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Zika virus: First sign of local transmission in Florida

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Florida yet to invite dedicated team to probe outbreak of virus which appears to pose greatest risk to pregnant women.

Rio 2016: Discarded cigarette in 'smoke-free' village leads to fire in Australian quarters

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games is scheduled to start on 5 August.

UN to send police force to Burundi as unrest continues

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Security Council authorises deployment of a small contingent to monitor and report as the security situation worsens.

Investigators believe wing part found in Tanzania could hold vital clues about MH370's disappearance

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood confirmed that the wing part was definitely from a Boeing 777.

Clinton presidential campaign computer services said to be hacked, FBI investigating

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

The latest attack follows a series of high-profile data breaches involving Democratic Party organisations.

Armenia hostages: Police, protesters clash in Yerevan

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Security forces exchange fire with protesters backing opposition group holding hostages in a police building in Yerevan.

Rio Olympics 2016: Does the Zika virus pose a great enough risk to cancel the Games?

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Health experts have called for the Rio Olympic Games to be delayed over fears it will spread the Zika outbreak.

Robert Streb and Jimmy Walker lead US PGA Championship as Rory McIlroy misses the cut

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

The American duo are two shots clear at the halfway stage.

Former Brazilian president Lula charged in Petrobras corruption probe

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

The former leader has been accused of trying to prevent a probe into corruption at the state-owned oil company but his spokesperson stated that the charges are flimsy.

Invested money matters most in big data sentiment analysis

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Kavout, which boasts former Google and Microsoft engineers, combines signals from a range of categories.

UN Security Council agrees to deploy up to 228 more troops to conflict-hit Burundi

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Burundi government has already told the UN it would not accept more than 50 troops in the country.

Jamaica Tallawahs vs St Lucia Zouks, CPL 2016: Where to watch live, prediction, betting odds and possible XI

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Chris Gayle's Jamaica Tallawahs have already secured a spot in the play-off stages of the CPL 2016.

Wave of Kenya school fires continues

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Kenya is dealing with a wave of arson attacks that has seen more than 100 schools burnt down this year.

GCHQ covert operations targeted Arab Spring dissidents says LulzSec hacker group co-founder

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

GCHQ special unit JTRIG used shortened URLs to attract and influence hacktivists in the Middle East.

Cambodia: Why Tonle Sap is world's most threatened lake

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Environmental damage and climate change are threatening the lake which is often described as Cambodia's "beating heart".

Ex-Guatemala football chief Jimenez pleads guilty to bribes

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Brayan Jimenez, a former head of Guatemala's football federation, pleads guilty in a US court to racketeering and wire fraud.

UN Security Council agrees to send police to Burundi

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

The UN Security Council authorises the deployment of a UN police force to Burundi to try to quell violence and human rights abuses.

Ottawa funeral after police arrest row

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Hundreds of people attend the funeral of a mentally ill black man in Ottawa who died following a confrontation with Canadian police.

Erdogan to West: 'Mind your own business'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Turkey's president criticises Western countries for failing to show solidarity with Ankara over failed coup attempt.

Escape the city

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Farming is seen as an unglamorous job across Africa, but the BBC's Sophie Ikenye finds some young professionals who are packing in the office job to return to the family farm.

Week in pictures: 23-29 July 2016

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

A selection of the best news photographs from around the world, taken over the past week.

Ill-tempered election

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Tokyo is preparing to vote for its next governor, one of the biggest jobs in Japan, but the campaign has been marred by insults and allegations of sexism.

'Online revolution'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Hundreds of thousands of tweets condemn the attack on an Afghan minority group by Islamic State militants.

Shattered ceiling

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Hilary Clinton has become the first woman ever to become a major party nominee for US president. The BBC travelled to the Women's National Democratic Club, founded in Washington DC in 1922, to capture the scene.

What changes lie ahead after al-Nusra's al-Qaeda split?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

With al-Nusra Front breaking ties with al-Qaeda, many implications are in store for the Syrian opposition.

Could 'Australia's Abu Ghraib' force a new focus on Aboriginal rights?

From : World. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Critics say that indigenous Australians have been complaining of rights abuses for decades

Word of the week: Quitaly

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Each week The Staggers will pick a new word to describe our uncharted political and socioeconomic territory. 

As Italy's banks creak under European Union stress tests, the word of the week is:

Quitaly (n)(v)

When a country with a rich history can't keep up with the modern economic demands of a club. 


The internet


"After Brexit, it'll be Quitaly and Frexit."

"We build the roads to this fricking place, but now we have to quitaly."

"I just looked at my bank balance. It made me want to quitaly."

Articles to read if you're worried about a quitaly:

Do you have a suggestion for next week's word? Share it in the form below.




UK ticketholder scoops £61.1m EuroMillions jackpot

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

One lucky winner scooped £61,102,442.90 in Friday's lottery.

Clinton campaign 'hacked' along with other Democratic groups

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is hacked as part of a larger cyber attack against Democratic Party institutions, US media report.

Brazil's ex-president Lula charged in corruption probe

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Brazil's ex-leader to stand trial for obstructing Petrobas corruption probe, but his spokesman says charges are flimsy.

Syria: Deadly air strike hits Idlib maternity hospital

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Two killed and several wounded in air strike on maternity hospital in rebel-held part of Idlib, says Save the Children.

Syria: Reports of civilian deaths in US-led strikes

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Coalition raids kill civilians, as US greets with suspicion Russian plan for "safe corridors" for Aleppo civilians.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park wants Pokemon Go players to stop disturbing the peace

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The memorial park has around 33 Pokestops and 3 gyms, attracting hordes of players.

Europe’s stress tests: 5 things we know

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Problems from Italy to Ireland lurk behind the largely positive analysis

Little girl saved by Texas police officer throws him a tea party

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Little girl saved by police officer throws him a tea party.

Turkey's Erdogan to drop lawsuits against people who insulted him

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Turkey's president says he will withdraw all lawsuits against people charged with insulting him, as a gesture to the unity shown since the failed coup.

Brazil's Lula faces trial linked to Petrobras scandal

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Brazil's former President Lula is to stand trial for obstruction of justice in a case related to the scandal at state oil firm Petrobras.

Under scrutiny

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The media more often focuses on what women wear and their family status, but does that hurt the public's perception of their leadership?

Europe’s bank sector survives stress tests

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Monte dei Paschi, RBS and AIB the main losers in largely positive appraisal

Indonesia executes four convicted drug traffickers

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The convicts were shot by firing squad at the Nusa Kambangan penal island shortly after midnight local time.

Prince death: Judge snubs claims by 29 would-be heirs

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A judge in the US state of Minnesota dismisses claims by 29 people who said they were Prince's heirs, including five men who said they were his father.

2 dead after deadly airstrike on Save the Children maternity hospital in Idlib

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The hospital treats around 1,300 women and children a month and is the only maternity facility for 70 miles.

Paris bombings suspects extradited to France from Austria

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Two alleged members of the IS cell that carried out the Paris attacks are extradited from Austria to France and reportedly charged with terrorism.

Named persons controversy: How good intentions paved the way to a snooper state

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A court halted the Scottish Government's plans in their tracks. 

Andrew Smith is an academic at a respected Scottish university, and a dad. One of his sons, aged two years, took to sucking his thumb so much he developed a blister.  It was the kind of behaviour a family might laugh about in years to come. 

Except that someone was writing it all down.

Smith (not his real name) discovered that an official had compiled a 60-page document on his son, based on his interaction with health officials and other government representatives. One note read: “[Mr Smith] feels it is impossible to stop his youngest son from sucking his thumb as he needs it for comfort. Did not appear to take advice on board fully.”

Smith had encountered a trial of the Scottish Government’s controversial named persons scheme, which assigns every Scottish child a specific official designed to monitor their wellbeing. He told The Scotsman he felt “shocked and vulnerable” at this “constant surveillance of small things that are part of everyday parenting”. 

The law, it seems, agrees. On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down the scheme in its present for. The judgement noted: 

Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way. 

Opponents of ruling Scottish National Party often grumble about a “one-party state”. For once, are their suspicions justified?

A Highlands experiment

The Scottish Nationalists may be the face of the named persons scheme, but the idea can actually be traced back to an experiment in the remote Highlands, circa 2007, when Scotland was ruled by a Lib-Lab Coalition. 

“They had a number of different tests of what would make things better for children,” said Nicky MacCrimmon, a Perthshire community worker who knows the scheme well. “One thing was a single point of contact for families for any concerns about a child.”

After a trial period, the scheme was rolled out over the following years in Scottish cities like Dundee and Edinburgh. 

But policymakers did not just have convenience for parents in mind.

Like the rest of the UK, Scotland has been rocked by child abuse scandals. “If you look at where there has been tragedies with children in the past, the main thing that seems to come out of it is Agency A knows something but Agency B doesn’t,” said MacCrimmon.

But as the Scottish Government attempted to draw up a national version of the policy, opposition began to mount. And the cross-party support the idea had once enjoyed melted away. 

The road to paranoia

NO2NP was set up by a coalition of Christian groups, libertarians and parents’ bodies. As well as the story of Andrew Smith, the campaign gives voice to the concerns of parents fearing state intrusion, and a sociologist who warns this could lead to a “paranoid society”. 

The Scottish Government, in NO2NP's words, is an intrusive, aggressively secular state, determined to steamroll parenting into a PC uniformity. In particular, it points to a 2014 government leaflet on monitoring a child’s well-being. As well as ensuring a child has a “safe place to live” and “your child eats healthy food”, the leaflet tells parents they should make sure “your child gets a say in things like how their room is decorated and what to watch on TV”. 

It argues the named persons scheme “permits the state unlimited access to pry into the privacy of families in their homes”.

In 2015, NO2NP took the Scottish Government to court, arguing that the policy breached data protection and human rights laws. The campaigners lost. But they decided to appeal.

And so, one month before it was supposed to be rolled out, the Supreme Court froze the named person scheme in its tracks. 

The judges said the aim was “unquestionably legitimate and benign”, but that "the sharing of personal data between relevant public authorities is central to the role of the named person" and, as the legislation stands, this is “incompatible with the rights of children, young persons and parents” under the European Court of Human Rights.

Pressing on with Big Brother

NO2NP greeted the result with jubilation. Spokesman Simon Calvert declared: “The Big Brother scheme is history.”

“The court has taken sides with ordinary families and put the Scottish Government back in its place.”

The Scottish Government itself struck a defiant note. Deputy first minister John Swinney told The Courier: “The attempt to scrap the named person service has failed.”

Yet despite this bravado, the ruling effectively postpones a scheme due to be rolled out in August indefinitely. The Scottish Government must come up with a redraft that avoids the kind of data sharing condemned by the court, that is so central to the point of the scheme.

The biggest winner may be Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives (pictured), who is fast emerging as the most distinct opposition in Scotland. She backed the campaign against the legislation, even warning it could lead to more incidences of child abuse because of the pressure on resources.  

After the ruling, Davidson declared the Tories had consistently opposed the scheme, and added: “If the Scottish Government arrogantly tries to implement this anyway – as it has threatened to do – it will face a heavy reckoning from Scottish parents.”

Once again, Davidson has been able to expand on a Scottish brand of conservatism - libertarian, family-orientated and close to faith. A scheme designed to make life more convenient for parents could end up being most convenient of all for the opposition. 


43 Years of Baking Pies

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Bessie White and her sister, Velma, founded the farmers’ market in Cortez, Colorado, almost half a century ago. In this charming short documentary from the world-traveling web series The Perennial Plate, White shares her story—and also how to make delicious strawberry-rhubarb pie. “I helped all three of my grandkids go to college with this famers’ market,” she says. “I didn’t set out to be any different than anybody else.”

To learn more about this series, visit its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

San Diego policeman shot dead

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A police officer dies and another remains in hospital after both were shot in the US city of San Diego.

Trump's 'sarcastic' comment on Clinton emails backfires

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

After taking on new responsibilities as the Republicans' nominee for the US presidency, is Trump losing his capacity to make jokes?

More Charges in the Flint Water Crisis

By Yasmeen Serhan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

NEWS BRIEF Six more Michigan state employees were charged Friday in connection with the Flint water crisis.

State Attorney General Schuette announced the six additional charges at a news conference. Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller, and Robert Scott, all officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, will be charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy, and willful neglect of duty.

Liane Shekter-Smith, Adam Rosenthal, and Patrick Cook, who were with the Department of Environmental Quality, will also be charged. Shekter-Smith will be charged with misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty; Cook with misconduct in office, conspiracy, and willful neglect of duty; and Rosenthal with misconduct in office, tampering with evidence, conspiracy, and willful neglect of duty.

“Each of these individuals attempted to bury or cover up, to downplay or to hide information that contradicted their own narrative, their story … these individuals concealed the truth and they were criminally wrong to do so,” Shuette said.

In addition to the individuals charged, civil suits have been filed against Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, the engineering firm, and environmental consultant Veolia North America on the grounds that the companies had the “knowledge and the ability” to stop the crisis. Both companies have denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation is ongoing, and Shuette said it will continue until “we have delivered justice for Flint.”

Two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint employee were brought up on charges related to the water crisis last April.

Flint has been under a state of emergency since elevated levels of lead were discovered in the city’s water supply in 2014. The state of emergency has been extended until August.  

Syria conflict: Deadly strike on Save the Children maternity hospital

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

An air strike hits a maternity hospital supported by Save the Children in north-western Syria, killing two people and wounding three others.

Red Cross: One million could flee Mosul battle in Iraq

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Red Cross warns up to one million face being displaced as Iraqi forces prepare to launch anti-ISIL offensive in Mosul.

Pakistan's Imran Khan on the Taliban and Nawaz Sharif

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

We speak to the politician and we ask Bernie Sanders adviser, Jeffrey Sachs, if he will vote for Hillary Clinton.

Gary Harris: Denver Nuggets shooting guard aiming for playoff berth after breakout season

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The former MSU Spartan enjoyed his recent stint alongside Olympic squad with the USA Men's Select Team.

Bikini-clad policewoman in Stockholm praised for chasing after thief

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Mikaela Kellner was sunbathing with friends in Stockholm's Ralambshov Park when the suspect stole a mobile phone.

Michel Barnier: Fighting Brussels’ corner

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Brexit negotiator defies the UK view of him as a panto villain, write Alex Barker and Jim Brunsden

Philippine communists to declare truce 'very soon'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Top rebel negotiator calls on president Duterte to investigate the military, as Philippine leader declares ultimatum.

Germany: Welcome wears thin

From Analysis. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A string of terror attacks has shaken country and renewed criticism of government’s refugee policy

Germany: Welcome wears thin

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A string of terror attacks has shaken country and renewed criticism of government’s refugee policy

Zika virus: Florida cases 'likely' to be first US-based infections

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Four people suffering from the Zika virus in Florida are probably the first cases contracted within the US, health officials say.

Hinkley Point and cost and security issues

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

UK government was prudent to press pause on nuclear plant project

‘Revolving door’ trend takes hold

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Former politicians and central bankers seeking high paid work in financial services has a long pedigree

Why Trump Supporters Think He'll Win

By David Frum from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Perhaps the hardest thing to do in contemporary American politics is to imagine how the world looks from the other side. I’ve made no secret of why, as a Republican, I oppose Donald Trump and what he stands for. But I’ve also been talking to his supporters and advisors, trying to understand how they see and hear the same things that I do, and draw such very different conclusions. What follows isn’t a transcription—it’s a synthesis of the conversations I’ve had, and the insights I’ve gleaned, presented in the voice of an imagined Trump supporter.

“You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be. He’s playing this game in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen. And he’s winning too, in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen.

“Our convention worked. Donald—I’m not on the payroll, I can call him that—Donald energized his voters: people who are afraid of crime and worried about the mass immigration that’s transforming their country and displacing them. We talk a lot about polls, but you ignore the polls that don’t show what you expect to see.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to run up vote totals like you’ve never seen in places you’ve never been. Not just coal country, either. No, we don’t have what you’d call a proper campaign. What do we need it for? Campaigns spend most of their money on TV ads that do nothing except entertain you on YouTube on your lunch hour—oh, and pay huge commissions to the consultants who make them. It’s all a waste and rip-off. If our message is exciting, our voters will get to the polls on their own. And you have to admit: Our message is exciting!

“You think it’s crazy when Donald goes after Ted Cruz about the unanswered questions in his life. It’s crazy like a fox. Trump is forcing people in the party—a lot of them already don't like Ted, you know that, right?—he’s forcing those people to think about whether they’re really going to let this guy posture as the keeper of the party conscience. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Ted: You know that, way beyond the Kennedy assassination. Donald's showing: Nobody backstabs him without paying a price. He’s the boss of the party now, he’s going to be treated like the boss, and if you don’t respect him, he’s going to bring down the hammer. That’s a good lesson for everybody else—and look how quiet and respectful all those Republicans are now. Donald knows that Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and even Mike Pence want nothing better than to lay him low. But every time they bite their tongues as he takes off the head of Ted or whomever … he makes it that much more impossible for them ever to say, ‘Oh Donald? No, I had nothing to with him.’ They all wear the Trump logo now—and they always will wear that logo, whatever happens in November.

“The Putin thing. You think you’ve really nailed Donald with the Putin thing. Get it through your head: Our people are done fighting wars for your New World Order. We fought the Cold War to stop the Communists from taking over America, not to protect Estonia. We went to Iraq because you said it was better to fight them over there than fight them over here. Then you invited them over here anyway! Then you said that we had to keep inviting them over here if we wanted to win over there. And we figured out: You care a lot more about the “inviting" part than the “winning" part. So no more. Not until we face a real threat, and have a real president who’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whatever it takes.

"That’s another way you don’t understand Donald. When you squawk: 'Oh, it’s so horrible, he’ll waterboard prisoners, he won’t ask our troops to risk their lives so as to avoid shooting a terrorist’s mother-in-law …' when you talk like that, what our people hear is that you are a lot clearer about what you won’t do to protect the American people than what you will do.

“Tom Kean/Tim Kaine? So, so sorry we got the name of your latest precious progressive New South governor a little mixed up. Just kidding: not even a little bit sorry. What you need to take on board is how profoundly so many Americans do not give a … oh yeah, you still live in a country where people don’t use language like that when they talk about politics. Come visit Reddit sometime and see how the other half lives. But I’ll spare your feelings. They like that Donald doesn’t know any of that sh …. Oops. Sorry again.

"You Acela people live in a beautiful country where everything works. You believe in institutions because they work for you. So it bothers you that Donald doesn’t seem to know what the OECD does or who’s in charge of the FDIC. But our people don’t believe in institutions any more. The institutions they do still care about—the military and the cops—you use for props when you need them, and as dumping grounds when you don’t. I noticed that when Tim Kaine took a bow for his son’s military service, he pointed out that he was a Marine—because we all know that what you’ve done to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Yeah, they’re just as lethal as Obama and Hillary said. When you spend as much as the rest of the planet combined, you can make a lot of things go boom—even if the soldiers can’t do chin ups any more and the sailors get pregnant when they decide their tours of duty have gone on too long. And the cops! One minute you’re calling them murderers, the next you’re slobbering all over them. Our voters are cops. They know who’s on their side. Not you.

“You loved the Democratic convention didn’t you? Soaring rhetoric, we’re all together in just one big beautiful rainbow quilt: illegal aliens and billionaires, all together. And the flags? So many flags. You wave the flag one day every four years, and you think it means you’ve taken America from us. You haven’t, not yet—and that’s another thing our voters will be wanting to say on Election Day. Lots of ideas too: free this, free that, more investment in this, higher taxes on that, and ‘common sense gun laws.’ I bet you don’t own a gun. I bet you’ve never had a DUI either. So it wouldn’t worry you that you could lose the first if you get the second. But it worries our voters. Their lives are kind of messed up. They get into trouble. That’s why they want guns for themselves, and not just for Mayor Bloomberg’s bodyguards.

“Here’s the bottom line. You live in an America that’s still a lot like your parents’ America. It’s mostly white. Nobody’s displacing and replacing you. It’s pretty safe too. You can read about rising crime—you don’t live it. In your America, you worry about how there aren’t enough women making Hollywood films or sitting on corporate boards. In our America, the gender gap closed a long time ago—and then went into reverse. Obama in the Oval Office was humiliating enough. But Hillary will be worse: We’re going to lose any idea at all that leadership is a man’s job.

“You’ve been building up to this for a long time. No more Superheroes rescuing women in the movies. The girl always has to throw the last punch herself. In the commercials, Dad’s either an idiot—or he’s doing the housework with his boyfriend.

"And you know what? It’s not just our hillbilly voters who are going to vote ‘no’ to all that. A lot of men you never imagined will vote for us. Trump’s going to do better with Latino men than you expect—probably no worse than Romney. He’s going to do better with black men than Romney ever did. And his numbers with white men will be out of sight. Every time you demand that Donald show respect to Hillary—while laughing as Hillary disrespects Donald—you push those numbers up.

“You tell us we’re a minority now? OK. We’re going to start acting like a minority. We’re going to vote like a bloc, and we’re going to vote for our bloc's champion. So long as he keeps faith with us against you, we’ll keep faith with him against you. Donald's a scam artist, you tell me. You’re from The Atlantic? Read that great book by one of your former colleagues, Jack Beatty, about Boston’s Mayor Curley, The Rascal King. Curley was a scam artist. The Boston Irish loved him for it—even when he scammed them, too—because Curley pissed off the people the Boston Irish hated and who hated them. (I can still say ‘pissed off,’ right?) It’s going to be just that way with Donald. I mean, Mr. Trump. I mean, President Trump.”

North Carolina's Deliberate Disenfranchisement of Black Voters

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 30, 2016.

Updated on July 29 at 9:30 p.m.

DURHAM, N.C.—The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down key portions of North Carolina’s strict 2013 voting law on Friday, delivering a stern rebuke to the state’s Republican General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory. The three-judge panel in Richmond, Virginia, unanimously concluded that the law was racially discriminatory, and it blocked a requirement that voters show photo identification to vote and restored same-day voter registration, a week of early voting, pre-registration for teenagers, and out-of-precinct voting.

“In what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race—specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise,” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.

North Carolina’s law, often described as the strictest in the nation, passed shortly after the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. That section required states with a history of voter discrimination to “preclear” any changes to voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice. Freed from that requirement, the General Assembly passed a slate of changes, including the photo-ID requirement. Both sides effectively agreed that these changes disproportionately affected poor, elderly, and African American voters, who were less likely to hold the required forms of photo ID, more likely to move frequently, and more likely to take advantage of early voting. These voters also vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

“In North Carolina, restriction of voting mechanisms and procedures that most heavily affect African Americans will predictably redound to the benefit of one political party and to the disadvantage of the other,” Motz wrote. “As the evidence in the record makes clear, that is what happened here.”

A range of plaintiffs, including the North Carolina NAACP, the Advancement Project, and the Department of Justice quickly sued the state over the law. In April, federal district-court Judge Thomas Schroeder upheld the law, finding that plaintiffs had “failed to show that such disparities will have materially adverse effects on the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot and effectively exercise the electoral franchise.”

Echoing Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion in Shelby County, Schroeder stated that while the Old North State had a shameful history of racial discrimination, it was just that—history. “There is significant, shameful past discrimination. In North Carolina's recent history, however, certainly for the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider,” he wrote.

The circuit court rebuked Schroeder, saying that the district court had “fundamentally erred” and “seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees.” For example, Friday’s decision noted, black participation in elections had been rising steadily in the year before the law passed, periodically bolstered by federal intervention. “Not coincidentally, during this period North Carolina emerged as a swing state in national elections,” Motz drily noted. She also wrote:

The General Assembly enacted [these changes] in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting. The district court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent.

In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina in the presidential election. But in 2010, Republicans captured both houses of the legislature, and two years later McCrory defeated Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, as Mitt Romney edged Obama. The GOP undertook a program of conservative reforms, overturning a tradition of bipartisan moderation in the state. Among those changes was the voting law. While a bill had been under consideration, the Shelby County decision led state Senator Tom Apodaca to comment, “Now we can go with the full bill.” Though commonly referred to as a voter-ID law, similar to those passed or considered in other states, many advocates saw the other provisions as equally or more important.

In the end, it was Schroeder’s lengthy work on the case—a nearly 500-page opinion, plus 25,000 pages of record—that seemed decisive in the circuit-court decision. The panel of judges ruled that there was so much information in the record that they did not need to remand the case to the district court, and could determine that Schroeder made an erroneous factual finding on their own.

For example, the circuit-court decision makes much of the fact that legislators requested relevant data before passing the bill.

“Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans,” Motz wrote. “Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.”

For example, the voter-ID law was both “too restrictive and not restrictive enough.” The circuit court found that the law harmed African American participation, but did little to combat fraud, the stated purpose, because fraud was more common in mail-in absentee voting, which was not affected.

The decision is a huge win for civil-rights advocates, who have argued in cases around the nation that voter-ID laws and other similar truncations are fighting a problem that does not exist—there is minimal evidence of voting fraud, despite insistence that such laws are essential to maintaining the sanctity of the vote—and are in fact designed to limit turnout among traditionally Democratic voters, and therefore help elect Republicans. (On occasion, voter-ID advocates trip up and say the same publicly.)

Because North Carolina’s law was among the nation’s most sweeping, and because it came so quickly after Shelby County, it has been watched as a bellwether for voting-rights cases nationwide. A favorable outcome for the state would likely embolden other conservative states to undertake similar overhauls, while a negative one would force them to take another tack, and encourage voting advocates.

Plaintiffs always expected to have a tougher hearing from Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, than from the Fourth Circuit, which is stocked with Obama appointees. Motz was appointed by Bill Clinton, while the other two judges on the panel, James Wynn Jr. and Henry Floyd, are Obama appointees. Many voting-law experts expect the final decision in the case to be rendered by the Supreme Court. The state is likely to appeal the decision. While the justices would be unlikely to render a decision before the November election, the state could request an injunction to keep the law in place as is.

“We are beyond happy that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals exposed for the world to see the racist intent of the extremist element of our government in North Carolina,” the Reverend William Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, said on a press call Friday afternoon. “The ruling is a people’s victory, and it is a vicotry that sends a message to the nation.”

Conservative groups, meanwhile, blasted the law. J. Christian Adams, who is president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation and a longtime voter-ID advocate, criticized the panel of judges for overreaching.

“Normally, appeals courts remand to trial courts to review the evidence with the guidance of the appeals court. The Fourth Circuit undertook the job of a trial court and the integrity of the upcoming election is worse off because of it,” Adams said in a statement. “This case was brought to extract partisan advantage using the Voting Rights Act and sadly the plaintiffs were successful in turning that important civil rights law into a political weapon.”

McCrory criticized the ruling on Facebook and suggested the state might seek to appeal the ruling or have it stayed. “Three Democrat judges are undermining the integrity of our elections while also maligning our state. We will immediately appeal their decision to strike down our voter ID law and also review other potential options,” he wrote.

Jay DeLancy, who leads the Voter Integrity Project, which seeks to find and prevent voter fraud, also criticized the decision.

“Today’s 4th Circuit decision makes it easier for criminal enterprises to exploit North Carolina’s fraud-friendly election laws,” he wrote in a statement. “The court scoffed at the heartfelt concern for election integrity; and instead, demanded further proof that vote fraud exists before they will allow preventative laws to survive. To that we say, be careful what you ask for!”

If the law is not in effect in November, it could have a major impact. McCrory is locked in a tight reelection race against Democrat Roy Cooper. Senator Richard Burr is expected to face a tight battle to hold his seat against Democrat Deborah Ross. And Hillary Clinton’s campaign has targeted the Old North State as a key swing state, hoping that a win here would block any path to victory for Donald Trump.

'We are at the tip of the end of President Mugabe' Zimbabwe's Tajamuka campaign says

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

EXCLUSIVE: Spokesperson Promise Mkwnanzi tells IBTimes UK about Tajamuka's vision for Zimbabwe

New oil order comes back with a vengeance

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Markets more vulnerable to sharp drops when supply shifts

Are Hizmet-linked schools in Nigeria recruiting terrorists to attack Turkey?

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Turkey accuses schools linked to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of promoting terrorism.

3-D Printing a Better Prosthetic

By Jessa Gamble from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

In 1981, Ian Gregson popped into the prosthetics shop in a Vancouver hospital to buy a new leg. The shopkeeper took various measurements, then made a plaster cast of the amputee’s residual limb to craft an attachment.

“The leg was just trash. It was two inches short, with a suction socket, and no padding,” says Gregson. “It was very painful. I tried and tried, but it didn’t work.”

Prosthetic limbs, particularly the sockets that hold them on, must be carefully fitted to an amputee. Now a stunt man in the film industry and a two-time competitor at the Paralympic Games, for shot put and discus throw, Gregson describes his current socket-maker as an artist, a master who passes his skills on to a few select protégés.

Gregson’s favored quad socket has a rounded rectangular opening with a silicone liner. After a test socket confirms the fit, the real thing is cast, followed by sandpaper and a heat gun for adjustments. Gregson insists that the personal touch is what really makes the difference, and there will always be something that needs tucking in or letting out. Even the way someone stands during a measurement—if his hips aren’t completely level—can throw off the fit.

Expert prosthetics makers are rare animals, however, and cannot be mass-produced, unlike technology. While an exact fit via traditional methods calls for almost virtuosic expertise, the emergence of 3-D printing may allow for much more precise appliances—ones that could be made right at home. Bespoke 3-D printouts could even disrupt orthodontics and other common correctives.

The human leg has a more complex structure than any external cast can discern, and it changes with every motion and flex. David Sengeh of the biomechatronics group at MIT Media Lab, is working to convert the iterative process of prosthetics-building into a one-time procedure by focusing on amputees’ internal anatomy. He begins by mapping a remaining limb using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which reveals the shape and consistency of its underlying tissue. More accurate than traditional caliper- or laser-scanning techniques, the MRI distinguishes among bone, muscle, and articular cartilage and avoids the alignment problems that come from an external scan.

Using the tibia as a reference point, computer-aided design is combined with an engineering technique called finite element analysis to predict which internal pressure points on the residual limb could most comfortably bear the load of the body’s weight. An algorithm designs a socket that is flexible in some areas and rigid in others, using a variety of materials.

“We’ve been able to make the [world’s] first socket entirely from quantitative methods,” says Sengeh. “No human hands were involved in defining the shape, including the cut lines and material properties of the socket.”

Throughout the 1990s, Sengeh’s home country of Sierra Leone suffered a civil war, where around 8,000 people had one or more limbs violently amputated. Many of those amputees had access to prosthetics but abandoned them because of the discomfort of a bad fit. In contrast, Gregson was run over by a train in a part of England that didn’t often see that type of traumatic injury. The surgeon had done his best, but Gregson’s residual limb was left boney, without the fleshy parts that can make a socket more comfortable.

Sengeh’s idea is that a good-enough algorithm can eventually reproduce the expertise of a human prosthetist. Anywhere in the world, an amputee can send Sengeh a minimal set of data, and he can mail back a comfortable prosthetic socket. Alternatively, a 3-D printer in the amputee’s town could produce the socket on the same day the measurements were taken.

The next step would be to scale up the project, but until then, amputees will continue to fit their prosthetics to purpose. “Even I, with access to first-class health care, use duct tape on it all the time. I’d be in the shop every week if I went in to fix every little squeak,” says Gregson. “The biggest issue comes if I gain or loose weight. Then the socket becomes too tight or too loose.”

“People always have their own solutions—experimenting with themselves and hacking their own prosthetics,” agrees Sengeh.

Perhaps the greatest promise lies in combining those two approaches: the high-tech equipment and the human ingenuity that people bring to their own problems. For example, Amos Dudley, a college student studying digital design, recently fixed his own protruding and overlapping incisors at about 1 percent of the cost of orthodontic treatment.

As an undergraduate, Dudley had very little spare cash but one significant asset: access to New Jersey Institute of Technology’s fabrication labs, which included a high-resolution 3D printer, computer-assisted design software, and a vacuum forming machine. After taking a cast of his own teeth and plotting a route for each one, Dudley created 12 clear aligners to bring his teeth incrementally closer to a perfect smile. He bought retainer plastic on e-Bay, and his total outlay was only $60.

“They’re much more comfortable than braces, and fit my teeth quite well,” Dudley writes on his personal blog. “I was pleased to find, when I put the first one on, that it only seemed to put any noticeable pressure on the teeth that I planned to move.”

After 16 weeks, the misalignment was fixed, but Dudley continues to wear the final aligner at night to guard his teeth against the damage of grinding. It provides the perfect fit as a whitening tray. (Dentists caution that the aligners can only solve for rotation and tilt problems in simple cases.)

Assuming that 3-D printers follow the pricing pattern of new technologies—cheaper with time—the cost difference between professional and amateur manufacturing will only grow in the coming years. In the future, distance from a specialist or lack of resources may be no barrier to comfort.

French tourism falls victim to terror

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Air passenger traffic falls nearly 6% in June and hotel reservations down

Spain seeks criminal charges against Catalan leader

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Spanish government moves to nullify text by Catalonia's parliament urging the region to push ahead for independence.

Getty Images face $1bn lawsuit for illegally selling images meant for free usage

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Getty Images sued by photographer Carol M Highsmith for selling photos she donated for public use.

Equity: Finally, a Movie About Women Who Love Money

By Bourree Lam from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Wall Street is famously full of dudes.

And movies about Wall Street are too. They tend to include hectic scenes on trading floors, charged dialogue about money and greed. In these movies, women—when they’re present at all—tend to be lower-ranking deputies or assistants, or, more often, wives, girlfriends, or love interests. According to statistics compiled by the financial-services firm PwC, women actually make up 60 percent of the employees in its industry worldwide—and yet only 19 percent make it to leadership roles and a mere 2 percent become CEOs.

That’s why Equity is so refreshing. The movie, which Rolling Stone dubbed “The She-Wolf of Wall Street,” is an exploration of successful, driven women in finance. It features Anna Gunn, Alysia Reiner, and Sarah Megan Thomas as powerful financiers who are upfront about their ambition and love of money. A female-driven Wall Street movie is a rarity, and Equity boasts an all-female creative team as well—from its director, Meera Menon, to its production company, Broad Street Pictures, which Reiner and Thomas co-founded.

At its core, Equity is a fictional corporate thriller in the vein of Margin Call. It follows Naomi Bishop, an ambitious and aggressive senior investment banker working on a series of Silicon Valley IPOs in hopes of becoming the head of her division. But the film also touches on the issues women face on Wall Street with bosses, clients, and each other. Below, Atlantic editors Gillian White and Bourree Lam talk about the film and its relevance to issues women face in the workplace, and working in the finance industry specifically.

Gillian White: This movie felt a bit different to me even before I got into the screening room. The last time I went to see a film about Wall Street, it was finance-bro central. Granted, this was a pre-release viewing and a large portion of the guest list—including some members of Congress—was probably purposely skewed toward women, but still, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a screening that was so woman-dominated. Especially not a movie about finance. On the one hand, it was pretty cool, being surrounded by so many successful, smart, elegant women. I wanted to talk with all of them. But, I was also a bit sad, but unsurprised, that so few men decided to come out.

Bourree Lam: I saw the movie at my desk in our New York office, so I’d like to hear more about how your screening crowd reacted to certain scenes in the movie. I thought the opening captured some familiar cliches about people working in finance in the city—the fancy apartment, the late nights in Midtown, the car service, the elegant clothes, and personal fitness sessions. I thought the speech near the beginning of the movie was one of its most memorable moments, for both Anna Gunn and the movie overall. Gunn’s Naomi Bishop is at an afterwork women-in-leadership roundtable (and there are so many of those these days), and she talks about the fact that women can be powerful, ambitious breadwinners. In that speech, Naomi also says, “Don’t let money be a dirty word. We can like that too.” That phrase becomes a central theme and plot device in the movie.

White: Yeah, there were a lot of knowing sighs, and chuckles at some of the various stereotypes. I liked that initial framing of these characters. These are women who loved their jobs because they loved the skill set it requires, the competition, the chaos, and the perks—money, nice clothes (lots of power dressing), swank apartments, and fancy dinners. That may not be the thing that people want to hear or see at a time when everyone is talking about vast inequality and the sins of Wall Street. But, for the sake of gender equity, I think it was important to show that women were enjoying all the things Wall Street men were enjoying. I did think that it was interesting that the story tried to justify Naomi’s desire for money and make her a bit more relatable by having her talk about how she used some of her money to help her family by putting her siblings through college. I almost felt like that detracted a bit, like she had to make some argument as a female caretaker.

Also, I got a kick out of the initial conversation shown between Erin and her husband, where she is gleefully preparing for a client pitch and taunts him with her competitiveness. I thought the framing of women’s relationships both at and outside of work, and between each other, was probably the most interesting aspect of the movie.

Lam: One of the salient points the movie makes about female friendships in the office is one I hear often—the paranoia that certain people are getting ahead because of perception. For women, this often includes what people know about their personal lives. For example, one of the most powerful moments in the first half of the movie is when Naomi discovers Erin in the bathroom pouring her martini down the drain. Erin mumbles an obscenity, because now her boss knows she’s pregnant and she’s (rightfully) scared that that’s going to lead Naomi to view her in a different light, which would likely hurt her career.

Naomi is viewed as a shark, and she wants to be. But it’s blatant in the movie that this perception of her as a powerful, aggressive, work-focused woman is also hurting her career and botching deals. She verbalizes her frustration that she doesn’t know what she can do with that, because that’s not exactly a performance-based measure. There’s also the meta-narrative that while men get mad at other people for failure, women get mad at themselves.

White: The relationship between Naomi and Erin was kind of heartbreaking. To go from a mentor-protégé affinity to malicious rivals was deflating. I think it highlighted that train of thought that comes up for some who are a minority in their field, which is the notion that “there can only be one” and that self-preservation, at the end of the day, will trump friendship, loyalty, or anything else.

I was also disheartened by the soft skills women were expected to have in order to be successful. Despite the fact that Naomi has obviously been a financial powerhouse for years, her last deal went south and her current one threatens to do the same because she doesn’t pass the likability test for her male clients. I found that to be so frustrating, since that is so often used against powerful women and is essentially a catch-22: To be respected you are often told to be more aggressive, but once you are, you’re no longer likable. The other thing that felt difficult to stomach was the ways in which both Erin and Naomi use sexuality to try to relate to clients. Erin is young and beautiful and lets her frantic, egotistical Silicon Valley client enjoy her company and flirtation until he indicates that he doesn’t actually think she’s of value professionally. Naomi makes it clear more than once that she used to play that game too, but has both risen above it and aged out of it being useful.

Lam: The soft-skills thing is definitely interesting. For men, these soft skills are often portrayed as being able to “be one of the boys”: boozing, eating steaks, and doing man stuff. For women, these soft skills are portrayed as taming the tiger that is your client/boss/difficult colleague. I like that Naomi butts heads with this concept and the double standards it reveals. She is clearly very good at pitching, a soft skill that’s very important in her line of work. But her straight talk rubs a lot of people the wrong way. And on the other side of the movie, her regulator friend Sarah is getting treated a lot better in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Intentionally or not, it sets up this duality between the public and private sector in terms of how women are treated professionally.

White: I thought Equity had a pretty quick and easy way of illustrating what happens when a company decides to go public: from the pitch, to the due diligence, to the pricing, to the roadshow. Also I really liked the inclusion of the interns, who talk big but are essentially just making pitch books, sitting in corners, and fetching cookies.

Lam: The deal at the heart of this movie isn’t as complicated as what goes on in The Big Short or Trading Places. But the company whose IPO Naomi is in charge of sure is relevant: A secure social network is very of the moment. And speaking of The Big Short, I don’t get why there are Jenga sets in finance movies these days. Is playing Jenga a metaphor for risk? Is it just a set device for showing the tension of professional relationships? I thought the Jenga set in The Big Short was silly, but I have heard from nearly every non-finance person who watched that movie that it was the first time they understood CDOs, securities ratings, and tranches—which is kind of awesome. The Jenga set in Equity didn’t have such a big task; it represented the establishment (possibly?) and there’s a certain emotional payoff when Naomi knocks it over—signaling that she’s not playing this game anymore.

White: I feel like we have definitely exhausted any Wall Street moments involving a Jenga set. And can we talk about the ending? I really didn’t enjoy it. Attempts by Hollywood to display the revolving door between Wall Street watchdogs and Wall Street itself have been pretty clunky, and this wasn’t much of an exception. I really liked Reiner as a powerful lawyer who, almost gleefully, takes bankers down a peg for their wrongdoing. But her change of heart felt too abrupt: While she certainly isn’t making the money Naomi is, she definitely doesn’t seem to be hurting and has an entirely different life that involves a wife, kids, and a house in Brooklyn. That made her shift to the prioritization of money feel a little over the top for me.

Lam: I’m going to be honest: I would have liked to see Naomi make a boatload of money. I know that isn’t the point, but that would have been cheesy and satisfying. The movie just quickly turned cynical: Naomi loses on the promotion and leaves the firm (where does she go?), Erin gets her job, Michael leaves for the hedge fund, and Sara—Reiner’s character—uses Naomi’s language to land a job at Bain Capital.

I guess you can argue that this ending is more “real,” given all the issues with Wall Street’s treatment of women and that deals sometimes do suffer due to technical issues or leaked information (ahem, Facebook). But somehow none of these answers felt right, and maybe that’s just the place we’re at right now in terms of women in the finance industry. I have to say though, and I just saw the new Ghostbusters recently too, that I just loved the portrayal of women in these powerful lead roles. I always wonder with these movies how it would have impacted me had I watched them at a more impressionable age. I loved the jabs at very real-life office-culture things, such as people asking women to smile more. I loved the swearing. I loved when Naomi explodes after being asked why she’s not satisfied at mediocrity. She yells, “I was supposed to be a motherfucking rainmaker!” And I think the point is, perhaps in a different world, she would be.

SwiftKey app disables key feature after users' private data displays to strangers

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The Microsoft-owned firm has claimed the 'vast majority' of users will be unaffected.

What does Clinton's nomination mean for US Democrats?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Democratic Party delegates say they are "thrilled" and "proud" to witness Hillary Clinton accept party's nomination.

Fix Britain's Internet: Campaign lets broadband customers give Ofcom a piece of their mind

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

BT's rivals Sky and Talk Talk launch movement to help improve the future of UK broadband.

A Century of Highway Zombies

By Carmine Grimaldi from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Sixty years ago, America was reinventing the road. Eisenhower had just signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which funneled billions of dollars into thousands of smooth and precisely designed highways. A general feeling of national pride pervaded: Goods would flow more efficiently, citizens would travel more comfortably, and the nation would draw together more intimately.

But that comfort and ease belied something ominous—these sleek new highways, the country soon discovered, conjured ghosts.

During long drives, the roads could begin to play tricks on the mind. During the 1950s, public safety organizations and newspapers began to report unusual experiences. Drivers forgot routes they once knew by heart, or weirdly recognized highways they had never driven before; some drivers felt as though they had been transported some 20 miles further ahead in a mere blink of the eye. More disconcerting: People started to have strange visions. A man on an expressway near Joliet, Illinois, noticed a tiger stalking the light beams of his car. Another, driving at a swift clip through rural Georgia, saw a stately colonial mansion materialize in the middle of the highway, which he barely missed by swerving off the road. Yet another reported hitting a man, but when the police arrived there was no sign of a body. The visions weren’t benign, either. One newspaper reported that by 1956, one-car accidents with no apparent cause were responsible for a third of all traffic deaths.

What to make of these specters that stalked post-war freeways? Consensus quickly emerged: It was widely known as “highway hypnotism,” a new epidemic that was literally hypnotizing drivers to death. It became the malady of the brave, new world of American mobility, a crisis that struck at the heart of the middle-class imagination. Today, highway hypnotism has fallen from the public eye, but its rise in the 1950s reveals the anxious convulsions that shook new infrastructure that promised to make citizens freer, safer, and more comfortable.

* * *

The first transcontinental road, the Lincoln Highway, was stitched together during the second decade of the 20th century. It was a daunting journey from New York’s Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Drivers were told to anticipate spending 30 days on the route, and they were instructed to bring shovels and chains and sundry other tools to battle the drift sand, mud, flooding and debris. It was such a muscular and manly activity that in 1919 the U. S. Army sent a convoy across it to test their equipment and garner publicity. Nine vehicles broke down and 21 soldiers were so injured they never finished. One soldier who did cross unscathed was the young Dwight Eisenhower, who devoted a chapter to it in his memoir entitled, “Through Darkest America with Truck and Tank.”

At this time, city driving was a decidedly more genteel affair. Shortly before the Army set off across Darkest America, New York City experienced its first traffic jam on Broadway—caused by a lecture by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. New York car culture was largely one of moneyed elites and unslouching chauffeurs. This period witnessed the development of a novel road system, the parkway, which would later serve as a prototype for the interstate. The parkway marked the first signs of highway hypnotism. Built to minimize cross traffic, and increasingly paved with smooth asphalt (bought at a reasonable price, thanks to brutal working conditions at Trinidad’s Pitch Lake), drivers could cruise down these new roads with frictionless ease. Without the usual bumps and nervousness about cross traffic, driving became relatively thoughtless.

Highway hypnotism was first noted in 1921, on Riverside Drive. A New York Herald reporter happened to be walking along the parkway when he witnessed the strangest of collisions—one chauffeur rear-ended another chauffeur, and yet neither seemed fazed, as though they shared in some quiet understanding. “It was absurd,” the reporter wrote. Before the collision, the chauffeur “had sat at ease, his hands on the wheel, his gaze straight ahead. There was nothing to divert his attention.” The reporter proffered a theory: The accident was caused by “a self-induced yet uninvited malady,” which takes hold on “a long stretch of road” paradoxically among the most skilled chauffeurs, for whom driving had become “routine or second-nature.” The problem, he claimed, was the increasing tension between automated machines and autonomous people. The result was nothing short of a “modern Frankenstein monster”—mechanically it was “a thing of beauty, efficiency and comfort,” yet spiritually it failed to “synchronize the human soul with steel and iron and rubber.”

The transformations in driving between the 1940s and 1950s only amplified the tension between rubber and soul. By the middle of the century, cars and roads both conspired to make driving as mindless and comfortable as possible. By the 1950s, half of American cars had automatic transmission, air conditioning had become a regular feature, and better suspension and shock absorbers made steering easier and bumps less noticeable. And drivers could enjoy this comfort further afield, traveling vast new networks of evenly paved roads with beautiful, banked curves and ramps.

As seemingly causeless deaths and mysterious visions swelled by the mid-century, commentators pointed their fingers at these new roads as the source. One newspaper declared, “Highway hypnosis is probably the most notable danger that the turnpike has contributed to the driving world,” while another concurred, “No hypnotist could ask for better conditions.” The culprit was the sheer exquisiteness of these “perfectly banked, beautifully engineered” new highways. One journalist, clearly luxuriating in the sensuality of driving, added, “a long straight road, sunlight reflection of the dash, the purr of tires and the engine can all be hypnotizers. It is up to the individual to anticipate these dangers.”

This final point, that it was the responsibility of the driver to combat this danger, became a common refrain: The American Automobile Association (AAA) released a general warning in 1954, and corporations around American distributed anti-hypnosis tips for their employees during the summer season of family road trips. The recommended tactics varied considerably. Some were banal: keep your hand out the window, listen to music—but not dreamy music! Some were bizarre: take off your right shoe to better feel the vibrations, put a wooden board under your butt, have a conversations with yourself. And some were grotesque: One doctor recommended, “Picture an accident caused by someone hypnotized. See yourself mangled in a mangled car. This certainly will help keep off hypnosis.”

These guidelines all shared an impulse to undermine all the luxuries that engineers had worked so hard to create. Make the car vibrate more, make the chair less comfortable, make it noisier, colder, and imagine bloody mayhem. If progress and rationalization was to be found in consumer comfort and ease, then safety and sanity might be achieved through the very opposite. Because these luxuries failed to synchronize with the soul, the driver had no choice but to methodically undermine each new feature.

At the same time road-tripping dads were sitting on wooden planks, highway designers, too, were wondering how they might better stave off this new malady. Engineers agreed that reflective signs offered one easy solution, and at least some thought that a striped centerline down the freeway, rather than a solid one, might better protect the driver from hypnosis. A new breed of engineers in the 1950s began to emphasize the life-saving power of aesthetics: Rather than laying down geometrically efficient highways, they advocated for gracefully flowing ones that would frame the natural beauty and thus combat the “narcotic or hypnotic effect” of the tedious road. One engineer more flamboyantly imagined paving freeways with “rainbow-hewn concrete.”

Another solution came from the beneficent hand of business. Readers of newspapers soon learned that billboards and other highway road signs were not simply intended to drum up customers, but could also save drivers from hypnotic self-destruction. A 1956 article in the Hartford Courant discussed a businessman who had become hypnotized on the Henry Hudson Parkway, but was saved in part by billboards. The article then reassured readers that the Department of Commerce was placing highway information signs around the country, which advertised restaurants and hotels in each town. This would increase business, sure, but it would also offer those driving though something to read, magnanimously breaking up the monotony of a long highway. Consumer goods and ubiquitous advertisements, it turned out, could be a powerful weapon against the dangerous erosion of autonomy.

* * *

Liberty, consumption, and progress were always at the forefront of 1950s American car culture. A suburban housewife in a 1953 Ford commercial extols the joys of a two-car family, “Now I’m free to go anywhere, do anything, see anybody anytime I want to.” A young beatnik seeks adventure, boyishly declaring, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” How very disconcerting that underneath this American Dream of freedom lay a nightmare of mindless drivers, brainwashed by progress.

But highway hypnotism wasn’t simply the dark side of post-war American progress. A subtler story can be found in the intuitions of fiction. The novelist Christopher Isherwood is a particularly incisive guide to these dreams of modern infrastructure. An outsider twice over, both gay and British, he witnessed with wry wit the sprawl of postwar Los Angeles. In his 1964 novel, A Single Man, he unfurls the rich, complicated, and confusing moral map that these highways crisscrossed.

The novel portrays the early 1960s through the eyes of George, a professor grieving the death of his partner, who lives alienated in a suburb that the freeways had made possible. In the mornings, he commutes to his university on the major new highways of Los Angeles. “George feels a kind of patriotism for the freeways,” Isherwood writes. “It is a river, sweeping in full flood towards its outlet with a soothing power. There is nothing to fear, as long as you let yourself go with it…” This is the language that psychologists used to capture the slowly insinuating force of hypnotism, which Isherwood is well aware of: “Now, as he drives, it is as if some kind of autohypnosis exerts itself.”

George’s body and mind separate, and we are back to that earliest description of highway hypnosis on Riverside Drive, to the chauffeur and pampered passenger in repose. The body becomes “an impassive anonymous chauffeur-figure with little will or individuality of its own. … And George, like the master who has entrusted the driving of his car to a servant, is now free to direct his attention elsewhere.”

In contrast to other writings on highway hypnosis, there is no panic in Isherwood’s description. For George, the experience is a luxury, a rare moment of respite. It’s also a tortured kind of freedom; under hypnosis, new visions of righteous violence, sadism, and rebellion bubble up. With his mind free to wander, George thinks of those who, under the banner of progress and morality, have been erecting new barriers of exclusion—journalists inveighing against “sex deviates,” real estate developers blocking public parks—and he imagines launching a “campaign of systematic terror,” watching them endure grotesque spectacles of torture with pincers and red-hot pokers. These fantasies end abruptly as he turns off the freeway, entering the “tacky, sleepy, slowpoke Los Angeles of the thirties.”

George’s reveries suggest an uncomfortable conclusion. Psychologists and engineers had studied highway hypnotism as detached outsiders, portraying it as a battle between freedom and automatism, health and illness. But as George drives into hypnotism, experiencing it from the inside, these distinctions crumble. Rather than extinguishing self-control, automatism offers him an ambivalent liberation—righteous, radical, and id-addled. And rather than numbing his mind, it lays bare the tortured ideology of progress, of which highways and modern infrastructure are mere symptoms.

This article appears courtesy of Object Lessons.

Chelsea Clinton's Apt Wrinkle in Time Shout-Out

By Spencer Kornhaber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Chelsea Clinton has lived an unusual life, but the stories she shared in her speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night were meant to make her, and her parents, seem more ordinary. Pop culture helped in that effort. She spoke of Hillary reading Goodnight Moon to Chelsea and Chugga Chugga Choo Choo to Chelsea’s daughter. She referenced Bill binge-watching Police Academy with her. And she brought up a classic science-fiction novel:

I remember one week talking incessantly about a book that had captured my imagination, A Wrinkle in Time. Only after my parents had listened to me would they then talk about what they were working on, education, healthcare, what was consuming their days and keeping them up at night.

It is quite, yes, ordinary that teenage Chelsea might have been smitten with Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 book, a young-adult fiction touchstone. But it’s possible to read greater significance into the mention of this particular young-adult-fiction touchstone on the night when her mother became the first female major-party presidential candidate.

“Bookish girls tend to mark phases of their lives by periods of intense literary character identification,” wrote Pamela Paul in a 2012 New York Times column. “For those who came of age any time during the past half-century, the most startling transformation occurred upon reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Medal-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time. … It was under L’Engle’s influence that we willed ourselves to be like Meg Murry, the awkward girl who suffered through flyaway hair, braces, and glasses but who was also and to a much greater degree concerned with the extent of her own intelligence, the whereabouts of her missing scientist father, the looming threat of conformity and, ultimately, the fate of the universe.”

The parallels between Meg Murry and adolescent Chelsea Clinton are obvious from that quote alone, right down to the description of braces and unruly hair. As Lindsay Lowe noted for The Atlantic in 2013, Meg is an introverted, brainy heroine rather than a spunky, hotheaded one, a distinction that likely appeals to both Clinton women. And Meg, like Chelsea, is the daughter of two very high-powered parents—a spacetime-hopping astrophysicist dad and a microbiologist mother who eventually wins a Nobel Prize. There are extra-textual comparisons to be made, too: L’Engle once said that the novel was originally rejected by dozens of publishers, partly for the reason that it “had a female protagonist in a science-fiction book, and that wasn’t done”—a gender barrier of a different sort than the one broken last night.

Dig more into the book’s plot and you find other levels on which it’s a fitting thing to have invoked at the DNC. Meg travels through wormholes searching for her missing father, who’s trapped by a force known as IT, an embodiment of evil that can control peoples’ minds. Christian faith figures in throughout her struggle, including when Meg is told to turn to 1 Corinthians 1:27: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” How does she eventually defeat IT? By using the only thing she has and IT does not: love. The force, in other words, that this week’s convention has repeatedly announced trumps hate.

Arrest of Egypt FGM doctor Raslan Fadl welcomed

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Campaigners welcome the arrest of Egypt's first doctor to have been convicted of carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM).

Should Disney create a plus-size princess? YouTube vlogger Loey Lane launches campaign

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Lane, 23, wore a Little Mermaid bikini in a YouTube video which sparked debate amongst viewers.

British-Sikhs protest Hindu 'terror group' chief Mohan Bhagwat UK visit to 'spread hate'

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The Sikh Federation UK has accused the RSS of being a 'significant threat' to religious minorities in India.

Once upon a time there was a boy who cried terrorist...

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Chaos at Israel's Ben Gurion airport after child convinced himself innocent man looked like a terrorist.

Trump Time Capsule #62: 'A Man Who Can Be Baited With a Tweet'

By James Fallows from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:

Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?

Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.

He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.

Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:

Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.

And here is Donald Trump’s response this morning, after some apparently-staff-generated tweets last night whose grammar and syntax were more stately than his norm (and whose message ID said “iPhone” rather than the Android Trump seems to use personally):

Trump on Twitter

Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.” And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin.

Something is wrong with this man, if in no other way than in simple impulse-control.


After the jump, a reader on the implications of episodes like these:

Read On »

Beyonce's Formation tour banks $123m through ticket sales in North America

From : World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Sorry singer performed 32 shows in North America and Canada between April and June 2016.

A Second Cyber Attack Hits the Democratic Party

By Nora Kelly from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

NEWS BRIEF U.S. officials suspect the Russian government hacked into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the second party organization to see a recent cyber attack. In a statement Friday, the DCCC—House Democrats’ campaign arm—confirmed the breach, which was first reported by Reuters on Thursday. “Based on the information we have to date, we’ve been advised by investigators that this is similar to other recent incidents,” namely, the prior infiltration of the Democratic National Committee’s email system.

U.S. officials had strongly suspected that the Russian government was involved in the DNC hack. That intrusion led to Wikileaks releasing thousands of emails from the committee’s staff, which seemed to show them favoring Hillary Clinton, and the resignation of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  But they couldn’t confirm whether the hackers intended to influence the American election. This week’s revelation is sure to fuel suspicions that they did. “It’s definitely part of a much, much broader campaign that is yet to fully be publicly revealed,” a cybersecurity expert told The Washington Post. “It's part of a broader intelligence collection effort,” a source told Politico. “It's maybe an attempt to harvest credentials. ... It’s not an email grab like the DNC.”

Citing anonymous sources, the Post reported that there are links between the DCCC attack and the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Two sources told Reuters that the attack may have started in June. Here’s more from that report, which notes the FBI is investigating both hacks:

The newly disclosed breach at the DCCC may have been intended to gather information about donors, rather than to steal money, the sources said on Thursday.

It was not clear what data was exposed, although donors typically submit a variety of personal information including names, email addresses and credit card details when making a contribution. It was also unclear if stolen information was used to hack into other systems.

Russian government officials, meanwhile, have denied involvement in either breach. “We don’t see the point anymore in repeating yet again that this is silliness,” a Kremlin spokesman told Reuters.

An Exciting History of Drywall

By Haniya Rae from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

As Hurricane Katrina raged through New Orleans in 2005, neighborhood after neighborhood collapsed from flooding. Of the houses that stood, many still had to be bulldozed due to mold within the walls. But one building, a plantation-home-turned-museum on Moss Street built two centuries before the disaster, was left almost entirely unscathed.

“The Pitot house was built the old way, with plaster walls,” says Steve Mouzon, an architect who helped rebuild the city after the hurricane. “When the flood came, the museum moved the furniture upstairs. Afterwards, they simply hosed the walls—no harm done.”

The other houses weren’t built the old way. “All the homes around the Pitot house were lost because they were built with drywall,” says Mouzon.

Drywall, also known as plasterboard or wallboard, consists of two paperboards that sandwich gypsum, a powdery white or gray sulfate mineral. Gypsum is noncombustible, and compared to other wall materials, like solid wood and plaster, gypsum boards are much lighter and cheaper. As a result, drywall is popular in homes across the U.S.: According to the Gypsum Association, more than 20 billion square feet of drywall is manufactured each year in North America. It's the staple of a billion-dollar construction industry that depends on quick demolition and building.

But as New Orleans showed, convenience comes with a cost.

* * *

Drywall was invented in 1916. The United States Gypsum Corporation, a company that vertically integrated 30 different gypsum and plaster manufacturing companies 14 years prior, created it to protect homes from urban fires, and marketed it as the poor man’s answer to plaster walls. A 1921 USG ad billed drywall as a fireproof wall that went up with “no time [lost] in preparing materials, changing types of labor, or waiting for the building to dry.”

An early ad for drywall, which was originally known as sheetrock. (Courtesy Greg Gardenour, the Ad Store)

Drywall didn’t catch on right away, but in the 1940s, sales grew rapidly thanks to the baby boom. Between 1946 and 1960, more than 21 million new homes were built nationwide for the tens of millions of additional babies. “People wanted white bread and confectioner’s sugar,” says Mouzon. “They wanted a neat, tidy little white-boxed world in the 1950s after the war. It made perfect sense then.”

Today, USG is by far the largest of the eight gypsum manufacturers in North America. It holds around a quarter of the wallboard industry’s market share and does $4 billion in sales a year. (Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's conglomerate, owns 27 percent of the company.) It gets its gypsum from mines or as a synthetically engineered byproduct of coal-fired power plants. If current production rate stays constant, USG believes there’s at least 350 years worth of gypsum available on Earth.

* * *

Though ideal for construction, gypsum is not known for its environmental friendliness. Workers in gypsum mines—either above-ground quarries or pasty-white caverns—inhale a lot of gypsum dust, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends must be limited to 15 milligrams per cubic meter during a typical workday. And areas with disused mines are prone to ground collapse when surface developments disturb the cavities below. (The upside? Gypsum mines bring jobs to communities in states that produce the most gypsum, like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Nevada, and California.)

After gypsum is mined and manufactured into drywall, it’s shipped out to contractors and retailers to be used for new construction. According to the EPA, once that construction is finished, most scraps are sent directly to landfills. There, gypsum becomes wet, mixes with other organic materials, and turns into hydrogen sulfide, a rotten, egg-smelling gas lethal to humans in high doses. The compound can contaminate water and raise its acidity—a risk to marine and freshwater animals.

“When site workers put drywall scraps into a dumpster, they consider themselves at the tail end of a waste cycle,” says Amanda Kaminsky, founder of Building Products Ecosystems in Brooklyn. “We're trying change workers' mindsets to realize they’re at the beginning of the manufacturing process.” To do so, Kaminsky’s company is coming up with ways to educate construction teams on safely sorting waste materials and delivering scraps to gypsum-specific recycling facilities. These facilities, like USA Gypsum (USG), in Pennsylvania, can recycle most of the waste and turn scraps into agricultural products. USA Gypsum makes a gypsum soil additive that helps some crops, such as tomatoes, become tastier, for instance.

The USA Gypsum recycling plant in Denver, Pennsylvania. (Courtesy USA Gypsum)

Large gypsum manufacturers also do some recycling, bringing a portion of construction waste back into their plants to make more drywall. In USG’s case, half of their gypsum supply still comes from mining, but Al Zucco, whose job as USG’s vice president of sustainable supply chains is to reduce energy expenditure, agrees that it saves time and money to recycle the scraps locally. According to him, USG is trying to improve the recycling process to reduce their dependence on mines.

* * *

Recycling, of course, can only go so far. To avoid drywall’s downsides, other companies are coming up with environmentally friendlier alternatives. The Calgary-based company DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time), for example, designs modular walls insulated with recycled denim and pieced together with removable panels made of materials such as glass or wood. For any organization that needs to change out their technology fairly often, such as a hospital, the panels can be reconfigured to accommodate updated monitors, new equipment, or extra storage.

There are other options if a modular approach isn’t needed or if cost is an issue. Mouzon, the architect who worked in New Orleans, has experimented with building wood-paneling systems that remove the gaps between wallboards altogether. “At the beginning, tradesmen don’t like it because they’re used to running their lines in the walls wherever,” says Mouzon. “But, once they see the system, there’s less thinking they have to do because it’s more organized. After a few jobs, it’s pretty much a wash in terms of cost.”

In his recent projects, Mouzon says house builders are starting to pay attention to alternative methods and suggestions, possibly because being eco-friendly is a current trend, but possibly also because the cost of drywall has increased dramatically. In December 2012, drywall purchasers began to file class action lawsuits against USG and the seven other major North American manufacturers for price-fixing. The purchasers alleged that a 35 percent price hike for gypsum wallboard that year was the largest within a decade and that drywall manufacturers had stopped giving them job quotes, which meant prices could change at any time during a project. A settlement fairness hearing was held in July of last year, and USG had to cough up $55 million to reimburse the purchasers' expenses.

Price-fixing scandals in fact are standard fare for drywall manufacturers. In a 1996 Department of Justice memo that ordered Georgia-Pacific, the American pulp and paper company, to divest two gypsum plants in order to restore viable competition, the department notes that major producers of gypsum wallboard have been caught up in civil and criminal price-fixing litigations in the 1920s, 1940s, and the 1970s.

Like white bread in the 1950s, drywall became the de facto consumer substance with the promise of a better, cleaner, easier life. White bread sales are now declining, but drywall is doing better than ever. Maybe that’s because drywall really is the best way to create affordable housing for millions. But it may just be easier to change America’s eating habits than its living habits.

Manning faces possible charges after attempted suicide

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning could face "indefinite solitary confinement" for a suicide attempt, her lawyers say.

The Sound of Bravado

By Heather Havrilesky from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

In the middle of the night, my husband's snores sometimes sound like a cellphone vibrating. Other times, they sound like waves crashing on a rocky shore, or a minor chord being played a little tentatively on a church organ, one low note mixed with two wheezier, higher notes. Last night, they sounded like the carriage return on a typewriter, the heavy, industrial kind that's electric, but still gives a kick when the carriage swings to the left side of the machine with a scratchy clatter.

I loved to listen to that sound when I visited my mother's office as a kid. Listening to her type 120 words a minute on an IBM Selectric felt like an odd, percussive form of meditation. I would lean way back in the swivel chair in her office and marvel at that sound of no-nonsense efficiency and capability in action. She'd been a housewife since she married my dad, who was a professor. But after 15 not-so-happy years together, she'd finally divorced him. Now she had three kids to feed, with no alimony, and very little child support. Good thing she aced her typing class in high school.

Occasionally my mom would be interrupted by her boss, an older professor who wore tweedy, English caps and argyle sweaters and pants that might best be described as jodhpurs. He would wander in with an unfocused look on his face and he'd ask where she put some papers he needed to send off. She'd stop and give him a strained smile that told me she'd taken care of these things days ago. The professor had giant shelves full of bound journal-volumes in his office. Every few months, my mother would send away the flimsy-looking journals to the binder, and they'd return covered in leather, with gold lettering on the side. “Why does he do that?” I asked. “I don't know,” she answered.

The professor didn't know how to type. He appeared not to know his own schedule, or even what day of the week it was. He could place a call, but sometimes he got confused if he had to put someone on hold and then take them off again. He would often stand in the doorway between his office and hers, his eyes watering slightly, his back a little stooped, and he'd hesitate to admit what bit of information he was struggling to retrieve. Even though he had all of the necessary levels of arrogance and condescension to have become a world-renowned neurobiologist and endowed professor of something-or-other, he didn't seem very capable of handling the mundane challenges of his life.

My mother would fight against this distracting presence for as long as she could stand, and then the suspense would be too great, and she'd interrupt her virtuoso typing solo, mid-measure.

A pause, maybe four quarter notes of silence. “Well?” she'd say, a half note of whispery restraint with an exasperated edge to it. My mother had been a straight-A math major in college. She was first chair clarinet in her high school band. She had all of the arrogance and condescension to have become a world-renowned neurobiologist, too. But she was a secretary instead, so she had a lot of shit to do.

*  *  *

Bravado, if it made a noise, might sound like a major chord being played with great force on a Chapel organ. That's the sound I think of when my husband is working on a talk “for the Chinese,” or Skyping with one of his graduate students about how their work needs more work.  My husband is not a blowhard, but he knows how to sound like one. He's not allergic to that sound. It's the sound of a throat being cleared for a little too long. It's the sound that a certain kind of facial expression makes, an expression that forms when encountering someone lower on the academic totem pole, speaking imprecisely. It's a kind of “Ehrrrm” that accompanies one side of his mouth dipping down slightly, in a look that says "Not quite," or "Not really." It's the sound jodhpurs would make, if they made a sound.

Like my mother, I always had plenty of bravado, but I never felt completely comfortable deploying it in an official setting. It seemed a little embarrassing, to take yourself seriously in public the way men did. As a woman, you could only use your swagger in playful, non-serious contexts, or in private. So my bravado mostly gave me a solid quarters game in college, or it made me prone to break into terrible dance moves when no one was watching. Sometimes my bravado attracted men, but only those sorts of men who were impressed by brash women. My bravado always felt more comfortable with a drink in its hand. My bravado always felt more at home on the printed page than it did live and in person.

My bravado became jittery and indifferent in an office environment. I could do concrete, measurable work, but I didn't want to represent myself in any official way. I never felt right clearing my throat, or telling anyone that their work needed more work. Some might've said I couldn't play nicely with others, but that wasn't it. I didn't like to pretend—that I knew more than I actually did, or that I was on board with something that seemed ill-considered when I wasn't. Being a professional seemed to require a lot of pretending.

This avoidant attitude might've led me down a path to administrative work, if my dad hadn't died when I was 25 years old. At the time, I was holding down two jobs, one as a glorified typist (which they called a "desktop publisher" at the time) and one as a magazine intern. After my dad's death, I resolved to never again do work that meant nothing to me. I quit the typing job and a few months later, miraculously secured a full-time job writing for a website. A year after that, my employer let me work from home.

I've worked from home ever since, while my husband flies all over the world to give talks and go to academic conferences. I have all of the arrogance and condescension to have become a world-renowned expert, too. But I am a freelance writer instead, so I have a lot of shit to do.

*  *  *

Did my mother and I limit ourselves? Did we assume that men are the ones who fly around and bloviate, and women are the ones who silently get shit done behind the scenes, hidden from view?  Sometimes I think that if I could stand in the doorway between my office and the office of a very fast typist who was paid to listen to me trying hard to remember things, I would be much more successful or world-renowned or at least a little bit more comfortable with my own arrogance. I would proceed with direction and purpose, guided by the certainty that this world is mine as much as anyone else's.   

My daughter once asked me, “Who is more famous, you or Daddy?” “Neither of us is famous,” I replied. I thought about the four copies of my memoir, the one that now costs $6.00 on Amazon, sitting on the bookshelf gathering dust in our bedroom. I thought about my husband's last week-long trip away from home, the way the kids kept asking me why I never fly anywhere for work like he does. I remembered how my younger daughter used to think I worked at The Coffee Bean, because I always left the house saying I was going to The Coffee Bean “to work.” I wished that my daughters had some sense of how hard I work (or at least try to work) every single day. I set the bar high for myself. My work always needs more work. Work that needs more work sounds like one high, thin note that stretches on and on forever.

Thinking about this made me a little peeved about all those men with their trips and their bravado and their fucking jodhpurs. My mood shifted. Imagine a dramatic key change, a half-step up the scale. Imagine the sound of the shift bar engaging, that sound a typewriter makes when the whole carriage moves up a quarter of an inch and stays there, IN ALL CAPS. MY MOOD HAD SHIFTED INTO ALL CAPS.

“SURE, DADDY HAS A GREAT JOB,” I explained, trying to take the ALL-CAPS out of my voice. "He's very important in his field. But there are only about 300 academics around the country who do what he does." I pictured them all, reading and studying each other's work, then flying to conferences to reassure each other of their collective importance. "But when my column comes out, 50,000 people read it. 50,000 is a lot more than 300."

"That's so many!" my daughter says. "That's like everyone in the world."

"Not really. There are 7 billion people in the world. That's 100,000 times more than the number of people who read my column."

"Oh. So you're just a little bit famous."

"The word 'famous' doesn't really apply," I said.

Silence. Suspense building.

"But I am more famous than Daddy. Most people would agree with me about that."

The sound of pointless competitiveness, an awkward grab for glory, is a little bit like a major chord being played sloppily but with great force on a church organ, by a small, angry child.

*  *  *

I often marvel at how well my life has turned out, considering what a fucked-up mess I was not so long ago. But gratitude doesn't always sound so interesting. It sounds like birds chirping outside and one of the dogs nervously biting her ripped-up squirrel toy, waiting for her breakfast. It sounds like the neighbor next door, starting up her car to drive to work, reminding me that I have the luxury of sitting at my desk at home. It sounds like the high-pitched whirr of our blender downstairs, my husband making a smoothie for the kids while I type quickly, as quickly as possible, before the chaos reaches a fever pitch and I descend the stairs to find someone's lost shoe.

What makes the ears perk up more is the low rumble of uncertainty and discontent, like an 18-wheeler barreling down the freeway, its axles rattling loud enough to be heard a mile away. In those moments when my husband is flying all over the place and I'm at home doing another load of laundry, I question the way I've always kept my bravado on the written page or in a glass rattling with ice cubes. I wonder why I didn't get a Ph.D, so I could be treated like royalty everywhere I go, too, instead of being treated like some housewife battling major delusions of grandeur.

If I were treated like royalty, maybe I wouldn't have to say stupid things to myself when I feel insignificant, things like, "Boy, I sure do give good advice!" and "I've been writing for twenty years and I am a fucking professional, that's the thing. I know how to get in the zone and get 'er done."

Working from home can feel luxurious and it can feel pathetic, depending on the hour of the day. But when someone offers me an important-seeming job or speaking gig, the truth is, I sometimes feel more dread than excitement. I'm not sure I want to fly places and hold forth. Even though I grew up watching my father bloviate and my mother type, and even though I probably limited myself by viewing ego-driven activities as elaborate acts of make-believe, at this point it's pretty hard to separate the sexist landscape that is my homeland from my core personality. I have certain intractable ideas about myself and where I belong.

And some stubborn part of me wants to be the capable one instead of the one who can't remember what day of the week it is. Some sexist part of me thinks that it's almost superior to be the busy, condescending one, at home in her soft pants, talking to the dogs and rolling her eyes when she overhears the arrogant throat-clearing of a Skype conference in the next room, or shoving a pillow over her head when the snoring starts to sound like a minor-key crescendo of jet engines, taking off for Helsinki or Shanghai or Singapore.

But I want my daughters to have the kind of bravado that transcends the page and the cocktail glass. I want them to play nicely with others, yes, but not so nicely that they're the ones organizing and scheduling and remembering while some guy gets to wander around, unfocused but still sure of his place in the world. I don't want my daughters to be the ones with lots of shit to do. I want them to have the time and the space to be great.

If that sounds entitled, well, I want my daughters to feel as entitled as my father did, as my mom's boss did. I don't want them to feel like they have to prove themselves over and over again, like I do. I am only as good as the last thing I wrote. Maybe that has nothing to do with being a woman. Maybe that's just how it feels to be a writer. That high, thin note never stops telling you your work needs more work.

*  *  *

When I hear parents talking about what they want for their kids, it makes me wonder if it's not a projection: The dyslexic mom who takes her son to Kumon three times a week. The awkward dad who insists on pricey ballet lessons. The shy couple who throw their daughter a splashy birthday party. Maybe I'm the one who wants more time and space to be great.

My own mother encountered big dreams and big egos with skepticism. I always admired that about her, the way she held her own and commanded respect in a room full of blowhards. At faculty functions, men and women alike were drawn to her, maybe because she wasn't either tooting her own horn or pandering to the bigwigs like everyone else.

But my mother probably deserved to toot her own horn more. You shouldn't have to choose between becoming a capable, pragmatic handmaiden who tries not to take up too much space or a disorganized dreamer with a bloated ego who steps on everyone's toes. And I can see now that other people have ego rewards built into their daily lives—meetings, conferences, water cooler talk, accolades, long mutually congratulatory conversations with their peers. As shallow as those things can be, after years of packing my days with as much efficient work as possible and treating any moment of self-satisfaction as shameful, it's about time I gazed at a bookshelf filled with leather-bound journals. I want to be unabashedly proud of my work for once in my life. I want to hold my ground and acknowledge that yeah, I'm an adult now and I know some things. Instead of apologizing for being too proud or insisting that my accomplishments aren't that big of a deal, I want to sigh contentedly. My sighs will sound like the "Poof!" a wild mushroom makes when you step right into the middle of it for no good reason, other than you're alone in the woods and the woods belong to you for just a moment.

Maybe it's a little selfish and entitled, to walk around caving in mushrooms like that. But I don't care. I will lean far back in my swivel chair until the springs squeak. I will dream in full color, my snores an orchestral crescendo, and wake up feeling sure that this world belongs to me.

The Express corrects over a third of “facts” in this pro-Brexit piece published before the vote

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

It was forced to remove the entire article, which was riddled with misinformation.

The europhobic, flag-waving tabloid (logo: a sad St George) has been forced to correct and remove a pro-Brexit list it published ahead of the EU referendum. Over a third of its “facts” turned out to be fiction.

“Amazing things we get back if we leave EU” – perhaps the internet’s most neurotic listicle since “30 Things Only Hypochondriacs Will Understand” – was a gallery of 11 images with captions filled with lies wildly inaccurate claims.

In a correction of four out of the 11 captions, the paper admitted that the cornerstone of English culture – buying eggs by the dozen – would not be affected either by staying in or leaving the EU, and nor would our dearest tradition of not changing the definition of jam or swedes. Thank God for that. Also, drinking water is not frowned upon by the EU.

Screengrab of the Express correction.

Considering the article full of false claims was published a month before the referendum (20 May), this apology is too little, too late. But hey, look on the bright side. The pound may be plummeting but at least nothing has changed whatsoever about the number of eggs to an eggbox. Taking our country back!


How Drake gamed the UK Singles Chart to spend 15 weeks at number one

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Take a superstar rapper, add a “global” sound, with a liberal helping of rhythmic vagueness, and subtract the visuals, and you could have your very own trail-blazing UK number one.

Which singles would you guess have had the longest run at the top of the UK Official Singles Chart? Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”? Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”? Rihanna’s “Umbrella”? Unless you’ve been paying close attention to the top 40 in recent weeks, you probably wouldn’t guess Drake’s “One Dance”. But if he makes the top spot again today, Drake will break the record as the artist with the most consecutive weeks at number one, matching Bryan Adams’s “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” with 16 weeks, and beating the 15 weeks held by Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around”.

I adore “One Dance”, even now, when its iron grip on the charts has seen it become utterly ubiquitous. But if you’re a casual pop music listener, the song may not even ring any bells. It’s far less distinctive and well-known than some of Drake’s other hits, like Rihanna collaboration “What’s My Name?” and last summer’s UK number one “Hotline Bling”.  It doesn’t have a particularly melodic chorus, and is without the peaks and troughs of the blazing pop ballads that have held the top spots for decades. It probably wouldn’t be a hit at karaoke, and the lyrics are not particularly memorable. So why has it shot to the top spot and stayed there?

Perhaps the chilled-out nebulousness of “One Dance” works in its favour. Ben Beaumont-Thomas at the Guardian writes that the track “sits at the heart of a listening-activity Venn diagram: it works for jogging, for driving, and at any point on a night out”, and adds that the “globalised” sound of the record, with its Nineties British pop, Afrobeat and Jamaican dancehall influences, attracts “an audience outside rap’s core demographics”. Telegraph critic Neil McCormick writes that the song is “lovely, in a tepid sort of way”, and suggests that its “very vagueness may be perfectly suited to listening on repeat in the background”.

This might be where the song’s success truly lies. In the 16 weeks since its release, the song is thought to have secured some 90 million streams (scoring 7.8 million in just one week) – and would be the fastest song to ever reach so many. The vast majority of its chart figures come from streams via Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal.

Audio streaming data has been included in chart calculations since 2014 – the UK Official Singles Chart counts every 100 streams on audio services like Spotify as equivalent to one single sale. If thousands of people up and down the country are keeping the song on a loop on their streaming services, it shows in the figures. “One Dance” has sold comparatively few copies – last week’s chart showing that it drew just 22 per cent of its sales from paid-for purchases. In fact, it sold just 44 per cent more than the song at number 10 – which is the slimmest gap in sales in any chart this century.

Two weeks ago, in the song’s 14th week at number one, Drake dropped the price of “One Dance” to 59p on iTunes, perhaps in an attempt to boost sales ahead of today’s potential record. “It is a standard campaign feature on iTunes adopted by a number of best-selling singles,” a spokesperson told Music Week, adding that the strategy “can prove very effective in driving incremental single downloads over the short campaign period”.

But there’s another key rule of the UK Official Singles Chart that Drake is exploiting. While audio streams can contribute hugely to a song’s position, video streams do not. While the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the US, and many other charts worldwide, include YouTube and other video streaming data in their calculations, the UK does not take them into account.

Last year’s song of the summer, “Hotline Bling”, had a video that was designed to be shared – shots of Drake dad-dancing amid Tumblr-esque pastel lighting that looked as though they had been made with the .gifs in mind. It worked: “Hotline Bling” was a viral video that accrued hundreds of millions of views, and basically became the biggest meme of 2015 – yet only reached number three in the UK singles chart.

In contrast, “One Dance” does not have a music video, and you can’t hear it on his YouTube channel – if you want to hear it easily online, you essentially have to go down an Official Chart-approved channel.

Does Drake’s reluctance to release a video of “One Dance”, even now, months after the song came out, reveal a deliberate change in strategy? Who knows, but, intentionally or not, Drake has revealed the perfect formula for snatching the UK top spot. Take a superstar rapper, add a “global” sound, with a liberal helping of rhythmic vagueness, and subtract the visuals, and you could have your very own trail-blazing UK number one.


Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

By Jeremy Bowen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.


City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.


Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.


Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc


The Curious Rise of Scientology in Taiwan

By Benjamin Carlson from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

At the end of 2013, in the low-slung, industrial Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, a bevy of officials came to attend the ribbon cutting of a huge former hotel that had undergone a top-to-bottom, multimillion-dollar renovation. Speaking before the throngs of celebrants who blocked the flow of traffic, Taiwan’s deputy director of the Ministry of the Interior praised the group that funded the renovation and presented them, for the 10th year straight, with the national “Excellent Religious Group” award.

“For years you have dedicated your time and lives to anti-drug work and human- rights dissemination,” said the director, echoing praise offered by the mayor’s office and the president’s national-policy adviser.

The name on the award was the same as the one newly blazoned in steel letters across the building’s façade, the same as the one that flanked the building in a gigantic vertical banner, a name that elsewhere might draw stares but in Taiwan has drawn government praise: SCIENTOLOGY.

Scientology around the world is in broad retreat, but to be in Taiwan you would never know that. In an area slightly smaller than the combined size of Delaware and Maryland, with a total population of 23.4 million—roughly the same as that of the New York metropolitan area—Taiwan has 15 Scientology missions and churches. Per capita, it’s one of the most Scientology-friendly countries on earth. The island serves as a major source of donations and new members for the church, which has capitalized on L. Ron Hubbard’s early suggestions that he was a new Buddha. In a sign of Taiwan’s importance to the church, Scientology chief David Miscavige also attended the 2013 Kaohsiung reopening of the hotel as a Scientology megachurch.

Elsewhere, including its homeland the United States, Scientology has been facing setbacks. Some of Scientology’s highest-ranking members have left the church in recent years and denounced its leaders for alleged abuses. Defectors have also leaked documents, exposing the church’s secrets to unwanted scrutiny. Celebrity members have left its ranks, including the King of Queens actress Leah Remini and  the Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis.

And though the church claims millions of members, census figures say its numbers in the U.S. may have fallen to 25,000 or lower in 2008 from a peak of 55,000 in 2001. High-ranking defectors say that missions around the world have closed or consolidated and showcase properties stand empty.

By contrast, Scientology’s biggest church in Taiwan—the 108,000 square-foot ex-hotel in Kaohsiung—is bustling. When I visited one evening last fall, I saw dozens of people coming and going in the course of a few hours. Taiwanese believers are also fundraising to build the island’s second lavish megachurch in Taipei.

Asked about this growth, the Church of Scientology said: “It is true that the Church of Scientology is expanding in Taiwan, just as we are expanding everywhere.”

And Scientology’s reach in Taiwan extends beyond the churches themselves. According to Scientology’s disaster-relief and community-service arm, the group sent Taiwanese volunteers last year to participate in earthquake-recovery efforts in Nepal, where members performed “contact assists,” a form of touch-healing Scientologists believe relieves pain by hand. (Last summer, Scientologists trained dozens of Kaohsiung police officers in these “assist” techniques.) A Scientology affiliate runs anti-drug programs in elementary schools across the country, and claims to have already educated some 300,000 young Taiwanese.  

According to documents described as leaks from Scientology's main database of internal statistics and published by Mike Rinder, a high-ranking defector, Taiwanese Scientology missions were three of the top 10 cumulative fundraisers for the church in 2014. In June 2015, according to data published on the Scientology-watching blog Sec-Check, the Taipei mission tied for first among Scientology churches around the world for weekly “stats” reflecting sales of books, hours of counseling, and new recruits. (Asked about these materials, a Scientology spokesperson described them as “stolen documents.” The church said Rinder was “dismissed from his position and expelled because of his dishonesty.”)

Scientology has found a lifeline in Taiwan, which the church describes as a gateway to China, a target it calls “the abiding dream of all Scientologists.”  

How did this happen?

* * *

Sitting at a café across the street from a downtown Taipei temple last fall, Verjanso Yang shook his head ruefully as he remembered the near decade he spent in the church. Once one of Taiwan’s highest-ranking Scientologists, he now wants nothing to do with the group.

When Yang first encountered Scientology, he was a young man seeking spiritual answers. His mother had taught him how to read fortunes from star charts and the Chinese characters of a person’s name, and new ideas intrigued him. Like many Taiwanese, he’d grown up with beliefs about reincarnation.

In 2003, while watching TV, he saw a popular guru hypnotize a Taiwanese entertainer. The guru claimed to take the entertainer into a past life, where he discovered that he had been a pig.

Yang was fascinated by the show. “Taiwanese are very curious about their future and past life,” he said. He, too, wanted to find out what his past lives contained. The guru’s theories didn’t provide him with the answers he sought, but they led him to Scientology, which claims that people must free themselves from deep-seated traumas in past lives.

Taiwan’s attitude toward religion differs notably from that of the People’s Republic of China. While roughly 60 years of official atheism have repressed the mainland’s traditional religions, in Taiwan they have prospered. For generations, Buddhist, Taoist, and folk beliefs have mingled on the island. In the 1980s, Taiwan’s government lifted Chiang Kai-Shek’s martial law, under which the country had been governed since 1949. Religious restrictions were relaxed, and new sects multiplied. Taiwan “became a different country” virtually overnight, recalled Chuen-Rong Yeh, an anthropologist of religion at Taiwan National University, in an interview. Moonies, New Age movements, and mystical martial-arts groups began proliferating. As the island modernized, religious movements blending indigenous practices with contemporary styles of worship attracted many Taiwanese, said Richard Madsen, an expert on Taiwanese religions at the University of California, San Diego.

For some, this seeking led to movements like Falun Gong, which merges physical practices with spiritual beliefs, or to kung fu organizations that claim to possess secret techniques for gaining supernatural powers. Taiwan is also home to groups like the Quan Yin Method, founded by a woman whose followers regard her as the reincarnation of Buddha and Jesus Christ; the True Buddha School, founded by a man who claims he fights demons and travels the world while asleep; and the Chen Tao cult, the members of which believe that flying saucers have rescued humans from five extinctions.

In this environment, Scientology, too, began to take hold. “Everything here is free, maybe even more than in the U.S.,” Yeh said. “Because of this, these kinds of occult groups enjoy their freedom in Taiwan.”

The first Scientology mission appeared in Taiwan in the late 1980s; by the mid-2000s, that single mission had blossomed into at least a dozen, with several in Taipei alone. The government recognized Scientology as a religion in 2003.

Yang’s first encounter with Scientology was the year following, when he visited a mission located in a chic Taipei shopping district. After registering him, the staff sold him the first book in the Scientology sequence, Dianetics, a 1950 work that purports to contain the Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s scientific discoveries proving that the key to mental health lies in emptying the mind of traumatic memories. In auditing, a kind of therapy that uses a lie detector and repetitive questioning to take users into a quasi-hypnotic state of memory and imagination, Yang found it “easy to go to the past life,” he recalled.

Like many believers, Yang turned to working long hours at the church as a way to pay for the Scientology courses that are required for believers wanting to move forward on their spiritual journeys. He says he worked 10- to 12-hour days for six months in 2004, for which he received two payments of $800. Much of that he paid back into Scientology courses. (The Church of Scientology declined to comment on this and other details of Yang’s account, with a spokesperson writing in an email, “We do not debate anonymous gossip.”)

“Because I hardly got paid, I had financial problems,” Yang said.

After he completed a series of courses, Scientology staff advised him to go to Sydney, Australia, which at the time was one of the few places in the region offering certain high-level training. Those courses, he recalled being told, would allow him to do more specialized auditing and increase his income. He flew to Australia in the fall of 2004. “It's the nature of Taiwanese,” said Yang. “Because Taiwanese are obedient, [Scientologists] use hard-sell techniques.”

He rented an Australian Scientologist’s apartment, sharing two bedrooms with eight other Taiwanese. “It was terrible,” he remembered. “Much cheaper than a normal apartment, but it was illegal. I was on an old mattress, there was no air conditioning, the room had no window.” (The Church of Scientology declined to comment.) Other defectors recalled to me one Taiwanese having to camp out on the 20th-story balcony of a building for months. Dozens of Taiwanese were studying Scientology in the city at the time, and they accounted for a quarter of the Sydney church staff, an Australian ex-Scientologist named Peter Smith told me.

Taiwan serves Scientology as a source of recruits, laborers, and donors. Another Taiwanese Scientology defector, Smith’s wife Anita Hsu, told me recruiters from America and Australia have long targeted Taiwan. Hsu, who attended her first Scientology course in 1993, said she was recruited to go to Sydney in 1999 with promises of rapid spiritual advancement. Despite Taiwan’s modest per capita income of roughly $22,000 a year, many Taiwanese were persuaded to spend $20,000 and up for Scientology courses, not counting rent and travel expenses, according to Hsu’s account. (Scientology declined to comment.) Given the cost, it’s not surprising that the first wave of Taiwanese converts came mostly from the middle to high-income professions: doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses.

To pay for the courses, defectors told me many Taiwanese sold their furniture and homes, maxed out credit cards, and were coached by church staff to ask relatives for loans. (The Church of Scientology declined to comment.) Taiwan is “very important for churches in Sydney,” said Smith, who worked five years at the Sydney church in the early 2000s. “They made a lot of money there. Lots of kids can come because the culture is they can borrow a lot of money from their families, even if they don't have much money.” (Critics of the church of Scientology, including Hubbard's great grandson, have compared the religion to a “pyramid scheme.”)

* * *

When Yang arrived in Sydney, he was surprised to find there were very few Scientology materials in Chinese. (Official Chinese translations of Hubbard’s works weren’t published until 2012.) Armed with rudimentary high-school English, he had to teach himself the language by reading Hubbard’s prose, which abounds with words such as “un-enturbulating” and “full color-visio, tone-sonic, tactile, olfactory, rhythmic, kinesthetic, thermal and organic imagination.”

“It was just studying, reading all day,” Yang said. “It was very painful.” In the end, because of the language barrier, Yang spent four-and-a-half years finishing training that native English-speakers could complete in several months.

The coursework alone, not counting rent, cost $35,000 for those years, he said. That’s 10 times the price of a full year of tuition at National Taiwan University.

In Sydney, Yang’s life revolved entirely around Scientology, he recalled. His friends, his lodging, and his visa all came through connections with the church. As Yang’s English improved he volunteered to help interview or audit fellow Chinese speakers. In 2007, he began dating an Australian Scientologist named Sarah Forster.

There were, however, moments of friction. Yang remembers being sternly punished for lending friends a DVD of The Secret, a New-Age film that advocates positive thinking. Senior church members called him and demanded the DVD, which they snapped in half and threw into the trash. They ordered him to write a confession of wrongdoing and show it to everyone in the church cafeteria to sign. (The Church of Scientology declined to comment.)

When Yang finally finished his training in 2008, he was eager to earn back some of his tuition money. He was also now the first Taiwanese certified to give high-level auditing, which can cost $300 an hour or more, he said. So when a unique opportunity came along, he took it: He flew to mainland China in 2009 to train a Chinese citizen to be “Clear”—an advanced state that Hubbard claimed would raise a person’s IQ, liberate him from colds, and enable him to calculate in seconds equations that average people needed half an hour to do. At this point Yang himself was considered Clear, having finished his training. But his new mission had a catch: Unregulated and foreign-controlled religions like Scientology are forbidden in mainland China. Groups considered cults by the government often face crackdowns.

That hasn’t stopped Scientologists from dreaming, however. China has loomed large in church mythology since Hubbard’s visit to the Great Wall with his mother and father in 1929. At the opening ceremony of the Kaohsiung church, Scientology’s leader David Miscavige said that “ever after [Hubbard] would speak of Scientology as ‘first conceived in the East.’” (Because of this, the church tends not to highlight the passage in Hubbard’s 1929 diary where he reportedly referred to the Chinese by a racial slur.) In later years, Hubbard liked to imply that he was Buddha, writing in his 1956 poem, “Hymn of Asia,” “address me and you address Lord Buddha,” and claiming that the Buddha would reappear in the West with red hair—like Hubbard himself. In Taiwan, church leaders frequently stress the Hubbard-Buddha connection to recruit members. In one of the Taipei missions I visited, staff showed a video in which a statue of Hubbard is briefly juxtaposed with a statue of Buddha; in the Kaohsiung church, the gym had a large mural of Buddhist symbols.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (AP)

For six months, Yang lived in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China where he spent six hours a day auditing a businessman (whom Yang declined to identify) up the levels of Scientology. Compared to his cramped, restricted life in Sydney, Yang enjoyed relative freedom in Hangzhou, but kept a low profile and told authorities he had come to China as a student. He felt that the businessman studied mostly to please his wife, who had discovered Scientology on a trip to Europe; yet a year later he saw a video the businessman had made to promote his own spiritual group—a thinly veiled rip-off of the Scientology he had learned.

* * *

In 2010, Yang returned to Taiwan. Forster, by now his fiancée, joined him. In Taipei he started his own independent auditing and counseling practice, specializing in taking people from lower levels up to “Clear.” Around the same time, a blog he started that was popular among Taiwanese Scientologists began to draw criticism from the church’s intelligence organization and law-enforcement unit, the Office of Special Affairs, because Yang expressed opinions that were either unorthodox or seemed to be derived from Scientology, which fiercely protects its copyright.

Meanwhile, Scientology was embarking on a “global expansion,” and fundraising in Taiwan intensified. High-level church figures from Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Florida, known as the Flag Service Organization or simply Flag, came to recruit Taiwanese. The International Association of Scientologists held fundraisers with lofty goals, and came to Taiwan multiple times a year, Yang recalled. Missions in Taipei proudly display plaques and posters from America that commend them for “stellar sales.”

Yang remained active in the church—he was paying 10 percent of his salary to Scientology—but he and Forster began avoiding events because the doors would be blocked until they made a donation. But it didn’t stop there. Yang and Forster were asked repeatedly to buy new, $3,000 versions of “The Basics,” a collection of 18 books and 280 digitally enhanced Hubbard lectures. They saw friends donate houses, overcharge credit cards, and lose jobs for the church. (The Church of Scientology declined to comment.)

“Many people were rich and now are poor,” said Yang.

When fellow Scientologists in Taipei poached two of his auditing clients, Yang began to distance himself from the church, quietly downplaying “Scientology” in his marketing materials. He continued to write his blog. Yet when church intelligence officers objected to him writing posts about Buddhism and romantic topics, he balked at the restrictions. “The church said, ‘Don’t write that, you should promote Scientology, otherwise people won’t pay for courses,’” he said.

In 2012, the Office of Special Affairs emailed a list of articles and demanded he remove them. In one, he pointed out that the idea of karma did not originate in Scientology, but came from Buddhism. “They said, ‘You can’t talk about that. It doesn't belong to you. It belongs to us.’” (The Church of Scientology declined to comment.)

He took down the posts. Two years later, the blog was mysteriously hacked in a denial-of-service attack and has since remained down.

* * *

Taiwanese who want to understand outside perspectives on Scientology face a basic obstacle: Most critical articles on the church, and most forums where ex-Scientologists offer advice to people leaving the church, are in English.

Taiwan’s own media, while boisterously independent compared to mainland China’s, have shied from negative coverage of the church. While gossip-friendly newspapers have reported briefly on matters related to the divorce of celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise, I could find few that had written on the group’s expansion on Taiwan’s shores. One of the few Chinese-language blogs that publishes critical items on Scientology is run by Anita Hsu, the Taiwanese defector.

Yang and Forster left the Church of Scientology in 2012. In the midst of their disputes with the church over Yang’s blog and his independent practice, a high-ranking church friend came to visit. She shared with them a letter written by Debbie Cook, a Scientologist beloved in the church who used to head Flag. The letter criticized the church’s ceaseless focus on fundraising. Yang’s friend also told them that Cook had testified in the church’s lawsuit against her to being locked in a building for seven weeks and experiencing physical abuse. This was the first time he had heard such reports; he and Forster had been forbidden from reading anything online that the church deemed to be anti-Scientology.

A month later, full of anxiety and excitement, the couple sent out their own letter: “Dear Friends. … I am the first Taiwanese Senior Minister that was ever made. I was the first Taiwanese who co-audited to Clear. I was the first person to go to China and make the first Clear in China. And now I am the first highly trained Class V Taiwanese Auditor to publicly depart.”

The next day, Yang lost 400 friends on Facebook—almost everyone he knew. A friend who had attended his wedding called contacts of Yang and Forster in Taiwan and Australia and told them to “disconnect,” or permanently cut off contact with them. “We were prepared” to lose friends, Forster said, “but we didn’t know they’d be totally gone.”

Asked now what he would tell Scientologists in Taiwan, Yang shook his head in disgust. “I don’t care. They won’t listen, you can’t deprogram them. If they come to me, I will help, but otherwise, what can you do?”

As subtitled versions of the documentary Going Clear appear online, Scientology may gradually lose momentum in Taiwan, but Yang is not optimistic. In Taiwan, at least, the group’s affiliated organization—the anti-drug program Narconon, the Citizens Commission for Human Rights (an anti-psychiatry organization which claims to expose the field as “an industry of death”), and the Youth for Human Rights program, which promotes Hubbard writings alongside the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights—continue to reach students, receive positive media coverage, and hold events with the government’s support, including meetings with the former president.

“I did feel I was brainwashed,” Yang said, “Now that I am out I wonder, what was I thinking at that time? How come I was so controlled, people telling me what to do and not to do? What to read and not to read?”

Rudy Giuliani's Presumption of Guilt

By Matt Ford from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Donald Trump is no friend of American Muslims, as he’s  proven time and again in words and deeds. While offering few details, the Republican nominee called for surveillance of “certain mosques” and said he would consider a federal database to track all U.S. Muslims after last November’s Paris attacks.

Then, after the San Bernardino shooting last December, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until American leaders can “figure out what the hell’s going on.” (Trump has since offered numerous contradictory revisions to that plan.) Leaders from across the political spectrum condemned the idea, including Trump’s future running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who called it “offensive and unconstitutional." (He’s since changed his mind, as has most of the Republican Party.)

You’d think it would be hard to top Trump's track record. But one of his main advisors on terrorism found a way to one-up him:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday said he would be in favor of forcing Muslims on the federal government's terrorism watch list to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets for authorities to track their whereabouts.

"I would think that's an excellent idea," said Giuliani, an adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "If you're on the terror watch list, I should you know you're on the terror watch list. You're on there for a reason."

Giuliani, who is advising the Trump campaign on terrorism and national security issues, told NJ Advance Media he would recommend that Trump undertake the same measures being used in France if he's elected.

When it comes to constitutionally fraught methods of surveillance, Giuliani also speaks from experience. “I was the mayor who put police officers in mosques, in New York and New Jersey,” he told the Intercept earlier this month. “After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center by Islamic extremist terrorists from New Jersey, I did it in early January of 1994.” Their presence stopped “three or four attacks,” he told the Intercept, but declined to offer further details.

Giuliani also wasn’t the only mayor to target Muslims for surveillance. Under his successor, Michael Bloomberg, the NYPD created what it called its “Demographics Unit” to spy on Muslim New Yorkers after 9/11. Plainclothes detectives and informants would routinely visit mosques and Muslim-run shops, restaurants, and organizations. There, they would catalog what they saw and build extensive dossiers for the nation’s largest police department.

The unit’s work remained secret until the AP first reported on its existence in 2012, nine years after it began. In 2014, Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton dismantled the program and later settled a major lawsuit over its alleged constitutional violations. Notably, the program failed to produce a single legitimate lead during the decade of its existence.

It’s possible to detail at length the obvious constitutional flaws with government-mandated GPS trackers for people who have committed no crime and received no trial, singled out only by the whims of law-enforcement officials and intelligence agencies. It’s possible to catalog violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments such a program would represent.

But what matters here isn’t the proposal itself. It’s a half-baked idea, one whose practical flaws were already demonstrated in France this week, where such surveillance failed to halt an attack. What matters instead is the zeitgeist in which such a proposal could casually arise. Tagging human beings en masse—operating under a presumption of guilt, not innocence—is not an idea that arises in a vacuum. It reflects the slow and steady corrosion of constitutional norms, a bipartisan weakening of America’s commitment to civil liberties, a cumulative degradation of what American society considers acceptable behavior by its government.

Neither Giuliani nor Trump deserve credit for this shift in what Americans find palatable. But they have taken it to new heights over the past year. In the end, that may be Trump’s greatest impact: not making America great again, but making the unthinkable acceptable.

A Message of Calm in an Agitated Time

By Molly Ball from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA—It was a hot and stormy week at the Democratic convention, one that began with discord and ended with invocations of togetherness. “People are anxious and looking for reassurance,” Hillary Clinton, the newly anointed Democratic nominee, told a cheering convention crowd—“looking for steady leadership.”

This was the theme of speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention: steadiness, calm, shelter from the storm. The party’s stars took the stage one by one, railing against divisiveness and doomsaying and fear. They painted a picture of a new American normal: optimistic, stable, square, patriotic. A silent majority of tolerant, diverse, cosmopolitan people, hopeful and unthreatened by suspicion or difference. A transgender woman, an illegal immigrant, a Muslim veteran’s father: This, the convention asserted, is the face of a country that has been through the discombobulating wringer of social and demographic change, and come out the other side smiling and holding hands.

“America is already great,” they insisted, again and again and again.

The invocations of patriotism were so ringing and traditional that many Republicans—whose own convention last week was chaotic and weird—were envious. Yet the voices of disunity were never far from the surface.

Throughout Clinton’s speech, scattered hecklers insistently interrupted, prompting drown-them-out chants of “Hill-a-ry!” and “U-S-A!” The dissenters wore bright-yellow “Enough is Enough” T-shirts; some of them walked out, though most stayed in the hall. Earlier in the night, as Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan, pleaded, “Some people are angry—I get that—but the answer is not to tear our country down,” a man in a yellow shirt walked silently down the aisle of the arena with a handmade sign held aloft: “BERN IT DOWN.”

Burn it down or come together? So many of this year’s indicators have pointed to a riled-up electorate, disgusted with the old invocations of inoffensiveness. The institutions of the status quo seem hollow and corrupt, from the Democratic National Committee to the government and the banks.

“A year ago, I would have voted for Hillary,” a 57-year-old white man from Florida named Russ Vitt told me on Wednesday, as we stood in the blazing square adjacent to City Hall that was perpetually filled with a motley array of protestors. “That was before I realized how stacked the deck was, how the system was rigged.” The Bernie Sanders candidacy had awakened something in Vitt, who wore a Feel the Bern ballcap and held a black dog on a leash. And now there was no going back.

It was a successful convention, rousing and well-orchestrated and slick, the way these things are supposed to go. The voices of the objectors, so loud at the beginning of the week, when they drowned out speakers with boos, grew steadily quieter as the days wore on, won over by Sanders’s endorsement or the Obamas’ speeches or simple weariness. Yet this constant undertow, this zeitgeist, this stench of rot could not be ignored. There is something in the air in 2016 that will not be placated, and whoever wins the election, stability may not be so easily restored.

The Occupiers camped out in a park just across the barriers erected around the convention zone. To get around the separating wall required a walk of more than a mile. As the sun set on the encampment, a couple dozen determined demonstrators kept up a steady stream of sign-waving and chanting next to the barrier (“I believe that we will win!”). Later, the wall would be briefly breached. I watched a group of young Trump supporters march through with a banner and an “End the Fed” sign, trying unsuccessfully to persuade the protestors that Trump was a social liberal who would shake up the system for the better.

“FUCK THE DNC,” said the letters in chalk on the street.





Further into the park, a large soundstage was projecting a movie about voting rights to a mellow crowd. There was a first-aid tent, plenty of Port-a-Potties, a communal tile painting reading “REVOLUTION.” Here, the smiley status-quo-ism inside the hall resonated as a deeply alienating complacency, a conspiracy to conceal the messed-up reality.

“Hey, Democrats, Your Party’s Over!” said a sign.

“Fascist Hillary Loves War!” said another.

At a tent on the lawn, a group of 20-somethings cooked chicken and hot dogs on a portable charcoal grill. “The general consensus of me and other people my age is a jaded attitude toward life,” said Cristian Galvan, a 20-year-old college student in Texas. “We grew up with 9/11, the recession, our parents suffering, nothing but disappointment with the institutions we’re supposed to be proud of.”

The campers were all Bernie-or-Busters, unmoved by Sanders’s endorsement of Clinton. Most planned to vote for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, in November. “It’s very disheartening. It makes it hard to be proud of your country,” Galvan proclaimed. “The Democratic Party has lost a generation.”

“I’ve been going to protests for five years,” said Matt Barica, a shirtless, long-haired, bearded 22-year-old delivery driver from New Jersey, puffing on a small pot pipe. “I slept in Zucotti the first two weeks of Occupy. I protested NATO in Chicago.” Barica was impressed by the way the police and authorities in Philadelphia had treated the protestors, handing out water and generally being considerate.

“We are too militaristic. There’s too much hostility. Everyone is so hostile and aggressive,” fretted Hunter Murphy, a tall 23-year-old with blond hair and red gym shorts. Originally from Texas, he had quit school and moved to rural Tennessee to care for his aging grandparents, and convinced them—both lifelong Republicans—to vote for Sanders.

“It’s crazy how we’re portrayed as the bad guys. I think we should at least be taken seriously,” said Katlyn Gregolunas, a frizzy-haired 20-year-old in a pot-leaf tie-dyed shirt. She had quit her waitressing job to come here when she couldn’t get the time off. “They say we’re uninformed, that we just want a reason to be mad. The problem is that we’re not being heard.”

Yet the experience of camping, of communing, of protesting, had been cathartic for them, and they left with a new sense of purpose.

“For me, this has been one of the best experiences of my life—the positivity, the friendliness, the community,” said Sarah Zawacki, who drove 15 hours from Indiana in her Chevy Aveo, taking time off from her job as a produce assistant at Walmart. (“Yeah, I know, it’s ironic, a hippie working at the most evil corporation,” she laughed.) Zawacki was bitter about politics, but found something redemptive in protest. “I’m going to be leaving with a sense of hope,” she said, “at least for the distant future, if not for the next four years.”

Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

By Michael Chessum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed. 


Turkey's bid to shut Gulen schools globally

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Turkey wants other governments to close schools and colleges linked to Fethullah Gulen, after this month's coup attempt.

Israeli demolitions make more Palestinians homeless

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

In first half of 2016, 740 people were made homeless by the Israeli army, which says the structures were not approved.

Rescued refugees detail abuse in Libya

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Rescued at sea, refugees are subject to kidnapping, torture and rape in Libya, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Football team halts match at half-time

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A pre-season friendly between two non-league sides is abandoned at half-time after one refuses to continue playing.

Shock in eastern Europe

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Some states fear that Brexit may leave much of the ex-communist half of Europe in the cold

Bikini-clad Swedish policewoman 'stops thief'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

A bikini-clad Swedish police officer wins praise for tackling a suspected thief while she was off-duty sunbathing with friends in Stockholm.

Signs of the Times

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA—In a week’s new cycle filled with email scandals, hidden plots, foreign political hacking schemes, walk-outs, and calls to imprison the presidential nominee, at least one part of the Democratic National Convention appeared genuine. The signs, symbols, buttons, and placards that saturated wardrobes, convention photographs, and Wells Fargo Center trashcans are real and nontrivial examples of unity, conviction, and genuine belief in the power of politics.

On Monday night after Michelle Obama’s show-stopping speech I found myself scouring the convention floor for one very particular item. The objective of my quest was a two-foot-long purple sign that simply read “Michelle,” and had been held up by thousands as she spoke. I hadn’t thought much of them when delegates and viewers—all coordinated, of course—pulled the signs out during their cheers for her speech. But I exited the floor to discover a flood of texts and Tweets from black women in my life—my mom, my wife, and my friends—who wanted their hands on a sign. As I searched, I saw other questers looking among the ruins of nacho containers and under footprint-dusted bleacher seats for the same thing. While my own quest was doomed to fail, most of the successful treasure-hunters I saw, with their arms full of stacks of “Michelle” signs, were beaming black women.

Vann Newkirk / The Atlantic

Wednesday night I stood on the floor again, this time watching Vice President Joe Biden give a soaring oratory that perhaps overshadowed even President Obama’s. Members of the crowd were given one of two signs this time, alternating between “Joe” and “Scranton,” for Biden’s hometown. From a throng of reporters behind the delegates closest to the stage, I witnessed two unsuccessful trade offers to give up a “Scranton” sign for a “Joe” sign, one-for-one. Later that night I saw a woman trade a “Scranton” sign and a “Stronger Together” sign for one “Joe” sign. The price was set.

Vann Newkirk / The Atlantic

Even later that night, I watched in real-time as Bernie Sanders supporters put down their “Bernie” signs as President Barack Obama took the stage. Blue “Obama” signs and “yes we can” chants were ubiquitous across the arena, and through signage, Obama demonstrated his greatest strength in his own party. More than anyone or perhaps anything else, he is the connective tissue between the disparate groups of Bernie Bros, Hillary supporters, people of color, and white people that form the broad nucleus of the Democratic Party. As has been the message for the duration of the convention, the point of the signs was a show of unity and belief that the multi-identity project can succeed.

On Thursday evening, the importance of signs was amplified even more as Hillary Clinton took the stage to accept the nomination. At least five new signs were distributed among the crowd, including “Hillary” and “Stronger” signs, as well as a placard showcasing the Clinton logo on a field of a heart, symbolizing the slogan that “love Trumps hate.” I was among the crowd when they were given go cards and given instructions for how to use them to pull off a “card stunt.”

“You will be performing a card stunt at the end of tonight’s program, which will provide a unified patriotic picture through the arena,” the instructions told the crowd. While the message on the gestalt sign after Clinton finished her hour-long address was unclear—perhaps broken up by people unwilling to drop their other signs—the real message was still the same. Unity.

Vann Newkirk / The Atlantic

Of course, it’s all possible that what I saw was just the result of more coordinated cynicism—an attempt to short-circuit human group instincts to provide the most TV-ready image of solidarity. The provision of signage was certainly well-coordinated, until the card stunt at least; it created a very good TV image, and propaganda does work well to implement a sense of tribalism.

Regardless, the signs still represent a striking visual of the Democrats’ far-reaching and inclusive attempt at creating a tribe. When else have thousands of people of all races in unison held a sign proclaiming allegiance to and support of a black woman like Michelle? When else have they put their differences aside to cheer a black man on? When has anyone from California cheered for Scranton? And when has all of that been done in an experiment in electing the first woman president?

The case for cynicism in this election is clear. The sense I’ve gotten from interviewing people around Philadelphia is that they are being forced to choose the least-awful version of an awful future. But even in the midst of reasonable cynicism about politics and the Democratic Party itself, those signs were a glimpse of something more.

The unique intimacy of Uber Pool: how I form fleeting, intense relationships with strangers

By Eleanor Margolis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

There’s something fascinating about being in such a close setting with people you will never meet again. It feels like fate should happen.

A lesbian couple is fighting over me. I mean, not over me, but over me. Physically. As in, we’re in the back of a Toyota Prius, snaking through Haggerston at 3am and I’m in the middle seat, as stiff and misplaced as a wardrobe, trying to mind my own business.

“Jesus, stop interrogating her,” says the half of the couple with long, curly hair.

I’m “her”. The couple is in its twenties and drunk. The short-haired half of it has been asking me questions (a tipsy combination of profound, asinine and nothing in between) since it clambered into the same Uber as me, ten minutes ago. Both car doors had opened and I slid into the middle. Now I’m the Berlin Wall in a row between a couple I have never met and will probably never meet again.

This is my first experience of Uber Pool, where you share your ride with at least one stranger in order to cut the cost and ruin the environment very slightly less. Most people share transport with strangers every day. But being pressed into the moist armpit of Some Guy on the Northern Line is somehow much less strange than sharing the semi-domestic space that is a car with someone with whom you’re not on first-name terms.

“Sorry, is this weird?” Long Hair asks me.

“No,” I say, even though it is.

“Well it is now you’ve said it is,” says Short Hair.

The degree of weirdness present in this Uber is deliberated with Parliamentary gusto until the Uber stops outside some flats and the couple disappears into the night like a chased cat. The driver shoots a glance into the rear-view mirror.

“Well was that weird?” the glance seems to say.

I shrug. The driver laughs, slightly.

The Lesbian Argument Berlin Wall Fiasco fails to put me off Uber Pool completely. There’s something quite fascinating about being in such an intimate setting with strangers. It feels like fate should happen – like I’m going to meet an eccentric and generous billionaire, or at least a distant relative of the Chuckle Brothers. Isn’t this sort of thing supposed to breed stories?

I will something exciting to happen when I – clearly the Don Quixote of the London transport system – order an Uber Pool for a date and me. Another couple (this time hetero) gets into the car in Brixton. The woman – a Swede in her twenties – gets in the back. The guy – an Australian nondescript man blur somewhere between 20 and 40 – gets in the front.

I talk about Stockholm with the Swede. She thinks it’s an ugly city full of dicks. I disagree. This is my date’s first Uber Pool experience. I wonder if the heteros know we’re on a date. Furthermore, I wonder if I should make it obvious for the sake of dyke visibility. I sit in an Uber mentally chewing on dyke visibility until the Australian starts talking about his balls.

In all fairness, this isn’t a complete non sequitur. I love to talk about poisonous things. Especially with Australians, seeing as they’re from a country practically besieged by livid and toxic fauna.

For clarity’s sake, no, the Australian doesn’t have venomous testicles (give me a second). When the Stockholm conversation fizzles out, I start on the spider chat. This evolves into: “A jellyfish once stung me on the balls.” Which is, I put it to you, the single most Australian thing anyone has ever said.

We all wince. The driver, the only other man present, probably winces the most.

“Your balls?” I say, because genital talk with strangers is apparently something I relish.

“My balls,” he says.

I make an executive decision not to tell him about the time a wasp stung me on the butt. Although that feels ungenerous of me.

On that note, the car stops and my second Uber Pool couple evaporate off into a noisy bar.

“Why do I know about that guy’s balls?” I ask my date.

She doesn’t know. I wonder if she’s as enchanted by Uber Pool as I am. I doubt it.

Dusseldorf residents told to pay for Nazi-era road

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Court rules that homeowners must foot the bill for suburban Dusseldorf street first built in 1937.

Welcome to the Trump show

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Whichever way the political pendulum swings in the US, the rest of the world will be reduced to absorbed bystanders.

Hillary Clinton, As Defined by 12 Years of Google Searches

By Adrienne LaFrance from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Hillary Clinton’s Twitter bio is mildly provocative, but only if you can appreciate the cultural baggage that comes with it.

The presidential candidate describes herself as a “Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate.”

In a culture that prizes political power and encourages people to compartmentalize different aspects of their identities, it’s perhaps unexpected to see “Secretary of State” as No. 7 on the list. (Then again maybe not: Women who are mothers are often expected to define themselves first in domestic terms, regardless of their professional accomplishments. Recall the 2013 obituary for Yvonne Brill in The New York Times, which described her as a mom who left work to raise her children and the maker of a “mean beef stroganoff,” and—in the next paragraph—“also a brilliant rocket scientist.”)

Motherhood isn’t necessarily a status that ambitious women are taught to trumpet in the professional world. While men get a pay bump for being fathers, women’s pay drops with each additional child.

Clinton, in particular, has had a difficult time as a wife and mother in the public eye. In 1992, she set off a firestorm with a snarky quip about her decision to build a career rather than having “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” She still faces criticism and mockery for her husband’s infidelity.

By now, Clinton doesn’t need Twitter to tell you who she is. Her bio on the site is instead, like all calculated political messaging, a way of simultaneously conveying her values and challenging her critics. (The mention of pantsuits and hairstyles is similarly, if more playfully, an acknowledgement of the harsh scrutiny she’s faced over the years.)

When you’re Hillary Clinton, and you’re seeking ways to connect with voters and broaden your appeal, maybe it’s more important to remind people that you’re a grandma than it is to remind them that you’ve served in the U.S. Senate, and as Secretary of State, and as the first lady, and oh by the way you’re also running for president of the United States.

But to the rest of the world, professional accomplishments are how Clinton is defined. That’s according to 12 years of data, provided by Google Trends, that shows how people view the presidential candidate across her public and private roles. (And, hey, if you need to brush up on the finer points of Clinton’s very long resume, the campaign has you covered. It’s not like Clinton’s camp is downplaying her professional accomplishments.)

Here are the most popular search terms related to Clinton, beginning with the most frequently searched, over the course of 12 years:

  • Secretary of State
  • President
  • First Lady
  • Grandmother
  • Mom
  • Wife

Though her stint as a U.S. senator is curiously absent, the larger pattern is clear: The public sees Hillary Clinton first in conjunction with her biggest public-facing jobs. This is understandable, for a lot of reasons, but especially given the need for voters to vet her performance in those jobs as she runs for president.

Still, the list reads almost exactly in the reverse of the way she apparently sees herself—or wants people to see her, anyway—on Twitter. This also represents a reversal of sorts from her earlier public image, when she resisted putting the domestic sphere first. But Clinton’s not conforming to the expectations of those who seek to define women in domestic terms, she’s challenging the cultural perception of motherhood. Moms, it turns out, can now be nominated by major political parties for the presidency. Plus, reminding voters that she’s a wife and grandma arguably makes her more relatable; her list of professional achievements is rare, to say the least.

Clinton joined Twitter back in 2013, long before it became clear (or, many would say, even seemed plausible) that Donald Trump would be her opponent in the general election. At the time, Clinton’s bio was this: "Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD..."    

The text was slightly different, but the tone was essentially the same. Or, as The Washington Post put it then: “Hillary Clinton joins Twitter, sounds human.” Sounding human remains important for Clinton, who has struggled with favorability ratings as a presidential candidate. But now, sounding unlike Trump may also be a virtue. Is there anything less Trumpian than a grandma?

Lava pictures from 'smiling' Hawaiian Kilauea volcano eruption

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has erupted, however the volcano appears to be "smiling"

Why the Democratic Party Can’t Escape Mass Incarceration

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA—Bridge-building is the dominant theme of this year’s Democratic National Convention. Likely intended as a counter to the “build a wall” chants of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week, the image of building bridges evokes unity, connectedness, and effort to promote good-faith communication between different identity groups.

But for all its efforts to build bridges, the Democratic Party is also expending just as much energy on burning one. The 2016 Democrats are running as far away as possible from the criminal-justice policies of the 1990s Democrats, in many cases actively undoing the policies the party once sold as common sense. Many of the Democratic leaders on stage this week were also star players in the fight to enact a broad set of racially inequitable, pro-prison reforms around the early ’90s. The dissonance has undergirded the entire convention.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been front and center throughout the week of the convention. In assessing just how much it has affected politics and policy, there’s no need to go any further than the content of stage speeches: Almost all of the major prime-time speeches mentioned police brutality or black lives. President Obama implored the country to “work with police and protesters until laws and practices are changed,” a directive that’s in the party’s official platform on criminal-justice reform. Other speakers, such as former Attorney General Eric Holder and the vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, echoed that call to action.

The movement’s influence was most present during a touching and heartfelt presentation on Tuesday by the “Mothers of the Movement,” a group of mothers of black people killed by police and racial violence. Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, and Sybrina Fulton—the mothers of  Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin, respectively—stressed criminal-justice reform and endorsed Hillary Clinton as the candidate to enact it. “Hillary Clinton isn't afraid to say black lives matter,” McBath said. “We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe.” Chants of “black lives matter” resounded across the expanse of Wells Fargo Center from delegation after delegation during their presentation and others. An embrace of criminal-justice reform was perhaps the greatest point of unity among the Democrats’ diverse and fractious coalition, from Bernie Bros to black women in church hats holding “I’m with Her” signs.

But one moment that complicated the feel-good racial narrative on Tuesday night in particular was the speech from Bill Clinton. Many in the Black Lives Matter movement have pegged the former president, however unfairly, as the main architect of the criminal-justice policies that increased incarceration rates and over-policing. Criticism of his role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act has united black activists, and his reputation as a saxophone-playing, hip friend of black people—perhaps the most enduring constituency of his pop-political persona—has been eroded. Perhaps fittingly, the biggest challenge to his record on the 2016 campaign trail came from black activists on an earlier visit to Philadelphia. Those same activists have also led the biggest Black Lives Matter protest groups at the convention.

Whether the criticism of his record is based in a fair policy assessment or not, Bill Clinton’s presence was incongruous with the mood created by the tribute to black lives. He faltered when the time came for him to speak on the issue. “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid,” Clinton said, “we saw in Dallas how great our police officers can be. Help us build a future where nobody is afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” The line, an awkward, seemingly ad-libbed or shoehorned fragment, seemed to put the onus of change on black people.

Most Democrats who have been in national office long enough played a part in the crime bill’s passage.

Bill Clinton wasn’t the only one who struggled to promote the turn towards criminal-justice reform. In fact, his speech and his placement on the agenda were emblematic of the conflict between the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. The evolution has been slow, fitful, and incomplete. It wasn’t so long ago that Hillary Clinton herself was often blasted for her use of racist “superpredator” rhetoric and her role alongside her husband as a promoter of coded racial fears that provided the momentum for increasingly draconian crime laws.

Indeed, most Democrats who have been in national office long enough played a part in the bill’s passage. Vice President Joe Biden wrote the ’94 Crime Bill and endorsed its “tough-on-crime” policies when he was a senator from Delaware. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted for it. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, despite what he has since characterized as a tough compromise to gain provisions on violence against women and gun control, cast an “aye” vote for the bill’s provisions to eliminate college-education grants for inmates, install mandatory-minimum sentencing and repeat-offender sentencing, and greatly expand the capacity of federal and state law enforcement and prison.

Democrats are also trying to escape that era’s state and local crime laws, which most impacted the lives of Americans. Even for these legislative measures, Democratic leaders acted in concert with their federal counterparts to create a system that increasingly treated imprisonment and aggressive policing as panaceas. Many of those officials were also on center stage during the convention. Kaine himself was a vocal advocate for Project Exile when he was mayor of Richmond. That program, which was initiated the year before Kaine took office in 1998, automatically sent all gun offenders in the city into federal court, where five-year mandatory-minimum sentences—set by the Violent Crime Bill—applied. Predictably, it openly targeted black neighborhoods and, despite controversy around its methods, has become a template for similar policies in other cities and states.

Other local leaders from cities that are currently loci of Black Lives Matter protests were front and center at the Democratic National Convention. Wednesday night’s speaker Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is not a Democrat, but his endorsement of broken-windows policing and stop-and-frisk policies in a liberal city has been a model for several other municipalities. Democratic National Committee secretary and emergency-gavel-person Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is also the mayor of Baltimore, a city shaken by the news that all charges against police officers would be dropped in the Freddie Gray case just before the third day of the convention started in earnest.

That all isn’t to say the Democrats’ efforts to reverse two decades of carceral policy is necessarily disingenuous. Many Democrats—including Wednesday’s speaker Jesse Jackson, Sr.—spoke out vehemently against the crime bill and its ilk. Some Democratic officials have been ahead of the curve in anticipating the long-reaching effects of those policies and fighting them. Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, walked me through his city’s efforts to push community policing, data collection, and body-camera adoption back in 2014, even though citizens’ trust of law enforcement has been eroded to nothing. “We decided in order to build a first-class police department we had to start moving forward aggressively in everything,” Benjamin told me at an event Wednesday. “But we’re not an outlier here.”

Even with genuine, well-intentioned policy and forward-thinking leaders, the dissonance within a party that championed mass incarceration and policing expansion, and that now champions reform, creates awkward moments during speeches. The party and its leadership—even the people of color within it that also pushed for crime bills—can’t be correct on race both today and 20 years ago. The longer the Big Tent is examined, the more it threatens to fold.

Rio 2016: City revamped in run-up to Olympics

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

City once considered a dangerous place to visit now enjoys welcome developments such as new tram lines and plazas.

Who are we to label ISIL members non-Muslims?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

We may add a qualifier to their label, but never do we deny their chosen identity altogether.

Week in pictures: From Kabul attacks to US elections

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

From a massive suicide attack in Afghanistan to the US Democratic National Convention, here is the week in pictures.

Hillary Clinton can take down the Donald Trump bogeyman - but she's up against the real thing

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Donald Trump still has time to transform. 

Eight years later than hoped, Hillary Clinton finally ascended to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and accepted the nomination for President. 

Like her cheerleaders, the Obamas, she was strongest when addressing the invisible bogeyman - her rival for President, Donald Trump. 

Clinton looked the commander in chief when she dissed The Donald's claims to expertise on terrorism. 

Now Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do"

No, Donald, you don't.

He thinks that he knows more than our military because he claimed our armed forces are "a disaster."

Well, I've had the privilege to work closely with our troops and our veterans for many years.

Trump boasted that he alone could fix America. "Isn't he forgetting?" she asked:

Troops on the front lines. Police officers and fire fighters who run toward danger. Doctors and nurses who care for us. Teachers who change lives. Entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem.

Clinton's message was clear: I'm a team player. She praised supporters of her former rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, and concluded her takedown of Trump's ability as a fixer by declaring: "Americans don't say: 'I alone can fix it.' We say: 'We'll fix it together.'"

Being the opposite of Trump suits Clinton. As she acknowledged in her speech, she is not a natural public performer. But her cool, policy-packed speech served as a rebuke to Trump. She is most convincing when serious, and luckily that sets her apart from her rival. 

The Trump in the room with her at the convention was a boorish caricature, a man who describes women as pigs. "There is no other Donald Trump," she said. "This is it."

Clinton and her supporters are right to focus on personality. When it comes to the nuclear button, most fair-minded people on both left and right would prefer to give the decision to a rational, experienced character over one who enjoys a good explosion. 

But the fact is, outside of the convention arena, Trump still controls the narrative on Trump.

Trump has previously stated clearly his aim to "pivot" to the centre. He has declared that he can change "to anything I want to change to".  In his own speech, Trump forewent his usual diatribe for statistics about African-American children in poverty. He talked about embracing "crying mothers", "laid-off factory workers" and making sure "all of our kids are treated equally". His wife Melania opted for a speech so mainstream it was said to be borrowed from Michelle Obama. 

His personal attacks have also narrowed. Where once his Twitter feed was spattered with references to "lying Ted Cruz" and "little Marco Rubio", now the bile is focused on one person: "crooked Hillary Clinton". Just as Clinton defines herself against a caricature of him, so Trump is defining himself against one of her. 

Trump may not be able to maintain a more moderate image - at a press conference after his speech, he lashed out at his former rival, Ted Cruz. But if he can tone down his rhetoric until November, he will no longer be the bogeyman Clinton can shine so brilliantly against. 


The Christian Sects Who Protest at Conventions

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA––If a visitor to the DNC judged Christianity by the most visible adherents on the streets of this city, or their analogs at the RNC in Cleveland, rather than the few preachers who took the stage as part of the official proceedings, they might mistake it for a hateful faith obsessed with visions of fire and brimstone.

The Christians most motivated to turn out with signs and aggressively proselytize emphasized neither love nor forgiveness nor food for the hungry nor clothes for the naked.

Instead they touted the vengeance of an angry God.

Conor Friedersdorf / The Atlantic

For passersby who live in secular enclaves or subcultures, these may well be the most consequential “real life” encounter with Christians they will have this year. And that is a shame.

I haven’t been a regular church attendee since childhood. But by virtue of 13 years of religious schooling I know a great many Christian families and individuals. And they could not be more different than their most vocal co-religionists. Their Christian faith causes them to be more kind, loving, forgiving, and guided by their consciences than they would otherwise be. They are far more concerned about helping and loving their neighbor than condemning him. They are horrified by the claim that God intended AIDS as a judgment against gay people.

They are, however, less visible in the public square, especially for those who don’t live near where they live and worship.

Conor Friedersdorf / The Atlantic

This gulf between what’s visible and what’s true is hardly unique to Christians. Muslim Americans are constantly frustrated by the fact that the vast majority of news about their coreligionists focuses on the infinitesimal percentage who perpetrate acts of terrorism. Police officers are frustrated by the fact that the average citizen sees news or YouTube clips of the most egregious abuses by cops, and almost never sees the encounters where volatile situations are handled professionally. In Cleveland and Philadelphia alike, the vast majority of leftist protesters were peaceful and friendly, but you’d never know it from the New York Post’s coverage.

What’s perhaps distinctive about Christianity is that the gulf between the typical believer and the street-corner fundamentalist is less evident to the average American today than it was in years past. There are now more enclaves and subcultures where people are never exposed to typical believers in childhood, and are therefore less able to recognize outliers when they see them.

I wonder if members of the Christian mainstream will decide, in future years, to be more present in the public square, or if forces like the Westboro Baptist Church will cause typical Christians to shy away from overt displays of faith even more for fear that, without context, they will be regarded as hateful or divisive. It isn’t ultimately up to me to chart the course that the Christian faithful will take. But I hope that if I return to the RNC and DNC in 2020 or 2024 or 2028, the religious presence there better represents the more loving strain of Christianity I’ve long witnessed.

Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

By Glosswitch from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

As new film Bad Moms reveals, what the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy.

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

When I say “cool mum” I’m thinking of a maternal version of the cool girl, so brilliantly described in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.”

The cool girl isn’t like all the others. She isn’t weighed down by the pressures of femininity. She isn’t bothered about the rules because she knows how stupid they are (or at least, how stupid men think they are). She does what she likes, or at least gives the impression of doing so. No one has to feel guilty around the cool girl. She puts all other women, those uptight little princesses, to shame.

What the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy. The cool mum doesn’t bore everyone by banging on about organic food, sleeping habits or potty training. Neither hyper-controlling nor obsessively off-grid, she’s managed to combine reproducing with remaining a well-balanced person, with interests extending far beyond CBeebies and vaccination pros and cons. She laughs in the face of those anxious mummies ferrying their kids to and from a multitude of different clubs, in between making  cupcakes for the latest bake sale and sitting on the school board. The cool mum doesn’t give a damn about dirty clothes or additives. After all, isn’t the key to happy children a happy mum? Perfection is for narcissists.

It’s great spending time with the cool mum. She doesn’t make you feel guilty about all the unpaid drudgery about which other mothers complain. She’s not one to indulge in passive aggression, expecting gratitude for all those sacrifices that no one even asked her to make. She’s entertaining and funny. Instead of fretting about getting up in time to do the school run, she’ll stay up all night, drinking you under the table. Unlike the molly-coddled offspring of the helicopter mum or the stressed-out kids of the tiger mother, her children are perfectly content and well behaved, precisely because they’ve learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Mummy’s a person, too.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, just how well this works out. Just as the cool girl manages to meet all the standards for patriarchal fuckability without ever getting neurotic about diets, the cool mum raises healthy, happy children without ever appearing to be doing any actual motherwork. Because motherwork, like dieting, is dull. The only reason any woman would bother with either of them is out of some misplaced sense of having to compete with other women. But what women don’t realise – despite the best efforts of men such as the Bad Moms writers to educate us on this score – is that the kind of woman who openly obsesses over her children or her looks isn’t worth emulating. On the contrary, she’s a selfish bitch.

For what could be more selfish than revealing to the world that the performance of femininity doesn’t come for free? That our female bodies are not naturally hairless, odourless, fat-free playgrounds? That the love and devotion we give our children – the very care work that keeps them alive – is not something that just happens regardless of whether or not we’ve had to reimagine our entire selves to meet their needs? No one wants to know about the efforts women make to perform the roles which men have decided come naturally to us. It’s not that we’re not still expected to be perfect partners and mothers. It’s not as though someone else is on hand to pick up the slack if we go on strike. It’s just that we’re also required to pretend that our ideals of physical and maternal perfection are not imposed on us by our position in a social hierarchy. On the contrary, they’re meant to be things we’ve dreamed up amongst ourselves, wilfully, if only because each of us is a hyper-competitive, self-centred mean girl at heart.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be great if the biggest pressures mothers faced really did come from other mothers. Alas, this really isn’t true. Let’s look, for instance, at the situation in the US, where Bad Moms is set. I have to say, if I were living in a place where a woman could be locked up for drinking alcohol while pregnant, where she could be sentenced to decades behind bars for failing to prevent an abusive partner from harming her child, where she could be penalised in a custody case on account of being a working mother – if I were living there, I’d be more than a little paranoid about fucking up, too. It’s all very well to say “give yourself a break, it’s not as though the motherhood police are out to get you”. Actually, you might find that they are, especially if, unlike Kunis’s character in Bad Moms, you happen to be poor and/or a woman of colour.

Even when the stakes are not so high, there is another reason why mothers are stressed that has nothing to do with pressures of our own making. We are not in need of mindfulness, bubble baths nor even booze (although the latter would be gratefully received). We are stressed because we are raising children in a culture which strictly compartmentalises work, home and leisure. When one “infects” the other – when we miss work due to a child’s illness, or have to absent ourselves to express breastmilk at social gatherings, or end up bringing a toddler along to work events – this is seen as a failure on our part. We have taken on too much. Work is work and life is life, and the two should never meet.

No one ever says “the separation between these different spheres – indeed, the whole notion of work/life balance – is an arbitrary construct. It shouldn’t be down to mothers to maintain these boundaries on behalf of everyone else.” Throughout human history different cultures have combined work and childcare. Yet ours has decreed that when women do so they are foolishly trying to “have it all”, ignoring the fact that no one is offering mothers any other way of raising children while maintaining some degree of financial autonomy. These different spheres ought to be bleeding into one another.  If we are genuinely interested in destroying hierarchies by making boundaries more fluid, these are the kind of boundaries we should be looking at. The problem lies not with identities – good mother, bad mother, yummy mummy, MILF – but with the way in which we understand and carry out our day-to-day tasks.

But work is boring. Far easier to think that nice mothers are held back, not by actual exploitation, but by meanie alpha mummies making up arbitrary, pointless rules. And yes, I’d love to be a bad mummy, one who stands up and says no to all that. Wouldn’t we all? I’d be all for smashing the matriarchy, if that were the actual problem here, but it’s not.

It’s not that mummies aren’t allowing each other to get down and party. God knows, we need it. It’s just that it’s a lot less fun when you know the world will still be counting on you to clear up afterwards.  

Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it. 

BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Hillary Clinton accepts Democratic Party nomination

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Hillary Clinton seeks to heal rifts within her own party as she formally accepts the Democratic presidential nomination.

Eurozone recovery loses momentum

From Europe News. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Data cast doubt on strength of revival as French economy grinds to halt

Atlantic hurricane season shows signs of life

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

After a slow start, developments are taking place in the east of the Basin.

How Rome's new mayor Virginia Raggi is leading a normality revolution

By Joji Sakurai from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The first female Roman mayor has promised an end to posturing public figures.

The Ottavia area of Rome, on the northern periphery of the Italian capital, is a part of the city that tourists rarely visit. In a sense, this is the real Rome, with problems that are typical of the rot that most residents have to put up with every day. It is a jumble of decaying concrete eyesores from the 1950s and 1960s – the legacy of rapid economic development and Mafia corruption – surrounded by parks where drug deals go down, and piles of refuse that sit uncollected for days.

It was here that the young mother of a newborn baby – who after her marriage had resettled in the area from the middle-class Roman neighbourhood where she was raised – started to become interested in politics. Seven years later, Virginia Raggi has been elected as Rome’s first female mayor and, having just turned 38, its youngest mayor ever. She is a symbol of change in Italy after two years of rule by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, another young leader, which have left millions of Italians disenchanted. Her rise is a sign that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, may be coming of age after years as a protest vehicle.

Raggi not only won the run-off on 19 June but did so by the biggest margin in the history of Roman mayoral elections, trouncing the candidate whom Renzi supported by a ratio of 67:33.

Her story begins far from the glamour of the Capitoline Hill, on the dreary streets of Ottavia, where she pushed her baby boy, Matteo, in his pram and was forced to weave in and out of traffic, walk along “non-existent” footpaths where cars were double- or triple-parked, and negotiate the perils of abandoned municipal parks. “Rage at seeing my splendid city reduced to an undignified state” is what pushed her into politics, she writes on her website. It was a path that led to her unlikely victory as mayor of Rome (a post equal in importance in Italy to the mayor of London in the UK and a launchpad for campaigns to become prime minister).

Raggi, who was a lawyer before she became a politician, grew up largely indifferent to politics. When she became a parent, she joined neighbourhood committees and volunteer groups and started to press for sustainable organic farming and decent public transport. In 2011, disillusioned by the centre left after years of voting for Renzi’s Democratic Party (she comes from a family of progressive intellectuals), Raggi joined the Five Star Movement, having been dragged to its meetings by her husband, a radio technician.

Her rise was rapid. She ran in 2013 as a Five Star candidate for Rome’s 48-member city council and picked up one of the movement’s three seats (she received 1,525 votes; her husband also ran but failed to make it on to the council, with only 132 votes). When the former Rome mayor Ignazio Marino, an ally of Renzi, resigned after an expenses scandal, Raggi – already the Five Star Movement’s spokesperson for Rome – stepped forward as a candidate in the party’s primaries.

She defeated four rivals in the online balloting in February. It is a startling tale in an age of unlikely political narratives, reflecting a global pandemic of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. Italy’s Panorama magazine described her election, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, as “a cultural revolution without precedent”.

There is a paradox at the heart of the upheaval that Raggi has caused. In Italy’s sordid and grimly entertaining political landscape – with its tales of the former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties, as well as Grillo’s clownish antics – the most surprising thing about the new mayor is that she seems normal. Raggi calls her campaign the “revolution of normality” – refreshing, perhaps, for Italians tired of posturing public figures. Inevitably the subject of Italian chatter for her fetching looks, Raggi comes across, above all, as serious, low-key, articulate and compassionate. She is selling policy over persona.

There have been shadows over her ascent. Her Rome law firm has past associations with Berlusconi’s long-time right-hand man Cesare Previti – a convicted criminal – and Raggi launched her legal career as an apprentice in Previti’s office. She has vehemently denounced whispers that she may be a double agent for Berlusconi’s centre-right party, Forza Italia.

Graver doubts arise from concerns that she may turn out to be a pawn of her anti-establishment party’s own establishment, in the form of Grillo. And because of the city’s Gordian knot of vested interests, being the mayor of Rome is in many ways a tougher job than being the prime minister of Italy. It has been a poisoned chalice for many an ambitious leader.

Yet the truth is that, even for Italians, Raggi remains a mystery – and that opens up intriguing possibilities. She may turn out to be a blank canvas on to which Romans, of both the left and the right, can project their hopes and frustrations. If she succeeds in steering her own course, however, she could position herself as a viable alternative to Renzi. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Five Star Movement may have edged past his Democrats and become Italy’s most popular party, with about 28 per cent of the nation’s support.

It is worth considering that Renzi rose to national prominence as the mayor of Florence – a city whose political significance pales in comparison with that of Rome – and went on to become prime minister. Could Raggi do the same?

Ellie Foreman-Peck for New Statesman

Pope Francis makes a solitary walk into Auschwitz camp

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Pope Francis is at the former Auschwitz death camp on the third day of his visit to Poland.

When faith found its Article 50: exploring the theology of Martin Luther

By A N Wilson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

New books by Lyndal Roper and Diarmaid MacCulloch reveal the scatalogy and theology of one of history's best known theologians.

Protestantism was the first great Eurosceptic thing, the setting up of local power bases against a shared wisdom. Almost five centuries have passed since Martin Luther nailed (or glued? – there seems to be some doubt about the matter) his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg in 1517. Luther himself never mentioned the event.

In the year before the anniversary of that momentous act by a firebrand Augustinian friar at the age of 33, two of our finest historians have given us food for thought. Diarmaid MacCulloch, whose Reformation: Europe’s House Divided (2003) has achieved classic status, gives us a powerful set of essays, chiefly concerned with the effects of the Reformation in England. He revisits some of the main figures of the period – Cranmer, Byrd, Hooker (an especially good profile) – and gives insightful readings of the changing historiography of the Reformation phenomenon. Lyndal Roper, Regius Professor of History at Oxford, has retold the life of Luther. Hers is the bigger book. MacCulloch has wise things to say about the Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible and the religion of the Tudor monarchs. But no one on the English scene can quite match the figure of that crazed Wittenberg friar. Indeed, there would not have been an English Reformation at all, had it not already begun in Germany.

Nor would Luther have been so famous, had not Johann Gutenberg (circa 1398-1468) invented printing, and had Luther’s inflammatory tracts – and even more so the anti-Catholic woodcuts to accompany them – not spread like wildfire, the Latin writings among the whole European intelligentsia, the illustrated ones in German among a semi-literate peasantry. At Wartburg Castle today, guides will show you the splodge on the wall where Luther supposedly threw an inkpot at the Devil. Lyndal Roper says this is a misinterpretation of Luther’s claim that he would fight Satan with ink (meaning “with printer’s ink”).

The single feeling I took away from these two inspirational books is that the Reformation was a series of political events, driven by secular concerns, in Germany by the power games of the nobility – above all of Friedrich III, “the Wise”, Elector of Saxony – and in England by the sordid politicking of Henry VIII. Until the Reformation happened, it had been perfectly possible to excoriate abuse in the Church (as when Chaucer mocked the Pardoner) without invoking Article 50.

This tolerance changed when the Holy Roman emperor Charles V convened the Diet of Worms. The assembly was intended to reassert twin bulwarks: the emperor’s personal power over huge tracts of Europe and, more specifically, the maintenance of the Catholic faith against the rumblings of the new teaching. Luther was summoned to appear before it in order either to reaffirm his views or to recant.

There was a crowd of over 2,000 people waiting to see him when he arrived in Worms, in the Rhineland, on 16 April 1521, paraded in an open wagon. The choice of vehicle was deliberate; Luther, and his followers, wanted him to be seen. This austere, still tonsured friar, with his huge, bony face divided by a long, asymmetrical nose, with dark, electrifying eyes and curling, ­satirical lips, was a figure who had become a celebrity, almost in the modern sense.

In the Germany of the 1520s, so superbly evoked in Roper’s book, people knew something “seismic” was happening. Worms is the place where Luther did, or did not, say: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” MacCulloch tells us that these are words that Luther probably never spoke, “but he ought to have said them, because they sum up a little of what it is like being a Protestant”.

Roper’s account of the diet and of ­Luther’s appearance before it is one of the most remarkable passages in her magnificent book. On the late afternoon of 17 April, he found himself standing before John Eck, the imperial orator. The papal nuncio Jerome Alexander had warned against giving Luther such publicity. Even as the titles of his many books were read out, they demonstrated, in Roper’s words, “the depth and range of Luther’s attack on the papacy and the established Church”. In reply to Eck’s questions, Luther spoke quietly, saying he was more used to the cells of monks than to courts. It was his fanbase that reported, or invented, the celebrated words.

Luther, standing alone before that assembly, is a type of what makes Protestantism so alluring. We do not need intermediaries, whether popes or priests or emperors, on our journey towards Truth; our inward conscience is king. Luther can be seen as the archetypical dissident, the instigator of what eventually became Democracy and Romanticism. But Roper’s Luther is deeply rooted in the 16th century, and in his own appalling ego. (When he was a monk, he would spend six hours making his confession.)

A large part of her story is the sheer coarseness of his language, the deranged coprology that fed his many hatreds, in particular of the Jews and of the popes. The “Devil has . . . emptied his stomach again and again, that is a true relic, which the Jews and those who want to be a Jew, kiss, eat and drink and worship . . .” he wrote. “He stuffs and squirts them so full that it overflows and swims out of every place, pure Devil’s filth, yes it tastes so good to their hearts, and they guzzle it like sows.”

The pope, likewise, was castigated by Luther as a sodomite and a transvestite – “the holy virgin, Madame Pope, St Paula III”. In his virulent text “Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil” (1545), Luther had him say, “Come here, Satan! And if you had more worlds than this, I would accept them all, and not only worship you, but also lick your behind.” He ended his diatribe: “All of this is sealed with the Devil’s own
dirt, and written with the ass-pope’s farts.”

When you think of a world without proper plumbing, the wonder is that all of our forebears were not faecally obsessed. Luther, however, was a special case. His cloacal and theological preoccupations were inextricably linked. One of the many enemies he made in life – and most of his academic colleagues and religious allies at Wittenberg finally fell into this category – was Simon Lemnius, a pupil of Luther’s sometime ally Philippus Melanchthon. Luther said he would no longer preach in Wittenberg until Lemnius was executed, and in time he was. But not before Lemnius had written a poem that went:


You suffer yourself from dysentery and you scream when you shit, and that which you wished on others you now suffer yourself. You called others shitters, now you have become a shitter and are richly blessed with shit. Earlier anger opened your crooked mouth, now your arse opens the load of your stomach. Your anger didn’t just come out of your mouth – now it flows from your backside.


It was indelicate but true. After he escaped from Worms in disguise, Luther sometimes went for up to six days without passing a motion. The “Lord strikes me in my posterior with serious pain”, he wrote. “Now I sit in pain like a woman in childbirth, ripped up, bloody and I will have little rest tonight.” And with the constipation came visitations from the Devil. “I have many evil and astute demons with me,” he wrote at this time, surely accurately.

The man’s very name has lavatorial connotations. As he told his table companions in 1532, his “Reformation moment”, his central theological idea – that the just shall live by faith alone – came upon him “like a thunderbolt”, in the privy tower of the monastery at Wittenberg. Thereafter, Luder, which was his father’s surname, became known as “the Freed One” (in Greek “Eleutherios”, in modern German “Luther”). Conversion was a laxative.

Roper argues that “we probably know more about his inner life than about any other 16th-century individual”. As a husband (which he became when he abandoned his Augustinian vows and married Katharina von Bora, a Cistercian nun 15 years his junior), he could be genial and loving. His household was clearly a place of hospitality. And yet, even by the standards of the age, he was harsh. When his nephew Florian took a knife from one of Luther’s sons, he wrote to the boys’ schoolmaster asking him to beat Florian every day for three days until the blood ran: “If the [arse-]licker were still here, I’d teach him to lie and steal!”

On the larger, national scale his political activity makes for painful reading. Without the patronage of Friedrich III he would never have got anywhere. The agricultural workers who heeded his rallying cries did so because of the absenteeism of the Saxon bishops and priests. Yet when the Peasants’ War broke out, inspired mainly by Luther, he accused them of doing the Devil’s work. After thousands had been put to the sword, his comment was that “one must kill a mad dog”. The Magdeburg preachers rightly called him a “flatterer of princes”.

And yet, as Roper leads us through the unfolding of the Reformation by way of the psychological experiences of this monster/master thinker, there is something thrilling going on here. No one has ever equalled Luther in the extent to which he teased out the radicalism of Christianity: Paul’s theology filtered through Augustine, but honed to its existential extreme in the German preacher. “I do not wish to be given free will!” he exclaimed. He anticipated the determinisms of Darwin, Marx and Freud.

His starting point was the sheer irrelevance of either human will or human reason in the grand scheme of things. Other Reformation figures took as their starting point the ineluctable sinfulness of all human action, the impossibility of our earning salvation or working for grace. None expressed himself with quite Luther’s vigour and, yes, poetic force.

Roper reminds us that his translation of the New Testament from the Greek, which was accomplished at top speed, was “a work of genius. Luther’s New Testament reshaped the German language itself . . .” And it is no surprise, she notes, that the Faust legend began to locate the scholar-egomaniac’s journey in Wittenberg. No surprise, either, that Hamlet studied there. This is the place, for good or ill, where the individual consciousness stood up against the group. No sooner had it done so than private judgement, paradoxically, began to debunk the freedom of the will. Luther’s
response to a hundred years of humanist wisdom and the revival of Greek learning was to distrust the “damned whore, Reason”. In this, and in his pathological anti-Semitism, he was sowing teeth that would spring up in later centuries as dragons.

Many would regard the end of monastic life as the greatest tragedy of the Reformation. Civilisations need men and women who retreat from the conventional burdens of property and carnality to find something else, whether they are Pythagoreans eschewing beans or Buddhist monks wandering the Indian countryside with begging bowls. The ruined British monasteries remind us of what was lost from our philistine land (not least, women’s education). Diarmaid MacCulloch, in a fine essay on Henry VIII, says that “at no time” during the eight years when most of the religious houses in Britain were destroyed “did the government officially condemn the practice of the monastic life”. Surely that makes it more, not less, painful. They were eliminated merely for money. At least Luther, in his angry way, did object to the monastic life on principle. He came to oppose the thing that most of us would think religious houses were for, namely their quietness. One of the most fascinating things in Roper’s biography is the discussion of the concept of Gelassenheit, or calm, letting go.

MacCulloch finds this beautiful quality in the Church of England, and concludes an essay on “The Making of the English Prayer Book” with a sense of the “gentle . . . understated hospitality” of Anglican worship, and its feeling, conveyed in George Herbert’s “Love bade me welcome” of . . . well, of Gelassenheit.

No modern pope would dispute Luther’s view that it was wrong to sell indulgences. Most of the abuses of the Catholic Church to which he objected were swept away by the Church itself. Both of these books will divide us. Some readers will finish them with a sense that the Reformation was a spiritual laxative by which constipated Luder became the liberated Eleutherios, thereby loosening and releasing the Inner Farage of northern Europe. Other readers will be ­sorry that the Catholic humanists such as Erasmus and More did not win the day. For such readers as this, Luther and pals must seem like brutal wreckers of a cultural cohesion that we still miss.

A N Wilson is most recently the author of “The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible” (Atlantic Books)

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper is published by The Bodley Head (577pp, £30)

All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch is published by Allen Lane (450pp, £25)

Universal History Archive / Getty Images

The Economist explains: Why Britain is unenthusiastic about Michel Barnier’s Brexit job

By from European Union. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

IT WAS a “declaration of war”, according to the livelier elements of the British press. Michel Barnier, the smooth-talking, silver-haired French politician who has been appointed to run a Brexit task force inside the European Commission, may not look like a man spoiling for a battle. But the decision by Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president—to appoint a man well known for his rows with Britain to a job which is bound to generate more of them—certainly looked like a provocation. Mr Barnier has the experience for the job. He has bounced between senior positions in Paris and Brussels for more than 20 years, serving (briefly) as France’s foreign minister and putting in two stints inside the commission. It is the second of those that has some in Britain sweating. Between 2010 and 2014 Mr Barnier was the internal-markets commissioner, a job in which he oversaw the regulation of financial services. In those post-Lehman days, a torrent of legislation poured forth from Brussels, and Mr Barnier clashed regularly with the City (and the British government) on issues like bankers’ bonuses and capital-buffer requirements. One row with Mervyn King left the mild-mannered Bank of England governor bashing the table in fury. But by the end of Mr Barnier’s term he had won the grudging respect of many in the City who appreciated his conciliatory approach ...

Powerful forces threaten US - Clinton

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Powerful forces threaten the US, said Hillary Clinton as she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination.

Hillary's Message to America

By Peter Beinart from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The Democratic convention, which culminated on Thursday night with Hillary Clinton, was inverted. Usually, supporting actors cover policy specifics and flay the opposing candidate. The nominee comes on at the end and offers a vision.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t do vision well. So, wisely, her campaign turned the paradigm on its head. The emotion, the vision, the rhetorical power came from others: from Barack Obama and Joe Biden and ordinary people like disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza; Khizr Kahn, whose son died in Afghanistan; and the families of slain police officers and victims of police violence. Clinton did what she’s good at: She talked about public policy and she proved that she’s not at all intimidated by Donald Trump.

All week Democrats had been criticizing Trump for saying what he’d do but not how he’d do it. But Hillary, more than any other prime time speaker, provided the necessary contrast. One of her most effective sequences was: “I sweat the details of policy—whether we're talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it's not just a detail if it's your kid—if it's your family. It's a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president.”

Presidents don’t have to be inspiring to win elections. Barack Obama is not the only model. Even many of Bill Clinton’s speeches were derided as “laundry lists,” but he destroyed Bob Dole in 1996 by showing, again and again, that Dole’s proposals were fanciful and dangerous while his would help ordinary people in tangible ways. Hillary Clinton needs a massive turnout on the part of people who love Barack Obama and love the prospect of a woman president. But to win, she also needs millions of votes from people who don’t find her “likeable” (a compliment rarely bestowed on powerful women) but grudgingly accept that she use the government competently and effectively while Donald Trump can’t.   

Clinton was also smart to go right at Trump. She was smart because it showcased her toughness, a quality that only a fool would deny. When talking about Trump, her tone was contemptuous. She didn’t rant. She didn’t mock. But she came across as a person who, unlike Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, has faced decisions so frightening that they make powerful men quiver. Her line about Jacqueline Kennedy saying that “what worried President Kennedy” during the Cuban missile crisis “was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride” was masterful. The backdrop was Barack Obama’s decision to authorize the raid on Osama Bin Laden. And the line worked not only because it so perfectly captured Trump but because the convention’s previous speakers had done such a good job arguing that her motivation isn’t ego. It’s care for others.

The speech reminded me of the video with which Hillary Clinton launched her campaign. It starred ordinary people talking in quietly moving ways about the challenges of their lives. They were the stars. Clinton herself appeared only at the end, when she declared, “It’s your time and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.” It’s your time. Not a bad message when you’re running against an authoritarian narcissist of a kind America has never seen.

The convention was the same way. Hillary’s message was: I don’t need to be the center of your world. I’ll do my job, intelligently and doggedly. And I’ll help you be the heroes of your own lives.

Hillary Does It Again

By Ron Fournier from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

The unicorn of American politics, the “real Hillary Clinton”—the Hillary Clinton I’ve known for nearly 30 years—that Hillary Clinton likes to wear low-heeled shoes to a butt-kicking.

“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said of her Republican rival, Donald Trump, while accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, the first woman in U.S. history to head a major-party ticket.

It was a sound bite for the ages, searing and on point.

“Do you really think Donald Trump has the temperament to be commander in chief?” she continued. “Donald Trump can’t even handle the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign. He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. Imagine, if you dare, imagine him in the Oval Office facing a crisis.”

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. I covered the Clintons in Arkansas, where I started my career, and at the White House, after Bill Clinton’s election brought me to the nation’s capital, and through the many scandals that hardened her shell and hardened people’s attitudes against her. But here she is—on the brink.

Watching her speech—a good one, not great, but her best—I kept thinking of a moment a quarter century ago, a small moment, but one not unlike this. It was the moment I stopped betting against her:

Summoned to a Capitol rotunda news conference by Tom McRae, an earnest Democrat challenging then-Governor Bill Clinton for re-election, I heard the click, clack, click of the first lady's low-heeled shoes approach from a hidden marble hallway.

"Tom!" the first lady of Arkansas shouted. "I think we oughta get the record straight!"

Waving a sheaf of papers, Hillary Clinton undercut McRae's criticism of the Clinton administration by pointing to his past praise of the governor. It was a brutal sandbagging.

“Many of the reports you issued not only praise the governor on his environmental record," she said, "but his education and his economic record!" McRae's primary campaign was toast. Bill Clinton was one step closer to the White House.

The national equivalence of that scene played out Thursday night, when she strode across the convention stage (yes, in heels) and reeled off the case against Trump. Like she did with McRae, Clinton threw Trump’s words back at him: Ban Muslims; a Mexican judge is biased; Mexican immigrants are rapists; women are pigs and bleed out of their whatever; John McCain and his fellow POWs are losers; and Vladimir Putin is a great leader.

She said people didn’t take Trump seriously. “At first, I admit, I couldn’t believe he meant it, either. It was just hard to fathom that somebody who wants to lead our nation could say those things, could be like that, but here’s the sad truth: There is no other Donald Trump,” Clinton continued, adding that Trump doesn’t “get” a central fact about American exceptionalism: “America is great because America is good. So enough with the bigotry and the bombast. Donald Trump is not offering … change, he’s offering empty promises.”

In other ways, the speech was an x-ray of Clinton’s soul that gave the public a rare, if distorted, glimpse beneath her shell. The woman I know is:

Audaciously optimistic.




Madly, if not traditionally, in love with her husband.

An adoring mother and grandmother.

Funny, warm, and charming.

Tough. Brutally, tough.

“He’s taking the Republican party a long way from morning in America to midnight in America,” Clinton said of Trump.

Click, clack, click.

“He wants us to fear the future and fear each other. Well, you know, a great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came up with the perfect rebuke to Donald more than 80 years ago in a much more perilous time: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Click, clack, click.

“He’s forgetting every one last of us,” she said, referring to the most memorable line of Trump’s acceptance address. “Americans don’t say ‘I alone can fix it.’ We say, “We’ll fix it together.”

Click, clack, click.

“He spoke 70-odd minutes,” she said of Trump’s convention speech, “and I do mean odd.”

Some of you might wonder why I haven’t mentioned trust—the stonewalling, deception, and lies that virtually destroyed her credibility. I waited this long to go there because that’s not the Hillary Clinton I knew 30 years ago. She was open and accessible to the journalists who covered her husband, known for her smarts and integrity.

And so I smiled when she got to the most authentic part of her speech, that time when she parsed the meaning of public service. “The service part has always come easier to me than the public part,” she said. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”

The Most Inspiring and Depressing Moment of the Democratic Convention

By Uri Friedman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Khizr Khan began his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday with words I wish he didn’t have to say: “Tonight we are honored to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims—as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.”

I wish he and his wife didn’t have to stand there as the parents of a 27-year-old Army captain who was killed by suicide bombers while serving in the Iraq War. And I wish Khizr Khan hadn’t felt the need to declare his patriotism and loyalty to the United States of America. Those truths should have been self-evident.

The state of the union is not strong when an American feels compelled to clarify such things. In better times, Khizr Khan, who was born in Pakistan and moved to America from the United Arab Emirates, might have begun his speech with what he said next: “Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy—that with hard work and [the] goodness of this country, we could share in and contribute to its blessings.”

But these are not better times. They’re times when a candidate for the nation’s highest office has called for banning all Muslims—the latest version of the proposal applies to everyone from countries “compromised by terrorism”—from its shores, ostensibly to protect the American people. And so, in that kind of climate, Khizr Khan had this to say instead: “Our son, Humayun, had dreams … of being a military lawyer, but he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. … If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.”

“Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future,” said Khan, who works as a legal consultant. “Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” He pulled out a pocket version of the document from his suit jacket. “I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’”

“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?” he asked. “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.”

The lines echoed something Khan told The Washington Post in 2005, one long and excruciating year after his son’s death, in explaining why he and his family had originally decided to move to Silver Spring, Maryland. At the time, in the late 1970s, Pakistan was under military rule, and he had set out in search of more freedom and opportunity.

Ultimately, that opportunity came with sacrifice. Addressing Trump directly on Thursday evening, Khan called out the Republican nominee’s tough talk: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

How Chelsea Beat Ivanka at Being a Candidate Daughter

By Michelle Cottle from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Yes, yes, yes. Chelsea Clinton is not the most charismatic orator—as the Twittersphere was happy to point out during her brief address on Thursday night. She is like her mother that way. There’s something not quite natural about her self-presentation. She’s not stilted, exactly. But she can come across as too cautious, too reserved, too conscious of other people’s eyes upon her.

But, let’s face it, as the lead-in to Hillary’s big nominating speech, a little bit of boring was called for. Unlike some of this convention’s high-wattage speakers, there was zero chance Chelsea was going to upstage Hillary with a barnburner or tear-jerker. Chelsea wasn’t there to pump up the crowd. Her role was to comfort, to explain, to cajole, with an eye toward giving Americans a glimpse of her mother’s softer side.

As she does on the campaign trail, Chelsea went heavy on talk of motherhood, both her own and Hillary’s. She gushed (only somewhat awkwardly) about her own wee tots—including son Aidan, born a mere five weeks ago—and of Hillary’s enthusiastic grandparenting. And she explained how being a mother herself has given her a greater appreciation for her own “wonderful, thoughtful, hilarious mother”—who, Chelsea assured us, was always, always there for her.

Even more sentimental was Chelsea’s invocation of her late grandmother, Dorothy Rodham. “Grandma would be so, so proud of you tonight,” she assured Hillary late in her remarks—at which point I thought poor Bill was going to dissolve in a puddle of tears.

Cornball? Maybe. But this is what Americans look to Chelsea for. It is what they have always looked to her for. Forget policy platforms and partisan attacks. Her job is to beam with filial pride and affection, to make Hillary seem like a more or less normal person.

The Chelsea-Ivanka comparisons were unavoidable. Despite the gulf in tone and message of the two conventions, the candidates’ daughters served an identical purpose: to reassure people that their parents are warm, decent, trustworthy, lovable humans who in no way resemble their ugly caricatures. Plus, when their parents aren’t locked in mortal combat, Chelsea and Ivanka are chums. This makes perfect sense when you consider how much the two have in common: Both are daughters of extraordinary privilege raised in the spotlight by world-famous, controversial, larger-than-life parents. Both know what it’s like to have their family life become perpetual tabloid fodder. Both understand that voters are looking to them for clues about the character of their perplexing, often vexing parents.

Chelsea was neither as glittering nor as vivacious as Ivanka. She did not confound preconceptions or say anything startling. She performed exactly as expected—which is what one might anticipate from the young woman who Michelle Obama praised as “raised to perfection.”

“This is the story of my mother, Hillary Clinton.”

But what Chelsea did provide—that Ivanka most definitely did not—were specific, detailed, intimate anecdotes about her mother: the books they read, the jokes they shared, the family outings they took, and the little mother-daughter rituals they developed. (Come on! You gotta admit that bit about their making up dinosaur stories was freaking adorable.) Carefully packaged though they were, these are the kinds of memories that not-so-glamorous folks can relate to.

The daughters’ disparate portraits of their parents also captured a central—perhaps the central—difference between the candidates: Ivanka’s talk of Trump was long on vague, high-flying praise of his character and greatness. Chelsea, meanwhile, nearly drowned the audience in small-bore anecdotes about cloud watching and dinner-table talk with mom. It’s the grandiose showman vs. the detail-minded wonk, as told by the two people who know them best.

Chelsea gave a quick nod to all the usual themes associated with her mom’s campaign—tireless fighter, lifelong advocate for women and children, great listener. In short: a tough cookie with a squishy middle. But it was the personal details that she was there to share in her typical low-key, earnest (and, yes, not especially transcendent) style. As Chelsea told the crowd, simply, in closing, “This is the story of my mother, Hillary Clinton.”

It will be another few months before we find out if this tale has a happy ending.

Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Triumph

By Clare Foran from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA—Several hours before Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination on stage at the Democratic National Convention, women leaders and political activists gathered to celebrate inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Wendy Davis told a crowd at the women’s caucus: “We have never, ever had someone who has walked in our shoes, we have never had someone who understands what it means to be a woman in America, and we have never had the kind of champion that we are going to have in Hillary Clinton.” The television producer Shonda Rhimes praised Clinton as a trailblazer: “She had the audacity to refuse to quietly conform to traditional First Lady roles when she first came to Washington … [and for that] she suffered a lot of body blows in the war on women.”

The event was part pep rally, part get-out-the-vote effort, and part recognition of Clinton’s achievement as the first woman to win the presidential nomination for a major U.S. political party. Clinton can claim a feminist victory by virtue of winning the nomination. But that doesn’t mean women feel equally enthusiastic about or inspired by her success. With the presidential nomination in hand, Clinton must contend with a trust deficit and a skeptical public. Whether she can make history a second time by winning the presidency may hinge on the extent to which she can win over her critics.

The path to the general election for a woman nominee is uncharted territory. “Think about it this way: Only a hundred years ago, women couldn't even vote,” said the Rutgers University assistant political-science professor Shauna Shames. “The progress to this point in just a few decades is nothing short of stunning, and I think we forget that. But it also means there has been a tremendous backlash, some of which I think we see in the opposition to Hillary.”

For women who plan to vote for Clinton, her nomination victory stands as a groundbreaking moment. Many resist the idea that they support Clinton solely because they want a woman to win the White House. At the same time, they insist they should be able to celebrate the fact that Clinton is a woman succeeding in American politics in a way no woman has before.

“I hate those people who say, ‘Oh, you’re only voting for her because she’s a woman,’” said Brittany MacPherson, a 25-year-old Clinton convention delegate. “I’m like ‘Fuck yeah.’ I mean, it’s not the only reason I’m voting for her, but yes, that’s a good reason.”

Shana Stull, a 30-year-old Clinton delegate chimed in: “She happens to be the most qualified person who is a woman. When people shame me for that, I get really defensive. People have really come down on me, and I’m like, ‘I’m allowed to be excited about that.’”

Other women who admire Clinton stress the importance of equal representation in positions of political power. “We need more women in the House and the Senate, and in all levels of government,” said Amanda Soloway, a 23-year-old who attended the women’s caucus event. “We need to have the opportunity to have that whole part of society that’s really been pushed over to the side and into the shadows to be able to speak.”

To shatter that highest of glass ceilings, Clinton will have to overcome her vulnerabilities. As a candidate, she has an image problem. Clinton and Donald Trump are both historically unpopular. Among voters who don’t like Clinton, many believe she is untrustworthy, a Morning Consult poll found.

It’s common to hear women who admire Clinton say the criticism she faces is tinged with sexism. Yet for some of them, she is inspirational, not in spite of her reputation, but because of it. Where critics might see an irrevocably damaged reputation, admirers see perseverance in the face of adversity. “It’s been remarkable to see her career unfold,” said Dana Dabek, a 34-year-old at the women’s caucus event. “Watching her trajectory from First Lady until now, and seeing how even in the midst of misogyny, she has just kept going, kept advancing. That’s inspiring.”

At least some women say they have faced backlash for supporting Clinton. “We’ve been driven underground because people attack us,” MacPherson said. Now that Clinton has formally won the nomination that could change. “I still see Bernie holdouts,” Dabek said, “but I think people are starting to feel more comfortable making that declaration and telling people why they support her and why it’s important.”

“In the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a one-woman feminist revolution.”

Clinton has struggled to generate enthusiasm among younger voters. Young women in particular were resistant to voting for her during the primary season, often preferring Bernie Sanders instead.

“The generation gap has been fascinating,” Shames, the Rutgers professor, said. “Maybe feminism has succeeded so well in eliminating a lot of the early life discrimination that women might face that there’s not as much of a sense among young women that they are a minority group.” Shames added: “In a sense, that’s what the feminist movement hoped for, but in some way I think it’s removed some sense that these things do still matter.”

That dynamic has frustrated women who support the candidate. “I could remind you of what the younger feminists often forget. That in the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a one-woman feminist revolution,” Rhimes told the crowd at the women’s caucus.

There is evidence that Democrats will coalesce around Clinton, but it remains to be seen how much excitement her campaign will be able to inspire during the general election. If the campaign can’t pull it off, it won’t be for lack of trying. Women who support Clinton are certainly trying to make the case that every woman in America should be invested in the outcome of the election.

“If we believe in the promise of America, we have to believe that it is time,” Democratic Congresswoman Marcia Fudge said at the women’s caucus. “Every other industrialized nation in the world has been led by a woman. And here we are believing that we are the best at everything, and we are still struggling. It is our time as women. It is our time.”

It goes without saying that Clinton does not represent every woman. That won’t take away the overwhelming enthusiasm her devoted supporters feel now that she has officially secured the nomination—and made history in doing so.

A Truth Made Self-Evident

By Yoni Appelbaum from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA—“Daddy,” my daughter recently asked me, “Why are there no girl presidents? Is it because boys are stronger than girls? Because they’re smarter?”

It left me speechless.

On Thursday night, in the city where the Founders declared all men created equal, I found my answer. It’s because no major party has ever tried nominating one before.

“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president,” Clinton said as she accepted the nomination. “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come.”

It wasn’t the theme of her speech. But it was the unspoken subtext that ran through it. And Clinton took pains to frame the achievement not as the triumph of some subset of Americans, but as a victory for all Americans. She proclaimed herself both “happy for grandmothers and little girls,” but also “happy for boys and men—because when any barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone.”

It’s a barrier that proved surprisingly enduring.

Women constitute 51 percent of the American population, cast 53 percent of the votes in the last presidential election, and earn 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees. It’s easy to look at those numbers, and believe the election of a woman to the highest office in the land an inevitability. And for a long time, people have.

In 1888, the prominent suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker confidently predicted that, “we shall have a women president of the United States before the ballot is given to women.” In 1905, Supreme Court Justice David Brewer told an audience that “before gray hair shall cover the heads of the women here tonight” America would send a woman to the White House.

But the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920; Brewer’s listeners greyed, and then passed. A century later, the election of a woman remains perennially inevitable, perhaps even imminent, and yet somehow unachieved.

Women now occupy a broad range of business, professional, and civic positions. But in politics, as in most other fields, it gets narrower toward the top. Not quite one in three local and county officials is a woman, but only one in four state legislators, one in five members of Congress, one in eight governors. And no presidents.

That may not change. There’s no shortage of reasons for voters to dislike this particular woman—indeed, most do—and presidential elections present binary choices. But even voters marking their ballots for Trump will look at them and see something new. And maybe the chance to vote against a major-party nominee who happens to be a woman is itself a mark of progress, just as much as the chance to vote for her.

Even if Hillary Clinton wins, it wouldn’t bring about a post-gendered American, anymore than Barack Obama’s victory delivered a post-racial America. Indeed, there’s every reason to expect it to produce a wave of open misogyny, as ugly as the racist backlash of the Obama years. It’s Newton’s Third Law of Cultural Politics: Every action creates an entirely disproportionate and opposite reaction.

But for now, at least, misogyny is just one of the varied hatreds and hostilities coursing through American politics. The race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hinges on many things, and matters for many reasons—and neither her staunchest supporters nor her fiercest opponents tend to put gender at the top of those lists. But both the daughters of the delegates in Cleveland who chanted, “Lock her up!” and the sons of the delegates in Philadelphia who shouted, “I’m with her!” will grow up knowing that a woman can win a nomination, and perhaps the presidency. In fact, they’re unlikely to ponder the possibility that it could be otherwise.

That’s how it works when barriers fall; it’s hard to remember they were ever there at all.    

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” reads the Declaration signed in Philadelphia, “that all men are created equal.” In her speech, Clinton quoted lyrics from the musical Hamilton. But there was another couplet, from a different song, that she didn’t even need to repeat aloud: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the heroine, Angelica Schuyler, sings. “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’mma compel him to include woman in the sequel.”

Hillary didn’t take the stage until well after 10 p.m., but all evening, parents filtered in to the Wells Fargo Arena with children in tow. A disproportionate number seemed to be girls. By an escalator, I found Patricia Ewing, who had brought her two daughters from Annapolis, Maryland, to share in the historic moment. “It’s a huge sea change in the possibilities for them,” Ewing said.

Her 14-year-old, Veronica, was less enthused. “Originally I was for Bernie,” she explained, “but since he wasn’t going to make it, she was the second best compared to Trump.” As we talked about the historic import of the moment, her 13-year-old sister turned her back to watch the crowd. I asked her what she thought. “I really don’t like Trump,” Sofia said. “I’d much rather have Bernie, but as long as it’s not Trump.”

Others were more enthusiastic. Eighteen-year-old Zach Rosenfeld had come along with his father, Tom, and his 14-year-old brother. “I’m a huge Hillary fan,” he said, “and we’re about to see history made.” His high school sits a block away from Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. “To watch your kid so excited about the democratic process … is a real gift,” his father said.

They were watching when Hillary Clinton looked up at them and said: “Even more important than the history we make tonight, is the history we will write together in the years ahead.”

“I remember looking up at the poster on the wall of our American presidents,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown recalled of his third-grade classroom. “Other than a few mustaches and powdered wigs, they all looked pretty much like me.” His grandchildren, he said, “won’t see faces that look only like mine, they will see Barack Obama, and because of the work that we do over the next 100 days, my granddaughters will see themselves in the face of Hillary Clinton.”

Earlier in the evening, Meredith Cabe and her three girls from Silver Spring, Maryland, were grabbing an early dinner on the concourse. “The reason we came is these guys,” Cabe said. “It’s an amazing thing that it’s part of their childhood.”

“I want to see Hillary and to see her speak and to see her get nominated,” said Lila Hutchins, her 10-year-old. It was important, she said, “because if she’s the first woman president then there’ll probably be other ones.”

Her 6-year-old sister, Mae, broke in excitedly: “I know I will be one!”

She beamed up at me, and I believed her.

The murder of fearless journalist Pavel Sheremet must be solved - but Ukraine needs more

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 29, 2016.

Sheremet was blown up as he drove to host a morning radio programme

On 20th of July Kiev was shaken by the news of the assassination of the respected Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet. Outside the ex-Soviet republics he was hardly known. Yet the murder is one that the West should reflect on, as it could do much to aggravate the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. 

Sheremet was one of the most significant and high profile investigative journalists of his generation. His career as an archetypal  examiner of the post-Soviet regimes in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia bought him fame and notoriety in the region. From 1997 onwards Sheremet became a name for fearless and non-partisan interrogation, both in print and as also as TV presenter. He paid the price early on when he was incarcerated by the Belarus government, then stripped of his Belarusian nationality and deported. Such is the way of things in the region.

Taking up residence in Kiev, Sheremet became immersed in interrogating the political life of Ukraine. He wrote for the Ukrayinska Pravda publication and also helped to develop a journalism school. Under these auspices he was a participant of a congress, "The dialogue between Ukraine and Russia", in April 2014. He reported on beginnings of the Euromaidan uprising. He warned of the rise of the concept  of "Novorossia" and suggested that Ukraine needed to reset its current status and stand up to Russian pressure. After the Russian occupation of Crimea his blame for the Ukrainian government was ferocious. He alleged that that they "left their soldiers face to face the [Russian] aggressor and had given up the Crimean peninsula with no attempt to defend it." These, he said "are going to be the most disgraceful pages of Ukrainian history."

Sheremet was blown up at 7.45am on 20 July as he drove to host a morning radio programme.

Ukraine is a dangerous place for journalists. Fifty of them have been murdered since Ukraine achieved independence. However, this murder is different from the others. Firstly, both the Ukrainian President and the Interior minister immediately sought assistance from FBI and EU investigators. For once it seems that the Ukrainian government is serious about solving this crime. Secondly, this IED type assassination had all the trappings of a professional operation. To blow a car up in rush hour Kiev needs a surveillance team and sophisticated explosive expertise. 

Where to lay the blame? Pavel Sheremet had plenty of enemies, including those in power in Belarus, Russia and the militias in Ukraine (his last blog warned of a possible coup by the militias). But Ukraine needs assistance beyond investigators from the FBI and the EU. It needs more financial help to support credible investigative journalism.   

The murder of Pavel Sheremet was an attack on the already fragile Ukrainian civil society, a country on the doorstep of the EU. The fear is that the latest murder might well be the beginning of worse to come.

Mohammad Zahoor is the publisher of Ukrainian newspaper The Kyiv Post.



ECB official allays cash hoarding fears

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Benoît Cœuré says central banks will exhaust negative rates policy before customers withdraw money

Russia-China exercises in South China Sea

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Move could worsen tensions after loss of court ruling by Beijing

Chinese rocket lights up skies over Utah and California

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

People in the US have filmed a Chinese rocket body streaking across the sky over Utah and California.

Which CLPs are nominating who in the 2016 Labour leadership contest?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Who is getting the most CLP nominations in the race to be Labour leader?

Jeremy Corbyn, the sitting Labour leader, has been challenged by Owen Smith, the MP for Pontypridd. Now that both are on the ballot, constituency Labour parties (CLPs) can give supporting nominations. Although they have no direct consequence on the race, they provide an early indication of how the candidates are doing in the country at large. While CLP meetings are suspended for the duration of the contest, they can meet to plan campaign sessions, prepare for by-elections, and to issue supporting nominations. 

Scottish local parties are organised around Holyrood constituencies, not Westminster constituencies. Some Westminster parties are amalgamated - where they have nominated as a bloc, we have counted them as their separate constituencies, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where Labour does not stand candidates. To avoid confusion, constitutencies with dual language names are listed in square [] brackets. If the constituency party nominated in last year's leadership race, that preference is indicated in italics.  In addition, we have listed the endorsements of trade unions and other affliates alongside the candidates' names.

Jeremy Corbyn (46)

Bournemouth East (did not nominate in 2015)

Bournemouth West (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Brent Central (nominated Jeremy Corbn in 2015)

Bristol East (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Cheltenham (did not nominate in 2015)

Chesterfield (did not nominate in 2015)

Chippenham (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Colchester (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Crewe and Nantwich (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Croydon Central (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Clwyd West (did not nominate in 2015)

Devizes (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

East Devon (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

East Surrey (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Erith and Thamesmead (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Folkestone & Hythe (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Grantham and Stamford (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Hampstead and Kilburn (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Harrow East (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Hastings & Rye (did not nominate in 2015)

Herefore and South Herefordshire (did not nominate in 2015)

Kensington & Chelsea (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Lancaster & Fleetwood (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Liverpool West Derby (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Leeds North West (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Morecambe and Lunesdale (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Milton Keynes North (did not nominate in 2015)

Milton Keynes South (did not nominate in 2015)

Old Bexley and Sidcup (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Newton Abbott (nominated Liz Kendall in 2015)

Newark (did not nominate in 2015)

North Somerset (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Pudsey (nominated Andy Bunrnham in 2015)

Reading West (did not nominate in 2015)

Reigate (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Romford (nominated Andy Burnham in 2015)

Salisbury (did not nominate in 2015)

Southampton Test (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

South Cambridgeshire  (did not nominate in 2015)

South Thanet (did not nominate in 2015)

South West Bedfordshire (did not nominate in 2015)

Sutton & Cheam (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Sutton Coldfield (did not nominate in 2015)

Swansea West (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Tewkesbury (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Westmoreland and Lunesdale (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Wokingham (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Owen Smith (12)

Altrincham and Sale West (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Battersea (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Blaneau Gwent (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Bow and Bethnal Green (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Reading East (did not nominate in 2015)

Richmond Park (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Runnymede and Weybridge (nominated Yvette Cooper in 2015)

Streatham (nominated Liz Kendall in 2015)

Vauxhall (nominated Liz Kendall in 2015)

West Ham (nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015)

Westminster North (nominated Yvette Coooper in 2015)


Photo: Getty

Internal probe hits at IMF Greece failings

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Inspectors criticise rule breaking, improvisation and lack of debate on alternative rescue plans

Campaign against Clinton moves to Moscow

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Russian rightwinger’s stunt adds to suspicions of Kremlin meddling in US election

You're wrong about Leave voters - four surprising facts about the 52 per cent

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Leave voters are not as anti-immigrant as you think. 

He is an old man from a coastal town. He’s uneducated by modern standards, and worked for an industry that is now defunct. He spends his retirement shooting suspicious looks at anyone who looks “forrun” and wincing at the sound of Polish voices. He voted to quit the EU. He’s Mr Leave.

In the aftermath of Brexit, this caricature has haunted the imagination of many a Remain voter. But a new report from the think tank British Future shows it is a false one. Just as a quarter of Remain voters also backed the Tories in 2015 (sorry, progressive alliancers), Leave voters have different views on immigration, sovereignty and the economy. 

Here are some of the most surprising insights from the polling, which was carried out with pollsters ICM:

1. Leave voters cared most about sovereignty

While a quarter of Leave voters cited immigration as their number one reason, more than half said they were motivated by “taking power back from Brussels”. 

In contrast to the caricature of the ancient xenophobe, the older a Leave voter, the more likely sovereignty was their motivation. 

2. Leave voters also hated Nigel Farage’s poster

For those who hated the Leave campaign’s focus on immigration, the lowest point was UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s unveiling of a poster showing refugees crossing Europe and the caption: “Breaking Point.”

It was also the low point for many Leave voters. Roughly a third said the poster overstepped the mark, and this rose to half of voters who only made up their mind to quit during the campaign. A majority of Leave voters and UKIP supporters felt the debate on immigration got dangerously overheated.

Overall, three-quarters of the British public agree with the statement:

“What we need now is a sensible policy to manage immigration so we control who comes here but still keep the immigration that’s good for our economy and society, and maintains our tradition of offering sanctuary to refugees.”

3. Leave voters want EU migrants to stay

The new prime minister, Theresa May, is refusing to guarantee the right of EU citizens living in the UK to stay – which makes her more extreme than most UKIP voters.

Three-quarters of Leave voters and 78 per cent of UKIP voters think EU migrants should be able to stay. 

In fact, a fifth of those who feel confident about the benefits of immigration to the UK, voted Leave.

4. Leave voters have to wait longer for the bus

While voters in the farmlands of Eastern England were most likely to vote to Leave, in some areas with similar demographics the vote was much stronger than in others.

South Holland, where 73.6 per cent voted to leave, is a rural, agricultural area with poor transport links. The jobs are low-paid, and often only zero-hours contracts. Many were filled by EU migrants. 

By contrast, nearby South Kesteven has three market towns, and the jobs market is less reliant on the food production industry. The transport links are better. Just 59.9 per cent voted Leave. 

A similar pattern can be seen in Stoke-on-Trent (69.4 per cent Leave) and Knowsley (51.6 per cent Leave). Both places have experienced industrial decline, but Knowsley is much better connected to Liverpool city centre.

So what should we make of all this? The British Future report concludes:

Even on a disagreement this big, we – Leave and Remain, old and young, graduate and non-­‐graduate, metropolitan and provincial -­‐ still have more in common than that which divides us, to quote a maiden speech that tragically gained a new poignancy with the murder of its author, Jo Cox MP.

"Build bridges, not walls" has long been a slogan of internationalists. But preserving and strengthening the 48 per cent and 52 per cent tribes will not build a bridge, it will build a wall. It is time to tear it down.


Deutsche Bank: problems of scale

From Analysis. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Concern over legal challenges and capital positions has intensified. John Cryan must make big calls

Jihadi detail policy sparks debate in France

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Change in terror reporting policy prompts questions over media’s role

UK-Ireland relations need special care

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

May recognises that Brexit cannot put a hard-won peace at risk

UK-Ireland relations need special care

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

May recognises that Brexit cannot put a hard-won peace at risk

Concerns over political influence at IMF

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The fund must continue to reduce the undue dominance of Europe

Concerns over political influence at IMF

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The fund must continue to reduce the undue dominance of Europe

Erdogan’s purge extends to stock analyst

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Providers of analysis lacking state’s stamp of approval swept up in wave of repression

Today’s politics do not mirror the 1930s

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Countries that have suffered most economically are not electing populists, writes Jacek Rostowski

3D cinema without the glasses: a potential new technology could change how we watch films

By Hasan Chowdhury from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Early-stage research success hints at a visionary future in which an immersive glass-free 3D experience could be possible at the cinema. 

The rise of film-on-demand streaming sites such as Netflix and MUBI threatens to make visits to the cinema a redundant pastime; why head out to watch a film when you can just watch one from the comfort of your own home?

A deterrent for many has been the influx of 3D blockbuster films released in theatres. An all-too-familiar routine has developed that causes audiences to let out a big sigh at the thought of 3D films: get excited about the latest Marvel flick, travel to your local cinema, sit through previews of future releases and then as the film is about to start...stick on a pair of flimsy plastic 3D glasses.

It’s an experience that has come to feel lacklustre for people who hope to experience more from 3D technology than just a gimmick. However, recent news that researchers at MIT have developed a prototype screen which can show 3D films without glasses may be just the development needed for the medium to attract fans back to the cinema.

A team of scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab paired up with the Weizmann Institute of Science from Israel to create “Cinema 3D” – a model cinema screen which could potentially allow cinema-goers to have the full, immersive 3D experience sans glasses, no matter where they are sitting in the theatre.

Detailing their research in a paper, the scientists outlined the technology used, which includes “automultiscopic displays” – a 3D enabler that presents “multiple angular images of the same scene” and doesn’t require glasses. The research has had to build upon conventional automultiscopic displays that alone aren’t sufficient for a cinema setting; they don’t accommodate for the varying angles at which people view a film in a generally widely-spaced theatre

Wojciech Matusik, an MIT professor who worked on the research said: “Existing approaches to glasses-free 3D require screens whose resolution requirements are so enormous that they are completely impractical. This is the first technical approach that allows for glasses-free 3D on a larger scale.”

Cinema 3D aims to optimise the experience by making use of the cinema setting: the fixed seat positions, the sloped rows, the width of the screen. 3D televisions work as a result of parallax barriers – essentially a set of slits in front of a screen that filter pixels to create the illusion of depth. Traditional parallax barriers tend to fail with anything larger than a television, as they don’t recreate the same image when viewed from different distances and angles.

The researchers have combated this by using multiple parallax barriers in conjunction with slanted horizontal mirrors and vertical lenslets – a small but crucial change which now allows viewers to see the same 3D images play out, whether they’re in the middle row, the back row, or far off in the periphery. According the paper, the design “only displays the narrow angular range observed within the limited width of a single seat.” This can then be replicated for every seat in the theatre.

Cinema 3D will require a lot more work if it is to become practical. As it stands, the prototype is about a pad of paper in size and needs 50 sets of mirrors and lenses. For the researchers though, there is reason to remain optimistic as the technology works in theory at a cinema-scale.

It’s important to note that 3d technology without glasses isn’t new; it has been used in a limited way with televisions. What is new with this research is its potential application to the film industry along with improvements in picture quality. Matusik has stressed that “it remains to be seen whether the approach is financially feasible enough to scale up to a full-blown theatre”, but went on to say “we are optimistic that this is an important next step in developing glasses-free 3D for large spaces like movie theatres and auditoriums.”

It could take a while for the technology to get to a stage where it can be used in multiplexes, and the market may need convincing to adopt something which is expected to cost a lot of money. It could prove to be attractive to the advertising industry who may want to use it for billboards, allowing the technology to be introduced at incrementally larger stages.

The thought of seeing James Cameron’s next Avatar instalment or the latest high-octane thriller played out in 3D without glasses could push the technology forward and get people to return in droves to the silver screen.

Hulton Archive/Stringer

Bank stress tests highlight lending fears

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

EU policymakers are concerned that poor results could damp credit revival and hit growth

IMF swayed by eurozone politics, says report

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Damning internal evaluation of bailouts in debt crisis fuels debate on support for Greece

The lessons of Finding Dory are commendable, but why make a children's film so complicated?

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Pixar's latest animation, a sequel to Finding Nemo, gives forgetful fish Dory a lead. Plus: Jason Bourne.

Amnesia is a concern for the heroes of two blockbuster sequels – the Pixar animation Finding Dory and the espionage thriller Jason Bourne. The condition extends to the film-makers, who have forgotten much of what made the original movies so appealing. In fairness, the 2003 Finding Nemo lacked the emotional complexity of top-drawer Pixar. But its story of an anxious clownfish combing the ocean for his lost son served as a neat rebuke to worrywart parents, and it featured one enduring character: the Pacific blue tang Dory. Her short-term memory loss left her in a state of carefree enchantment perfectly expressed by Ellen DeGeneres, whose voice calls to mind a rubber ball thrilled afresh by each new bounce.

Now Dory has a movie of her own, in which she goes in search of the parents from whom she was estranged as an infant. Many of the previous picture’s fish chip in to help, but the script’s argument for inclusivity and diversity is made most persuasively by Dory’s new allies. Hank is a tomato-red octopus who can’t bear to be touched, while Becky, a frizz-haired loon, and Gerald, a bullied sea lion, have learning difficulties that leave them vulnerable to mockery by their fellow creatures. Heroism originates here with the apparently disadvantaged, whose differences ultimately prove to be no sort of disadvantage at all.

The message is commendable, so it’s unfortunate that the execution is so complicated. Incident is stacked upon incident, most clumsily during a final half-hour in which the sea creatures take chaotically to the roads. When there are lulls in the action, these are filled too often by homilies and life lessons that demand no spelling out.

Quality control remains high in the area of animation. From the velvety anemone beneath a lattice of rippling sunlight to the pink-tinted ocean surface at dusk, it is clear that nature needs to up its game to keep ahead of Pixar. The biggest gasps should be reserved for Hank’s extraordinary chameleonic powers, which allow him to blend into a laboratory wall and to mimic a potted plant or a handrail. Impersonating a baby in its stroller, he uses his Mr Tickle arms to propel himself at high speed like a wheelchair-basketball champ tearing up the court. In a film that largely plays it safe, Hank brings a jolt of anarchic danger.

The breakneck editing and neck-breaking violence of the Bourne series, about a brainwashed CIA killing machine who gradually recovers his memory and goes rogue, has been the biggest influence on action cinema since the advent of the car chase. There have been only three instalments until now (four if you count the spin-off The Bourne Legacy) but their style is so ubiquitous it feels as if there’s one Bourne every minute. The latest outing reunites two leading players who swore they were done with the franchise: the actor Matt Damon, looking as bulky and implacable as a tank, and Paul Greengrass, the British director who whipped up a storm in films two and three but consigns it to a teacup this time around.

Rarely has such a fast-paced film felt so weary and resigned. Christopher Rouse’s screenplay throws into the usual paranoid, dystopian, NSA-fearing mix a Zuckerberg-style social media guru (Riz Ahmed) in cahoots with the craggy CIA overlord (Tommy Lee Jones) hunting Bourne. There is also a bright CIA underling (Alicia Vikander) experiencing vague pangs of conscience from her operations hub where po-faced automatons tap endlessly on keyboards; it’s like a Kraftwerk gig without the tunes.

The film makes gestures towards political topicality. But whether it’s riots in Greece or the ongoing tension between security and privacy, everything is reduced to the level of window dressing while Bourne crashes motorbikes, plummets from the tops of buildings and doles out upper cuts as though he were passing around Tic Tacs.

Just once it would be nice to have some character detail or a line of dialogue that went beyond “Suspect turning left”, or the series catchphrase: “You don’t have any idea who you’re dealing with!” Bourne himself is a dead end, dramatically speaking; he has recovered his memory now but his personality and inner conflict have been wiped clean. When he isn’t fighting, he has nothing to do except go woozy with flashbacks and generally outfox the CIA. He should try hiding in the voluminous bags beneath Tommy Lee Jones’s eyes – they’d never find him there.


Why a new Keith Richards documentary doesn't give enough satisfaction

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

I wonder whether Julien Temple is stitching up Richards in his documentary The Origin of the Species.

As we sink down into the dog days of summer, something weird appears to have happened to BBC2. Boy, does it reek of testosterone – and that’s even before we get to Louis XIV’s underpants (yes, unbelievably, the first series of Versailles is still not over). It’s the television equivalent of a potting shed, complete with leaky armchair and battered record player: its schedule last week included, among other manly treats, Gregg Wallace touring a cereal factory, Roald Dahl talking about an old mate who made model aeroplanes, and Keith Richards describing his meteoric rise through the ranks of the Dartford Scouts (“Suddenly, I was a patrol leader . . . I could get the other cats into it!”). I kept thinking of Charlotte Moore, the executive who now runs both BBC1 and BBC2. What on earth is she thinking? Doesn’t she want to rush around the place, squirting air freshener and opening windows?

I’ll spare you the delights of Wallace, who has unaccountably been given a series called Inside the Factory in which, over the course of six hour-long episodes, he gets to find out how various things are made. Imagine the treatment he usually reserves for a good meringue on MasterChef directed at a conveyor belt and you’ll have some idea of the patronising tedium involved. I’ll also move pretty swiftly through The Marvellous World of Roald Dahl (23 July, 8pm), which was basically Jackanory for grown-ups, narrated by Robert Lindsay, who read extracts from Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo, in a voice I can only describe as the full spiced ham. I wasn’t after a hatchet job; I love Dahl as much as the next fortysomething, brought up to believe that in Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny the Champion of the World you will find all the rules necessary for living. But nor was I in the market for this kind of unmediated hagiography, a portrait Dahl himself – who thought nice people rather boring, and vicious ones endlessly fascinating – would doubtless have despised.

No, let’s head instead straight to the hard stuff, by which I mean to Keith Richards: the Origin of the Species, in which the director Julien Temple focused perhaps just a little too closely on the guitarist’s oh-so-English childhood (the film concentrates exclusively on the years 1943-62). Poor Keef. He’s spent so long trying to be cool, he can’t remember how to be anything else. And so it was that we were treated to the weird sight of a 72-year-old man, wearing a range of headbands, talking about rationing, council houses and, yes, the Scouts (apparently, he got loads of badges) in the kind of language last heard in an airless teepee at the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, in about 1969. “I can’t say I had any real affection for the joint,” he said of Dartford, the town where he grew up, and to whose determination to charge a toll for crossing its bridge over the Thames he apparently takes exception (“a stick-up joint”). Woo! Taxing road users. Rock’n’roll.

Was Temple trying very subtly to stitch up Richards, or was this Open University-style assemblage of black-and-white newsreel and interviews a genuine, even reverential, attempt to place a so-called genius in context? Knowing Temple’s other work (last year, he made a film about Wilko Johnson in which he presented the Dr Feelgood guitarist as the seer of Canvey Island), I feel it must surely have been the latter – and yet, I still wonder . . . That title: it’s so appropriately (sarcastically?) Darwinian, given what we know of the Stones’ politics, their restless quest to go on – and on – making money. Survival of the fittest, and all that. Deep into the film, Richards complained about the rise of advertising in the Sixties. “Wanty, wanty!” he said, talking disdainfully of Daz and capitalism. This, I felt, was a bit rich, coming from him. At other moments, though, there was something elegiac in his tone, a dolefulness that cut through the enamelled rock-star-speak. A white mare on a bomb site; a dead tramp in a pillbox; the day sweets came off the ration; the day his voice broke and he could no longer remain a member of the school choir (“Here’s the pink slip, man!”). As the titles rolled, movie reels flickered over his face, eerily. A study in the past: granite, lit from below.

Merkel vows to keep door open to refugees

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

German chancellor resists pressure to change policy and sets out tighter security measures

The NS Podcast #164: Summer, splits and social mobility

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The New Statesman podcast.

This week, Helen and Stephen explore Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal among different parts of the Labour membership, discuss Sarah Champion's return to the shadow-cabinet, and question the value of social mobility as an aim for the Left. You also ask us: When will Labour’s turmoil end? And what do we think about More United? (Helen Lewis, Stephen Bush).

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed:, or listen using the player below.

And if you're craving yet more NS podcastery, you can watch Helen and Stephen host a live recording at this summer's London Podcast Festival. Tickets available here

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.


An unmatched font of knowledge

By Invest Edinburgh from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

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By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Main image:  20160730_wwp004_290.jpg America’s Democrats gathered in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton as their candidate for president of the United States. Some supporters of her opponent for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, refused to give up the fight and chanted the Trump cry, “Lock her up!” But Mr Sanders gave an impassioned speech supporting Mrs Clinton. She also revealed Tim Kaine, a senator from Virginia, as her vice-presidential running mate. See article.  Thousands of leaked e-mails showing that the Democratic Party leadership favoured Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders exposed rifts within the party. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)—which should have remained impartial during the primaries—resigned. The DNC blamed Russian hackers for the stolen e-mails, which were released via WikiLeaks. See article.  Prosecutors dropped the remaining charges against three Baltimore police officers relating to the death of Freddie Gray, bringing an end to the case without a conviction. Gray ...

Charlemagne: Correspondence club

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  Charlemagne Main image:  20160730_eud003.jpg Rubric:  Advice for the British and German leaders on navigating the Brexit mess DEAR THERESA, At your first cabinet meeting you said that your government would not be “defined by Brexit”. Good luck with that. Britain’s tortured relationship with the European Union has felled most recent Conservative prime ministers, and none faced a task remotely as daunting as the one that confronts you. Disentangling Britain from the EU will be like extracting one glue-slathered octopus from a basket of 27 other ones. It could go horribly wrong. To avoid that, Charlemagne offers some unsolicited advice. You begin with a reservoir of relief (not goodwill, mind) among your fellow European leaders. Disaster would now be looming had an outlandish Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson muscled his way into Downing Street. You earned respect in Brussels during your six years as home ...

Northern Ireland after Brexit: Frontier spirit

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  Northern Ireland after Brexit Location:  BELFAST Main image:  20160730_brp504.jpg Rubric:  Uncertainty about the border cheers unionists and dismays republicans “WE BELIEVE in the union,” declared Theresa May in her first speech on the steps of Downing Street on July 13th: “the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” The new prime minister, an Englishwoman, has since visited all three neighbouring countries; on July 25th she landed in Belfast for the last, and perhaps trickiest, of these trips. Mrs May and her counterparts in Belfast and Dublin must soon decide what to do about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. In recent years it has become almost invisible, the ugly watchtowers, heavy army presence and long traffic queues of the past now no more than an unpleasant memory. But ...

Worse than the Russians

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

NINETY years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster .

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field...Continue reading

Comrade Bob besieged

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

WHEN the presidential motorcade tears through the posh Borrowdale suburb where Robert Mugabe resides in Harare, all traffic still pulls onto the verge in reluctant deference to the despot. At 92 he is plainly bent on staying in power for as long as he lives. But nowadays the vendors hawking newspapers at the roadside, with Zimbabwean flags draped around their shoulders like superhero capes, are selling a different story. “Writing on the wall for Mugabe,” blares one independent newspaper’s headline. In the past few weeks a string of setbacks for the old man has increased the chances that his luck may finally be running out, even before he dies.

The most striking development is the sudden rise of a protest movement led by a previously unknown clergyman, Evan Mawarire, whose hashtag #ThisFlag has caught the nation’s imagination. His campaign, bolstered by the clever use of social media, has drawn support from churches and the middle class which had hitherto tended to steer clear of street politics. When Mr Mawarire, whose trademark is the Zimbabwean flag wrapped around himself, was arrested earlier this month, a large crowd, including many lawyers,...Continue reading

Running out of road

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

WEDDINGS do not come cheap, as Kano’s state government has found out. Over the past four years its Islamic morality police, the Hisbah, has arranged, and helped pay for, marriages for more than 4,000 lonely ladies. Yet even the most pious can put a price on love. As Nigeria’s economy heads into recession, the state now says that it cannot afford to pay bride prices or to fill marital homes with furniture and cooking kit. Ten thousand disappointed daters have been left to find love and marriage the normal way.

They can hardly be so aggrieved as Nigeria’s 36 state governors. Most of them have little in the way of either local industry or foreign investment, meaning that they are incapable of providing for themselves. They borrowed heavily when oil prices were high, and also rely on monthly allocations from the federal government to keep afloat. But two years of low oil revenues have eaten nastily into those disbursements (see chart), leaving them unable to service their debts or pay their inflated workforces.

Out of the window have gone more pricey programmes, such as pilgrimages sponsored by Niger. This state (not to be...Continue reading

A new low

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Room at the top

WHAT if they held a summit and no one came? That, almost, is what has just happened in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania—which most Arabs probably did not know was part of the Arab League at all. On July 25th only seven of its 22 heads of state bothered to attend their summit and one of them, Ould Abdul Aziz of Mauritania, was there anyway. Another, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen, was booted out of his capital by rebels in 2015, and doesn’t have much else to do. A third, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, meaning that his travel options are severely limited. Not that Nouakchott is a very flash destination. For want of a suitable venue, the meeting was held in a tent.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia said he was ill—which is probably true since he is 80 and infirm. But he did not think it worth sending his son, Muhammad bin Salman, the 30-year old deputy crown prince, who actually runs the country these days. Another no-show was King Mohammed VI of Morocco. He was meant to have been hosting the summit himself. But in February he renounced the honour. His...Continue reading

Young rivals

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Will Maimane (left) or Malema hurt the ANC more?

FORGET ducking and dodging corruption charges. Jacob Zuma’s new signature move is the “dab”. At rallies ahead of local government elections on August 3rd, South Africa’s 74-year-old president drops his forehead to the crook of one arm and bops—a dance move borrowed from American hip-hop culture. These elections will be a crucial test of support for the African National Congress (ANC) under the unpopular Mr Zuma.

He is facing two much younger rivals seeking to knock the ruling party off its post-liberation perch. The ANC, in an attempt to update its image among young voters, has adopted “dabbing” for its campaign events, along with pop star endorsements and branded leather jackets. For South Africa’s two biggest opposition parties, this election offers their best shot yet of denting the ANC’s dominance.

Mr Zuma’s rivals hail from different political planets. Mmusi Maimane, just 36 years old, leads the Democratic Alliance (DA), a liberal-leaning party that drew 22% of the vote in the 2014 general elections. For Mr Maimane, the first black leader of...Continue reading

Booze ban for China region's civil servants

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

No more lunchtime tipples for government employees in Anhui province.

Jeremy Corbyn fans are getting extremely angry at the wrong Michael Foster

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

He didn't try to block the Labour leader off a ballot. He's just against hunting with dogs. 

Michael Foster was a Labour MP for Worcester from 1997 to 2010, where he was best known for trying to ban hunting with dogs. After losing his seat to Tory Robin Walker, he settled back into private life.

He quietly worked for a charity, and then a trade association. That is, until his doppelganger tried to get Jeremy Corbyn struck off the ballot paper. 

The Labour donor Michael Foster challenged Labour's National Executive Committee's decision to let Corbyn automatically run for leadership in court. He lost his bid, and Corbyn supporters celebrated.

And some of the most jubilant decided to tell Foster where to go. 

Foster told The Staggers he had received aggressive tweets: "I have had my photograph in the online edition of The Sun with the story. I had to ring them up and suggest they take it down. It is quite a common name."

Indeed, Michael Foster is such a common name that there were two Labour MPs with that name between 1997 and 2010. The other was Michael Jabez Foster, MP for Hastings and Rye. 

One senior Labour MP rang the Worcester Michael Foster up this week, believing he was the donor. 

Foster explained: "When I said I wasn't him, then he began to talk about the time he spent in Hastings with me which was the other Michael Foster."

Having two Michael Fosters in Parliament at the same time (the donor Michael Foster was never an MP) could sometimes prove useful. 

Foster said: "When I took the bill forward to ban hunting, he used to get quite a few of my death threats.

"Once I paid his pension - it came out of my salary."

Foster has never met the donor Michael Foster. An Owen Smith supporter, he admits "part of me" would have been pleased if he had managed to block Corbyn from the ballot paper, but believes it could have caused problems down the line.

He does however have a warning for Corbyn supporters: "If Jeremy wins, a place like Worcester will never have a Labour MP.

"I say that having years of working in the constituency. And Worcester has to be won by Labour as part of that tranche of seats to enable it to form a government."


Netflix’s Gilmore Girls trailer is here – but could the new series disappoint fans?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The new trailer does give us some clues about what November might hold in store.

The new Gilmore Girls trailer is here, clocking up over a million views in just hours. Netflix also offers a release date for the new four-part mini-series, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life – 25 November 2016.

It is, of course, ridiculous to judge a 6-hour-long series on just over a minute of footage, but the new trailer does give us some clues about what November might hold in store.

We open with a series of nostalgia-driven shots of Stars Hollow in different seasons set to familiar la-las – the church spire in the snow, Luke’s Diner in spring, the Dragonfly Inn in summer, and the (pumpkin-festooned) bandstand in autumn – before zooming in on Lorelai’s house, the central setting of the show for seven seasons.

“Seasons may change, but some things never will,” read the title cards. These moments feel as though they could have been lifted straight out of the original series – what GG fan won’t feel some wistfulness and excitement watching them?

Then we cut to Rory and Lorelai sat at their kitchen table, surrounded by pink pop tarts, the music ending abruptly as Lorelai asks, “Do you think Amy Schumer would like me?” If it’s meant to make a contrast with the more expected opening that preceded it, it does. Rory and Lorelai run through the reasons why not (she loves water sports), Rory pointedly interrupts the conversation to start googling one of her mother’s trademark obscure references on her iPhone. Welcome to Gilmore Girls in 2016, with updated references and technology to match!

It feels too on-the-nose, a bit “I’m not like a regular Gilmore Girl, I’m a cool Gilmore Girl”. One of the funniest things about the proliferation of pop culture references in the original series was how un-trendy they were: including nods to Happy Days, The Menendez Brothers, West Side Story, Ruth Gordon, Grey Gardens, Paul Anka, Tina Louise, John Hughes movies, Frank Capra, and Angela Lansbury. It suited the small town out of time they lived in, and gave the sense that Rory and Lorelai, with their unusually close relationship, had their own special language.

Name-dropping Amy Schumer and John Oliver feels out of step with this. But, of course, there’s no evidence that this tonal shift will be a prominent element in the new series. So much of the trailer feels perfectly in keeping with the old show: the corpse flower line, the terrible fashion sense, the snacks dotted around every scene. Reading an actual physical paper in 2016 seems extremely Gilmore.

I still have some questions (Why are there three vases of flowers in shot? Who believes Lorelai Gilmore would put pop tarts on plates?) but overall, I’m keen to see where the show takes Rory and Lorelai next. I will follow!!!


Jeremy Corbyn will stay on the Labour leadership ballot paper, judge rules

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Labour donor Michael Foster had challenged the decision at the High Court.

The High Court has ruled that Jeremy Corbyn should be allowed to automatically run again for Labour leader after the decision of the party's National Executive Committee was challenged. 

Corbyn declared it a "waste of time" and an attempt to overturn the right of Labour members to choose their leader.

The decision ends the hope of some anti-Corbyn Labour members that he could be excluded from the contest altogether.

The legal challenge had been brought by Michael Foster, a Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate, who maintained he was simply seeking the views of experts.

But when the experts spoke, it was in Corbyn's favour. 

The ruling said: "Accordingly, the Judge accepted that the decision of the NEC was correct and that Mr Corbyn was entitled to be a candidate in the forthcoming election without the need for nominations."

This judgement was "wholly unaffected by political considerations", it added. 

Corbyn said: "I welcome the decision by the High Court to respect the democracy of the Labour Party.

"This has been a waste of time and resources when our party should be focused on holding the government to account.

"There should have been no question of the right of half a million Labour party members to choose their own leader being overturned. If anything, the aim should be to expand the number of voters in this election. I hope all candidates and supporters will reject any attempt to prolong this process, and that we can now proceed with the election in a comradely and respectful manner."

Iain McNicol, general secretary of the Labour Party, said: “We are delighted that the Court has upheld the authority and decision of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. 

“We will continue with the leadership election as agreed by the NEC."

If Corbyn had been excluded, he would have had to seek the nomination of 51 MPs, which would have been difficult since just 40 voted against the no confidence motion in him. He would therefore have been effectively excluded from running. 

Owen Smith, the candidate backed by rebel MPs, told the BBC earlier he believed Corbyn should stay on the ballot paper. 

He said after the judgement: “I’m pleased the court has done the right thing and ruled that Jeremy should be on the ballot. This now puts to bed any questions about the process, so we can get on with discussing the issues that really matter."

The news was greeted with celebration by Corbyn supporters.


Hillary and the Viking: dramatising life with the Clintons

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

August radio should be like a corkboard, with a few gems pinned here and there. Heck, Don’t Vote for Him is one.

Now is the season of repeats and stand-in presenters. Nobody minds. August radio ought to be like a corkboard – things seemingly long pinned and faded (an Angela Lansbury doc on Radio 2; an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor on Radio 4 Extra) and then the occasional bright fragment. Like Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 at the Albert Hall (Prom 43, 17 August).

But on Radio 4, two new things really stand out. An edition of In the Criminologist’s Chair (16 August, 4pm) in which the former bank robber (and diagnosed psychopath) Noel “Razor” Smith recalls, among other memorable moments, sitting inside a getaway car watching one of his fellows “kissing his bullets” before loading. And three new dramas imagining key episodes in the Clintons’ personal and political lives.

In the first (Heck, Don’t Vote for Him, 6 August, 2.30pm), Hillary battles with all the “long-rumoured allegations of marital infidelity” during the 1992 Democratic primaries. Fenella Woolgar’s (brilliant, unburlesqued) Hillary sounds like a woman very often wearing a fantastically unhappy grin, watching her own political ambitions slip through her fingers. “I deserve something,” she appeals to her husband, insisting on the position of attorney general should he make it to the top – but “the Viking” (his nickname at college, due to his great head of hair) is off, gladhanding the room. You can hear Woolgar’s silent flinch, and picture Hillary’s face as it has been these past, disquieting months, very clearly.

I once saw Bill Clinton speak at a community college in New Jersey during the 2008 Obama campaign. Although disposed not to like him, I found his wattage, without question, staggering. Sweeping through the doors of the canteen, he amusedly removed the microphone from the hands of the MC (a local baseball star), switched it off, and projected for 25 fluent minutes (no notes). Before leaving he turned and considered the smallest member of the audience – a cross-legged child clutching a picture book of presidents. In one gesture, Clinton flipped it out of the boy’s hands, signed the cover – a picture of Lincoln – and was gone.


Philip Lancaster's War Passion draws on beautiful material – but lacks feeling

By Caroline Crampton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

With a lot of commemorative art to compete with, the premiere of Lancaster's new piece could have used, well, more passion.

In a letter home from the front, dated May 1917, Wilfred Owen wrote, “Christ is literally in no-man’s-land.” He was referring to the prevalence of Catholic iconography in rural France and commenting that even the statues he saw everywhere were not immune to war wounds. In the opening of his poem “At a Calvary Near the Ancre”, he took this imagery and wrote of a roadside statue of the crucified Christ: “In this war He too lost a limb . . .” Decades later, the poem became one of nine set to music by Benjamin Britten for his War Requiem, cementing the connection between the suffering Christ and the losses of the First World War.

It is this parallel that Philip Lancaster has sought to explore in War Passion, his new work for chamber choir, ensemble and soloists which premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester on 24 July. Lancaster, like Britten, has used the poetry of the First World War, interspersed with other, often religious texts. His selections range across a number of poets who died in or survived the war, including Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Julian Grenfell, Edmund Blunden and Robert Graves.

The choice of texts is intriguing, as several of the poets from whose work he borrows were openly atheist or anti-Church at the time of the war. For instance, the last entry in Edward Thomas’s war diary, written shortly before he was killed at the Battle of Arras in 1917, was: “I never quite understood what was meant by God.” You wonder what he and others of similar mind might have made of the inclusion of their work in a Passion.

The piece is intended, on one level, as a narration of Christ’s Passion according to the Gospel of Mark, and also as a commentary on the parallels between the sacrifice of Jesus and that of the soldiers. The opening contains some of the best music in the work:
a merging, intertwining dialogue between two cellos that sets a sombre, eerie mood.

A lot of the effect of this section was lost in performance, however, once the full orchestra and chorus got going. The sound of the former was so overpowering that the words of Grenfell’s “Into Battle” (the first poem of the sequence to be used) were mostly inaudible. This remained true throughout the 67 minutes of the piece as the narrator and other characters, as well as the chorus, were all but drowned out by the ensemble, a situation that was not helped by the blurry acoustics of Cirencester Parish Church. For a piece that relies so heavily on the interaction of different texts, this was a problem.

An exception to this was the soprano aria fashioned from Isaac Rosenberg’s “The Tower of Skulls” for the Golgotha section of the Passion, in which the soloist Anna Gillingham made full use of her higher notes to bring a piercing, unearthly quality to the “gleaming horror” of the poet’s vision of “layers of piled-up skulls”. The chorale-like chorus setting of parts of “The Death Bed” by Sassoon also came across well. In general, the music was unremarkable – self-consciously contemporary and percussive with lots of dissonance and rhythmic shifts, but lacking the harmonic underpinning or depth of feeling that would make it particularly memorable.

The various First World War centenaries that are being celebrated at the moment have provided us with an awful lot of war-related cultural output – from exhibitions to plays and everything in between. To stand out in this crowd, a new offering has to give us a fresh perspective on what are commonly known events and images. The parallel of the suffering of Christ with that of the soldiers on the Western Front is well worn almost to the point of cliché, as evidenced by Wilfred Owen’s use of it. Even the war memorial outside the church where the War Passion was premiered is topped with a carving of the crucifixion.

Alongside Lancaster’s Passion, the St ­Cecilia Singers gave us Herbert Howells’s Requiem. Howells wrote this relatively short, unaccompanied work in the 1930s, partly in response to the death of his nine-year-old son, Michael, from polio, but it wasn’t performed until the early 1980s, just before the composer died.

This was an atmospheric performance, though it was slightly marred by the perennial problems of amateur choirs: falling pitch, poor diction and quavery tenors. But the two hushed settings of the Latin text “Requiem aeternam dona eis” were admirably focused, and more evocative than ­everything else on the programme.


Let all the children boogie: how a new Bowie biography took me back to teenage subversion

By Deborah Levy from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Thank God Paul Morley’s The Age of Bowie doesn't try to be an objective, sensible biography.

The starman stepped into my imagination and history – via Top of the Pops – when I was 13, and never left the building. It seemed right that when I was 50, Bowie asked the question I was asking myself, too: where are we now? I can’t think of a contemporary writer whom I have followed from teenage to middle age, and so, with all the humility, desire and delusion of being a fan, I am not going to take well to any biographer who claims to have a purchase on the “real” Bowie. I don’t want real. Nor do I need the enigma of Bowie’s various personae (beguiling and baffling in equal measure) to be nailed to Earth. And just to confirm how hard I am to get in this respect, I am also not that interested in personal anecdotes from people who knew him. No, I’m with the teenagers of my generation who had Saturday jobs at Dolcis and C&A so we could buy his albums. We did not have trust funds to put together an outfit, but we did make an effort to sparkle for the starman – just in case he landed somewhere that wasn’t inside our heads.

Fortunately, Paul Morley is a veteran rock journalist (I’m sure he can show you the scars) and has not attempted to write a calmly objective, sensible biography that manages to shatter the delusion and give us the man. His stream-of-consciousness critique of Bowie’s posthumous legacy from cradle to Blackstar is respectfully mournful, and slightly rhapsodic in tone. He understands that Bowie lifted many of his now orphaned fans “from suburbia to bohemia” (sort of) and opened up an imaginative space that was inside us anyway. If the writing can’t resist sliding into the sentimental, it’s also a bit mental, which is perfect.

Morley rightly points out how “those of us becoming teenagers in the early Seventies needed something of our own, having been too young to catch the Sixties. We’d missed the Beatles, we’d missed the Stones – as something that belonged and spoke directly to us.” At times he does that slightly creepy thing of speaking Bowie’s inner thoughts as a way of moving through the various decades, but it is tricky to pull this story through 1947 to 2016. Here is 1972: “. . . he is saying, the starman is saying, because he looks exactly like a starman, sexy but sexless, friend but alien: let everyone lost in a world of confusion and imminent devastation have a party.”

I was probably too young to think about the “devastation” (apart from Dad throwing away my silver platform boots) but the “party” was definitely an invitation to ­subvert the rigid femininities and masculinities that so pinned us boys and girls down in the early Seventies.

My male teenage friends wore blue eyeshadow at a time when the male characters in contemporary British novels, no matter how satirical, were mostly very dusty in their gender politics. We could not find ourselves in these books, preferring Bowie’s instruction to “turn and face the strange”, one of the best lines from “Changes”, on his fourth album, Hunky Dory.

In this sense, Morley brilliantly describes Bowie’s intelligent, bent, arty provocation as nothing less than an “electrifying Morse code vibrating into the psyche”. The English Romantic poets of the early 19th century seemed to be more daring than most mainstream fiction at the time. Morley boldly asserts that Bowie in the Seventies was “enacting what Percy Bysshe Shelley claimed as visionary powers of would-be poets to become ‘the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present’”. All the same, I, for one, did not experience the starman as “a cosmic ejaculation”, as Morley did, and if it’s true, as he conjectures, that girl fans centred their sole attention on Bowie’s “glowing groin”, I can tell him for certain that boys let their eyes roam, too. It was obvious to us that the super-cool soundtrack for the TV dramatisation of Hanif Kureishi’s zeitgeist novel The Buddha of Suburbia, set in south ­London in the Seventies, could only have been written by Bowie, who in the early days bought his shirts and shoes in Lewisham.

Morley makes interesting points about the starman’s journey to superstardom and superstar money, reminding us that Oscar Wilde’s advice – “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – might just pay off. It’s true that when David Robert Jones changed his name and artfully stepped into many experimental art selves, we fans “found our shape-shifting and empowering champion in a star with the waist of a soup can”.

Inspired by John Coltrane, the Velvet Underground and John Cage, Bowie was also going to channel Anthony Newley, Florence Foster Jenkins, Johnnie Ray, Julie London, Édith Piaf and Shirley Bassey. “Music, he discovered, was a great game of ‘what if’. What happens if you combined Brecht/Weill musical drama with rhythm and blues. Will Little Richard lie comfortably with Schoenberg?” The result of this, for Morley, was “the mixing and merging of the strange with the familiar, mortal grossness with the airy spirit”; there were not many other pop stars “so drawn to both the offbeat and the ostentatious”.

Perhaps the persona who wore the most mascara was Ziggy Stardust. Morley offers astute insights into why Bowie had to “retire” Ziggy – he did not want to end up an “eternal alien”. He tells us how Bowie was at ease with “exhibiting his mind and body in the public glare so fantastically, and if you had cracked the code, he was dramatically splitting reality wide open, and penetrating time itself. The perfect role model for a teenager.” Yes, OK, including (cough) female teenagers, though I did not know much about penetrating time
until I became a writer and had to learn how to structure a novel.

This is not, however, a biography of Walter Benjamin (though Burroughs, Warhol and Eno are all present), and so I’m pleased to learn that Bowie got most of his make-up in the Aladdin Sane years from “a little shop in Rome which imports fantastic intensely coloured powders and creams from India”. I’ll never be above being fascinated that he used “white rice powder from the Tokyo equivalent to our Woolworths”.

As Morley moves nearer to the final year of Bowie’s life, he reflects on the ways in which most rock musicians in the early Sixties and onwards never regained the urgency of their early work. Unlike Bowie – of course – who was an innovator right to the end, completing the melancholy and haunting album Blackstar, released days before his death in January this year. Morley reckons that to make this “genre-liquefying work” it was necessary for Bowie to keep “listening, looking, absorbing, stealing, adapting, right to the very end, fighting ultimately for the sake of it to achieve some kind of harmony with the universe and his place in it, to make his last artistic statement as vivid and powerful as any he had made during his so-called golden age”.

There is a great deal of cultural history to enjoy in this personal, engaged and slyly scholarly biography. Morley’s triumph is to know there is no such thing as the definitive story: new generations of fans will continue to make it up as they go along.

Deborah Levy’s latest novel, “Hot Milk”, is published by Hamish Hamilton

The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference by Paul Morley is published by Simon & Schuster (484pp, £20)

Mick Rock / Private Collection / Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images

Trump strikes particular fear in Baltics

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Republican nominee refuses to guarantee defence of region and will ‘look at’ easing Moscow sanctions

The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

By Tim Farron from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.


Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.


Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.


What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.


Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.


Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit:

Spanish tourist season brings jobless down

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Almost two-thirds of new jobs are temporary contracts

Russians to vote on covering up Michelangelo's David

From BBC News - World. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

A woman complains that the copy of the artist's David harms children's minds.

The danger of eurozone banking fudges

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Stress test results will put the focus on weaknesses, writes William Rhodes

Turkey's terrifying post-coup crackdown is nearing the point of no return

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Horrific stories of rape and torture are emerging from Turkey's jails.

Recently, we have seen Turkey plunge into a full-blown crisis, with its terrifying post-coup crackdown. More than 10,000 people are currently in detention, including soldiers, police, judges and teachers. 

Amnesty International’s team in Turkey has gathered horrific evidence of torture, rape, sexual abuse and beatings of detainees in official and unofficial places of detention. Two lawyers in Ankara told us that detainees had witnessed detained senior military officers being raped with a truncheon by police officers. 

Our researchers on the ground also heard numerous reports of detainees being held in stress positions for over 48 hours, denied food and water and being denied access to their family or lawyers. 

One lawyer working at the Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul told Amnesty that some of the detainees were extremely emotionally distressed. One detainee attempted to throw himself out of a sixth story window and another repeatedly slammed his head against a wall.  

President Erdoğan has remained conspicuously silent over these abuses. Is he condoning this torture and ill-treatment through his silence?

To be sure, public security is an understandable priority in Turkey, but no circumstances can ever justify the level of human rights abuses we are now witnessing. 

This crackdown is of a scale not witnessed in Turkey since the dark days of martial law imposed after the military coup in 1980. 

The Turkish government must now show the political resolve to stamp out these abuses and to follow the rule of law in its investigations and maintenance of public security. Independent monitors, as well as lawyers, should be granted immediate access to the detention centres and family members should be informed of the whereabouts of their loved ones. Transparency and openness are urgently needed. Blocking such requests only fuels suspicions that terrible abuses are indeed happening inside the detention facilities. 

The arbitrary arrests we have seen, in most cases with no charges given, are grave violations of the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in both Turkey’s national and international law.

There now prevails an extreme climate of fear and instability across Turkey, where to criticise the government’s actions or speak out against violations now carries with it the risk of being labelled "pro-coup". 

Arrest warrants issued for dozens of journalists are part of a brazen purge based on political affiliation. Six of these journalists are currently detained. Rather than stifling press freedom and intimidating journalists into silence, the Turkish authorities must allow the media to do their work and end this oppressive clampdown on free expression.

The government has set itself on a perilous course since declaring a state of emergency on 20 July, including extending the amount of time detainees can be held without charge from four to 30 days. And shutting down schools, NGOs and media centres.

It’s absolutely vital that the authorities take some time for calm reflection and ensure they can discern between criminal acts and legitimate criticism, no matter how uncomfortable it may make President Erdoğan.

These are truly dangerous times for human rights in Turkey. And to make matters worse, President Erdoğan has threatened a return of the death penalty. The death penalty was abolished in 2004 as part of a move for Turkey to gain entry into the European Union. If it is reinstated, Turkey will disqualify itself from membership or future membership of the EU. 

Amnesty welcomes the fact that the UK Government has stressed the importance of the Turkish authorities maintaining the rule of law and called for the Turkish authorities to reject a return to the death penalty. 

In a recent phone call, Theresa May underlined the UK’s full support for Turkey’s democratically-elected government and institutions and said there was no place for military intervention in politics. Amnesty hopes that she will also publicly demand that the authorities immediately halt the human rights crackdown and allow immediate access to independent monitors and lawyers into places of detention. 

Kristyan Benedict is Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager



Commons confidential: Vive May's revolution

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

It's a risky time to be an old Etonian in the Tory party. . . 

The blond insulter-in-chief, Boris Johnson, survives as Theresa May’s pet Old Etonian but the purge of the Notting Hell set has left Tory sons of privilege suddenly hiding their poshness. The trustafundian Zac Goldsmith was expelled from Eton at the age of 16 after marijuana was found in his room, unlike David Cameron, who survived a cannabis bust at the school. The disgrace left Richmond MP Goldsmith shunned by his alma mater. My snout whispered that he is telling colleagues that Eton is now asking if he would like to be listed as a distinguished old boy. With the Tory party under new, middle-class management, he informed MPs that it was wise to decline.

Smart operator, David Davis. The broken-nosed Action Man is a keen student of geopolitics. While the unlikely Foreign Secretary Johnson is on his world apology tour, the Brexit Secretary has based himself in 9 Downing Street, where the whips used to congregate until Tony Blair annexed the space. The proximity to power gives Davis the ear of May, and the SAS reservist stresses menacingly to visitors that he won’t accept Johnson’s Foreign Office tanks on his Brexit lawn. King Charles Street never felt so far from Downing Street.

No prisoners are taken by either side in Labour’s civil war. The Tories are equally vicious, if sneakier, preferring to attack each other in private rather than in public. No reshuffle appointment caused greater upset than that of the Humberside grumbler Andrew Percy as Northern Powerhouse minister. He was a teacher, and the seething overlooked disdainfully refer to his role as the Northern Schoolhouse job.

Philip Hammond has the air of an undertaker and an unenviable reputation as the dullest of Tory speakers. During a life-sapping address for a fundraiser at Rutland Golf Club, the rebellious Leicestershire lip Andrew Bridgen was overheard saying in sotto voce: “His speech is drier than the bloody chicken.” The mad axeman Hammond’s economics are also frighteningly dry.

The Corbynista revolution has reached communist China, where an informant reports that the Hong Kong branch of the Labour Party is now in the hands of Britain’s red leader. Of all the groups backing Jezza, Bankers 4 Corbyn is surely the most incongruous.

Labour’s newest MP, Rosena Allin-Khan of Tooting, arrived in a Westminster at its back-stabbing height. Leaving a particularly poisonous gathering of the parliamentary party, the concerned deputy leader, Tom Watson, inquired paternalistically if she was OK. “I’m loving it,” the doctor shot back with a smile. Years of rowdy Friday nights in A&E are obviously good training for politics.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror


The impact of free trade: Collateral damage

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  The impact of free trade Location:  BLACKBURN Main image:  20160730_BRD001_0.jpg Rubric:  Britain is unusually open to trade but unusually bad at mitigating its impact “LANCASHIRE invented the world,” Iain Trickett’s grandfather told him. The old man was half right. During the industrial revolution the county in north-west England pioneered machinery that churned out manufactured goods by the ton; other countries copied it. Traces of that past glory linger on. In a factory in Blackburn highly skilled workers produce top-of-the-range jackets and jeans for companies including Community Clothing, of which Mr Trickett is general manager. Boxes destined for London’s fanciest shops are stacked up by the door. There are other local success stories, including an old maker of wallpaper-printing equipment down the road in Accrington whose ...

Can the disciplined Democrats defeat Trump’s maelstrom of chaos?

By Nicky Woolf from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The Democratic National Convention has been exquisitely stage-managed and disciplined. But is it enough to overcome Trump’s news-cycle grabbing interventions?

The Democratic National Convention did not begin auspiciously.

The DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was unceremoniously launched as if by an ejector-seat from her job on the eve of the convention, after a Wikileaks dump of internal emails painted a picture of a party trying to keep the insurgent candidate, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, from blocking Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination.

One email, in which a staffer suggests using Sanders’ Jewish faith against him as a candidate in order to slow his insurgent campaign, was particularly damning in its optics and Schultz, who had tweeted with some hubris about her Republican opposite number Reince Priebus during last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, had to fall on her sword.

Clinton’s pick of Tim Kaine as a running-mate – a solid, safe, and unexciting choice compared to a more vocal and radical campaigner like Elizabeth Warren – was also criticised, both by the media, with one commentator calling him “a mayonnaise sandwich on wholewheat bread”, and by the left of the party, who still held out hope that the Democratic ticket would have at least one name on it who shared the radical vision of America that Sanders had outlined.

On top of that, Kaine, who is a Catholic, also disappointed many as a vice-presidential pick because of his past personal history of opposition to abortion. Erin Matson, the co-director of the reproductive rights group ReproAction, tweeted that Kaine being added to the ticket was “tremendously disappointing”.

On the other side, Donald Trump had just received a poll bump following a terrifying speech which recalled Richard Nixon’s 1968 convention address. Both speeches appealed to fear, rather than hope; many are calling Trump’s keynote his “Midnight in America” speech. Just before the Democrats convened, analyst par excellence Nate Silver and his site,, forecast Trump’s chance of victory over Clinton in November at above 50 per cent for the first time.

On top of that, Bernie Sanders more vocal supporters arrived at the Democratic convention – in Philadelphia in the grip of a heatwave – in relative force. Protests have already been more intensive than they were at the RNC, despite all expectations to the contrary, and Sanders delegates disrupted proceedings on the first day by booing every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name.

But then, things appear to turn around.

The second day of the convention, which saw Hillary Clinton formally nominated as the first female presidential candidate in American history, was less marred by protest. Bernie Sanders addressed the convention and endorsed his erstwhile rival.

Trump’s inability to stop prodding the news cycle with bizarre non-sequiturs turned the focus of what would otherwise be a negative Democratic news cycle back onto him; an unforced error which led to widespread, if somewhat wild, speculation about his possible links with Putin in the wake of the news that Russia had been behind the email hack and lightened some of the pressure on the Democrats.

And then Michelle Obama took the stage, delivering an oration of astonishing power and grace (seriously, watch it – it’s a masterclass).

Compared with the RNC, the Democratic National Convention has so far been exquisitely stage-managed. Speakers were bookended with pithy, designed-for-virality videos. Speakers started on time; headliners played in primetime.

Both Trump and Clinton have now addressed their conventions before their headline speech remotely, via video link (Trump also engineered a bizarre early-convention pro-wrestling-style entrance), which put observers of both in mind of scenes from V for Vendetta.

But the imagery of Clinton’s face appearing on screen through a graphic of shattering glass (see what she did there?) will likely be one of the moments that sticks most in the memory of the electorate. It must kill the reality TV star to know this, but Clinton’s convention is getting better TV ratings so far than the RNC did.

Michelle Obama’s masterful speech in particular provided stark contrast with that of Melania Trump – an especially biting contrast considering that parts of the latter’s speech last week turned out to have been plagiarised from the former. 538’s forecast saw Clinton slide – barely – back into the lead.

A mayonnaise sandwich Tim Kaine might be, but he is nonetheless looking like a smart pick, too. A popular senator from a key swing state – Virginia – his role on the ticket is not to be a firebrand or an attack-dog, but to help the former secretary of state reach out to the moderate middle that Trump appears to be leaving entirely vacant, including moderate Republicans who may have voted for Mitt Romney but find Trump’s boorish bigotry and casual relationship with the truth offputting. And the electoral mathematics show that Trump’s journey to victory in the electoral college will be extremely difficult if Kaine swings Virginia for Clinton.

Ultimately, the comparison between the Democratic convention in Philadelphia so far and last week’s chaotic, slapdash and at times downright nutty effort in Cleveland provides a key insight into what this election campaign is going to be like: chaos and fear on one side, but tight discipline on the other.

We will find out in November if discipline is enough to stop the maelstrom.


Brexit threatens east Africa trade deal

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Tanzania’s refusal to sign EU agreement puts Kenyan livelihoods at risk

Why Philip Green's fall should bring down the honours system – but won't

By Tanya Gold from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Sir Shifty may fall in disgrace, but our ridiculous system will endure. No matter what's happening in the rest of politics.

Sir Philip Green’s Efficiency Review (2010) is his Das Kapital and it is still, happily, online. You can, if you wish, smirk at his recommendations to the government, which were solicited by David Cameron, I imagine, because when he stood next to Green he looked not like a 17th-century woodcut but like a tall, handsome semi-aristocrat.

“There is no motivation to save money or to treat cash ‘as your own’,” Green grumbles, before complaining, “There are inconsistent commercial skills across departments.” I am weeping with laughter at the whole report. But I’m not one of those BHS employees watching their pension ­vanish as the hideous cushions, throws and bedspreads pile up on the Green family yacht Lionheart. I instantly rename the yacht 14-Day Return Policy No More.

The days when Green could write efficiency reviews for people to ignore are gone. It is said that he could lose his knighthood, because that would be exciting and pointless. If so, I hope the ceremony features the formal rending of a garment from the BHS sale bin – perhaps a torn sock will be flung at his head? The Queen will not be happy, because de-knighting makes the ancient system of patronage look as ridiculous as it really is. Do intercessors between man and God make mistakes? Would they raise a man the Daily Mail now calls “Sir Shifty”? (I checked whether there was a Sir Shifty among the knights of the Round Table who flogged the Holy Grail to a passing tinker. There was not.)

Lord Melbourne advised Queen Victoria not to attempt to make her husband, Albert, a king, for if the people knew that they could make kings, they might unmake them. Green will discover this in his tiny way. But the elites should not hide their baubles. One fallen knight will not destroy the system (and I cannot think that Green will take £571m from his Lionheart cushion budget to save his knighthood by replenishing the BHS pension fund, because a knighthood is, in essence, just a tiny Bentley Continental that you wear over your nipple). One fallen knight should destroy the system but it won’t, because human conceit and docility are without end. Green will be shunned. Nothing will change.

One might have hoped that the Brexit vote would have alerted Cameron to the abyss between the electorate and the elected. (Even Alastair Campbell, chomping against Brexit, seemed to forget that he was as complicit in the alienation of voters as anyone else: government by sofa, teeth and war.) The response was glib, even for Cameron, a man so glib that I sometimes think he is a reflection in a pond. Brexit hit him like someone caught in a mild shower without an umbrella. He hummed at the lesson that history dealt him; he hummed as he left his page. It was the hum of the alpha Etonian caught out in a mistake, yes, but it was still a bloody hum.

His next act was to increase pay-offs to favoured courtiers against civil service advice and at public expense; then, it was reported, he nominated his spin doctor Craig Oliver and his former spin doctor Gabby Bertin for peerages, because the upper house needs more PRs. He has learned nothing. I wish him a relaxed retirement in which he will, apparently, write his four-page memoir, David Cameron: My Struggle (sub-subtitle: Eton Mess?). I hope he does not attempt to deny “the prosciutto affair”, because there is no need. It was not true. It was too pure a metaphor.

So the honours system, an essential part of our alienating politics, alongside dodgy donors, duck houses and George Galloway, endures in its worst form as conventional politics fails. It is a donkey sanctuary for political friends and Bruce Forsyth. I am not suggesting that everyone who has been honoured is dreadful – some lollipop ladies deserve to be patronised with an OBE (when there is no E any more), I am sure, and the lords, some of whom are excellent, are the functional opposition now – but the system can no longer be defended by the mirth potential of watching politicians ponder what light-entertainment celebrities might swing a marginal before being posthumously accused of rape. We must find something better before the house burns down. Perhaps a robust parliamentary democracy?

The problem is best expressed by the existence of a specialist consultancy called Awards Intelligence, which engages in “VIP brand-building” by soliciting awards. It sells “awards plans” from £795, which I could well imagine Philip Green perusing as he bobs about aboard Lionheart, were it not too late. The Awards Intelligence website tells us so much, though obliviously, about the narcissism of modern politics that I am tempted to reproduce it in full. But I will merely report that it asks:

"Did you know that you can join the House of Lords on a part-time basis as an Independent Crossbench Peer or a political peer affiliated to one of the main politial parties – even if you have ongoing work, family or community commitments!"

The message from Awards Intelligence, which boasts of a 50 per cent success rate, is clear: the legislature is part-time, it exists to “instil trust, add credibility and provide a platform for you to have your say” – and it can’t always spell “political”.

Sir Shifty and Awards Intelligence do not constitute the worst crisis in the history of honours, dreadful though they are. During the First World War the royal German cousins were stripped of their garters, so that British soldiers would not have to kill men of higher rank. But it is time for the Queen to stop pinning toys on nipples. They are part of a political system sweeping us, swiftly, towards the night.

Terror attacks hit Thomas Cook sales

From Europe News. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Tour operator lowers guidance due to continued instability across Europe

Excitement, hatred and belonging: why terrorists do it

By John Gray from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

A new book by Richard English suggests that killing can bring its own rewards.

Like most questions about terrorism, why large numbers of people join terrorist organisations can only be answered in political terms. However terrorism may be defined – and disputes about what counts as terrorism are largely political in their own right – we will be ­unable to understand how terrorist groups ­attract members if we don’t consider the politics of the societies in which the groups are active. But terrorism’s appeal is not ­always political for everyone involved in it. Richard English, in his wide-ranging new book, highlights some of what he calls the “inherent rewards” of terrorism gained by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). According to some former members, involvement in PIRA operations brought adventure, excitement, celebrity in local communities and sometimes sexual opportunities.

Terrorist activity also brought other intrinsic benefits. As one Belfast ex-PIRA man put it, “You just felt deep comradeship.” Or as another said, regarding involvement in the Provos: “Now I felt I was one of the boys.” Yet another reflected tellingly: “Although I was ideologically committed to the cause, for me, in many ways, being in the IRA was almost the objective rather than the means”; conspiratorial “belonging” and “comradeship” were, in themselves, rich rewards. Friendship, belief, belonging, purpose, community and meaning. One ex-Provo described his PIRA years as “days of certainty, comradeship and absolute commitment”. A bonus was that PIRA members’ actions could gain them influence and standing in their own communities; one ex-PIRA man reflected on how he saw himself after having joined the PIRA, in the simple words: “I felt important.”

English is a professor of politics and director of the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews. He has studied political violence in Northern Ireland for many years and, for him, these inherent benefits are one of four ways in which terrorism can “work”. The other three comprise strategic victory in the achievement of a central or primary goal or goals; partial strategic victory, which includes determining the agenda of conflict; and tactical success, which may lead to strengthening the organisation and gaining or maintaining control over a population.

Understanding terrorism, English writes, requires taking it seriously: “treating it as the product of motivations and arguments which deserve serious, respectful engagement; and also assessing it as something worthy of honest, Popperian interrogation”. He is sanguine – surprisingly so, given the conflicts with which he is concerned – regarding the practical results such an inquiry might bring. Finding out how far and in what ways terrorism works has “practical significance” – indeed, its importance may be “huge”. As English makes clear, he “is not arguing that if we understood more fully the extent to which terrorism worked, then everything would have been fine in the post-9/11 effort to reduce terrorist violence”. He is convinced, however, that understanding how far terrorism works can greatly improve the struggle against it. “It does seem to me strongly possible that if states more fully knew how far and in what ways terrorism worked (and does not work, and why), then they would be able to respond much more effectively to it in practice.”

With all its caveats, this is a strikingly bold claim. It assumes that the failures of the post-9/11 “war on terror”, which no one can reasonably deny, were largely due to intellectual errors. But was it a lack of understanding that rendered these programmes ineffectual or counterproductive? Or was it that some of the West’s allies – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and, more recently, Turkey – have been less than unequivocal in taking a stand against terrorism or may even have had some complicity with it? If so, it was the geopolitical commitments of Western governments that prevented them from taking effective action. Again, much of the current wave of terrorism can be traced back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Voicing a long-familiar consensual view, English criticises the US-led occupation for being “ill-planned”, leading to the destabilisation of the Iraqi security situation. But it is not clear that more forethought could have prevented this result.

If Western leaders had thought more carefully about the likely consequences of the invasion, it would probably not have been launched. With the regime and the state so closely intertwined, topping Saddam Hussein always risked creating a power vacuum. It was this that enabled al-Qaeda and then Isis and its affiliates to emerge, gain control in parts of the country and then project their operations into Europe.

Errors of analysis may have played a contributory role in this grisly fiasco. When British forces were despatched to Basra, it may have been assumed that they could implement something like the pacification that was eventually achieved in Northern Ireland. But the kinds of allies that Britain made in Belfast – and before that in the successful counterterrorist campaign in Malaya in the 1950s – did not exist in that part of Iraq. Like the overall programme of pacifying a country whose governing institutions had been dismantled abruptly, the mission was essentially unachievable. But this was not accepted by either the US administration or the British government. The invasion was based in ideological conviction rather than an empirical assessment of risks and consequences. In this case, too, high-level political decisions were far more important in unleashing terrorism than any failures in understanding it.

As has become the usual way in books on terrorism, English begins with his own definition of the phenomenon:

Terrorism involves heterogeneous violence used and threatened with a political aim; it can involve a variety of acts, of targets and actors; it possesses an important psychological dimension, producing terror or fear among a directly threatened group and also a wider implied audience in the hope of maximising political communication and achievement; it embodies the exerting and implementing of power, and the attempted redressing of power relations; it represents a subspecies of warfare, and as such can form part of a wider campaign of violent and non-violent attempts at political leverage.

This is a torturous formulation, not untypical of the academic literature on the subject. English tells us that his book is intended for readers in “all walks of life”. But the style throughout is that of a prototypical academic text, densely fortified with references to “majority scholarly opinion” and buttressed with over 50 pages of footnotes fending off critics. As a storehouse of facts and sources, the book will be a valuable resource for scholars, but its usefulness to the general reader is more doubtful.

The most interesting and informative of the book’s four main sections – on jihadism and al-Qaeda; Ireland and the IRA; Hamas and Palestinian terrorism; and Basque terrorism – is the one on Ireland, where English’s knowledge is deepest. Extensive interviews with people who had been involved in terrorist campaigns in the province led him to what is perhaps his most instructive generalisation: those who engage in and support terrorism “tend to display the same levels of rationality as do other people . . . they tend to be psychologically normal rather than abnormal . . . they are not generally characterised by mental illness or psychopathology . . . the emergence and sustenance of terrorism centrally rely on the fact that perfectly normal people at certain times consider it to be the most effective way of achieving necessary goals”. Terrorists are no more irrational than the rest of us, and there is no such thing as “the terrorist mind”. In many contexts, terrorism has functioned principally as an effective way of waging war.

As English notes, there is nothing new in the claim that terrorism is a variety of asymmetric warfare. The practice of suicide bombing has very often been analysed in cost-benefit terms and found to be highly efficient. The expenditure of resources involved is modest and the supply of bombers large; if the mission is successful the operative cannot be interrogated. The bombers gain status; their families may receive financial reward. (Religious beliefs about an afterlife are not a necessary part of suicide bombing, which has been practised by Marxist-Leninists of the Tamil Tiger movement and in Lebanon.) An enormous literature exists in which asymmetric warfare has been interpreted as demonstrating “the power of the weak”: the capacity of militarily inferior groups using unconventional methods to prevail against states with much greater firepower at their disposal. Understood in these terms, there can be no doubt that terrorism can be a rational strategy.

Yet there is a problem with understanding terrorism on this basis, and it lies in the slippery word “rational”, with which English juggles throughout the book. Terrorists are not always rational, he says; they are prone to overestimate the impact of their activities, and they make mistakes. Even so, what they do can be understood as rational strategies, and in these terms terrorism often works, if only partly. Here, English is invoking a straightforwardly instrumental view of reason. What terrorists do is rational, in this sense, if there is an intelligible connection between the ends they aim to achieve and the means they adopt to achieve them.

This means/end type of rationality typifies much terrorist activity, English maintains. But some of the ends achieved by terrorism are internal to the actual practice. “Inherent rewards from al-Qaeda terrorism might potentially include aspects of religious piety; the catharsis produced by revenge and the expression of complicatedly generated rage; and the remedying of shame and humiliation.” In this case, “hitting back  violently and punishingly at them [the US and its military allies] has offered significant rewards in terms not merely of political instrumentalism but also of valuable retaliation in itself”.

The inherent rewards of terrorism also include the expression of hatred. “The vengeful, terrorising punishment of people whom one hates, or with whom one exists in a state of deep enmity,” English writes, “might be one of the less attractive aspects of terrorist ambition. But it might also (perhaps) be one in which we find terrorists repeatedly succeeding fairly well . . .” Here, he may have understated his case. Killing cartoonists, customers queuing at a Jewish bakery in Paris and families celebrating Bastille Day in Nice will be a rational act as long as it succeeds in venting the terrorists’ hatred. Even if the operation is somehow aborted, the attempt to inflict mass death and injury may still serve as a type of therapy for those who make the attempt. If “hitting back at people whom one holds to be (literally or representatively) responsible for prior wrongs” can be rational on account of the emotional satisfaction it brings the terrorist, how can terrorism fail to work?

Clearly something has gone badly wrong here. Without mentioning the fact, or perhaps without noticing it, English has switched from one conception of rationality to another. Much of what human beings do isn’t the result of a calculation of con­sequences, but more an expression of their sense of identity. Philosophers describe this as expressive rationality, an idea they use to explain why voting in circumstances where you know your vote can make no practical difference can still be in accordance with reason. But is expressive rationality beyond rational criticism? In order to understand terrorism in Israel-Palestine, Ireland and Spain, English tells us, we need to understand the national context in which the terrorists act. This doesn’t imply “a comfortable acceptance of any single national narrative”, given that various terrorist groups “have done much to open such narratives to a very brutal interrogation”.

But is the terrorist narrative exempt from questioning? The reader might think so, as there is nothing in English’s account that fundamentally challenges the narrative of Hamas, for example. There is no discussion of the endorsement in the Hamas Charter of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and no examination of the influence on Hamas’s policies of the delusional world-view that this infamous anti-Semitic forgery articulates. If this is a Popperian interrogation of terrorism, it falls short of the impartial critical rationalism that Karl Popper recommended.

An analysis of the intrinsic rewards of terrorism may be useful in considering the outbreak of Isis-affiliated ­terrorism in Europe. In contrast to that of the IRA, including its ultra-violent Provisional wing, this cannot easily be understood in terms of instrumental rationality. Even when compared with its predecessor al-Qaeda, Isis has been notable for making very few concrete demands. No doubt the present outbreak is partly a reaction to the jihadist group losing ground in Iraq and Syria. But as English suggests, we need to ask for whom terrorism works, and why. When we do this in relation to Isis, the answers we receive are not reassuring.

Nothing in human conflict is entirely new. There are some clear affinities between anarchist terrorist attacks around the end of the 19th century and jihadist “spectaculars” at the start of the 20th. However, there are also certain discomforting differences. Anarchists at that time made public officials, not ordinary civilians, their primary targets; they attacked state power rather than an entire society; and they never acquired a mass base of supporters and sympathisers. Bestowing identity and significance on dislocated individuals and enabling them to discharge their resentment against a hated way of life, terrorism by Isis is of another kind. Against the background of deep divisions in European societies, these rewards could become an increasingly powerful source of the group’s appeal.

John Gray is the New Statesman’s lead book reviewer. His latest book is “The Soul of the Marionette: a Short Inquiry Into Human Freedom” (Allen Lane)


Globalisation and politics: Drawbridges up

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  Globalisation and politics Location:  CLEVELAND, LINZ, PARIS, ROME, TOKYO AND WARSAW Main image:  20160730_FBD001_0.jpg Rubric:  The new divide in rich countries is not between left and right but between open and closed IS POLAND’S government right-wing or left-wing? Its leaders revere the Catholic church, vow to protect Poles from terrorism by not accepting any Muslim refugees and fulminate against “gender ideology” (by which they mean the notion that men can become women or marry other men). Yet the ruling Law and Justice party also rails against banks and foreign-owned businesses, and wants to cut the retirement age despite a rapidly ageing population. It offers budget-busting handouts to parents who have more than one child. These will partly be paid for with a tax on big supermarkets, which it insists will somehow not raise the ...

Barack Obama throws a Reaganesque baton of hope to Hillary Clinton

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The 44th President's speech backing Clinton was also his swan song. 

Barack Obama looked at ease as he stepped up to praise Hillary Clinton and endorse her as the Democratic Presidential nominee.

To an upbeat soundtrack by U2 and cheers of his 2008 campaign slogan, "yes we can", he took to the podium at the Democratic convention. 

Borrowing the sunny optimism once so skilfully deployed by Republicans, Obama struck back against Republican nominee Donald Trump's "deeply pessimistic vision" of the United States.

He declared: "The America I know is full of courage and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous."

Like his wife Michelle, Obama painted Clinton as a grafter who wasn't in it for the fame. 

He praised her campaign when they were rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and said that when she served as a member of his team he had "a front-row seat" to her intelligence, judgement and discipline. 

He declared: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."

He then joked to Bill Clinton, the former President, who was standing applausing: "I hope you don't mind, Bill, but I was just telling the truth, man."

The two-terms President continually urged Democratic voters, many of whom originally backed Bernie Sanders, to get out and vote. "Democracy isn't a spectator sport," he said.

But while Obama was there to add some sparkle to the Clinton campaign, it was also an opportunity to shape his legacy. 

Commentators have often compared Obama to the popular Democratic President John F Kennedy, or the less popular but idealistic Jimmy Carter. 

Obama, though, has in the past praised the Republican President Ronald Reagan for changing the trajectory of US politics. 

In his speech, he borrowed from the "eternal optimist" to compare the Democrats with the Republicans. 

He said: "Ronald Reagan called America "a shining city on a hill." Donald Trump calls it "a divided crime scene" that only he can fix.

"It doesn't matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they've been in decades, because he's not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election."

Obama praised a diverse country, where immigrant cultures combined: "That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don't fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own."

The 44th President bowed out by referring to his 2008 campaign of hope, and telling voters "America, you have vindicated that hope". And he thanked them "for this incredible journey":

"I'm ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. So this year, in this election, I'm asking you to join me, to reject cynicism and reject fear and to summon what is best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States."

There is no doubt that Obama's warm audience was ready to pick up that baton and pass it on. Whether the wider country will be warmed up enough by his Reagan rhetoric remains to be seen. 

You can read the full speech here


Leader: On capitalism and insecurity

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The truth behind Philip Green's business practices is out, as Theresa May pledges to ensure the benefits of growth are shared amongst workers.

Although it sounds contradictory, we should count ourselves lucky to read about the hideous business practices at Sports Direct and the management failures that led to the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS). Such stories are hard to investigate and even harder to bring out into the open. That both firms were excoriated by select committees proves that parliament still has teeth.

It is less comforting to wonder why the two retailers were allowed to operate as they did in the first place. Sports Direct pursued “Victorian” working practices, according to Iain Wright, the chair of the committee on business, innovation and skills. The firm is being investigated over allegations that it did not pay the National Minimum Wage, while staff were treated in a “punitive” and “appalling” manner. They were penalised for taking breaks to drink water, and some claimed that they were promised permanent contracts in ­exchange for sexual favours.

Days later, another select committee castigated Sir Philip Green, the former owner of BHS, describing what had happened at the company as the “unacceptable face of capitalism”. The Green family extracted more than £300m from BHS – “systematic plunder”, according to the parliamentary report – even as its pension fund was accumulating a deficit of £571m. Although the committee also criticised Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS a year ago, it concluded: “The ultimate fate of the company was sealed on the day it was sold.”

It would be easy to dismiss Sports Direct and BHS as isolated cases. Yet there is an important connection between them and it is one that illuminates the tides in British politics. Both highlight how economic insecurity has become central to the lives of far too many people in the UK.

Sports Direct treated workers with contempt and left them terrified of losing their employment. The downfall of BHS, meanwhile, cost 11,000 workers their jobs and left its pensioners needing government assistance. Sir Philip Green retains his title, although the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has called for it to be rescinded. After all, the committee found “little to support the reputation for retail business acumen for which he received his knighthood”.

In this climate, it is easy to understand the widespread mistrust of private companies. As the business, innovation and skills select committee report concluded: “Although Sports Direct is a particularly bad example of a business that exploits its workers in order to maximise its profits, it is unlikely that it is the only organisation that operates in such a way.”

Anger about the behaviour of companies such as BHS and Sports Direct is rife and was palpable during last month’s referendum on the European Union. In Bolsover, the constituency in which Sports Direct has its main warehouse, 71 per cent of voters opted to leave the EU. Little wonder that voters there did not feel inclined to listen to warnings from the same big businesses that treated them and other people they knew so badly. The company, whose buildings occupied the site of a former coal tip pit, also relied on immigrants who would be less able to insist on employment rights.

Now that the problems have been elucidated so clearly, we must strive to find solutions. As Britain negotiates its exit from the EU, the hard-won labour gains of the 20th century – workers’ rights, provision of state pensions and the minimum wage – must be protected and expanded.

The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has rightly taken heed of public anger against corporate greed. She has pledged (in statements that could have come from Ed Miliband) to curb irresponsible behaviour and ensure that the benefits of growth are shared. She has supported ideas such as worker representatives on company boards and strengthening the power of shareholders by making their votes on director ­remuneration binding, rather than advisory.

While the Conservatives audaciously try to portray themselves as the “workers’ party”, Labour must campaign hard to ensure that Mrs May backs up her promising rhetoric with meaningful policies. For the good of the nation, business leaders such as Sir Philip Green and Mike Ashley of Sports Direct must be held to account for their actions.


Globalisation and politics: The new political divide

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  Globalisation and politics Main image:  20160730_LDD001_0.jpg Rubric:  Farewell, left versus right. The contest that matters now is open against closed AS POLITICAL theatre, America’s party conventions have no parallel. Activists from right and left converge to choose their nominees and celebrate conservatism (Republicans) and progressivism (Democrats). But this year was different, and not just because Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party. The conventions highlighted a new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed (see article). Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, summed up one side of this divide with his usual pithiness. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he declared. His anti-trade tirades were echoed by the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. America is not alone. Across Europe, the ...

Owen Smith apologises for pledge to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

The Labour leader challenger has retracted his comments. 

Labour leader challenger Owen Smith has apologised for pledging to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels", a day after vigorously defending his comments.

During a speech at a campaign event on Wednesday, Smith had declared of the prime minister, known for wearing kitten heels:

"I'll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When pressed about his use of language, Smith told journalists he was using "robust rhetoric" and added: "I absolutely stand by those comments."

But on Thursday, a spokesman for the campaign said Smith regretted his choice of words: "It was off script and on reflection it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it."

Since the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June, there has been attempt by some in politics to tone down the use of violent metaphors and imagery. 

Others though, have stuck with it - despite Jeremy Corbyn's call for a "kinder, gentler politics" his shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, described rebel MPs as a "lynch mob without the rope"

Smith's language has come under scrutiny before. In 2010, when writing about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition, he asked: "Surely, the Liberal will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?"

After an outcry over the domestic violence metaphor, Smith edited the piece. 


The Economist explains: How Brexit could put some public services under strain

By from European Union. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

EUROPEAN migrants fill many jobs in Britain’s public services: one in ten doctors and one in 25 nurses is EU-born. Thousands more work as bus drivers, street sweepers and care workers. How might Brexit affect them? It depends on what sort of deal is struck by the government of Theresa May, the new prime minister, who has insisted that she still wants to get annual net migration down to the “tens of thousands”. Last year, net migration topped 330,000, and net migration from outside the EU made up more than half of that total. Non-EU migrants’ entry is determined by a points system based on factors such as education and salary. Migrants from the EU, by contrast, are currently free to enter Britain at will. If Britain does decide to stop the free movement of labour, EU citizens might be subject to the points system applied to other migrants, or something like it. In skilled sectors, and especially in the NHS, where there is already a crisis of funding and staffing, the impact might be less severe than expected, says Carlos Vargas-Silva of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. “It is hard to see any scenarios where there would be limitations on medical professionals,” he says. Most EU-born doctors could easily meet the current non-EU visa conditions—the minimum salary threshold for non-EU work visas is £20,800 ($26,900) per year, rising to £30,000 ...

Trade unions must adapt to the gig economy in order to survive

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 28, 2016.

We can’t allow the story of UK trade unionism to just be about managing decline.

While the world around trade unions has rapidly changed, there is an impression trade unions have remained stuck in the past with antagonistic rhetoric, outdated governance structures and an inflexible approach. Yet trade unions remain as vital as ever in an insecure jobs market, and do have the capacity to protect workers and inspire support when they use positivity in place of hostility.

The future of the UK trade union movement has long been a matter for concern. Trade union membership has been stagnating for the last 30 years and structural changes in the UK economy have led to trade union density in the private sector dropping below 14 per cent. 

The most worrying aspect of this decline is that – despite work being increasingly less secure, growing wage inequality, and workers’ rights being slowly rolled back since 2010 – trade unions, or more precisely trade union membership, appears not to be a relevant choice for millions of workers.

Polling suggests that too many people who would be interested in being a member of an organisation that offered independent advice and protection at work are put off by the tone of voice and confrontational language they hear from union leaders, usually only during an industrial dispute or power struggle within the Labour party. If unions used to be angry, now they’re furious, and it is not helping.

Trade unions face serious challenges, but if we adapt, we can survive. The rise of self-employment, freelancing and the "gig economy" means more and more people are in need of the services and support that unions offer. But our benefits and services must be responsive to the needs of workers today and be flexible enough for change when it comes. 

We do not talk openly enough about our successes. We shouldn’t be embarrassed when we make something happen whilst working in partnership with decent employers. Nor should we shy away from championing successes achieved through industrial strength, but we need to be more sensitive to how we frame this to a wider audience.

But tweaks to our messaging and services are not enough on their own. We also need structural change in our trade union movement to ensure our long-term success.

Firstly, we need to recognise the severity of the situation that we are in and face up to the facts of declining membership, relevance and authority. There needs to be an acceptance that it is the responsibility of the trade union movement to understand the problems we face and to address them – not to blame others such as the press, politicians or employers.
Secondly, we need to build a consensus across the trade union movement on a recovery strategy. Given the diverse interests of our many sister organisations, that is easier to say than to deliver on. Strengthening the governance of trade unions should be one priority, seeking to develop a tripartite social framework with employers and government should be another.
Thirdly, we need to ensure the continuing and increasing relevance of trade unions to the world of work. We must recognise that we are struggling to connect beyond our membership and in many cases even beyond our activist base.

Too often change is done to trade unions, rather than by them. The Trade Union Act is the most recent example of a Conservative government taking action to reduce trade union influence. It won’t be long before they return to this pursuit. So rather than waiting to respond, why don’t we take the initiative?

It shouldn't be beyond the collective wit of trade unions to seek to develop and modernise our own structures, develop ideas that would underpin our future independence and seek out best practice across the movement in the delivery of services and benefits.
These are undoubtedly big challenges for the trade union movement. I know we want to help build a fairer, more equitable society with decent jobs, housing and education. Wanting to do these things isn’t enough, we need to be in a position to make change happen.

John Park is assistant general secretary of the trade union Community. This blog is based on a chapter he wrote for the book Changing Work: Progressive ideas for the modern world of work, published this week. Changing Work is the first publication from the Changing Work Centre, an initiative from the Fabian Society and Community which is chaired by Yvette Cooper MP.



Jeremy Corbyn and his opponents are now locked in a permanent struggle

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Labour MPs will neither accept Corbyn’s leadership nor abandon the party if he wins again.


In September 2003, outraged by Tony Blair’s support for the Iraq War, Jeremy Corbyn declared in the Morning Star that there should be “an annual election for leader”. Thirteen years later, in rather different circumstances, his wish has been granted. Yet the Labour leader has little cause for regret. There is no evidence that the sequel will end differently from the original.

Having failed to force Corbyn to re-seek MP nominations (a decision being challenged in court by the Labour donor Michael Foster as the New Statesman went to press), his opponents imposed other obstacles. Those who had been members for less than six months were barred from voting. Registered supporters were required to pay £25 to participate, rather than last year’s £3. Corbyn’s foes hoped that both decisions would shrink his support base, perhaps to the point of defeat.

Yet the early indications are that he has cleared these hurdles. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that among eligible members Corbyn would beat Owen Smith with 56 per cent of the vote to his opponent’s 34 per cent. Of the 140,000 registered supporters likely to be approved, between 55 and 75 per cent are thought to be pro-Corbyn. Although the leadership result will not be announced until 24 September, ballot papers will be distributed from 22 August. Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, has less than a month to overturn Corbyn’s advantage.

The last Labour leader to face a contest was Neil Kinnock, challenged by Tony Benn in 1988. Today, the roles have been reversed. A hard-left Bennite is the incumbent, while a soft-left Welshman is the challenger. No one expects a result as resounding as that of 1988, when Kinnock prevailed with 89 per cent to Benn’s 11 per cent. Smith’s team concede that they are “the underdogs”.

It was as a “clean skin”, untainted by the Iraq War and service in the last Labour government, that the Pontypridd MP was endorsed by colleagues over Angela Eagle. But his low profile has been exploited by his opponents. Corbyn’s allies have framed Smith as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly head of policy for Pfizer) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). The Labour leader’s social media presence, the terrain on which party elections are now won and lost, gives him a formidable edge.

Some MPs believe that Smith should have defined himself more clearly in the six months between signalling his leadership ambitions and launching his campaign. Comparisons are drawn with Ed Miliband, who allowed his opponents to fill the vacuum following his victory in 2010.

Smith has made electability his defining dividing line with Corbyn. The leader’s supporters, however, either do not conceive of his project in such terms or regard his opponent as no more capable of winning. Victory for Smith, they fear, would precipitate a rightward shift on austerity and immigration. Some share the assessment of a shadow cabinet minister who told me that the aspirant leader would be challenged if he won. “The Blairites won’t rest until they’ve got their party back,” he said.

Corbyn’s team is confident of victory and confronts the charge of unelectability. A source spoke of the campaign as a chance to “showcase our levels of organisation” and “build a movement that can win a general election”. Labour MPs concede that they are unlikely to beat Corbyn but hope to narrow his margin of victory and win among full members. This would deny him the right to boast of an “overwhelming” mandate and grant his opponents greater legitimacy.

In any discussion of Labour’s crisis, the 1980s are invoked. But the differences are as notable as the similarities. The left today controls the leadership, rather than merely the constituencies; the trade unions are no longer right-aligned; a “one member, one vote” system has replaced the electoral college. It was in less adverse circumstances, then, that 28 Labour MPs joined the break­away Social Democratic Party in 1981. For this reason, the possibility of a new schism endlessly recurs in media debate. Yet it is not one that MPs intend to pursue.

Labour’s tribalists have no intention of leaving their party, while the more tactically minded see little potential for a new grouping to flourish. The electoral marketplace is too crowded to achieve power without coalitions, merely replicating present divisions in a new form. Theresa May’s economic interventionism further limits the space for a centre-left insurgency to occupy.

Rather than retreating, Labour MPs intend to mount repeated challenges to Corbyn. As one told me, “We only need to get lucky once. He needs to get lucky every time.” Corbyn’s allies are hopeful that some rebels will emulate Sarah Champion MP and rejoin the front bench if he wins. One suggested that the proposed boundary changes, which will be published on 13 September, would encourage discipline in order to prevent deselection by local activists. Still, most MPs have no intention of rescinding their opposition to Corbyn.

It is deselection by the electorate at large, rather than by members, that some in Labour fear most. Though May has ruled out an early contest (having privately assured backers that she would not trigger one), the temptation could prove irresistible. An ICM poll published on 26 July gave the Tories their highest lead (16 points) since 2009. Prime ministers are rarely stronger than when they first enter office, a lesson that Gordon Brown neglected fatally. But such are Labour’s divisions that May could conclude that she need not show haste. Until the members reflect the MPs, or the MPs reflect the members, unity will remain elusive. As Corbyn and his opponents contemplate a struggle with no obvious end, the prize that both seek is rapidly diminishing in value.

Getty Images.

Brexit is the beginning of the end for Northern Ireland

By Kevin Meagher from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The age-old bid for a unified Ireland is now wearing utilitarian clothes. 

Brexit has presented British politics with something akin to a "reverse West Lothian Question". Instead of worrying why Scots should get a vote on English laws, we now have English voters telling Scotland and Northern Ireland they must leave the European Union, despite the people in both small countries opting to stay. 

Sinn Fein could hardly believe its luck that 56 per cent of Northern Ireland’s voters chose to remain in the EU, but are nevertheless being forced out by the weight of English votes for Brexit. Their immediate call for a "border poll" on Irish unity is opportunistic and will, for now, go unheeded. 

What is different, though, is their age-old bid for Irish re-unification now comes wearing neutral, utilitarian colours, responding to a genuine, contemporary issue. Moreover, the threat of Brexit to Northern Ireland has seen the Irish establishment, in the shape of Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and his opposite number, the Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, echo calls for an (eventual) poll on Irish unity.

Brexit is, indisputably, a game-changer. We are now plausibly witnessing the beginning of the end of Northern Ireland. Not least because the economics of leaving the EU are so utterly disastrous for it. 

Back in March, Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment calculated that the risks of Brexit would be much more serious for Northern Ireland than the rest of Britain. Whereas Britain’s economic losses will be measured in the region of 0.1-4 per cent of GDP, for Northern Ireland that increases to up to 5.6 per cent.

In short, if Britain catches a cold by leaving the EU, Northern Ireland will get flu. Even if Theresa May eventually manages to negotiate ongoing single market access, the loss of agricultural subsidies and regeneration cash will be an unmanageable burden for the fragile cross-community executive to deal with.  

Last year, the devolved assembly's enterprise committee commissioned a report that showed the province received £2.4bn from the EU between 2007-13, and that continued funding deals up to 2020 are "central to Northern Ireland[s] economic and innovation strategies".

The report's author, Dr Leslie Budd from the Open University, argued that as well as damaging Northern Ireland's attractiveness as an entry route into the single market, transaction costs for trading into the EU would "rise significantly" and inhibit economic co-operation with the neighbouring Irish Republic. 

This is important because the Northern Ireland Executive plans to harmonise corporation tax rates with it in 2018. It is hoped the move will make the North a leaner competitor to the South in the foreign investment stakes, however it will still fall short if the Republic remains in the single market and Northern Ireland does not. 

Worries about any deterioration in North-South relations and being cut-off from the EU are very real. The Northern Ireland Chambers of Commerce have recently signed a ‘formal affiliation’ with Chambers Ireland to bolster all-Ireland business co-operation "in the current period of uncertainty." 

Meanwhile, there has been a rush to apply for Irish passports, so much so, in fact, that it’s said Belfast’s post offices have run out of application forms. Indeed, no less a figure than Democratic Unionist MP, Ian Paisley Junior, suggested his constituents should think of applying for one. A genuine "through the looking glass moment" to hear that from a Paisley.

The obvious effect of Brexit-inspired instability in Northern Ireland is that it will become an even larger burden on the British Exchequer. Already, one in three works in the engorged public sector and its fiscal deficit is so large the Treasury has to pump in £9 billion a year. Will hard-pressed English taxpayers prove willing to continue to bail out a place of which they know and care little?

But this is only half the story. If these are the obvious pressures as a result of Northern Ireland leaving the EU, what, then, are the benefits of joining with the Irish Republic? 

A major US academic study led by Dr Kurt Hübner of the University of British Columbia last year modelled various scenarios and concluded that Irish unity could drive out €36bn euros of value during the first eight years, with the benefits disproportionately felt in Northern Ireland. 

So a clear, existential economic problem has emerged and with it a convincing, evidence-based economic solution. The only snag with Northern Ireland, though, is the politics.

The principle of consent, that there can be no change in its constitutional status unless a majority wishes it, is hardwired into the Good Friday Agreement and there is, so far, precious little interest among unionists in joining the Irish Republic.

But as the old saying goes, unionists are not so much loyal to the Crown as the half-crown. Maybe they will look more positively on the idea after suffering the very real economic effects of Brexit for a few years. A decision Eurosceptical unionists voted for in large numbers.

And in a decade’s time, perhaps we will look back and see these past few weeks were the beginning of the end for Northern Ireland.


After the power plays, Xi must now reform

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The new economy China needs cannot be built on production targets

Britain’s premature bid for trade deals

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The UK first needs to decide its economic relationship with the EU

The myth of the Entitled Fan

By Elizabeth Minkel from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

From abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones to the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend movement, accusations of “fan entitlement” are simplistic and wrong.

I spent the past weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest gatherings of fans in the world. SDCC is a big, complicated scene, a vast sea of vendors and queues and what feels like all of Hollywood popping down the California coast to plug the next instalments of their franchises.

The dialogue between fans and creators varies at Comic-Con and similar conventions (SDCC, it should be noted, is a professional event for many, so the fan/creator line can get blurry). But with the biggest media properties, the general tone was best described as reverential. Actors, writers, and directors thanked fans for their dedication and their passion; fans asked creators the gentlest questions and heaped on the praise.

As the convention wore on, I was struck by how disconnected the conversations I was hearing were from the fannish world I encounter online. Every day on the internet, I watch fans critically engage with pop culture. Fans read deeply and watch closely, and they simultaneously create new works around the stuff they love while interrogating it rigorously. They squee over Marvel releases while calling out the whitewashing in Doctor Strange. They continue to celebrate Harry Potter while pushing back against the racism and appropriation of the “Magic in North America”.

Comic-Con hasn’t historically been a space for this sort direct discourse with creators – but whether it could or should be is an open question. The way fans and creators talk to each other is shifting, and these days, it’s arguably under more scrutiny than ever before.

For the past few months, people have been debating whether fandom is “broken”. The instigating article, by critic Devin Faraci, suggested that we live in an age of unparalleled fan entitlement: people who aren’t satisfied with their media, and don’t hesitate to be vocal about it.

The men who lashed out about an all-female Ghostbusters were one example; the Twitter hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend – which urged Disney to consider making the Frozen protagonist its first queer princess – somehow wound up in the same breath.

He even took a bizarre swipe at fanfiction, suggesting that fans’ desires to spend time in fictional worlds, writing explicitly for other fans, was the height of entitlement.

If you spot a false equivalency here, you’re not alone – and plenty of fans and critics pushed back. Despite its messiness, the article contained some truths: threats and harassment of any kind are never OK, no matter what your cause. But it pinned the massive problem of online harassment on fan culture, and in the weeks that followed, others followed suit.

In its Comic-Con coverage, the LA Times asked filmmaker Joss Whedon – who famously left Twitter in 2015 – about interactions with fans, or what the article dubs “The Age of Entitlement”.

And in a breathtakingly irresponsible piece in the Guardian, another journalist ascribed the vile racist and misogynistic Twitter attacks on Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones – a deliberate swarm that had little, if anything, to do with the film itself, and led to the platform banning notorious conservative troll Milo Yiannopoulos – to angry “fans”.

What’s going on here? It’s true that fans on both ends of the spectrum, from hate-speech harassers to progressive activists, are speaking out using the same channels. But why do some people think they sound the same?

When I remember Comic-Con, all smiles and cheers, I can’t help but speculate that it’s down to the fact that fans are speaking at all. Fans have always talked back, but prior to social media they weren’t even a fraction as visible as they are today.

We’re witnessing the destruction of the fannish fourth wall in real-time: fans and creators are now seeing each other clearly on a massive scale, and creators are unsure how to – or if they even should – listen to fans.

To the creator, especially one who isn’t well-versed in online exchanges, any fan/creator dialogue can look like an attack. The traditional portrait of the fan as slavish consumer, treating a creator as god and cataloging their every word, was only ever one sort of fan. But for decades, it’s been the one that was easy for the entertainment industry to see.

Much has been written about the opening up of geek culture to people who aren’t straight, white, and male (not to mention the mainstream exposure of fan practices – like fanfiction – which have historically been the province of women).

In the democratised spaces of social media, marginalised fans are amplifying their voices just as marginalised non-fans are. For decades, our screens and pages have suffered from a lack of diversity, even if they didn’t actively peddle harmful stereotypes. Now that fans can talk back and potentially be heard, is it any wonder that they’re asking for more?


Nor yet a drop to drink

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The hard way

IYAD QASSEM is trying to run a coffee shop without water. He reuses the stuff in his sink, which quickly fills with muck, and in the shishas that Palestinians puff on his patio. It would be a difficult task, if he had many customers: but it seems people who haven’t showered in a week lose interest in sipping tea in 35°C heat. “The café is empty because everyone is worried about the situation. It’s getting impossible to run a business,” he says.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Salfit and the surrounding villages are suffering through a months-long drought. Summer shortages are nothing new on the parched hills outside Nablus, in the northern West Bank. But this season is particularly bad. Taps slowed to a trickle before the Ramadan holiday, and few expect relief before the winter rains.

Israelis once obsessed over the level of their largest natural reservoir, the Sea of Galilee. As The Economist went to press, it was just 11cm above its “red line”, the point at which Israel stops pumping water to avoid ecological damage. Yet this no longer causes public...Continue reading

Xi’s China: Smothering dissent

From Analysis. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Critics fear the erosion of civic freedoms is denying space for grievances to be aired

Nobody's bargaining chips: How EU citizens are fighting back against Theresa May

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Immigration could spike after Brexit, the Home Affairs select committee warned. 

In early July, EU citizens living in Scotland received some post from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The letters stated: “The immediate status of EU nationals living in Scotland has not changed and you retain all the same rights to live and to work here. I believe those rights for the longer term should be guaranteed immediately.”

The letters were appreciated. One Polish woman living on a remote Scottish island posted on social media: “Scottish Government got me all emotional yesterday.”

In reality, though, Sturgeon does not have the power to let EU citizens stay. That rests with the UK Government. The new prime minister, Theresa May, stood out during the Tory leadership contest for her refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens. Instead, she told Robert Peston: “As part of the [Brexit] negotiation we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU.”

As Home secretary in an EU member state, May took a hard line on immigration.  As PM in Brexit Britain, she has more powers than ever. 

In theory, this kind of posturing could work. A steely May can use the spectre of mass deportations to force a hostile Spain and France to guarantee the rights of British expat retirees. Perhaps she can also batter in the now-locked door to the single market. 

But the attempt to use EU citizens as bargaining chips may backfire. The Home Affairs select committee warned that continued policy vagueness could lead to a surge in immigration – the last thing May wants. EU citizens, after all, are aware of how British immigration policy works and understand that it's easier to turn someone back at the border than deport them when they've set up roots.

The report noted: “Past experience has shown that previous attempts to tighten immigration rules have led to a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force.”

It recommended that if the Government wants to avoid a surge in applications, it must choose an effective cut-off date for the old rules, whether that is 23 June, the date Article 50 is triggered, or the date the UK finally leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, EU citizens, many of whom have spent decades in the UK, are pursuing tactics of their own. UK immigration forms are busy with chatter of UK-based EU citizens urging one another to "get your DCPR" - document certifying permanent residence - and other paperwork to protect their status. More than 1,000 have joined a Facebook group to discuss the impact of the referendum, with hot topics including dual nationality and petitions for a faster naturalisation process. British citizens with foreign spouses are trying to make the most of the "Surinder Singh" loophole, which allows foreign spouses to bypass usual immigration procedures if their British partner is based in another EU country. 

Jakub, a classical musician originally from Poland, is already thinking of how he can stay in the UK, where there are job opportunities for musicians. 

But he worries that although he has spent half a decade in the UK, a brief spell two years ago back in Poland may jeopardise his situation.“I feel a new fear,” he said. “I am not sure what will happen next.”


The Man Booker Prize 2016: the longlist has been announced

By Hasan Chowdhury from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Six women and four debut novels make the list on a year with a number of notable omissions and surprise inclusions.

The longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize has been announced today, with a number of surprises populating the line-up for the prestigious award.

To qualify for the prize, writers will have had a novel published in English between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016. The Man Booker has been awarded since 1969, with writers as varied as Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood among previous winners.

“The Man Booker dozen” lists 13 novels this year chosen by a panel of five judges from 155 submissions, with six women and seven men noted. Nobel Prize winner and two-time Man Booker Prize winner JM Coetzee headlines the list with his book The Schooldays of Jesus, while Deborah Levy, shortlisted in 2012 for Swimming Home, is picked for Hot Milk, her poignant take on the challenges and extremities of motherhood. Levy will be featured in this week’s magazine.

Also making it on the list are Paul Beatty with The Sellout - described by The Guardian as “a galvanising satire of post-racial America”, A.L. Kennedy, who has been selected for the first time with her eighth novel Serious Sweet and Elizabeth Strout, whose novel My Name is Lucy Barton has become a New York Times bestseller.

Included on the list are four debut novels: The Many by Wyl Menmuir, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves and Hystopia by David Means – an imagined retelling of the Cold War period which sees John F. Kennedy evading assassination while the Vietnam war rages on. Completing the list are Graeme Macrae Burnet, Ian McGuire, David Szalay and Madeline Thien.

For many, the list brings along with it a number of notable omissions. Don DeLillo’s Zero K – a story offering chilling foresight into a future of immortality enabled by cryonics - was widely touted to make it onto the list. Jonathan Safran Froer too, was expected to make it on the list with his first novel in more than a decade - Here I am.

Previous winners and nominees who were picked as potential candidates to be longlisted are also missing. Ian McEwan’s new novel Nutshell, set to arrive in September, experiments with narration by telling a tale through the voice of an unborn child. Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time hasn’t made the list and nor has Emma Donoghue’s new book The Wonder which was thought to be a strong contender following her Man Booker nomination in 2010 for Room and its subsequent Oscar nomination for screen adaptation. In previous years, former prize winners will have been automatically submitted, making these absentees notable ones.

Meanwhile new novels from Zadie Smith and Ali Smith will be published just outside the competition’s timeframe, making them illegible for this year’s award. There are no Indian or Irish writers on this year’s list; the Man Booker Prize has nominated a number of writers from those countries in the past.

Last year’s award celebrated the work of Marlon James, the first Jamaican writer to win, with his third novel A Brief History of Seven Killingsan epic spanning the decades surrounding the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976. It’s an ambitious book whose pick by the Man Booker judges in 2015 highlighted the award’s desire to bring little-known novels with experimental flair and hard-hitting narratives to the centre of the literary arena. James’s win last year may reflect on this year’s choices; 11 of the 13 writers have never been on the list before.

The 13 books will be re-read by judges over the course of the next few months, with a shortlist being announced on 13 September, and an eventual winner decided by 25 October.

The chair of the judges Amanda Foreman said: “This is a very exciting year. The range of books is broad and the quality is extremely high. Each novel provoked intense discussion and, at times, passionate debate, challenging our expectations of what a novel is and can be. From the historical to the contemporary, the satirical to the polemical, the novels in this list come from both established writers and new voices. The writing is uniformly fresh, energetic and important. It is a longlist to be relished.”


Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.


Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?


Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”


Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”


A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.


France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

By Will Self from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 


Why Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

Getty Images.

A first look at this week’s magazine | Summer double issue

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

All the highlights from the new issue.

29 July - 11 August 
Summer double issue


Special report: Stephen Bush visits three Labour heartlands.

George Eaton on the challenge facing Jeremy Corbyn.

Xan Rice on the Met’s new weapon, the super-recognisers.

Martin Fletcher on abortion in Northern Ireland.

Notebook from Istanbul: Jeremy Bowen sees rough times ahead for Turkey.

Diary: Tim Farron on the battle between liberals and authoritarians.

Tanya Gold on Philip Green and Britain’s honours system.

Deborah Levy is taken back to her hero-worshipping teenage years by Paul Morley’s The Age of Bowie.

Kate Mossman on the multimillion-dollar world of Trans-Siberian Orchestra – the biggest band you’ve never heard of.

Hunter Davies recalls the year it all went right: 1966.

John Bew is beguiled by Malcolm Rifkind’s genteel memoir.

From anarchists to Isis: John Gray on the urges that drive modern mass murder.

A N Wilson on the theology of Martin Luther according to Lyndal Roper and Diarmaid MacCulloch.



Special report: Labour’s heartlands on the party’s future.

The NS’s special correspondent, Stephen Bush, visits Wallasey, Pontypridd and Islington North – three Labour heartlands that show much about the party’s future:

This summer, there have been three main characters in the soap opera (or farce) that has played out in the party – the beleaguered leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of Islington North; the leading rebel, Angela Eagle, whose constituency is in Wallasey; and finally, the eventual challenger, Owen Smith of Pontypridd. I visited all their constituencies in a whirlwind week in the hope that it would illuminate the leadership race and the wider challenges for left-wing politics in Britain.

In all three places, the easy assumptions about Corbyn’s appeal were complicated by the facts on the ground, but a common thread united them. Outside the Holloway Road Odeon, I heard it first: “Jeremy is a nice guy, but he’s not a leader.” The trouble was that even those who questioned Corbyn’s leadership had little faith in those challenging him.

On 4 July, during a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Neil Kinnock talked about “the supermarket test”: how people in Tesco or Lidl would say “I want to vote Labour, but I can’t vote for Ed Miliband”. He urged Labour’s representatives in the Houses of Parliament to “apply the supermarket test for Jeremy Corbyn and see what answer you get”.

In reality, they had been applying it for months. That was the spur to the attempts in late June to oust Corbyn as Labour leader. For the 172 MPs who said they had no confidence in him – and the 41 per cent of Labour members who told YouGov that they thought Corbyn was doing either “fairly badly” or “very badly” – he is an obstacle on the road to saving Britain from the Tories. Idealism didn’t create a minimum wage, set up Sure Start centres, or bring in civil partnerships: assembling a broad enough coalition to elect a Labour government did.

The minority of MPs who support him, and the thousands of members who say they will vote for him again, feel differently. For them, Corbyn’s demise would feel like a capitulation. It would feel like accepting that neoliberalism, capitalism and austerity have won the day, that the role of the Labour Party is to ameliorate rather than oppose them.

When I visited Islington North, Labour’s leadership election was only just starting to get under way and Angela Eagle was still in contention. Her tough performances deputising for the leader at PMQs have made her popular at Westminster but that enthusiasm has not made it as far north as Islington. “To me, I can’t see Angela Eagle as a prime minister either,” said Mike, one of the regulars at the Coronet, a Wetherspoons on the Holloway Road. “What are they running her for?”

The same sentiment prevailed in Wallasey, the Wirral constituency that Eagle has represented since 1992. There, too, were a few pockets of Corbynmania. There was also a sense that Labour is heading for defeat as long as Corbyn remains in place – but little faith in Eagle’s ability to alter that trajectory.

Wallasey is of less long-standing Labour vintage than Islington North. It remained steadfastly Conservative even between 1945 and 1966, and Eagle first won the seat in 1992. Although she is now in possession of a 16,000-vote majority, her neighbour Margaret Greenwood took Wirral West seat back from the Conservatives by a margin of only 400 votes. Tory strategists still eye the Wirral hungrily.

Wallasey is home to New Brighton, the seaside resort commemorated in Martin Parr’s 1985 series The Last Resort. A popular tourist destination for most of the first half of the 20th century, New Brighton was hurt by tidal changes in the River Mersey, which stripped most of its sand, and by the closure of its pier, but it remains a favoured destination for retirees and day trippers. In times past, Liverpool families that did well for themselves crossed the Mersey, bought a home – and promptly started to vote Tory. Wallasey, and the Wirral as a whole, is still where Scousers who have made it good set up their homes, but nowadays their politics usually survive the river crossing unscathed.

Yet there is still a vestigial sympathy for Conservatism in the leafier parts of Victoria Road and Seabank Road, one that is largely absent from Islington North. Perhaps Theresa May’s diligence in dealing with families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, which was mentioned frequently when I asked people for their opinion of the new Prime Minister, is sufficiently well regarded here that it is beginning to erode the Thatcherite taint still hanging over the Tory rosette on Merseyside.

However, it is not just Labour politics that is proving increasingly capable of weathering the journey across the Mersey. In Westminster, the chatter is that Militant – driven out of Labour in the 1980s, though most of its members continued to live and work on Merseyside – is back as a force in the city’s constituencies, and that many of its members have moved out and retired to New Brighton. Their influence is blamed for the series of damaging stories that slipped out of Wallasey in the days after Eagle declared her candidacy.

“There’s a reason why they’re so good at getting themselves on the national news and in the papers,” one MP tells me. “It’s that they’ve done all this before.”


The Politics column: George Eaton on the challenge facing Jeremy Corbyn.

The NS’s political editor, George Eaton, argues that Jeremy Corbyn’s race against Owen Smith is the start of a struggle with no obvious end.

In any discussion of Labour’s crisis, the 1980s are invoked. But the differences are as notable as the similarities. The left today controls the leadership, rather than merely the constituencies; the trade unions are no longer right-aligned; a “one member, one vote” system has replaced the electoral college. It was in less adverse circumstances, then, that 28 Labour MPs joined the break­away Social Democratic Party in 1981. For this reason, the possibility of a new schism endlessly recurs in media debate. Yet it is not one that MPs intend to pursue.

Labour’s tribalists have no intention of leaving their party, while the more tactically minded see little potential for a new grouping to flourish. The electoral marketplace is too crowded to achieve power without coalitions, merely replicating present divisions in a new form. Theresa May’s economic interventionism further limits the space for a centre-left insurgency to occupy.

Rather than retreating, Labour MPs intend to mount repeated challenges to Corbyn. As one told me, “We only need to get lucky once. He needs to get lucky every time.” Corbyn’s allies are hopeful that some rebels will emulate Sarah Champion MP and rejoin the front bench if he wins. One suggested that the proposed boundary changes, which will be published on 13 September, would encourage discipline in order to prevent deselection by local activists. Still, most MPs have no intention of rescinding their opposition to Corbyn.

It is deselection by the electorate at large, rather than by members, that some in Labour fear most. Though May has ruled out an early contest (having privately assured backers that she would not trigger one), the temptation could prove irresistible. An ICM poll published on 26 July gave the Tories their highest lead (16 points) since 2009. Prime ministers are rarely stronger than when they first enter office, a lesson that Gordon Brown neglected fatally. But such are Labour’s divisions that May could conclude that she need not show haste. Until the members reflect the MPs, or the MPs reflect the members, unity will remain elusive. As Corbyn and his opponents contemplate a struggle with no obvious end, the prize that both seek is rapidly diminishing in value.


The super-recognisers: Xan Rice on the new weapon in Scotland Yard’s kit.

The NS’s features editor, Xan Rice, reports on how a new, elite unit of the Metropolitan Police is catching some of London’s most prolific criminals:

Since the 19th century, doctors have known that some patients who suffer brain trauma lose the ability to recognise faces, a condition known as acquired prosopagnosia (from the Greek prosopon, “face”, and agnosia, “not knowing”). In the 1970s scientists discovered that a congenital form of the disorder affects a much wider segment of the population – ordinary functioning people who have never experienced head injuries and have perfect vision.

Studies suggest that two out of every 100 people have developmental prosopagnosia, meaning they have great difficulty recognising faces, sometimes even their own in the mirror. To identify someone familiar, a face-blind person relies on clues such as voice, gait, posture or unusual facial characteristics.

Among the best-known prosopagnosics was the late doctor and author Oliver Sacks, who became aware of his bewildering predicament as a schoolboy in London. He learned to pick out his best friends, Eric Korn and Jonathan Miller, by their specific features. “Eric had heavy eyebrows and thick spectacles, and Jonathan was tall and gangly, with a mop of red hair,” Sacks wrote in the New Yorker. When he looked at old photographs a decade after leaving school, Sacks could not identify a single classmate. Stephen Fry and Jane Goodall are other well-known sufferers of the disorder, which is associated with lesions in a part of the brain known as the fusiform gyrus.

In 2009 a trio of researchers led by Richard Russell published the results of their study, which aimed to determine if there was a third group of people when it came to face recognition, whose problem (or rather talent) was that they struggled to forget a face. Russell, a psychologist who was then based at Harvard, tested four people claiming to have superior face recognition abilities, including a 26-year-old female student who told him: “It doesn’t matter how many years pass. If I’ve seen your face before, I will be able to recall it.” Russell set his subjects and a larger control group two tasks, involving famous faces and unfamiliar faces. In both, the test group performed “far above average”, leading Russell to coin the term “super-recognisers”. “In both face recognition and face perception, the super-recognisers are about as good as many developmental prosopagnosics are bad,” he and his colleagues wrote.

Around the same time, Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville of the London Metropolitan Police was reaching his own conclusions about people with an exceptional ability to recognise faces. In 2007, Neville had set up a unit to collate and circulate images of unidentified criminals captured on CCTV. Officers were asked to check the Met’s “Caught on Camera” notices to see if they knew any of the suspects. “It became apparent that some officers were much better than others,” Neville told me. “For example, if I received 100 names, some officers would have submitted ten or 15, while in the main they were one-off identifications.”

At first, Neville assumed that the prolific officers simply knew more criminals than the rest. Then he realised that it had more to do with their ability to remember faces: the best identifiers could spot a suspect they had never met merely after viewing a photograph of them.

In early 2011, he discussed his findings at a conference attended by Josh Davis, a psychologist at the University of Greenwich. For his PhD, Davis had studied the use of CCTV identification in court proceedings. “Most of my research had shown that people were not very good at face-matching,” Davis told me one recent morning when we met at a cafeteria on campus. “So I was suspicious of the police claims.”

He agreed to test the facial recognition skills of 20 officers who excelled at Caught on Camera identifications. To Davis’s surprise, most of them scored much better than the norm, and a few were exceptional.

That August, the London riots broke out. Met officers trawled through tens of thousands of hours of CCTV footage, identifying 609 suspects responsible for looting, arson and other criminal acts. One officer, PC Gary Collins, made 180 identifications, including that of one of the most high-profile suspects, who had thrown petrol bombs at police and set cars on fire. During the riots, the man covered his mouth and nose with a bandana and pulled a beanie low over his forehead. Collins recognised him as a criminal whom he had last seen several years earlier. The man was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Now convinced of the super-recogniser theory, Neville assembled a standby team of 150 officers who excelled at identification.


The unholy huddle: Martin Fletcher Northern Ireland and the problem with abortion.

Northern Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws are supported by politicians
across the sectarian divide – and the province’s women are paying the price, as Martin Fletcher reports:

Officially 833 women travelled from Northern Ireland to England for abortions in 2015, though the real number is probably double that. Most were aged between 20 and 35, and 62 per cent had partners, so few were the promiscuous teenagers of the politicians’ imagination.

Many people regard Northern Ireland’s wilful exporting of its problem as shameful. “We should look after our own women,” Professor Jim Dornan, one of the leading obstetricians in the province, said. But no political redress is imminent.

Although a more liberal assembly was elected in May, and though Sinn Fein – the second-biggest party – now favours a limited relaxation of the abortion law, the DUP retains what is in effect a veto over any change, thanks to a procedural device called a “petition of concern”, which was originally designed to safeguard minority rights in the power-sharing assembly. That is how the DUP thwarted a vote in favour of gay marriage last November.

Nor is any legal redress imminent. John Larkin, the attorney general, has appealed against Justice Horner’s ruling that the present law breaches human rights. Whatever the result of that appeal, the case is expected to go first to the Supreme Court in London, then to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Increasingly, however, the “abortion pill” offers women in Northern Ireland a way around the ban, especially for those too poor to go to England.

The pills, easily purchased online for as little as £50, are perfectly safe if administered properly, but not if taken secretly by women who may ignore the instructions, use them too late, have pre-existing medical conditions, or hesitate to seek help if they suffer complications for fear of prosecution. There is a danger of severe haemorrhaging, and if the foetal sac is incompletely discharged the remnants can become infected, leading to potentially fatal sepsis.

Though used worldwide, such pills are still illegal in Northern Ireland. In February an anonymous, 21-year-old woman was convicted and given a three-month suspended prison sentence after her Belfast flatmates reported her to the police for using them. Other prosecutions are pending.

But, like latter-day suffragettes, some women’s rights activists are starting to flout the law openly, defying the police to arrest them. Last year 215 women signed an open letter in which they said they had bought abortion pills, and invited prosecution. In May three others, hoping for a showcase trial, presented themselves at a police station in Derry and asked to be prosecuted for procuring the pills. In June pro-choice activists used a drone to fly abortion pills across the border from the republic to show that the law was absurd and unenforceable.

The activists argue that, by banning the pills, Northern Ireland’s politicians are merely driving abortion underground, with potentially fatal consequences of a sort that should belong to the past.

“Making abortion illegal doesn’t make it go away. It makes it unsafe,” said a young woman called Cara, who once self-aborted in a Travelodge hotel room and now helps other women who need to have abortions. Over a drink at a pub in Belfast, she told me how, in her own caravan, she had helped a part-time shop assistant terminate her pregnancy. The woman couldn’t afford to go to England and was too ashamed to tell her family she was pregnant.

Health-care professionals are increasingly alarmed by the implications for women. “This is the modern equivalent of the backstreet abortion. It might not be coat hangers and knitting needles, but the outcome is the same,” said Breedagh Hughes, of the Royal College of Midwives. “My biggest worry is that women will be deterred from seeking the help they need, and that the old spectre of women dying from botched abortions will rear its ugly head again.”


Jeremy Bowen: Notebook from Istanbul.

The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, argues that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge of Turkey’s armed forces and civil society was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed 15 July coup:

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

City of melancholy
The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-
shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

Down with the generals
Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason d was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately unstable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

Contagion of war
The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.


Diary: Tim Farron.

In this week’s NS Diary, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, writes that the biggest divide in British politics today is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians. And he sees the Lib Dems resurgent:

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

Premature obituaries
Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

Breaking up is hard to do
Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

What I did on my holidays
Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

Preparing for the next fight
The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

Sitting Priti
David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.


Lines of Dissent: Tanya Gold on Sir Philip Green.

Tanya Gold observes that although Philip Green (aka “Sir Shifty”), the former owner of British Home Stores, may eventually fall in disgrace, Britain’s ridiculous honours system will endure:

It is said that he could lose his knighthood, because that would be exciting and pointless. If so, I hope the ceremony features the formal rending of a garment from the BHS sale bin – perhaps a torn sock will be flung at his head? The Queen will not be happy, because de-knighting makes the ancient system of patronage look as ridiculous as it really is. Do intercessors between man and God make mistakes? Would they raise a man the Daily Mail now calls “Sir Shifty”? (I checked whether there was a Sir Shifty among the knights of the Round Table who flogged the Holy Grail to a passing tinker. There was not.)

Lord Melbourne advised Queen Victoria not to attempt to make her husband, Albert, a king, for if the people knew that they could make kings, they might unmake them. Green will discover this in his tiny way. But the elites should not hide their baubles. One fallen knight will not destroy the system (and I cannot think that Green will take £571m from his [family yacht] Lionheart cushion budget to save his knighthood by replenishing the BHS pension fund, because a knighthood is, in essence, just a tiny Bentley Continental that you wear over your nipple). One fallen knight should destroy the system but it won’t, because human conceit and docility are without end. Green will be shunned. Nothing will change.


Deborah Levy on The Age of Bowie.

Deborah Levy, today longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, finds herself transported to the 1970s of her youth by Paul Morley’s new biography of David Bowie:

The starman stepped into my imagination and history – via Top of the Pops – when I was 13, and never left the building. It seemed right that when I was 50, Bowie asked the question I was asking myself, too: where are we now? I can’t think of a contemporary writer whom I have followed from teenage to middle age, and so, with all the humility, desire and delusion of being a fan, I am not going to take well to any biographer who claims to have a purchase on the “real” Bowie. I don’t want real. Nor do I need the enigma of Bowie’s various personae (beguiling and baffling in equal measure) to be nailed to Earth. And just to confirm how hard I am to get in this respect, I am also not that interested in personal anecdotes from people who knew him. No, I’m with the teenagers of my generation who had Saturday jobs at Dolcis and C&A so we could buy his albums. We did not have trust funds to put together an outfit, but we did make an effort to sparkle for the starman – just in case he landed somewhere that wasn’t inside our heads.

Fortunately, Paul Morley is a veteran rock journalist (I’m sure he can show you the scars) and has not attempted to write a calmly objective, sensible biography that manages to shatter the delusion and give us the man. His stream-of-consciousness critique of Bowie’s posthumous legacy from cradle to Blackstar is respectfully mournful, and slightly rhapsodic in tone. He understands that Bowie lifted many of his now orphaned fans “from suburbia to bohemia” (sort of) and opened up an imaginative space that was inside us anyway. If the writing can’t resist sliding into the sentimental, it’s also a bit mental, which is perfect.

Morley rightly points out how “those of us becoming teenagers in the early Seventies needed something of our own, having been too young to catch the Sixties. We’d missed the Beatles, we’d missed the Stones – as something that belonged and spoke directly to us.” At times he does that slightly creepy thing of speaking Bowie’s inner thoughts as a way of moving through the various decades, but it is tricky to pull this story through 1947 to 2016. Here is 1972: “. . . he is saying, the starman is saying, because he looks exactly like a starman, sexy but sexless, friend but alien: let everyone lost in a world of confusion and imminent devastation have a party.”

I was probably too young to think about the “devastation” (apart from Dad throwing away my silver platform boots) but the “party” was definitely an invitation to subvert the rigid femininities and masculinities that so pinned us boys and girls down in the early Seventies.


Critic at Large: Kate Mossman on Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The NS’s pop critic, Kate Mossman, travels to Florida to meet Paul O’Neill, the eccentric, multimillionaire creator of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO):

He calls it “whacking”. It began near his property on 12th Street, Manhattan. He’d get his driver to circle Union Square while he identified a suitable beggar; then he’d jump out, shove a hundred-dollar bill into their hand, jump back in and drive off. Soon, he realised that many of the people he was giving to were schizophrenic and he was scaring them out of their wits. So he started passing the money to his daughter because, he reasoned, they were more likely to accept it from a three-year-old girl. He gradually increased the amount he gave – from a hundred to ten, twenty, thirty thousand dollars in a roll of notes. Paul O’Neill and his daughter would drive around the square and she’d say: “Let’s whack ’em, Dad, let’s whack ’em hard.”


One of the biggest bands on the planet remains unknown to much of the world. Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) have spent much of the past decade on Billboard’s annual list of top music moneymakers; they now play to a million people a year and have grossed over $500m in concert revenues since they were founded 20 years ago. In 2014 they made almost $52m in 52 days. They tour for seven weeks only, from November to January. To maximise profits, they split into two halves – one band for the west coast of America and the other for the east – and play matinees as well as evening shows.

Their genre? Heavy metal Christmas music. TSO are a glittering chorus line of rock chicks and axe heroes in black tie and tails, suspended on wires or balancing high above the stage on hydraulic platforms playing rock’n’roll mash-ups of “Deck the Halls” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. There are 18 people on stage, 240 staff and 40 trucks to transport them. The show, which looks like Pink Floyd-meets-Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, employs 18 lasers and 750 pyrotechnics. The band travels with two trailers of generators: they once blew out the electricity grid in Jackson, Mississippi.

TSO’s creator, O’Neill, divides his time between New York City and Florida, where the band began. I speak to someone at a UK rock magazine who once had a phone call with him. “Just don’t get him on to Churchill,” he says.

The Morrisound Recording studio in north Tampa was once the nerve centre of Florida’s legendary metal scene, playing host to many of the genre’s nastiest acts, including Sepultura, Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death. Like most luxury recording spaces, it hit hard times in the past decade; then, in 2015, TSO bought it and turned it into their headquarters, Night Castle. It lies behind high gates and is staffed by polite young engineers with russet beards. Visitors are met with a large food centre stocked with six different kinds of mineral water and a pine-fresh smell not typical of the recording studios of the past.

O’Neill has taken on a slightly mythical status within TSO. The official photographer tells me that you rarely see him because he is “so protected”. When in Tampa, he is accompanied by a 6ft 4in driver-cum-security guard with the physique of a wrestler, whose name is Tracey.


Hunter Davies on 1966 and all that.

The NS’s longest-running columnist and football correspondent, Hunter Davies, remembers the year of World Cup glory and top-notch music by the Beatles:

Fifty years ago this Saturday, on 30 July 1966, I was at Wembley. I have my ticket and my programme to prove it. I also have my 1966 diary, which I am looking at now. I was 30, weighed ten stone and eight pounds, and my waist was 32 inches – about as hard to believe now as England winning another World Cup final.

I am still in the same house, all these decades later, but my telephone number then was GUL 4685. GUL was short for Gulliver, I can’t remember why. In my list of contacts at the end of my diary is Melvyn Bragg, who was another recent arrival in London from Cumbria, like myself and my wife, on PRO 0790. PRO stood for Prospect, I think, which was the exchange name for somewhere over the river, possibly Kew.

My office number was TER 1234. I always thought that was a great and memorable number. It’s only now, thinking about it, that I realise that TER – meaning Terminus – probably related to King’s Cross, which the Sunday Times was near in those days.

At the top of the charts in July 1966 were the Kinks with “Sunny Afternoon”, which I can well remember, as it was so ironically chirpy, and Georgie Fame with “Getaway”. I liked Georgie Fame – low-key, cool – but I can’t remember that tune. Both were replaced in August by the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”/“Eleanor Rigby”.

[. . .]

In 1966, two big events occurred in my personal life. In May that year, my son, Jake, was born – at home, in what is now our kitchen. He arrived so quickly that the midwife hadn’t turned up yet and he emerged with the cord twisted around his neck. I managed to untie it, which I have maintained since kept him alive (a trick I had learned at fathers’ classes).

Fathers’ classes – wow, what a novelty that was in the 1960s. Who says we were all chauvinist pigs back then? (Today’s young, female star writers at the New Statesman, probably.) I attended my first ones, at the Royal Free Hospital in 1964, when our firstborn, Caitlin, was about to arrive. I remember immediately thinking when the invite came that I would get 1,000 words out of this – which I did, for the Sunday Times women’s pages.

Also at those first-ever fathers’ classes at the Royal Free was a young BBC producer whose wife was also about to give birth: Wilfred De’Ath. He, too, was desperate to get a piece out of it. (He now writes occasionally for the Oldie, and he appears to be down and out and living in France.)

After Jake’s birth, I got the midwife to give me the placenta and I ate it, fried with onions. Tasted like liver. Another 1,000 words.

The other event of note in my ever-so-exciting life in 1966 was meeting Paul McCartney. When “Eleanor Rigby” came out, I thought the words – not just the tune – were so wonderful. Possibly the best poetry of the year, I said, as if I knew anything about poetry. I went to see him for [the Sunday Times column] Atticus in his new house in St John’s Wood, which he still has, being a very conservative feller. I talked to him about the background to the lyrics, as opposed to his hair, which interviewers were still asking him about.

A few months later, at the end of 1966, I went to see him again, wearing a different cap, as a screenwriter. I’d had a novel published the previous year, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, which was being made into a film, with Clive Donner directing. We went to see Paul at his house and discussed with him if he would do the theme tune. He turned us down in the end but it was while I was with him that I suggested that there should be a proper biography of the Beatles. He said Brian (Epstein, the band’s manager) would have to agree – and there and then sat me down and helped me write a suitable arse-licking letter to him.

I eventually saw Brian, after several cancellations, at his home in Belgravia and he played me the acetate of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. I was astounded. It seemed to break every rule of what was then considered pop music. I wondered if all Beatles fans would take to it. But I could see that it was amazing and perhaps the Beatles weren’t finished, which was what some people were saying in 1966. At my publisher, Heinemann, which paid me £3,000 for the book, there was one director who maintained the Beatles bubble was about to burst.

Brian agreed to my project and offered a clause in the contract that we had not requested or even thought of. He said he would not give any other writer access to the Beatles for two years after my book came out. This was 1966. The book came out in 1968. Two years later, in 1970, the Beatles were no more. Without realising it at the time, I became the only authorised biographer of the Beatles.

So, 1966, a big year for me, so glad I kept that diary, and also a big year for the nation. I thought at the time that the Beatles were bound to fade, eventually, while England surely would dominate world football from now on. After their humbling by Iceland at this year’s World Cup, I now realise that England will never win the World Cup again in my life, what’s left of it. And probably not even another game.

The only way to rationalise it is to tell ourselves that we are ahead of the game. We are rubbish, but in turn it will happen to all the other so-called advanced nations.

You could say Brexit is a bit like that. We are ahead of the other leading European nations in going it alone, even though it is depressing and awful and shameful. We are advanced in wilfully turning ourselves into a rubbish nation. We are leading the way, as ever. Inger-land, Inger-land.



Photo essay: The Gentle Author introduces portraits of the East End.

Peter Wilby on BHS, MI5 and BMWs.

View from Germany: Philip Maughan finds himself living in Berlin post-Brexit without a job or a plan.

Ed Smith on why so many women still feel excluded
from mainstream sport.

Puffins in peril: Mark Cocker on why Britain’s best-loved seabird
is at risk of global extinction.

Yo Zushi finds there’s more to boxing than mere violence.

Newsmaker: Joji Sakurai profiles Virginia Raggi, the first ever
female mayor of Rome.

Amelia Tait tracks the Pokémon Go phenomenon.

Inna Lazereva meets African refugees competing in the Rio Olympics.

Ben Myers reads an eccentric manual for writers – Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out of It by D B C Pierre.

Simon Barnes on a history of the tarnished Olympics:
The Games by David Goldblatt.

Kate Mossman meets the man behind one of the world’s
wealthiest (and most eccentric) rock bands.

Richard Mabey re-examines the legacy of Capability Brown.

Helen Lewis sees the magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Film: Ryan Gilbey watches Finding Dory and Jason Bourne.

Television: Rachel Cooke wonders whether Julien Temple planned a stitch-up of Keith Richards in The Origin of the Species.

          For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396.

Unravelling the mystery of graphene, the “wonder material” invisible to the naked eye

By Hasan Chowdhury from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Discovered in Manchester, the invisible 2D substance is currently being explored in an exhibition examining its history and revealing its potential.

Take a few steps into the Museum of Science and Industry’s new exhibition and you’ll come across a panel with a proposition that is almost certain to startle: “Imagine drinking sea water through a straw.”

The museum in Manchester is hosting Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond – the launch of which coincides with Manchester’s year as European City of Science. The carefully curated space hopes to introduce the public to a material discovered in Manchester, which has been shrouded in mystery until now.

Graphene is essentially a single layer of carbon atoms, each of which is structurally-bound in the form of a honeycomb lattice – a hallmark of graphene distinguishing it from other carbon allotropes (different forms of the same chemical element) such as diamond and graphite. Though this may not mean anything to you, its implications will.

The complex arrangement of carbon atoms in graphene means it is the world’s first two-dimensional material – a million times thinner than paper, 200 times stronger than steel. It’s one of the most conductive materials we now know of, extremely light in weight and invisible to the naked eye.

Scanning transmission electron microscope image showing the hexagonal atomic structure of graphene. Each white spot is a single carbon atom. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Haigh, University of Manchester and Quentin Ramasse, EPSRC SuperSTEM Laboratory, Daresbury

It is properties like this which have caused scientists and innovators alike to speculate about graphene’s potential applications. It is impermeable to almost everything except water, which means places such as the Masdar desalination plant in Abu Dhabi can attempt to use graphene to make the process of turning salty sea water into clean drinking water “faster, cheaper and more energy efficient”.

Dotted around the exhibition are further imaginings of graphene-enabled technologies in the future: “batteries that last a lifetime”, “healthy clothes”, “personal flying backpacks”. When graphene’s properties are being looked at to improve the way we store energy, monitor our health and revolutionise flight, it is, as exhibition co-curator Danielle Olsen tells me, “under a lot of pressure to perform”.

For a material promising so much, it may come as a surprise to find out just how accidentally it was discovered. In 2004, Russian scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were playing around with some sticky tape during one of their now infamous “Friday night experiments” in Manchester. They used the tape to isolate thin flakes of graphite, which they then continuously separated into layers which were just one atom thick. Graphene had been discovered and the pair went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Andre (right) and Kostya (left) in their laboratory at the University of Manchester, 2010. Photo: Yana Audas, © Nobel Media 2010

For Geim, it was the spontaneity found in playful research which excited him and ultimately led to the discovery. From the beginning of his career, he was keen to resist against being pigeonholed into extremely niche areas of research– something which often happens to scientists. “In the case of graphene, I certainly checked it but I never used the words graphite or carbon in any of my previous hundred papers . . . it was completely out of my area of expertise,” he tells me.

It’s been 12 years since graphene’s discovery, and Geim is acutely aware that public curiosity around the material is boiling over. When asked what he would like visitors to understand about graphene from this exhibition, he said: “I think graphene has already perpetuated into public perception a little bit. It was in front of our eyes and under our noses for 500 years. One of the powerful messages of this story is that it shows how little we know about the world around us. The only thing that we still remain to find out is how much impact it will have.”

Geim stressed that the most remarkable thing about graphene is not quite the material itself but what can come from it; the material is “shorthand for all kinds of materials which are one atom or one molecule thick.” The discovery of graphene is creating a whole new field of two-dimensional materials, with boron nitride aka “white graphene” already being used, as well as two-dimensional tin and silicon.

Part of the challenge for the curators was making the invisible, visible. “It’s all about potential. It’s a really rich field for the imagination,” said Olsen. Graphene may not be at hand to gaze upon, but the exhibition capitalises on its invisibility by marrying science and art together to give graphene its full glitter.

The exhibition is part history lesson, part time capsule. It starts visitors off with a primer on the history of graphite and shuttles them forward to a near future in which graphite’s derivative graphene is represented through the stories of various scientists currently working on it. The former is captured in a room peppered with ornaments to show just how close graphene has been to us this entire time: model cannonballs and paintings of mines demonstrate where graphite has come from and how it has been used, while an inconspicuously-placed sticky tape roll gains far more attention than it would at a stationary store.

The latter section feels like a sterile, white laboratory. The walls are punched with squares of light which frame a number of images associated to current graphene research; images from the National Graphene Institute in Manchester and graphite mines in Sri Lanka are just some put together to highlight how work on graphene has prospered as a result of international collaboration.

Scientists at the National Graphene Institute in Manchester push the boundaries of graphene. Photo: David Shaw for Museum of Science and Industry

The room also holds little lockers which open up to reveal researchers and their work. One particularly notable figure profiled in these lockers is Dr Sang-Hoon Park of Yonsei University, South Korea, who has been working to turn graphene into “pompoms” via an intricate process. Two-dimensional graphene has low surface area but these pompoms have an increased surface area, meaning they can hold more charge. It’s an example of how capitalising on graphene’s high conductivity could change the future of energy storage. Meanwhile an art installation by Random International and a poem dedicated to graphene written by Lemn Sissay MBE aim to show visitors how this whole new field of research will inspire minds beyond science.

The exhibition has been sponsored by Haydale, a company honing in on graphene’s potential by focusing on its commercialisation along with various other two-dimensional materials. Speaking to Haydale CEO Ray Gibbs, he expressed how important he felt it would be to get graphene “from the lab into the real world.”

In light of Brexit, there have been fears surmounting around reduced funding for science research in the UK. For Haydale however, there seems to be little fear about Brexit and its possible hit on graphene. “For me where Brexit takes it, we trade internationally anyway so it makes no difference. From where I’m sitting I don’t think Brexit will make a difference.”

The exhibition will tour nationally and internationally and feels as though it will continue growing as graphene research continues to inform its commercialisation. What the exhibition is entirely accurate about is letting people know that these things take time. Co-curator Sarah Baines said: “We want people to get the reality of where graphene is.” Change by graphene is possible, but we will have to wait patiently to see those changes. “When aluminium was discovered, who knew it would fly us to the moon?” reads a board in the exhibition. I wonder then, if graphene will take us to Mars.

Angela Moore for Museum of Science and Industry

Owen Smith promises to be a "cold-eyed revolutionary" - but tiptoes round Brexit

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

The Labour leader challenger takes Jeremy Corbyn on at his own anti-austerity game. 

Owen Smith may be challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership but it seems he has learnt a thing or two from his former boss. 

One year on from abstaining from the Tory Welfare Bill - a decision he now says he regrets - Smith attacked the former Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity policies from Orgreave, a former steel plant which was pivotal during the miners’ strike.  

Listing frustrations from library cuts to delayed trains, Smith declared: “Behind all of these frustrations is one cause – austerity.”

Borrowing the rhetoric that served Corbyn so well, he banged the drum about pay, labour rights and fair taxes. 

Indeed, a spokesman from Jeremy for Labour popped up to say as much: “We welcome Owen’s focus on equality of outcome, reindustrialisation and workers' rights - and his support for policies announced in recent months by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.”

On policy, though, Smith showed a touch of his own. 

His description of the Department for Work and Pensions as “a byword for cruelty and insecurity” resonates with the deep fear many benefit claimants feel for this faceless but all powerful authority. His promise to scrap it will not go unnoticed.

Another promise, to end the public sector pay freeze, is timely given widespread expectations that withdrawing from the EU’s single market will push up prices. 

He also appealed to the unions with a pledge to scrap the “vicious and vindictive” Trade Union Act. 

The policies may be Corbynite, but where Smith stands out is his determination to be specific and practical. He is selling himself as the Corbyn who actually gets things done. Asked about what he would replace zero-hours contracts with, he responded: "Well it could be one [hour]. But it can't be zero."

As he concluded his speech, he promised “revolution” but continued:

“Not some misty eyed romanticism about a revolution to overthrow capitalism.

“But a cold-eyed, practical, socialist revolution, through a radical Labour Government that puts in place the laws and the levers that can genuinely even things up.”

Smith’s speech, though, steered clear of grappling with the big issues of Brexit. He stands in favour of a second referendum on the Brexit deal, which may appease Labour's inner city voters but could frustrate others who voted Leave.

On the free movement of people – widely viewed as a dividing line between Labour’s Corbynite members and the wider voting population - he has been vague. He has previously expressed support for the "progressive case against freedom of movement" and criticised Corbyn for failing to understand patriotism. But this is not the same as drawing up policy. Whether he can come up with strong views on immigration and still appeal to both voter bases will be his biggest challenge of all. 

Owen Smith's 20 policies

1.      A pledge to focus on equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity 
2.      Scrapping the DWP and replacing it with a Ministry for Labour and a Department for Social Security
3.      Introducing modern wages councils for hotel, shop and care workers to strengthen terms and conditions
4.      Banning zero hour contracts
5.      Ending the public sector pay freeze
6.      Extending the right to information and consultation to cover all workplaces with more than 50 employees
7.      Ensuring workers’ representation on remuneration committees
8.      Repealing the Trade Union Act
9.      Increase spending on the NHS by 4 per cent in real-terms in every year of the next parliament
10.  Commit to bringing NHS funding up to the European average within the first term of a Labour Government
11.  Greater spending on schools and libraries
12.  Re-instate the 50p top rate of income tax
13.  Reverse the reductions in Corporation Tax due to take place over the next four years
14.  Reverse cuts to Inheritance Tax announced in the Summer Budget
15.  Reverse cuts to Capital Gains Tax announced in the Summer Budget
16.  Introduce a new wealth Tax on the top 1 per cent earners
17.  A British New Deal unveiling £200bn of investment over five years
18.  A commitment to invest tens of billions in the North of England, and to bring forward High Speed 3
19.  A pledge to build 300,000 homes in every year of the next parliament – 1.5 million over five years
20.  Ending the scandal of fuel poverty by investing in efficient energy


Eyes on the peaks and a heart in the valley

By John Burnside from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

During the summer months, the Swiss Alps offer one of nature’s most gorgeous spectacles.

Usually, whenever I arrive in Switzerland (where I am currently enjoying a brief summer respite), I cannot wait to ascend to the top of the nearest peak, whether on foot, or by some kind cable car, or a combination of the two. At this time of year, the flora seems more interesting the higher I go and, to my mind, few sights are as beautiful as a high Alpine meadow in full flower.

A possible comparison might be a desert at its most floriferous, but it is hard to predict when that occasional abundance will come. If you get to the mountains between June and late July, one of the most gorgeous spectacles in nature is close to guaranteed. Some years are better than others, but there is something about wandering an Alpine meadow, or crouching at the edge of a mountain chasm to peer down at a clutch of faintly scented mountain flowers, that renews the spirit.

The other great pleasure in being up, as opposed to down, is the view. Everyone appreciates that view, even if it is only from the visitors’ centre or the café terrace: the land laid out all around, its most intimate secrets revealed, sheep and people and houses like tiny specks on the valley slopes. The river is a ribbon of light, making its way through the lower meadows, past the cement works and the little Valais towns, each with its own shop and train station, its people polite and reserved, speaking a variety of German that most German-speakers barely understand. When people here meet, they say not “guten Tag” but “grüezi”. Goodbye is “Widerluege”. If you can remember how to pronounce it, there is a delicious, cheesecake-like dish called Chäschüechli. However, my favourite titbit of Swiss German is that, whereas Hochdeutsch has one term for walking uphill (“aufwärts gehen”), Swiss German has two: “uälaufe”, which means “to walk uphill” and “ufälaufe”, which means “to walk uphill and get to the top”. Or so my Swiss friends tell me – although, in matters of language, they do like to play games.

True or not, this is an important distinction, especially here in Valais. At the top are the Blüemlisalphorn (3,661 metres) and Weisshorn (4,506 metres) peaks, which are out of my range, but even the less demanding ones (the gorgeous Illhorn, for instance, which rises to 2,716 metres) can be a challenge for the occasional hillwalker that age, desk work and appetite have made me. It’s worth it, though, for the views and the flora. Or so I thought – but there are some who would agree to disagree.

Rainer Maria Rilke discovered the Valais region in 1919 and returned there to live a short time later. He was drawn by the beauty of the landscape, the flora, the simplicity of local life and the view of the mountains – but he rarely climbed to the top, preferring the valleys and the slopes to the peaks. A favourite place was the Forêt des Finges, on the floor of the valley. “Outside is a day of inexhaustible splendour,” he wrote to a friend in 1921. “This valley inhabited by hills – it provides ever-new twists and impulses, as if it were still the movement of creation that energised its changing aspects. We have discovered the forests – full of small lakes, blue, green, nearly black. What country delivers such detail, painted on such a large canvas? It is like the final movement of a Beethoven symphony.”

From Finges, one looks up and sees the mountains. It was looking up, rather than looking down, that seemed to give Rilke the power to renew his vision. It was here that he finally completed the Duino Elegies, among other works. His mind reached for the peaks but his home was in the valley. He asked to be buried in the village of Raron, where the church is perched on a rock above the river: a choice spot from which his soul might gaze upwards to the delectable hills.


The triumph of Misbah-ul-Haq, the quiet grafter

By Tim Wigmore from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

How Misbah redeemed Pakistani cricket.

It was an incongruous sight: the entire Pakistani cricket team doing press-ups on the revered pitch at Lord’s, led by its captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. This unusual celebration marked not merely a Test match victory over England on Sunday but something greater: the rehabilitation of Pakistani cricket.

Seven years earlier, the Sri Lankan team bus was en route to the cricket stadium in Lahore for the third day of a Test match against Pakistan when it was attacked by Islamist militants. Gunfire killed six police officers and a driver; several Sri Lankan cricketers were also injured. That was the last Test match played in Pakistan, which, despite protestations, opponents consider too dangerous to visit.

A year later, Pakistan toured England for a Test series. The News of the World alleged that in the final match at Lord’s three Pakistani cricketers had conspired to bowl no-balls in exchange for money. All three received bans of five years or more for corruption. The entire squad was lampooned; police had to shield its members from abuse as they arrived home.

Misbah was on the periphery of all of this. Aged 36 at the time, he was dropped from the squad before the English tour and seemed unlikely to play international cricket again. But the turbulence engulfing Pakistani cricket forced the selectors to reassess. Not only was Misbah recalled but he was made captain. “You have to ask yourself,” he later said: “‘Have I been the captain because they supported me, or because they had no alternatives?’”

Pakistani cricket prizes and mythologises teenage talent plucked from obscurity and brought into the international side. During his decade as captain, Imran Khan picked 11 teenagers to make their debuts, often simply on the basis of being wowed by their performance in the nets. Misbah shows that another way is possible. He grew up in Mianwali, a city that was so remote that: “The culture there wasn’t such that you thought about playing for Pakistan.”

At the behest of his parents, he devoted his early twenties not to his promising batting but to gaining an MBA. Only at 24 did he make his first-class debut, strikingly late in an age when professional sportsmen are expected to dedicate all their energy to the game from their teenage years.

Pakistani cricket has always been “a little blip of chaos to the straight lines of order”, Osman Samiuddin writes in The Unquiet Ones. Misbah has created order out of chaos. He is unflappable and methodical, both as a captain and as a batsman. His mood seems impervious to results. More than anything, he is resilient.

He has led Pakistan to 21 Test victories – seven more than any other captain. He has done this with a bowling attack ravaged by the 2010 corruption scandal and without playing a single match at home. Because of security concerns, Pakistan now play in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes in front of fewer than a hundred supporters.

Misbah has developed a team that marries professionalism with the self-expression and flair for which his country’s cricket is renowned. And he has scored runs – lots of them. Over his 43 Tests as captain, he has averaged at 56.68. Few have been so empowered by responsibility, or as selfless. He often fields at short leg, the most dangerous position in the game and one usually reserved for the team’s junior player.

Misbah has retained his capacity to surprise. As a batsman, he has a reputation for stoic defence. Yet, in November 2014 he reached a century against Australia in just 56 balls, equalling the previous record for the fastest ever Test innings, held by Viv Richards. The tuk-tuk had become a Ferrari.

Late in 2015, Misbah tried to retire. He was 41 and had helped to keep Pakistani cricket alive during some of its darkest days. But the selectors pressured him to stay on, arguing that the team would need him during its arduous tours to England and Australia.

They were right. His crowning glory was still to come. The team arrived in England following weeks of training with the national army in Abbottabad. “The army people are not getting much salaries, but for this flag and for the Pakistani nation, they want to sacrifice their lives,” Misbah said. “That’s a big motivation for all of us. Everyone is really putting effort in for that flag and the nation.”

Now 42, almost a decade older than any cricketer in England’s side, Misbah fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by playing in a Test match at Lord’s. In Pakistan’s first innings, he scored a century and celebrated with push-ups on the outfield, in homage to the army’s fitness regime and those who had had the temerity to mock his age.

When Pakistan secured victory a little after 6pm on the fourth evening of the game, the entire team imitated the captain’s push-ups, then saluted the national flag. The applause for them reverberated far beyond St John’s Wood.

“It’s been a remarkable turnaround after the 2010 incident,” Misbah-ul-Haq said, ever undemonstrative.

He would never say as much, but he has done more than anyone else to lead Pakistan back to glory. 


“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

By Matthew Sweeney from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.

Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

Val Doone/Getty Images

The stuff of life: how A S Byatt intertwined the lives of William Morris and Mariano Fortuny

By Jane Shilling from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

In Peacock & Vine, Byatt has turned works of art and their shade, texture, patina and heft into words.

How to evoke a colour in words? It is a task of daunting simplicity which A S Byatt attempts in her essay on the artist-designers William Morris and Mariano Fortuny. A Fortuny dress in pleated silk embellished with gold pomegranates is, she writes, “a colour somewhere between dark pink and pale red . . . a shining rose crossed with rust”. She adds, “no one reading what I have written will imagine the colour very well, or at all”. An adjacent photograph of the dress shows that “rose crossed with rust” is a fine description of its luscious and evasive colour – though it is also true that the words will conjure a slightly different tone in the mind of every reader, and none of those imagined russets will be exactly that of the dress.

Still, if anyone can turn words into shade, texture, patina, heft, it is Byatt. Her fictions swarm with physical objects of intense emotional potency and with characters whose lives they touch in strange and unexpected ways. Byatt herself, she writes in her introduction, has “always admired those whose lives and arts are indistinguishable from each other. And as I grow older I become more and more interested in craftsmen – glass-blowers, potters, makers of textiles.” Her own ancestors, she remarks, were Staffordshire potters.

On a first visit to the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Byatt found herself unexpectedly thinking about William Morris, whose work she knew well. “I was using Morris . . . to understand Fortuny. I was using Fortuny to reimagine Morris. Aquamarine, gold green. English meadows, Venetian canals.”

The two men were born four decades apart: Morris in 1834 in Walthamstow, Essex, to “a family with no aesthetic interests”, Fortuny in Granada in 1871, to an aristocratic family of artists and collectors. Each led a life of intense, multifarious ­creativity in surroundings where no distinction was made between domesticity and professional work. Morris designed houses, gardens, furniture, stained glass, tapestries, textiles, wallpaper, books and typefaces. Fortuny was a painter, photographer, theatre designer and inventor whose innovations included a system of electrical stage lighting that revolutionised the staging of Wagner’s operas.

Both he and Morris came late to textile design, but it is perhaps for this that each is now best known. In 1907, after reading a book by the archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated the Minoan palace at Knossos, Fortuny designed his first purely fashion creation, the Knossos scarf, incorporating Minoan imagery. In 1909 he patented his Delphos design for a pleated sheath dress in the Grecian style. The dresses were made of fine silk, dyed with vegetable dyes, hand-pleated using a technique that remains a mystery and held together with Murano glass beads. They turned the female body, of any size or shape, into a graceful column, and they were both elegant and extremely comfortable – though not, Byatt thinks, “sexy, either in 1910 or now”.

Fortuny saw his creations as works of art, and they were worn by women of highly evolved aesthetic sensibility: the dancer Isadora Duncan, the art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Byatt notes that Kay, the protagonist of Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group, was buried in a Fortuny dress. She was not the only fictional character to wear Fortuny: his designs are a potent presence in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Of all the dresses owned by the narrator’s lover, Albertine, a Fortuny in blue and gold, lined in Tiepolo pink, is her favourite; when she leaves him, she takes with her only a dark blue Fortuny cloak.

In his lifetime, Morris was almost better known for his writing than for his designs. His literary output was as prodigious as his craft: a book about his journeys to Iceland; News from Nowhere, a pastoral utopian fantasy; translations of Icelandic epics and of a 16th-century Venetian book on the art of dyeing; an epic poem, “The Earthly Paradise” (vastly popular in his lifetime, but now almost unreadable, Byatt says: “The rhythms hack and bang”); as well as books and essays on art and design.

Pattern, Morris wrote in his 1881 lecture “Some Hints on Pattern Designing”, must possess “beauty, imagination and order”. It is here, in the tension between imagination and order, that Byatt finds the connections between her heroes that illuminate the work of each. In chapters on motifs that both men loved – pomegranates and birds – she explores the multitudinous ways in which they used them; the exhilarating collisions of naturalism and abstraction, the audacious juxtapositions of simplicity and complexity.

In considering this, she considers, too, the acts of making and looking. Both of her subjects, she says, were “obsessive workers, endlessly inventive, endlessly rigorous, endlessly beautiful”. They acknowledged no separation between art and labour, but made their lives and their work a seamless continuum; and, through the beauty they created, invited us to do the same.

“It is always surprising,” Byatt writes, “how people don’t really look at things.” But she does, and in this brilliant and tenderly observant little book, with its elegant Gill typeface and handsome colour illustrations, she celebrates the fruits of making and looking: “the endlessness of what is there to be imagined and shaped”. 

Peacock & Vine by A S Byatt is published by Chatto & Windus, 183pp, £14.99


Poverty Britain calling Labour: Get radical or lose your heartlands to the right

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 27, 2016.

Moderate policies don't reflect the extremity of the times.

If you woke up on the 24th June in shock to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU, you won't have been alone. Perhaps you also felt similar feelings about the Labour party last September, when it elected its most left-wing leader in a generation.

I am an ex-charity leader and Labour party activist who ended up leading the Remain campaign in the North East. What is happening politically in the UK is less of a shock to me.

I know a world you probably will never see. In my 12 years of working in North East communities, I have worked with children who lived three miles from the beach but who had never seen the sea. I have supported grown women who had never been to a restaurant. I counselled boys who had never left the town they were born in, and handed out food parcels to widows whose benefit sanction meant they had no food. This is Poverty Britain, and people are hurting.

I knew the EU referendum was going to be tough, when on the first day of the Stronger In campaign trail in the North East, we hit the town of Washington, close to Sunderland. Boarded-up shop fronts, grey faces and eyes on the floor all told of hardship and decline. The people here were already converted - they wanted out. These people, like those I had worked with, had been ignored for too long. Their story overlooked, their lives forgotten and their plight becoming harder and harder.

As situations become more extreme, so do the solutions people turn to. Moderate middle ground policies don’t speak to the pain of someone living in the backwaters of a post-industrial city. Saving your NHS, reducing migration, taking back control and blaming “others”, does. It offers a simple solution to complex problems.

Corbynism grows against a similar backdrop. Corbyn has a message of hope. He is calling out for a new type of society, for tackling vested interests, going after the bankers, offering free education for all, speaking up for the vulnerable and doing politics differently. To some, he might seem as extreme as voting for Brexit or UKIP. But to the disability activist fighting welfare changes, or the cleaners and teaching assistants fighting for better pay, or the women's group fighting cuts in domestic violence services, a more radical Labour party offers hope. Like Brexiteers, these people are disillusioned and fed up of the status quo. They too want change. 

Centrists in the Labour party believe a Corbyn-led Labour party means any chance of change will be impossible, because Corbyn will keep them out of power. Corbynism is only for those middle-class, liberal lefty types, they say. He doesn’t speak to the mainstream.

The reality is less clear cut. On the campaign trail, speaking to working-class voters, I sensed confusion. They liked some of what he has to say, but he didn’t chime with their deeply patriotic and nationalist identities (or what they had read in the right-wing press). 

The biggest problem for Labour, though, is the focus on a leader to take them to the promised land. But the Labour party is as much about those within it as the leader. The real radical politics is as much about ownership and engagement as policy.

We can collectively decide the future, working together from a grassroots level, and rebuild the Labour party we want to see. There are some brilliant ideas within the party -  radical and practical, innovative and traditional. Harnessing these ideas could enable the Labour party to be the central force in British politics once again.

One thing is for sure, without a new left-wing offer that speaks to the dissatisfaction many British citizens are feeling, radical right wing ideas will continue to take root and grow. If that happens, I dread what type of country we could become.



Why Theresa May is a smuggler's best friend when it comes to child refugees

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Children prefer to disappear than trust the authorities.

On Monday, Theresa May abolished the post of minister for Syrian Refugees. On Tuesday, a House of Lords select committee report found there were 10,000 migrant and refugee children missing in the EU, of which Britain is still technically a part. And smugglers across the continent raised a glass.

Children do not stay still. In 2013, Missing Children Europe reported that half of unaccompanied children placed in reception centres vanished within the next 48 hours. One explanation is that they fall prey to the usual villains – pimps and gangs. 

But there is another explanation. Refugee and migrant children have so little trust in the authorities that they would rather disappear and put their faith in the underworld. 

One reason for this is that under EU law, asylum seekers are returned to their first point of entry, which is likely to be an overcrowded Greek port rather than a city with education facilities and job prospects. 

Children will go to extreme measures to disappear. The report noted:

“We were particularly troubled to hear of children in Italy and Greece burning or otherwise damaging their fingertips in order to avoid registration, in many cases because they were afraid of being detained or forcibly returned to transit countries having reached their final destination.”

Children are also desperate to find their families. The EU’s Family Reunification Directive should in theory reunite families who have successfully sought asylum, but the UK has opted out of it (and now the EU altogether). Other EU member states have moved to restrict it. The UK has opted into the Dublin Regulation, which allows for family reunification. 

This is partly due to a suspicion that family reunification acts as an incentive for families to send children first, alone. But the report found no evidence of that. Rather, it is usually a case of parents trying to protect their children by sending them out of a dangerous situation. 

The process can be achingly uncertain and slow. Smugglers understand how impatient children are. Two MEPs told the select committee about the port in Malmö, Sweden:

"Traffickers await the arrival of minors, telling them that: 'Well, we can get you to your family much quicker than if you go through the system here' and that 'Getting a guardian will take ages, and then they do the age assessment, which is intrusive. Don’t do that. Just go there, call this guy, take this mobile and they’ll take care of you.'”

In his brief time as Syrian Refugees minister, Richard Harrington brought the topic of unaccompanied minors to MPs again and again. He promised to improve the speed at which applications under the Dublin Regulation were processed. On 13 June he told MPs: “We are doing our absolute best to speed it up as much as we can.”

His role has now been absorbed into the Home Office. No. 10 described it as a temporary position, one no longer needed now the resettlement programme was underway. When the UK finally triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit, it can also leave its EU obligations behind as well. May, the former Home secretary, voted against allowing in 3,000 child refugees.

This does not bode well for asylum policy in Brexit Britain. Meanwhile, with no fast legal route to family unification, smugglers can look forward to the kind of bumper profits they enjoyed in 2015

The consequences can be fatal. Masud, a 15-year-old unaccompanied Afghan, travelled to Calais in the hope of reaching his sister in the UK under the family reunification rules. 

As the report put it: “Masud died in the back of a lorry while trying to reach the UK just before the New Year, having lost hope that his claim to join his sister would ever be heard.”



Fed and BoJ return to familiar questions

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

The Japanese economy needs both monetary and fiscal stimulus

SRSLY #52: New Blood / Absolutely Fabulous / Bewitched

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

On the pop culture podcast this week: Anthony Horowitz police procedural New Blood, the Absolutely Fabulous movie and the 2005 film Bewitched by Nora Ephron.

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 usually hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web 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

New Blood

Anna on the show's pitch-perfect portrayal of millennial life in London.

Huw Fullerton on New Blood's obsession with property.

Absolutely Fabulous

The trailer for the movie.

An interesting take on the way the show and now the film charts the evolution of celebrity.


The trailer.

An example of the universally negative critical reaction to the film.


For next time

Caroline is reading Ask Polly columns, like this one.

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 #51, check it out here.

The investigation into Australia’s “Abu Ghraib” could neglect wider abuses in the Northern Territory

By Linda Tirado from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Footage from a youth detention centre in the Northern Territory capital, Darwin, may not be enough for authorities to finally address endemic discrimination in the region.

It isn’t Abu Ghraib, but you could be forgiven for making the mistake when you first see the picture of the hooded 17-year-old.

In shocking footage made available to the public for the first time on Monday night, guards at a juvenile detention centre in Darwin are seen apparently systematically abusing the teenager Dylan Voller in a horrific timelapse.

The Australian investigative series Four Corners aired CCTV footage showing guards body-slamming him to the ground, punching him in the head, violently stripping him naked, and pinning him to the ground in a hog-tie position.

It continues, piling atrocity on atrocity from when he was a 13-year-old detainee in 2010, until he is shown shackled to the chair in the already infamous photo from footage this year. It is understood that Voller has long been the object of special animosity from the guards.

Voller was not the only child suffering in the Don Dale facility over the years; tapes also showed six boys being tear-gassed in August of 2014. They had reportedly been kept in tiny isolation cells for 23 hours a day, some of them for weeks, though laws limited such confinement to 72 hours.

At the time, the press was told that there had been a riot at the prison in its maximum security cells but the newly-released footage shows a markedly different set of events. Guards had left one of the boy’s doors unlocked, and he slipped out of his cell and broke a window. Just as he appeared to be surrendering, guards took the decision to gas all six boys in the wing, five of whom were in their cells.

This situation would be shocking enough, but attitude shown by the guards – who laughed when the would-be escapee soiled himself, calling him unprintable names – has sent the whole country into an uproar.

Australia has a complicated justice system; it is technically governed by the Crown and it’s made up of both states and Territories. Policies shift wildly between them, and the Northern Territories are governed by what Australians call The Intervention, a series of paternalistic policies meant to cut back on crime and violence in Indigenous communities.

In 2007, then Prime Minister John Howard announced that pornography and alcohol would be banned for Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territories, and welfare spending restricted by item.

Though only 3 per cent of the general population, Indigenous people make up 28 per cent of Australia’s incarcerated adult population, and 54 per cent of jailed youth nationwide. In the Northern Territories that youth number nearly doubles to 97 per cent

John Elferidge, who until yesterday was the NT Minister for Corrections, said that the trouble was due to a “lack of training”.  Adam Giles, the NT’s Chief Minister, has sacked Elferidge and personally taken over the portfolio, saying he was kept in the dark about these events Giles has pledged to appoint a permanent Inspector General for the Territory.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a Royal Commission into the allegations of abuse and torture by prison workers, to be completed by early next year.

This is in itself controversial, because Turnbull has taken the decision to limit the Commission’s scope to the Don Dale facility alone – in the interest of speed and efficiency, he says – instead of investigating the whole of the Territory. Given that some of these guards have since transferred to other facilities, many people are concerned that this narrow investigation will fail to remedy the horrific problems.

Dylan Voller remains in isolation in an adult prison. Peter O’Brien, solicitor for both Voller and another of the boys, has called for his immediate release, saying that three of the guards from Don Dale are still in charge of his welfare.

It is unclear how much of this abuse is actionable. In most of Australia the statute of limitations to allege abuse by staff is three-six years. In the Northern Territories, it is a mere 28 days.

Wikimedia Commons

Theresa May enjoys the honeymoon bounce Jeremy Corbyn can only dream of

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

It's back to October 2009 in the polls. 

Back in October 2009, The Telegraph reported that backbench MPs were planning a coup against their unpopular leader, Gordon Brown. 

The simmering discontent was attributed not to ideological angst but management, specifically the anger at Brown's insistence that MPs pay back their expenses.

Days earlier, The Sun had switched allegiance with a front page declaring: "Labour's Lost It."

That was the last time Labour's poll rating was as low as it is now, according to pollsters ICM. 

The latest poll surveyed voters between 22 and 24 July 2016. The findings are stark. Of those intending to vote, 43 per cent would choose Theresa May and the Tories, while just 27 per cent would go for Labour.

The Tories now enjoy a 16 point lead, and for this party too, the last time such a figure was recorded was October 2009. 

Of course, the new prime minister may be enjoying a honeymoon bounce. When John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher mid term, the Conservatives overtook Labour in the polls. Brown’s ascension to Labour leadership in June earned him a double-digit lead by September, but after that his popularity rapidly crumbled. 

Theresa May could experience something similar. YouGov pollster Anthony Wells noted: “The current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months’ time.”

But Jeremy Corbyn never enjoyed such an edge. In the heady days of September 2015, after he clinched a surprise victory in the Labour leadership election, ICM found Labour enjoying an immediate honeymoon boost of one point. 

That still put Labour lagging four points behind the recently victorious Conservatives, with 32 per cent of the vote.

The gap has widened. Immediately after Brexit, the Tories had 36 per cent of the vote and Labour 32 per cent. Both parties were tested in the following month, and the Conservatives triumphed. 

For the hard left backing Corbyn, a 27 per cent slice of the vote is welcome after years as political outcasts. The centre left, on the other hand, must hope May trips up – or that Owen Smith can claim a honeymoon bounce of his own.



The role of the West in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

NINETY years ago, Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria, whereas Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But a series of...Continue reading

Brexit and public services: Somebody call a doctor

By from European Union. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Print section UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  The new political divide Fly Title:  Brexit and public services Main image:  20160730_brp502.jpg Rubric:  Immigration is said to stretch services. But reducing it may strain them more MANY of the 52% of Britons who voted to leave the European Union did so because they wanted to reduce immigration. Since the June referendum, however, the implications of such a policy have started to dawn. As well as keeping British businesses ticking over, European migrants fill jobs in the country’s public services: one in ten doctors and one in 25 nurses is EU-born, for instance. Thousands more work in low-skilled public-sector jobs, from bus drivers to street sweepers and school caterers. “We are reliant on foreign labour to deliver public services more cheaply,” says Jonathan Clifton of IPPR, a think-tank. What will happen if that stream of labour dries up? There are 3m EU-born migrants in Britain. The government has indicated that they will be allowed ...

The joy of only winning once: why England should be proud of 1966

By Phil Jones from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

We feel the glory of that triumphant moment, 50 years ago, all the more because of all the other occasions when we have failed to win.

There’s a phrase in football that I really hate. It used to be “Thirty years of hurt”. Each time the England team crashes out of a major tournament it gets regurgitated with extra years added. Rather predictably, when England lost to Iceland in Euro 2016, it became “Fifty years of hurt”. We’ve never won the European Championship and in 17 attempts to win the World Cup we have only won once. I’m going to tell you why that’s a record to cherish.

I was seven in 1966. Our telly was broken so I had to watch the World Cup final with a neighbour. I sat squeezed on my friend Colin’s settee as his dad cheered on England with phrases like “Sock it to them Bobby”, as old fashioned now as a football rattle. When England took the lead for the second time I remember thinking, what will it feel like, when we English are actually Champions of the World. Not long after I knew. It felt good.

Wembley Stadium, 30 July 1966, was our only ever World Cup win. But let’s imagine what it would be like if, as with our rivals, we’d won it many times? Brazil have been World Champions on five occasions, Germany four, and Italy four. Most England fans would be “over the moon” if they could boast a similarly glorious record. They’re wrong. I believe it’s wonderful that we’ve only triumphed once. We all share that one single powerful memory. Sometimes in life less is definitely more.

Something extraordinary has happened. Few of us are even old enough to remember, but somehow, we all know everything that happened that day. Even if you care little about the beautiful game, I’m going to bet that you can recall as many as five iconic moments from 50 years ago. You will have clearly in your mind the BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous lines, as Geoff Hurst tore down the pitch to score his hat-trick: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now”. And it was. 4 - 2 to England against West Germany. Thirty minutes earlier the Germans had equalised in the dying moments of the second half to take the game to extra time.

More drama we all share: Geoff Hurst’s second goal. Or the goal that wasn’t, as technology has since, I think, conclusively proved. The shot that crashed off the cross bar and did or didn’t cross the line. Of course, even if you weren’t alive at the time, you will know that the linesman, one Tofiq Bakhramov, from Azerbaijan (often incorrectly referred to as “Russian”) could speak not a word of English, signalled it as a goal.

Then there’s the England Captain, the oh-so-young and handsome Bobby Moore. The very embodiment of the era. You can picture him now wiping his muddy hands on his white shorts before he shakes hands with a youthful Queen Elizabeth. Later you see him lifted aloft by his team mates holding the small golden Jules Rimet trophy.

How incredible, how simply marvellous that as a nation we share such golden memories. How sad for the Brazilians and Germans. Their more numerous triumphs are dissipated through the generations. In those countries each generation will remember each victory but not with the intensity with which we English still celebrate 1966. It’s as if sex was best the first time. The first cut is the deepest.

On Colin’s dad’s TV the pictures were black and white and so were the flags. Recently I looked at the full colour Pathe newsreel of the game. It’s the red, white and blue of the Union Jack that dominates. The red cross of Saint George didn’t really come into prominence until the Nineties. The left don’t like flags much, unless they’re “deepest red”. Certainly not the Union Flag. It smacks of imperialism perhaps. In 1966 we didn’t seem to know if we were English or British. Maybe there was, and still is, something admirable and casual about not knowing who we are or what is our proper flag. 

Twelve years later I’m in Cuba at the “World Festival of Youth” – the only occasion I’ve represented my country. It was my chance to march into a stadium under my nation’s flag. Sadly, it never happened as my fellow delegates argued for hours over what, if any, flag we British should walk behind. The delegation leaders – you will have heard of them now, but they were young and unknown then – Peter Mandelson, Trevor Phillips and Charles Clarke, had to find a way out of this impasse. In the end, each delegation walked into the stadium behind their flag, except the British. Poor Mandelson stood alone for hours holding Union Jack, sweltering in the tropical sun. No other country seemed to have a problem with their flag. I guess theirs speak of revolution; ours of colonialism.

On Saturday 30 July BBC Radio 2 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, live from Wembley Arena. Such a celebration is only possible because on 16 occasions we failed to win that trophy. Let’s banish this idea of “Fifty years of hurt” once and for all and embrace the joy of only winning once.

Phil Jones edits the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. On Saturday 30 July the station celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final live from Wembley Arena, telling the story of football’s most famous match, minute by minuteTickets are available from:


Epidemic of violence spreads to Germany

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Berlin is right to balance law and order with civil liberties

Meet Captain Marvel – the feminist Air Force officer-turned-superhero set to rival Wonder Woman

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

AKA Carol Danvers: the “overtly feminist heroine” modelled on Gloria Steinem.

At San Diego’s Comic Con this weekend, a slew of superhero movie trailers were released: Doctor Strange, Justice League, and The Lego Batman Movie to name a few. But while it can feel like the same handful of DC and Marvel characters are being endlessly recycled for big-budget blockbusters, some more unusual heroes are also starting to get more recognition. As the New York Times summarised, Comic Con fans are finally being given greater diversity of heroes, with Marvel characters Black Panther and Luke Cage leading their own franchises, and DC’s Wonder Woman film due for 2017 release.

None of these characters are new, but major studios like Disney-owned Marvel and Warner Bros-owned DC are only now understanding that superhero audiences cannot be defined as white, straight and male, and seeing fresh potential in these figures. It is perhaps not too surprising, then, that after a new Wonder Woman trailer was shown in San Diego, Marvel announced the star of its own anticipated female-led superhero blockbuster, Captain Marvel: Oscar-winner Brie Larson will hold the title role.

Captain Marvel is a particularly interesting figure in this latest wave of fresh faces. The superhero code name has been attached to various Marvel characters since the late Sixties, but has most recently been assumed by longstanding superhero Carol Danvers, who was the first Marvel character known under the pseudonym “Ms. Marvel”. Danvers first appeared in 1968 as a former US Air Force officer and basically a love interest for the original, male Captain Marvel. It wasn’t until 1977 that she was given superpowers of her own, and debuted as Ms. Marvel (a kind of female counterpart to Captain Marvel).

The name was supposedly influenced by the feminist publication Ms. Magazine – in one plotline, Danvers even quits a job at NASA to work as an editor at Woman magazine. Kelly Sue DeConnick, who would write Danvers as Captain Marvel in 2012, said the 1977 Danvers was “an overtly feminist heroine”.

“She wore oversized glasses and blond, middle-parted hair and neck scarves”, she told TIME. “It was Gloria Steinem fan fiction in the most literal sense.”

Carol Danvers: from damsel in distress to feminist superheroine. Images via Vox and Comic Book Religion

But many readers didn’t find Danvers’ debut as Ms. Marvel a feminist breakthrough for the comic world. One regular reader, Jana C Hollingsworth, wrote that the decision to create a female Captain Marvel double or “male-based heroine” had a distinctive whiff of the patriarchy, adding, “It's been proudly proclaimed that Ms. Marvel is not Marvel Girl; well, maybe the early Marvel Girl did have weak powers and an insipid personality, but at least her powers were her powers and her personality was her personality . . . I hope you can change her costume if it’s all possible, and keep her on her own instead of associating her with Captain Marvel.”

Another reader, Debbie Lipp, wrote, “Question: where is a woman who wears long sleeves, gloves, high boots and a scarf (winter wear), and at the same time has a bare back, belly, and legs? The Arctic equator?”

A controversial 1980 issue of Avengers saw Danvers kidnapped, raped and fall pregnant. Reader Carol A Strickland complained in a very compelling essay that the comic “presented [Danvers] as a victim of rape who enjoyed the process, and even wound up swooning over her rapist and joining him of her ‘free’ will,” asking, “shouldn't everyone be concerned when a comic displays a struttingly macho, misogynist storyline that shreds the female image apart with a smirk -- and rewards the one who did the shredding?”

Chris Claremont, who had written the 1977 vision of Danvers, agreed with Strickland that women in comics “are either portrayed as wallflowers or as supermacho insensitive men with different body forms, who almost invariably feel guilty about their lack of femininity”:

Can you not have a woman who is ruthless and capable and courageous and articulate and intelligent and all the other buzz-words—heroic when the need arises, and yet feminine and gentle and compassionate, at others? That was what I tried to do with Ms. Marvel. I tried to create a character who had all the attributes that made her a top-secret agent yet at the same time was a compassionate, warm, humorous, witty, intelligent, attractive woman.

Strickland agreed, writing that Claremont and his collaborator Dave Cockrum created a Danvers that was the peak of her characterisation:

Once Mr. Claremont settled into his job […] Ms. Marvel began to do things. Things few, if any, women characters (or men, for that matter!) had done before. While her first adventures had been composed of the obligatory fight scenes upon more fight scenes, now her stories began to have plots, now her life as a hero was being tied into her life as a civilian. By the time Carol covered her navel in a Cockrumized costume, the comic had hit new heights of interest in plotline and artwork. Notice I didn't add “for a heroine there. That’s because Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum were both looking at Ms. Marvel as a person – a beautiful, female person, yes, but a superhero above all!

It wouldn’t be until the 21st century that comic fans would see that Danvers truly re-emerge in the Marvel universe. By the end of the Eighties, the Ms. Marvel persona had been axed, and Danvers was making only occasional appearances in Marvel comics throughout the Nineties. Her prominence and popularity rose again throughout the Noughties, until Marvel commissioned writer Kelly Sue DeCormick to give Danvers her own series as Captain Marvel (the original had died about 20 years before, and while Marvel had seen various reincarnations of the persona via different characters, none were a great success).

“My pitch was called ‘Pilot’ and the take can pretty much be summed up with ‘Carol Danvers as Chuck Yeager,’” DeConnick said at the 2012 WonderCon. Following Danvers as a fiercely competitive pilot, the series shows her grappling with the decision to become Captain Marvel, and included a controversially revamped costume. Designed by Jamie McKelvie with the encouragement of DeConnick and her editor Steven Wacker (who tweeted that the decision came about because he wanted his young daughter to be able to dress up as Captain Marvel), the look saw Danvers step into a practical full-length jumpsuit. There was, as DeConnick mildly puts it, “a bit of a backlash”. As she told Slate, a vocal minority were saying, “she’s taken our character and inserted her feminist agenda” and were “super, super pissed off that we covered her ass”.

The response surprised her. “It was unexpected. I have always sort of felt that feminism and the ideals of comic book heroes are very much in line with one another.” She added, “I wasn’t like, writing feminist pamphlets, you know. I was writing stories about this lady who shoots beams out of her hands. But I had the gall to have inter-generational female friendships and a largely female cast and, you know, every once in a while, a joke.”

But DeConnick’s vision of Captain Marvel has only grown in popularity since 2012. She has headlined tie-in series, a further volume of her own series, had significant roles in various spin-offs, and now her own movie is on the horizon. As Marvel’s rival to the feminist legacy of Wonder Woman, she has potential to bring in big audiences – especially with Brie Larson at the helm, a vocal feminist who has spoken out about diversity on screen and supported sexual violence survivors at the Oscars, and has simultaneously been very popular at the box office.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that Marvel has been on the hunt for a female filmmaker to direct Nicole Perlman’s script. If it finds one, this could be a truly ground-breaking feature for women in comics fandom. Let’s hope it continues as well as it has started.

Xi’s China: Command and control

From Analysis. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

The People’s Liberation Army has undergone a root-and-branch overhaul under the ‘commander-in-chief’

Michelle Obama's powerful speech demolishes Donald Trump without even mentioning his name

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

This is one speech he won't be able to steal. 

After her stirring speech at the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama can be sure of one thing - Melania Trump won't be able to copy it.

Obama, like her husband, is a fine orator, so much so that the wife of Republican nominee Donald Trump was widely suspected of borrowing from her speeches.

But those who crowded into the audience on Monday night could be sure of the real deal. 

Obama did not mention Trump by name, but in an implicit criticism of him, she spoke passionately about the responsibilities of the Presidency, and how the United States had moved on since the days of slavery and oppression. 

The Obamas knew their kids were watching them, she said: "We know that our words and actions matter." 

And in a reference to Trump's Twitter obsession, she declared: The issues a President faces "cannot be boiled down to 140 characters".

Obama, whose husband fought a fierce campaign against Hillary Clinton to clinch the Democratic nomination in 2008, now heaped praise on his former rival. 

Clinton was a "true public servant" who "did not pack up and go home" after losing to Obama in 2008, she said. She had carried out "relentless, thankless work" to actually make a difference in children's lives. 

And she reminded the audience the Presidential election was not just about left-right politics: "It is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives."

But the African-American First Lady's most powerful statements were a reflection on race, gender and social mobility - issues far outside of Trump territory. 

In a reference to Clinton's 2008 concession speech, where she talked of making "cracks in the glass ceiling", Obama declared: 

"That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

"And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

"And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."

She also recalled the little black boy who made headlines around the world when he visited the White House and asked the President: "Is my hair like yours?"

Obama's calm but intense delivery brought the packed arena to its feet, and earned her several standing ovations. Bill Clinton, former President and husband of Hillary, was seen to say "wow" from his place in the audience.

She ended with a final dig at Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again". Obama told the crowd:

"Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. 

"Because this right now is the greatest country on earth."

Michelle Obama's speech: The best quotes

On Obama's 2008 victory

I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns.

And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, what have we done?

On bringing up kids

We insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country.

How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.

On Hillary Clinton

What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.

On who shouldn't be President

When you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.

On equality

I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

On the US

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth.

You can read a copy of the full speech here.



In defence of expertise: it’s time to take the heart out of “passionate” politics

By Ian Leslie from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

What we need is cool logic.

We are living through a bonfire of the experts. During the EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove explained that people had had enough of them. A few weeks later, his fellow Tory MPs took him at his word and chose a relative ingénue to run against Theresa May.

After declaring for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership race, Michael Howard was asked whether it might be a problem that she had never held a position higher than junior minister. Howard, whose long career includes stints as home secretary and opposition leader, demurred: “I don’t think experience is hugely important.”

Even in this jaw-dropping season, that comment caused significant mandibular dislocation. I thought: the next Tory leader will become prime minister at a time of national crisis, faced with some of the UK’s most complex problems since the Second World War. If experience doesn’t matter now, it never does. What does that imply about the job?

Leadsom’s supporters contended that her 25 years in the City were just as valuable as years spent at Westminster. Let’s leave aside the disputed question of whether Leadsom was ever a senior decision-maker (rather than a glorified marketing manager) and ask if success in one field makes it more likely that a person will succeed in another.

Consider Ben Carson, who, despite never having held elected office, contested the Republican presidential nomination. He declared that Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery and that Hitler may have been stopped if the German public had been armed. Yet Carson is not stupid. He is an admired neurosurgeon who pioneered a method of separating conjoined twins.

Carson is a lesson in the first rule of expertise: it does not transfer from one field to another. This is why, outside their domain, the most brilliant people can be complete dolts. Nevertheless, we – and they – often assume otherwise. People are all too ready to believe that successful generals or entrepreneurs will be good at governing, even though, more often than not, they turn out to be painfully inept.

The psychologist Ellen Langer had her subjects play a betting game. Cards were drawn at random and the players had to bet on whose card was higher. Each played against a well-dressed, self-assured “dapper” and a shabby, awkward “schnook”. The participants knew that it was a game of chance but they took more risks against the schnook. High confidence in one area (“I’m more socially adept than the schnook”) irrationally spilled over into another (“I’ll draw better cards”).

The experiment points us to another reason why we make poor judgements about competence. We place too much faith in social cues – in what we can see. As voters, we assume that because someone is good at giving a speech or taking part in a debate, they will be good at governing. But public performance is an unreliable indicator of how they would cope with running meetings, reading policy briefs and taking decisions in private. Call it the Boris principle.

This overrating of the visible extends beyond politics. Decades of evidence show that the job interview is a poor predictor of how someone will do in the job. Organisations make better decisions when they rely on objective data such as qualifications, track record and test scores. Interviewers are often swayed by qualities that can be performed.

MPs on the Commons education select committee rejected Amanda Spielman, the government’s choice for the next head of Ofsted, after her appearance before them. The committee didn’t reject her because she was deficient in accomplishments or her grasp of education policy, but because she lacked “passion”. Her answers to the committee were thoughtful and evidence-based. Yet a Labour MP told her she wasn’t sufficiently “evangelical” about school improvement; a Tory asked her to stop using the word “data” so often. Apparently, there is little point in being an expert if you cannot emote.

England’s football team is perennially berated in the media for not being passionate enough. But what it lacks is technique. Shortly before Wales played England in the European Championship, the Welsh striker Gareth Bale suggested that England’s players lacked passion. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the tunnel before kick-off, TV cameras caught the English goalkeeper Joe Hart in a vessel-busting frenzy. On the pitch, Hart allowed Bale to score from an absurdly long range because he was incapable of thinking straight.

I wish there were less passion in politics and more cool logic; less evangelism and more data. Unthinking passion has brought the Labour Party to its knees and threatens to do the same to the country. I find myself hungering for dry analyses and thirsting for bloodless lucidity. I admire, more than ever, those with obscure technical knowledge and the hard-won skills needed to make progress, rather than merely promise it.

Political leadership is not brain surgery but it is a rich and deep domain. An effective political leader needs to be an expert in policy, diplomacy, legislative process and how not to screw up an interview. That is why it’s so hard to do the job well when you have spent most of your time in boardrooms or at anti-war rallies.

If democratic politicians display contempt for expertise, including their own, they can hardly complain if those they aspire to govern decide to do without the lot of them. 


Watch: Lame Bernie brocialists boo mentions of Hillary Clinton as they’d rather have Donald Trump for President

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Ardent Bernie Sanders fans unsurprisingly feel privileged enough to denounce the prospect of a Democratic win at the Democratic National Convention.

Some Bernie Sanders supporters at the Democratic National Convention have taken it upon themselves to boo every time Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned.

Even when the tortoise-man messiah himself was endorsing her for President in a speech, they kicked up a fuss, leading to Sanders’ campaign team sending out texts and emails begging supporters not to protest on the conference floor.

Video: New York Times

Your mole’s particular favourite is the guy in the above video shouting “NO NO NO NO” over and over again, the strangled battle-cry of centuries of loser bros against the disgusting idea of liberal female leadership.

The predominantly white, middle-class, brocialist contingent clearly couldn’t care less whether there is a Democrat in the White House to stick up for the rights of all the people their preferred candidate purports to defend.

Also revealing of their wilful privileged blindness to those who would actually benefit from a Democratic win was the anti-TTIP chanting during a speech by African-American congressman Elijah Cummings promoting racial equality.

If your own intellectual fury about a trade deal that hasn’t even happened yet is more important to you than listening respectfully to a black Democrat addressing the floor about fighting discrimination, then maybe Donald Trump is the man for you after all.

Still from New York Times video.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: a jukebox musical without the music

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

The new play set in JK Rowling's wizarding world is a nostalgia trip. 

“Jukebox musicals” have been around for decades, and they are unfairly maligned. For every horror (I write as someone who sat through the Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever!), there are many others that are adored by critics and audiences.

The formula is simple: take an established artist’s back catalogue and weave a story through the greatest hits, ensuring that fans get a nostalgic, entertaining, undemanding night out. It might not be high art, but the best are genuinely joyful. If you offered me a choice between seeing Waiting for Godot or Mamma Mia! again, I’d pick the boozy, sun-drenched promiscuity and high-octane Swedish pop in a heartbeat. Yes, sometimes the plot has to bend to accommodate the bangers; sometimes the writer of the book just gives up. (In Mamma Mia!, the cast does “Waterloo” as an encore, presumably because trying to weave metaphors about a land battle in Belgium into a light-hearted romp on a Greek island was beyond even Benny and Björn.)

I mention all this because the most useful way to think about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is as a musical without music. It’s the only way to make sense of it. Take the preview period: most West End plays have a run of a few months and therefore a couple of weeks of previews. The Cursed Child had its first performance on 7 June but the official opening night is 30 July. Leaving that much scope for tinkering is logical if the producers expect it to run for years and spawn versions in other cities. It is already fully booked in London until May 2017.

Here come the spoilers: the plot follows Albus Severus Potter, the middle child of Harry Potter and his wife, Ginny (née Weasley). He starts at Hogwarts in the same year as Rose Granger-Weasley, the daughter of Hermione and Ron, and they expect to be friends, given their parents’ long record of hanging around together, doing homework and defeating the evil Lord Voldemort.

But Rose is kind of annoying, in that way that child characters onstage often are, because the actor simply channels themselves at drama school. Instead, Albus strikes up a conversation with Scorpius Malfoy, the sweet, shy scion of a clan full of Voldemort supporters who all have names like cheap aftershaves (Draco, Lucius, Brutus, Abraxas). When Albus arrives at Hogwarts, he gets sorted into Slytherin – the house of his father’s mortal enemies – alongside his new best friend, Scorpius.

From there, the play whips through two school years, with Albus maturing into a right little sod who hates his dad in a melodramatic teenage way. (This isn’t helped by the 22-year-old actor Sam Clemmett’s overwrought delivery, which sometimes veers into Frank Spencer territory.) At home one night, Albus overhears the wheelchair-bound father of Cedric Diggory, a beloved Hogwarts student killed by Lord Voldemort’s army, accusing Harry of causing his son’s death.

As readers of the books will know, at the end of The Goblet of Fire, Cedric and Harry competed in the Triwizard Tournament. They reached the cup they were seeking, which was hidden at the centre of a maze, at the same time and sportingly agreed to seize it at the same time so they would be joint winners. Unfortunately, the trophy turned out to be a trap – a teleportation device taking them to Lord Voldemort. And he was only interested in Harry, so he ordered a minion to “kill the spare”. Unreasonably but understandably, Mr Diggory holds Harry responsible for his son’s death. Less understandably, so does the earwigging Albus. He decides to steal a newly discovered Time-Turner, so that he can go back to his father’s past and make sure that Cedric survives.

Clearly Albus has never read any Muggle science fiction because, as you might guess, this is a terrible, terrible idea. But it does allow the audience to revisit the greatest hits, bringing loved (and hated) characters from the original series back from the dead to interact with the mini-Potter. This is the promise of the jukebox musical; it plays us the ones we know. Reviving fan favourites comes with a trade-off, though, as Scorpius and Albus don’t get time for much character development and Harry, Ron and Hermione are, in essence, adult-sized versions of the people they were at 18.

Is that a sacrifice worth making? Partially. This production is gorgeous. Sadly, the live owl used on the first night has gone, after it bolted into the audience and had to be coaxed back to safety by its trainer throughout the first act. But there are so many other spectacles that you don’t mind and, besides, we have Pokémon Go now. This production benefits from two movement directors from the innovative theatre company Frantic Assembly (which choreographed Abi Morgan’s haunting Lovesong, available online). There are magic tricks, surprise reveals, quick-change transformations and an intricate set, built to look like layered iron railway arches. Stand-alone staircases whirl around to replicate the magical building at Hogwarts; actors float on wires to simulate swimming; and the somersaults of one fight scene are aided by a large cast of almost-invisible, black-clad assistants whirling the protagonists around. 

One of the most stunning effects is the simplest: when time shifts, the lighting wobbles to make the set tremble like a subwoofer. The acting is generally first-rate, with Noma Dumezweni supplanting Emma Watson in my headcanon of Hermione and Anthony Boyle elevating Scorpius above the script’s potentially bland albino emo kid.

A great deal of love has gone into this production and at the preview shows I attended, I was surrounded by hard-core fans who adored it. (A voluble man in the row in front squealed when a familiar, purple-clad figure appeared.) Despite the hefty time demands – two performances of around two and a half hours – I suspect that younger fans will love it, too. Parents might appreciate the basic message, which is that you kids don’t know how good you have it.

However, there is one thing that niggles at me. Using alternate-universe versions of the original settings gives these plays the air of high-quality fan fiction. Potter fans are one of the largest fan communities online and have written every permutation of love interest and plot twist into the world built by J K Rowling. Going back into Hogwarts in the 1990s is what they do.

The use of time travel will also remind the more hard-core fans how much the world has moved on since the books were first published. The series was more socially conservative than you might now think. Rowling outed Dumbledore as gay in 2007 but the books don’t give any hint. And how many middle-class professional couples these days get married to their school sweethearts in their early twenties 
and have three kids?

Millions of children and adults read and loved the Harry Potter books, and thousands will see and love these plays. J K Rowling, her co-writers (Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) and the producers have chosen spectacle over story, nostalgia over novelty and motion over emotion. 

This is a greatest hits compilation rather than an experimental new work. Does that matter? Not too much, when the tunes are this good. 

Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

By Alexei Sayle from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 


Back to the future – mankind’s new ideas that aren’t new at all

By Michael Brooks from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Rethink: the Surprising History of New Ideas by Steven Poole reviewed.

When Steven Poole writes a book review, he likes to lie to himself. His only conscious decision is to jot down a few notes as the deadline approaches. There is no pressure to think deep thoughts, he tells himself, or to reach the required word count. Then invariably, in a few hours, he has written the entire review. This happens time and again. No matter how many times he convinces himself he is merely jotting and thinking, the result is a finished article.

Human beings are extraordinarily good at deceiving themselves and possibly never more so than when they think that they have had a new idea, as Poole makes clear in this fascinating compendium of new ideas that aren’t new at all. He digs deep into subjects as various as cosmology, economics, health care and bioethics to show that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it (long before Poole), “There is nothing new under the sun.” This is demonstrated in the re-emergence of ideas such as therapeutic psychedelic drugs, inherited traits that aren’t programmed into the genome, cognitive behavioural therapy, getting our protein from insects, and the multiverse.

Poole explores these propositions deftly enough, but they are not what interest him here. Rather, his subject is the way that we have seen them all before. He ties together what he concedes is a “highly selective snapshot of the looping evolution of ideas” with the observation that: “Any culture that thinks the past is irrelevant is one in which future invention threatens to stall.” Originality, he argues, is overrated.

The book might be something of a downer for those who like to gaze at “progress” with wide-eyed admiration. The starkest takeaway is that we are clearly hopeless at putting good ideas to work. In his discussion of artificial intelligence, for instance, Poole mentions the emerging idea of a universal basic income, which is likely to become a necessary innovation as robots take over many of the least demanding tasks of the human workforce. Yet he traces it back to 1796, when Thomas Paine first published his pamphlet Agrarian Justice.

Maybe this tells us something about the limits of the brain. It has always innovated, thought through its situations and created solutions. But those solutions can only be drawn from a limited pool of possibilities. Hence we get the same ideas occurring ­inside human skulls for millennia and they are not always presented any better for the passing of time. Richard Dawkins and his ilk provide a salient example, as Poole points out: “Virtually none of the debating points in the great new atheism struggles of the 21st century . . . would have been unfamiliar to medieval monks, who by and large conducted the argument on a more sophisticated and humane level.”

So, perhaps we should start to ask ourselves why so many proposed solutions remain unimplemented after what seem to be thousand-year development programmes. It is only through such reflection on our own thinking that we will overcome our barriers to progress.

Sometimes the barriers are mere prejudice or self-interest. After the Second World War, Grace Hopper, a computer scientist in the US navy, created a language that allowed a computer to be programmed in English, French or German. “Her managers were aghast,” Poole writes. It was “an American computer built in blue-belt Pennsylvania” – so it simply had to be programmed in English. “Hopper had to promise management that from then on the program would only accept English input.”

It is worth noting that Hopper was also a victim of postwar sexism. In 1960 she and several other women participated in a project to create COBOL, the computing language. Critics said there was no way that such a “female-dominated process” could end in anything worthwhile. Those critics were
wrong. By the turn of the century, 80 per cent of computer coding was written in COBOL. But this is another unlearned lesson. A survey in 2013 showed that women make up just 11 per cent of software developers. A swath of the population is missing from one of our most creative endeavours. And we are missing out on quality. Industry experiments show that women generally write better code. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers only accept it as better when they don’t know it was written by a woman.

Solving the technology industry’s gender problems will be a complex undertaking. Yet it is easy to resolve some long-standing difficulties. Take that old idea of providing a universal basic income. It appears to be a complex economic issue but experimental projects show that the answer can be as simple as giving money to the poor.

We know this because the non-profit organisation GiveDirectly has done it. It distributed a basic income to an entire community and the “innovation” has proved remarkably effective in providing the means for people to lift themselves out of poverty. Projects in Kenya, Brazil and Uganda have made the same discovery. As Poole notes, even the Economist, that “bastion of free-market economics”, was surprised and impressed. It said of the scheme: “Giving money directly to poor people works surprisingly well.” You can almost hear the exclamation “Who knew?” – and the slapping sound of history’s facepalm.

Michael Brooks’s books include “At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise” (Profile)


Friedrich Nietzsche, the conqueror with the iron hand

By Gavin Jacobson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Gavin Jacobson considers the great philosopher’s plan for society as revealed in Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon.

In 1893 Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche returned to her mother’s adopted home town of Naumburg in Germany. She had been living in Paraguay with her husband, Bernhard Förster, a nationalist and anti-Semite who had founded an Aryan colony to begin “the purification and rebirth of the human race”. Elisabeth’s brother, Friedrich Nietzsche, had condemned her husband’s anti-Semitism and her decision to join him in South America. The experiment failed in any case. Blighted by disease, poor harvests and intercommunal strife, the outpost collapsed in two years. Förster committed suicide in 1889. Around this time, Nietzsche began his final descent into madness and Elisabeth came back to take care of him and his legacy.

Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872 while he was a professor at the University of Basel, received marginal attention. It wasn’t until the 1890s that his writings gained a wide readership across Europe. Elisabeth soon took control of Nietzsche’s literary estate and, little by little, transformed him into an instrument of her fascist designs. She began to rework his notebooks and to clip, cross out and fabricate quotations, so that, in the public imagination, her brother went from an opponent of German nationalism to a lover of the fatherland, from the author of The Antichrist to a follower of the gospel, and from an anti-anti-Semite to a venomous ­Jew-hater. Before his death in 1900, Nietzsche had asked his sister to ensure that “no priest or anyone else utters falsehoods at my graveside, when I can no longer defend myself”. He could not have foreseen this betrayal by Elisabeth, as she cast him as the lodestar of National Socialism.

Since the 1950s, scholars have endeavoured to rescue Nietzsche from his asso­ciation with Nazism. Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950) was a formative work in which the German philosopher became a humanist and progenitor of 20th-century existentialism. His thinking was directed not at the triumph of Teutonic supremacy but at reviving, as he wrote in Twilight of the Idols (1889), an “anti-political” high culture.

The problem was that, in stripping away the layers of external disfigurement that had built up and set over the years, Kaufmann and others denied Nietzsche an interest in politics. The task that Hugo Drochon sets himself is to reinsert some political content into Nietzsche and show that he had a systematic political theory. The result is a superb case of deep intellectual renewal and the most important book to have been written about him in the past few years.

Drochon’s study takes place against the backdrop of 19th-century Europe, as that is where Nietzsche’s account of politics – the fate of democracy, the role of the state and international relations – is best understood. Nietzsche’s sane life coincided with the main political events of his time. He served as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, witnessed German unification and experienced at first hand the traits of a modern democratic order: party competition, secret ballots, voting and the influence of mass media. He also lived through Britain’s and Russia’s “great game” for control over central Asia. He went mad in the year Bismarck tended his resignation to Wilhelm II.

Drochon traces Nietzsche’s “intelligible account of modern society” in response to these events. Inspired by the Greeks – especially Plato and his mission to legislate a new state and train the men to do it – Nietzsche wanted to establish a healthy culture in which philosophy and great art could be produced. He was certain that slavery was necessary for this (a view that led to his eventual split with Wagner). The “cruel-sounding truth”, he admitted, was that “slavery belongs to the essence of culture”, as the artistic class, “a small number of Olympian men”, is released from the drudgery of daily existence to focus on producing art.

His disagreement with Wagner over the role of slavery led Nietzsche to describe the genesis and decay of the state. He saw clearly, like Hobbes, that the state of nature was “the war of all against all”. But whereas Hobbes imagined the state arising through a contract, Nietzsche saw it originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand”, who “suddenly, violently and bloodily” takes control of a people and forces it into a hierarchical society. Nietzsche then plotted its evolution, from a space within which culture flourished to the modern Kulturstaat, in which culture was appropriated for its own sake. If the state’s birth was violent, its decay was slow and was linked to Nietz­sche’s notorious phrase about the death of God: given that the Christian God was no longer a self-evident foundation of morality upon which societies could support themselves, the state faced dissolution.

Tracing with great forensic skill the minutiae of Nietzsche’s arguments across multiple sources, Drochon never loses the overall narrative thread (an occupational hazard of studying the history of political thought). Nor does he shy away from his subject’s unsavoury views. If Nietzsche’s remarks on slavery were harsh enough, his thinking on eugenics, or his physiologically inflected theories about democracy (which he regarded as the victory of a slave morality – associated with the “dark-skinned and especially dark-haired man” – over a master morality of the “Aryan conquering race”) sound even more repellent. Without wishing to justify these ideas, Drochon reminds us that theories of racial classification were prevalent and acceptable modes of inquiry in the 19th century. It would have been strange if Nietzsche had not drawn on them.

His darker side notwithstanding, many of Nietzsche’s insights speak to our politics now. He foresaw the privatisation of the state, in which “private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) would assume the business of the state, including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government” – that is, “protecting the private person from the private person”. He showed how democracies gave birth to aristocracies and could become hostage to a “herd morality”, majoritarianism and misarchism: “the democratic idiosyncrasy of being against everything that dominates and wants to dominate”. He explored the question of wage labour and the increasing hostility between workers and employers and predicted the erosion of trust in
public institutions.

Nietzsche also described how statesmen revive the kind of pathologies that are corrupting European and American societies at the moment: nationalism, racism, intellectual parochialism and political insularity. He knew what he was talking about: Bismarck’s power politics, a tribute to blood (war) and iron (technology), was a “petty politics” that divided nations and peoples. Nietzsche’s “great politics”, by contrast, imagined the unification of Europe led by a cultural elite, the class he termed “good Europeans”, bred by intermixing Prussian military officers and Jewish financiers. Continental union would not only constitute a geopolitical counterweight to Britain and Russia. Good Europeans would, as Drochon writes, create “a new trans-European culture, which itself is specially called on to lead a world culture”.

So, this book has come at the right time. In the light of Britain’s vote for Brexit, which threatens to take us back to a petty politics of nationalism and continental division, Nietzsche’s writings are more significant than ever. Those of us who desire a more integrated and peaceful union with our neighbours cling despairingly – and with receding hope – to his dream that, in spite of “the morbid estrangement which the nationality craze has induced and still induces among the peoples of Europe, owing also to the short-sighted and hasty-handed politicians . . . Europe wishes to be one”.

Nietzsche’s Great Politics by Hugo Drochon is published by Princeton University Press, 224pp, £34.95

Gavin Jacobson is a writer and book critic


Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

By Phil Whitaker from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September


Could Jeremy Corbyn still be excluded from the leadership race? High Court to rule this week

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 26, 2016.

Labour donor Michael Foster has applied for a judgement. 

If you thought Labour's National Executive Committee's decision to let Jeremy Corbyn automatically run again for leader was the end of it, think again. 

This week, the High Court will decide whether the NEC made the right judgement - or if Corbyn should have been forced to seek nominations from 51 MPs, which would effectively block him from the ballot.

The legal challenge is brought by Michael Foster, a Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate. Corbyn is listed as one of the defendants.

Before the NEC decision, both Corbyn's team and the rebel MPs sought legal advice.

Foster has maintained he is simply seeking the views of experts. 

Nevertheless, he has clashed with Corbyn before. He heckled the Labour leader, whose party has been racked with anti-Semitism scandals, at a Labour Friends of Israel event in September 2015, where he demanded: "Say the word Israel."

But should the judge decide in favour of Foster, would the Labour leadership challenge really be over?

Dr Peter Catterall, a reader in history at Westminster University and a specialist in opposition studies, doesn't think so. He said: "The Labour party is a private institution, so unless they are actually breaking the law, it seems to me it is about how you interpret the rules of the party."

Corbyn's bid to be personally mentioned on the ballot paper was a smart move, he said, and the High Court's decision is unlikely to heal wounds.

 "You have to ask yourself, what is the point of doing this? What does success look like?" he said. "Will it simply reinforce the idea that Mr Corbyn is being made a martyr by people who are out to get him?"



A dangerous new phase in cyber aggression

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The issue of transatlantic security is more important than ever

Green should treat BHS pensioners with honour

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Business leaders have greater responsibilities than obeying the law

10 times Nicola Sturgeon nailed what it's like to be a Remain voter post-Brexit

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Scotland's First Minister didn't mince her words.

While Westminster flounders, up in Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has busied herself trying to find a way for Scotland to stay in the European Union

And in a speech on Monday, she laid out the options.

The Scottish Nationalist acknowledged the option of independence would not be straightforward, but she added: “It may well be that the option that offers us the greatest certainty, stability and the maximum control over our own destiny, is that of independence.”

She also hinted at a more measured stance, where Scotland could “retain ties and keep open channels” with the EU while other countries within the UK “pursue different outcomes”. 

And she praised the new PM Theresa May’s commitment to wait for a UK-wide agreement before triggering Article 50.

But Sturgeon’s wide-ranging speech also revisited her memories of Brexit, and the days of chaos that followed. Here are some of the best bits.

1. On the referendum

I am the last person you will hear criticising the principle of referenda. But proposing a referendum when you believe in the constitutional change it offers is one thing. Proposing - as David Cameron did - a referendum even though he opposed the change on offer is quite another. 

2. On the result

I told the Scottish Parliament a few days later that I was “disappointed and concerned” by the result. I have to admit that was parliamentary language for a much stronger feeling.

3. On the Leave campaign

I felt, and still feel, contempt for a Leave campaign that had lied and given succour to the racism and intolerance of the far right.

4. On leadership

It seemed abundantly clear to me that people - even many of those who had voted to Leave - were going to wake up feeling very anxious and uncertain. It was therefore the job of politicians, not to pretend that we instantly had all the answers, but to give a sense of direction. To try to create some order out of the chaos. That’s what I was determined to try to do for Scotland. I assumed that UK politicians would do likewise. I was wrong. 

5. On EU nationals

I felt then – and still feel very strongly today - that we must give them as much reassurance as possible. It is wrong that the UK government has not yet given a guarantee of continued residence to those who have built lives, careers and families here in the UK.

6. On karma

You tend to reap what you have sown over many years. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to politicians who have spent years denigrating the EU and pandering to the myths about free movement, that some voters simply did not believe them when they suddenly started extolling the virtues of both.

7. On teenage voters

I think it was wrong in principle to deny EU nationals and 16 & 17 year olds the right to vote. But, as well as being wrong in principle, it was also tactically foolish. 

8. On slogans

While “Brexit means Brexit” is intended to sound like a strong statement of intent it is, in truth, just a soundbite that masks a lack of any clear sense of direction.

9. On Scotland

Some will say that we also voted to stay in the UK, so we must accept the UK wide verdict. But in 2014, we voted to stay part of a UK that was a member of the EU - indeed, we were told then that protecting our EU membership was one of the main reasons to vote against independence.

10. On taking back control

To end up in a position, which is highly possible, where we have to abide by all the rules of the single market and pay to be part of it, but have no say whatsoever in what the rules are, would not be taking back control, to coin a phrase we’ve heard more than once recently- it would be giving up control.


Sarah Champion wants to un-resign and join Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet again

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The MP is understood to have emailed asking for her job back. 

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, is to rejoin the shadow cabinet less than a month after her dramatic resignation. 

On 28 June, in the aftermath of Brexit, she tweeted: "I have just stepped down from my shadow minister job, but not my responsibilities to my constituents, party or victims of abuse."

Now, she has reportedly emailed Jeremy Corbyn's team to request an un-resignation from her position as shadow minister for preventing abuse. 

According to the Guido Fawkes blog, she wrote: "I would like to formally retract my resignation and ask to be reinstated to my role as Shadow Home Office minister for preventing abuse and domestic violence with immediate effect."

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given their staffing issues on the shadow cabinet, the Corbyn team is understood to be welcoming her back. 

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has repeatedly urged ex-shadow cabinet MPs to come back. On 1 July he said: "Wouldn't it be better if people came back and worked with us?"

And on Sunday, he alarmed weekend TV viewers by turning straight to camera and telling the nation: "We've got to stop this now."


BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it. 


Cabinet audit: what do Theresa May’s new hires mean for government?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The New Statesman team looks at the politics and policy behind the new Prime Minister’s cabinet appointments.

Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals.

Stephen Bush

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), senior industry figures had already begun questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment toopposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies – thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary

Having run Theresa May’s leadership campaign, Chris Grayling was always going to be in line for a pretty beefy promotion. And so it transpired, with the staunch Brexiteer being plucked from his post as Leader of the House of Commons to head the Department for Transport.

He has been a useful ally of May’s, reassuring fellow eurosceptics and Brexit voters that the once Remain-backing Prime Minister really means that “Brexit means Brexit”.

But his appointment will bring less comfort to DfT mandarins and those in the transport industry. Detractors who have previously worked for him in government usually either decry him as a hardline right winger, or suggest he is just simply not very bright. A notorious figure since his stint as Justice Secretary in 2012-15, Grayling is known for his uncompromising and compassionless (and often senseless) policy decisions – banning books being sent to prisoners, legal aid cuts, and controversial new court charges. The legal world was also riled by his lack of knowledge about the profession, as the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor for nearly half a century.

However, Grayling is familiar with the transport brief, having shadowed the role in 2005-7, and he will have the same challenges as many past transport secretaries (and their shadows): the future of HS2, and the question of airport expansion. Politically sticky infrastructure projects that have been consistently kicked into the long grass. But perhaps May’s enthusiasm for a proper industrial policy – and shelving of austerity targets – will mean Grayling has to get more done on such matters than his prevaricating predecessors.

Anoosh Chakelian

Karen Bradley, Culture Secretary

The most politically charged of the culture minister's responsibilities is overseeing the BBC, and to anyone who works for - or simply loves - the national broadcaster, Karen Bradley has one big point in her favour. She is not John Whittingdale. Her predecessor as culture secretary was notorious for his belief that the BBC was a wasteful, over-mighty organisation which needed to be curbed. And he would have had ample opportunity to do this: the BBC's Charter is due for renewal next year, and the licence fee is only fixed until 2017. 

In her previous job at the Home Office, Karen Bradley gained a reputation as a calm, low-key minister. It now seems likely that the charter renewal will be accomplished with fewer frothing editorials about "BBC bias" and more attention to the challenges facing the organisation as viewing patterns fragment and increasing numbers of viewers move online.

Of the rest of the job, the tourism part just got easier: with the pound so weak, it will be easier to attract visitors to Britain from abroad. And as for press regulation, there is no word strong enough to describe how long the grass is into which it has been kicked.

Helen Lewis

Sajid Javid, Communities Secretary

Sajid Javid is a pinup for Tory aspiration – son of a British-Pakistani bus driver, he worked his way from his local comprehensive in Rochdale to the towers of New York.

At 20, he was attending the Conservative Party Conference and by 25 he was the youngest vice-president of Chase Manhattan Bank. This was the start of an international career that took him to London and Singapore.

After winning the seat of Bromsgrove in 2010, Javid began an equally rapid political rise. By the end of 2011, he was the parliamentary private secretary to the then-Chancellor, George Osborne.

The following years saw him climb the Treasury’s stairs. And a year’s break from economic policy found him haunting the foyers of London’s West End as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. But by 2015, he was back in Osborne’s sphere of influence as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

He is now the most high-profile survivor of Theresa May’s purge of the Osbornites (she and the former Chancellor often clashed in cabinet), but downgraded to the slightly less weighty position of Communities and Local Government Secretary.

Could Sajid Javid be Britain's first Asian Prime Minister? asked the Daily Mail in 2014. As it is, the new PM has sent his path to power on something of a detour. He's held onto a seat at the cabinet table, but with Osborne on the backbenches, he’s on his own.

Julia Rampen

Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary

The world shared a stunned silence when news broke that Boris Johnson would be the new Foreign Secretary. Johnson, who once referred to black people as “piccaninnies” and more recently accused the half-Kenyan President of the United States of only commenting on the EU referendum because of bitterness about colonialism, will now be Britain’s representative on the world stage.

His colourful career immediately came back to haunt him when US journalists accused him of “outright lies” and reminded him of the time he likened Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse”. Johnson’s previous appearances on the international stage include a speech in Beijing where he maintained that ping pong was actually the Victorian game of “whiff whaff”.

But Johnson has always been more than a blond buffoon, and this appointment is a shrewd one by May. His popularity in the country at large, apparently helped by getting stuck on a zip line and havingnumerous affairs, made him an obvious threat to David Cameron’s premiership. His decision to defect to the Leave campaign was widely credited with bringing it success. He canned his leadership campaign after Michael Gove launched his own bid, but the question of whether his chutzpah would beat May’s experience and gravity is still unknown.

In giving BoJo the Foreign Office, then, May hands him the photo opportunities he craves. Meanwhile, the man with real power in international affairs will be David Davis, who as Brexit minister has the far more daunting task of renegotiating Britain’s trade deals.

Julia Rampen

Philip Hammond, Chancellor

Even officials with leftwing politics hoped that Theresa May would keep George Osborne in place at the Treasury, for two reasons: firstly because he is a considerate boss, and secondly because his exit from frontline politics likely means the end of a 19-year period of dominance by the Treasury, in which, whether under Gordon Brown, Osborne or even under Alistair Darling, whoever has been in office, the Treasury has been in power.

But Philip Hammond was very much the second choice, way ahead of any of the possible figures. Hammond was the biggest beast to back May’s candidacy and was rewarded for the Treasury brief that coalition denied him (he had shadowed the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury in opposition but the mechanics of the coalition meant the post had to be given to a Liberal Democrat). Before May’s accession to the premiership, he had already lined up with her on negotiations with the European Union and Osborne’s deficit targets (now shelved).

Hammond comes in with the economy looking pre-recessional and with Britain’s future participation in the single market in some doubt. (Hammond has publicly said Britain ought to remain in the single market above all else – May is more concerned about immigration, while the Brexit-backing ministers are divided.)

What ought he to do? The big task is to get the construction industry back on its feet. Happily, although the decline in Britain’s credit rating has made borrowing more expensive, low interest rates at home and abroad make the case for fiscal stimulus stronger than ever, and mean the government can borrow on the cheap. Launching programmes of housebuilding, transport infrastructure and clean energy would be good ways to try to avert or at least ride out any economic shocks. (From an economic perspective albeit not an environmental one, it makes sense to approve new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick, two “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that have private money behind them.)

But the big victory that Hammond could achieve at the Treasury would be to defeat the Brexiteer ultras and keep Britain in the single market.

Stephen Bush

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary

The good news first: Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye since 2010, joins May in the Great Offices of State. This is the first time two of these four positions have been held by women at the same time. Rudd is only the fifth woman ever to hold one.

The ex-Energy Secretary will take the reins directly from May, so it’s fair to assume she’ll carry on much of the work begun by the longest-serving Home Secretary since 1892. Rudd is unlikely to rock the boat here – she has not rebelled once in this parliamentary term. Therese Coffey MP told the Telegraph that May sees Rudd as “a safe pair of hands”.

The Investigatory Powers bill, or so-called Snoopers’ Charter, was a high priority for May, and is currently making its way through the Lords. Despite objections raised in the House around the protection of communications with journalists’ sources and lawyers’ clients, it’s likely it’ll pass without much fuss. Depending on the amendments that make it through, it may allow security services to hack into our computers and phones (including cameras and microphones), and require back doors to be built in encrypted messaging systems.

Rudd has repeatedly voted for a stricter asylum system by restricting the support available to failed asylum seekers, and denying permission for them to work if they’re in the UK for over six months. She was absent for a vote on sparing migrants from deportation on human rights grounds. May stubbornly sought to cut net migration in her time as Home Secretary, and created a minimum income threshold (£35,000) for non-EU citizens who have lived in the UK for less than ten years and who are hoping to stay.

Since taking the leadership May has confirmed that “we should have that goal of bringing immigration down to sustainable levels”. This is now down to Rudd, who in a fiery Brexit TV debate with Boris Johnson argued that immigration is “a complex problem…you need to look at the numbers. But the only number Boris is interested in is Number 10!”

Female Genital Mutilation within the UK also falls within the Home Office remit, and Rudd may try to make her own mark here. She is vice-chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Female Genital Mutilation and has called for stricter laws around the practice.

Barbara Speed

Justine Greening, Education Secretary

An early supporter of the new Prime Minister, and longstanding cabinet member, Justine Greening was always heading for promotion in a Theresa May cabinet. Her former territory, the Department for International Development, loyally picked up a lot of slack from the Home Office on migration issues under Greening's leadership, and she has regularly worked closely with May.

Personal allegiances aside, Greening is a sensible choice for the Department for Education. She is the first Education Secretary to have been educated at a comprehensive school, and as the first openly gay woman to serve in cabinet, she is a good choice for the Women and Equalities brief, which she also carries.

Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister highlighted two huge problems that many would attribute to the education system: how white working-class boys are “less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university”; and how “If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately”.

Going some way to solving these two huge problems will be Greening’s aim, though really the issues go far deeper than her new department. Still, there is scope for improvement, beginning with an increased focus upon early years education: by the age of five, there is a 19-month gap in school readiness between the most and least disadvantaged children.

The UK is almost unique in having larger class sizes for primary than secondary school, which is barmy; addressing that should be part of a whole project of centring UK education policy on the first years in life, which are the most important, and ceasing the endless tinkering with secondary education.

Alas, many in the Conservative party do not want the tinkering to stop. There is a renewed call for the ban on opening new grammars to be overturned. There are 163 remaining today, concentrated in a few selective counties. The government’s approval of a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks last October, ten miles away from the original site, hints at many more to come, with ten council areas keen to open more satellite schools – effectively bringing grammar schools back through the back door.

The nostalgic argument to bring back grammar schools seems perverse considering that, in areas that maintain fully selective education like Kent, poorer pupils do worse than the national average and the attainment gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged students is above the national average. It also ignores that the countries that perform best in education are those that separate latest, and demand the highest standards of all pupils until 16.

Greening will have more to grapple with than her predecessor Nicky Morgan, because the education brief has now been expanded to include higher education. Integrating the two could have some negative effects: schools and universities will now effectively be competing with each other for funding within the department. Whereas universities' former place in the Department for Business recognised how they are a British export and a driver of business.

But this integration gives Greening the opportunity to improve communication between elite universities and state schools, thereby improving access to the top universities. The coming vote on increasing tuition fees to £9,250 might give her an opportunity to demand that some universities ramp up their access work, as they did when fees when trebled in 2010. Yet she will soon realise that, while some universities could undoubtedly do more, the crux of the issue is way earlier, in the earliest years of life. This should be her main focus.

Tim Wigmore

Damian Green, Work and Pensions Secretary

"There will always be a little bit of the Home Office inside me,” Theresa May told her civil servants when she left 2 Marsham Street for the last time.

There is more than a little bit of the Home Office in her government, too, with trusted old hands from her old department now stretched out across the government. Damian Green, a long-term ally of May’s – and, like her, a veteran of the Conservatives’ internal battles to modernise from long before David Cameron arrived on the scene – and a trusted lieutenant in the Home Office, returns to government having been sacked by Cameron in 2014.

The appointment gives us a clue as to how May views the troubled Universal Credit programme and the Department for Work and Pensions overall. The DWP came to be regarded as something of a basket case on Whitehall and was at continual loggerheads – something that Stephen Crabb was brought in to fix after Iain Duncan Smith quit the government. Crabb’s resignation from the government following stories that he had sent salacious texts to a young woman stymied that project.

Step forward Green. It feels likely that his appointment is a signal that Downing Street is well aware of the problems with IDS’ failed reforms and the need for a competent hand to bring the department back into equilibrium. There’s an irony that the progressive wishlist for the DWP – unwind much of the Duncan Smith agenda, and get the department making headlines for positive reasons – is shared both by the Prime Minister and by the new boss at Caxton Street.

Stephen Bush

Priti Patel, International Development Secretary

Perhaps one of the least palatable new hires for Whitehall bods is Priti Patel, semi-promoted from cabinet-attending Employment Minister to International Development Secretary. The right winger is known for being on the neo-Thatcherite vanguard of the party characterised by the provocative 2012 treatise Britannia Unchained, which she co-authored – championing free market economics and a smaller state. So having her at the helm of any department would legitimately give civil servants the jitters.

But Dfid, though one of the less political departments, is a particularly controversial charge for Patel. In 2013, she suggested to the Daily Telegraph that it should be scrapped in favour of a more trade-focused department, calling for, “the consideration to replace Dfid with a Department for International Trade and Development in order to enable the UK to focus on enhancing trade with the developing world and seek out new investment opportunities in the global race. It is possible to bring more prosperity to the developing world and enable greater wealth transfers to be made from the UK by fostering greater trade and private sector investment opportunities.”

The International Development Act makes it illegal to tie aid to trade, so Patel will find it tough to pursue her ideological aims. But there are things she can do to change the tone and focus of the Department; her initial statement upon taking the job emphasises “working across government, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the new Department for International Trade, the Home Office and others”. 

She could even advocate for repealing David Cameron’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on development, which was enshrined in law last year. Although it is unlikely she would try this, removing the ring fence on the Dfid budget might actually become a tempting prospect for the rest of government, which is set to become even more cash-strapped as a result of Brexit.

We can only hope that Dfid’s ability to keep its ministers out of the political fray, and regularly travelling overseas, will curb this threat.

Anoosh Chakelian

David Davis, Brexit Secretary

David Davis is proof that there are second acts in political lives. Eleven years after he was defeated by David Cameron in the Conservative leadership contest, and 19 years after he last served in government, Davis has been tasked by Theresa May with negotiating Brexit.

It was a role that the Leave supporter had pitched for throughout the EU referendum campaign, though he was still surprised by his elevation. When the call from Downing Street came, Davis was drinking with a former researcher in a Commons bar and initially ignored his phone. As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, he will now be one of the new administration’s defining figures.

The Haltemprice and Howden MP, 67, served as Europe minister from 1994-97, a role in which he acquired the sobriquet  “Monsieur Non”. He has already displayed similar implacability in his new post. To the charge that opening trade talks with other countries would be illegal under EU law, Davis replied: “Well that’s what they say, they can’t tell us who to talk to . . . What are they are going to do?” He has also warned that European migrants who arrive before Brexit is complete could be denied the right to remain.

Davis expects Article 50, which sets a two-year limit for withdrawal, to be triggered “before or by the start” of 2017. Rater than retaining single market membership (as Norway does), he favours Canadian-style tariff-free access. This would grant the UK exemption from free movement and EU budget contributions but would deny financial services the right to unhindered trade (known as “passporting”).

The former SAS reservist is best remembered by many for resigning as shadow home secretary in 2008 in order to fight a by-election over the issue of 42-day detention. After remaining outside Cameron’s team, he became a redoubtable defender of civil liberties from the backbenches. The council estate boy was also one of just two Tory MPs to originally vote against tax credit cuts (a record of rebellion that also includes tuition fees, capital gains tax, child benefit cuts, House of Lords reform, boundary changes and Syria).

When I interviewed him in May, Davis warned that any attempt to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights would be defeated by himself and “a dozen” other Conservatives (a group known as the “Runnymede Tories” after the meadow where Magna Carta was sealed). It was a stance that May abandoned shortly after launching her leadership campaign.

Davis boasts the rare feat of joining the government while simultaneously suing it. In partnership with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, he launched a European court action against the Home Office, May’s former department, over the bulk retention of communications data. “I would be surprised if the ECJ doesn’t find in my favour and that will have big implications for the IP [Investigatory Powers] bill,” he told me.

As one of the “three Brexiters” at the head of May’s government (the others being Boris Johnson and Liam Fox), Davis will compete not only for supremacy over policy. The trio have been ordered to share Chevening, the foreign secretary’s traditional country residence, in Kent.

George Eaton

Greg Clark, Business Secretary

A PhD in economics and a career in management consulting would suggest that the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has a flare for maths. Yet when it comes to policy, Greg Clark's record doesn't always add up. 

A renowned Tory moderniser, Clark's appointment to head the new department (born out of watering down BIS, and dismantling DECC) has been greeted with optimism from the business community and green sector alike. He “gets climate change”, said Ruth Davis from the E3G energy policy think tank.

As a former policy director, he helped found and champion David Cameron’s Big Society initiative. He has since been through a succession of frontbench roles, consistently voted in favour of gay marriage, helped devolve power to cities, and made a splash by arguing that Polly Toynbee, not Winston Churchill, should set the Conservative agenda.

Yet can this Middlesbrough-born son of a milkman succeed in growing a green economy where his Big Society agenda appears to have so markedly failed?

The greatest challenge his new, enlarged, and hopefully more empowered, department faces is to grow UK industry at the same time as urgently reducing our emissions. Luckily this is something that Clark also perceives to be one of the country's greatest opportunities. He has criticised those who challenge action on climate change, shown a readiness to plan for the worst when it comes to interpreting climate science, and provided an ambitious vision for Britain’s green economy: “Britain could be the Saudi Arabia of marine energy”, he said in 2009.

Yet while his words have promoted wave-power, his actions have tended to change like the tide. His reputation for devolving power to local governments was seriously dented last year, when it was announced that Clark – then the Communities & Local Government Secretary – not the local council, would get the final say over permission to frack in Lancashire. Other concerning examples of this “do as I say, not as I do” tendency include voting to lower taxes on fuel and for cuts to renewable subsidies. 

He must therefore work fast to ensure that his reputation for blue sky thinking is more than a lot of hot air. Barry Gardiner, Labour's shadow energy secretary, has suggested that accelerating energy efficiency, developing Carbon Capture Storage and bringing forward the government’s promised Carbon Plan, would all be good places to start.

The rise of Clark and his new department is likely to be linked to the demise of the Department for Energy and Climate Change – and the loss of climate change from a cabinet nameplate. Yet if he can steer new policy in the right direction, towards making environmental costs integral to industry rather than an afterthought, he might yet make this chequered inheritance his greatest strength.

India Bourke

James Brokenshire, Northern Ireland Secretary

Remember Northern Ireland? You could be forgiven for forgetting it – certainly, for most of the EU referendum campaign, the fate of the region, which receives £120m a year in funds from the European Union, and thanks to the free movement of labour and the Common Travel Agreement no longer has a hard border between the North and the South.

Now that is in jeopardy, and thanks to the landslide endorsement of Remain by the region’s voters, tensions between Northern Ireland and the mainland are understandably high.

Neglected during the campaign, Northern Ireland has been forgotten during the discussion of what Brexit means. Most of the attention over what Britain’s Leave vote means for its constituent kingdoms has focused on whether Scotland stays in the Union or not – little attention has been given to the £600m hit to the Welsh economy or to what Brexit could do to Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Step forward James Brokenshire. Just as during the Blair era, Gordon Brown brought his protégés up through the Treasury before diffusing them throughout the government machinery, Theresa May has handed jobs to Home Office juniors who she knows and respects.

Brokenshire’s brief will be to shield Northern Ireland from the consequences of the loss of EU funds and ensure that whatever post-Brexit deal is struck, a hard border between North and South remains off the agenda.

Stephen Bush


“They pay me in Bitcoin”: What it’s like to work as an escort in the digital age

By Barbara Speed from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Groupon photoshoots, SEO, and what spying and sex work have in common. 

Navigating the market as a sex worker isn’t easy. In the UK, the act of prostitution itself is legal, but all sorts of related pursuits that might actually help you find work – kerb crawling, offering services in a public place, or acting as an agent or brothel manager – are not. 

But the rise of the internet has made available a whole new range of tools, some of which are particularly useful to sex workers trying to make a living. Oz, an Australian male escort who has worked in London for around six years, meets me for lunch to explain how he uses his phone and laptop to boost business and keep himself safe.

Ask me anything (really, anything)

Oz has his own website, which he employed a developer to build and now maintains himself. He’s constantly trying to boost it up Google's search rankings using SEO (search engine optimisation) tricks familiar to journalists and marketing executives: linking it to his Twitter, updating the site regularly with blogposts about other escorts he offers “duos” and “trios” with, and linking to his ads on online sex work directories. Interviews like this one help, too. 

He recently participated in an AMA, or “ask my anything”, thread on reddit, in which users quizzed him about his life as an escort. Users asked whether he ever has sex outside work (yes), and the weirdest requests he’s had (to kick someone repeatedly in the balls).

Why reddit? “I'm into a lot of nerdy stuff myself, science fiction and fantasy, so I lurked on the site for a long time before I did the AMA,” he tells me.

But he was also gunning for clicks: “I thought it would generate a lot of traffic, and it did – it sold a few videos, and helped my search rankings.”

Hell to pay

Taking payment is a constant difficulty for sex workers, and as a result are most forced to take wads of cash, which they keep in their homes. “I prefer not to use bank accounts,” Oz tells me. “And you can’t really use PayPal for that kind of thing because they ban you if they think you’re doing sex work.”

Advances in blockchain technology, though, can offer a way around this, as payments are not made through a bank and aren’t traceable. “When I work for overseas clients, I get them to pay me in Bitcoin, if they can figure that out. It’s pretty alien to some of my clients – lots are middle-aged and older, and not all that tech-savvy.”

Swipe right

Like many other sex workers, Oz occasionally gets work from dating apps like Tinder or Grindr. “Whenever I do that, I get 100 complete time-wasters for every genuine person. So it’s quite time-consuming.” Other app users tend to know he’s an escort because he has “kind of glossy” photos, which he had taken by a photographer through a Groupon deal.

I ask whether the rise of dating apps, which supposedly make casual sex easier than ever before, has affected the market for sex work, but Oz says the two scratch slightly different itches. “People who want an escort want discreetness and quality. You could have something for free or next to free at home, but people who can afford it want something special, so they're willing to pay for it.”

Face unrecognition

Any photos of Oz online obscure his face through blurring, which he paid someone from a crowdsourcing website to do. “I blur my face because of the progress of facial recognition and reverse image search technology,” he says. “And what it might be like in another five to ten years.”

In Russia, this is already a pressing concern: FindFace, a facial recognition app, has been used to find sex workers on social media and out them to friends and family.

Double ohh 7

Perhaps most importantly, new technology is helping keep sex workers safe. The Ugly Mugs app and email alerts, used by Oz and many of his friends, circulate details of punters who didn’t pay or were violent.

Oz also uses the TrueCaller app, which shows you what names a phone number has been saved under in other users’ phones. The app is marketed to the general public, so you may just find they’re listed as “Bob”, but it’s also popular among sex workers who might mark “do not work with” or “time waster”.

Escorts also use photo recognition (such as reverse searching an image on Google to see where it has appeared before) to check out punters’ photos. “We investigate them to see whether they are using a fake photo or are dangerous,” Oz says. “But also to see how rich they are.”

While Oz has his digital escorting down to an art, the skillset overlaps with some very different industries. “I know a few escorts who would make quite good spies,” Oz says, “because of the skillset they picked up on the job.”

Oz in London (edited)

Xi’s China: The rise of party politics

From Analysis. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Part one: The president is wresting control of economic policy away from other parts of government

Northern Ireland is another Brexit circle Theresa May must square

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The Prime Minister's promise to avoid border controls could collide with the imperative of limiting EU immigration. 

For much of the EU referendum, Theresa May shrewdly adopted the low profile of a "reluctant Remainer". One of her few memorable interventions was over Northern Ireland. During a visit to the province (which voted Remain by 56-44), the then home secretary said that it was "inconceivable" that new border controls would not be imposed in the event of Brexit. "If we were out of the European Union with tariffs on exporting goods into the EU, there’d have to be something to recognise that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland," May warned. "And if you pulled out of the EU and came out of free movement, then how could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country that was in the EU and had access to free movement?"

Yet as prime minister, May has visited Northern Ireland today with a diametrically opposed message. She will support the Irish government's stance that there should be no "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that passport-free travel should continue. 

There is an awareness among the EU of the disruptive effect that new controls would have on the peace process. "It's a special situation and it has to be found a special place in the negotiations," François Hollande said during a recent meeting with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. But how special, like so much else, depends on the deal the UK strikes with the rest of the EU. If Britain imposes limited controls on free movement (such as an "emergency brake") and, at the very least, maintains visa-free travel, it will easier to maintain present arrangements with Northern Ireland. But should May bow to pressure from Conservative MPs and others to fully end free movement, it will be harder to justify an open Irish border.

As in the case of Scotland, the imperative of preserving the UK collides with the imperative of unifying the Tories. "Brexit means Brexit," May has repeatedly stated. But beyond leaving the EU, there is no agreement on what this means. For both Scotland and Northern Ireland, the best Brexit would be a "soft" version that preserves as much of the status quo as possible (through Single Market membership). But Tory MPs and many Leave supporters voted for a harder variety. Reconciling these poles will be the defining task of May's premiership. 

Getty Images.

A renaissance of conductorless orchestras reveals the limits of traditional leadership

By James Chater from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

What could the modern counterparts of the first conductor-free orchestras, once a socialist utopian vision, teach our politicians today?

Moscow, 1922. In the bitterly cold first months of the year, word spreads among concert-goers of an innovative concert soon to be held in the Hall of Columns in the House of Trade Unions, in the Kremlin. The concept? A conductorless orchestra.

It was called Persimfans (an acronym: Pervyi simfonischeskii ansambl bez dirigera) – or First Symphonic Orchestra without a Conductor. By doing away with the conductor – the musical figure of authority – its founders sought to embody the egalitarian ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution; Persimfans was a microcosm of socialist utopia.

Before the Revolution, Persimfans’s founder, Lev Tseitlin, had travelled to the United States, where he became disillusioned with the structure of modern orchestras. He loathed their latent hierarchies; the ultimate authority of the conductor, the leader, section principals, trailing all the way back to the fourth desk of double basses. Under this system, Tseitlin believed, musicians were reduced to mere “mechanical keys”, which the conductor simply “played”.

In Persimfans, Tseitlin turned the internal mechanics of an orchestra on their head. Hierarchies were dismantled and socially egalitarian principles were instilled; all members received equal pay, players were free to choose their voice or desk (traditionally viewed as a measure of ability), and committees were established for decisions regarding performance and interpretation.

Players were required to study the entire score, knowing the part of every player in the orchestra (in traditional set-ups, players are only given the music for the instrument they play). The musicians faced each other directly to maximise rhythmic homogeneity, with some even having their backs to the audience. Any arrangement that implied authoritarian motivations was eradicated, replaced by a system that prioritised the collective.

Persimfans was fairly successful for a number of years. The enormously influential Otto Klemperer, after having heard a Persimfans concert, is reported to have said: “If this kind of thing continues, we conductors will have to find a new trade.”

But despite the orchestra’s initial popularity – and imitations cropping up in Baku, Kiev, and Leipzig – it had been disbanded by 1933. The exact reasons why are unknown, but it’s likely economic forces eventually took their toll, with players working long hours for poor pay – that, and alleged ideological fights within the string section (some things never change).

Once the original fell by the wayside, so too did the concept and – apart from a few exceptions in Eastern Europe – conductorless orchestras largely disappeared for a number of decades.

However, in the 1970s, conductorless orchestras underwent a renaissance. And now, numerous orchestras operate on both sides of the Atlantic with great success.

One of the first to appear in that decade was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, based in New York. Although free of the ideologically-laden mission of Persimfans, many of its core tenets resemble its ancestor. It aims to “create extraordinary musical experiences through collaboration and innovation”, “challenge artistic boundaries” and “inspire the public to think and work with new perspectives”.

The orchestra’s musical plaudits are now numerous, having won a Grammy in 2001 for a brilliant album of Stravinsky’s orchestral miniatures. The orchestra also appears annually at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall.

But does the premise of a conductorless orchestra have any real-world currency? As Tim Thulson, a cellist with Washington DC-based conductorless orchestra Ars Nova, tells me, “artists thinking about political problems are, admittedly, like poker players who aren’t betting real money”.

Well, in 2007, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra became one of the first winners of the Worldwide Award for the Most Democratic Workplaces – an award that recognises organisations “based on freedom, instead of fear and control . . . allowing people to self-govern and determine their own destiny”.

How are the ideals honoured by the award practically enacted? And how do those qualities instil leadership?

Firstly, the principle that anyone can influence artistic direction remains paramount. “We must have all our players ready and willing to speak up, to stop the orchestra, to argue for their ideas,” Thulson says. “Even if they’re in what’s traditionally a non-leadership seat. If the presumption is that high voices get to lead, we have to treat that as a fragile presumption . . . We can’t let traditions make us boorish or lazy.”

But another, crucial, principle concerns sound – and how audiences react to the difference in sonority of conductorless orchestras. Whereas traditional concert-goers talk about “the composer, the sonata form, or the great recordings they’ve heard”, Thulson explains, Ars Nova audiences discuss their “concert experience”; the dynamism of the players and “how exciting it is to hear the inner workings of the music”.

This is a common positive appraisal of conductorless orchestras – their demonstrative, vital and dynamic nature. It’s an attribute often credited to the diversified origin of the artistic ideas that make up a musical performance. As opposed to the single vision of the conductor, audience members hear the collective conception of between 30 and 40 musicians.

Thulson views this premise as having broader social implications. “Pluralistic society,” he says, “gives us more sources of social good of all sorts, whether that’s ethical traditions beyond our own or simply global cuisine.”

Notions of pluralism are under intense scrutiny in the current US presidential election. Now more than ever, diversity and difference are under attack from the narrow-minded politics of Donald Trump. Harvey Seifter and Peter Economy, the co-authors of Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestras, think the Republican nominee could learn a few lessons from the tenets of conductorless orchestras.

“Leadership ensembles are high-performing multi-leader teams that share and rotate leadership roles based on knowledge and expertise, and operate collaboratively on trust, mutual respect, emotional intelligence and integrity,” Seifter says.

“In each of those respects, they are the antithesis of the politics of Donald Trump, and the ethos of Trumpism.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Thulson argues, is the leader representative of collaborative politics. “Good leaders are servant leaders . . . They’re moderators whose first responsibility is to make sure everyone’s voice gets heard.”

Although a conductorless orchestra may seem like a radical parallel to draw, and while listening to the public may seem like a basic point to make, recent political events – the ascent of Trump, Brexit and broader euroscepticism – have shown what happens when the fundamentals of democracy are forgotten. 


Labour to strip "abusive" registered supporters of their vote in the leadership contest

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The party is asking members to report intimidating behaviour - but is vague about what this entails. 

Labour already considered blocking social media users who describe others as "scab" and "scum" from applying to vote. Now it is asking members to report abuse directly - and the punishment is equally harsh. 

Registered and affiliated supporters will lose their vote if found to be engaging in abusive behaviour, while full members could be suspended. 

Labour general secretary Iain McNicol said: “The Labour Party should be the home of lively debate, of new ideas and of campaigns to change society.

“However, for a fair debate to take place, people must be able to air their views in an atmosphere of respect. They shouldn’t be shouted down, they shouldn’t be intimidated and they shouldn’t be abused, either in meetings or online.

“Put plainly, there is simply too much of it taking place and it needs to stop."

Anyone who comes across abusive behaviour is being encouraged to email

Since the bulk of Labour MPs decided to oppose Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, supporters of both camps have traded insults on social media and at constituency Labour party gatherings, leading the party to suspend most meetings until after the election. 

In a more ominous sign of intimidation, a brick was thrown through the window of Corbyn challenger Angela Eagle's constituency office. 

McNicol said condemning such "appalling" behaviour was meaningless unless backed up by action: “I want to be clear, if you are a member and you engage in abusive behaviour towards other members it will be investigated and you could be suspended while that investigation is carried out. 

“If you are a registered supporter or affiliated supporter and you engage in abusive behaviour you will not get a vote in this leadership election."

What does abusive behaviour actually mean?

The question many irate social media users will be asking is, what do you mean by abusive? 

A leaked report from Labour's National Executive Committee condemned the word "traitor" as well as "scum" and "scab". A Labour spokeswoman directed The Staggers to the Labour website's leadership election page, but this merely stated that "any racist, abusive or foul language or behaviour at meetings, on social media or in any other context" will be dealt with. 

But with emotions running high, and trust already so low between rival supporters, such vague language is going to provide little confidence in the election process. 


The closure of small businesses in Calais is punishing entrepreneurial refugees like Wakil

By Olivia Acland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

We meet the Afghan refugee who purchased a plywood shelter, painted it with blue hearts and green flowers, and stocked it with basic supplies. The police have just destroyed his makeshift shop.

French police have returned to the Calais migrant camp, known as the “Jungle”, to continue dismantling the businesses there. Last Friday was the fourth consecutive day that they had been in the camp seizing stock from shops, restaurants and barbers.

They have arrested at least 13 proprietors and accused them of running illegal businesses without authorisation, sustaining an underground economy, and not having the required health and safety measures in place. The majority of the “Jungle” businesses have now been dismantled.

Many small enterprises have cropped up in the Calais camp over the last year, and a mud road lined with plywood shacks has been nicknamed “the high street”. Here you can find Afghan restaurants, Pakistani cafes, hairdressing salons and small convenience shops. 

The Mayor of Calais, Natacha Boucher, recently announced that the camp is to be demolished imminently, and closing down its micro-economy seems to be the first step in realising this plan.

The authorities enter the Calais camp. Photo: Juliette Lyons​

The makeshift town – which is home to more than 4,000 people – has been cowering under the threat of demolition since January, when attempts were made to bulldoze its southern stretch. Most of the people living here have come from war-torn Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and Syria, and a lot of them have been on the move for years. The shops and restaurants were bringing a degree of normality back to their lives.

The businesses were mainly run by refugees who had given up trying to cross the border into Britain and were seeking some stability within the makeshift world.

Wakil, the owner of a small convenience store, was one of these people. He left Afghanistan four years ago, where he worked first as a journalist, and then as lorry driver for the US military. He tells me that he misses his old life and job greatly: “I studied at university for four years in order to become a journalist, I am passionate about that work and I dream of doing it again.”

Forced out of his hometown after writing articles that criticised the Taliban, he moved to Kabul and found work as a lorry driver for the US Army. When the US pulled out of Afghanistan, Wakil deemed it too dangerous to stay and set off on a journey to Europe.

He travelled over land through Iran, Turkey, and Greece, and then made it to Italy in a flimsy boat. With very little money, he was forced to sleep rough until he managed to find work in a restaurant where the owner was willing to overlook the fact that he did not have the right papers.

He started to establish a life in northern Italy, taking classes to learn the language and renting. Then, when the restaurant changed hands and the new owner refused to employ anyone without a work permit, he was once again jobless and without prospects. 

“After this happened, I decided to go to England,” he says. “Back home I had met some English people and they told me that life is good over there.”

Wakil then travelled by bus through France, and ended up stuck in Calais. He says: “I tried to cross the border but a policeman caught me in the back of a lorry – he beat me and sprayed me with pepper spray. After that I was frightened and I stopped trying. I decided to stay here for a while, and I set up this business to give me something to do.”

A view of tents in the camp. Photo: Olivia Acland

After just ten days in the Jungle, Wakil managed to purchase a plywood shelter off another Afghan refugee for €370. Smuggling building supplies into the camp had become very difficult, so “property prices” within the micro-economy were on the rise.

He painted the shack with blue hearts and green flowers, and stencilled the words “Jungle Shop” onto the side in mauve. When his improvised store was ready, he borrowed a bicycle and headed into Calais to buy basic supplies from cheap supermarkets.

He filled the shelves with tomatoes, fizzy drinks, milk cartons and biscuits. Each time a customer came asking for something that he didn’t have, he’d note it down and incorporate it into his next shop. In this way, his business grew and although the profits were small (around €250 a month), Wakil was relieved to be busy and working again.

Wakil’s business wasn’t raided the first day that the police came in, but after watching other shops being emptied of stock and the owners being taken to prison, he became extremely anxious. On the evening of the first raid, he invited friends to his shop to eat or take away as much of his supplies as they wanted.

“I was too worried to eat,” he says. “But I knew that the police would come for my shop in the next days and I didn’t want everything I’d bought to be wasted.”

Fearing arrest, Wakil then went to hide in Calais and returned at the end of last week to find his shop empty. 

“The police took everything,” he tells me. “When I came back and saw it all gone I felt terrible. Many more of my friends had also disappeared – I’m told they were taken to prison.”

When I express my sympathies, he replies: “Don’t worry about me; others from the Jungle are in worse situations. This has happened to many of us.”

Most of the businesses that were providing some kind of stability for displaced people like Wakil are now just empty shells. A volunteer at Care 4 Calais (a charity distributing aid in the camp) Alexandra Simmons says, “the businesses were giving independence to refugees who had lost everything. They were extremely good for people’s mental health.”

The bare shops now serve as stark reminders that it is just a matter of time before the camp is emptied of its people too.

Olivia Acland

Chi Onwurah MP: I did not want to vote for Trident - but I did

By Chi Onwurah from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

I do believe the use of nuclear weapons is immoral, but there is more to consider than that.

I did not want to vote for the renewal of Trident. I don’t like voting with the Tories, I don’t want to legitimise a dialogue of death and I’d much, much prefer to vote for investment in schools and education than weapons of mass destruction. 

The fact that I’d recently returned from a commemorating the Centenary of the Somme with veterans of the Tyneside Battalions  had highlighted, again, both the horror and the futility of war. 

As friends in Newcastle and colleagues in Parliament can testify, I spent the days leading up to the vote asking for views. I read constituents’ emails on the subject as well as the (many) briefings. I studied the motion  in detail and listened carefully to the arguments of colleagues who were voting against Trident. 

I did not want to vote for Trident. But I did. Why?

The first duty of Government is to protect its citizens. That is a duty I take very seriously. Like all of my colleagues on the Labour benches, I am committed to the twin goals of a safe and secure United Kingdom and a world free of nuclear weapons. In both 2010 and in 2015 I was elected on manifestos that pledged we would retain the minimum necessary nuclear deterrent, whilst at the same time working towards reducing and eradicating nuclear weapons. Last year, Party members reaffirmed that policy at conference. However the Leader of my party and some of my frontbench colleagues voted against that position. 

For me there were four key questions – cost, effectiveness, morality and making the world safer.

1. Cost

Whilst there is not enough transparency on cost, the SNP and Green Party estimates of  up to £200bn double count all kinds of in-service costs, most of which would also be applicable to  any conventional replacement.  The estimate of between £30 to 40bn over 35 years seemed to me most credible. And this does not include the benefits of the 30,000 jobs that depend on building submarines - either directly or in the supply chain - or the value to the engineering and manufacturing sector that they represent. That is why my union, Unite, backed renewal. That is why EEF, the manufacturing association, backed renewal. If Trident were not renewed, the money saved would not go on the NHS, no more than our EU membership fee will.  We are a very unequal nation, but we are also a rich one - we should be able to maintain our defence capability and invest in a welfare system and the NHS.  

2. Effectiveness 

I read many reports citing cyber insecurity and potential drone attacks, but the evidence convinced me that, whilst these threats are real, they are not (yet) such as to significantly undermine effectiveness overall. Like Lisa Nandy, I was concerned about the apparently openended nature of the commitment to nuclear weapons but the motion did also emphasise disarmament. Jeremy Corbyn’s argument that nuclear weapons were ineffective because they did not deter the Rwandan genocide,  I found more difficult to follow. 

3. Morality 

This was for me perhaps the strongest argument agains renewal. It is one rarely articulated. Many hide behind cost and effectiveness when they believe nuclear weapons are immoral. 

I am not a conscientious objector  but I have a great deal of respect for those who are, and I do believe the use of nuclear weapons is immoral. 

But if you accept the concept of armed defence and believe in taking armed action to protect UK or global citizens, then the unilateral disarmament argument seems to resolve into 1) hiding behind the American deterrent 2) that it will make the world safer, or 3) that it doesn’t matter whether we end up in thermonuclear destruction as long as our hands are clean. The first and the third I do not accept.

4. A safer world

This was the question I ended up wrestling with.  Caroline Lucas’ argument that having nuclear weapons encourages other countries to use them would have been an excellent one to make back in 1948. The question now is not whether or not we have them -  we do -  but whether or not we get rid of them, unilaterally.

A world free of nuclear weapons needs countries like the UK to take a lead. It needs stability, balance, and a predictable pace of weapons reductions. It takes years of negotiations. I am proud of my party’s record on nuclear disarmament. The previous Labour Government was the first nuclear-armed power in the world to commit to the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons. We made the decision to decommission all land and air launched missiles. We did it unilaterally, setting an example. But nobody followed.

Working with other countries in recent decades, we have halved our own nuclear stockpiles and the US and Russia have reduced their warheads from 60,000 to 16,000 and that is expected to halve again by 2022. The evidence is clear that multilateralism works, although this Government has yet to demonstrate its commitment. 

So would Britain declaring that it was not going to renew Trident make the world, and the UK, safer? Would it tend to stabilise or destabilise? I spent hours debating that. I considered Britain on the road to Brexit with a new Prime Minister with no plan and an absent Labour leader, Europe between fear of migration and disintegration, Russia at bay, the Turkey coup, Israeli-Iranian relations, the Republican party’s candidate for President and the reality that terrorist massacres are a regular feature all over the world. I thought about my constituents, would declaring that Labour was against Trident make them feel safer and more secure?

My conclusion was that it would not make the world more stable and it would not make my constituents feel more secure.

And so I voted.



Locals without borders: governments are using diasporas to shape the migration crisis

By Domhnall O'Sullivan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Governments of countries key to the migration crisis are tapping diaspora influence more than ever before.

Last month, on 21 June, thousands of Eritreans descended on Geneva and marched across the city, finally stopping at the Place des Nations in front of the UN. The demonstrators had come from across Europe: Italy, Germany, London, and a young man who looked blankly at my French and English questions before exclaiming “Svenska!” (“Swedish!”).

They were here to denounce a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council condemning widespread violations of basic rights in Eritrea. According to the protesters, the report was based on shoddy research and is biased and politically-motivated: “Stop regime change agendas!” said one banner.

Two days later, a similarly sized group of Eritreans marched in the same direction, for the opposite reason. This contingent, 10,000-strong according to the organisers, wanted to show their backing for the report, which highlights many of the problems that led them to leave the Horn of Africa in the first place. Forced conscription, extrajudicial killings, and official impunity, all pinpointed by the UN inquiry, have driven a mass exodus to the surrounding region and beyond. In 2015 alone, 47,025 Eritreans crossed the Mediterranean to request asylum in Europe.

Two things stood out. First was the sharp polarisation of the Eritrean diaspora community in Europe, which muddies the waters for outsiders trying to make sense of the situation: how can one side say everything is fine while the other claims massive abuses of rights?

Second was the sheer engagement of this diaspora, some of whom may never have set foot in Eritrea. They had come from across Europe, with or without the help of funding, to stand on a rainy square and fight for the narrative of their nation.

As an Irishman abroad, would I have the commitment to jump on a plane for a political protest with no certain outcome? I probably wouldn’t, but then again my country is not just 25 years old and still struggling to define itself on the international stage.

Individual stakes are also much higher for people like Abraham, an Eritrean in Switzerland who told me how he was forced into the army for seven years before managing to escape via Sudan two years ago. With two children still in Asmara, he has significant skin in the game.

As for the naysayers, they are also under certain pressure. Some reports suggest that the government in Asmara exercises extensive power in certain diaspora circles, threatening to cancel the citizenship of those who denounce the regime or refuse to pay 2 per cent income tax each year.

Ultimately, such a situation can only lead to a committed kind of polarisation where pro-government supporters need to publicly demonstrate their backing, and the anti-government kind have nothing left to lose.

But on a more benign level, the idea of states systematically harnessing the power of the diaspora for domestic gains has also been growing elsewhere – including in Ireland. Historically a nation of emigrants, Ireland has seen its diaspora swell even further following the economic downturn: OECD figures estimate that one in six Irish-born people now live abroad.

In an age of networks and soft power, this represents a sizeable demographic, and a well-educated and well-off one to boot. The government has clearly recognized this. In 2009, the first Global Irish Economic Forum was held to tap into the business know-how of expats, and has since taken place biannually.

More importantly, two years ago the first Minister for the Diaspora was appointed, tasked with taking overall charge of engagement efforts: no longer simply cultural ambassadors operating Irish bars abroad, emigrants are economic and political seeds to be cultivated. A referendum is planned next year on whether to grant them the right to vote from abroad in presidential elections.

Elsewhere, in Germany, the 3m-strong Turkish population has attracted renewed interest from the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years. According to a 2014 paper by think tank SWP, Ankara now explicitly designates these Turks abroad as a “diaspora” rather than a scattered group, and adopts clear public diplomacy efforts, channelled through cultural centres, to tap their influence.

This has sometimes rankled in Berlin: although Ankara’s diaspora policy encourages citizens to learn German and integrate into German society, the underlying motivation is one of Turkish self-interest rather than benign assimilation. In a battle for the front-foot, German immigration policy clashes with Turkish emigration policy.

Intra-EU movements, largely unhampered by visa questions, have also become substantial enough to warrant attention. For example, hit hard by the economic downturn and austerity measures, many educated Spaniards and Portuguese have flocked to Northern European cities to seek employment.

London, a melting pot of diasporas from all over the world, is reportedly home to more French people than Bordeaux: together they would make up the sixth largest city in France. As countries continue to rebuild following the financial crisis, forging a connection to the skills and political power of such emigrants is a policy imperative.

And if no other EU country, aside from Ireland, has introduced a dedicated minister for this, the growing economic potentials may spur them to do so.

Diasporas have been around for millennia. Why are governments getting so interested now? And what does it mean for the future of citizenship, nationality, and identity?

Technology is one obvious game-changer. Diasporas not only have more options to keep in touch with their home country, but with so much of daily life now happening on virtual platforms, they also have less reason to integrate in their host society.

It is now almost feasible to ignore the surrounding communities and live quite comfortably in a bubble of media and connections from back home. This then works both ways, with governments increasingly willing to use such communications to maintain links. The “imagined spaces” of nations are morphing into “virtual spaces”, with unpredictable consequences for traditional models of integration.

Marco Funk, a researcher at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Brussels, says that the growing ease of mobility compounds the idea of “people moving from one country to another and staying there” as simply out-of-date.

The coming years, he says, will be marked by patterns of “circular migration”, where citizens hop from one country to another as whim and economic opportunity arise. Governments, especially in an increasingly stagnant Europe, will likely try to beef up links with this mobile generation, especially since it is often pulled from the more educated classes.

Fearing a “brain drain”, yet unable to keep the talent at home, they may foster a more fluid system of “brain exchange”: the diaspora as a mobile resource rather than physical loss.

Of course, none of this will be straightforward, especially at a time when a major fault-line around the world is the future of globalisation and migration. An uptick in nationalist tendencies may mean that diasporas will find themselves (once again) unwilling pawns on a political chessboard, protected or manipulated by governments back home while scapegoated by segments of their host societies.

But one thing is sure: even as walls are rebuilt, diasporas will not disappear, and governments are recognising their power. All politics may remain local, but the local now knows no bounds.


Liz McInnes MP: I voted to keep Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader - now I'm backing Owen Smith

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

I furiously opposed the vote of no confidence. But Corbyn should have listened and resigned. 

We’re deep into one of the most intense periods in British politics. The phrase “A week is a long time in politics” and the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” are becoming clichés in their overuse. As the Labour party embarks on another leadership contest, it’s useful to think about how we got here.

I haven’t been an MP for very long.  I was elected in 2014 in a by-election and came into Parliament after a long career in the NHS as a healthcare scientist. In the 2015 leadership contest I supported Andy Burnham to be our leader because I agreed with his policies and views on the NHS and also because I had been a workplace rep for Unite and Andy had given us a great deal of support.

I believe Jeremy won because for many people he was the only candidate who appeared committed to socialist principles, and the only candidate who seemed to fully oppose austerity and welfare cuts. I strongly disagree that is actually the case, but that’s how it was allowed to appear. The turning point in the campaign was the decision of the party to instruct MPs to abstain on the second reading of the Welfare Reform bill last July. Jeremy was the only candidate to vote against the plans, along with 47 other Labour MPs – myself included. It was the right decision to vote against the bill, and I believe that was the moment which convinced many to vote for Jeremy.

Although I hadn’t supported Jeremy in the leadership contest, when he was elected by an overwhelming majority I spoke with him and told him that he had my support. His large mandate from members and supporters had given him the right to lead our party, and it was important to give him the opportunity to prove himself up to the job.

I was very pleased and quite surprised to be asked to serve on Jeremy’s front bench as part of the Communities and Local Government team and I accepted the honour. Having also served as a local councillor I felt that this was a team I could get really involved in. Since September and until just a few weeks ago, I fully supported him.

At the beginning of this piece I said that we are deep into one of the most intense periods in British politics and I believe that this began with the murder of our friend and colleague, Labour MP Jo Cox. I cannot begin to describe the shock that reverberated around the Labour Party, indeed around the whole country, that somebody so giving and so vibrant could be wiped out by a senseless act of violence as she went about her business, in the normal way, on an ordinary day, in the constituency she loved so much.

MPs, and particularly female MPs, have been fearful since then. Security and safety is being improved, for ourselves and for our staff. Yet the psychological effect remains and the process of grieving is a slow and painful one.

We then had the shock of the referendum result. Suddenly our place in the world had changed. I personally felt an acute sense of loss and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.

Following the referendum result, I learnt of the motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn because of his handling of the Remain campaign. I was furious. At a time when as a Labour Party we should have been taking the Government to task over the fallout from a referendum which they had called, we had instead chosen to create divisions amongst our own party.

I made my feelings clear at the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on the Monday following the referendum result. I said that I didn’t blame Jeremy for the Brexit vote and I still don’t. I actually agreed with his message that the EU isn’t perfect, but that we were better off remaining members with the ability to influence from within, rather than standing outside with no influence and facing an uncertain future.

I said that in my opinion, the people of the UK were receiving a mixed message from the Labour party because a minority of our MPs had chosen to appear on platforms with the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, prominently on TV hustings, and one even on a boat with Nigel Farage during the ridiculous Thames flotilla. It’s not surprising, given these antics, that the public were confused about Labour’s message.

I voted against the motion of no confidence in Jeremy’s leadership. However, 172 of my colleagues, 80 per cent of the parliamentary Labour party, from all wings of the party, voted for it. I fully expected Jeremy to stand down because of such an overwhelming result. If I had received a vote of no confidence of that magnitude as a union rep, or as a councillor, then I would have stepped aside. I would have recognised the situation as being totally unworkable and I would have accepted with a heavy heart that it was time to go and let someone else take things forward.

It came as a massive surprise to me to see Jeremy refusing to go. It made no sense to me that having had it confirmed that he was unable to lead an effective opposition in Parliament, that he still chose to remain as leader, knowing that he could only be a totally ineffective leader. The job description of the leader of the Labour party is to lead the party in Parliament and it had been very forcefully pointed out to him that he was unable to do his job.

I could not understand Jeremy’s reaction. His position was untenable yet he was refusing to go. I had no choice other than to resign from my shadow ministerial role. I could no longer serve a leader who appeared to be putting his own interests ahead of the party.

Since then, and with Jeremy hungrily clinging on to power, I have watched gaping holes appear in the front bench and shadow ministerial structure following the resignations of capable colleagues all exasperated at the stubborn refusal of Jeremy to accept reality. I have colleagues who were still willing to serve a dysfunctional leadership holding down two or more roles. Every day I have seen the Tory Government mocking us, laughing at our inability to oppose them. They relish our disarray, and make no mistake about it – they are desperately hoping Jeremy stays.

Since my resignation I have been bombarded with conspiracy theories from some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. I would like to confirm that I was not bullied into standing down, as some would have it. I have not been offered a job/promotion or any other incentive, another favourite conspiracy theory. Nor was I "got at" by plotters, indeed I am unaware of any plot ever having existed. The series of resignations appeared to be an organic process triggered by the sacking of Hilary Benn, leading to members of the shadow cabinet considering their own position and making their own decisions. Some of them, like my colleagues Lilian Greenwood and Thangam Debbonaire, have since written very eloquently about their own experiences of Jeremy’s leadership. Their accounts are shocking and, knowing both Lillian and Thangam, I have no reason to doubt them.

I have become concerned about his failure to condemn protests outside MPs’ offices, showing scant regard for the atmosphere of fear and grief that Jo Cox’s tragic death has created. Just this week I have supported and signed a letter to Jeremy from female Labour MPs, started by my colleague and friend Paula Sherriff, expressing our concern about his failure to protect us at a time when we are most in need of it. His refusal to support a secret vote at the National Executive Committee meeting was a mistake and seems to suggest he really doesn’t understand the intimidating and threatening atmosphere his leadership is allowing to fester.

I have completely lost faith in Jeremy. He has the worst personal poll ratings of any opposition leader in living memory, Labour have been consistently behind in the polls since he took over, and in May we had the worst local election results of any opposition party in 40 years. Even William Hague won seats – Jeremy lost 18. Jeremy claims credit for overturning some Tory policies since September, when the truth is that he had little to do with any of it and the credit should go to individual ministers like Owen Smith and their teams, as well as to Baroness Smith and the Labour Lords, who have worked tirelessly and effectively with apparently little involvement from Jeremy or his office. After failing to get a response from him, former shadow Health secretary Heidi Alexander had to stage a sit-in outside Jeremy’s office in order to get answer from him on a question of NHS policy.

Jeremy is good at slogans and nobody can disagree with him when he identifies inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice and discrimination as blights on our society that must be tackled, but the challenge for our party is to come up with practical policy solutions to those issues and be competent and popular enough to enact them. Jeremy and his team have been short of policies since he became leader. He did announce one at his campaign launch yesterday about forcing businesses to publish equal pay reports – but it later turned out this had been a pledge in our 2015 manifesto. And he refused to answer whether he would publish such a report for his own office. This isn’t good enough.

Those who want Jeremy’s leadership to end need to do more than simply say he’s "unelectable", even though that’s what the evidence suggests, and we need to do more than point out he’s incompetent, even though that’s what the evidence suggests. We need to make it clear that Jeremy and his most loyal supporters are not the only ones who care about fighting austerity, they aren’t the only ones who care about a free and public NHS, and they aren’t the only ones who care about tackling inequality and discrimination.

We need a leader who can articulate those values that all of us in Labour believe in but also a leader who can translate fine words and speeches into action and practical policies. And it is absolutely critical that we have a leader who can carry out the basic duties of a major political party competently and effectively. We need a leader who can unite our party, our members, trade unions and MPs, so that instead of fighting ourselves we all work together towards a common goal – to win the next general election and start putting right the many wrongs which years of Tory rule have inflicted on our communities.

I believe that Owen Smith is that leader. He has the principles of the Labour Party at his core and he has the ability to lead and unite. Above all, he is a principled man who I know would never put his own self-interest above that of the party. I have utmost confidence in him and that’s why I’ll be supporting his campaign.

I love the Labour Party and I know that Owen does too. Neither of us want to see it split and we’ll be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. I want everybody who loves the Labour party to join with us in unity so that we can go forward together for the good of the country and the millions of people who need us to be up to the job.

Liz McInnes is Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton.


Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same. 


European People's Party via Creative Commons

Keir Starmer MP: Choosing ideological purity before power is a dereliction of duty

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 25, 2016.

The former director of public prosecutions believes getting involved with Brexit negotiations is crucial. 


Three weeks after Brexit, Keir Starmer held a public meeting in his London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. “We had hundreds turning up,” he remembered. “The town hall was absolutely packed - it was standing room only and we had to turn people away. We haven’t had a public meeting of that size for some time.”

When it comes to Brexit, Starmer is an obvious Labour asset. Director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, he has the legal background to properly scrutinise an EU deal. His time spent as a shadow immigration minister means he understands some of the thorniest problems facing negotiators.

But instead, the MP finds himself on the shadow back benches.

“My decision to resign was driven by Jeremy’s decision on the referendum,” he told The Staggers. “I was particularly troubled by his suggestion that we should invoke Article 50 straight away, and start the exit process [Corbyn has since backtracked on this suggestion]. 

“That is not for me a question of left-right politics. When he said that, I felt he was in fundamentally a different place from me in terms of how we fight for the future of our country.”

Starmer is not a man to enjoy life in opposition, and he has little time for airy promises. “Jeremy talks of dealing with inequality and housing projects, and a fairer society - all of which I would agree,” he said. “What I haven’t seen is the emergence of detailed policy that would get us to these places.”

He also gives purists in the party short shrift. “I would reject wholeheartedly any notion of a Labour Party that is not committed to returning to power at the first opportunity,” he said. “Of course that needs to be principled power. But standing on the sidelines looking for the purest ideology is a dereliction of the duty for any Labour member.”

Starmer believes Labour should be joining Scottish and Northern Irish leaders in trying to influence Brexit negotiations. He sees the time before invoking Article 50, the EU exit button, as crucial. 

Nevertheless, the man named after the Scottish founder of Labour, Keir Hardie, is pessimistic about the future of the UK. 

“It is going to be increasingly difficult to resist a further referendum in Scotland,” he said. “It will be increasingly difficult to keep Scotland as a part of the UK. I hope that doesn’t happen, but everyone knows David Cameron has put that at risk.”

Starmer may be a London MP, but he follows events in the rest of the country closely. While still in his shadow cabinet post, he embarked on a countrywide tour to learn more about attitudes to immigration.  

He condemns the increase in racist attacks post-Brexit as “despicable”, but insists there is “a world of difference” between these and genuine concerns about resources. “If you lose your job because there has been an influx of labour from another country, that is a legitimate cause for concern.”

He is equally scathing about the Government’s net migration cap. “If immigration is simply seen as a numbers game, nobody will ever win that debate,” he said. “The question should be: what is it we want to achieve?

“What do we expect of those who are arriving? What is the basic deal?”

In January, Starmer visited the informal camps in Calais and Dunkirk. “What I saw in Calais was appalling,” he said. “It is an hour from London. 

“To see families and children in freezing, squalid conditions without any real hope of a positive outcome was enough to make anybody think: ‘This is not the way to solve the refugee crisis.’”

The new PM, Theresa May, built her reputation on a rigid asylum policy, but Starmer believes a strong opposition can still force change. “If you take the Syrian resettlement scheme, that started life as a scheme for victims of sexual violence,” he said. “When pushed, it became a scheme for 20,000 Syrians but not if they reached Europe. When pushed, the Government accepted the case for some unaccompanied children in Europe to come to this country. 

“Labour needs to keep pushing.”

For now, though, Labour is divided. Starmer has been tipped as a future leader before, in 2015, but declined to run because of a lack of political experience. One year and a Brexit on, he certainly has some of that under his belt. But he rules himself out of the current leadership challenge: “I am 100 per cent behind Owen.” What will he do if Jeremy Corbyn wins? “Let’s cross each bridge when we come to it.”

Starmer is clear, though, that Labour can only win an election if it comes up with a more ambitious project, an economy with purpose. And the Brexit negotiations provide an opportunity. “We have to ask ourselves,” he said. “Do we simply want a series of trade agreements, the more the merrier? Or do we want deals that achieve certain ends? It is a moment to recast the future.”


South Korea’s high stakes missile deployment

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 24, 2016.

China and the US should see the rising risks of confrontation and talk

The World Bank recruits true freethinker

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 24, 2016.

Romer’s ideas are fascinating, unorthodox and politically risky

Gene therapy: A controversial cure

From Analysis. Published on Jul 24, 2016.

Recent deaths raise fears that a treatment for blood cancers is being brought to market too quickly

Erdogan’s counter-coup weakens the Syrian rebels

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jul 24, 2016.





SYRIAN rebels looking to the heavens for salvation have grown used to seeing Russian incendiary and Syrian barrel-bombs raining down instead. But at least they could count on succour and sustenance from across the Turkish border. After the aborted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that seems in doubt.

The commander of the second army, who is entrusted with securing Turkey’s southern borders, is in prison, says a veteran Turkish commentator. So too are most of the commanders of combat units on Syria’s border. (They are among more than 100 generals and admirals and 9,000 security personnel arrested since the coup attempt.) As Mr Erdogan focuses on the enemy within, he has tried to batten down what hatches he can, periodically closing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, hitherto the prime supply route to Syria’s Sunni opposition-held territory. “We’re seeing a more inward-looking, introverted posture,” says the commentator. “The military’s ability to project Turkey’s power regionally has been...Continue reading

MPs Seema Malhotra and Stephen Kinnock lay out a 6-point plan for Brexit

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 24, 2016.

Time for Theresa May to lay out her priorities and explain exactly what “Brexit means Brexit” really means.

Angela Merkel has called on Theresa May to “take her time” and “take a moment to identify Britain’s interests” before invoking Article 50. We know that is code for the “clock is ticking” and also that we hardly have any idea what the Prime Minister means by “Brexit means Brexit.”

We have no time to lose to seek to safeguard what is best in from our membership of the European Union. We also need to face some uncomfortable truths.

Yes, as remain campaigners we were incredibly disappointed by the result. However we also recognise the need to move forward with the strongest possible team to negotiate the best deal for Britain and maintain positive relationships with our nearest neighbours and allies. 
The first step will be to define what is meant by 'the best possible deal'. This needs to be a settlement that balances the economic imperative of access to the single market and access to skills with the political imperative to respond to the level of public opinion to reduce immigration from the EU. A significant proportion of people who voted Leave on 23 June did so due to concerns about immigration. We must now acknowledge the need to review and reform. 

We know that the single market is founded upon the so-called "four freedoms", namely the free movement of goods, capital, services and people & labour. As things stand, membership of the single market is on an all-or-nothing basis. 

We believe a focus for negotiations should be reforms to how the how the single market works. This should address how the movement of people and labour across the EU can exist alongside options for greater controls on immigration for EU states. 

We believe that there is an appetite for such reforms amongst a number of EU governments, and that it is essential for keeping public confidence in how well the EU is working.

So what should Britain’s priorities be? There are six vital principles that the three Cabinet Brexit Ministers should support now:

1. The UK should remain in the single market, to the greatest possible extent.

This is essential for our future prosperity as a country. A large proportion of the £17 billion of foreign direct investment that comes into the UK every year is linked to our tariff-free access to a market of 500 million consumers. 

Rather than seeking to strike a "package deal" across all four freedoms, we should instead sequence our approach, starting with an EU-wide review of the freedom of movement of people and labour. This review should explore whether the current system provides the right balance between consistency and flexibility for member states. Indeed, for the UK this should also address the issue of better registration of EU nationals in line with other nations and enforcement of existing rules. 

If we can secure a new EU-wide system for the movement of people and labour, we should then seek to retain full access to the free movement of goods, capital and services. This is not just in our interests, but in the interests of the EU. For other nation states to play hardball with Britain after we have grappled first with the complexity of the immigration debate would be to ignore rather than act early to address an issue that could eventually lead to the end of the EU as we know it.

2. In order to retain access to the single market we believe that it will be necessary to make a contribution to the EU budget.

Norway, not an EU member but with a high degree of access to the single market, makes approximately the same per capita contribution to the EU budget as the UK currently does. We must be realistic in our approach to this issue, and we insist that those who campaigned for Leave must now level with the British people. They must accept that if the British government wishes to retain access to the single market then it must make a contribution to the EU budget.

3. The UK should establish an immigration policy which is seen as fair, demonstrates that we remain a country that is open for business, and at the same time preventing unscrupulous firms from undercutting British workers by importing cheap foreign labour.  

We also need urgent confirmation that EU nationals who were settled here before the referendum as a minimum are guaranteed the right to remain, and that the same reassurance is urgently sought for Britons living in mainland Europe. The status of foreign students from the EU at our universities must be also be clarified and a strong message sent that they are welcomed and valued. 

4. The UK should protect its financial services industry, including passporting rights, vital to our national prosperity, while ensuring that the high standards of transparency and accountability agreed at an EU level are adhered to, alongside tough new rules against tax evasion and avoidance. In addition, our relationship with the European Investment Bank should continue. Industry should have the confidence that it is business as usual.

5. The UK should continue to shadow the EU’s employment legislation. People were promised that workers’ rights would be protected in a post-Brexit Britain. We need to make sure that we do not have weaker employment legislation than the rest of Europe.

6. The UK should continue to shadow the EU’s environmental legislation.

As with workers’ rights, we were promised that this too would be protected post-Brexit.  We must make sure we do not have weaker legislation on protecting the environment and combatting climate change. We must not become the weak link in Europe.

Finally, it is vital that the voice of Parliament and is heard, loud and clear. In a letter to the Prime Minister we called for new joint structures – a Special Parliamentary Committee - involving both Houses to be set up by October alongside the establishment of the new Brexit unit. There must be a clear role for opposition parties. It will be equally important to ensure that both Remain and Leave voices are represented and with clearly agreed advisory and scrutiny roles for parliament. Representation should be in the public domain, as with Select Committees.

However, it is also clear there will be a need for confidentiality, particularly when sensitive negotiating positions are being examined by the committee. 

We call for the establishment of a special vehicle – a Conference or National Convention to facilitate broader engagement of Parliament with MEPs, business organisations, the TUC, universities, elected Mayors, local government and devolved administrations. 

The UK’s exit from the EU has dominated the political and economic landscape since 23 June, and it will continue to do so for many years to come. It is essential that we enter into these negotiations with a clear plan. There can be no cutting of corners, and no half-baked proposals masquerading as "good old British pragmatism". 

The stakes are far too high for that.


How The Mare throws gender, race and even language into flux

By Joanna Walsh from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 24, 2016.

Mary Gaitskill's new novel presents an agonising world of "nice" and "nasty", where moral choice is always constrained.

I never loved pony books. Like many girls, I briefly tried to direct my longing for contact – primal and protosexual – into a dream of fusion with something more beautiful, more powerful than me: a horse. But then I found that riding was less sensual than political; it was to do with what you could afford to ride, and how often, and how you could afford to look while doing it. So far, so much like other teen courting rituals.

The Mare, like many of Mary Gaitskill’s works, is the story of a teenage girl. The Dominican-American Velveteen Vargas leaves her home in Brooklyn for “Friendly Town”, where a white couple – the childless Ginger and Paul – offer her a holiday under the Fresh Air Fund. “I’ve spent the last ten years nurturing myself and looking at my own shit,” Ginger says. “It’s time to nurture somebody else now.” She is attempting that most dangerous of things: to do good. She pays for Velvet to have riding lessons, which become an obsession, revealing society in miniature, or perhaps humanity itself.

Like other works by Gaitskill, The Mare is told polyphonically by means of interior monologues. Velvet is superbly articulate, especially about moments when she is not: “I felt, but not a normal feeling that you can say what it is.” She is also dyslexic: “although she could sound the words out perfectly and sometimes even understand their meanings individually, she could not really understand sentences put together”. No surprise; words are less than reliable. When Ginger talks to her contemporaries – biological mothers – she feels their “friendly unfriendliness” and wonders, “How do people make this simple sound into a mixture of real and false, the false mocking the real for the two seconds they rub together?”

Words are also to do with nurturing: “mare”, as Gaitskill notes, resembles the French “mère”, and motherhood is central here. “I am going down . . . like every woman in particular,” Ginger says, as if women crumbled more easily than men. She means menopause, the end of potential childbirth. As Velvet becomes a woman, her birth mother finds her to be “like a stupid animal”. Parallels are drawn between women and horses through the body: “She kicks because of hormones, because – well, basically, she’s just being a girl,” says Pat the trainer about Velvet’s horse.

Naming is a powerful force. The abused horse Funny Girl is rechristened “Fugly Girl” by the bitchy stable girls, then “Fiery Girl” by Velvet, who both identifies with her and wants to save her, just as Ginger wants to save Velvet.

Ginger at first sees Velvet as a cute animal: “Her skin was a rich brown; her lips were full, her cheekbones strong. She had a broad, gentle forehead, a broad nose, and enormous heavy-lashed eyes with intense brows . . . She was ours!” As Silvia Vargas says of her daughter, “some fool woman has made her into a pet”, yet neither people nor animals are easily petted.

“Human love”, says Ginger, “is the vilest thing” and “the most powerful drug in the world”. Paul says of Velvet: “I was beginning to feel we were doing some strange violence to her.” S&M has long been Gaitskill’s paradigm and in The Mare it sits in the ethics of the horse/rider relationship. Why do they care if you hit them with a whip?” Velvet asks. “It’s all psychological,” answers Beverly the sadistic trainer. “You control them from inside their heads. The physical is back-up. Mostly.” While Velvet uses horse behaviour to excuse her participation in bullying (“We ran together”), Ginger holds on to the distinction: “You are not a horse. You are a person.” Horses remain amoral: “one thousand pounds of unpredictable power”.

The Mare is a book about “nice” and “nasty” – words Gaitskill’s characters use to fumble at concepts of good and evil. Silvia finds Ginger “nice like a little girl is nice”. Velvet’s boyfriend, Shawn, says that “Ginger could be nice because people like her got other people to do the violence for them”. The difference is one of race. “Why is it that white people can walk their path in a way that black people – and people of my colour – cannot?” Velvet asks. At her lowest point (and Velvet’s), Ginger finds herself wondering if non-whites are “just different”, and discovers, “I’m racist. At least now I know.”

Gaitskill’s world is agonising because moral choice exists but is constrained by cruel circumstance. Silvia once had the privilege of riding a horse. Up there she saw “my life, going in different directions”. Thrown off, she has a vision of hell. “I was there, with the shit people.” Hell is a constant option. “I don’t think God would have to send people there, I think they would go there by themselves,” says Ginger who, like Velvet, has a vision of visiting it by “a door in our backyard”.

It is easy to question a white artist addressing dilemmas of white privilege. Yet not only does Gaitskill take this as her subject, but the act of writing The Mare is a direct challenge to what Justine in Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991), noticing her white mother’s careful relationship with her black maid, calls the “bloodless world of decency and politeness”.

The Mare has little of the gleeful disgust of Gaitskill’s previous books but this makes it pricklier than her most outrageous sexual tragicomedies. I loved Gaitskill before The Mare because, with brutal hilarity, she gave humanity to bullies and mean girls. But here, like Ginger, she is telling me, relentlessly, painfully, that “any good thing might happen, anything”.

Joanna Walsh’s books include the collection “Vertigo” (And Other Stories) and “Hotel” (Bloomsbury Academic)

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill is published by Serpent’s Tail (441pp, £14.99)


Munich shootings: The bloody drama where everyone knows their part

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 23, 2016.

A teenage gunman murdered nine people in Munich on Friday night. 

At time of writing, we know only certain facts about the gunman who shot and killed nine people and wounded many more at a shopping centre in Munich.

He was 18 years old. He was German-Iranian. He was reported to have shouted: "I am German." After murdering his innocent victims he killed himself.

We don't know his motive. We may never truly understand his motive. And yet, over the last few years, we have all come to know the way this story goes.

There is a crowd, usually at ease - concertgoers, revellers or, in this case, shoppers. Then the man - it's usually a man - arrives with a gun or whatever other tool of murder he can get his hands on. 

As he unleashes terror on the crowd, he shouts something. This is the crucial part. He may be a loner, an outsider or a crook, but a few sentences is all it takes to elevate him into the top ranks of the Islamic State or the neo-Nazi elite.

Even before the bystanders have reported this, world leaders are already reacting. In the case of Munich, the French president Francois Hollande called Friday night's tragedy a "disgusting terrorist attack" aimed at stirring up fear. 

Boris Johnson, the UK's new foreign secretary, went further. At 9.30pm, while the attack was ongoing, he said

"If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon now and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at source - in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East - and also of course around the world."

On Saturday morning, reports of multiple gunmen had boiled down to one, now dead, teenager. the chief of Munich police stated the teenage gunman's motive was "fully unknown". Iran, his second country of citizenship, condemned "the killing of innocent and defenceless people". 

And Europe's onlookers are left with sympathy for the victims, and a question. How much meaning should we ascribe to such an attack? Is it evidence of what we fear - that Western Europe is under sustained attack from terrorists? Or is this simply the work of a murderous, attention-seeking teenager?

In Munich, mourners lay flowers. Flags fly at half mast. The facts will come out, eventually. But by that time, the world may have drawn its own conclusions. 


Happiness is a huge gun: Cold War thrillers and the modern nuclear deterrent

By Andrew Glazzard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 23, 2016.

For all that books and films laud Britain's strength, ultimately, they show that our power is interdependent.

Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga, the ­assassin for hire in Ian Fleming’s 1965 James Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, has invested more than money in his favourite weapon. Bond’s colleagues in the Secret Service have concluded from Freudian analysis that Scaramanga’s golden gun is “a symbol of virility – an extension of the male organ”. It is just one of many phallic weapons in the Bond saga. In Dr No, for instance, Bond reflects on his 15-year “marriage” to his Beretta handgun as he fondly recalls “pumping the cartridges out on to the bedspread in some hotel bedroom somewhere around the world”. Objectively speaking, guns comprise little more than highly engineered metal and springs, but Fleming invests them with an ­extraordinary degree of psychosexual significance.

Size matters in the Bond novels – a point made by a furious Paul Johnson in a review of Dr No for this paper in 1958 (“everything is giant in Dr No – insects, breasts, and gin-and-tonics”). One of the Bond stories’ biggest weapons is a rocket carrying an atomic warhead: the Moonraker, which gives its name to the third Bond novel, published in 1955. The most important thing about the Moonraker is that it is apparently British – a gift to a grateful nation from the plutocrat Sir Hugo Drax. And, like Bond’s Beretta, it is freighted with psychosexual significance. When Bond first lays eyes on it there is no doubt that this is an erotically charged symbol of destructive power. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Bond says, with a “rapt expression”:

Up through the centre of the shaft, which was about thirty feet wide, soared a pencil of glistening chromium [. . .] nothing marred the silken sheen of the fifty feet of polished chrome steel except the spidery fingers of two light gantries which stood out from the walls and clasped the waist of the rocket between thick pads of foam-rubber.

The guns in the Bond books can be seen as expressions of their bearer’s power – or, as with Scaramanga’s golden gun, compensation for a lack of virility. The Moonraker is equally symbolic, but on a far larger scale: an expression of a nation’s geopolitical power, or compensation for its impotence.

As what is known officially as Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent (“Trident” to everyone else) returns to the top of the political agenda, the cultural dimension of the debate will no doubt continue to be overlooked. Yet culture matters in politics, especially when the issue is a weapon. As the guns in the Bond novels remind us, weapons are not merely tools, they are also symbols. Trident is not just a system comprising nuclear warheads, missiles and four Vanguard-class submarines. Its symbolic meanings are, to a great extent, what this debate is about. Trident stands for Britain itself, and it does so for different people in different ways. Your opinion on whether to cancel or replace it depends to a great extent on what kind of country you think Britain is, or ought to be.

The Cold War British spy thriller is particularly topical because it developed in tandem with Britain’s nuclear programme through the 1950s and 1960s. Moonraker was published just weeks after Churchill’s government announced its intention to build an H-bomb in the 1955 defence white paper, and three years after Britain’s first atomic test on the Montebello Islands, Western Australia. These novels drew on technological reality in their plots concerning the theft of nuclear secrets or the proliferation of nuclear technology, but they influenced reality as well as reflected it, with stories of British power that helped create Britain’s image of itself in a postwar world.

The main theme of the genre is the decline of British power and how the country responded. Atomic or nuclear weapons serve this as symbols and plot devices. Len Deighton’s debut novel, The Ipcress File (1962), for instance, concerns a plan to brainwash British scientists to spy for the Soviet Union, and has as its centrepiece an American neutron-bomb test on a Pacific atoll, observed by a British double agent who is transmitting Allied secrets to an offshore Soviet submarine. The novel’s technical dialogue on nuclear technology, and its appendices providing a fictionalised account of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb test and a factual explanation of the neutron bomb, are in the book not merely for verisimilitude: Deighton’s British spies are observers or victims of the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR, agents with remarkably little agency.

A more dour variation on the theme is John le Carré’s The Looking Glass War (1965), in which the prospect of obtaining information on Soviet nuclear missiles in East Germany provokes “the Department”, a failing military intelligence organisation, to try to regain its wartime glory with an intelligence coup. This hubris leads to tragedy as its amateurish operation unravels to disastrous effect, le Carré’s point being that military and economic might cannot be regained through nostalgic wish-fulfilment. These novels situate British decline in the context of superpower domination; their characters recall the technological and operational successes of the Second World War but seem unable to accept the contemporary reality of military and geopolitical decline. For Deighton and le Carré, Britain simply doesn’t matter as much as it used to, which is why, in le Carré’s later Smiley novels and Deighton’s Game, Set and Match trilogy (1983-85), the spymasters are so desperate to impress the Americans.

Fleming is usually seen as a reactionary, even blimpish writer – his England was “substantially right of centre”, Kingsley Amis remarked – and he signalled his own politics by making a trade unionist the ­villain of his first novel, Casino Royale (1953). So it might seem surprising that he was as concerned as his younger contemporaries Deighton and le Carré with British decline. The historian David Cannadine, for one, emphasises that although Fleming may have been aghast at certain aspects of postwar change such as the welfare state and unionisation (opinions that Bond makes no secret of sharing), he simply refused to believe that Britain was in decline, a refusal embodied in Bond’s very character.

Bond the man is more than the “anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a ­government department” that Fleming described to the Manchester Guardian in 1958. He is an expression of the British state itself, demonstrating Britain’s toughness while besting its enemies – the Russian agents of SMERSH and, later, the international criminals and terrorists of SPECTRE. He is supported by a formidable apparatus of technological and logistical capability that mythologises British research and development, which had peaked during the Second World War (a point made more obviously in the film franchise when Fleming’s Armourer becomes the white-coated Q, heir to Barnes Wallis and the ingenious technicians of the Special Operations Executive). And, as Cannadine astutely observes, “this comforting, escapist theme of Britain’s continued pre-eminence” is most evident in Bond’s relationship with the United States. The Americans may have more money, but they cannot spy or fight anywhere near as well as Bond, as is made plain when the hapless Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend in the CIA, literally loses an arm and a leg to one of Mr Big’s sharks in Live and Let Die (1954).

Moonraker, however, exposes a more complex and sceptical side to Fleming’s Bond. It is significant that this emerges in a book that is explicitly about Englishness and the Bomb. The rocket is being built atop another symbol: the white cliffs of Dover, prompting some surprisingly lyrical passages on the beauty of South Foreland coast. And yet, though replete with emblems of English tradition and bursting with hatred of ugly, evil-minded foreigners, this novel has an unmistakable political subtext that undermines its apparent confidence in British power. Drax, it turns out, is a patriot – but a patriot of Nazi Germany, which he had served as an SS officer and plans to avenge with a missile that is pointing not, as everyone believes, at a test site in the North Sea, but at central London, the intended Ground Zero being a flat in Ebury Street, Belgravia (the location, incidentally, of Fleming’s own bachelor pad in the 1930s and 1940s). The missile has been designed and built by engineers from Wernher von Braun’s wartime rocket programme, and its atomic warhead has been generously donated by the Soviet Union, which is looking to bring Britain to its knees without having to go through the rigmarole of fighting a war.

The Moonraker, we are told repeatedly, will restore Britain to its rightful place at the global top table after its unfortunate postwar period of retrenchment and austerity. But the rocket is not British, except in being built on British soil, and the aim of the man controlling it is to destroy British power, not project it. The implication is that Britain is not only incapable of looking after its own defences, but also pathetically grateful for the favours bestowed on it. After the missile is fired, its trajectory diverted by Bond back to the original target (thereby fortuitously taking out a Soviet submarine carrying the fleeing Drax), the government decides to cover it all up and allow the public to continue believing that the Moonraker is a genuinely British atomic success.

One of the ironies of the Bond phenomenon is that by examining the myths and realities of British hard power, it became a chief instrument of British soft power. Of the first 18 novels to sell over a million copies in Britain, ten were Bond books, and Moonraker (by no means the most successful instalment of the saga) was approaching the two million mark 20 years after publication. The film franchise continues to offer Cannadine’s “comforting, escapist” image of Britain (the two most recent pictures, directed by Sam Mendes, are especially replete with British icons), but the novels are altogether more uncertain about Britain’s role in the world. Moonraker is full of anxiety that the myth of British power is nothing more than a myth, that Britain lacks the industrial and scientific wherewithal to return to greatness. It even conjures up an image of the apocalypse, reminding readers of the precariousness of those cherished British values and institutions, when the love interest, the improbably named Special Branch detective Gala Brand, imagines the terrible consequences of Drax’s plan:

The crowds in the streets. The Palace. The nursemaids in the park. The birds in the trees. The great bloom of flame a mile wide. And then the mushroom cloud. And nothing left. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.


Even though their plots ensure that apocalypse is averted, Cold War thrillers thus made their own contribution to forcing us to imagine the unimaginable, as did more mainstream post-apocalyptic novels such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Nevil Shute’s bestseller On the Beach (1957) and The Old Men at the Zoo (1961) by Angus Wilson. In Desmond Cory’s Shockwave, first published in 1963 as Hammerhead and featuring the Spanish-British agent Johnny Fedora (whose debut preceded Bond’s by two years), Madrid is saved from destruction by a nuclear bomb that the Soviet master spy Feramontov almost succeeds in delivering to its target. As he contemplates his objective, Feramontov muses that, in the “bomb-haunted world of the Sixties”, death in a nuclear fireball “might even come as a release, like the snapping of an overtautened string; and after the rains of death had flooded the Earth, those who survived in the sodden ruins might think of him as a benefactor of the race”.

But where the post-apocalyptic dystopias might be viewed as an argument for nuclear disarmament, later Cold War thrillers such as Cory’s usually accepted the fact of mutually assured destruction – and that British peace and prosperity were guaranteed by US nuclear firepower. Nowhere is this more apparent than Frederick Forsyth’s 1984 bestseller, The Fourth Protocol, which turns the Labour Party’s famously unilateralist 1983 election manifesto into a uniquely party-political espionage plot. In it, the general secretary of the Soviet Union conspires with the elderly Kim Philby to smuggle into Britain a small, self-assembly nuclear bomb that a KGB “illegal” will put together and ­detonate at a US air force base in East Anglia.

Unlike in Moonraker and Shockwave, however, the objective is not to provoke hostilities or prompt military capitulation, but to persuade the British public to vote Labour – by provoking horror and outrage at the risks of US nuclear weapons remaining on British soil. However, the new and moderate Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, will have a scant few hours in Downing Street, as a hard-left rival under Soviet control (such as a certain Ken Livingstone, whom Philby describes as “a nondescript, instantly forgettable little fellow with a nasal voice”) will at once usurp Kinnock and reinstate a policy of unilateral disarmament, leading to the removal of the US missiles.

The ideological force of Forsyth’s novel is clear enough: Britain is beset by enemies within and without, and must arm itself morally and politically against communism. But although this is an insistently, even tiresomely patriotic novel, its plot makes no attempt to conceal Britain’s relative military weakness and dependence on the United States, though disaster is averted by the combined brilliance of MI5, MI6 and the SAS. The Fourth Protocol thus becomes an allegory of this country’s world-leading “niche capabilities”, which maintain Britain’s prestige and relevance despite its declining military and economic might.

Today, the political argument remains on much the same terms as at the start of the Cold War. Whichever way you look at it, Trident symbolises Britain. To its supporters, it is symbolic of Britain’s talent for “punching above its weight”, and its responsibility to protect freedom and keep the global peace. To its opponents, it is an emblem of economic folly, militaristic excess, and a misunderstanding of contemporary strategic threats; it is an expression not of British confidence but of a misplaced machismo, a way for Britons to feel good about themselves that fails to address the real threats to the nation. One academic, Nick Ritchie of York University, argues that Britain’s nuclear policy discourse “is underpinned by powerful ideas about masculinity in international politics in which nuclear weapons are associated with ideas of virility, strength, autonomy and rationality”.

In 1945, shortly after Hiroshima became a byword for mass destruction, George ­Orwell predicted in his essay “You and the Atom Bomb” that nuclear weapons would bring about what he was the first to call a “cold war”. Because an atomic bomb “is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship”, it could be produced at scale only by countries with vast industrial capacity; this would lead to the emergence of two or three superpowers, confronting each other in a “peace that is no peace”.

Orwell’s point about industrial capacity helps explain why Trident is totemic: it is proof that our industrial might has not entirely vanished. Alternatively, it can be seen as a consolation for industrial decline. This may be why the huge cost of the Successor programme – one of the main arguments wielded by Trident’s opponents against replacement – appears to be a source of pride for the government: the Strategic Defence and Security Review proclaims that, at £31bn, with a further £10bn for contingencies, Successor will be “one of the largest government investment programmes”.

Clearly, size matters today as much as it did when Fleming was writing. But Moonraker again helps us see that all is not what it seems. Just as the Moonraker is a German missile with a Soviet warhead, even if it is being built in Kent, so the missiles carried by the Vanguard-class submarines are, in fact, made in California, Britain having given up missile production in the 1960s. The Trident warheads are made in Berkshire – but by a privatised government agency part-owned by two American firms. Trident may be British, but only in the way Manchester United or a James Bond movie are British.

The Cold War spy thriller presciently suggests that true independence is an illusion. Britain may consume the most destructive weapons yet invented, but it can no longer produce them or deliver them without America’s industrial might. British power is interdependent, not independent: that is the Cold War thriller’s most politically prescient message.

Andrew Glazzard is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of “Conrad’s Popular Fictions: Secret Histories and Sensational Novels” (Palgrave Macmillan)

Donald Trump brings home his dark vision of America at the Republican convention

By Emily Charnock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 23, 2016.

The Presidential nominee pledged: "Safety must be restored."

Donald Trump brought home the Republican convention Thursday night with a dark vision of contemporary America – a darkness he claimed only his leadership could lift. It was a lengthy, tightly-scripted speech framed around polarities – insiders and outsiders, criminals and victims, the United States and the rest of the world – and infused with righteous anger. And yet against the darkness, he offered not lightness but “greatness” – a bombastic, personalistic vision of how through sheer force of will he could right the American ship before it plunged irretrievably into the depths. “I alone can solve,” he famously tweeted earlier in the campaign. This was the 80-minute version.

Any presidential challenger, of course, has to lay out a set of problems they believe need fixing and a case for why their leadership might make a difference. It was the breathtaking scale and intensity of Trump’s diagnosis, and the lack of optimistic alternative to counterbalance it, that was notable compared to other acceptance speeches. He portrayed the United States as a country riddled with crime and corruption, a “rigged system” in which politicians like Hillary Clinton can evade justice, while police officers trying to protect its citizens become targets; a fearful country, its economy sluggish, its infrastructure crumbling, its security an illusion, and its international stature in freefall

For a candidate who has mocked the soaring rhetoric of President Obama (the “hopey-changey stuff,” as Sarah Palin once called it), it was perhaps not surprising that Trump’s speech would be short on uplift. It was at least more disciplined than his other campaign speeches, if in keeping with their tone and content – the much-maligned teleprompter rolling a script to which he largely stuck. (“He sounds presidential,” a lady behind me remarked, though his press conference Friday morning marked a reversion to free-wheeling form).

It was short on substance too, though acceptance speeches aren’t designed to be policy laundry lists like a State of the Union. Still, there were few specifics, beyond a pledge to revise tax laws which inhibit religious groups from political advocacy, and a newfound concern with student loans. It was daughter Ivanka’s speech that had the greater substantive heft, promising her father would push for new labour laws to help working mothers, and for affordable childcare in the US. Neither are traditional Republican positions, but the crowd seemed on board for anything Trump might offer.

He even had them cheering for LGBTQ rights, after recalling the tragedy in Florida last month, and the need to protect gay Americans from a “hateful foreign ideology” in radical Islam. “It is so nice as a Republican to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he commended the delegates in an unscripted moment. But whether they had really embraced this unexpected message – or if it was the anti-terror chaser that really got them on their feet – remains to be seen. In either case, it was a rare grace note in an otherwise bruising speech.

Presenting himself repeatedly as the candidate of “law and order,” Trump evoked Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. At a time when American cities were erupting in race riots and protests over the Vietnam War, Nixon had pitched himself as the face of stability and security. Likewise Trump has reacted to the simmering racial tensions and terrorist attacks this summer with a hard-line stance on “lawlessness.” “Safety must be restored,” Trump said, in one of the eerier lines he delivered. Yet in his convention speech, Nixon had balanced his tough talk with a positive message – speaking of love, courage, and lighting a “lamp of hope” in partnership with the American people. 

Trump channeled another president in his speech, too, when he promised to give voice to “the forgotten men and women of our country” – drawing on the language of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt had promised to aid “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” during the 1932 campaign. But Roosevelt’s solution to the forgotten man’s distress was economic internationalism – tearing down tariff walls and trading freely with the world – which the Republican Party then opposed. Trump’s solution is the protectionist policies Roosevelt had railed against.

Trump’s economic and security philosophy is encapsulated in another, more notorious phrase associated with that era: “America First.” A rallying cry for isolationists seeking to avoid US entanglement in World War II, it acquired an anti-Semitic taint. But Trump has employed it nonetheless, capturing as it does his core argument that America must do more to protect its own citizens against threats from within and without – from illegal immigrants, from radicalized Islamic terrorists, from the downsides of free international trade. Little wonder that former George W.

Bush staffer Nicolle Wallace announced that the Republican party she knew “died in this room tonight.” In embracing elements of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism, however, it is perhaps truer to say that Trump’s Republican party reverted to an earlier form.

Often disconcerting, at times mesmerizing, the question remains how effective this speech will be. The delegates responded enthusiastically to Trump’s fierce rhetoric, but many prominent Republicans had stayed away from the convention altogether. Combined with Senator Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement, Trump goes into the general election campaign without a fully united party behind him. For both partisans and the public, Trump’s speech offered a cast of villains to rally against, but no positive, unifying vision to rally behind – beyond the much-touted yet elusive “greatness,” of course. In a typical election year, that would seem a critical flaw in a campaign – but Trump loves to confound the naysayers. As his convention speech showed, he thinks the formula that got him this far - showcasing his fame and fanning Americans’ fears – can land him in the White House.

Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Word of the week: Michellania

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 23, 2016.

Each week The Staggers will pick a new word to describe our uncharted political and socioeconomic territory. 

After brash Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paraded his family at the national convention, the word of the week is:

Michellania (n)

A speech made of words and phrases gathered from different sources, such as Michelle Obama speeches and Rick Astley lyrics.


"I listened hard, but all I heard was michellania."

"Can you really tell the difference between all this michellania?"

"This michellania - you couldn't make it up."

Articles to read if you're sick of michellania:

Do you have a suggestion for next week's word? Share it in the form below.




Fox News: Fall of the cable news guy

From Analysis. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

Roger Ailes has been forced out. What next for the Murdoch-owned broadcaster?

London requires better service from trains

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

The structure of the railway service contract is part of the problem

Brexit fears of market contagion look overdone

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

Britain’s referendum has had a limited impact on global markets

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.


Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Photo: Getty

Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it was – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

BBC screengrab

Anthony Horowitz’s New Blood is the most accurate portrayal of London millennial life on TV

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

 “Do you know how hard we work? How little we earn? This city never gives you any chances.”

The police procedural is hardly the most cutting edge televisual format, burdened as it is by generic clichés and tired characters. But every now and then, one comes along attempting to do something new with an old format – from Life on Mars to Happy Valley. The latest effort is the BBC’s New Blood. Created by Anthony Horowitz, it follows two (extremely handsome) junior investigators, both second-generation immigrants in their early twenties living in London: Arash Sayyad (Ben Tavassoli), working for the Met, and Stefan Kowolski (Mark Strepan), who works for the Serious Fraud Office.

On the surface, there is nothing revolutionary about this programme – it has all the usual hallmarks of its genre. Stefan and Rash dislike each other at first, but find circumstance thrusts them together on numerous unlikely occasions – who woulda thunk these two oddballs would become partners in crime prevention!!! Both have older bosses who raise exasperated eyebrows at their unconventional but often effective methods. Each work on cases at first, seemingly unrelated to one another, but each time slowly are revealed to be intertwined.

But there is something slightly strange about this programme that’s apparent from the very first episode. As Radio Times critic Huw Fullerton wrote in his review of the show’s opening case, New Blood is “obsessed” with the London property market:

“Throughout the first few episodes lead characters Stefan and Rash regularly suspend their investigations into murder and corruption to fret about getting on the housing ladder, the rights they have to fixed rent and the logistics of getting a mortgage on a low salary.  Even one of the series’ villains couldn’t resist getting in on the property action, evilly swilling a glass of wine and threatening his niece with eviction from her rent-free Zone 1 flat if she didn’t keep supplying him with illicit information.”

“I know how hard it is for young professionals in London,” the villain in question purrs. “House prices are ridiculous.” And as further cases have unfolded, including last night’s finale, this streak has only become more extreme. Some of the series most significant events are motivated by people hoping to preserve the value of their luxurious central properties; Rash’s sister gives him the details of a potential room in Wandsworth as a kind of present; Stefan and Rash are thrown together by their shared desperate need to find somewhere affordable to live. One of the highest-octane moments of the series’s final episode involves an action montage of the pair running across London after a traumatic car accident to make their scheduled time for a flat viewing. It’s almost laughable.

But it’s not just property that drives the characters and plots on New Blood. It’s all the concerns of millennial life in London – immigration levels, transport, the environment, isolation and mental health. Stefan and Rash cycle to their insecure jobs (both are constantly being fired) and undercover meetings with big pharma bosses and property developers, trying to right the great wrongs of the city. Stefan uses his Polish language abilities to communicate with the low-paid workers often exploited by the villains of each case – one of whom says to him, “Do you know how hard we work? How little we earn? This city never gives you any chances.”

Debates about high-rise developments and corporate greed nestle in with chatty dialogue about being underpaid, unappreciated and undermined by the city. Even the deaths seem to play on urban anxieties: a man tumbles to his death from an E3 tower block, while a woman suffers a fatal fall from a tall escalator at an underground station, her death calmly declared in an announcement that continues, “There is a good service on all other lines.”

The result is an overly earnest but surprisingly accurate portrait of a certain kind of young professional in London – the only thing that stopped me laughing at the constant overwrought references the housing crisis was thinking of how much of my own brain-space is dedicated to thinking about rent, and how much I talk about it as a result.

It also means the show has a refreshing take on villains – there are no stereotypical lone-wolf terrorists or crazed spurned women here. Instead, Stefan and Rash repeatedly attempt to arrest the uber-rich and powerful: criminals who can hide behind facades of legitimacy and wealth. The show’s very premise – the Serious Fraud Office and the police teaming up to form a heroic young double act – rests on the idea that the city’s greatest injustices are made by corporations and corrupt governments hoping to fleece the ordinary individuals that live there.

Many reviewers have criticised the show for being too on-the-nose in its urban criticisms, but for me that’s where the hilarity and the joy of this show lies. Where else could the line, “You wouldn’t want that, any more than you would want to lose this flat” be delivered with such delicious venom?


How the “conscience” objection for doctors is being used to threaten safe access to abortion

By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jul 22, 2016.

A new parliamentary report seeks to expand how far a doctor’s “conscientious objection” to providing abortion can stretch.

Getting an abortion in the UK is an exercise in hoop-jumping. You have to find a doctor willing to refer you (jump), convince them your case satisfies the conditions of the 1967 Abortion Act (jump), have a second doctor confirm this (jump), and get yourself to a clinic (jump). Given tha