lyrical tour of his new constituency, the "gateway to the Cotswolds". For MPs still agonising over the ghost of progessive politics past or future, though, the detour was a welcome relief. 




Stop fat-shaming the five pound note

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

It may contain tallow, derived from animal waste products, but there are other reasons you should be angry about the Bank of England’s new money.

Five pound note moussaka is off the menu. Vegans, vegetarians and religious bodies around the country have been horrified to learn that the UK’s new fivers are not fat-free.

As the Bank of England revealed on Monday, each note contains small amount of tallow – a waste product derived from animal fat, often through a process known as “rendering”.

The oversight has offended those who have chosen to renounce the consumption of animal products. Nearly 100,000 have now signed a petition, demanding that the content of the notes should be changed.

But criticism shouldn’t stop with the fat-shaming. While we’re about it, let’s go the whole hog and pick this ethical and environmental insult properly apart.

The Bank of England prefers to use the word “polymer” to describe the slick texture of the new notes. Perhaps this is because it sounds posher than “plastic”. Or perhaps because they’d prefer for us to forget that our money is now made of the same material that is clogging up oceans, poisoning wildlife, and polluting our food chains. In the UK alone, for every mile of beach surveyed, Greenpeace found a 159 plastic bottles.

Some might claim this is rather a Luddite take on the matter. Money is hardly a throw-away item, after all.

The Bank has hailed the notes as an environmental boon, an independent study finding their impact on the planet will be less than that of paper notes. Because they last longer than paper notes, their website claims, they can “print fewer notes, which means less energy is used in manufacturing and cash transportation. When a polymer note has reached the end of its life it will be recycled into new plastic notes”.

But the symbolism of money has always mattered as much as its substance. Just look at how it pervades our language – from peanuts in mint-condition, to cash-crops that cost the earth. Or how paper notes are themselves derived from the written promises that bankers once gave as receipts.

And now, more than ever, money talks. Even the word “sustainability” is being drained of its green credentials by businesses using it to refer to financial durability, not environmental protection. Just looks at BP’s emphasis on “long-term value” in last year’s “sustainability” report.

But then again, finance is so often a slippery business. In reminding us of this at least, the new notes fit the bill.


Don’t panic – Paul Nuttall as Ukip leader could be the best thing to happen to Labour

By Simon Danczuk from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

A genuine working-class challenge will force Labour to reconnect with its historic purpose, argues MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk.

Seriously, what’s with all the doom and gloom? After a long and entertaining run of pantomime Ukip infighting, the election of their third leader in as many months seems to have spooked some of my Labour colleagues.

“It’s clear to me that the Ukip fox is in the Labour henhouse,” warns Dan Jarvis. While other Labour MPs speak of the “clear and present danger” Nuttall presents and the need to adopt ultra-local tactics as the “only way to survive”. In a typical massive kneejerk reaction, there is already talk of Ukip “replacing” Labour in the north.

At a time when Ukip donors are deserting the party and they’ve lost 14,000 members in the last year, this all sounds like a bit of an overreaction to me – and perhaps it’s time to consider another perspective.

Paul Nuttall is the best thing that could happen to Labour.

Yes, you heard right. Christmas has come early.

It’s pretty obvious which way the political winds are blowing these days. The collapse of David Cameron’s liberal conservatism, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election are ominous harbingers. Many believe the revolt against liberalism is just warming up. Today’s political headwinds could well turn into tomorrow’s tornado unless the left gets its act together fast and presents a progressive alternative that can compete with right-wing populism. We urgently need a patriotic, future-facing story to tell, where everyone has a stake in our country’s success, hard work is rewarded and no one is left behind.

We simply don’t have that story at the moment. But if we’re to face a genuine working-class challenge from Paul Nuttall’s Ukip, I sense that we may just snap out of our placard-waving, virtue-signalling comfort zone and start to remember our historic purpose to support working-class people and values.

In the aftermath of the Democrats’ devastating defeat to Trump, one of the most interesting developments in America has been the startling candour and electric debate about the left’s failings. When even veteran socialist Bernie Sanders admits he’s “deeply humiliated” that his party can no longer talk to working-class people, you realise just how bad a place the left is in.

Perhaps the most articulate of these voices is the Californian writer Joan Williams who has warned that elites on both sides of the Atlantic will have to give up “class cluelessness” if they want to survive. Williams’ argument is that progressives’ obsession with prioritising cultural issues infuriates working-class people whose chief concerns are economic. She’s bang on the money.

“We write off white working-class anger as beneath our notice at our peril,” wrote Williams in the Financial Times last week. “Weimar Germany taught us how that ends – badly.”

Many are still not alive to this anger and it’ll take some time before it gets through to the no-platform-safe-space-cosy-echo-chamber that insulates large swathes of the left from a rapidly-changing political reality.

But if an alternative figure appears that the working class can rally around then this reality will fast dawn on even the most die-hard denier.

It’s too early to tell whether this person is Paul Nuttall. He’s not known as being a particularly impressive performer, but he has made it abundantly clear that he’s after blue-collar votes and will pursue a nationalist, anti-elite agenda.

In the current climate, that could be a very rich seam to mine. If he can survive Ukip’s self-destructive tendency and build some momentum, he could give Labour a genuine reason to rethink its mission.

Not since John Major boasted of his Brixton roots and stood on his soapbox has Labour been attacked by a working-class leader. That 1992 general election loss to Major’s blue-collar Conservatism made Labour wake up to the reality of the world at the time. It forced the party to adapt, as we must do again to changing times. We can’t wait another four years before reality bites.

A kick in the balls by Nuttall’s Ukip could save us all a lot of time. It could also be just the medicine Labour needs to wise up to the class cluelessness that’s not only holding us back in the polls but keeping us from fulfilling our founding purpose.


Cannabis is harmful, that's why it needs to be regulated

By Nick Clegg from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Prohibition has failed — it is time for an open debate on how best to legislate for the UK's most popular drug.

The news of Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency was a bitter pill for liberals across the world.

But look closely, and there was the thinnest of silver linings: Americans were quietly voting down the war on drugs in a series of popular ballot initiatives.

The number of states providing legal cannabis to medical patients rose to 28 plus Washington DC. And in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine, voters approved the idea that cannabis should be available to adults for recreational use. Incredibly, the country that invented and propagated the war on drugs has now legalised the sale of cannabis in eight of its states.

It’s a world away from the UK. Last week saw the publication of a report from VolteFace and the Adam Smith Institute calling for the sale of cannabis to be regulated and taxed. This provoked the usual knee-jerk reaction from the government, that “cannabis is illegal because it is harmful”.

I never cease to be amazed by people’s instinctive reflex that unpleasant things can simply be removed from this world by “banning” them. The idea that cannabis can be eradicated from our society through the action of the criminal law flies in the face of 50 years of evidence of the failure of prohibition. No country has even got close. As we saw with alcohol in 1920s America, banning something that people enjoy doing doesn’t stop them from wanting to do it: it simply creates a criminal market to service that demand.

In the case of cannabis, the UK’s most popular drug, it’s a thriving multi-billion pound criminal industry. The winners are some of the most unpleasant characters in the country; the losers are millions of otherwise law-abiding people who face debilitating criminal records, arbitrary stop and search, and (for the unlucky few) a spell in prison. 

The Home Office and other inadvertent cheerleaders for organised crime like to employ the argument that reformers think of cannabis as “harmless”. On the contrary, we know there are risks both to physical and mental health. A small proportion (9%) of those who use cannabis go on to become dependent — much less than for alcohol (15%) or tobacco (32%), but significant nonetheless. Many of the health problems stem from the market dominance of “skunk”, which is high in THC (the intoxicating part) and low in CBD (a naturally-occurring anti-psychotic). Skunk itself is a product of prohibition, which drives producers towards high potency, low volume products just as prohibition-era bootleggers trafficked hard liquor rather than beer.

The question is, how best to deal with these harms?

The alternative to criminal profiteering is legal regulation. The prohibitionists want you to believe that regulation means less control. If that was true, then we would be merrily deregulating pubs, casinos, building sites, airline safety, you name it, in the mistaken belief that less regulation equals more safety.

We don’t regulate harmlessness; we regulate harms. Cannabis, like all drugs, can be harmful, which is precisely why it should be regulated. At the moment, give or take the occasional seizure, raid or arrest, the government has no policy levers whatsoever over the cannabis trade.

What kind of levers could we have? Well, let’s start with the product. We don’t have to legalise skunk in its current form. We could, if parliament wanted to, impose an upper limit on potency, and a minimum limit on the anti-psychotic CBD which seems to ameliorate most of the negative effects. In other words, we could use the tools of the regulator to regulate “skunk” out of existence, and usher in a range of alternative products, including milder strains.

Next, if we wanted to, we could use legal regulation to push people away from smoking cannabis and towards healthier forms of consumption, from vaping to edibles. In Colorado, where cannabis has been legal since 2012, the market has evolved rapidly. More than half of the product sold there is now in the form of concentrates and other non-smokeable forms of cannabis.

Lastly, regulation could do a better job of keeping cannabis out of the hands of children. We know that heavy cannabis use in teenage years is particularly problematic. Dealers don’t ask for ID, but licensed premises do. Regulators would conduct spot checks and remove people’s licenses if they were found selling cannabis to under-18s.  

It won’t all be plain sailing. While aggregate harms could be brought under control by making the product safer, commercial interests will try to exert influence over the drafting of the regulations, as they have done for alcohol and tobacco, and will seek to encourage higher levels of use. But the painstaking business of reconciling profits with public health is exactly what government does in so many other areas of life, and it’s a whole lot better than the alternative of leaving it to organised crime.

The United States is showing Europe the way on this issue, if on little else at the moment. California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, has turned the page on regulation. Canada is set to legalise next year. It is only a matter of time before the UK follows suit. In the meantime, let’s have a serious debate about regulation.



State failure to take sexual violence in schools seriously tells me my body is not my own

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

As a young woman, I feel dismissed and forgotten by a government with a lukewarm approach to tackling sex crime in schools.

Sexual harassment is a violation of our right to feel safe and to have control over our own bodies. Schools should be safe spaces to nurture our curiosity, creativity and thirst for knowledge. Yet all too often, cases of sexual harassment aren’t dealt with properly, impacting on girls’ opportunities to learn. Girlguiding research has shown that 59 per cent of girls and young women over 13 have faced some form of sexual harassment in school or college in the past year.

I was heartened, when, in April of this year, the Women and Equalities Select Committee launched a parliamentary enquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools in England. However, this week the government responded to the recommendations, and in its lukewarm response, I think it has missed a huge opportunity to make schools safer for all young people.

Since 2014, we have been calling on politicians to listen to girls’ voices and stand up for girls’ rights through our Girls Matter campaign. This was an opportunity for the government to listen to girls and young women – one they chose not to take.

One positive from the response was that the severity of the issue was at least recognised, as was the need for a whole-school approach to tackle it. Additionally, the pledge to update the bullying guidance for schools to include sexual bullying is a small step forward. However, each individual school is expected to put its own measures in place for preventing and tackling sexual harassment and violence.

Schools already have to jump through a multitude of hoops for students to achieve the grades they need and look good in the league tables. How does the government expect them to start to tackle this huge issue without any support or guidelines?

Many school staff seem to be simply unaware that this is a problem. Three in five girls at secondary school have said that, when trying to report cases of sexual harassment, it has been dismissed as “boys being boys” or “just a bit of banter”, which leads to girls  feeling like they can’t speak up.

Obviously sexual harassment can happen to and be perpetrated by people of all genders, but gender dynamics are so often wound up in this issue. Three quarters of girls say that anxiety about experiencing harassment has some kind of negative effect on their lives. It affects their choice of clothing, their body confidence, and most worryingly, their participation in class. What is seen as “harmless banter” is actually the tip of a much bigger, societal iceberg. In dismissing girls’ experiences of sexual harassment, we are actually telling them that their voices don’t matter, and that their bodies belong to someone else.

All schools should have a duty to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and to be held accountable. We want the government and schools to support teachers to deal with sexual harassment properly – we want clear national guidance for schools. High-quality Sex and Relationships Education needs to be taught in all schools, covering consent, online abuse, gender equality and healthy relationships, so young people will grow up knowing if a relationship is healthy and if their rights are being violated.

As a Girlguiding Advocate, I am going to continue fighting for this cause. The disappointment I feel only makes me more determined to work harder than ever, so girls and young women like me – who will continue to experience sexual harassment on a daily basis – can learn safely and happily at school.

Liddy Buswell is 18 years old and a member of Girlguiding’s Advocate panel; a group of 18 young women who lead the direction of Girlguiding’s campaigns and research.


Will Brexit come unstuck in Richmond Park?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The Liberal Democrats are confident of springing a surprise in tomorrow's by-election. 

The Liberal Democrats will win the Richmond Park by-election – at least, that’s what they’re saying. The party’s internal figures show the party is on course to grab a narrow win, overturning a Conservative majority of 23,015 just a year ago, making Sarah Olney their ninth MP.

Are they right? On the ground in Richmond, it’s clear that just as it did in Witney, Brexit has the potential to hurt the Conservatives. Richmond is ripe with the voters that the Liberal Democrats believe represent their path back: affluent, educated, part of that small group that might not have voted for Tony Blair and David Cameron, but felt the benefits of both administrations, and, broadly, hasn’t been actively distressed by the result of an electoral contest – other than the European referendum.

For perhaps the first time in a century, the preoccupations of the average Liberal Democrat activist line up with a significant number of voters – the 22 per cent or so of hardcore Remainers – while providing a visible case study in the merits of the restraining influence of coalition.

I wrote at the start of the contest that the election would come down to the question of whether or not enough Labour and Green voters were willing to forgive the sin of coalition. That Caroline Lucas and the bulk of Richmond’s Green party have endorsed Olney shows that the bulk of Green activists have, and the hope is that their voters will go the same way.

But although a broad coalition of Labour MPs – Clive Lewis, Jonathan Reynolds and Lisa Nandy – have said that Labour voters should back the Liberal Democrats, most of that party appears to feel the opposite, and they have fielded a candidate, the transport expert Christian Wolmar. Liberal Democrat strategists are nervous that Labour’s voters in Richmond will stick with Wolmar. A memo sent to Tim Gordon, the party’s chief executive, at the weekend, notes that “there are still too many LD/Lab waverers”.

But even a close-run thing will make Conservative MPs nervous. Although I can find no evidence, either through looking at election results in the area, or on the doorsteps, that Zac Goldsmith has a personal vote worth any more than any diligent local MP (which as the Liberal Democrats could tell you, is not worth as much as you’d think). Nonetheless, it is widely believed at Westminster that Goldsmith has a substantial local following. MPs – particularly the 2015 intake, who largely sit for formerly Liberal Democrat seats – will be nervous, even if the Liberal Democrats merely walk off with a narrow loss. If it can happen to Goldsmith, an attractive, well-financed media darling, why not to them? The pressure to, at the least, secure a softer landing than the one promised by Theresa May at present, will grow. 

Whatever the result, it will throw Labour’s “Brexit problem” into sharper relief. If the Liberal Democrats don’t win tomorrow, there will be more Labour voters than the margin of victory between Olney and Goldsmith. But if they do win, it will heighten the sense that the European referendum has changed British politics into a culture war between Remain and Leave, with Labour left in the middle of the road.
We know what happens to people in the middle road, of course. They get run down

Photo: Getty

Fight against Alzheimer’s shows symptoms of failure

From Analysis. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Failed drug trials have led some scientists to doubt theory behind disease

Damning proof that the government has no evidence benefits sanctions work

By Alison Garnham from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The National Audit Office says the government has failed to measure whether sanctioning benefit claimants represents value for money.

Does anyone remember evidence-based policymaking? For the DWP, it appears from today’s National Audit Office (NAO) report on sanctions, it is at best a dim and distant memory.

When the Department made substantial changes to sanction rules in 2012 – marking a step-change in their scope and severity – it could not quantify the financial impact of the changes, and it said it could not predict whether the changes would create savings. Since then, it has made no attempt to track the actual costs and benefits of the changes.

As one reads through the NAO’s report, it becomes increasingly clear how their task – to assess the value for money of sanctions policy – is thwarted at every turn by lack of evidence. The words "the Department does not know", and mentions of data that the Department does not analyse or collect, recur throughout. The government is evidently operating blind, on an issue that could scarcely be more important: the decision actively to remove from already-poor individuals and households the basic means of their subsistence.

Disturbingly, there are several indications that this ignorance is wilful. The DWP has administrative data on individual benefit histories, sanctions and employment, and data on local sanction rates and performance, but it chooses not to use this body of evidence to evaluate the impacts of sanctions. The government, via the Economic and Social Research Council, has funded a £2m research project from 2013 to 2018 to understand the role and impact of conditionality in social security. In 2015, the DWP advised its Work Programme providers not to take part in focus groups for the project. And, in March 2015, the Work and Pensions Committee called on the DWP to commission "a broad independent review of benefit conditionality and sanctions, to investigate whether sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately". After taking seven months to respond, the Department refused.

What we do know beyond doubt is that sanctions cause immense hardship to those who are subjected to them. This is in a sense a question of simple logic – take away a person’s primary, meagre source of sustenance, and they will suffer. Indeed, that is the Department’s stated intention: its own guidance to decision makers acknowledges that ‘it would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health’ if left without income for two weeks (JSA sanctions start at twice this duration). Decision makers assessing potential hardship payments should be looking only at those who would "suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult" [original emphasis]. But it is also reflected in a range of direct evidence, not least of which is the link between sanctions and food bank use: research by Child Poverty Action Group and others found that between 19 and 29 per cent of visits to the food banks we studied were caused by sanctions.

What evidence there is, the NAO finds, does not suggest an overwhelming case in favour of sanctions. The crutch upon which the DWP, when pushed on its policies over the last few years, has leant so heavily – international evidence on the impact of sanctions – is found by the NAO to be "mixed". This research found that claimants who are subject to sanctions are equally likely to move into employment and to move out of the system altogether – to an unknown destination – while both earnings and hours worked fell compared to those not subject to sanctions. The one UK study that was analysed by the DWP showed no evidence of sanctions increasing claimants’ probability of leaving benefits for work. The NAO’s preliminary analysis of the DWP’s own Work Programme data was consistent with the mixed findings of international studies.

Meanwhile, for Work Programme providers, on average, higher use of sanctions is associated with lower performance in terms of employment outcomes. Though this does not prove causality – it could be, for example, that weak Work Programme providers may use sanctions more because they are ineffective with their other approaches – it may suggest that differences in deterrence effects of sanctions are weaker than other factors explaining performance. Again, no evidence in favour of sanctions here.

The report finds substantial variation in the imposition of sanctions, both across time and between different geographical areas. So what is driving the operation of sanctions policy? The short version is that – again – the DWP doesn’t know, for sanctions administered by Jobcentres at least. Here, it could be that variation is due to differences in the types of claimants in each area, but the DWP has not assessed the causes of the variation, so it has no idea whether the variation is within acceptable limits. For Work Programme sanctions, because claimants are randomly assigned to a provider in their area, differences in referral rates are likely to reflect differences between providers rather than claimants’ behaviour. Taking geographical variation in the rate of sanctions alongside big changes over time – sanctions rose rapidly from 2012 to 2013, and then fell away so that they are now back roughly where they started – the NAO conclude that the imposition of sanctions seem to be driven by management culture at any given time and in any given place, rather than by claimants’ behaviour. In other words, sanctions are, to a greater or lesser extent, arbitrary.

Overall, the picture painted by today’s report is disturbing. Not only do the DWP not know how effective – let alone cost-effective – sanctions are at achieving their aims, they give every indication of not wanting to know. The NAO’s conclusion is damning: "Until the Department can show greater consistency in its use of sanctions and demonstrate that their effectiveness is proportionate to their costs, we cannot conclude that the Department is achieving value for money."

For a policy that is causing unprecedented hardship to hundreds of thousands of people each year, that’s not really good enough.

Alison Garnham is the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.


A quote-by-quote analysis of how little Jeremy Hunt understands technology

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Can social media giants really implement the health secretary’s sexting suggestions? 

In today’s “Did we do something wrong? No, it was social media” news, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has argued that technology companies need to do more to prevent sexting and cyber-bullying.

Hunt, whose job it is to help reduce the teenage suicide rate, argued that the onus for reducing the teenage suicide rate should fall on social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee on suicide prevention, Hunt said: “I think social media companies need to step up to the plate and show us how they can be the solution to the issue of mental ill health amongst teenagers, and not the cause of the problem.”

Pause for screaming and/or tearing out of hair.

Don’t worry though; Hunt wasn’t simply trying to pass the buck, despite the committee suggesting he direct more resources to suicide prevention, as he offered extremely well-thought out technological solutions that are in no way inferior to providing better sex education for children. Here’s a quote-by-quote analysis of just how technologically savvy Hunt is.


“I just ask myself the simple question as to why it is that you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18…”

Here’s Hunt asking himself a question that he should be asking the actual experts, which is in no way a waste of anybody’s time at all.

“… If that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract…”

A lock! But of course. But what should we lock, Jeremy? Should teenager’s phones come with a ban on all social media apps, and for good measure, a block on the use of the camera app itself? It’s hard to see how this would lead to the use of dubious applications that have significantly less security than giants such as Facebook and Snapchat. Well done.

“Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.”

Erm, is there? Image recognition technology does exist, but it’s incredibly complex and expensive, and companies often rely on other information (such as URLs, tags, and hashes) to filter out and identify explicit images. In addition, social media sites like Facebook rely on their users to click the button that identifies an image as an abuse of their guidelines, and then have a human team that look through reported images. The technology is simply unable to identify individual and unique images that teenagers take of their own bodies, and the idea of a human team tackling the job is preposterous. 

But suppose the technology did exist that could flawlessly scan a picture for fleshy bits and bobs? As a tool to prevent sexting, this still is extremely flawed. What if two teens were trying to message one another Titian’s Venus for art or history class? In September, Facebook itself was forced to U-turn after removing the historical “napalm girl” photo from the site.

As for the second part of Jezza’s suggestion, if you can’t identify it, you can’t block it. Facebook Messenger already blocks you from sending pornographic links, but this again relies on analysis of the URLs rather than the content within them. Other messaging services, such as Whatsapp, offer end-to-end encryption (EE2E), meaning – most likely to Hunt’s chagrin – the messages sent on them are not stored nor easily accessed by the government.

“I ask myself why we can’t identify cyberbullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it happening.”

Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, can’t you spot your problem yet? You’ve got to stop asking yourself!

There is simply no algorithm yet intelligent enough to identify bullying language. Why? Because we call our best mate “dickhead” and our worst enemy “pal”. Human language and meaning is infinitely complex, and scanning for certain words would almost definitely lead to false positives. As Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire famously learned this year, even humans can’t always identify whether language is offensive, so what chance does an algorithm stand?

(Side note: It is also amusing to imagine that Hunt could even begin to keep up with teenage slang in this scenario.)

Many also argue that because social media sites can remove copyrighted files efficiently, they should get better at removing abusive language. This is a flawed argument because it is easy to search for a specific file (copyright holders will often send social media giants hashed files which they can then search for on their databases) whereas (for the reasons outlined above) it is exceptionally difficult for algorithms to accurately identify the true meaning of language.

“I think there are a lot of things where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media, and I do think that is something which they should actively pursue in a way that hasn’t happened to date.”

Leaving aside the fact that social media companies constantly come up with solutions for these problems, Hunt has left us with the burning question of whether any of this is even desirable at all.

Why should he prevent under-18s from sexting when the age of consent in the UK is 16? Where has this sudden moral panic about pornography come from? Are the government laying the ground for mass censorship? If two consenting teenagers want to send each other these aubergine emoji a couple of times a week, why should we stop them? Is it not up to parents, rather than the government, to survey and supervise their children’s online activities? Would education, with all of this in mind, not be the better option? Won't somebody please think of the children? 

“There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things.

Alas, if only we could say the same for you Mr Hunt.


“I want to be a cat mum!”: indie web series Ackee & Saltfish comes to BBC Three

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

“Since when do we answer the door, please?”

“Know what? I’m not even going to get into this with you.”

“Lord Voldemort have mercy on us!”

“These times, you don’t even understand the complexities and nuances of cat communication, so…”

Meet Rachel (Vanessa Babirye) and Olivia (Michelle O Tiwo), the stars of Cecile Emeke’s Ackee & Saltfish. A short film turned web series celebrated by the New York Times and Indiewire, the show today comes to BBC Three as part of the channel’s “Comedy Feels” season – pilots for “breaking new comedy talent”.

The premise of this ten minute short is simple: two housemates sit at home arguing about each other’s domestic fixations – Rachel’s plants and Olivia’s new cat. The vast majority of the action is restricted to their (absolutely gorgeous) Stoke Newington home; we build up a sense of the larger texture of their daily lives as we watch snippets of their good-humoured bickering unfold through irregular fast cutting.

In fact, Rachel and Olivia never say a kind word to each other once in this short. But their dialogue has an ease that is immediately captivating, and the depth and warmth of their friendship becomes inescapable. Their constant teasing and frustration speaks to their closeness in a way that feels more authentic than, say, the Broad City character Ilana’s larger-than-life love for Abbi (a more exaggerated show with a female friendship at its heart).

There will inevitably be comparisons of Ackee & Saltfish to Broad City and other comedies centring on the daily lives of fashionable, funny young women in big cities. Unlike these shows, Emeke’s work is rooted in black experience. But, as she told the New York Times in 2015, “I don’t want to create a black version of anything that already exists. I want to create something completely new.” And she has.

Emeke has a knack for capturing everyday conversations, as she did in the web series, and in her short documentary film series Strolling. As a result, the most mundane of daily interactions here sparkle with humour. Tiwo’s perfect delivery of the line, “Since when do we answer the door, please?”, or Babirye’s dramatic reading of a web page asking if plants can feel pain, are just as funny as the farcical conclusion of the new cat plotline.

In short, like all great comic writers, Cecile Emeke locates her comedy in the fundamental relationship between her characters, creating people that you recognise and laugh with, and whose lives you want to return to again and again.

Ackee & Saltfish is available from today on iPlayer.


German Catholic charity launches 'No Santa' initiative

From BBC News - World. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Group wants people to celebrate "traditional" Saint Nicholas instead.

South Africa’s president escapes a political coup

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

WHEN African National Congress (ANC) bigwigs met last weekend, the debate was reportedly so heated that it almost came to blows. In an unprecedented show of defiance against Jacob Zuma, some cabinet ministers asked the scandal-plagued president to step down. The intense reaction among the ANC’s 104-member executive committee saw the meeting drag on for an extra day. But in the end Mr Zuma stayed. Unpopular even among ANC supporters, he has nonetheless proved adept at remaining in office by corralling support from a majority of the ANC executive. These people have the power to order Mr Zuma to step down as president of South Africa. But despite near-constant accusations of corruption, Mr Zuma has survived the latest mutiny, just as he has survived previous ones.

The ANC is divided, and this attempt to oust Mr Zuma has exposed its divisions anew. At a press briefing on November 28th the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, said the party had rejected a request that Mr Zuma step down after “robust” debate. According to reports, Derek Hanekom, the tourism minister, led the call for the president to go, supported by other cabinet ministers. Other...Continue reading

New European Union Directive on Counterterrorism is Seriously Flawed

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

European Union member states must ensure that a new effort to standardize counterterrorism laws does not undermine fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn's mix-up blunts his economic attack

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The Labour leader's confusion between the IMF and the IFS allowed Theresa May to safely escape. 

As Jeremy Corbyn delivered his second question at today's PMQs he appeared to be on a path to victory. In citing the IFS, he said, Theresa May was being a "little bit selective". The think-tank had described the prospects for workers over the next six years as "dreadful". Corbyn continued: "Isn’t it fair to say that those just getting by are suffering all the pain for no gain?” 

His question was punchy and well-scripted. But there was a catch. As May immediately noted, Corbyn had mistaken the IMF (whose flattering forecast she had quoted) for the IFS. "Given that he can't differentiate ... It's probably a good job he's sitting there and I'm standing here," the PM ruthlessly surmised. At that moment, Corbyn lost what momentum he possessed.

After the Labour leader chided May for the reduced increase in the minimum wage, she replied:"The one thing we know is that the policy that would not deliver a strong economy is Labour's policy to increase borrowing by £500bn". The party's pledge is in fact to borrow that amount over a decade, with £250bn drawn from the private sector. But May, citing former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, delivered an easy attack line: "Labour's policy would lead to double income tax, double council tax and double national insurance".

Intriguingly, however, when Corbyn raised the social care crisis, May conceded that the system was "under pressure" and that "we recognise that". When she was rebuked for not providing "a penny extra" in the Autumn Statement, she reminded Corbyn that the Tories were spending more than Labour promised at the last election. "The shadow chancellor - lately of Strictly fame - said local authorities would get not a penny more," she contemptuously remarked of Ed Balls. "The Conservatives putting money into the NHS and social care - Labour would deny it!" To prove that only Nixon can go to China, the Tories did indeed pledge to spend more than Labour at the last election. 

Asked by Tory MP Peter Bone about Donald Tusk's refusal to guarantee UK citizens the right to remain in the EU (though in a Corbyn-esque muddle, he claimed Jean-Claude Juncker had done so), May claimed vindication for her refusal to make a reciprocal offer. "It was absolutely right for us not to do what the Labour Party wanted us to do which is to give away the guarantee for rights of EU citizens here in the UK because, as we've seen, that would have left UK citizens in Europe high and dry." 

But on Brexit, May remained as opaque as ever. "How on earth can she expect MPs to vote to trigger Article 50 when she refuses to give any clarity?" asked Caroline Lucas (one of those who has vowed to block Brexit). May, as is now traditional, assured her: "We are ambitious in getting the best possible deal". 

Getty Images.

No, identity politics is not to blame for the failures of the left

By Laurie Penny from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

This is no time to back away from our commitment to women’s rights, racial justice and sexual equality.

In these troubled times, it's good to know that moderate conservatives, anxious liberals and even your neighbourhood Trotskyist uncle can come together against the common enemy: students. Prissy, stuck-up students, with their trigger warnings and political correctness and highfalutin ideas about racial justice. It must be their fault. Forget the gurning neo-fascists goose-stepping into power across the globe, it's the students who are the real enemy. If they hadn't been so hung-up on identity politics, we wouldn't be staring into this abyss. You know I'm right.

That was me being sarcastic. The reason I need to point that out is that on or around 9 November 2016, the age of irony gave way to a new one of deadpan sincerity. It happened at some point between the election of an orange billionaire tycoon to the White House and authorities condemning Native American protesters at Standing Rock under the outgoing administration. So, unfortunately, I must be clear: no, I don't think that “identity politics” is the greatest threat to western civilisation. Some people, however, really do, and are at pains to point out that this geopolitical disaster could have been avoided if we had all been less precious about gay rights and women's rights and black lives and concentrated on the issues that matter to real people. Real people meaning, of course, people who aren't female, or queer, or brown, or from another country. You know, the people who really matter.

In the wake of successive victories for the venal far-right, commentators from all sides of the self-satisfied, chin-stroking debate school are blaming “identity politics” for the disaster on our doorsteps. What they seem to mean by this is “politics that matter to people who aren't white men in rural towns”. I have always thought of that simply as politics, but according to Mark Lilla, writing in the New York Times, I was mistaken. Diversity, Lilla writes, is:

“A splendid principle of moral pedagogy  but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

This is an idea that has remarkable staying power across a fractious and divided left: the idea that issues of race, gender and sexuality are at best a distraction from class politics, and at worst a bourgeois tendency that will be destroyed after the revolution. The logic is that by focusing on issues of social justice, the political class has abandoned “real” working people to economic hardship.

This notion is horribly wrong, and the worst thing is that it's wrong in the right direction, a train of thought that stays safely on track right until it slams into the hoardings next to the station. The political class has indeed rolled over and let kamikaze capitalism wreck the lives of working people around the world. Identity politics, however, has little to do with that cowardice. That the two are now yoked together in the popular imagination is something the left must answer for.

All politics are identity politics, but some identities are more politicised than others. The notion that the politics of identity and belonging have been allowed to overwhelm seemingly intractable issues of class, power and poverty is, in fact, entirely correct  but this is not a problem for the traditional left. It is a problem for the traditional right, which has pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy for centuries, pitting white workers against black and brown workers, men against women, native-born citizens against foreigners in a hierarchy of victimhood that diverts energy and anger away from the vested interests bankrolling the entire scheme.

As journalist Michelle Garcia noted, responding to Lilla in the New York Times:

 “The attack on political correctness fits within the brand of identity politics Donald Trump exploited during his campaign. Mr Trump's victory relied on fusing a culture of racism and sexism with economic anxieties and the backlash against neoliberalism.”

It's a shell-game. A con. It did not start with Donald Trump, but the real-estate mogul and social media tantrum-artist has taken it to its logical conclusion. The president-elect and his fellow travellers and sugar daddies have committed political fraud against the entire western world. They have compounded it – as all good fraudsters do – by making us believe that it was our fault for being so naive in the first place.

It is, to some extent, reassuring to believe that it’s all our fault. If it’s all our fault for being too politically-correct, too committed to “diversity”  if it were liberals and leftists who messed up by listening to these whining hippies with their patchouli-scented ideals of fairness and tolerance and police not shooting young black men dead for no reason  we might have to face the much scarier notion that what’s happening is, in fact, beyond our control. Instead, those who should know better are encouraging the most vulnerable to throw themselves under the bus for the greater good. This is not just offensive. It is also stupid.

The truth is that social justice and economic justice are not mutually exclusive. Those who would sacrifice one for the other will end up with neither, which is of course what the unscrupulous narcissists manspreading at the gates of power are counting on. The mainstream political left has, for generations, been unable to answer the core economic issues that  shocking, I know, but hear me out  affect the lives of all human beings, of every race, gender and background. For generations, in the face of late capitalist hegemony, all it could realistically achieve was to tweak the system incrementally, making things a little fairer for individual groups, without challenging the structural inequalities that created the injustice in the first place. This must change, and soon. Not just because of “fine moral principles”. Trying to fix economic policy without tackling structural inequality is not just morally misguided  it is intellectually bankrupt.

Race, gender and identity are not side issues in the current crisis. On the contrary. Capitalism has always divided its labour supply along lines of race and gender, ensuring that in times of unrest, we don't start burning our looms  far safer for us to set fire to one other. All politics are identity politics, and this is no time to back away from our commitment to women’s rights, racial justice and sexual equality. This is when we double down. The fight against the corporate neo-fascism funnelling out of every television set is not a fight that can be won if liberals, leftists and social justice campaigners turn on one another. It is a fight that we will win together, or not at all.


Theresa May needs to win friends in Europe, not berate her way to a Brexit deal

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The government must win friends to influence people. 

That the Times' splash focuses on Jeremy Hunt on underage sexting (he's against it, not sending it himself) gives you a flavour of today's news: it's all quiet on the Westminster front. 

As far as the Brexit talks are concerned, the big news is the public repudiation of Theresa May's efforts to secure a pre-Article 50 deal on the rights of EU nationals already living in Britain, and British expatriates living in EU countries. Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel have both reiterated that there will be no deal or pre-negotiation until the UK presses the Article 50 button.

But what the PM - and indeed much of the reaction - attests to the continuing blind spot (or at least continuing blind spot) in Westminster's approach to the Brexit talks. 

The bulk of British expatriates in the European Union live in Spain - the fourth destination worldwide for British immigrants, after the United States, Australia and Canada - then Ireland, then France - seventh and eighth - respectively. Germany is ninth.

The bulk of European nationals living in Britain are from Eastern Europe, though some 270,000 Germans do reside here.

Merkel is powerful, but Berlin can't negotiate on behalf of Madrid, or Warsaw, or Prague.  One of David Cameron's problems in his attempt to "renegotiate" Britain's continuing membership of the EU was he thought, wrongly, that to square Merkel was to square Europe, much to the irritation of politicians who could, with a little more work and wooing, been his allies. Now May is doing the same thing, but the stakes are significantly higher. There is still a narrow path to a Brexit deal that doesn't knacker the British economy. But irritating the rest of Europe isn't the way to get there.


Sadiq Khan will criticize the government's approach to negotiating Brexit in a speech later today, and will announce that he will seek to secure the right for London-based businesses to issue visas, to keep the capital's dynamism and growth going. City AM's Mark Sands has the story.


Jeremy Hunt has called for social media companies to block children from sharing sexually explicit images with one another. "There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things," the Health Secretary said. "Firms must stop child sexting" is the Times' splash. 


RBS, which is still majority-state owned, has failed the Bank of England's latest round of stress-testing, and has had to draw up a new capital plan. Barclays, which also struggled to pass the stress-tests, has already taken action to fix the problem. The Bank of England's tests are designed to see if Britain's largest banks could survive a serious financial crisis


Mitt Romney, who called Donald Trump "a phony, a fraud" during the campaign, enjoyed an awkward dinner with the President-Elect as he attempted to persuade Trump that he should be appointed Secretary of State.  The photos were widely mocked on social media. CNN's Jim Acosta and Daniella Diaz have the inside track on the meal.


Samantha Cameron has launched her own line of clothing, Cefinn, with a photoshoot in Vogue. The debut range contains 40 pieces of clothing. 


Anna explains why Strictly and the X-Factor were able to eliminate their novelty acts where the Republican Party failed.


Can you trust the government with your data asks Amelia

James Millar on the underrated caution of Nicola Sturgeon

Here's a way to heal a divided Britain, says Rafael Behr

Henry Mance on a close-fought battle in Richmond

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Photo: Getty

“There is more to write about”: Labour eurosceptic Gisela Stuart accuses journalists of hamming up Brexit hate crime

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The Change Britain chair and Birmingham Edgbaston MP on her party’s lack of “narrative”, “Kamikaze” Lords, and why Brexit will mean short-term economic sacrifice.

Gisela Stuart is a politician who defies the rules of politics. An ardent eurosceptic who doesn’t come from the non-liberal right or old left. A Labour member who worked alongside Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom during the EU referendum campaign. A German, who came to study and work in Britain in the Seventies, campaigning to take the UK out of the single market. A Midlands MP who should have lost her marginal seat of Edgbaston in 2005. And in 2010.

But she’s still here, holding her constituency and fighting for Brexit. “Given that I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life trying to give up the subject of Europe, my career plan is going wrong somewhere,” she laughs when we meet in her poky office at the top of the Palace of Westminster. “I kept telling people like Boris on the 24 June: ‘It’s yours. I’m a backbench opposition MP, leave me alone.’”

We sit at a circular table, upon which she has two cans of Diet Coke and a fluorescent green whistle to hand. Appropriate props for a politician known as a mobiliser. Her community engagement efforts in Birmingham Edgbaston have been an example to MPs in marginal seats of how to hang on against the odds. The seat was a key Tory target in 2010; the most vulnerable Lab/Con marginal Labour managed to hold in that election.

Stuart accuses Labour colleagues with big majorities of failing to learn from 1997 landslide gains like hers. “We [the ’97 intake] were the ones who, in terms of how we fight elections, learned that you need to gather data, knock on doors to have people’s names, phone numbers, voting intentions – you can detect trends,” she says. “But even those marginal seats forgot that, in between election dates whilst you go on gathering the data, you still have to do a bit of the persuading job.

“Whereas the seats which have been held for Labour forever since the day – with some exceptions, but they are a handful – have neither engaged in the data collection mechanisms which we’ve done, nor had to marry that up with just getting opinion, engaging people. And that’s what we have to do, particularly in those Labour heartlands. Or else we will lose them,” she warns.

Does the leadership ever comes to her for such advice? “Saving the Labour party’s well beyond me,” she replies, shaking her head. “I think there’s a younger generation who has to do that, not me.”

Stuart is now 61, and shows me pictures of her grandson – chuckling that babysitting isn’t dissimilar to dealing with the politicians she worked with over the referendum campaign. She was born in Bavaria, and at 18 moved to England from Germany in 1974, to do a business course at Manchester Polytechnic. She worked in the University bookshop. She jokes that when she was selected as the Birmingham Edgbaston candidate, her ten years in Manchester made her more of an outsider to her local party than being from Munich. “That was the real problem!” she laughs.

Her European immigrant past makes her opposition to free movement somewhat ironic. She calls the single market “a political construct from the beginning”, arguing that, “there’s never been a logic to why trade and the free movement of people had to be inextricably interlinked.

“I’d always been puzzled about why socialists in particular thought that there was anything that particularly social-democratic about the single market . . . if you’ve got this kind of uncontrolled movement of people you cannot plan for your public services.”

But Stuart hasn’t always been a eurosceptic. From 2002, she was a parliamentary delegate to the Convention on the Future of Europe, drawing up a draft EU Constitution. It was this tortuous three-year process that led to her decrying the EU project. She saw deeper European integration as the careerist ambition of “a self-selected group of the European political elite”, rather than in European citizens’ interests.

In 2005, she was “on the barricades” demanding an EU referendum – though didn’t support David Cameron’s call for one a decade later, seeing a lack of any significant reform or transfer of power upon which to decide.

Stuart reveals that she is calling for a review into when referendums should and shouldn’t be called. “It’s probably too early to do this now, but in about a year or so, I think we do have to go back and look at, really analyse, under what circumstances you do have a referendum,” she argues.

“I think it almost will take a year because the result is almost like a grieving process,” she adds. “Whether it’s the Public Accounts Committee, or whichever committees look at it, it requires a distance where we no longer decide which side we were on on The Great Vote, but actually look at it in a much more dispassionate way.”

Is this just a politician’s way of saying the EU referendum was a bad idea? One of the lessons I think, I hope, we learned from that – we should’ve had a referendum on Maastricht, we should have had a referendum on Lisbon,” she replies. “They were significant transfers of power, and that was the original idea of when you have a referendum.”

As it looks like Parliament will vote on triggering Article 50, Stuart says she is more worried by “any attempt in the Lords to overturn” Brexit than in the Commons. “I think that would be very unwise,” she cautions. “There's this sort of Kamikaze theory of Lords, that it's the outrage of the Lords' behaviour which will finally lead to Lords reform. Which puts me the slightly difficult position in that I do wish to have fundamental Lords reform, but I do think there are other ways of doing it. And better ways of doing it!”

Stuart is chairing Change Britain, the successor campaign to Vote Leave, to “make sure that the interests of the Labour heartlands are taken into account at the early stages” of negotiations. Does she receive enough direction from Jeremy Corbyn to have Labour’s voice heard? “Absence of lines to take can be terribly liberating because I can write my own lines to take,” she chuckles.

“I have not yet detected that there is a narrative as to what the Labour party, from the frontbenches, is looking for,” she admits. “[Shadow Brexit secretary] Keir Starmer has made a very good start . . . he’s setting a tone which I welcome. But it’s got to go further than that.”

How can she justify pushing for a full-fat Brexit, when the people who Labour is supposed to represent would be hit the hardest? Communities struggling financially, and migrants who have been victims of racism?

“You have to have a conversation and say, in the long-run, this was the right thing to do,” says Stuart of the former. “Restoring democratic accountability in a way, which makes a society resilient. It gives it that base on which you then become economically successful.”

So it is an acceptance of short-term sacrifice then? “Yeah, I think so. Yeah,” she concedes.

And on migrants, Stuart emphasises that EU citizens’ rights in the UK must be protected, and urges the Home Office to “sort itself out” regarding citizenship applications. “I deeply regret that there seem to have been real xenophobic attacks, which should’ve not happened,” she adds, but also accuses the press of hamming up hate crime stories.

“There’s something which I sometimes find a bit worrying, and it kind of reminds me of when I first came to England in 1974 – this was the end of the three-day week, the UK was a bit of a basket case, to put it politely,” she says. “I always remember foreign journalists would come and say, ‘so where are the slums?’, because they’d come to report about all the bad things.

“I now sort of find, particularly in dealing with foreign journalists, them saying ‘so where are the hate attacks?’ And you feel like saying there is more to write about. There’s a journalistic bubble that talks to itself and, having decided that this is what’s happening, that’s what they go out and look for.”


Diagnosis of Gout

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Various clinical algorithms show promise for providing at least a provisional gout diagnosis in patients who present with signs of early-stage disease; such patients are most likely to be seen in primary, urgent, and emergency care settings.

Mind the Gap

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Case studies of the implementation of two sampling strategies suggest how future research may increase reach and uptake of HIV services among key populations.

The Economic Returns to Early Childhood Education

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Assess the value of preschool education programs and compare their upfront costs with the economic benefits they produce, measured by outcomes such as less need for special education services, improved high school graduation rates, and activity in adulthood.

I'm a Jeremy Corbyn supporter with a guilty secret

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The alt right has mastered an entertainment style the left has not. 

As a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, former public sector worker and all-round lefty, I have a confession to make. I am a little bit in love with Milo Yiannopoulos, highly-paid internet troll and alt right poster boy. 

The love I feel for Milo is strictly platonic. And I will be the first to acknowledge, after listening to an unhealthy number of his Youtube diatribes, once you cut out the jokes (funny though they sometimes are), you are left disappointed. Take his views on Islam, set out in a debate at the University of Massachusetts: “There are two types of Muslims in the world. Nice, middle class, assimilated Muslims… and terrorists.” Or his views on feminism: “Feminism is a mean, vindictive, spiteful, nasty, man-hating philosophy.”

Out of context, it is difficult to see how anyone could enjoy listening to the person making these arguments, let alone be persuaded by them. But as Abi Wilkinson has pointed out,  alt right arguments like the ones above are gaining ground online, and contributing to the radicalization of young white men. How is this happening?

A lot of the alt right’s appeal has to do with the delivery mechanism of their ideas: colourful entertainers who are a bit outrageous and disarmingly self-effacing. This is why, despite myself, I like listening to Yiannopoulos. He jokes, exaggerates, pushes the boundaries. It is all to provoke a reaction, get online attention, and rack up the view count. It works. One of his recent videos, "BBC tries to ambush Milo," has over a million views.  Like his right-wing bedfellows, he is genuinely entertaining to watch.

Contrast the polished media performers of the right with left. When I get my daily fix of social-liberal political news, there is a deadly serious style of debate that turns people off straight away. Whenever Nigel Farage or Yiannopoulos appear on a Sky News debate with a dour-looking lefty academic, they’ve already won.

Politics is, of course, serious business. But don’t think that the jokey media commentators on the right don’t realise how serious it is. They are simply better at hiding their agenda behind a mask of flippancy. Boris Johnson, another master of the art, wrote in this magazine a couple of years ago that “lefties…are much more likely to think that right-wingers are genuinely evil.”  At times, we certainly give that impression. Now, I’m not saying there has never been a Tory activist who has, on a misty moonlit night in East Surrey, sacrificed a newborn to hasten the awakening of Azathoth. But if we stop assuming they all do that, the tone of our arguments will change accordingly, and Tory voters would feel less patronised. 

A more self-effacing and less self-righteous approach can work wonders for public engagement, as Ed Balls seems to have discovered on the dance floor.  Whether or not this means giving Sunday Politics interviews in spandex is the way forward for Labour, I’m not sure. But our current Foreign Secretary is a prime example of how not taking yourself too seriously can go down well with the public. He won the mayorality, and arguably the referendum, on the basis of his personality: people liked him, and enjoyed listening to him speak.

There are, of course, left-wing comedians like who do an excellent job of disseminating ideas through humour. Stewart Lee’s dismantling of Paul Nutall in 2014 is still a joy to behold. However, there is an important difference between lefty entertainers like Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, Nish Kumar, and people like Yiannoupolos. To borrow from Zoolander, the former are comedians-slash-commentators, and not the other way around. Their primary goal is entertainment, so they don’t appear frequently on the media front lines of our national political discourse. 

In order to combat the rise of the alt right, and the apparent hegemony of the Tories in the polls , we need more commentators-slash-comedians pushing the left agenda in an engaging way on news, radio and in print. But we also need to learn from the things the alt right commentators don’t say. At the heart of their appeal is the fact that, behind the jokes, their arguments are bracingly simple. 

This is a huge advantage when it comes to persuading people. Instead of debating policy in detail in the national media, we should take a leaf from their book and go on the offence, attacking individual opponents and saying why they are unfit to govern as people, not flag-carriers. When Tony Blair called John Major “weak, weak, weak", that was more effective than a hundred policy explanations. Where they are needed, our policy arguments need to be short, sharp and self-explanatory, or they are no good at all. 

Admittedly, it is far easier for the right to make simple arguments than the left. On the left we are naturally more inclined to nuanced positions and complex explanations, and tend to look down on simple generalisations (try explaining to yourself why political correctness is important, in one sentence, with no commas). This intellectualism can too easily be used against us in debates. It was, quite literally, impossible for Ed Miliband to say that Labour overspent in government, because it would have been intellectually dishonest and a gross oversimplification.  

So make no mistake, delivering an argument in an entertaining way is only one side of the coin. The argument also has to be concise and intuitive enough to allow for an engaging presentation to be built around it. More likely than not, the argument needs to be highly simplified.

This is, unfortunately, the world we live in now. Johnson, Farage, Yiannopoulos and, of course, Donald Trump, are all pioneers of post-truth politics. If we’re going to win, we have to fight them on their terms. If you think the strategy of "we go high when they go low" worked out well for Hillary Clinton, then you’ve been inhaling the same thing her husband didn’t. It is no longer good enough, if it ever was, to have sensible, rational economic arguments, and naïvely hope the truth will emerge from our public debates. That is just not where we are at in 2016. 

Nowadays, if you want people to listen, you have to mock, exaggerate, cajole, put on a show. In our post-truth world, when it comes to persuading people you’re right, presentation is 90 per cent of what matters. The truth alone is no longer going to cut it.


Economics and populism: Schrödinger’s Brexit

By from European Union. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Main image:  SOMETIMES an analogy strikes you on the head with the force of a plummeting cricket ball. On Radio 4 yesterday, Hamish Johnson, editor of, had the brilliant insight to explain the British government’s policy in terms of physics; Schrödinger’s Brexit.The poor cat is stuck in a box with a radioactive substance and a poison; when the substance decays, the poison is released. Since it is impossible to predict when the substance will decay, the cat may be deemed simultaneously alive and dead. The only way to know is to open the box.Before Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, then prime minister David Cameron promised to trigger Article 50 (the exit mechanism) immediately. Five months on, Article 50 has yet to be triggered. The new prime minister, Theresa May, has promised to do so by the end of March. But in terms of what Britain wants, we have heard nothing but platitudes: “Brexit means Brexit”, or “have our cake and eat it”. Pushed for details, Ms May has said there will be “no running commentary” on negotiations. In fact, it is quite easy to do a running commentary. Since the other EU members won’t talk until Article 50 has been triggered, there have been no negotiations. Among the many important questions to be answered are whether Britain will stay in ...

The New Statesman Cover | Age of outrage

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

A first look at this week's magazine.

2 - 8 December 2016
Age of outrage

Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises is a significant achievement

By Catherine Taylor from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

There is a nervous energy in her writing which drives this relatively plotless novel forward.

“Now it is autumn and the falling fruit/and the long journey towards oblivion.” Although D H Lawrence’s prose is not particularly fashionable these days, his raw, arcane poetry continues to exert a startling power and exude presentiment. Margaret Drabble, for her 20th novel, has chosen for its title and epigraph a refrain from Lawrence’s valedictory “The Ship of Death”: there are numerous endings in the book, but it is Lawrence’s restless revolt against mortality which hovers spectacularly throughout. This nervous energy is most present in the novel’s jittery protagonist, Francesca Stubbs.

Fran is an archetypal Drabble character, an older version of her heroines from the 1960s and early 1970s: educated, dogged, middle class, self-improving. “Through our own mortal ingenuity, we are reaching a historical phase when we are beginning to fear old age and longevity more than we fear death,” Drabble wrote in a recent article. Fran, a seventysomething employed by a charity to research viable living arrangements for the so-called third age, “can’t understand the human race’s desire to perpetuate itself, to go on living at all costs”. Or, put more bluntly: “It’s fucked up old age itself.”

As she beetles around the country, checking out care homes and attending sheltered housing conferences, driving too fast and relishing the prosaic delights of overnight stays at a Premier Inn and a glass of cheap Merlot swigged in front of regional television, Fran’s train of thought is unfettered, densely allusive. It ranges over history’s ironic demises and famous last words, from Aeschylus’s death, alleged to have occurred by falling tortoise, to exits closer to home.

Her childhood friend Teresa is in the final stages of a terminal illness, “dying with such a style and commitment that Fran is deeply impressed by this late passage”; her own first husband, a retired surgeon, is complacently and suavely bedridden in a Kensington mansion block in London, his night terrors assuaged by Classic FM and a dual fixation on the late Maria Callas and his carer Persephone. Imminent death is not, of course, the province of only the elderly, as Drabble reminds us, in a book that soon threatens to become littered with more corpses than a Scandi crime thriller, albeit of an erudite variety.

Fran’s son, Christopher, has recently lost his girlfriend Sara, “taken ill very suddenly in a very large bed in a large luxury hotel on the Costa Teguise on the island of Lanzarote” while on holiday. A last supper of local limpets may or may not have been the catalyst for her expiration, which is relayed somewhat in the manner of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Christopher, a good-natured arts presenter whose trademark rakish glasses are not dissimilar to those of a certain BBC culture editor, was in awe of Sara, an outstanding human rights documentary-maker whose final project, on the plight of refugees from the Western Sahara, is now likely to be shelved.

Mordant wit and a strong humanitarian concern coexist in this novel; Lawrence’s ship of death becomes a metaphor for desperate people fleeing war and famine in rickety boats, washed up on inhospitable European beaches. So, too, does his “dark flood”, with low-level volcanic eruptions in the Azores and an increasingly waterlogged rural south-west England, gloomily monitored through the internet by Fran’s hermit-like daughter, Poppet, as withdrawn as her brother is outgoing.

For Teresa, a Catholic, and for Fran’s friend Josephine, a Cambridge adult education teacher (retired, to Fran’s horror, to one of the same sanitised independent living facilities she professionally recommends but secretly deplores), the afterlife, whether spiritual or secular, is definitely worth cultivating. Jo’s indefatigable tapestry work and her accidental research into a minor literary figure who died in the Spanish Civil War seem as ephemeral and yet as necessary as the intellectual legacy of the nonagenarian expatriate Bennett Carpenter, who, together with his younger partner, befriends the bereaved Christopher and welcomes him into their home on Lanzarote.

In terms of its plotlessness, The Dark Flood most closely resembles Drabble’s 1980 book, The Middle Ground, a series of contemplations on urban disaffection. While her writing can be high-handed, the novel is a significant achievement, admirable and truthful. To quote Lawrence, despairing and heroic, once more: “Look! We Have Come Through!”

Margaret Drabble and Penelope Lively will be in conversation at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 27 November

Evening Standard/Getty Images

Pre-transplant Depression Is Associated with Length of Hospitalization, Discharge Disposition, and Survival After Liver Transplantation

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

A history of depression is an important marker for poor outcomes following a liver transplant.

Management of Gout

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

This systematic review found strong evidence for using colchicine, NSAIDs, and corticosteroids to relieve symptoms of acute gout attacks.

The Stage is Set for an Escalation: The Meaning of Syria’s Attack on Turkish Forces

By Can Kasapoglu from War on the Rocks. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

On November 24, 2016, the Baathist regime of Syria attempted an escalatory plot by attacking the Turkish contingent in Syria on the anniversary of the downing of the Russian Su-24. Press sources reported that the attack was carried out by one or more Albatros aircrafts and that three Turkish soldiers were killed. At the time ...

Political Airpower, Part II: The Seductive Allure of Precision Weapons

By Mike Benitez and Mike Pietrucha from War on the Rocks. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Editor’s Note: Please read the first installment of this series, “Say No to the No-Fly Zone.” I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.                                                                         Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science Airpower advocates are often accused of treating all warfighting ...

Push or Pull

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Entrepreneurship among older adults is on the rise, especially in households with greater access to income from interest, dividends, and capital gains.

Is the Association Between Neighborhood Characteristics and Sleep Quality Mediated by Psychological Distress?

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

Perceptions of a neighborhood's characteristics, such as safety, were associated with sleep quality among low-income African American adults, but objective characteristics, such as crime rates, were not.

Connecting College Students to Alternative Sources of Support

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

This report examines a program designed to improve the well-being of low-income communities by connecting individuals to public benefits and other institutional and community resources to address nonacademic barriers to college completion.

Beware SNP rhetoric on St Andrew's Day

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 30, 2016.

The First Minister is more cautious than she lets on.

Ahead of St Andrew's Day, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been busy stirring the #indyref pot.

In a speech in Ireland she felt the need to reiterate that calling another vote on Scotland separating from the UK is an option in light of Brexit.

There was always going to be some indyref excitement on St Andrew’s Day. It has become a thing in Scottish politics, and the SNP were bound to pull some sort of stunt ensuring independence will be on the front pages stamped November 30.

The date first became a thing ten years ago when a law was passed making it a bank holiday. Although the bill was passed in the dog days of the last Labour administration in Edinburgh, it was piloted by Dennis Canavan, a former Labour MP turned independent MSP who would go on to chair the Yes campaign in 2014.

Labour may have backed the bill for fear of being seen as un-Scottish. Little did they realise it was just the first ripple of a nationalist tsunami that would overwhelm the party. Many more Scots were following Canavan’s political path away from Labour.

And yet it took longer for them to learn that tarting the party up in tartan wasn’t going to wash.

When Gordon Brown mounted his last-minute rescue of the No campaign in 2014 with the Vow (though most sensible analysis now accepts the campaign didn’t need rescuing), the timetable he set out established that Lord Smith’s commission on further devolution must be complete by November 30.

That deadline was both patronising and pointless. It piled the pressure on the politicians of the commission to come up with something by St Andrew’s Day without giving them the time to think through details and, importantly, consequences.

Brown had made the same mistake that Jack McConnell did in passing the St Andrew’s Day holiday bill. The electorate see through such tokenistic jingoism. Both times in the following elections they backed the nationalists in droves.

The question is whether Sturgeon is now making the same mistakes.

There is little evidence that the SNP would win an independence referendum right now. Sturgeon knows this. 

Many of her supporters, including among her elected representatives in Westminster and Holyrood, hold a different opinion. They are champing at the bit for another shot. Geeing them up for the sake of some St Andrew’s Day headlines could be a mistake.

The pro-referendum camp argue that Brexit Britain is an uncertain place, and so fundamentally alters the dynamics of an indyref campaign. If 2014 was a battle between the uncertainty of independence and the calm continuity of remaining in the UK, the latter position no longer exists. Instead, the next battle will be between equally fuzzy futures.

But Sturgeon and her more cautious fellow travellers don’t want a battle of equals, they want a campaign loaded in their favour. Hence the First Minister has to wait and see what a Brexit deal might look like before deciding whether to stick or twist.

This is not least because the new immigration landscape will be vital to the outcome of "indyref 2".

If the UK pursues a hard Brexit complete with tough immigration controls, independence will be a way to stay in the EU. Some see this as an easy sell for Sturgeon. A bespoke membership deal would likely to be reached.

But, as Downing Street is learning, freedom of movement is sacrosanct to the EU. Scotland would have to have open borders. And there’s no evidence that Scots are that much keener on immigration than their friends and relations south of the border.

The thinkers and strategists in all parties tooling up for indyref 2 know that immigration will be at the core. 

That’s a particular problem for Scottish Labour. The party stands ready to let the Tories do the dirty work of trash talking immigration in the service of returning another No vote. But such a stance would leave Labour further sidelined from the Scottish political conversation. 

That’s why Gordon Brown – him again – is meddling once more. His loyal lieutenants like Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper are out making the case for a devolved immigration system.

A system that is neither one thing nor the other might seem a good solution but it’ll get trampled in the constitutional dust up of an independence campaign.

Brown might be better sticking to what he knows best – money. The other issue already identified as a game changer at the next indyref is pensions.

It was the old who won it for No last time. That’s why the SNP have assigned their very best at Westminster – Mhairi Black and Ian Blackford – to take up the Waspi campaign

But for all their attempts to prove trustworthy on the issue, one fact remains. It’s the Treasury in Whitehall that deposits pensions into people’s bank accounts. And once people see that money going into their account every week, or if they are nearing the age that it’s going to start, they are very unlikely to back any proposition that risks it.

Sturgeon knows pensions and borders are two of the biggest barriers she must overcome if she’s to deliver the dream of independence. There’ll be a few St Andrew’s Days yet before she gets there.


Why sleep matters -- the economic costs of insufficient sleep

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

This report examines the economic burden of insufficient sleep across five different OECD countries. The findings of this study suggest that insufficient sleep can result in large economic costs in terms of lost GDP and lower labour productivity.

How a Harvard Economist Redesigned the Kidney Marketplace

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

A new series from the National Academy of Sciences explores the broad role of social science research in benefitting society. This episode profiles a man named Fielding Daniel and his wife, Amy, who were told to wait years so that Daniel could get a kidney. This led them to the market economist Alvin Roth, whose research and redesign of the kidney marketplace saved countless lives. Roth pinpointed the main problem: There were lots of people who wanted to give kidneys but couldn't because their loved ones weren’t a match. "As an economist that's not the way an orderly market works," he explains in this short film. "So, I got together with some colleagues and said let's think how we would trade kidneys."

This film is the first part of the series From Research To Reward, created by Redglass Pictures for The National Academy of Sciences.

A strong case for tougher scrutiny of executive pay

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The radical option would be to revisit performance-related pay

Beijing acts to plug leaky capital controls

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Restrictions on outward investment serve only as a short-term fix

A costly distraction: A bad time to be cutting Britain’s corporate-tax rate

By from European Union. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  A costly distraction Main image:  20161203_brp501.jpg PHILIP HAMMOND, the chancellor, made a few tweaks in his Autumn Statement on November 23rd but otherwise stuck to the fiscal policy set by his predecessor, George Osborne. A central plank of this stance is to keep cutting corporation tax, which is levied on company profits. The government hopes that will persuade businesses to invest in Britain. It might, but on political grounds it still looks unwise. As firms have become more mobile, governments have had to work harder to keep them. The corporate-tax rate has tumbled across the G20 group of rich countries in recent years (see chart). Britain has led the way. Its rate was 52% in the 1970s. Between 2010 and 2015 it fell from 28% to 20%. Mr Hammond will bring it down to 17% by 2020. Theresa May, the prime minister, has reportedly told her EU counterparts that, unless she gets a good Brexit deal, she may slash the rate to 10%. On one level, this looks sensible. Well before Brexit, companies were complaining about a slew of extra charges from the government. A ...

SRSLY #70: Gilmore Girls Revival / Saving Grace / Bringing Up Baby

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

On the pop culture podcast this week: the eagerly-awaited Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix, new graphic novel memoir Saving Grace and the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby.

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

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

The show on Netflix.

The piece by Hrishikesh Hirway that Caroline mentioned.

Saving Grace

The book.

Rachel Cooke's review.

Bringing Up Baby

The trailer.

The You Must Remember This podcast Anna mentioned.

For next week

Caroline is watching Maggie's Plan

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 #69, check it out here.

If you want a good deal out of Brexit, first, understand that there are other politicians in the EU than Angela Merkel

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Merkel is powerful, but Berlin can’t negotiate on behalf of Madrid, or Warsaw, or Prague.  

Angela Merkel exerts a fascination on much of the British political class. In part, that’s a result of a longevity. She came into office when Tony Blair still had positive approval ratings, George W. Bush’s Republicans controlled all three branches of government, and Jacques Chirac was President of France. It’s possible that she might be kept out of office next year by a coalition of the defeated left, if the numbers are there for a “red-red-green” coalition (the centre-left SPD,  the left-wing Die Linke and the environmentalist Greens) but no-one expects her to finish anything other than in first place in terms of votes cast.

At the European Union negotiating table, your personal popularity and the performance of your country’s GDP are important symbols of virility and contribute to your ability to get your way, as does the number of votes you wield in qualified majority voting and the amount you pay into the European Union. So Merkel’s hand is strong, and she will play a major role in Britain’s Brexit negotiations, but she will not be the only major player either.

The latest row – in which the British government has reportedly been “slapped down” by the Germans over attempts to guarantee the rights of British nationals living abroad and EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom now – is illustrative of the problem.

The bulk of British expatriates in the European Union live in Spain – the fourth destination worldwide for British immigrants, after the United States, Australia and Canada – then Ireland, then France – seventh and eighth – respectively. Germany is ninth.

The bulk of European nationals living in Britain are from Eastern Europe, though some 270,000 Germans do reside here.

Merkel is powerful, but Berlin can’t negotiate on behalf of Madrid, or Warsaw, or Prague.  

Photo: Getty

The New Times podcast #5: Prize lecture by Simon Wren-Lewis

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, winner of this year's New Statesman and Speri prize for political economy, delivers a lecture on Brexit, Trump and the deficit deceit.

This week, we bring you a recording of this year's New Statesman and Speri prize lecture, delivered by the award-winning Professor Simon Wren-Lewis. In this timely address, the Oxford professor and former advisor to the Bank of England warns that ignoring economists "is a bit like ignoring your doctor - if he can't tell you the exact year you're going to die". 

(Simon Wren-Lewis, Serena Kutchinsky)


- Now read more about the winner of this year's New Statesman and Speri prize. 
- And Wren-Lewis on the new Brexit economics.

You can subscribe to the New Statesman's New Times 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.


Workers on boards or shareholder revolts? 13 ideas for holding bosses to account

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has outlined its plans. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister in the turbulent summer of 2016, she made a pledge that surprised many in her own party and took the wind out of Labour's sails. She pledged more employee representation at the top of companies - in short, "workers on boards".

Now, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published its plans for consultation. And, yes, they do include "stakeholders" on boards, but also some flabby talk about strengthening corporate guidance. Depending on what the government hears from businesses, employee groups and other interested parties, we could see a revolution in the boardroom - or more of the same. 

Here are the main ideas on the table:

1. Give shareholders a veto on pay

Public companies already have to subject their pay policy to a binding vote every three years, but the annual vote is simply advisory. Instead, shareholders would get the final say ever year. If enough voted against the pay package, they would effectively veto it. 

Another version of this would keep the binding vote as something that happens once every three years, but allow shareholders to ask for an earlier vote in exceptional times. For example, if a company's top team resigned en masse, shareholders could have a say on pay. 

2. Penalise companies that ignore shareholders

Shareholders would not have the power to veto the annual salary, but if they did vote against it, the company could face a bigger hurdle to passing such a pay packet in future. So, for example, if the company decided to ignore its shareholders and pay the CEO gazillions in 2017, the next year it would have to find a deal that a "super majority" i.e. 75 per cent of shareholders agreed with. 

3. Set an upper limit for pay

Shareholders could agree on an upper level of company pay. If the company wanted to reward the boss with a salary that was extraordinarily humungous and crossed the threshold, it would have to put this to a binding sharehold vote.

4. Toughen the existing rules

This option would simply elaborate on existing rules for public companies, but with the encouragement to listen more to shareholders before and after a vote. 

5. Create shareholder committees

Many shareholders don't take advantage of their existing powers. Establishing a shareholder committee would allow representatives to focus on the company's strategy and directors. 

Many investors no longer buy shares directly, but invest through a stockbrokers. Brokers could be asked to do more to make sure individuals know they can make their voices heard. 

6. Empower remuneration committees

Big listed companies already have reumuneration committees which are staffed by independent, non-executive directors. The government wants these committees to spend more time listening to shareholders, and to be led by more experienced people. 

7. Publish a pay ratio

Big companies could be asked to publish the ratio of CEO pay to wages elsewhere in the workforce (this is already becoming mandatory in the United States from 2017). This would make it easier for shareholders (and the media) to see whether the CEO's pay was out of proportion.

8. More transparent pay

A chief executive's pay is like an iceberg - the salary is only one part, and much of the value is discreetly buried in shares, a bonus and a pension. Companies could be asked to make it clearer what the boss has to do to get a bonus, and to make long-term pay plans easier to understand. 

9. Workers on committees

Companies could be asked to create "stakeholder advisory panels" to provide a different set of perspectives to those usually heard in the boardroom. This committee wouldn't necessarily get a say in the final decision a company made, but it could influence the discussion. 

10. Ask certain directors to represent employees

This plan would ask existing non-executive directors to represent the voices of others, such as employees, in the boardroom. 

11. Workers on boards

This is the plan the Prome Minister originally floated, phrased in the report as "appoint individual stakeholder representatives to company boards". Other stakeholders, such as consumers, could also be represented. Employees could be elected, and once sitting at the boardroom table, would be expected to comply with the same rules as other company directors.

12. Ask companies to report back about employees' interests

Large companies already have to describe how they have considered employees' welfare. This requirement could be expanded to include other groups or be more specific. 

13. Make private companies follow the same rules

At the moment, private companies don't have to comply with the same levels of regulation as listed companies. The government is considering drawing up a new code for private companies and encouraging them to comply voluntarily (under significant pressure). 


Dutch Nationality Laws Leave Six-Year Old in Legal Limbo

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

More than 13,000 children in the Netherlands are classed as being of "unknown" nationality. One of them is taking his case to the UN Human Rights Committee.

The art of the YouTube Poop

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

What are YouTube Poops and why do we need them now, more than ever?

“The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

So, allegedly, said Pablo Picasso in a shrewd attempt to justify his love of putting noses where noses don’t actually go. It is imperative that you now hold this profound quotation firmly in your mind whilst you watch this four minutes and 57 second long clip of Arthur – the cartoon aardvark – being tormented by squirrels.

What you have just seen is an example of the art form primarily known as “YouTube Poop” (YTP). Beginning in the early Noughties, this cultural movement is characterised by confusing and shocking edits of Saturday-morning cartoons, video games, and viral videos. Though the Tens have seen the genre decline in popularity, the YTP is, nonetheless, one of the defining innovations of our era.

Those in the Poop community don’t actually like being labelled as artists, as one Yale student found out when he attempted to define them as such on the University’s technology blog. Though they have been compared to Dadaism, YTPs are more vile, violent, and most importantly, nonsensical than most artworks, but this is precisely why they are an asset to our age. In a world where – sorry Pablo, you got nothing on us – absolutely zero things makes sense, it is time for the YTP to have a comeback.

Despite its seeming randomness, the world of YTP is not without its rules. “Poopisms” are the common techniques and tricks used in videos to ensure they qualify as a true Poop. They include “stutter loops” (the repetition of clips over and over), “staredowns” (freezing the frame on a particular facial expression), and the questionably-named “ear rape” (suddenly increasing the volume to shock the viewer). One of the most humorous techniques is “sentence mixing”: forcing characters to say new sentences by cutting and splicing things they have said.

There are also firm rules about what not to do. Panning across a clip without adding another Poopism at the same time is considered boring, whilst using your own voice to dub clips is seen as amateur. By far the biggest barrier that Poopers* face in creating their videos, however, is the law.

Despite what many eight-year-olds on YouTube think, declaring that something is a “parody” in the description of a video does not make it exempt from copyright laws. The video below – regarded by at least two commenters as “the best YouTube Poop” ever – is missing audio 20 minutes in, as the creator was hit by a copyright claim.

Yet even the iron fist of the law cannot truly stop Poopers, who are still going (relatively) strong after the first YTP was created in 2004. YouTube Poops now even have their own Wikipedia page, as well as a page on TV Tropes and a WikiHow guide on how to create them, and for good measure, avoid them.

YouTube Poops have therefore undoubtedly secured their place in history, and whilst you might wander into a comment section to declare “What have I just watched?”, remember that Pablo Picasso once said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” He almost definitely wasn’t talking about “You are a Sad Strange Little Man” by cartoonlover98, but still.

* The term “Poopists” was rejected by the community for being “too arty”.



Should UK investors be selling the so-called ‘Bond proxy’?

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

2016 will mark a year of surprises with the man on the street voting against the establishment.  First it was salute to the EU and Brexit, and more lately Trump’s US presidential win to become the leader of the Free World.

The market has taken the initial view that Trump’s intended fiscal policy (tax cuts and increased spending on defence and infrastructure) is good for economic growth and inflation.  Since his victory inflation expectations have materially increased, causing bond markets to fall.  However, bond markets started to decline in August when the 10 year UK gilt yield reached a historic low of 0.52%.  In September, European companies Henkel and Sanofi both issued bonds at negative rates.  Effectively investors were paying for the privilege of lending money to a company.  Surely this represented a period of crazy valuations for bonds.  Whether this is the end of the 30 year bull market for bonds remains to be seen but what does rising bond yields mean for equity investors?

In the short term, equity markets have seen a sharp sector rotation out of so called “expensive bond proxies” (equities with bond-like characteristics i.e. low volatility, steady yield) and into financials (banks and life insurers) and miners.  While it’s no surprise that when bonds prices fall so do bond proxies but it’s the definition of what constitutes a bond proxy which intrigues me.  Let’s recap - a bond pays a fixed coupon out to maturity so for an equity to be classified as a bond proxy it arguably should be a business that pays out the majority of its cash flow as a fixed dividend offering no growth.  Since bond yields bottomed in August the worst performing sectors in the UK market include food producers, tobacco and beverages or as they are otherwise collectively known as consumer staples. These types of companies typically offer investors a low volatile earnings stream from which they pay dividends out, hence have bond type characteristics.  So is the market correct to sell these shares in-line with the bond market?

When bond yields troughed in the summer these stocks traded on average valuations of 21x forward price-to-earnings (a company’s share price expressed as a multiple of its predicted earnings in 12 months’ time).  Not exactly cheap but neither in excess territory verses their own history but especially relative to the UK market.  Also one needs to consider the growth these companies offer.  Remember a bond offers no growth in the coupon whereas the likes of Diageo, British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands have consistently grown their dividends over the longer term.  These companies own very strong long term brands (think Johnny Walker Whisky, the origins of which dates back to 1820 or American cigarettes Lucky Strike that were introduced in 1871) which command pricing power and are likely to be around for decades to come.  This should continue to support long term dividend growth.

There are also other stocks that the Trust holds which have sold off aggressively as they are deemed bond proxies.  Professional publisher RELX, software company Sage and contract caterer Compass Group have all underperformed in the last 3 months.  The assumption that the companies have only benefitted over the last 5 years from having bond like characteristics seems disingenuous given each company have grown their dividends 50%, 63% and 52% respectively over that time period.  These types of stable businesses that can sustain consistent dividend growth will always be at the core of the Trust as they add dividend certainty.  While in the short term share prices have been weak, valuations are now more attractive and I will use this and any further underperformance due to rising bond yields as a buying opportunity given my confidence in the businesses and dividends into the longer term.


Before investing in an investment trust referred to in this document, you should satisfy yourself as to its suitability and the risks involved, you may wish to consult a financial adviser.

The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.

Nothing in this document is intended to or should be construed as advice.  This document is not a recommendation to sell or purchase any investment. It does not form part of any contract for the sale or purchase of any investment.

Issued in the UK by Henderson Investment Funds Limited (reg. no. 2678531), incorporated and registered in England and Wales with registered office at 201 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3AE, is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide investment products and services. 


Theresa May is making the same mistake that Syriza did

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

She is overestimating her leverage, and underestimating the EU's willingness to suffer economic damage. 

Today's big story? A set of handwritten notes, snapped by an enterprising photographer, as Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Conservative MP Mark Field, walked out of 9 Downing Street. The note appears to reveal much of the government’s strategy for negotiating Britain’s Brexit deal.

Among the revelations: ministers are “loath” to do a transitional deal for fear that the Civil Service will try to hold on it indefinitely. Their preferred plan? “Canada plus”, a trade deal similar to the EU-Canada deal, but with more provided for services, or as the note says to “have our cake and eat it”, as far as the benefits of EU membership are concerned, without the perceived downsides of reduced sovereignty and free movement of people. But the same notes warn that the negotiating team is “very French”, and that France is keen to shake Britain down in the talks.  “‘Have cake and eat it’ — aide reveals Brexit tactic” is the Times splash.

Not only that, but the note suggests that the government has ruled out single market membership, though, as I’ve written before, that was already clear from Theresa May’s public pronouncements.

Although the government has said the notes “do not reflect the government’s position”, they represent what you might call the “maximal” position for Britain: all the benefits, none of the drawbacks on EU membership.  (Missing in action from the notes: whether we’ll still keep paying into the EU after we leave, a subject on which the government has kept notably quiet.)

The sentence that deserves more attention than it has thus far received from those notes: the line that the EU27 “don’t want instability in Europe” and are “fearful of us [the UK] as competitor.” As with much of the notes, these are things that ministers are saying privately, but, let’s be clear: the EU27 are not fearful of a post-Brexit UK as a competitor on the world stage. As Mario Draghi noted yesterday, they are well aware that a hard Brexit will hurt both sides, but it will be Britain who comes off worse – “Brexit will impose heavier toll on UK than Eurozone, Draghi warns” is the FT’s splash.

What it all feels reminiscent of – and is worth recalling – is the run-up to the first collision between the then newly-installed Syriza government and the Eurozone. Syriza ministers wildly overestimated their leverage and underestimated the willingness of the EU’s leaders to suffer economic damage to maintain the political project. May’s ministers approach to Britain’s exit talks risk going the same way.


Philip Hammond is coming under growing pressure from Conservative MPs to provide more support for the NHS and social care, Rowena Mason reports in the Guardian. Four Tory MPs have called for the Chancellor to act swiftly to tackle the problem.


Richmond’s Greens have rounded on the party’s leader, Caroline Lucas, for endorsing the Liberal Democrat candidate, Sarah Olney, as she seeks to topple Zac Goldsmith in Thursday’s by-election. (The Greens have opted not to stand.) They say that the party should instead endorse Labour, who finished a distant third in 2015. The Liberal Democrats believe they have cut Goldsmith’s majority to 3 per cent, with the remaining Labour vote pivotal to the outcome. Jessica Elgot has the story.


The government is being advised to halt its planned rise in the minimum wage by the OECD, who believe it will lead to job losses if the rise goes ahead as planned.


The government faces a second legal headache over the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. British Influence is seeking a judicial review over whether or not a separate vote is required to trigger Article 127, which removes a nation from the EEA, a separate economic arrangement that was not subject to the referendum. The government argues that Britain’s membership of the EEA was entered into as part of the country’s EU membership, and should therefore be considered part and parcel of leaving the EU.


Paul Nuttall was elected Ukip’s latest leader yesterday, and vowed to target Labour in its safe seats in the North. The Sun lists the 20 Labour seats that Ukip believes are most vulnerable, which include that of Tristram Hunt, Jon Cruddas and Angela Rayner.


Francois Hollande has cut a deal with his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, meaning that he will not face a challenge for his party’s nomination from within his government. According to the polls, Hollande is on course to receive a mere 8 per cent of the vote if he is the Socialist candidate next April.


Ed Balls has refused to rule out a return to British politics in an exclusive interview with the Sun’s Ryan Kisiel.  “You never say never,” the former shadow chancellor said.


Andrew Dickson explains why Britain’s addiction to period drama is driving away some of our best acting talent.


This isn’t the end of Ukip. It’s just the beginning, says Anoosh

Julia meets Debbie Abrahams

Fillon is as much a threat to liberal values as Le Pen, says Natalie Nougayrède

Get Morning Call direct to your inbox Monday through Friday - subscribe here. 

Photo: Getty

Wes Anderson makes more adverts than movies – how does his H&M Christmas commercial measure up?

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The film director dabbles in advertising yet again, showing that his signature quirk can sell products as well as seduce audiences. 

Established film directors routinely work on commercials to keep their hand in when they’re between projects or to try out new tricks or technology. Or just for the hell of it. All those factors are evident in Wes Anderson’s four-minute Christmas commercial for H&M.

The director of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel has made more advertisements than movies, and most of them have stuck to his signature style: fastidiously-detailed candy-coloured sets and costumes, unbearably precious hipster characters, a camera that glides elegantly in every direction with geometrical precision and a dusting of cinematic and literary references.

There was his tribute to Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, with Brad Pitt as the bumbling holidaymaker (the brand, as if that matters, was the Japanese company SoftBank) and the deliciously funny American Express ad, which combined Day For Night with Apocalypse Now and starred Anderson himself as our tour guide through the orchestrated chaos of one of his own film sets.

No one watching these is likely to think: Who on earth could have directed this? That’s the point. That’s why you hire Wes Anderson.

Only on his ad for Ikea, where he uses a borderline-unruly handheld camera, has he come close to shrugging off his trademark mannerisms. I bet he needed a stiff drink after that one.

The H&M spot is a more characteristically tidy affair, brimming with style and symmetry. It’s named after a Beatles song (“Come Together”) and ends with a John Lennon one – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.

It takes place as Christmas Eve blurs into Christmas Day on board the H&M Lines Winter Express sleeper train manned by Conductor Ralph, played by Adrien Brody. That actor’s presence, along with the locomotive location, inevitably recalls Anderson’s 2007 comedy The Darjeeling Limited. Ralph announces over the Tannoy system that poor weather and technical difficulties have delayed the journey by eleven-and-a-half hours: they won’t be home for Christmas.

The camera begins its predictable and visually satisfying tracking shot across the different compartment windows, taking in an array of passengers, among them a woman reading Agatha Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington, a brooding skier and a moon-eyed child staring out from behind an “unaccompanied minor” sign.

As usual, the production design is the star. The colours are as deliciously evocative as you would expect, not least the pale mint of the train’s interior and the warm peachy-pink of the bathroom where a woman stands at the sink, lost in thought.

Ralph and his porter, Fritz, have a trick up their sleeves to chase away the blues. The passengers are asked to convene in the rear coach in 20 minutes’ time. It is the passing of those 20 minutes that gives Anderson the chance to execute the visual coup which surely made the film worth doing.

As the train passes through a series of tunnels, the camera stares down the empty corridor; the light changes, moving from bright to dark to a golden glow and then back to bright. It’s the visual equivalent of the way the sound changes in The Shining when the child’s rumbling buggy shifts back and forth between the rugs and the wooden floor.

Once the train is out of the tunnels, the passengers emerge from their compartments one at a time. As the recording of “The Little Drummer Boy”, which has been playing throughout the commercial, draws to a close, they pad along the corridor to the rear coach where they find… Well, see for yourself. You wouldn’t want me to spoil Anderson’s Christmas surprise, would you?

It’s a sweet, inconsequential treat with the advantage – unlike some of Anderson’s feature-length work – of not going on long enough for the sugar to begin corroding your soul. Brody’s doleful face makes a nice counterpoint to the festive cheer. I also liked the faithful, uncomplaining Fritz, who doesn’t grimace when Ralph plonks a Santa hat on his head. Fritz is played by the British director Garth Jennings, who made Son of Rambow and the forthcoming CGI animation Sing, and has a good track record himself in meticulously designed music videos (Blur’s “Coffee and TV”, REM’s “Imitation of Life”).

As for Anderson, Come Together is a pleasant diversion. He’s throwing his fans a bone, or rather a Bonio, while he finishes his new stop-motion animated feature about dogs. What the commercial has to do with H&M is anyone’s guess. But that’s advertising for you. The point is simply to get everyone saying the brand name. So I guess it worked.

Come Together screengrab/YouTube

Kate Bush thinks Theresa May is "wonderful" - and it's not the first time she's turned political

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Bush also recorded a 1980s music video about Ken Livingstone. 

Kate Bush has described Theresa May as “the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time” because of her intelligence and power as a woman. 

Asked about her song “Waking the Witch” and fears of women’s power in an interview with the Canadian magazine Macleans, the iconic musician praised the British Prime Minister.

She told the magazine: “We have a female prime minister here in the UK. I actually really like her and think she’s wonderful. I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time.”

Bush praised “sensible” May’s intelligence and added: “It is great to have a woman in charge of the country.”

Imaginative singer-songwriter Bush has broken many records for women in music, including becoming the first female artist to have eight albums in the top 40 at the same time. Although Bush herself has said she hates the word feminist, her songs often address feminist themes, such as This Woman’s Work, about the dangers of childbirth.

Nevertheless, in light of Bush’s approval of May, The Staggers feels compelled to revisit the 1980s, when she sang the soundtrack to The Comic Strip Presents… series “GLC: The Carnage Continues”.

The satirical music video shows Ken Livingstone, played by Robbie Coltrane, launching a violent takeover of the Greater London Council. Bush sings over the top: “Where is the man that we all need?... Ken is the man we all need. Ken is the leader of the GLC.” She even refers to Livingstone as a “sex machine”.

In the video, Ken is living in the wild, when he discovers a plan to flood South London. The song begins as Ken is handing out posters and campaigning while also getting back into shape with the help of weights and a bottle of milk.

He then storms into the corrupt offices of the GLC and pushes out the leader, releases prisoners and rallies a bunch of armed guerilla fighters.

Livingstone later became Mayor of London, and afterwards has devoted much of his time to his hobby of talking about Hitler, but he didn't forget. In 2010, he told The Quietus: “Of course I was a fan of the song.” 


‘If we don’t treat them, who else will?’

From Analysis. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

From Yemen to Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières continues its work — even after attacks

Ken Clarke: Angela Merkel is western democracy’s last hope

By Serena Kutchinsky from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The former chancellor on how anger defines modern politics, and why Jeremy Corbyn makes him nostalgic for his youth.

Ken Clarke is running late. Backstage at the Cambridge Literary Festival, where the former chancellor is due to speak shortly, his publicist is keeping a watchful eye on the door. Just as watches start to be glanced at, the famously loose-tongued Tory arrives and takes a seat, proclaiming that we have loads of time. He seems relaxed, his suit is loose and slightly creased, and his greying hair flops over his somewhat florid face. His eyes look puffy and slightly tired – the only obvious sign that at 76, retirement is not far off.

Despite his laconic demeanour, the former chancellor says he oscillates between being “angry and depressed at the appalling state politics in the UK has descended into”. After 46 years as an MP for the Nottinghamshire constituency of Rushcliffe, he will not stand for re-election in 2020. His decision was announced in mid-June, just before the Brexit vote. Europe has in many ways defined his long career. He feels sharply the irony that the cause that drew him into politics was the 1961 campaign by Harold Macmillan's government for Britain to gain access to the European Economic Community, as it was then. Now, he will be bidding farewell to Parliament while the country prepares to exit the European Union. “The only consolation I have is that the UK has derived enormous benefits for being in the EU. . . I hope future generations don’t suffer too much with it coming to an end.”

Clarke is here to promote his memoir, A Kind of Blue, for which he received £430,000 – a record for a British politician who has not served as prime minister. The apt title reflects his own status as a Tory maverick as well as his love of jazz hero Miles Davis. He seems to enjoy the attention that book promotion brings – joking with the former Labour home secretary Charles Clarke, who happens also to be speaking at the festival.

Beneath his good humour lies a deep unease about the rise of populist, far-right forces that are rampaging through western liberal democracies from the US to France. “It’s resistance to change, resistance to the modern world and a desire for simple solutions to very complicated political problems,” he says. “The manner in which the political debate is publicised has changed, the mass media is hysterical and competitive and social media is taking over with short soundbites. It has thrown politics into complete confusion.”

Although he cites coverage of the New Statesman’s recent interview with Tony Blair as an example of media hysteria, he is positive about Blair’s intervention: “My understanding [of the interview] was that Tony only wants to play a part in trying to reform centre-left politics, and that’s a good thing . . . I want to see the sensible social democrats win the argument in the Labour party.”

Aware this might sound surprising, given that Labour are his political opponents, he justifies it by stressing the need for a credible opposition capable of putting pressure on the government. Jeremy Corbyn might make him “nostalgic for my youth when there were lots of Sixties lefties”, but it is clear he holds his leadership at least partly responsible for the “total collapse” of the Labour party, which has seen it lose “almost all of its traditional blue-collar base in the north and north midlands to reactionary, prejudiced, right-wing views”.

He is equally scathing of Corbyn's praising of the late Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice”, after news of the communist dictator's death broke late on Friday night. “[Castro] is a historical throwback to a form of simplistic ultra left-wing orthodoxy . . . He achieved some things in health and education but combined it with an extraordinary degree of cruelty and a denial of human rights.”

Clarke still has one political hero left, though: the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently declared she would run again for a fourth term in 2017. He describes her as the only politician succeeding in keeping the traditon of western liberal demcoracy alive. “She is head and shoulders the best politician the western world has produced in the last 10 to 20 years,” he says. If successful, the Christian Democrat would equal the record of her mentor, former chancellor Helmut Kohl, and provide some much-needed stability to European politics.

Less of a hero to him is Theresa May, who he famously referred to as a “bloody difficult woman” in July during an off-camera conversation with Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, which Sky News recorded. The clip caused a sensation. “I brought great joy to the nation,” he says, chuckling. “My son rang me up laughing his head off, and said it was the first time in my life I’d gone viral on YouTube.”

Today, however, he expresses some sympathy for the tortuous political situation the Prime Minister finds herself in, saying she must have been “startled by the speed” at which she suddenly ascended to the role. He is prepared to give her time to prove that, “she has the remarkable political gifts which will be needed to get the politics of the UK back to some sort of sanity”.

Later, during his talk in the historic debating chamber of the Cambridge Union, a more sentimental side slips out. His wife, Gillian, died 18 months ago. His book is dedicated to her. He rarely discusses his grief, preferring to keep that side of his life private. But when asked to recall his fondest memory of his student days at Cambridge University, he says simply meeting her. “Let me give a corny answer, it is going across to a girl at a [disco], picking her up, getting on quite well and staying married to her for over 50 years,” he says, his voice slightly trailing off, before he recovers, shakes his head, and pours his energy back into politics once more.


Developing a Research Agenda for Understanding the Stigma of Addictions

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

A review of key studies from the stigma literature that yielded empirically supported concepts and methods from the mental health arena was contrasted with the much smaller and mostly descriptive findings from the addiction field.

Simplified Novel Application (SNApp) Framework

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The Simplified Novel Application (SNApp) framework can help behavioral health science researchers develop apps that can collect health behavior data from multiple sources in real time.

"Have cake and eat it": Voters deserve a better Brexit strategy than an accidentally-snapped note

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The Brexit narrative is being told scrap by scrap of paper. 

Political hacks have always been interested in what politicians carry in their briefcases. Any scribbled note caught on a long lens camera is a tantalising glimpse into the reality behind the carefully-organised press briefings or photo shoots.

But 2016 has upped the stakes. Now, the scribbles are read like tea leaves. Is a mention of the single market proof we’re ripping out the economic furniture of the past 40 years? Or is this the writing on the wall for hard Brexit?

The latest focus of attention is a notebook carried under the arm of aide to Mark Field, the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, captured by the photographer Steve Back. It states, in cursive, a series of observations on Brexit. 

“Problematic for EU if we move decisively with no transition. Difficult on Article 50 interpretation – Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first. Got to be done in parallel…” And then the clincher: “We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered single market.”

And then some more Brexistential questions and phrases. “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.” “Very French negotiating team.” One option – “Canada plus”.

The government has shot down the note, with the business secretary Greg Clark telling the BBC “it doesn’t reflect any of the conversations I’ve been part of in Downing Street”. 

But while this might be the most outspoken note to make headlines so far, it comes just two weeks after a leaked “Brexit memo” suggesting the government had no plan. This was traced back to an outside consultancy, Deloitte. 

The government has kept almost entirely schtum on Brexit. Nearly six months on from the EU referendum, we still have no official confirmation of how immigration controls will be weighed against access to the single market. We still know very little about how the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be policed. David Davis, the Brexit minister, doesn't even give a straight answer to his Conservative parliamentary colleagues

Remain voters fear they are going to be ignored in favour of a hard Brexit. Leave voters (and some MPs representing Leave constituencies) fear Brexit will never happen. The fact an entire nation is hanging onto scraps of paper for a clue is damning. 

The government argues that, as a negotiator, it needs to hold its cards close to its chest. On this basis, it is attempting to block parliamentary involvement in triggering Article 50, and has shut out the devolved nations. But the whole principle of voting Leave was – apparently – to return sovereignty to a more accountable, directly-elected body.  Leaving the flow of information open to those who are least discreet, or who deliberately blab, or try to obstruct the whole process, seems a strange way to control the narrative on Brexit. 



The first Women’s Equality Party Conference was more personal than political

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The UK’s first mainstream feminist party is speaking to those who feel they’ve been left out.

The audience watches in silence as a tall, slender woman dressed completely in black weeps openly onstage.

All eyes are on Sophie Walker as she reveals how personal struggles with her daughter’s autism have inspired her to lead a political movement. It’s a party conference, but not as we know it.

The Women’s Equality Party has talked about turning male-dominated politics on its head since its inception 18 months ago, and in the red-brick Victoria Warehouse decked out in Suffragette purple in Manchester, they have complete faith that they already are.

This historic first party conference is notable for the absence of media scrum — no TV cameras reporting live on the day’s events held fittingly in the city which was the birthplace of Emmeline Pankhurst.

It’s the mainstream media’s loss, as the 1,500 mostly female attendees see it, for they do not feel they are small-time — on the contrary, they feel theirs is the most worthy cause there is.

What’s covered in Walker’s speech is not man bashing, or anything close. She does not admonish or preach — and even if she did, the assembled choir are well in tune with what she has to say.

"Individual freedoms will never liberate us, because our oppression is structural. And in the history of this world, structural inequalities have only ever been defeated by movements,” she declares.

Her impassioned speech addresses more than just the WEP’s much-vaunted six objectives — equal representation, equal pay and opportunity, equal parenting and caregiving, equal education, equal media treatment and an end to violence against women. A standing ovation is her well-earned reward.

A lot of the weekend’s events have the feeling of being self congratulatory. But then, why wouldn’t the 65,000 members of the WEP — or, as they refer to themselves, WE — be pleased with its progress.

Since its formation on March 2, 2015 by the journalist Catherine Mayer and the comedian Sandi Toksvig, the party has created a buzz loud enough for other parties to hear.

Walker’s bid for London Mayor against Sadiq Khan saw her gather up a quarter of a million votes — one in 20 of those cast — and they have already co-authored amendments to revenge porn legislation with the Liberal Democrats. But then, as the author Stella Duffy — an original and current steering committee member — tells her audience: “Women’s equality is vogue”.

If it’s a fashion, it’s one that these enthusiastic members have been holding on for.

One women tells me: “When I heard that, at the age of 67, I was finally going to be able to join a party who campaigned for me, I wept and wept.”

Diane from Leeds has been a feminist since the 1970s, but felt “left out by third wave feminism”.

“My friends say to me, ‘why aren’t you in Labour helping to make changes?’” she reveals, adding: “I like what Corbyn has done in the party, but I’m not keen on his attitude to women.”

Somewhat unusually, the WEP say they would welcome other parties stealing their policies.

“I’m not going anywhere until this is done,” Walker tells me post-speech. “I will either do it myself or I will squeeze all the other parties until they do it first. It’s not simply about having equality on their list of ‘things to do’ - it’s about doing it.

“We are challenging other parties and threatening their vote share. They recognise that there are votes in this, but also they recognise that voters like the idea of working collaboratively. This very tribal, ding-dong politics puts a lot of people off.”

Walker believes that the WEP are bringing people to politics who previously thought it wasn’t for them — but they’re also thriving on disenchanted votes from the political left, right and centre.

“We’re taking votes from everyone. We’re trying to explain that women’s equality does not sit in one part of the political spectrum, because that’s the reason why the movement has made so little progress.

“It’s become a political football used by parties who want to own it but then de-prioritise it. What we’re doing is challenging all parties and taking votes from them, because there are brilliant feminists in all of those other parties.”

It’s possible there are disenchanted former Tories or even Ukipers in the crowd, but it certainly isn’t my experience as I chat to those I meet, the overwhelming number simply never having been involved in politics before.

Although it’s been said that the party is lacking in support for women of colour and LGBT+, the current longest-serving leader of a UK-wide party believes its diversity is growing.

“I’m white and educated and, in some people’s eyes, I fell at the first hurdle. But as a party which wants to represent all women we are about listening and learning.”

Emma Ko, co-leader of Camden WEP, tells me the accusation that they are all "middle-class white women" doesn’t faze her.

“The middle class white women are the ones to get female voices out there,” she says, matter-of-factly.

There are surprising attendees here — speakers obviously include the erudite Toksvig, but more bizarre is 1980s popstar and X Factor mentor Sinitta, who speaks about her “authentic self” to a crowd who clearly have her hit single “So Macho” playing on a loop in their heads.

Inspiration comes too from those who have done so much, like Gudrun Schyman, Swedish MP and co-founder of its Feminist Initiative party.

But despite Walker’s assertion, it seems not all of the other parties are listening.

A cross party panel on feminist issues brings WEP co-founder Mayer alongside Conservative MP — and former women’s and equalities minister — Nicky Morgan, Liberal Democrat peer Sal Brinton and Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack.

The panel explains that Labour, in what could almost be considered a template for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, thought about sending someone along and said they might — before eventually not bothering.

With all this talk about women, it would be easy to forget the men, but they are here.

Hugh from Canterbury is one I meet who seems ideal for WEP posters — in his 60s, he is comfortable with the conversation surrounding him.

I ask if he feels a vote for the nascent WEP is a vote wasted. In a word, no.

“Once we get gender equality sorted out on a global scale,” he reasons, “Everything else will fall into place.”

For the members of the WEP— Britain’s first truly feminist party — it really does seem as simple as that.

Kirstie McCrum is a freelance journalist based in Manchester.


Patient-reported Offers of Alcohol Treatment for Primary Care Patients at High-Risk for an Alcohol Use Disorder

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Most primary care patients in this study, who were at high risk for an alcohol use disorder, report that they were not offered treatment after an annual screening.

The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in the Depression Care of African Americans and Hispanics in Los Angeles

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Collaboration between faith-based organizations and health providers could help increase depression care service use among young adults and people in racial-ethnic minority groups.

Johnny Marr's rock'n'roll spirit is set free in his new autobiography

By Andrew Harrison from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The Smith's star reveals little of his shared past with Morrissey in this enjoyable book which charts his later career.

It is one of rock’s most flyblown clichés that its prime exponents are lifers, doomed from birth, condemned by fate to rock’n’roll. They didn’t choose the life, the life chose them, it goes, and if they weren’t doing this, they’d be dead or in jail. It is a pleasure, therefore, to read a memoir by a five-star guitar hero that inverts these clapped-out banalities to present a particular life in rock as one of pure, disarming joy and open possibility. It’s especially piquant when the author rose to fame in a band that is caricatured by the cloth-eared as the ne plus ultra of pop miserabilism. Could they have imagined that life in the Smiths was so exhilarating?

As demonstrated by the opening “childhood and teens” section of Set the Boy Free, Johnny Marr – the Smiths’ musical visionary, free-range collaborator with The The, Electronic, the Pretenders, Modest Mouse and the Cribs, and finally solo artist – certainly is a lifer. Born in 1963 to a working-class immigrant Irish couple in Manchester, the young John Maher came to regard guitars in the way that other boys covet action figures or bikes.

Entranced by amps and fretboards, he painted his toyshop guitar a stage-appropriate white and glued on beer bottle tops as “knobs” (he was about five years old). Adoration of pop was imprinted on him by his music-loving sister and young mother who, touchingly, compiled her own top 20 lists and loved the Everly Brothers. Nights out with his extended Irish family convinced him that “going out to see a band was the best and most glamorous thing that could ever happen”. He was a rock star in his head by the age of seven.

It’s hard to imagine a more fortuitous place and time to forge a musician’s spirit and discerning taste. Glam rock was on the radio, Tamla Motown and Brill Building pop were on the radiogram at home and Johnny was surrounded by the clothes and colourful reprobates of 1970s Manchester. By 12, he began to look like Keith Richards (he never stopped), and was so self-possessed that he changed his surname from Maher to Marr at the age of 14 so as not to be confused with the then Buzzcocks drummer, John Maher. Most of us have no idea what we’ll become when we grow up. Marr always knew.

It is heartening to read how Marr’s innate artistic leanings – which are usually mercilessly crushed in such memoirs (cough, cough, Morrissey) – were positively encouraged by a succession of mentors. An art teacher with the unimprovable name of Miss Cocane urged Johnny to explore his interest in colour; he transposed this chromatic intuition into his guitar playing and developed an acute and precocious melodic sense. “I was looking for things that evoked a sense of yearning but with a kind of optimism,” he writes – which is as good a summary of the Smiths as any written. “The music was my way into somewhere, as well as a way out.”

After a succession of bands, many with his friend Andy Rourke, Marr decided to get serious and seek out a singer. He visited a reclusive pop-culture addict called Steven Morrissey in Stretford, and the Smiths were on their way.

The scope and directness of Marr’s recollections of the Smiths are in sharp contrast with the perfunctory retelling in Morrissey’s overwritten Autobiography from 2013. The singer squeezed the story of the last great British rock band into a thin sliver between an amusing, Gormenghastly picture of Cro-Magnon Manchester and an interminable moan about the Smiths’ court case over royalty payments in the 1990s.

Marr, on the other hand, dedicates the central third of the book to the Smiths, detailing every development and internal tension of this game-changing group with candour. He describes especially well how it felt to imagine and then create music such as “How Soon Is Now?” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – and then hear these instrumentals inhabited and transformed by Morrissey’s electrifying words and voice. Marr’s book dedicates five pained pages to the legal dispute, not 50, and is all the better for it.

What is missing here is a sense of revelation. Excepting the story of how Morrissey suggested reconvening three-quarters of the Smiths in 2008 – seemingly more of a mindgame with his former guitarist than a serious suggestion – Set the Boy Free adds little to the reservoir of Smiths lore. Given the extent to which fans and journalists have pored over this most singular of bands, perhaps there is nothing left to discover.

Instead, we learn more from the post-Smiths stuff, in which Marr throws himself into contrasting musical styles and collaborations to escape the jangling, chiming Smiths sound that threatened to become a cliché. The last third of the book provides not a climax but a sense of arrival. Like the narrator in “Being Boring” by his friends and collaborators the Pet Shop Boys, Marr has got to be the creature that he always meant to be. It is impossible not to be happy for him, and a little envious, too.


A Moral Guide to Serving in the Trump Administration

By David Barno and Nora Bensahel from War on the Rocks. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Ever since the surprise election of Donald Trump, a debate has flared within the national security community about whether or not to serve in his administration. This is one of the most important dilemmas to challenge our profession in years, if not decades. The president-elect’s character, policies, and campaign rhetoric as well as the divisive ...

An India-Pakistan Crisis: Should We Care?

By Moeed Yusuf from War on the Rocks. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The Donald Trump White House will have a fairly crowded foreign policy roster to deal with. From what has been said of the president-elect’s agenda for his initial months in office, Russia, the threat of ISIL and the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, tensions in the South China sea, and his promises to renegotiate ...

Kill the Iran Deal or Accommodate Russia? Trump Will Have to Choose

By Ilan Goldenberg from War on the Rocks. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Based on Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric some of his priorities in the Middle East – defeating ISIL and ensuring Israel’s security – will be no different than President Obama’s. Where his policies may differ will be in his stated desires to accommodate Russian interests in Syria while at the same time scrapping the Iran nuclear ...

A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Preexposure Prophylaxis for the Prevention of HIV Among Los Angeles County Men Who Have Sex with Men

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Some strategies for treating high-risk individuals before HIV infection can be cost effective while helping to reduce incidence of the disease.

Can Microsoft get back in the game with AI?

From Analysis. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

The chief executive reboots in an effort to capitalise on machine learning

Another Arab awakening is looming, warns a UN report

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

IN DECEMBER 2010 Egypt’s cabinet discussed the findings of their National Youth Survey. Only 16% of 18-29-year-olds voted in elections, it showed; just 2% registered for volunteer work. An apathetic generation, concluded the ministers, who returned to twiddling their thumbs. Weeks later, Egypt’s youth spilled onto the streets and toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The UN’s latest Arab Development Report, published on November 29th, shows that few lessons have been learnt. Five years on from the revolts that toppled four Arab leaders, regimes are ruthlessly tough on dissent, but much less attentive to its causes.

As states fail, youth identify more with their religion, sect or tribe than their country. In 2002, five Arab states were mired in conflict. Today 11 are. By 2020, predicts the report, almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.

Horrifyingly, although home to only 5% of the world’s population, in 2014 the Arab world accounted for 45% of the world’s terrorism, 68% of its battle-related deaths, 47% of its internally displaced and 58% of its refugees. War not only kills and...Continue reading

The £6bn-a-year cost of cutting immigration

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

Cutting numbers will adversely affect the public finances.

Theresa May has an immigration problem. This will not come as a surprise to many - the Prime Minister has been grappling with the question of how to reduce immigration since she became Home Secretary in 2010. But if the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is to be believed, her problem might soon be a different one. Because the reduction in migration to the UK following the referendum on the UK’s European Union membershipforcing the Treasury to borrow more and more.

In its latest forecast, the OBR has estimated that the UK economy will be 2.4 per cent smaller in 2020 due to the decision to leave the European Union. The economic impact of the decision to leave is based on a number of factors, such as falling productivity growth, less trade, and reductions in investment in research and development. But an important contributing factor is reduced migration to the UK.

Under these forecasts, net migration will reduce by around 80,000 people per year, trending down to 185,000 a year by 2021. This will significantly and adversely affect the public finances. By the end of the Parliament, the Treasury will have to borrow around £6bn more in every year than it would need to if net migration did not fall. The impact of reductions in net migration on the public finances is almost three times greater than the impact of higher inflation (£2.2bn) and almost as great as the impact from falls in productivity growth (£7.2bn).

The referendum result can be considered, in large part, a vote against current migration policies. Yet a crude focus on reducing the numbers of migrants will do little to allay public concerns on the issue. It is the type of migration that matters more to the public. Currently, formal study is one of the main reasons why migrants move to the UK. In order to reduce net migration to 185,000, the number of international students will likely need to be reduced. Yet, Bright Blue’s own research has found that an overwhelming majority of the public does not want a reduction in the number of international students. More recently, a ComRes poll found that just 25 per cent of Leave and 23 per cent of Remain voters said that they even consider international students to be immigrants.

But it’s not only international students to whom the public are more sympathetic. Bright Blue’s research has shown that opinions vary significantly for different types of migrants: workers, students, asylum applicants and refugees, and family migrants. If the Government developed individual targets for these different types of migrants, it could minimise the economic impact of leaving the EU while restoring public confidence in the immigration system.

The Government should use the considerable benefits to the exchequer that come from migration to pay for the challenges that do arise. At the Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary announced that the Government would reintroduce the migration impact fund. Yet a TUC report, released on Monday, showed that the new fund would provide all English local authorities with just £25m a year to split between them. Considering the OBR’s estimated £6bn cost of a reduction in net migration, the Treasury should be allocating much more money to the fund. As Bright Blue has advocated before, the Treasury could partially fund this by increasing visa and Citizenship Test fees year on year at a rate above inflation.

The Government also needs to reconsider its pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. The OBR estimates that net migration will fall to around 185,000 by 2021. This is still almost double the tens of thousands pledge. It seems highly unlikely that net migration will be reduced to tens of thousands any time soon and, if it were, the cost to the Exchequer would likely be in the tens of billions. The consistent failure to meet the target (which has been missed in every year since its introduction) is eroding public faith in the capability of our government to control migration.

The OBR’s forecasts suggest a gloomy outlook for the UK economy over the next few years due to the vote to leave the EU, but the Government has a chance to soften the negative effects of that decision. Ensuring that Brexit is an economic success is in everyone’s interest. If the Government chooses to address the type of migrants who come to the UK rather than crudely focusing on the numbers, it could alleviate public concern whilst ensuring the UK continues to reap the many benefits of migration.

James Dobson is a Researcher at Bright Blue


This isn’t the end of Ukip; it’s just the beginning

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Debate about the charisma of the party’s new leader all you like – the conditions remain for Ukip’s second stand regardless.

Paul Nuttall is the new leader of Ukip. After months of uncertainty following the Brexit result, the party has finally clawed back a bit of stability.

Party factionalism and a power vacuum had led to political farce. Diane James quit the leadership after just 18 days. The former leadership frontrunner and now-ex member Steven Woolfe was pictured face-down on the floor of the European Parliament after an “altercation” with another Ukip MEP. One candidate had to apologise on live television for accusing a “homosexual donkey” of “raping” his horse. All the while, Nigel Farage bounced between studios filling in the gaps.

It looked like the party was a spent force. Eurosceptics who had lost their raison d'être. A lacklustre showing in May’s local elections. Finances in chaos and about to disappear completely with the looming loss of Brussels salaries (£84,484 for each of the 21 MEPs) and resources (£5,400,000 collectively). And the departure of Farage between enforced comebacks.

With Nuttall in charge, the outlook is less gloomy. Commentators are already evoking his Liverpudlian roots and blokeish demeanour to paint him as a “threat to Labour”. And while a debate has begun about whether Nuttall has anything on Farage in terms of charisma, the conditions remain in Britain for Ukip’s second stand regardless of leader. “For me, this is only the beginning of the story,” said Nuttall in his victory speech today, quoting Winston Churchill: “This is the end of the beginning. A new chapter has opened for our party today.” This could turn out to be far more than triumphalist bluster.

To dismiss the party as a one-man, pint-toting band – nothing without Farage’s ubiquitous froglike grin and “straight-talking” charisma – is lazy. Ahead of the referendum, a Leave.EU campaign report even warned that he should be used “sparingly”, as his “divisive or reactionary tone” was thought to alienate potential Brexit voters in blue-collar jobs.

Once-safe Labour seats – particularly in areas of post-industrial decline along the east coast, some northern towns, and south Wales – could be the basis of Ukip’s future electoral success. Places where voting Tory is traditionally taboo, and Labour’s equivocation on immigration (and now Brexit), combined with complacency born of unwavering majorities, has lost support.

With both of the main parties in craven agreement that migrants are a problem (and dishonestly doing down their net benefit), voters suspicious of their foreign neighbours find their views validated. This will translate into votes for the most anti-immigration party. Why settle for a watered-down version of a hard line on immigration when a party exists that doesn’t appear to compromise?

Theresa May can tack to the Ukip-lite line of thinking all she likes. From David Cameron’s experience, we know this tactic will only really lead to concessions that result in electoral coups for Ukip in the long run. Look at Brexit. Whatever the Prime Minister sorts out in the Brexit negotiations, there will still be migrants coming to Britain to work (through whatever new immigration system is devised) because we need them to fill the jobs.

The only difference will be that, because of Brexit, people will feel even worse off than they already do. Inflation, a higher cost of living, frozen benefits and wage stagnation mean that those who have been blaming migration for their economic difficulties (and having it echoed by politicians – Ukip and otherwise) will continue to do so, especially when it becomes clear that workers will continue to come here from overseas. Anti-immigrant sentiment will continue to boost Ukip’s popularity; a feeling of betrayal when Brexit costs us will punish May at the ballot box, not Ukip.

Ukip could also increase its sphere of influence. A demographic detail that remains underexplored, according to experts like UK election specialist Professor Rob Ford and the former Labour MP John Denham who leads the Centre for English Identity and Politics, is English identity. While the socioeconomic factors behind Ukip support and the Brexit result are well-rehearsed, the people identifying as “English, not British” create a hazier picture.

According to political scientists, the number of voters who define themselves as “English” rather than “British” is increasing. This trend has been visible in attitude surveys, polls, focus groups, and the 2011 census, since the early 2000s. It is now a test of pro-Ukip sentiment in an area. Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck, says the level of “English only” voters is an indicator of Ukip’s popularity in a constituency (the more there are, the more support the party has). “The average is 67 per cent,” he tells me.

Some deindustrialised pockets of the northeast in particular reach well beyond the average. But prominent levels of English identity are emerging all along the east coast from the northern tip of east Anglia, in a “semi-circle” encompassing Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and North Cambridgeshire, according to Ford.

In the 2011 census, 70 per cent of people said they were “English, not British” in the top 20 Ukip-vulnerable constituencies (where it would need less than a 10 per cent swing to win). And according to Denham, 80 per cent of people who defined themselves as “English only” voted Leave, while 80 per cent of “British only” respondents voted Remain.

This extra factor could signal an expansion of fertile Ukip territory. The “Englishness” indicator cannot be written off as just another feature present in areas that have already been identified as Ukip-friendly. Parts of the northwest, and south Wales (unsurprisingly), for example, have few traces of “English only” respondents, but all the post-industrial, low-wage, underemployed prerequisites of Ukip support.

Ukip may be suffering from its own economic strife, but as populist candidates like Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump have shown, small individual donations matched with a big online presence can do a lot for momentum. With the economic consequences of leaving the EU hitting deprived areas the hardest, a growing strand of English nationalism, and an adequate leader, there is life after Brexit for Ukip.


Andy Murray's grumpy anti-genius has fuelled his rise to the top

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

His monstrous work ethic and ability to out-think his opponents has helped him grab the world number one slot.


The best sportsmen, goes the cliché, have so much time they make things look so easy. Not Andy Murray. Andy Murray is always in a hurry and he makes things look precisely as hard as they are — his anti-genius confirms his genius.

Of course, Murray is still a spectacular athlete, perhaps the fastest and fittest on the tour. But he is not like Roger Federer, whose feet are made of hovercraft. Nor is he like Rafael Nadal, who wrestles crocodiles in the off-season, and he is not like Novak Djokovic — a dietary miracle formed of elastic pipe-cleaners.

Yet he has found a way to compete with all three, seeking not to outgun but to out-think. And it has always been this way. At the age of six, he became the youngest player ever to win a match in a Scottish ranking tournament, the local paper was moved to note his “remarkable tactical awareness” and now, from the comfort of an armchair, it remains difficult to predict where he’s going to hit the ball. No one apprehends the game more astutely or more profoundly, and no one discomfits their opponents to such satisfying degree. Tennis against Murray is not a game but a brawl, a test of endurance, temper and tolerance. Every sportsman in every sport wants to obliterate their opponent — Murray forces his to do it to themselves, the experience of watching him at once visceral and intellectual.

Much of this, like much of all of him, comes from his mother Judy. From the very start, she refrained from espousing tactics and technique, focusing on problem solving instead. So Murray and his brother Jamie would complete drills in which their opponent could play into the whole court but they were allowed just a half or a third, while still being expected to win.

By virtue of his childhood, Murray honed the spirit and aggression that has sustained him through his career — even if it has not always been appreciated. Aged 18, he somewhat misguidedly informed an umpire that he was a “fucking c**t”, and even though in his early career the object of his ire was more commonly himself, this nonetheless contravened the stiff upper lip morality that has so elevated British masculinity. But his principal problem was not being potentially misunderstood, it was that he wasn’t quite good enough. Essentially, if you’re not going to win, it is only polite to be genial, like Frank Bruno, or refined like Tim Henman — the duty is to fellate the egos of needy, po-faced miseries whose idea of fun is buying right-wing tabloids and voting to leave the European Union. Murray, though, pandered to no one, sometimes sullen, always real, and entirely unarsed to satisfy a slavering agglomerate of clowns he didn’t know and who didn’t know him.

At 19, Murray was asked who he was supporting in the 2006 World Cup and naturally, being a Scot, wittily answered with “whoever England are playing against”. But this was ill-received by people too dense to get the joke and too dishonest to admit that were they him, they'd have felt likewise. No longer able to co-opt him for the nationalist cause, the English crowds deemed themselves spurned and took to bashing him at Wimbledon instead.

Murray being Murray, he simply got on with things, and thanks to a monstrous work ethic, improved himself significantly. He stopped losing big games to inferior players when their best day coincided with his worst, and in 2008 reached his first major final, only to be walloped by Federer.

It took him two years to repeat the feat – he was thrashed by Federer again – and the next time  by Djokovic. So he appointed as his coach the only man in tennis less compromising than he, and under Ivan Lendl's tutelage became the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1938, whereupon he lost to Federer again.

Naturally, it was not until afterwards that he fully won the crowd over, by crying through his interview. At last, the Great British PublicTM had what they wanted, what they needed and what they thought they deserved — someone who made them feel good about themselves. Murray might never win a slam, but he was moved by them and they were moved by him — God Save the Queen.

That summer, Murray won gold at the London Olympics and then took his first Grand Slam title at the US Open — the following year he won Wimbledon. Suddenly, no one was mithered what kind of bloke he was, which was exactly the same kind of bloke he always was — the kind of bloke who, when Lendl stepped down, could replace him with Amélie Mauresmo and not be intimidated by what people might say, on account of not giving a shit what people might say.

But despite that, and despite all his success, he is no big shot. He can still be sullen, yes, but that is a quality he shares with seven billion or so others — the majority of whom are not preoccupied with a brutal, lonely sport whose standards have never been higher.

It is true that he drives a posh car, but it is also true that it is a posh car full of coffee cups, crisp packets and chocolate wrappers. Simply, he likes tennis, he likes boxing, he likes football, he likes Playstation, he likes dogs, and he likes people he likes – and he likes being the best in the world at what he does, which he now is. It’s still not enough for some people, but they should know this: it says a lot more about them than it does about him.


Daniel Harris is a writer. He can be found on Twitter @DanielHarris


The Alabama Town Where Demolition Derby Is Life

By Nicolas Pollock from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Nov 29, 2016.

In Dothan, Alabama, people from across the South flock to Stoney Roberts Demolition to seek out a very specific adrenaline rush—the kind that comes from watching cars smash each other to smithereens. “If you've ever been in a red light and somebody’s cut you off, and you've thought in your mind, ‘Boy for five dollars I'd run right over that son of a gun’...that's what people are here for,” says the owner of the demolition derby, Frank Roberts. It’s addictive, he says, and on a Saturday night it’s what people do. “You get to take your frustrations out, on everything,” adds Eric Beard, a driver. We traveled to Dothan to get a glimpse of the demolition derby lifestyle, and capture exactly what’s so cathartic about this all-American tradition. This is the fourth episode in The Atlantic’s video series “Saturday Night in America,” which uncovers pockets of nightlife across the nation.

Ending South Sudan's Civil War

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Following its independence in 2011, three years of civil war have left South Sudan on the cusp of full-scale genocide, with its sovereignty discredited and undermined by warring elites.

South Korea’s president must put the nation first

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The scandal surrounding Park Geun-hye is doing immeasurable harm

Fillon takes pole position in the race for the Elysée

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

But the disarray of the left still offers an opening for Le Pen

A Conversation With Robert Greifeld

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Robert Greifeld discusses how the recent and upcoming elections in France, Germany, and the United States might affect trade, markets, and the future of globalization.

The High-Tech Future of Farming

By Nicolas Pollock from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Over the next 30 years, most Americans will move to cities. Farmers make up a tiny, aging fraction of the U.S. population, and the production of good food in a future urban society will require creativity. Caleb Harper, the lead researcher at MIT’s OpenAg project, and his team are developing open-source hard and software platforms for users to experiment with climates and grow fresh food. In simpler terms, Harper’s OpenAg Food Computers are smart mini-greenhouses for individuals to use in urban settings in the era of global warming. “When we talk about climate change it's often in a very disempowering tone,” Harper says in this interview filmed at the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival. “We want to create climate democracy at the scale of the person in the production of food.”

Have outsiders H&M just won the battle of the 2016 Christmas adverts?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Forget John Lewis. This short film by Hollywood director Wes Anderson is set to be the hit of the festive season.

When you think Christmas adverts, you think John Lewis. Maybe Sainsbury’s or Marks and Sparks if you’re a real expert. But outliers H&M might have changed that this year, thanks to a distinctive campaign filmed by director Wes Anderson.

Set on Christmas Day on the H&M Lines’ Winter Express it stars Adrien Brody, who worked with Anderson on his quirky hit film The Grand Budapest Hotel, as a harassed train conductor forced to break the news to his passengers that they will be delayed by 11.5 hours, ruining most of their holiday plans. But the passengers “come together” to build a surprisingly symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing Christmas brunch on the train itself.

I took issue with the rather more in-your-face style opted for by John Lewis this year, and H&M clothing takes a sort of back seat in this film, while Anderson’s trademark eccentric props take centre stage: strange maps, conductors’ uniforms, vintage Agatha Christie novels, the green walls of the train carriage, the homespun decorations. (Of course, H&M probably do have John Lewis to thank for their plotline following an impatient child waiting for Christmas to appear.)

Getting one of the world’s most instantly recognisable directors onboard obviously helps, but so far, this beats Sainsbury’s musical James Corden vehicle and John Lewis’ two-minute-long trampoline commercial.

Watch: Stewart Lee’s hilarious take down of new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall from 2014

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The political comedian mercilessly parodies the then deputy leader's stance on immigration.

In a sketch from 2014, the acerbic political comedian parodies Ukip’s call for tighter controls on immigration within the EU.

Lee mocks the then deputy leader in an extended sketch which references Britain’s long and successful history of immigration.

The comedian mimics Nuttall screwing up his face and adopting a weasley voice while spouting lines such as: “I’m Paul Nuttalls from Ukips, and I say we need to ensure the brightest and best Anglo-Saxons stay in fifth century northern continental Europe, instead of coming over ‘ere to the UK and laying down the entire basis of our language and culture.”

The mole is amused.


Lactation Support Services and Breastfeeding Initiation

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The likelihood that mothers with private health insurance would start breastfeeding increased by 2.5 percentage points after the Affordable Care Act mandated the coverage of lactation support services.

Drivers of Health as a Shared Value

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

A shared understanding of health as a cultural value is key to achieving an equitable health system and a culture of health.

Financial Loss for Inpatient Care of Medicaid-insured Children

From New RAND Publications. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Medicaid financial losses at children's hospitals greatly exceed losses at other types of hospitals.

A kebab with Debbie Abrahams: "My constituent was sanctioned for having a heart attack"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The shadow Work and Pensions secretary explains how she wants to change the language around benefits. 

Debbie Abrahams walk into the restaurant in an imperious black coat, as befits a shadow work and pensions secretary on a cold day. I suddenly feel nervous and scruffy. But Abrahams turns out to be lovely. The coat is soon folded away, and she is telling me in a gentle voice about the film I, Daniel Blake, where the benefits system drives an ill man to despair. 

Abrahams has been a Labour MP since 2011, and before that spent many years as a senior public health wonk. But it wasn’t always a straight path. “I have come up a different route,” she says.  

She hated school: “I left at 15, with three O-levels, got my A-levels while I worked, got my first degree.” Nevertheless, she considers herself very fortunate. “Driven by inequality, and trying to do something about it,” she says. “That really permeates into everything I do.”

On this steely autumn day, we are certainly among the fortunate as we sit in the warm Turkish restaurant Troia, a Thames-side restaurant favoured by Labour MPs. It’s the second in my series of conversations with MPs about politics, and food, and I’m keen to learn more about Abrahams, a quiet constituency-focused MP who has landed one of the top jobs in opposition. 

Her career in politics has certainly been marked by unexpected events. Abrahams won her seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth in 2011, after the sitting MP Phil Woolas was found to have lied about his opponent and ejected. The by-election could have been a referendum on his behaviour - instead Abrahams, as the replacement Labour candidate, vastly increased the majority. 

In Parliament, she found a seat on the work and pensions select committee, but it was another four years before the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appointed her as a shadow minister in that field. 

Then, once again, an opportunity came at a time of turmoil. After voters opted for Brexit in June, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Owen Smith, joined the mass resignation from the shadow cabinet. While Smith went on to lead the challenge to Corbyn, Abrahams was left to pick up the pieces. (In her view, Corbyn is a “sweet guy”, who “does his bit”.)

Despite her loyalty to the leadership, Abrahams comes across less as an ideologue, and more like a woman who wants to get the job done. Her opposition to welfare cuts is heartfelt. We haven’t ordered yet, but she’s already talking about the real-life Daniel Blakes in her constituency

“A guy actually had a heart attack in the middle of the Work Capability Assessment,” she says. “The woman who was doing it said, ‘You need to go to hospital.’ A week later he got a letter saying he had been sanctioned. It’s just nonsense, isn’t it?”

A waiter summons us back to the comfortable world of the restaurant.  Abrahams orders the seasonal vegetables – she’s vegetarian, for reasons of animal welfare. I’m vegetarian too, but I ask whether there was a vegetarian kebab option. The waiter looks doubtful. I end up ordering halloumi and potatoes.

I ask Abrahams where she likes to eat and drink in Parliament. “Have you been to the Pugin Room?” she asks. (This is a gilded room that looks over the Thames). “They serve high tea. My dad came to see me at Parliament when I was elected in the first year – I took him there. I thought he’d like that.” Like other MPs, she visits the tearoom, and also the old smoking room on occasion, a hangout for select committee members. She’ll cross over to the Tory side of the canteen if she needs to – “you’ve got to do business” – and is open to a cross-party coalition against hard welfare cuts. 

“We are saying many of the same things,” she says of the SNP. “It may not be a formal coalition, but in the debates on Concentrix and Waspi they have supported us.”

Our food arrives, and the waiter has managed to magic up a vegetarian kebab – a rainbow array of vegetables, grilled, and smothered in sauce. I tuck in, but Abrahams is busy talking. She is particularly focused on changing the language around benefits. She recalls how the former Chancellor, George Osborne, used his 2012 Autumn Statement to compare the working voter with the “neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits”, a comparison that made her fume. It is also, she contends, a modern trend, recalling research which found the media’s use of word "scrounger” had tripled between 2009 and 2010

So how should Labour position itself to win back power? Many lesser politicians think they know the answer, but Abrahams is circumspect. “My opinion is one thing, but I would like to see the evidence,” she says. “People have their own views about why we didn’t win the general election. I will go to the data.”

She is hardly getting a chance to eat, and I’m beginning to be worried she will leave the lunch sustained on policy ideas alone. It doesn’t help that I keep asking her questions. I ask her about the best eats in her constituency.

“There is a community project that’s been put together by First Choice Homes [a housing association]”, Abrahams says. “They call themselves the Jim Jam Girls and they make their own jam. It’s absolutely delicious.”

She recalls how, when the women came to visit Ed Miliband in Parliament, one was surprised to discover trains had toilets: “She had never been on a train before.”

A waiter comes to take our plates. It is clear that, despite reaching the executive suite of two careers, Abrahams is emotionally rooted in her constituency. So what does politics mean to her?

“I’m not so good at the politics side, I have to say, but I’m learning that,” she says. “It is about making a difference really and you try your best in opposition to do that too. 

“You can’t just be waiting to get into power. You’ve got to try to make that difference now.”


“A disaster waiting to happen”: Can you trust the government to digitise your personal data?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Privacy and security experts warn against the lesser-scrutinised Part 5 of the Digital Economy Bill, claiming bulk data sharing could be vulnerable to hacks.

Last week, the government’s Digital Economy Bill hit the news because of a proposed ban on pornographic websites that didn’t comply with its planned age verification rules. The news was just the right amount of shocking and yes, sexy, to grab the nation’s attention, but in the meantime other parts of the Bill remained unscrutinised. A distinctly un-sexy aspect of the Bill – Part 5, “Digital Government” – aims to completely revolutionise the way your personal data is shared.

In essence, Part 5 allows the government to digitise your data and bulk-share it without informing you or asking for your permission. This data includes your birth, death, and marriage certificates, as well as information on your taxes, court appearances, benefits, student loans, and even parking tickets. If the Bill passes, your information will be shared with local councils, charities, and even businesses – initially, gas and electricity companies.

Today, the Bill will undergo its third reading in the House of Commons. Last Friday, 26 privacy experts wrote to the Daily Telegraph to call for Part 5 to be removed from the Bill due to the lack of technical and legal safeguards in place.

“It's horrid and it's complex and it's going to impact all of us,” says Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, an organisation that scrutinises the government to protect individual privacy. Big Brother Watch was invited by the government to work on the Bill as part of the government’s Open Policy Making, but Samson feels it was ignored when discussing the need for strong safeguards in the Bill. “Holding civil registration documents in bulk and sharing them in bulk is without a doubt a data disaster waiting to happen.”

Samson and her team worry that the Bill does not do enough to protect our personal data. “They tell a little story in one of their documents about mothers being able to click and access their baby’s birth certificate instead of having to go and get a copy, which sounds brilliant except they haven’t defined how they’ll know the mother is who she says she is, and how she will know who she can trust on the other end,” she says. “In a perfect, idyllic utopia, it works, but it doesn’t take hacking into consideration.”

According to the National Audit Office, in 2014-15, there were 9,000 data breaches across government departments. The subsequent inquiries revealed that many officials did not know how to report a breach and there was not enough guidance for the authorities involved. “The government is already failing to look after our data,” says Samson. “Fundamentally [Part 5] will lead to data breaches. People’s data will get lost and we won't ever know how or why.”

Though the government denies it, there are additional fears that this digitisation of data is the beginning of an ID database, a policy that was scrapped in 2011. At the time, then-Home Office minister Damian Green said that ending the proposed National Identity Register demonstrated “the government’s commitment to scale back the power of the state and restore civil liberties”.

Whether or not a register is created, however, Samson and other privacy experts, as well as the British Medical Association, take issue with the fundamental justifications for bulk data sharing. “The reason that they've given for wanting to do all this is ‘wellbeing’, which is crap, frankly,” she says. “In the summer, the Scottish Parliament dropped the Named Person Scheme because the supreme court found that ‘wellbeing’ is simply not a strong enough reason to share people’s personal information. Of course they’re trying to do something great but they’re going about it in a really cack-handed fashion.”

One example of this is that the government intends to share your personal information with the Troubled Families programme to identify people who may be at risk. Although this is ostensibly positive, this information will also be used to determine anti-social behaviour. “On the one hand, they’re saying that they’ll make sure that families who need help will get it, but on the other, if it transpires that you’re noisy or you’re difficult on your estate, they will now share that data so you can have an Asbo.”

Fundamentally, then, although the aims of the Bill seem admirable, there are simply not enough safeguards and rules in place currently for it to safely become law. While this partially might be a simple error on the government’s part, Samson argues that the language of the Bill is “as open and broad and woolly as you can possibly imagine”, causing concern about how it might actually be used in practice. In theory, hundreds or thousands of businesses and authorities could have access to your data without your consent.

“No one is opposing the idea of data sharing,” says Samson, “But a) tell us why, b) keep us informed if you’re using our data, and c) let us control our data. That’s the only way this is all going to move forward.”


Ed Balls and Honey G: why reality TV has succeeded where western democracy has failed

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The departure of the novelty acts from their respective talent shows contrasts starkly with the dominance of populist figures in politics.

Ah, Saturday night television. A respite from the troubles of the rest of the world, where white male mediocrity is championed, where the whims of the public are humoured on a global stage, where experience is trumped by controversy and entertainment factor. Oh, wait...

The worlds of international politics and reality TV have never had more overlap. So, why, just a few weeks after novelty candidate Donald Trump won the US presidential elections, did double-left-footed Ed Balls bow out of Strictly Come Dancing, and modern-day one-woman minstrel show Honey G finally get voted off The X Factor? How are television programmes able to prevent gimmick triumphing over talent at the final hurdles when our political systems are not?  

Is it thanks to the voting systems? Strictly and The X Factor have similar approaches, albeit with key differences. The X Factor encourages the public to vote for its favourite acts – the two least popular will then be turned over to the panel of four judges, who will vote to save their favourite of the remaining two.

Strictly, always more self-consciously fair than The X Factor, with a focus on improvement and skill over sheer fun, takes the judge’s opinions into greater consideration – the final ranking half based on public votes and half based on judge’s scores. Again, the final two acts are turned over to the judges to choose from.

This week, both Strictly and The X Factor’s electoral colleges succeeded in vanquishing their novelty acts. “I have to do what I think the public would expect me to do in this position, and I also think one of the acts has gone as far as they can go now,” Simon Cowell said as Honey G was eliminated.

Meanwhile, on Strictly, the judges unanimously decided to send Ed Balls home. Craig Revel Horwood and Darcey Bussell cited competitor Judge Rinder’s better “technical” ability, while Bruno Tonioli added, “I have to choose the better dancers.”

Basically – “It was funny at first, but this has gone on long enough, and we all know you’re not the best in the race.”

You know the world’s in a sorry state when you start wondering if an electoral college consisting of Len Goodman and Nicole Scherzinger might be an effective damage limitation strategy for future political elections.

But, sadly, it would be disingenuous to pretend that Simon Cowell and Craig Revel Horwood are to be thanked for making a bold and courageous defence of meritocracy, and in doing so saving the British public from themselves. For Ed and Honey G to get to the bottom two in the first place, their public support had to be dwindling. As both competitions neared their close — X Factor has two weeks left while Strictly has one more — viewers were simply over the joke.

I don’t know why we are more likely to elect Boris Johnson Mayor of London (twice), throw four million votes at Nigel Farage, or elect Donald Trump POTUS than we are to allow Ed Balls or Honey G get to the final stages of competitions fairly lacking in talent to begin with. But looking to Saturday night TV for answers to the world’s most pressing problems was always doomed to fail. 


French voters face a choice: Thatcherism or fascism

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Today's Morning Call. 

Francois Fillon has been handed the task of saving France from a Marine Le Pen presidency and, by extension, the European Union from collapse, after a landslide win over Alain Juppé in the second round of the centre-right Republican party primary, taking 67 per cent of the vote to Juppé's 33 per cent. 

What are his chances? With the left exhausted, divided and unpopular, it's highly likely that it will be Fillon who makes it into the second round of the contest (under the French system, unless one candidate secures more than half in the first round, the top two go to a run off). 

Le Pen is regarded as close-to-certain of winning the first round and is seen as highly likely to be defeated in the second. That the centre-right candidate looks - at least based on the polls - to be the most likely to make it into the top two alongside her puts Fillon in poll position if the polls are right.

As I explained in my profile of him, his path to victory relies on the French Left being willing to hold its nose and vote for Thatcherism - or, at least, as close as France gets to Thatcherism - in order to defeat fascism. It may be that the distinctly Anglo-Saxon whiff of his politics - "Thatcherite Victor vows sharp shock for France" is the Times splash - exerts too strong a smell for the left to ignore.

The triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States have the left and the centre nervous. The far right is sharing best practice and campaign technique across borders, boosting its chances. 

Of all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most avoidable, so I won't make one. However, there are a few factors that may lie in the way of Le Pen going the way of Trump and Brexit. Hostility towards the European project and white  racial reaction are both deeply woven into the culture and politics of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. The similarities between Vote Leave and Trump are overstated, but both were fighting on home turf with the wind very much at their backs. 

While there's a wider discussion to be had about the French state's aggressive policy of secularism and diversity blindness and its culpability for the rise of Le Pen, as far as the coming contest is concerned, the unity of the centre against the extremes is just as much a part of French political culture as Euroscepticism is here in Britain. So it would be a far bigger scale of upheaval if Le Pen were to win, though it is still possible.

There is one other factor that Fillon may be able to rely on. He, like Le Pen, is very much a supporter of granting Vladimir Putin more breathing space and attempting to reset Russia's relationship with the West. He may face considerably less disruption from that quarter than the Democrats did in the United States. Still, his campaign would be wise to ensure they have two-step verification enabled.


Eleanor Mills bagged the first interview with the new PM in the Sunday Times, and it's widely reported in today's papers. Among the headlines: the challenge of navigating  Brexit keeps Theresa May "awake at night", but her Anglican faith helps her through. She also lifted the lid on Philip May's value round the home. Apparently he's great at accessorising. 


John Kerr, Britain's most experienced European diplomat and crossbench peer, has said there is a "less than 50 per cent" chance that Britain will negotiate a new relationship with the EU in two years and that a transitional deal will have to be struck first, resulting in a "decade of uncertainty". The Guardian's Patrick Wintour has the story


A cross-party coalition of MPs, including Caroline Lucas and David Lammy, are at war with their own pension fund: which is refusing to disclose if its investments include fossil fuels. Madison Marriage has the story in the FT


The Ethics Council to George W Bush and Barack Obama say the Electoral College should refuse to make Donald Trump President, unless he sells his foreign businesses and puts his American ones in a genuine blind trust. Trump has said he plans for his children to run his businesses while he is in the Oval Office and has been involved in a series of stories of him discussing his overseas businesses with foreign politicians. The New York Times has detailed the extentof Trump's overseas interests. 

TODAY'S MORNING CALL... brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.


Fidel Castro died this weekend. If you're looking for a book on the region and its politics, I enjoyed Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat, which you can buy on Amazon or Hive.


Ed Balls was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing last night, after finishing in the bottom two and being eliminated by the judges' vote.  Judge Rinder, the daytime TV star, progressed to the next round at his expense. 


Helen reviews Glenda Jackson's King Lear.


Forget Castro's politics. All that matters is he was a dictator, says Zoe Williams

The right must stop explaining away Thomas Mair's crime, I say

It’s time to end the lies on immigration, says Anna Soubry

Get Morning Call direct to your inbox Monday through Friday - subscribe here. 

Photo: Getty

Why Nigel Farage's claim that Jeremy Corbyn won't sing the national anthem is poppycock

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Of course, he wasn't around to check on Remembrance Sunday himself...

Nigel Farage launched an attack on the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn while announcing the new Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, today. 

He said of the Labour party that it is "led by a leader who refuses to sing the national anthem".

Nuttall too claimed that in Corbyn "they have a leader who will not sing the national anthem".

But is this true? The Staggers decided to investigate. 

In September 2015, shortly after becoming party leader, it is true that Corbyn did not sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain event. But a source confirmed he would do so at Remembrance Sunday. Here is a picture of him singing in 2015.

And here is him again, in 2016...

So where is the picture of Mr Farage singing the national anthem? Well, this was a little harder to track down, as Farage spent Remembrance weekend going up and down in President-elect Donald Trump's golden lift, wearing nothing on his lapel bar a US-UK flag pin. 

Indeed, his decision to skip such an important commemoration led the Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones to brand him a "grinning, poppy-less popinjay". 



"Turkey is sliding backwards"

By Elif Shafak from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Elif Shafak reviews this new memoir which charts the Libyan-British author's return to his fatherland after years in exile, which resonates with her own experiences.

“Even as a young child, I could never imagine my father bowing, and even then I wanted to protect him,” Hisham Matar writes, in his memoir The Return. This says a lot about the land he comes from: Libya. There are countries where fathers have to bury their murdered sons, or where sons try desperately to keep their fathers safe. Then there are countries that separate fathers from their sons.

The Return follows the footsteps of the Libyan-British author as he travels to his fatherland after years in exile. It is 2012. He is accompanied by his wife, the photographer Diana Matar, and his mother. Coincidentally, it is the 22nd anniversary of his father’s captivity. Jaballa Matar, a successful businessman, diplomat and lifelong critic of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, was kidnapped by Libyan security troops in 1979. He was taken to Abu Salim Prison – notorious for its torture techniques and human rights violations. At the time of the abduction, Hisham Matar was 19 years old.

Matar wants to learn what has happened to his father: a question as simple as it is complicated – even dangerous. In the words of Telemachus in the Odyssey, “I wish at least I had some happy man as father, growing old in his own house – but unknown death and silence are the fate of him . . .” In looking for his father, Matar says, he is also looking for other things: memory, belonging, childhood, justice, roots . . .

It is these “other things” that make this book unforgettable. Matar’s observations of the “new Libya” are those of an insider/outsider. He is not a part of this culture – not any longer – but nor is he detached from it, even when he tries to be. Like every exile, he carries his fatherland in his conscience wherever he goes. Like every exile, he feels guilty about being the one who left and survived.

It is fascinating to see how each member of the Matar family responds differently to Jaballa’s disappearance. Hisham’s elder brother, Zia, remains optimistic to the end, claiming that their father could still be alive, having perhaps lost his memory, “unable to find his way back, like Gloucester wandering the heath in King Lear”. The mother remains resilient, focused on the present, on raising her sons. In truth, both parents are strikingly resilient. In one of the last letters Jaballa manages to send his family from prison, he writes: “The cruelty is everything, but I remain stronger than their tactics of oppression . . . My forehead does not know how to bow.” Within the family, it is Hisham, more than anyone else, who allows the anger, the resentment and the despair to surface.

The family’s psychological torment is deepened by not knowing what happened to Jaballa. Was he shot? Was he hanged? Did he die at the hands of torturers? “Not knowing when my father ceased to exist has further complicated the boundary between life and death,” Hisham writes. “My father is both dead and alive. I do not have a grammar for him. He is in the past, present and future.” When, in 2011, the Gaddafi regime is toppled and political prisoners are freed one by one, the waiting becomes all the more painful. Suddenly, for the first time in years, there is reason to be hopeful.

Matar’s voice is at its strongest when he talks about his self-imposed exile. “I noticed how old I had become, but also the boyishness that had persisted, as if part of me had stopped developing the moment we left Libya.” He contrasts his lack of ability to settle down anywhere – his “bloody-minded commitment to rootlessness” – with “the resigned stability of other exiles”. “My silent condemnation of those fellow exiles who wished to assimilate was my feeble act of fidelity to the old country, or maybe not even to Libya but to the young boy I was when we left.”

Matar’s cultural and literary references throughout the book are mostly European. It would have produced a wonderful mix if he had included Middle Eastern or Eastern references, too. But his analyses are deep, from his boarding-school years in England to his exchanges with the then British foreign secretary, David Miliband, when he tries to secure international help both for his father and for other political prisoners.

One of the most memorable chapters concerns Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the second son of Colonel Gaddafi, a man with many sides to his personality, who makes promises he cannot keep and who ultimately sides with tyranny – and cannot understand the pain of the thousands of people who have lost their fathers, sons or brothers under his own father’s regime.

Towards the end, it becomes painfully clear that Jaballa Matar was probably killed at Abu Salim on 29 June 1996, when 1,270 prisoners were massacred. The revelation is strangely liberating for Hisham: “For a quarter of a century now, hope has been seeping out of me. Now I can say, I am almost free of it.” Optimism weighs us down sometimes, especially when it is unsustainable.

I have been reading The Return at a time when my motherland, Turkey, is sliding backwards at bewildering speed, and journalists, writers and intellectuals are being detained, arrested, blacklisted or ostracised. Matar’s story is not only the story of his family, nor even of Libya, but, sadly, of a fate that is repeated again and again in countries that separate fathers from their sons.

Elif Shafak’s “Three Daughters of Eve” will be published in February by Viking

Francesco Guidicini/camera press

Paul Nuttall named Ukip's new leader with pledge to win over "old Labour" voters

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

He also urged the party to stick together. 

Paul Nuttall is the new Ukip leader after the second contest in two months.

Ukip members cheered as it was announced that Nuttall, a historian from Liverpool, had won with 62.6 per cent of the vote.

Nuttall, who is seen as a possible unifier for a party riven by warring factions, said in his victory speech: "My call for unity has received the biggest mandate in the history of our party." 

He urged the party to stay together in order to win donations and support: "The party has resembled a jigsaw that has been tipped onto the floor. Today is the day we start to put the Ukip jigsaw back together."

If Ukip "ceases to be an electoral force", Leave voters will end up with a "mealy-mouthed, backsliding" version of Brexit, he said. 

To those who did not want to work together, he said: "I'm afraid your time in this party is coming to an end."

Nuttall, who comes from a working-class family and studied at a comprehensive school, confirmed Ukip's drive to attack Labour's support base. He told supporters the party had "ceased to speak the language" of its traditional voters and attacking the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for not singing the national anthem (in fact, Corbyn sang it at a 2016 Remembrance Sunday event from which Ukip was notably absent). 

He said: "They have lost touch, they are more at home talking about the issues that swirl around the Islington dinner party than the issues that matter in working-class communities."

There is already a "bank of people out there" who will never return to the established parties, he said. 

He named Peter Whittle, a former candidate in the leadership race, as his deputy, Paul Oakden as a party chairman, and Patrick O'Flynn as chief political adviser. 

Nuttall is a social hardliner, who has called for a referendum on bringing back the death penalty and reducing the legal time limit of abortion. 

He has eyed the leadership for some time, telling The New Statesman in January 2015 that he thought he would "lead Ukip well". He pioneered the tactic of targeting local councils, rather than focusing all the party's resources on Westminster. 

Speaking before him, Nigel Farage, the former leader, joked of 2016: "For those that think it's an awful year then I'm afraid folks there's more bad news to come."

He painted Jeremy Corbyn as unpatriotic and said: "Old Labour has absolutely nowhere else to go other than Ukip."

Jon Trickett, Labour's national campaign co-ordinator, reacted to the news saying: “You only need to know one thing about UKIP’s new leader, Paul Nuttall: he wants privatisation in the NHS."

Nuttall said in 2014 that the "very existence of the NHS stifles competition”. 



What we learnt filming MPs in their constituencies

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

The murder of Jo Cox turned an idea born from satire into a profoundly different programme.  

Anyone familiar with Armando Iannucci’s brilliant film In the Loop will recall the scene at the end of the film, where bruised and battered after his moment in Westminster spotlight, the fictional Simon Foster MP attends his weekly constituency surgery and comes face to face with a furious constituent and his mother’s collapsed garden wall. 

After watching the film again, we wondered: do all MPs treat their weekly surgeries with the same disdain and dread as Foster? What kind of conversations really go on behind closed doors, and would any MP actually be prepared to let the cameras in to find out? 

Surprisingly, what we found was that more than a few MPs were actually very receptive to the idea of letting the cameras in. Indeed, they claimed that away from the Westminster bubble it was the one aspect of the job they loved the most. A cynical photo opportunity, or a genuine passion for representation? There was only one way to find out. 

We set out developing the idea and sitting in on some actual surgeries, and immediately we knew we were onto something. With each constituent getting approximately 10 minutes with their MP, the meetings were a kind of speed-dating where ordinary Brits share some of their most intimate problems. For some, with nowhere else to turn, it is a last chance saloon. What’s more, the MPs were coming across as unvarnished and non-judgmental - in other words, as human beings, 

After being commissioned by Channel 5, we knew the documentary needed to offer a real snapshot of modern day Britain and the problems that people face. So when selecting which MPs to feature we needed diversity,  not just across political parties, but representing different parts of the country too. We signed up Naz Shah (Labour – Bradford West) Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat – Sheffield Hallam) and Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservatives – North East Somerset).

As filming began, the stories emerging were as varied as the people sharing them. Some tragic, some quirky, and some just plain funny. Most constituents seemed unafraid of telling their MP what they really think. 

And beyond listening, what can the MPs actually do about these problems? Well in reality, it’s the case workers that do all the heavy lifting. They write letters, open doors, and make phone calls, all in the name of the MP they work for. Sadly, a lot of the time, that intervention and influence can’t solve the problem

The most common hard-to-fix problem we saw was cuts to social welfare. From losing specialist care for a disabled child, to unaffordable care homes, we were seeing the human reality of big and blunt government cuts made in Westminster trickling down to constituencies all over the country. 

Halfway through filming, the country was shaken by arguably two of the most significant political events of the times - Brexit and the tragic murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox. What had started as an idea born from political satire now become the most important programme we had in production. It was also clear that the disdain and dread portrayed by In The Loop character was a fiction, with all three MPs passionate and driven to do all they could for their constituents.

I think what we have ended up with is a sweet and sometimes funny, sometimes tragic documentary really does take the temperature of Britain, through the prism of an MPs' surgery. 

True, most MPs can’t fix all the problems of their constituents, but in a time when much of our political system seems broken, this is one part, that while it isn’t perfect, in its own quirky way, does sometimes work. And for that, it should be cherished.

Dov Freedman is the executive producter at Sundog Picture. MPs Behind Closed Doors airs Monday 28th November at 9pm on Channel 5.


Why John Berger is the least theoretical Marxist on Earth

By Andrew Marr from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

Andrew Marr on the work of the award-winning left-wing writer and artist at 90.

The story of John Berger is the survival and triumph of a shape-shifter. A painter who turned to writing, he became the single most influential commentator on art of our times. A novelist who rejected mainstream fictional forms, he won the Booker Prize in 1972 and used the award to fund Black Panther revolutionaries. A passionate Marxist, he has remained popular throughout the waning of Marxism. An upper-middle-class Englishman, soldier and Londoner, he turned his back on the fizzing metropolis to live in rural France, and so became an ­authentic internationalist.

This month he turned 90, but he is still possessed of the wolfish mental and phy­sical energy, the bodily charisma, he has ­always enjoyed. And, happily, a clutch of new books, by and about him, takes us closer to the mystery that is John Berger.

Reading them, a plain truth emerges: Berger’s success is, above all things, the ­success of great writing. He thinks long and intensely about complex matters and, by a kind of mental grinding and wrestling, which you can see reflected in the muscles of his face, eventually brings them into sharp focus. He describes art and culture with a lucidity that brings to mind only George Orwell, another New Statesman writer, whom he met.

For the young Orwell, the world as it was made no sense. His upbringing at Eton and work in the Imperial Burmese Police jarred so horribly with what he saw, and felt, that he spent the rest of his life in the gaps, trying to explain them. This led inexorably to a political philosophy. But, as an abnormally acute looker, he found he had to change his whole way of life to see what mattered and in order to write honestly about it.

Decades later, John Berger went through the same kind of transformation. A keen young painter, he came to wonder what the point of art was, in an age facing nuclear ­annihilation. Growing up in the crucible of modern British patriotism, his father a war hero, learning his craft during the London Blitz, gifted and lettered, he found he had to change his life, to live with other kinds of people – Haute-Savoie peasants above all – in order to make sense of the world.

The best measure of his success is, for me, not his best-known book, Ways of Seeing (1972), nor even his novels, but A Seventh Man. Produced with the Swiss photographer John Mohr in 1975, this is an angry ­account of the lives and working conditions of migrant labourers, wrenched from home by the demands of big money. More than four decades dusty, it nevertheless feels like a front-line despatch from 2016.

But another way of measuring that success is by picking up A Jar of Wild Flowers: Essays in Celebration of John Berger, an almost preposterously internationalist Festschrift. This is a man admired in Palestine, in Greece, across Africa and throughout Asia and the Americas. Though the essays include reflections on Picasso and Cro-Magnon art, more of them deal with political violence and oppression: communal killings in India, Isis terrorism, murder in Gaza. Berger has developed a form of thinking and writing which might start with art, but reaches out in almost every direction.

How has he done this? The biggest difference between Orwell and Berger isn’t generational or political, but a difference of practice. Berger is a lifelong, instinctive collaborator. His writing emerges from conversations. His thinking bounces off other people’s thinking and work – he is at his best struggling to understand a surprising piece of drawing, or reacting to photographs or poetry or sculpture, or letters or a conversational gambit. He is, as it were, a writer with his gates always open. This is particularly impressive because he is also such an intense and serious thinker. Intensity and wide-openness don’t often go easily together, nor do brooding reflection and conversational collaboration.

Among the new books for his 91st year, therefore, Berger lovers will especially enjoy Lapwing and Fox, a beautifully produced volume of conversations between Berger and his friend John Christie, the visual artist and film-maker. Christie types a letter, with handwritten additions, illustrations and so forth, which might cover his own boyhood, his recent thoughts about Modi­gliani and an anecdote about deer appearing at the sound of a flute. Berger then responds in handwriting. What are they interested in? Basically, being alive.

Here is Berger responding to a film that Christie made with the multimedia artist Ian Breakwell:

I remember that when I was a small kid – around four to six – I had a strong sense of Nature. I suspect most or all kids do. And then it’s dismantled and taken to pieces by reason, competitiveness and other priorities. Nature had the shape of an egg which surrounded you, everybody you knew and everything which happened to you . . . The egg of nature was immense and contained everything that existed. I thought of it as an egg because it was a container without corners. Outside it there was nothing. Nothing.

This leads me to Berger’s Marxism. He has not veered from his revolutionary views and passion for the dispossessed; yet the vast bulk of his writing has not been directly political; he seems to have little interest in the deep structures of power or in parties; and he is clearly the kind of Marxist who would be instantly dismissed from any Marxist organisation he joined.

Further, the bent of his imagination is towards granular sensitivity, the finest details, the lines and smallest shadows, of experience. In his criticism, he can command the bravura big sweep of synthesis and theory, covering the period from the late Renaissance to early modernism in a brisk paragraph. But, more than this, he is a fine writer on art because he has this ability to home in on a tiny detail and niggle away at it until it shows a truth we had never noticed before.

Berger has been loved around the planet because he is the least theoretical Marxist on Earth. He is a writer for whom the clagginess of soil, the folds in an old jacket, the sharp smell of sorrel soup, or a German drawing of a hedgehog, matter first – the crammed meat inside the egg of nature. His hatred of capitalism, I take it, signals not only an anger on behalf of the dispossessed but also a revulsion against the ugliness of the modern world and our divorce from ­nature: a much wider dispossession.

And this is where that original question which has haunted him all his life – what is the point of art? – returns. In his debut novel, A Painter of Our Time (1958), his protagonist, an exiled Hungarian artist, attacks the formalism of modern painting. This is a type of “art which gets over its problems without a glance at anything outside itself. The formalist work is self-sufficient. It is a commodity. The market for such commodities is made up of those who believe that they are also self-sufficient – members of the mincing cosmopolitan art world.”

It’s vigorous and he makes an important point. But I have been back to look at the argument between Berger and Patrick Heron in the 1950s (also in these pages) about the social obligations of the artist, and I don’t find myself coming down on Berger’s side. As a fellow painter, but one struggling to make images that still “worked” in the modern world, Heron had a more sensitive and nuanced understanding of the importance of fresh freshness – simply, how difficult it is to make a good picture – than did Berger at his most urgent and polemical.

Berger was right about paintings becoming mere handy tokens for the very wealthy to pass between one another and he was right to ask artists to think about this. ­However, artists also have to make art new, and to believe that the results will somehow matter. Heron pointed out that safe, easy and popular art in the capitalist countries and official socialist realist art-propaganda were equally awful.

Berger gave up painting as a mainstream activity in the late 1940s but he has always been a drawer. There is nobody else alive I know of who can bring together so effectively the sensitivity of an artist’s eye and a broad, muscular understanding of human history. That being so, the essential book in this crop is Verso’s innocuously titled Landscapes: John Berger on Art. It contains his essay on cubism, an argument everyone needs to read in order to understand that “moment”, as well as some interestingly ­ferocious writing on the intellectual paucity of American abstract expressionism, and the modern gallery culture.

Yet there is something else one must highlight that is essential to understanding Berger. This book includes an extraordinary and revelatory autobiographical essay, entitled “Kraków”, a kind of love letter to an early teacher, which only reveals its meaning slowly. I think it is as profound as anything he has done. It reminds us that all good writing comes only from good (that is, patient, attentive, loving) looking.

Another short essay, “The White Bird”, seems to me to unlock any apparent doors between Berger’s angry politics and his aesthetic tenderness. He writes that we live ­after the Fall:

. . . in a world of suffering in which evil is rampant, a world whose events do not confirm our Being, a world that has to be resisted. It is in this situation that the aesthetic moment offers hope. That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe . . . For an instant, the energy of one’s perception becomes inseparable from the energy of the creation.

That may seem a curiously transcendental thought from a Marxist, but it is the key, surely, to this lovable and much-loved man. Because of him, we also feel more deeply ­inserted into existence – less alone.

Andrew Marr’s books include “A Short Book About Drawing” (Quadrille)

“A Jar of Wild Flowers: Essays in Celebration of John Berger”, edited by Yasmin Gunaratnam and Amarjit Chandan, is published by Zed Books (416pp, £10.99)

“Lapwing and Fox: Conversations Between John Berger and John Christie” is published by Objectif Press (288pp, £28)
“Landscapes: John Berger on Art”, edited by Tom Overton, is published by Verso (272pp, £16.99)
Roland Tannler/Eyevine

I’m in Bangladesh as I needed to put a few thousand miles between myself and the Hovel

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Nov 28, 2016.

So I had to go to Dhaka. To its literary festival, to be precise.

So I had to go to Dhaka. To its literary festival, to be precise. I was invited a few months ago, I’m not sure why. It was certainly before some maniac at the London Review Bookshop, probably desperate to drum up custom for an event I was chairing there, described me as “Britain’s most influential book critic”, a title that cheered me up, to be sure, but, for all the benefits that have accrued to me as a result, may as well have been “Ireland’s most unpredictable wasp”, or “Poland’s wonkiest ladder”.

My invitation to Dhaka arrived, instead, shortly before the July attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery by Islamist extremists, in which 29 people were killed. Before then, I had noticed that Bangladesh was becoming one of those countries where writers and atheists were hacked to pieces more than was strictly necessary, and had experienced some collywobbles, but an epic dinner at Rules giv