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The Observer — February 4, 2018

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In this
Andrew Rawnsley ‘Tories are kidding themselves
if they think their troubles begin with Theresa May’
Lullaby author
Leïla Slimani
talks to
Afua Hirsch
On Lady Bird, Oscars
and feminism
Marx at 200
In this section
In the new review | Sunday 4 February 2018 | £3.00
Brexit attacks
on civil service
‘are worthy of
1930s Germany’
 Ex-cabinet secretary
attacks ‘Weimar tactic’
 ‘Betrayal claim sign
critics losing argument’
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Leading Brexiters who accuse civil
servants of sabotaging Britain’s exit
from the EU are adopting dangerous
tactics similar to those of rightwing
German nationalists between the two
world wars, a former head of the civil
service has warned.
In a stark assessment of the acute
tensions developing over the issue,
Brexit debate ‘Redcar
made the best steel
in the world – now
all we make is lattes
and sandwiches’
Pages 10-13
Andrew Turnbull, who led the civil
service under Tony Blair, said that
Whitehall officials had become the
victims of “pre-emptive scapegoating” by Brexiters who feared they
were losing the argument.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new leader
of the European research group of
Eurosceptic Tory MPs, has suggested
that Treasury officials could be deliberately trying to frustrate Brexit.
Yesterday he repeated a claim that
the Treasury was “fiddling the figures” to emphasise the downside of
a “hard” Brexit in which Britain would
leave both the single market and customs union.
Former chancellor Nigel Lawson
also recently claimed that officials
would attempt to frustrate Brexit
because they were opposed to “radical change”.
Lord Turnbull is among a number
of senior figures concerned about
attacks on the civil service, with
many worried that the atmosphere
will deteriorate further as more difficulties emerge.
Robin Butler, another former cabinet secretary, said he believed the
Continued on page 12
Uma Thurman accuses Weinstein
Private parole
firms ‘failing
to hit targets
on crime cuts’
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Inside: ‘He pushed
me down. He tried
to expose himself.
He did all kinds of
unpleasant things.’
Full story, page 5
Actress Uma Thurman, pictured at the Tony awards last year, says Harvey
Weinstein sexually assaulted her at the Savoy hotel in London. Invision, AP
The vast majority of companies set up
to tackle reoffending as part of a controversial drive to privatise the probation service have failed to meet their
targets, in a substantial embarrassment for the government.
Dramatic official figures have
revealed that only two of the
21 regional companies set up to oversee low and medium-risk offenders
have managed to reduce the number of new offences committed
by reoffenders.
The revelation comes amid claims
that the probation system is in crisis. Senior figures in the service warn
that the companies involved lack the
resources to do the job, while staff
shortages have already meant that
some ex-offenders are supervised by
telephone calls.
The failure emerges just weeks
after the public spending watchdog,
the National Audit Office, warned that
the new “payment by results” system
meant that a failure to hit reoffending targets could blow a further hole
in the service’s finances. The companies involved have already required
an extra £340m.
It is another sign of the difficulties
facing public services after years of
public spending cuts. Theresa May
is already under pressure over NHS
funding, with a crisis also hitting the
Continued on page 4
The Observer
In today’s Observer
Sunday 4 February 2018
In this section
I the Observer The best columns
Will Hutton
Special report
The DNA database that holds
the key to beating rare diseases
page 21
Why are mortality rates for
prostate cancer rising?
Choose T-shirts
Comment, page 50 
From practical tunic
to fashion upstarts
page 14
Barbara Ellen
An obsession with strong women
is another way to keep us down
Taking a knee
Has the protest changed US
S race
relations? By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
page 40
Comment, page 27 
In the New Review
David Olusoga
Jo Brand
Greta Gerwig
04 | 02 | 18
Indie movie star turned
Oscar nominated director
pages 8-11
How the
contents of
sewers becam
museum exhibi
‘I’m a national disgrace,
not a national treasure’
pages 12-15
Civilisation transformed TV –
now it’s time for an update
The Sunday essay, comment, pages 55-57 
Leïla Sliman
meets writer i
Afua Hirsch
The fatberg is coming!
gangs in Parisof
To a museum near you ...
pages 12-15
Mark Kermode on Phantom
Thread, Kitty Empire on
Lady Gaga, Susannah Clapp
on Caesar
pages 30-45
Fresh creps
This season’s best trainers for men
page 31
Nigel Slater
Whispering spices from the
kitchens of the Middle East
pages 24-31
The rise of
Greta Gerw
film stalwart
ig from indie
director. Inter to Oscar-nominate
view by Tim
In Sport
Eva Wiseman
I’d rather rely on the kindness
of strangers than learn to drive
Magazine, page 5 
Kenan Malik
Immigration is not the roott
cause of Britain’s malaise
by Suki
Dhanda for
the Observ
er New Review
Comment, page 17 
Six Nations
Mariella Frostrup
Wales get off to flying start
pages 2-3
If you can’t stop smacking
your children you need help
Lizzy Yarnold
Sochi heroine get set for
the Winter Olympics
page 24
Magazine, page 46 
Sections of The Observer are carefully collated at our print site and by newsagents. If any section of today’s UK edition of The Observer is missing, call freephone 0800 839100. Back issues can be obtained from Historic Newspapers, 0844 770 7684 or
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ISSN 0029-7712
Private parole
‘lack resources
for the job’
Continued from page 1
nation’s prisons system. The supervision of offenders not deemed highrisk was handed to 21 community
rehabilitation companies (CRCs) in
2014, as part of a privatisation drive
by the former justice secretary Chris
Grayling. Companies were to be partly
paid in relation to their success in
reducing reoffending.
However, official figures from the
first year of the new system’s opera-
tion reveal that, among the prisoners
who went on to reoffend, the average
number of crimes committed in 201516 went up in all but two areas compared with 2011.
It means that only the companies operating in Merseyside and
Northumbria met their targets and
are in line to receive a full payout from
the Ministry of Justice. The remaining 19 could have a portion of their
income cut as a result of the “payment
by results” system.
These results follow a devastating
official report at the end of last year in
which Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief
inspector of probation, said there was
“no clear evidence that payment by
results linked to reoffending rates
[had] made any difference to the life
chances of these or others under probation supervision.
“In those cases we inspected, only
a handful of individuals had received
any real help with housing, jobs or an
addiction, let alone managing debt or
getting back into education or training,” she said. “What is more, about
one in 10 people were released without a roof over their heads.
“CRCs are too often doing little
more than signposting and formfilling. Apart from Wales and Durham
CRCs, we find that CRCs we have
inspected are making little material
difference to the prospects of individuals upon release, and yet this work
is so important in breaking the cycle
of offending.”
Chris Grayling
set up supervision
schemes when
justice secretary.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for
Penal Reform, said the data revealed
significant flaws in the privatised
service. “The rhetoric at the time of
the privatisation was all about payment by results and improving the
fight against reoffending,” he said.
“But that was really just a smokescreen for something that was about
cutting costs and taking money out
of the system.
“When you put these figures
alongside Glenys Stacey’s report, it
is impossible to avoid the conclusion
that this was about taking money
out. When you boil it down, this is
a service where companies are failing and being paid to fail because of
a botched privatisation.”
The Ministry of Justice said that
there were now fewer offenders overall and that those who remained in
the criminal justice system were more
prolific offenders – which explained
why the numbers of new offences per
reoffender were increasing.
“Our probation reforms mean we
are monitoring 40,000 offenders who
would previously have been released
with no supervision,” a spokesperson
said. “Overall, community rehabilitation companies have reduced the
number of people reoffending, but
they need to do more to ensure we
have a service that keeps the public
safe and helps offenders turn their
back on crime.
“Probation officers are doing an
incredibly professional job, and we
will continue to work closely with
CRCs to improve performance.”
The department also said that
those companies that had failed to
meet targets would face deductions
in their fees.
The Observer
Pulp Fiction star Uma Thurman breaks her
silence to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault
Actress claims the
disgraced film mogul
threatened to derail her
career after incident in
Savoy hotel in London
Edward Helmore
New York
Actress Uma Thurman has claimed
that she was sexually assaulted by
the disgraced film producer Harvey
The Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill star,
who last year suggested she would
tell the story of her experience when
she was ready, yesterday told the New
York Times of an attempted assault in
Weinstein’s suite at the Savoy hotel
in London.
“It was such a bat to the head,” she
said. “He pushed me down. He tried
to shove himself on me. He tried to
expose himself. He did all kinds of
unpleasant things. But he didn’t actually put his back into it and force me.
“I was doing anything I could to get
the train back on the track. My track.
Not his track.”
The actress also accuses her former
agency, CAA, of being “connected to
Weinstein’s predatory behaviour” and
said Quentin Tarantino, the director
of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, which was
produced by Weinstein, failed to protect her when she crashed a car while
filming Kill Bill.
Thurman told the NYT columnist Maureen Dowd that at the time of
Weinstein’s alleged assault, she was
staying with a friend in Fulham, west
The following day, Weinstein sent
a “vulgar” bunch of roses. “They were
yellow. And I opened the note like it
was a soiled diaper and it just said,
‘You have great instincts’.”
The actress later returned to the
Savoy to confront the producer and
asked him to meet her in the bar.
Weinstein’s assistants, Dowd writes,
‘Quentin used
Harvey as the
producer of Kill
Bill, a movie that
symbolises female
Thurman says she feels bad
about not speaking out about
Weinstein earlier. Getty
“had their own special choreography to lure actresses into the spider’s web”. Thurman was pressured
into returning upstairs. She says she
warned Weinstein: “If you do what
you did to me to other people, you will
lose your career, your reputation and
your family, I promise you.”
The friend, Ilona Herman, said that
after the meeting, Thurman “was very
dishevelled and so upset and had this
blank look. Her eyes were crazy and
she was totally out of control. I shovelled her into the taxi and we went
home to my house. She was really
Herman told the NYT that when
the actress was able to talk again, she
revealed that Weinstein had threatened to derail her career. The producer had apparently brushed off
the previous alleged incident and his
assistants started calling again to talk
about projects.
Thurman says she felt bad that by
not speaking out earlier she might
have failed to protect others from
Weinstein, who has consistently
denied the allegations against him.
“I am one of the reasons that a young
girl would walk into his room alone,
the way I did,” she told Dowd.
“Quentin used Harvey as the executive producer of Kill Bill, a movie
that symbolises female empowerment. And all these lambs walked
into slaughter because they were convinced nobody rises to such a posi-
tion who would do something illegal
to you, but they do.”
After her Weinstein experience,
Thurman says, Tarantino’s failure
to protect her while filming Kill Bill,
was another blow. She describes how
Tarantino persuaded her to drive a car
against her will. “Quentin came in my
trailer and didn’t like to hear no, like
any director. He was furious because
I’d cost them a lot of time. But I was
scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car
is fine. It’s a straight piece of road’.”
After she agreed, he told her: “Hit 40
miles per hour or your hair won’t blow
Surge in therapy as Weinstein saga
reopens wounds in Hollywood
Rory Carroll, page 36
the right way and I’ll make you do it
again.” But Thurman says: “That was
a deathbox … The seat wasn’t screwed
down properly. It was a sand road and
it was not a straight road.” Producers
told NYT they did not recall Thurman
objecting. Tarantino did not respond
to the claims.
The car crashed
. “The steering
wheel was at my belly
and my legs
were jammed under me,” she said. “I
felt this searing painThand
is isthought, ‘Oh
God, I’m never going
to walk
is being
“When I came back
the hospital in a neck brace
with my
in knees
damaged and a concussion
… Quentin
dummy text
an and I
and I had an enormous
accused him of trying to kill me. He
was very angry at that, I guess understandably, because he didn’t feel he
had tried to kill me.”
The Observer
in teacher
hits 30,000
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Ministers have failed to meet their
own teacher recruitment targets for
five years in a row, leading to 10,000
fewer secondary school teachers
being hired than intended.
Staffing levels in further education
have slumped by 20,000 since 2010,
according to figures that have led to
further claims of a crisis in the classroom. In secondary schools, shortfalls
are most severe in subjects that ministers claim to be prioritising, such as
maths, physics and computing.
The new research comes after a
damning report last week from the
public accounts committee that there
had been a failure to persuade teachers to stay in the profession.
However, analysis of the government’s own teacher recruitment targets shows it has consistently failed to
reach the necessary numbers – with
the biggest shortfall coming last year,
when the target was missed by 3,000.
The target for recruiting computing teachers has been missed by more
than 1,000 over a five-year period.
There has been a shortfall in physics
teachers of almost 1,200, while the
Angela Rayner,
shadow education
secretary, exposed
the FE staff crisis.
target for maths teachers has been
missed by 1,850 recruits.
Official statistics show a sharp
decline in teachers in further education colleges, a fall of nearly 20,000
between 2010 and 2017. Labour
warned that the public sector pay
cap left staff around £2,500 worse off
over the same period. The Institute for
Fiscal Studies thinktank stated that
FE funding per pupil will fall to the
level of 30 years ago by 2020.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary who uncovered the
figures, said: “This government have
created a crisis at every stage of our
education system, missing their own
school teacher recruitment targets in
five consecutive years, while tens of
thousands more are lost from further
education colleges. The Tories’ public sector pay cap is leaving teachers
thousands of pounds worse off and
making it impossible for schools and
colleges to recruit the staff they need.”
Dying man fights cut
to benefits in court
Lawyers to challenge move
to universal credit that has
left disabled worse off
Jamie Doward
A terminally ill man has won the right
to launch a landmark legal challenge
to the government over its introduction of universal credit after the controversial new benefits system left
him significantly worse off.
The 52-year-old, known only as
TP, a Cambridge graduate who once
worked in the City, has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the rare lymph
node condition Castleman disease.
Following a successful hearing last
week, a full judicial review of his
claim will take place next month, the
first high court challenge of its kind.
The outcome could have consequences for thousands of other disabled people who claim that they are
now experiencing financial hardship
as a result of having had their benefits restricted under universal credit.
“I am proceeding with the judicial
review for my own personal financial situation during this very difficult time of illness, but also because
it is quite wrong of the government to
remove by stealth and without prior
warning on a transition into universal credit a much-needed benefit for
people trying to cope alone at home
with a substantial disability,” TP told
the Observer. “This includes the most
very vulnerable of society. It piles on a
financial burden at a time when these
people are most in need of assistance
to continue their day-to-day lives as
best they can.”
TP became terminally ill in 2016
and received the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability
premium (EDP), which were set up to
meet the needs of severely disabled
people living alone without carers.
Following the introduction of universal credit (UC), both benefits for
TP were removed, despite a government pledge that no one with a
severe disability would be financially
worse off. According to the charity
Disability Rights UK, the abolition of
SDP will cost disabled adults with no
one to care for them, or with only a
young carer, about £62.45 per week,
or £3,247.40 a year. The abolition of
EDP will cost them £15.90 per week
or £826.80 a year.
Following his diagnosis, TP’s doctors recommended that he move to
London to receive treatment. His
return to the capital, a universal credit
full-service area, led to a reduction in
his benefits which, say his lawyers,
has resulted in their client being £178
a month worse off. They contend that
the government’s decision to introduce the single benefit, while removing his disability benefits, has left TP
in financial difficulties, which have
had a major impact on him at a time
of extreme ill health and stress.
Tessa Gregory from the law firm
Leigh Day, which is representing TP,
said David Gauke, the former work
and pensions secretary, had made
repeated commitments to protect
existing benefit levels with “top-up
payments” for claimants moving to
UC. Gauke had pledged: “No one will
experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of
migration to universal credit where
circumstances remain the same.” But
‘It is quite wrong to
remove by stealth a
much-needed benefit
for people trying to
cope alone at home’
TP, claimant
both the work and pensions select
committee and the House of Lords
secondary legislation scrutiny committee have concerns that disabled
people could miss out on benefits,
with no top-up payments planned
until July 2019. “We believe that by
taking away these essential benefits
for some of the most vulnerable people in society, the government has
acted unlawfully,” Gregory said.
A DWP spokeswoman said that it
was unable to comment on the specifics of the case while the review
was under way. She added: “Unlike
the previous system, universal credit
is more targeted and support is
focused on those who need it most.
Transitional protection is also available for those people who move on
to UC from other benefits, provided
their circumstances stay the same.”
The Observer
Simon Schama spearheads fight to rescue
Europe’s historic abandoned synagogues
Campaign launching
this week will identify
and try to save Jewish
places of worship, from
south Wales to Belarus
Merthyr Tydfil’s
Old Synagogue
closed in the
1980s and today
stands empty. If
restored, it could
become a new
Jewish museum
for Wales.
Harriet Sherwood
Religion Correspondent
“Its gothic twin turrets and stainedglass window featuring a six-pointed
star look out from a hillside over a
town in south Wales. A Welsh dragon
decorates the building’s gable. But
rooms that once resonated to the
murmur of prayers and readings from
the Torah are abandoned; windows
are broken, plaster is crumbling and
the roof is open to the sky.
But now the Old Synagogue in
Merthyr Tydfil, built in the 1870s,
could be reborn. It is part of an
extraordinary scheme – to be
launched this week by the historian
Simon Schama – to map more than
3,300 historic synagogues across 48
European countries, and restore the
most significant sites.
The synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil
was the centre of a community of
around 400 Jews, many from eastern
Europe. Its members ran a button factory, a chocolate business, a betting
shop, property companies and other
local enterprises. The annual Jewish
Ball was attended by many of the
town’s citizens, Jews and non-Jews.
But by the 1980s, a minyan – a quorum of 10 men – could no longer be
reached, and the synagogue was sold.
The grade II-listed building became
a Christian centre and later a gym;
today it lies empty and vandalised.
Now, however, there is hope that
it will be preserved and restored as a
Jewish museum, part of the scheme
being rolled out this week. The project, commissioned by the Foundation
for Jewish Heritage, has identified
synagogues built before the second
world war, from Cork in Ireland to
Vladivostok in Russia. Each has been
catalogued with construction dates
and materials, the Jewish community
it served, its present use and condition, and a “significance rating”.
Schama will launch the project in
parliament on Wednesday with the
backing of more than 40 high-profi
ton Abbey
supporters including Downton
creator Julian Fellowes, architect
on newsDaniel Libeskind, television
ky, artist
reader Natasha Kaplinsky
Anish Kapoor, authors Linda
da Grant
and Howard Jacobson, and
d formerr
government ministers Malcolm
Rifkind and Tristram Hunt.
Before 1939, there weree an
estimated 17,000 synagogues
ajoracross Europe, but the majority have been lost. Of the 3,318
surviving buildings, only 718
still function as Jewish places
es of
worship; others are abandoned,
urin ruins or used for other purposes such as warehousing,
Simon Schama
will launch the
project to save
the synagogues
this week. It has
attracted highprofile support.
Kaplinsky has
family ties
to the Great
Synagogue in
Slonim, Belarus,
a priority for the
‘Each has a different
story. In many cases,
these buildings are
the last witnesses to
a Jewish life that was’
Michael Mail, Foundation
for Jewish Heritage
at pr
factories, restaurants and theatres.
One houses a swimming pool; others are funeral homes or fire stations.
The project faced “special challenges around Jewish heritage”,
especially in eastern Europe, said
foundation member Michael Mail.
“The Holocaust was followed by
communism. Many buildings were
abandoned and essentially lost their
communities of users. In preserving
these buildings, we also preserve the
stories of the communities that for
hundreds of years were the heartlands of the Jewish people. These
places can serve as profound portals
into the worlds that were once there.”
The inventory was undertaken
by the Center for Jewish Art at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
assisted by heritage experts in individual countries.
“We can’t save them all, so let’s
save the best, the most important, the
most at risk,” said Mail. “We’ve homed
in on 160, and narrowed those down
to 19, where there’s a good chance of
saving and restoring the buildings.
Each has a different story. In many
cases, these buildings are the last witnesses to a Jewish life that was. This is
not just Jewish heritage: it is Europe’s
cultural and historical heritage and
we’re in a race against time to save it.”
One of the first buildings in line for
restoration is the Great Synagogue in
Slonim, Belarus, built in the 1640s.
Before the second world war, 17,000
Jews lived in Slonim, more than twothirds of the local population. An estimated 200 survived.
The synagogue, a baroque building overlooking the marketplace, was
used as a warehouse after the war but
has been abandoned for 18 years. It
has been vandalised and is in danger
of collapse, but some of the interior
paintings and carvings are intact.
Among those rounded up and
killed in Slonim were Kaplinksy’s
relatives. The newsreader discovered
her Jewish family history when she
travelled to the city for the television
series Who Do You Think You Are?
“It was devastating to find out
that a large number of my family
were killed by the Nazis,” she told the
Observer. “One key moment [in the
Slonim trip] was going to the synagogue where most of my family used
to worship before being rounded up
and burned alive.”
The synagogue is a “majestic building, absolutely stunning. You can see
its history on its walls, but it is falling
apart. I was horrified to find swas-
tikas painted on the outside walls.”
After the programme was made, 27
Kaplinsky family members from all
over the world met in Belarus. “We
ended up in the synagogue,” Kaplinsky
said. “It was hugely symbolic that the
building that tore our family apart
brought us back together.”
There were lessons to be learned
from the past, she added. “When
you look around the world you can
see the devastation caused by prejudice and hatred. We need to educate
future generations and remind them
of history.”
Discussions are now under way to
restore the Slonim synagogue as a
Jewish museum, educational and cultural centre, and a place of worship.
In Merthyr Tydfil, the proposal to
restore the Old Synagogue as a Jewish
museum of Wales is supported by the
city council and local politicians.
Gerald Jones, the Labour MP for
Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, said
the restoration plan “would see this
building once again playing a part in
the life of our community”. The foundation is seeking funding from partners including the Heritage Lottery
Fund in the UK. It is also hoping for
donations from people with family
connections to synagogues.
The Observer
‘Pay gap made me quit BBC,’ says ex-Africa reporter
Vanessa Thorpe
Arts and Media Correspondent
Jane Standley says
her experiences at the
broadcaster mirrored
that of China editor
Carrie Gracie
Former BBC foreign correspondent
Jane Standley, inspired by the stand
taken by Carrie Gracie, has decided
to speak out for the first time today
about the gender pay discrimination
she claims she also faced while working for the BBC. “My own experience
of unfair pay was so similar,” Standley
told the Observer. “In the end I was
just sick of it.”
Standley, 54, worked on the front-
line in African hotspots in the 1990s
and covered the attack on the twin
towers in New York in 2001. She
found out she was paid less than her
male colleagues, raised the issue, and
then got on with the job.
But last Wednesday, when she
heard former BBC China editor
Gracie’s dramatic evidence to the
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
select committee, she decided to
give a first-hand account of her own
struggle for fair pay.
Winner of the Sony reporter of the
year award in 1997, along with several
other industry accolades, Standley
eventually left the BBC largely as a
result of the pay disparity that she
had uncovered.
“My boss actually acknowledged it
and told me it was something I had to
put up with. I am so angry that things
just don’t seem to have changed,” she
said yesterday.
Like Gracie, Standley took calculated risks in search of stories and,
in the field, faced some of the worst
things humans can do to each other.
Gracie stood down as China editor
last month after what she says were
repeated attempts to gain pay parity
with male BBC foreign editors, such
as Jon Sopel and Jeremy Bowen.
I feel Carrie’s pain: I too was
belittled and undermined
I felt Carrie Gracie’s pain last week
as she explained in public that she
had been told – essentially – that
she wasn’t good enough. She was
“in development”.
I felt Carrie’s pain because I was
also belittled and undermined as a
woman BBC foreign correspondent. I had committed the same crime
– catching the BBC red-handed in
breaking not just equal pay legislation, but a deeper moral code of
truth-telling and human decency.
I was in my early 30s when I
asked the BBC to pay me the same
as the men who had been, or were
currently, doing the same job with
the exact same title as the one to
which I had just been appointed:
BBC Africa correspondent, based in
Johannesburg. And the first female
one at that. This was 19 years ago –
but it seems nothing has changed.
I sat in an office at BBC TV Centre
with a senior manager who told me
I was being paid roughly the same
as the men. I explained that I had
evidence that this was not true. The
BBC boss acknowledged my facts
– she knew as well as I did that my
male colleague was earning nearly
50% more than I was being offered.
Is it because I am a woman, I asked,
as that’s what it feels like.
In the end I had to settle for a
nudge up, but still 25% less than the
man. I was told: take it or leave it.
Take it I did, as I loved my job and
the BBC. But to add similar insult
to injury as Gracie received, I was
told my pay was not equal because
I needed to “develop” the craft skills
in my “basket”.
I had just been to Buckingham
Palace to collect the MBE I’d been
given in the New Year’s honours list
for “services to broadcast journalism”. I put it in my “basket” next to
the Sony gold award for reporter of
the year which I’d been given the
year before, in 1997, towards the
end of a three-year posting as BBC
East Africa correspondent. I was
based in Nairobi, covering genocidal Rwanda and Burundi, the
wars in South Sudan and the now
Democratic Republic of Congo along
with Somalia, one of the most dangerous places on earth. I mention
my patch because one of the skills I
was told I needed to develop in my
“basket” was more war reporting
experience. Right. One of the men
I worked alongside had no conflict
or foreign reporting experience. But
more pay, no doubt.
I was flabbergasted and upset. I
had been shot at, jailed, threatened
and followed, had my phone bugged
and my car windscreen shot out. But
still I wasn’t good enough.
When I asked for guidance, for
training, to help fill my “basket”,
I was sent to people who told me
what colour clothes suited me and
what make-up to buy. I smarted
with embarrassment and humiliation in an emergency feeding centre in the heat of South Sudan as aid
workers weighed skeletal babies and
I tried to make my foundation stick
and stop my mascara running.
The erasing of confidence, the
constant battle to be good enough
had a lasting and severe impact.
Nevertheless, I persisted. But it
didn’t change and I should have
been prepared for the question
from another BBC boss when I was
Auntie asleep at the wheel in the
great pay pile-up
Focus, pages 42-43
based in New York. By then, I had
an Emmy for coverage of the 9/11
attacks in my “basket”.
“You’ll want to wind up your posting early then?” the boss asked when
I told him I was pregnant. I didn’t.
Eventually, 18 years after I had
joined the BBC on one of its coveted trainee reporter schemes back
in 1989, and ground down by the
broadcaster I loved, I followed many
other women. I left.
Jane Standley was Africa correspondent for the BBC from 1994 to 2001
The Observer
Cambridge tops the
league … as Britain’s
most unequal city
City’s wealth is growing
but only a small percentage
of well-paid, highly skilled
workers are benefiting
Donna Ferguson
It is warm inside the Wintercomfort
for the Homeless day centre in
Cambridge, where 40 people and
their dogs have taken shelter from
the icy wind whipping across nearby
Midsummer Common. “There’s a lot
of poverty in Cambridge but, because
of the image of the town, much of
it goes unseen,” said James Martin,
the centre manager. “It’s a wealthy
city that has benefited from a lot of
growth in recent years but there’s still
a ‘town and gown’ divide. Just outside the city centre people are living
in very deprived areas.”
A report by the Centre for Cities
think tank last week identified
Cambridge as the least equal city in
the UK for the second year in a row.
Income was more unevenly distributed among residents than in any of
the other 57 UK cities measured in the
annual report, including Oxford and
The top 6% of earners who live in
Cambridge take home 19% of the total
income generated by residents, while
the bottom 20% of people account for
just 2% of the total.
“There’s more to this statistic than
meets the eye,” said Paul Swinney,
head of research and policy at Centre
for Cities. “Some of the most equal
cities – such as Burnley, Mansfield
and Barnsley – have some of the
weakest economies and have a lack
of job opportunities. One reason
Cambridge is so unequal is because
it has a much greater share of highlypaid, high-skilled jobs. The question
for policymakers is: does everyone in
Cambridge have the skills and opportunities to access those jobs?”
In numbers
of people living in Cambridge
take home 19% of the total income
generated by residents
people work in the so-called
‘silicon fen’
Cambridge tech and life science
firms, turning over £12bn last year
An idyllic punting scene at Clare
College, Cambridge, but thousands in
the city live in poverty. Alamy
Around 61,000 people work in the
so-called “silicon fen”, the cluster of
4,700 tech and life science firms in
Cambridge that turned over £12bn
last year. Amazon, ARM and Apple
have all recently expanded their headquarters to the city and a new railway
station, Cambridge North, opened last
year near the science park owned by
Trinity College.
“Cambridge has had a long evolution as a tech cluster, thanks in part
to the way the university encouraged
academics to pursue commercial
roles using transfer arrangements,”
said Richard Traherne, chief commercial officer for the global IT consultancy Cambridge Consultants. “They
brought their commercial expertise
back into the university, so there are
major connections between it and the
tech industry, and lots of high-quality
graduates to recruit.
“Plus, it’s a nice place to live, so successful entrepreneurs often stay and
act as ‘angel’ investors and mentors
... it means there is a very large number of millionaires living here compared with similar towns.” He points
out that hi-tech companies have created ancillary jobs in services, transport and manufacturing and many
support local charities. Cambridge
Consultants raised over £43,000 for
Wintercomfort last year.
John Bird, founder of The Big Issue,
is sceptical. He has lived in Cambridge
for the past 10 years and has observed
the city becoming more divided as it
has become wealthier. “I’ve witnessed
a vast increase in the number of chain
shops and poncified cafes and gift
shops, which have changed the character of the city,” he said.
“I see the university as a force for
social separation, bringing in scientists and digital workers from all over
the world, so developers build houses
for students, while local people are
priced out.”
The Observer
As with steel,
shipbuilding and
coal, little remains
of Redcar’s fishing
though there
is still a small
inshore fleet.
View from
by Gary Calton
The pier at
Saltburn, the
only ward in
Redcar and
Cleveland that
voted to remain
in the EU.
Brexit: as Westminster divides,
are Leave voters standing firm?
Those who felt they had
nothing left to lose used
the EU referendum
to protest – and they
could well do it again if
another vote is called
Toby Helm Political Editor
& James Tapper
Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan
“Fighting for the community” underneath an image of Redcar’s mothballed steelworks, Frankie Wales is
preparing to take a training session
at the town’s boxing club. Young men
are sparring in the rings; others are
hitting punchbags. “Nothing gets you
fit like boxing,” says one, exhausted
from the ring.
Wales, who set up the club 20 years
ago and funds it on a shoestring with
various small grants, is proud to be
doing his bit for Redcar’s young people. He is a livewire in a community
struggling to get off the floor after a
series of near knockout blows. The
local steelworks ceased production
in 2015 with the loss of 3,000 jobs.
Someone, he insists, has to help them.
“It is incredibly sad,” he says. “Not
long ago they would go and work
in the steelworks after school. Men
round here made the finest steel in
the world. Now they are making lattes
and sandwiches on zero-hours contracts. We have lots of entrepreneurial kids, but the only entrepreneurial
activity going on around here is selling fags and drugs.”
Few young people care what those
who are supposed to run their country – politicians and civic and business leaders – say any more because
they feel so let down. “We have lost
the steel industry, lost the local shipbuilding, lost the coal. What’s the
point? There is nothing left,” says
Wales. “We just have to make the best
of what we have got and get on with
it ourselves.”
Like many communities in
England’s north-east, the people of
this North Yorkshire town, which
bears the scars of industrial decline,
and has a youth unemployment rate
more than double the national average, made their unhappiness known
in June 2016. They fought back. In
Redcar, there was a hefty 66% vote for
Brexit, similar to that in areas further
north up the coast, from Teesside to
“We have to get our country back
to where it needs to be,” says Geoff
Holding, a caretaker at a government
office in the town who voted Leave
and whose brother lost his job at the
He wants an end to cheap imports
of foreign goods, like the Chinese
steel that did for the local plant. There
is a still a thriving chemicals sector in
Redcar, but not enough manufacturing. “We need to bring things back inhouse, get industry back on its own
feet, make things ourselves.”
Debate may still be raging in
London about soft and hard Brexits
as Remainers call for a second referendum, but in Redcar it is a done deal.
Here the Leave mantra about “taking back control” is to be taken pretty
much literally.
The local MP, Labour’s Anna Turley,
is a Remainer worried about the consequences of a hard Brexit for her
constituents. But she sees her duty
as to inform, not to cajole or browbeat. Her constituency office window echoes Wales’s sentiments with
a similar slogan, “Fighting back for
Redcar”. Holding says he knows that
Brexit “could be a massive flop” but
The Observer
‘Treacherous Treasury’
claims signal a new
target for hard-Brexiters
Steven Cowie
voted to stay and
regrets EU funds
that helped him
retrain will be
lost, but says the
decision should
not be reversed.
Policy Editor
This is
dummy text
that is being
in order to
ascertain an
This is
dummy text
that is being
in order to
ascertain an
The area still
has a thriving
industry, but
Brexiters say
needs to be
The Redcar
wind farm, and
Frankie Wales
in his gym – ‘We
have to make
the best of what
we have got and
get on with it
Tina Walker
(left) and Denise
Partington voted
different ways
in June 2016
but reject the
idea of another
says: “We should just get on with it.
We have to chance it.”
Last week a leaked government
report revealed that leaving the EU’s
single market and customs union
would hit all parts of the country
economically, but the north perhaps
hardest of all. On the basis of that
report, the justice minister, Phillip Lee,
the Tory MP for Bracknell, went public to suggest that if the findings were
correct, the government should consider another path than hard Brexit.
But if all the fuss in Westminster
leads to another referendum, even
Remainers in Redcar would see it as
more betrayal.
As the rain lashes in off the sea on
the town’s promenade, unemployed
laboratory worker Steven Cowie, 27,
is walking his dog. He voted Remain
and says Brexit will mean the end of
EU grants to the area that, among
other things, have funded retraining for jobless people like him. But
he is adamant that the decision to
Leave should stick. It was the people’s vote, and the need to honour it
trumps his worries about any negative consequences. “We have had one
vote and got a decision. Why should
we have another?”
Retired civil servant Denise
Partington, who voted to stay, and
her friend Tina Walker, who backed
Leave, are now of one mind. Both
reject, out of hand, talk of revisiting
the whole issue. “I think it’s complete
rubbish,” says Partington. “I didn’t
believe a word Boris Johnson said. I
just thought there were foreign workers in our hospitals and picking our
fruit and we needed them.”
A year and a half on, she doesn’t
trust those who say we should rethink
the decision, any more than she did
Johnson then. “Why should I believe
what they tell us now about staying in? I just think we have to see it
through ... yes, just get on with it.”
If Redcar and this part of the northeast reflect the national mood, those
wanting to overturn the Brexit decision via a second referendum will
have their work cut out. If anything,
the majority for getting out of the EU
would rise in a second protest vote,
driven by fury at a failure to respect
the first.
But not every constituency feels it
has nothing more to lose. More than
200 miles south, in Lee’s Bracknell
constituency, which is within comfortable commuting distance from
London, people feel more at the
forefront of progress. Companies
there are growing, not closing down.
Bracknell is home to a large number of
major tech firms: Panasonic, Fujitsu,
Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens,
Honeywell, Novell and Vodafone.
Bracknell voted Leave by 35,002
to 29,888, 53.9% to 46.1% on a 76.1%
Continued overleaf
When the most senior officials
across Whitehall gathered for a rare
away day on Friday, an attack on the
impartiality of the civil service by a
leading Brexiter ensured they had
plenty to talk about between the
presentations and flow charts.
Since the referendum there have
been a string of allegations thrown
at the politicians and institutions
perceived as failing in their duty
to deliver a clean break from the
European Union. However, while
pro-Remain MPs have largely been
the target to date, the civil service is
increasingly in the crosshairs.
Last week’s row erupted after
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of
the pro-Brexit European Research
Group of Tory MPs, suggested in the
Commons that Treasury officials
had deliberately drawn up economic
models designed to undermine
Brexit. Steve Baker, the influential pro-Leave minister, apologised
for initially failing to challenge the
claim – which made David Davis, the
Brexit secretary, visibly wince.
Even before the spat, some senior Whitehall figures had already
noticed a new tendency to lay the
failures of the government’s Brexit
policy at the civil service’s door. Just
hours before Rees-Mogg made his
allegations, Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary, was down the
corridor in the Lords, telling peers
that his former Whitehall colleagues
were under attack. “It is particularly
disappointing to see a divided cabinet resorting to attacking the civil
servants who simply want to implement whatever policy cabinet finally
decides upon,” he warned. “The
bickering and blaming of civil servants needs to stop.”
The claim in today’s Observer by
former cabinet secretary Andrew
Turnbull that leading Brexiters
have adopted similar tactics to the
“stab in the back” myth – propagated in Germany after the first
world war to suggest its military had
been betrayed by internal forces –
is the most incendiary description
of Brexiter tactics. However, others
have raised concerns about the willingness by some to attack pillars of
Britain’s constitutional make-up –
be it judges, politicians or officials.
Andrew Cooper, formerly David
Cameron’s pollster and a key figure
in the Remain campaign, said ReesMogg’s attack showed that “hardBrexiteers are the UK manifestation
of bullying post-Truth Trumpite
alt-right”. “Objective analysis is a
conspiracy, actual facts met with
alternative facts; considering risks
and costs is treason, reporting them
Steve Baker … an apology.
is fake news,” he said.
Nick Macpherson, a former chief
civil servant at the Treasury, tweeted
yesterday: “First it was the socialists, then the unions, the immigrants and Brussels bureaucrats.
Now it’s the treacherous Treasury.
Many Whitehall insiders are prepared for even more heated rhetoric
as Britain is forced to make Brexit
trade-offs. Some opted not to speak
out this week, keeping their powder
dry for “when it goes really wrong”.
With cabinet ministers preparing
for a two-day crunch meeting this
week over the Brexit deal, some offi-
‘Hard-Brexiteers are
the UK manifestation
of bullying post-Truth
Trumpite alt right’
Andrew Cooper, pollster
cials believe the attacks on Whitehall
are actually a proxy, designed to
remind those gathered to deliver a
meaningful Brexit.
Meanwhile, Rees-Mogg, now the
Tory grassroots favourite for leadership, yesterday stood by his claim
that in drawing up its Brexit plans,
the Treasury was trying to influence the argument. He also said
that Charles Grant, the head of the
Centre for European Reform, had
been given improper briefings. “He
is getting private briefings from the
Treasury against government policy,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today
programme. “This is very serious. It
is not for officials to invent policy.
“With the referendum and with
the EU, the Treasury has gone back
to making forecasts. It was politically advantageous in the past. It is
the same for them now. I do think
they are fiddling the figures.”
Grant said it was perfectly normal
for officials to talk to think tanks.
“The Treasury cares about economics so it is naturally pushing for the
sorts of Brexit that minimise the
economic damage,” he said.
The Observer
Attack on civil service
‘like 1930s Germany’
Continued from page 1
actions were part of a deliberate
“Brexiteer process of intimidation”.
Turnbull told the Observer that the
attacks on Whitehall were reminiscent of the “stab-in-the-back” myth,
which emerged in Germany after the
first world war and was later taken up
by the Nazis.
“‘Dolchstoss’ means ‘stab in the
News Brexit debate
back’,” he said. “After the first world
war there was an armistice, but the
German army was then treated as the
losers. Then, at the start of the Nazi
era, the ‘stab-in-the back’ theme
“It argued that ‘our great army was
never defeated, but it was stabbed
in the back by the civilians, liberals,
communists, socialists and Jews’. This
is what I think these critics are trying to do. They are losing the argument in the sense that they are unable
to make their extravagant promises
stack up, and so they turn and say:
Lord Turnbull
calls attempts to
demonise the civil
service unwise.
‘Things would be OK if the civil service weren’t obstructing us’.
“When you don’t succeed, you find
someone to blame for your failure.”
Tensions are running high before a
crucial week for Brexit, during which
the prime minister and key cabinet
ministers will meet over two days to
hammer out details of a final deal that
can keep all Tory factions on board.
The stakes are high, with Theresa
May under huge pressure to make
her plans clearer.
Insiders said officials were examining options that would reduce delays
at the UK’s border without keeping it
fully inside the EU’s customs union.
The crunch point is whether there is
any way Britain can strike up a customs agreement that stops chaos at
the border but also allows some flexibility for the government to sign its
own international trade deals.
Rees-Mogg made clear yesterday that there could be no limits
placed on Britain’s ability to strike
deals. He repeated his claim that the
Treasury’s Brexit models were politically influenced.
Butler said there was a “movement
among the rabid Brexiteers to point
the finger at the civil service, which I
think is completely unjustified”.
He added: “It is unwise on the part
of the Brexiteers, because the government can’t do this operation without
the civil service. To demonise them
isn’t really very sensible.”
‘We made steel, but
now we make lattes’
Continued from page 11
Bracknell voted Leave by 35,002
to 29,888, 53.9% to 46.1% on a 76.1%
turnout. But Berkshire was mostly
in favour of remaining. There are
Remainer seats aplenty around its
borders. If people in the Leave pockets were to change their minds in a
new referendum, and enough Leavers
in Remain seats do the same, the balance could tilt in favour of staying.
Nationally, there is some evidence
of movement and of support for asking the people again. A Guardian/ICM
poll showed that those who want a
second referendum now have a 16%
lead over those who oppose the idea.
Bracknell seems a million miles
from Redcar. In the town centre,
Jordan Chapman-Smith is meeting
friends. He was too young to vote in
the referendum but is determined to
have his say if another is called. Now
19, he doesn’t have to sell lattes or
sandwiches but works as a roofer, and
there’s plenty of work on Bracknell’s
construction sites.
“I don’t think we should leave. It’s
just going to cause chaos,” he says.
“More people are regretting voting Leave.” Which people? “Friends
and family. People at work.” Life in
Bracknell has been improving. It had
been hard finding a job when he left
school, but now it’s easier. Houses are
getting expensive, though.
Outside Patisserie Valerie, Sophia
Crebolder is chatting to a friend, who
is on a lunch break. “I thought Brexit
was a horrendous idea and I voted
against it and I think a lot of people
are rethinking the consequences,” she
says. “People voted perhaps without
all the facts and now recognise the
economic and cultural impact that it’s
going to have.
“I’ve had conversations with people who have changed their minds.
Colleagues, friends – I work for a
global recruitment company and
there’s a big mix of people. They are
realising they didn’t really know what
would be happening. Now the potential economic impact is more clear.”
Ana Murga, wheeling her toddler in
a pushchair, voted against Brexit. “I
hope it won’t crush the economy and
all the good stuff we have in England.
We’ve bought a house here and if the
price drops I will be extremely upset.
“I’ve talked to many people who
voted pro-Brexit and now they are
scared of the changes.” Which people
have changed their minds? “People
that work here, in big international
There are still plenty who take
the opposite line. Mick Cree, a sales
manager with 40 years’ experience in
the car industry says: “I think it was
a kneejerk reaction, voting to leave,
because of the higher number of
immigrants. I think some of them are
possibly changing their mind. They
don’t know. People are nervous. They
just want to get it done one way or
the other.”
But he is standing by his decision
to get out. “I think we should be governing our own country and governing our own destiny. I’m all for free
trade but I don’t want to be governed
by Brussels.”
Back in Redcar, David Walsh is
Taking their knives to Mrs May’s
toga won’t solve Tory troubles
Andrew Rawnsley,
Comment, page 47
When Brexit bombs, the right will
blame everyone but themselves
Nick Cohen, Comment, page 54
the former deputy leader of Labourcontrolled Redcar and Cleveland
council and a strong Remainer. On
the day after the referendum result,
he went to his local pub and predicted
a second referendum. He was taunted
and shouted down by his friends for
doing so. He still thinks there could
be a small shift locally to Remain as
people realise that local chemicals
firms and other companies cannot
cut themselves off from global and
EU markets.
But, if there were a second vote,
he now suspects it might backfire.
“There could be a move to Remain
with some people but there are others who maybe did not vote last time
– that 20% to 30% – who don’t feel
they have a stake in society and who
in some cases are violently antiimmigrant, though there is not much
immigration here. They could be
mobilised by Leave and end up outweighing the number of people who
move from Leave to Remain.”
If places such as Bracknell switch to
support staying in the EU, Redcar, he
fears, will not. It will just fight back.
The Observer
Choose life, choose short
sleeves, choose a T-shirt...
The history and cultural
influence of the wardrobe
basic is being celebrated
in a new exhibition,
writes Scarlett Conlon
Beatles 2001 print designed by
Experimental Jetset for 2K Gingham.
It’s the brash upstart of the fashion
world, often ignored and seldom
taken seriously. But the T-shirt will
finally get its place in the spotlight
this week at an exhibition celebrating its history and cultural influence.
T-shirt: Cult, Culture, Subversion,
which opens at the Fashion and
Textile Museum in Bermondsey,
south London, on Friday, will look at
the garment’s evolution from practical tunic in medieval times to a
medium for political and social messaging in the 20th and 21st centuries.
“The T-shirt has taken on a role
as a signifier, a statement of intent
for the wearer,” says curator Dennis
Nothdruft. “It has developed an
amazing power to communicate
and to create a dialogue between the
wearer and the world.”
The exhibition’s 12 sections, on
topics including ethics and ecology,
merchandise and advertising, include
a gallery looking at why the genderneutral T-shirt is one of the only truly
democratic fashion items. More than
200 items will be on display, with
examples ranging from a 500AD relic
to Christian Dior’s “We Should All Be
Feminists” T-shirt, seen on the Paris
catwalk in 2017.
“The very ubiquity of the T-shirt,
its utter basicness, has allowed it
to remain a wardrobe stable,” says
Nothdruft, who worked on the project in collaboration with the Civic
arts hub in Barnsley, where it will
relocate after its run in the capital
ends on 6 May. A major part of the
exhibition will look at how designers
have adopted the item as “a means to
broadcast social, musical, and political affiliations”.
Among the fashion designers represented are Britain’s Henry Holland
– famous for slogans such as “Single
Use Plastic Is Never Fantastic” – and
Vivienne Westwood, who, according
to Nothdruft, “challenged not only
what the T-shirt could say but how the
T-shirt itself could be constructed”.
One of the most famous advocates
of the T-shirt, Katharine Hamnett –
who wore one emblazoned with a
nuclear missile protest message to
meet then prime minister Margaret
Thatcher in 1984, and whose “Choose
Life” T-shirt was worn by Wham!’s
George Michael in the music video
for Wake Me Up Before You Go Go –
is also a major attraction, along with
American street artist Keith Haring.
“Katharine Hamnett’s work, beginning with her ‘Choose Life’ T-shirt
in the 1980s, is very strong,” says
Nothdruft, “and she continues to produce relevant and provocative T-shirts.
A piece that is particularly resonant
for me is Haring’s ‘Ignorance=Fear.
Silence=Death’ design for Aids awareness campaign Act Up, produced in
“It shows how far we’ve come and
how easy it is to become complacent.”
Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne
Westwood’s 1976 Tits T-shirt.
The Observer
The Advantages of Being A Woman
Artist, by Guerrilla Girls.
Barbara Kruger’s I Shop Therefore
I Am T-shirt, created in 1987.
Chiara Ferragni in Dior’s 2017 We
Should All Be Feminists T-shirt.
George Michael
in Katharine
Hamnett’s Choose Life T-shirt, 1984.
Comment & Analysis
absorb through intermarriage and
assimilation leaving the country
relatively unchanged”.
There is a pinch of truth on
both sides in this debate, but also
a large dollop of misapprehension.
People do worry about the material
deterioration of their lives, as
everything from the anger at
austerity policies to the panics about
“health tourists” reveals. But it is
not just economic deterioration that
concerns people. It is the erosion,
too, of the more intangible aspects
of their lives – their place in society,
their sense of community, their
desire for dignity.
Economic, social and political
developments have, in recent years,
coalesced to make working-class
lives far more precarious – the
imposition of austerity, the rise of
the gig economy, the savaging of
public services, at the same time as
the growing atomisation of society,
the erosion of the power of labour
movement organisations and the
shift of the Labour party away from
its traditional constituencies.
Immigration has played almost
no part in fostering these changes.
“Social and economic change,”
Goodhart himself acknowledged
in his 2013 book The British Dream,
“would have swept away the old
working-class ways even if there
had been zero immigration.”
Immigration has, however, come
to be the principal lens through
which many perceive these changes.
The very decline of the economic
and political power of the working
class has helped obscure the
economic and political roots of
social problems.
At the same time, the language
of culture has become increasingly
important as the means to make
sense of society and social relations.
Many people, as a result, have come
to see their marginalisation as a
cultural loss.
Immigration, seen as a key reason
for the cultural transformation
of the nation, has come bear
responsibility for that loss.
Immigration has clearly brought
major changes, in the physical
character of British cities, in the
rhythm of social life and in the sense
of what it is to be British. But it is
not alone in driving social changes,
nor is it even the most important
driver of social change.
Feminism, consumerism, the
growth of youth culture, the
explosion of mass culture, the
destruction of manufacturing
industries, the decline of traditional
institutions such as the church – all
these and many more have helped
transform Britain, sometimes for
the better, sometimes for the worse. But, thanks largely to the way that
immigration has been framed
from the beginning as a problem,
even a threat, it is immigrants who
have primarily become symbolic of
change and of change for the worse.
Goodhart and Kaufmann are
right that “publishing more factual
information about the costs and
benefits of immigration” will in
itself sway few minds. They are
wrong, however, to imagine that
reducing immigration numbers so
as to persuade white workers that
“their ethnic group will gradually
absorb” newcomers “leaving the
country relatively unchanged” will
assuage worries.
The problem is not that white
workers are desperate to protect
their ethnic identity. It is, rather,
that in the absence of political
mechanisms and social movements
that can challenge their wider
marginalisation, such identity is all
that many have to lean upon.
However low one caps
immigration, it will not affect
austerity policy, or the atomisation
of society, or the crisis in the NHS, or
the neutering of trade unions. The
immigration debate cannot be won
simply by debating immigration.
Anxieties about immigration
are an expression of a wider
sense of political voicelessness,
abandonment and disengagement.
Until those problems are tackled, the
anxieties will remain.
ommentators spent
much effort last week trying to
show the role of far-right groups
in “radicalising” Darren Osborne,
convicted of deliberately driving
a van into a crowd of Muslim
worshippers, killing one and
injuring 12 others.
Yet what seems to have triggered
his fury was not the far right but
the BBC drama Three Girls, which
told the story of the Rochdale abuse
scandal, in which young white
girls were abused by gangs of men,
largely of Pakistani origin. Osborne
became obsessed by the idea of
Muslims as an existential threat to
the nation. Within a few weeks, he
had committed his murderous act.
When a drama is seen as the
key reason for the “radicalisation”
of a killer, perhaps it is time to
retire the very concept. The idea
of radicalisation came into vogue
in the wake of 9/11, suggesting a
process by which certain individuals
became drawn to terrorism. Most
of the early notions underlying the
concept, such as a “conveyor belt”
drawing individuals through a
series of stages from alienation to
violence, have long been discredited.
So has the belief that terrorists
acquire their ideas in a way distinct
to that in which people acquire
other extremist ideas. Guidelines
as to what constitute “signs” of
radicalisation are vague beyond
parody – changing one’s “style of
dress” or using “derogatory names
or labels for another group”.
The meaning of “terrorism”,
too, has become far less clear. It is
difficult these days to distinguish
between ideological violence,
personal rage and mental illness.
Many acts of brutality initially
considered terror-related turn out
to be mentally disturbed individuals
lashing out. Osborne, for instance,
had twice tried to kill himself and
was referred to an NHS centre for
drug and alcohol misuse.
Rather than continuing to
use terms whose meanings are
increasingly unclear, it’s time to
have a proper think about what
exactly constitutes “radicalisation”
and “terrorism”.
Immigrants are a
soft target, but many
factors contribute to
deep unrest in society
has become a
That working-class lives are more
fraught is not down to immigration
re people’s concerns
about immigration driven by fears
of its economic effects or of its
cultural impact?
Last month, the Commons home
affairs select committee published a
report entitled Immigration Policy:
Basis for Building Consensus.
Hostility to immigration, it
suggests, derives from those who
have “significant concerns about
the impact of migration on public
services” and who worry that
immigrants are coming not “to
contribute” but to “play the system”.
The government, it concludes, must
be “more proactive in challenging
myths and inaccuracies” and
“publish more factual information
about the costs and benefits of
Critics of the report, such as
Policy Exchange’s David Goodhart,
and Eric Kaufmann, professor of
politics at Birkbeck, University of
London, argue that opposition
to immigration is not economic
at root, but “largely cultural
and psychological”. Rather than
“appealing to voter economic
interest”, it would be better to frame
immigration “as something which
their ethnic group will gradually
The Observer
A Polish shop in the Bristol suburb of Lawrence Weston. Photograph by Adrian Sherratt
The Observer
Here comes Britain’s first ‘grey blockbuster’
A scene from
Finding Your
Feet starring
Imelda Staunton,
David Hayman,
Celia Imrie,
Joanna Lumley
and Timothy
Imelda Staunton and
Joanna Lumley star in
Finding Your Feet, a
comedy that touches on
issues of growing older
Dalya Alberge
Ageing cinema audiences want to
watch films with intelligent dialogue
that deal with real people, according
to Imelda Staunton. Yet they are let
down by a male-dominated industry that makes “terrible” blockbusters
fuelled by violence and special effects.
The Oscar-nominated actress stars
in a new heart-warming romantic comedy called Finding Your Feet,
whose cast includes Celia Imrie,
Timothy Spall, David Hayman and
Joanna Lumley. The makers hope
the movie will tap into the success
of “grey pound” films such as 2011’s
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which
made more than £100m.
Figures from the British Film
Institute show a consistent rise over
the past decade in people aged 45 and
over regularly going to the cinema,
partly because of higher disposable
income and extra leisure time.
Staunton, 62, whose performance
in Vera Drake won the best actress
award at the 2004 Venice film festival and an Oscar nomination, told
the Observer: “There are a lot of people who want to listen to intelligent
dialogue and see films that make you
think, but also [with characters] that
don’t just go around killing.”
Too many films gave the impression that “millions” were lavished on
the special effects and “£4.80 on the
script”, she said, lamenting that such
projects were often rushed into production: “Bish, bash, bosh … because
they’re after the next buck, not the
next great film. What’s the rush?
We’ve got so many terrible films.”
‘The film’s a real
story about everyday
lives and upsets –
not men holding
guns and killing.
What about
celebrating people?’
Imelda Staunton
In Finding Your Feet, Staunton plays
a middle-England snob who discovers that her husband of 40 years has
been having an affair with her best
friend. Abandoning her plush Surrey
home, she tracks down her estranged
sister (Imrie), a free-spirited character, in her shabby London council flat
and finds herself reluctantly joining
a local dance class, where she starts
finding her feet – and romance.
Staunton said: “It is a real story
about people’s everyday lives and
upsets – not yet again men holding
guns and killing people. What about
celebrating people?”
Nick Moorcroft, who wrote Finding
Your Feet with Meg Leonard, said:
“Meg and I set out to write an uplift-
ing and defiant comedy that touches
upon the issues and challenges of
growing older, but also celebrates
having the courage and humour to
overcome them.”
Staunton said that the two Marigold
Hotel films had “pushed the gate open
a little bit”, but that there was still a
long way to go with regard to casting
older characters, given an assumption that “men don’t want to see older
women”. “Well, you’re going to have
to. We don’t not exist. I get pissed off.
Everyone talks about George Clooney
as gorgeous. Pierce Brosnan. They’re
all allowed to go grey, ‘silver foxes’.
OK, show me a silver-haired woman
who is in her 50s, 60s or 70s allowed
on screen?”
Spall agreed that the film industry had been missing a trick in not
appreciating the potential of films
with older characters: “It’s just a natural thing. People are living longer,
they are prepared to have more of a
social life and they like to see things
in a shared environment.”
Imrie, who starred in the two
Marigold Hotel films as well as
Calendar Girls in 2003, said: “There’s
nothing more wickedly delicious than
a matinee film. To sit in a cinema on
a wet afternoon – people of a certain
age have the freedom to do that. Why
not make something they’re going to
love? Our film has probably got more
attraction than, say, Action Man and
things being blown up.”
The Observer
Oscar Wilde
pictured in 1882
aged around 28.
From Robbie to Oscar: songwriter
takes a giant step into ‘folk opera’
A Wilde fairtyale helped the composer of Angels cope with mother’s death
Vanessa Thorpe
Arts and Media Correspondent
Guy Chambers, the musician behind
several of Robbie Williams’s bestloved songs, including Angels, Let Me
Entertain You and Millennium, has
turned to the operatic stage.
Chambers found inspiration from
a wistful Oscar Wilde fairytale, The
Selfish Giant, written in 1888, and the
memory of his late mother. “The way
to deal with the grief was to finish
this opera,” he said. “What this opera
means for me is all to do with my
mother, Pat, who died last March. To
me she was a kind of giant figure, so
that’s where all the emotion has gone.”
Chambers’s songs are renowned
for their emotional charge and musical hooks, and are among the most
successful in recent pop history.
Angels, the 1997 hit he co-wrote with
Williams and Ray Hefferman, was
voted favourite song of the past 25
years at the 2005 Brit awards and
sold more than 1.5 million copies in
Britain alone. The composer’s work
with other bands has also produced
Guy Chambers
has turned from
pop music to
opera, inspired
by an Oscar
Wilde story.
enduring tunes, such as 1985’s
The Whole of the Moon,
on, by
the Waterboys.
Yet classical music and
opera were the big influences
in Chambers’s childhood,
he said this weekend from
Austria where he is on tour
with Williams.
an in
“My dad was a musician
the London Philharmonicc and
my mother took me to see opera
at Glyndebourne. I remember
seeing the Cunning Little Vixen by
Janáček. So in a way all that music
is as much in my blood ass rock’n’roll
and clubs.”
Chambers, who has also
lso worked
with Kylie Minogue and
d producer
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ŬÖńƍĝőń ƍǫĝńĉƍŲ
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Mark Ronson
Ronson, has won three Brits
and three Ivor
Novello awards
for his work with Williams. His
oper The Selfish Giant,
“folk opera”,
will be staged at London’s
Vaudeville theatre this spring
as par
part of a Wilde season
by director
Dominic Dromgoole.
Chambers had the
idea for the piece after a
four years
ago with Jude Kelly,
director of the
Southbank. “I wish Wilde’s
giant, who dies at the end,
some h
happiness in paradise,
just as I wish the same for my
mother,” he said.
MoD ‘must clarify drone
use outside of war zones’
Human rights groups call
on government to reveal
policy on ‘legally grey area’
Jamie Doward
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Campaigners have demanded that the
Ministry of Defence clarify whether
it permits the use of lethal force by
drones against suspected terrorists
anywhere in the world.
Human rights groups have long
suspected that, under certain exceptional circumstances, the UK will target threats outside conflict zones – a
legally grey area.
The new defence secretary, Gavin
Williamson, has also hinted that such
a policy, similar to the one operated
by the US, exists. In a recent interview, Williamson said: “My view is a
dead terrorist can’t cause any harm
to Britain.” He added: “We have got to
make sure that as [Isis] splinters and
as terrorists disperse across Iraq and
Syria and other areas, we continue to
hunt them down.”
The MoD’s joint doctrine on
unmanned aerial systems, published
in September, stated: “Arguments
against using unmanned and
remotely piloted aircraft are centred
on worries that systems will be misused, or used illegally.
“They may also arise from the
recent UK, and other states, practice
of targeting suspected terrorists outside of the armed conflict itself and
the meaning and application of a
state’s right to self-defence.”
The government has been reluctant
to confirm what the policy entails as
this would open it to legal challenges,
and, when recently updating its drone
doctrine, omitted any reference to targeting outside conflict zones.
“The government appears to be in
complete chaos over this,” said Jen
Gibson, the “drones and kill-list projects” lead at Reprieve, a nonprofit
organisation of international lawyers and investigators.
“Unless the government publishes
its policy, we risk being dragged on
President Trump’s coat-tails into
unending conflicts around the world,
from Yemen to Niger. The public has
a right to know the government’s
policy on taking lethal strikes in our
name. And our armed forces deserve
the protection of greater legal clarity
and guidance.”
In 2015 the then prime minister, David Cameron, acknowledged
that the use of an RAF drone to target a suspected Isis terrorist, Reyaad
An RAF drone targeted Reyaad Khan.
Khan, in Syria, represented a “new
departure” for the UK, which was not
engaged in the conflict at the time.
The revision to the doctrine came
after SNP MP Stewart McDonald
asked the MoD for clarification.
Chris Cole, of Drone Wars, which
campaigns against armed drones,
said the MoD needed to explain its
position on drones as their use in
conflict zones has become more prevalent. “Re-editing a brand new policy
document to edit out an inconvenient truth is just the latest example of
the MoD burying its head in the sand
with regard to the legal and ethical
concerns raised,” Cole said.
how a radical
DNA project
could beat our
rare diseases
Science Editor
The future now holds
hope for children like
Sam Ward, and many
others are set to benefit
Jillian Hastings Ward gave birth to her
second child, Sam, almost four years
ago. For the first few months of his
life, the boy appeared to be in good
health. “Then we realised that he was
not making proper visual contact, and
discovered he was blind,” Hastings
Ward recalls. Subsequent diagnosis
also revealed that Sam was not progressing intellectually. “His brain just
couldn’t join the dots,” she says. Today
Sam has the mental development of a
six-month-old child.
At the time of his diagnosis, it was
not apparent what was affecting him.
Then Hastings Ward and her husband
Nick, who live in Bristol, were told
about a pioneering scheme launched
by the Department of Health. The
The Observer
100,000 Genomes Project involves
several teams of scientists, all of
whom have been working towards
a remarkably ambitious goal: the
sequencing of 100,000 genomes of
individuals affected by rare disorders and cancers. Later this month,
the project – which was given the
go-ahead by prime minister David
Cameron in 2012 – will reveal that
it has reached its halfway point and
has sequenced its 50,000th genome.
This news will be followed with the
announcement later this year of
major initiatives aimed at ensuring
that the UK becomes a world leader
in genomics medicine.
The implications are enormous.
Major steps are being taken towards
the creation of a health service in
which healing is dovetailed – or personalised – to suit the needs of individual patients. Instead of taking a
one-size-fits-all approach, treatments will be tailored to fit the
makeup of individual patients.
The story of Sam Ward reveals the
enormous potential of this approach
to healthcare. After being enrolled in
the 100,000 Genomes Project, Sam’s
Continued overleaf
Sam Ward,
who has a
rare genetic
mutation, with
mother Jillian
The Observer
‘It’s brought
our family
huge relief
and hope’
News Special Report
The participants
Continued from page 21
DNA was sampled along with that of
his mother and his father. Each of
their genomes – their entire complement of genes – were then sequenced
(see box below).
Given that each of us has a genome
made up of more than 3 billion letters of DNA, this decoding represents an enormous task, one that
has required the use of some of the
world’s most advanced sequencing machines as well as computers
capable of storing millions of gigabytes of data. Last year several thousand genomes were sequenced this
way. Those of the Ward family were
among them.
“It was then that we found out what
was affecting Sam,” said Hastings
Ward, a former civil servant. The boy
had a fault in the gene Grin-1, a very
rare mutation that causes moderate
to severe intellectual disability, low
muscle tone and, in some cases, seizures. Knowing what was affecting
their son was, on its own, a considerable relief. There were other – even
more welcome – benefits, however.
By studying the genomes of Sam’s
parents, doctors were able to show
that neither had passed on the Grin-1
gene variant to their son. It had arisen,
by chance, as a mutation inside his
own DNA. “That was tremendously
important,” says Hastings Ward. “It
showed that it is extremely unlikely
that his elder sister Kirsty would be
affected by the condition. That had
been a real worry for us.”
In addition, there has been the
development – by researchers in the
US – of a possible drug that could
treat the condition. “That has been
another very positive development for
us. The project has brought tremendous relief and hope,” says Hastings
Ward, who now heads a panel that
represents the interests of the volunteer participants in the project.
Disorders such as the one caused
by Grin-1 are uncommon but they
still represent a significant cumulative burden on the health service.
“There are between 7,000 and
8,000 rare disorders like the one that
affects Sam,” says Professor Mark
Caulfield, the project’s chief scientist.
“Some do not have names and
in many cases we do not know the
causes. And yes, each is rare: but
because there are so many of them
they still have a considerable impact
on the wellbeing of the nation. Almost
3 million people are affected by a
rare disorder in the UK. Usually these
manifest themselves at an early age,
in the first two or three years of life,
and about a third of those affected
will die by the age of five.”
This grim statistic explains why
rare disorders were pinpointed by the
founders of the project and why early
successes are providing encouraging hopes for future developments in
‘It has not changed his life expectancy. However, it has given us closure’
Diagnosed with Leopard syndrome
after undergoing 28 operations
over the course of his childhood
Over the first 18 years of his life, Alex
Masterson has had 28 operations,
including the removal of tumours
and several bouts of heart surgery.
Doctors originally thought he was
suffering from a condition known
as Noonan syndrome, but doubts
persisted. His symptoms – which
included facial tumours – did not
quite fit this diagnosis. These doubts
were unsettling for his family.
Two years ago his mother,
Kirsty, was told about the 100,000
Genomes Project by the family’s
genetic counsellor, and enrolled
Alex. Sequencing of his genome
revealed he had a related condition
known as Leopard syndrome. “It has
not changed his life expectancy or
anything like that. However, it has
given us closure and that has been a
marvellous relief,” she says.
Diagnoses like Alex’s can also bring
alleviation from the odysseys of
diagnostic visits that families with
rare disorders have to go through.
An affected child can face hundreds
of outpatient visits to different
specialists in the first few years of life.
By pinpointing a condition’s cause,
the 100,000 Genomes Project could
bring an end to the stress and costs
involved, say researchers.
How gene sequencing is done
The prime goal of the 100,000
Genomes Project is to sequence the
entire complement of genes possessed by around 70,000 individuals in the UK.
“In some cases, we will sequence a
person’s genome and nothing else,”
says Professor Mark Caulfield, the
project’s chief scientist. “In other
cases, usually in patients affected
by cancers, we will sequence their
genomes and also the genomes
of their tumours. And in others
we will sequence the genomes of
the affected person as well as the
genomes of their parents.”
Researchers are already close to
the halfway stage of their endeavour.
“In the next few weeks, we expect
to notch up our 50,000th genome,”
says Caulfield. Given that it took separate teams of US and UK geneticists almost a decade to unravel the
very first human genome, in 2003, at
a cost of around $3bn, this progress
is remarkable.
Constant improvements in
sequencing technology and in data
storage have played a key role in this
dramatic jump in performance.
“Every three years, a new generation of sequencing machines is developed and so costs and sequencing
rates have been slashed,” Caulfield
says. “Our project will achieve its
goal on a budget of £300m provided
entirely by the government. Without
these improvements in sequencing
technology, it would have cost around
£200tn to fund the project.”
Part of a DNA sequence. The study
has completed 50,000 genomes.
To sequence genomes, blood samples from patients and family members are sent to centres round
England (Scotland, North Ireland
and Wales have their own partnership projects) and then collected at
a repository in Milton Keynes. From
there, the samples are sent to the
NHS Genome Sequencing Centre
at the Sanger Institute south of
Cambridge, where every one of the
3.1bn letters of DNA in each genome
will be read. Around 21m gigabytes of
data are expected to be generated
and will be stored at the project’s data
centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, where it
will be used to help diagnose patients’
conditions and provide data for scientists studying cancers and inherited diseases.
Special Report News
The Observer
‘We found the mutation had first appeared in him’
Teenager who developed the first
signs of Charcot-Marie-Tooth
disease when a toddler
courtesy of
Dilys Neill.
courtesy of the
Wright family.
Jim Wright is 17 and a wheelchair
user. His mother, Karen, had noticed
he had problems walking when he
was a toddler. “He just couldn’t climb
stairs,” she says. Jim was eventually
diagnosed as having Charcot-MarieTooth disease, a genetic condition
appearing either in childhood or later
in life and characterised by loss of
muscle strength in the legs. However,
the condition comes in numerous
varieties and doctors could not
determine which variant affected Jim.
When the family heard about the
100,000 Genomes Project, they asked
to be enrolled. Samples of DNA were
taken and it was discovered that Jim
had a version of Charcot-Marie-Tooth
that is known as type 2z and which
is caused by an alteration in his
MORC2 gene. “More importantly, we
found out that neither my husband
nor I carried the gene responsible
for our son’s condition. It was a new
mutation that had first appeared in
Jim,” says Karen.
For the Wrights – who live in
Cannock, Staffordshire – this was a
welcome diagnosis. “It means that our
other son, Sam, is not likely to have
picked up a gene for the condition
and so he does not have to worry
about fathering children who might
inherit the condition. It also means
that Jim could also father healthy
children in the future – by using preimplantation diagnosis to pinpoint
embryos that do not carry the gene.
This has all brought tremendous
relief for my husband Kevin and I.”
And Jim is equally excited. “It’s good
to be part of a project that could bring
better diagnoses and treatments for
future generations,” he says.
‘Maybe we could pinpoint the
condition before it takes hold’
Cancer specialist with acute
myeloid leukaemia - helped by
stem cell transplant from sister
on the verge of retirement
Dilys Neill was a doctor who
specialised in the treatment of
childhood cancers when, in October
2016, she was diagnosed as
having acute myeloid leukaemia, a
condition in which a person’s bone
marrow produces white blood cells
that grow and divide too fast. These
abnormal cells then build up in the
blood and bone marrow.
“My first thought was that I
would be dead before our daughter’s
wedding the next year and that her
day would be spoiled,” she recalls.
But a transplant of stem cells
from her sister Ros gave Dr Neill
diagnoses and treatments. Hastings
Ward says: “When you have an undiagnosed child, you have no idea what
lies ahead for your family. Thanks to
this project, we have now found some
clues, a network of families who are
in a similar situation, and more hope
for the future.”
This point is backed by Juliet Mills,
who lives in Worcestershire and
whose 13-year-old son Gabriel suffers from the rare disorder nemaline
myopathy – a condition that leaves
him struggling to walk and requiring a wheelchair to make longer journeys. “Six or seven gene mutations
have been linked to the disease but
Gabriel does not have any of these,”
she says. “We have joined the 100,000
Genomes Project and are awaiting
results. If we can find out exactly what
is causing his condition, that will give
us some hope that one day some form
a lifeline – to the extent that she
will celebrate her 64th birthday
tomorrow and has been told that she
has a 50-50 chance of surviving the
next five years.
“As a prognosis, it could be better,
but it could be a lot worse,” says Dr
Neill, who has now retired and lives
with her husband, William, in Stowon-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.
“However, it would be better for
future generations if we had ways
to pinpoint the condition before
it has had a chance to take a hold
in a patient,” she adds. And that
is why she has joined the 100,000
Genomes Project.
“If a lot of patients with my
condition have their genomes
sequenced, it may be possible to
pinpoint particular stretches of DNA
that predispose certain individuals
to acute myeloid leukaemia. That
would be an enormous step forward
in designing new treatments for the
of treatment could be developed to
help him.”
Rare disorders are not the only
target , however. Another major
component is the study and diagnosis of cancer. Patients with particular tumours are being recruited
and their genomes sequenced. The
genomes of their tumours are also
being sequenced to trace the molecular change that turned a normally
healthy piece of DNA into one that
makes cells divide uncontrollably. Of
the 50,000 genomes that have been
sequenced so far, around 8,000 have
been targeted for cancer research.
These are also showing encouraging results.
“If I developed cancer today –
from what I have now seen – I would
want to have my tumour genome
sequenced,” says Caulfield. “These
sequences are showing us how to
think about tailoring therapies and
offer clinical trial opportunities that
could have enormous potential. We
are highlighting what changes in DNA
have occurred in a patient and, crucially, we are also able to provide links
to potential clinical trial opportunities from which a clinician can make a
selection that best suits their patient.
“We are starting to use the molecular signature of a cancer to direct
a therapy for a particular patient
and, hopefully, provide some with
better, longer lives. This could
convert some cancers to simple,
longer-term diseases.”
This enthusiasm is shared by
Professor Sue Hill, chief scientific
officer for England says: “I have never
seen a transformation project that
has achieved quite so much in such a
short time,” she says. “These technologies are going to be embedded in the
‘If I developed
cancer today, I
would want to
have my tumour
genome sequenced.
That could have
huge potential’
Professor Mark Caulfield
NHS through the new genomic medicine service from this autumn.”
This point is emphasised by
Caulfield. “From October, this technology is going to become available
not just to those taking part in our
project but to all those families who
are touched by rare diseases and by
certain cancers. We cannot yet say
which cancers, but the long-term
aim is to include all that respond to
this approach.”
Geneticists point out that the cost of
genome sequencing is also expected
to decline sharply and become even
more affordable. A full genome
sequence currently costs around
£1,000, and many less efficient diagnostic tests could be replaced. “That
will release money to provide further
funds for genomic medicine,” says
Caulfield. “The benefits of this technology are going to be profound.”
The Observer
that fuelled
star’s fury
Vanessa Thorpe
Arts and Media Correspondent
His “mad as hell” outburst as American
newsreader Howard Beale in the 1976
film Network was one of the defining moments of Peter Finch’s acting
career, for which he won a posthumous Oscar. The fury Finch displayed
sprang from the hypocrisy of attacks
on his personal life, according to the
author of a new work about the snobbery and prejudice that dogged the
hell-raising star’s third marriage, to
a young Jamaican woman.
Finch, one of the most admired
stars of his era, had to defend his relationship with Eletha Barrett from the
outset – and not just from racists. The
Jamaican class system was also set
against their union.
“People on the island said Finch
should be ashamed [of Barrett’s lowly
roots] and should leave her. But he
spent time with ordinary Jamaicans,”
said playwright Cassie McFarlane.
“When I researched the story, which
I had been told as a child and is still
well-known, I found it made people
In her play Mad As Hell, which
opens on Wednesday at the Jermyn
Finch’s third
marriage to
Eletha Barrett
was dogged by
scandal, racism
and snobbery
from all sides.
Street theatre in London’s West End,
the Jamaican writer reveals criticism of Barrett that persists to this
day and explains the background to
the Australian actor’s career-defining performance as Beale.
Barrett and Finch met in a bar in
the Jamaican countryside when the
star had escaped Hollywood for the
Caribbean. The couple were together
for 12 years and married for five,
despite a 30-year age gap that would
raise eyebrows today.
In the 1970s, though, it was class
that caused the problem. “Jamaica
was very stratified and many felt she
was from the wrong class and had not
been to the right schools or university,” said McFarlane. “If Finch was
going to marry a Jamaican, they felt,
it should be someone from an established family.”
Anger as 26,000 new
millionaire flats are
given green light
Councils in capital are still
approving £1m-plus flats
in midst of housing crisis
Rupert Neate
Wealth Correspondent
London councils have granted property developers planning permission
to build more than 26,000 luxury flats
priced at more than £1m each, despite
fears that there are already too many
half-empty “posh ghost towers” in
the capital.
Builders are currently constructing towers containing 7,749 homes
priced between £1m and £10m,
and have planning rights to build
another 18,712 high-end apartments
and townhouses, the Observer can
reveal. Politicians and housing campaigners said the figures show councils are prioritising the needs of the
super-rich over those of hardworking young Londoners.
The boom in developments of luxury flats, which often include private
cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and
concierge facilities, comes as the capital faces a growing crisis in the availability of affordable housing, with
essential workers struggling to get
on to the housing ladder.
Research shows that a fifth of aspiring first-time buyers have moved in
with their parents to save money, and
a quarter of them will need to stay
there for at least five years to amass
enough for a deposit. The proportion
of English first-time buyers who rely
on help from families and friends for
their deposit has increased from 22%
in 1996 to 29% in 2016, according to
the government.
Anne Baxendale of Shelter said:
“The UK is in the grip of a housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent
than in the capital – and these luxury
developments are certainly not the
homes most Londoners need.”
David Lammy, the Labour MP for
Tottenham, said the figures “reveal
a travesty being played against the
working class and young Londoners”.
“The public keep being told we are
building more affordable housing,
and people can see cranes up all over
London,” he said. “But this shows that
councils are prioritising the fancies
of overseas millionaires and billionaires before the needs of hardworking young Londoners.”
Just 6,423 affordable homes were
built in London during the 2016-2017
financial year (the latest figures available), a 5% decline on the previous
year and a big drop from the 19,622
built in 2014-15.
The research – for private bankers at Coutts, shared exclusively with
the Observer – shows that despite the
existing glut of luxury homes, more
are planned for London than ever.
The data shows huge numbers have
been granted planning permission
in the capital, with more than 6,500
£1m-£10m homes proposed in the
redevelopment of Earls Court exhi-
High-rise housing on the banks of the
Thames in Vauxhall. Getty
bition centre and surrounding area.
The figures, compiled by housing
data service LonRes, show that developers are pushing ahead with the
vast number of expensive new flats
despite failing to sell more than half
of the 1,900 luxury homes they built
in London last year. A record 3,000
units priced at more than £1,500 a
sq ft – which works out at roughly
£3m for a three-bedroom flat – are
currently on the market. The average
price per sq ft of homes across the UK
is £211.
Coutts, which will only allow customers to open an account if they can
prove they have at least £1m in assets,
said it was advising clients to be cautious about buying luxury homes
with fears that the market was hugely
oversupplied and prices could crash.
The Observer
From Manchester to Trier,
lefties of the world unite to
celebrate Karl Marx’s 200th
Renewed interest in the philosopher, especially among the young, has set
a small industry in motion to mark the bicentenary of his birth
Ben Quinn
A spectre is haunting Europe in 2018
– to borrow from one of his catchier
one-liners – the spectre of Karl Marx
Two hundred years after the philosopher’s birth, a small industry is
gathering pace, from plans for major
events in Trier, the city on the Moselle
where he was born, to a new tour of
the Manchester streets that he and
Friedrich Engels walked as they discussed the condition of the city’s
emerging working class. The bicentenary on 5 May will be marked with
exhibitions, lectures, conferences,
histories and novels.
The books are starting to pile up.
Last month saw a new edition of
Marxism – a Graphic Guide, a collaboration by philosophy lecturer Rupert
Woodfin and comic book artist Oscar
Zárate, while titles by heavyweight
specialists on Marxism are on the
way. They include a reprint of literary
theorist Terry Eagleton’s bestselling
Why Marx Was Right, along with a new
edition of The Communist Manifesto –
which starts with the “spectre” quotation – including an introduction by
the former Greek finance minister
Yanis Varoufakis.
Marx’s ideas, running through the
Russian revolution to the present day,
will be the focus of Marx and Marxism,
a new book by one of Britain’s foremost historians of socialism, Gregory
Claeys. The influence of the Labour
party under Jeremy Corbyn – as well
as factors such as reduced employment prospects and a desire to
challenge austerity – are credited
by Claeys as helping to engender a
renewed interest in Marx, particularly
among the young.
“Marx’s prose may seem somewhat
obtuse to modern readers,” Claeys
said. “But Marx’s central premise –
that the most obvious and extreme
forms of oppression and exploitation can be removed from everyday
life – retains a robustness and daring
paralleled by no other thinkers in the
modern period.”
Fact is accompanied by fiction. The
Murder of Warren Street by Oxford
university historian Marc Mulholland,
published at the end of May, promises
to tell the story of villain Emmanuel
Barthélemy (“the man who wanted
to kill Marx”).
Marx Returns , due out on 23
February and written by Jason Barker,
is billed as combining historical fiction, psychological mystery, philosophy and extracts from Marx’s and
Engels’s collected works to reimagine the life and times of Marx.
A Marx Memorial
Library flag is
flown at a May
Day rally in
London, top. The
grave in
cemetery, above,
remains a big
draw for visitors.
Marxism – A
Graphic Guide
is just one of
numerous books
issued on the man.
‘Marx retains a
robustness and
daring paralleled by
no other thinkers in
the modern period’
Gregory Claeys, historian
Among a plethora of gatherings
and conferences being organised by
the various families of the left, one
of the most eagerly awaited is Marx
200, a major conference due to take
place at Soas University of London
and organised by the Marx Memorial
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell
– arguably Britain’s best-known
Marxist – will speak on the theme of
“Into the 21st century: Marxism as
a force for change today” alongside
guests from around the world, including Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist party of
India (Marxist), and Luo Wendong, a
professor from the Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences.
Meirian Jump, archivist at the
memorial library, said interest had
increased in Marxism in the past couple of years, while numbers attending
lectures on Marxism and conducting
research in the library’s reading room
have risen in recent months.
“In the autumn our venue reached
capacity and we had to turn people
away from our lectures celebrating
150 years since the publication of Das
Kapital,” Jump said. “It was noticeable
that a large number of those queuing
outside Marx House were young people and students.”
Away from the political calls to
arms or Marxist think-ins, exhibitions
include the Karl and Eleanor Marx
Treasures Gallery, from May to early
August at the British Library. The
display aims to explore the role that
the British Museum reading room, a
predecessor institution of the British
Library, played in the life and work of
Marx and his daughter, a writer and
political activist in her own right.
Items on display will include correspondence by Marx, his family and
Friedrich Engels, covering both personal and political affairs, as well as
rare copies of first editions of Marx’s
writings, several of which he donated
to the library. Among these is a copy
of the first French translation of Das
Kapital, believed to feature annotations in Marx’s own hand.
To the likely chagrin of committed
Marxists and eurosceptics, the distinctly un-Marxist figure of European
Commission president Jean-Claude
Juncker will open a series of exhibitions in Trier. Visitors will be able to
view a new permanent exhibition at
the Karl-Marx-Haus Museum, and
a bronze figure of Marx donated by
Those unable to make the trip
might instead consider the Marx
200th birthday walking tour in
Manchester, where Engels lived on
and off for almost 30 years and was
visited by Marx.
“We’ve been doing Marx-themed
walks for a while. He and Engels were
great drinkers so we did one based on
the pubs they used to go to, and there
was a great response,” said Ed Glinert
of New Manchester Walks.
“You get a real range of people. I
took the Chinese consul around one
time, for example. We don’t get too
many Americans, though.”
As for what Marx would make of
it all, Claeys asserted he had “a fine,
robust sense of humour” and would
certainly have mocked many who
have taken up his name over the past
150 years.
“He would, I think, be a ‘deep
green’ thinker who would advocate
sustainable development, an end to
planned obsolescence and production based on the profit rather than
global human need,” he said.
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
Obsession with strong women is
just another way to keep us down
It seems that any
cartoonish stereotype
will do: in the war
of the sexes, the first
casualty is nuance
are a fair few examples of “strongwoman-by-numbers” characters
– workaholic, sardonic, brutal but
fair, sarcastic but sexy, probably
smokers, even more probably cops,
childless (or with children horribly
scarred by their working hours),
scornful of the male gaze but with a
suspiciously great, figure-hugging
They’re not always dressed for
fighting zombies in a sexy postapocalyptic showdown, but they
may as well be. We all know the
drill. It’s as though female viewers
are supposed to be so grateful
that a woman isn’t cooing over the
achievements of a man, or weeping
at not being chosen by a man, that
any “strong” stereotype will do,
however cartoonish.
The Strong Woman can be as
boring and limiting as any other
stereotype and must be resisted. In
the real world, the near-fetishisation
of these types can sometimes make
“ordinary” women feel inadequate
and weak. In the same way, female
characters can’t just be, they must
“represent”. This is what Hare seems
to be urging – a refusal to bow to
cliche. If our gender wars become
ever more deeply entrenched, the
first casualty will be nuance.
face (reminiscent of an inquisitive
chimp’s reflection in a puddle
of Irn-Bru), but it also exposes a
dark truth at the heart of modern
British politics – the constant
parade of Tory beefcake, which
makes it difficult for the rest of us to
As a red-blooded heterosexual
woman, I can only comment on
male Tories who have caught
my beady lustful eye – apologies
to anyone who feels left out.
(Give a gal a chance – leading
Conservatives resemble a male
rightwing beauty pageant.) What
woman doesn’t secretly yearn to
catch the darting, ferrety eye of
foreign secretary, Boris Johnson,
who increasingly looks like a Ken
doll gone to seed and who’s sleeping
in his car?
Who hasn’t noticed that secretary
of state for international trade,
Liam Fox, exudes the statesmanlike
grace of Withnail & I’s Uncle Monty?
Who wouldn’t quiver, blushing,
at the thought of making a secret
assignation with Jacob ReesMogg somewhere he feels more
comfortable – say, the Battle of
Then there’s Iain Duncan
Smith (surely anyone’s first
choice for Mr February on the
hopefully forthcoming nude-Brexit
calendar). IDS may resemble an
egg with legs, but this is what
women want. Liberals just have
to face it – there’s a Tory hottie
epidemic and no one is erotically
Personally, I’m happy to admit
that any vitriol I’ve ever aimed at
these men has been a direct result
of embittered, unrequited ardour.
All that remains is to ask: when is
there going to be a public inquiry
into the way these dreamboats
have exploited their sexiness to
get ahead?
Phwoar, get an
eyeful of all
that top Tory
Helen Mirren as the hard-drinking DCI Tennison in Prime Suspect. Strong women have moved on. Granada Television
should be captured, placed inside a
wicker woman, and publicly burned
as an example to others? However,
reading the whole interview, it
transpired that Hare, (who has
written many female characters,
felt, and I paraphrase, that writing
generic Strong Women was limiting
and denigrating compared with
writing living, working, talking,
equal real women, who could be
strong, weak, clever, silly and every
human characteristic in between.
So, Hare was not against writing
strong women, he was against
writing cliched women, which is a
sound standpoint. After all, there
he secret is out. A US
study, published in the Journal of
Public Economics, says that more
attractive people tend to politically
identify as Conservative/Republican
and that it’s precisely because they
are so gorgeous that they have
such a hard time believing that less
fortunate people may need state
This not only explains
President Trump’s pretty little
eremy Vine had a heated
encounter with an Australian
vegan activist, Joey “Carbstrong”
Armstrong, on his Radio 2
show, after the latter noticed the
presenter’s lunch (a ham and
cheese sandwich) lying on the
side. Or as Armstrong put it: “The
dead body of an animal that didn’t
want to die.”
It would be all too easy to
lampoon Armstrong as an overly
militant vegan. (His Twitter photo
shows him cradling a piglet.)
However, it seems to me (a wussy
vegetarian) that this was the very
reason he was invited on to the
show (discussing activist threats
against farmers).
And although such types have
irritated me in the past, I’ve been
increasingly warming to them. At
least they’re preferable to that new
breed of Goop/perma-vlogging
“nu-vegans”, who are just doing
it for the pose, the weight-loss...
anything but animal welfare.
Anyone out there laughing at
Armstrong’s beliefs, maybe it’s time
to ask yourselves – what do you
care about deeply enough to risk the
mockery of the masses?
Moreover, the next time that
Vine knows he has a vegan guest
coming on, perhaps he could
show some basic respect and
consideration and hide his grotty
sandwich in a drawer.
ith the mood
between the sexes at peak combative
(wary, territorial, mistrustful), it
sometimes seems that anything,
from the cultural to the medical,
from the valid to the absurd, can set
off another burst of gender-themed
In one example, last week, the
Daily Mail ran a story about prostate
cancer, presenting it as “a bigger
killer than breast cancer”. It was as if
these deadly diseases were in direct
competition (in a way that, say,
lung and pancreatic cancer aren’t),
stoking male paranoia that their
disease was being marginalised
by a “woman’s disease”. Of course,
the truth is not so simple, but these
are the binary laws of provocation
– unsettle, goad, then let the
discontent ferment.
Elsewhere, the playwright
and screenwriter David Hare,
interviewed for his new TV series
Collateral, was quoted as saying:
“I’m sick to death of hearing about
the need for strong women as
protagonists. It’s a boring cause.”
What was this heresy? Perhaps Hare
Don’t be such
a ham, Vine,
show a vegan
some respect
The Observer
fame for
India’s ‘pad
man’ hero
Alia Waheed
Menstruation isn’t the most obvious
topic for a blockbuster, but the story
of how a lower-caste man from a village in India dropped out of school
at 14 and became the unlikely champion of menstrual health in the subcontinent has become the subject of
a Bollywood film released this week.
Pad Man, produced by actressturned-writer Twinkle Khanna ,
based on a short story from her book
The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, is
inspired by the life of Arunachalam
Muruganantham, a social activist
from Tamil Nadu. A welder by trade,
he set about creating affordable sanitary towels after discovering that his
wife, Shanthi, had been using dirty
rags during her periods.
“I wouldn’t use that cloth to clean
my vehicle,” said Muruganantham, 55,
who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in
2014. “When I asked her why, she said
we would have to cut half of our milk
budget to buy sanitary pads.”
While the all-singing, all-dancing genre may seem at odds with the
complexity of the issue, both Khanna
hopes the film will
spread awareness
in rural areas.
and Muruganantham hope the film
will break down taboos that have
a devastating effect on the health,
education and social opportunities
of women, particularly in rural areas.
In India, only 12% of women have
access to sanitary products; the rest
struggle to improvise, using old newspapers, rags and sawdust. The Indian
ministry of health estimates that 70%
of women are at risk of severe infection because of this. One in 53 women
in India will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime, compared
with one in 135 in the UK.
But Muruganantham’s quest to
create a sanitary towel that would
be cheap and easy to manufacture
domestically was far from straightforward. His breakthrough came
in 2009, when he won an award
from India’s National Innovation
Foundation to make and distribute
machines for the manufacture of sanitary towels in rural communities.
Dozens of academies
need cash bailouts
Flagship schools are under
pressure as taxpayer
subsidies are needed to
deal with mounting deficits
Michael Savage &
Warwick Mansell
Operators of dozens of academy
schools are having to rely on emergency handouts from the taxpayer
as a result of mounting deficits that
threaten to put some out of business.
In the latest sign of the financial pressures now on the nation’s
schools, the auditors of one operator
that oversees 21 schools raised concerns over its ability to keep operating
after it posted a £2.5m loss last year.
The revelations follow an investigation in last week’s Observer that
found that more than half of the biggest multi-academy trusts (MATs)
had issued warnings about funding,
citing pay, staffing levels, building
maintenance and mounting deficits. It has now emerged that some
smaller trusts have had to ask for cash
advances from the state to stay afloat.
The Birmingham-based Academy
Transformation Trust (ATT), which
received funding from the government of £59m last year and operates 21 schools educating nearly
12,000 pupils, is one of a number of
chains that appear to be relying on
future government handouts to keep
In a note on its 2016-17 annual
accounts, the ATT trustees admit:
“While the trust’s balance sheet
remains solvent, the net position of
income funds shows the trust to have
a deficit of £2.513m. The trust is also
forecasting a further reduction in
funds in 2017-18.
“The trust has been taking action
to address this position and is
in advanced discussion with the
Education [and] Skills Funding
Agency [ESFA] to provide an advance
to ensure appropriate cashflow during 2017-18 and beyond.”
An auditor adds: “A material uncertainty exists that may cast significant
doubt on the trust’s ability to continue as a going concern.” It states
that ATT’s financial position had
been “worsening throughout the
year”, and that its board of trustees
had not been sufficiently aware of
this because of “failings in the trust’s
financial reporting and forecasting
The Rodillian Multi Academy Trust,
in West Yorkshire, disclosed that it
also needs a “cash advance … to be
able to operate effectively”. The trust,
which operates four schools, reported
a deficit of £1.5m last year.
“Managing the cash flow month
to month is difficult and … the level
of creditors has become uncomfortably high. A business case is being
prepared to request a repayable cash
advance from the ESFA to be able to
operate effectively,” it said.
Andy Goulty, Rodillian’s chief executive, told the Observer that he had
come under pressure to take on new
schools and had suffered as a result.
“It was missionary work really to go in
to a community like my own and turn
it round. It has been turned around.
However, in hindsight we probably
wouldn’t take it on. As things have got
tighter over the years, we have not had
In numbers
Budget deficit of the Academy
Transformation Trust in 2016-17
Budget deficit of the Rodillian Multi
Academy Trust in 2016-17
the resource. The government keeps
saying that more money is going into
schools. Well, yes, it is, but we are paying out more in pensions, national
insurance. What is being spent on the
kids is less and less.”
ATT said that a recovery plan has
been developed “which shows the
trust returning to in-year surplus in
2018-19 and overall surplus no later
than 2021 … The trust [had] over
£3m in the bank at 31 August 2017.”
Rodillian said it had a plan to deliver
a surplus in 2017-18 and a significant
surplus in 2018-19.
The Department for Education says
that school funding is rising from
almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn
in 2019-20, and that every school
will receive an increase in funding
through the national funding formula this year.
The Observer
Helen Pidd
So Britney’s coming to
Yorkshire – our very
own Hollywood Bowl
“Britney Spears is playing Brighton
Pride and … Scarborough for some
reason,” scoffed Buzzfeed two weeks
ago. “By ’eck” began the headline in
the Times, expressing surprise that
the US pop princess had chosen to
perform in the North Yorkshire seaside town after finishing her Las
Vegas residency. LADbible had a bit
of a pop but said they’d pay good
money to hear Britney shout “Hello
Scarborough!” The naysayers were a
little quieter last week when Lionel
Richie announced he will also head
to the seaside town this year.
Scarborough is used to condescending headlines. Last year the
resort hit the news for the wrong
reasons twice in a month: when it
was singled out as a “personal bankruptcy hotspot” and when the Office
for National Statistics said it had the
lowest average income in England.
The council leader Derek
Bastiman, a former estate agent
with a penchant for loud shirts and
gold chains, was having none of it.
He said the reports made “outrageous assumptions about our area’s
economy, without actually researching the real position, which is far
from in decline”.
Back then he was in rhapsodies
over its dramatic cliffs, historic harbour and unspoiled sandy beaches.
“Don’t tell me that Scarborough is
damp and rundown,” he said sternly.
His hometown had been named by
Visit Britain as the second most visited destination outside London for
domestic overnight visitors.
There are no downsides to
Scarborough when viewed through
Bastiman’s lens. “There’s nobody as
good as us. Please put that down,”
he instructed. So what if there is
no direct service to London? Good
transport links just make it easier to
not stay the night, he said – just look
at Blackpool, connected by a motorway, and so simple to escape.
That said, some road upgrades
would be nice, he conceded, especially as a new potash fertiliser mine
opening up the coast is expected to
bring 2,500 jobs and add £2.3bn to
national GDP by 2021.
B&Bs in Scarbados, as local people call it, received a rush of bookings as soon as Britney’s arrival was
announced. At the Phoenix guest
house, described on TripAdvisor as
“A PINK PALACE!!!”, owner Jenny
Nelmes (“basically my new gay
icon!” – TripAdvisor) said rooms
were snapped up the morning the
tickets went on sale.
Britney is coming to Scarborough
thanks to the persistence of a man
called Peter Taylor, who went to Los
Lady Gaga, pictured at last
month’s Grammys, has cancelled
her world tour, including shows in
London today and Manchester on
Tuesday, due to “severe pain” from
the condition fibromyalgia (Live
review, New Review, page 30).
Photograph by Kevin Winter/Getty
Angeles and persuaded her people
that an outdoor theatre in the middle of a lake on England’s bracing
east coast was “Yorkshire’s answer
to the Hollywood Bowl”. Taylor,
whose company books the councilowned venue, discovered that one
of Spears’s people is originally from
Leeds, and liked the idea of bringing
her to the Yorkshire seaside.
But while some fans may choose
to travel to Scarborough for a bit of a
laugh, its outdoor theatre is no joke.
Built in 1930, it was home to It’s a
Knockout! in the 60s but fell into disrepair as its customers discovered
cheap package holidays abroad. In
2010 it was reopened by the Queen
and now claims to be Europe’s largest amphitheatre “since antiquity”.
There are 6,000 seats: more than
Britney performed to on each of her
100 nights in Las Vegas.
Each year since its renovation it
has attracted bigger acts: Bastiman
raves about Madness (“absolutely
rocking”) as well as Little Mix,
the Beach Boys and Elton John.
North Yorkshire
Main Ingredient
Chicken Meal
Audiences initially complained that
the moat which separated the stage
from the audience broke the bond
between performer and fans, so they
boarded over the water to bring the
crowd closer.
Residents welcome the influx of
visitors drawn by international acts,
but some wish the council would
put as much effort into retaining local heritage. Last year it voted
to spend £4m knocking down the
Futurist theatre, an art deco cinema
on the seafront, which once played
host to the Beatles.
Others say low-earning local people are priced out: Britney sold out
in minutes, and almost immediately resale sites were asking £130
for standing tickets. “We’re talking
about people coming from out of
town,” said Jade Montserrat, a local
artist. “What about people who are
self-medicating, for whom there are
no jobs? They aren’t the people who
are going to see Britney.”
Not stated
Named % Poultry
Cost per day
Ireland divided
How the vote
on abortion law
is testing faith
and the old order,
pages 34-35
Migrants carry sticks during clashes near the ferry port in Calais on Thursday after at least five people were shot while waiting for food handouts. Photograph by Johan Ben Azzouz/EPA
Armed clashes in Calais after surge
in refugees trying to reach Britain
An Anglo-French
deal to speed refugee
processing has led to
a 25% rise in arrivals
at the port, mounting
tensions between
nationalities, shootings
and violent brawls
A sudden surge of refugees arriving in Calais is stoking new tensions
between migrant communities and
led to the mass brawl and multiple
shootings that shocked France last
There has been a 25% increase in
the number of migrants heading for
the French port, placing pressure on
food handouts and increasing competition for routes into the UK.
Migrants and charities blamed
the rapid increase on a recent border treaty between France and the
UK, which raised “false hopes” that it
would be easier to reach Britain.
The treaty, signed by President
Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May
a fortnight ago, promised to accelerate the processing of migrants in the
port city and was heralded as “a more
humane approach”.
Yet while the new migrants had
hoped for a quicker journey across the
Channel, they discovered that there
was little food and almost no shelter at the port.
Shortly after 2.30pm on Thursday
at least five migrants were shot at
close range as they queued for food
handouts, prompting a running
brawl between Afghans and Eritreans
across the city. Four Eritreans aged
between 16 and 18 remain in a critical condition in hospital as the French
police hunt for the gunman, who is
believed to be a 37-year-old Afghan
Speaking in the city, close to where
the shootings took place, Laura
Griffiths, of the refugee charity Safe
Passage, said: “The treaty led to many
new arrivals but also rumours – false
hopes – that there would be an easy
passage to the UK. These new arrivals increased tension at distribution
points. In reality, the only legal pas-
sage is for minors, and even this is not
working effectively.”
Griffiths said that following the
border treaty announcement the
charity recorded the arrival of 200
migrants entering Calais from surrounding locations in northern
France and Paris, bringing the total
within the port to around 800.
François Guennoc, vice-president
of the Calais charity L’Auberge des
Migrants, said the UK-France border agreement had caused chaos. “It
gave people hope to reach England,”
he said. “People arrived suddenly,
about 200, mainly underage people
and women who arrived in Calais
because they thought that the Home
A video grab of the Calais clashes after
the shootings on Thursday. AP
Office said they [could] go directly
to England. Then they thought the
Home Office was lying. People were
upset – it was crazy.”
Migrants said that the treaty had
provoked frustration among desperate individuals, many of whom sleep
rough in the woods near Calais.
Ifa Derrec, a 22-year-old ethnic
Oromo fleeing violence in Ethiopia,
said: “Many new persons arrived,
and those already here became angry
because they have been waiting a long
time and then new people take their
food. This causes the problem. We
are too cold and hungry, there is violence because of this,” he said, shivering outside his flimsy tent on a patch
of muddy wasteland.
Others volunteer alternative theories for the shooting, which has raised
fresh scrutiny on how France intends
to deal with the increasing numbers
of migrants converging on Calais.
Ife Magiso, 20, from Ethiopia,
described how a growing enmity
between Afghan and Eritrean
migrants in Calais began during a
dispute over access to a lorry park an
hour’s walk from the city. The lorry
park, off the A16, offers the frequent
chance of climbing into the backs of
lorries headed to the port of Calais,
but was controlled by Afghan smugglers, who refused to allow Eritreans
to use it.
“They say it’s theirs. That’s unfair
because we share our [lorry] parks
with anyone,” said Heeran, 19, another
Oromo migrant.
Some accuse the Afghans of operating a shamelessly racist policy over
access to the coveted truck stops outside the port. “They don’t allow any
black people to go there,” said Abdul
Wadood, 24, from Khartoum, Sudan.
A number of those gathered
beside a row of tents pitched outside a warehouse a 10-minute walk
from the old “jungle” camp – which
held almost 10,000 migrants before it
was demolished 15 months ago – said
that resentment had been brewing
between Afghan and Eritrean factions
following an alleged incident shortly
after the start of the year.
Continued on page 35
The Observer
Afghan boys
look over the
city of Kabul,
left. Below, the
aftermath of a
recent suicide
bomb that killed
more than 100.
Photographs by
Rahmat Gul/AP,
Areas of control
The Taliban control 45 districts
and claim control of a further 24.
117 districts are contested
Hope fades in Kabul, where no one
believes in false promises of peace
212 Government control
117 Control contested
• 45 Taliban control
24 Unconfirmable Taliban claims
Emma GrahamHarrison first reported
from Afghanistan a
decade ago. As violence
grips the country’s
capital once again, she
reflects on a conflict
that seems more
intractable than ever
Even six years ago, the words rang
hollow. The Taliban’s “momentum
has been reversed”, the UK’s General
Adrian Bradshaw insisted to a room
of incredulous journalists at the Nato
headquarters in Kabul.
Violence was rising across
Afghanistan, slowly yet undeniably.
But the US and its allies had a war to
end, a 2014 deadline for their departure, and a withdrawal under way;
reality took second place to the schedule set by Washington.
At the end of last year, with deaths,
attacks and Taliban control still on the
rise, the top US general in Afghanistan
told another room of journalists –
possibly once again disbelieving,
although this time I was not among
them to judge – that “the momentum
is now with the Afghan security forces
and the Taliban cannot win”.
One of the most tragic aspects of
nearly a decade covering conflict in
Afghanistan is how intractable the
war has become. After 17 years, the
west still appears convinced that
superior funds and military power
can deliver victory, while the Taliban
are equally convinced they can wait
Nato and its allies out.
And despite both sides intermittently embracing the idea of peace
talks, both seem more focused on
entering any negotiations from a
position of military strength than
finding a way to the table.
The price is paid by ordinary
Afghans – who are dying in their
thousands as civilians caught up in
the conflict – and by fighters on both
sides of the frontline, whose deaths
generate no less grief merely because
they signed up for war.
The scale of the attacks and the
nature of the targets are damaging
the hope that is a vital ingredient for
strengthening a battered economy
and pursing peace.
As those with money to leave
increasingly do so – heading to
Turkey or India, or risking their lives
to try to reach Europe – there are ever
fewer talented Afghans to work on
rebuilding, and ever fewer options for
those left behind. Many young men
sign up to fight, on either side, sim-
‘The young and the
educated are leaving
their country: there’s
an overall erosion of
hope in the future’
Borhan Osman, analyst
ply to feed their family. “If you live in
Afghanistan for all these years, you
just realise it is going nowhere,” said
Borhan Osman, an analyst with peace
campaigners International Crisis
Group, based in Kabul.
“At this point I see a whole wave
of people leaving their country, especially the young and the educated,
and it’s not that much to do with
actual day-to-day security dynamics
– more the overall erosion of hope
in the future, the [lack of] confidence
about prospects of peace.”
When I first worked in Afghanistan,
in 2009, furious debates about corruption, civilian casualties and the
other problems of the war were animated partly by a sense that the
country could trace a path out of the
conflict – if Afghans and their foreign
allies would correct their course.
Current president Ashraf Ghani
based his bid for power in part on the
fact that, in his previous life as an academic, he had ostensibly written the
guidebook for that recovery – a slim
volume called Fixing Failed States.
Once in power, he struggled, mired
in bitter political feuds and hampered
by a weak economy, entrenched corruption and spiralling violence. Yet
even as the war gathered pace in the
rest of the country, and Taliban control expanded, the capital seemed relatively insulated.
There was violence, but it was
infrequent enough that millions of
residents could maintain a semblance
of normality. It was a heavily militarised normality, bounded by blast
walls and fear, but students still went
to school and university, and people
started businesses. Western nations
still sent asylum seekers home, arguing that the capital and other areas
were safe.
Yet over the past year the mounting pace of attacks, culminating in
three that killed nearly 200 people last month, has shattered even
that illusion, sparking protests from
Afghans who wonder how they can
trust a government unable to secure
even its own capital.
When insurgents hit the Intercontinental hotel, they crippled a vital
national transport link, killing pilots
and other staff from a national airline.
Flights with Kam Air are often the
only way to travel between parts of
the country now separated by Taliban
or Isis territory.
Other recent attacks have hit the
popular and well-respected American
University of Afghanistan, a cultural centre and the headquarters of
Roshan, Afghanistan’s biggest mobile
phone company. A massive bomb
hidden in an ambulance also killed
more than 100.
The chaos and despair caused by
these incidents may be one reason the
Taliban targeted Kabul, Osman said.
It showed their reach and capacity at
a time when they are under increased
pressure in their rural heartlands.
Since US president Donald Trump
decided to boost troop numbers on
the ground, Afghan forces and their
western allies have responded to the
Taliban’s growing reach and the rise
Lashkar Gah
300 km
300 miles
of Isis by stepping up attacks and airstrikes: these have taken out leaders and reduced insurgent reach.
American control of Afghanistan’s
skies makes it impossible for the
Taliban to launch a conventional military assault on Kabul.
But as the long years of this war
show, even a much higher western
military presence cannot guarantee
security for the capital or peace for the
country it is meant to govern.
Even in cities such as London and
Paris, intelligence agencies find it
impossible to prevent all attacks, and
Kabul is many times more crowded,
a short drive from insurgent strongholds, and dotted with Taliban supporters or sympathizers.
If the US commits to staying, and
the Taliban remain determined to
wait out its presence, all that remains
for Afghans is the prospect of many
more years of a war that has been
grinding on in various permutations
for nearly four decades. Little wonder they are losing hope and fleeing.
The Observer
Ireland divided as vote
on abortion law tests
faith and the old order
In the only Irish county
to vote against samesex marriage, a far
closer vote is expected
in a referendum in May
on a woman’s right to
terminate a pregnancy
he eighth amendment
of the Irish constitution makes Ireland,
depending on your
point of view, either
a unique beacon of
humanity in a godless world or a
superstitious hamlet determined
not to enter into the 21st century.
The amendment was signed into
law in October 1983 after two-thirds
of the electorate voted in a referendum to accord equal status to the
life of a child growing in the womb
with that of its mother. As a result,
only in extreme circumstances can
an abortion take place.
Pointing out that no one under
the age of 52 had ever voted on the
issue, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar,
last week announced that a referendum would take place by the end of
May to repeal the amendment.
All over Ireland, old arguments
are being dusted down and fortified, and red lines are appearing in
the sand again. It’s not enough to
say that this is a country divided;
all democracies are divided – by
class, geography, money. Ireland
right now is experiencing convulsions. This is what happens when
an old order which has held a people in its grip for centuries is forced
to let go. We are witnessing the long,
slow separation of the Holy Roman
Catholic and Apostolic Church and
the Irish state.
In the course of this generation,
the constitution has been amended
to remove the prohibition of divorce
in 1996, and 20 years later the Irish
people voted overwhelmingly to
approve same-sex marriage.
Now a woman’s right to have an
abortion, a right held to be sacred in
about 200 other countries, is about
to be accepted in what is often perceived as the world’s most Catholic
country. If this isn’t recognised in
May, it must only be a matter of time
before it is.
In Roscommon last week there
was quiet unease at the prospect
of another referendum that would
test the depth of the old faith and
the resolve of another moral certainty. The county sits in the centre
of Ireland and some of its citizens remain resentful at the buffeting it received following the
100 km
referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015. Roscommon was the
only one of Ireland’s 26 counties
to vote against. This led to a slew
of abuse and online mockery. “Go
home Roscommon, you are drunk,”
was one tweet. This was another:
“Tip, I’ll give you a tip! Move to
Roscommon/South Leitrim and pal
around with your own kind of hatefilled bigots.”
Christina McHugh, editor of
the Roscommon Herald, understands the hurt felt by many at
being depicted as an uncivilised
and backward horde. “What people failed to acknowledge,” she says
“is that Roscommon has the highest concentration of elderly people
in Ireland. Unemployment and lack
of opportunities means many young
people leave as soon as they can.
“The vote on same-sex marriage
here was very close, around 51%49%. Even so, it was a democratic
election and people had a right to
vote the way their conscience dictated without being abused.”
The paper she edits will remain
neutral during the debate. “It’s not our
job to tell readers how they should
be voting on this issue,” she says.
It was evident, too, that some of
the undercurrents that fuelled Brexit
and Donald Trump’s storming of
the White House were present in
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racist shooting spree
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in the heart of
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the highest
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the country.
Leo Varadkar
after a cabinet
meeting last
Monday as he
outlined the
plans for
an abortion
referendum by
the end of May.
Varadkar hopes the referendum
will be run in a civilised manner,
but this seems to be optimistic
took part in the
March for Choice
in Dublin last
Photograph by
Paul Faith/AFP
The Observer
Roscommon. This is a rural county
which has always done things its
own way and is accustomed to delivering surprising election results.
There is a sense of seeking to tell
Dublin’s sophisticated political set
that another Ireland exists and that
it won’t simply roll over to indulge
the sanctimonious whims of a rootless city mob.
Varadkar has said he hopes the
abortion referendum will be conducted in a civilised and mutually
respectful manner, but this seems
optimistic. The battle over the eighth
amendment will pulse with more
emotion than the same-sex marriage struggle.
ugene Murphy,
who represents
for the opposition
Fianna Fáil, meets me
in his office at the top
of the town’s main street. He will
be voting against the amendment
but he speaks with compassion: “I
have made my position clear on this
issue. But I fully respect the views
of those who disagree with me. Of
course it’s a very emotive issue and
people have strong views because it
concerns the health of mothers and
the lives of unborn children.
“There is no easy answer and I
think many people on the No side
would concede that there may be
circumstances when abortion is
advisable, but I think the Taoiseach
has made a mistake in opening it
up to an ‘on-demand’ level. It’s this
which I think will see it voted down
by people who otherwise might
agree to abortions where there has
been rape or incest or where there
is a genuine threat to the life of the
Murphy’s media adviser and
office organiser Mairead O’Shea has
a different view. “I will probably vote
to amend,” she says, “as I just don’t
think the state should be interfering
in what is such a deeply personal
and painful issue for women. I happen to think there are many people
who are pro-life themselves but who
are reluctant to force their views on
to another who doesn’t hold those
beliefs. We have seen an upsurge,
too, in the number of young people
seeking to register to vote.”
The problem for those who are
basically anti-abortion but would
permit it in cases of rape or incest
is that it is well-nigh impossible
to legislate for such a narrow corridor of wickedness. The issue of
how rape victims are dealt with and
how many of these cases actually
make it to court is already a tender
one, without adding the fate of an
unborn child into the mix.
The battle for the eighth has
already seen one politician tie himself in knots. Varadkar’s deputy,
Simon Coveney, has sown confusion in his party and in the country by insisting that the state has
a duty to protect unborn children,
despite also stating that he will vote
to repeal the amendment.
Early indications are that the
result will be far closer than the
62%-38% in favour of same-sex
marriage. Varadkar has moved to
ban all outside funding in the campaign, but this won’t stop hundreds
of overseas activists on either side
descending on Ireland in the days
leading up to the vote. This is when
it will become intense and when
rancour will enter the debate.
Outside the Roscommon branch
of Dunne’s Stores on Friday afternoon, I conducted my own mini-referendum. Of the eight women of
varying ages who agreed to speak to
me, not one intended to vote against
repealing the amendment. Bridie
Connolly eloquently encapsulated a
prevailing sentiment among these
women. “In cases of rape and incest,
and if there’s a diagnosis of foetal abnormality, then it should be
left to the mum and dad to decide.
Ireland’s healthcare system is a
mess and ill-equipped to care for
sick children as it is.”
In devout, rural Ireland, the foundations are already beginning
to shift beneath a church whose
authority has for long been a fragile thing.
Six Africans have been injured in a
drive-by shooting spree lasting two
hours in the central Italian town of
Macerata, in what police have called
a racially motivated attack.
Officers have arrested Luca Traini,
a 28-year-old Italian who stood in
local elections last year for the rightwing Northern League, which has
strong anti-immigrant policies.
Officials said the shooter drove
around Macerata yesterday in a black
Alfa Romeo, firing out of the window
at people he believed to be migrants.
“He drove around in his car and when
he saw any coloured people he shot
them,” Marcello Mancini, a Macerata
resident, told Reuters.
Police warned people in Macerata
to stay inside while they tried to catch
the attacker. When he was cornered
near the city’s war memorial, the man
tried to escape on foot but was caught
almost immediately. Local media said
he shouted “Viva l’Italia” as he was
taken away.
Video footage of the arrest showed
armed police detaining a bald,
bearded man with an Italian flag
draped over his shoulders. A pistol
was found in his car. Police said five
men and a woman were injured in the
attacks, one of them seriously hurt
and needing surgery.
The mayor of Macerata, Romano
Carancini, confirmed that six foreigners, all black, had been wounded in
the incident.
Tensions had been running high in
Macerata after the dismembered body
of an 18-year-old Italian woman,
Pamela Mastropietro, was found in
two suitcases and a Nigerian asy-
Calais refugees in
armed clashes
Continued from page 31
Sarah Ditum
on the Irish
abortion vote
page 48
According to Rashad Mamoun, a
27-year-old from Sudan, a young
Eritrean attempted to enter the lorry
park claimed by the Afghan smugglers. “So they took his clothes, shoes,
his phone, everything,” said Mamoun.
“They left him naked, he had to walk
back freezing. People are not happy
with the Afghans, maybe the Afghans
got scared, that’s why they shoot.”
But the use of a firearm in the longrunning turf war among groups of
different nationalities hoping to reach
the UK has shocked many in Calais.
One Afghan, 20-year-old Amir, from
Herat, who has camped near the port
since September, said: “I really hope
there is no more shooting. Why has
he not been caught?”
Yet reprisals are likely, the Eritreans
say. “There will be revenge,” said
Magiso, nodding solemnly. “But we
only carry stones to throw, and that’s
no good against guns.”
His friends said they had armed
themselves with sticks, and within an
hour of Thursday’s shootings a group
lum-seeker, Innocent Oseghale, was
arrested. Mastropietro had run away
from a drug rehabilitation centre on
Monday and her body was found on
The Italian news agency Ansa
reported that the Alfa Romeo had
been seen in the area where the woman’s body was found and also near
where the suspect lived.
Mastropietro’s uncle, Valerio Verni,
said: “My family and I call for the
whole community of Macerata to be
calm. What is happening in Macerata
is totally unjustified: we cannot
respond to an act of barbarism with
just as much barbarity.”
Immigration has featured strongly
Police have
arrested Luca
Traini, a former
Northern League
candidate, in
relation to
the attack.
in Italy’s general election campaign,
with anti-foreigner sentiment emerging as a key theme. The Northern
League backs fiercely anti-immigration policies and is part of former
prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s
centre-right alliance, which is leading the polls in the run-up to the election, set for 4 March.
In campaign appearances, the
head of the Northern League,
Matteo Salvini, has capitalised on
Mastropietro’s killing, and is pledging to deport 150,000 migrants during his first year in office if his party
wins control of parliament and he is
named premier.
of between 150 and 200 Eritreans
carrying iron bars and sticks clashed
with Afghans. “I will fight, but I don’t
want to get shot,” said Eritrean Eyob
Mebrahtu, 23, pointing to his thigh,
where he said he had been stabbed
but would not reveal by whom.
Not all are keen to join the conflict. Mohammed Montaset, 25, from
Khartoum, who has spent six months
sleeping in a copse, is terrified of the
prospect of violence. “I have travelled
here to find peace, for a better life.
Now, every night, I sleep in fear.”
His friend Omar, 19, from Kassala,
Sudan, glanced towards his right
arm, strapped in a sling. The teenager explained that he had been
beaten with a stick while sleeping. “I
don’t know who did it, why or which
nationality,” he said.
Already the shooting has brought
a crackdown, with security forces
drafted into the city. Rumours have
long persisted that the many people-smugglers operating in northern
France had guns, with some Kurdish
traffickers further east along the coast
at Dunkirk alleged to have access to
AK-47s, possibly from Syria.
“We had heard they had weapons.
Now we have confirmation,” said
The Observer
Surge in therapy
as Weinstein saga
reopens wounds
in Hollywood
Showbusiness patients
are calling on their
psychiatrists day and
night, and even on set,
reports Rory Carroll
in Los Angeles
In Hollywood, Johnny Carson used to
joke, if you don’t have a shrink, people
think you’re crazy. In reality there is
still a stigma around therapy, even in
Los Angeles, with those seeking treatment tending to keep quiet about it.
The recent explosion of sexual misconduct revelations, however, has
seen a huge surge in the number of
Hollywood names seeking psychiatric help. “We’re much busier and
on-call, visiting people on set, or see-
ing them in the office,” said Charles
Sophy, a prominent Beverly Hills
psychiatrist. “It’s morphed into this
almost 24/7 availability.”
He added that the torrent of
#MeToo and #TimesUp testimonies
of alleged abuse and harassment at
the hands of Harvey Weinstein and
other Hollywood figures has triggered powerful emotions and memories across the industry. “I treat some
of the people that are in the middle of
all this – people that are speaking out
and being spoken out about. A lot of
substance abuse has been stirred up
over it. People have relapsed.”
Sophy, who runs a private practice as well as being medical director for LA County’s department of
children and family services, said the
new openness about sexual misconduct was having a positive impact by
empowering victims.
But some of those with trauma,
including post-traumatic stress disorder, were having painful memories triggered, he said, while others
who were not abused but knew about
abuse were wrestling with guilt. “They
feel bad that they didn’t do anything.”
Other therapists describe how
heightened awareness about sexual
misconduct – last week saw the sentencing of the disgraced US gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and
the publication of Rose McGowan’s
whistleblowing book Brave – has
seeped into their sessions.
“The issue has come up across the
board,” said Gila Shapiro, an LA-based
marriage and family therapist. “It
seems as though there are a number
of stories that have not yet made the
headlines and may never – the stakes
still feel too high for people.”
Lorien Haynes, a writer and filmmaker, said the volume of media
reports and social media posts about
sexual misconduct was creating an
unhealthy information loop.
“There’s no escaping it,” she said.
“It’s like the wound being opened
again and again. My own therapist
has had to go on set because people
were struggling to manage it.”
Haynes said she was abused as
a child and this drove her to make
An Open Secret, a documentary film
about child abuse in Hollywood, and
to write A Man and a Woman, a play
about the repercussions of abuse.
People outside the entertainment
industry are also feeling the effects
of the revelations. Lynn Bufka, of the
American Psychological Association,
said there was no hard data but
that colleagues across the US were
reporting a surge in conversations
about sexual abuse and consent.
Women show solidarity at
last month’s Golden Globe
awards in Los Angeles as other
colleagues in the film industry
face painful memories. Getty
“Absolutely, patients are talking about
this. For those already in treatment,
it’s probably a good thing this is happening at national level. But it can be
pretty challenging if you’re not connected to a therapist or psychologist
or support network.”
Suzanne Phillips, co-chair of community outreach for the American
Group Psychotherapy Association,
said her members were also fielding
a surge in conversations about the
issues. “It’s coming up because what
people bring is often what has hit
them in the media ... and that’s usually an avenue for unhealed trauma.”
The volume of media coverage was
eroding stigma around therapy, said
Phillips. “Shame drops and the possibility of seeking help is increased.”
Linda Curran, a trauma specialist,
‘I treat people in the
middle of this. A lot
of substance abuse
has been stirred up.
People have relapsed’
Charles Sophy, psychiatrist
said the revelations were cathartic for
some but not for those who had suffered childhood abuse.
Several alleged serial predators are
in therapy themselves. Sophy said
successful treatment depends on the
person wishing to understand and
change their behaviour, rather than
using rehab as a public relations fig
leaf. “If you don’t go in for the right
reasons, it won’t work.”
Weinstein, who is at a high-end
rehab centre in Arizona, is facing
dozens of accusations. He has denied
non-consensual sex. Last week his
lawyer issued a statement calling
McGowan a liar for her book’s depiction of an alleged rape.
Nora Baladerian, an LA-based clinical psychologist, doubted that the exproducer would emerge a changed
man. “Weinstein is still denying that
anything bad really happened,” she
said. “I don’t think he gets it.”
Why disposable
is a dirty word
How to buy stuff that
lasts a lifetime
Page 43
Europe’s new
Across central and eastern Europe, nationalism
and hostility to migrants have taken hold.
In Austria – where the Freedom Party is
sharing power – the Czech Republic, Hungary
and Poland, ‘illiberalism’ is in fashion.
What does it mean for the rest of Europe?
Philip Oltermann reports from Budapest
A rally in support of the rightwing Jobbik party in
Hungary. Photograph by Bernadette Szabo/Reuters
n the House of Terror, one
of Budapest’s most popular tourist attractions, two
mannequins’ torsos stand
back to back on a rotating platform, one wearing
the uniform of Hungary’s communist secret police, the other that of
the Arrow Cross fascist party. They
bear mute testimony to the traumas
of 20th-century history in this corner of Europe. Mária Schmidt, the
museum’s director, says she would
like to show her display to Angela
Merkel, the German chancellor,
thus reminding her that in 1945
Hungary was occupied by the two
most brutal totalitarian regimes
of the last century in the space
of a single year. This would, she
believes, explain why the country
remains fiercely proud of its independence and suspicious of “neocolonial attitudes” towards eastern
Europe from Brussels.
“We are Hungarians, and we
want to preserve our culture,”
Schmidt says, sitting in the museum’s boardroom. “We don’t want to
copy what the Germans are doing
Continued overleaf
The Observer
Continued from page 37
or what the French are doing. We
want to continue with our own way
of life.” When the German chancellor
visited Budapest in 2009, Schmidt
claims she sent her an invitation to
a commemorative event but got no
response. “There is only one explanation for this,” she says. “She has a
heart of ice.”
A historian who once wrote
acclaimed books about the
Holocaust, Schmidt is now seen in
Hungary as intellectual-in-chief
to the country’s avowedly illiberal prime minister Viktor Orbán,
whose government subsidises the
museum and a number of think
tanks directed by her.
Like Orbán, she is no fan of refugees. Schmidt rejects the term for
the thousands of people from Syria,
Afghanistan and other war-torn
countries who were left stranded at
Budapest’s Keleti station in the summer of 2015, insisting they were
“migrants” because they had already
crossed several borders on their
journey to the heart of the continent.
“We used to fight Turkish invad-
‘In central Europe we
believed Europe was
our future. Today we
believe we are the
future of Europe’
Viktor Orbán, PM, Hungary
ers and were occupied
ied by the Turks
for 150 years,” she says. “We know
hat certain
the consequences that
kinds of contacts may
Schmidt dismisses the argun
ment that European
mmieconomies need immigration to make up for
phdeclining demography’s case,
ics and, in Hungary’s
high levels of emigration:
“The Hungarians who have
ntually come
emigrated will eventually
back because they will realise
n anywhere
it is better here than
ing that “autoelse,” she says, adding
al intelligence are
mation and artificial
creating new kinds of methods of
quire a smaller
production” that require
labour force.
“There is a debatee about the
future of Europe: whether it can
remain an alliance of nation states,
d become an
or whether it should
eve in empires.
empire. I don’t believe
Where is the Soviett Union now?
Where is the Third Reich? Where
pire? Where is
is the Ottoman empire?
the British Empire?? Meanwhile,
e. This is a state
Hungary is still here.
which is 1,100 yearss old.”
mparison, is a
“Germany, by comparison,
hmidt adds, raisyoung country,” Schmidt
n’t like being lecing her voice. “I don’t
o couldn’t even
tured by people who
set up a nation statee before 1871.”
er emailed to
Schmidt’s office later
clarify that she had intended this as
a joke.
Increasingly, there are signs that
Schmidt and Orbán have the ambition to take their brand of “illiberal democracy”, with its constant
attacks on liberal freedoms and its
disdain for Muslim migrants perceived to be undermining the country’s Christian identity, to another
“Twenty-seven years ago here
in central Europe we believed that
Europe was our future; today we feel
that we are the future of Europe,”
the Hungarian prime minister told
an audience in Romania last July,
sketching out a scenario whereby
Hungary would no longer just
obstruct Brussels but begin to shape
the continent in its image.
And as the fallout from the 2015
refugee crisis continues to divide
east and west Europe, Orbán gathers copycats and admirers across the
former Soviet bloc.
Since Poland’s 2015 general
election the conservative Law and
Justice party (PiS) has found itself
entrenched in a constant standoff with EU leaders over its plans
to overhaul its constitutional court
– a battle similar to one fought in
Hungary in 2013.
As with Orbán’s assault on the
judiciary, human rights NGOs
and press freedom, Polish cities
have seen large-scale protests by a
younger generation, with thousands
of people taking to the streets to
protest against restrictions on women’s rights in the spring of 2016.
In the Czech Republic, president Miloš Zeman managed
Mitteleuropa turns right
1 Czech Republic
President Miloš Zeman, right, one
of the last remaining active leaders
from the region’s post-Soviet
transition period, last weekend
managed to get re-elected by
beating an opponent he derided as
a pro-immigrant elitist with ties to
Angela Merkel. Zeman surrounds
himself with business advisers
with connections to Moscow and
Beijing and opposes sanctions
against Russia. Prime minister
Andrej Babiš hails from rightwing
populist party ANO but advocates
close economic ties with the
European Union.
An anti-Nazi
protester in
Austria, where
the Freedom
party is in
Photograph by
Joe Klamar/
3 Austria
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, above,
of the centre-right Austrian
People’s Party rules in a coalition
government with the far-right
Freedom Party. The parties
have stated their intention
to curb benefits for migrants
from other EU member states
and restrict cash payments for
asylum seekers. While explicitly
ruling out a referendum on
EU membership, Kurz said the
European Union should focus
more on “big issues” and not
“small issues on which nations
or regions can better decide for
themselves”. Receiving Viktor
Orbán in Vienna last week, Kurz
stated his aim of becoming “a
bridge-builder between the
Visegrad states and the countries
in western Europe”.
to secur
secure his re-election last weekend by running
a campaign from the
Orbán p
playbook, painting his liberal
opponent Jiří Drahoš as a pro-immigrant elitist
with ties to Merkel.
Even Austria, governed since
December by a right-leaning coalition which
includes Heinz-Christian
Strache’s rightwing Freedom Party
(FPÖ), has
h not been immune to the
Hungarian leader’s populist charm.
Orbán, who expects to extend
his rule at elections in April, last
Tuesday boarded a humble Railjet
train to meet the new Austrian
prime minister,
Sebastian Kurz, in
ienna and declared a “fresh start”
in Austrian-Hungarian
relations: a
symbolic westward extension of the
Visegrád group – the post-cold war
alliance formed in the early 1990s
between Poland, Hungary, Slovakia
and the Czech Republic – with a
dash of old Habsburg glamour.
his November marks
the centenary of
the collapse of the
Habsburg empire,
ruled for 650 years
by a dual monarchy
from Budapest and Vienna. For Ivan
Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist at Vienna’s Institute of Human
Sciences, the anniversary is cru-
The Observer
2 Poland
Poland has been engaged in a
two-year legal fight with Brussels
that has been prolonged by a
government reshuffle and the
appointment of a new prime
minister, Mateusz Morawiecki,
left. The Polish government
has been battling to control the
constitutional court, a move
which critics say puts the country
on a road to autocracy. On
Thursday the Polish government
passed a libel bill that allows
jail sentences for those accusing
the Polish population of
collaborating in the Holocaust or
other war crimes.
5 Slovakia
Slovakian prime minister Robert
Fico, above, has his own history
of clashing with the rest of
the EU, describing the bloc’s
migration policy in January 2016
as “ritual suicide”. But Slovakia
is also the Visegrad group’s only
member of the eurozone, and
Fico last October insisted that
ties with western Europe were
more important for his country
than solidarity with its Eastern
European neighbours, describing
his country as “a pro-European
island in this region”.
‘Nationalism used to
be about your army
or your economy.
Now it is very much
about culture’
4 Hungary
Campaigning is under way for
a national poll on 8 April that is
expected to result in the reelection of prime minister Viktor
Orbán, above, of the Fidesz party.
Hungary’s government has
clashed with Brussels over its
opposition to distribution quotas
for refugees and judicial reforms
that critics have described as “a
serious risk to the rule of law”. A
new law, dubbed the “Stop Soros
Plan”, looks designed to curb the
influence of Hungarian-born
financier George Soros, who
founded the Central European
University and the Hungarian
Helsinki Committee, a humanrights group.
ics of the new rift between eastern
and western Europe, it also hints at
where Orbán’s conservative counter-revolution may come up against
its limits.
“There is a widespread view in
central and eastern Europe that
multinational empires were fated to
collapse, because the western powers and historians spent decades
telling them that they were,” says
Philipp Ther, a professor of central
European history at Vienna university and author of the prizewinning
Europe Since 1989: A History. “In fact,
in Austro-Hungary’s case, it was
full of life and managed to gradually democratise, a lot more so than
“But there won’t be a revival of
Austro-Hungary now,” Ther says.
“On the contrary: we will see growing conflicts between Austria and
Hungary in the coming years.”
Austria’s vice chancellor Strache
may have argued the case for Austria
joining the Visegrád group in last
year’s election campaign. But his
own Freedom Party has been just
as vocal about the need to hinder eastern European migrants’
access to the Austrian welfare state:
plans to index benefits for children of Hungarian migrant workers
is one of his government’s signature policies. Eastern European
governments, including Orbán’s,
have announced their intention to
oppose the measures – in Brussels,
Austria, meanwhile, has
announced its intention to sue
Hungary for plans to expand a
nuclear power station near the
Austrian border, which is financed
with a Russian loan of over €1bn.
The Visegrád group, a loose network without any joint institutions or binding agreements, was
partly set up as a post-imperial project from which the old power player
in the region, Vienna, was deliberately excluded. The Austrian right,
meanwhile, is less keen on seeing
Ivan Krastev, academic
cial for understanding the new antiBrussels axis running through the
“In central and eastern Europe,
the disintegration of the Habsburg
empire resulted in the emergence
of interwar ethnic states,” he says.
“But these states were highly unstable because of the rivalries built up
before the war.” Eastern European
resentment over the refugee crisis had thrived because many states
in the region still associate ethnic
diversity with the tumultuous years
between the wars.
In his 2017 book After Europe,
Krastev sketches out how the genocides and migration waves of the
war years replaced a previously
multicultural Austrian-Hungarian
empire, where parliaments at times
allowed delegates to speak in any
of eight languages, with a region
of ethnically homogenous nation
Eventually, some of them signed
up to the philosophy that states
should be founded on a homogenous culture, a 19th-century western
idea. Now that Germany had suddenly changed its mind about multiculturalism in the 21st century, why
should they follow suit again?
If the story of the AustroHungarian empire and its collapse
can explain the deeper dynam-
Poland as part of an eastern alliance,
because it would no longer be the
biggest and most powerful player.
Stoking nationalist sentiments
has helped Orbán win elections but
could eventually back his country
into a demographic dead end. The
economies of Poland and the Czech
Republic already draw vast numbers
of guest workers from the Ukraine.
Hungary, on the other hand, speaks
a complex language that has more
in common with Finnish and
Estonian than the Slavic tongues of
its neighbouring states, and offers
wages which are unattractive even
to Hungarian minorities in Slovakia.
“Orbán doesn’t have the intellec-
tual potential to become a leadership figure for the post-American
European right,” argues Ther. “His
notion of ‘illiberal democracy’ is a
phrase, but not a concept with real
Zeman’s courting of trade with
China and Russia has drawn ire
from Brussels and Berlin, but
there are also western economists who concede that eastern
European states may have to rebalance their economic models to avoid
being stuck in what some call the
“Europeanisation trap”. In a recent
post for his blog at Le Monde, economist Thomas Piketty argued that
the returns western investors have
drawn from the Visegrád Four more
than exceed capital flows heading
the other way.
et, for now, Germany
remains by far the
most important export
and import partner
for each of the four
Visegrád countries
and Austria. Any move toward political divergence finds itself up against
years of economic convergence.
“Nationalism used to be about
your army or your economy,” says
Krastev. “Now it is very much about
the politics of culture, which is why
people like Maria Schmidt are so
important to Viktor Orbán.”
But the culture wars that galvanise support for Orbán in Hungary
do not automatically work in
Poland or Slovakia. In January the
Hungarian foreign office abruptly
cancelled a Future of Europe conference it had organised to mark the
country’s presidency of the Visegrád
Four. Schmidt says the conference had been postponed until May
because it been caught “in the crosshairs of political attacks” ahead of
the April election. But some speculate that the conference was called
off because the list of invited speakers, including alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, proved too
unpalatable for some of the other
co-hosting governments.
As pessimistic as Krastev is about
the future of the European Union,
he is even more sceptical about
Orbán’s conservative counter-revolution. “In a strange way, the success
of every revolution is legitimised
by the counter-revolution. I don’t
believe we can restore nation states.
And, at any rate, such nation states
have a very short history. We are trying to make normal something that
was very unusual.”
After a pause, he adds: “Of course,
the problem is that the fact that
no one really wants to destroy the
European Union isn’t a guarantee that it isn’t going to disintegrate.
Disintegration of empires is rarely
an intention – it’s usually a traffic
accident. Empires tend to disintegrate from the centre, not from the
“If Hungary were to leave the EU,
no one would notice. The problem
with the European Union comes
when Germany decides it no longer
has the patience to deal with this
The Observer
Super Bowl Sunday
The pitch protest that has
become a social movement
Since Colin
began his
protest, ‘taking
a knee’ has spread to
colleges across the
USA – and the NFL has
pledged $89 million to
social justice groups.
Has it changed America
forever, asks retired
basketball legend and
social activist
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
ichard Pryor once
joked about the relationship African
Americans have with
the American judicial
system: “If you go
down there looking for justice, that’s
what you find – just us.”
Not much has changed. If people
of colour want to figure out who’s
got to shoulder the heavy lifting to
bring about meaningful change, the
answer is the same. Just us. That’s
why the relatively benign protests
among some NFL players over the
past 18 months are being studied so
closely by the full spectrum of politicians. It’s a social petri dish for
determining whether we’re growing an antibiotic to institutional racism or weaponising a nasty virus to
infect American exceptionalism.
To be clear, these ultra-peaceful
protests – going down on one knee
or staying in the locker room during the national anthem – are less
violent than post-Super Bowl street
parties or even Martin Luther King’s
marches. And their message is so
historically American that Betsy
Ross could have embroidered it on
her bloomers: “All people are created
equal, so let’s treat them that way.”
More specifically, the NFL protesters’ message is: let’s stop gunning down unarmed blacks, stop
giving substandard education to
black children, stop creating legal
obstacles to keep minorities from
voting, stop passing laws that punish blacks more than whites for the
same crime.
Instead, let’s promote equal job
opportunities so we can prosper,
and affordable health care to prevent us from dying younger than
whites. The bottom line is we want
our children to have the same shot
at a happy, healthy, successful life
as white kids have. Sappy patriotic songs and deliberately inaccurate textbooks proclaim we already
have it, but hundreds of studies by
the US government, the UN and the
best institutions in America say we
don’t. And every African American
who walks out on to the street every
day knows we don’t. The goal is to
wake those who don’t know that out
of their slumber.
There are two reasons why the
NFL is the perfect public platform
for discussing racial disparity. First,
70% of the NFL’s 1,696 players are
black. If ever there was a group that
should be sensitive to racial inequity, it’s them. To many whites,
especially those sceptical that racism even exists, the level of commitment of black players protesting
reflects how serious the problem
is. They are a social thermometer
measuring the degree of racism in
our social climate.
Second, the NFL’s significant
ratings means it reaches not just a
lot of people (an average of 18 million per game), but a wide crosssection of people – particularly
those whose hearts and minds need
to be changed if we are to see progress. This target audience may not
be aware of the problem, or may
be reluctant to believe there is one
until they see their favourite players
expressing, week after week, their
sadness and frustration at government inaction.
But has the players’ protest failed?
There is evidence to suggest it has.
Of those 70% black NFL players, only
between 15 and 23 have regularly
protested at games. To the white
fans they are trying to reach, those
tiny numbers might suggest there is
no big problem: if black people don’t
care, why should I?
What’s odd about the lack of commitment from black players is the
troubling racial statistics within
their own game. The preference
for white quarterbacks has always
been contentious. According to the
Institute for Diversity and Ethics in
Sports in 1999, 81% of quarterbacks
were white. Fast forward 15 years
and it’s 80.2%. The players are facing
disparity in their own artificially
turfed backyards.
Just as troubling is the way the
NFL managed to chokehold Colin
Kaepernick’s career. We don’t need
The X-Files to recognise a conspiracy to deliberately sacrifice uppity
Kaepernick because he refused to
quit taking a knee. More bad news:
the Players Coalition – NFL players
committed to addressing social justice – isn’t sure about how to proceed. Some players are leaving.
The Observer
Rightwing terror
White supremacy
was my creed. Now I
see the pain I caused
San Francisco
49ers Eli Harold,
Colin Kaepernick
and Eric Reid at
a game against
the Dallas
Cowboys in
2016. Photograph
by Thearon
Kaepernick fans
at an NFL protest
in New York last
year. Photograph
by Stephanie
Yet, despite all that, there is much
more evidence that the protests have
been effective. First, we’re still talking about it. All progressive movements met with strong resistance at
first. We know that many were not
keen to abandon slavery. It was the
same with giving women the vote,
eliminating child labour and ending the Vietnam war. These changes
were accomplished by protesters who held their ground. As long
as there are players, no matter how
few, out there every week showing
their courage in the face of others’
timidity, the protests are effective.
A practical result of the protests is
the $89m the NFL has pledged over
seven years to be donated to grassroots social justice groups. It made
no demands that the players stop
protesting, but some felt it was mission accomplished.
Others saw it as hush money, a
bribe to keep everyone standing and
smiling during the national anthem,
and continued to protest. As they
saw it, the issue wasn’t about
money; it was about raising awareness and engendering substantive
legislative changes.
A particularly heartening result
of the NFL protests is the way it has
spread to colleges and high schools.
One Native American high school
quarterback who chose to kneel
during the anthem was at first sup-
Philadelphia vs New England:
Life in the fast lane with the Eagles’
British-born running back Jay Ajayi
Sport, page 17
ported by his mostly Latino high
school. But when he did the same
thing at a school that was 78% white,
his school district passed a rule
that made standing for the national
anthem mandatory. It threatened
to kick the quarterback off the team
unless he stood. He sued the district for violating his constitutional
right to free speech. If the NFL protests are inspiring that kind of brave,
patriotic American fighting on
behalf of the US constitution, they
have been successful.
o what is the NFL fighting so hard to protect?
The political answer
was that they wanted to
preserve the American
respect for the flag
and for veterans. President Trump
made that point at his State of the
Union address. Numerous veterans
have made the same point. They are
wrong. Protesting when the government doesn’t live up to or directly
undermines the principles of the
constitution is the best way to honour the flag and veterans, because
those principles are what they
fought for.
NFL owners’ more pressing concern was money. They feared that
their decline in ratings was the
result of player protests. But ratings
for all television shows are dropping for the same reason – too many
entertainment options. A USA Today
poll in September showed that 68%
thought Trump’s call to fire protesting players was inappropriate. Only
27% agreed with him.
Kaepernick, still sidelined,
announced last week that he
had reached his goal, begun in
September 2016, of donating $1m of
his salary to communities in need.
He gave $10,000 for every $10,000
others donated. And donate they
did, including Steph Curry, Nick
Cannon and Jesse Williams.
NFL players are still going down
on one knee. Colin Kaepernick is
still fighting for social justice. A high
school student is suing to protect
the constitution. Have the NFL protests been successful in making people care? Well you cared enough to
read this article, didn’t you?
Super Bowl 2018 is being shown live
on BBC One from 11.15pm today and
on Sky Sports from 11pm.
The Finsbury Park terror trial
ended last week, but scars remain.
Vivek Chaudhary went there last
week to witness one man’s effort to
share lessons of his neo-Nazi past
s evening prayers finished at the Muslim
Welfare House this
weekend, worshippers spilled out on to
the busy Seven Sisters
Road and passed the spot where,
last July, Darren Osborne mounted
the pavement in a van in an attempt
to kill as many Muslims as possible.
Some lingered in the drizzle,
hoping to get some insight into
the attack that killed Makram Ali,
aged 51, and injured 12 others after
Ramadan prayers at the mosque
and community centre in Finsbury
Park, north London. Osborne, 48,
was sentenced to life for murder and
attempted murder last Friday, and
ordered to serve at least 43 years.
Standing against a backdrop of a
union flag overlaid with a swastika,
Nigel Bromage gave a genial smile
as he told the Muslim Welfare House
congregation and others from the
local community that he was only
too happy to enlighten them.
“To come here and talk to you
about my past is very difficult, particularly with what happened last
year,” he said. “But if I’m not honest, how will you understand what’s
going on? Most people in this country equate extremism with Islam,
but I’m here to tell you about the
British far right and how they are
organising and grooming people to
become extremist and violent.”
Bromage asked the audience what
thoughts the flag that opened his
presentation evoked in them and
was met with words such as “racist”,
“Nazi” and “hate”. To shocked looks,
he told them that in areas less multicultural than Finsbury Park, the
response to that question was “patriotism, white pride, Great Britain”.
For more than 20 years Bromage
was a leading member of the British
far right and cofounded Combat
18, an openly neo-Nazi organisation that preaches a virulent, violent
message of white supremacy. He
also orchestrated one of the group’s
most infamous acts: a riot at a football match in Dublin between the
Republic of Ireland and England in
1995 as a protest against the IRA.
Bromage, now 52, became disillusioned with Combat 18 in 2000.
His epiphany came when some of
its members tried to throw a black
Members of
the Muslim
Welfare House
listen to former
extremist Nigel
Bromage, right.
Vivik Chaudhary
for the Observer
‘The far
right goes
about its
in exactly
the same
way as
of Combat 18
man through a shop window in
Birmingham and he intervened to
stop it. “I realised in that moment
that I was just an advocate of violence,” Bromage confessed to the
gathering. “It dawned on me that
in my time in the far right, I had
achieved nothing apart from anger
and hate, and all I’d ever done was
inflict pain.”
After renouncing his beliefs, he
formed Small Steps, an organisation made up of fellow reformed
neo-Nazis. They now tour the country to speak about their experiences
and share insights about how the
far right operates today. According
to Small Steps, 30-40% of members of the UK’s 30 or so extremist
rightwing organisations are former
or current soldiers. Instead of overt
symbols, many use code numbers to
identify each other. Bromage’s team
have also uncovered handbooks on
how to groom and radicalise potential recruits, including using teachers and social workers as a way to
get to young people.
Bromage said: “The far right goes
about its business in exactly the
same way as Muslim extremists. It’s
all about grooming online and radicalising people. There are many
ways of doing this. You don’t have to
directly tell anyone to go and commit violence, but you can inspire by
inflammatory propaganda. It’s not
about a street presence any more:
the real focus is on the internet –
social media and other forums.”
Many of those listening to
Bromage had been victims of hate
crime, particularly the women in
hijabs and burkas who shared their
stories. His insights caused alarm
and shock, but ultimately only confirmed what they and the wider
Muslim community have been complaining about for some time.
Toufik Kacimi, chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House,
said: “The authorities have completely underestimated those on the
extreme right. Unless they are tackled with the same force that Islamic
extremists are, I fear it will just
be a matter of time before we see
another attack like we did here.”
The Observer
Equal pay
BBC journalists attend the
select committee hearing
on pay at the BBC last
week. Rex
Discrimination at the BBC
Auntie asleep at the wheel
in the great pay pile-up
Carrie Gracie stepped
down from her post in
January over unequal
pay. Last week she gave
an extraordinary and
outraged testimony to
a select committee.
Vanessa Thorpe weighs
up the consequences
for the corporation
hen journalist
Carrie Gracie
walked into
parliament on
ready to
deliver some damning testimony
about her treatment at the hands of
the BBC – testimony that would be
beamed around the world – she was
accompanied by a representative
from her union, and that was about
it. The BBC director general Tony
Hall, in contrast, had a dozen minders. “Tells you all you need to know
really,” commented one seasoned
BBC campaigner.
That day Gracie, the former China
editor who stepped down from her
post over unequal pay in January,
bore the hopes of women across the
broadcasting industry. Her outraged
words rang out from TV monitors
around the BBC’s headquarters for
more than two hours. The effect was
immediate, and colleagues think it
may last.
Lindsey Hilsum, international
editor at Channel 4 News, believes
Gracie has boosted the confidence
of many: “Carrie has galvanised a
whole generation of women journalists to ask ourselves whether
we may have been discriminated
against throughout their career.”
Yet Gracie’s evidence, ostensibly
about fair pay, has also exposed BBC
management’s failure to handle the
impending crisis just as much as it
has shone a light on any discrimination. For one former high-ranking
BBC television executive, the “clas-
sic ineptness” of the organisation’s
management leaped out. “It really
is what we might call ‘too much, too
late,’” she told the Observer.
Gracie’s recent Radio 4 series
and hit podcast, Murder in the Lucky
Holiday Hotel, was about the killing of businessman Neil Heywood
in China. The events of the last five
days seem to have played out with
all the tension of the mystery she
unravelled then. True, there are no
dead bodies, but there are six highprofile BBC presenters, including
John Humphrys and Huw Edwards,
who have had their lofty emoluments lopped. And according to a
BBC spokesman this weekend there
is more financial damage to come,
with decisions to further reduce
some men’s pay about to be taken
“on their merits”, not just on the size
of pay packets.
The BBC now promises a clearer
range of pay grades for “on-air” talent as a result of the review published on Tuesday, which was
carried out in response to the
demands last summer of 45 of the
corporation’s best-known women
presenters, including Clare Balding,
Victoria Derbyshire and Sue Barker.
Yet for some female journalists
the BBC pay structure was already
all too “clear”: women got less. And
10 11
1 Louise Minchin
BBC Breakfast
2 Naga
BBC Breakfast
3 Razia Iqbal
BBC special
and presenter of
World Service’s
4 Philippa
BBC World News
Today presenter
5 Kate Silverton
BBC news
6 Kate Adie
Formerly chief
BBC news
and presents
From Our Own
7 Miriam
Former BBC
presenter who
successfully sued
the BBC for age
8 Kasia Madera
BBC News
9 Clare
BBC Radio Five
Live presenter
10 Martine
BBC News
11 Sonia
BBC Sport and
News presenter
12 Mariella
BBC Arts and
Culture presenter
The Observer
especially those women who had
come, as Gracie had, from the World
Service division of the BBC, where
pay is traditionally lower.
At one time, not so long ago, most
of the top-rung jobs at the BBC were
occupied by women. Sexism looked
like history then, although newsrooms were regarded as a “problem
area”, with a “very macho” culture.
Some BBC veterans date discrepancies in newsroom pay back to
John Birt’s time as DG, while others
suggest that it was Mark Thompson,
one of his successors, who became
beholden to the idea of a competitive market for on-air talent. Several
current women correspondents
in BBC news believe the recently
departed head of news, James
Harding, had made worthy efforts to
promote more women to prominent
roles. Unfortunately Harding’s initiative coincided with a general reining-in of budgets.
his weekend a spokesman for the corporation emphasised that
all promotions to staff
of both genders had
been less generous of
late. Hall himself has recently pronounced that: “Our bill for talent is
down 25% since I took over and we
do live within our means.”
No wonder, as Gracie noted,
even supportive managers were
once thrilled that she “asked so little”. In a news division that has just
cut back drastically on coverage of
annual party political conferences,
and where the managers working
on Panorama are now rumoured to
outnumber the reporters, it is certainly possible that stingy excuses
for lower pay, such as keeping experienced staff “in development”, actually are the result of budget restraint
as much as of endemic sexism.
A key problem for the BBC is
Gracie’s standing within the corporation. Kate Adie, who attended the
select committee last week, said that
she went along chiefly to back the
pay parity message (“I was there to
support the principle of equal pay
for equal work, which I actually had
thought was the law!”), but added
that she also particularly admires
Gracie’s work. “I think she is an
excellent correspondent,” Adie said.
Other colleagues make reference to Gracie’s White Horse Village
reports, a remarkable series of bulletins from a small Chinese community over a period of years. Hilsum
pointed out that Gracie would walk
and interview in Mandarin, while
translating fluently for the camera: “A really difficult thing to do.”
A few of Gracie’s colleagues put it
more bluntly. “Carrie could probably do Jon Sopel’s job, but he could
not do hers.” While Sopel, the North
America editor, is admired, two of
Gracie’s female peers point out that
it is not necessarily harder to follow
the White House agenda “on Trump
duty” alongside an army of foreign
correspondents than it is to work in
adverse conditions in China.
The real mystery at the heart
of the BBC’s handling of Gracie,
Carrie Gracie
gives evidence
to the select
committee last
week. PA
‘Carrie galvanised
women to ask
ourselves whether
we have been
Lindsey Hilsum, C4
however, is just why it moved so
slowly to put out a fuse that had
been burning since well before the
enforced revelation of the list of
highest-paid BBC talent last year.
The embattled status of the BBC
is one explanation. The world of
broadcasting, and especially of
news, is rapidly changing. The
value of named correspondents is
going down as more of the public
find their news online, in text and
video and often not filtered through
a reporter. As a result, the market
value of even the BBC’s big news
beasts has dropped and all pay levels look increasingly wonky, for men
and women, in a corporation funded
by the licence fee.
Hilsum’s fear is that, as money
seeps away from newsrooms everywhere, the work of a foreign correspondent will start to be seen as a
vocation for selfless women. “When
I look at young foreign journalists
coming up, the majority of them are
women. They are incredibly brave,
many of them, and brilliant. And
nearly all freelance. So there is a
danger this will become a low-paid
caring profession. It can make one
feel a bit depressed.”
Meanwhile, the BBC is working its
way through the second half of the
230 grievance cases put before it last
summer despite diminishing faith in
its on-air review of pay.
Not for the first time the BBC is
bearing the brunt of criticism for
a widespread failing because its
funding method makes it publicly
accountable. But losing Gracie as
an expert voice in China just before
Theresa May went there to do business does not look like a good deal
for the licence-fee payer.
For two or three decades the
BBC has shared the expansionist ambitions of rival commercial broadcasters. It has adopted
their budget-cutting zeal and management hierarchies. Yet it seems
unable to react with the speed and
decisiveness of a commercial outfit.
The key to consumer
karma? Buying stuff
built to last a lifetime
Tara Button was a
shopaholic until she
had an emotional
reaction to a Le Creuset
pot. Now, she tells
Rob Walker, disposable
is a dirty word
orget retail therapy. It’s
so yesterday. Avoiding
frequent visits to the
shops is a better way to
serenity, claims a book
published this week,
which offers a step-by-step guide to
resisting a system it says is trying to
make us “broke and lonely”.
Tara Button, below, has written
A Life Less Throwaway because, she
says: “Our lives have become stuffed
full of things that let us down, cause
our stress levels to skyrocket and
our bank accounts to empty.” From
stockings to scissors to smartphones, her mission is to find
objects so durable you’ll only have to
buy them once. But first we have to
change our mindset, she says, from
endless, low-quality disposable purchases to a new way of thinking she
calls “mindful curation”.
Messages such as “Turn your
room around! Time to refresh!”
make us feel “the things we have
are no longer good enough”, Button
says. She should know. As a former
advertising copywriter she was paid
to come up with them.
“Mindful curation is about taking
a step back and thinking about
what you want your life to
be, what you want to spend
your money on, what your
priorities are. It’s about
getting to know your tastes
– colour, shapes, texture – so
you can feel confident in your
Button launched the BuyMeOnce
website in 2015 as a sort of online
lt to last.
supermarket for brands built
sses, earSunglasses, backpacks, dresses,
rings, laptops, toothbrushess – pretty
much every lifestyle productt you
at Button
can think of has a brand that
y for its
recommends we should buy
quality and longevity.
o be a
She confesses she used to
d the day
shopaholic. That all changed
her sister bought her a Le Creuset
cooking pot.
ion to
“I had an emotional reaction
it,” she recalls. Here was something
heavy and durable and beautiful
to look at that, incredibly, claimed
d there
to last a lifetime. She decided
Button’s best buys
There are pants and
socks out there offering
no-quibble lifetime
guarantees, so if anything
goes wrong you can
send them back. Sloggi
EverNew pants are
made with Pima cotton,
which is soft and super
strong. Women’s hipster
pants cost £8.50, men’s
boxer briefs £9.99. Darn
Tough socks are made
of merino wool, knitted
seamlessly with no weak
spots. Women’s cushion
hike/trek socks cost
Before flatpack, we used
to invest in furniture. Now
you see it dumped on the
street when people move
house. There are so many
great pieces out there,
especially secondhand. If
you go for solid, chunky
wood with traditional
joints, you’ll be passing it
on to your grandchildren.
My favourite brand is
Sustainable Furniture,
a Cornish family-run
company. All their
furniture is made to last
a lifetime. A reclaimed
teak storage cabinet unit
with three natural wicket
baskets costs
£99. A
2.4-metre reclaimed teak
cross dining table with 10
chairs costs £3,550.
Many fashion brands use
flimsy fabric, which rips
(unfashionably) at the
crotch after a few months.
However, Hiut Denim Co
(skinny fit, £145) and
Nudie Jeans (£110) make
men’s and women’s jeans
to last, and offer free
fixing, either in store or
you can order a repair kit.
Apparently, we each buy
on average 1.1 umbrellas
a year in Britain, so we
could save hundreds of
pounds if we bought just
one, lifetime version.
Davek umbrellas (from
£125 to £325) are made
of titanium and offer a
lifetime warranty (and a
loss protection service).
Some models even have a
built-in chip to alert you if
you leave them behind.
With great-quality shoes,
occasional resoling and
polishing are all you need.
I recommend Church’s or
the Dr Martens For Life
range, which has a lifetime
warranty (£175). Church’s
Monmouth Chelsea boots
for women cost £390.
and then to tick off every item she
own in just the same way.
Of course, most of us would balk
at paying
£200 for a casserole dish.
Butt agrees that price is a barrier,
but argues
that buying the cheapest
optio usually means you end up
wors off: “If we want longevity and
qual we have to start voting with
our wallets.
We have to save.”
Th switch of mindset from
“wha I want now” to “what I want
for ever”
is the key, for Button, to
takin back control of the way we
shop Her wider ambition is to make
rather than recycling, cent the eco conversation.
tral to
“If a product can carry on doing
jo that’s a much more ecoits job,
situation – isn’t it?”
The Observer
Manasseh and
his niece, Oye,
play table tennis
in the Mount
Wise estate.
The Stoffregen
family from
Germany. Their
sons were both
born in the
UK after their
parents came
here to work.
Diversity by the sea Beach trip that
trained a lens on modern Britain
Observer photographer
Suki Dhanda tells why
her new exhibition is a
timely reminder, after
the Brexit vote, of what
it means to belong
Suki Dhanda:
‘The people I
make the place.’
Elaf, Yaseen and
their daughter
Noor in the Hoe
park overlooking
Plymouth Sound.
y inspiration for
this project was
the Brexit vote in
June 2016, which
I found very
depressing. There
was a sense that not only did people want to cut ties with Europe, but
they wanted to take back ownership
of “Englishness”. It felt very nationalistic. It brought back memories
of the late 1970s and the National
Front – I remember at one time
there were fears they were going to
march through my hometown of
Slough and we all locked our doors.
A couple of months after the vote
I visited Margate with friends. It was
a beautiful sunny day and the beach
was full of people from all sorts of
ethnic backgrounds, all drawn to the
sea for a day out sharing the same
space. It put a smile back on my face.
I still had that image in mind
when I was approached by The
Gallery at Plymouth College of Art
to develop new work for an exhibition. I started thinking about that
weekend in Margate and whether it
translated to other places in the UK.
I decided I wanted to investigate
diversity in Plymouth and the way
people celebrate their sense of place
and environment, particularly by
the sea. At first I thought this might
be a challenge – I remember when I
studied in Plymouth that there were
very few black or Asian people there.
My upbringing has influenced my
photography, which explores ideas
and themes of diversity and belonging. My parents settled in the UK
from India in the mid-1960s. I was
born here and identify myself as a
British Asian.
It has been interesting spending
time in Plymouth during this project because I was expecting it to
be the same as when I was studying here, almost 30 years ago. But I
have been surprised at how internationally diverse it is, by the people who have come from abroad to
work or to study.
My time in Plymouth left me feeling optimistic. I saw the lives of
so many diverse people, who are
all part of the same city, no matter
what. It’s the people I photographed
who make that place. I hope that
when the exhibition is shown in
Plymouth, it will offer a different
perspective, draw different communities in and start a conversation
about what it means to belong.
Race, Place & Diversity by the Seaside
is at The Gallery, Plymouth College of
Art, from 7 February to 22 March
Suki Dhanda
new director
Greta Gerwig
for the cover
story of the
New Review
Pages 8-11
Sunday Essay
The presenter of the
‘update’ to landmark
series Civilisation
reveals why it’s time
for a broader sweep
Pages 55-57
Not only in Ireland is there a
fight to be won on abortion
Act, was imperfect. It took until 2001 for the age
of consent to be equalised. Even so, last year was a
celebration of LGBT rights. The BBC’s Gay Britannia
season included documentaries, specially commissioned
dramas and pop music retrospectives in honour of this
landmark in sexual liberation.
For the 1967 Abortion Act, our public service
broadcaster the BBC gave us Anne Robinson presenting
a show called Abortion on Trial, a radio documentary
called It’s My Baby Too, which asked whether it was time
men were given more attention in the abortion debate
(it isn’t), and an edition of The Moral Maze. “Everything
had to be a debate,” says Katherine O’Brien of the British
Pregnancy Advisory Service. The idea that this was a
win for women barely glimmered through the clouds of
Dublin might be preparing for
change, but in Poland and elsewhere
women’s rights are under threat
efore the end of May, Ireland will hold a
referendum that could finally give Irish women legal
access to abortion in their own country. It feels like the
time is right for change. The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar,
who made the announcement last week, called himself
“pro-life” as recently as 2015; now he’ll be campaigning
against the repressive eighth amendment that values a
foetus’s right to life equally with a pregnant woman’s
(or, in the language of the constitution, the “unborn” and
the “mother”). It’s a welcome reversal.
It’s also overdue. Any change in the law will be too
late for Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis in
2012 after doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy
she was already miscarrying. Too late, too, for the
unnamed migrant, pregnant by rape, who was denied
an abortion and then legally forced to give birth
by caesarean at 25 weeks in 2014. Too late for the
thousands of women each year who have had to travel
to England to end their pregnancies, some unwanted
and some very much wanted but agonisingly unviable;
too late for the uncounted others who were never able to
make the trip.
But Ireland’s possible move towards liberalisation is
a bright spot in a global picture where repression and
retrenchment abound. In Poland last week, the ruling
Law and Justice party announced its intent to further
limit one of the most draconian abortion regimes in the
world. In El Salvador, a woman was imprisoned for 30
years for inducing a termination. She says her pregnancy
actually ended in stillbirth, but under the country’s total
ban on abortion, women can be made criminals by their
loss. In the US, states enacted 63 restrictions on abortion
in 2017.
In the UK, attempts to push back the 1967 Abortion
Act have so far been resisted. Last year, there was even
a slight expansion, as women from Northern Ireland
(where the act has never applied) were given access to
NHS abortion services without charge, although they
still have to travel to England to receive treatment. Yet
the muted response to the 50th anniversary of the act
last year showed how little abortion rights are valued.
2017 was also the 50th anniversary of the Sexual
Offences Act and the contrast between the two is
instructive. The Sexual Offences Act, like the Abortion
A pro-abortion
in Warsaw
last month.
by Maciej
he Abortion Act is flawed. Abortion in the
UK is still criminalised by the 1861 Offences Against the
Person Act – a law that predates women’s right to own
property – and the 1967 act only allows a woman to have
a termination only if two doctors agree that continuing
the pregnancy will endanger her mental or physical
health. Not a right to choose: a right to ask permission
and that fairly meaningless if you don’t have access to a
doctor willing and able to perform the procedure. (Last
year, 180 women had to travel from Scotland to England
because their health services couldn’t provide abortion
up to 24 weeks.)
Even with all this taken into account, the Abortion
Act deserved as many tributes as the Sexual Offences
Act and for similar reasons. It gave women freedom
to have sex without fixing their futures; freedom to
set their own limits on their own bodies; and made it
possible for them to exercise their choice of when and
whether to become mothers without risking death in the
backstreets. Women’s feelings around their abortions
are complex and reflecting on the act should include
that, but ultimately this is a law that has saved women’s
lives. Surely that merited a party, not wall-to-wall
Where women set their own limits on their own
bodies has become a topic of urgent interest with
#MeToo. Women speaking out against years of sexual
harassment and abuse are speaking out against men
who made demands on their bodies, men who believed
women didn’t really belong in the professional world
and should be driven back into the feminine domestic
sphere. When Irish women make the argument for
abortion rights in the run-up to the referendum, they’ll
be speaking the language of #MeToo. They’ll be claiming
women’s right to determine their own lives and not
to have to put their bodies at the service of others’
demands – whether that other is a boss who wants
to grope you or an unwanted foetus growing in you.
Around the world, women deserve better than abortion
rights that are at best partial, at worst non-existent. The
time to demand more has come.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Established in 1791 Issue № 11802
Rethink how
the state does
business with
private sector
he corporate behemoths that
between them deliver billions of
pounds’ worth of government
contracts each year are hardly
household names. But, day
in, day out, they touch very
many lives: from prisons and
probation, schools and hospitals,
to the administration of benefits,
there are now very few areas of
the state that remain outside of their expansive purview.
Last week, Capita became the latest of the major
public sector outsourcing company to issue a profit
warning, raising fresh questions about the sustainability
of the state’s growing reliance on a handful of huge
companies to deliver services. And the leader of
Haringey council, Claire Kober, has stepped down over
a controversial redevelopment plan that would have
involved transferring council assets to a joint publicprivate development vehicle to help tackle the London
borough’s crumbling housing stock, chronic shortage
of affordable homes and long waiting lists.
North and South Korea
Give peace a
chance at the
Winter Games
ard-fought contests at the
Winter Olympics, which
open on Friday at the
Pyeongchang stadium in
South Korea, will enthral
millions of television
viewers. But the Games have also become
the stage for a different, unsporting
contest, potentially deadly in character,
which pits the US against North Korea.
At stake is not a gold medal and a
victory wave from the podium, but
the sustainability of the recent, fragile
reduction in military tensions and the
avoidance of nuclear war on the Korean
As all the world knows, in 2017
the armed confrontation between
Washington and Pyongyang escalated
A re-examination of the relationship between the
state and the private sector is long overdue. Recent
years have served up example after example of private
sector delivery going catastrophically wrong: the G4S
Olympic security failure that forced the army to step
in; the collapse of Southern Cross, Britain’s largest care
home operator; the crash of a £10bn NHS IT upgrade
described as the “biggest IT failure in history”. These are
just the edited highlights.
There has been a huge growth in private sector
delivery of government services in the past 40 years.
One estimate puts its worth at between £100bn and
£120bn a year. Ideology has been a powerful driver.
Governments of all colours have put faith in the creed
that the private sector can do what the state does, only
better and cheaper. But there have also been other
factors at play. In the late 1990s, a Labour government
looking to rapidly increase public spending invented
the private finance initiative as a way of building new
hospitals and schools without adding to the public
debt. Local councils, put in an untenable position with
their grants cut by almost 40% since 2010, have used
outsourcing as a way of cutting costs, ducking difficult
questions about exactly how companies could deliver at
such low prices.
The ideological ardour of the pro-privatisation camp
is often matched with equal zeal from those who see
no role for the private sector in the public realm. But a
mantra of “private bad, public good” sheds no more light
than its opposite number. The nationalised industries
were hardly bastions of innovation and customer service
in the 1970s. Today, the state continues to have a mixed
record: while it is responsible for some outstanding
schools and hospitals, the Mid Staffs scandal serves as a
reminder of how the state at its worst can blight lives.
But privatisation’s opponents are entirely right that
involving the private sector in delivering public services
carries serious risks. The contracts that shape the
relationship between the state and big companies tend
to be complex and easily manipulated to the advantage
of the latter by expensive lawyers with much more time
and experience than the civil servants and officials
on the other side of the table. And these contracts are
sharply. North Korea carried out its
sixth and biggest nuclear explosion and
test-fired three intercontinental ballistic
missiles that in theory could reach the
US mainland. Donald Trump responded
with a nuclear build-up and hysterical
threats, vowing at one point to “totally
destroy” North Korea. In his intemperate
State of the Union address last week, he
described Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s
dictator, as “depraved”.
Kim has matched Trump’s threats
of Armageddon with blood-curdling
warnings of his own. But since
November, when North Korea last
launched a missile, the situation has
calmed a little. Trump predictably claims
credit for this lull. The more probable
cause is that pressure from China and
tougher UN sanctions persuaded Kim to
hit the pause button rather than the red
one marked “Fire”.
The brave persistence of South Korea’s
president, Moon Jae-in, in offering
dialogue, despite public American
criticism, has also paid off. Limited talks
resumed last month after a break of two
years. And Pyongyang accepted Moon’s
Olympics invitation. Twenty-two North
Korean athletes will compete, including
rarely opened up to public scrutiny. By the time it’s
clear just how bad a deal might be for the taxpayer,
it’s often far too late. Publicly owned assets may have
been irrevocably signed over and the hands of future
administrations tied by decades-long contracts that are
prohibitively expensive to get out of.
PFI proves the point. It is now abundantly clear that
short-term political motivations – to avoid adding to
public debt – led ministers to sign terrible deals with
the private sector to build infrastructure that the state
then leased back. The Treasury has calculated that PFI
contracts will have cost the state more than £300bn by
the time they are paid off – five times the value of the
original assets involved.
Outsourcing also brings other costs. It is a scandal
that there are hundreds of thousands of care workers
paid less than the minimum wage by employers illegally
exploiting loopholes, who are delivering publicly funded
care on behalf of the state.
The answer is not an immediate and extensive
renationalisation programme: the government has
neither the funds to get itself out of long-running
contracts, nor the capacity to take back every single
contract in-house. There will always be some role for the
private sector: it is hard to imagine a world in which the
state would want directly to employ the bricklayers that
build our schools and hospitals, for example.
But we must at last learn the lessons that have been
staring us in the face for so long. The government
should immediately establish an independent agency,
along the lines of the Office for Budget Responsibility,
staffed with poachers turned gamekeepers and charged
with assessing all public contracts above a certain value
in terms of risk to the taxpayer. And all government
contractors should be obliged to meet minimum
employment standards.
These measures would force those dewy-eyed rather
than realistic about the private sector to confront an
uncomfortable reality. The private sector is as vulnerable
to the same problems as the public sector when it comes
to providing essential services. Adopting too blind a
faith in its ability to deliver leads to only one place: a
rotten deal for the taxpayer.
an all-Korea women’s ice hockey team.
The North is also sending a squad of 230
cheerleaders and an orchestra. The two
countries’ teams will march together
under a blue and white “unification” flag
at the opening ceremony.
Given the state of war that technically
still exists between North and South,
these gestures have enormous symbolic
and political significance. If this
collaboration goes smoothly – a big “if”
– it could form the basis for continuing
rapprochement and further military
de-escalation. The problem is, senior
figures around Trump, and conceivably
Trump himself, appear to view this
prospect with alarm. The risk is that they
will deliberately sabotage it.
The US is already making a stink about
a large military parade in Pyongyang the
day before the Games open. Washington
is also refusing to cancel US-South
Korean war games that were temporarily
postponed last month at Seoul’s urging.
More worrying still is the irresponsible
debate within the Trump administration
about mounting a limited military
strike. Officials seem to have belatedly
grasped that their key demand – for
Kim to unilaterally scrap his nuclear
arsenal – is absurdly unrealistic. Yet
rather than pursue diplomatic routes
towards gradual, mutual disarmament,
HR McMaster, Trump’s national security
adviser, and other hawks are reportedly
advancing the idea of what they call
a limited “bloody nose strike”. They
argue this would deter (or even kill) Kim
without provoking all-out war.
Although this dangerous fantasy is
opposed by the state department, it
is gaining traction. After Victor Cha, a
respected diplomat expected to be the
next US ambassador to Seoul, warned
that a “bloody nose strike” could cause
hundreds of thousands of deaths, his
nomination was scrapped. This reckless
idea must also be viewed in the wider
context of the Pentagon’s dismaying new
nuclear posture review, which opens
the door to first use of tactical nuclear
weapons on conventional battlefields.
Kim is predicting the US will use the
Olympics as a “stage for confrontation”
and that any positive gains will be swiftly
squandered. Trump and his advisers
must prove him wrong. They should stop
the mad talk about winnable nuclear
wars and use this rare opportunity to
enhance the security of all Koreans.
Kings Place,
90 York Way,
London N1 9GU
020 3353 2000
email editor@
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
Taking their knives to Mrs May’s toga
won’t solve all of the Tories’ troubles
icholas Hytner’s terrific
reimagining of Julius Caesar at London’s Bridge theatre
is a topical reminder that political assassinations are
often messy and frequently don’t have the outcome that
the plotters intended. In the name of saving the Roman
republic, Brutus and his comrades stab – or, in the
lively Hytner version, gun down – Caesar in the senate.
Only to unleash a brutal civil war that sets things up for
his adopted son, Octavius, to become Rome’s military
autocrat and first emperor. Not what they meant to
happen at all.
There is a possible moral here for Tory MPs as their
clammy fingers hover over semi-unsheathed daggers
and they contemplate whether to put Theresa May out
of her misery. The Tory tradition, rather like the Roman
way, has been dictatorship tempered by regicide. Tories
are slavishly loyal to the leader right up to the moment
before they slash the toga. That, at any rate, was how
they used to operate. In the joyless era of Mrs May, the
Tory party has adopted a new and much less satisfactory
method of dealing with a floundering chief. This is to
be openly disloyal to the leader and engage in endless
discussion about dispatching her without actually going
through with the deed. The ides of March come round
every day. The enemies within her party who accuse
Mrs May of being indecisive and incoherent share those
traits with the object of their dismay.
Much of this is her fault. She has not recovered from
throwing away their majority with her atrocious election
campaign in June last year. In the immediate aftermath
of that self-inflicted debacle, I wrote that she was “a
zombie prime minister” doomed to spend the residue of
her time at Number 10 “in office, but not in power”. At
the time, I wondered if I had been a bit too savage, but
subsequent events have only made the description seem
more apposite.
She has created few opportunities to revive her
authority and bungled those that have come her way.
An attempted relaunch of her premiership at the party
conference is remembered only for the coughing fit that
was accompanied by the set falling apart. The new year
reshuffle, billed as an enterprise that would re-establish
prime ministerial authority over this quarrelsome
government, ended up exemplifying her weakness when
she dared not face down some middle-ranking cabinet
ministers who simply refused to move. More damaging
in the eyes of some Tory MPs was the revelation of a
selfish impulse to put her own short-term needs above
the longer-term requirements of her party. Anyone from
younger generations of Tories who had been identified
as possible future leadership material was either
overlooked or shunted into a ministerial post in which
they would find it difficult to shine.
The discontent with her leadership usually begins
Ben Whishaw
as Brutus
in Nicholas
Hytner’s Julius
Caesar. Manuel
with the mess over Brexit, but does not end there. A
growing chorus of complaint, from MPs of different
ideological flavours, wails that her premiership displays
no purpose beyond day-to-day survival. Nor does
Downing Street show any capacity to embrace fresh
thinking when it is offered by others. “No one in her
immediate circle is interested in policy. There is no
intellectual engagement,” complains one former cabinet
minister. Another Tory MP describes Number 10 as “the
place where good ideas are sent to die”.
Voices in Brussels and around Whitehall are
beginning to murmur that if there is going to be an
attempt to remove her, it would be better it happened
sooner rather than later.
It takes 48. That many Tory MPs have to ask for it to
trigger a vote of no confidence. No one but Sir Graham
Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee,
knows how many of his colleagues have written to him
demanding such a vote. The speculation among Tories
is that we have got closer to the magic number since the
new year. If Mrs May then won a confidence vote, she
might carry on, more or less damaged, depending on the
size of her victory.
Only if she lost – or
won by a fatally
narrow margin
– would there be
a contest for the
It is this next
step that shivers
the spines of a lot
of Tory MPs. There
are some who
have concluded
that things have
become so bad
that it is worth
taking the risk
of unleashing a
chaotic and vicious
contest to succeed
her. But it is worth
noting that there
are also Tories who have travelled in the opposition
direction, MPs who once thought she had to go, but who
now calculate that the consequences would be too awful.
One former cabinet minister remarks: “Where I was in
favour of her departing immediately after the election
because she had lost all authority, now I think it would
be a disaster and a bloodbath.”
The soft Brexit wing of the Tory party fears that
any replacement would likely be worse. A leadership
contest would be decided by the membership. We can’t
be exact about how many of them there are – because
the numbers are too embarrassing to publish – but
well-informed estimates suggest that Tory membership
has fallen to below 70,000. We know from the valuable
work of Professor Tim Bale at Queen Mary University of
London that they are rather elderly, predominantly male
and overwhelmingly in favour of hard Brexit.
Their most popular pin-up is Jacob Rees-Mogg, a
man who has acquired a cult following among Tory
party members without ever being encumbered by any
experience of ministerial office. He would struggle to
succeed because many of his parliamentary colleagues
think he would be electoral hemlock and it is Tory
MPs who decide who gets into the final two put to the
members. But that he does so well in polling of activists
tells us that a contest now would not look promising for
any candidate who was a Remainer.
he present danger to Mrs May
largely comes from the hard Brexiters in her party. They
liked her when she was echoing a lot of their rhetoric
about Brexit. They have become progressively more
disenchanted with the drift of the negotiations. What
most of the rest of us might see as an accommodation
with reality, they regard as mounting betrayal. Mrs May
should be most wary of the Cassius-like men with a
“lean and hungry look” among the hard Brexiters – or
the plump and hungry one in the case of Boris Johnson.
To describe the state of play within the Tory party is
also to illustrate why it can’t all be blamed on the failings
of one woman. It is an almost universal complaint that
Mrs May won’t be precise about what sort of end state
she seeks for the future relationship with the European
Union. A promised speech, trailed as an event that would
bring clarity to what she wants from the negotiations,
has never materialised. Yet you can see why the prime
minister ducks her fearful head below that dangerous
parapet. She acquired the leadership in the first place
because she has never taken a definitive stand in the
civil war over Europe. Clarity about her intentions means
combustion. Move towards a softer Brexit and the hard
Brexiters will detonate. Tilt in the direction of a harder
Brexit and the soft Brexiters will explode. Any new leader
will face exactly the same problem trying to bridge the
irreconcilable contradictions of the Tory party, which is
why most of the contenders for the succession would still
rather the vacancy opened up after March 2019.
A new leader would not change some other
fundamentals. The Tories do not have a proper majority
in the Commons. They are deeply divided over the future
direction of their party. If Mrs May struggles to describe
a renewal project, it is not just because she lacks
the vision. It is also because her party, split between
modernisers and traditionalists, cannot agree with itself
about what form renewal should take. She is as much
symptom as she is source of their maladies.
Theresa May is a highly flawed and extremely
enfeebled prime minister, and the Tories will almost
certainly be rid of her before the next election, but they
are kidding themselves if they think all their troubles
begin with one woman and can be ended simply by
taking their knives to her toga.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Riddell’s view
Let Cape Town revolutionise the way we think about water
Van Loon
The city’s crisis is a
warning that we can’t
keep squandering one
of life’s basic necessities
or something so
essential, water management is all
too often lacking in sophistication.
It’s about playing a waiting game
– waiting for the rains to return
in time and the reservoirs and
groundwater reserves to replenish.
About as sophisticated as when your
GP says: “Here’s some paracetamol;
if you’re not feeling better in a
couple of weeks, come and see me
Many illnesses will go away by
themselves and often the rains do
come. But in chronic cases waiting
is highly dangerous. Witness the
Cape Town water crisis. When “day
zero” strikes – the day engineers
turn off taps, in about 10 weeks
– many will suffer, provoking,
potentially, social unrest and
The reservoirs that supply water
to the city of Cape Town are nearly
empty due in part to below-average
rainfall for many years in a row, but
also, and maybe more importantly,
because of increased “abstraction”
– the city has grown (by almost
80% since 1995) and needs more
water. But this is hardly a unique
situation, with climate change
projected to result in more frequent
extreme droughts and rises in
urban population putting ever more
pressure on limited water resources.
In short, the climate is changing and
cities are growing.
São Paulo faced a severe water
shortage in 2014-2016 because of a
combination of failing wet seasons,
poor management, deforestation,
pollution and the prioritisation of
short-term economic interest over
long-term environmental solutions.
But the problems are not exclusive
to the global south. In California,
where a culture of individualism
and private ownership extends to
water rights – landowners owning
all groundwater below their land –
local authorities are limited in the
action they can take.
Cape Town might just be the right
moment to provoke a paradigm
shift. Sixty-five years ago last week,
the North Sea flood, considered the
worst national, peacetime disaster
in UK history, led to more than 300
people losing their lives; deaths
were much higher in Holland. It
prompted the development of the
Delta Works in the Netherlands and
the Thames Barrier in the UK; now a
weekly life safer.
Public awareness is high, hence
there is political willingness to
come up with solutions. Often these
are of the engineering variety. In
São Paulo, new intake pipes were
constructed at the bottom of the
reservoir; in California groundwater
pumping was increased
dramatically; and in Cape Town
desalination plants are rapidly being
But such solutions are expensive
and often unsustainable. They
have serious environmental
impact and can increase water
demand, perpetuating problems
for future generations. The truth
is that engineering options are
seen as easier and less politically
sensitive then actually managing
water demand.
ltimately, we have
to change our ways. Look at
Melbourne, for example. The city
was severely hit by the millennium
drought between 2001 and
2010, but it managed to reduce
per-capita water consumption
by nearly 50% over this period.
Some of the temporary water use
restrictions were made permanent,
transforming the city.
The use of recycled water,
reducing leaks, increasing efficiency
and, most importantly, long-term
planning all played a part. There’s
early warning based on forecasting,
triggers based on monitoring
and plans developed in tandem
with users. Public perception and
political will need to be in harmony.
So, yes, householders should
conserve water but policymakers
can’t be afraid to take action,
even when it includes (initially)
unpopular measures.
Contrast these measures with
dam building in the 1980s, which
increased both supply and demand,
making the city more vulnerable.
Here in the UK, the droughts of
1976, 1995-1998 and 2010-2012
placed restrictions on water supplies
and led to effective drought plans.
Currently, for example, despite
a wet December, we need much
higher than average rainfall in
south-east England this winter/
spring to replenish the low
groundwater reserves, which supply
most drinking water to London,
and water companies are applying
for drought permits and preparing
water-saving measures.
There’s no need for fatalism – we
can prevent future water crises,
instead of waiting for the rains to
come or providing expensive, shortterm engineering solutions. Or, even
worse, going back to business as
usual when the drought is over.
Dr Anne Van Loon is senior lecturer
in water science, University of
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
On the grid at
the Japanese
Grand Prix in
Suzuka last year.
Photograph by
Peter Fox/Getty
No more grid
girls at Formula
One? Next they
will be enforcing
speed limits
This was not a good
time to upset the
driving lobby with
talk of restraint and
abiding by the rules
irst they came for the
hostesses, and darts fans did not
speak out, because they were not
members of the Presidents Club.
Then they came for the walk-on
girls, and the Formula One fans did
not speak out, because they find
darts a bit on the slow side. Then
they came for the grid girls – and
Bernie Ecclestone could not stay
silent. “I can’t see,” the F1 billionaire
said, “how a good-looking girl
standing with a driver and a number
in front of a Formula One car can be
offensive to anybody.”
And perhaps there might even be
a rethink, now he’s made clear – at
least, to anyone unversed in the
sport – how critical they were to its
operation. “They were necessary
really,” Ecclestone said, “because
when the team driver wants to get
on to the grid, it’s much better and
easier for them to know their place
The audit
Palace of
Last week MPs voted to back
a refurbishment of their
workplace, which will entail
a move away from home
where they need to stop.” It’s just a
guess, but for some F1 historians,
this is presumably a bit of a Rosalind
Franklin moment. In fact, it’s hard,
as a woman, to know whether to
burst with pride over this hitherto
unsung contribution or to ask why
the grid – whatever that is – should
be so excessively small, or hard to
spot, that drivers are unable to get
on and off it without the orientation
offered by young women in tight
clothing. Pending a redesign, maybe
traditionally dressed lollipop ladies
could offer crucial human signage
that also resonated with F1’s new
brand values?
Anyway, with so many car
enthusiasts already exercised by
the attack on F1, this may not have
been the best week for Anthony
Bangham, chief constable of West
Mercia, to call for an end for the
“soft” treatment of amateur racers.
Currently, although it contributes
to 26% of fatal collisions, speeding
is one of those unusual offences
widely agreed – with the connivance
of some law enforcers – to be not
so much a rule, as a hint. In more
indulgent regions, an unwritten
code allows drivers a margin, before
prosecution, of 10%, plus 2mph,
over the speed limit. And even
then, magistrates may show mercy
towards a particularly piteous, that
is, respectable, offender.
The chief executive of Lotus Cars,
for instance, was spared penalty
points after doing 102mph on the
All (where he was previously caught
doing 96mph). Jean-Marc Gales,
his lawyer said, already had eight
points and losing his licence would
be unhelpful for a CEO of Lotus,
even more so, you gather, than a
history of speeding offences. Given
the frequency with which the car
industry has its speed-glamorising
ads banned by the Advertising
Standards Authority – “good to be
bad”, “luxury just lost its manners”
– a points-accumulating CEO
could well be a more reliable way,
than hiring Tom Hiddleston, for a
company to perpetuate associations
between alpha-maleness,
magistrate-dazzling speed and, it
follows, erotic irresistibility.
That particular delusion has
rarely, of course, been better
expressed than by Boris Johnson,
the foreign secretary, when, as a
car writer, he borrowed a Ferrari.
“It was as though the whole county
of Hampshire was lying back and
opening her well-bred legs, to be
ravished by the Italian stallion.”
By extension, speed restrictions
are for people untroubled by
Johnsonian rape fantasies; the
world’s Lynda Snells, feebly waving
teeny gadgets at men such as Jeremy
Clarkson, Gordon Ramsay and new
speeding hero, Jason Higgins. The
latter, recently caught exceeding
The number of
rooms in the Palace
of Westminster
The year that the
oldest structure on the
estate of Westminster
Hall was completed.
abiding drivers, we learned, “angry”,
“furious”, “incensed”. It would never
work. It was crazy. It was the work of
snowflakes. It would actually lead to
more deaths!
It’s some measure of how well
the car industry has done its job,
in identifying aggressive driving
with personal liberty, that the US
gun lobby can sometimes sound
marginally less delusional than our
car one, having an amendment, sort
of, on its side. But the two lobbies
share an obvious indifference to
casualties and a proud sense of
manly cussedness. The ubiquitous
man who calls himself “the man
they call Mr Loophole”, famous
for getting celebrities off speeding
charges, should take particular
credit for his part in shifting
blame for driving restrictions
from offenders to enforcers. “Mr
Bangham,” Loophole said, “is trying
to criminalise hardworking people
struggling to get from A to B on the
country’s congested roads network.”
Maybe lollipop
ladies could
resonate with
the F1 brand
a village limit in his Bentley, has
won acclaim in the Daily Mail
for reporting the volunteers who
clocked him to the police. “Is there
anything more annoying,” writes a
sympathiser, “than sanctimonious
do-gooders like these old biddies?”
Given that news media are not
immune to such inverted priorities,
also thoroughly embroiled in car
marketing, maybe it’s unsurprising
that reporting about the chief
constable’s firmness on speed
limits should have featured striking
levels of rage. Submit to the legal
speed limit? Purely because this
would kill and maim fewer people?
This insane proposal made law-
The number of
windows that need
to be repaired
f there are, as indicated by
support for Brake, IamRoadSmart,
Community Roadwatch and
countless local campaigns, many
equally hardworking people who
do not believe in the sacred right to
drive at 35mph in a 30mph zone,
their voices were drowned, last
week, by driving’s leading freedom
fighters – FairFuelUK, the Alliance
of British Drivers and the RAC.
Prominent, as always, was the AA
president, Edmund King, deploying
the popular, if ludicrous, argument
that lower enforced limits would
create “paranoid drivers forever
checking the speedometer”.
If King can intuit speed without
checking, once he reaches, say, 10%
plus 2mph above the limit, it’s a skill
he really ought to share. Because if
he can’t, it’s dismaying, having fallen
for his breakdown cover, to think of
him spinning much the same line in
entitled, turbo-charged fantasy as
Bernie Ecclestone’s vital grid girls.
31 7,500
The number
of lifts in
the Palace
The number of
people working
in the building
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
So men are dying because they don’t have
women’s brains. Show me the evidence
coupling between the two genders.
That in turn means the winning
of mates and achieving arousal by
being attractive to each other. The
nature of the attraction is complex
and elusive, but it does imply basic
gender behaviours that are different.
Mortality rates for
prostate cancer are
rising, but not because
of any neurological
t is the crossover moment.
For the first time, more men are
dying of prostate cancer than
women are from breast cancer. Any
GP surgery will offer a blood test
to check a man’s prostate-specific
antigen (PSA) indicating cancer. All
men have to do is ask.
The trouble is that, as we all
know, men are from Mars. They
don’t go to GPs, don’t talk about
illness and believe in their own
invincibility. Men with their
compartmentalised brains are
inherently greater risk-takers and
believe they will beat the odds. In
any case, to concede the threat of
illness is an acknowledgement of
weakness – very unmasculine.
Empathising women from
Venus, with their different brain
structures that encourage talking
and discussing issues, are more
keenly aware of the risks. One of the
reasons death from breast cancer is
declining is because women, better
understanding the risks, demand
action as an NHS priority – and then
act on what is offered. No parallel
demand is coming from men.
It is just one more piece of
evidence that men and women are
supposedly hardwired to think and
behave differently – and on this
occasion men are the losers. Men’s
brains are more segmented, runs
the argument, and their thinking
is concentrated and focused in the
right hemisphere of the brain given
May I have
a word?
The shifting patterns of
English. This week:
on the pleasures and
pitfalls of new terms
We’re learning that we know less and less about the brain, male or female. Photograph by Sebastian Kaulitzki/Alamy
over to calculus and reasoning.
By contrast, the story continues,
women’s brain hemispheres are
more interconnected, with much
more traffic in the cerebral cortex.
These “spaghetti” brain structures
are hardwired to link the creative
and emotional dimensions of the
brain with its rational thinking
element, enhancing women’s
linguistic and empathetic
capabilities, helping them better
understand people. They feel
more, crucial when nurturing the
young and shaping communities
in the human evolutionary story.
Men intrinsically are better at
mathematics and building dams;
women are intrinsically better at
English and building homes.
Thus the pattern of different
income, employment and
opportunity for women, indeed,
day-to-day interaction, does not flow
from prejudice and male sexism,
although both are inexcusable and
must be stamped on. Women’s lower
lifetime earnings for similar jobs, the
fact that they hold fewer top jobs, the
time they spend on child rearing and
t the risk of
stating the
obvious, words
do not spring
from nowhere.
Their birth is the result of
inspired thinking and some
naturally are better than
Shakespeare, for example,
was pretty nifty at them:
addiction; arch-villain;
assassination; bedazzled are
all attributed to him. Horace
in the home, and their tendency to
avoid science and technology are not
because of sexism but because they
are different.
But what if the whole intellectual
edifice supporting these claims
were wrong? Enter the scientist
Cordelia Fine, whose Testosterone
Rex, winner of the 2017 Royal
Society prize for popular science
writing, convincingly debunks the
entire thesis.
For every study demonstrating
the hypothesis that women’s brains
are less compartmentalised than
men’s, there is another knocking
it down. There is no conclusive
evidence that there is more traffic
in women’s cerebral cortexes;
no evidence that testosterone
starts to separate out boys’
brain hemispheres in the womb;
no evidence that more highly
compartmentalised brains allow
more system thinking and no
evidence that the resulting shorter
brain circuits mean better brains.
It is bunkum, from top to bottom,
she argues, a form of “neurosexism”.
The greater truth is that we hardly
Walpole came up with my
favourite – serendipity. Yet
not all coinages are quite
so felicitous; Movember,
Veganuary, frankenfood,
illiterati, jeggings, moobs.
None of these contrived
constructions is in any way
pleasing, especially the last –
a horrible neologism for an
unpleasant appearance. As
for the first two – surely, if we
wanted themes for a month,
then, if you’re going to give
up drinking, for example,
understand what is going on in
the brain. Instead, science is being
infected by sexist stereotyping of
men and women, causing categories
and inferences to be invented that
don’t exist – and justify women’s
continued subordination.
Fine’s critics – and she has
a few – accuse her feminism of
trumping her science. For example,
evolutionary theory, which she
does not contest, is built on the
truth of sexual selection established
by Darwin: the species has to
be reproduced and advanced by
The science is
being infected
by sexist
March would be better than
January, and it could be called
Parch, while for those giving
up smoking, then Vapril has a
decent ring to it.
So I confess that my heart
leapt last week when I read
a statement from Thérèse
Coffey, “the minister for
litter”, when she called for
direct action against the use
of plastic straws, calling these
excrescences “strawpedoes”.
Yes, I know we’re supposed
to deprecate puns, but
oreover, if male
and female brains are as identical
as Fine suggests, how come autism
is vastly more a male disease and
the distribution of both genius and
idiocy is more pronounced in men
than women?
But even the toughest critics
concede she is right to push back
on the role of testosterone, its
influence on brain function and the
allegedly deep neural differences
between men and women. The
science, they agree, does not back
any of it. Reading and listening
to Fine, I would go further – the
science abounds in neurosexism.
Nor does selection theory challenge
her position. It is perfectly possible
for men and women’s brains to
work identically with equal power –
perhaps men are not from Mars nor
women from Venus, but from the
same planet after all – even while
they behave in ways to attract each
other, as Darwin would predict.
What is driving men’s mortality
rate from prostate cancer is not
masculine brain structures – it’s the
NHS spending half as much money
on communication and treatment as
it does for breast cancer.
A century ago, scientists warned
that winning the vote would put
such neurological pressure on
the challenged female brain there
would be a 25% rise in female
insanity. Today, surely, we can
see parallel statements for what
they are: pernicious sexism. The
Chinese proverb is right: men and
women hold up the sky equally.
It’s time for everyone to act on that
fundamental truth.
show me a journalist who
doesn’t have a weakness
for them. However, this one
word seemed to me to be a
perfect summation of the
plastic blight that is besetting
the world and exercising
everyone from Theresa May
to David Attenborough and
all right-minded people in
between. Bravo, Thérèse
Coffey, for this snappy and
clever word.
In late breaking news, a
brickbat, I’m afraid. A golfer
called Eddie Pepperell was
offering his opinion on the
possible return to golfing
greatness of Tiger Woods:
“Our obsession with image,
personality and the past,
as opposed to substance,
amazes me. I say that with
respect, ie not meaning
Tiger can’t substantively
impact the game moving
forward.” For that last
hideous phrase, Pepperell
should take himself back to
the driving range.
Comment & Analysis
Elon Musk
Don’t buy my
he says. Where’s
the fun in that?
lon Musk says he has sold
out of flamethrowers. The
Tesla boss, who appears to
be conducting his business
as if storyboarding a new superhero
film, only one that is based on that
episode of The Apprentice where they
have to sell as many sandwiches
as possible and hope that people
really enjoy soggy prawn’n’mayo
baps, has shifted all 20,000 available
units of his new product, a $500
flamethrower. Like the $20 baseball
caps, which also sold out, they are
branded with the name of Musk’s
tunnelling venture, the Boring
Five days ago, Musk announced
this flash sale from hell by
posting an Instagram video of
himself pretending to go for the
cameraman with one of these hefty
fire machines, which does make
one wonder why one of the richest
men in the world is acting like his
life’s ambition is to be the kind of
YouTuber who eats record-breaking
chilli peppers, then attempts a
“social experiment” to prove a
point about sexism being totally
bad. “Don’t do this,” he captioned
it. “Also, I want to be clear that a
flamethrower is a super terrible
idea. Definitely don’t buy one.
Unless you like fun.” Huh huh huh!
Elon Musk: CEO
of the Boring
Why be unscorched when you can
be Boring?
Either Musk is throwing caution
to the wind and committing an act
of mass nihilism by giving anyone
with a credit card the ability to burn
his fellow man from a safe distance
or it’s all a stunt, a grand gesture of
bants, because Musk has given up
on all those potentially humanityimproving initiatives such as electric
cars, living in space and travelling
between major cities in a whizzy
metal tube, in order to fulfil orders
for the world’s man cave. If it is one
big joke, then it’s perfect for the
Trump age. It’s confusing, fulfils no
clear purpose other than destruction
in the name of ego and also, if you
don’t get it, well, the joke is on you.
Muriel Spark
for arty campaigns. Her caustic
wit, demonstrated throughout her
novels, is as RuPaul’s Drag Race as it
comes. I think of the biography she
wrote for her publisher: “Born in ice
cave of southern Tyrol, year 609BC
of centaur stock, mother descended
Venus. Muriel Spark rose from the
waves as is well known. Demands
fabulous fees.” Fabulous, indeed.
Neil Portnow
And the Grammy
for most patronising
comment goes…
‘Born of
stock’: the
Jean Brodie’s
creator was so
cool she was
positively icy
ver the years, Joan
Didion has become
the grande dame of
bookish chic. From the
Céline ads she appeared in, behind
enormous sunglasses, to the Netflix
documentary about her life, Didion
is a pop culture figurehead in a way
few other authors can claim to be.
On the centenary of Muriel
Spark’s birth, though, I wonder
about an alternative world in
which Spark has taken a similar
place, modelling oversize glasses
or a glorious few seconds,
it seemed as if Blue Ivy
might have been the star
of this year’s Grammy
awards, for a much-giffed
moment when she told her
embarrassing overexcited parents,
Beyoncé and Jay-Z, to be cool.
But then along came Neil
Portnow, president and CEO
of the Recording Academy, to
upstage her.
That was the least of his crimes.
After the ceremony, Portnow was
asked why only 17 of the evening’s
86 awards went to women.
“I think it has to begin with
women…” he said, concluding
with the revolutionary idea that
women themselves should “step
up”. Like Time’s Up, only a new,
better version, that says it’s all
women’s fault.
Happily, several female artists
did step up, to ask Portnow to step
down, so he issued a statement
apologising for his “poor choice
of words” and announcing the
establishment of a task force to
“identify where we can do more to
overcome the explicit barriers and
unconscious biases that impede
female advancement”.
You know, like the head of the
Grammys blaming women for not
doing enough to win awards for
themselves. Ugh, fighting explicit
barriers and unconscious biases is
so complicated. It wasn’t like this
in the old days, when rock stars
could have sex with 14-year-olds
and nobody minded.
It is amazing that it’s taking
#MeToo so long to come for the
The Observer
music industry, a business that is
sexist on every level – whether it’s
the festival organisers who “don’t
notice” that they’ve only booked
all-male acts again, or the sound
technicians who assume female
musicians are the girlfriends
of the men in the room, or the
female journalists accused of
sleeping with bands, when
they’re not being propositioned
by the men in bands they’re
supposed to be interviewing.
Or the sleazy old men
earning a killing off the looks
and talents of young women
who don’t know what they’re
allowed to say no to, whether
it’s being told to wear less,
or smile more, or work with
this producer, or be nice to
that label exec, or to be quiet
about that sexual assault,
that rape, just be quiet, and
you might have a chance of
making some money for us. If
that sounds extreme, then believe
me, it doesn’t begin to scratch the
The incredible thing is that, in
spite of all of this, women have
been stepping up for decades.
Portnow’s initial remarks, and
even his clarification, come with
the patronising guiding hand of
an old boy: you can join our club,
if you just try hard enough, if we,
the men in charge, make it a little
bit easier for you.
But his words are a death rattle.
Women can build their own
clubs and write their own rules,
the kind of rules that work for
everyone. No permission needed.
president Neil
Portnow: ‘bad
choice of words’.
Cuddling giant
rainbows... and
other quite
regular antics
he director of the new
Fantastic Beasts movie,
David Yates, caused a minor
stink when he revealed
that the character of Dumbledore
would not be “explicitly” gay in the
film, which I first took to mean as
leaving any triple-x scenarios to the
slashfiction community, but which
actually means Dumbledore won’t
do anything overtly gay, like gay
kissing or cuddling giant rainbows
in a tight vest, gayly.
JK Rowling pointed out that
nobody has read the script and that
this is one instalment of a five-part
series. Still, it’s been a bad week for
adults getting disproportionately
cross about children’s stories.
Dany Cotton, the first female
commissioner of London Fire
Brigade, has revealed she received
hate mail for suggesting that the
fictional Fireman Sam might be
renamed Firefighter Sam, even
though the only thing that does is
make it sound as if Sam has earned
himself a promotion.
Jude Law as
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
This week’s issue
Encourage people
to live healthy lives
As a former employee of the NHS
– a chaplain – and someone who
values it and has benefited greatly
from it, I have seen hundreds of
patients over the years who do not
look after themselves and wonder
why they are unwell (“Saving the
NHS”, Comment, last week).
Chaplains are there to listen but
we do not give advice on health
matters. Too many people eat the
wrong things and do not exercise to
any significant degree. They need
not only to be encouraged to change
their lifestyles but forced to change
through legislation and taxation.
Britain cannot afford to allow these
people to abuse the NHS in the
way they do and certain measures
that some would feel are draconian
need to be implemented as soon as
The upper echelons of the NHS
also need to be more responsive to
the advice of those who work at the
chalkface! They often ask for advice
but it is seldom properly considered
and acted upon.
The Rev Clifford Chonka
Nick Cohen is right to highlight
the pressure our obesogenic
environment is putting on the NHS.
He might also have noted that the
insecurity and stress in our lives are
putting massive strains on mental
health services. But he’s wrong to
say that “public enlightenment” or
an “authoritarian state” are the only
answers to cutting the toll on our
health and wellbeing.
Our environment isn’t the
result of individual choice, but
government policies. Supermarkets,
pushing processed, high sugar, fat
and salt products, have been allowed
to dominate our food supply. (Even
encouraged with planning support
for out-of-town superstores.)
Car travel has been made 16%
cheaper in real terms since 1997,
while trains are 23% and buses
33% more expensive. That’s where
buses still exist at all; I’ve heard the
suggestion that in rural areas they
should be displayed in museums so
children can see what they look like.
Natalie Bennett
Former leader, Green party
Write to us
Letters, which may be edited, should be include a full name and
postal address and be sent to
Letters to the Editor The Observer, Kings Place,
90 York Way, London N1 9GU (to be received by noon Thursday).
(please insert Letters to the Editor in subject field).
For conditions go to
emotional resilience to cope with
their mental health once they leave
school. Otherwise, they risk facing
bigger problems when they are
older. They could become homeless.
They could have children that they
are unable to support. Once that
happens, they will stop being able to
function in society.
This is why I believe there
needs to be more education and
investment in children and young
people’s mental health. We need
to look at what we can do from an
early age to ensure that their mental
health is looked after and we need to
ensure that parents have the skills to
cope with nurturing a young child.
Only when this is done will we break
the cycle.
Eileen Sheerin
Ashcroft School, the Together Trust
Betting the house
Finsbury Park imam set true
example of British values
Exercise helps maintain health. Alamy
Thank goodness for some realism
about the sort of fundamental
changes we need to make to the way
we live for there to be any hope of
a reasonable future on this planet
(Nick Cohen and Sonia Sodha,
“Bottled water is a nonsense”,
Comment, last week).
We may not like the idea, but only
by introducing measures such as
annual flying allowances, banning
bottled water and putting walking,
cycling and public transport before
private cars can we prevent the
ultimately fatal depletion and
pollution of the natural resources on
which we depend. Once we all get
used to new habits we’ll be healthier
for them, and happier too, with the
prospect of a sustainable world to
Teresa Belton
Thank you for Kenan Malik’s
thoughtful piece on the distinction
between vengeance and justice
(“A desire for vengeance is human
but checks the pursuit of justice”,
Comment, last week).
Malik draws attention to
the intervention of the imam
Mohammed Mahmoud, who saved
the Finsbury Park van driver from
the vengeance of the crowd, arguing
that he should answer in a court of
law, not in the street. It strikes me
that this is an excellent example to
us all of the “British values” that we
are urged by government ministers
to embrace, usually with the subtext
that it is the minority communities
that most need the lesson.
John Filby
Schools and mental health
As headteacher of a school for
children with social, emotional
and mental health needs, I see the
impact of the lack of understanding
around mental health every day
(“Mentally ill pupils ‘face threat from
plans for schools”, News, last week).
Unless educators work with
young people to identify their
mental health issues we will be
fighting a losing battle. We are in
the position to make a difference
to vulnerable young people’s lives.
We have to provide them with the
Vernon Bogdanor (“The Lords
should ask the Commons to
reconsider Brexit”, Comment, last
week) weakens his case for a second
referendum by likening the Leave
option to being given the chance of
buying an attractive house without
being told the price.
But it was actually worse than
that – more like committing to buy
the house regardless. The argument
for a second referendum when
the terms are known is logically
Dennis Twist
Troy for the boys
What a missed opportunity in
the new Trojan war miniseries to
redress the usual androcentric
view and explore the shift from
matriarchy to patriarchy that is
reflected in Mycenaean culture
(“Enter the wooden horse again”,
News, last week).
This could explore the idea that
Agamemnon and Menelaus ruled
by virtue of the fact that they were
married to their wives, who are the
actual ruling dynasties. So when one
of the wives absconds to Troy, the
legitimacy of the brothers’ rule is
This makes far more sense to
justify a prolonged war and siege
than the usual interpretation that
Menelaus wanted to get his wife
back because she was so beautiful
and he missed her. The tombs of
Agamemnon and Clytemnestra
in Mycenae bear witness to her
powerful position.
Carol Terry
London SW18
Blackmail in border lands
The border reivers mentioned in
the review of Graham Robb’s The
Debatable Land (“From God’s realm
to bandit country”, Books, last week)
contributed not only “bereaved”
to our language. They practised
“blackmail”, which was linked to the
colour of their armour.
Geoff Fenwick
Listen to the teachers
Your assessment of the pitfalls and
potential for failure inherent in
the ubiquitous academy system,
while depressing to read, held no
surprises (“Top academy schools
sound alarm as cash crisis looms”,
News, last week). Over many years,
we have seen the fragmentation of
state education as politicians have
imposed their personal agendas.
Dedicated teachers deliver in
the particular environment allotted
to them, children learn and some
will go on to achieve. But where is
the fair playing field where the arts
and the sciences are valued in equal
measure and children experience
much more than dry emphasis on
learning facts to be regurgitated in
test after test?
Until education is allowed
a complete reappraisal by
educationists rather than politicians
we shall be failing many children.
But, as you point out in your
leader, no hope of that with Brexit
squeezing out all the other public
services pleading for attention.
Janet Power
Newton Abbot
For the record
In separate articles, we misspelled
the surnames of the director of the
film Almost Heaven, Carol Salter,
and the mountain climber Tomasz
Mackiewicz (“Want to win an
Oscar or Bafta?”, the New Review,
last week, page 34; “Dramatic
rescue attempt for climbers on
Pakistan mountain”, News, last
week, page 30).
Write to the Readers’ Editor, the
Observer, York Way, London N1 9GU,
email observer.readers@observer., tel 020 3353 4736
Britain’s view on… the leaked economic forecasts
Daily Telegraph
Wrong and unfinished
Economic forecasts are
always wrong, so naturally
the Government has
commissioned some economic
forecasts. It has not yet
published the economic
forecasts because they’re
both wrong and unfinished, but
promises to publish them at a
later date, when they’ll still be
wrong but in a different way –
Michael Deacon
The Independent
Aggressive rhetoric
No, GDP isn’t everything. But it
matters an awful lot. An awful
lot. If you don’t see that you
are either stupid, which Boles
is not, or disingenuous and
perhaps guilty of internalising
the aggressive rhetoric
and threatening tone of the
Brexiteers, as some have
unfortunately done –
James Moore
The Times
Britain worse off
The most significant
thing about this week’s
leaked report is that the
government still believes
that, in the long run, Brexit
will leave Britain worse off
than if it were inside the EU.
Not, mind, that there will be
a recession or a crisis; but
that we may look back in
15 years’ time and realise
that this was the moment we
started growing at a slower
rate than before Brexit –
Ed Conway
Birmingham Mail
Less frightening
They’re not going to change
their mind now that they’ve
heard a fresh set of warnings
that Brexit will be bad for the
economy. While we still don’t
know exactly what thet say,
it’s clear that they are less
frightening than the claims
made during the referendum
campaign – Jonathan Walker
Comment & Analysis
The checkout-free
shop is a wonderful
idea… a machine
will never judge you
Coren Mitchell
When we no longer
have to impress the
cashier – or fellow
shoppers – we can buy
what we truly like
It was usually a
tin of peaches.
would be a llama
or a manuscript
copy of Mozart’s
re you frightened of
the rising machines? I try not to be.
Machines are the future and being
horrified by the future is so terribly
ageing. Banging on about the misery
of automated switchboards, the
insecurity of online banking or the
impersonality of email puts 20 years
on you immediately, like racism
or natural light. I try to avoid such
So, for me, it’s all “Good
news, my local post office has
shut down!”, “Ooh, you need a
‘registered account’ to buy cinema
tickets, I couldn’t be happier!” and
“Hurray! A leaked NHS England
report says 111 calls will soon be
diverted to a ‘diagnosis app’ instead
of a person!”
But there’s a development I’m
having trouble with. I was reminded
of it when I read about the new
Amazon Go store in Seattle. This
seems to be a supermarket with no
tills or till operators (although there
are employees to “help customers”).
There’s no checkout system at all,
in fact, simply sensors that detect
what you’ve put in your bag and
automatically charge the credit card
that’s associated with the Amazon
Go app on the smartphone you
swiped at the door.
Well, doesn’t that sound brilliant!
No, listen, it’s good because I don’t
want any privacy! I want all my
purchases and movements to be
tracked, scanned and inextricably
attached to my phone, address and
official monitored self!
That sounds sarcastic. It was
sarcastic. I can do better than that.
I really do believe that after the age
of about 30 you should check any
instincts to fear or dislike: chew
them around a bit, make sure you’re
happy with the flavour.
That doesn’t mean you’re
wrong; only an idiot is happy with
everything all the time. But I’m
trying to beware negativity as an
So, there are pluses to the concept
of a supermarket with no people.
People are awful. No, that’s cheating.
But humanity can be infuriating
if you’re standing in a queue,
drumming your fingers when the
cashier can’t find the price or runs
out of bags, tutting and sighing
when the person ahead of you
skitters off mid-tally to find yoghurt
or tries to pay with the annual
takings from the penny arcade.
If there’s no checkout, there’s no
checkout rage! Only the deep, cold,
lonely fear of being lost among
automatons, which is a lot easier on
the blood pressure.
I’m quite fond of those
mechanised cashiers (or “selfservice tills”) that we have here, in
the medium-tech UK where we’re
phasing out people but haven’t
yet phased out physical payment.
Just swipe and shop at the
Amazon Go store. Photograph by
Alex Tsway/Rex
Naturally, my first instinct was fear,
alienation, disapproval and dislike.
But then they started shrieking:
“Unexpected item in the bagging
That won me over. It was never
anything unexpected. It was usually
a tin of peaches. “Unexpected”
would be a llama or a manuscript
copy of Mozart’s Requiem. I was
charmed by the excitement of the
young, impressionable machines.
Machines don’t judge you. They
don’t give you a withering stare
when you’re buying three bottles
of wine, a microwave lasagne and a
Sandra Bullock DVD.
This must be good news for those
who are trying to find love in the
supermarket. Do people still do that?
When I was single, magazines were
forever advising you to “keep that
basket sexy!” in case of handsome
passing shoppers. Many’s the night
I came home with a dozen ribbed
Mates, a punnet of lychees and a
The Observer
pot of Elmlea, still no boyfriend and
nothing I could feasibly cook for
I worked out that I would
recognise my soulmate if his
basket contained a box of Guylian
chocolates, a bunch of freesias,
a pair of black cashmere socks, a
slim volume of poetry and a jar of
tropical fish food. Unfortunately,
he’d be gay.
Anyway, if lonely hearts still
wander round supermarkets, it will
be a blessing to get rid of eye-rolling
cashiers and suspicious security
There’s no point being wistful for
“human interaction” at the till in
Sainsbury’s. Nobody ever passed the
time of day to much effect in a spotlit, 12-aisle hangar with 30 people
waiting behind them to buy bog roll.
If you find the automated till too
impersonal, you can simply do what
I do and pretend there’s an unpaid
child labourer crouching inside.
Look, I’m doing my best… We
have to try to believe that increased
mechanisation is broadly good,
because loads of people throughout
history have believed themselves
to be living at the exact moment
it went too far and it’s simply too
unlikely that that moment is now.
Douglas Adams had our instincts
right when he wrote: “Anything that
is in the world when you’re born is
normal and ordinary and is just a
natural part of the way the world
works. Anything that’s invented
between when you’re 15 and 35 is
new and exciting and revolutionary
and you can probably get a career
in it. Anything invented after you’re
35 is against the natural order of
So I am trying to fight phase 3.
And where is the development I
struggle with? It’s the remaining
people in the shop. It’s the Amazon
Go store staff who are only there
to help its first users figure out the
door-phone-swipe business. It’s the
employees of my local Budgens who
come over, all smiley and helpful,
when the machine is baffled by a
lettuce or a shopper is baffled by the
machine. In some outlets, you can
actually ring a bell for them.
In essence, those people’s jobs
are to teach you how to make
them redundant. You’re ringing
a bell for minimum-wage staff to
hurry over and help themselves
into unemployment. That seems a
cruelty too far.
The world’s view on… Donald Trump’s State of the Union address
The Washington Post
Rivals Martin Sheen
Hindustan Times
Inequalities spill over
spilling over into class and racial
After a year as president,
Trump has proved himself
capable of reading words
from a teleprompter. When
he chooses, the former
reality-TV star can summon
a performance to rival that
of Martin Sheen as the
aspirational President Jed
Bartlet on The West Wing.
Mr Trump’s speech indicated
he will do nothing to address
the long-term structural issues
that bedevil US society. While
lowering corporate taxes
made economic sense, the
administration’s tax reductions
for even the wealthiest of
Americans will only aggravate
inequalities that have been
The Business Times,
Sour Democrats
The New Yorker
Reality TV show
It seemed less like a political
speech than a reality-television
show, which, of course, is
what Trump and his imagefashioners wanted.
Most of the Democratic
lawmakers who attended the
State of the Union address on
Tuesday were not impressed.
Sitting on their hands, many
of them frowning while their
Republican colleagues
were applauding, their sour
reaction reflected the antiTrump antipathy among
members of the “resistance”
and suggested that they
may not be ready to make
deals with the White House
on immigration or other
policy issues and to help
“normalise” a president
whom they still consider to be
very unpresidential.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Rest assured, when Brexit bombs, it
won’t be the fault of the Tory right
The civil service is the
latest to be flamed by
Rees-Mogg and co,
who blame everyone
but themselves
he right does not want
British institutions to take back
control from the EU. It wants to
take control of British institutions.
Understand its raging ambition
and you will understand why selfproclaimed Conservatives are so
anxious to destroy.
Patriots who shout about their
love of country daily announce their
hatred of every British principle that
might constrain them. The rule of
law and sovereignty of parliament?
The Mail echoed every totalitarian
movement since the Jacobins and
denounced judges as “enemies of
the people” for ruling that Brexit
couldn’t be triggered without the
approval of parliament. Academic
freedom? A government whip
demanded universities tell him
what lecturers were teaching about
Brexit. The right of MPs to follow
their conscience? Liberal Tories
received death threats after the
Telegraph called them “mutineers”
for not obeying orders and thinking
for themselves. Now the civil service
is having its ethics besmirched
and neutrality threatened. Jacob
Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker
accused it of plotting to undermine
Brexit by producing needlessly
pessimistic forecasts. The lie was so
demonstrably false even Baker had
to apologise. Tellingly, Rees-Mogg
did not. Unnervingly, he may be our
next prime minister.
You do not have to know much
history to recognise a stab-in-theback myth in the making. German
militarists and fascists explained
away defeat in the First World
War with the dolchstosslegende:
the German armies had not been
defeated by their enemies in
France but by communists, Jews
and pacifists at home. So Brexit
will not be defeated because the
Tory right sold the British a fantasy
but because judges, civil servants,
saboteurs and mutineers subverted
a glorious victory.
Far from holding back the growth
of extremism, our leaders encourage
it. The received wisdom holds
that Theresa May does not know
what she wants from Brexit. As my
colleague Rafael Behr says, Mrs May
has told us exactly what she wants.
She wants Britain to walk away from
the EU, its single market, customs
union and courts, while retaining
privileged access to its markets. The
trouble with what she wants is not
that she does not know it but that
it’s impossible to achieve.
“We can have our cake and eat
it” is no longer the slogan of that
asinine opportunist Boris Johnson
but of the post-Brexit establishment.
Both Conservatives and Labour
pretend there is no hard choice
between taking back control and
economic hardship. May tells the
BBC we can have it all because that’s
“what the British people voted for”.
Presumably, if the British people
voted for unicorns to deliver hot and
cold running champagne, she would
say they must have that too.
ather than challenge
her, Jeremy Corbyn echoes her.
He insists we can leave the single
market, while “retaining the
benefits” of being in the single
market. Brexit is performing a
reverse alchemy on British parties,
turning their golden principles
into base metal. The Tories are
threatening business. The anti-racist,
pro-union Labour left still thinks
it has the right to brand Labour
leaders of the past as sell outs.
Yet it sits on its hands as Corbyn
You do not
have to know
much history
to recognise
a stab-in-theback myth in
the making
maintains immigrants are wrecking
job opportunities for natives and
does nothing as he ignores the TUC’s
warning that leaving the single
market will threaten job security and
workers’ rights.
Britain is a lucky country. It was
on the winning side in two world
wars and in the Cold War. Unlike
virtually every other European,
African and Asian state in the 20th
century, we were never invaded
or occupied. The British were the
colonisers, not the colonised; the
victors, not the vanquished.
British exceptionalism helps
explain why 17.4 million voted to
leave the EU. Countries with more
tragic histories would never have
taken such a reckless step. The
smugness stability has given Britain
has a further consequence. It makes
it next to impossible to warn about
the corruption of national life.
Point to the Trumpian contempt
for independent institutions, the
impatience with checks and balances
on power and disdain for truth and
you are told to keep calm and carry
on. These ills may afflict foreigners
but they can’t happen here.
For all the complacency, cowardice
still comes at a price – even in
Britain. The cowardice of May and
Corbyn is preparing the ground for
a nationalist reaction to Brexit’s
inevitable disappointment. Millions
will find they can’t have it all and
look for someone to blame. It is not
alarmist to imagine a rightwing
government deflecting attention
from its own culpability and using
conspiracy theory to justify attacks
on the independence of the judiciary,
civil service and BBC. A far-left
government would be as eager to
assault all three and replace neutral
men and women with forelocktugging ideologues. No one, indeed,
should be more grateful to ReesMogg and the Daily Mail than John
McDonnell. They are providing the
ammunition he may reach for in
Britain might have voted to leave
the EU, but it cannot leave the
modern world. In Russia, Hungary,
Poland, the US and Venezuela,
we have seen elected autocrats
sweeping aside, or attempting to
sweep aside, constraints on their
power. They have the people’s
mandate. Anyone who stands in
their way is therefore an enemy of
democracy itself. We should look
at countries where extremists,
who bear a striking similarity to
our extremists, are in power and
remember that the past doesn’t
determine the future. Just because
it hasn’t happened here does not
mean the British can console
themselves with the happy thought
that it can’t happen here – the more
so when it already is.
A gannet called Nigel who
for years made his home
on Mana Island in New
Zealand with two concrete
decoy birds has died. Cows
and hippos might not be so
easily fooled.
Milton Keynes
A leaving present from
the Milton Keynes
Development Corporation
in 1978, the cows created
by Liz Leyh have been
vandalised and stolen.
New York
The Wall Street Bull was a
1987 piece of guerrilla art
to symbolise the “strength
and power of the American
people” after the stock
market crash.
The bronze statue based
on The Town Musicians
of Bremen fairytale by
the Brothers Grimm was
erected in 1953. Touching
the front hooves is said to
help wishes come true.
Hippo Square, in the
African animal area
of Taipei zoo, was the
brainchild of former zoo
director, Chen Pao-Chung.
Comment & Analysis
The Sunday Essay
David Olusoga
The landmark 1960s series
transformed how TV treated
culture. But now, argues a
presenter of the series ‘update’,
it’s time for a broader sweep
across time and place
The Observer
ifty years ago, in the opening scene
of his epic, 13-part series Civilisation, Kenneth Clark
famously and prudently dodged the big question. “What
is civilisation?” he asked himself, while standing by the
Seine, with Notre-Dame looming over his left shoulder.
“I don’t know,” he breezily admitted, “but I think I can
recognise it when I see it.”
If there is any question best avoided, one that calls out
for a neat sidestep, that’s the one. There’s nothing simple
about the idea of civilisation, as Clarke knew all too well.
It is one of those concepts we all confidently believe
we have got a firm grip on, right up until the moment
someone asks us to succinctly define it. Civilisation is
slippery, the word has multiple and contested meanings.
Prefix it with the word “western”, as Clark was prone to
do, and you have a whole new set of problems.
Equally thorny is the belief, once commonplace,
that civilisation was a singular project, a phenomenon
that spread across parts of the world from a single
source. The view that multiple civilisations emerged
independently at various times and in various places
across the world was not an idea many Victorian
thinkers had much time for. In the age of the European
empires, the nations of this continent justified their
domination of other peoples on other continents
by claiming they were engaged in a great “civilising
mission”. A word put to such dubious work can hardly
be expected to be regarded as unproblematic just half a
century or so after those empires fell.
Continued on page 56
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Continued from page 55
Perhaps all that is certain about the concept of
civilisation is that its opposites, barbarism, or what our
forefathers rather wonderfully called “rudeness”, are
toxic. As is its antonym. No one on being described as
“uncivilised” would be in any doubt that they had been
dealt a wounding insult.
To go anywhere near the word “civilisation” is a risky
venture. Clark created an additional firewall between
himself and the troubled concept by subtitling his series
“A Personal View”. The one small certainty he had on
his side was that part of the elusive meaning of what
civilisation really is can be found in art. Following that
principle, he was able to create something remarkable.
Those of us involved in TV have a habit of using the
word “landmark” a bit too readily. I have been involved
in a couple of television projects that, while we were
making them, felt quite landmark-ish, but that in
retrospect were just good TV. If not landmarks, they
were, I hope, interesting features on the TV landscape.
Civilisation, broadcast for the first time in 1969, is the
landmark against which others are judged, the mother
of all landmarks, the series that changed television.
That is not to say the series was without flaws. The
patrician confidence with which Clark delivered his
pieces to camera, as they are known in the trade, was
on one level reassuring. But his blithe dismissal of other
cultures and focus on the achievements of “western
man” was troubled even at the time. The truth is Clark’s
world view and cultural tastes were old fashioned even
for 1969. He was also absolutely wedded to the great
man approach to art and history. There were no women
artists great enough to warrant his attention.
Yet for all this the success of this 13-hour series
on European art and culture, presented by an upperclass art historian with his clipped vowels, bad teeth
and tweed suits, was as profound as it was unlikely.
Civilisation changed lives. The stories of its reception,
both in the UK and the US, are part of TV legend. As
BBC Two had only introduced colour television two
years earlier, comparatively few people owned the colour
sets needed to truly appreciate a series that was filmed
at 117 locations and had been lavishly shot on 35mm
film. Many who had been able to afford expensive colour
televisions threw Civilisation parties, to which they
invited friends who were still stuck in the monochrome
As Clark’s biographer, James Stourton, recounts, there
were rural parish churches that rescheduled evensong
so as to avoid forcing their parishioners into having
to choose between God and Clark. During the three
months of the transmission, curators and directors
in both art galleries and museums began to note an
increase in what we today call “footfall”, as a great and
unprecedented surge of interest in art swept the country
and, later, the world. That summer, there was even a
mini-boom for the tourist industry as people who might
not previously have considered jetting off to Italy or
France to visit the Louvre or Florence’s Uffizi set off to
do exactly that, determined to see in the flesh the great
works of art and architecture that Kenneth Clark had
brought into their living rooms. These new converts
to culture tourism had, in modern parlance, been
The impact of the series spread far beyond the
shores of Britain. It was broadcast in 60 other countries
and arguably its reception was even more euphoric in
the United States. There, crowds greeted Clark as if he
were a rock star. The tie-in book to the series went on to
sell more than a million copies globally, many of them
in the US.
Civilisation made Kenneth Clark, soon to be Sir
Kenneth and ultimately Lord Clark, a household name. It
helped establish BBC Two in the place it still holds today,
at the centre of British cultural life, and it was by any
measure, an incredible achievement. Behind its success
lay not just the knowledge and talents of Kenneth Clark,
but also the directing flair of Michael Gill (father of the
late AA Gill) and the foresight of David Attenborough,
who, as controller of BBC Two, had conceived the idea
for the series and approached Clark to present it.
Civilisation was a phenomenon but turned out
not to be an anomaly. It demonstrated that TV could
“do” art and culture, it could take on the big subjects.
Civilisation was the genesis event for TV’s age of the
landmarks. Following on from it in 1972 came Alistair
Cooke’s America, then the year after the wonderful Jacob
Bronowski brought us The Ascent of Man. The tradition
of the big art series was updated by John Berger in
Ways of Seeing in 1972 and Robert Hughes took on the
modernist movements that Clark had missed out in
Civilisation in Shock of the New, broadcast in 1980. By
1979, David Attenborough packed in the desk job and
went back in front of the camera for Life on Earth.
Growing up, the books that accompanied those series
were proudly displayed on our family bookshelves. I
often saw the same volumes on the shelves of friends’
parents, alongside a well-thumbed copy of Clark’s
Civilisation. The big, blockbuster tie-in book was an
essential feature of the age of the landmarks, one of the
essential props for the culturally aware and aspirational.
Even when viewed as part of that great age of factual
TV, Civilisation still stands out. What Clark had managed
to do was make even the most intimidating peaks of
high European culture seem accessible. Yet the man at
the centre of all this was the most unlikely democratiser.
Wealthy, privately educated, a member of the elite by any
definition, Clark, in his tweeds, often looked as stately
and imposing as the architecture behind him.
His career – keeper of fine arts at the Ashmolean,
surveyor of the king’s pictures, youngest-ever director
of the National Gallery (at just 30), Oxford don in his
40s – was stellar. But were it not for his forays into
the medium of television, Clark’s public life might
have taken place behind the high walls of the British
establishment. TV is why Clark is today not just a
name on university reading lists or the subject of
an eponymous annual lecture. The medium that he
embraced in the late 1950s, long before Civilisation, was
responsible for a radical reimagining of Kenneth Clark.
With Civilisation, he arguably returned the favour.
s one of the three presenters of
a new, nine-part series starting in March, and inspired
by Civilisation, it feels like I have lived with the ghost of
Clark for three years. As might be expected, I have, over
that time, watched Civilisation over and over again, and
read everything I could find about it. To pretend it was
not intimidating to be following in its wake would be
dishonest. It is, and it should be. Although not a remake
the new series, entitled Civilisations, is part of the TV
tradition that Clark and Attenborough dreamt up over
lunch half a century ago.
What has been at times intimidating is not so much
Civilisation itself, which was a product both of its time
and the technological limitations of the late 1960s TV.
What has repeatedly reminded me of the scale of the
task is the conversations I have had with people for
whom watching Civilisation in 1969 was a critical life
Those conversations began the moment my
involvement in the new series was announced. People
I already knew and others I have met since have felt
the irresistible need to explain to me what the original
meant to them. I’ve heard time and again stories of lives
changed. How Clark opened previously closed doors,
fired interests and inspired passions that went on to
last a lifetime. For a huge number of people, Civilisation
became part of their life stories. Someone, rather
unhelpfully, described the task of making a new series
that follows in the same tradition as akin to attempting
to remix Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – at best
optimistic, at worst foolhardy.
I don’t have any personal memories of the broadcast
of Civilisation. I was born the year afterwards. But the
many personal stories I have heard from the people it
touched do resonate as I had my own television-induced
epiphany. For me, the moment came at some point
between 9pm and 10pm on 12 February 1986. That
evening my mother either encouraged me or made me
(my memory fails me but I suspect the latter) watch the
A detail from a
Namban screen,
attributed to
Kano Naizen,
shows just what
the Japanese
really thought
of their trading
first episode of a new documentary series on BBC Two.
It was called Artists and Models and it changed my life.
It was written and directed by Leslie Magahey, who I
never met but in whose debt I remain. That first episode
told the story of Jacques-Louis David, the master of
French neoclassical art, who had lived through the final
decadent, rococo days of the ancien régime, and then
become a master of the austere, neoclassical style of
the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. David painted
The Tennis Court Oath and The Coronation of Napoleon,
which took place in the Notre-Dame seen over Clark’s
shoulder in the opening minutes of Civilisation. David
was perhaps one of France’s greatest artists yet he
came close to becoming a victim of Robespierre’s
infamous committee for public safety. David was saved
from execution – according to some accounts – by his
stammer that made him an inaudible figure of ridicule
at his trial. I know all this, care about it and have done
so for 30 years, because of a television documentary I
watched one Wednesday evening in 1986.
Two years after Artists and Models, and having
realised that even for me – from my council house
bedroom – art and history could be legitimate passions,
I went travelling around Europe with my best friend. At
18, I stood in the Louvre in front of the paintings that
TV had first shown me. In that first episode of Artists
and Models, I had learned that David’s paintings were
so austere and flinty that, it had been said at the time,
the viewer could almost feel a cold wind blowing off the
Comment & Analysis
Right: a 16thcentury Benin
mask depicts
Idia, a queen
mother. British
The Observer
Clark made even the
most intimidating
peaks of high
European culture
seem accessible
Far right: The
Oath of the
Horatii, by
David, subject of
the first episode
of Artists and
The Louvre
Below: Kenneth
Clark presenting
Civilisation. BBC
time discussing the artistic and cultural achievements
of Italy and France. Germany perhaps came in third,
Britain didn’t get much of a look in. In Spain, the
complete omission of Spanish art was regarded not
as an unfortunate oversight, which it most probably
was, but a national insult and Clark’s reputation on the
Iberian peninsula was forever tarnished. However, the
rest of the world – Asia, Africa, Oceania and South and
Central America – was completely and conspicuously
absent. Clark was criticised for this even at the time.
canvas. I remember standing in the Louvre as a teenager,
in front of David’s Oath of the Horatii, trying to feel that
icy blast. Silly I know, but art and the idea that it was
going to be part of my life was still new and exciting.
Next we went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
– Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Vermeer and the interior
world of the Dutch golden age. After that. it was
to Madrid and Museo del Prado – Picasso, Titian,
El Greco, Velázquez, Hieronymus Bosch and
The Garden of Earthly Delights. There I bought a
reproduction of Bosch’s masterpiece and pinned it
to the wall of every student room I lived in for the
next five years.
There were other works of art that had fired
my youthful imagination, even before I watched
Artists and Models. They were the Benin Bronzes.
My British mother, determined that her mixed-race,
half-Nigerian children would appreciate the artistic
treasure of both sides of their heritage, took us to
look at the collection held at the British Museum, and
instilled in us pride that our father’s forefathers had
forged them. To me and my siblings, this was art we
had to get to know ourselves, not something TV might
deliver to us. The art of Africa was not something I recall
ever seeing on TV as a youth. Had I been around in 1969
I would not have seen it in Civilisation either. Clark’s
series wasn’t merely Eurocentric, it was even more
narrowly focused than that. The filming took place in
a mere 11 countries and Clark spent most of his screen
s has been noted by many
commentators the new series comes not just
with three presenters – Simon Schama,
Mary Beard and myself – but also with
an additional “s”. Civilisation becomes
Civilisations. The global perspective of
the new series is not some dutifully
followed edict, or a corrective for Clark’s
omissions; Simon, Mary and myself
have not taken upon ourselves the
task of smoothing the feathers that
Kenneth Clark ruffled half a century
ago, although everyone involved in
Civilisations was keen to ensure that
the art of Spain got a fair hearing this
second time around.
The globalism of the new Civilisations is
instinctive and joyous, a reflection of the
mindsets and curiosity of those behind
it, and of the very different age in which
the series has been made. Civilisations
offers not just a broader geographic sweep
but longer historical span. It begins with
Simon’s stunning exploration of the first
marks our earliest ancestors made on the
walls of their caves, 40,000 years ago. The
series then takes us right up to the present
day, through the 20th century modernism
that Kenneth Clark admitted to being baffled by.
As a historian whose first interest is empire, and the
global encounters that have been a defining feature
of the last half-millennium, this global outlook comes
naturally, as it does equally to Simon and Mary. Even art
that we regard as the singular expression of a specific
culture at a specific moment is often imprinted with
the indelible stamp of globalism and inter-civilisational
contact. The globalism of the 17th century is, for
example, subtly encoded into the seemingly inwardslooking paintings of Johannes Vermeer. Look again
at the objects scattered on Vermeer’s tables – globes,
Persian rugs, Chinese crockery. Look at the clothes his
sitters wear, hats made from North American beaver
fur, silks from China. Living in the age of the Dutch East
India Company, Vermeer’s view stretched far beyond the
city of Delft.
Art produced around the same period in Japan depicts
that age of bounteous trade and fascinating encounter
from the other side of the transaction. The Japanese
tradition of Namban screens, lavish multi-panelled,
folding painted screens, depicts the globalism of the
16th and 17th centuries as viewed from the Japanese
perspective, one that did not always view Europeans in
a flattering light. The word Namban means “southern
barbarian”, an indication of how the Japanese viewed
their uncouth, hairy trading partners, and a rather
embarrassing reminder that the bathing habits and
table manners 16th- and 17th-century Europeans left a
lot to desired.
Even the art of Benin, with its famous bronzes (which
in reality are made from a copper alloy), is an expression
of the contacts between civilisations rather than the
gulfs between them. Within the art of Benin are clues
about her place in an emerging Atlantic world of trade
and interaction, both with Europeans and Africans from
other parts of the continent. This can be seen in perhaps
the greatest work of Benin’s guilds of craftsmen – the
two ivory masks that are believed to show the face of
Idia, a powerful 16th-century queen mother. Her face,
highly naturalistic, is framed by a crown made up of tiny
bearded faces, those of the Portuguese traders who were
Benin’s key partners.
African art, created for Africans showing Europeans
as part of their political and ceremonial cultures. The
two stories of art, the European story that I saw on
television as a teenager and the African one that I felt
drawn to as an immigrant, were never as far apart as I
was led to believe.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Archive 2 February 1972
Windsor: ‘This
is the most
theatrical part
I’ve ever had.’
Photograph by
Neil Libbert for
the Observer
Carry On
Barbara Windsor in
a German classic
This week
in 1947
How politically committed is
Barbara Windsor, the Cockney
actress who stars in all those “Carry
On” films? Having opened in the
film “The Boy Friend” last week,
Miss Windsor opens in London on
Thursday in a new production of
Brecht’s highly political play “The
Threepenny Opera”, his satirical
attack on corruption in the Weimar
Republic. Vanessa Redgrave is in it
Delay often worsens dilemmas;
it has done so, disastrously,
in Palestine. In these columns
we have always argued that,
as voluntary agreement
between Jew and Arab was
unobtainable, sooner or later a
plan would have to be imposed.
Although the talks with both
parties are proceeding in
London, there is still no sign
that their standpoints are
approaching reconciliation; and
in the meantime conditions in
Palestine are going from bad
to worse, with the prospect of
too, which doesn’t surprise us.
“Well, dear,” said Miss Windsor,
“I’ve always voted Conservative, if
that’s what you mean. Most actors
do.” She said that apart from Jennie
Lee, Labour Governments were bad
for the profession: they stuck the
prices up. “Of course we all know
Vanessa’s a raving socialist, but
she’s a lovely girl, so you just don’t
mention E Heath in her company.”
martial law having to be applied
to protect British lives and to
prevent Civil war from breaking
So long as the British
Government fails to table a
plan, Arabs and Jews will both
hesitate to set a limit to their
claims. Each side will hope
that by further demands it will
succeed in modifying the final
settlement in its own favour.
The Arabs, particularly, have no
sharp motive for haste; they
consider that the more trouble
there is in Palestine, and the
Brecht? “No, dear, I don’t know him.
We used to call Joan Littlewood
‘Mother Courage’. ‘Barb,’ she’d say,
‘you must do me a bit of Brecht one
day. It would be nice for you.’”
Miss Windsor applied false
eyelashes. “This is the most fantastic
theatrical part I’ve ever had. I don’t
come on till the second half. It’s
what I call a doddle. Of course,
the whole thing has lost a lot in
more outrages are committed
by the Jewish terrorists, the
stronger their own case will
look in the eyes of the world.
The Government is now
understood to have a new
partition plan. The arguments
against partition as a practical
solution are formidable:
Palestine a country smaller
than Wales, is very difficult to
carve up equitably, and under
any conceivable partition
rankling grievances would
certainly remain. But partition is
the best choice among evils.
translation. I once heard a record
of Lotte Lenya singing those Kurt
Weill songs – marvellous. No, I don’t
speak German.” Miss Windsor put
on a wig and added that to tell the
truth she hadn’t really seen much
of this production because she’d
been commuting to rehearsals from
Liverpool, where she played an Ugly
Sister in pantomime.
From Pendennis, the Observer’s diary
‘There has been
a shortage of
plates in our
house since
my husband
decided to take
up juggling.’
Woman in a Kent court.
There seems to be no
truth in the report that the
Government has decided
against equal pay in the Civil
Service. The matter is still
being considered by an
committee, and the Cabinet
will obviously not make up
its mind until this body has
Equal pay in the civil service,
front page story
IIs it the end of
tthe road for private
finance initiatives?
Ocado boss to step into the spotlight after
ducking questions about Presidents Club
Tim Steiner,
chief executive
of online grocer
Ocado, is due to
attend its results
Photograph by
David Sillitoe/
Tim Steiner will be
quizzed about the
grocer’s technology
arm this week – and,
perhaps, other matters,
writes Simon Goodley
The last we heard from Tim Steiner
– the boss of online grocer Ocado
– he was courageously slamming
down the phone as reporters inquired
whether he’d enjoyed a pleasant
evening at the Presidents Club.
Delightfully, just as the noise
around the scandal of the charity
dinner appears to be dissipating, the
tycoon is being forced into the public
eye, with the company he co-founded
due to unveil its final results this week
and Steiner pencilled in for the gig.
If he’s brave enough to appear, the
businessman can expect to be quizzed
on which, if any, of the alleged incidents of sexual harassment he witnessed at the Dorchester that night.
He will also be asked for his take on
how his customers might view him
attending an all-male event, featuring
130 “hostesses” walking into a ballroom clad in short, tight, black skirts
and high heels.
Fittingly, Steiner will appear at the
Ocado presentation this week sporting a skimpy black number of his
own: but his will be a profit figure.
For the first time, the company
will be reporting separate numbers
for both its grocery delivery business
and its much newer “solutions” arm,
which flogs its warehousing technology to other grocers that need an
online delivery operation.
Ocado’s own grocery business may
be boring, but it has finally worked
out how to make a profit, having had
more false starts than David Walliams
has had after-dinners.
Conversely, the tech bit is yet to
make any money but – after signing
deals with Morrisons, France’s Casino
and Canada’s second-largest food
retailer Sobeys – it is the only part of
the company that the City is actually
interested in. It is also the sole story
driving up Ocado shares.
Ken Odeluga, a market analyst at
spread-betting firm City Index, says:
“Recent news has strengthened investor confidence in Ocado, after a long
stretch in which it strained credibility
and shareholder patience. The shares
became one of the most shorted on
the London Stock Exchange following
failure to live up to early-2015 claims
that it would soon sign new deals like
the one it has with Morrisons. It did
eventually ink another deal, about
18 months later.”
Still, the deals have horrified the
legion of hedge funds betting against
Ocado shares, as much as they have
delighted Steiner and his supporters.
But the optimists should be careful
not to crow too much as – just like
the scandal at the Presidents Club –
this is something the boss simply did
not see coming.
When Ocado floated in 2010, its
281-page flotation prospectus – the
main marketing document when a
company sells its shares to City investors – barely mentioned the tech idea
at all, and certainly didn’t find room
to crowbar it into the sections entitled
“strengths of the Ocado business”, or
the bit they called “Ocado’s strategy”.
The document did give the idea
a cursory mention in the following
phrase: “Ocado has granted its wholly
owned subsidiary, Ocado Information
Technology Limited (which is incorporated in the Republic of Ireland),
the exclusive rights to use and sublicence Ocado’s IT and IP to third parties for use outside the UK.”
All of which raises an obvious
question about tax, as well as many
more about what else is in the offing.
Company filings in Ireland show
that, as Ocado’s technology business
drives up the shares, the Dublinbased subsidiary is being liquidated.
Why? And who has the licence rights?
The company reckons there was
never a tax advantage and the rights
are now back in the UK. Still, just like
the night at the Dorchester, it’s something to raise with Steiner when he
resurfaces this week.
Vital statistic
Ex-BHS boss sent
£10m pension bill
Morrisons and M&S
announce cutbacks
Construction sector
confidence slumps
EasyJet boss restores
pay equality (at top)
Former BHS boss Dominic Chappell
was issued with a formal demand
for about £10m last week relating
to the pension scheme of the collapsed department store chain. The
Pensions Regulator officially notified Chappell last month that he
would be expected to pay the sum.
The Insolvency Service is also looking at his time at BHS and is likely to
publish a report imminently.
Morrisons, Britain’s fourth largest
supermarket chain, announced last
week that it would axe 1,500
middle-management roles in stores,
as part of plans to cut costs and put
more staff on the shop floor and
tills. Meanwhile Marks & Spencer
confirmed plans to close up to 14
stores, putting nearly 500 jobs at
risk, in what it said were “vital”
changes for its future.
Britain’s construction industry,
already reeling from the collapse
of outsourcing firm Carillion, has
slowed to near-stagnation, and
housebuilding is in decline, it was
announced last week. Data firm
Markit reported that UK building
companies experienced a “subdued
start to 2018”, with total industry
activity barely rising. Job creation
fell to an 18-month low.
The new easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, has voluntarily taken a £34,000 pay cut to
match the salary of his predecessor, Carolyn McCall. The budget airline said Lundgren took the helm on
1 December on an annual salary of
£740,000, but is now reducing it to
the £706,000 McCall was on when
she left last summer to take up the
top job at ITV.
Amount that was knocked off
Capita’s share value last
week after it admitted to
financial problems.
New money the company said it
now needed to raise.
The Observer
Carillion has
collapsed and
Capita is in
trouble. Is PFI
itself now on
the critical list?
Big private providers
have been entrusted
with much of Britain’s
infrastructure: even
hospitals. What does
the future hold now,
asks Phillip Inman
ong before the collapse
last month of Carillion,
one of the government’s
go-to outsourcing and
building groups , the
signs of strain inside
Whitehall over the future of financing
public projects with private cash were
clear. Since 2010 the government has
signed 80 contracts under the private
finance initiative (PFI). In the 13 years
before 2010 it signed 620.
The figures are a measure of Tony
Blair and Gordon Brown’s enthusiasm for shaking up the way public
sector bodies financed the building
of schools, hospitals and prisons, and
the reluctance of the coalition government to keep the programme on anything more than life support.
In 2012, the then chancellor,
George Osborne, backed a review
of the controversial scheme, and in
2016, Osborne’s Tory successor Philip
Hammond concluded there was still
plenty of mileage in it. He relaunched
it as you might a Hollywood film, calling it PF2.
Except that PFI was by then a muchdiscredited formula. It might have
raised £60bn over the years for building schools and hospitals, but the
contracts were infamous for allowing
businesses such as Carillion, which
managed hundreds of public-sector
projects as well as vital public services,
to make excessive profits. It was a flop.
Only the Department for Transport
was keen to embrace the lamely
rebadged programme: over the coming months it expects to put together
deals to fund a re-routing of the A303
that runs past Stonehenge and the
Lower Thames crossing in Essex.
Other departments turned away.
For most ministers and top civil servants PFI was toxic and the rebrand-
ing, which committed private bidders
to provide greater transparency, was
not enough to make it palatable. Tony
Travers, a professor at the London
School of Economics and a renowned
expert on the public sector, says: “This
is the denouement of a long drama.”
That’s not to say contracting out
and public-private partnerships have
bitten the dust. They are still very
much in the government’s thinking
as ministers wrestle with another
10 years of tough spending reviews.
The private finance initiative began
life in the early 1990s under the Major
administration, which was emerging
from a deep recession and wanted to
use the flood of money pouring into
the City to fund public sector projects.
Tory councils were already outsourcing bin collections and catering contracts to the private sector.
PFI was an extension that involved
shifting the risk of cost overruns and
delays on building projects to the private sector in return for guaranteed
payments over the lifetime of a contract, which could run for 30 years.
In part, this was to end a decadeslong period during which Whitehall’s
sparse capital budgets – always the
subject of Treasury whims – made it
difficult for new hospitals and roads
to get approval (and made them subject to interference when they did).
It wasn’t until the Blair government
gained power that the accountancy
profession found a form of words that
‘You can see it in the
pressure to drive
down contract prices,
and how this leads
to underbidding’
Tony Travers, LSE
allowed the capital used for a project
to go on the private sector’s balance
sheet. This was the green light for
everything from Isle of Wight ferries
to new hospitals to be financed and
operated by the private sector.
The Norfolk and Norwich University hospital quickly became the
How the big six private finance initiative firms have performed…
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most egregious example of PFI controversy after officials signed a deal
in 2001 that was set to run until 2037
and net the winning bidders £1bn –
nearly five times the £229m cost of
building the hospital.
Last year the Eastern Daily Press
reported that the hospital had a £25m
deficit after paying a consortium
£22m to operate the site and £17.6m
in interest payments. Last week the
deficit had climbed to £27.3m.
Allyson Pollock, the Newcastle
University health expert and campaigner, says the health service has
been forced to close hospitals and
thousands of beds as PFI deals have
sucked the life out of NHS finances.
She warns that while the PFI might
be out of favour, health minister
Jeremy Hunt and NHS England chief
executive Simon Stevens are busy
importing new strategies for bringing
private finance into the health service
that reflect Stevens’s time in the US.
Just as Andrew Lansley, Hunt’s
predecessor, pressed ahead without
a mandate from the 2010 election to
expand the use of private providers,
she says Hunt is busy creating a new
type of health provision without the
parliamentary approval he needs.
She is one of several health campaigners behind demands for a judicial review of the new integrated care
bodies known as Accountable Care
Organisations (ACOs), which she says
will actually be unaccountable and
more able than previous NHS organisations to cherry-pick services and
hand them over to the private sector.
Health service thinktank the Kings
Fund has backed Hunt’s efforts to
integrate social care, GP services and
hospitals, and dismisses concerns
that private firms will make inroads.
Its chief executive, Chris Ham, says
that, for example, the decision of private health company Circle to hand
back its contract in Cambridgeshire
shows how tough providing integrated services can be.
He says: “NHS organisations are
better placed to compete for ACO
contracts, working in partnership
with local authorities and third sector providers where appropriate, and
national bodies are actively exploring
how a new form of NHS organisation
might be used for this purpose.”
Opinion is divided among insiders
about the legacy left by PFI. Plenty of
hospital directors struggling to make
ends meet still support the private
financing and maintenance of their
building. Without it, they say, there
wouldn’t be a shiny, state-of-the-art
facility in the first place.
Another former civil servant who
has switched to one of the large consultancy firms says the way forward
is a national infrastructure bank to
… and what the future holds for them
Now run by Winston Churchill’s
grandson Rupert Soames, Serco is
trying to battle back to health after a
string of profit warnings. Its troubles
began in 2013, when it was temporarily
barred from state contracts after
overcharging the government for
electronic tagging of prisoners, some
of whom were either dead or did not
exist. It now runs services ranging
from the London bicycle scheme to the
Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and state
contracts make up about £750m of its
£3bn turnover. Profits fell last year but
it reported a series of contract wins.
The government insisted this month
that Interserve would not be the
next Carillion after it emerged the
Cabinet Office was monitoring the
company. But its shares are still sliding.
Interserve is a major supplier in a range
of areas including health, education
and defence, but state contracts only
make up 11% of its revenue. It issued
two profit warnings last autumn.
Mitie’s government contracts include
an immigration detention centre at
Heathrow, social housing services
The Observer
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Balfour Beatty
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The good, the bad and
the baffling: three big
public-private contracts
Government contracts with the private sector fall into two categories.
There are straightforward service contracts – for jobs like cleaning prisons and maintaining army
homes – where civil servants can
drive a hard bargain. Or there are
large complex projects – like building and running new hospitals –
which involve private consortiums
raising much of the cash and last
up to 30 years. These can offer businesses the chance to disguise excessive management fees and take all
the benefit of refinancing the debt at
much lower costs – or, in the case of
Carillion, they can run over budget
and behind schedule and become a
crippling burden.
Neither the National Audit
Office (NAO) nor the Treasury has
attempted to compare the costs of
privately financed and operated
public services with what it might
have cost to keep it within the public sector. However, the NAO has
estimated that the latest batch
of schools under the Treasury’s
revamped PFI programme – PF2 –
cost around 40% more than building
and running them in-house, while
hospitals cost the state 70% more to
hive off to the private sector.
Norfolk and Norwich University
hospital became notorious for its
PFI financing structure. Alamy
fund privately managed projects.
“Most projects have been completed
on time and on budget. And civil servants have learned a lot about handling
private sector projects,” he says. “But
they still need private sector expertise.
I would build hospitals and schools
using PFI structures, but with money
borrowed ultimately from an entity
controlled by the state.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
favours bringing public sector contracts in-house and having traditional
contracts with building companies to
tackle infrastructure projects.
Travers says seven years of budget
cuts inside central and local govern-
and repairs to the roof at the Palace
of Westminster. About 25% of its
revenue comes from government.
Investigations into its 2015 financial
statements are under way, with the
latest inquiry announced in November.
The company had issued a series of
profit warnings, dragged down by
rising labour costs and the fallout from
taking low-margin contracts.
G4S is in better shape than most
rivals. Like Serco, it was barred from
government contracts in 2013 for
overcharging and was also damaged by
ment have taken their toll, with many
projects tripped up when the government drives too hard a bargain.
“You can see it in the pressure
to drive down contract prices and
how this leads to underbidding, and
how that has exposed builders like
Carillion to insolvency,” he says.
Carillion found itself millions of
pounds in the red after it discovered
the ground under a road it was building near Aberdeen was unsafe and it
was forced to bear the cost of shoring
it up. Other discoveries – like cracks
in concrete at the Royal Liverpool
University hospital it was building –
created more financial pressure.
its failure to provide enough security
guards for the 2012 Olympics. But a
turnaround and restructuring plan
have improved its fortunes and profits
jumped 14% last year. Contracts with
the cash-strapped public sector make
up just 5% of its £7.5bn revenue.
A joint venture partner with Carillion
on the HS2 rail link, Kier has had to take
on half of its former partner’s share
of the contract, including staff. UK
public sector work accounts for around
half of its £4bn turnover, including
contracting work on Crossrail, and
In response to the firm’s collapse,
and news that another major contractor, Capita, is struggling, Labour MP
Louise Haigh has called for all future
contracts to be subject to freedom of
information requests.
PF2 allows for annual “health
checks”, but most critics say that still
allows contractors and civil servants
to avoid scrutiny – even from the
National Audit Office, which often
must guess at the reason for missed
targets. “The logic of following public money does offer the possibility of
seeing the books,” says Travers. “So
far that has been a bridge the private
sector is unwilling to cross.”
running hospital and local authority
services. Like G4S, it is doing better
than many government contractors,
reporting profits up 8% last year.
Balfour Beatty
Britain’s biggest construction firm
had three joint ventures with Carillion,
and will take a hit of up to £45m as a
result, mostly related to the £550m
Aberdeen bypass. It had a dark two
years starting in 2014 when its shares
fell 75% amid multiple profit warnings,
but it swung back to profit last year
after a turnaround plan took effect.
Rob Davies
The Good
Alder Hey Children’s Hospital,
The Treasury wanted Alder Hey to
provide the blueprint for hospital building when this PFI project
was agreed in 2013. The Acorn consortium, made up of builders Laing
O’Rourke, John Laing and maintenance contractor Interserve, says it
consulted patients and their families, the Prince’s Foundation and
Arts for Health.
The £288m project incorporates
the latest thinking on helping children recover from life-threatening illnesses, including balconies outside
many wards and views over a park.
Generating around 60% of its
energy onsite, the hospital will be
one of the most efficient to run
in the country. “It was delivered
on time and on budget – in fact,
the fastest 24-hour hospital ever
built, taking just 131 weeks,” said a
Treasury spokeswoman.
She said Laing O’Rourke had
bought and installed all the stateof-the-art medical equipment that
is being used at the hospital, including Europe’s only intra-operative 3T
MRI scanner.
But the project is not without its
problems. The hospital has become
part of a huge regional reorganisation of healthcare, with possible implications for the contract
with Acorn. A leaked report warns
the region’s nine hospital trusts will
be £999m in the red by 2021 due to
funding shortages and rising costs.
The Bad
Ministry of Defence
On Tuesday a group of cleaners will
gather on Gosport high street, opposite Portsmouth docks, to protest
against their working year being
reduced from 52 weeks to 50, and in
some cases 48 weeks.
The cleaners work in Ministry of
Defence training centres, but their
employer is ESS, a division of the
Compass catering empire. It secured
a multibillion-pound subcontract
from Carillion, the MoD’s main
cleaning and catering contractor.
Unite, the union representing a
group of cleaners, says there is a veil
behind which ESS hides its profit
margins and methods of working.
“The change in contracts was
imposed on the staff and means
they must either work for up to four
weeks for free or take a cut in their
annual take-home pay,” said deputy
general secretary Gail Cartmail. “It
affects their holiday pay and when
they can work during the year – and
all for the employer’s benefit.”
The contract between ESS and
Carillion is subject to commercial
confidentiality and since Carillion’s
collapse its future is not clear, least
of all to the workers.
Cartmail is calling for a review.
“The margins are so small on many
contracts that the only way to save
money is to drive down wages
and conditions,” she said. “And yet
there is no evidence that a contracted-out service is cheaper or
more efficient.”
A spokeswoman for ESS said staff
were consulted, but changes were
necessary “to reflect the demand for
services at these sites”.
Unite denies anything like a consultation has taken place.
HM Revenue & Customs
In 2001 HMRC signed a £3.3bn contract with Mapeley, a private equity
firm. The deal involved handing over
the ownership and management of
591 tax offices, including the freehold of 132 of them, to an offshore
company managed by Mapeley, then
based in the Cayman Islands.
Mapeley won the contract largely
because it underbid UK rivals, which
had to include VAT in their calculations. The irony of the tax authority signing a deal with an avoidance
vehicle was lost on the government.
Civil servants were unaware at the
time that 15 years later they would
be managing around 20 change programmes, several of which involve
reorganising the Mapeley offices.
The NAO has repeatedly criticised
the deal as expensive.
HMRC says legal advice at the
time blocked it from excluding firms
based in tax havens and that this
is no longer the case. From 2021 it
plans to move to “direct leases for
property and smaller, more flexible
facilities management contracts that
we can control more easily”.
Phillip Inman
here are measures of
how broke the UK has
become wherever you
look. And it’s not just
the public sector that
is showing the strain.
The vast sums needed to keep
up with 21st century developments
are also absent from a private sector that has become reluctant to take
any big bets without a large slug of
government support behind it.
Bank of England governor Mark
Carney told a House of Lords committee last week that companies
were sitting on heaps of cash and
when Brexit uncertainty was lifted,
would begin to spend it.
This spree, he implied, would
bring about an upgrade of factory equipment, service sector processes and infrastructure such that
Britain’s pre-2008 productivity
growth would resume.
His comments came with heavy
caveats. And Threadneedle Street
still predicts a loss of GDP growth
against a forecast that has Britain
staying inside the European Union.
Nonetheless, the message was
clear. No one should despair about
quitting the EU; an investment
boom that consigns the standstill
of the last 10 years to history is still
However, the evidence for this
assertion is alarmingly thin. Most
companies with spare cash have
preferred to milk their customers,
 @phillipinman
and diving
won’t drag
us into the
21st century
sweat their assets and pass on the
proceeds to investors through share
buybacks and dividends.
That’s not just a UK trend. It can
be seen in the US, where large corporations are trumpeting how much
of Donald Trump’s tax cuts are being
spent on wage rises and investment,
although these sums are likely to
be dwarfed by the amounts passed
back to shareholders.
Even so, that still provides significant sums of money for investment by the tech giants and a
manufacturing sector that has long
embraced innovation to compete on
the world stage. Just as importantly,
US universities provide a backbone
of research for the private sector to
feed on, and the US government,
however distasteful it may be, subsidises the arms and aerospace industries to make them world-beaters.
In the UK, a large number of corporations are struggling. That’s not
to say they are unprofitable. It’s just
that they are in sectors where it’s
difficult to make enough money
to feel secure about future investment. And that brings us back to the
public sector.
Seven years of austerity have
diminished the Ministry of Defence
to a point where BAE Systems ( formerly British Aerospace) must look
elsewhere for contracts.
The Carillion debacle has shown
there is little money to be made in
the public sector by highly indebted
outsourcing contractors. Rival
Capita has signalled a steep fall in
profits. Other big private contractors
like Balfour Beatty, Kier, Mitie, Serco
and Interserve have all faced problems and not all are yet secure.
Car industry suppliers such as
GKN are the subject of takeover bids.
Major retailers have seen their sales
battered by a mix of weak consumer
demand and the monopolistic tactics of Amazon.
What’s left? The oil firms BP and
Shell have been selling bits of themselves and relying on the climbing
oil price for profits.
BT, arguably at the fulcrum of
Britain’s digital future, is hampered
by the black hole in its pension fund
from pumping billions into highergrade fibre-optic cables.
Britain’s universities have provided a bright spot during the austerity years. But they have relied on
foreign students paying through
the nose and domestic students
paying with government-sanc-
The Observer
tioned borrowing. Foreign students
are becoming harder to find and
domestic fees need to rise at the very
moment that public sentiment has
turned against having them at all.
Vice-chancellors report a squeeze
on their budgets that prevents them
taking part in Britain’s recovery.
The UK is expert at boxing clever
to give a show of modernity without spending vast sums of money.
Compare its infrastructure with
Spain’s, which has undergone a revolution at enormous cost.
Madrid has put in place one of the
world’s largest high-speed rail networks, more international airports
than any other European country
and an ultra-fast broadband network that reaches 31 million premises – more than France, Germany,
the UK and Italy combined.
The UK has pushed its rail system to the limit with better diesel trains and incremental track
improvements. BT has delivered
enough broadband capacity through
the copper network to satisfy the
demand for on-demand TV and
gaming. And the answer to a lack
of airport capacity is not regional
international airports, most of
which Madrid has mothballed.
Ducking and diving is the UK’s
destiny until austerity ends in the
middle of the next decade. The
hope must be that the country
doesn’t look too broke when that
time comes.
The Observer
If our leaders will not punish VW for its
shocking behaviour, consumers must
Business leader
t is hard to think how
Volkswagen could top a
scandal involving it selling drivers 11 million cars
that produced more pollution than advertised, harming human health and shamefully
cheating regulators’ tests in the process. But the past fortnight’s mindboggling revelations about research
at the world’s biggest carmaker have
come close.
First, it emerged the firm had
taken the lead in a 2014 experiment
on 10 macaque monkeys to test the
health impact of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas produced by diesel cars. A VW Beetle,
fitted with a cheat device of the sort
the company used to game pollution
checks during lab tests, pumped
fumes into the monkeys’ chambers
as they watched cartoons.
Later it was revealed that in 2015
an automotive lobby group partfunded by VW tested the effects of
NO2 exposure on 25 healthy young
people in Germany.
It’s often remarked that the banks
emerged from the financial crash
unpunished and unreformed. But
the degree of effort that VW put into
deceiving the world about the health
impact of its diesel cars, and the pollution they were really generating,
could be viewed as a bigger crime.
This is not just a case of destroying jobs and damaging people’s lives
by creating a credit crunch: this is
a matter of life and death. Nearly
9,500 people die prematurely in
London alone each year because of
the city’s illegally high levels of NO2.
We will never know the actual toll
of the cheating and lobbying that
VW took part in. But what we do
know is that the punishment has
been found wanting.
Facebook’s new
conscience is
all part of a
plan to become
easier to like
VW’s vertical car storage facility at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg. Photograph by Odd Anderson/Getty
Chief executive Martin
Winterkorn quit in 2015 after the
emissions scandal was discovered. Last week, VW’s chief lobbyist, Thomas Steg, was suspended
in the wake of revelations about
the tests, which were carried out
by the European Research Group
on Environment and Health in
the Transport Sector (EUGT), a car
lobby group funded by Volkswagen,
Daimler and BMW. VW’s new chief
executive, Matthias Müller, who
was not in charge at the time of
the tests, said: “We are currently
in the process of investigating the
work of the EUGT, which was dissolved in 2017, and drawing all the
necessary consequences.”
But those consequences should
arrive at his door too, because of his
failure to “drain the swamp” during his leadership of VW. Steg was
promoted by Müller shortly after
the emissions scandal, and reported
directly to him.
The reality is that VW has
hardly been hurt at all by the scandals, despite them costing $25bn
(£17.6bn). The company now sells
more models than ever and, thanks
to a post-dieselgate cost-cutting
programme, has a growing cash pile.
However, the blame doesn’t stop
at Müller’s door. European governments have failed to punish the
German car giant for the contempt
it showed to a regulatory regime
designed to protect human health.
While $4.3bn of fines have been
imposed by US authorities, EU ministers have yet to hit the firm with
any financial penalty. In the face of
such timidity, VW has maintained it
does not need to pay compensation
to European drivers, including the
1.2 million cars sold in the UK that
were fitted with cheat devices. To
the UK’s credit, on Friday ministers
did pledge unlimited fines and criminal charges for carmakers found fitting cheat devices, but that will do
nothing to punish past failings.
So if governments and the car
industry can’t be relied on, where
does that leave us? It’s time motorists exercised their consumer power.
The car industry has, finally, got
the message: diesel is over, and electric cars are the future, maybe not in
the short term, but definitely in the
long run. Even VW recognises that,
with Müller doubling investment on
zero-emission vehicles last year.
So as a consumer, the question is:
who do you want to reward? Will it
be the Teslas and the Nissans, which
have forged ahead in this new electric world and pioneered efforts to
clean up our air? Or – much as you
might fancy an electric Golf – will it
be the cheats with the monkeys?
acebook is like a casino:
the house always wins,
even if it says it’s losing.
Announcing fourthquarter results last
week, founder and chief
executive Mark Zuckerberg pointed
out that changes to the site meant
people were spending 50 million
fewer hours per day watching viral
videos on Facebook. However, that’s
only about two minutes per day less
for each of its 1.4 billion daily active
users (DAUs, who log in at least once
a day); they still spend on average
40 minutes Facebooking every day.
And did less time spent watching skateboarding cats hurt? No.
Revenues soared by 47%, to $12.8bn
(£9bn), and net income to $4.3bn.
Clearly, Facebook and Instagram
(which Facebook also owns) have
cracked the formula for how to sell
mobile advertising.
There are, however, the faintest glimmers of future problems.
DAUs in North America dropped
from 185 million to 184 million. Has
Facebook peaked? Zuckerberg proclaimed that he was changing the
amount of viral content because
“in 2018, we’re focused on making
sure Facebook isn’t just fun to use,
but also good for people’s wellbeing and for society”. This might pose
challenges for revenues, but a heavily touted focus on “wellbeing” and
“society” will help keep the politicians off Facebook’s back; failing to
keep authorities onside could have
an even greater financial impact.
Nonetheless, if the lack of cat videos turns people off, Zuckerberg
might end up as the first chief exec
since the big tobacco bosses to
decide that the less people use his
product, the better. Revenues could
fall as a result, which would explain
why the shares dipped.
It’s never wise to bet against
Zuckerberg, though. He pulled his
company through the seismic shift
from desktop to mobile a few years
ago; the shift to clean-living internet
citizen is just another challenge.
Magnanimous pay gestures are not quite enough to heal aviation gender divide
he power of a principled gesture is
the suggestion that
change is simple to
effect. Such was the
symbolism of Johan
Lundgren’s decision last week to
take a £34,000 cut, bringing his pay
into line with that of his predecessor
at easyJet, Carolyn McCall.
Gender pay gaps are not an
unbridgeable consequence of the
free market setting salary levels
according to ability and demand.
They are often the result of cultural
and corporate bias. They can therefore be adjusted at the executive
level by actions such as Lundgren’s.
The message to every other male
chief executive undeservedly paid
more than a female peer is simple:
repeat the gesture. Equality can be
achieved with the stroke of a pen on
your contract.
Elsewhere at easyJet though,
gestures will not be enough. The
airline also revealed that the overall gender pay gap at the company
– the difference between the average pay of male and female staff
– is a stark 51.7%. We are beyond
acts of magnanimity here. That gap
reflects not only a simple pay differential between men and women
but also how the divide between
highly skilled and less skilled occu-
pations straddles gender too: 94% of
easyJet’s pilots are men.
This is not entirely easyJet’s fault.
Worldwide, 3% of commercial pilots
are women and in the UK the figure is the same as it is at easyJet: 6%.
And the solutions to this will sound
familiar: culture and education.
According to the British Women
Pilots’ Association, bridging this
gap will require schools and career
offices encouraging girls to study
more Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It will require more role models
in the industry itself (meaning it is
even more of a pity that McCall has
gone to ITV). And it will require the
adult world – at home and in the
airline industry – emphasising to
children that being a pilot is not just
a man’s job. It sounds simple. But
it will take more than a gesture to
create this fundamental change.
The Observer
More than 130
readers of the
Observer have
complained that
they have been
signed up to
The Money Club
without their
Members pay thousands in fees as web
shopping club suffers ‘temporary glitch’
The Money Club
promises a lot but
for many, joining it
has proved costly
t was when James Schofield
took over the financial affairs
of a friend with dementia in
2016 he discovered some
worrying anomalies. A total
of £2,548 had been removed
in debits from his account by a company called The Money Club. For an
annual fee of £98, the service promises members discounts on more
than 1 million products and cashback.
However, in the previous three years
that fee had been debited 22 times.
“His memory loss had just started
when he joined and he does not own a
computer or have the mental capacity
to use the service, so I find it incredible that he was signed up,” says
Schofield, who lives in Manchester.
“The most he should have paid
for three years is £294 … I attempted
to contact The Money Club
without success.”
Founded in 1988, the company
claims to be the UK’s premier shopping club. Subscribers are promised
exclusively negotiated insurance
deals, discounted holidays and a call
centre team to search out the best
price on any product. Those who buy
goods via a link on the website receive
the commission paid by the retailer to
The Money Club.
Thirty years ago, it might have been
a useful way to find a bargain. In the
internet age, however, its services
look less attractive. A quick Google
search found products advertised
in its weekly wholesale offer for the
same price, or cheaper, online.
When contacted by the Observer
about Schofield’s friend, The Money
Club refunded the money along with
£250 in compensation, and admitted that the customer had never used
the service.
It says that he had “expressed an
interest” in joining during a telephone survey by a third-party marketing company, and that a computer
upgrade in 2013 had led to “arbitrary” subscription payments. It adds:
“There have been a few other such
incidents and we thought we had
traced and refunded all of them.”
Their tracing efforts did not reach
Sandra Perrin’s elderly father, who
was signed up by the same company
in 2014 while suffering from terminal cancer.
After his death, she discovered that
£2,059 in “annual” membership fees
had been debited from his account
over two-and-a-half years. Two payments were taken in a single month.
Again, the money was refunded
after media intervention and The
Money Club insisted that the estimated dozen customers affected by
Cold callers
and the elderly
According to Age UK, cold calls
disproportionately affect older
people on landlines and are a big
cause for concern.
“We hear of cases where a
company signs someone up to
something without their clear
knowledge and consent, and
sometimes even hiking prices
the error had now been contacted.
That was a year ago and The Money
Club’s assurances that it was a temporary glitch now appear misleading.
In the last month, six other subscribers have contacted the Observer after
sums of up to £5,200 were erroneously removed from their accounts.
Meanwhile, more than 130 readers in five years have complained that
they were signed up to a rolling membership of the little-known company
without realising.
Among them is a mother of five on
benefits and a woman on jobseeker’s
allowance who say the £98 has wiped
without clearly communicating this
to them,” says consumer policy
manager Phil Mawhinney.
“We are particularly concerned
where companies take advantage
of people living with dementia. The
Mental Capacity Act is designed
to protect people who can’t make
specific decisions such as entering
into a contract.”
If you receive an unexpected sales
call, ask for time to consider the offer
and never divulge your bank details
out their week’s budget. Examining
the company’s website shows some
worrying features.
An asterix beside the cashback
offers refers visitors to the terms and
conditions, but there are no terms
and conditions available online.
Typically, potential customers are
contacted by phone with the offer
of a month’s trial for £5. Their bank
details are collected during the sales
call and they are promised a membership pack. Unless they cancel within
28 days, the trial automatically conContinued overleaf
over the phone. If, on reflection, you
decide to proceed you must receive
written confirmation of the contract,
and are entitled to change your mind
within 14 days under the Consumer
Contracts Regulations.
Check your bank statements
regularly and query any unexpected
payments. Should you discover
that a direct debit has been set up
erroneously or fraudulently, your
bank is obliged to refund you under
The Direct Debit Guarantee.
The Observer
Going on paying … after
cancelling a 28-day trial
Continued from page 65
verts to rolling membership and the
£98 fee is debited from their account.
The trouble is, the majority of those
who contacted the Observer claim
never to have received the membership pack which includes details of
how to cancel. Many have no recollection of signing up in the first place.
A significant proportion are elderly.
The Money Club, which says it has
more than 25,000 members, insists
that contracts, with full details of payments due and cancellation rights, are
posted to everyone who subscribes.
However, even those who do
receive this can find themselves
sucked into unwanted membership.
Jill Baskerville called in good time
to cancel her 28-day trial but found
not only that the full membership
fee was subsequently deducted three
days before the trial period was due to
end, but that two more identical payments were taken within four days of
each other. It was refunded after she
contacted the Observer.
The Money Club director, Graham
Knight, appears to blame the members and the Observer for the problems. “The few people that have
written to the Observer represent a
very one-sided view of our services,”
he says.
“Almost all of them have never used
or tried to use our services, never look
at their bank accounts and appear to
never read their post. This one-sided
view is then published on the internet
against our name and stays there forever, which is very damaging to us.”
The fact that sales calls are made
to landlines may be a reason why so
many older householders have unwittingly become members, although
Knight claims that staff are trained
not to sign up people over 65, or those
who appear vulnerable.
He says that the company only buys
in data of people who have already
expressed an interest in its services
during a third-party marketing survey and that it is not eligible to join
the Direct Marketing Association
(DMA) whose members are governed by a code of practice covering
sales calls.
According to the DMA all agencies,
brands and service providers involved
in personal-data-based marketing
are free to join and there is no reason why The Money Club would not
be eligible.
Trading Standards is responsible for investigating complaints
about trading practices, but the
Royal Borough of Windsor and
Maidenhead, where The Money Club
is based, declines to comment on
whether it is aware of the company.
Anger as thousands
unaware they face a
‘second mortgage’
Calls for the delay of a
new loan set to replace
a state-backed benefit
in just 10 weeks’ time
he government has
been called on to delay
a new “second mortgage” scheme, which
replaces a benefit for
homeowners on low
incomes, after just one in 20 affected
households have signed up for it.
From April, the government is axing
“support for mortgage interest” (SMI)
which helps financially constrained
homeowners with their mortgage. It
will be replaced with a controversial
system where the government offers
to loan people the money, which will
be repaid later with interest.
However, new figures have shown
that just 6,850 households have
signed up for the scheme out of
the 124,000 currently receiving the
SMI benefit, prompting calls for the
changeover to be delayed.
The replacement of SMI, which has
been around since 1948, will result in
tens of thousands of people, many of
whom are pensioners, being saddled
with what amounts to a second mortgage, according to critics.
It was originally introduced after
the second world war as a short-term
lifeline to those who had lost their job,
or become ill, in order to help them
get back on their feet. Many of those
‘It is truly shocking …
if families fail to
complete the process
they could face
real hardship’
Helen Morrissey of mutual
insurer Royal London
who claim at present are of pension
age and retired, and can continue to
do so as long as their mortgage is
outstanding. The government says it
costs the state £205m a year and is
unsustainable. It announced in 2015
that the SMI would be replaced by the
state-backed loan, which comes into
effect in April.
A Freedom of Information request
from mutual insurer Royal London
to the Department of Work and
Pensions (DWP) revealed the take-up
figures. It has called for the government to delay the changes to allow for
more information to be issued.
“It is truly shocking that many
thousands of low-income families
are yet to receive the information they
need on the fact that their mortgage
interest help could be switched off in
just 10 weeks. If thousands of people
fail to complete the process in time,
they could face real hardship, and
even potential repossession, if they
can no longer afford to meet their
mortgage interest bills,” says Helen
Morrissey of Royal London.
“The DWP should pause the implementation of this policy until it is
confident that everyone has had full
information about the changes, and
the time and support to make an
informed decision.”
Of the 124,000 people who
claim SMI, 57,000 are pensioners. Information about the changes
started to be sent out last July, but not
all claimants have been contacted as
yet, according to the DWP.
Under the new system, the DWP
will continue to make regular payments to the recipients’ mortgage
lender, but interest will be added
every month to the total owed. The
longer the loan is in place, the more
the recipient will have to pay back.
However, the mortgage holder does
not have to pay it back until the property is sold, or transferred to someone
else, although they can make voluntary repayments.
Those in favour of the scheme have
argued that it is not the role of the UK
taxpayer to subsidise mortgage payments for an asset that can be passed
on to children after their death.
The DWP did not respond to a call
seeking comment on the new figures.
Anna Tims
My lifeline has been cut,
but BT will not listen
I am a 32-year-old disabled woman
who is housebound. It is vital to
have lifelines in place to help distract from the isolation, so I was
thrilled when BT Infinity became
available in my area.
On the day the service was due
to be activated my internet connection was, instead, disconnected. An
Openreach engineer arrived five
days later and found that a vital
cable was missing from the street
cabinet. I was told this would be
fixed within three days.
But then more faults were discovered with the cabinet and new dates
had to be fixed for Openreach engineers to attend.
I’ve now been without any
internet for nearly nine weeks.
The BTCare team calls every few
days with “updates”, mainly that
they were waiting to hear from
Openreach or for it to update its
notes. Meanwhile it debited £86.98
which included a £29.99 activation
It is clear BTCare runs off a script
and the customer is not heard.
I still have no idea what exactly is
wrong. The only people who know
the specifics (Openreach) cannot be
contacted by the customer.
I have, meanwhile, incurred
charges of nearly £300 for mobile
phone data since I have no wi fi,
and subscriptions for Apple Music,
Netflix and Readly I cannot use.
And BT is taking £54.75 a month
from my minimal disability income
without providing the service they
are charging me for.
The lifeline I have come to rely
on to keep contact with the outside
world is gone, and my mental and
physical health has plummeted.
I haven’t been able to download
books to my Kindle (I struggle to
hold a book) and I can’t even access
the online prescription service.
ADM, Weymouth, Dorset
It is a sorry irony that telecommunications companies are among
the worst at communication and,
although the impact of a faulty
broadband connection is more
severe on you than on most, your
experience is all too familiar.
Openreach, which is responsible
for installing and maintaining the
country’s telecoms infrastructure,
does not deal with customers. Nor
does news of its activities reliably
reach the service providers who do.
In your case, although BT has
kept in vague touch, it hasn’t listened. Which makes it all the more
depressing that the day after I contacted the press office your service
was miraculously resurrected.
But not for long, mind. It failed
regularly over the next four weeks
until a more switched-on engineer
found a fault within your house.
You are now reconnected with the
outside world. BT says it is carrying
out an investigation to ensure your
experience is not repeated.
It has refunded the charges for the
weeks you were without service and
added £100 in goodwill. It has also
flagged you up as vulnerable so that
any problems will be fast-tracked.
When there’s no such
thing as a free drink
On a trip with Norwegian Cruise
Lines, my friend and I won a bingo
prize of a $1,000 (£710) discount on
any future cruise.
We therefore booked a cruise to
the Norwegian Fjords, paying a balance of $698.70 (£490). The website states that all fares include
free drinks for the duration and a
customer services representative
confirmed this when I made the
When we boarded, a letter in our
cabin also stated that all drinks
were included, so I was horrified
to be charged £1.60 for a pineapple juice. I was then told that, as a
bingo winner, I was not, after all,
entitled to free drinks, and would
have to pay an extra $1,422 (£988) if
we wanted them included. It would
have been cheaper if we’d booked
the holiday without the prize.
We couldn’t afford the outlay so
our week was spoiled, but NCL has
refused to refund or compensate us.
DE, Birmingham
The Observer
The problem turns out to be that
your bingo prize required you to
book through NCL’s US branch
and was subject to US terms and
But only UK bookings are entitled
to the inclusive drinks deal.
However, this distinction was not
explained when you booked, and no
US terms and conditions were sent,
so you naturally relied on NCL’s UK
website which implies the perk is
universally available.
NCL argues that the prize certificate made clear that you were not
entitled to special promotions, but
the website suggests that the drinks
deal is a permanent fixture, not a
“special promotion” so, again, you’d
have had no way of knowing.
The fact that a welcome letter
promised you free drinks shows that
staff were equally confused.
Media attention softens the firm
enough to promise £400 towards
another cruise to persuade you
spend yet more money.
For hard cash, you would have to
try your luck in a court.
If you need help email Anna Tims at or
write to Your Problems, The Observer,
Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1
9GU. Include an address and phone
number. Submission and publication
of all letters is subject to our terms
and conditions: see
The Observer
Five of the best
Events to mark the centenary of voting rights for women
The 100th anniversary
of votes for (some)
women heralds a year
of plays, parades,
talks and a major
suffragette exhibition
1 London
Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike
medal and a banner embroidered
with the names of 80 hunger
strikers at Holloway prison are just
a couple of the objects that will go
on display at the Museum of London
as part of the year-long Votes for
Women exhibition. Special events
include a guided tour on a vintage
bus (5 May, £28pp).
• Entry free,
2 Bristol
Bristol had one of the highest levels
of suffrage activity outside London.
The city will celebrate this history
with a number of events: the most
high profile is a lantern parade on 6
February. And Votes for Women will
be the theme of a day of activities
put on by M Shed, a museum
housed in a former transit shed on
Bristol’s dockside (30 June, entry
3 Manchester
The suffragette movement was born
in Manchester in October 1903. One
of the city’s many highlights is She
Bangs The Drums (pictured) at the
Museum of Science and Industry
(8-11 March, tickets £7-£13), a show
that captures the voices and stories
of the women who helped to shape
UK democracy.
4 Leeds
The story of the equality struggle
and how women’s lives have
changed since 1860 will be explored
at the Abbey House Museum. The
stories and objects of pioneering
women, including Leeds-based
suffragette Leonora Cohen and
Olympic boxing gold medallist Nicola
Adams (pictured), are featured.
5 Oxford
Oxford Playhouse is laying on
a year-long festival of events
celebrating women’s voices and
stories. Headlining is On The March,
a promenade performance in Oxford
Town Hall, which looks at the fight
for women’s rights (20-21 March,
tickets from £10). Other highlights
include a talk from the broadcaster
Jenni Murray on A History of Britain
in 21 Women (5 March, tickets
£17) and An Audience with Shirley
Williams (8 March, tickets £17).
Joanne O’Connor
The Observer
The Observer
FREE Flights
– or –
FREE Drinks or Tours
Fred. Olsen’s European River Cruises
Book today on a Fred. Olsen River Cruise and you can meet stylish Brabant in a host of alluring
European cities with FREE Flights from London* – meaning there’s even more covered in your cruise price.
Alternatively, you may choose to take advantage of our other FREE Cruise Sale benefits.
Scenic Delights
of the Moselle Valley
Romantic Rhine &
Moselle Marvels
Exploring the Scenic
Moselle Valley
Scenic Gems of the
German Landscape
Fly from Heathrow • 7 nights
Sails from Basel to Düsseldorf
14th Jun 2018 (R1811)
12th Jul 2018 (R1815)
Fly from Heathrow • 7 nights
Sails from Basel to Düsseldorf
28th Jun 2018 (R1813)
26th Jul 2018 (R1817)
Fly from Heathrow • 7 nights
Sails from Düsseldorf to Basel
5th Jul 2018 (R1814)
2nd Aug 2018 (R1818)
Fly from Heathrow • 7 nights
Sails from Düsseldorf to Basel
16th Aug 2018 (R1820)
13th Sep 2018 (R1824)
Fly-Cruise from £1,199pp
Fly-Cruise from £1,199pp
Fly-Cruise from £1,299pp
Fly-Cruise from £1,299pp
including FREE Flights*
including FREE Flights*
including FREE Flights*
including FREE Flights*
Choose FREE Flights or opt for a FREE Tour Credit up to the value of £100 per person, or a FREE Dining Drinks Upgrade
with red and white house wines, a choice of beers and branded soft drinks included with your lunch and evening meals.
To book your FREE Flights or other enticing benefits,
search ‘Fred. Olsen’ online, see a travel agent or call 0800 0355 148
These Terms and Conditions are in addition to Fred. Olsen’s standard Terms and Conditions which are available on our website and on request. Both must be read before booking. Information shown is correct at time of going to press
(Jan ‘18). Fares are per person, based on twin occupancy of the lead-in room, subject to availability. Fares are capacity controlled and may change at any time. Call for latest prices. Fares shown include Free Flights and transfers to/
from the ship. If guests opt for either the Free Dining Drinks Upgrade or Free Shore Tours offer, a separate, higher price will apply to account for the flight cost. Cruise descriptions include optional, chargeable experiences that may be
enjoyed independently and/or with optional Fred. Olsen Shore Tours. Shore Tours are available to book prior to departure (subject to availability and service operation). We reserve the right to amend itineraries for operational reasons.
River Cruises: Access to the river vessel may involve using steps over or through other vessels. Consequently, River Cruises are not suitable for guests who rely on wheelchairs or those with limited mobility who are unable to walk up
and down boat steps. Please ask for guidance at the time of booking. *Guests can choose from either the Free Dining Drinks Upgrade, Free Shore Tours or Free London Flights offer, not more than one. Offer is not combinable with
other offers (except Enjoyment Promise if applicable). FREE Flight offer: Free Flight(s) offer is valid for new bookings made between 15/01/18 and 01/03/18, on a fly-cruise basis only, on selected Brabant cruises; free flight(s) are based
on Economy class as arranged by FOCL from/to London Heathrow only, offer also includes transfers to/from Brabant as arranged by FOCL. Free Flight(s) offer excludes regional flights or other London airports, unless stipulated. Offer
is based on Freedom fares, includes APD where applicable, and offer is not combinable with any other offer. Free Dining Drinks Upgrade or Free Shore Tours offer is applicable to new bookings made between 06/12/17 to 01/03/18,
inclusive. Offer applies to selected Brabant sailings only, exclusions apply. Free Dining Drinks Upgrade includes draught European lager and bitter (300ml servings), selected house red and white wines by the glass and selected soft
drinks when served with food at lunch and dinner on board, subject to availability. Spirits and premium drinks are not included in the upgrade and standard prices apply to all drinks ordered outside of lunch and dinner. Dining Drinks
Upgrade is only available on board Brabant. FREE Shore Tours offer value varies by cruise and is per person, up to a maximum of two guests per room. Offer is valid against any tour published in the FOCL
Shore Tour brochure, relevant to the chosen cruise. The offer does not apply to tours booked via the FOCL website or on board; refunds will not be given if booked via these methods. If the tour price exceeds
the value of the tour offer, guests will be charged the difference in price for the tour(s). Refunds will not be issued for any unused amounts. There is no cash alternative. Tours are not transferrable. E&OE.
The Observer
Forecasts and
provided by
AccuWeather, Inc ©2017
Your forecast for the week ahead
UK and Ireland
Noon today
Sunny Mist
Low -3 High 3
Sunny intervals
Mostly cloudy
Sunny showers
Low -3 High 2
Sunny and heavy showers
Cold front
Warm front
Thundery rain
Thundery showers
The odd shower
to eastern and
southern England
on Monday. A
front will bring
wintry showers
to much of the
UK Monday night
into Tuesday.
Wind speed,
The Channel Islands
Jet stream
Occluded front
Around the world
The ridge in the
jet stream in the
eastern Atlantic
will continue to
build for the next
several days.
Direction of
jet stream
Atlantic Ocean
B Aires
Rio de J
H Kong
Mexico C
Tel Aviv
K Lumpur
N Orleans
Cape Town
New Delhi
L Angeles
New York
Speedy crossword No. 1,166
A strong winter storm will bring
a moderate snowfall to southern
Belarus and northern Ukraine with
periods of rain for southern Ukraine.
Wintry showers will be across northwestern Romania and the Dinaric Alps.
A storm system will be in the process
of developing across south-eastern
Spain with rain and mountain snow for
much of eastern Spain. Seasonably
chilly conditions will be across
Germany into eastern France with
widely scattered snow showers.
Snow showers
Heavy snow
Light showers
7 Took responsibility for a misdeed or error
8 Audio listening piece (8)
9 Offensive to one’s sight or other senses (4)
10 Beer mug in the shape of a man in a tricorn
hat (4,3)
12 Boston, MA’s newspaper (5)
14 Playful aquatic animal (5)
16 Feeling uneasy (7)
19 Lover of Aeneas (4)
20 Place where easy money may be made (after
the conquistadors’ folly) (2,6)
22 Distraught (6,7)
1 Special social or sporting occasion (4)
2 Visit, pop in (4,2)
3 Propriety in manners and conduct (7)
4 ----- Pendragon, father of King Arthur (5)
5 Follow-up (6)
6 Bali fell (anag) (8)
11 One not fancied to win (8)
13 Putting up with: long-lasting (7)
15 Strikingly strange or unusual (6)
17 Emphasise (6)
18 Article of faith; doctrine (5)
21 Plant of the celery family; leaf is a herb, seeds
a spice (4)
Stuck? For help call 0906 200 83 83. Calls cost £1.10 a minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge. Service supplied by ATS. Call 0330 333 6946 for customer service (charged at standard rate).
Solution No. 1,165
Журналы и газеты
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