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The Observer - March 11, 2018

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Andrew Rawnsley Populists will eventually be found out.
Moderates must be ready for that day. Page 49
Square ’68
The public’s
Plus Laura
Cumming review
The anti-war demo
that changed
protest for ever
The story behind
The Squaree
This section
In the New Review
view | Sunday 11 March 2018 | £3.00
Top-paid men
outstrip women
by 4 to 1, shock
figures reveal
 Wide gender gap in
average earnings
 Ex-ministers urge
tough action on pay
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
There are almost four times more
men than women in Britain’s highest paid posts, according to “scandalous” figures that show the extent
of the glass ceiling blocking women
from top jobs.
Government data reveals the huge
disparity in the number of men and
Only a social
revolution will
close the gender
pay divide
Observer Comment, 48
women with a six-figure income,
fuelling concerns over the gender pay
gap in the City and other professions.
There were 681,000 men earning £100,000 or more in 2015-16,
according to newly released data. It
compares with only 179,000 women.
According to the latest figures, 17,000
men earned £1m in 2015-16, while
only 2,000 women did so.
The findings provoked immediate concern from two former Tory
cabinet ministers for women, Nicky
Morgan and Justine Greening.
The data, released last week, also
revealed a large gender gap in average earnings. Male taxpayers had a
median annual income of £25,700;
their female counterparts earned
£20,300. The figures do not account
for the fact that more women are
in part-time and low-paid work, as
those who do not earn enough to pay
income tax are not included.
The data comes as the country’s
biggest companies are forced to publish their payrolls by gender before
April. Organisations with 250 or more
workers must publish their figures,
with many high-salary City firms
Continued on page 5
On the march
Gemma Arterton was one of the star names among thousands of women who took part in the annual Million Women Rise
march in London yesterday to protest against male violence towards women. Photograph by Stephen Chung/Alamy
Russians link Skripal poisoning to exile deaths
Jamie Doward
& Marc Bennetts Moscow
Russia stepped up its war of words
with Britain yesterday as its embassy
in London linked the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal to
the deaths of three exiled enemies of
the Kremlin.
The provocative move came as the
home secretary, Amber Rudd, chaired
a meeting of the emergency Cobra
committee into how the investigation into the attack on Skripal and
his daughter, Yulia, was progressing.
The committee heard that 250
counter-terrorism police have identified more than 240 witnesses and
are looking at more than 200 pieces
of evidence.
Earlier in the day, in a typically
sarcastic observation, the Russian
embassy tweeted: “What a coinci-
dence! Both Litvinenko and Skripal
worked for MI6. Berezovsky and
Perepilichny were linked to UK special
services. Investigation details classified on grounds of national security.”
Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer with Russia’s FSB security service who was poisoned with
polonium in 2006. An official report
suggested the assassination was
Continued on page 7
The Observer
In today’s Observer
Sunday 11 March 2018
In this section
In the Magazine
The best comment
T-shirt treasures
Eva Wiseman
and Nikesh
Nick Cohen
The rock’n’roll nostalgia
market booms
page 11
Don’t look to Len McCluskey
to defend workers’ interests
pages 5-6
The new rules of
motherhood Special
page 56 
My battle with
binge eating
report by Donna Ferguson
page 19
Who poisoned
Sergei Skripal?
Explaining the daring
attempt on the
former spy’s life
page 39
page 10
Mary Warnock
We must use gene editing wisely
but also embrace its vast potential
page 9
page 47 
Kenan Malik
In the New Review
Tacita Dean
page 24
The artist talks to
Tim Adams about her
three major shows
page 9
Aping populist attacks on
migrants isn’t a winning strategy
page 15 
Catherine Bennett
On Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate
watching mums failing badly
Michael Caine
page 51 
On the 60s and
page 7
In Sport
Mark Kermode
reviews You Were
Never Really Here,
Laura Cumming
on Picasso at
Tate Modern, and
Susannah Clapp
on Macbeth att the
National Theatre
pages 28-43
Decision day forr
the Six Nations
Stockdale and Ireland
overwhelm Scots
pages 2-6
page 42
Magic Marcus
Rashford double
sinks Liverpool
pages 8-9
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
Bercow ‘should step back’
as bullying probe goes on
Toby Helm
Political Editor
The Commons speaker, John Bercow,
should consider stepping back from
the role while allegations that he
bullied a former female staff member are investigated, senior MPs said
last night.
Claims that the Buckinghamshire
MP, who has been speaker since 2009,
shouted at and undermined his former private secretary Kate Emms,
eventually leading to her being signed
off sick, were aired last week in a BBC
Newsnight investigation. Tory Mark
Pritchard and Labour’s Paul Farrelly
were also accused of bullying. All
three MPs deny the allegations.
Jess Phillips, who chairs the women’s parliamentary Labour party, and
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green
party, said that at a time when parliament was desperate to improve its
image and procedures, following the
sexual harassment scandal there, the
best way forward might be for Bercow
to withdraw from some of his duties
until the claims had been thoroughly
looked into.
Phillips insisted Bercow had
done much to help modernise the
Commons and improve conditions
for women in parliament, saying he
had been “very good for women”. But
“clearly there has to be some kind
of independent investigation. And it
may be that he should consider stepping back until that has taken place.”
The latest controversy to hit
Bercow will reach the Commons
tomorrow when Lucas will seek to
table an “urgent question” calling for
an investigation and for the independent complaints procedure that
was announced last month by Andrea
Leadsom, the leader of the Commons,
to be extended. At present it only covers MPs’ staff but she will call for it to
cover others employed in parliament.
Lucas’s call places Bercow in a difficult position as it is normally the
speaker who makes the decision
whether permission to ask such question is granted, after consultation and
advice from Commons clerks.
“I think at the very least he should
withdraw from that decision and
that the three deputy speakers
might judge on that,” she said. While
many Conservatives dislike Bercow
and want to find a way to oust him
because they object to his manner and
think he is biased towards Labour,
others fear the constitutional damage
that will result if successive speakers
are removed.
John Bercow is said
to have shouted at
his former secretary
Kate Emms.
Senior Labour MP Angela Eagle
said that while she had been no fan of
Michael Martin, Bercow’s predecessor who was forced to resign in 2009
over his handling of the expenses
scandal, she had not been in favour
of his removal in what was effectively
a coup. Neither would she approve
if there was a politically driven
campaign to get ride of Bercow.
A senior Tory party MP said that
if a vote of confidence in Bercow
were held, the “vast majority” of
Conservatives would vote for him
to go.
“That would require Labour MPs
and particularly women Labour MPs
to demand one,” the senior Tory said.
“Then if that happened I think he
would be gone because there is not
much love for him on our side of the
House, to say the least.”
Tracy Beaker is back … as a single
mum fighting to make ends meet
The Observer
Wilson, a littleknown author
when she created
Tracy Beaker.
Jacqueline Wilson shot
to fame 27 years ago
with the story of a girl
in a care home. She tells
Donna Ferguson about
her new book on the
heroine, now grown up
It has been 27 years since Jacqueline
Wilson, then a little-known children’s author, got together with Nick
Sharratt, a young illustrator, and conceived one of the most outrageous
characters in children’s literature:
Tracy Beaker, the feistiest, funniest
10-year-old ever raised in the dumping ground of a care home.
Now Tracy is back, in a new illustrated book set on a rough housing
estate in modern-day London – and
this time Tracy is a mother with a
challenging nine-year-old daughter
of her own.
In her first interview about the
forthcoming book, My Mum Tracy
Beaker, Wilson told the Observer she
came up with the idea after seeing mothers clutching copies of The
Story of Tracy Beaker they had read
as 10-year-olds, and now encouraging their own daughters to read it.
“It’s stimulating to think about how
people develop as they get older,”
she said. “Tracy has been a character that’s haunted me. She’s the sort
of person who sticks in your mind.
“When I realised just how long ago
it was since I wrote the first Tracy
Beaker book, I thought: if we were in
real time, Tracy herself would be in
her 30s. And I’ve always thought that,
even though Tracy had lots of problems in her life and a pretty rubbish
mum who was never there for her,
Tracy herself would be a good mum,
no matter what.”
The book is narrated from the perspective of Tracy’s daughter, Jess,
and is aimed at both 7-11-year-olds
and, in a new move for Wilson, adults
and teenagers who enjoyed the Tracy
Beaker series as children. “A knowing
teenager or an adult will read something and understand it, while it will
go straight over Jess’s head.”
Tracy, who in the 1991 bestseller chronicled her childhood in a
care home nicknamed “the dump-
Minister fails
to win over
as fears rise on
school funding
Dani Harmer, above,
as Tracy in the 2004
BBC series, and, right,
Nick Sharratt’s book
ing ground”, is now trying her best
to raise a child on a low income in
an expensive city and a materialistic world. As a single mother who
is in and out of work, she struggles
to make ends meet and lives in a
housing association flat, similar to
the one Wilson herself grew up in
Kingston upon Thames, south-west
London. “It’s a setting I feel really
comfortable in.”
‘Tracy has been a
character that’s
haunted me. She’s the
sort of person who
sticks in your mind’
Jacqueline Wilson
Richard Adams
Education Editor
Damian Hinds, education secretary,
faced grumbles of discontent from
headteachers over school funding
yesterday as he sought to win over
the profession by promising to reduce
their workload and not to introduce
new exams or wide-scale reforms.
In his first major speech since
taking over as secretary of state in
January, Hinds acknowledged to the
Wilson has never forgotten the
stigma that was
wa attached to children
in care in the 1990s, and says
there were a lot of problems with
the books initially because they
dealt wit
with this subject matter.
It was difficult to sell merchandise and the rights to
books because Beaker
the bo
was not
no seen as aspirational,
she say
says. “It was very much
felt tha
that she wasn’t pretty,
she wasn’t
wasn good. But that was
The new book is due to be
published in October, and Wilson,
72, is still in th
the middle of writing it
– or possibly near the end. “I don’t
really know how much I’ve got left. I
think I’m getting
gettin to the end but sometimes things take me by surprise.
“It’s certainly a chunky,
meaty book.”
It will be her 108th.
“Nick is waiting to illus“N
trate it, and the editors
at Puffin are saying:
let’s poke the old girl
a bit.” She laughs. “It
will get done in time. It’s
been great fun.”
Sharratt has naturally
been begging
her to tell him
what will happen
to Tracy. “I said
no, not yet, because I don’t know
for certain myself. And he said:
but I do hope you’re giving
Tracy a happy
Is it? She
S wriggles. “I don’t
want an ‘absolutely
everything is
quite wonderfu
wonderful’ ending – after all,
at the start of the
th first book Tracy herself says life isn’t
isn a fairy story where
ever after. I’m
everyone lives happily
dealing with adults
leading adult
lives, and I want
wan to be truthful to all
She pauses dramatically.
“But she
is my lucky character
… and I have a
soft spot for her
he too.” The next thing
she says is:
i “She’s going to get
herr happy
hap ending.”
She wanted the sequel to be realealistic: “How many young women
without much education earn
enough, with a daughter, to be able
to buy their own home in London
today? Being Tracy, she wants to
be independent, but with a child,
how can she be? So she’s having
g to
scratch around.”
Like the original Tracy Beaker book,
which spawned a hugely successful
TV series, it is a story that simultaultaneously highlights the damage that
was done to Tracy as a child and herr
resilience and ability to overcome herr
The fact that Jess has never suffered
the rejection and heartbreak that
Tracy came across as a child is a key
theme of the book. “With Tracy, you
get all this mouthiness, all this cheek,
all this rushing around seemingly
y not
being scared – but inside, even ass an
adult, there are a lot of insecurities.
Jess herself is much quieter, more
timid and worried about what other
people think of her. But, inside, she’s
more confident, and I think moree off
an adult than Tracy is.”
Association of School and College
Leaders (ASCL) annual conference
that “funding is tight” for schools in
England, but his efforts to blame staff
turnover were met with incredulity.
“I understand why, for everyone in
this room, the funding of our schools
and colleges is such an important
topic,” Hinds said, in response to a
question from Geoff Barton, ASCL’s
general secretary.
He continued: “But one of those
cost pressures, of course, comes from
staff turnover, where you’re having to
replace members of staff who have left,
that incurs recruitment costs as well as
the general upheaval that comes with
that for the school or college.”
Hinds’s answer was greeted by
murmurs of disbelief and calls from
the school leaders in the hall for
Hinds to answer the question , leading
Barton – a former headteacher – to
issue a stern rebuke to his members.
“We know there is no magic
wand to find funding, we know the
Department for Education is in a
bind,” Barton said, urging his col-
leagues not to make the focus become
“headteachers shouting things out”.
ASCL was among the teaching
unions that issued a blunt analysis
last week blaming funding pressures
for a rise in secondary class sizes,
which government officials said was
“fundamentally misleading”.
Hinds had earlier earned applause
when he said there would be no new
tests imposed on primary schools and
no further overhauls of the national
curriculum, GCSE or A-levels for the
remainder of the current parliament.
The Observer
Bono’s anti-poverty campaign faces
claims of bullying and harassment
Former employees
at rock musician’s
One campaign allege
they were ‘treated
worse than dogs’ in its
Johannesburg office
Rebecca Ratcliffe
The anti-poverty campaign cofounded by Bono is being threatened
with legal action by former employees
who say they were bullied by a senior official for almost four years and
that their complaints were not dealt
with properly.
The One Campaign, created in
2004 to fight extreme poverty and
preventable diseases, launched an
investigation after a group of former
employees from its Johannesburg
office tweeted allegations of management misconduct, claiming that
some staff in Africa were “treated
worse than dogs”.
The group told an internal inquiry
into events between 2011 and 2015
that they were repeatedly ridiculed
and belittled, and that a supervisor
ordered them to do domestic work
at her home at weekends. Another
alleged that she was demoted for
refusing to become intimate with a
foreign government official, after her
manager made “sexist and suggestive
comments” about her to him.
The allegations were revealed in a
letter to members from Gayle Smith,
who became One’s chief executive in
March 2017. She said One had filed a
serious incident report to the Charity
Commission earlier this month.
The inquiry found that a former
official subjected junior employees
to “verbal or email statements such
as calling individuals ‘worthless’, ‘stupid’ and an ‘idiot’, at times doing so in
front of third parties,” One said.
Smith said the campaign had not
been able to corroborate the “appalling claims” that the female employee
had been demoted for not becoming
intimate with the foreign official, but
added: “We do not discount any allegation – we investigate them and will
continue to do so should others arise.”
Executive management had
“repeatedly tried to address concerns
raised by employees, and repeatedly
acknowledged their failure in doing
so”, One’s investigation concluded.
“The overall evidence from our
investigation was sufficient for me to
conclude that we needed to own an
institutional failure,” Smith said.
Two of the women believed to be
the subject of the complaints have
strongly denied the allegations, and
criticised One’s inquiry as one-sided,
claiming they were themselves bullied
and discriminated against.
Dr Sipho Moyo, who set up and ran
One’s Johannesburg office for five
years, said it had refused to describe
what allegations had been made
against her or show her a copy of the
final report.
Four times more men than
women in Britain’s top jobs
Continued from page 1
among the worst performers. The gap
in pay at Virgin Money is 32.5%, while
asset management firm Octopus
Capital has a 38.1% difference.
Several major firms had attempted
to mask the full extent of their pay
gaps by omitting company partners.
Government guidelines state their
salaries do not have to be included
as they are paid a share of the profits
rather than being directly paid by the
companies. However, under pressure
from campaigners, some have now
included partners, most of whom
are male. The updated figures reveal
that women earn 43% less than men
at accountancy firm Deloitte. Fellow
accountant Ernst & Young, which
originally reported a gap of 20%, published a revised gap of 38% once partners were included.
Following the release of the figures,
Greening said: “These stark figures
show how far our country still has to
go on closing our gender pay gap. It
represents not only a loss of career
earnings for women, it also represents a loss of talent for employers.
Last year, Moyo became aware that
the campaign was holding an inquiry
and says she wrote to Bono asking for
any investigation to be inclusive and
Another senior former employee,
who is also believed to have been
accused of bullying, said she was
aware the organisation was investigating allegations in November but
was told by One that nothing had
been tabled in her name.
Both Moyo and the accused former
employee said they themselves had
experienced discrimination or bullying behaviour while working at One,
including being sidelined in their
careers and being verbally abused.
In an email to the campaign’s former chief executive Michael Elliott,
who died in 2016, Moyo said her
health was deteriorating as a result
of the working environment. She told
Elliott that she had experienced “utter
fear and extreme heart palpitations”
during meetings with him, adding:
Bono with a young patient
at a health centre in Rwanda
in 2006. Photograph by
Jose Cendon/Getty
“What counts now is companies
taking action to close this gap. That
means making flexible working laws
actually work on the ground, enabling women to get on with their
careers after as well as before starting a family, and it means more girls
aiming for the high-paying careers in
areas like engineering that have been
Morgan, now the Treasury select
committee chair, said the higher proportion of men than women in senior
roles was “a key driver of the gender
pay gap”. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant; sanctions may be necessary
to ensure openness and transparency. Money talks, and perhaps more
of the stick may eventually be needed
to close the gender pay gap,” she said.
Sophie Walker, leader of the
Women’s Equality party, said: “These
figures show gender inequality runs
through every level of the economy. It
is scandalous that women still make
up barely a fifth of top earners, and
this discrepancy is not confined to
those in well-paid jobs.
“Gender inequality is a feature, not
a coincidence or side-effect, of our
economic, political and social system. The foundation of that model is
the unpaid childcare and social care
work that is predominately done by
women – and which is not recognised
in official economic data or factored
in to political calculations. That has
obvious knock-on effects on women’s
earnings and their chances of climbing to the top of the career ladder.”
The dominance of men in highpaid posts has also seen them reap
‘The evidence was
sufficient for me
to conclude that
we needed to own
an institutional
Gayle Smith, One
“It is the first time in my life that I
have lived and worked in utter fear
of a boss.”
The campaign said its recent
inquiry had been designed to investigate claims made on social media
and involved an extensive review of
its records, adding: “If any current or
former employees come to us with
new allegations, we’ll investigate
them in earnest as well.”
Moyo said that her team was
given unrealistic workloads and was
severely under-resourced. Between
2011-15, the Africa office received no
more than 5% of the campaign’s overall budget, she said, adding that the
opinions of managers in Washington
or Europe were given more credence
than those of African staff.
The campaign group also faces
questions over the status of its
Johannesburg office, which was not
registered with the South African
authorities until 2015, five years
after it began operating. In a statement, One confirmed that during this
period it was “acting as a non-resident taxpayer as it explored making
Johannesburg its Africa hub”.
Its employees at the time were
independent contractors, it said. “We
can’t speak [about] decisions made
by senior management then, but One
today has systems in place to ensure
all employees in its Johannesburg
office have the proper visas and permits to live and work in South Africa.
The same is true for all of One’s
offices throughout North America,
Europe, and Africa.”
It added: “Under the leadership
of our new chief executive, our staff
working in Africa are at the heart of
our mission, and driving the organisation’s new vision and direction.”
One said it has introduced a number of reforms to provide greater protection to staff: “Over the last year, the
organisation’s new leadership has
worked hard to nurture a culture of
respect and professionalism, and to
ensure the organisation lives up to
its values. One’s people are our most
important asset.”
most of the benefits of recent tax cuts,
according to research by the Women’s
Budget Group, which monitors the
impact of government policies. It has
warned that the government’s pledge
to raise the personal tax allowance to
£12,500 will disproportionately benefit men, as 66% of those who do not
earn enough to benefit are women.
Meanwhile, men form 73% of those
who would gain from raising the
higher rate tax band to £50,000.
Brenda Trenowden, chair of the
30% Club, which campaigns for more
women on company boards, said
there was no “quick fix”. “There are
a number of factors – including better management of women, appropriate senior role models, and breaking
down the gender bias – which need to
be implemented,” she said.
The Observer
Hereford cathedral is garlanded
in red as workers arrange ceramic
poppies for the ‘weeping window’
first world war commemorative
art installation. It will be in place
from Wednesday until 29 April.
Photograph by Steven May/Alamy
‘Astonished’ MPs
told £817m unspent
in housing budget
Ministers face demand for
urgent answers over cash
return to the Treasury
Toby Helm
& Phillip Inman
MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being
told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and
other projects in cash-strapped local
authorities has been returned to the
Treasury unspent.
The surrender of the unused cash
has astonished members of the crossparty housing, communities and
local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has
insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities
are becoming mired in ever deeper
financial crises.
Tomorrow the committee, which
discovered the underspend for 201718, will interrogate housing minister
Dominic Raab and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler on the issue,
before Tuesday’s spring statement
by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
He is under heavy pressure from
MPs, and the Tory-controlled Local
Government Association, to signal
extra help for the local authority sector, which has seen budget cuts of
around 50% since 2010.
The acting chair of the committee, the Tory MP Bob Blackman, said:
“We will be wanting to know why this
very large sum has not been spent at
a time of great strain on local authority budgets, and why it was not channelled to other spending projects. It
does not help those of us who argue
that more should be given to local
authorities if the chancellor knows
money he gave last time has not even
been spent.” MPs believe they can
argue for more for local authorities
because Hammond will announce
that unexpectedly high tax receipts
have left the Treasury with a windfall
of between £7bn and £10bn.
Speaking last night, the chancellor
said the government had gone a long
way to put the public finances back
in order and was now able to pump
more into services, including housing: “We’re making good progress
on building the homes this country
needs with, last year, a 20-year record
high for housebuilding. This is how
we build an economy that works for
But Helen Hayes MP, a Labour
member of the select committee, said
it was “astonishing” that money was
lying unspent when the number of
social homes built by local authorities
from government grants had dropped
dramatically since 2010. “This is the
biggest issue for families up and
down the country, including in my
Dulwich and West Norwood constitu-
ency,” she said. “It is simply astonishing and unacceptable that there is so
little urgency being shown.”
For the last 30 years, councils have
cut back council housebuilding in
the face of severe budget cuts. Local
authorities have also been discouraged from building by the government’s “right to buy” scheme, which
allows tenants to buy council properties at a 40% discount.
Hundreds of councils have set up
their own property development
companies to build homes and get
around the rules. But progress has
been slow, in part because of the
threat from ministers that they might
extend the right to buy to the new
council-owned companies.
Shadow housing minister John
Healey said housing and local government secretary Sajid Javid’s department had also failed to spend £220m
of funding allocated to affordable
housing last year. “Sajid Javid needs
to explain why he is selling families
short by surrendering much-needed
cash for new homes,” he said.
A housing ministry spokesman
said: “We are investing £9bn in
affordable homes, including £2bn to
Philip Hammond
is under pressure
to allocate more
funding for local
government in
his statement
this week.
help councils and housing associations build social rent homes where
they are most needed.
“All of the affordable housing
underspend from 2016-17, including
£65m returned by the Greater London
Authority, has been made available to
spend on similar schemes.”
Last week, the National Audit
Office estimated that 10% of unitary
authorities and county councils have
less than three years’ reserves left if
they continue to deploy them at current rates, leaving them vulnerable to
potential insolvency.
The Tory chair of the health and
social care select committee, Sarah
Wollaston, said action was needed
urgently: “NHS public health and
social care need a boost now, but also
a long-term plan to provide the funding they need and a clear plan to set
out how the money will be raised.”
Labour will counter Hammond’s
claim that the public finances are on
the mend by calling for an emergency
budget to address the funding crisis
hitting Tory- as well as Labour- and
Lib Dem-run councils.
Chancellor has surplus to sweeten
bitter taste after years of austerity
Business leader, page 65
‘It’s just so erotic’:
crowds flock to
Picasso at Tate
Exhibition set to be one
of the gallery’s biggest
looks at a key year in
the great artist’s life
Vanessa Thorpe
Art & Media Correspondent
In 1932, Pablo Picasso spent the early
days of March producing some of his
most fevered images of lust and love.
He was playing with shape and colour too, but at the centre of it all was
the face – and the twining, pale body
– of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his new,
22-year-old lover.
Yesterday, Tate Modern opened
its doors for the first weekend of
what promises to be one of its biggest shows ever, as well as its first
solo exhibition devoted to the great
Spanish artist – but it was Walter who
was the centre of interest. The show
– Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy
The year of magical painting:
Laura Cumming on the exhibition
The New Review, pages 28-29
– concentrates on this especially productive time in his life, in which he
made her image repeatedly.
“He was an obsessed man, to produce so many pictures over one
period,” said Jeff Irvine, 57, from
Belfast, who was visiting the gallery
while staying with friends. “I studied
his paintings at school, but it is great
to see some of the less well-known
images, showing what he was trying
to get at. This has filled in some gaps.”
Tate Modern’s show crowns a
spring of renewed worldwide focus
on this period of Picasso’s work. His
portrait of Walter, The Golden Muse,
from 1937, sold for just under £50m
at Sotheby’s, while an earlier portrait
of Walter, Le Repos, showing her resting her head in sleep, is due to be auctioned in New York in May, with an
estimate of $25m-$35m.
Yesterday, particular attention
was paid by many to a painting
never shown in Britain before: the
renowned study of Walter called The
Dream, or Le Rêve, which also serves
as the poster image for the show.
Picasso, then 45 and married to Olga,
a former dancer from the Ballets
Russes, had met Walter by chance in
a Paris department store and asked
her to sit for him. The legacy of that
random encounter lives on.
Caroline, visiting the Tate from her
home in Amsterdam, stood in front of
the portrait for at least five minutes.
“It is great. It says a lot,” she said.
While Walter’s name is not so
familiar outside the art world, her
face is probably better known, in
all its aspects and angles, than that
of Picasso himself. Her strong nose
Russia hits back over Skripal
Continued from page 1
carried out by two Russian agents
with a “strong possibility” that they
were acting on behalf of the FSB.
Boris Berezovsky was the exiled
Russian oligarch and chief critic of
Putin who was found hanged in 2013.
A coroner recorded an open verdict.
“All those who knew him believe
it is difficult to think he would have
committed suicide,” said Dr Yuri
Felshtinsky, who co-authored a book
with Litvinenko, Blowing Up Russia.
Alexander Perepilichny collapsed
after jogging near his home in Surrey
in 2012. He had been helping a Swiss
investigation into a Russian moneylaundering scheme linked to the
Kremlin, and there is speculation that
he might have been murdered.
Berezovsky and Litvinenko are
alleged to have introduced scores of
Russian agents to the former MI6 agent
who turned Skripal and is understood
to meet regularly with him still.
The explicit linking of the Salisbury
attack to three critics of the Kremlin,
all of whom are dead, represents a
further low point in relations between
London and Moscow.
It came after Moscow officials
described the suggestions that the
Skripals could have been targeted
by Kremlin hitmen were part of an
attempt to demonise Russia. “This is
pure propaganda, and the pure whipping-up of hysterical outbursts and
hysteria,” said Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister.
However, Sir Andrew Wood, British
ambassador to Russia from 1995 to
2000, said that he had no doubt that
the attack, using a nerve agent available only to a few countries, was sanctioned from within Russia, although
probably not directly by Putin.
“It’s a terrible thing to have done,”
Wood told the Observer. “It’s typical of
the state that Russia is in and it’s very
hard to see what profit they can get
from this. It advertises the fact that
they are vindictive and dedicated to
pursuing revenge.”
The Observer
‘I find the show
quite moving.
In some of the
portraits you get a
real sense of how
happy she was’
Sarah Denne, visitor
has been accentuated in a hundred
abstract studies and sculptured
heads, many of them included in this
show. Similarly, the straight blond
hair she was sadly to lose in an illness, soon after it had first delighted
Picasso, plays a big part in many of
the portraits.
The Dream is famous not just for its
sensual charge. In 2006 a US art collector, the hedgefund manager Steven
Cohen, agreed to pay $139m for the
The Dream (1932) is one of
many portraits Picasso made of
Marie-Thérèse Walter. Rex
work just before the previous owner
put his elbow through the canvas.
Restoration work didn’t damage its
value. Cohen finally bought the work
five years ago for $155m.
Sarah Denne, 70, from Tavistock,
Devon, flew in from Australia yester-
day after a holiday, and made straight
for Tate Modern with her partner,
Patrick. “We are tired, but we wanted
to see it,” she said. “I find the show
quite moving. The Dream itself is terribly erotic, but in some of the other
portraits you get a real sense of how
happy she was then.”
The show, as critics have noted,
includes some works of lower calibre in the service of the story it wants
to tell. But this weekend one visitor
after another expressed pleasure in
seeing a love affair at the core of this
period of Picasso’s work laid out in
such detail. The sex also provides a
predictable draw. Some of the images
were to prove too explicit, or at least
potent, to be exhibited at the time
Picasso created them.
The Observer
Spring is in the air and the
daffodils were blooming in
St James’s Park, London,
Photograph by
Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Weather forecast, page 71
Millions of families
on brink face deepest
benefit cuts in years
New study confirms
poorest hit hardest by
continuing austerity
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Families struggling to make ends
meet will be hit by the biggest annual
benefits cut for six years, according
to a new analysis that exposes the
impact of continuing austerity measures on the low paid.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is
preparing to give a stripped-down
spring statement on Tuesday, where
he is expected to boast of lower than
expected borrowing figures. He will
use them to suggest Britain has
reached a “turning point”.
He will point to forecasts showing
the “first sustained fall in debt for a
generation” to claim “there is light
at the end of the tunnel” in turning
around Britain’s finances.
However, he will be speaking just
weeks before a further public spending squeeze will see the second largest annual cut to the benefits budget
since the financial crash. According
to new research by the Resolution
Foundation thinktank, the changes
from April will save around £2.5bn
and dent the incomes of the “just
about managing” families that
Theresa May has vowed to help.
The cuts will affect around 11 million families, including 5 million of
the struggling families that the prime
minister stated she would focus on.
There will also be some good news
for the low paid, with more than 1.5
million workers set to benefit from
a 4.4% pay rise when the national
living wage increases from £7.50 to
£7.83 at the start of April. However,
that measure will be outweighed by
the effective £2.5bn cuts to workingage benefits.
While there were bigger cuts in
2012 when child benefit was removed
from higher earners, this year’s
squeeze will fall on low- and middleincome families. The new analysis
suggests these families are set for an
average loss of £190 this year alone,
though some will be far worse off.
There are four key benefit cuts this
year. Working-age benefits will be
frozen for a third year, saving £1.9bn
and affecting almost 11 million families. The 3% real-terms cut in working-age benefits this year will be by
far the biggest of the freeze, set to last
four years.
A measure limiting benefit claims
to a family’s first two children, costing up to £2,780 for a family having a
third child, saves £400m this year and
affects 150,000 families.
The withdrawal of the family element of support for new tax credit
and universal credit claims from
families with children will cost families up to £545. It saves the public
purse £200m this year and will affect
400,000 families.
Finally, the rollout of the controversial universal credit system, which
combines several benefits into one
payment, saves £200m because some
claimants have lower entitlements
compared with the existing system,
especially the long-term sick and
working families.
It comes just days after Paul
Johnson, head of the respected
Institute of Fiscal Studies, warned
that Britain was “nowhere near out
of austerity”.
New research by the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation shows that
the decision to press ahead and freeze
most working-age benefits and tax
credits this year would see a couple
with two children left £380 worse off
compared with a scenario in which
their universal credit claim had
increased in line with prices.
Labour is planning to embarrass
the government and Tory MPs on
Tuesday by forcing them to have a
vote on controversial changes that are
set to leave some poor families without free school meals for their children or free childcare.
David Finch, chief analyst at the
Resolution Foundation, said that
upgrades to Britain’s short-term economic outlook “won’t change the fact
that families across Britain still face
a huge living standards crunch in
the coming years, some of which is
a direct result of government policy”.
“The chancellor is keen to stick to
his brief of a short speech with no
new policies,” he said. “But given the
financial challenges facing families
across Britain, a quick change of his
predecessor’s policies on benefit cuts
would go a long way towards showing that he is on the side of hardpressed working families.”
A government spokesman said:
“We are spending more than £90bn
a year on working-age welfare, and
this will continue to rise.”
Under threat
11 million
The total number of families expected
to be affected by the latest round of
benefit cuts
5 million
The number of struggling families
who will be affected by the cuts – the
group Theresa May vowed to help
The number of families who will be
affected by the withdrawal of the
family element of support for new tax
and universal credit claims
The Observer
Mary Robinson,
writer and
actress, whose
1791 poem The
Maniac was
written under
the influence of
laudanum. Getty
Social reformer
and author
(pictured right).
One of the
first women
journalists, she
became deaf and
with laudanum.
Sara Coleridge,
English author
and translator.
The third
child and only
daughter of
Samuel Taylor
Coleridge and
Sara Fricker.
Wrote Poppies
in praise of
power to aid
a stressed
Letitia Elizabeth
Landon, 18021838. Poet and
How 18th century literary
women relieved domestic
distress – with opiates
It wasn’t just men such
as Coleridge and De
Quincey who took
drugs, study reveals
Vanesss Thorpe
Arts & Media Correspondent
The fantastical poetry of Samuel
Taylor Coleridge and the scandalous journal of “opium eater” Thomas
De Quincey notoriously celebrate the
influence of opium. Now, beyond
Coleridge’s “caverns measureless to
man” and De Quincey’s nightmarish
visions, a new academic study is to
reveal that many of the female stars
of the British literary scene of the late
18th and early 19th centuries were
equally dependent on the drug.
“While men like De Quincey and
Coleridge were among the first to
write openly about opium’s creative
effects and so are seen as the originators of the tradition of British drug
literature, contemporary women
writers tended instead to view it as
a comfort, a way of coping with the
demands of artistic life,” said Dr
Joseph Crawford, a senior lecturer at
Exeter University, whose paper is due
to be published as part of research
titled Psychopharmacology and
British Literature.
“While male indulgence was seen as
both antisocial and creative, women
did not write about it this way,” said
Crawford. “The concept of ‘addiction’
was still in its infancy, but there were
m poppies,
urce of
the source
num, once
ryday use
in everyday
as a painkiller.
clear views about the social acceptability of kinds of usage. It was judged
not on the basis of whether someone
was dependent upon the drug, but
in terms of whether they took it as a
stimulant or a relaxant, and whether
their reasons for doing so were moral
or immoral, selfish or selfless.”
Mary Robinson, a writer and former
actress, was far ahead of Coleridge
with her claim to have been poetically inspired by taking laudanum,
the medicinal opiate widely sold at
grocers and pubs. In 1791, six years
before the great Romantic poet woke
from his reverie to write his mysterious masterpiece, Kubla Khan,
Robinson’s poem, The Maniac, came
to her after a night of delirious visions
in Bath.
“Robinson took ‘near eighty drops
of laudanum’ for pains in her leg and
that night she had dreams about a
homeless madman she had seen in
the streets of Bath that day. In the
morning she dictated the poem to
her daughter and then later claimed
to have no m
memory of the incident,”
said Crawford.
The use of laudanum as a painkiller was com
common and it was relied
on as we now rely on aspirin or paracetamol. Wh
When Coleridge described
writing Kubla Khan, before
the notorious interrupth
tion from “the person
from Porlock”, he said
he been prescribed an
“anodyne”. The drug was
seen as less risky than
drinking spirits because,
until it was synthesised into
a powerful
powerfu narcotic later in the
19th centur
century, its effects were milder
than alcoho
Coleridge’s writer daughter,
Sara, also took
laudanum, as did
the social activist
and author Harriet
Martineau an
and the poet and novelist
Highly regarded
in her lifetime,
her reputation
revived when
reapprasied by
Germaine Greer
in the 1970s.
Wrote The Poppy
in 1838.
Anna Seward,
Poet known
as the Swan of
(inset left).
Her works
Sonnet XIII
(1773) and To
the Poppy (1810)
reveal her use of
Mary Robinson,
Known as the
English Sappho,
or Perdita, after
her most
famous stage
role. She treated
her rheumatic
fever with
Letitia Landon. Other notable women
writers of the era with a habit were
Henrietta O’Neill and Anna Seward.
Sara Coleridge’s poem Poppies
imagines an addicted mother seeing her son looking at the apparently
innocent flower: “He loves their colours fresh and fine, /As fair as fair
may be; / But little does my darling
know / How good they are to me.”
She was less forgiving of De
Quincey’s dependency. In a letter she sympathised with Dorothy
Wordsworth’s fear that her friend De
Quincey would take up with “the horrid drug again”, acknowledging her
own hypocrisy later by adding “horrid
I call it when thinking of him & some
others, in me that is rather ungrateful, as it has done me much good &
no harm”.
Crawford believes these contradictory views expose ambivalent attitudes at the time. While the drug was
relied upon by women as an accessible way to cope with “female complaints”, such as menstrual pain,
depression and even the quieting of sick children, it was also seen
as indulgent if overused by maverick men. Robinson, Seward and
Sara Coleridge all depicted it mainly
as a form of household medicine,
Crawford argues, rather than as an
intoxicant and valued it for its ability
to provide the rest that would let them
deal with domestic or creative tasks.
“For all of these women, opium
formed part of ordinary domestic
life, used to manage pain, illness and
distress, and valued for its power to
sedate and tranquillise rather than
for its stimulant properties or its
ability to induce dreams and visions,”
Crawford sums up, quoting the opening lines of Seward’s 1773 sonnet –
“Thou child of Night and Silence,
balmy Sleep / Shed thy soft poppies
on my aching brow!”
The Observer
Dogs trained
to sniff out
looted from
Syria and Iraq
conflict zones
Dalya Alberge
Working dogs are being trained to
sniff out ancient treasures smuggled
from countries such as Syria and Iraq.
The pioneering US research programme – “K-9 Artifact Finders” – has
been set up in response to alarm over
cultural heritage trafficking.
Dogs already play a crucial role in
helping detect narcotics and explosive
devices. The new programme, involving the University of Pennsylvania’s
Penn Vet Working Dog Centre, is
hoping to use them to root out cultural artefacts in shipping containers,
cargo crates, the post and luggage.
Michael Danti, an archaeologist who
has worked in Iran, Iraq and Syria,
said that dogs can already detect soil
and agricultural products, and he
believes that their target scents could
be further refined.
The UN security council has confirmed that terrorists generate income
from smuggling cultural property. A
“huge percentage” of the fifth-century Dura-Europos site in Syria has
been excavated illegally, Danti said.
“It would take centuries for archaeologists to do that much excavation scientifically. That’s just one site. We see
this all over the conflict zone.”
NHS slashes funds
for top homeless
mental health team
Dogs are already being used to detect
the presence of electronic devices.
Cortana remembers,
so you don’t have to.
W H I L E S T O C K S L A S T.
Fears for rough sleepers
as north London unit
faces 42% budget cut
Denis Campbell
Health Policy Editor
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Red Arch, a non-profit group whose
research includes investigating antiquities trafficking and archaeological
looting, is also involved in the scheme.
Rick St Hilaire, its founder, said the
idea of using dogs came to him after
he saw a news report about a dog
detecting electronics: “I thought, if
dogs could detect electronics, what
about antiquities?”
Cynthia Otto of the Penn Vet centre, which specialises in research on
detection dogs, believes the antiquities programme is unprecedented.
Dogs are rewarded with play time or
food, she said. “They absolutely love
the work: that’s what is so wonderful.”
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Windows Hello: the password is you.
NHS bosses are under fire for cutting
back a team of doctors and nurses
who provide mental health care to
one of Britain’s largest groups of
homeless people.
Camden NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in north London
is giving the Focus Homeless
Outreach team £219,866 less a year
starting on 1 April, a leaked CCG document reveals. One of the team’s two
psychiatrists and one of its six nurses
will lose their jobs as a result.
Critics say the decision makes a
mockery of Theresa May and Jeremy
Hunt’s repeated claims that NHS
mental health services are receiving record amounts of funding to
improve care. They fear it will lead to
more rough sleepers suffering mental
health crises and killing themselves,
and that it will add to the already
heavy demand for care being faced
by hospitals and GPs in Camden.
The CCG is pressing ahead with
the 42% cut to the £521,000 budget
it gave the team this year despite a
storm of protest from local GPs, psychiatrists, homeless charities and
managers of hostels where rough
sleepers sometimes stay. Camden had
the third highest rate of rough sleeping in England in 2017, recent government statistics showed – more than
Manchester, Bristol and Cornwall.
Focus, set up 25 years ago, helps
treat the high levels of depression,
psychosis and other mental health
conditions found in rough sleepers,
hostel dwellers and “sofa surfers”,
including some asylum seekers and
people who have been trafficked. Its
budget is being reduced even though
it is regarded by NHS, local council
and social work bosses in London
as a model of good practice in how
to reach the kind of group that often
shuns traditional NHS services.
Consultant psychiatrists at
Camden and Islington NHS trust have
privately criticised cutting Focus’s
budget as a “terrible” blow to a “priceless” service. “Yes, there are unprecedented financial challenges, but it’s
pretty appalling that a vulnerable
and voiceless group would be left so
unsupported,” said one. Another said:
“I find the decision extremely hard to
understand, given the high number of
homeless people in Camden. Without
the Focus team, some of the worst-off
members of society will lack proper
access to psychiatric care.”
Family doctors at Camden Health
Improvement Practice, a GP surgery
near Euston station which treats
homeless people’s physical health
needs, have told the CCG in a letter
that they are in a state of disbelief
about Focus’s budget cut. The unit
gives essential mental health support to homeless people when they
are arrested or admitted to hospital
as an emergency, they said.
Prof Roland Littlewood, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at
University College London who used
to work with Focus, said: “The proposed cuts cannot be clinically justified and I would consider them quite
dangerous. When we in the future
contemplate the increased number
of preventable deaths in the service,
it will be too late.”
Camden CCG originally planned
to cut £421,000 (81%) of its funding to the team to help meet its savings target under the NHS-wide
Quality, Innovation, Productivity and
Prevention plan, but reduced that to
£219,866 after opposition. It claims
other services will provide support for
the work Focus can no longer do, but
failed to provide any details.
Camden CCG said: “Due to significant financial challenges, the NHS
is having to make difficult decisions
and it has been necessary to reduce
funding of the Focus homeless service. Camden CCG have worked with
Camden & Islington NHS Foundation
Trust to reconfigure the service so
that it dedicates it efforts to helping
those with the most complex needs.
Those with less complex needs will
be signposted to other suitable health
and care services in Camden.”
Rob Davies
They may be tatty, beer-stained and
full of holes, but band T-shirts from
gigs enjoyed decades ago could be a
nice little earner.
A Led Zeppelin T-shirt from their
1979 Knebworth gig, issued in lieu of
that rarest of commodities, a backstage pass, is thought to be the most
expensive ever sold. An anonymous
Australian stumped up $10,000 for
it in 2011, a tidy return given that the
seller picked it up for $123.
A growing memorabilia market fuelled by nostalgia and aided
by a new wave of young musicians
paying tribute to their influences
means band T-shirts command skyhigh prices. Vintage T-shirt website
Defunkd is listing
ng a limited
edition Run DMC
C shirt celebrating the rap
ap group’s
partnership with
h Adidas for
Defunkd founder
nder James
Applegarth says nostalgia is a
key factor, with music fans
seeking a tangible
le link
to memories that are
growing hazier. “If
people wore thee
T-shirt back in
the day, they want
to get it back,” he
says. “ Celebrities
are getting into
the mix, like Justin
earBieber (left) wearirts.
ing Nirvana shirts.
Then there’s just
straight-up collectors.
They won’t even
n wear
it, they’ll just stash
tash it
One rung below
ow the
more eye-catching
ng sales,
Led Zeppelin at Knebworth
in 1979 and the T-shirt
from the show. Photograph:
Peter Still/Redferns
Got some old band
T-shirts at home? You
might be quids in …
A rare Led Zeppelin shirt
fetched $10,000 – and
others go for hundreds as
nostalgia market booms
The Observer
less rare
ra items trade
for good money
too. That should
give veteran giggoers hope that they
might have something worth
a few bob
stashed in their attic.
Many music fans
never imagined
the gear
they wore
to sh
show loyalty to
favourite acts would
one d
day be worth
money according to
Howard Cohen, owner
of The Beatles
Store in
“Nobody really kept
them at the time, there
just wasn’t the memorabilia market
that there is now,” he said. “I had a lot
of the old Sex Pistols T-shirts. I had
about six of them and I’ve seen them
go for £500 each.”
On Etsy, the online marketplace,
you can find obscure items commanding hefty price tags, such as a
1993 T-shirt dedicated to English psychedelic distortionists Spacemen 3,
available to surviving members of
their cult following for £599.
For better known acts the prices
rise, particularly when there is a
decent story to go with the garment.
The Beatles’ North American release
Yesterday and Today attracted controversy due to the album cover, which
features the group in butchers’ outfeat
fits, covered in pieces of meat and
the body parts of decapitated
baby dolls.
The artwork was reportedly described by Paul
McCartney as the band’s
comment on the Vietnam
war. But the album cover
drew complaints in the US
and was swiftly recalled.
had two original
T-shirts, at £2,238 and £1,679,
on its website last night. It also
had a T-shirt produced for a planned
1980 tour by Wings, which unravelled
when, upon his arrival in Japan, Paul
McCartney was discovered to be carrying eight ounces of marijuana. A
short spell in prison followed. The gig
dates did not. The T-shirt was up for
sale at £2,621 despite, in the seller’s
admirably honest description, some
“discolouration under the armpits”.
Defunkd, which only sells shirts
older than 15 years, offers an appraisal
service for anyone who thinks they’ve
got a rarity on their hands. In its own
words: “What it’s listed for is not usually what it’s worth, so call off your
plans for early retirement.”
The Observer
How Winter Paralympics inspire disabled
athletes to enjoy the ‘thrill of freedom’
Participation doubled
after Sochi in 2014 and
a Pyeongchang medal
will raise the profile of
disability snowsports
Marc Francis
and James Sterry
at Hemel’s ski
slope; Owen Pick,
below, in Korea.
Main photograph
by Richard Saker/
James Tapper
With one medal in the bag already,
British athletes are on course for
their best performance in 30 years
at the Winter Paralympics. Yesterday
morning, Millie Knight won silver in
the visually impaired downhill event,
hurtling down the slopes behind her
guide Brett Wild – the first of the
19-year-old’s five events.
ParalympicsGB has sent its first
snowboarding team, including Owen
Pick, runner-up in last year’s world
championships, who lost his right
leg below the knee after stepping on
an improvised explosive device in
It marks the extraordinary growth
of disability snowsports in the UK,
with participation nearly doubling
since the Sochi Games in 2014. And
there are plenty more ambitious athletes who are pushing to expand the
Paralympics into new disciplines.
Marc Francis is paralysed from the
chest down, the result of a car crash
two weeks before his 18th birthday.
There is no snowboarding category
for people with his level of disability. People with more severe impairments have far fewer Paralympic
options – but Francis, now 37, is hoping to change that. “The Paralympics
are a massive inspiration,” he says.
“What they’ve achieved is huge. I
don’t believe in the word ‘can’t’.”
That Francis is on a snowboard
is an achievement in itself. He had
tried sit-skiing – facing forwards in
a chair attached to a single or double
ski – but his left side is significantly
weaker than his right, which made
steering almost impossible. In 2016,
he discovered a new invention – an
adaptive snowboard with a seat and
“This is the only one in the country,” he says of the Prodaptive snowboard, created by Dutch freelance
industrial designer Gina van der Werf.
“There’s 15 in the world. It’s amazing.”
Key to Francis’s success so far has
been his instructor, James Sterry,
ski school manager for Disability
Snowsport UK, the largest charity in
Britain helping disabled people on to
the slopes, whether they have visual
impairments, spina bifida, a learn-
ing disability or paralysis. DSUK runs
British Parasnowsport, the governing
body for disabled snowsports.
Sterry is head of DSUK’s school at
the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead
– where Knight has trained – and has
been Francis’s instructor on the artificial indoor slope. He helps Francis
to the top of slope using the drag lift.
On the way down, he helps Francis
navigate the crowded piste, examining his student’s technique as he
pushes the bars and leans back to
shift the board from edge to edge.
Two years after first strapping on his
boots, Francis hit his first milestone
– on a family holiday in the Andorran
resort of Arinsal. “It was such a buzz.
The adrenaline. The thrill. The freedom. The thrill of getting down the
slope for the first time. That feeling
of being free again.
“Taking part in something new
was absolutely amazing. The look on
people’s faces as they see me going
down the slope – people are quite
shocked. But then they figure it out,
people are really welcoming.”
Francis hopes to demonstrate
snowboarding with paralysis is possible for enough people to create a
Paralympic category. Even
acrobatic jumps are part
of his plans. “You never
know. We may be able to
freestyle. My plan is to do
It’s a dream shared by Sterry,
who leads a team teaching people
with an enormous range of impairments, with other major centres in
Glasgow, Manchester and Tamworth
as well as at smaller operations in
other indoor snow domes and dry
ski slopes across the country.
“The Paralympics is really just the
tip of the iceberg,” Sterry says. “Since
Sochi there has been a huge rise in
adaptive snowsports.”
Before the 2014 Winter Paralympics
in Russia, DSUK’s instructors gave
2,116 lessons. Last year that had
nearly doubled to 4,052. TV coverage by Channel 4, which is anchoring its programming from Hemel
Hempstead, has been a major factor.
Winter Paralympics coverage
Sport, page 19
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Aping populist attacks on migrants
is not a winning strategy for the left
A dangerous, muddled
stance on migration
lets the far right claim
to be the defender of
workers’ interests
Ethics and
sport have long
been strangers
to one another
the labour movement had become
marginalised, was to move away
from its traditional working-class
constituency. Feeling abandoned by
the left, many working-class voters
looked instead to populists to help
regain a voice; many populists in
turn adopted social policies that
once were leftwing staples: defence
of jobs, support for the welfare state,
opposition to austerity. Half the
unemployed who voted in last week’s
Italian elections backed the populist
Five Star Movement.
n Christmas Eve 1980,
Paul Mercieca, the communist mayor
of Vitry, near Paris, led a gang of
60 men, mainly Communist party
supporters, in a “direct action” to
stop 300 Malian immigrants from
being rehoused in the town.
The gang turned off the water,
gas and electricity at an immigrant
hostel and used a bulldozer to smash
up the building. Georges Marchais,
general secretary of the French
Communist party (PCF), justified
the action, arguing that immigration
was a capitalist “evil”.
It’s worth recalling this story in
the context of the current panic
about immigration and populism.
The results of last week’s Italian
elections confirmed yet again the
trends of many recent European
polls – the trashing of the centreleft, the rise of populism, the
strengthening of the far right, all
against the background of a fraught
debate on immigration.
The Vitry case reminds us that
the roots of what we now call
“populism” have been marinading
for a long time. It reminds us, too, of
the shameful role of sections of the
world has changed hugely since
1980, from the rise of globalisation
and free-market policies to the fall of
the Berlin Wall and the decline of the
labour movement.
The Front National was overtly
neo-Nazi. Today’s populists range
from organisations of the far right
to those of the far left. What they
have in common is that all position
themselves as outsiders to the old
liberal consensus.
Yet, for all the differences, the
response of the PCF to the nascent
political threat posed by the Front
National against the background of
a recession echoes that of much of
the non-Stalinist left to the challenge
of populism in the wake of the
2008 financial crash. By insidiously
linking the problems of the working
class with immigration, the
Communist party not only cleared
the ground for the Front National,
but also allowed it to project itself
as a defender of working-class
interests. The PCF’s strategy only
hastened its demise. The old
communist heartlands around Paris
and in northern France are now
Front National strongholds.
The left has yet to learn the lesson.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the initial
response of much of the left to a
changing world in which free-market
policies looked unassailable and
anicked by populism, much
of the left has responded by talking
tougher on immigration. It is a
strategy that will no more win back
support than that of the PCF four
decades ago. It merely confirms, in
the minds of many, that the populists
were right, hence increasing cynicism
about mainstream politicians,
especially about the left. Since
immigration is not the primary cause
of working-class marginalisation,
far from transforming working-class
lives, it will only deepen the sense of
For the left to reassert itself, it
needs to rethink its whole strategy.
Rather than aping populist antiimmigration sentiments, it needs
to stitch together a liberal case
on immigration with progressive
economic arguments, rooted in social
need and a belief in the community
and the collective. Too many who
rightly bemoan the corrosion of
working-class organisations see the
problem as too much immigration.
Too many who have a liberal view
on immigration are willing to accept
attacks on working-class living
standards. Until both those blinkered
approaches are confronted, there will
be no real challenge to the populists,
nor to the erosion of the influence of
the left.
different gates. Not this time.
The demarcation between
amateur and professional was, for
decades, one of the great ethical lines
of sport. The American Jim Thorpe
was stripped of two gold medals at
the 1912 Olympic Games because
he had once been paid $25 playing
baseball. In rugby union, as late as
1981, two England internationals,
Bill Beaumont and Fran Cotton, were
banned for 10 years for receiving
royalties from their autobiographies.
Today’s great ethical debate is not
about payment but drugs. Last week,
the digital, culture, media and sport
select committee accused Bradley
Wiggins of “crossing the ethical line”
for allegedly misusing drugs allowed
for medical purposes to enhance
The ethical lines over drug use are,
however, as arbitrary and irrational
as earlier ones about payment. Drugs
are said to be “unnatural” and to
provide an “unfair advantage”. But
virtually everything an athlete does,
from high-altitude training to highprotein dieting, is unnatural and
seeks to gain an advantage.
EPO is a naturally produced
hormone that stimulates red
blood cell production, so helping
endurance athletes. Injections of
EPO are banned in sport. Yet Chris
Froome is permitted to sleep in a
hypoxic chamber, which reduces
oxygen in the air, forcing his body to
produce more red blood cells. It has
the same effect as EPO. Why is one
banned but not the other?
Ethics in sport are not really about
ethics, but about establishing a sense
of order and decorum and projecting
a particular image of what is good or
healthy. Perhaps today, too, we could
do with a bit more Bolshevism on the
playing field.
Popular appeal: Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right Northern League. Photo: Stefano Relladini/Reuters
left in enabling rightwing populism.
As the BBC correspondent Jonathan
Marcus put it in his perceptive
book, The National Front and French
Politics: “While the National Front
has been the principal beneficiary of
the political debate on immigration,
it was not Le Pen’s party that first
brought the issue on to the political
agenda. It was the communists,
who… launched a campaign
against what they saw as the overconcentration of immigrants in
communist-run municipalities.”
The Communist party did not
reflect the left as a whole. The PCF
was notoriously reactionary in its
attitudes to immigration. And the
e felt that
Bolshevism had invaded our
sanctuary.” So wrote the author AG
Gardiner on visiting the Oval cricket
ground in 1924. What had brought
the world crashing down in south
London? The Gentlemen and Players
had come out together. Gentlemen
in cricket were the amateurs, Players
the professionals. They normally
entered the field of play through
The Observer
Faith, friendship and
curses as seven celebrity
pilgrims trek to Santiago
Three-part TV show
to be broadcast as
thousands find their
spiritual sides on tough
Spanish route and new
pathways in Britain
Harriet Sherwood
Religion correspondent
There were no road-to-Damascus experiences and very little piety.
Instead, when seven people in the
public eye walked the Camino de
Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage
route across northern Spain, there
were many arguments and much
snoring and swearing.
The group – a priest, an atheist and
assorted believers and non-believers – discussed the values shaping
their lives while retracing the steps
of medieval peregrinos. Along the way,
they forged friendships and encountered some of the thousands of people who walk the Camino each year,
part of a resurgence in pilgrimages.
Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago,
which starts on BBC Two on Friday,
followed the modern-day pilgrims
along part of the 500-mile route
from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in
the French Pyrenees to Santiago
de Compostela, almost at the tip
of Galicia in Spain. The group was
made up of Kate Bottley, Anglican
vicar and Gogglebox star; actor Neil
Morrissey; M People singer Heather
Small; comedian Ed Byrne; performer
Debbie McGee; journalist Raphael
Rowe, who spent 12 years in prison
for a crime he did not commit; and TV
presenter JJ Chalmers, who survived
a bomb blast serving in Afghanistan.
As they walked, they questioned
their own and each other’s beliefs.
“It was eye-opening,” said Rowe, a
non-believer who described himself as an “ignorantist”. “It made me
think differently about myself, about
other people, about religion and faith.
I learnt more about religion [on the
camino] than I ever have in my life.”
His fear that he might “catch religion” proved unfounded, he said.
However, by the end of the journey his
“trust in people’s honesty and motivations” had been restored.
Small said the experience strengthened her faith, despite an uncomfortable moment when the group
stopped at a monastery and the singer
was grilled unsympathetically.
“Along the way you meet people
who are genuinely interested in who
you are. But then we went into the
monastery, and the man there was
not interested in me per se – what he
saw was my colour, only my colour,”
she said. “When you’re being treated
as ‘other’, you always know.”
Small walked out of the monas-
The celebrity
pilgrims at the
beginning of
their journey.
From left:
Neil Morrissey,
Ed Byrne,
Debbie McGee,
Raphael Rowe,
JJ Chalmers,
Kate Bottley and
Heather Small.
Photograph by
Brigid McFall/
tery, followed by the rest of the group.
Their appalled reaction to the incident “showed me we’d really made a
bond”, she said.
Bottley had expected the camino to
be a spiritual experience but found it
a physical challenge. “I hated it with
a passion,” she said. The group carried their own gear and slept in basic
pilgrims’ hostels. They walked in
extreme heat and driving rain.
“It was the hardest thing physically
I have ever done, and I’ve given birth
twice. The physical act of putting
one foot in front of the other, day in,
day out,” said Bottley. She had never
sworn so much, she added.
The vicar also felt under pressure
to defend and explain her faith. “The
religious debate was exhausting. I felt
I came out to bat a lot. There were a
couple of moments when I feared my
theological rigour wasn’t enough to
carry the debate.”
Pilgrimage was popular in medieval times, when bands of travellers
criss-crossed Europe in search of
spiritual enlightenment. For many, it
was a holiday and a chance to meet
‘There were a couple of
moments when I feared my
theological rigour wasn’t
enough to carry the debate’
Kate Bottley, Anglican vicar
Santiago de
Camino de Santiago
300 km
300 miles
new people and hear their stories. The
Canterbury Tales, the epic yarn written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late
14th century, described a group of
30 pilgrims walking from London to
Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury
cathedral, with each telling the others
a story along the way.
But in 1538 the English pilgrimage movement ended. Henry VIII and
Thomas Cromwell moved against the
pre-Reformation church, destroying
monasteries, abolishing saints’ days,
banning relics and smashing Becket’s
shrine. Pilgrimages disappeared for
more than 300 years.
Now the camino has spearheaded
a pilgrimage revival. In 1984 just over
400 people completed the final section of the camino, a 62-mile stretch
which entitles pilgrims to a compostela, a certificate written in Latin
and issued by the cathedral of St
The Observer
James in Santiago. By 2016 the number had topped 278,000, including
6,000 from the UK.
New pilgrimage routes have
opened across the UK. The Old Way,
a medieval 220-mile route from
Southampton to Canterbury, is being
revived by the British Pilgrimage
Trust. The 92-mile Two Saints Way
from Chester to Lichfield aims to “set
the modern pilgrim on a contemporary quest for ancient wisdom”.
In Scotland, a number of pilgrim
trails have been developed, including a route in honour of St Magnus
in Orkney and the 72-mile Forth to
Farne Way, a stunning coastal walk
from North Berwick to Lindisfarne.
Many walking these ancient ways
are religious; but many more describe
themselves as spiritual. A surprising number seek only to escape the
pressures of 21st-century life with a
simple existence of walking, eating
and sleeping.
All members of the group in The
Road to Santiago said they were
enriched by the experience, in particular the strength of the bond created
between them. They have stayed in
contact since completing the camino.
“Did anyone have a road-toDamascus experience? “No,” said
Bottley. “But the camino has a way of
showing the best of yourself – and the
worst of yourself.”
Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago
begins on BBC Two on Friday, 9pm
The Observer
Jennie Formby of Unite
is the clear frontrunner
to be general secretary.
Photograph by
Mark Kerrison/Alamy
‘The idea Labour
HQ is the centre
of anti-Corbyn
intrigue is wrong.
People are
whipping up fear’
Party insider
Labour pledges no purge
of staff after acrimonious
battle to fill top party post
Contest for job of
general secretary
widens rift between
Unite and Momentum
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Allies of Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred
candidate to run the Labour party are
attempting to calm concerns that her
arrival will see a “clearout” of staff
deemed insufficiently supportive of
the Labour leader.
Senior backers of Jennie Formby,
the Unite union’s former political director and the frontrunner to
become Labour’s new general secretary, are trying to reassure party staff
that there are no planned overhauls
should she secure the job.
It comes as senior party and union
figures try to find a last-minute
“compromise candidate” to take on
Formby, with several sources warning she has had run-ins with some
of the other major Labour-affiliated
unions that have left them seriously
concerned about her appointment.
Formby is on the verge of securing enough support from Labour’s
national executive committee (NEC),
which will vote later this month. The
post gives the incumbent significant
power in party disputes, selections
and resources. While Formby is the
clear frontrunner for the post made
vacant by the sudden departure of
Iain McNicol, the race burst into life
earlier this month when Jon Lansman,
the founder of the Momentum campaign group formed out of Corbyn’s
first leadership bid, entered the race –
against the wishes of Corbyn.
The contest has exposed a growing
tension among Corbyn supporters,
between those who want to preserve
the power of the unions who helped
deliver the leadership and those who
prioritise turning Labour into a member-led movement. It has become
seen as a power struggle between
Unite and Momentum.
Formby is regarded as part of the
inner circle of the leader’s office,
which includes Unite leader Len
McCluskey, shadow chancellor John
McDonnell and Corbyn’s increasingly
influential gatekeeper, Karie Murphy.
Formby is being touted by supporters as Corbyn’s pick for the job, rather
than a “Unite transplant” designed to
give the union more power.
There are now attempts to ease
fears among Labour staff about personnel shake-ups at Labour HQ, often
regarded by the party’s left wing as
insufficiently committed to Corbyn.
Rumours have been swirling of a pot
of money to help pay for redundancy
packages should Formby win – a concern dismissed by her supporters.
“Those fears are misplaced,” said
a source. “I don’t think there is any
likelihood or, indeed, possibility of a
clearout. The idea that Labour HQ is
the centre of anti-Corbyn intrigue is
wrong anyway. If individuals want to
leave, there is nothing to stop them,
but there are people whipping up a
fear that has no foundation at all.”
Formby’s fearsome reputation
as Unite’s political director is causing concern within Labour HQ, with
even some major supporters saying
that she can be a “ruthless operator”.
However, they say that such fears are
outweighed by her organisational
strengths and her strong links with
the leader’s office. Other allies dismiss the fears, saying many who have
worked with her remain fiercely loyal.
Lansman is said to have launched
his bid to ensure a contest for the role.
He has vowed to back turning the
post into one elected by members –
handing more power to the rank and
file. He said he was running against
“machine politics” and has urged
other candidates to come forward.
The tensions between Momentum
and Unite boiled over this week when
Christine Shawcroft, an NEC member
who backs Lansman, caused uproar
Battle lines
Early in Corbyn’s
leadership, party
insiders believed the
site was receiving
detailed briefings
from figures close
to the Labour and
Unite leaders. It
would run lengthy articles against
figures such as deputy leader Tom
Watson and Gerard Coyne, the
Unite official who ran against Len
McCluskey in the union’s leadership
race. In the general secretary fight,
it has been making the case for
Jennie Formby’s candidacy and has
questioned Jon Lansman’s decision
to run.
Novara Media
Set up by passionate
Corbyn backer Aaron
Bastani, the site
has championed
Momentum’s attempts to hand
more power to members - with MPs
usually losing out. While it has not
backed calls to disaffiliate Labour
from the unions, it has welcomed
Lansman’s decision to run, and
supports his idea that the general
secretary post should eventually be
fully elected.
The Red Roar
As the party’s left
gains strength,
another blog
has popped up,
written by the left’s critics. It opened
its Twitter account with a story on
how London mayor Sadiq Khan
had been blocked from speaking at
last year’s conference (a decision
later reversed) and has also run
unflattering stories on McDonnell
and Unite. It has not taken a view on
the general secretary race, though
a centrist candidate has not yet
emerged. Still has fewer than 3,000
Twitter followers.
by calling for the party to sever its
trades union links. She later retracted
her comments after being criticised
by union leaders and Lansman.
A compromise candidate is still
being sought to win support from the
centre and right, as well as those on
the left who are nervous of Formby.
There is a belief that the next general secretary should be a woman. Liz
Snape, a senior trade unionist, is one
name being pushed, but there is no
sign she wants the job. Laura Parker,
a Momentum official, would also be a
serious contender if she opted to run.
Formby remains the firm favourite, but insiders say Unite will “end up
paying a heavy price” for its handling
of the appointment.
The split between Lansman and
Formby supporters has also spilled
into an online battle, with tensions
among a group of leftwing blogs and
news sites that emerged to support
Corbyn’s leadership. The Skwawkbox,
which is seen as having strong links
with the leader’s office, has been
pushing for Formby’s appointment
and has questioned Lansman’s decision to run, while Novara Media,
another Corbyn-supporting outlet,
has backed both the opening of the
contest and a member-elected general secretary. The internal tension
has also seen the arrival of the Red
Roar, a more centrist blog that details
the fights raging within the ranks.
Some moderate Labour MPs
now believe the forces that brought
Corbyn to power are dividing. The
split has even been criticised by the
Labour Party Marxists group, which
said it was “at best, ludicrous and, at
worst, irresponsible”.
Don’t look to Len McCluskey to
defend workers’ interests
Nick Cohen, Comment page 56
Why the left’s hellish vision
is so ruinous
Sunday Essay, pages 57-59
From older
mums to
the happily
childless …
The Observer
Huge changes in
work, housing and
medicine have had
a massive effect
on a generation of
women. More are
having children
later in life – or
choosing not to
have them at all.
Donna Ferguson
reports on the
changing nature of
modern families
Women talk about what
Mother’s Day means
izzie Harrop is hoping
she might receive a box
of chocolates or a handmade card today, but
what she is most looking forward to is spending lots of time outdoors in the
Leicestershire countryside with her
three-year-old son, Barnaby. Today is
another Mother’s Day she can mark as
a mum – something she once thought
would not happen. At 39, she became
pregnant with Barnaby unexpectedly after failing to conceive for several years.
“We had given up trying because
the strain was taking its toll on us. I
stopped taking drugs that made me
ovulate and was trying to accept that
it might not happen. And then I got
pregnant. I’m still pinching myself.”
A hundred miles north in Wakefield,
West Yorkshire, Lisa Bucknall, also
43, is watching comedies on Netflix,
eating chocolate and locking herself
away from the world today. “I dread
Mother’s Day. I always loved children
and thought one day I’d be a mum.
But I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to
settle down with until I was 35.”
She and her new partner started
trying for a baby right away. “We
thought it would be really easy. It
came as a shock that it wasn’t.” Three
IVF attempts, with both her own and
a donor’s eggs, ended in failure, miscarriage and separation. “It feels like
Continued overleaf
The Observer
Continued from page 19
something has been snatched away
from me.”
The different experiences of
Harrop and Bucknall will strike a
chord for many women in their late
30s and early 40s today. Many –
especially those who are celebrating
Mother’s Day with a newborn for the
first time – are mothers because they
had options their own mothers didn’t
have. But at the same time the rate of
childlessness among British women
over 45 has rocketed to a level not
seen since the aftermath of the first
world war.
About one in five (18%) of British
women aged 45 are childless, the
Office for National Statistics revealed
last year, and Britain has one of the
world’s highest rates of childlessness
among women aged 40-44.
For some women, this will be by
choice – but for many others it will
not be. Only 0.67% of British women
aged 15-39 do not want to have children, according to a global survey
by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development
(OECD). To put this in context, the
eurozone average is 1.5%, meaning
fertile women in Britain who do not
want to be mothers are among one
of the smallest minorities measured
in Europe.
Yet fewer women today start a family in their 20s – the average age for
a British woman to give birth for the
first time now is 30, compared with
26 in 1971, and the ONS reports 54%
of women are over 30 when they have
a baby. That figure is even higher for
men becoming fathers: 68%.
A whole host of financial reasons
lie behind this shift. As well as being
the most debt-laden generation and
the first expected to pay significant
fees for university, 25-to-34-yearolds are far less likely to own their
own home than in the past, with
almost half living in rented accommodation, compared
d with almost a
third only 20 years ago. While the
average age of a first-time
t-time buyer
in the early 1970s wass 27, today it
is 33. This often impossible
ossible battle to secure enough money to
buy a home of their own
wn means
als aged
a quarter of millennials
h their
20 to 34 still live with
Changes in women’s
working lives have also
Lisa Bucknall says her
inability to conceive was
a shock. Photograph by
Gary Calton/Observer
had an impact on men’s attitudes to
family life, argues social gerontologist
Dr Robin Hadley. “Some men today
feel more ambivalence about when to
settle down.” Often, he says, this is not
because men don’t want children, but
because they want to be able to play
more of a nurturing role in their children’s lives than their own fathers did.
In 1974, men were twice as likely to
have a child in their 20s as their modern counterparts, who also get married
almost 10 years later.
‘My partner kept
saying, “not yet”,
then when I was
35 he said maybe
he didn’t want any
more children’
Lauren de Vere
omen who
have children
when they are
younger often
struggle to
cope financially. Childcare costs in England have
risen up to seven times faster than
wages since 2008 and it now costs
£6,300 on average for a part-time
nursery place for a child under two,
with a quarter of mothers under 25
reporting they had left a job because
they could not afford care.
“Often, women over 40 are childless because they have made sensible,
honourable decisions,” says Jody Day,
53, founder of the Gateway Women
support group and author of Living the
Life Unexpected, a self-help book for
childless women. “We used birth control so we didn’t get pregnant by accident, we held out for the right partner
and we waited until we had a secure
home environment to bring up our
children in. We thought we had plenty
of time in our 30s because of IVF. But
then it became a race against the clock
– and time ran out.”
This rings true for Bucknall, who
says she took it for granted she would
be a mother one day, but never had
unprotected sex before the age of 35.
“I left school thinking you could get
pregnant at the drop of a hat. Taking
precautions was ingrained in me.”
y, JJessica Hepburn, 47,
organiser of Fertility Fest (the world’s
first fertility arts festival),
trying for a bab
baby at 34. In her
book The Pursuit
Pursu of Motherhood,
she chronic
chronicles her 11 private rounds of unsuccessful
cost of more than
IVF (at a co
£70,000) and multiple
miscarriages. She was
eventually diagnosed
with “unexplained
IIn her opinion,
the disconnection
between the numbe
ber of children
tha women under
wa to have and
40 want
the number of children that women
over 40 actually end up having is due
to misunderstandings about fertility.
She believes this is partly caused by
messages about how easy it is to get
pregnant that were drummed into
her generation at school, along with
widespread myths about IVF.
Earlier this month, she helped the
newly established Fertility Education
Initiative lobby the government to
start educating children about fertility as part of the national curriculum:
“We’re focusing on 16-to-18-yearolds, but age-appropriate conversations with children about fertility
should be happening from year dot.
The viability of a woman’s eggs as she
ages and the science of IVF is not well
understood by the young. We should
be celebrating what IVF can do and
how it can create modern families for
women with fertility issues, but also
acknowledging its limits.”
Infertility is not, of course, the only
cause of involuntary childlessness. It
is estimated that the vast majority
(80%) of childless older women are
childless due to circumstances, rather
than choice or infertility.
The experience of Lauren de Vere,
54, who wanted to start trying for a
baby when she was 32, is common. “My
partner at the time, who was 10 years
older and had two children already,
kept saying: not yet, not yet. Finally,
when I was 35, he told me maybe he
didn’t want more kids after all.”
They split up and she did not meet
anyone else she wanted to raise a child
Father figures
Men aged 15-39 want an average of
2.1 children, while women in the same
age group typically want 2.3.
The average age a man becomes a
father is now 33.3. It was consistently
29 throughout the 1970s.
Some scientists at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem estimate
sperm counts among men in the
west have more than halved in the
past 40 years and are falling by
1.4% a year on average. Man-made
chemicals in the environment such
as bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in
plastics, are flagged as a factor.
In 1964, when figures for England and
Wales begin, 40% of fathers were in
their 20s, compared with 22% in their
30s and 4% in their 40s. In 2016, only
10% of men in their 20s were fathers,
18% in their 30s and 5% in their 40s.
Source: OECD/ONS
‘Bringing up a
baby in your 40s
is brilliant – you
are economically
sound and have
more maturity’
Lizzie Harrop
with until she was 42. “We decided
to try to adopt. During the process,
I explained I had a difficult relationship with my mother, who has mental health issues. Nine months later,
we were turned down and, sadly, that
was the reason they gave.”
Even for women who are happy
they are childfree, Mothering Sunday
can be frustrating because of the
inference that achieving the status of
mother deserves a special day in the
calendar each year.
“Possibly the worst thing you can
do on Mother’s Day is to presume that
every woman is a mother, or wants
to be a mother, or will be a mother
one day,” says Day. “Another painful
aspect of the day for many of us is the
idea that we are not kind or nurturing
because we are childless. This strikes
at the very core of feminine identity.
Today, childless women can feel both
intensely visible – because we don’t
‘fit’ – and invisible, because where is
the space for our grief?”
This an experience recognised by
Bucknall. “I’m the only one in my circle of friends who doesn’t have kids.
You can feel like something’s wrong
with you, like you’re not a complete
From a biological perspective, a
woman’s fertility typically drops quite
dramatically after her 35th birthday.
Despite this, the attractions of older
motherhood mean more women over
the age of 35 now give birth each year
than women under 25. “Bringing up a
young child in your early 40s is absolutely exhaustingly brilliant,” says
Harrop. “You may have less energy
than younger mums, but you’re economically more sound and you have
more maturity. I can afford wraparound childcare, I’ve seen a lot of the
world and I have many things to share
with my son. I find spending time
with him so rewarding.”
rofessor Elizabeth
Gregory, author of
Ready: Why Women
Are Embracing the New
Later Motherhood, says
women who start a
family when they are over 35 are
likely to enjoy many benefits younger
mothers don’t. “They are more likely
to have seen something of the world
and invested in their education and
are less likely to resent staying in at
night with a small child. They are
The Observer
Changing birth rates
‘We should be
celebrating how
IVF can create
modern families,
but acknowledge
its limits too’
Jessica Hepburn
more established in their careers,
which means they are more likely to
earn enough to carry on in their profession after birth.”
Women over 35 are also more likely
to have found mature long-term partners, who see them as an equal and
are equally ready to settle down, she
says. “All these economic and emotional benefits for mothers are also
felt by their children.”
She thinks more women are making
more informed decisions about when
they want children and, as a result,
attitudes towards women who don’t
want children at all have improved.
“There’s greater understanding of the
challenges mothers often face at work
and the costs of having children, both
in terms of money and time. Fewer
people are likely to tell you that you
should have a child nowadays.”
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Photographs by
Sophia Evans,
Matt Harrop and
Katherine Anne
Julia Bernard-Thompson, 40, a
business consultant from Ashford,
Kent, is one of the many women for
whom childlessness has been an
active choice.
“It first hit me that I didn’t want kids
when I was 13. Later, I would always
tell potential partners as soon as the
topic came up, even if it was the first
date,” she says. “I met my husband
when I was 29, 11 years ago. When I
told him how I felt about having children, he audibly exhaled and said he
felt the same way, and it was so rare
for him to meet a woman who didn’t
want kids. That was the moment we
knew we were going to be together.”
She says the couple enjoy their freedom and spending long, lazy days
together. They also like being able to
spend their money on themselves.
“Personally, I don’t want to suppress what I want to do for a child.
When a woman says these things,
other people say she is selfish – and
maybe it is selfish. But I’m a very nurturing person. I love deeply, I’m the
best auntie and I’ll drop everything
for my friends. I don’t feel I need to
be a mother to be happy or satisfied
and I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
For me, there isn’t any downside to
being childfree.”
Harrop feels equally happy with
her lot. “I feel incredibly lucky. I know
the 5am starts aren’t going to last forever and I think my 40s are going to
be brilliant. The people in my family
have a history of longevity and I’m
hoping that one day I’ll be an incredibly fit and attractive grandmother,
like my own mum.”
In praise of
bad mothers
page 51
Turn of the century
Between 1901 and 1905, the
general fertility rate in Britain was
about 110 live births per 1,000
women aged 15-44.
1971: the general fertility rate was
about 91 live births per 1,000
women aged 15-44
1974: 9% of all babies were born
outside of marriage.
Modern times
1997: The general fertility rate
was about 59 live births per 1,000
women aged 15-44.
2014: Almost half of all babies
were born outside of marriage/
civil partnership.
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The Observer
‘Cruel’ electric shock
pet training collars to
be banned in England
Michael Savage
A ban on pet “shock collars” is to be
imposed in England, under plans
confirmed by the government today.
Ministers have announced proposals to ban the devices, used to control pets, which are already banned
in Wales. Scotland has already
announced it is following suit.
It comes after a concerted campaign by animal rights campaigners. While the collars are designed to
control and train dogs and cats, they
have been attacked as cruel for giving
animals an electric shock when they
misbehave. The devices are usually
opeated via a remote control.
Some devices also squirt noxious
sprays, which campaigners warn can
disrupt a dog’s acute sense of smell.
Others can emit a sound painful to a
dog’s hearing.
The clampdown is the latest
attempt by the Conservatives to boost
their animal welfare credentials, with
Theresa May’s chief of staff, Gavin
Barwell, said to be supporting the
drive, spearheaded by environment
secretary Michael Gove.
It comes after many Tories said that
their manifesto commitment to hold a
vote on bringing back foxhunting and
failing to back an ivory ban seriously
hurt the party’s performance. The latest animal-friendly policies include
plans to fit CCTV in slaughterhouses
and a clampdown on puppy farming.
Gove said shock collars were “punitive devices” that “can cause harm
and suffering, whether intentionally
or unintentionally, to our pets”.
“We are a nation of animal lovers,”
he said. “Organisations and MPs have
campaigned against the use of shock
collars passionately and we are listening to their concerns. We are now
proposing to ban the use of electric
shock collars to improve the welfare
of animals.”
Campaigners have warned that the
collars are not only cruel, but often
counterproductive. They say such
treatment can worsen underlying
behavioural and health problems.
Caroline Kisko, secretary of the
Kennel Club, which runs the Crufts
dog show, said: “Training a dog with
an electric shock collar causes physical and psychological harm and is
never acceptable.”
Police probe spate of
anti-Islamic letters
in brief
‘Shaming’ map to
tackle dog mess
Villagers whose community has
been blighted by dog mess have
taken matters into their own hands,
producing an interactive “poopshaming map”.
People in Wimblington in
Cambridgeshire have become so
fed up they have created a social
media-based “poopfolio”, where
locals report sightings of dog mess.
The idea has already seen a
marked reduction in the amount of
mess peppering parks, pathways
and pavements. The map works as
a deterrent by having local people
post sightings of the mess on the
Facebook and Twitter pages. The
page administrators then update
the map with a brown poop icon,
warning walkers about the danger zones. The icon changes to pink
when the mess has been cleared up.
Businesswoman Amanda Carlin,
who helps run social media pages
in the village, said she has been
pleased with the way the campaign
has taken off. She said: “The dog
poop problem was really bad but
now it’s much better.” PA
Jailed Briton free to
leave ‘months ago’
The husband of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,
pictured above, has asked Boris
Johnson, the foreign secretary, to
tell him why she has not yet been
released from jail, after Iranian
authorities signalled they had
approved her release “a number of
months ago”. Richard Ratcliffe said
it was not clear what was delaying a
return to the UK for his wife, jailed
on spying charges in 2016. Charity
worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe denies the
charges. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We will continue to
approach each case in a way that
we judge is most likely to secure the
outcome we all want.” PA
Police are investigating a possible
hate crime after anti-Islamic letters
were posted across the country.
West Yorkshire police confirmed
it had around six reports of letters
advertising “Punish a Muslim Day”.
A police spokesman said:
“Counter Terrorism Policing North
East is investigating. Anyone with
concerns about a communication
should contact their local police.”
Social media users in London
and Birmingham have also
reported receiving the letters.
Iman Atta, director of anti-Muslim hate monitoring service Tell
Mama, said: “This has caused a lot
of fear in the community.” PA
Prison threat for
divorce battle man
A property developer who has
fought over millions of pounds
with his ex-wife is facing jail after
a divorce court judge in Bristol
decided that he was in contempt.
John Hart, in his 80s, failed to
comply with orders made during
divorce court litigation. He is said to
have “acted in contemptuous disregard” of undertakings to former air
hostess Karen Hart. PA
The Observer
Cult sci-fi writer’s
film ‘too cerebral’
for cinemagoers
The latest movie from
Alex Garland, director
of Ex Machina, will go
straight to Netflix
Vanessa Thorpe
Arts and Media Correspondent
When residents of Holkham in
Norfolk spotted a Hollywood film
crew led by the acclaimed British
writer and director Alex Garland in
the summer of 2016, they must have
hoped for a special screening in a
local cinema one day, or at least the
chance to see their famous sandy
beach depicted on the big screen.
But now a row between the producers of Annihilation, Garland’s latest
sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman
and Jennifer Jason Leigh, means the
film will not be showing in a cinema
near them – or near any British fan.
Executives at Paramount Pictures
judged the film too cerebral and so
too risky for cinematic distribution in
Europe or Australia. While cinemas in
the United States, Canada and China
will have access to the film, in Europe
it will be released to the streaming
service Netflix from tomorrow.
Paramount’s financial jitters have
been vindicated by a lowish turnout when the film opened in the US
last month, but British sci-fi lovers,
and particularly those who admired
Garland’s last film, Ex Machina, are
angry. And their ire has been stoked
by last week’s claim that Dredd, a
2012 film with a growing cult reputation, was also substantially directed
by Garland.
The author of the bestselling thriller
The Beach is credited as screenwriter
and as co-director with Pete Travis,
but according to Karl Urban, who
played the lead, Garland also directed
much of the film. Speaking to a sci-
the latest film
from Alex
Garland, left,
stars Natalie
Too brainy for the box office:
Guy Lodge on Annihilation
The New Review, page 32
fi website on Thursday, Urban said:
“A huge part of the success of Dredd
is in fact due to Alex Garland, and
what a lot of people don’t realise is
that Alex Garland actually directed
that movie ... I just hope when people think of Alex Garland’s filmography that Dredd is the first film that he
made before Ex Machina. You think
about it in those terms: it goes Dredd,
Ex Machina, Annihilation.”
Garland’s latest film, based on a
novel by Jeff VanderMeer, tells the
story of a biology professor investigating a phenomenon known as “the
Shimmer”, a mysterious zone full of
mutating landscapes and creatures.
It has an all-female lead cast but the
director said he did not focus on gender. “There’s only one real reference
to it, and then it’s pointed out that
they’re all scientists,” Garland said.
Reports suggest producer David
Ellison was worried the film would
not draw big audiences while fellow
producer Scott Rudin wanted to protect Garland’s vision for the film.
Paramount’s lack of faith came
after one of its worst years at the
box office. Baywatch, Ghost in the
Shell, Transformers: The Last Knight
and Jennifer Lawrence’s horror film
Mother! all did badly.
The Observer
As a paper apologises for a
hurtful story, have Bristol’s
race views really changed?
It was a front page that,
21 years ago, set back
the city’s race relations.
Tom Wall finds out if
a very public change of
heart is likely to help
heal stark inequalities
The sky is the colour of slate and rain
is hammering Bristol’s streets but the
mood inside the studios of the AfroCaribbean community station Ujima
Radio in the city centre is undimmed.
Roger Griffith, the station’s guiding
force, smiles warmly and clutches the
hand of DJ Docta Flex as he records
his regular mix of house, dancehall
and hip-hop.
It’s from these studios that Griffith
has masterminded a campaign to get
Bristol to face up to its past and over-
come stark racial inequalities, which
led to it being labelled last year one of
the most divided cities in the country.
In a move brokered by Griffith,
the city’s newspaper, the Bristol Post,
apologised last week for a notorious
front-page splash in 1996 that featured the mugshots of 16 black men,
convicted of drugs offences, under the
headline “Faces of Evil”.
“It doesn’t feel like 21 years ago. I
remember it as clear as day. My heart
sank – it fed into a negative media
portrayal of black men,” says Griffith,
in the studio from which he broadcasts a topical show about the city.
Griffith says there was a widespread sense in the city’s black areas
that the Post wrote only about black
people when they were committing
crimes and ignored the community’s
struggles against racism and its many
positive achievements.
“We are not denying those men
committed crimes. But there was
nothing else. There was nothing positive about the black community,” he
says. “All we wanted was balance, not
special treatment.”
Griffith likens the impact to the
Sun’s reporting of the Hillsborough
disaster, which led to a boycott of the
tabloid on Merseyside. “Ever since
that front page people stopped buying it. I don’t know anyone who buys
it on a regular basis,” he says.
The Post’s current editor, Mike
Norton, is determined to reach out to
a city where one in five people identify as an ethnicity other than white
British. His 1,437-word editorial
pledges to make amends for a front
page that “essentially destroyed what
little credibility and trust the Post had
within Bristol’s African and AfroCaribbean community.”
The episode has opened up what
Griffith and Norton feel is a muchneeded debate about Bristol’s troubled relationship with race, which can
be traced back to its role in the slave
trade in the 18th century.
Although the city has the UK’s first
directly elected black mayor, Marvin
Rees, and an Afro-Caribbean carnival
that attracts tens of thousands every
year, the Runneymede Trust last
year found Bristol was more divided
than other cities. Ethnic minorities in
Bristol faced greater disadvantages in
education and employment than the
average for England and Wales.
Only last year Avon and Somerset
police officers were caught on camera
tasering one of their own race advisers and an independent review into
the murder of an Iranian refugee by
vigilantes found the city council and
‘My heart sank when I saw it’
Roger Griffith
on air at Radio
Ujima in Bristol.
Photograph by
Tom Wall
Reaction to his apology has been
positive, with messages of support
arriving from all over the world –
but the city has been more resistant.
Online comments below his editorial
bear this out, with users suggesting
the apology was unnecessary because
all the men pictured were guilty.
“It has gone down badly with
Bristol’s very traditional community.
But frankly I wasn’t apologising to
them. Many of them misunderstood
the message. They thought I was apologising to the criminals,” he says. “And of
course I’m not.”
There is also work
to do to persuade
Bristol’s black community that the Post
has really changed
its ways. For Marti
Burgess, the owner of
Mike Norton, editor
one of Bristol’s best
loved clubs, Lakota,
on the edge of St Pauls,
the memory of that page is still raw.
“The men on that front page
weren’t the only drug dealers in
Bristol at the time. It was just a way
of stereotyping black men,” she says.
Burgess – who grew up in Filton,
where her windows were smashed by
racists and she was racially abused on
the street – is pleased a debate about
racism in the city is finally happening. “I’ve lived in all different parts of
the city and Bristol does have an issue
with its history and the way it deals
‘We’re not doing
well enough. Part
of my challenge
is to get black
voices in the paper’
police force were institutionally racist.
Norton wants to help make Bristol’s
institutions more representative,
starting with the Post’s newsroom:
“We are probably between 5% to 10%
non-white. But bear in mind the city is
one in five, so not doing well enough.
Part of my challenge is to get black
voices in the paper.”
The 1996 front page after
which, says Roger Grifith,
black people in Bristol
stopped buying the paper.
The Observer
with the black community,” she says.
“But it seems we are at a moment in
time [when] things are moving.”
The impact of the Post’s front page
was also felt in white areas. Jerry
Hicks, a union activist at the RollsRoyce plant, remembers how far-right
groups sought to use the front page to
recruit members. “Within hours of it
being published, the British National
Party had photocopied it and were
flyposting in Bristol,” he says.
There is no one reading the Post
in Glen’s Kitchen in the St Pauls
Learning Centre. All but one of the
diners, tucking into dishes including
salt mackerel and goat curry, remember the front page and now do not
read the paper.
Over a steady rumble of reggae
classics, Carol Sherman says the apology by itself is not enough. “Although
there has been an apology now, the
perceived ideas of what the front page
represents are still there,” she says.
At the next table, Judith Davies is
equally disparaging about the Post
and wider efforts to end the city’s
divisions. “It is not inclusive,” she
says. ”They talk a good talk but Bristol
hasn’t moved on – look at the statistics: St Pauls is one of most deprived
places in the country.”
Back at Ujima – which has about
30,000 listeners – Griffith is adamant
that the newspaper’s apology can only
be the start. “That’s just one organisation,” he says. “What is the rest of the
city doing?”
The Observer
Kevin McKenna
A city’s oldest street will
be desecrated, its built
heritage disfigured
ne by one the lights
are going out on the
most historic street
in Glasgow. The High
Street slopes down
through the city in
an arc from north to south, taking in
the medieval grandeur of Glasgow
Cathedral and some of the best preserved examples of Victorian red
sandstone tenements in the UK.
The oldest pub in Glasgow is
there too (though not for much
longer) and behind it a phalanx of
old paving stones, thought to be
the remnants of the oldest built
thoroughfare in Scotland. Other
European cities revere their ancient
places and build around them, making them centres of attraction. You
can find doorways that open on to
the city’s turbulent history and the
memories of the people who once
lived there, and who live there still.
Not Glasgow though. It has
hosen to desecrate its oldest street
and much of the neighbourhood it
The city’s oldest pub, soon to be gone.
once nourished. The vibrant businesses and shops which occupied the
ground floors of these mighty tenements have undergone a harrowing.
Sharp and sudden increases in rents
followed the outsourcing of its management to a commercial property
firm through the agency of an arm’s
length external organisation (Aleo),
basically a local authority handwashing device. A scattering of “To Let”
signs, like blackened teeth, now disfigures this old quarter.
Amid the resentment caused by
this urban dismantling there is a
growing suspicion that the High
Street and its environs are being
deliberately denuded of its people and its history to make way
for something unlovely and intrusive. The task of turning off the oxygen has already begun. In recent
years bus routes in and around the
city centre have been recalibrated to
avoid going down the High Street.
Massive student apartment
blocks built to a uniformly bland
design have begun to appear. In
May Glasgow’s councillors will
decide the fate of the Old College
Bar, a tavern whose foundations
date back to 1515. Inexplicably, the
building which houses this place
has not been listed. The plans to
demolish it are distressing enough
but the chrome and glass excrescence that is being proposed in its
place defies belief.
The development, if it goes ahead,
will be a 12-storey block of student
apartments with a few shops which
will tower over the entire neighbourhood. If you were to erect a
giant permanent portable building
adjacent to Westminster Cathedral,
the disfigurement of the built heritage couldn’t be more startling.
The developers, Structured House
Group, might disagree. They see it
as a “beacon of regeneration” which
will reproduce the interior of the Old
College Bar. Good luck with that one.
Structured House Group has
developed several student blocks
across Glasgow. Visitors are always
advised to look up when walking
through the city centre to observe
its lofty architectural delights. These
include some of the finest preserved
Georgian townhouses and stone
ornaments in the UK. The proliferation of these gilded student dormitories among them has become the
urban equivalent of an invasion of
giant hogweed.
More than 11% of Glasgow’s population – around 70,000 people
– are students. The University of
Glasgow and Strathclyde University
have come to rely on affluent overseas students for income. The student blocks are designed with them
in mind and their stiff rents reflect
this. In these places you’ll find all the
leisure facilities of a Cunard liner.
The High Street has become an
extension of the nearby Strathclyde
University which has begun to
resemble a small, independent
state sprawling out over the north
side of the city. Gordon Matheson,
former leader of the city council, resigned two years ago and was
appointed visiting professor with
the Institute for Future Cities, part
of the economics department of,
ahem … Strathclyde University. Part
of a wide-ranging portfolio of duties
in this post includes “working with
commercial organisations as well as
local and national government”.
As well as the cathedral and the
Old College Bar there is the 17thcentury Tolbooth Steeple. Admirers
of these places might want to start
taking photographs of them now
as future reminders of how they
once looked.
A primped and pampered pug
arrives yesterday for the third day
of Crufts at the National Exhibition
Centre, Birmingham. About
160,000 visitors are expected by
the time the show closes today.
Photograph by
Darren Staples/Reuters
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The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Farewell NME – irreverent, acerbic,
essential. At least when I was there!
In an era of bland
stars and Spotify, no
wonder the printed
music press has died
o, the fondest of
goodbyes to NME in print form.
As a former NME writer, I hadn’t
seen it in years, though I’m not
sure if I wholly agree with the
view of the music press as a spent
force “because people can get their
music and information for free”.
Is everybody absolutely sure that
there’s no “need” for a music press?
Two words: “Ed” and “Sheeran”.
So what if people can access
music/information elsewhere – the
now-departed music press (not just
NME, but also Melody Maker, Sounds,
Smash Hits et al) meant so much
more than telling people about the
release of some dreary mainstream
ear-poo. When it was strong, the
music press was engaged in cultural
resistance, fighting off record
companies’ attempts to exploit it
as an unofficial PR arm. The point
was not blandly to regurgitate
press releases, it was to listen,
watch, assess, enthuse, refuse… and
sometimes childishly rip the piss
just for the sheer hell of it.
Was it perfect? Of course not,
in too many ways to detail here.
However, those who think that
assessing pop music isn’t a skill only
need to watch The Voice, where the
coaches’ tedious, repetitive drivel
Is being first
lady really such
a good gig? Just
ask Julie Gayet
Hang on, I
always thought
Stonehenge was
a shrine to
satanism, not a
community hub
pretentious, isn’t this cultural
democracy in action, where wealth
and commercial clout mean nothing
and only quality counts?
Nor was it just journalists
who suffered from delusions of
significance – pretty much everyone
(musicians, photographers, band
managers, record company heads,
PRs), strutted about like they were
the last star in town. The result: a
vibrant, argumentative, occasionally
insane music industry that most
people would have back in an
instant over the tepid, polite, underfinanced, over-organised, Spotify-ed
mewling of today. While music and
information may now be “free”, does
it do what the music press used to
do – endlessly sifting, assessing and
categorising acts; at its best, turning
the music scene into a big crazy
party that everyone wanted to go to?
Back then, I wouldn’t even have
bothered to become exasperated by
Sheeran-Easy-Listening-Tune-BotInc, because, while still probably
successful, he’d have been correctly
dealt with in a review or two. (“Nice
sort – if he keeps this up, he could
end up performing Hey Jude in the
bigger tube stations.”)
So, RIP NME and also a respectful
nod to all the music hacks still out
there. Whatever people say, in my
eyes, you’ll always be necessary.
he latest theory
coming out of Stonehenge, this
one from English Heritage, is that
the stone circle may have been as
much of a community meeting place
as it was a building project. Erm.
Anyone else feel disappointed that
this makes Stonehenge sound like
an ancient conference put on for
The first time I visited
Stonehenge, many years ago, it
was for a music festival and, after
accepting a few kindly donated
mugs of “mushroom tea”, I, and
equally inspired friends, solved the
mystery of the stones.
It was obvious (maaan!) that
Stonehenge was a monument to
pagan sorcery, Wiccan lore, even
satanic worship, with people
flocking to absorb its dark powers,
dance around naked and everything
else we had read a bit about in
Dennis Wheatley books.
We may not have been right, and
we definitely weren’t sober, but at
least our theory was more exciting
than this English Heritage idea,
which sounds akin to a community
Grand Designs project, complete with
seating plans. Just a thought, but
perhaps it’s best to stop theorising
about Stonehenge if it’s simply
going to make an interesting
concept sound boring.
Gayet has a point, doesn’t she?
And it’s equally true, whether a
woman is a great first lady (see
Michelle Obama, in the news for
doing a Netflix deal alongside her
husband) or perhaps struggling
a little. There was evidence of the
latter last week, when Melania
Trump dealt with a survivor of the
Florida shooting as though, never
mind first lady, she was the world’s
least engaging Avon lady, reluctantly
trying to flog some stale bubblebath out of a suitcase in a pub.
It simply isn’t true that men get
the same deal when they have world
leaders for wives. “Mr May”, for one,
is rarely seen, nothing much is asked
of him and he’s rarely commented
on. By contrast, first ladies are
supposed to be coiffed, groomed
and articulate, while also remaining
reassuringly bland, permitted to be
truly animated only when staring
with admiration at their man, in
the manner of gasping Barbie dolls,
with their own alpha-impulses
temporarily placed on mute.
Nor is this pressure confined to
official first ladies – Kate Middleton
is a bit of a first lady, as may be
Meghan Markle. The former has
played ball, but if the latter gets too
uppity and opinionated, she will
be punished as briskly and surely
as Hillary Clinton, back at the time
when she was supporting Bill, and
looked less than enthralled at the
thought of producing a cookie
recipe to charm the voting masses.
While it’s great that women such
as Michelle Obama find a dignified
way through, Ms Gayet is correct –
the first lady is primarily a thankless
Miss Congeniality type of gig.
Office life: Blur’s Damon Albarn, Alex James and Graham Coxon at the NME in 1991. Photograph by Martin Goodacre/Getty
(“You have something very special”)
shows you exactly what happens
when artists take over critical duties.
One big myth of music journalism
was that writers secretly yearned to
be in bands, when the vast majority
couldn’t care less. Whatever their
brand of music journalism, these
people considered themselves
to be writers, part of the creative
conversation in their own right.
Which is why usually skint hacks
felt justified in informing rich and
famous rock stars that their latest
album was a symphony of tripe,
feeling, quite rightly, that this was
all the “information” their readers
required. At the risk of sounding
ulie Gayet, the French
actress and producer, and
partner of François Hollande,
who kept a low profile during his
presidency, says that she shunned
the position of first lady as she
thought it was sexist – an unpaid
role that stalled a woman’s career,
while simultaneously exposing her
to relentless scrutiny and criticism.
The Observer
Life with the
on show at
photo gallery
New York photographer Mark Shaw
began his career capturing the images
of stars such Elizabeth Taylor and
Audrey Hepburn for Life magazine, but
the back catalogue he left on his death
in 1969 at the age of 47 is best known
for the candid glimpse it offers into the
home life of the Kennedys.
Now Shaw’s photographs of
President John F Kennedy’s family,
taken both at the White House and
at their summer retreat at Hyannis
Port, Massachusetts, are to go on
show at the Proud Central gallery
Jackie Kennedy
with daughter
Caroline in the
shallows at
Hyannis Port,
1959. Photograph
© Mark Shaw/
near the Strand in London. Among
the key photographs on show will be
JFK’s favourite portrait of himself, as
well as shots of Jackie playing with
her children. Following Kennedy’s
assassination in 1963, Shaw was so
affected he distanced himself from
photography. On Shaw’s death his
photos were put in storage and unseen
for more than 40 years until 1996.
Life with the Kennedys: Photographs
by Mark Shaw runs from 22 March
until 6 May.
Vanessa Thorpe
NHS agency falsely
accuses 340,000 of
prescription fraud
Patients threatened
with fines for legitimately
claiming free medicines
Jamie Doward
Hundreds of thousands of NHS
patients are being wrongly accused
of fraudulently claiming free prescriptions and are being threatened
with fines.
Data released under the Freedom
of Information Act shows that
1,052,430 penalty notices were issued
to patients in England in 2017 – about
double the level in the previous year.
The fines, which carry a maximum penalty of £100 and are issued
to those who wrongly claim free
medication, are issued after an NHS
exemption certificate has expired.
But the data confirms that 342,882
penalty notices were subsequently
withdrawn because the patient was
entitled to the free prescription.
“These Freedom of Information
requests appear to show a penalty
system that is dysfunctional,” said
Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients
Association. “Any organisation issuing penalty notices and then having to withdraw nearly one in three
because they were issued in error is
not operating as it should. This compounds the unjust and haphazard
nature of prescription charging in
England, with some patients facing
substantial costs to manage their conditions, and others being entitled to
free prescriptions.”
Part of the problem stems from
patients moving home and failing to
update their records.
The NHS Business Services
Authority, the agency in charge of
issuing the fines, said it was continually reviewing its data-matching
process and making improvements
to ensure eligible patients were not
wrongly pursued. It said it was also
trying to educate patients on the
importance of keeping the details
on both their GP records and their
exemption or prescription prepayment certificates up to date.
“The NHS loses millions each year
through fraudulent and incorrect
claims for free prescriptions,” said
Alison O’Brien, head of loss recovery
services at the authority. “On behalf of
NHS England, and in discussion with
the Department of Health and Social
Care, the NHS Business Services
Authority checks claims randomly
and retrospectively to appropriately
recover funds and return them to
NHS services.”
Peter Burt, a patient who was
wrongly issued with one of the penalty notices, said he worried about
how certain patients would react to
receiving one. “Some of the people
who received these notices will certainly be in vulnerable situations and
some will be receiving prescription
medication for anxiety and mental
health issues,” Burt said.
“They should not be receiving letters threatening court action just
because the NHS can’t be bothered
to check the records to see whether
they have a prepayment card – espePatients’ group
chief Lucy Watson
said the system
was ‘unjust’.
cially if there is no intention of carrying out the threat. It’s hugely
disappointing that, at a time when
clinical services are clearly facing
financial strains, the NHS bureaucracy is wasting money by sending
out hundreds of thousands of inaccurate demands every year.”
Watson said more problems lay
ahead if further planned changes to
the way medicines were prescribed
were introduced.
“The bureaucracy around prescriptions is unfit for purpose, and will
only get worse if NHS England introduces its planned restrictions on prescribing over the counter medicines,”
she said. “Serving notice of penalties
for free prescriptions on patients who
may be vulnerable and unwell and are
then required to demonstrate their
right to a free prescription cannot be
a compassionate and caring way to
manage this system.”
The Observer
Irish expats urged to
return home to vote
against abortion ban
march in Dublin last
week. Photograph
by Clodagh Kilcoyne/
Pro-choice campaign calls
on 40,000 citizens living
overseas to travel back for
historic referendum
and suggests ways of helping the
campaign for those ineligible to vote.
It also plans to raise funds for those
struggling with travel costs.
Lianne Hickey, 26, who has been
living and working in London for the
past five months, has already booked
flights and time off work. “Every vote
counts, but it’s also important to send
a message that Irish people want a
fairer, safer world for Irish women,
and are prepared to travel home for
that,” she said.
“The referendum is just a recognition of reality: 11 women a day are
forced to travel. We need to remove
the shame and stigma, and allow
women who need it to have a safe
procedure in a familiar environment.”
In May 2015, Irish citizens travelled from as far as Australia to cast
their votes in the equal marriage referendum. Hundreds posted pictures
and accounts of their journey on
social media under #HomeToVote,
the same hashtag being used in the
2018 campaign.
Harriet Sherwood
Religion correspondent
Up to 40,000 Irish citizens living
abroad are being urged to return
home to cast crucial votes in a historic
referendum in May that could overturn the country’s ban on abortion. A
campaign, Home to Vote, is calling on
the Irish diaspora in the UK, Europe,
north America and elsewhere to book
flights and ferries to Ireland to exercise their democratic right.
Three years ago thousands of Irish
citizens returned home to vote on
same-sex marriage legislation, boosting the remarkable two-thirds majority for changing the law. Campaigners
now hope to repeat the feat.
More than three-quarters of a mil-
lion Irish-born people live in other
countries – a significant number
set against the resident population
of 4.8 million. Only those who have
been abroad for 18 months or less and
intend to return to Ireland are eligible
to vote. Those qualifying must register in advance and vote in person.
The referendum will ask whether
article 40.3.3 of the Irish constitution
– known as the eighth amendment –
should be repealed. This gives a foetus
the same rights to life as a pregnant
woman, and has been in place since
1983, enshrining in the constitution a
ban on abortion, even in cases of rape
and fatal abnormality of the foetus.
If it is overturned in a referendum
expected on 25 May, legislation giving women an unrestricted right to
abortion up to the 12th week will be
introduced. Since 1983 an estimated
170,000 Irish women have travelled
to the UK to terminate their pregnancies, incurring high costs, logistical
difficulties and emotional strain. In
addition, up to 2,000 women a year
end pregnancies by taking the abortion pill, illegally obtained online.
Polls have shown a majority in
favour of repeal, especially among
young people. The referendum is
seen as another litmus test of liberalising social attitudes in Ireland and
the declining influence of the Catholic
church. “Lots of people have already
pledged on Twitter to come home,
saying they are booking annual leave
and saving money for fares,” said
Cara Sanquest of the London-Irish
Abortion Rights Campaign, which is
spearheading the effort.
“There is a huge Irish population
in London but this is a global call for
people to have their say in shaping
the future of Ireland, a place where
many will return to live at some point.
No one under 52 has had a chance to
vote on this before. It’s a once-in-ageneration opportunity. We’re asking
people to make a journey in reverse
that thousands of women are forced
to make every year to have abortions.”
The Home to Vote website advises
Irish citizens abroad of their rights
Fred Guttenberg
holds a picture
of his murdered
daughter Jaime
as he meets
Photograph by
Jose A Iglesias/
Angry father’s mission is to dent
gun lobby’s ‘aura of strength’
Fred Guttenberg lost his 14-year-old daughter
Jaime in the Florida school shooting. He tells
Lois Beckett how grief drove him to come to
Washington and confront senators in his
campaign to end the scourge of gun violence
red Guttenberg was
at the midpoint of a
15-hour day of advocacy
in Washington, and he
was refusing to sit down.
“No one should feel comfortable talking about the death of
my kid,” he told a long line of Senate
Democrats. He was standing behind
the chair that had been provided.
Three weeks earlier his daughter Jaime had been shot dead in
the hallway of Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School in Parkland,
Florida. The 14-year-old had been
running away from the gunman, her
father said, when a bullet severed her
spinal cord.
Afterwards Guttenberg had looked
his Republican senator in the eye
and told him that his response to the
Parkland shooting, and the response
of the US president, had been “pathetically weak”. His daughter and her
classmates had been hunted in their
own school, and politicians needed
to admit guns were the problem and
ban military-style assault weapons.
The 52-year-old father was standing in a basement room in the Capitol,
where Democrats were hosting a
hearing for survivors of gun violence.
The meeting came just weeks
before the students of Marjory
Stoneman Douglas are due to lead the
“March For Our Lives” in Washington
on 24 March. Hundreds of thousands
are expected to attend and more than
500 events will be staged across the
US and around the world demanding
measures to end gun violence.
The protest was born out of the
wave of activism that followed the
mass shooting at the school, which
left 17 people dead. Congressional
Republicans have refused to hold
a formal hearing. Standing with
Guttenberg were a mother whose
daughter had been shot and survived
the Virginia Tech massacre more than
a decade earlier, and a mother whose
six-year-old son was murdered at
Sandy Hook Elementary school in
2012. At that time, President Obama
had embraced Francine Wheeler,
promising that this time, after the
deaths of 20 children, the reaction
would be different. “It wasn’t different,” Wheeler said.
Florida senator Bill Nelson spoke
to introduce Guttenberg. “Fred is
standing,” he said, “because Fred
cannot talk about this sitting down.”
Guttenberg’s older son, Jesse, is more
quiet. Jaime had been the loud one,
the feisty one, the silly one, the one
who never stopped talking because
she had so much to say.
When the shooting happened, Jesse
called his father even as he was run-
ning away, worried that he could not
find his sister. “Keep running,” his
father told him. Guttenberg and his
wife Jennifer texted and called Jaime.
No response. As all the other students found ways to reach their parents, they heard nothing. They drove
to the hospital. She wasn’t there.
Driving home, Guttenberg got a call
from one of his best friends, a Coral
Springs Swat officer who had been
one of the first responders inside the
school. His friend told him that they
should meet at the Marriott Hotel,
where students had been taken by
bus to meet their friends and family.
Guttenberg told his friend he did
not want to wait for news. “I can hear
it in your voice,” Guttenberg said. “He
broke down crying. He found my
daughter. He was the one.”
Jennifer was driving in another car
behind him, and she could tell that
something had changed. She called
him on the phone: “You know something.” He wanted to wait to tell her.
She would not wait. They pulled over.
“That’s how my wife found out,”
Guttenberg said. “At the side of the
road. Imagine every worst possibility
in your life,” he said, “and that’s what
it felt like.” People grieve very differently. Jennifer, who is intensely pri-
A mix of magic and
Black Lives Matter
New literary sensation
Tomi Adeyemi
Page 37
At a meeting held
by Democrats,
Lori Haas,
mother of a
school shooting
survivor, hugs
Wheeler, whose
son died at
Sandy Hook.
Photograph by
Jim Watson/AFP
Trump’s surprise
summit with Kim
spreads chaos in
the White House
Sabrina Siddiqui Washington
& Benjamin Haas Seoul
‘The only time I don’t
think about my
daughter and just
want to cry, to be
honest, is when I’m
busy doing this’
Fred Guttenberg
vate, now has to deal not only with
losing her child but with losing her
in a horrific and public way. Some
parents are like this. Others are like
Guttenberg, finding their solace in
relentless and articulate rage.
In the wake of so many American
mass killings, there have been a series
of parents like him: the ones who
come out swinging, the ones who
seem impossibly strong in the early
days of grief. “How can they do it?”,
people wonder.
A week after his daughter’s killing, Guttenberg confronted his
Republican senator, Marco Rubio,
on live television without a pause or
hesitation. In Washington, he is polite
to senators, to staffers, to the people
who tell him how brave he is, to the
people who tell him they are praying
for his family. He seems genuinely
grateful for the support. It is important to remember that all of this is a
coping mechanism.
“The only time I don’t think about
my daughter and just want to cry, to
be honest, is when I’m busy doing
this,” Guttenberg said. “At least I feel
like I’m doing something to honour
her memory.”
He was in a hallway in the Capitol
basement, hastily eating a sandwich
that a Congressional staffer had given
him before it was time to testify.
Guttenberg would go on to tell the
story of his daughter’s murder three
times in less than six hours, choking
up most often as he explained that, in
the ordinary chaos of sending her off
to school on the last day of her life, he
could not remember if he had actually
told Jaime that he loved her.
He would do most of this on his
feet: standing at the hearing, standing for hours that night in front of
a packed high-school auditorium in
Alexandria, Virginia, as a long line of
adults and children, some as young as
10 and 11, shared their anger and their
fear, and their plans for staging walkouts on 14 March to protest against
the inaction on school shootings. Two
Democratic congressmen flanked
Guttenberg. They had sat briefly on
the stools provided them, and then
stood because he was standing.
“Three weeks ago I was just Jesse
and Jaime’s dad,” he told the audience.
“I don’t sit when I discuss this.”
The activism from his daughter’s
Marjory Stoneman Douglas classmates, and from children all over the
country, gives Guttenberg hope. Some
students at TC Williams high school
in Virginia were wearing orange ribbons, like the one Guttenberg wore,
a symbol of gun violence prevention,
and Jaime’s favourite colour.
Guttenberg carries around
the latest ad from National Rifle
Association spokeswoman Dana
Loesch, where she warned the NRA’s
opponents, some of them by name:
“Your time is running out.”
“If this was put out by a terrorist
organisation, we would be raising the
terror threat level in this country. Why
A memorial to
the 17 victims
of the massacre
at the Florida
high school.
Photograph by
Larry Marano/
are we letting this lobby having anything to do with DC? I don’t understand it,” Guttenberg told Democratic
senators at Wednesday’s hearing, his
voice breaking with frustration.
While he wants to ban assault
weapons like the rifle used to kill
his daughter, a ban is not actually
Guttenberg’s top priority. “I don’t
think it will ever happen in this environment,” he said. “As much as I
would like to see that, I’m interested
in taking steps to start dealing with
the safety issue in a pragmatic way.”
He says guns should be treated
more like cars, with mandatory
licensing, registration and insurance
– a policy that even Democrats like
Obama had treated as too extreme.
As Guttenberg spoke, Florida was in
the process of passing its first serious
gun control legislation in decades. It
was “the bare minimum legislation”,
he said, raising age limits for buying
guns, creating a waiting period, and
banning bump stocks, but the fact
that any legislation was passed in
Florida, a pro-gun state, was a blow
to the NRA’s “aura of strength”.
The financial industry is next,
Guttenberg hopes. He wanted to
see all investment funds “divest
themselves of these gun manufacturers and of companies that have
relationships with the NRA”. This is
his strategy: “Keep the pressure on
the money.”
There was confusion inside the White
House last night as administration officials struggled with Donald
Trump’s decision to hold an unprecedented one-to-one nuclear summit with North Korea’s leader Kim
Jong-un by the end of May.
As analysts and counter-proliferation experts voiced alarm that the
US was handing Kim a propaganda
victory by effectively legitimising his
nuclear weapons build-up, the president tweeted: “The deal with North
Korea is very much in the making and
will be, if completed, a very good one
for the world. Time and place to be
But senior US officials, who were
not consulted in advance by Trump
about the policy volte-face, suggested
any summit could take many months
to arrange and was subject to a range
of conditions being met.
“The president will not have the
meeting without seeing concrete
steps and concrete actions take place
by North Korea,” the White House
spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said.
“Let’s be very clear. The United States
has made zero concessions but North
Korea has made some promises.”
Sanders appeared to refer to Kim’s
statement, made to a South Korean
delegation last week, that he was
committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Kim
also reportedly promised to unilaterally freeze the north’s nuclear and
missile tests. Denuclearisation is a
lengthy process involving international inspections and complex verification procedures.
Mike Pence, the US vice-president and a hardliner on North Korea,
refused to meet Kim’s sister at the
Winter Olympics in South Korea, and
earlier this week said US policy would
remain unchanged barring “concrete
steps toward denuclearisation”.
Another White House official later
clarified Sanders’s remarks, saying she had not intended to set new
conditions for talks with Kim. But
her comments were taken as a sign
that any celebration of an end to the
standoff over North Korea’s nuclear
weapon programme would be premature and that, whatever Trump
may believe, a breakthrough is not
considered imminent in Washington.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of
state and America’s chief diplomat,
appeared to seek a third way. The
day before Trump’s announcement,
Tillerson told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Africa that the US
was “a long ways from negotiations”
with the North Korean regime. After
the announcement he was at pains to
explain that he had not ruled out the
possibility of “talks”.
The mixed signals contributed to a
sense of confusion that has become
characteristic of Trump’s presidency,
with major policy announcements by
the president often catching his own
administration off guard.
Adding to the concerns was the lack
of seasoned negotiators at Trump’s
side. Last week, the senior US diplomat responsible for North Korean
policy, Joseph Yun, resigned from the
state department. Earlier this year,
the White House withdrew its nominee for the US ambassadorship to
South Korea after he privately disa-
Talks are crucial, but vain
Trump blunders again
Observer Comment, page 48
greed with the Trump administration’s decision to consider a possible
pre-emptive, so-called “bloody nose”
strike against North Korea.
Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, who was elected on a platform
promising to re-establish dialogue
with Pyongyang, welcomed the proposed meeting between Kim and
Trump as a “historic milestone” on
the way to peace on the peninsula.
Moon has been careful to praise both
leaders for their willingness to talk,
but many South Koreans believe the
credit for progress belongs to him.
There was intense speculation
about the location of any TrumpKim summit, with a meeting at
Panmunjon, which is situated at the
demilitarised zone between north
and south, considered the most likely
venue. But analysts in South Korea
are focused on Moon’s own meeting
with Kim, scheduled for late April.
The Observer
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Luigi Di Maio
celebrates his
election success
in Pomigliano
Photograph by
Alberto Pizzoli/
How Ferrante’s neighbourhood tells
a story of Italy’s transformed politics
The success of the
Five Star Movement
in last week’s national
elections has its roots
in the disaffection of
Neapolitans, who no
longer trust traditional
political parties
ew people in Rione
Luzzatti are aware of
how intriguing they and
their rundown neighbourhood have become
thanks to the phenomenal success of Elena Ferrante’s
Neapolitan novels. Located to the east
of the Naples train station, the district
is believed to have been the setting for
the childhood home of the two protagonists, Elena and Lina. “People
around here don’t really read books,”
says Pascale Edoardo.
Plagued by crime and high unemployment, his fellow Neapolitans dismiss Rione Luzzati as a hostile no-go
zone. “We’re a dormitory of Naples.
Nobody comes here, there is nothing,” Edoardo adds. “Only the centre
has been made attractive for tourists.”
Book culture may have passed
them by, but Edoardo and his friend
Sergio Amato are tuned in politically.
Sitting outside a shop, a rottweiler
lounging on a cushion beside them,
they explain why they voted for the
insurgent Five Star Movement (M5S)
in last Sunday’s national election.
They were far from alone. In what
has been depicted as one of the most
striking political shifts in the history
of the Italian republic, M5S became
the biggest single party after taking
32% of the vote. Led by 31-year-old
Luigi Di Maio, the party was founded
less than a decade ago, but its strong
performance was not unexpected.
What did surprise was the farright League’s victory within a coalition that included Silvio Berlusconi’s
centre-right Forza Italia and the
smaller far-right Brothers of Italy.
The group won the largest share of
the vote – 37% – although on a personal level it was a dismal result for
Berlusconi, who at 81 is desperate
to stay in the game. Still, it was even
more destructive for the centre-left
Democratic party, which had its worst
ever performance.
The election, which produced a
hung parliament, exposed the country’s cavernous economic divisions
as much as its political ones: M5S triumphed in the impoverished south,
while the rightwing coalition dominated in the wealthier north.
But in Naples, considered the heart
of southern protest movements, the
anti-establishment shift began much
earlier. Naples was among the first
cities to embrace M5S when it was
founded in 2009. That was partly
because two of its young activists were local: Di Maio was born
in Avellino but grew up in nearby
Pomigliano d’Arco, while parliamen-
The Five Star Movement won 50% of
the vote in Naples last week. Alamy
tarian Roberto Fico is a Neapolitan.
However, the first major rejection
of traditional parties came in 2011,
when Luigi de Magistris, a former
prosecutor from populist group Italy
of Values, became mayor after more
than a decade of centre-left administrations. “In a way, de Magistris
pre-empted this protest vote,” said
Mauro Calise, a politics professor at
the University of Naples Federico II.
Di Maio’s meteoric rise to leader
undoubtedly enhanced M5S’s popularity in the city, where it scooped
more than 50% of last week’s vote.
In second place, with around 23%,
was the centre-right alliance, with
the Democratic party, led by former
prime minister Matteo Renzi, in third.
A message daubed on walls across the
city laid bare the widespread sentiment: “No Renzi government”.
“Two years ago you could not write
about Italian politics without mentioning Renzi’s absolute rule within
the party and government,” added
Calise. “Now it is all about his definite demise. Once the old party system collapses, and this has been the
case all over Europe with the exception of Germany, everything is up for
a big change.”
Naples’ residents are hoping they
will be among the first to benefit from that sweeping change. “The
Democratic party robbed us,” said
Amato. “Berlusconi is a convicted
criminal – how could we have voted
for him? I support Di Maio because he
seems honest. I’m not so sure he can
How Italy voted
• League • Five Star Movement • Democratic Party • SVP
Val d'aosta
No proportional
League overtook Forza
Italia to become the
main force in the north,
and also picked up
areas in the Democratic
party heartlands north
of Rome
Where did
it all go
wrong for
page 49
Why the
can and
must hold
The Sunday
pages 57-59
The Five Star
Movement saw a surge
in support throughout the
islands and most of the south
Source: Italian interior ministry. 99% of districts declared
change much, there are huge problems and he isn’t that well educated.
We will have to wait and see.”
Horse-trading is now under way
between parties to reach the requisite
40% required to form a government.
But if Di Maio, a former waiter who
did not complete university, becomes
prime minister, he faces a mammoth
task in tackling his home region’s
deeply entrenched problems, including extreme poverty, organised crime
and the mafia’s toxic waste dumps,
which have been linked to the high
cancer rate.
During one of his final rallies, he
said the only way to confront the
mafia was to send corrupt politicians
home. Di Maio has been quick to deal
with those he called “bad apples” in
his own party, having expelled 10 parliamentarians who were exposed for
defaulting on an obligation to put half
of their wages into a fund for small
businesses in the weeks before the
vote. Amato said the move proves that
M5S “kicks the crooks out”.
Pasquale Giordano, who owns a
butcher’s shop in Naples’ densely
populated Spanish quarter, believes
M5S and its fund will be the answer to
his woes. “We small business owners
keep Italy together; if it wasn’t for us
the country would fall apart,” he says.
Young Neapolitans also have high
expectations of Di Maio. “He is young
and seems closer to the people than
the others,” said Giovanni Portoghese,
a 20-year-old art student who voted
for the first time last week. “Renzi had
his chance and failed.”
Portoghese is one of a group of students who set up “Heart of Naples”, an
‘Di Maio seems
honest, but I’m not
sure he can change
much. We’ll have
to wait and see’
Sergio Amato, Naples citizen
initiative aimed partly at bringing the
local community and the large foreign population closer together. In the
election, the city defiantly snubbed
the xenophobic League, whose leader,
Matteo Salvini, has dismissed southern Italians as “parasites”. Along with
its far-right ally, Brothers of Italy, it
took less than 3% of the Naples vote.
i Maio is celebrating
what he called the
beginning of Italy’s
Third Republic, or
a “republic for citizens”. He was referring to the dominant political orders
since Benito Mussolini’s fascist
regime was overthrown at the end of
the second world war. The so-called
First Republic, which was led by the
Christian Democrats or Socialists,
fell in the early 1990s amid a series
of scandals that exposed widespread
corruption and mafia influence. In
1994, Berlusconi seized power, thus
ushering in the Second Republic.
Citizens are certainly taking Di
Maio at his word, with supporters
in Puglia already queuing up in job
centres, seeking the promised basic
income. But pundits are starting to
question whether he and his team
will be capable of running such a
hugely indebted and complicated
Calise pointed to the poor track
record and dwindling support in
administrations already managed by
M5S. In the northern city of Turin,
led by mayor Chiara Appendino since
June 2016, the Democratic party came
out on top. Support for M5S also fell in
Rome and Livorno, a city in Tuscany.
“We’re talking about a protest vote,
and one that came from a disadvantaged social structure,” said Calise.
“It’s a way of saying ‘OK, let’s just get
rid of this’. But it’s unstable. The big
question now is, are they going to be
able to respond to this protest? I suspect, once the euphoria dims, there
will be volatility in both the party’s
leadership and the electorate.”
Win £25,000 and work at three of
Britain’s top news publications
The Anthony Howard Award for
Young Journalists 2018
Anthony Howard, who died in 2010,
was a superb political journalist with
an exceptional ability to encourage
young writers. In his memory, an
annual bursary of £25,000 is offered
to working or aspiring journalists
aged under 27 who want to write
about politics and government.
The successful candidate will serve
three fellowships of 14 weeks
each, starting in October, at the
publications with which Howard
was most closely associated: the
Observer, the Times and the New
Applicants – who must remember
that Anthony Howard valued flair,
The Observer
imagination and wit – should
propose a subject for a 5,000word piece on British politics and
government and outline how they
would research it. They should also
include an example of their writing,
published or unpublished.
Details and rules available at
Applicants should send their
proposal, an example of their writing
(maximum 800 words) and a short
CV, including contact details, to
Applications will close on 27 April.
The Observer
Assad’s forces ‘have
cut off largest town
in eastern Ghouta’
Children gather
wood in Douma.
Photograph by
Bassam Khabieh/
Douma reportedly
encircled as number of
deaths exceeds 1,000
high commissioner for human rights
described the military offensive as a
“monstrous annihilation”.
The bombardment and encirclement of Douma continued even as
rebels in the enclave, which is home
to at least 300,000 people, acceded to
a key demand by Russia: the evacuation of a few hundred al-Qaida-linked
fighters in the enclave.
In a statement on Twitter on Friday,
Jaish al-Islam, one of the main factions in eastern Ghouta, said the decision had been taken in consultation
with the UN, international parties
and civil society representatives from
eastern Ghouta. A few fighters were
evacuated in an initial batch.
Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman, two Islamist rebel groups, control most of the opposition-held areas
of eastern Ghouta. Any solution to the
crisis will probably involve a partial
evacuation of rebel fighters and perhaps civilians, in a deal similar to past
surrender agreements.
Kareem Shaheen
Syrian government forces have surrounded the largest town in the
besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta,
in a prelude to a possible ground
assault that could further inflame a
dire humanitarian crisis.
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad
have essentially split off Douma from
the rest of eastern Ghouta, according
to the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, a day after a Red Cross and
UN aid convoy arrived in the town to
unload food supplies to thousands
of civilians in need. Douma was once
one of the largest cities in Syria.
The report from the UK-based
human rights group, which said both
Douma and the smaller nearby town
of Harasta were surrounded and
cut off, was disputed by locals, but
such an outcome seems inevitable in
any event as the regime presses its
advantage, backed by both Syrian and
Russian airstrikes.
It also raises greater humanitarian concerns and fears for the lives
of civilians living in the area. More
than 1,000 people have been killed in
the last two weeks of violence in eastern Ghouta, which borders the capital Damascus, according to Médecins
sans Frontières, which has gathered
data from hospitals in the area.
Local doctors said that between
49 and 65 people had died on Friday,
and the near-ceaseless shelling that
started on 19 February resumed yesterday morning. Accurate figures for
the dead are impossible to collate
because many bodies remain trapped
under rubble, and others are buried
without being taken to hospitals.
City limits
4 km
4 miles
The violence has continued
despite a UN security council resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire
and the delivery of humanitarian aid
“without delay”. Residents have spent
weeks living underground in bomb
shelters, suffering food shortages and
a lack of medical supplies.
Reports of chemical attacks that
may have involved chlorine or organophosphorus have also emerged in
recent days, despite warnings by
western powers that use of chemical weapons might prompt them to
intervene in the unfolding crisis.
The UN secretary general has
described the situation in eastern
Ghouta as “hell on earth” and the
The Observer
Fantasy author
on a quest to
mix magic with
Black Lives Matter
Tomi Adeyemi’s debut
is being hailed as a
literary sensation.
Here the 24-year-old
tells Sarah Hughes
about the inspiration
for her epic tale of
myths and monsters
It has been called the biggest fantasy
debut novel of 2018, drawing comparisons with everything from Game
of Thrones to Black Panther, and has
netted a movie deal reported to be
worth seven figures.
But Tomi Adeyemi, the 24-year-old
Nigerian-American author of Children
of Blood and Bone, says that such success was the last thing on her mind
when she sat down to write her epic
tale of an oppressive world where
magic has been outlawed.
“For the past 10 months I’ve spent
a lot of time thinking, is this for
real?” she says. “I had a lot of different reasons for writing the book but
at its core was the desire to write for
black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from.
That was my experience as a child.
Children of Blood and Bone is a chance
to address that. To say you are seen.”
Adeyemi is the middle child of
three – her brother is a musician and
her younger sister still at college. Her
father is a doctor, while her mother
runs a group of hospices outside
Chicago. She studied English literature at Harvard before heading to
Brazil on a fellowship to study west
African culture and mythology. It
was in South America that the seeds
of Children of Blood and Bone, the first
in a trilogy, were sown.
“I was in a gift shop there and the
in brief
Duterte’s officee
said he had given
the police ‘more
African gods and goddesses were
depicted in such a beautiful and
sacred way … it really made me think
about all the beautiful images we
never see featuring black people.”
She describes the story – which follows fisherman’s daughter Zélie and
an unlikely band of allies and enemies on a quest to reawaken magic
in the country of Orïsha – as “an allegory for the modern black experience”. It draws inspiration from both
west African mythology and the Black
Lives Matter movement.
“Every moment of violence in the
book is based on real footage,” she
says, explaining that an early scene
in which Zélie is attacked by a guard
was inspired by the notorious video of
a police officer pushing a teenage girl
to the ground at a pool party in Texas.
“It’s not my intention to be gratuitous
but I want people to be aware that
these things are happening and that
the actual videos are much worse.”
Adeyemi is not the only young
author using fantasy to meld personal stories with political themes.
Justina Ireland’s hugely anticipated
Dread Nation, an alternative US civil
war story with added zombies, is
published in the US next month.
Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, a dark
story of beauty, obsession and magic,
came out in the UK in February.
Meanwhile, the conclusion to
Daniel José Older’s acclaimed
Shadowshaper trilogy, which follows
a diverse group of Brooklyn teens as
they fight dark forces, both magical
and human, is expected next year.
“In my perfect world, we’d have one
black girl fantasy book every month,”
says Adeyemi. “We need them, and
we need fantasy stories about black
boys as well.”
Does she feel that Children of Blood
and Bone is a necessary corrective,
given how white much current fan-
NigerianAmerican writer
Tomi Adeyemi,
24, was inspired
by west African
Elena Seibert
‘It makes my blood
boil that it’s fine to
have a queen of
the dragons but
you can’t have
a black person’
tasy is? “Oh yes,” she says with a
laugh. “That does make my blood boil
– the idea that it’s totally fine to have
a queen of the dragons but you can’t
possibly have a black person.
“That’s why the success of [the
recent Marvel movie] Black Panther
has been so significant – black and
marginalised audiences have the
chance to see themAdeyemi describes her
novel as ‘an allegory
for the modern
black experience’.
selves as heroes depicted in a beautiful and empowering way, and white
audiences get to see new stories told,
and it becomes easier for them to picture a black superhero. Imagination is
a funny thing – we sometimes need
to see something before we can truly
picture it.”
She is clear that the film version
of Children of Blood and Bone, which
has been chosen as a Waterstones
book of the month for March, must
have a black director: “It’s a deeply,
deeply personal thing – there are
parts of the book that black people
get instantly because they’ve lived
it.” But, she warns, it’s important that
people don’t use young adult fiction
as a quick-fix cure-all.
“We can’t Obama this, where we
have a black president, so suddenly
racism is cured, and then eight years
later Nazis are marching and people
start saying, ‘Maybe we have a race
problem’,” she says. “Our books aren’t
there to magically fix publishing but
maybe they’ll start the changes moving so that in six months we’ll have
even more great stories, where we see
ourselves and are heard.”
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi
Adeyemi is published by Macmillan
Children’s Books, £7.99
Duterte gives greater Four dead after siege City restricts car use Olympic ice skating
powers to police
at veterans’ home
as pollution soars
coach suspended
President Rodrigo Duterte has
signed a bill giving the country’s
police chief and two other senior officers the power to issue
subpoenas to hasten crime investig
tigations. The law “will add more
teeth to their mandate to find
”, his spokesman said.
Human rights activists expressed
saying the Philippines
force was notorious for
and could use the new
pow to trump up charges against
critical of Duterte. Reuters
Three women who treated former soldiers for post-traumatic
stress disorder were found dead on
Friday, along with a man who took
them hostage in a siege at the largest veterans’ home in the US, in
Yountville, California. The four bodies were discovered nearly eight
hours after the gunman slipped
into an employee going-away party
at the building, police said. The
three female victims were employees of the non-profit organisation
The Pathway Home. AP
One of China’s biggest cities has
imposed curbs on traffic and industry because of an increase in air
pollution, and has told elderly people and children to stay indoors.
The government of Tianjin, a
port of 15.5 million people east of
Beijing, said half of the city’s cars
would be banned from the road
every day starting from today,
based on whether their registration numbers were odd or even.
Factories have been ordered to
reduce emissions by 50%. AP
The US figure skating coach who
trained Tara Lipinski to an Olympic
gold medal in 1998 has been suspended and will be investigated by
an organisation formed to prevent
sexual abuse of athletes, the sport’s
governing body has announced.
Richard Callaghan, 72, is barred
from any activities sanctioned
by US Figure Skating or the US
Olympic Committee pending the
outcome of an inquiry by the US
Center for SafeSport, an independent watchdog group. Reuters
The Observer
Rohingya’s adolescents seek counselling to
cope with aftermath of Myanmar brutality
Young male refugees in
Bangladesh are being
helped by pioneering
aid efforts that try to
address the hidden
scars of war. Liz Ford
talked to some of
them at Cox’s Bazar
Memories of the day in October
that changed the life of teenager
Mohammed Riaz for ever come in
vivid flashbacks, when it’s dark
and quiet.
State forces arrived in his village in the Buthidaung township of
Myanmar. Officers entered the family
home, raped and killed his two elder
sisters and shot his brother dead.
Mohammed, 17, and his mother
managed to get out of the house. “I
was so scared. It happened so quickly.
Even if I wanted to rescue them, I was
so scared. I wanted to do something,”
he said through an interpreter.
Biplop, 18, who goes only by one
name, has nightmares following an
army attack on his village in the same
district a month earlier. His mother
and sister were held for seven hours,
tied to chairs and beaten.
“The guards were all around the
place. The military were going into
homes,” he says. “I tried to protect my
mother and sister, but they tied us up,
so I couldn’t.”
From the window of his home,
Biplop says he saw a man being
beheaded and babies being killed.
When no one is around, he cries.
About 700,000 Rohingya have fled
Myanmar and crossed the border
into Bangladesh since 25 August last
year when renewed violence broke
out in northern Rakhine state. They
joined more than 300,000 Rohingya
already in the country. Mohammed
and Biplop, who were among the new
arrivals, are now getting help to deal
with the trauma.
“When I’m alone and want to think
about anything, all these flashbacks
come. I have nightmares as well,”
said Mohammed, sitting inside a tent
made of bamboo and tarpaulin in
Balukhali, a makeshift refugee camp
near the town of Cox’s Bazar.
Dressed in a traditional lungi (a
type of sarong) and a white Metallica
T-shirt – though he has never heard
of the band – his emotions veer
from anger to sadness. There is fear
for his mother, who he says is constantly crying. “I don’t look forward
to tomorrow,” he said.
Mohammed’s willingness to talk
nevertheless offers hope for his
future, said Imrul Hosen, assistant
project officer for mental health with
Action Against Hunger. The NGO runs
stress management sessions in camp
for young men like Mohammed and
“Men don’t open up easily. It
requires a lot of rapport building to
Imrul Hosen,
centre, leads
a men’s stress
session in the
Balukhali camp.
make them understand that [what
they say] won’t be used against
them,” he said.
Hosen knows it is critical that men
talk. He hopes group therapy sessions will help to stop traumatised
adolescents in the camp from growing up into angry, violent young men,
vulnerable to radicalisation, and prevent the onset of post-traumatic
stress disorder.
The World Health Organisation
estimates that up to one in five people caught up in an emergency will
develop some form of depression or
anxiety. Yet, in 2015, the WHO found
that hardly any mental healthcare
was provided by aid agencies. It has
since called for mental health support to be a key part of the healthcare package offered to people forced
from their homes.
Over the past 15 years there has
been a growing awareness of the
need for mental health support for
refugees. The UN refugee agency, the
UNHCR, has been developing tools
that aid agencies can use.
Action Against Hunger, Médecins
Sans Frontières and Save the Children
are among more than 10 NGOs and
aid agencies now providing mental
health support to refugees in Cox’s
Bazar. Their efforts, supported by the
Bangladeshi government, have so far
enabled almost 350,000 people to
receive counselling. But men are less
likely than women to put themselves
forward for help.
“A lot of men, because of cultural bias, are not able to express
their fears,” says Farhana Rahman
Eshita, Action Against Hunger’s men-
left, is one of the
many refugees
being helped.
by Tom Pilston/
Action Against
‘I was so scared.
The murders of
my family
happened so
quickly . I wanted
to do something’
Mohammed Riaz
tal health programme co-ordinator
“They feel shy or shameful to say
they are feeling low. So we thought
there should be specific male groups
– with adolescents having separate
groups – on stress management, to
help them to heal and cope better
with the situation.”
With the scale and speed of the
influx of Rohingya refugees since
August, Eshita, a clinical psychologist who counselled survivors of the
Rana Plaza factory collapse in the
Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in 2013,
said agencies had to move quickly to
introduce trauma counselling.
By September, her organisation
had hired about 30 extra staff and
was providing emergency support for
women, men and children in the area.
More than 20,000 boys and men have
since undertaken counselling.
Eshita says that as well as the violence that men have experienced
or seen, other major triggers for
male anxiety and depression have
included the need to adapt to a new
environment, not having a job, and
not knowing how they will survive
and support their families.
That worry has been shown to
translate into violence, often against
wives and children. Eshita says that,
for some Rohingya men, beating their
wives “is normal to them, like eating
and sleeping”. Stressful situations
only exacerbate this tendency, but
counselling provides an opportunity
to discourage it, she said.
Young men attending stress management sessions with Hosen and his
team at Balakuli camp meet in groups
of 12 to 14 people, two or three times,
to share their experiences and learn
coping techniques. These include
breathing exercises for when they
feel anger.
Hosen said he encouraged men
to continue meeting and supporting one another after the initial sessions. He also watches out for those
who require more intense support
and will recommend them for oneto-one counselling with a psychologist if required.
Biplop, whose grey T-shirt is emblazoned with the word “RAW”, perhaps
reflecting his internal anguish, said
talking about his experiences in the
therapy sessions, and with friends,
had helped. He says he feels “a little
bit lighter” after having the chance to
share his story.
“I understand that I can’t expect a
happy free life in Bangladesh because
I’m not a Bangladeshi citizen,” he said.
“I think if I can go back home and
things calm down and life becomes
like before, maybe I have a chance to
live a happy life like other people do.”
Rhinestone rhythms
Young Brits take
country music to their
achy, breaky hearts
Pages 42-43
The attack has been widely linked to Russia.
Were rogue security service elements to blame,
or was Putin warning any Russians involved
in interfering in the US elections to keep their
mouths shut? Jamie Doward, Marc Bennetts in
Moscow and Kevin Rawlinson investigate
or a man who lived in a
modest semi-detached
house in a cul-de-sac
in the genteel cathedral city of Salisbury,
Sergei Skripal had a
very immodest past. Some reports
suggest that the former officer with
Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, shared with MI6
the identities of as many as 300
Russian agents during his time as a
double agent.
At his trial, the Federal Security
Service (FSB, the successor to the
KGB) compared Skripal to Oleg
Penkovsky, who was executed in
1963, and who history records as
one of western intelligence’s most
valuable assets.
After his release in 2010, in the
largest spy swap since the end of
the cold war, Skripal would have
been all too aware of how his colleagues viewed him. Many in the
FSB are fond of quoting the motto
of Smersh, Stalin’s counter-intelligence unit: “Death to spies.” That
he came from the GRU only made
things worse.
“The Russian state is a strange
construction,” said Sir Andrew
Wood, a former British ambassador
to Russia, now an associate fellow
at Chatham House. “The FSB is not
a monolithic organisation. There
are elements within it like the GRU,
which is a sort of rival to the FSB.”
Many within the FSB are ultranationalists. The assassination of
a traitor shortly before this week’s
presidential election would have
made a nice gift for one of their
most famous alumni, President
Continued on page 40
Sergei Skripal, victim
of the Salisbury murder
attempt, had been a
colonel in Russian
military intelligence.
The Observer
Sergei Skripal
Continued from page 39
Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to
win 70% of the vote.
But while Wood has little doubt
that the brazen attempted murder of
Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia,
33, an operation using a rare form of
nerve agent available to only a few
foreign states, can be laid at Russia’s
door, he questions whether Putin
would have sanctioned it directly.
“I don’t doubt it had general
approval from senior heads – that’s
the system he’s created. Since 2012
Russia has been going backwards,
rejecting economic reform and better courts in favour of renewed
state control and repression, a fear
of anything that is other. It’s the
revival of Stalinism and the idea that
Russia has the right to dominate
its neighbours.”
In this climate, former FSB officers now working in the murky world
inhabited by ex-spies feel they can
act with impunity.
hether Skripal
had an inkling
his life was
in danger is
unclear. There
has been speculation in police circles that he
received an Osman notice before
he was attacked. These are warnings handed by the security services
to people they fear may be targeted.
But Skripal seems not to have made
any changes to his lifestyle: hardly
the action of someone in fear for
their life.
The are also claims that considerable amounts of money were
found in his bank account and
that mobile phone records connect
him to the former MI6 agent who
recruited him. Again, none of this
can be confirmed.
But quite a lot is known about
the agent in question. At the time
of Skripal’s arrest in 2004, the ItarTass news agency reported that
the MI6 officer was working in the
British embassy in Tallinn and had
been responsible for recruiting
scores of Russian intelligence assets.
According to the FSB, these included
a Russian security service officer,
Vyacheslav Zharko.
It’s at this point that the past and
the present collide. The attempted
murder of the Skripals has drawn
comparisons with the fatal poisoning of the spy Aleksandr Litvinenko,
who was on the payroll of the exiled
oligarch and Putin critic, Boris
Zharko has said it was Litvinenko
who introduced him to the same
MI6 agent who recruited Skripal.
“It all started in 2002, when he
introduced me to employees of
MI6 … They proposed that I provide consulting services to them, for
money. The fee was about €2,000 a
month, plus expenses,” Zharko once
explained to a Russian broadcaster.
But Skripal was in a different
league from Zharko. He was the
main asset reclaimed by western
intelligence when, along with three
others, he was released in 2010 in
exchange for 10 Russian agents,
including Anna Chapman, the
British-based spy.
“The exchange was very unusual,”
explained Dr Yuri Felshtinsky, who
co-wrote Blowing up Russia with
Litvinenko. “It was seen as an invitation for Russians to spy for foreigners because it indicated any Russian
arrested for spying in Russia could
be exchanged.”
Felshtinsky suggests the Kremlin
had little choice but to trade
Skripal: pressure was mounting
from powerful supporters to get
the 10 Russian “sleepers” back as
quickly as possible. “They knew they
were making a mistake by releasing him, but they knew they would
have a chance to kill him later,”
Feltshtinsky said.
But, unlike Litvinenko, Skripal
seemed to have opted for a quiet life,
keeping his head down and making
no public criticism of Putin. Indeed,
‘They knew it was a
mistake to free him
but they knew they
would have a chance
to kill him later’
Dr Yuri Felshtinsky
all the stories about him last week
were of a man who enjoyed a quiet
drink, gambled on scratchcards and
studiously visited the graves of his
wife Liudmila, and son, Alexander,
whose ashes he had had flown back
from Russia.
This makes the targeting of his
daughter all the more shocking.
“This is a complete change of the
rules of the game and will frighten a
lot of people,” Felshtinsky said. Until
now only individuals have been targeted in murders suspected of being
linked to the Kremlin.
In the UK they include Alexander
Perepilichny, a Moscow banker
turned whistleblower who died after
jogging near his house in Surrey
and is suspected of having been poisoned, and Berezovsky, who was
found hanged at his ex-wife’s mansion in Berkshire.
Former Russian press minister
Mikhail Lesin was found beaten to
death in a Washington hotel room
last year. The former Chechen president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was
killed in an explosion in Qatar in
daughter Yulia,
33; and her
father, after he
was sentenced
to 13 years
in prison for
spying, in Russia
in 2006.
Rex, EPA
2004 for which three Russians were
jailed for life, only to be extradited
to their homeland, where they were
given a heroes’ welcome and apparently freed.
Their treatment draws comparisons with that of Andrei Lugovoi,
the former KGB officer wanted by
Britain for Litvinenko’s murder, now
a politician and successful businessman back in Russia.
“Not only do they kill their opponents but they also indicate to
everybody that a crime is never
going to be punished,” Felshtinsky
said. “It [the murder] might not
be discovered, and if it is discovered, even if you are arrested, they’ll
get you out, and if you are arrested
they’ll publicly promote you. They
are very open, very cynical.”
Some have speculated that Skripal
was targeted because he was continuing to mine Russian contacts
for information that he was relaying to MI6 and to private intelligence firms.
“Litvinenko was a ‘gun for hire’
once he left Russia,” said one person who runs a London-based security and risk analysis firm which has
operations in Russia. “There a lot of
people like him around. They can
earn money acting as advisers to us.
Skripal’s attempted murder wasn’t
subtle. This was about terrorism,
not elimination.”
Intriguingly, the MI6 agent who
recruited Skripal – and who is
believed to have remained in contact
with him – worked for Orbis, the
consultancy firm run by Christopher
Steele, the man behind the notorious dossier that alleged there
were close links between President
Trump’s business associates and
the Kremlin and contained lurid
claims about what Trump got up to
in a Moscow hotel room before he
entered the White House.
In the US, special counsel Robert
Mueller continues to probe these
links. The attack in Salisbury is
a response to this, Felshtinsky
believes. “The FSB interference in
the US elections was a major operation and a lot of Russians were
involved. Some of them are in
Russia and some are abroad and
some of them are starting to talk.
I think the signal is sent now to
all those people that, if they open
their mouths and start to talk, then
they’re going to be responsible not
only for their own life but also their
wives and children.”
1. Putin
sanctioned it
This is simply
some ruthless
Why not?
The risk that
this could be
traced back to
the top of the
Kremlin could
be too great.
2. It was
carried out by
of the Russian
security service
They would
have been
acting knowing
it might give
Putin a boost
in presidential
Why not?
Few analysts
think Putin
needs a boost.
3. It was
ordered by
Skripal was in
touch with an
ex-MI6 agent
who worked
for a private
firm. This could
have made him
a target.
Why not?
Nerve agent is
very hard to
hatever the
the attack will
have alarmed
the Kremlin’s
enemies now
residing in the UK. Many arrived
between 2008 and 2015 under a
now defunct scheme that offered
them residency in return for their
investing millions of pounds in UK
bonds or shares.
Campaigning group Transparency
International has found that almost
a quarter of all such visas went
to Russians who invested almost
£750m, much of it in London’s property market. Private security consultants patrolling their homes in
Belgravia and Hampstead are likely
to find renewed demand for their
services after last weekend’s events.
But the Kremlin’s allies here
will also be concerned. Among
MPs, there is a clamour for the full
implementation of the so-called
Magnitsky Act, something that
would allow the government to
sanction individuals who are found
guilty of corruption and human
rights abuse, hitting them with visa
bans and asset freezes.
The government has also signalled that it could use new powers to target those of Putin’s allies
who are unable to account for
Soldiers remove
a contaminated
ambulance from
the A&E entrance
at Salisbury
hospital in
yesterday. EPA
Softly softly
with Russia
isn’t working
page 52
The Observer
Sergei and Yulia
Skripal pictured
on CCTV shortly
before they were
found slumped
on a Salisbury
bench last
Sunday. PA
Trump won’t help Britain,
nor will the UN: if the case
is proved, charge Putin
how they came about their wealth.
“Transparency International has
identified £4.4bn worth of properties bought with suspicious wealth
in the UK,” said Duncan Hames, the
campaign group’s director of policy.
“Over a fifth of which is properties
bought by Russians. It is clear that
the UK has routinely been the choice
destination for Russians with suspicious wealth to move and they have
had little trouble doing so, taking
advantage of lax regulation and offshore secrecy.”
Curbing the lifestyle of Putin’s
rich allies will not give the Kremlin
sleepless nights, however. “There
may be something financial we can
do if we know any particular names,
but I don’t see anything devastating
that we could do,” Wood conceded.
Rather, if Russia’s involvement
is confirmed, the response may be
largely symbolic: the breaking off of
diplomatic ties, the refusal to attend
key events. “If England decided not
to play in the World Cup, that would
be a good thing,” Wood said.
But the UK is unlikely to impose
the one sanction that would damage Russia. “European countries,
including the UK, have arranged
their sanctions policies so far in a
way to carefully exclude the purchase of Russian gas,” said Simon
Pirani, research fellow at the Oxford
Institute for Energy Studies. “In
reality, for the UK as well as for most
European countries, the realistic
alternative sources of imported gas
are very limited. American liquified
natural gas is in the news, and as
far as we can see from our research
Russia is going to adopt a pricing
policy to protect its European market share from American LNG.”
n Salisbury yesterday life
appeared to have regained
some normality, despite the
deployment of 180 military
personnel to help with the
investigation. It is only at
the sites known to have been visited
by the Skripals – notably the Mill
pub and a Zizzi restaurant – that the
scene looks like a film set. At each,
tents have been erected for investigators to work in and police in protective suits can been seen moving
around. The police cordons have
forced some businesses to close and
those that are open have reported
slower trading. “It is a shame on
the back of a human tragedy,” said
41-year-old Claire Singleton, who
works in a jewellers. “I feel sorry for
the shops that haven’t been able to
open since the snow.”
Back in Moscow many remain
unaware of the story. “I don’t know
anything about that. They lived here,
in our building?” said a bemused
middle-aged woman at the west
Moscow housing estate the Skripals
called home for many years.
State media made only cursory
mentions of the attack, including a stark warning to “traitors” not
to settle in England because they
risked dying in mysterious circumstances. The comment was echoed by Lugovoi. “The more trash
and scum of the Earth that Britain
accepts, the more problems it will
have,” he said.
The rhetoric is typical of an
increasingly bellicose Russia.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson
has said there been a “tenfold
increase” in the number of submarines operating in the North Atlantic
over the last seven years. Typhoon
jets from RAF Lossiemouth intercepted two Russian long-range
bombers as they approached to
within 50 miles of the UK in January.
In addition, Russia’s use of fake
news, trolls and cyber-attacks confirm the Kremlin’s upping of the
ante. “What Russia is conducting is a war,” Felshtinsky said. “It’s
too expensive for them to start a
real war and too dangerous, so they
try to find a different form of war,
a cheaper form of war. This is the
cheapest way to destroy the west.”
he attempted murder
of Sergei Skripal has
shed uncomfortable
light on Britain’s
vulnerability to
foreign threats,
some potentially emanating from
foreign governments, against its
sovereignty, security, citizens’ safety
and laws.
The brazen nature and public
execution of the plot to kill Skripal is
disturbing for many reasons. It suggests respect for Britain, its values
and its law enforcement capabilities
is so diminished that it is seen as an
easy venue for score-settling.
Or was the plot intended, at least
in part, to deliberately discredit and
humiliate the British government?
A handful of countries might have
cause to do that. But only one or two
possess the rare nerve agent, the
sheer malice and the ruthless audacity evident in this case.
In 1850 Lord Palmerston, then
foreign secretary, stood before the
House of Commons and enunciated
the principle of universal protection for British citizens everywhere,
in the teeth of continental and
Ottoman absolutism.
“As the Roman, in days of old,
held himself free from indignity,
when he could say civis Romanus
sum [I am a Roman citizen]; so also
a British subject, in whatever land
he may be, shall feel confident that
the watchful eye and the strong arm
of England will protect him against
injustice and wrong,” he said.
Nowadays not only is Britain
incapable of protecting its citizens
abroad – just look at the shameful
case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,
unjustly jailed in Tehran – it also
struggles to protect British citizens on home soil, including foreign
nationals taking refuge here. One
cause of vulnerability is the widely
held perception that Britain is little more than a US satrapy, faithfully following Washington’s lead.
When politicians extol the “special
relationship”, they compound the
damage to Britain’s reputation as an
independent actor. Even so, don’t
look for help from Donald Trump.
In dealing with modern-day
authoritarian regimes, Britain is at
an even greater disadvantage. At
least the US broadly shares its democratic values. Chinese and Russian
leaders suffer no such constraints.
Today Xi Jinping will be consecrated
de facto president for life. Vladimir
Putin, in effect, already holds that
position in Russia. Such unchecked
power affords enormous freedom of
action that British politicians lack.
Past British bluster and prevarication weaken this country’s
hand. After Alexander Litvinenko, a
Russian defector, was murdered in
London in 2006, politicians such as
Theresa May, then home secretary,
failed forcefully to pursue the statesponsored Russian perpetrators,
even after their identity was known.
The people who attacked Skripal
may calculate the response now will
be similarly weak-kneed. They may
also assume that, as with Litvinenko,
Britain will again feebly shy away
from open confrontation and hope
the problem fades from view.
May says that if Russia is proved
culpable in Salisbury, “full-spectrum” counter-measures will be
applied. But she is badly short of
ammo. Diplomatic expulsions are
a two-edged sword. Sanctions are
already being applied, related to
Ukraine, without much effect.
Further action of that kind can
only happen via the EU, where May
is busy burning bridges. To pretend
that bad feeling caused by Brexit will
have no impact on future European
cooperation in such cases is delusional. May could appeal to the UN.
But there she faces a Russian veto.
Targeting financial dealings,
including alleged money laundering,
might be a more promising avenue.
But if the Kremlin really is to blame
for this latest outrage, the best
response is also the simplest: charge
Putin with attempted murder.
The Observer
From Nashville
to the Shires
UK takes country
music to its achy,
breaky heart
A growing army of
fans, many in their 20s
and 30s, has seen the
genre go from corny to
cool as 80,000 people
attend the C2C festival
this weekend.
Karen Kay tunes in
itted out in thrift
shop western shirts
and Wrangler
jeans, with flowing
1970s-style locks and
Tom Selleck-style
moustaches, Mark Wystrach, Jess
Carson and Cameron Duddy blend
in well in east London, where their
hipster look fits well with the idea
of urban chic. Wystrach, 38, is a former model and actor, lending his 6ft
2in frame and chiselled cheekbones
to the likes of Dior, while Duddy, 34,
has worked as creative director for
Bruno Mars.
Today the trio are in town wearing rather different hats – Stetsons
– as the members of Midland, a
US country band that is taking the
music world by storm. With their
colourful “Nudie” suits (the late
Nudie Cohn designed ornate, heavily embellished stage clothes for the
likes of Elvis Presley), their mellow
take on trad country rock is wooing
a new generation to the genre.
Midland are one of the acts performing at this weekend’s Country 2
Country, a vast annual festival held
simultaneously in London, Dublin
and Glasgow over three days, celebrating a music genre that has gone
from decidedly cringeworthy to
undeniably cool in a few short years.
The inaugural C2C, a one-day event
held in London in 2013, sold 17,000
tickets: this weekend more than
80,000 people will descend on C2C,
many of whom weren’t born when
the 1992 Billy Ray Cyrus hit Achy
Breaky Heart put a nail in the coffin
of country music in the UK.
Today, it is the likes of his daughter, Miley Cyrus, and her peers who
are shaking off the stigma of line
dancing and naff synthetic tunes,
contributing to a groundswell of art-
ists who are heavily influenced by
the classic “three chords and a truth”
Nashville sound.
Former One Direction singer Niall
Horan worked on his debut solo
album with country artist Maren
k has
Morris, while Ed Sheeran’s work
been hugely shaped by the genre,
and he’s written a track, Stay thee
Night, for the Shires’ new album,
Accidentally on Purpose, out in April.
Adele consistently cites Alison
d has
Krauss as a major influence, and
recorded a track by Chris Stapleton
who performed at last month’s Brit
Awards alongside Justin Timberlake.
“Country is a broad church,”
says C2C festival director Milly
Olykan. “There are hip-hop, R&B
es of
and pop influences from the likes
Walker Hayes, Sam Hunt or Russell
Dickerson, as well as rock, folk and
more. Then we have the likes of
Ashley Campbell (Glen’s youngest daughter) and Lukas Nelson
(Willie’s son) who are the next generation of country dynasties.”
enWhere once confessing to a penng
chant for country was like coming
out as a Tory at the TUC conference,
it’s now a badge of honour for music
fans, drawn by musicianship and
authentic storytelling. And that is
particularly evident in the UK, where
millions of adults are now thought
to listen to country and folk.
A 2017 Country Music Association
study (CMA) found that millennials
– those reaching young adulthood
in the early 2000s – make up the
largest segment of the UK audience,
almost one-third of whom have
tuned in to country during the past
five years. Sarah Trahern, chief executive of the CMA, based in Nashville,
Kacey Musgraves
is headlining
cites a “wonderful confluence of
things” as the cause for country’s
new popularity.
“There was the TV series
Nashville, (a soap opera about country singers), which was massive
and tapped into a young audience.
Then Dolly played Glastonbury,
[and] Radio 2 really upped the ante
on their country coverage and gave
birth to British country. C2C started
in London and the US stars began to
hear major good vibes about playing to UK audiences. Brandy Clark,
for example, was a fairly low-key
singer songwriter when she played
C2C and was overwhelmed by the
incredible level of engagement from
British fans, so they all began queuing up to play London.”
Clark is one of a breed of contemporary female country stars
– Miranda Lambert, Angaleena
Presley, Ashley Munro and Kacey
Musgraves among others – whose
own experiences and wry observations of 21st-century society make
for progressive, relatable country
tracks that talk of the challenges of
single parenting, domestic violence,
alcoholism and drug culture.
usgraves, an
angel-voiced pretender to Dolly
Parton’s crown,
who is headlining at C2C this
weekend, is known for her smart,
witty, lyrics rooted in growing up in
smalltown Texas. This is most notable in hits such as Merry Go ’Round,
and Follow Your Arrow (co-written with Clark and Shane McAnally)
which references smoking joints
and champions LGBT rights. While
29-year-old Musgraves has been on
the road with country veterans such
as Willie Nelson and Krauss, she’s
also supported Katy Perry and Harry
Styles, bringing country to swathes
of new fans.
“If Taylor Swift was the gateway into country music [for a new
The Observer
The $64m question:
who funds our tech?
Giant corporations,
such as SoftBank in
Japan, are borrowing
huge amounts to
swallow up Europe’s
robotic and AI firms.
By Evgeny Morozov
Sam Hunt
Born in
Hunt, a
former college
has a rapinfluenced
take on
The Grammynominated trio
achieved cult
success in the
US last year
with Drinkin’
Problem, a
single taken
from their
debut album
On the Rocks.
Ward Thomas
Hampshireborn twins
and Lizzy
Ward Thomas
became the
first UK
country act
to reach no 1
in the album
charts with
their second LP,
The Wandering
Within 30
minutes of
uploading their
demo online,
the London
four-piece had
signed a deal
with Decca.
Inspired to
play country
by Taylor
Swift’s song
Love Story,
the Belfastborn singersongwriter has
recently signed
to Warner Bros.
generatio Kacey had a major
role in su
sustaining ... that interest,”
says Geor
George Garner, deputy editor of Mus
Music Week magazine, who
interviewed Musgraves for their
Nashville issue. “Here you’ve got
true country
coun music supercharged
with huge crossover pop appeal.”
Rebecc Allen, president of
Decca UK
UK, Musgraves’s label, says:
“The British
Briti love her because she
is a maverick.
She wasn’t frightened of the
th [country] old guard and
stayed tru
true to herself, and as a result
appealed to the new guard of fans.”
It’s not just British fans who are
growing in
i numbers: there’s a rise in
UK countr
country acts making waves, here
and in the US. Crissie Rhodes, one
half of ho
homegrown act the Shires,
said: “Wh
“When Ben [Earle] and I first
started m
making music together in
2013, there wasn’t much of a country scene in the UK; now it’s a massive community and still growing.”
The first UK artists to win a CMA
award, the Shires opened the door
to other British acts such as Ward
Thomas, Wildwood Kin, Robbie
Cavanagh and Catherine McGrath.
These UK acts have all been championed by Bob Harris on his weekly
country music show on Radio 2, and
are gaining considerable traction
on the station’s main playlists and
live events, such as the annual Hyde
Park Festival in a Day.
“It’s so exciting to be a key part
of this UK country explosion,” says
Jeff Smith, head of music at Radio 2,
which broadcast Musgraves and co
live from London’s O2 last night.
“I grew up with punk and ELO
and, if you think about it, Hank
Williams and his ilk shaped all of
that music. Historically, country has
influenced every genre, and now it’s
getting its own chance to shine here
in the UK.”
US band
Cameron Duddy,
Mark Wystrach
and Jess Carson.
Big Machine
Ben Earle and
Crissie Rhodes
of the Shires.
Tina Korhonen/
Twins Catherine,
left, and Lizzy
Ward Thomas.
here’s no understanding the future
of technology without understanding the
future of its funders.
And they have
changed dramatically over the last
three decades. First it was the military. Then the venture capitalists.
Today, another chapter begins: massive funds, with billions to spend
and often linked to governments,
are technology’s new masters.
The undisputed leader is Japan’s
SoftBank, which counts Uber,
WeWork, Alibaba and Nvidia among
its investments. Its companies make
awe-inspiring robot dogs (Boston
Dynamics) and offer dog walking
as a service (Wag) for real canines.
SoftBank’s model is simple: build
stable, cash-generating businesses,
such as mobile network operators;
use them as collateral to borrow
more funds – an investor presentation from last year put SoftBank’s
“interest-bearing debt” at $125bn –
and buy promising tech companies.
Given historically low interest rates
(and borrowing costs), SoftBank has
used the financial crisis to its advantage. It got Apple, the chip-maker
Qualcomm and various sovereign
wealth funds to contribute to its flagship Vision Fund, which now stands
at $98bn. Saudi Arabia committed
$45bn; Abu Dhabi another $15bn.
Bahrain is considering joining.
SoftBank’s founder and CEO
Masayoshi Son told Nikkei in
October that new Vision Funds
will be launched every two to three
years. SoftBank wants to invest in
1,000 AI and robotics companies in
the next decade to the tune of ¥100
trillion ($880bn). Who would provide that money? Well, Saudi Arabia
wants to use the initial public offering of the oil giant Aramco – potentially worth $2 trillion – to boost its
sovereign wealth fund.
Other sovereign wealth funds will
eagerly join. There’s still, however,
much misunderstanding about what
it is that they do. The largest sovereign wealth fund – Norway’s – has
decent governance mechanisms
and is prudent in its investments.
It often divests from problematic
industries and sticks to listed companies over startups. It bets with
Norway’s own money only.
Not all sovereign wealth funds
operate this way. Some are just
highly leveraged state-run hedge
funds. Like SoftBank, they borrow cheaply, often to refinance their
existing debt, channelling remaining funds into areas like technology.
For example, the funds of Malaysia,
Bahrain and Abu Dhabi – recent
investors into startups– all use debt
as leverage. Saudi Arabia said it
would borrow to expand its fund.
SoftBank and its partners thus use
debt to become the vanguard of the
digital transformation of the global
economy and control its key parameters: infrastructures, data, and artificial intelligence.
This creates many oddities.
Consider Airbnb, which counts CIC
and Temasek among its investors
(sovereign wealth funds of China
and Singapore respectively). It’s
often accused of shrinking the pool
of long-term rental housing in popular tourist destinations, such as
Amsterdam or Barcelona. This drives
be a coincidence: what matters are
potential returns, not geography.
Consider Norway. It has benefited from the recent boom in technology stocks, for its fund owns a lot
of Silicon Valley. This helped social
spending in Norway, as proceeds
from the fund plug budget gaps.
However, as big tech firms swallow
the globe it, too, is becoming heavily
dependent on their services; there’s
very little domestic tech to satisfy its
cloud computing or AI needs.
The meaning of this dependence
becomes clear once one understands
that some countries will never abandon proactive national technology
policy. Instead, they’ll keep nurturing their own global tech giants.
China, having committed $150bn to
AI development, wants to establish
tight control over its chips, networks
and data; it’s not spending this cash
for its tech companies to be bought
by Bahrain or Abu Dhabi.
A SoftBank robot at last year’s Mobile
World Congress in Barcelona.
With China and the
US nurturing their
own tech industries,
Europe, foolishly, lost
its crown jewels
up rent but where does this money
go? Yes, it funds the fancy yachts of
executives at investment and tech
firms. But, through sovereign wealth
funds, it also fills the coffers of some
governments, underwriting their
social or military spending.
Some countries have been tempted
to follow this trend and set up a
state-run hedge fund under a nicer,
euphemistic label (think Norway).
The long-term implications of this
model are not clear, for it might also
tempt governments to abandon any
active tech and industrial policy and
simply let SoftBank do all the thinking. Some companies on the receiving end of the fund’s investments
might happen to be in the same
country as the fund, but this would
similar process is
gathering pace in the
US. After floating a
controversial (and,
for now, scrapped)
plan to nationalise the 5G network, the US might
block the largest tech deal in history
on the grounds of national security
– ie the merger of the San Diegobased Qualcomm with Singapore’s
Broadcom, which some see as
China’s proxy. Given Trump’s rhetoric, it’s hard to imagine Washington
looking the other way as sovereign wealth funds acquire America’s
tech companies.
The aggressive global expansion
of these funds is hardly an antidote
to the much-maligned economic
nationalism. If some governments
have trillions to pour into other
countries’ tech firms, they will, quite
logically, be demanding the removal
of barriers to investment. However,
their singing of globalist hymns does
not turn them into opponents of economic nationalism – they are, rather,
its most cunning practitioners.
Europeans are the real fools here.
With China and America nurturing
their own tech industries, Europe
lost its crown jewels. Large robotics firms in Germany and Italy were
sold to China. In the UK, SoftBank
acquired the chip-maker ARM and
poured money into Improbable, a
prominent virtual reality startup;
DeepMind, a pioneer in AI, was sold
to Alphabet. Now, an entity linked
to SoftBank might be bidding in the
UK’s upcoming 5G auction.
Having neither the protectionist
impulses of China or America, nor
the financial craftiness of the Gulf
states, Europe will pay for it dearly.
It might excel at selling cars and
glasses; selling smart cars and smart
glasses will be a different game.
The Observer
Mounted police
clash with the
in Grosvenor
Square in March
1968. Rex
Donald Macintyre
Fifty years ago this
week, Donald Macintyre
was one of 246 antiVietnam protesters
arrested in London’s
Grosvenor Square. Here
he looks at the fallout
from the violence and
asks what it can teach
us about activism,
policing and Britain’s
place in the world today
My part in the anti-war demo
that changed protest for ever
he only direct reporting from Saigon in the
Observer on 17 March
1968 was on an inside
page: a two-column
dispatch by Gavin
Young reflecting on the sobering
effect on US officials and the military of Hanoi’s ferocious Tet offensive, which had ended the previous
month. But Vietnam still permeated
the paper, from the front-page lead
on the world gold crisis, triggered
by Lyndon Johnson’s huge spending
on the war, and Bobby Kennedy’s
announcement that he was going
to challenge LBJ for the Democratic
presidential nomination (only to
be assassinated less than three
months later), to Kenneth Tynan’s
Shouts and Murmurs column from
New York, recording his friend Gore
Vidal saying that if the war continued after November’s elections “a
change in nationality would be the
only moral response”.
But there wasn’t, in the Observer
or any other Sunday paper, a prediction of the mayhem that would
ensue that very afternoon
in Mayfair – “the Battle of
Grosvenor Square”, as the
paper would describe it a
week later, before going
on to suggest that not
since the “fascist-communist fights of the 1930s”
had the police been con-
fronted with “sustained public violence” on the scale of that day’s
demonstration against the US war
in Indochina. Certainly the scenes
in front of the US embassy had little of the decorousness familiar
to those in the square – and there
were many – who were veterans of
CND Aldermaston marches or even
of the Committee of 100’s sitdown anti-nuclear protests. James Callaghan,
then home secretary,
told the Commons the
next day that 117 policemen had been injured,
246 protesters had been
arrested and charged,
and that 48 demonstrators
had received medical care (St John
Ambulance said it had treated 86
people on the spot).
It had all started peacefully
enough at a rally in Trafalgar
Square. The highlight was the
appearance of the 31-year-old
actress Vanessa Redgrave, reading
out messages of support from some
of the era’s leading cultural celebrities: film directors Sidney Lumet,
Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain
Resnais, Richard Attenborough
and philosopher Bertrand Russell.
Redgrave, armed with a letter of
protest to hand in at the embassy,
marched with writer Tariq Ali down
Oxford Street towards the square;
and so did about 15,000 oth-
The Observer
ers behind them. The 24-year-old
Mick Jagger was somewhere in the
crowd (it was the year of the Rolling
Stones’ Street Fighting Man).
The real trouble started as the
march turned down North Audley
Street to face a phalanx of police
at the entrance to the square. The
police would say later they were
only trying to channel the marchers into a specific route – but to
most marchers it seemed that they
were trying to block their entrance
to the square. I have little memory of breaking through the cordon,
or of how our little group of students found ourselves in the protest’s frontline, arms linked and with
only a hedge, railings and a long
line of police and the road between
us and the embassy. Nor do I really
recall when the police horses were
brought into the square to confront
the demonstrators.
But I do remember being pulled
by the hair out of the crowd by a
policeman. My then girlfriend Jane
Steedman, later a teacher and education academic, and my flatmate
Michael Harloe (who would become
the long-serving vice-chancellor of
Salford University) gallantly intervened to try to prevent the arrest.
But to no avail. I was thrown over
the fence and given a half-hearted
kicking by a couple of other officers
before being carted off to the waiting green bus.
Also arrested and in the same
bus was my other flatmate, Michael
Rosen, the now celebrated children’s author, along with another
friend, the late Dick Leith (future
author of the seminal A Social
History of English). The opening lines
of a poem Rosen wrote for Oxford
student magazine Isis about the
demo were described by the late
Christopher Hitchens, Rosen’s selfconfessed rival for the role of Oxford
enfant terrible, as “haunting”.
Beside generously giving me
some undeserved, and brief, street
cred among the comrades, Rosen’s
poem went on to capture a mood
among the “men in blue” who “got
the boot [and truncheon] in” that
afternoon. For if this was a turning point in demonstration style, it
was also one for the police. Indeed,
the acts of violence by a minority
of demonstrators mainly followed
the mounted police’s arrival into
the confined space of the square’s
gardens, where, as one of the very
few press critics of the police, the
Daily Express’s Alix Palmer, wrote:
“They charged, they crushed,
they trampled.”
When I was booked in at West
End Central police station I was
struck by the contrast between my
young arresting officer and the desk
sergeant, a figure much more reminiscent of Jack Warner’s affable copper in Dixon of Dock Green, the wildly
popular TV series that had been running since 1955 but whose portrayal
of a cosily humane force was already
beginning to look outdated. The sergeant demanded that the loudly
protesting PC talk to the police doctor before the lock-up. (The doctor –
rightly – pronounced me fine, apart
from a few bruises.)
The surprise came the following morning after a night in a cell
crowded with euphoric detainees
discussing, for some reason, China’s
Boxer rebellion of 1900. Accepting
unquestioningly the PC’s fictional
testimony, the stipendiary magistrate found me guilty of assault on
a police officer and handed down
a month in prison suspended for
three years. As miscarriages of justice go, it could hardly have been
more trivial; but it was an early lesson on the reliability of police evidence in subsequent and vastly
more important cases.
Elsewhere, by contrast, the police
were lavishly praised. There were
in fact two big Vietnam demonstrations we attended that year: the
other, on 27 October, had a huge
media build-up in contrast to the
March one, against which it proved
to be an anticlimax with only a brief
flare-up at the end and the police
reporting just five officers injured
(along with 45 injured demonstrators and a mere 34 arrests). But the
widespread coverage before the
October protest closely reflected the
reports after the first, with even an
editorial in David Astor’s impeccably
liberal Observer thundering that “to
allege that the British police are violent is as dazzling a piece of hypocrisy as the big lies that Hitler once
remarked deceive people more than
small ones”.
Well, the deaths in 1970s demos
of Kevin Gately and Blair Peach,
the assaults on the innocent
Birmingham Six, Orgreave, and several fatal police shootings were still
in the future then.
ut if the press coverage was almost uniformly hostile to
the protesters, the
attention given by
the British government to what we thought of as the
most important British event of the
year, if not the decade, was minimal. Westminster was much more
preoccupied with the talks on gold,
Roy Jenkins’s imminent first and
austere crisis budget and the sensational resignation of the foreign
secretary, George Brown, the previous Friday after one drunken outburst too many. The only mention of
the demo in the ministerial diaries
is a brief reference by Barbara Castle
to a conversation in which the US
ambassador, David Bruce, had been
“full of admiration for the British
police”, but wondered if “we ought
to continue allowing such demonstrations where there was organised
violence reinforced by a large foreign element”. Castle, to her great
credit, wrote: “I hope we don’t fall
for any suggestion like this.”
Under far greater
pressure than Blair
would face in 2003,
Wilson did not
risk a single British
soldier in Vietnam
asked why, if the marchers were so
anti-war, they cared more about
the “Vietcong” than “the people of
Prague”; but like good sub-Trotskyites, we also protested outside the
Czech embassy when Moscow
ordered in 100,000 Warsaw pact
troops to crush Alexander Dubček’s
Prague spring).
Redgrave and
Tariq Ali in
Trafalgar Square.
The opening lines of a poem written by Donald
Macintyre’s flatmate, Michael Rosen, for the Oxford
student magazine Isis about the Grosvenor Square
Vietnam demonstration. Both were arrested.
and old don came through the coach door
like a sack of coal and sat and shook
on the front seat wiping hair and blood off his eyes
and above, it was glass and steel
which is america thankyouverymuch
and away through our windows
friends in knots struggled with the thin blue line
of the stalwart boys of the neapolitan ice
and then in through the door came dick
I’m alright he says
and you remember the bit behind the coach
where tired and footsore they got the boot in
thankyouverymuch said the ambassador today
so the door shuts like a school trip to hyde park
except that the man in blue on the door
said the answer would be to drop
a fuckin a-bomb on china or you lot huh
and the skin beneath don’s eyes stretches and shrinks ...
However, if the demonstrations
had near-zero direct political – and
probably electoral – effect, they may
have helped to shape the climate in
subtler ways. If nothing else, they
were part of the anti-Vietnam war
tide that helped to alienate Harold
Wilson from much of the leftwing
support that had welcomed him to
office in 1964 after “13 years of Tory
misrule”, not only among students
and the intelligentsia but within the
Labour party itself. Though writing long before the Iraq war, historian Ben Pimlott’s description
about what happened to Wilson, in
his superb biography, is eerily similar to Tony Blair’s experience after
2003. It was because of Wilson’s
refusal to speak against the Vietnam
war that “writers, artists, scientists,
expressed their disenchantment;
intellectual fashion, most powerful
of political motivators, moved away,
and never returned”.
But was this “disenchantment”
as fair on Wilson as it was on Blair?
I don’t remotely regret our opposition to the Vietnam war, the greatest
of several 20th-century US foreign
policy disasters. But were we right
to turn our wrath on the British
prime minister? This was the year
of the soixante-huitards; of revolutionary fervour in France and elsewhere in western Europe, including
British universities the LSE, Essex,
even Oxford; of the wave of antiwar opposition in the US that culminated at the Democratic convention
in Chicago, where police clashed
bloodily with demonstrators outside
the International Amphitheatre.
Between the UK’s two big 1968
Vietnam demos, some of us joined
the Revolutionary Socialist Students’
Federation, which despite its fearsome name was then in its infancy
and a pretty ideology-light subTrotskyite group. At its June launch,
the RSSF founders cited Wilson,
along with the president of the
recently occupied Sorbonne, as its
chief bogeyman. On the marches
we chanted not only “Hey, hey LBJ,
how many kids did you kill today?”
and “Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh”, but also
“Where has Harold Wilson gone?
Crawling to the Pent-ag-on!” (The
27 October Observer editorial had
n fact, the historic injustice of stigmatising Wilson
in this way is much clearer
now than it was then, even
to his supporters. What’s
striking about Wilson’s
handling of Vietnam was not that
he bowed to overwhelming pressure from Washington but that he
resisted it. And the pressures were
huge; the UK had withdrawn its
forces east of Suez, in a radical recognition of its post-imperial role.
But in 1967 the French president,
Charles de Gaulle, rebuffed Wilson’s
attempt to join the European
Common Market. Britain’s economy
was woefully dependent on US help,
not least in supporting a sterling
under constant pressure – the government devalued in 1967.
Indeed, it may not be too fantastic to see similarities between the
country then and what could yet
befall it post-Brexit. As Pimlott says,
Wilson “believed that it was impossible publicly to condemn a central part of US foreign policy … and
at the same time accept American
military, financial and political support”. Which makes it all the more
remarkable that he stuck so consistently to his red line. He did provide
limited technical and logistical help
to the Americans, but as Pimlott
says: “[Wilson’s] response to pressure from Washington was to give
the Americans everything they
wanted, short of what they wanted
most, which was British troops in
Vietnam.” Under pressure vastly
greater than anything encountered
by Blair in 2003, Wilson did not risk
a single British soldier’s life.
Unlike Blair, however, and certainly without being a pacifist,
Wilson was instinctively anti-war.
Yet despite a certain personal antipathy by LBJ towards him, Wilson
handled the US president with all
his intelligence and skill, preserving Britain’s relationship with the
US without conceding what LBJ
“wanted most”.
Which raises the question of how
a post-Brexit prime minister would
react to a demand from, say, Donald
Trump that Britain joins the US in
some reckless military adventure in
return for the bilateral trade deal it
will desperately want if and when
it leaves the EU. Indeed, there is a
frightening plausibility about such a
scenario. At first sight Wilson’s brilliance in keeping Britain out of a
catastrophic American war without
breaking the best of the ties between
the two countries looks an encouraging precedent. But it’s hard to be
sure that there is a post-Brexit prime
minister waiting in the wings who
could show the same combination
of diplomatic skill, firmness, and
complex understanding of the true
national interest that Wilson did.
The Observer
A scene from
Cal McCrystal’s
acclaimed ENO
production of
Gilbert and
Photograph by
Tristram Kenton
I fell in love with opera at age 15
Now I want millions to do the same
English National
Opera’s new boss on
his plans to broaden
its appeal and why his
career in TV can be a
help, not a hindrance
was 15 when I first played
in an opera orchestra – The
Magic Flute. But it’s the first
rehearsal I remember most
vividly: the performers
sang, and then spoke, and
then sang again. Yes, exactly as they
are meant to. But I’d only seen it
before on television – here it was all
gloriously happening live, and I was
in the middle of it. Magical.
Then we got to the Queen of the
Night’s aria and those ridiculous top
Fs. I remember looking, dazzled, at
the bassoonist next to me [Murphy
played clarinet], sort of shocked that
I’d heard that note; I’ve been in awe
of opera singers ever since.
My Magic Flute experience was
in Leeds. I’d ended up in the city’s
youth orchestra, and then Leeds
Youth Opera orchestra – helped
by my local comprehensive, where
my brother and I learned to play
Nothing comes close to hearing
the full force of an orchestra firing
on all cylinders – it’s like a great wall
of pleasure. Likewise, there’s nothing like gazing upon the staging and
the costumes, and losing yourself in
the total immersive experience.
The challenge is that people hear
and love opera all the time without realising it – in adverts, on film
soundtracks, across popular culture
– yet the inhibitors to them coming to see and hear it can feel huge.
Some might feel it’s not for “people
like me”. So one of my jobs is to mix
up who this “me” is – mix up the
age, ethnicity, social background of
our audience.
When I told my teenage sons
I’d got the job of chief executive of
English National Opera, they asked
if they’d have to come along to the
Coliseum, ENO’s home. I said they
would, obviously, because I’m their
dad and while they live in my house,
it’s my rules. Their heads returned to
their iPads.
All of us, especially perhaps
younger audiences, yearn for connections and real engagements. It’s
why festivals and flashmobs work,
why marching and demonstrations
feel so vital. If we get it right at ENO,
my kids will want to come and experience the mindblowing power of
ENO’s chorus in La traviata or join
the packed audiences rolling around
laughing at Andrew Shore in Cal
McCrystal’s Iolanthe.
I’ve spent my career working
in television, not opera, including
10 years at the BBC and six at Sky.
While I suspected there would be
people who might balk at a “TV person” running an opera company,
it’s hardly the first time it has happened. Jeremy Isaacs went from
Channel 4 to the Royal Opera House,
and Tony Hall, the current BBC
director general, moved from BBC
News to the same place.
The idea that someone from
outside the opera world is not
qualified to lead this wonderfull
company fails to appreciate the
many ways in which television
and opera overlap. But then I
would say that.
I suspect it’s because senior
roles in both industries require
pretty similar skills. Both
demand the ability to spin plates
– to move from one meeting
about strategy to another with a
th“creative”; from a marketing gathal
ering to dealing with some legal
rcomplexity. What’s more, under-
If we get the ENO
right, my kids will
want to come and
experience the
mindblowing power
of La traviata
Heathe Buck
as the Queen
of the Night
in M
Ma Flute
at ENO.
standing and increasing audiences
is key, as is finding ways within a
business to increase the amount of
creative work commissioned.
For me, it was a complete joy
when the worlds of TV and opera
collided, as happened with Flashmob
the Opera, which I commissioned
for the BBC in 2004. If you didn’t
see it, search for it online – it was
an opera from Paddington station with full orchestra and chorus, and was watched live by almost
100,000 viewers. I loved TV. Loved
the scale, the immediacy, the boundless energy. I loved that it was about
emotionally touching or enchanting or surprising people, and I feel
great warmth towards the BBC and
Sky. But after two decades I’d had
enough, and was ready for a break.
Life at the Coliseum will, I hope,
offer more of the same.
At ENO, striving to present truly
world-class opera while adjusting
to a new, match-fit financial regime
has been hard. We need to retain a
stellar presence on the national and
international operatic stage while
all the while remembering that what
we do is about something sublimely
simple – to move an audience over
the course of a few hours.
Essentially, then, you let the brilliant artistic and musical directors
and technical teams do their thing.
If you’ve a culture that encourages
staff to take gut-wrenching artistic
risks, you also need them to know
they’ll be supported organisationally
and emotionally if those risks misfire, as they inevitably will from time
to time. ENO should never be in a
position where someone is performing Tosca while having the hum of
internal politics in their ears.
Having ENO run smoothly means
we’ll have the resources to put back
into creating more, and more distinctive, opera. Increasing our
national and international reach,
expanding and deepening our partnerships and developing on new
platforms in imaginative ways all
flow out of strong revenues.
This would allow us in turn to
develop a comprehensive, datadriven understanding both of audiences that come to us and of those
that avoid opera completely. I want
to know why they feel the way they
do and address the reasons why.
(Plug: you can come to the Coliseum
for the price of a cinema ticket –
ENO has 500 tickets for every performance at £20 or less from the
balcony to the stalls.)
We need to find the right mix to
help people begin a life-long love
affair – of suitably operatic proportions – with the artform; encourage them to feel just as I felt as that
15-year-old clarinetist in Leeds.
The Sunday Essay
Why the left’s
hellish vision
is so ruinous: an
unduly bleak view
of British history
ignores the advances
of social democracy
Pages 57-59
We need to use gene editing wisely
but also embrace its vast potential
whatever their disease or disability, would have a
chance to benefit from the new therapies. But this
would depend on the cost of genetic treatment, which
might well be prohibitive for a cash-strapped NHS.
Nearly everyone agreed that the new techniques
should not be used frivolously, that is, they should be
used for the treatment of serious diseases, especially
heritable diseases, not for aesthetic reasons, such as the
production of “designer babies”.
This moral imperative immediately introduces
the idea that the use of genetic modification requires
regulation and this is something that was acknowledged
by almost all the participants in the survey, whether they
were concerned with crops, animals or humans.
A new survey reveals Britons are
keen to understand the possibilities
offered by the groundbreaking
science. But they are also concerned
that it should be properly regulated
he Royal Society has recently published
the results of an extensive survey of the attitudes of the
general public to genetic modification. This sent my
mind back to 1990, when the human fertilisation and
embryology bill was going through parliament.
The emphasis, at least in the House of Lords, where
the bill started, very soon switched from remedies
for infertility to the new concept of eliminating some
heritable diseases. IVF could be used to select embryos
in the laboratory that did not carry the disease and
implant one or two of those in the mother’s uterus. At
the time, it was also speculated that one day it might be
possible to eliminate a faulty gene from a live embryo
after a pregnancy had been established, rather than at
the pre-implantation stage.
I remember being astonished by how little this had to
do with infertility, which was, after all, in the title of the
bill, and what the committee I chaired had been set up
to consider.
It came about almost entirely because of the
enthusiasm of a then newly appointed crossbencher,
Lord Walton of Detchant, who was a neurologist
especially concerned with the condition of Duchenne
muscular dystrophy, a heritable disease for which there
was no cure. The bill became law as much because of
his persuasiveness in the matter of genetic modification
as because of the help it would afford to those suffering
from infertility.
But the procedures that John Walton foresaw took
very much longer to come into practice than he had
expected and we are now again considering the issues
that arise from genetic modification in humans, though
this time not only embryonic humans.
The Royal Society survey is an extremely careful
investigation of the views of three panels of “ordinary”
people, based in London, Norwich and Edinburgh,
concerned, respectively, with genetic modification of
humans, plants and animals other than human.
The survey was carried out over a considerable
period and with a great deal of internal communication.
It is not surprising, therefore, that people changed
their minds, or modified their opinions, during the
course of the inquiry. But one thing that emerges most
clearly from the report is the common thirst for more
knowledge. Again and again, participants complained
that they were inhibited from expressing an opinion
about new developments in the field by their ignorance
of which therapies were currently being used and which
were in the pipeline.
The motivating force behind the survey was the
thought that the new possibilities of curing disease
by genetic modification could be of benefit to large
numbers of people, many of whom suffered from
conditions hitherto untreatable. It is therefore
essential that these new possibilities should be widely
understood and that there should be no room for
suspicion that research is being carried out behind
closed doors or that there is help available to which no
one has access.
Among the London group, those concerned with
the application of the new techniques to humans, a
surprising number held the view that the benefit of
the techniques lay in the matter of equality: everyone,
A model of a
strand of DNA.
any of those surveyed expressed the
hope that such regulation should be global; however,
that seems to me pure fantasy. Think of the difficulties
in establishing global agreement on the management
of pollution. In this case, we must simply try to regulate
for ourselves and hope that, if we can get it right, others
will follow.
There was one concern of the report with which I
had little sympathy and that was the matter of consent.
A number of people expressed anxiety that, if a child
were genetically modified so that that child, and their
children, would no longer suffer from an inherited
disease, they would have had this done to them, as well
as to future generations, without their consent.
Obviously that is true. And obviously in many cases
it is desirable that consent be assured before action is
taken that involves someone else. But if you are being
rescued from an intolerable situation, surely your
consent can be taken for granted. If, in order to prevent
my being burned to death in a house fire you fling me
over your shoulder and run – you don’t need to stop
to ask my consent. So, if you can act so as to spare a
child, and future generations of children, the sufferings
of disability, surely you do not need their consent
to take the necessary actions. Sometimes, I feel that
people engaged in these discussions underestimate the
awfulness of having a profoundly disabled child.
And this leads to my next point: there were those
whose response to the inquiry was to suggest that it
was wrong to try to find ways to remove or alleviate the
sufferings of those who have genetically determined
disabilities. To suggest that one might hope to eliminate
disability was the same as to hope to eliminate disabled
people. And this was discrimination.
But this argument, though I have frequently
encountered it, often put forward with passion, seems
to me very weak. To say of someone that his life would
be better if he were not disabled is not the same as to
say that it would be better if he did not exist. But, on
the whole, there was little of this in the findings of the
survey. It has been a useful and enlightening exercise.
Mary Warnock is a moral philosopher and life peer
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Established in 1791 Issue № 11807
Earnings gap
Only a social
revolution will
close gender
pay divide
his year marks the 50th
anniversary of the sewing
machinists’ strike at Ford’s
Dagenham plant. In 1968,
187 women left the production
line to protest against the fact
that they were paid less than
their male counterparts doing
similar work, bringing car
production grinding to a halt.
Their strike eventually led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act,
landmark legislation that enshrined the right to equal
pay for equal work, described by its architect, Barbara
Castle, as “self-evidently just and right”.
It has now been illegal for employers to pay
differently for work of equivalent value for 48 years. But
the gender pay gap remains intractable. New figures
last week showed that there are almost four times as
many men who earn over £100,000 a year than there
are women. Three-fifths of the low paid are women.
They still earn, on average, only 82p for every pound
earned by men and at the current rate of progress it
North Korea
Talks are crucial,
but vain Trump
blunders again
ill Donald Trump
ever meet Kim
Jong-un? It is
a reasonable
question, given
the US leader’s
changeable moods and the fact that the
North Korean dictator has yet to issue an
official invitation. Trump could barely
contain his excitement last week after
a South Korean delegation passed on
Kim’s suggestion of a meeting by May.
He appeared unannounced in the White
House briefing room to tip off reporters
that big news was about to break.
But Trump’s exhilaration was not
about averting the nuclear Armageddon
he himself so recently threatened. It was
about his chance of securing a place
will take decades to close the gap. A toxic mix of factors
is responsible, including outright discrimination, the
fact that women still carry most responsibility for
caring and the over-representation of women in lowerpaid sectors. This has allowed gender reactionaries
to cherry-pick data to argue that the gender pay gap
is simply a product of women’s choices: they opt to
do more caring within families; they choose not to go
into the highest-paying careers such as engineering
and finance.
This is disingenuous rubbish. First, the statistics
show that outright discrimination remains a stubborn
presence in workplaces across Britain. The pay gap
between men and women without children remains
far from insignificant, at 12%. Experiments show that
employers judge men and women differently, with
female job applicants regarded as less competent and
deserving of lower pay. Some of this discrimination
is conscious; some will be implicit. Research suggests
that the majority of us harbour sexist instincts that
we unthinkingly act upon. Men are more likely to ask
for a pay rise than women, but women who do so are
regarded negatively.
The weight of societal expectation is that it falls to
women to fulfil caring roles. Some may happily choose
to take a step back from their career for their families,
but many will feel they have no choice, that it falls to
them to juggle the responsibilities of working and family
life or it won’t happen at all.
Not only do we still as a society expect women to
pick up caring responsibilities, but women’s careers
get punished as a result of them doing so. The pay
gap between working mothers and fathers is far
higher than for childless men and women: women
experience a penalty for having children, while men get
a fatherhood bonus.
Some of the pay gap between mothers and fathers
is explained by the fact that so many working mothers
go part-time after having children; analysis shows that
working part-time after having children holds back
women’s earnings and career progression. Some of
this may well be as a result of women working parttime being denied the opportunity to develop the skills
in history as the man who “solved” the
70-year-old Korean conundrum. Trump
saw a golden chance to posture as
peacemaker before an admiring world. So
without consulting his closest and betterinformed advisers, he took Kim’s bait.
It would be wonderful if North Korea
were to give up its nuclear weapons. It
would be wonderful if the US did so, too.
Neither occurrence is remotely likely
in the foreseeable future. According
to the South Koreans, Kim expressed
commitment to denuclearisation of the
Korean peninsula. But this is nothing
new for Pyongyang. It made similar
offers in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2005 and 2010.
On each occasion, for a variety of reasons,
the promises came to nothing.
Trump does not study history; indeed,
he apparently does not read much at all.
He does not understand that when North
Korea talks about denuclearisation, it
means, primarily, the removal from the
region of the US nuclear weapons the
regime finds so threatening. Washington
has never given such an undertaking and
there is zero sign it will do so in future. It
demands nothing less than North Korea’s
unilateral disarmament.
The deal offered to North Korea under
needed to progress; some will be that they are shut out
of, for example, networking opportunities that take
place outside of their office hours.
But some of the pay discrepancy will also be as a
result of the extra discrimination faced by mothers and
pregnant women in the workplace. Research suggests
that fathers are regarded by employers more favourably
than childless men; for example, employers tend to
allow fathers to be late for work more frequently than
childless men and mothers.
And the fact that women are overrepresented in
low-paid sectors, despite now being more highly
educated than men on average, is a product of structural
injustice, not choice. As a result of both conscious
and implicit bias throughout the education system,
fuelled by pervasive gender stereotyping, women
remain disproportionately shut out of top jobs in
science and engineering. It is no coincidence that work
that is seen as “feminine” – caring and cleaning –
remains some of the most undervalued and underpaid
work in our economy.
Gender pay reporting – mandatory from this
year for every organisation with more than 250
employees – is an important step forwards. Without
transparency, discrimination remains hidden. But
it is not enough. We need to encourage men to play
a greater role in family life, for example by giving
all men a longer period of “use it or lose it” paternity
leave in the first year of their child’s life. We need to
ensure that opting to work part-time does not result
in women choking off their career progression. And
we need to ensure that more women pursue careers in
highly paid industries, while improving pay and working
conditions in female-dominated jobs such as caring
and cleaning.
The last 50 years have shown that there is a long
way to go before we achieve what is “self-evidently just
and right” for women. It will require radical cultural
and social reforms, from eradicating the effects
of implicit bias to creating a society in which it is
possible for mothers and fathers to share their caring
responsibilities equally. Only then will gender equality
truly become a reality.
the defunct six-party talks process, before
it attained its current nuclear capabilities,
involved the lifting of UN sanctions,
security guarantees, economic aid and
assistance with developing peaceful
nuclear energy. These “normalisation”
carrots will again be dangled if talks
resume – but not the withdrawal of
the American nuclear umbrella that
ostensibly shields South Korea and Japan.
Yet the moment for such a deal has
passed. It passed when Kim declared
in November that North Korea had
become a fully fledged nuclear weapons
state with long-range missiles capable
of hitting anywhere in the US. The
game has fundamentally changed, a
fact the Americans find hard to accept.
It is fanciful to believe that Kim, after
years of national striving and sacrifice,
is suddenly prepared to surrender his
newly perfected weapons in the absence
of equivalent US actions. What he wants
now is the recognition and security that
possession of such weapons brings.
By luring the impulsive Trump into a
high-profile summit, Kim has everything
to gain. He will boost his prestige within
North Korea’s ruling party and among
the populace at large. The domestic
propaganda dividend will be enormous.
By dealing with a US president on equal
terms, Kim will dishearten all those who
hope for a progressive, democratic future
in North Korea.
Most concerning of all, perhaps,
a Trump-Kim summit, even if only
symbolic, will legitimise North Korea’s
status as a nuclear weapons state that the
world’s most powerful nation must court
and woo. The fateful lesson that Saddam
Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi failed to
learn, namely, that possession of nuclear
weapons equals personal and regime
survival, will be reinforced.
For all these reasons, more sensible
people in the Trump administration are
already rowing back. The White House
now says North Korea must first make
unspecified “concrete steps” before any
summit takes place. The risk is that in
compensating for Trump’s foolishness,
US officials may go too far the other
way and wreck the opening for dialogue
painstakingly won by South Korea’s
president, Moon Jae-in, through his
Olympics diplomacy.
It is vitally important to talk to North
Korea. More Trump grandstanding is not
the way to do it.
Kings Place,
90 York Way,
London N1 9GU
020 3353 2000
email editor@
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
Populists will eventually be found out –
moderates must be ready for that day
he past is a foreign country; they
do things differently there. We can see just how alien
the past can be by taking my time machine for a short
spin back 20 years. For many readers, especially younger
ones, time tourism will be a shock. In 1998, Amazon is
a company struggling to convince people that there is a
profitable future selling books online. Facebook doesn’t
exist. Neither does the iPhone. The Russian intelligence
service is run by Vladimir Putin. Some things haven’t
changed then.
Also in 1998 – and this will really surprise some people
– Tony Blair is the most popular prime minister Britain
has ever had. He and other centre-leftists of his type
are dominant in the western democracies. Bill Clinton,
a “new” Democrat, is in his second term at the White
House. “New Labour” has recently surged to power with
a parliamentary landslide in Britain. It will go on to win
two further elections. The “neue mitte” – the word new
is much loved by this generation of social democrats
– has been a winner for the SPD’s Gerhard Schröder,
who is embarked on the first of two stints as Germany’s
chancellor. The moderate left is in government in twothirds of the countries that are members of the European
Union. Their successful offer is broad support for free
markets combined with good public services, a decent
welfare state, internationalism and social liberalism. This
seems to be a magic formula. At around this time, one of
Mr Blair’s senior advisers told me that they represented “a
new common sense” so potent that neither the traditional
conservative right nor the old socialist left could hope to
compete with it.
How archaic that sounds when we return to 2018. Just
about everywhere you look, social democrats are being
pulverised. The latest example has been furnished by the
populist earthquake in Italy where Matteo Renzi’s Partito
Democratico was smashed down to less than a fifth of the
vote and the centre-left came in third behind a rightwing
bloc fronted by Silvio Berlusconi, who is banned from
taking public office, and the Five Star Movement, which
was founded by a man who is, literally, a comedian. An
even more dismal fate befell the French socialists when
their candidate for president finished fifth with less
than 7% of the vote. They then went on to lose 250 of
their 280 seats in the national assembly. When Germany
went to the polls last autumn, the SPD, for decades the
most powerful centre-left party in Europe, recorded its
worst result since the creation of the federal republic in
1949. Even though its junior role in the previous “grand
coalition” with Angela Merkel was electoral hemlock, the
SPD has gone back into another one for fear that a fresh
election would produce an even more dire result.
It is true that centre-right parties have also been
haemorrhaging support to the various insurgent brands
of illiberal populists, demagogic nationalists and fascists.
The new centreleft: Gerhard
Schroder had
two terms as
chancellor of
Germany, starting in 1998. AP
The troubles of the centre-right are scant consolation
for the centre-left because its crisis looks much more
existential. Social democrats neither head the government
nor lead the opposition in Germany, Britain, France or
Italy – Europe’s four largest economies. The centre-left
was thrown out of power when Austria went to the polls
and fell to a historical low in the most recent Spanish
contest. In Scandinavia, traditional heartland of European
social democracy, they are in charge in just one country.
The Czech social democrats and the Dutch Labour party
have been marmalised by the voters. There are no social
democrats at all in the Polish parliament. Portugal’s social
democratic government stands out because it is such a
rarity. Britain has exhibited this trend in its own eccentric
way. The social democrats who used to control the Labour
party have been replaced by people hailing from much
further left. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership cadre has an
ideology sufficiently to the taste of the Communist Party
of Great Britain that it says it won’t run candidates against
Labour at our next election.
There is one thing to be said for the bleak place in
which social democrats find themselves. They have
time to reflect on what went wrong. They were too often
managerial and metropolitan with the result that they
lost connection with segments of traditional support that
felt condescended to by a cosmopolitan elite. After the
scarring electoral defeats at the hands of the right in the
era, the centreleft overcorrected
in its approach
towards markets.
They were too
indulgent of the
excesses of high
finance in the
run-up to the
Great Crash of
2008. They were
too mesmerised
by the power of
they paid too little attention to those who lost out or felt
left behind. Throw in stagnant incomes for many folk
combined with conspicuous, and sometimes obscene,
gains for those lucky enough to be rich in assets. Stir in
surges in immigration and it has been a perfect storm.
Some argue that it is even grimmer. Social democracy
is not just in distress – it is defunct. It is contended that
the “third way” of the Blair era was only viable in “good
times”. The formula depended on strong and stable
economic growth to satisfy the public desire to enjoy
better services and welfare provision without paying
too much more in tax. That formula doesn’t work when
money is tight and choices are much more stark.
Another gloomy view is that social democracy is the
victim of a realignment that is replacing the traditional
division between left and right with a politics more
driven by identity and values. A split between “open”
and “closed” views of the world is polarising population
groups and opinion between nativist authoritarians
and globalist liberals. This is agony for social democrats
because it cleaves their historical voting coalition of the
working class and middle-class liberals. Understanding
their plight has been easier than finding ways to put
themselves back in contention. One approach is to try to
woo voters away from populists by echoing elements of
their messages. Sweden’s ruling social democrats, who
face an election this year, are fighting to stay in power
with a strategy entitled “better welfare, law and order, and
faster integration”. The centre-left in Denmark is taking
this experiment further. The Danish social democrats
have made a hard swing to the right on immigration
in an attempt to stop blue-collar voters going over to
nationalists. If-you-can’t-beat-the-populists-join-them is
a strategy freighted with a lot of risks.
It is a sign of desperate times for the centre-left that
this is happening in Scandinavia, once the bastion of
tolerant and open European social democracy. In Britain,
Labour has just about managed to straddle the open/
closed divide, but it helps to be in opposition where you
can fudge the harder choices. Labour will find it much
tougher going if it should find itself in government.
here is a paradox about this
crisis for social democracy. The broad formula of the
centre-left still has appeal to many millions of voters.
There is little evidence that the modern electorate wants
to embrace the heavy-metal socialism of a super-statist
society. Nor can we detect a great clamour to live in a
state-shrunk society of unfettered markets and deviltake-the-hindmost. Many voters may have given up
on social democrats, but they still like the idea of a
regulated market economy with good public services
and decent welfare protection. This is the western
Europe that social democrats were so influential in
creating. Progressive taxation, equality of opportunity
and the idea that the strong have a responsibility
towards the weak are basic tenets of the centre-left
that have become embedded. It was so successful that
it could make social democrats of Conservatives as
when Britain’s Tories accepted the Labour-created NHS.
Witness also the rather social democratic way in which
Theresa May’s government is proposing interventions in
the energy and housing markets.
Social democrats have arguably had more influence
over the development of western Europe than any rival
political movement. They created a world that electorates
have, by and large, come to take for granted. This may
be part of their problem. Fewer and fewer voters are old
enough to have memories of how ghastly some of the
alternatives can be. When electorates get experience of
what the snake oil peddled by the populists really tastes
like, social democrats may be given an opportunity to
be heard again. They had better be ready with attractive
things to say and compelling leaders to articulate them.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Riddell’s view
Bercow must live by his own rules during bullying probe
For true transparency,
the Speaker should
step down while an
investigation into his
behaviour takes place
n their thorough, monthslong investigation into harassment
and bullying in parliament, Chris
Cook and Lucinda Day of BBC
Two’s Newsnight uncovered so
many allegations by staff members
about MPs that the anonymous
testimonies broadcast so far,
starting with “woman A”, are now
at “woman L”. In fact, the reporters
have heard from dozens of women
– and men – claiming inappropriate
behaviour by MPs, enough to run
into a second alphabet. Many of the
alleged victims of parliamentary
harassment and bullying will never
be able to say #MeToo because their
inward-facing, apolitical roles as
Commons clerks mean they don’t
have a public platform or Twitter
account to air their experiences.
The allegations of bullying have
centred on the Commons Speaker,
John Bercow, but also include the
Labour MP Paul Farrelly and the
Conservative Mark Pritchard. After
all three MPs denied the claims
when they were first broadcast
on Newsnight on Thursday, more
members of staff contacted the
reporters with first-hand and
eyewitness accounts. The clerks are
not going to back down.
Despite the denials, it is clear that
an investigation has to take place.
It is not the occasional frustrated
remark that could be misconstrued
but, allegedly, serious, protracted
bullying that has caused staff
members to request to be moved,
resign or, in the case of Bercow’s
former private secretary Kate Emms,
suffer from PTSD.
The #MeToo movement has
focused on sexual harassment,
but in a survey of parliamentary
staff, the Commons leader Andrea
Leadsom’s working group found that
bullying was the more widespread
problem in parliament. Bullying
and harassment have one common
denominator: abuse of power. And
in the House of Commons, the
sense of power is more inflated than
anywhere else. This is not to say
that all MPs are guilty of bullying or
harassment, yet there is a tendency
among some to think that winning
the votes of thousands of people
gives them a mandate to do what
they want to get what they want.
They believe the normal rules don’t
apply to them.
This special exemption problem
has been magnified by the
harassment scandal. Leadsom’s
working group produced some
sound recommendations on creating
an independent investigations
process for harassment claims, yet it
also proposed allowing MPs accused
of inappropriate behaviour to be
given anonymity – protection not
given to anyone else in society. It took
just two hours for Michael Fallon to
resign as defence secretary after I
reported him to Downing Street for
sexual harassment in November.
Yet since then every other MP who
has faced an allegation has denied,
obfuscated or, in the case of Damian
Green, clung on for eight weeks
during an investigation into his
conduct. The house of honourable
members is running short on
honour. There is little accountability.
When #MeToo first swept through
Westminster in October, Bercow put
himself at the forefront of efforts
to tackle harassment. He said:
“There must be zero tolerance of
sexual harassment or bullying here
at Westminster or elsewhere.” He
wrote to all party leaders demanding
they publish policies for combatting
harassment and bullying and
pledged that the House of Commons
commission would look at beefing
up its “respect policy” designed
to protect parliamentary staff.
Most pertinently, the Speaker said
procedures to tackle harassment
and bullying must be “credible,
enforceable, accessible, transparent
and comprise an independent
From Bercow, who has used his
nine years as Speaker to modernise
the workings of parliament,
making it more family-friendly
and opening up politics to women,
ethnic minorities and the LGBT
community, this hardline stance
against Westminster’s dinosaurs
was unsurprising – from a public
viewpoint at least. Bercow’s alleged
behaviour in private now puts him
in that same category of dinosaur. As
someone who is, effectively, the chief
executive of parliament, Bercow was
right to insist on zero tolerance of
harassment and tough investigation
procedures. Now he faces allegations
of bullying himself, he must submit
to the same rigorous processes that
he demanded of party leaders.
One of those party leaders, the
Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will
tomorrow table an urgent question
in the Commons on the Newsnight
allegations, including those
involving Bercow. It is obscene that
the person who decides whether
that urgent question is heard is
Bercow himself. If he tries to prevent
Lucas’s question, there would
surely be a vote of confidence in
his position. While Bercow says the
allegations are “simply untrue”, they
are serious enough to warrant an
independent investigation.
And if the Speaker really is a
great modernising force, then he
must step down as Speaker while an
independent investigation into his
conduct takes place.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf
show how not to bond in Lady Bird.
On Mother’s Day,
let’s celebrate
the pleasure of
watching mums
failing badly
It has taken Hollywood
of all places to explode
the many myths of
the perfect parent
orry, Mum. By the time
I caught up with “Mother’s Day with
Carole Middleton”, it was too late to
plan a festive brunch, working to a
rose gold colour palette, where we
would celebrate “being thankful for
motherhood and all the things the
amazing women in your life do every
single day”.
Likewise, I refuse to see it as a
commentary on my own attempts at
mothering that my daughter will not,
as Carole proposes, be transforming
the dining table (NB, it’s not too late!)
“into an Instagram-worthy setting
with an abundance of spring flowers
and foliage, an oversized balloon, a
decorative table cloth and runner,
and tea lights”. At least we’ll be able
to sit together, mother and daughter,
lovingly picturing the scene in
Kensington Palace. At this moment,
the Duchess of Cambridge reclines
beneath a bespoke banner from Party
The Audit
class sizes
The government last week
released figures which suggested that class sizes are
rising due to funding cuts
Pieces, inscribed with “We love you,
Mum”, while George approaches with
one of their rose gold “Love” balloons.
And suddenly, incidentally, it’s
clear where the younger Middleton
daughter, Pippa, acquired the
entertaining expertise that once
won her a £400,000 advance from
Penguin books. “Paper plates,”
Carole writes, “make a great
alternative to breakable china if
you’re hosting younger guests”.
Anyone with non-breakable china
should proceed as planned.
For those, however, who messed
up the brunch gathering, my
Mother’s Day tip would be for an
outing to see, or re-see, I, Tonya.
Or failing that, Three Billboards
Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Or, failing
that, Lady Bird. The first on the list
is especially recommended as a
bonding event for mothers with an
accompanying older child, given
(multiple spoilers ahead) the very
low chance that you will have ever
been amazing enough to hurl a knife
at your teen – as Tonya Harding’s
mother, LaVona, is alleged to have
done – and with such accuracy that
it embedded itself in junior’s arm. In
the event that there was occasional
bloodshed, the youngster will
appreciate that you never shrugged,
like flinty LaVona: “Oh, please, show
me a family that doesn’t have ups
and downs.”
It must be a rare mother who does
not come out of I, Tonya feeling, well,
all things considered, it could have
gone worse. We’re not ideal; we’re
not up there with Gary Oldman’s
mum, cited at the Oscars for her
promoting aproned paragons,
with their enduring appeal to male
beneficiaries of the status quo.
Of all the gendered expectations
inculcated in little girls, has any
been as precious, in protecting male
dominance, as the fallacy that child
rearing is as reverenced in reality as
it so often is on screen? Just in time
for Mother’s Day, a study reported
that parents of “boomerang”
children perceive their refilled nests
as a decline in “feelings of control,
autonomy, pleasure and selfrealisation in everyday life”.
exemplary contribution to future
Churchill impersonations, but at
least we didn’t make our unfortunate
daughters wet themselves on a public
ice rink. Then again, our daughters
can’t do triple axels.
As for children who approach
this Mother’s Day with a lengthy
charge-sheet, ask yourselves: as
unsatisfactory, and non-amazing
as she was, did your mother
ever, like Frances McDormand’s
character in Three Billboards, kick
your schoolfriends in the crotch?
Did she insult the vicar? Shout
that she hoped you’d get raped? Or
deform your entire character, like
the wicked, pickled racist, old Mrs
Dixon, in the same film? Then you’re
already ahead.
Thanks Mum, on this special
day, for never setting fire to a police
station. There’s another point in it for
Mum if she never, like the mother in
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, fat-shamed
you in a dress shop.
The arresting rejection of social
norms by older female characters,
in these recent films, has elicited
a cathartic audience response
whose intensity surely derives from
the characters being, technically,
nurturers. From whom better things
are expected. For stepmothers,
adoptive ones, or single women
without children (“spinsters”, as the
Daily Mail still likes to call them),
Hollywood has always devised
LaVona-like manifestations of
bitterness, weirdness or lip-pursing,
a tradition to which Lesley Manville’s
neat tyrant in Phantom Thread is just
the latest, cherishable, addition.
But where screen mothers are
concerned, madness or some
hopeless, hippyish, semi-disarming
version of maternal inadequacy have
generally been the maximum on
offer to real-life nurturers seeking
reassuringly dreadful comparators.
Donald Winnicott’s fallible “good
enough mother” was never likely
to catch on, outside therapeutic
circles, given the commercial energy
or some mothers, such as
the Conservative Andrea Leadsom,
or Labour’s Sarah Champion,
the suggestion, cinematic and
otherwise, that motherhood can
be less than perfect will be yet more
inconvenient. Is it possible that
regular childbearing is not, after
all, equivalent to an MA in political
compassion and foresight? What
childless Theresa May lacked,
Leadsom argued, speaking “as a
mum”, was her own, biologically
superior, “very real stake in the
future of our country”. She had,
presumably with that in mind, voted
Brexit. More recently, Champion
disparagingly contrasted stakeless
May’s policy on child abuse with her
predecessor’s: “David Cameron got
it and I think he got it because I went
to him as a dad rather than going to
him as a politician.”
In their way, in fact, mums
Leadsom and Champion join
Alison Janney’s superb LaVona in
demonstrating that motherhood is
no guarantee of emotional health
and may even be compatible with
astonishingly insulting behaviour
– in their case, to the one in five
women who will not have a child. To
say nothing of the glaring omission
of what everybody knows: that a job
and motherhood remains, for many
women, a combination as gruelling,
as it can be, with luck, fulfilling – and
one unlikely to get any easier while
prominent mothers rehearse pieties
about its sacrificial specialness.
27.1 7.1% 20.8
Rise in
class sizes
since 2006
The average
size of a secondary
school class
The average
size of a
school class
The number of infant
school classes with
more than 31 pupils
Of secondary
school classes
between 3135 pupils
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Litvinenko was
murdered with the
radioactive polonium-210. PA
Softly-softly isn’t
working. Time to
play hard with
wealth Russians
living in Britain
After the Salisbury
poisonings, we
should tell Putin’s
inner circle they are
no longer welcome
e need to recap
briefly the similarities between
Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei
Skripal, because they are stark.
Both served in the Russian security
services; both faced prosecution
in Russia; both found sanctuary in
Britain; both co-operated with British
intelligence agencies. And both
were attacked with rare poisons, of
kinds available only to governments.
The only important difference is
that Litvinenko’s murderers were
successful, while Skripal is still
fighting for his life.
Suspicion is strong that Litvinenko
was killed because he was revealing
secrets about the Kremlin’s business
interests and the inquiry into his
2006 murder was pretty categorical
about the identity of the poisoner.
Judge Robert Owen, in his ruling
May I have
a word?
The shifting patterns of
English. This week:
even the BBC sometimes
makes a mess of it
two years ago, concluded there was
a “strong probability” that the FSB
had sent the two assassins who came
from Russia to murder Litvinenko, in
an operation “probably approved” by
Vladimir Putin.
Considering the similarities
between the two poisonings and the
two victims, it is not alarmist to ask
whether the same man also stands
behind this new attempted murder.
As Michael McFaul, a Russianist who
tried and failed to improve US-Russia
relations while President Barack
Obama’s ambassador to Moscow,
put it: “Is there anyone else, besides
the Russian government, who would
have a motive for trying to kill
That is the six-billion-rouble
question. Poisoning one ex-spy
in Britain might be a one-off, an
exceptional act of retribution. But if
the Kremlin has poisoned a second
ex-spy in Britain, that looks like a
policy. It was pure good fortune
that no bystanders were harmed
when Litvinenko was murdered,
considering how carelessly his killers
splashed polonium-210 around.
The residents of Salisbury were not
so lucky and no government can
tolerate such reckless indifference
to the wellbeing of its citizens.
It appears that Britain’s spies
told the Tony Blair government
the Litvinenko murder had been
ordered from the highest levels of
the Russian government long before
the rest of us had that confirmed.
But politicians felt unable to respond
robustly because they wanted to
retain Moscow’s co-operation in
What a repository of joy is Radio
5 Live. Only last week, one of its
many talking heads was heard
offering up a “many-headed
hydra”. As opposed to the bogstandard nine-headed variety
that Hercules strove so valiantly
to dispatch in his second labour?
And in one of those typically
harrowing reports so beloved
of the channel, the presenter
declared that “an actor had
voiced her words”. While, in a
further aural offence, another
presenter said of an earlier item
have a reliable ally in Washington.
Donald Trump can be counted on to
troll Sadiq Khan whenever there’s a
terrorist attack in London but he is
yet to bother tweeting about Sergei
Skripal, his daughter, Yulia, DS Nick
Bailey or the 18 other people affected
by the nerve agent used last Sunday.
Trump’s indifference extends to
his own country’s Russia problem.
Last year, Congress asked the White
House to study which Kremlin
insiders could be targeted by
sanctions, so it copied out a list from
Forbes magazine. It would, in short,
be foolish to rely on Washington for
help against Putin. If US assistance
is not forthcoming, the government
needs to work with our European
allies. It is a shame that so much
of our diplomatic capital has been
squandered on Brexit, instead of
being held back for something
security matters. “They are too
important for us to fall out with,” an
unnamed minister told the Sunday
Times before Litvinenko’s lead-lined
coffin had even been buried.
We eventually expelled a handful
of diplomats, after Russia refused
to extradite the murderers, but
Whitehall’s instinct remained to try
to smooth things over, like a hostess
offering canapes to a fractious party
guest. After the coalition came to
power in 2010, David Cameron
visited Moscow to reset relations,
in a policy mirrored by McFaul
and Obama. They believed that if
they trusted Putin he would prove
trustworthy: offer him enough volau-vents and he would calm down.
The alternative was too ghastly to
In 2014, Putin annexed Crimea
and sent his implausibly deniable
proxies into eastern Ukraine, where
they shot down a civilian airliner,
killing 298 people. Then Russian
hackers broke into the Democratic
that it had been “a fascinating
listen”. Yes, I know the clue to
the station is in the word “live”,
but “voiced” and “listen”?
But it is in its sports coverage
that Radio 5 Live truly comes
into its own. I have written
before about podium and
medal being turned into verbs
and its coverage of the Winter
Olympics didn’t disappoint on
that front. Yet there are other
tics that still jar. “Ahead of
their game against Juventus,
Spurs…” ‘Before” used to be
party’s servers and in 2016
distributed its emails in an operation
transparently aimed at influencing
the American people’s democratic
choice. The party guest was not
mollified, smashed up the living
room with a golf club and pushed the
vicar into the pool.
It is a sign of how low relations
have sunk between Russia and
the west that there was an inquiry
into the death of Litvinenko at all.
As home secretary, Theresa May
opposed publicly airing the evidence
that Russia had killed a British
citizen in the first deliberate nuclear
attack since Nagasaki, to try to
protect relations with Russia. It was
only after Crimea that she gave way;
there were no relations left worth
This bad relationship should make
sanctioning Putin’s government
easier for our politicians to stomach,
but in other ways, May’s job now is
significantly harder than Blair’s was
in 2006. For one thing, we no longer
No doubt about it: Kanu after
scoring in the 2008 Cup Final.
ut acting alone is
still possible. South-east England
is a favourite playground of rich
Russians. They keep their houses
here, their children here, they
float their companies on our stock
exchange and they don’t make a
secret of it. You’re not rich in Russia
without being friends with Putin –
in fact, there is a remarkably close
correlation between the two groups
– so if May’s government wants
to send a message to the Russian
president, it could cancel the visas
of the members of his inner circle
and, perhaps, try out the potency of
its new “unexplained wealth orders”,
by freezing their property. Then it
should dismantle the mechanisms
with which they launder their
As one MP told me yesterday: “We
need to be arseholes, we need to be
tough on the aristocrats and we need
to kick their kids out.” This is the time
to ask the party guest to leave. Putin’s
people care most about getting rich
and the only way to change their
mind is to cost them money.
good enough. “Any time soon”
– where to start? “Of course”,
as in: “It was, of course, Kanu
who scored Portsmouth’s
winner in the 2008 FA Cup final.”
(Of course it was! Sorry, I think I
may have declared an allegiance
Yet I still remain a faithful
listener, if only in the
expectation of hearing the
conjunction of “upskilling” and
“hub”. I was only surprised
not to see “hub” in the
following local newspaper
report last week: “The
venture is underpinned by a
principle of building on social
capital - with users of the
co-working community asked
to support each other by
‘paying it forward’, offering
their experience and a little
bit of time to other small
companies. This might involve
brainstorming marketing
ideas, product testing or
introducing contacts.”
Come on, if this doesn’t
deserve a hub, nothing does.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Jamie Oliver
Stop chucking
those Twizzlers
– the chef is
still a class act
he words “controversial
comments” are now as
joined to Jamie Oliver as:
“There’s no way you can
make that casserole in 15 minutes
mate” and: “Bosh a bit of balsamic
glaze on that ciabatta.” And he has
stayed true to form at the launch
of a report on obesity. “What you
see is parents who aren’t even
thinking about five fruit and veg
a day. They’re thinking about
enough food for the day,” he told the
Times. “Willpower is a very unique
personal thing… We can’t judge our
equivalent of logic on theirs because
they’re in a different gear, almost in
a different country.”
I can understand bristling at the
clumsy, patronising wording, at the
idea that people living in poverty are
somehow not the same as “us”. But
Oliver’s intentions are good, as they
almost always are, and any attempts
to skew his meaning seem to me
to be at best cynical and at worst a
deliberate desire to misunderstand
what he’s saying.
I took his point as an attack on
middle-class assumptions, rather
than on working-class eating habits;
he’s saying that if you are hungry,
making sure you eat healthily is
Jamie Oliver’s
intentions were
good, even if his
wording was
always going to be less of a priority
than making sure you eat full stop.
And any guidelines with a hope
of being effective surely need to
understand that.
Food and poverty and health are
all tied up in a complicated mess,
but with the most recent Trussell
Trust statistics indicating that
the charity’s food banks gave out
208,956 emergency food supplies
to children between April and
September 2017, it is a complicated
mess that should shame the
government and needs addressing
with more urgency than ever. There
is a deep sensitivity, still, to talking
about class, but for continuing to
talk about it, knowing that he’ll have
the metaphorical Turkey Twizzlers
thrown at him if he does, Oliver
should be admired, not strung up.
Brenda the snowman
On or off the court
she never stopped
being the champion
putting up “Justice for Brenda”
signs, building even more mourners
and a gravestone so she could
be properly remembered. I love
the story of Brenda for the sheer
pointlessness of it, for the fact that
it was fun for the sake of fun. Much
like Brenda herself, it was a moment
as fleeting as it was beautiful.
Russ Solomon
Serena Williams
n International
Women’s Day, Serena
Williams won against
Zarina Diyas in her first
singles match on the WTA tour
since she nabbed victory at the
Australian Open while pregnant
in 2017. She won her first service
game to love and flexed her
muscles early on with a 100mph
serve. “I’m a little rusty,” she said
afterwards, “but it doesn’t matter.”
Her victory was made all the
more sweet by her being the
returning hero at Indian Wells, a
venue she and her sister, Venus,
had boycotted until as recently
as 2015, after reports of racism
against their family and that
notorious booing by the crowd
in 2001, and by the fact that
she gave birth in September.
Williams’s absence from tennis,
all 404 days of it, did have the
benefit of opening up the field,
but what a delight for the sport
that she’s back. Her resilience is as
astonishing as it is unsurprising,
given her sheer ability. As
she reminded a journalist at
Wimbledon in 2016, when asked
if she would go down as one of
the greatest female athletes of all
time: “I prefer the words ‘one of
the greatest athletes of all time’.”
Her power to inspire now
seems as inbuilt as her backhand,
as she showed even on her
brief time away, when she used
her nightmarish experience of
childbirth to campaign for greater
awareness of the fact that black
women in the US are three times
more likely to die from pregnancy
The late
Gone but not
forgotten – a
creation to melt
the coldest heart
here has been but one
shining light in Britain’s
seemingly endless winter
and that is the saga of
Brenda the “sn-OAP” and her 43
mourners. Brenda, a snowman of
advancing years, was maliciously
decapitated at a bus stop in
Gateshead. Her creators, Rachael
Bell and her sister, Alyx Thompson,
responded by building an army of
snow mourners, all decked out in
purple scarves in tribute to their
fallen friend. Others joined in,
or childbirth-related causes
and that women in many
nations lack access to proper
maternity care.
I love Williams with the
slightly ungainly fervour of
a teenage pop crush. That
she can achieve all that she
continues to achieve while still,
even now, having to answer for
the value of her gender in the
sport whose very reputation
she lifts, is a wonder.
Karen Bardsley, the
England and Manchester
City goalkeeper, spoke last
week about how important it
is that young girls see women
playing football professionally,
because, simply, it makes them
realise that it’s possible for
them, too. The same applies
to Williams back on the court
after having a baby, or even a
Barbie doll being created in the
likeness of the British boxing
champion Nicola Adams
(albeit one that doesn’t look
like it would stand up to being
tickled, never mind
Eventually, women
playing sport might no
longer have to talk about
being women playing
sport. Until then, I hope
there are other women
hearing them loud
and clear, so that a
generation can
come up behind
them, inspired
to do exactly as
they did.
After an easy
victory, Serena
declared herself
‘a little rusty’.
That’s what I
call a rock’n’roll
exit from Mr
Tower Records
uss Solomon, the founder
of Tower Records, died
last week at the age of 92
and did so with a template
that should be rolled out on the
NHS: he had a heart attack while
watching the Oscars, sniping about
the fashion and asking for a refill of
his whiskey.
Just as the closure of the NME
gave me a pang for a youth lost
reading its letters page, so, too, did
remembering what it meant to go
on a pilgrimage to Tower Records
in Piccadilly, which was, to me, the
entire point of visiting London.
But I’ve always been wary of
the kind of superior “it was better
back in the day” nostalgia that
accompanies anything around
music and this particular trip down
memory lane reminded me why: I
now recall that I left Tower Records
after that first trip with the topquality pickings of a Urusei Yatsura
7” and a Bis EP.
Russ Solomon
died aged 92.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
This week’s issue
In praise of prudent
baby boomers
Spit-soaked feathers lay all over
the breakfast table as I was accused
by Phillip Inman that I, and many
others of my age group, were “in
pursuit of the holy grail of wealth”
(“Boomers’ mania for saving leads to
economic madness”, Business, last
In addition, we are held
responsible for “wanting to keep
saving even as they move into their
80s and 90s”. How dare we? Such
irresponsible behaviour! We must
be ashamed of ourselves. Or are we?
I am not. It has taken me a
lifetime of hard work to accumulate
sufficient funds not to have to
screw up courage to open my bank
statement; I now take a taxi when I
wish; I can have the lobster lunch;
I can buy a new hat.
I grew up in the Rhondda Valley
just after the war and benefited from
the Marshall Plan, Mr Beveridge’s
report and Rab Butler’s Education
Act. For me, there were no bicycles,
no holidays, no telephone, no car,
and, almost until I was on my way to
grammar school, many goods were
unavailable or still rationed. There
was a first-class public library within
reach. I persuaded my parents to join
so I could use their library cards as
well as my own. I read everything.
All those old-fashioned values
of thrift, no waste, make do and
mend, do not borrow or, worse, owe
money are still very much part of
my way of life. If we had not saved
when we could do so, there would be
fewer sources today for the younger
generation to borrow from. Inman
mentions that “older savers resist
spending some of their pension”
– that is because we lived through
hard times. Now we do not know
what is ahead of us, thank goodness
we were prudent.
Pearl McCabe
I was brought up after the war with
rationing and a very limited range
of food. An orange was a real treat.
Our houses had no double glazing
or central heating. As children, we
were encouraged to save. Many of
us have since given our children
large amounts of cash to help them
to buy homes. We also look after
our grandchildren to save on their
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
Tories and the national debt
Rab Butler’s Education Act provided
free secondary education for all.
childcare costs and are volunteers
for numerous organisations. We
use our money responsibly to help
others and save to fund our future
healthcare. We can’t be blamed for
the failings in government policy.
Heather Danpure
What will help the younger
generation is investment in
productive capacity thus generating
stable, full-time and wellremunerated work, not the casual,
part-time, zero-hours, low addedvalue work that has resulted from
40 years of ill-conceived economic
policy. The fault lies not with the
baby boomers but Britain’s political
class, which has failed abysmally
over the last four decades.
Chris F Waller
Ann Pettifor rightly points out the
damage caused by George Osborne
in his reduction of the budget deficit
(“A triumph for Osborne austerity
plan? Not when our social fabric is
in tatters”, Comment, last week). But
this is only part of the story. David
Cameron had his knuckles rapped in
2013 by the UK Statistics Authority
when he talked about “paying down
Britain’s debts”. Osborne, too, has
neglected to mention that the big
national debt (as opposed to the
deficit) has ballooned to more than
80% of GDP for much of the Tories’
time in office as opposed to the 40%
it was under Labour before the crash.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent
Don’t take us back to the 50s
Andrew Rawnsley’s fiery metaphor
of Theresa May pouring petrol on
the fire of Brexit is appropriate
(“It is beyond this prime minister
to beat Brexit swords into
ploughshares”, Comment, last
week). May’s “red lines” have made
Brexit a raging inferno, especially
on the Irish border question. How
can she reconcile contradictory
red lines to achieve Brexit without
severe damage to Northern Irish
peace and stability? Donald Tusk
has stated the obvious in so far
as the EU’s collective interests are
concerned: Brexit Britain cannot
expect to have its cake and eat it.
May is in a headlong dash for
Brexit to please her Brexiters but
it’s time she put the country first by
grasping that she’s negotiating with
27 other member states, all with
different priorities.
The Tories’ myopic English
nationalism blinds them to the
advantages of co-operating with
neighbours. They want to return this
country to the 1950s with them in
Since the 2016 referendum, our
country appears to become more
small minded in its attitudes by the
day, with its spike in hate crimes and
malevolence to foreigners. I hope
that Anna Soubry’s amendment is
backed by Labour, the SNP, Jean
Lambert and the Liberal Democrats
to defeat the May government in
The alternative is for the antiBrexit organisations to come
together and co-ordinate the biggest
peacetime demonstration ever on
the streets of London, Edinburgh,
Belfast and Cardiff to say an
unequivocal “no” to Brexit. I want my
tolerant, kind and internationalist
country back! Remainers need to
demand a different vision from the
Brexit politicians, the rightwing
tabloids and the Leave voters.
We don’t want what you selfharming, taking-Britain-backwards,
unfunny comedians want! We will
move mountains to stop you!
Richard Denton-White
Portland, Dorset
Left can be xenophobic too
The leaflet published by Max
Mosley during the 1961 Moss
Side byelection in Manchester
pledged an end to the “coloured
immigration” that “threatens your
children’s health” (“The past haunts
the present in all areas of our
national conversation”, Comment,
last week).
Keir Hardie is an iconic figure
on the British left. His photograph
adorns the walls of Labour clubs
up and down the country. Yet the
Lithuanian Poles employed by
the Glengarnock Iron Company
in Ayrshire were described by the
first Labour MP as “beastly, filthy
foreigners”. He portrayed them
as undercutting the wages of
Scottish miners by surviving on
garlic fried in oil that they stole
from street lamps. Moreover, these
outsiders brought “Black Death” to
“decent men”.
The 1961 byelection leaflet forms
part of a long political tradition that
is not confined to the far right.
Ivor Morgan
Harmony of talk and pills
Alice Gibbs affirms the efficacy of
chemical remedies for depression
such as Prozac but also recommends
counselling (“The pills do work,
but give children the chance
to talk”, Focus, last week). Two
different views of human nature
lurk behind this. One is that we are
walking chemistry sets or machines
exhaustively describable in scientific
language. The other affirms the
uniqueness and autonomy of the
human mind. Gibbs is unusual
and commendable in recognising
both, but aren’t the two views
theoretically incompatible?
Christine Avery
Plympton, Plymouth
Art of the impossible
In your editorial on Theresa May’s
Brexit speech, I think you may have
hit on one of her key skills(“It’s
shaping up for a dreadful deal for
Britain”, last week). You mention
her “self-contradictory thinking”
and “delusional politics”, but you
also refer to Through the LookingGlass. Our prime minister appears
to be taking the advice of the White
Queen, who tells Alice how she used
to practise believing the impossible.
“Why,” she (almost) tells Alice,
“sometimes I’ve believed as many as
six impossible things before Brexit.”
John Filby
Ashover, Derbyshire
For the record
We neglected to note that Ros
Griffiths was a founder of Brixton
Splash, the annual street festival, as
well as Blacker Dread (“Meet Blacker
Dread, the record store owner who
became a Brixton hero”, Focus, last
And we misspelled a role in The
Marriage of Figaro – she is Countess
Rosina, not Rosine (“Divas find a
new voice – and more roles – as
opera relaxes gender divide in
casting”, News, last week)
Write to the Readers’ Editor, the
Observer, York Way, London N1 9GU,
email observer.readers@observer., tel 020 3353 4736
Britain’s view on… Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the UK
The Independent
‘Behind the smiles’
“Britain’s relationship with
Saudi Arabia has increased
in importance since the
Government decided to end
free trade with our closest
Now they’re desperate
to deepen ties with non-EU
countries willing to buy our
goods and services. The
UK already sells the Saudis
billions of pounds worth of
military hardware - and the
Government wants them to up
their orders.
“Behind the smiles
and handshakes on show
tomorrow, and despite Prince
Mohammed bin Salman’s
attempts to be a poster boy
for progress, there are some
uncomfortable truths about
his repressive government that
must not be forgotten.”
Caroline Lucas
Campaign Against
Arms Trade
‘Human rights record’
“The crown prince should never
have been invited to Downing
Street: he leads a regime with
an appalling human rights
record and has overseen the
destruction of Yemen.”
Andrew Smith
Evening Standard
‘Humanitarian crisis’
“Many of the negative aspects
of life in Saudi predate his
elevation. But critics say he
can’t duck responsibility for
his part in the war in Yemen.
He was defence minister
when the Saudi-led coalition
embarked on the campaign.
It was meant to be a quick
intervention to reverse a
coup by the Houthi militia,
who have ties to Iran, Saudi
Arabia’s arch-enemy. But
the war has dragged on for
three years and become a
humanitarian crisis.”
Jim Armitage
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Just when the baby
boomer is loving the
empty nest, here’s the
boomerang child...
For parents who
have been enjoying
the freedom of living
child-free, now comes
research to spoil it all
It’s not easy for
the boomerang
child to witness
the spectacle of
their parent bent
on rediscovering
their 60s mojo
the Storm. But by the 1850s, the
Industrial Revolution had led
to mass “in-migration” to cities.
“Home ownership was out of the
question for the vast majority,”
writes Seccombe. Families huddled
together, sublet and took in lodgers.
he bedrooms have
been redecorated in grown-up
colours, the 25-year-old soft toys
chucked out, the washing machine
is blissfully underused and, thanks
to the apparent current raging
addictions of baby boomers, a
holiday or two – cruising in the Med,
the Antarctic, anywhere that avoids
dry land – have been booked. And
then they’re back.
According to a recent study by
the London School of Economics
(LSE), adult children who return
to the family home after a period
away – often at university – cause a
significant decline in their parents’
quality of life and wellbeing.
The first study of its kind
to measure the impact of the
“boomerang generation” looked
at 17 countries including France
Germany and Italy. Dr Marco Tosi
and Prof Emily Grundy applied
“quality of life” measures that
included “feelings of control,
autonomy, pleasure and selfrealisation in everyday life”.
When a child returns home,
researchers found the score
went down by an average of 0.8
points, an effect on quality of life
similar to developing an agerelated disability such as mobility
difficulties. Protestant countries
showed a greater decline than
Catholic ones, presumably because
these nations are more accustomed
to living in multigenerational,
extended families.
“When children leave the parental
home, marital relationships improve
and parents find a new equilibrium,”
says Tosi. “They enjoy this stage
in life, finding new hobbies and
activities. When adult children
‘So, how long are you going to be here this time?’ Getty
move back, it is a violation of that
When a grown-up child does
return, often reverting to tricky
adolescence, there is something
comfortingly familiar about doors
slamming, noise accelerating and
wellbeing sliding down the scale
– it’s called parenting. But this
time round, it can be particularly
gruelling. It’s not easy for a
twentysomething whose aspirations
are battered by ridiculous housing
costs, student debt and low wages to
have to witness the daily spectacle of
baby boomers bent on rediscovering
their 60s mojo with late nights and
long lie-ins, all the while being hard
of hearing, digitally illiterate and
short on memory.
Repetition and constant
interrogation about the
strangeness of modern life are
the price the returner must pay.
“Did you say you’d be back for
supper?”;“Six times.” “What’s that
thing that works the TV?”;“The
remote control.” And the rules of
engagement are far from clear given
that nowadays it’s more likely to be
the baby boomer who is rolling a
spliff and starting on a second bottle
before the end of The Archers.
Last week, a series of notes from
parents admonishing children and
teenagers was published. “Every
time you don’t eat your sandwich,
a unicorn dies. Love Dad,” read one
lunchbox note. In a boomerang
household, it’s more likely the child
will leave an admonishing Post-it
stuck to an empty case of wine, such
as “drink kills”.
Around one in four young adults
now live with their parents in the
UK, the highest number since
records on the trend began in
1996. (In the 60s, it was the newly
marrieds who returned to live with
the in-laws.) The UK wasn’t part of
the LSE study, but Tosi says refilling
the empty nest is likely to have the
same impact. And we have history.
In the 18th century, young men
would leave home in their teens
to serve as apprentices and young
women would fly the nest into
domestic service, according to the
sociologist Wally Seccombe’s history
of working-class life, Weathering
n 1851, in Preston, housing
costs and low wages contributed
to eight out of 10 males aged 15 to
19 living at home. It could take a
woman, also a wage earner, up to
three days to do the weekly wash by
hand. Today, a returning adult child
may find that the newly liberated
woman of the house has resigned
from all domestic duties in the
name of self-realisation. The nest is
no longer what it was.
That said, one vital element
is missing from the LSE study –
how long does the return of the
boomerang child last? A decade and
he or she risks turning into a carer,
while a year or two has its pluses
– someone to feed the cat while
Mum and Dad are paddling up the
Amazon or, if finances are depleted
by more mouths to feed again, down
the Ouse. There are also surprising
trade-offs. Research on the brain by
two American psychologists, Mara
Mather and Susan Turk Charles,
involved tests on people up to the age
of 80. Results indicated that as we
get older our fight or flight-dictating
amygdala reacts less to negative
information. We tend to see the good
rather than the bad, not least because
time is precious. “In younger people,
the negative response is more at the
ready,” says Charles.
So in what appears to be an
age of perpetual anxiety for
adult offspring who are perhaps
temporarily suspending the quest
for independence, to go back home
is not just about cheap living (and
potential continued warfare if more
than one sibling also rejoins the
nest). Mum and Dad may find their
equilibrium, newfound hobbies and
partnership wrecked, but there are
compensations in making room
for a broke son or daughter. Like
all good-enough parents, in tough
times they can make things seem
not quite as bad as they might
otherwise be. Even while queueing
for the shower.
The world’s view on… the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
New York Times
‘Flair for the dramatic’
“For many years, over several
trips to North Korea, I’ve
argued for direct talks between
the United States and North
Korea, and it’s certainly better
to be engaging the North than
bombing it. If the choice is talk
versus missiles, I’ll go with the
talk. But the proper way to
hold a summit is with careful
preparation to make sure
that the meeting advances
peace – and certainly that it
serves some purpose higher
than simply legitimising Kim’s
regime. Kim and Trump are
both showmen with a flair for
the dramatic and unexpected.
That would make a summit
thrilling – but creates great
risks if everything turns
out wrong.”
Nicholas Kristof
Japan Times
‘Overlooking danger’
“Any summit involving Kim
and Trump could be a source of
discomfort for Japan. Tokyo is
likely fretting over a scenario
where Washington prioritises
having Pyongyang give up
its development of nucleartipped intercontinental ballistic
missiles capable of hitting the
US mainland, while overlooking
the danger posed by shorterrange missiles to its key Asia
allies, mainly Tokyo.”
Financial Times
‘A recalcitrant child’
“Just as Richard Nixon’s
meeting with Mao Zedong in
1972 was all about countering
the Soviet Union, the meeting
with Mr Kim is all about China.
The people who will be most
upset by news of the summit
will be President Xi Jinping
and the mandarins in Beijing.
Until now, Mr Xi has managed
to play the role of concerned
uncle trying hard to rein in
a recalcitrant child, all while
doing almost nothing.”
Jamil Anderlini
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Don’t look to Len McCluskey and his
sorry ilk to defend workers’ interests
Len McCluskey is one leader you will have heard of – for his machinations in Labour. Photograph by Gareth Fuller/PA
Never have our trade
unions been so feeble,
a reflection of their
leaders’ contempt for
their members
e ought to be
living in a stirring age of worker
resistance. About four-fifths of the
population think stronger trade
unions are needed to shift the
balance of power in the workplace.
The settled opinion of the nation
is that managers and rentiers are
pocketing undeserved riches while
millions live on low pay and at the
mercy of their whims.
All politics is underlaid by the
hard fact that we are living through
the worst period of wage stagnation
since the “long depression” of
1873 to 1896 began 145 years ago.
It sparked phenomena that echo
today. Bismarck fought a culture
war against German Catholics in the
conquered territories of the Prussian
empire. The Putinesque figure of
Tsar Alexander III established the
Okhrana, the forerunner of the
FSB, to harry Russian liberals and
socialists. Every great power except
Britain joined the trade wars with
which we will soon be reacquainting
Yet one development from the
stagnation of the 19th century finds
no echo in the stagnation of the
21st. Falling real wages led to an
explosion of trade unionism among
previously unrepresented workers.
The 1880s was the decade of union
leaders whose names still resonate:
Annie Besant who led the matchgirls’
strike of 1888; Ben Tillett who led
the London dock strike of 1889.
They organised ignored men and
women, who, in their dependence
on precarious employment, were the
ancestors of today’s Deliveroo riders
and Amazon warehouse labourers.
I doubt you can name one
modern trade union leader who
is a charismatic and persuasive
presence in the media; one who
can talk a language the young
understand and recruit from the new
workforce of women and migrant
minorities while emphasising their
solidarity with white working-class
Who leads Unison? Who leads the
GMB? Don’t be embarrassed if you
don’t know: they have given you no
reason to notice them.
The only leader you will have
heard of is Len McCluskey of Unite.
He’s not familiar because he has
led the way in unionising the
marginalised and the exploited
but because Unite is playing the
vanguard role, to adopt the language
of Leninism, in consolidating the
far left’s control of the Labour
party. McCluskey supported the
old Revolutionary Socialist League
when it called itself Militant and
tried to take over Labour. The
Scottish aristocrat Andrew Murray
(he’s descended from the earls of
Perth and the kings of Navarre on
his father’s side and the dukes of
Norfolk on his mother’s) not only
offers apologies for Lenin but Stalin
too. He’s moved from Unite and the
Communist Party of Britain to join
Seumas Milne, another apologist for
Uncle Joe, in Jeremy Corbyn’s office.
Unite is trying to force through
the appointment of its official
Jennie Formby as Labour’s new
general secretary on the grounds
that she is the feminist candidate
who will challenge the patriarchy.
Its egalitarian argument would
carry greater force were she not
McCluskey’s former mistress. Was it
for this that Emily Davison died?
The Trump White House and
the leader of the opposition’s office
have much in common. The foul
smell of racism hangs over both
enterprises, but Republican and
Labour politicians and journalists
hold their noses and bite their
tongues for fear of enraging the
leader’s base. Both live in a world of
second-rate soap opera. Can Steve
Bannon find a way back into favour?
Is it over for Jon Lansman now he’s
dared to contradict “Jeremy”? In both
instances, the nepotism matches
the cronyism. Trump employs his
daughter and son-in-law. John
McDonnell employs Corbyn’s son.
I could go on. But discussions
of court politics miss the lost
opportunity to offer relief to millions
of workers. While Unite intrigues,
the union movement is dying.
Membership has fallen from 13m
in 1979 to 6.5m today. Unions are
concentrated in the public sector,
whose managers feel obliged to talk
to them. In the private sector, where
fighting for union recognition is a
harder and hence more urgent task,
a mere 14% of workers are trade
unionists. Union members are more
likely to be well paid than poorly
paid, white collar than blue collar,
old than young.
Far away from the Labour party’s
factionalism, activists the old Labour
movement would have recognised
are winning small victories that
stand out because they are so
rare. The entertainment industry
union Bectu managed against the
odds to organise isolated freelance
camera crews and force film and
TV producers to stop undercutting
their rates. The shop workers’ union
Usdaw fights equally necessary
and difficult struggles to stop
cut-price supermarkets cutting
pay and conditions, while the new
Independent Workers Union broke
away from the stale Unite and
Unison bureaucracies, recruited
Spanish-speaking activists and
sent them to organise the South
American cleaners at the University
of London.
uccessful activists have
little in common with the old farleft-dominated unions. One Bectu
officer explained that his colleagues
placed an absolute priority on
building a consensus among
members rather than ordering them
around. They refused to let the
union be used for political purposes
but concentrated on workers’ pay
and conditions. Lenin, whose work
you must understand to understand
the Labour leadership, despised
trade unions precisely because
pay and conditions were their sole
concern. A vanguard of professional
revolutionaries, led by himself,
naturally, needed to take them over
and direct the muddle-headed and
faintly contemptible proletariat to
That note of contempt can still
be heard. The majority of British
unions, with their complicated
structures and tiny turnouts in
union elections, suit the far left. It
would struggle to retain control if
union membership reflected the
workforce and strategies were built
on consensus rather than diktats
of whatever Stalinist or Trotskyist
faction could stay awake the longest
in the interminable meetings.
There are many reasons why
workers are enduring the worst
wage stagnation in 145 years –
anti-union laws, the decline of
heavy industry. One deserves more
attention than it receives: workers
have the most stagnant leaders in
145 years.
of Crufts
The winner of this year’s
Crufts will be announced
tonight. Since the first
show in 1928, there have
been 78 winners drawn
from 43 breeds.
Primley Sceptre, a
Alfie, the Afghan hound.
Yakee a Dangerous Liaison,
a pekingese.
Caitland Isle Take a Chance,
an Australian shepherd
Miami, American cocker
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Illustration by Dominic McKenzie
Andrew Hindmoor
An unduly bleak view of recent
British history, apt to see little but a
legacy of neoliberalism, ignores the
advances of social democracy and
erodes faith in progressive politics
Why the left’s hellish
vision is so ruinous
ur sense of history shapes how
we think about who we are. One of the distinguishing
features of the left in Britain is that it holds to a
remorselessly bleak and miserabilist view of our recent
politics. This is a history in which Margaret Thatcher’s
election in 1979 marked the start of a still continuing
fall from political grace made evident by the triumph of
a free-market, get-what-you-can, neoliberal ideology,
dizzying levels of inequality, social decay, rampant
individualism, state authoritarianism and political
The left does not like what has happened to us and it
does not like what we have become.
I think that this history is wrong and self-harming.
It is wrong because Britain has in many (although
certainly not all) respects become a more politically
attractive and, much as I cringe whenever I hear this
term, progressive country over the past few decades. It
is self-harming because this bleak history undermines
faith in politics. Britain is not a social democratic
paradise. But it is a long way from being a poster child
for neoliberalism. Leftwing ideas and arguments have
shaped and continue to shape our politics.
However, left-of-centrism, the political creed of
gradualist social democracy, as it has been practised
and defended by Fabians, Croslandites, 1980s stalwarts
such as Denis Healey and Roy Hattersley and, more
recently, New Labour, looks to have been one of the
Continued on page 58
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Continued from page 57
more obvious casualties of the economic and political
crisis of the past decade. Indeed, it is not just the left of
centre that has been battered. The Europhile soft left of
the Conservative party that Ken Clarke once led has been
marginalised, while the Liberal Democrats are flatlining.
“Centrist dad” has become a go-to piece of political
abuse. Middle-aged men who fail to recognise how the
world has changed and respond to demands for political
change with smirks and lectures on the perils of political
radicalism are mocked.
So I come to write in defence of left-of-centrism and I
do so as a Volvo-driving, 48-year-old father of two who
thinks that (most) music was better in the early 1990s.
The most obvious and well-rehearsed defence is a
pragmatic one: it makes good electoral sense. To win
elections, you need to appeal to voters at the centre
and this inevitably entails political compromise, softpeddling and catch-all policies intended to appeal to as
many voters as possible.
I don’t think this is the best defence of centrism
but it is an important argument to start with because
it acquired the status of received wisdom shortly
after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader. It has
been just as consistently derided since Labour did so
unexpectedly well in the general election last year. But,
nearly a year on, it does still feel reasonable to compare
the pluses and minuses of that election.
Labour did unexpectedly well for two reasons. First,
turnout rose for the fourth consecutive election in a
row. This allowed Labour to pull off the amazing feat of
winning in places such as Canterbury, where students at
the University of Kent who had not voted in 2015 voted
in overwhelming numbers for Corbyn. The early results
from the British Election Study are that turnout among
voters aged 18-24 did not actually increase. But Labour
did have a 50 percentage point lead over the Tories
among these voters and that does count as its own
kind of youthquake. Second, Labour benefited from the
collapse of Ukip’s national vote from nearly 12% to just
under 2%. Around three-and-a-half percentage points of
Labour’s eventual 40% of the national vote came from
people who had voted Ukip in 2015.
On the other hand, more ex-Ukip voters switched to
the Conservatives than they did to Labour. This is one of
the reasons why the Conservatives took seats off Labour
in the north of England and Midlands. The other piece
of bad news for Labour was that only 2% of people who
had voted for the Conservatives in 2015 voted Labour in
2017. In 1997, by comparison, 10% of Conservative voters
switched to Labour.
If it is going to win an outright majority in the next
election, Labour will need to gain at least another
60 seats. This is not an impossibly large number.
Labour picked up more than 140 seats in 1997 and the
Conservatives gained nearly 100 in 2010.
What next? Labour can hope to increase turnout
further. But this strategy, while it worked better than
expected in 2017, is going to be subject to diminishing
returns. How many voters who decided to stay at home
in 2017 because they were unconvinced by Corbyn are
going to come out and vote next time? Ukip’s vote has
already been carved up. There are no great potential
gains there. It is possible the SNP might implode but the
Scottish Conservatives look as likely to benefit from that
as Scottish Labour.
All of which suggests that if Labour is going to win in
the future it is going to have to do again what it managed
in 1964, October 1974 and 1997: that is to persuade a lot
of people who voted Conservative to vote for it.
At the moment, according to polls, Labour is still
struggling to do this. There is, though, a good news story
to tell. The Conservatives may have won the most votes
in the last three general elections but the electorate has
distinctly leftwing and definitely non-neoliberal views
on key political issues. As of last year, and for the first
time since around 2005, there is more public support
for increasing taxes and spending more on health,
education and social benefits than there is for leaving
taxes and spending as they are.
Two-thirds of people think the government has a
responsibility to reduce income differences between the
rich and poor. Four out of five believe government has a
responsibility to provide decent housing for those who
can’t afford it and well over 90% believe government
should provide health care for the sick and a decent
standard of living for the old.
In 2015, other polls found that nearly 80% of people
agreed that big business in this country has too much
power and nearly 50% that major public services ought
to be in state ownership. All this helps to explain why
Corbyn did so well in 2017.
But there is a catch. Regardless of what they think
when it comes to particular policy issues, most voters
still regard themselves as being centrist. The polling
company YouGov regularly asks people about their
underlying political positions. In February 2017, it found
that 46% described themselves as being at the centre or
slightly to the right or left of centre.
Only 6% said they were very right wing or very left
wing. A successful left-of-centre party needs to find a
way of tapping into voters’ often quite leftwing views
while, at the same time, appearing centrist and avoiding
seeming too radical. This is not an easy task and it is not
one that Corbyn is making look any easier.
There is, however, a second piece of good news here.
Centrist parents are in a pretty interesting political
position. They and their friends have children who are
struggling with debt, short-term contacts and stupid
rents. They or their friends have elderly parents who
are being failed by a social care system whose brutal
failures are life-destroying. Centrists may mock the
revolutionary aspirations of idealistic and naive youth,
but they are not doomed to think that everything is OK
and that thinking otherwise is just silly.
So there is plenty of opportunity here for Labour and
other parties on the left to talk about how tuition fees
and university funding, housing and social care need
fixing and how this will cost money. Furthermore, there
is scope to do this without centrist voters necessarily
rolling their eyes and asking where the money tree is
growing. Centrist voters are not neoliberals in disguise.
They recognise the argument that markets routinely fail
and that government needs to correct those failures. To
put this same point a little bit more critically, the left
needs to start thinking about the best way to appeal to
voters at the centre rather than simply mocking them for
being old and not recognising the folly of their ways.
ut enough of elections and
the pragmatic case for centrism. The more substantive
defence of centrism and left-of-centre politics rests on
arguments about how we view politics and understand
The Corbynite left thrives on an absolutist sense
of history. May 1979 and the Conservatives’ general
election victory was a year zero. Since then, everything
that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. The
Conservatives have won seven of the past 10 elections.
And when they lost, that did not really count because
New Labour was basically no different. Neoliberalism is
and remains the ideology of the age to which all other
evils can be traced.
The welfare state has been pulled apart. Public
services have been devastated. Inequality is out
of control and has pushed us to the edge of social
breakdown. The bankers have got away with it and
nobody has been held to account for what happened in
2008. The environment is being destroyed. The political
system is broken and politicians are invariably corrupt.
Given the scale of the problems the country faces,
centrist dads with their “on the one hand” this and “on
the other hand” that evasions are patently absurd.
This miserabilist sense of our recent history is,
interestingly, shared by those on the non-centrist
right. Daily Mail journalists, Ukip activists and those
parts of the Conservative party that despaired of David
Cameron’s social liberalism and Europhilia are as sure
as the Corbynite left that Britain is going to the dogs.
The left and the right disagree about what has gone
wrong in Britain and about when it went wrong.
The right finds its scapegoats in leftwing teachers,
BBC bureaucrats, Eurocrats and Brexit saboteurs. It
looks back to an imagined age in the 1950s when people
did not lock their doors and we were a world power
that had no truck with silly ideas about an ever-closer
European Union. The left, for its part, finds its preferred
hate figures in millionaire bankers, tabloid journalists,
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. It looks back to the
golden age of the postwar Attlee government and the
Tony and Cherie
Blair on the steps
of Number 10
following his
landslide general
election victory
in May 1997.
Photograph by
Martin Godwin
for the Guardian
Comment & Analysis
Public opinion
centrist by
inclination but
left of centre on
most substantive
policy issues
establishment of a benign postwar consensus.
Yet whatever the important differences, a miserabilist
sense of history has become the new normal. This
is crucial because miserabilism undermines faith
in political centrism. If you genuinely believe that
everything is awful, then a centre-left or centre-right
political party and political attitude suddenly look a lot
less appealing. Also, miserabilism is tough to argue with.
The first thing the centrist needs to say and to
keep saying is that politics is difficult and that radical
alternatives have a habit of not always working out.
Politics is the activity through which we collectively
talk and decide about who we want to be. At its best,
it is about setting inspiring goals, challenging power
and transforming people’s lives. But on a day-to-day
basis, it is also about concessions and compromises;
tactical alliances; arguments and betrayals; U-turns
and hypocrisies; and a never-ending sequence of
policy failures and scandals. Politics is, as the German
sociologist Max Weber once observed, the slow boring
of hard boards. It takes time and is not always very
pleasant to do. There is a chasm between the promise of
what politics can sometimes achieve and the reality of
what it involves.
Democratic politics is therefore always going to
involve compromises and it is always going to be a
laborious process involving talking to and negotiating
with people you think are exceptionally condescending
and routinely ill-informed. The other reason the
chasm arises is that politics, if it is going to make a
difference, has to be about getting things done. This
means designing and implementing policies and that is
something that it is really hard to get right consistently.
Good policy ideas fail for all sorts of reasons. A lack of
resources. A lack of clarity about objectives. A pressure to
achieve immediate results and a reluctance to pilot new
policies and learn lessons from early mistakes. Policies
fail because the people called on to implement them
don’t always agree with them – and for many other
Thatcher, with
her husband,
Denis, waves to
well-wishers at
Downing Street
after her general
election victory
in May 1979.
Photograph by
Tim Graham/
Getty Images
reasons. Policy does not simply go wrong because the
policymakers involved are Tories and don’t care about
ordinary people.
This does not mean we should shrug our shoulders
and accept our lot. Many things have gone wrong
that we need to do everything we can to start to fix.
Obvious candidates include housing, homelessness,
zero-hours contracts, universal credit, regional policy,
wealth inequality, mental health care, investment and
productivity and the innumerable health and social care
challenges posed by an ageing population.
But a centrist will want to caution that fixing these
things is going to be extremely difficult and is likely to
generate new and unanticipated problems. The centrist
thinks that getting policy right is always difficult but
that incremental policy reforms are more likely to
work than rip-it-up-and-start-again policies and that
any government is only likely to be able to mobilise
support and make progress on a few fundamental policy
challenges at a time.
A centrist will also want to see evidence that policies
have been thought out, stress-tested and costed and, as
far as possible, squared with as many affected interests
as possible. It is politically tempting to proclaim that
everything is broken and needs to be fixed. Doing this
is obviously much harder and takes a great deal of
The second thing the centrist needs to say is the flipside of this first point. Politics does sometimes work and
routinely makes a positive difference to people’s lives.
This does not mean that Britain is a social democratic
paradise. But I believe there is an alternative history
of modern Britain in which failures are described
alongside measured successes.
Neoliberalism is a long way from being the allconquering hegemonic discourse the Corbynite left
claims it to be. Indeed, neoliberalism has been pretty
much disowned by the leaders of all the largest political
parties. As I have already noted, public opinion remains
centrist by ideological inclination but distinctly left of
centre on most substantive policy issues. There is little
evidence that a generation of voters reared under New
Labour and the coalition has shifted to the right.
Between 2001 and 2009, overall public expenditure in
real, that is, inflation-adjusted terms increased by 42%.
Health expenditure increased by 75%. All the evidence
is that the investment in public services in the 2000s
paid off in terms of better health outcomes and exam
results and that the poorest families were among the
greatest beneficiaries. The median household’s final
income (after accounting for taxes, welfare benefits and
spending on public services) is now 95% higher than it
was in 1997/8.
The minimum wage and tax credits made a tangible
difference to people’s lives and Britain remains a
country in which a great deal of redistribution takes
place. The final income of the poorest 10% of households
is three times greater than their market income prior to
welfare payments and public service provision. Social
attitudes towards gender, homosexuality and race have
been transformed in the space of a few generations.
Political parties track and respond to changes in public
The Observer
opinion. On average, and once elected, parties keep 90%
of their election promises.
None of this means that the Iraq war or the financial
crisis were figments of the far left’s imagination. They
were grade-one policy disasters. But it is a mistake to
think that the history of the past 20 years is one of a
remorseless undoing of past political glories and that
there is little left now that is worth protecting or about
which we might feel proud. The problem with the left’s
miserabilist history is not only that it is wrong but that it
risks undermining faith in the very thing – government
– in which the left needs to believe. A recurring theme
within this history since at least the 1930s is that
politicians in general and government ministers in
particular care only about getting re-elected, keeping
their chauffeur-driven cars and making sure that they
have a nice private-sector job to fall back on when it all
goes wrong. Politicians are out of touch and often quite
dim. The civil service is there to neuter radical ideas.
Behind the pantomime of prime minister’s questions,
the real levers of power are held by multinational
businesses that contribute just enough to party funds to
make sure they get the policies they want.
here is a certain sense to
rightwing economists and bloggers peddling arguments
of this kind. The neoliberal right, after all, believes that
the competitive market is good and that the state is
bad and that we need more of the former and less of
the latter. It makes sense for them to argue that elected
politicians are entirely self-interested and invariably
incompetent because they want more markets and less
But it is troubling to see a similar sounding set of
arguments about the failings of government being
articulated by the left. The things the left believes in –
greater equality, social mobility, regulation of markets
for the collective good and the universal provision of
public services – don’t happen by accident. They happen
because governments do things out of a conviction that
some key decisions about how we organise our lives
ought to be decided collectively and democratically.
Politics is often shambolic. And politicians, being
human, do sometimes have one eye on their own
interests. But the left also needs to recognise that
government does sometimes work; that policies are
sometimes effectively implemented; that business
interests do not always get their wicked way; and that
politicians do sometimes put the public interest ahead
of their own electoral interests and are not, by and large,
thieves and liars. And this may sometimes mean saying
that governments have, over the past few decades, got
some things right. This, it seems to me, is a central
component of how centrists view the world.
In a collection of short essays and reminiscences,
From the Diary of a Snail, the novelist Günter Grass
documents Willy Brandt’s 1969 campaign to become
chancellor of Germany as leader of the Social Democratic
party. In describing Brandt’s faith in social democrat
reformism over revolutionary politics, Grass invokes the
image of a snail’s slow progress.
The snail, he writes, “seldom wins and then by
the skin of its teeth. It crawls, it goes into hiding but
keeps on, putting down its quickly drying track on the
historical landscape.” The snail’s slow doggedness is
unheroic but it makes a difference.
The centre-left’s progress in Britain has been snaillike. Yes, there have been plenty of setbacks and long
periods in which leftwing ideas appear to have been
marginalised. But there have also been some notable
victories and, looked at over the long haul, the track
of centre-left ideas is nevertheless not only visible but
occasionally impressive.
Andrew Hindmoor is professor of politics, University of
Sheffield and author of What’s Left Now? (OUP)
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
The Observer Archive 15 March 1981
Duran Duran
on stage at the
Rum Runner in
Photograph by
Putting on
the glitz
Punk’s anti-fashion
trend had given way
to youths who took
delight in dressing up
This week
in 1988
Nine o’clock on a Saturday evening
in Birmingham: Alyson and Alison,
two chirpy student nurses, take the
number 130 bus from their hostel
in Ladywood to the Rum Runner
club in Broad Street. They are
dressed – to the noisy incredulity
of their fellow passengers – as “a
princess and a Chinese tart” and
they look stunning.
Outside the club they mingle
with a burgeoning procession
which files through the neon-lit
There were three clear strands
in the response of British
people to the shooting of IRA
terrorists on the streets of
Gibraltar. The first was relief
that a bloody outrage had
been averted by decisive
action by the SAS. A second
was profound concern that
unarmed and untried people
had been executed in cold
blood by the agents of the
State. The third response lay
somewhere between these
two extremes: a recognition
that the IRA operation had
doorway fronting the shadowy
alley down to the entrance. The
scene resembles a surrealists’
social or the aftermath of a
guerrilla raid on a theatrical
costumier. There are pirates,
clowns with painted faces, boys in
full evening dress or puritan ruffs,
girls in ballgowns and angular
homemade shifts, boys in selfdesigned skirts.
Just around the corner from
the Holiday Inn holding office
to be stopped, combined
with some misgivings as to
whether the bombers had
to be shot dead rather than
arrested or even wounded.
The interim verdict on the
justification for the Gibraltar
shootings has to be one of
“not proven”. That makes it all
the more regrettable that the
Prime Minister has set her face
against any form of judicial
inquiry. One is needed – if only
to allay forebodings that the
SAS is now being used as the
instrument, in the war against
parties for secretaries and men in
chain-store suits, a saturnalia is
apparently in the offing. In fact, a
disparate bunch of young people
are seeking a place where they can
dress in an unabashed celebration
of sartorial fantasy, and enjoy the
bright danceable rock music which
is dispelling the post-punk gloom.
“It’s a great feeling,” says Melvin,
a black clothes designer in white
leather mini-skirt and tails.
Like most of his fellow revellers,
terrorism, by which capital
punishment can be introduced
by the back door.
As Dr David Owen said last
week: “In a democracy no one
can take the law into their own
hands.” If the Government
has learnt nothing else from
what happened in Gibraltar
last Sunday, it should at least
no longer be in any doubt that
even the most apparently
necessary measures to ward
off a terrorist threat will always
have their awkward political
and diplomatic repercussions.
Melvin is reluctant to put a name
to the moment; he simply says
it’s “modern, different, weird”.
Outsiders, usually taking a stance
of stiff-upper-lipped suspicion,
have tried to foist titles on the
clubgoers: the New Romantics,
the Glitterati, Futurists, Poseurs,
The Cult With No Name, the Blitz
kids (after the best known London
venue for such goings-on). None
has stuck.
Steve Taylor
‘There is no
such thing as
collective guilt’
Kurt Waldheim, president
of Austria
For the first time in the
seven-year Gulf War, Iran has
begun manufacturing chemical
weapons, apparently for use
against Iraq’s main cities. It
is believed that the Iranians
are in sight of equipping their
lethal stock pile of surface-tosurface missiles with chemical
warheads and unleashing
them in the ‘war of the cities’.
Revealed: Iran’s chemical
Act of war?
What Trump’s
tariffs will do
to the global
Racegoers enjoy
pints of Guinness
at Cheltenham.
hospitality is
another tradition
at the National
Hunt festival.
Photograph by
Tom Jenkins/
Cheltenham and
Cannes are next
City sexism hurdles
Organisers of corporate
events desperate to
avoid further conduct
scandals face big tests
in the next few days,
writes Simon Goodley
They are heading towards Becher’s
Brook in the 2018 Inappropriate
Corporate Eventing Stakes, with the
field already shredded following
some dramatic early fallers.
You’ll recall there was an almighty
pile-up at the first hurdle in January,
when several veteran riders found
themselves unseated during the
Presidents Club charity dinner at
the Dorchester hotel in Park Lane,
central London. There, a steward’s
inquiry was convened after a string
of “hostesses” – all clad in short, tight
black skirts and high heels – accused
the gentlemen of the City of groping,
lewd comments and extending invitations to adjourn to hotel bedrooms.
Then, in February, a clutch of
gambling companies fell at the second after they defied calls from their
regulator to stamp out sexism at the
The property
industry stable had
a string of entries
running under its
colours at the
Presidents Club
industry’s showcase UK event – the
ICE Totally Gaming conference at the
Excel centre in the London docklands.
The delegates were entertained by
pole dancers and a Playboy-themed
show, while hostesses claimed to have
been harassed and propositioned.
Now those who haven’t been gelded
enter one of the trickier-looking legs
of the whole chase this week, with
the property industry assembling in
Cannes for its annual boondoggle,
called Mipim (Marché international
des professionnels de l’immobilier).
Meanwhile, in the UK, the corporate hospitality industry is working
itself up into a heightened state of
arousal as it prepares to serve copious amounts of Guinness to already
well-refreshed stockbrokers attending a paid-for jolly at the Cheltenham
festival. The property industry stable
is particularly concerned here, following the string of entries it had
running under its colours at the
Presidents Club.
For the sector’s main bash in
France, frequent Mipim attendees
report that the crowd is typically “90%
male”, with some supposedly fond of
using the phrase “a rental” to gallantly
refer to something other than a tenancy on a new maisonette.
Bars and hotel lobbies along
La Croisette have previously been
reported to be “full of leggy blondes
with broken English and not even a
passing interest in real estate yields”.
One hotel once supplied its corporate guests with “love boxes” containing condoms, massage oil and
scented candles.
It is hard to discern what is more
clumsy about some of this crowd:
their language, their errant hands or
their efforts to employ fading O-level
French. But, whichever you alight
on, you can tell the trade is panicking that its members might be about
to let the side down again. As the
event organisers reassuringly said
in an official statement last month:
“Under no circumstances does Mipim
register prostitutes.”
Over in the west country, at the
other big corporate playground this
week, the mood is similarly tense.
The event, a huge drinking festival
occasionally intertwined with a spot
of National Hunt racing, is the sort of
place that encourages behaviour that
even footballers can feel the need to
apologise for.
The bookie and race sponsor Sky
Bet is attempting to set the tone this
year, saying: “We have long felt the
use of walk-in girls for promotional
uses has had its day in sport and the
time was right to use this exposure
opportunity more positively.”
And so instead it intends to offer a
charity, the Injured Jockeys Fund, the
chance of walking in the winner of
the first race.
Meanwhile, the City firms who
will be paying for a lot of the booze
are believed to be warning attendees
about their conduct.
Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Vital statistic
IoD chief accused
of racism resigns
Ex-Co-op Bank boss John Lewis bonus for Next’s workers make
banned from finance staff hits 64-year low equal pay claim
The chair of one of Britain’s most
influential business groups has
resigned amid an investigation into
claims that she made bullying and
racist comments. Barbara Judge, 71,
chair of the Institute of Directors,
faces 41 allegations, including
claims of sexism. She had initially
announced that she was stepping
down on a temporary basis, but left
the organisation on Friday.
The disgraced former Co-operative
Bank boss Paul Flowers has been
banned from the financial services industry by the City watchdog
for inappropriate use of the bank’s
phone and computer systems to
access premium-rate chat lines and
trade sexually explicit messages.
The ban comes more than four years
after the bank almost collapsed due
to a £1.5bn capital shortfall.
The John Lewis Partnership has cut
its annual staff bonus to the lowest level in 64 years after a plunge
in profits at the group, which owns
Waitrose supermarkets and a chain
of department stores. The company
said 85,000 staff, who are known as
partners because they jointly own
the business, would share a £74m
bonus – equivalent to 5% of annual
pay, the lowest since 1954.
Next is facing a demand for up to
£30m in back pay from thousands
of mainly female shop-floor staff
in the first major equal pay claim
against a British fashion retailer.
More than 300 workers have registered to participate in the claim.
They say they are paid an average
of £2 an hour less than the (mainly
male) warehouse staff they say do
work of equal value.
Number of jobs put at risk after
a deal to sell former Carillion
contracts collapsed last week.
Number of Carillion workers
who have already been made
redundant during the liquidation.
The Observer
The war over US steel:
Trump tips world trade
into renewed turmoil
The EU does
not want the
tariffs on metal
imports to create a
spiral of economic
retaliation. But
Europe remains a
clear target: and an
all-out battle looks
inevitable, writes
Phillip Inman
last furnace B will fire
up this summer in
Granite City, Illinois,
giving up to 500 steel
workers a job and
offering President
Donald Trump a fitting emblem for
his campaign to put America first.
Mothballed for several years by US
Steel, the blast furnace will smelt iron
made newly competitive by Trump’s
decision to slap a 25% tariff on steel
imports and 10% on aluminium,
including from the UK and Europe.
Within hours of Trump first propounding his protectionist move, the
European commission hit back with
the threat of its own measures: extra
tariffs on everything from orange
juice to Harley-Davidson motorbikes.
Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade
commissioner, said she wanted to
avoid a tit-for-tat battle that could
turn into a full-blown trade war. “A
trade war has no winners. If it does
not happen, all the better – then we
can work with our American friends
and other allies on the core issue of
this problem: overcapacity,” she said.
When he signed the presidential
order on Thursday, Trump made it
clear Mexico and Canada would be
excluded from the plan and suggested
Australia and “other countries” might
also be spared. However, a trade war
now looks inevitable because Europe
appeared to remain firmly in his
sights when he added that any retaliation by the EU would be met with a
tariff on European car imports.
“We’re going to be very fair, we’re
going to be very flexible but we’re
going to protect the American worker
as I said I would do in my campaign,”
said the president. “A strong steel and
aluminium industry are vital to our
national security,” he added. “Steel is
steel. If you don’t have steel you don’t
have a country.”
Raoul Leering, head of international trade research at ING, said:
“This is a very dangerous development, even though the damage in the
short term from steel and aluminium
‘A tariff that pushes
up the price of steel
in the US will have
a negative impact
on its carmakers’
Ben May, analyst
tariffs is limited. We have a president
that doesn’t subscribe to the benefits of trade. So if Europe or China
retaliates, provoking Trump to further action, the tit-for-tat escalation
of protectionist measures would be
very damaging.”
US presidents have adopted trade
tariffs before in their frustration at
what they see as “dumping” by statesubsidised foreign competition. In
2002 George W Bush said he would
impose 30% tariffs on steel products,
using the pretext, like Trump, that the
US’s national security was threatened
by the decline of its steel industry.
European leaders appealed to the
World Trade Organisation, which
arbitrates in trade disputes, and won.
Bush went ahead anyway, provoking
Brussels to select a string of tariffs on
goods made in congressional swing
seats. It was said at the time that the
threat of an import tax on Florida
oranges brought the state’s governor, Jeb Bush, into conflict with his
brother, the president. Within weeks,
the tariffs were abandoned.
“But the world knew that Bush
believed in trade as a route to growth.
That’s not the case with Trump,”
said Leering.
There are Democrats and a smattering of Republicans that support
the move, citing the subsidies provided to steelmakers Gerdau and CSN
in Brazil, which can provide lowercost alternatives to US steel because
the government’s development bank,
BNDES, provides them with belowmarket-rate loans.
Brazil, unlike China, is a big
exporter to the US and is accused of
costing America thousands of steel
jobs. Canada and Brazil account for
around a third of US steel imports.
China accounts for 3%. The UK
accounts for only a small proportion
of the EU’s exports, though this still
means 25m tonnes of steel, worth
£360m, need to find another home.
Yet a booming US economy hardly
needs extra steel jobs. Over the past
year, the US labour market has added
jobs at an electric pace and wages
have started to rise after decades of
stagnation. With this in mind, the US
central bank, the Federal Reserve, is
expected to add another percentage
point to interest rates this year.
So the 500 jobs at US Steel and
those at other American plants that
will benefit from higher-cost imports
are not about economics. They are a
political gesture.
If the impact on the employment
figures of effectively raising the cost
of steel was uppermost in Trump’s
Top 10 countries
• 2014. World=1122 • 2015. World=1023
• 2016. World=827 • 2017. World=467
Source: Euler Hermes
Sectors affected by tariffs
• 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017
Agrifood 697
Metals 512
Machinery & Equipment 323
Chemicals 279
Energy 218
Construction 153
Automotive manufacturers 129
Source: Euler Hermes
mind, analysts say he would have
considered the potential net loss of
jobs in the car industry, the aviation industry and the countless other
manufacturers that depend on cheap
steel as a raw material. These companies are expected to pass on the extra
cost to their customers and suffer the
usual consequences – lower demand
and a profit squeeze.
“There is a cost to the domestic
economy from protectionist measures,” says Ben May, head of global
research at consultancy Oxford
Economics. “A tariff that pushes up
the price of imported steel in the
US will have a negative impact on
carmakers and every industry that
uses steel. In the rest of the world,
it will create oversupply and reduce
the cost.”
Most analysts argue that Trump is
ignoring economic realities to make
gestures to his voter base of blue-collar, disenfranchised workers before
midterm elections in November.
Trump’s economic adviser Gary
Cohn resigned after failing to persuade the president to drop his plan.
Republican leaders, many on the libertarian and free-market wing of the
party, have picked up the baton to
argue that tariffs are a crude tool that
will backfire on US businesses. Vicepresident Mike Pence and Treasury
secretary Steve Mnuchin are known
to have voiced misgivings in private.
However, Trump has pressed
ahead with the support of prominent Democrat senators, steel union
representatives, commerce secretary
Wilbur Ross, and two advisers: economist Peter Navarro and trade representative Robert Lighthizer.
A worker takes a sample from
a blast furnace at the German
steelmaker ThyssenKrupp.
Photograph by Friedemann
US steel imports
% of total
South Korea
Source: ING
US aluminium imports
% of total
Source: ING
New tariffs
The Observer
Lighthizer and Navarro have persuaded Trump that China poses an
existential threat to the American
economy and that the US is the victim of unfair free trade agreements,
including the North American Free
Trade Agreement.
Navarro believes that closing the
US trade deficit by restricting imports
will help the economy grow. His critics point out that lower imports make
no difference to GDP, which measures the production of US goods and
services. By contrast, a rise in exports
propels GDP higher.
Mainstream economists and much
of the Republican party subscribe
to the idea that openness to trade
makes US companies more efficient, and when they cannot compete, they should shift their efforts to
making something with a comparative advantage. That said, figures
from credit insurer Euler Hermes
show 467 new protectionist measures were implemented worldwide
in 2017, led by the US with 90 new
measures that included import duties
on foreign-made solar panels and
washing machines.
The UK is one of the top 10 economies for those introducing protectionist measures over the past four
years – though this mostly involves
subsidising UK businesses rather
than punishing foreign rivals, as
Trump seeks to do.
Germany and Switzerland are
ranked fourth and sixth worldwide
for the same reason – using trade
finance and other subsidies to promote domestic firms against rivals.
Those figures suggest that Trump’s
claim of state-subsidised foreign
firms abusing free trade has some
validity. The WTO should be the
forum to settle these disputes, but
Trump thinks the WTO is rigged
against the US.
When it rules that his tariffs are
illegal under WTO rules – as it surely
will – the president will say this justifies his view. And then the trade war
will escalate.
From Edward III to Hamilton:
history’s great protectionists
For steel and aluminium read wool.
For the US and China read England
and the Low Countries. For Donald
Trump read Edward III. There is
nothing new about the use of
protectionism as a policy tool.
England in the 14th century
was in a similar position to a poor
developing country today. It
produced a lot of a staple commodity
– wool – which it exported across
the Channel to be turned into cloth
by Flemish weavers.
Edward wanted a slice of this
lucrative business so he imposed
controls on wool exports – thus
depriving the Low Countries of the
raw materials they needed –
and imposed a complete
ban on imports of cloth.
This was merely
the start of five
centuries of
protectionism that
ended only in 1860
when – with Britain’s
dominating the world –
tariffs were finally scrapped.
In the intervening period, Henry VII
and Elizabeth I took further steps
to nurture the textile sector, and
the Navigation Acts ensured that
colonies could trade only with Britain.
Protectionism worked for Britain.
It put Flemish and Indian textile
producers out of business and held
back the growth of industry in the
American colonies, which, as far as
London was concerned, were there
to provide the commodities that
Britain would turn into goods. This
approach was summed up by Pitt
the Elder, who said in 1770 that the
colonies should “not be permitted
to manufacture so much as a
horseshoe nail”.
Once free of British rule, the newly
created United States took a rather
different view. In 1791, the country’s
first Treasury secretary, Alexander
Hamilton (pictured), produced a
report for Congress that made
the case for supporting America’s
“infant industries” against foreign
Hamilton was not just the founder
of US protectionism: he proposed
the first modern industrial strategy.
Learning from Britain, he called for
tariffs, bans on imports and curbs on
exports of strategically important
raw materials. But he also wanted
patent protection for inventions,
product regulation and investment in
In the last decade of the
18th century, the US was
not ready for this radical
blueprint. But over
the next 100 years,
protectionism was
ratcheted up. In the
second half of the 19th
century, when America
was industrialising rapidly,
tariffs on manufactured imports
stood at 40-50%, higher than
anywhere else in the world.
By the end of the second world
war the US had achieved, like
Britain before it, global economic
dominance. This necessitated a
change of strategy in favour of
liberalising global markets so that US
producers could take advantage of
being more efficient than rivals.
But Washington’s support for
free trade was contingent on the US
remaining global top dog. It started to
wane when its industrial supremacy
was threatened by Japan in the
1980s. The even bigger threat posed
by China has seen the country return
to its protectionist roots.
Larry Elliott
The Observer
or me, one of the great
tests of a play, film or
opera is that it should
be so absorbing that
one’s mind switches off
from day-to-day, mundane concerns. The Churchill film
Darkest Hour is an exception that
proves the rule. How could one
possibly not reflect on the present
failure of British leadership as we
are reminded of the way Churchill
rose to the occasion in the face of
powerful opposition?
Last week’s response from our
partners (still!) in the European
Union to Theresa May’s latest
speech confirmed that, in its pusillanimous reaction to the referendum, the May government has been
going around in circles.
Why should they be surprised? By
bowing to a vociferous minority of
rightwing, deeply prejudiced, antiEuropean fantasists in her party,
May has ruled out membership of
the present customs union and single market – privileges that more
enlightened predecessors in her
party, including the Brexiters’ heroine, Margaret Thatcher, fought for
decades to achieve.
I say “fantasists” advisedly. I have
pointed out before that dreams of
being free to build up markets in
China look absurd when one notes
that, supposedly imprisoned by the
shackles of the EU, Germany already
In my view
 @williamkeegan
A glimpse
of Britain to
come: alone
in a warring
manages to export many multiples
of what we send there.
But if ever there were an example of why the advisory vote by
37% of the electorate to leave the
EU should be reconsidered, it is
the obvious impact of the lurch
into protectionism by the egregious president of the United States.
This surely scotches the fantasy of
Messrs Johnson, Gove and Fox that
all would be plain sailing after Brexit
via a wonderful new trading relationship with the US.
In the admirably swift response
from Brussels, within a week there
has arisen the prospect of a trade
war between the US and EU. One
hopes it will not come to that, but it
was smart of our EU partners to list
examples of Europe’s favourite US
imports that would be affected in a
tit-for-tat response to Trump’s plan
for steel and aluminium tariffs.
The situation has echoes of the
1930s, and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff
Act of June 1930. This was considered by the economist AH Metzler to
have converted the recession aggravated by the 1929 Wall Street crash
and banking crisis into a depression. But in his magnum opus
Major Recessions, the British economist Christopher Dow points out
that, by that stage, the Depression
was already severe. What SmootHawley did was, “by reducing foreign competition”, divert demand
from imported to domestic supplies
and raise US output. This, of course,
is precisely what Trump has in mind
for his rust-belt voters. But it is not
good news for the liberal world trading order, let alone for the British
steel industry.
There are many reasons why the
result of the referendum should
be reconsidered, and the thought
of “going it alone” on the eve of a
potential trade war is certainly one
of them. There is also the manifestly insoluble problem of Northern
Ireland. It seems to me no coincidence that in recent weeks, former
prime ministers Sir John Major and
Tony Blair, both of whom worked
on what became the Good Friday
agreement, should have spoken out
in favour of a reconsideration of the
May government’s policy.
It is a tragedy that Blair is not
taken seriously on this issue on
account of his historic misjudgment
over Iraq – about which I said a
great deal in this column at the time.
But Major, who knows what it is like
to have to put up with Eurosceptical
fantasists, has developed into a formidable elder statesman.
Having endured quite enough
backseat driving from Thatcher,
whom he succeeded, he does not
criticise successors lightly. But he
recently attacked May’s “unrealistic”
negotiating strategy and her “ultraBrexiteer” colleagues.
It was Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who said after the event that
the British people did not vote to
become poorer. Yet May’s “strategy”
amounts to just that. In one historically important phrase, Major said
the prime minister had a duty to
consider the impact of Brexit on the
“wellbeing” of the people.
As DJ Galligan, editor of the book
Constitution in Crisis puts it: “The
House of Commons is a representative body, the principal duty of
which is to act for the good of the
nation, formerly called the common
weal, now sometimes expressed as
the common good, at other times
the public interest.”
Terrible things are going on in
the world at present. Brexit has not
yet happened. If it does, it is guaranteed to make things worse for the
common good of this country, and
to destroy our reputation and influence abroad. Wake up, Theresa May!
Rise to the occasion!
The Observer
Chancellor has the surplus to sweeten
the bitter taste of eight years of austerity
The housing
market really is
slowing – and
there’s no need
to speed it up
Business leader
he chancellor’s budget
remarks on Tuesday,
now downgraded
as a “policy-neutral”
spring statement, will
be a chance to look in
the rear-view mirror and see what
a missed opportunity the past eight
years have been.
It was a period dominated by
George Osborne’s portrayal of the
UK as a sinking ship, where every
Whitehall department needed to be
scaled down, welfare spending cut
and some services provided by the
state thrown overboard.
There was a clear ideological
drive behind his mission – one that
sought a smaller state and favoured
corporation tax cuts while workers
suffered a prolonged wages freeze.
There are few thinktanks and significant figures who influenced the
debate at the time who still agree
that austerity was the right medicine. The Paris-based Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and
Development and the International
Monetary Fund were cheerleaders for austerity in 2010. Both later
renounced their support.
They came to see what Keynesian
economists saw at the time: that
the UK version of austerity was a
leeches-and-mercury remedy that
meant Osborne was more akin to an
18th-century doctor than a
21st-century economic strategist.
There was an opportunity in
2010, and that was to invest in the
country’s essential services with
the knock-on effect of creating
skilled jobs and a lasting legacy
of improved infrastructure.
The Bank of England’s stimulus package, which has amounted
to the longest period of almost
zero interest rates in history and
£435bn of quantitative easing, pro-
Cheap borrowing fuelled sectors such as hospitality rather than creating skilled jobs. Photograph by Leon Neal/Getty
vided the confidence and cheap borrowing needed for higher levels
of investment.
Instead, Osborne encouraged a
coffee culture that meant most of
the borrowed funds went on property purchases or cappuccinos and
barista wages. It meant more people could be employed in the hospitality trade, pushing employment to
record highs. But it was all froth and
will probably evaporate when the
cheap borrowing comes to an end.
While it might be an exaggeration to say that an end to the era of
cheap borrowing is around the corner, the UK is now entering its first
year of monetary tightening since
the financial crash of 2008. Last
November’s interest rate rise merely
reversed a post-Brexit referendum
cut from the year before. In May
there is the prospect of a first mate-
rial rise for a decade, with another
later in the year.
Whatever the Bank’s justification for reducing its stimulus, the
fact is that it will effectively be
withdrawing funds at the same
time as the chancellor, Philip
Hammond, presses on with
Osborne-like austerity.
There will be another benefits
freeze in April and a 3% council tax
rise. Inflation may start to come
down this year, but wages show little
sign of keeping pace, meaning that
workers face another year of zero or
very low real wages growth.
So it makes sense, just to keep
the economy on an even keel, to
relax the budget purse strings. The
shadow chancellor, John McDonnell,
is right to say that austerity has
pushed essential services to the
brink. He says that the spring state-
ment should contain measures to
ease austerity.
And the chancellor has the money
to do it. Official figures show that
in the 12 months ending in January,
there was a surplus in the government’s day-to-day spending over the
previous year of £3bn. The overall
public spending deficit is below 2%.
The Treasury’s independent
forecaster, the Office for Budget
Responsibility, is expected to
say that future borrowing levels will be much lower than
previously predicted.
Hammond will defend his frugality by saying that he needs the
money in reserve to cope with a
potentially disastrous Brexit. That’s
a defence he has used at every
budget. Now he must attend to
Britain’s fraying fabric or risk lasting
damage, Brexit or no Brexit.
hy don’t estate
agents look
out of the
window in
the morning? Because
then they’d have nothing to do in
the afternoon. That was the joke that
went the rounds in the early 1990s,
when the UK property market went
through a savage recession that saw
arrears and repossessions rise to
levels not seen before or since.
It might not be all that long before
that joke makes a comeback. The
trade body that represents estate
agents says new-buyer inquiries
have fallen for an 11th month and
that the number of properties for
sale has hit a record low. Meanwhile,
the Halifax says annual house price
inflation slowed to 1.8% in February,
its lowest level in five years.
The last time the housing market
was as flat as this, George Osborne
to hit the panic button. Mortgage
lending was boosted by the cheap
credit offered to banks through the
Funding for Lending scheme while
the Treasury subsidised first-time
buyers through help to buy.
Up to a point, the strategy worked.
The rising housing market led
to stronger consumer demand.
Osborne was considered a political
genius when the Tories won a surprise majority in the 2015 election.
But then prices rose so high that
houses became unaffordable to
first-time buyers, even with ultralow interest rates. And unlike in
the 1990s, there is no pressure on
homeowners to sell, because unemployment continues to fall and it is
so cheap to service a mortgage.
Activity will recover, but only
when houses get more affordable.
That will only happen if prices stay
flat and wages rise – which may take
some time, given that annual earnings growth is running at only 2.5%.
The government should resist
the temptation to interfere with
this process, no matter what estate
agents say. Low house price inflation is both inevitable and welcome.
Fracking industry blows hot and cold amid fuel shortages and false starts
t’s been a rollercoaster fortnight for Britain’s nascent
shale industry. First, frackers received the perfect gift
to bolster their case that
the UK needs to extract the
gas beneath its feet, when freezing
Siberian weather and supply problems forced National Grid to issue a
plea to markets for more gas.
A sudden record-breaking jump
in prices meant more gas flowed to
the UK and no one suffered a shortfall, but the shale industry was quick
to seize on the episode as evidence
the UK is over-reliant on imports.
With the UK importing 60% of its
gas today, and National Grid expecting that to rise to 93% by 2040, it
seems like a compelling argument.
But then came the setbacks for
shale firms last week, which raises
the question of whether they will
ever get round to extracting gas bur-
ied in rocks deep underground.
First, Third Energy started dismantling crucial equipment at its site at
Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire
because of delays stemming from
government checks on its financial health. A day later, the Barclaysbacked firm announced that, rather
than becoming the first company
to frack in the UK since 2011, as
expected, it would now postpone
work until autumn.
There was more to come. UK petrochemicals firm Ineos suffered its
third rejection by a local authority
this year, when Rotherham borough
council turned down its bid to drill
near the village of Woodsetts. Other
shale firms have also been knocked
back in recent weeks.
The shale industry says such
delays are to be expected in the
energy business, and are no different from those facing nuclear and
renewables projects. But there is no
getting around the fact that there
have now been years of false dawns
for UK shale. The industry hasn’t
even begun its exploration phase, let
alone commercial production.
All eyes are now on Cuadrilla,
which has also been repeatedly
delayed in its efforts. If Cuadrilla can
start work in Lancashire in June, as
it claims, it would finally show the
industry can do more than just talk.
The Observer
Game on …
it’s never too
early to teach
about money
Experts believe
that how we handle
finances is shaped by
the age of seven. And,
as Donna Ferguson
reports, there are board
games and apps to help
parents with lessons
he cost of a mortgage or
rents, meeting monthly
utility bills, shelling out
for a new car – all headaches most people get
to worry about from
their 20s. But while some may struggle to pay their bills after a few too
many nights out at the start of the
month, others will have a tightly followed plan for their repayments.
So what is the difference between
the savvy saver and the more kneejerk spender?
Experts believe it is all about the
age you learn how to spend responsi-
bly. Adult money habits are typically
set by the age of seven, according to a
large-scale study by the government’s
Money Advice Service and behaviour
experts at Cambridge University.
By then, most children have
grasped how to recognise the value
of money and are capable of complex
functions such as planning ahead,
delaying a decision until later and
understanding that some choices are
irreversible, the report says.
Tomorrow marks the start of Global
Money Week, a worldwide initiative to
help children make smart financial
decisions and learn that “money matters matter”. But for many young people in the UK, it’s a matter of too little,
too late. “The habits of mind which
influence the ways children approach
complex problems and decisions,
including financial ones, are largely
determined in the first few years of
life,” says Dr David Whitebread, the
co-author of the study.
And this core behaviour is very
likely to influence their financial decisions when they are adults, he says.
The study also urges parents not
to underestimate their own good and
Flora Ferguson is learning how
to handle her finances early.
Photograph by Sonja Horsman/
bad money habits. “Since young children have few monetary resources
they control independently, it is the
basic approaches and skills which
are modelled, discussed and demonstrated by parents that are likely to be
influential levers, instilling efficient
habits and practices,” it says.
Parents who choose to help their
children learn how to plan ahead,
reflect on the past and self-regulate
can make a huge difference in promoting good financial behaviour in
the future, explains Whitebread.
According to a survey by M&G
Investments, the vast majority (83%)
The Observer
Making it all child’s play
At six years old, my daughter Flora,
left, is getting to grips with her
finances early. She tested out a
number of games aimed at teaching
children her age the value of money.
She enjoyed them all, but best,
in her view, is Money Match
Cafe, a board game where she
must work out the value of
different denominations of coin
in her imaginary restaurant, her
“customers” being her stuffed toys.
“It was really fun because you
get to serve food to your own fluffy
toys on a little tray with a napkin
on it, and then you can hug them,”
she says.
“If you’re six and you play this
game, you’ll learn that you might not
have the right amount of money for
what you want to buy. You just have
to cross your fingers and hope.
“It’s a good challenge, and I
enjoyed adding the coins up to see
how much they made. But I don’t
like the name. Money Match Cafe is
not a good name for a café. I would
have liked it more if it had been
Flora’s Cafe or Fantastically
Baked Lunches.”
Seven out of 10 teachers think
children are now faced with financial
decisions earlier.
On Wednesday, Lifesavers - a new
project which promotes financial
education in primary schools - is
hosting a conference to encourage
teachers to join its programme and
get free classroom resources and
training. Almost two-thirds
of millennials wish they had received
more money advice at a younger
age, according to a Santander survey.
Only a third of parents involve
their children in discussions about
their household finances, even
though less than half of young
people aged seven to 17 receive
financial education at school, another
survey shows.
Most adults believe their parents
have had the biggest influence on
their money behaviour. So when
should they start trying to instil good
habits? As early as possible before
the age of seven, research suggests.
Donna Ferguson
gap in the market for another money
game, it launched Money Match Cafe.
This is aimed at five-to-eight-yearolds. Players must recognise and add
up different denominations of coins
to match their cards and serve food to
“customers” – the child’s cuddly toys.
There are also some pocketmoney-tracking and payment apps,
such as RoosterMoney and goHenry,
which are designed to be used by
under-sevens, and which boast that
they can help children develop good
money habits.
This is dependent on the children
receiving enough pocket money to
need an app to track their spending,
which the Halifax research suggests
is not always the case.
Surprisingly, given the research
about habit-forming in young children, there are very few gaming apps
of parents recognise the value of
teaching their children about money.
However, this concern does not
always carry through to practice – one
in six do not feel confident enough
to do it.
More than one in every four parents think children should take
responsibility for understanding
money themselves.
“I understand that, for parents, it
isn’t particularly attractive to train a
child about adult things like money
and inhibition,” says Dr Sam Wass,
lecturer in developmental psychology
at the University of East London, who
appears on Channel 4’s The Secret Life
of 5 Year Olds.
“There’s joy in the fact that young
children are spontaneous and live life
in the moment, unfettered by adult
problems. But teaching children
about money when they are young is
a good way for parents to help them
learn to delay gratification, so that the
child thinks: ‘I’d like to do this but I’m
not going to’. Hard evidence suggests,
‘Parents who choose
to help … can make
a huge difference
promoting good
financial behaviour’
Dr David Whitebread
if you want your child to do well in
life, the earlier you can start trying to
teach them inhibition and self-discipline, the better.”
He points to research that has
shown people in prison frequently
have poor impulse control, a personality trait that can affect relationships
and long-term health.
But how should a parent try to
teach their child to spend responsibly? One simple way is to give them
pocket money and then help them to
analyse and learn from any foolish
spending decisions.
In 2017, Halifax’s annual pocket
money survey revealed that parents
usually wait until their child is just
over seven – on average – before they
start handing out pocket money.
Another is through board games
which can help teach financial responsibility. Pop to the Shops, a shopping
board game for five-to-nine-yearolds, has been one of Orchard Toys’
top 10 bestselling board games every
year for the past 15 years.
To win, players must use fake coins
to purchase everyday grocery items
from various shops around the board,
and give the other players who visit
their shop the correct change. If they
don’t have enough money, they must
purchase a cheaper item.
“It acts as a conversation starter
about money – parents can fill in
the gaps,” says Orchard Toys product
manager Rachael Sutcliffe.
Last month, after identifying the
that can help under-sevens – Pigby’s
Fair, developed by NatWest, being a
notable exception.
In this, children who solve basic
puzzles will earn virtual money selling what they have made at different
stalls in a fair, then spend or save it.
But the need to shift virtual money
around, and take into account interest
payments and pocket money bonuses,
makes it a complex financial education tool. There are plenty of online
games which focus on coin recognition and counting with money, such
as the BBC’s Igloo Shopping game or
Top Marks’ Coins Game.
So what if children find such games
boring? An exciting (and free) realworld option for parents to use is a
visit to Metro Bank. Although, like
most banks, it does not allow children
to open an account until they turn 11,
it specifically tries to offer young children a chance to learn about money
inside its branches by inviting kids to
use the “magic money machines” to
count their coins.
Children who accurately guess how
much was in their piggy bank get a
prize, and free lollies are handed out
when the coins are exchanged for
banknotes. The bank does not take
a commission from the transaction.
To create
a nest egg
To create pollution
ISAs for people exactly like you
(although some drink flat whites)
The Observer
By Anna Tims
Can I really be charged
£297 for receiving texts?
I recently discovered a company
called SB7 Mobile has charged
me £4.50 a week for 66 weeks. It
looks as though I’ve paid £297 for
simply receiving texts. I realise I
should have been more on top of
my mobile bills, but I have no recollection of signing up to this. I’d
assumed the texts were spam and
that I would be charged £4.50 only
if I responded.
LG, London
Thousands of mobile phone users
have been similarly caught by socalled “subscription services”. They
will typically have signed up inadvertently by replying to a text or
pop-up ad, or entering an online
competition. What few realise is that
you do not have to enter your bank
details for a premium-rate service to
charge – your mobile phone number is all that’s needed, which is why
Which? recommends treating your
mobile number like a credit card.
In your case, you were not being
charged to receive the texts. You
were paying £4.50 to be entered into
a weekly competition. The texts, sent
monthly, invited you to reply STOP
if you wanted to end the service,
but because you assumed they were
spam, you were wary of replying in
case you triggered a charge. Online
forums report identical experiences
with SB7 Mobile Ltd.
It was fined £30,000 by the pre-
mium-rate regulator, the PhonePaid Services Authority (PSA), in
2010 for three “significant” breaches
of its code and the PSA is currently
investigating the company again.
My request for a comment from
SB7 Mobile unleashed a volley of
solicitors’ letters threatening legal
action if its name was published.
It also prompted a full refund
from the company. Bizarrely, after
three weeks of insisting that you
knowingly signed up to the service,
and providing the terms and conditions it claims you were sent, it discovered that it had nothing to do
with your subscription.
It was, it now says, a company
called SP Two Ltd, which signed you
up six months before SB7 Ltd took it
over in November 2016.
Both have the same two directors
and the same registered address,
but SP Two said it would only comment to the Observer if I omitted
SB7’s name from the column and
SB7 will only state, on the record, it
is “not responsible for the service
in question”.
The PSA says complaints about
competition services have dropped
from more than 1,000 in September
2016 to 49 a year later, after it introduced tighter conditions. However,
it admits there is still a problem.
“Subscription services of this type
are a concern for some consumers,
who find themselves billed for content they did not believe they had
signed up for. We’d recommend contacting your mobile service provider
in the first instance. If this does not
resolve the issue, contact us.”
O or 0? Stick to letter
of car-parking rules
I received a fine at a hospital car
park in October despite having paid
£10 for a week’s parking.
I appealed to POPLA (the parking
on private land appeals process),
which found against me because it
was claimed I had entered my car
number plate with a K instead of a J.
My number plate does, in fact,
include a K. The J is a figment of
their imagination. When I pointed
out their statement was factually
incorrect they refused to reconsider.
MR, Tyne & Wear
POPLA, in its reply, stated that you
cannot appeal against its decision
even though, in your case, its decision appears to have been founded
on an error. I notice, from the parking permit you bought, that the
number plate you entered included
a zero at the end when, given the
format of UK licence plates, it should
presumably be a letter O.
When I contacted POPLA it discovered it had made an error when
it accused you of entering a K
instead of a J. It had, instead, meant
to explain you had confused an O
with an 0. It justified this by pointing out the J and K are beside each
other on the keyboard. You had a
better excuse – Os and 0s are indistinguishable on licence plates and
thousands of motorists are caught.
However, POPLA, while also
guilty of butter fingers, is unyielding. In the world of private parking
enforcement, it matters not that you
can prove you paid, only whether
you abided, quite literally, to the letter of the rules on car-park signs.
And those stipulate registration
plates must be correctly entered so
that the automatic number plate
recognition cameras, which monitor
comings and goings, can match the
payment to the vehicle.
“While POPLA’s typo has caused
confusion for the motorist, it doesn’t
materially alter the outcome of the
case,” POPLA says. “As the driver did
not make a payment against the correct vehicle registration, it is correct
that his vehicle remained at the car
park for longer than permitted.
“The fact that he did make a payment, alone, is not enough reason to
cancel the parking charge notice.”
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
are subject to our terms and conditions: see
The idea of building
a long term income
with short term
ISAs for people exactly like you
(although some have more freckles)
The Observer
Five of the best
Riad stays in Marrakech
These hostels and
hotels offer great
views, calm courtyards
for escaping the heat –
and excellent value,
given Marrakech’s
enduring popularity
1 Rodamón hostel
The rooftop at the Rodamón is a
party place, with bar, music and restaurant, that feels more Ibiza than
Marrakech. The ground-floor patio
has a pool and cocktail bar, and the
accommodation ranges from dorms
to suites, where guests get to combine the facilities of a posh riad with
the Rodamón’s party atmosphere.
Dorm bed £12, doubles from £60 B&B,
2 Equity Point Marrakech hostel
A former resort-style hotel is now a
fashionable, spacious 33-bedroom
hostel with four- and eight-bed
dorms, doubles and family rooms.
There’s a pool in the azure-tiled
courtyard, a buffet breakfast and a
restaurant. The bar serves beer and
wine and is only open to residents,
as is the hostel’s small hammam.
Dorm bed from £10, doubles from £58
3 Riad Berbere
This 17th-century riad is in one of
the oldest and grandest parts of the
medina. Afternoon tea is served in
the garden, or on cooler days in an
oriental salon with red-brick fire-
place. There’s a hammam and massage room, and a three-course
candlelit dinner costs £15pp.
Doubles from £75,
4 Amour d’Auberge hostel
This is very much a local budget
stay. It is owned and run by Jamal
el Mourakib and his wife Hiba, who
does all the cooking. There are no
private rooms, just clean, minimalist dorms with shared bathroom and
kitchen facilities. Its location could
not be more central, and the rooftop
restaurant has tables under Berber
desert canopies.
Dorm bed from £4,
5 Riad Andaloussia
Perfect for travellers wanting to
dodge the touts and souvenir stalls
of Djemaa el-Fna, quiet four-room
Andaloussia is in the gritty-but-welcoming Bab Taghzoute neighbourhood, at the medina’s edge. Its patio
is decorated with swirling Moorish
designs, rooms are simple but wellequipped, and in the evening, cook
Madame Halima prepares a threecourse Moroccan dinner for £8pp.
Doubles from £22 B&B, John Brunton
The Observer
The Observer
Forecasts and
provided by
AccuWeather, Inc ©2017
Your forecast for the week ahead
UK and Ireland
Noon today
Low 7 High 10
Sunny intervals
Mostly cloudy
Sunny Mist
976 L
Sunny showers
Warm front
Thundery showers
Storm Felix
will bring rain
and thundery
to England
and Wales
on Monday.
Showers in the
east on Tuesday.
Wind speed,
The Channel Islands
Jet stream
Storm Felix will be approaching
south-western England today with
damaging winds and outbreaks of rain
for northern Portugal and northwestern Spain. This region could have
50-100mm (2-4in) of rain along with
wind gusts over 80kph (50mph). This
will lead to tree damage and flash
flooding. Outbreaks of rain will be
across northern Italy much of the day
as an area of low pressure develops
off the north-western coast with
50-100mm (2-4in) of rain expected.
Cold front
Thundery rain
Snow showers
Heavy snow
Light showers
Low 4 High 9
Sunny and heavy showers
Occluded front
Around the world
The jet stream in
the central Atlantic
will slowly move
northward into
western Europe by
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. 1,171
1 Scrimp, barely subsist (4,4,4)
9 Vertical part of staircase (5)
10 South African freedom fighter (7)
11 Forearm bone (4)
12 Take advantage of one’s seniority (4,4)
14 Instead (2,4)
15 Thread (6)
18 Addictive drug (8)
20 Wide boy (4)
22 Supposedly suicidal rodent (7)
23 Ship’s officer (5)
24 Out of uniform (5,7)
2 Ordnance depot (7)
3 Merit (4)
4 Halo (6)
5 Dotage (8)
6 Anally introduced medical treatment (5)
7 Expression of gratitude (12)
8 Unintentional error revealing subconscious
emotions (8,4)
13 Reduction in rank (8)
16 Stalemate (7)
17 Roman poet (6)
19 Latin American dance (5)
21 Adjoin (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. 1,170
Журналы и газеты
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