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The Observer - March 18, 2018

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Chickens, eggs …
and chocolate
Ireland crush
England for
the grand slam
In sp
Don’t blame
tthe Russians
In the New Review
In Observer Food Monthly | Sunday 18 March 2018 | £3.00
Revealed: 50m
Facebook files
taken in record
data breach
 Whistleblower tells
of bid to influence votes
 Tech giant suspends
controversial data firm
Carole Cadwalladr
& Emma Graham-Harrison
The data analytics firm that worked
with Donald Trump’s election team
and the winning Brexit campaign
harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech
giant’s biggest ever data breaches,
and used them to build a powerful
software program to predict and
influence choices at the ballot box.
A whistleblower has revealed to the
Observer how Cambridge Analytica
– owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the
time by Trump’s key adviser Steve
Bannon – used personal information
taken without authorisation in early
2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to
target them with personalised political advertisements.
Christopher Wylie, who worked
with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the
Observer: “We exploited Facebook to
harvest millions of people’s profiles.
And built models to exploit what we
knew about them and target their
inner demons. That was the basis the
entire company was built on.”
Documents seen by the Observer,
and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information
had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time
it failed to alert users and took only
limited steps to recover and secure
the private information of more than
50 million individuals.
The New York Times is reporting
that copies of the data harvested for
Cambridge Analytica could still be
found online; its reporting team had
viewed some of the raw data.
The data was collected through an
app called thisisyourdigitallife, built
by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge
University. Through his company
Global Science Research (GSR),
in collaboration with Cambridge
Analytica, hundreds of thousands of
Continued on page 7
Full interview
Wylie lifts
the lid
Cover story
New Review
Like or dislike
The algorithm
that reveals all
about you
Report, page 9
How its
ethos imperils
Comment, 44
Christopher Wylie.
Photograph by Antonio
Olmos for the Observer
The Observer
In today’s Observer
18 March 2018
In this section
In the
Awards for
the Observer
18 MARCH 2018
h O
e Magaz
At this year’s Society of Editors Press Awards, Observer
journalists brought home three major prizes – two for
frontline reporting at home and abroad and one for our
wide-ranging investigation into social media and
targeted campaigning in a turbulent political climate
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
seduces Hollywood
Making the crossing
with Syria’s refugees
Wake up to Norway’s
midnight sun
The power of saying no!
By William Leith
Just say no!
William Leith on the joy of refusal
in a world that expects to hear ‘yes’
Page 12
Death in Rio
The killing of the favelas’
champion, Marielle Franco
Page 30
Nigel Slater
cookery for those
lazy days in the kitchen
Page 30
Russia’s big beastss
The oligarchs living the
high life in London
Page 34
Death of the stag do
Kenan Malik
Is the prenuptial party
becoming mixed-sex?
Page 10
A good education should
be a search for truth
Page 17
In Sport
Andrew Rawnsley
Corbyn’s cross-eyed
attitude to the Kremlin
Page 45
St Patrick’s heroes
Ireland claim a glorious
grand slam at Twickenham
Pages 2-5
Catherine Bennett
Spurs march on
The plutocrats of space
dishonour Hawking
Page 47
Eriksen takes Tottenham
into FA Cup semi-finals
Page 8
 Specialist
of the year
Carole Cadwalladr
for groundbreaking
work exposing the
complex relationship
between big data,
politics and Brexit
 News reporter
of the year
Mark Townsend
for a series of
hard-hitting stories,
including deaths in
police custody and
suicides at migration
 Foreign
of the year
Emma GrahamHarrison for
wide-ranging reporting
on slavery, Isis and
Venezuela in this paper
and the Guardian
Observer journalists highly commended
 Critic of the year
 Sports journalist of the year
Rowan Moore, our architecture
writer, was commended in a year
when the horror of Grenfell and the
Garden Bridge fiasco brought the
urban environment into focus
Daniel Taylor, the Observer’s sports
columnist, was recognised for his
groundbreaking investigation in
the Guardian into sexual abuse in
professional football
 Journalists’ Charity Award
The special award bestowed by the
Journalists’ Charity went posthumously
y to
Peter Preston, the former editor of the
Guardian and for many years the Observer’s
media columnist, who died in January. The
The charity
ction of
described him as ‘a vital voice in the rejection
those who wished to shackle the press’..
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
© 2018 Published by Guardian News & Media Limited, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU (020-3353 2000) and Centurion House, 129 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3WR. Printed at TMP Watford Limited, St Albans Road, Watford, Herts WD24 7RG; TMP Oldham Limited, Hollinwood Avenue, Chadderton,
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ISSN 0029-7712
Corbyn urged to plug vote gap with
£10bn more cash for disabled elderly
Spending pledge would
challenge huge Tory lead
among older voters and be
‘true to Labour’s values’
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Jeremy Corbyn is being urged to
tackle a £10bn black hole in provision
for older people to help Labour build
a coalition that can deliver a majority
at the next election.
With the main parties neck and
neck in the polls, senior figures on
the left want Labour’s leader to commit to higher spending on the disabled elderly, which could narrow the
Tories’ huge lead among older voters.
A new study by the Fabian Society,
the leftwing thinktank affiliated to
Labour, identifies a £10bn gap in provision for the disabled elderly. Half
the shortfall comes from shortages
in social care funding, which have
left 1.2 million older people without
enough help to carry out basic day-today activities such as washing, dressing and eating.
The research finds a £1.5bn gap
in NHS rehabilitation services and
£1.3bn in council-funded care home
places and believes a “cautious”
£1.2bn extra funding is needed to
tackle isolation and prevent accidents.
It also reports a £900m shortfall in
specialist housing. The extra money
would bring the UK in line with other
countries, it states. It warns this gap
can only grow as the elderly population expands.
Labour has looser spending commitments than the Tories, but some
fear it has done too little to win over
older voters. A recent poll for the
Social Market Foundation found
only a quarter of those aged 65-74
would consider voting Labour at
another election.
Britain spends about £25bn on support for the disabled elderly, but the
Fabians believe the bill to provide just
this same level of support – which it
deems grossly inadequate – will balloon to £40bn by 2030. Spending will
need to rise even further, to roughly
£60bn by 2030, to meet existing
unmet need and to respond to rising
demand and costs.
The research will be presented to a
summit of Labour politicians, experts
and charity leaders tomorrow.
Andrew Harrop, general secretary
Andrew Harrop
argues in favour
of bold spending
of the Fabian Society, said: “We need
to spend billions more each year to
support frail pensioners both because
the number of people who need care
is rising so fast and because the help
on offer today is so inadequate.
“Labour can lead on this agenda
… because it is the only party with
the courage to say that big spending
increases will be essential each and
every year. The party needs to explain
where the money is coming from, but
with a clear new offer it can convince
the public that only Labour will provide the support and dignity older
people deserve.
“After the 2017 election the Labour
party knows it needs to regain the
trust of older voters, and making a
credible promise on support and
care will help it do that. Promising to
spend more on help for frail pensioners is true to the party’s values.”
The Observer
The French artist
Laure Prouvost
is a Space tenant.
Antonio Olmos/
Space operates
17 studios,
including this
one in Hackney,
east London.
Martin Argles/
Turner Prize studios warn that
London is losing creative mojo
Head of Space network
issues warning in book
marking 50th year of
studios established by
Op artists Bridget Riley
and Peter Sedgely.
By James Tapper
The head of a leading arts organisation has warned that London’s status
as a world-class creative city is at risk
because artists are being forced out
of the capital.
Anna Harding, the chief executive of Space studios, which provides premises for nearly 800 artists
including three Turner prize winners, blamed rising property prices
and shrinking studios for dramatically squeezing the time and space
available for creative activity. Artists
now face a choice between working
full time to pay the rent and fitting in
a few hours in their studios at weekends, or giving up entirely, she said.
Harding’s stark warning comes in
a book, Artists in the City: SPACE in ’68
and Beyond, which celebrates the 50th
anniversary of the organisation set up
by Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley,
leading proponents of Op art, who
were frustrated that London’s artists had to work in cramped garden
studios. The pair renovated a warehouse in St Katharine Docks to create art on a much larger scale. Space
Call for delayed Brexit day
splits committee of MPs
Toby Helm
Political Editor
Disagreement over Brexit has split
the main parliamentary committee
charged with scrutinising the UK’s
departure from the EU after a majority of its members concluded that the
day of exit may have to be delayed.
The findings of a report out today
by the all-party Brexit select committee also recommends that provision
be made to extend the post-Brexit
transition period beyond the expected
period of 21 months to allow more
time for administrative changes and
for businesses to adapt. But in a sign
of rising tension and division in parliament, a group of Tory MPs on the
committee today denounces these
central findings in their own “minority report”, saying that such delays
would amount to a betrayal of the
will of the British people.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory member
of the committee, said: “The majority
report is the prospectus for the vassal
state. It is a future not worthy of us as
now operates 17 studios in London
and Colchester. Tenants include the
Turner prize winners Laure Prouvost,
Mark Leckey and Tomma Abts, as well
as Heather Phillipson whose work will
occupy the fourth plinth in Trafalgar
Square in 2020.
In her introduction to the book,
Harding writes: “Lack of affordable
living and working space for lowwaged people in London is forcing
many to reconsider their future in the
capital. Increasing rents underpin the
story of artists living and working in
London, and the challenges of affording a studio and making work have
worsened considerably.
“Practices, studio sizes and lifestyles have had to adjust to the challenge of living in a congested and
increasingly expensive, yet stimulating, city. Vital resources, such as
studio space and alternative arts venues, should not be taken for granted.
Without them, London’s preeminence as a creative city is at risk.”
Arts and culture contribute about
£11.8bn to the UK economy, according to the Arts Council, but the majority of artists earn less than £10,000
a year. An EU-funded Space initiative called London Creative Network,
which has been mentoring more than
400 artists to use technology, found
that 83% of them earned less than
the London living wage of £10.20
per hour. Many have gone to seaside
towns like Margate and Whitstable,
while others have simply left the UK.
Speaking to the Observer, Harding
a country, and I am sure that Theresa
May will rightly reject a report by the
high priests of Remain.”
Before a crucial EU summit this
week at which the prime minister
hopes to secure at least an outline
agreement on a transition period, the
official report says “little progress”
has been made on key issues including the future of the Irish border. It
casts serious doubt on whether all
details of a partnership between the
EU and UK can be agreed by a deadline set for this autumn, to allow a
deal to be put to the European and
UK parliaments for approval before
Brexit day on 29 March next year.
The committee says it may be necessary to extend the article 50 period
beyond next March to ensure that
discussions do not spill over into the
transition phase.
On the possible need to extend the
transition, it adds: “If a 21-month
transition/implementation period is
insufficient ... the only prudent action
would be for the government to seek a
limited prolongation to avoid unnecessary disruption. It would, for example, be unacceptable for business to
have to adapt their import and export
processes twice.”
Hilary Benn, the committee’s
Jacob Rees-Mogg
denounced the
committee report.
said: “People forget that you need a
whole ecosystem to create [London’s
preeminence as a creative city]. You
need 800 people to create eight
famous names. There’s a perception
that artists are rich because of a few
people. In the early days of Space,
artists might have needed a teaching
job for two days a week. Now it’s five
days. Their creativity is being wasted
and that’s really bad for the economy.”
She said Space has been working
with developers and landlords to find
studio space in new developments,
but “it’s much more difficult to find
spaces – we are competing with residential properties, too. Yard spaces
are disappearing, so you can’t find
the large spaces, you can’t get a car or
van in to deliver things, or you can’t
make noise because there’s residential property next door.”
The book, published this weekend,
includes contributions from Riley
and Sedgley, as well as some of the
3,000 artists who have used Space
studios since it was founded. Riley’s
essay recalls how she and Sedgley
searched for disused buildings. “One
of the most memorable of these
was Marshalsea prison, a debtors’
prison on the edge of the Thames,”
she writes. “The building was too far
gone to rescue, and so Peter’s search
continued further along the Thames.
Near Tower Bridge, he saw the gates
to St Katharine Docks.”
They found the ivory warehouse
and with the help of the Lord Admiral
persuaded the council to grant them a
lease. “Once we had the keys, a small
party set to work cleaning out the
warehouse. The pigeon shit was at
least six inches deep throughout.”
Labour chair, said the lack of progress on Irish border issues was particularly worrying. “The government
must now come forward with credible proposals as to how it can operate
a ‘frictionless border’, because at the
moment the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the
same time as the UK is leaving the
single market and the customs union.
“We know of no international border, other than the internal borders of
the EU, that operates without checks
and physical infrastructure. This is
deeply concerning.”
But Tory vice-chair John
Whittingdale said any pushing back
of the timetable would “ignore the
wishes of the people and would delay
Brexit by an indefinite period”.
The Observer
Cruel and foul: new suspect emerges
as the model for Wackford Squeers
Jim Broadbent
as Wackford
Squeers in
the 2002
film version
of Nicholas
Nickleby. Rex
A letter from Charles
Dickens could identify
the real-life teacher
who inspired the
Dotheboys headmaster
in Nicholas Nickleby,
writes Vanessa Thorpe
It is not a claim to fame anybody
would relish: the honour of being
named as the inspiration for one of
Charles Dickens’s least appealing
characters: Wackford Squeers, the
sadistic headmaster of Dotheboys
Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.
Even now, 180 years after the book
came out, the identity of the schoolteacher who inspired the cruel persecutor of Dickens’s young hero is
disputed. Scholars remain unsure
which of a clutch of venal proprietors of barbaric Victorian boarding
schools was the original.
But on Thursday a key piece of literary evidence goes up for auction in
New York. A handwritten letter from
Dickens gives details of research he
had carried out before inventing
Squeers and clearly suggests that
a Mr Twycross of Winton Hall in
Westmorland (now part of Cumbria)
provided the prototype. Most academics have maintained that the prototype was William Shaw of Bowes
Academy, on the border of Yorkshire
and County Durham.
In the letter, sent to the campaigning politician Lord Grosvenor in July
1838, Dickens thanks his friend for
sending him a newspaper cutting of
an incriminating advertisement for
Winton Hall which promised parents
and guardians “no vacations”, hinting
Top award for social enterprise
project tipped by the Observer
Rebecca Ratcliffe
Cracked It, a social enterprise staffed
by young ex-offenders, and whose
founder is a judge of the Observer New
Radicals initiative, has been named
social enterprise of the year.
The project, a smartphone-repair
service which employs young exoffenders and tries to turn young
people away from gangs, was recognised at the Centre for Social Justice
Awards last week. Cracked It was
tipped as a rising star of 2017 by the
Observer last year.
The social enterprise began as a
small initiative in an east London
youth centre, where founder Josh
Babarinde piloted a phone-repair
programme. The project aimed to
provide young people with new skills,
that unwanted stepchildren or illegitimate offspring might be left there
with no questions asked, as long as
payments were received.
“Mr Squeers and Dotheboys Hall
were originally suggested [to me] by
such advertisements as Lord Robert
Grosvenor has had the kindness
to enclose,” the formal letter reads,
adding that the novelist had been
in Twycross’s neighbourhood “in
the course of a little tour among the
Dickens said he had
deliberately diluted
the horror of the
story ‘and thrown
as much comicality
on it as I could’
boost their confidence, and provide
them with a way to make money,
rather than through joining gangs.
Support from the Year Here social
enterprise incubator allowed it to
expand across the capital. The flagship programme is a five-day course
for at-risk young people to learn how
to repair different phone models.
The project has since been named
“London’s best iPhone fixers” by the
London Evening Standard.
Babarinde is among the judges
selecting this year’s Observer New
Radicals, which showcases 50 radicals who are changing their communities for the better across the UK.
Yorkshire schools” he had made the
previous winter.
Until now, Shaw has been deemed
the best candidate for Wackford, not
only because he shared the initials of
the fictional character, but because
Dickens met him during a trip round
the north of England before writing
the novel. Travelling incognito, the
author visited Bowes Academy near
Barnard Castle, County Durham, and
encountered Shaw, who had already
been convicted of negligence in 1823
after eight boys in his care went blind.
A later letter from Dickens, this time
to the Irish novelist Anna Maria Hall,
also supports the idea that Shaw was
the model for one-eyed Wackford.
In this letter Dickens explains that
he has deliberately diluted the horror of the story in his new novel “and
thrown as much comicality on it as I
could, rather than disgust and weary
The Observer
The Observer
Anisa Haghdadi,
right, founder
of Birminghambased creative
youth agency
one of the 2016
New Radicals
pictured with
her young
leaders Rochaé
StephensMorrison and
Raza Hussain.
Photograph by
Andrew Fox for
the Observer
New Review
The 50
new radicals
for 2018
How you can
make an impact
The Observer with Nesta
presents: the 50 new radicals
How to enter…
Every two years, the Observer and the
innovation charity Nesta give awards to 50
trailblazers who work for the public good.
Here we launch the fourth competition – and
catch up with previous winners
Report by
Frances Perraudin
hen the
Observer first
joined forces
with the
Nesta to single out and celebrate
50 organisations “doing radical,
useful things, below the radar of the
media”, the UK was a very different
place from the country it is today.
It was 2012, and the coalition
government’s programme of
austerity was only just under
way. Now, six years on, and local
authorities across the country
are bursting their budgets.
Homelessness rose for the seventh
consecutive year in 2017, up 15% on
the year before. Britain is preparing
to leave the EU, throwing us into
the economic unknown. Yet while
services are cut, awareness and
understanding of issues around
mental ill health, gender and
sexuality continue to evolve.
Nominations are now open to find
2018’s New Radicals – initiatives and
organisations developing creative
and practical ways of tackling
society’s biggest challenges. The
deadline for entries is 11.59pm on
29 April and a panel of judges, which
includes the actor Michael Sheen
and the novelist Kerry Hudson, will
announce the finalists in September.
The New Radicals project was
born out of a feeling that the British
media focused too much on the
negative, channelling its energies
into stories of the rich and famous.
“This creates a vicious spiral where
people think much less is possible
than actually is,” says Geoff Mulgan,
CEO of Nesta. “It’s disempowering
and really corrosive.”
While the word “radical” has
taken on negative connotations with
its recent association with religious
extremism, Mulgan says the New
Radicals project seeks to recognise
those who are continuing Britain’s
long tradition of progressive
radicalism. The aim is to seek out
those who are “not only challenging
the status quo, but are showing
alternatives in practice”.
Celebrating “radical” activity
in the UK is all the more
meaningful in the centenary of the
Representation of the People Act,
which enfranchised all men over
21 and women over 30 who met
certain property qualifications. The
New Radicals programme is about
trying to find the people who, – as
the suffragettes did 100 years ago
– embody that “bloodyminded,
bolshie, can-do radicalism”.
“I suspect that a lot of people
wouldn’t say they are being radical,
when they actually are,” says Yvonne
Roberts, the Observer’s former
chief leader writer and one of the
founders of the New Radicals
programme. “Meals on Wheels was
radical when it started because
nobody had thought of joining up
the new arrival of cars with hungry
and isolated old people.”
One of the challenges the New
Radicals programme has had in
the past is to encourage people to
see what they are doing as worthy
of celebration, she says. “People
often don’t recognise that what they
are doing is innovative and that
others can learn from it. They think:
‘Well, we’re just trying to make
a difference.’”
Who are the people changing
society for the better?
The Observer has joined forces
again with Nesta to find the next
generation of radicals working in
the UK today. The 50 New Radicals
2018 will showcase inspirational
people, initiatives and organisations
from England, Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland working
hard to tackle society’s biggest
Organisations of all sizes will be
considered, ranging from oneperson outfits to more established
groups. However, the project,
initiative or company must have
been operating for at least six
months and been set up after
January 2015. Entries must be
able to demonstrate evidence of
success and sustainability. You can
nominate yourself or nominate
another person or individual. All
entries must be based in the UK
and not be primarily motivated
by profit.
To enter, visit this article online
or go to
The closing date for entries is
midnight on 29 April 2018.
Take a look at the inspirational
people and organisations
featured in the past and submit your
entry for New Radicals 2018.
Spread the word on Twitter with
hashtag #50Radicals.
Judging will take place at the
end of May and a full list of the
50 winners will be published in
the Observer New Review in
September. Those selected will be
celebrated at a reception later that
month and will become part of the
New Radicals alumni, supported
by Nesta.
A word with
former winners
It’s a Tuesday evening in a
co-working space on the outskirts of
Birmingham city centre and about
15 under-25s have gathered to tell
the Heritage Lottery Fund what they
think of the word “heritage”. “The
only reason I know anything about
my own heritage is because I’ve
learned it for myself,” says one girl,
whose family is from Jamaica. “There
isn’t enough information out there.”
The event is the work of
Beatfreeks, a collective of young
people that, among numerous
other things, seeks to influence the
way organisations work so that
they better understand and cater
to under-30s. Founded by 27-yearold Anisa Haghdadi in 2013, the
collective was included in the 2016
list of 50 New Radicals, and has since
gone from strength to strength.
“Institutions have the resources
and power to change the world,
so I got to this hypothesis – young
people need these institutions
and these institutions need young
people,” says Haghdadi. The
collective facilitates paid work and
training for young people so they
can work with organisations that
come to Beatfreeks for help.
Beatfreeks has worked with
organisations as diverse as
Birmingham city council, Unilever,
Selfridges and YouTube. Last year,
part of the collective was awarded
£700,000 to contribute to the
Heritage Lottery Fund’s Kick the
Dust project, which seeks to get
more young people involved in the
fund’s work.
Haghdadi says the organisation
is very much a product of the
second city’s unique characteristics.
Birmingham is Europe’s youngest
city, with 40% of its population
under 25. “Beatfreeks exists
because it responded to what
Birmingham needed,” she says. “It
had all these creative young people
but no channel to help them do
something positive.
“I think there’s a major
opportunity in the power of young
people. The way that young people
think is incredibly diverse,” says
Haghdadi. “It is naturally and
organically very innovative and
there’s a wasted resource there.”
Street Doctors
In 2008, trainee doctors Nick Rhead
and Simon Jackson were teaching
a first-aid course at the Liverpool
youth offending service when they
asked the group of young people
how many of them had witnessed a
stabbing. All of them put their hands
up. This inspired the pair to create
a project, now called Street Doctors,
which was featured in the first list of
New Radicals in 2012.
The organisation recruits
medical students as volunteers
to provide specialised first-aid
training to young people at risk of
Ones to watch
The Observer’s
50 New Radicals
for 2018
New Review page 18
violence – young offenders or those
living in areas with high rates of
youth violence.
“We try to equip young people
with the practical skills to act, but
more than that, we are trying to get
them to join up the dots between
a serious injury and carrying
a weapon, so they start to see that
it’s not just about death or glory,”
says Jo Broadwood, chief executive.
“You’re also just as likely to end up
with a colostomy bag or a long-term
disability or serious blood infection.”
Since winning the New Radicals
award Street Doctors has set up as a
national charity and has grown from
six to 18 teams across the UK.
“Last year, 2017, a young man was
stabbed and was bleeding really
badly. Then one young man stepped
forward and stopped the bleeding,
called the ambulance and waited
with him until the ambulance
arrived,” says Broadwood.
“We found out afterwards that
he was a young offender who had
attended a [Street Doctors] youth
offending centre session the week
before in west London. To be honest,
he probably saved [the victim’s] life.”
End Youth
“With the rise in the number of
homeless people sleeping rough,
we saw that one of the best ways to
address the problem was to address
youth homelessness,” says Sam
Austin, deputy CEO of Welsh youth
homelessness charity Llamau.
The organisation was one of five
– including Adref, Gisda, Dewis and
Swansea Young Single Homeless
Project – to join forces to create the
End Youth Homelessness Cymru
partnership, which was listed
among the 2016 New Radicals.
The campaign worked to raise
awareness that homeless young
people were being housed in
B&Bs alongside recently released
offenders, putting them at
unacceptable risk of abuse or
exploitation. After visiting one
homelessness organisation, actor
Michael Sheen launched a petition
calling for an end to the practice,
which was signed by more than
100,000 people.
After meeting with representatives
of the campaign, the Welsh
government changed its guidance
for local authorities around the use
of B&B accommodation, specifying
that it should only ever be used as
a last resort.
Austin says the campaign does
not end there. The organisations
have worked with young people
who found themselves homeless
across Wales to develop a plan for
a 24-hour dedicated helpline, for
which they hope to have secured
funding by this summer.
She says the campaign’s
inclusion in the New Radicals list
was invaluable for their success.
“It validated the work that we
were doing. It made the Welsh
government take notice and got
the first minister involved. It’s been
a really big deal.”
Meet the
Josh Babarinde
Founder and chief executive of
Cracked It, an award-winning
social enterprise smartphone
repair service staffed by young
ex-offenders and youth at risk.
Jaya Chakrabarti
Bristol-based digital activist
and co-founder of open
data anti-slavery register and digital comms
agency Nameless.
Sylvia Douglas
Founding director of MsMissMrs
CIC, a social enterprise based
in Glasgow that re-empowers
women and girls through selfdevelopment programmes.
Kerry Hudson
Author of two award-winning
novels: Tony Hogan Bought Me
an Ice-cream Float Before He
Stole My Ma and Thirst.
Ruth Ibegbuna
Founder and CEO of Reclaim,
which supports young
people from working-class
communities across Manchester.
Raheel Mohammed
A New Radical in 2012, he
founded Maslaha, focused on
making long-term change on
issues such as health, education,
criminal justice and women’s
rights in Muslim communities.
Mehmoona Pervaz
Teenage campaigner from
Bradford who helped set up
Speakers’ Corner in the city.
Cassie Robinson
Strategic design director at
Doteveryone and co-founder of
the Point People, Tech for Good
Global and the Civic Shop.
Michael Sheen
An actor and activist with
roles such as patron of Social
Enterprise UK and Unicef
Mick Ward
Chief officer for adults and health
at Leeds city council.
Stian Westlake
Adviser to the minister for
universities, science, research
and innovation. He is co-author
of Capitalism Without Capital
(Princeton, 2017).
Yvonne Roberts
Former leader writer of the
Observer. Co-founded New
Radicals with Geoff Mulgan.
Geoff Mulgan
Chief executive of Nesta.
Jane Ferguson
Editor, Observer New Review.
The popular
depiction of
Squeers and a
page from the
letter, below, that
is up for auction
in New York.
the reader with its fouler aspects”.
He then sheds light on the poignant
germination of another of the central characters in the book, Smike,
as he describes coming across the
snowy grave of an 18-year-old former
pupil of “that wretched place” whose
“ghost put Smike into my head upon
the spot”.
Yet 17 years ago, the great-greatgrandson of Shaw, an engineer called
Ted Shaw, attempted to restore the
family’s reputation. He argued that his
ancestor was never the fiend depicted
in Dickens’s novel, even though he
also wore an eyepatch, and that the
assumption that his school was as bad
as Dotheboys had ruined Shaw’s life.
The full path of the creative process inside the great novelist’s head
will never be known. But fans of
Nicholas Nickleby have the words of
the author’s own preface as a guide.
“Mr Squeers is the representative
of a class, and not of an individual,”
Dickens wrote, to indicate that he
saw the unpleasant schoolmaster as
a composite figure and, perhaps, to
put readers off the scent.
The letter to Grosvenor, with the
original envelope, will go on sale at
Swann Auction Galleries, which estimates it will sell for $3,500-$5,000.
Street Doctors
teach life-saving
skills to the
The Observer
Legal warnings
In the 2014 midterm
elections and, later,
the Trump campaign,
Cambridge Analytica
was staffed mainly
by young Britons
and Canadians, in
possible violation
of federal law.
Yet, allege former
employees, the
company carelessly
went on using them
to carry out strategic
political roles
Cambridge Analytica employed nonAmerican citizens to work on US election campaigns in apparent violation
of federal law, despite receiving a
legal warning about the risks.
The company’s responsibilities
under US law were laid out in a lawyer’s memo to the company’s vicepresident, Steve Bannon, British CEO
Alexander Nix and Rebekah Mercer,
daughter of billionaire owner Robert
Mercer, in July 2014. It made it clear
that most senior and mid-level positions involving strategy, planning,
fundraising or campaigning needed
to be filled by US citizens.
“Any decision maker must be a
US citizen or green card holder,” the
memo, seen by the Observer, warned.
It also provided a brief legal history of
cases involving foreign involvement
in election campaigns, drawn up by
a lawyer at the firm founded by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“To the extent you are aware of
foreign nationals providing services,
including polling and marketing, it
would appear that unless it is being
done through US citizens, or foreign
nationals with green cards, the activity would violate the law.”
It was clear that as a company
largely run and staffed by Britons
and Canadians, apart from Bannon
and Mercer at the top, Cambridge
Analytica – which was to go on to
work on Donald’s Trump presidential election campaign – had a looming problem.
“The prohibition against foreign
nationals managing campaigns,
including making direct or indirect
decisions regarding the expenditure
of campaign dollars, will have a significant impact on how Cambridge
hires staff and operates in the short
term,” the memo stated.
It specifically called for Nix to step
down from work on US elections. “In
News Four-page special
Bannon, Nix and Mercer
were warned over use of
non-US workers in key roles
But they ignored the
advice, claim staff
Clockwise from
above: Donald
Trump, Steve
Bannon and
Robert Mercer.
Observer reporters
Carole Cadwalladr
and Emma Graham-Harrison
order for Cambridge to engage in such
activities, Mr Nix would first have to
be recused from substantive management of any such clients involved in
US elections,” it said.
Employees working for Cambridge
Analytica in the US at the time claimed
that rather than tackling the problem,
management appeared to ignore it.
“Mercer’s lawyer told a fairly
stunned group meeting that it wasn’t
allowed,” said one non-American employee who was based in the
US at the time. “I’m not sure what,
if anything, CA did to act on that
Two employees confirmed that
they were still answering ultimately
to Nix throughout the mid-term
election campaigns that ended in
November 2014. In total, more than a
dozen foreigners, including Britons
and Canadians, filled strategic roles in campaigns across
the US.
“We were really speaking
directly to the voters in a number of states,” said one former
employee, who served on a team
with several people who were not US
citizens or green card holders.
It is understood that some were
working on tourist visas. Another
ex-employee claimed that they had
been provided with letters to give
to US border control officials where
needed, stating that they would not
be working there.
“One colleague kept raising these
issues, so they gave us a piece of
paper to give to immigration to say
we weren’t actually working,” the
second former employee said. They
added that the company appeared to
How the story unfolded
In December 2016, while
researching a story about the
US presidential election, Carole
Cadwalladr came across data
analytics company Cambridge
Analytica, whose secretive
manner and chequered
track record belied its bland,
academic-sounding name.
Her initial investigations
uncovered the role of American
billionaire Robert Mercer in
the US election campaign: his
strategic “war” on mainstream
media and his political
campaign funding, some
apparently linked to Brexit.
She found the first
indications that Cambridge
Analytica might have
used data processing
methods that breached
the Data Protection
Act – although those
violations are dwarfed
by the ones revealed
today. That article
prompted Britain’s Electoral
Commission and the
Information Commissioner’s
Office to launch investigations
into Cambridge Analytica’s
use of data and its possible
links to the Brexit referendum.
These investigations are still
continuing, as is a wider ICO
inquiry into the use of data
in politics.
While chasing the details
and ramifications of complex
manipulation of both data and
funding law, Cadwalladr came
under increasing attacks, both
online and professionally, from
key players.
The Leave.EU campaign
tweeted a doctored video
that showed her being
violently assaulted, and the
Russian embassy wrote to
the Observer to complain that
her reporting was a “textbook
example of bad journalism”.
But the growing profile
of her reports also gave
whistleblowers confidence
that they could trust her to not
only understand their stories,
but retell them clearly for a
wide audience.
Her network of sources
and contacts grew to include
not only former employees
who regretted their work but
academics, lawyers and others
concerned about the impact
on democracy of tactics
employed by Cambridge
Analytica and its allies.
Cambridge Analytica is
now the subject of five US
investigations (including special
prosecutor Robert Mueller’s)
probing the company’s
role in Donald Trump’s
presidential election campaign.
Investigations in the UK also
remain live.
have taken advantage of its mostly
young workforce. “It was getting a
chance to travel, and to work on
campaigns. Having a lot of
autonomy, an adventure.
When you are young and get
that sort of opportunity, you
take it rather than thinking about the details or
There were no briefings on the kind of
work that non-US
citizens should
avoid, or warnings about the legal
risks. “CA was sloppy
and didn’t care about
its staff,” said the first
Cambridge Analytica
said that the company
“adheres to FEC [Federal
Election Commission] regulations” and that Nix had never
been in charge of work on any
US election campaigns.
“He has never had a strategic or
operational role on any election
campaigns undertaken in the US,”
a spokesman said, adding that “all
CA personnel in strategic roles were
US nationals or green card holders
and these strategic roles provided all
direction to non-strategic personnel”.
The legal memo also warned
Cambridge Analytica that it needed
to carefully hide behind a firewall any
work it did in a single state or election
for a particular candidate and for any
of the so-called super-PACs (political action committees) supporting
the campaign.
These committees can spend
unlimited funds but cannot coordinate with individual candidates.
Levy warned that the company
would need “to separate working
teams that are engaged in substantive work for two or more entities that
are not permitted to coordinate their
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal
Center, which represents the public interest, has accused Cambridge
Analytica over allegations of illegal
coordination of this nature.
It has filed evidence with the FEC
alleging that the super-PAC Make
America Number 1 made illegal contributions to Trump’s campaign,
“engaging in unlawful coordinated
spending by using the common vendor Cambridge Analytica”.
Cambridge Analytica denied
there had been any illegal coordination, saying it had a firewall policy in place, signed by all staff and
strictly enforced.
“Where firewalls exist staff are
physically separated; use separate
databases and servers; and are prevented from communicating with
each other,” a spokesman said.
“The accusations of the Campaign
Legal Center are based on conjecture, tabloid stories, and hearsay that
attempted to mischaracterise FEC filings where Cambridge Analytica publicly declared our non-coordinated
work for different entities.”
Bannon, Mercer and Nix did not
respond to requests for comment on
the legal memo or their operating
structure during the 2016 presidential election.
Millions of Facebook
profiles were harvested
in major data breach
Continued from page 1
users were paid to take a personality
test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.
However, the app also collected
the information of the test-takers’
Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong. Facebook’s “platform
policy” allowed only collection of
friends’ data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being
sold on or used for advertising.
The discovery of the unprecedented data harvesting, and the use
to which it was put, raises urgent new
questions about Facebook’s role in
targeting voters in the US presidential election. It comes only weeks after
indictments of 13 Russians by special
counsel Robert Mueller which stated
they had used the platform to perpetrate “information warfare”.
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook
are one focus of an inquiry into
data and politics by the British
Information Commissioner’s Office.
Separately, the Electoral Commission
is also investigating what role
Cambridge Analytica played in the
EU referendum.
“We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may
have been illegally acquired and
used,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “It’s part
of our ongoing investigation into
the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to
consider how political parties and
campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in
the UK are using and analysing people’s personal information to microtarget voters.”
On Friday, four days after the
Observer sought comment for this
story, but more than two years after
the data breach was first reported,
Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and
Kogan from the platform, pending
further information over misuse of
data. Separately, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer
on Friday it was making “false and
defamatory” allegations, and reserved
Facebook’s legal position.
Last month Facebook told a parliamentary inquiry on fake news:
“[Cambridge Analytica] may have
lots of data but it will not be Facebook
user data. It may be data about people
who are on Facebook that they have
gathered themselves, but it is not data
that we have provided.”
Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, told the inquiry:
“We do not work with Facebook data
and we do not have Facebook data.”
Wylie, a Canadian data analytics
expert, who worked with Cambridge
Analytica and Kogan to devise and
implement the scheme, showed a
dossier of evidence about the data
misuse to the Observer which appears
to raise questions about their testimony. He has passed it to the National
Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit and
the Information Commissioner’s
Office. It includes emails, invoices,
contracts and bank transfers that
reveal more than 50 million profiles
– mostly belonging to registered US
voters – were harvested from the site
in one of the largest ever breaches of
Facebook data.
Facebook on Friday said that it was
also suspending Wylie from accessing the platform while it carried out
its investigation, despite his role as a
The evidence Wylie supplied to UK
and US authorities includes a letter
from Facebook’s lawyers sent to him
in August 2016, asking him to destroy
any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by
Kogan to harvest the profiles.
‘They waited
two years and
did absolutely
nothing to check
that the data
was deleted’
Christopher Wylie
That legal letter was sent several months after the Guardian first
reported the breach and days before it
was officially announced that Bannon
was taking over as campaign manager
for Trump and bringing Cambridge
Analytica with him.
“Because this data was obtained
and used without permission, and
because GSR was not authorised to
share or sell it to you, it cannot be used
legitimately in the future and must be
deleted immediately,” the letter said.
Facebook did not pursue a response
when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was
travelling, nor did it follow up with
forensic checks on his computers or
storage, he said. “That to me was the
most astonishing thing. They waited
two years and did absolutely nothing
to check that the data was deleted. All
they asked me to do was tick a box on
a form and post it back.”
A majority of American states
have laws requiring notification in
some cases of data breach, including
California, where Facebook is based.
The Observer
Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by
GSR and Cambridge Analytica was
a data breach. It said in a statement
that Kogan “gained access to this
information in a legitimate way and
through the proper channels” but “did
not subsequently abide by our rules”
because he passed the information on
to third parties.
Facebook said it removed the app
in 2015 and required certification
from everyone with copies that the
data had been destroyed, although
the letter to Wylie did not arrive until
the second half of 2016. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our
policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are
required to see that this happens,”
Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice-president, said in a statement. The company is now investigating reports that
not all data had been deleted.
Kogan had a licence from Facebook
to collect profile data, but it was for
research purposes only. So when
he hoovered up information for the
commercial venture, he was violating
the company’s terms. Kogan maintains everything he did was legal, and
says he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had
granted him permission for his apps.
The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June 2014, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of Cambridge
Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely
premised on harvesting and processing of Facebook data.
Cambridge Analytica spent nearly
$1m on data collection, which yielded
more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched to electoral rolls.
“The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’
of understanding personality from
Facebook profile information,” the
contract specifies. At the time, more
than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North
American Facebook users, and nearly
a quarter of potential US voters. Yet
when asked by MPs if any of his firm’s
data had come from GSR, Nix said:
“We had a relationship with GSR.
They did some research for us back
in 2014. That research proved to be
fruitless and so the answer is no.”
Cambridge Analytica said that its
contract with GSR stipulated that
Kogan should seek informed consent
for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not.
GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made
explicit contractual commitments
to us regarding its legal authority to
license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.
SCL Elections, an affiliate, worked
with Facebook over the period to
ensure it was satisfied no terms had
been “knowingly breached” and provided a signed statement that all data
and derivatives had been deleted, he
said. Cambridge Analytica also said
none of the data was used in the 2016
presidential election.
Steve Bannon’s lawyer said he
had no comment because his client
“knows nothing about the claims
being asserted”. He added: “The first
Mr Bannon heard of these reports was
from media inquiries in the past few
days.” He directed inquires to Nix.
The Observer
News Four-page special
Cambridge academic
who trawled Facebook
for profiles had links
to Russian university
Controversial data company’s Moscow links
are in the spotlight as whistleblower reveals it
discussed its voter targeting systems with a giant
Russian oil firm on the American sanctions list
Russian connection
Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge
University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data,
had previously unreported ties to a
Russian university, including a teaching position and grants for research
into the social media network, the
Observer has discovered. Cambridge
Analytica, the data firm he worked
with – which funded the project to
turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon
– also attracted interest from a key
Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.
Energy firm Lukoil, which is now
on the US sanctions list and has been
used as a vehicle of government influence, saw a presentation on the firm’s
work in 2014. It began with a focus
on voter suppression in Nigeria, and
Cambridge Analytica also discussed
“micro-targeting” individuals on
social media during elections.
The revelations come at a time of
intense US scrutiny of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential
election, with 13 Russians criminally
charged last month with interfering
to help Donald Trump.
In Britain, concerns about Russian
propaganda have been mounting,
with the prime minister, Theresa May,
recently attacking Russia for spreading fake news, accusing Moscow of
attempts to “weaponise information”
and influence polls.
Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil
company, discussed with Cambridge
Analytica the data company’s powerful social media marketing system,
which was already being deployed for
Republican Ted Cruz in the US presidential primaries and was later used
to back Brexit and Trump.
Alexander Nix, chief executive of
Cambridge Analytica, emailed colleagues after initial contacts to say
that Lukoil wanted a clearer explanation of “how our services are going
to apply to the petroleum business”.
“They understand behavioural
micro-targeting in the context of
elections (as per your excellent document/white paper) but they are failing to make the connection between
voters and their consumers,” he wrote
in an email seen by the Observer.
A slide presentation prepared for
the Lukoil pitch focuses first on election disruption strategies used by
Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, in Nigeria. They are presented under the heading “Election:
Inoculation”, a military term used in
“psychological operations” and disinformation campaigns. Other SCL documents show that the material shared
with Lukoil included posters and videos apparently aimed at alarming or
demoralising voters, including warnings of violence and fraud.
Discussion of services offered by
Cambridge Analytica was apparently going right to the top of Lukoil,
even though its retail operations
in America are a very minor corner of the oil and gas giant’s empire.
Asking for a detailed presentation of
Cambridge Analyticas’s work in July
2014, Nix told his colleague the document would be “shared with the CEO
of the business”.
The chief executive of Lukoil, Vagit
Alekperov, is a former Soviet oil minister who has said the strategic aims of
Lukoil are closely aligned with those
of Russia. “I have only one task connected with politics, to help the country and the company. I’m not close to
Mr Putin, but I treat him with great
respect,” he told the New York Times.
Cambridge Analytica said an affiliate company had talked to Lukoil
Turkey about a loyalty card scheme,
but the project had not gone ahead.
“[The talks] were about potential
commercial work in Turkey and did
not involve any discussion of political work,” a spokesman said.
Last month Nix told MPs: “We have
never worked with a Russian organisation in Russia or any other company. We do no have any relationship
with Russia or Russian individuals.”
That appears to contradict the
(main picture),
Kogan, left, as
a psychology
lecturer. Kogan’s
Facebook work
was funded by
private company
headed by CEO
Alexander Nix,
above left.
Alamy; Antonio
company documents seen by the
Observer, that list Russia as one of the
countries where Cambridge Analytica
and affiliate companies have clients.
Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who has come forward to
talk to the Observer, said it was never
entirely clear what the Russian firm
hoped to get from the operation.
“Alexander Nix’s presentation
didn’t make any sense to me,” said
Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica
soon after the initial meetings. “If
this was a commercial deal, why
were they so interested in our political targeting?”
Lukoil did not respond to requests
for comments.
Kogan, a lecturer who worked with
Cambridge Analytica on building up
the database of US voters then at the
heart of the company’s plans, said he
had not had any connection to the
Lukoil pitch.
But while he was helping turn
Facebook profiles into a political tool
he was also an associate professor at
St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to
fund other research into social media.
“Stress, health, and psychological
wellbeing in social networks: crosscultural investigation” was the title
of one piece of research. Online posts
showed Kogan lecturing in Russian.
One talk was called: “New methods of
communication as an effective political instrument”.
Cambridge University said academics are allowed to take on outside
work but are expected to inform their
head of institution. “We understand
that Dr Kogan informed his head of
department of discussions with St
Petersburg University regarding a
collaboration; it was understood that
this work and any associated grants
would be in a private capacity,” a
spokesman said.
Apart from that, Kogan appears to
have largely kept the work private.
Colleagues said they had not heard
about the post in St Petersburg.
Russia is not mentioned in a 10-page
‘I am not close to Mr Putin, but
I treat him with great respect’
Vagit Alekperov, Lukoil chief executive
CV Kogan posted on a university
website in 2015. The CV lists undergraduate prizes and grants of a few
thousand dollars and links to dozens
of media interviews.
Kogan told the Observer: “Nothing
I did on the Russian project was at
all related to Cambridge Analytica in
any way. No data or models.” His recollection was that the Russia project
had started a year after his collaboration with Cambridge Analytica ended.
He said the St Petersburg position
emerged by chance on a social visit.
A native Russian speaker, Kogan was
born in Moldova and brought up in
Moscow until he was seven, when his
family emigrated to the US, where he
later obtained citizenship.
However, he stayed in touch with
family friends in Russia and visited
regularly. On one trip, he said, he
“dropped an email” to the psychology department at St Petersburg.
“We met, had a nice chat, and
decided let’s try to collaborate – give
me more reason to visit there,” he told
the Observer in an email.
The Observer
How Facebook ‘likes’ were
turned into a powerful –
and lucrative – political tool
The algorithm
The algorithm at the heart of the
Facebook data breach sounds
almost too dystopian to be real. It
trawls through the most apparently trivial, throwaway postings –
the “likes” users dole out as they
browse the site – to gather sensitive
personal information about sexual
orientation, race, gender, even intelligence and childhood trauma.
A few dozen “likes” can give a
strong prediction of which party a
user will vote for, reveal their gender
and whether their partner is likely to
be a man or woman, provide powerful clues about whether their parents stayed together throughout
their childhood and predict their
vulnerability to substance abuse.
And it can do all this without an
need for delving into personal messages, posts, status updates, photos or all the other information
Facebook holds.
Some results may sound more
like the result of updated online
sleuthing than sophisticated data
analysis; “liking” a political campaign page is little different from
pinning a poster in a window.
But five years ago psychology
researchers showed that far more
complex traits could be deduced
from patterns invisible to a human
observer scanning through profiles.
Just a few apparently random “likes”
could form the basis for disturbingly
complex character assessments.
When users liked “curly fries” and
Sephora cosmetics, this was said
to give clues to intelligence; Hello
Kitty likes indicated political views;
“Being confused after naps” was
linked to sexuality.
These were just some of the unexpected but consistent correlations
noted in a paper in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences
journal in 2013. “Few users were
associated with ‘likes’ explicitly
revealing their attributes. For example, less than 5% of users labelled
as gay were connected with explicitly gay groups, such as No H8
Campaign,” the peer-reviewed
research found.
The researchers, Michal Kosinski,
David Stillwell and Thore Graepel,
saw the dystopian potential of the
study and raised privacy concerns.
At the time Facebook “likes” were
public by default.
“The predictability of individual attributes from digital records
of behaviour may have considerable
negative implications, because it can
easily be applied to large numbers
of people without their consent and
without them noticing,” they said.
“Commercial companies, governmental institutions, or even your
Facebook friends could use software
to infer attributes ... that an individ-
ual may not have intended to share.”
To some, that may have sounded
like a business opportunity. By
early 2014, Cambridge Analytica
chief executive Alexander Nix had
signed a deal with one of Kosinski’s
Cambridge colleagues, lecturer
Aleksandr Kogan, for a private commercial venture, separate from
Kogan’s duties at the university, but
echoing Kosinski’s work.
The academic had developed
a Facebook app which featured a
personality quiz, and Cambridge
Analytica paid for people to take it,
advertising on platforms such as
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
The app recorded the results of
each quiz, collected data from the
taker’s Facebook account – and, crucially, extracted the data of their
Facebook friends as well.
The results were paired with each
quiz-taker’s Facebook data to seek
out patterns and build an algorithm
to predict results for other Facebook
users. Their friends’ profiles provided a testing ground for the formula and, more crucially, a resource
that would make the algorithm
politically valuable.
To be eligible to take the test the
user had to have a Facebook account
and be a US voter, so tens of millions
of the profiles could be matched to
electoral rolls. From an initial trial
of 1,000 “seeders”, the researchers obtained 160,000 profiles.
Eventually a few hundred thousand
paid test-takers would be the key to
data from a vast swath of US voters.
It was extremely attractive. It
‘If I had taken any
other job, Cambridge
Analytica would
not exist. You have
no idea how much
I brood on this’
Christopher Wylie opens
up to Carole Cadwalladr
New Review cover story
could also be deemed illicit, primarily because Kogan did not have
permission to collect or use data
for commercial purposes. His permission from Facebook to harvest
profiles in large quantities was specifically restricted to academic use.
And although the company at the
time allowed apps to collect friend
data, it was only to encourage interaction. Selling that data on, or
putting it to other purposes, was
strictly barred.
It also appears likely the project was breaking British data protection laws, which ban sale or use
of personal data without consent.
That includes cases where consent
is given for one purpose but data is
used for another.
The paid test-takers signed up to
T&Cs, including collection of their
own data, and Facebook’s default
terms allowed their friends’ data to
be collected by an app, unless they
had changed their privacy settings.
But none of them agreed to their
data possibly being used to create a
political marketing tool or to it being
placed in a vast campaign database.
Kogan maintains everything he
did was legal and says he had a
“close working relationship” with
Facebook, which had granted him
permission for his apps.
Facebook denies this was a data
breach. Vice-president Paul Grewal
said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything
we do, and we require the same
from people who operate apps on
Facebook. If these reports are true,
it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”
The scale of the data collection
Cambridge Analytica paid for was so
large it triggered an automatic shutdown of the app’s ability to harvest
profiles. But Kogan told a colleague
he “spoke with an engineer” to get
the restriction lifted and, within a
day or two, work resumed.
Within months, Kogan and
Cambridge Analytica had a database
of millions of US voters that had its
own algorithm to scan them, identifying likely political persuasions
and personality traits. They could
then decide who to target and craft
their messages for those individuals – a political approach known as
Facebook announced on Friday
that it was suspending Cambridge
Analytica and Kogan from the platform pending information over misuse of data related to this project.
Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by
GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a
data breach.
It said in a statement that Kogan
“gained access to this information
in a legitimate way and through
the proper channels”, but “did not
subsequently abide by our rules”
because he passed the information
onto third parties.
The Observer
Forget stags and
hens. Now it’s
an excuse for one
big mixed bender
More cross-gender
friendships and a taste
for quality travel are
driving the move away
from the traditional
single-sex party night
Tess Reidy
Garish balloons
and tacky
costumes are
falling out of
favour. Alamy
Raucous single-sex groups of young
people tottering down the middle of
the road at 2am, asking policemen
for selfies and carrying inflatable
penises, can signify only one thing:
the wedding season is under way.
But with mixed friendship groups
the norm, enforced gender segregation on the decline and weddings
becoming increasingly extravagant,
compulsory fun on separate hen and
stag evenings could soon seem a
thing of the past.
Ian Lucas, founder of Red7, which
offers bespoke travel and party packages, says the company’s mixed travel
bookings have grown by 200% in the
past two years. “We’ve made a conscious decision to de-gender our stag
and hen experiences and appeal to
joint parties,” he says. “It’s less about
groups of women with L-plates and
blokes going wild and more about
having special experiences with
Another online travel agent,
StagWeb, says it has noticed a 50% rise
The maids of
dishonour from
the 2011 film
‘Sweet male
bonding’: an oldstyle ‘punk’ stag
weekender kicks
off at Butlins
in Minehead,
Somerset. Alamy
in the number of its “sten” or “hag”
weekend bookings for 2018. “We
are seeing a real demand for mixedgroup travel in the 25-to-35-year-old
age group,” says Kye Harman, head
of PR. “It’s a trend that’s really just
starting to take hold, and it’s an area
we expect to grow over the next five
Harman believes the increase is
partly in response to a closer focus
on money. “It is certainly more costeffective. You can pool resources, and
two budgets means you can create
more of an event.”
Others say it is because celebrations are going on for longer. One survey found that one in 20 stag or hen
dos now drags on for a week.
Matthew Green, 34, from London,
is going to two sten dos in the coming
months, one of them at the Nation of
Gondwana festival near Berlin. “The
idea of going to a strip club is so naff
– it’s so 80s,” he says. “Stag dos are
no longer just people going out for a
drink; they’re now three-day trips to
foreign festivals, and it’s more of an
excuse for a holiday.”
Travel companies such as GoHen
even offer their own mini-festivals
in honour of the bride and groom.
The “sten-fest” includes a live band,
glamping and a hog roast, and is one
of the firm’s most popular weekend
Another factor is that singlesex celebrations are starting to feel
regressive. Friendship groups are
increasingly mixed gender, and it
can seem like too great a sacrifice not
to have male or female friends present on your “last night of freedom”.
“Personally, I think the vibes are better when it’s mixed,” says Green. “One
night with boys is good banter – but
three days with all guys, and the chat
gets a bit rubbish. You need girls to
mix it up.”
Joe Marsh , from Manchester,
agrees. The 31-year-old attended a
friend’s hen do last year and is planning a joint event for his own marriage this summer. He says his
friendship group is mixed and he
would not want anyone excluded
from the celebrations because of their
sex. “At my do I want to include all of
my close friends. I don’t want to go
to a strip club or get tied to a lamppost after drinking 40 pints. Maybe
I’m boring but I just want a nice, civilised night which maybe includes a
bit of drunken dancing to Britpop.”
Sheila Young, a cultural researcher
on marriage at the University of
Aberdeen, agrees that people are
‘One night with boys
is good banter –
but three days with
all guys, and the chat
gets a bit rubbish’
Matthew Green, 34
The Observer
spending less time in gendered
groups and more time in mixed
She says that although stag and
hen dos give guests the opportunity to engage in collective activities
which license otherwise taboo behaviour, such as using bad language and
wearing offensive T-shirts, there is
some evidence that levels of tolerance
for this are decreasing. Other people
particularly object when the misbehaviour is exhibited in the daytime
in public spaces.
Although the sexes are nowhere
near as segregated as they once were,
mixed celebrations are far from widespread. “It is a particular type of person that chooses them,” Young says.
“They are generally from a higher
socioeconomic group, are university
educated, and prefer mixed company.”
Some think that change cannot
come soon enough. One 33-year-old
man from Cambridge, who will be
attending a three-day-long stag do in
the Netherlands next month and did
not want to be named, says he wishes
he was going on a mixed trip instead.
“A stag do is a fun thing in itself, and
you do get these sweet male bonding
experiences, but the problem is that
you’re at the whim of what others in
the group want to do. If you go somewhere like Hamburg or Amsterdam,
then it’s quite clearly because there
are prostitutes there,” he says. “It’s
The Observer
UK finance, power and water
on highest alert as fear of
Russian cyber reprisal grows
Britain’s infrastructure,
including the banking
and energy sectors,
is being monitored
round the clock as
intelligence services
warn of the virtual
risk from Moscow
Mark Townsend
& Toby Helm
Banks, energy and water companies are on maximum alert over the
threat of a serious cyber-attack from
Moscow as concern continues over
the safety of Russian exiles in the UK.
Fears that Russia will target
Britain’s critical national infrastructure have prompted round-the-clock
threat assessments by the UK’s financial sector, energy firms and GCHQ,
the UK’s largest intelligence agency,
along with the security services MI5
and MI6.
The Bank of England, major financiers, including Lloyds, and organisations such as Water UK are working
with the government’s National Cyber
Security Centre (NCSC) to assess the
next move from Moscow following
the murder of Nikolai Glushkov, 68,
and the Salisbury chemical attack.
Scotland Yard yesterday issued a
renewed appeal for information for
anyone who may have seen a burgundy red BMW owned by Sergei
Skripal, 66, the former Russian spy
who was found unconscious on
4 March in Salisbury along with his
daughter, Yulia. The pair were poisoned with a nerve agent and remain
critical but stable in hospital.
Glushkov, a businessman and a
known critic of President Vladimir
Putin, was found strangled at his
home in London last week. Police
across Britain have begun contacting Russian exiles to discuss their
safety as they investigate the murder
of Glushkov, understood to have been
on a list of 22 “fugitives” published by
the Russian embassy in London last
year. Officers have yet to establish if
there is a link between the attacks.
Intelligence officials, however, fear
that Moscow may strike next using
very different methods, referring to
Russia’s involvement in the crippling
NotPetya ransomware cyber-attack
last year that targeted Ukraine’s
financial, energy and government
sectors before it spread across the
‘In this mood it’s
hard to know
what the Russians
will do. They
don’t seem to care’
Robert Hannigan
On Thursday the Trump administration accused Russia of engineering
a series of cyber-attacks that targeted
American and European nuclear
power plants and water and electricity systems, the first time the United
States has publicly accused Moscow
of hacking into America’s energy
The UK’s NCSC is based inside
GCHQ and notifies UK firms considered to be “critical national infrastructure” and the government of the latest
threat level. It is monitoring significant Russian activity in the UK, though
it is understood that no specific threat
from Russia has emerged since the
attempted murder of Skripal and his
33-year-old daughter and the murder of Glushkov. Robert Hannigan,
a former director of GCHQ and the
National Security Council, told the
Observer that the NCSC was monitoring “very large volumes” of attacks
every day on the UK, including its
globally important financial services.
Hannigan, who was responsible
for the UK’s first cyber strategy in
2009 and is now a senior associate
fellow at the Royal United Services
Institute, said that from his experience, which also includes three years
as prime minister Tony Blair’s security adviser, he had never seen Russia
so unpredictable and hostile. “In their
[the Russians] current mood it’s hard
to know what they will do. What’s
different now is the willingness to be
reckless, not to play by the rules that
experts fear the
current stand-off
between Britain
and Russia
could rapidly
Reuters; TASS
most civilised countries play by and
not to worry about being found out.
They no longer seem to care.”
Hannigan said they were continually detecting Russians on UK cyber
networks. “They’re constantly being
found on networks but it’s their intent
that matters more than the fact they
are there. The difficulty with cyber is
that you can be on a network to gather
intelligence or you can be on a network to do something destructive and
the two look pretty much the same.”
A senior banking source, confirming that the sector was working
closely with GCHQ and the security
services to evaluate any threat from
Russia, said they were also concerned
about the risk of attack, not just from
the Kremlin but from rogue elements
caught up in the febrile climate that
has prevailed since the Salisbury
chemical attack. “It is possible that
Russian patriots may take it upon
themselves to make a point at a time
like this,” said the source.
A Lloyds spokesman said: “We
update and test our defences regularly and work closely with both
industry bodies and law enforcement agencies to help us protect
our customers.” A Water UK spokesperson, which represents the major
water companies, said it was in regular contact with government officials
to ensure its cyber defences were sufficiently robust. The UK government
has floated the idea of fining organisations which fail to implement effective cyber security measures as part
of plans to make Britain’s essential infrastructure resilient against
future cyber-attacks. Beyza Unal, a
research fellow at Chatham House’s
international security department,
said that the UK had been shoring up
its defences in the face of the evolving cyber threat. “The UK has a really
good cyber defence strategy planning
as well as organisation, each sector
talks to the government organisations,” she said.
Latest figures from the NCSC reveal
more than 1,100 attacks over the past
year, 590 significant. Thirty required
action by government bodies, a number of which targeted the UK’s internationally important financial sector.
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The Observer
Johnson seeks support from EU
for taking tough line on Moscow
Toby Helm
& Michael Savage
How Russia’s
rich elite
spend their
billions in
pages 34-35
Putin will
vote for
the leader it
grew up with
page 36
should be just
the start
page 44
the Kremlin
page 45
Boris Johnson is seeking to cement
the support of foreign ministers of
the 27 other EU member states on the
poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal
at a meeting to be held tomorrow
in Brussels, as the UK tries to rally
more international support behind
its tough stance against Moscow.
Senior government insiders say
ministers hope that the Foreign
Affairs Council would, as a minimum,
issue a joint statement condemning
the attack and hold initial discussions
on possible further moves that could
be taken at an EU level.
Since 2014 the EU has imposed
a series of economic sanctions and
other measures against Russia,
including asset freezes and travel
restrictions, over its illegal occupation of Crimea and destabilisation of
Ukraine. Foreign Office sources said
that it was too early to say if further
EU action could be taken as a result of
the Salisbury attack.
Sir Roderic Lyne, a former British
ambassador to Russia, said Johnson’s
task would inevitably be harder
because the UK was leaving the EU.
“The sanctions imposed by the EU
after Crimea in 2014 surprised the
Kremlin and have continued to have
an impact, precisely because they
remain EU-wide,” he said.
“Brexit has made Britain’s task
harder in appealing for EU solidarity
this week. The UK alone cannot have
a big impact on Russia. The EU does,
especially when it can work with the
US and other Nato allies.”
Yesterday, after Moscow retaliated against the expulsion of 23
Russian diplomats from London by
dismissing the same number of UK
representatives, the prime minister,
Theresa May, said she was encouraged by the level of international sol-
Boris Johnson
will meet EU
foreign ministers
in Brussels
tomorrow. AP
idarity behind her response to the
Salisbury nerve gas attack.
“We can be reassured by the strong
support we have received from our
allies around the world,” she said.
“From the United States, Nato and the
European Union [and] from our UN
and Commonwealth partners.”
The Foreign Office issued a statement saying the next moves would
be considered by senior intelligence,
military and Whitehall officials this
week: “In light of Russia’s previous
behaviour, we anticipated a response
of this kind and the National Security
Council will meet early next week
to consider next steps. Our priority today is looking after our staff in
Russia and assisting those that will
return to the UK.”
Labour MPs will step up pressure
on the government today to introduce
tougher measures against wealthy
Russians investing in the UK. The
shadow chancellor, John McDonnell,
is proposing a series of new measures, including an “oligarch tax”
– a charge against purchases of residential property by offshore trusts
located in tax havens.
McDonnell said: “If we want to
really take the fight to the gangster
politicians and Russian elites hiding
their money in the UK, then we need
serious measures which will hit them
where it hurts – in their wallets. It’s
time to call an end to the use of our
financial system and property market
as a hiding place for foreign oligarchs
and their money men by implementing measures like full transparency
for tax havens and our levy on secret
offshore property purchases.”
Labour is also demanding a tightening of the “politically exposed persons” regime, which is intended to
provide additional scrutiny by financial institutions of those judged
likely to indulge in corrupt practices.
At present the definition applies to
high-level government figures, their
families and their close associates.
McDonnell wants to widen the definition to catch more in the group who
are labelled associates.
After Jeremy Corbyn was criticised
by MPs in his party for what many saw
as an insufficiently strong line against
Moscow in the House of Commons
last week, an Opinium/Observer poll
shows the public back Theresa May
over the Labour leader to best handle
the current crisis by a margin of more
than two to one. Asked which of the
two leaders would be best at reacting
to Russia’s likely involvement in the
nerve gas attack, 39% said May, while
only 16% selected Corbyn.
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The Observer
Protesters attending a March
Against Racism assemble
outside the BBC in London.
The march, along with similar
events in Glasgow and Cardiff,
was designed to mark the United
Nations’ international AntiRacism Day. Photograph by
Gustavo Valiente/i-Images
Buffer zones urged
as anti-abortion
vigils target clinics
Calls for new law after
women complain they
are being intimidated
Frances Perraudin
Women’s groups have renewed calls
for buffer zones around clinics as
anti-abortion campaigners increase
their activities to coincide with Lent.
The US anti-abortion group 40
Days For Life is currently holding 12
vigils outside clinics in cities across
the UK, including Birmingham,
Manchester and Cardiff. The vigils,
which will run until Palm Sunday
(25 March), are staffed with volunteers, who carry placards and hand
out literature attempting aim to dissuade women from terminating
The group’s UK-based international director, Robert Colquhoun,
claimed the organisation had seen
hundreds of women decide not to
have abortions following interactions
with the campaigners.
The British Pregnancy Advisory
Service (BPAS) reported receiving
numerous reports from women upset
and distressed by the 40 Days for Life
vigils. “Police forces have repeatedly
told us that, due to the unique nature
of these protests, there is nothing they
can do using existing powers,” said a
spokesperson. “While we are pleased
that a number of councils are looking
at local measures, this is a national
problem in need of a national solution, particularly as we have seen protesters move locations when a council
contemplates taking action.
“The only way to ensure that all
women are protected is to follow the
example set by other countries and
implement buffer zones around clinics nationwide.”
In November, the Home Office
launched a consultation on the subject of protests around abortion clinics. The BPAS urged the government
to bring forward buffer zones legislation as a matter of urgency “to ensure
that no one has to endure another 40
days of harassment”.
Colquhoun said that in the seven
years he had been involved with 40
Days For Life – which held its first
vigil in Britain in 2010 and operates
in 25 countries around the world –
he had not received a single substantiated report of harassment. “I am
aware that the BPAS are running a
very public and political campaign
in order to introduce buffer zones,
which they would have an economic
interest in,” he said.
The vigils have provoked a number of protests across the UK, including outside the Marie Stopes clinic in
Fallowfield, Manchester, where a prochoice group is maintaining a “counter-presence” for every day the vigil
is there. Eabha Doherty, a member of
Sister Supporter Manchester, which
helped establish the counter-protest
in the city, said this group could not
be described as either pro-abortion or
“Abortion is a sensitive issue, and
not everyone agrees with it,” she said.
“But nobody’s right to free speech is
so absolute that it can override a person’s right to access healthcare.”
Accounts collected from service
users in Manchester by the Back Off
movement, which campaigns for
buffer zones, detail anti-abortion
protesters throwing holy water on the
path to the clinic door, praying loudly
and singing hymns. One woman said
it had left her feeling “intimidated,
frightened and anxious”.
Last Tuesday morning, a man and a
woman wearing high-vis vests reading “Pro-choice” over thick winter
coats were standing on one side of
the street, while two women stood on
the opposite pavement behind a stall
displaying plastic models of foetuses
and posters of babies.
The 40 Days For Life vigil outside the
Fallowfield clinic in Manchester.
“We have been encouraged not
to speak to the vigilers because we
are not here for an argument, or to
cause a scene,” said Vivian Pencz, a
Manchester volunteer with the prochoice group.
“We certainly don’t want to cause
more distress to the women going
into the clinic. We are just here as a
safe, encouraging counter-presence.”
Aileen Power, 75, who lives in
nearby Rusholme, has taken part in
the vigil every day since the start of
Lent. She says she is there out of concern for the women using the clinic.
“For some mothers it doesn’t affect
them at first because of the relief, but
then, afterwards, even years later,
they’re traumatised,” she says. “They
sometimes take to drugs or drink to
relieve the guilt that they feel.”
As a woman approaches the clinic,
clinging on to her male companion,
Power walks over to offer her a leaflet, which she does not take. Asked
how she would respond to the suggestion that the presence of her group
is distressing to the women, Power
responds: “Well, why is it distressing? Because they know that what
they are doing is wrong, don’t they?
They know deep down that they are
going to kill the baby.”
The Observer
Birds fly over the
Pennines near
by Azadour
A stag in Bushy
Park, London.
More snow is
expected to
fall today.
Photograph by
Rob Pinney/LNP
Fears for wildlife as migratory
birds fly in to a UK snowstorm
Second cold snap of
winter will damage
insect populations – a
primary source of food
for hungry arrivals
Robin McKie
Science Editor
The arrival of bitterly cold weather
yesterday – only a few days before
the vernal equinox, the official start
of spring in Britain – could have serious consequences for wildlife, experts
have warned.
The snow and biting winds, which
led to the cancellation of flights and
disrupted road travel, will reduce
the insect population, creating
food shortages for birds and other
Migratory birds, such as the wheatear and the sand martin, are now
arriving in Britain in numbers, the
experts have pointed out, and will
need food after long flights from
the south. Insects are their principal
source of nourishment.
In addition, there had been sightings of butterflies and bees making
the most of last week’s warm weather,
and these could be badly affected by
the sudden arrival of cold and snow.
Frozen lakes and ponds could
also affect frogs and other amphibians, say wildlife experts. “There are
also fears for ravens, tawny owls and
blackbirds who have already begun
nesting,” said Met Office spokesman
Grahame Madge.
Forecasters said snow, feeding in
from the North Sea, started to spread
westwards across to the Midlands
and parts of Wales yesterday. By the
end of the day, most places had seen
some snow, with gusty winds bringing bitterly cold temperatures. More
snow is expected today, especially in
south-west England, where as much
as 25cm could fall on higher ground.
Travel disruption is likely, rural
communities could become cut off,
vehicles may be stranded and power
cuts could occur, forecasters have
“It will be bitterly cold with some
snow for many places over the weekend,” said Met Office meteorologist
Alex Burkill. “There are some very
strong winds, meaning it could feel
as low as -7C or -8C for some people.”
The arrival of the cold weather has
brought a repeat of the disruption
caused by the “beast from the east”
storm that hit Britain two weeks ago.
However, Met Office officials said they
expected this weekend’s chaos would
be over by Tuesday.
An amber weather warning for
snow and ice was put in place across
north-west England, Yorkshire and
the Midlands, as well as London, the
south-east, and the east of England,
while a less severe yellow warning for
snow and ice was issued for most of
the rest of the country.
The lowest temperature yesterday
morning was recorded near Carter
Bar on the Scotland-England border,
at -2.6C.
Network Rail said it was going to
run empty trains overnight to help
‘There are some very
strong winds,
meaning it could feel
as low as -7C or -8C
in some places’
Alex Burkill, Met Office
keep the network clear of snow.
However, it warned that disruption
was possible. Motorists have been
urged to be prepared before setting
out on journeys this weekend, with
Highways England advising them to
avoid trans-Pennine roads if possible.
Highways England’s head of road
safety, Richard Leonard, said gritter lorry drivers would be working
“around the clock”, though he also
stressed it was important for drivers
to take care. “Make sure you keep your
distance and reduce your speed if you
need to travel, because, even in conditions that seem normal and when the
snow is not settling, it can be slippery
if ice patches have formed or where
fresh salt has not been worked into
the carriageway.”
Most cancellations at Heathrow
yesterday were on short-haul flights,
but British Airways said some transatlantic flights had been affected.
Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, TAP Air
Portugal and KLM also made cancellations. “While this weekend’s weather
may result in minor delays and some
airlines consolidating flights, significant disruption at Heathrow is not
currently expected,” said a spokesman. “We are working closely with
our on-site Met Office to monitor the
further snowfall expected throughout the weekend. As always, we advise
passengers to check their flight status with their airline before coming
to the airport.”
In the north of England, strong
winds led to the cancellation of the
annual Boat Race of the North, which
sees rowing teams from Durham
and Newcastle universities compete against each other on the River
Tyne, the BBC reported. Conditions
on the A1 left the Durham team unable to transport its boats on their long
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The Observer
May, May, Johnson and
Gove… new Brexit comic
copies Trumpton roll call
Monthly satire will mock
Leavers’ rose-tinted views
with cartoons based on
1960s children’s TV show
Kim Willsher
The first Brexit comic, with characters including the Reverend May and
her Brexit Gang, David Dealin’ Davis
and Boris “Captain Brexit” Johnson,
will go into circulation next month,
loosely based on the classic 1960s
children’s TV programme Trumpton.
The project is the idea of illustrator
and author Mike Dicks, who raised
£4,400 via crowdfunding to pay for
the first edition, which will be posted
to donors and supporters by 1 April.
“The Brexit comic is about giving
everyone a laugh. Better than crying
about it,” says Dicks. “I was a huge
fan of the Beano and like the idea of a
physical comic every month.”
Dicks, a former independent TV
producer, began with caricatures of
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in the runup to the 2016 referendum.
“I’d been worrying about him and
Ukip,” Dicks told the Observer. “I kept
thinking about how Farage was looking back to a golden age, but he’s
about the same age as me, so what
era is he referencing? My recollection
of the 1960s and 70s was that in many
ways it was a rather shit time.
“He made me think of Trumpton,
which was about an old-fashioned
town with no foreigners – except
Mr Antonio the ice-cream man, who
was almost run out of town – and an
autocratic mayor. It seemed the sort
of place and sort of Britain Farage
was nostalgic about, so I started a
Trumpton_Ukip Twitter account
to gently mock him, his supporters
and their backward-looking views. It
had a couple of hundred followers at
most, enjoying my silly jokes.”
Dicks hit the headlines when
Ukip MEP David Coburn, apparently unaware it was a spoof, urged
his 9,000 Twitter followers to com-
plain about the “fake” Ukip account
and attempted to have it shut down.
“It suddenly went from a couple of
hundred followers to 20,000,” Dicks
said. “Then dozens of other Twitter
accounts sprang up mocking Ukip
and we were in the newspapers, so it
all blew up in his face.”
Only 13 episodes of Trumpton
were made, but many still remember Captain Flack’s fire brigade roll
call: “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew,
Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub.”
Dicks’s Trumpton has a different
crew: “May, May, Johnson and Gove,
Macron, Merkel and Mogg” – the two
‘Trumpton had no
foreigners – the sort
of place that Farage
was nostalgic about’
Mike Dicks, illustrator
Reverend May and Boris
‘Captain Brexit’ Johnson lead
the cast of Brexit the comic.
Photograph by Lynn Hilton
May characters reflecting the prime
minister’s shifting position on Brexit.
Dicks, who is having what he calls
a “skirmish with cancer”, says finding humour in his comic keeps him
busy and cheerful. “The interest in the
comic has been heartening. I’ve been
working from home and publishing
on the web but, like a standup comedian, I need an audience.”
The first Brexit comic, available to
order online for £4, has eight pages,
but Dicks hopes to add four more
pages next month. “It will come out
monthly until Brexit happens, and
beyond that we’ll have to see.”
The comic is available at descience.
Comment & Analysis
Students who sue
universities because
their degrees didn’t
lead to well-paid jobs
forget they were there
to learn how to think
thinkers whose skill is precisely the
ability to challenge ideas that are
prepackaged or ready-made.
Once students become consumers,
they come to look upon ideas,
not as ways of understanding the
world, but as possessions they can
trade for a better job or greater
social prestige. Hence Pok Wong’s
court case. Whether or not Anglia
Ruskin University provides a good
education, I don’t know. But whether
it does or not cannot be measured
simply in terms of whether its
students end up in a good job.
truth is an essential function of the
institutions of higher education,”
it observed, “and the process of
education is itself most vital when it
partakes in the nature of discovery.”
Nearly half a century later came
the Browne inquiry into the funding
of universities, commissioned by
the Labour government in 2009
and published the following year
at the start of the Conservative-Lib
Dem coalition. “Higher education
matters,” it argued, “because it …
helps produce economic growth,
which in turn contributes to national
prosperity.” The value of education,
in other words, is economic;
universities are good because they
are profitable for the individual, for
corporations and for the nation.
The difference in the two reports
sums up the transformation of
higher education which is rooted
in three trends: the growing view
of universities as businesses, of
students as consumers and of
knowledge as a commodity. But
there is a fundamental difference
between being a student and being
a consumer, and between acquiring
knowledge and buying a commodity.
Education is not a product but
a relationship between student
and teacher, and a process by
which knowledge transforms the
individual. When someone buys a
car or an insurance policy, he or she
is purchasing a prepackaged, readymade commodity to satisfy a need.
Education is about creating critical
hat a studentas-a-consumer will not want are all
the things that truly define a good
education – difficult questions, deep
reflection or challenging lecturers.
These will be seen not as means
to greater understanding but as
obstacles to attaining a good degree.
It is a process that afflicts not just
universities. Too many schools now
think that their purpose is not to
impart knowledge and encourage
thinking but to show children how
to pass exams. I know too many
children whose love of learning has
been expunged by a system whose
sole aim is to teach how to wheedle
that extra mark at GCSEs.
The idea that there is more to
education than value for money,
or that “self-betterment” can be
understood in more than monetary
terms, may seem hopelessly
romantic in our rigidly utilitarian
age. Not every social gain, however,
can be measured in terms of
numbers or cash.
Any decent society needs to
encourage critical thinking about
ideas, beliefs and values, thinking
upon which no price tag can be
placed. A society that will only think
when it is profitable to do so is one
that has lost its mind.
“white genocide”. Lauren Southern
is a Canadian journalist who
moves in far-right circles. Hitler,
according to Southern, “was just
an SJW [social justice warrior] who
happened to get freaky amounts
of power”.
Over the past two weeks, all three
have been barred from entering
Britain. Their views, they were
told, were unacceptable and their
presence in Britain not “conducive
to the public good”.
Sellner, Pettibone and Southern
are all odious characters. I loathe
their anti-immigrant rhetoric. I
despair of their tirades against
Muslims. But I also think that
all three have the right to be as
loathsome and obnoxious as they
wish to be. Even scumbags should
not be barred for thought crimes.
Anti-racists in particular should
be wary of such bans. Censorious
laws that some applaud when
applied to the far right inevitably
get turned on to the left and antiracists. The 1965 Race Relations Act
introduced Britain’s first legal ban
on the incitement of racial hatred.
Among the first people convicted
under its provisions was the black
power activist Michael X.
The 1936 Public Order Act,
brought in to control Oswald
Mosley’s fascists, became used after
the war to target trade unionists
– most notoriously during the
miners’ strike of 1984-85 – and antifascist demonstrations in the 1970s
and 1980s.
If we allow the state to define
the limits of acceptable speech, it
will not just be speech to which we
object that gets curtailed.
Even those with
the vilest of
views have the
right to be heard
Let’s not give up on the idea that a
good education is a search for truth
am Gyimah is very taken
by Seven
years ago, the newly elected Tory
MP for East Surrey wrote an article
for Conservative Home, bemoaning
the fact that there existed no
“ for
universities … to allow students to
easily compare what’s on offer”.
Last week, Gyimah, now
education minister, announced a
new “tool” through which to grade
degree courses, by giving them gold,
silver and bronze stars, depending
on teaching quality, dropout rates,
career prospects and average salary
earned. Students will be able to
assess universities in the same way
as services on Moneysupermarket.
com, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today
While Gyimah was explaining
his shiny new tool, Pok Wong, a
student from Hong Kong, was
suing Anglia Ruskin University
for providing her with a “Mickey
Mouse” education. Her degree in
international business strategy
The Observer
A worthwhile education cannot be measured in terms of numbers or cash. Getty
management had not helped “secure
a rewarding job with prospects”.
“I hope that bringing this case will
set a precedent so that students can
get value for money,” she said.
Value for money. A rewarding job.
Welcome to the new vision of
what universities are for. It’s not
that “value for money” may not be
important. A rewarding job certainly
is. But when these become the main
metrics by which higher education is
judged, then we have a problem.
In 1963, the Robbins inquiry into
British higher education, which set
the framework for the expansion
of universities over the next few
decades, argued that learning was
a good in itself. “The search for
artin Sellner is a
nasty piece of work. The Austrian
is a leader of the Generation Identity
white nationalist movement and
of Defend Europe, an organisation
that tries to stop NGO boats from
saving migrants drowning in the
Med. His partner, the American
Brittany Pettibone, is a writer and
vlogger who sees immigration as
The Observer
May pledges to
fine company
bosses if they
endanger staff
pension funds
Michael Savage
Policy Editor
Rogue bosses will face fines or prosecution for putting the pensions of
their workers at risk under new laws
to be unveiled by the government.
Ministers will confirm this week
that they will target reckless employers with new rules designed to protect pension pots when companies go
under. There will also be measures
designed to target directors who are
guilty of mismanagement.
The move follows the scandals
that hit retailer BHS and construc-
tion giant Carillion after their collapses. It comes after Theresa May
told the Observer earlier this year
that she wanted to tackle bosses who
“line their own pockets” while failing
to protect workers’ pension schemes.
It has recently emerged that the
board of Carillion dismissed a proposal that could have poured £218m
into its pension scheme, believing
the company could recover. The pot
is now estimated to be nearly £1bn
in deficit. A total of 28,000 members
of Carillion’s 13 pension schemes are
facing a cut to their retirement funds.
Meanwhile, the BHS pension
Sir Philip Green
is to pay £363m
into the BHS
pension scheme.
scheme is believed to have a deficit
of £571m after the department store
collapsed last year. Former owner Sir
Philip Green has since agreed to give
£363m in cash to rescue the scheme,
a move that could help the businessman keep his knighthood.
Under the measures to be confirmed this week, ministers will
announce a criminal offence of shirking pension responsibilities. There
had been strong demands for action
from a parliamentary inquiry into the
BHS crisis.
Last night, the prime minister said
it was “absolutely vital that people
who work hard and contribute to
society throughout their career can
have the confidence that their pension will pay out in retirement. I am
committed to making sure our economy works for everyone – backing
businesses to create good jobs but
stepping in to make sure they play by
the rules,” she said.
‘Brain drain’ robs
regions of graduates
Skills shortages outside
London as young head to
the capital after university
Michael Savage
Britain’s regions are suffering a “brain
drain” to London as about a third of
departing graduates head to the capital each year, analysis has revealed.
Ministers are under renewed pressure
to tackle the stubbornly unbalanced
map of Britain’s economy, with warnings that some big cities are left with
serious skills shortages.
Higher education data reveals that
more than 100,000 of 2016’s graduates had left the region where they
studied after just six months to take
up work elsewhere. More than 30,000
ended up in London. The study, compiled by WPI Strategy group, found
that in the East Midlands 55.5% of
graduates left the area to find work
shortly after graduating. While large
numbers took jobs in London after
studying in the south-east, 3,670
went there from the east of England,
3,410 from the south-west and 2,990
from the East Midlands.
Senior Conservatives, including Andy Street, mayor of the West
Midlands, have raised concerns about
boosting skills outside London, as
have major British companies.
The results reflect those of a previous study by the Centre for Cities
thinktank, which found that a quarter
of all new graduates from UK universities in 2014 and 2015 were working
in London within six months.
Proposed remedies include asking
universities to allow graduates to use
their facilities for up to a year after
finishing, or giving more powers to
new metro mayors to offer “returnships” to those who move away.
Reversing the trend is a major
challenge for metro mayors. Ben
Houchen, Tory mayor for Tees Valley,
said his region had been “over-reliant
on too few industries, and statistics
show how important diversification
is to our economy”.
“Our existing cluster of hi-tech
companies have a fantastic reputation, as well as a pipeline of skills in
partnership with Teesside University
and local colleges,” he said. “However,
to compete on the global stage we
need to go further. That starts with
addressing our skills shortage.”
Street said inducements to stay
in the West Midlands were better.
“Connectivity is constantly improving, with HS2 supercharging our
transport revolution,” he said. “But
we need a similar revolution in digital infrastructure and the support we
give digital startups, many of which
spin out from our universities.”
Andrew Carter, chief executive of
Centre for Cities, said London’s “vast
jobs market” continued to be the
driver. “Graduates aren’t just thinking
about their first job or salary; they’re
considering which cities offer the best
long-term prospects for a career and
wages. There is little evidence that
policies aimed especially at encouraging graduates to move to other cities
have any impact. The priority should
be to strengthen the economies of
other cities by investing in transport,
housing, innovation and enterprise.”
Nick Jeffery, chief executive of
Vodafone UK, which funded the
study, said he wanted to see more
infrastructure investment to turn “a
brain drain of talent into a brain gain”.
Margot James, minister for digital
and the creative industries, said: “We
want the UK to be the best place to
start and grow a digital business. We
have delivered superfast broadband
to 95% of UK premises and government is supporting the development
of local digital skills partnerships.”
Brain drain
Percentage of graduates leaving the region
for employment (graduated in 2016)
• 0-15% • 15-30% • 31-45% • 45-60%
Source: WPI Strategy
The Observer
Monet and Van Gogh reborn as hi-tech
magic brings back ruined masterpieces
Water Lilies and
Sunflowers among
paintings now being
resurrected in lab
using 3D scanners
1954 Churchill
portrait is
Dalya Alberge
Artists using cutting-edge technology and forensic analysis have reconstructed a series of lost masterpieces,
including versions of Monet’s Water
Lilies and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
The re-creations are the work of
Factum Arte, a group of artists and
technicians whose projects have
included an exact reproduction of
the burial chamber of Tutankhamun.
The Concert, a 17th-century work by
Vermeer which was stolen in 1990 in
the biggest art heist of modern times,
has also been re-created, along with
a 1954 portrait of Winston Churchill
by Graham Sutherland, which the
wartime leader’s wife, Clementine,
destroyed in disgust.
Factum Arte uses 3D scanners originally developed for medical purposes
to record the surface of a painting or
an object down to the finest brushmark or crack. It detects details that
the naked eye cannot, recording surface not colour. “By removing the
colour from the surface, you can see
things completely differently,” said
Adam Lowe, director and founder of
Factum Arte. Other tools include 3D
scanners to record shape.
One of Monet’s smaller Water
Lilies canvases was hanging in the
Museum of Modern Art in New York
until 1958, when it fell victim to a
catastrophic fire. Despite bad smoke
damage, forensic analysis extracted
crucial details of its colour and surface, allowing the painting’s rendering of the movement of light on water
to be re-created.
“It’s absolutely breathtaking,” said
Lowe. “I think Monet would believe it
was his painting.”
Van Gogh’s lost Sunflowers picture
was one of seven painted in 1888, and
was bought by a Japanese collector. It
was destroyed during the US bombing of the city of Ashiya in 1945.
The National Gallery allowed
Lowe’s team to scan its Sunflowers
painting, enabling them to recon-
Migrants tell of
racial abuse
and violence on
streets of Paris
A Van Gogh
Sunflowers, lost
in 1945, reborn.
Oak Taylor Smith
struct the artist’s brushstrokes in
painting at speed.
Lowe said: “We had a very poor colour photograph and some other reference material, but we were able to
identify the position of the brushstrokes and distort the individual
strokes from the National Gallery
painting to fit the lost painting. We
relied on knowledge of Van Gogh’s
palette and the paints he was using at
the time to reconstruct the colour. Van
Gogh would be very happy.”
Lowe is particularly excited by the
Vermeer reconstruction, as the original could still surface one day: “I hope
we’ll be able to see how close our ‘performance’ was.”
The Concert tops the list of the
worldʼs most-wanted paintings.
Valued at $200m, it was among
13 works stolen from the Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum in the US
city of Boston. Relying on a couple of
poor photographs, Lowe’s team was
also able to scan a Vermeer from the
same period in the Royal Collection.
Mark Townsend
Hundreds of refugees living rough in
Paris, many of whom hoped to reach
the UK, claim they have been subject
to abuse from French citizens, including physical attacks and sexual violence, according to new research.
From a sample of almost 300 refugees – around 10% of the 2,950
migrants sleeping rough in the
French capital – it emerged that 42%
The Churchills thought they had
seen the last of Sutherland’s portrait. Commissioned by parliament for Churchill’s 80th birthday,
it was loathed by its subject, who
said it made him look “half-witted”.
Clementine had the painting burned,
which Sutherland condemned as an
“act of vandalism”.
Asked how the Churchills would
feel about the reconstruction, Lowe
said: “They would be horrified
because it has come back from the
grave. They were completely wrong to
destroy it. It wasn’t theirs to destroy.
It was painted to hang in Parliament.
It’s a very powerful, tender portrait.”
The replica has been made possible
partly through a high-resolution pho-
Adam Lowe, director, Factum Arte
tograph never released before. It was
taken by Larry Burrows, the great war
photographer. Lowe said: “Burrows
followed Churchill and had taken a
good photograph of the painting. It’s
never been seen.”
Other reconstructions include
Klimt’s vast Allegory of Medicine,
which was seized by the Nazis and
taken to an Austrian castle where, in
1945, a retreating SS unit destroyed
the castle with the Klimt inside.
“It’s a very dramatic tale,” Lowe
said. Using one black-and-white photograph and a coloured detail, his
team remade the entire work.
The re-created masterpieces will
feature in a series, Mystery of the Lost
Paintings, on Sky Arts from 2 May.
Philip Edgar-Jones, director of Sky
Arts, said the project was unprecedented: “The stories of how such
colossal masterpieces were lost, stolen or destroyed are as compelling as
any detective series. The process of
bringing them back to life gets deep
under the skin of the artists’ craft.”
of respondents did not feel safe. The
study was conducted by Londonbased human rights charity Refugee
Rights Europe and is one of the largest independent studies of refugees
stranded in Paris. It found that 75%
of respondents said they had experienced verbal abuse by French citizens,
most usually racial abuse.
One 29-year-old from Sudan said:
“They told me: ‘You can’t be here. You
make it dirty here. This place is full of
you and we are fed up.’ ”
The number of migrants living
in Paris rose in October 2016 after
authorities demolished the camp
known as the Jungle in Calais.
Marta Welander, head of Refugee
Rights Europe, said: “Despite promises from President Macron to ensure
no refugees were left in the streets
by the end of 2017, large numbers of
people have spent the winter in destitution, sleeping rough in freezing
temperatures with little or no access
to appropriate sanitation facilities.”
‘The Churchills would be horrified
because Sutherland’s portrait of
him has come back from the grave’
The study, published this week,
also reveals that a fifth of respondents claimed they had suffered physical violence by Parisians, while 5%
stated that they had experienced sexual abuse from French citizens.
More than one in 10 said they knew
at least one refugee who had died
while stuck in Paris. One 29-year-old
man from Afghanistan told researchers: “I have known many people who
died here. They killed themselves
because of the bad life here.”
The Observer
The Duchess of Cambridge
presents a shamrock to the
mascot of the Irish Guards,
wolfhound Domhnall, yesterday
at the regiment’s St Patrick’s
Day parade at Cavalry Barracks,
Hounslow, Middlesex.
Photograph by
Jonathan Brady/PA
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Notebook …
Steven Morris
More and more pubs
close every day. Here’s
how we saved ours…
The Packhorse in the village of
South Stoke, just south of Bath,
was never a smart pub but it was
friendly, welcoming and earthy,
beloved of locals and visitors alike.
It was the sort of place that didn’t
frown if you kept your boots on after
a muddy walk along the route of
the old Somerset coal canal. Food
options tended to be limited to
cheese-and-onion rolls and bags of
crisps, but that was a charm rather
than a flaw. The regulars would
always shuffle over to give you a
share of the fire on chilly days.
My son Tom and his mate Fergal
ordered their first pints of cider
there (they were turned down as
they were only seven – but in the
sort of kind and good-natured way
that you don’t forget).
But in 2012 the pub was shut and,
like so many, earmarked for housing. “It was a terrible blow,” said
villager Jenny John. “Our sense
of community suffered. There’s
a church and village hall but not
everyone goes to those. The Packhorse was the only place you got to
meet your neighbours regularly. The
loss to the village was huge.”
This is not an unusual picture.
The Campaign for Real Ale said
this weekend that 18 British pubs
are closing every day. It argued
that pubs are being hit by a triple
whammy of one of the highest rates
of beer duty in Europe, rapidly rising business rates and hefty VAT. A
third of the cost of a pub pint is now
made up of various taxes, it said.
What is more unusual about
South Stoke and the Packhorse is
that the villagers weren’t having
it. They fought back. Determined
to hang on to a vital community resource, they hatched an
action plan to save it. Over the last
six years, 450 shareholders have
clubbed together to put in more
than £1m to buy and refurbish
the pub. “It evolved into the biggest community pub buy-back project in British history,” said Dom
Moorhouse, project lead of the Save
the Packhorse team. “I think people got stuck in because they wanted
to save a beautiful old building, but
also because they did not want to
lose a place of social connection.”
Moorhouse said it was about
much more than raising money.
People – from accountants to lawyers, from gardeners to craftspeople – donated their skills and time.
Some hidden treasures were uncovered, including a 17th-century fireplace. The team appealed for help
in restoring it, and an expert from
France popped over to lend a hand.
The project also encouraged local
historians to look into the pub’s
past. It had been assumed that it
opened in 1674 – the date above the
door – but samples taken from the
oldest beams in the building and
dendrochronology tests (tree-ring
dating) put the date at 1618.
Brian Perkins doesn’t go quite
that far back, but his 87 years are
intimately entwined with the pub.
His grandparents, Frederick and
Emily Rose, ran it when he was born
in the room above the bar in 1930.
As a boy he did odd jobs such as polishing the floors, cleaning windows
and serving the suppers – hunks
of bread and cheese with tomatoes
grown in the greenhouse, or tripe on
special occasions.
Perkins and his wife, Edith, will
cut the ribbon to reopen the pub
today. “It was a such a shame when
the pub closed,” he said. “It’s meant
so much for so many people, including me. The project has brought so
many memories back for us all.”
The Packhorse, pictured in 1965, has
stood in the village since 1618.
Times do change. The refurbishment has included inside toilets and
a modern kitchen. Many pubs now
struggle to survive serving only beer,
rolls and crisps, so the menu will
include dishes such as salt cod croquettes and Portland crab. But the
vision is clear – to “re-establish the
Packhorse pub as a communityowned, commercially viable, social
amenity that we can all enjoy and
be proud of”. The idea is not to offer
“earnest, formal, high service” but to
put a smile on visitors’ faces.
Moorhouse said he hoped the
Packhorse would inspire others.
“We’ve proved to local communities across the country what is
possible and we’d love to see similar successes elsewhere. It’s been
hard work but worth the effort. It’s
brought together so many people
across the generations.”
The loss of the Packhorse threatened to weaken a village community; the very act of restoration has
made it stronger.
The Observer
The Football
Lads Alliance
gathered at
Pall Mall before
marching to
last October
in protest over
terror attacks.
Football Lads vent race hate
using secret Facebook page
The Observer uncovers
threatening posts
ahead of a march by the
Football Lads Alliance
in Birmingham next
weekend. By Tom Wall
The Football Lads Alliance, the group
behind marches against what they
call “Islamist extremists”, uses a
secret Facebook page full of violent,
racist and misogynistic posts, targeting Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott, as
well as palying down the crimes of
the Finsbury Park mosque attacker,
Darren Osborne.
The Observer has gained access to
the FLA’s 65,000-strong Facebook
group in the run-up to its planned
march “against extremism” in
Birmingham next Saturday, which
anti-racists fear could be the UK’s biggest ever Islamophobic mobilisation.
The invite-only page states the FLA
are “not fascist thugs” but includes
posts by members calling for Khan,
London’s first Muslim mayor, to be
“hanged” and for Abbott, Britain’s
first black female MP, to be “run over”.
There are also posts claiming mosque
attacker Osborne is a “scapegoat” and
suggesting he was right to plot to kill
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The findings come after Facebook
removed the pages of Britain First,
the far-right group, for repeatedly
violating community standards and
sending out anonymous anti-Muslim letters.
Tottenham Hotspur supporter and
former hooligan John Meighan,
who founded the FLA after the
London Bridge terror attack and
led a march of thousands of fans
through the streets of London
last October, insists the group is
opposed to all forms of extremism.
But the main speaker in Birmingham
is the rightwing former Ukip leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters,
who calls Islam “evil” and has links to
an ex-member of the far-right British
National party.
FLA members posted this month
that Khan was “the enemy within”
who should be hanged “as a warning
to all”. Others called Khan a “traitor”.
After Osborne was found guilty in
February of killing Makram Ali when
he deliberately drove his van into a
crowd of Muslims, four FLA members
commented that Osborne was in fact
a scapegoat. Some went even further,
insisting he was justified in his plot
to kill Corbyn, with FLA supporters
remarking that the Labour leader was
an “enemy of the UK”.
As one of the highest-profile black
women in parliament and a critic of
the FLA, Abbott is a regular target on
the page. FLA members last month
repeatedly demanded that Labour’s
British-born shadow home secretary
“should be deported” and shared
explicit racist memes.
Many of the posts on the page
back the former leader of the English
Defence League, Tommy Robinson,
who attended the FLA’s last march.
A recent video of Robinson fighting with a black man in Italy titled
“migrant invaders” attracted 413
likes from FLA members, including
Meighan. Meighan denied the group
was rightwing and said he did not
condone racism or sexism. “Anyone
who shows any form of racism is
expelled straight away. We have moderators who remove people,” he said.
He said he had invited Waters as a
specialist on Islamic terrorism. “We
are not against moderate Muslims.
We are worried about people carrying
out extremist attacks,” he said.
FLA members were “frustrated”
with Abbott and Khan, Meighan said.
Abbott said the threats had to be
taken seriously, following the murder
of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right
extremist in 2016: “They are inciting
racial hatred. Both Sadiq and myself
are black and minority ethnic politicians. It is actually quite frightening
... because we know with Jo Cox that
anything could happen.”
Weyman Bennett from Stand Up
to Racism, which is planning a counter-demonstration in Birmingham,
said the FLA was like the EDL before
it morphed into a violent street movement. “They are the EDL mark two,
except they are much bigger and have
tried to learn the lessons of the EDL.”
Bennett added that the EDL also
claimed to be non-racist when it was
founded. “When the EDL started
off, they said there weren’t a racist
group. They even burnt a Nazi flag.
But it ended up with them sieg heiling, attacking mosques and turning
over mixed-race couples.”
FLA posts call for London
mayor Sadiq Khan to be
‘hanged’ and for MP Diane
Abbott to be ‘run over’.
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The Observer
The unseen threats to our
rivers: prescription drugs,
plastics … even flea killer
Britain’s waterways
now look much cleaner,
but levels of insidious
new pollutants are not
being monitored, warn
James Tapper
Beer hasn’t been sold in steel cans
for decades. The cans Keith Dopson
found in Slough’s Salt Hill stream
would be collectors’ items were they
in good condition, but they had disintegrated into clumps of rust.
“We filled seven bin bags with rubbish,” he says. “Just from the river, not
the banks. Plastic bottles and cans,
lots of cans. Those steel ones must
have been there for ages.”
Dopson, a retired carpenter, is one
of around 20 volunteers who have for
the past two years been reclaiming
the stream. They have cleared undergrowth, dredged and narrowed the
river and built a new footbridge and
path. The aim is to create a riverside
walkway connecting Slough’s parks.
“We’ve seen kingfishers, grey wagtails, an egret,” says Shelley Rowley
of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
who works with volunteers, Thames
cal schools.
Water, the council and local
“It shows that we’ve provided the right habitat
abitat for
them to thrive, and that
there are fish they
y can eat.”
Litter picking is a major part
of the project. “We’ree going
to try ‘plogging’ next – it’s
a Scandi thing, a mix of
jogging and picking up littter,” Rowley grins, standing
g in waders, water past her knees. “It sounds
Salt Hill stream is one of hundreds
of British rivers that are significantly
cleaner than 30 years ago, when most
waterways were biologically dead
– often killed by raw sewage flowing from misconnected waste pipes
down gullys meant for rainwater.
Last year there were 317 serious
incidents on British rivers,
drop of two-thirds since 2001, but
a dro
still enough for the Environment
Agency to call for bigger fines
for companies and farmers
who pollute rivers. Yet a
growing body of research
indicates that many rivindic
ers are polluted by substances that
tha are not systematically
Last week, researchers at the
University of Manchester found
“extraordinarily” high levels of
microplastics in the river Tame in
Denton, with 517,000 particles per
square metre of river bed – levels
Hidden enemies
Tiny pieces of plastic, ranging from
microbeads in skincare products
to nanoparticles that can cross the
blood-brain barrier.
Shelley Rowley,
front, and Keith
Dopson, left,
with clean-up
in Slough.
by Andy Hall/
Agricultural insecticides related to
nicotine that have been linked to
declining bee populations.
Endocrine disruptors
Chemicals that interfere
with hormones. Linked to
developmental disorders, some
cancers and other conditions. The
chemicals include phthalates, DDT,
bisphenol A and phytoestrogens.
A painkiller relieving muscle
inflammation. Campaigners say
it breaks down slowly, leading to
a cumulative build-up in affected
areas, and may harm fish.
The Severn river
in Shropshire:
UK waterways
are at risk from
Photograph by
David Bagnall/
not recorded anywhere else in the
world. Microplastics are tiny particles
that range from microbeads – used
as exfoliants in skincare products,
and banned in January by the government – to microscopic fragments
small enough to cross the blood-brain
barrier. A large proportion come from
materials such as polyester and new
synthetic fabrics, produced when
clothes are washed, and from wet
wipes and sanitary products.
“We all have a responsibility to fix
the problem, starting with what we
flush away,” said Catherine Moncrieff,
WWF’s freshwater policy and programme manager. “The Environment
Agency and water companies must
fast-track efforts to better understand and address plastic pollution
“Microplastics in rivers are not routinely monitored, and the issue has
received less attention than marine
plastic. The true scale of the problem
is only just emerging.”
But microplastics are just one issue,
according to Matt Shardlow, the chief
executive of Buglife, which campaigns
to protect invertebrates. His organisation used Environment Agency data
to highlight dangerous levels of neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide linked
to bee population collapses – in several British rivers, particularly the
Tame and the Great Ouse.
Shardlow and other campaigners
are also worried about insecticides
used in flea treatments for pets, and
pharmaceuticals. Antidepressants
change the behaviour of freshwater snails, and antibiotic resistance is
growing because microbes in water
treatment plants are exposed to drugs
present in human waste, and can then
evolve into drug-resistant strains.
The Observer
“People think they put flea treatment on and it just goes away, but it
doesn’t. It goes through their pet and
comes out when they go to the toilet or jump in a pond,” Shardlow said.
“We want the Environment Agency
to really pick up on monitoring, to
start looking for problems, rather
than simply being told what to monitor by the EU.
“We also want a review group to
look at insecticides in water, neonicotinoids and other persistent chemicals. We know they are in orcas in the
Antarctic, but not if they are in common rudd or perch in Surrey.”
In the next few weeks proposals are
expected to be published for a new
environment watchdog, to replace the
EU commission and European court
of justice in holding the government
to account on environmental standards, including on water quality.
Amy Mount, of the Greener UK
environmental coalition, said: “It is
promising that ministers want to
set higher environmental standards
post-Brexit, but their success will
depend greatly on the strength of this
new watchdog.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Water quality is better
than at any time since the Industrial
Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by
the Environment Agency and others. There are still many challenges
to overcome, but we will not be scaling back on our ambitions.”
The Observer
Pope Francis greets two people
dressed as clowns to entertain
young cancer patients at the Casa
Sollievo della Sofferenza hospital
in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy.
The hospital was founded by
Padre Pio, who was made a saint
in 2002 and who is the focus of
pastoral visits by the pope. AP
NHS workers reveal fears
over safety of patients
Sarah Johnson
A huge majority of NHS workers say
they are worried about staffing levels,
according to new survey findings that
suggest a dangerous level of underresourcing in the health service.
Four-fifths (80%) of respondents
– which included nurses, doctors
and managers – have raised concerns about there not being enough
staff on duty to give patients safe and
high-quality care. More than half of
those (59%) said no action was taken,
despite their unease being voiced.
More than 1,000 NHS staff who
belong to the Observer and Guardian’s
healthcare network were surveyed.
Almost half of respondents (48%) said
care had been compromised on their
last shift, while only 2% felt there were
always enough people to provide safe
care. More than half (53%) say they
cannot provide the level of care they
want to.
One junior doctor said: “The
youngest doctors in the hospital are
given dangerous levels of responsibility; there is one newly qualified junior doctor to 400 patients on night
shifts. The administration is in agreement, but confess there is not enough
money to employ extra staff.”
The findings come at a time of escalating pressure on the health service.
The winter crisis that hit in January
was described as the worst ever.
Nursing vacancy figures are at their
highest level since records began – the
number of unfilled advertised nursing and midwifery posts in England
reached 34,260 in September. The
regulator NHS Improvement admitted recently that the NHS in England
is short of 100,000 staff – one in 11 of
the entire workforce.
One senior nurse, who works in a
large A&E department in the north
of England, told how she has to regularly manage over double the number
of patients the department has capacity for. “I have seen clinical errors
increase and staff blamed for them
with little appreciation of the overwhelming pressure,” she said. “Basic
care is consistently compromised.
People are left in pain so that others
can receive life-saving treatment.”
She added that it was impossible to
provide adequate care while patients
had to lie on trolleys in corridors and
that the trust regularly fiddled with
performance data to make it appear
that people had waited less time for
treatment than in reality, in order to
meet NHS targets.
The self-selecting survey was
answered by healthcare professionals with a range of roles – nurses,
doctors, paramedics and hospital
managers among others. It was conducted in the weeks immediately after
‘Safe staffing
levels are crucial,’
says RCN boss
Janet Davies
the health service’s stressful start to
the new year.
The Royal College of Nursing has
warned of demands on healthcare
staff. “The vast majority of frontline
nurses are crying out but far too little changes. When so many say they
cannot do their job properly due to
understaffing, ministers and the NHS
must listen,” said Janet Davies, the
union’s chief executive.
A spokesman for the Department
of Health and Social Care said: “We
have record numbers of staff in the
NHS, but there is more to do. We
announced the biggest increase in
training places for doctors and nurses
in NHS history.”
Davies added: “Safe staffing levels
are crucial. Patients can pay the highest price when levels fall too low.”
The Observer
Keeping glaciers
cold is key to halting
the rise in sea levels
Robin McKie
Science Editor
Scientists have outlined plans to build
a series of mammoth engineering
projects in Greenland and Antarctica
to help slow down the disintegration
of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and
huge pumping stations that would
channel cold water into the bases of
glaciers to stop them from melting
and sliding into the sea.
The researchers say the work – costing tens of billions of dollars a time –
is urgently needed to prevent polar
glaciers melting and raising sea levels. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated
areas, such as parts of Bangladesh,
Japan and the Netherlands. Flooding
in these areas is likely to cost tens
of trillions of dollars a year if global
warming continues at its present rate,
and vast sea-wall defences will need
to be built to limit the devastation.
Such costs make glacier engineering a
competitive alternative, according to
the team, which is led by John Moore,
professor of climate change at the
University of Lapland.
“We think that geo engineering of glaciers could delay much of
Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded
ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global
warming,” the scientists write in the
current issue of Nature.
“Geoengineering of glaciers has
received little attention in journals.
Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree.”
Ideas put forward by the group
specifically target the ice sheets in
Greenland and Antarctic because
these will contribute more to sea rise
this century than any other source,
they say. Their proposals include:
 Building a 100-metre high wall
on the seabed across a 5km wide fjord
at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier
in Greenland. This would reduce
influxes of warming sea water which
are eroding the glacier’s base;
 Constructing artificial islands
in front of glaciers in Antarctica in
order to limit their collapse as their
ice melts due to global warming;
 Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island
glacier in Antarctica – in order to pre-
vent their bases from melting and
sliding towards the sea.
In each case, the team acknowledges that costs would be in the billions. Construction is also likely to
cause considerable disruption. For
example, building a dam across the
Jakobshavn fjord could affect ecology, fisheries and tourism, and large
numbers of workers would have to
be shipped in to complete the project.
Similarly, building artificial islands
in front of glaciers would mean
importing about six cubic kilometres of material, a task that would
be immensely difficult in stormy
Antarctic waters. And drilling through
ice that is kilometres thick to pump
down cooled water would also stretch
the capabilities of engineers.
However, the team insists that such
projects should be carefully assessed.
The issue is simple, they state: should
we spend vast sums to wall off all the
world’s coasts, or can we address the
problem at its source?
“Potential risks, especially to local
ecosystems, need careful analysis,”
they conclude. “In our view, however,
the greatest risk is doing nothing.”
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Scientists say projects to
slow melting of polar ice
will be hugely costly, but
the alternative is far worse
The Jakobshavn
fjord in western
Greenland: one
proposal is for a
underwater wall
across one end.
Photograph by
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The Observer
Comment & Analysis
A #MeToo
Bond defeats
the whole object
of the spy
who loved me
Male infertility will
remain ignored while
conception is seen
as a woman’s issue
Could prejudice be
why research into
falling sperm counts
fails to win funding?
re men ignoring their
“biological clocks”? Or is it rather
that they are not adequately served
by science, which, in turn is being
stymied by lack of funding?
The Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority’s 201416 report reveals, among other
findings, that male infertility is
the most common reason (37%)
for British couples seeking IVF.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, it’s revealed
that male infertility is considered
such an “unsexy” research area
that it’s nigh-on impossible to get
funding. While pooled 2017 research
found that sperm counts in the US,
Europe, Australia and New Zealand
had halved in 40 years, and one
in 20 young men had a low sperm
count, the science of male infertility
remains stuck at the 1950s level of
counting sperm on laboratory slides.
While this seems bizarre, it
fits all too neatly with ingrained
Is a fat-shaming
toy fit for
young minds?
perceptions aboutt the essential
“femaleness” of infertility. The way
that infertility – the problems; the
e, often unsuccessful
painful, invasive,
d the ultimate blame
treatments; and
ked in the collective
– remains locked
consciousnesss as not only a female
o a female failure.
issue, but also
ale side, there’s the
On the male
expression “shooting blanks”. In
he complex bio-cultural
contrast, the
tropes of female infertility range
unct and imperfect to
from defunct
g, even criminal. Women
are cast as everything from haunted
barren inadequates to selfish career
bitchess to crazed sperm thieves
– all with the common theme of
men messing up”. While modern
men can fail in myriad ways in
the eyes of society, even today, a
man is deemed by many to fail
mostt conclusively, tragically and
esquely when she hasn’t been
able to bear children.
kewise, the “ticking
ogical clock” is regarded
most exclusively female,
as almost
ite research such as that
last year from the Beth Israel
coness Medical Center and
vard Medical School in
on, saying that sperm
ity markedly declines
with age, making it harder
re children, and also
to sire
ntially affecting the
health off the child.
new Fitbit wristband
called Fitbit Ace has been launched
for children over eight. It will feature
“reminders” for them to get active,
undertake family step-challenges
and also monitor sleep patterns.
Thankfully, the calorie-counting
device found on normal Fitbits has
been disabled, but is that enough?
Bearing in mind the UK’s child
The causes
cau of
infertility are
shared by the
sexes. Getty
obesity problem – according to
figures from NHS Direct, a third of
children between two and 15 are
overweight or obese – some people
may feel that the Fitbit Ace could
only be a boon. However, that’s
debatable. Children are already
bombarded with harmful messages
about body image. Overweight kids
are teased. Normal-sized girls feel
that they should be on strict diets.
Even young boys are succumbing
to anorexia. Do children need what
amounts to a “fat-shaming toy”?
While many teenagers have
How long can this disconnect
continue? One can’t even accuse
the male masses of feeling
unabl to handle the
“unmanned”, unable
truth of their infert
infertility, because
they’ve barely had the chance to
contemplate it. Dw
Dwindling sperm
counts have not been
major news.
The age-old sexi
sexist stigma attached
to female-drive
female-driven infertility is
so potent that eeven significant
alarming repo
reports on men seem
to sail by with
without much scrutiny
and without sufficient scientific
While persistent,
judgmenta focus on women is
by no mea
means the whole story, it
like that it’s played a part,
seems likely
if only by dragging the focus from
other contributory
issues. It’s
apparent that, not only
the heartbreak,
but also the causes
of infe
infertility, are very much shared
betwe the sexes. If society can
start handling that thought, then
male infertility might at
long last become “sexy” enough to
serious scientific funding.
anny Boyle is not
only involved in writing the script
for the next (25th) James Bond film,
he’s also rumoured to be directing
it, and has hinted that any Bond
girl would reflect the #MeToo
movement. Which sounds tricky. I’m
looking forward to the seduction
scene where Bond and his amour
discuss the issue of consent, sign
forms, stating clearly which sexual
activities are permissible, and then
discard their matching hipster
dungarees to make wild, passionate,
mutually respectful love.
I’m not mocking #MeToo; I’m
mocking the idea of a woke Bond.
Bond isn’t just a character any
more: he’s a construct, verging on a
subculture, a spy-themed homage to
the vanishing world of “man’s man”
wish fulfilment, where tuxedo-clad
heroes womanise and shoot people,
and female characters primarily
exist to look sexy and impressed,
albeit in a “fierce”, “challenging”
kind of way.
As recently as 2012’s Skyfall, there
was the infamous scene where
a woman with a glass of whisky
resting on her head was shot dead
and Daniel Craig’s Bond quipped:
“Waste of good scotch.” (Thanks,
director Sam Mendes, sterling work.)
While Boyle may not think like that,
the (ultra-masculinist) Bond culture
does. Good luck messing with that
formula, Danny Boyle.
owned Fitbits, the difference was
that they were officially perceived
as adult products, set apart from
the child’s world. Now there’s this
designated child-fitness “toy”
pumping out information that’s
arguably too complex for a young
mind to properly process.
While the Fitbit Ace is monitoring
physical progress, who is
monitoring the child’s reactions
and emotions? After all, motivating
children to get fit is just one
important aspect; another would
be stopping them from going too
far with what may feel like a new
playground craze.
What may seem like a harmless
motivational gimmick could lead
an immature mind into disturbing,
obsessive behaviour. Orthorexia (the
type of anorexia that masks itself
as a health and fitness obsession)
is a very real issue that should not
be encouraged in anybody, never
mind children. The good news
is that there are already devices
widely available to encourage most
children to be healthier and fitter –
they’re called parents.
Weights and measures
How two girls lifted
the bar for Iran’s
pages 32-33
A family flee
from the mainly
Kurdish town of
Afrin yesterday.
Photograph by
Bulent Kilic/
Turkey’s campaign for Afrin
Syrian Kurds
Opposition/al-Qaida control
Tel Rifaat
20 km
20 miles
Source: ISW, *March 15, 2018
Kurds become Syria’s new
exiles as they flee Turkish
and Arab assault on Afrin
Martin Chulov
Middle East
Once a safe haven for
refugees from the war
raging across Syria,
Afrin has suddenly
found itself a flashpoint
in a relentless offensive
On a muddy trail in northern Syria,
the war’s newest exiles are leaving.
Most are Kurds, fleeing Afrin for the
regime-held city of Aleppo, just over
a grey horizon. Behind them, Turkish
troops and Arab forces they sponsor
have encircled their home city except
for the squeeze point they used to
flee. Ahead, Shia militants allied to the
Syrian army man checkpoints deciding who can pass.
With Syria’s war ticking over into
its eighth gruelling year, the north of
the country is once more on the move.
The Kurds are bearing the brunt of the
latest upheaval, fleeing their enclave
near the Turkish border as a promised
storming of Afrin draws near. At least
250 civilians have been killed in the
bombardment of Afrin as the Turks
and their proxies have advanced.
Many abandoning the majorityKurdish enclave fear they may not be
allowed to return when – and if – the
dust finally settles on this war without restraint. Everything appears up
for grabs now: their homes, futures
and even the Kurdish cause.
“We sat this out for the past seven
years,” said Hero, a Kurdish resident
of Afrin who had made it to Aleppo.
“We bothered no one and watched the
storm pass all around us. Then the
Turks came for us.”
A safe haven in the tempest of
Syria, Afrin had avoided the war in the
rest of the north until a Turkish-led
incursion into its surrounding hills
seven weeks ago. Idlib and Aleppo,
not far away, had been ravaged by jets
and insurgency. Afrin, meanwhile,
had been a haven for refugees from
elsewhere. Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen,
Christians, Muslims, even Yazidis
from Iraq, had hunkered down as war
raged all around.
Even as Afrin’s civilian leaders
showcased the city as a model of
coexistence amid the chaos, it became
a microcosm of the potent geopolitics that subsumed local allegiances.
Arab-Kurdish tensions simmered in
the north. But more importantly a
once workable relationship between
Washington and Ankara broke down
– with the postwar future of Syria’s
Kurds central to the schism.
Afrin’s transformation into a focal
point of the Syrian conflict began on
20 January, shortly after the Pentagon
announced it would raise a border
militia from a Kurdish-led force it had
formed in north-eastern Syria to fight
the Islamic State (Isis) terror group.
Washington’s alliance with the Kurds
had never sat well with Ankara, which
regarded their leaders as being ideological allies of the militant Kurdistan
Workers’ party (PKK), whose insurgency in south-eastern Turkey it continues to fight.
Faced with American assurances
that the alliance would be temporary, Turkey had stood by as Isis was
swept from the towns and cities of
north-eastern Syria, culminating in
the extremists’ ousting from Raqqa
late last year.
But the mooted border force was a
step too far for wary officials, a sign
that the Kurds – aided by their backers – would make strategic gains
which could weaken Turkey’s hold
on its 500-mile frontier with Syria.
And so, on 20 January, Turkey’s leaders, angered by Washington but not
willing to confront the Kurds where
they fought alongside the Americans,
instead turned their guns on Afrin, a
small pocket of north-western Syria,
far from the fight with Isis and with
no presence of US troops.
A gap of around 60 miles separates Afrin from the US-backed
Syrian Democratic Forces’ presence
to the east, roughly demarcated by the
Euphrates river. Turkey has carved
out a sphere of influence between
the Kurdish populations, building its
stocks with local Arab communities,
intervening in the Syrian war when
it wants to – but most importantly,
keeping the Kurds apart.
“They say that the fighting groups
in Afrin and Rojava (north-eastern Syria) are the same, and that is
Continued on page 32
The Observer
Rio de
A city mourns Marielle,
the fearless fighter who
gave hope to the favelas
Marielle Franco led a
campaign to save the
poor district of Maré
from drug gangs and
police violence. Her
murder has angered a
bitterly divided Brazil
he morning after tens
of thousands of people
thronged streets across
Brazil to express their
anger over the murder
of black, gay Rio councillor Marielle Franco, it was business
as usual in the Maré favela where she
grew up. Armed drug gang members
openly patrolled behind a police base.
The favela is hidden from the roaring highway that connects the nearby
international airport to Rio’s centre by
an opaque plastic fence. Authorities
call it an “acoustic barrier”. Local people scoff and say it is there to hide
their ramshackle but vibrant community from tourists, noting that in front
of the nearby new schools the fence is
transparent. It is symptomatic of how
Brazilian authorities see the favelas
that house almost a quarter of Rio’s
population: as places to be hidden,
abandoned to gangs, and occasionally invaded by police in armoured
cars who don’t care who gets killed
in the crossfire.
“This is a feudal system. The state
is not in charge here,” said Alberto
Aleixo, president of a local non-profit
group called Maré Networks that
offers culture and education.
Just yards from the locked back
gates of the police barracks, a man in
a baseball cap with a machine-gun
slung around his neck rode past on a
motorbike – a footsoldier for the Red
Command gang, which runs a drugs
market in an alley near the favela’s
entrance. “These guys are in charge
here,” said Aleixo.
Franco’s death last week at 38 – a
carefully targeted shooting by apparently professional killers – sent
shockwaves across the world and is
forcing Brazilians to ask searching
questions about their country’s inherent racism, violence and culture of
impunity. European parliament deputies condemned the killing. Brazil’s
prosecutor general, Raquel Dodge,
called it an attack on democracy. The
great Brazilian music star Caetano
Veloso wrote a song for her.
Aleixo had known her for years,
ever since they campaigned together
against the Rio police’s introduction
of armoured vehicles in 2006. “She
always had an opinion, and a desire
to find a solution,” he said.
Franco fought for the rights of
women, single mothers like herself,
gay people and favela residents. She
denounced the violence inflicted by
Rio’s police on the community as
they fight – and occasionally collude
– with the drug gangs and another
force active on the streets: the unofficial militias whose members include
serving and former police officers.
In Rio state 154 people were killed
“in opposition to police intervention” in January alone, 57% up yearon-year. Many think this is the reason
Franco and her driver, Anderson
Gomes, were riddled with bullets last
Wednesday night – and fear the killing will discourage others like her.
“She knew what she was doing
for us,” said Sonia Vieira, 64, a Maré
pensioner who had voted for Franco.
“Whenever someone comes along
who can do this, they get rid of them.”
Franco’s death has come as a
divided and desperately unequal
country struggles through troubled
times. The worst recession in recent
history has hit poor communities like
Maré hard. Liberal economists blame
the economic policies of leftwing former president Dilma Rousseff, controversially impeached for breaking
budget rules amid revelations of a
sprawling corruption scheme involving her party and its allies.
Her former vice-president, Michel
Temer – whose party plotted to oust
Rousseff – took over and introduced
austerity measures to cut soaring
spending, cutting benefits to the poor.
With support for Brazil’s tainted
politicians at an all-time low, Franco’s
triumphant win of a city council seat
for a small leftwing party in 2016 presented a rare glimmer of hope for a
country in urgent need of political
renewal. It was especially so in Rio,
where the former state governor is in
jail and the state is virtually bankrupt.
She was an educated, articulate,
and capable young woman from a
favela: a far cry from the moneyed,
middle-aged, white male politicians
Brazilians are accustomed to, in a
country where more than half the
population is black or mixed-race.
“She represented renewal,” said
Ernani da Conceição, a Maré teacher
who taught Franco the classes that
helped her get a scholarship at
Rio’s prestigious Pontifical Catholic
University. He and others described
how Franco began her political education in the local Catholic church,
at a time when churches were influenced by Latin America’s leftwing
“liberation theology”. As a teenager,
she was a church volunteer.
She became militant after a friend
was killed by a stray bullet in a
shootout between police and gang
members, and she joined a pre-university course at the Maré Centre for
Studies and Solidarity Action, known
as CEASM in Portuguese. At 19, she
became pregnant and had a daughter.
“She wanted to be different,” said
Vera de Carvalho, 54, whose daughter
Amanda was a close friend of Franco.
“She had ambition. She wanted to be
Franco got a scholarship to study
Tributes to a champion of the poor
‘We will continue resisting for us
and for you, Marielle Franco! Marielle
is with us, now and forever! You
will be forever in the heart and in
the struggle of the Mothers of
Manguinhos and of all mothers!’
The Mothers of Manguinhos, a group
formed by parents who have lost
children to police violence in the
Manguinhos neighbourhood of Rio
de Janeiro, campaigns against racism
and state violence.
Marielle Franco,
who was shot
dead in an attack
that bore the
hallmarks of
a professional
Midia Ninja
for a social sciences degree and later
a master’s in public administration.
CEASM’s Antonio Carlos Vieira said
the project’s aim was to educate and
politicise Maré’s young people, who
would then come back and work for
their communities, forming a generation of favela intellectuals. “Marielle
was the best example of this,” he said.
Franco worked for Marcelo Freixo,
a deputy in Rio’s state legislature for
the Socialism and Freedom party,
who has twice stood for mayor. Freixo
was placed under protection after
leading an inquiry into the involvement of police and politicians in militias. Franco stood for the same party,
receiving the fifth highest number of
votes. She moved out of Maré into an
apartment with her partner, Mônica.
“She was one of my best friends,”
Freixo said. “A very, very strong, brave
person, but very sensible, with an
unforgettable smile.”
Freixo helped carry Franco’s coffin past thousands of mourners into
a ceremony at Rio’s council chambers
on Thursday. Since her death she has
dominated the Brazilian press and
social media as she never did in life,
forcing a debate over many of the
issues she championed: racism and
representation, LGBT rights, and violence against the poor.
Brazilians are now calculating their
loss. Ricardo Ismael – Franco’s course
tutor for her social sciences degree
– said Brazil had lost a capable new
political leader. “She was already
standing out in terms of debate, leadership capacity and intellect,” he said.
Her murder has also focused attention as never before on the “federal
intervention” decreed by President
Temer a month earlier, in which he
cited rising crime as a reason to put
the army in charge of Rio’s state police
forces and prisons. Franco attacked
the intervention and served on a
council commission to oversee it.
Unnamed police officers and prosecutors have told Reuters they believe
her murder may have been linked to
her political work or her denouncing
of police abuses.
In 2015 Maré emerged from a
15-month occupation by the army,
the benefits of which were invisible
on Friday morning. On the other side
of a ditch, a few hundred yards from
the Red Command, the Pure Third
Command gang dominates. Houses
are flecked with bullet holes. Young
men carry pistols and radios.
Some residents collect birds.
Retired João Cardoso, 53, recently sold
one he had called Gaza Strip, named
after this stretch of the favela. He
hadn’t voted for Franco, but remembered her fondly. “She had a vision
for the less fortunate people,” he said.
“She was a good person.”
Marielle Franco’s
coffin being
carried into
the municipal
chamber in Rio.
Photograph by
Antonio Lacerda/
Her death
is forcing
a debate
on issues
that she
took up:
‘Marielle Franco was a black woman
from the favela who, like so many of
us, was executed by the state. No,
we are not claiming here that it was
battalion X or Y, but we are saying
that … nobody is more guilty than the
state in this death.’
Fala Acari, an activist group formed
by residents of the Acari favela in Rio.
‘We will continue your fight and will
grow bigger every day. That’s what
we can say at this time of great pain.
We ask for prayers and positive
energy for family and friends.’
Maré Vive, a community media
channel run by residents of Maré.
‘The best way to honour Marielle is to
dedicate every second of our days to
the fight that she was a part of.’
Danielle Ramos, part of the Olga
Benário Women’s Movement, which
opposes violence.
The Observer
The Observer
A child’s tears sparked
a protest last week that
opened weightlifting to
female competitors. Now
other sports are taking note
How two
girls lifted
the bar for Iranian
fighting for change
Brian Oliver
Ahvaz, south-west Iran
If you are good at weightlifting in Iran,
you can become as rich as a Premier
League footballer. The country boasts
300 professional weightlifters, dedicated arenas in every sizable town,
and full-time officials in all 31 provinces. When an Olympic champion
got married in 2006, his wedding
made national television news.
“Weightlifting is more popular in
Iran than in any other country,” said
Mohammad Barkhah, the national
team’s head coach. Only football
is more popular and, as with football, the sport has historically been
an overwhelmingly male domain –
until now. Next month four teenagers are set to become the first female
weightlifters to represent Iran – in
a competition in Uzbekistan. The
young women have the 2020 Olympic
Games in Tokyo in their sights, and
weightlifting has become an unlikely
vehicle of female empowerment.
The change has come about
thanks in part to a remarkable alli-
order is dying in
ruins of Syria’
Continued from page 29
basically true,” said a western diplomat based in the region. “Equally
true is that the militants in Afrin had
not pointed a gun their way until the
Turks sent their air force after them.”
The Kurds fleeing Afrin and those
who have stayed behind – up to
200,000 people are thought to remain
in the city – say they fear that Turkey
aims to change the demography of
the town, and by extension the border.
The Arab force it is using comprises
members of the Free Syria Army and
an Adib, aged
t, finally gets
to demonstrate
her weightlifting
skillss after the
’s event has
ance between Iran and the US, and
the efforts of an eight-year-old girl
ho won nationwide support for the
omen’s cause last weekend.
Aysan Adib was in tears when security men enforced a ban on females
entering the arena for a men’s international competition, the Fajr Cup,
in Ahvaz, south-west Iran. Religious
leaders in Khuzestan province had
given permission for the ban to be
relaxed, but because the signed
paperwork was not presented the
security guards refused them entry.
Aysan, and six-year-old Yeganeh
Bandeh Khodo, thus missed a unique
chance to show off their skills in a
demonstration scheduled for the
penultimate day of the event.
The result was a passionate protest
that rapidly went viral. Ursula Garza
Papandrea, one of the most senior
omen in the sport, who headed a
US delegation of three to the competition, joined the exiled girls outside in protest.
The Americans were in Ahvaz to
help launch Iran’s female weightlifting programme, making sporting history along the way.
allied militias and was raised to fight
the Assad regime. Now, though, the
spectre of Arabs being sent to fight
Kurds in a majority-Kurdish city adds
a troubling dimension to a conflict
that continues to lurch far from the
original battlelines of a nationalistic
push to oust the Syrian leadership.
Inside Afrin, a group of Arab students praised the Turkish incursion
last week, insisting that civilians were
not indiscriminately targeted as they
repeatedly have been in Ghouta, near
Damascus, over the past month of
airstrikes by Syrian and Russian jets.
“They have not been perfect,” said
Dawood Mahmoud, who fled to Afrin
from a nearby town more than a year
ago. “But their mistakes are just that
– mistakes.”
A Kurdish resident of the city,
who has not been given permission
to leave by Kurdish militant groups,
Up to 500
have been
This is
said the opposite. “Last night they
bombed the hospital, and last week
they blew up the waterworks. There
have been up to 500 civilians killed.
This is barbaric.
“They have been dropping leaflets
telling us to trust them and surrender.
They think we’re fools. Neither they
nor their Arabs can take Afrin. They
wouldn’t dare. This will be a blockade like Aleppo.”
As the siege closes in, and as
Syrians of all sects and ethnicities
crisscross the battered north, the war
is drifting further from resolution
than ever before. The plaintive cries
of the global aid community remain
mostly ignored, as do the demands
of United Nations leaders. “Basically,
anything goes,” said the western official. “There is no right or wrong any
more. The international order is dying
in the ruins of Syria.”
The Observer
Ursula Garza
Papandrea and
Sally Van de
Water join Aysan
dib outside the
Fajr Cup venue.
Photograph by
Brian Oliver
Garza Papandrea, a highly qualified coach who is president of USA
eightlifting and vice-president of
the sport’s global governing body,
the International Weightlifting
Federation, became the first woman
to coach a man in an Iranian competition when she helped Derrick
Johnson to victory in the Fajr Cup
62kg class on the first day. US technical official Sally Van de Water, who is
also state folklorist for Pennsylvania,
as the first woman to referee in a
men’s competition.
The Americans have forged a
strong relationship with Iran –
“this is above politics,” said Garza
Papandrea. They were feted by dignitaries everywhere they went, photographed, interviewed and plied with
gifts. The exclusion of the two girls
as therefore embarrassing for Iran
– and big news.
That news spread fast after pictures of a tearful Aysan appeared on
social media. Khuzestan’s provincial governor, Gholamreza Shariati,
stepped in, and a day later led Aysan,
Yeganeh and the vice-president of
Iran’s women’s weightlifting programme, Reyhaneh Tarighat, into
the arena. There were also women
among the spectators, on the results
and media desks and, to the visible
disgust of one of the security men,
even in the VIP seats. Aysan and
Yeganeh gave their performance a
day late, when the men had finished. As the crowd cheered
they became the first female
weightlifters to appear on
Iranian television, live on
state-owned Channel 3,
Xi wins unlimited
in brief stay as president
The 2,970-member National
People’s Congress, China’s legislature, unanimously approved
Xi Jinping’s reappointment as
president, with no limit on the
number of terms he can serve. It
also appointed Wang Qishan, a
close Xi ally, to the formerly ceremonial post of vice-president, with
just one vote against.
Xi, who leads the ruling 90 million-member Communist party,
was also reappointed as head of the
government commission that commands the military. The president
is already head of an identical party
body that oversees the 2 millionstrong armed forces. AP
‘Of a
all the many
women’s projects I
have supported over
the yyears, this one is
most significant’
the m
after w
which they were surrounded
by media
med men and – another first
– wome
The story
made the front page of
national daily newspaper Hamshahri,
hich has
h nearly a million readers.
A call to “let them in” went up as the
issue of women in sport became a hot
topic in the Iranian media.
Shahrokh Shahnazi, secretary genShah
eral of Iran’s Olympic committee,
said the body would be supporting
the women
wom and could one day bid to
host the weightlifting world championships
onships, which have not been held in
Iran in more
than half a century.
The brains
behind the women’s
programme is Ali Moradi, influential
president of the Iranian weightliftpreside
ing federation.
He became convinced
of the n
need for change at the 2016 Rio
Olympics as he watched a teenager in
a hijab, Sara Ahmed, become the first
Egyptian woman to win an Olympic
“We cannot make any progress
ithou the support of men,” said
Tarighat, who has “a vision that in
the futu
future we will become even better than the men’s team”.
Big challenges remain. Women’s
sport is barely ever shown on television in Iran, and women are still forbidden to watch men compete, may
not perform without a hijab, and their
kit must conform to Islamic dress
code. A newly designed weightlifting
costume was sent to the authorities
last Monday: a verdict is due soon.
Iran’s top female footballer,
Niloufar Ardalan, was unable to play
international matches in 2015 when
her husband would not give the
approval she needed, under Islamic
law, to travel to games outside Iran.
She contacted Garza Papandrea to
thank her for her support in weightlifting, and said she wished somebody
would do the same in football.
“There are issues in sport and
gender that are experienced only
in Iran,” said Bahman Baktiari, an
American-Iranian academic who is
executive director of the International
Foundation for Civil Society. He
added: “Islamic restrictions take away
the competitiveness of sport in Iran.”
Garza Papandrea, who is also a
lecturer in political science in Austin,
Texas, said she had been blown away
by the reaction: “Of all the many
women’s projects I have supported
over the years, this one is the most
She and Van de Water wore headscarves for their week in Ahvaz. “I’ll
wear whatever we have to wear, anywhere, if it will help to further women’s weightlifting,” she said. “We’re
talking about developing a long-term
relationship with Iran. If we can help
Iranian women to compete internationally, of course we want to help. ”
Florida survivors in
gun-control plea
At least 14 migrants
die as boat capsizes
Student survivors of last month’s
Florida high school shooting – the
worst in US history – have taken
their message abroad for the first
time, talking about their experience and calling for greater gun
safety measures. The attack at the
Marjory Stoneman Douglas high
school, carried out by a former student wielding an assault-style rifle,
killed 17 people, 14 of them students. Suzanna Barna and Lewis
Mizen, both 17, and Kevin Trejos,
18, spoke in Dubai yesterday at the
Global Education and Skills Forum,
coinciding with the Global Teacher
Prize, awarded to one outstanding
teacher each year. AP
Fourteen people, including at least
four children, drowned when the
small boat they were travelling in
capsized in the Aegean Sea, Greek
coastguard officials said yesterday.
As a search continued, four more
people were unaccounted for.
Those who died had been
migrants trying to cross to safety,
said the official. Three others were
rescued off Greece’s Agathonisi
island, near the Turkish coast. It is
the highest number of migrant casualties in months.
“According to the migrants that
have been rescued, there were 21
people on the boat,” the Greek official said. Reuters
Ursula Garza Papandrea,
WF vvice-president
The Observer
Three-page special report
How Russia’s rich
elite spend their
billions in London
Wealthy oligarchs have become
a fixture of the British landscape
during the past 20 years. But
what do they offer to the country’s
culture, asks the political
campaigner Roman Borisovich
arly in this millennium
an exotic new species
appeared in London.
They were men of the
genus nouveau riche,
but they were different in important ways from other
variations. They flew in private jets.
They were accompanied by fashion models. They were surrounded
by bodyguards, in a country where
the police do not bear arms. Their
brashness as much as their accent
revealed their origin – they came
in from the cold. They were the oligarchs from Russia.
Initially, they were not particularly
welcome in the place they insisted
on calling tumanny (foggy) Albion.
“Shadowy tycoon from Siberia”,
who made his fortune in “murky
oil deals”, was the most flattering
epithet the British press awarded
Roman Abramovich when he offered
to purchase Chelsea FC.
Things changed when the oligarchs started buying the most
expensive properties in London and
Surrey, opening bank accounts for
their companies (many of which
were based in overseas British
island territories) and buying British
football clubs.
Boris Johnson, then mayor of
London, welcomed them in their
language: Dobro pozhalovat!
And they stayed, establishing
property price records year after
year, being chauffeured in customised Mercedes-Maybachs, shopping
in Harrods and dining in restaurants
where only they could afford to eat.
They have been around for almost
20 years, a super-rich colony in the
heart of the capital. Many maintain
ties with Russia and most remain
“non-doms” – a dazzling loophole
in the British tax system.
Meanwhile Londoners eagerly
cater to their needs as butlers and
architects, accountants and lawyers, interior designers and private
tutors, personal shoppers and family officers. But their most important
facilitator has been the UK government itself, which has rolled out the
red carpet to a group whose enormous wealth became part of a narrative about a new golden age for
the capital.
Regardless of which industry the
Russian oligarchs made their fortunes in, their fortunes were not
self-made, in the American sense.
There are no Mark Zuckerbergs or
Sergey Brins among them. Many
made their money through transactions with the government of
Russia – either buying assets from
the government for pennies through
privatisation schemes, or selling assets, goods or services to the
Russian government for a fortune.
Some managed to do both. There
are even those who worked all their
lives for the state-owned companies, and then miraculously became
insanely rich.
Let’s talk about where much
of the money for those expensive
London houses and iceberg basements may have come from. In
2005, for instance, Abramovich sold
Sibneft, the oil company the late
Boris Berezovsky originally created out of a so-called loans-forshares privatisation, to Gazprom,
which is owned by the Russian
state, for $13bn. Alisher Usmanov –
the Uzbek-born business magnate
who built up a 30% stake in Arsenal
football club – meanwhile bought
the metallurgical businesses of
Gazprom’s investment arm, which
laid the foundation of Metalloinvest,
the multibillion-pound holding
company of his immense empire.
Andrey Yakunin’s fund benefited
from the sale of a portfolio of hotels
situated on land plots previously
owned by the Russian state railway monopoly. Ukrainian-born Sir
Leonard Blavatnik privatised the
oil company TNK, together with
his partners Mikhail Fridman and
Victor Vekselberg, in a joint venture with BP. In the end, these partners sold their half to the Russian
state-owned Rosneft for a handsome $55bn.
Accompanying this accumulation of great wealth, there have been
allegations against some oligarchs
of breaches of either criminal, civil
or professional codes, or ethical
norms, at times without foundation. Abramovich was accused by his
ex-partner, Berezovsky, of stealing
his share of Sibneft. Berezovsky lost
his case. But the dramatic trial in
London exposed the protection and
control the Kremlin exercises in the
world of Russian business.
Usmanov, meanwhile, invested
Gazprom’s money in Russian metallurgical businesses. While still
r, he
Gazprom’s investment officer,
then sold these metallurgicall stakes
to a company under his control.
ortfoYakunin acquired a vast portfoentral
lio of hotels located next to central
railway stations in major Russian
regional capitals. The properties
doriginated from the land holdings of the Russian Railways
company, and were built
with the involvement of its
pension fund, which were
both run by Andrey’s father,
Vladimir Yakunin, who
was then chief executive of
Russian Railways.
At times the power of the
Russian state has allegedly cast
its shadow, reportedly aiming
to force BP to sell its interest in
the TNK-BP joint venture. The
Russian government reportedly subjected the joint venow
ture’s management in Moscow
Blavatnik, who
was knighted for
philanthropy in
the UK, and his
wife, Emily.
The Russian
Debutante Ball
is held annually
at London’s
House hotel. Guy
to the kind of pressure you see in
cowboy films. There were 13 raids
by different law enforcement bodies, with masked uniformed officers
holding employees at a gunpoint
while confiscating their documents
and computers. Foreign employee
visas were cancelled. Two employees were arrested on espionage
charges. At the time it was reported
that there was even an alleged
The Observer
‘This was her message
to the world’
The assisted suicide of
a psychiatric patient
Pages 40-41
Boris Berezovsky
made a fortune
from privatised
Russian oil
company Sibneft.
He died in the UK
in 2013. Getty
Chelsea FC’s
owner Roman
Abramovich and
his third wife,
Dasha Zhukova,
before their
separation in
2017. Rex
attempt to poison Robert Dudley,
who was then the head of TNK-BP.
When the beleaguered joint venture was eventually sold, Blavatnik
was one of the three partners massively enriched by the sale. Blavatnik
categorically denies any involvement in the alleged harassment
campaign against BP.
In general, why are Russian oligarchs so welcome in London?
Generally, they do not permanently
reside in the UK. Their businesses
remain in Russia, and their mansions and palaces are owned by offshore companies. Many appear to be
non-doms: many pay UK taxes only
on the tiny fractions of their wealth
that they remit to England in order
to support their living expenses.
Some claim residences in Russia,
Israel, Malta, Cyprus, Austria and so
on. They appear to be suitcase businessmen, typical fantastic beasts.
One explanation is philanthropy.
Most engage in charitable and philanthropic activities here. In some
senses they are model citizens. They
donate to social charities, sponsor the arts and finance educational
institutions. Perhaps they want
to be seen with benevolent deeds
next to their names at the top of the
Google search. The Sunday Times
Giving List ranked Usmanov in the
top 10 most generous philanthropists in the UK by total donations
made in 2016. Abramovich has been
the largest donor to the Fulfilling
Dreams charity, which finances holidays around the world for children
with serious illnesses.
Their fortunes were
not self-made, in the
US sense. There are
no Zuckerbergs or
Brins among them
We need our allies in this crisis
Observer Comment, page 44
Corbyn doesn’t inspire confidence
Andrew Rawnsley, page 45
Russia is not the enemy, Brexiters
Stewart Lee, The New Review, page 3
Blavatnik was knighted for his
philanthropy in the UK. The beneficiaries of his charitable donations –
all bearing his name – were a wing
in Tate Modern, and the School of
Government in Oxford.
It is argued the real tie the oligarchs maintain is to their country’s capital – Moscow, where many
have maintained close connections to power and to the Kremlin.
Abramovich once served two terms
as a governor of the remote far eastern province of Chukotka.
Usmanov has played his part in
the construction of sports venues
for the Sochi Olympics, or the 2018
World Cup.
Some oligarchs are said to provide other services to the Kremlin.
Some finance ultra-right move-
ments; others sponsor anti-EU
thinktanks and publications.
We will now see if the UK government decides to apply pressure on Putin by subjecting some of
the oligarchs and Russian government officials to asset seizures, visa
cancellations and other sanctions.
One lesson the British public must
learn from observing the oligarchs
is that they do not add value to the
economy or society to the degree
that is being presented by some
The money of the Russian superrich is not critical for survival of the
economy of Great Britain. In the current state of Russo-British economic
relations, many argue they bring little revenue to the City banks, and
almost no foreign trade, employment or investment. Their contribution to the tax bill appears to be
limited. What’s more, they come
from a business culture said to be
eroded by the corrupt regime back
at home. Their philanthropic activities may even lead to public relations debacles for their beneficiaries.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin asked: what
is to be done? It would be crazy,
illiberal and impractical to boot
these fantastic beasts out of Britain.
But while they live among us we
should not be scared to enter their
lairs and investigate how they flourish, and who feeds them.
Roman Borisovich, who is a former
insurance executive, set up and organised
Kleptocracy Tours to support his
coalition’s campaign against money
laundering in the UK. Follow him on
Twitter @r_borisovich
The Observer
Three-page special report
Vladimir Putin
greets young
supporters as
he arrives for a
campaign rally
at Luzhniki
stadium in
Moscow earlier
this month.
by Mikhail
Generation Putin will vote
for leader it grew up with
Russia’s presidential
poll today is certain to
return Vladimir Putin
to the Kremlin, reports
Andrew Roth in Moscow.
His most fervent
support is to be found
among the young
en years ago the
words “Putin generation” evoked images of
Kremlin-backed youth
supporters, teenage
shock troops hounding Estonian diplomats in Moscow
and holding summer camps
immersed in ideology at the picturesque Lake Seliger.
Fast-forward a decade and it’s
more likely to look like Marina
Konovalova, a smiling, 19-yearold fine arts student from Tver,
a city of 400,000 north-west of
Moscow, who can’t remember any
other leader than Vladimir Putin.
She plans to vote for him in today’s
presidential elections.
That will put Putin in power at
least through Konovalova’s mid20s, a time when she expects that
she’ll be starting a family and opening her own visual design studio in
Moscow, if she can cobble together
the money.
Konovalova is not a dyed-in-thewool supporter of the president. But
she is emblematic of a generation
that sees him as an immovable part
of the political landscape. And until
someone much better comes along,
she said, she does not see a reason
to rebel.
“Why replace him? I see loads of
progress,” said Konovalova, sitting
in a Starbucks on Moscow’s White
Square. Across Tverskaya Street, a
statue to Maxim Gorky, the writer
and revolutionary, has been restored
after a 30-year absence. “I think
people focus too much on Putin.
What does Putin mean for me in my
everyday life? He’s not setting the
prices or telling me who to see or
what to wear. And I just try to think
every day: if I want to be happy, I
have to make myself happy.”
Once or twice a month,
Konovalova takes a shabby commuter train to Tver, where her
mother works at a medical clinic.
She’ll listen to music on the way on
her iPhone, mostly foreign pop. She
likes Lorde, and will sometimes opt
for 1980s dance hits. Then with a
flash of faux-guilt, she added: “OK,
I’ll put some Russian pop on sometimes, too. It reminds me of being
a kid.”
“Change takes time and I know
everything’s not perfect,” she said.
“But I just get so mad when people say they want to move away and
leave Russia. It kills me. It’s such
a lazy response. OK, something’s
awful. Let’s fix it.”
The Putin generation does not
have a single political position.
Membership is not optional. All
young Russians, those who support
Putin or oppose Putin, have been
influenced by his long-term merger
with the state.
“Putin is the only myth that they
have and they have no idea what
‘Putin is the only
myth they have and
they have no idea
what Russia would
be without him’
Konstantin Gaaze, reporter
Russia would be without him,”
said Konstantin Gaaze, a reporter
and political commentator at the
Carnegie Moscow Centre.
We expect youth to bring rebellion, as it did in the 1960s, and that
young people will reject the values
of their parents. A popular international relations theory says that as
a country becomes more wealthy,
and in their lifetimes the children
of the Putin generation have done,
they shed authoritarianism and
seek freedom.
But the statistics say otherwise.
Russians aged 18-24 are more likely
to support Putin than their parents or any other previous generation, more likely to think the country
is going in the right direction, and
more likely to think the current
Russian system of government is
superior to western alternatives (or
the Soviet Union).
“They are more supportive of
the system, although just by a bit,”
said Denis Volkov, a sociologist and
expert at the Levada Centre, which
collected the data. Like young people elsewhere, they are also less
likely to vote.
But unlike during the Soviet
Union, young Russians don’t take
the current political system to also
mean isolation. Brought up with
the internet, they are steeped from
a young age in foreign popular
films and music, while maintaining strong cultural ties to traditional
Russian media. To a certain degree,
young Russians can leave Russia
without travelling abroad.
“Children of the millennial generation, in Russia and in other
countries, have seen economic
improvement in their life, and
that’s really the key,” said Evgeniya
Shamis, the founder and coordinator of the RuGenerations project.
To Shamis, millennials from
Russia and abroad are the “most
pro-government generation”
because of their high expectations
for the state to address their needs.
In Putin, she said, young people
looking for purpose could find a
baby-boomer extolling big ideas.
The Kremlin is concerned about
tying young people to the state
before the next round of elections in
2024. “We need young people to
buy into the system before Putin
goes,” a person close to the Kremlin
said in December. He asked not
to be identified in order to
speak candidly.
A report with polling data quietly
commissioned by the government
and obtained by the Observer concluded, after dozens of focus groups,
that Russians were optimistic but
“can’t imagine practically how to
advance from their current situation
to the ‘abstract’ future”.
Alexander Shepelev, a 22-yearold supporter of Alexei Navalny, the
opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, recently joined
hundreds of other young students
to prepare to travel as an elections
observer to the North Caucasus for
today’s vote.
Young people have emerged as
a driving force in Russia’s opposition movement. Just six years ago,
observers were stunned by middle-class office workers joining the
protest scene. Last year it was highschool and college students who
shut down a central Moscow thoroughfare. Many are boycotting the
vote and signing up as election
observers instead.
“I remember when I was 12,”
Shepelev said, “and I saw how
[Dmitry] Medvedev came to power,
but I knew that Vladimir Putin was
still running the country.”
Was he already against Putin at
that moment? “I didn’t really support anyone,” he said. “But I understood that nobody knew who
Medvedev was. Even a 12-yearold like me understood what
was happening.”
The Observer
Chef shortage
The golden age of eating out is
under threat because there aren’t
enough trained chefs and waiters
to go round. Can the great staffing
crisis be fixed? Tim Lewis reports
t was, says chef patron Alexis Gauthier,
“not the last resort”, but almost. Last September,
he needed to fill three positions at his central
London restaurant, Gauthier Soho: a pastry
chef; a chef de partie, to head up one of the
stations in the kitchen; and a sommelier.
Gauthier has held a Michelin star since 2011,
but that is not enough of an enticement in an
age where new restaurants seem to open every
hour and there are not enough trained chefs
and waiters to go round. Gauthier, a 44-year-old
from Provence, decided to sweeten the deal:
the winning candidates would each receive
a £1,000 “golden handshake” in return for
committing to work for one year.
The unusual offer received some industry
press and Gauthier, who has worked in London
for 20 years, was pleased with the response.
There were some strong applicants and all the
spots were taken up within two weeks.
Six months on, I check in with Gauthier: how
are they getting on? “All three did not last,” he
sighs. “One left after a week. The other two
left after two and three months.” Each had
their reasons: one chef went home to France,
the other returned to Italy and the sommelier
decided to go back to studying oenology.
Gauthier doesn’t take the rejection
personally and prides himself on being a fair
boss. “I used to be an employee for many years
myself, so the day I became an employer I did
not want to be a bastard,” he says. Gauthier
pays his staff comparatively well: they also
receive a private pension, health insurance and
each has access to a research and development
fund, for trying out other restaurants and
bakeries, that pays out between £250 and
£1,000 a month per person, depending on
experience. One pâtissier and sommelier saved
up their stipends and went to eat at Eleven
Madison Avenue in New York. Gauthier says:
“We try to make sure they can develop their
professional career with our help.”
That, however, does not seem to be enough
in 2018. In one way, Gauthier concedes that he
is lucky: he is first and foremost a chef, so if he
is one or two down in the kitchen – which is
the case most days – he can fill in. Gauthier
Soho does around 100 covers a day (50 for
lunch, 50 for dinner) and, if really stretched, he
can remove one dish from the menu and the
quality of the service is not compromised. “As »
Eddie Ward from
The Observer | OFM | 18.03.18
The Observer | OFM | 18.03.18
Tim Lewis on
the staffing
crisis facing
trade. Can it
be fixed?
page 42
We restaurateurs are all
hopeless optimists. But
this is a cry for your help
On Mother’s Day last
week more than a third
of bookings at one
popular London eaterie
did not turn up. Chef
Jackson Boxer explains
why the beleaguered
industry cannot
sustain such losses
here’s a specific feeling, not unlike vertigo, when it suddenly
hits home, mid-service, that you’ve been
comprehensively had.
A stomach-loosening, head-reeling,
doors-of-perception-opening hit of
pure visceral nausea, as the reality
of a total stitch-up dawns upon you.
One hour in, half of your expected
and confirmed guests have not
arrived, and you aren’t taking concerned calls. The nightmare unfolds.
Last Sunday was a Sunday like
any other, only more so. Mother’s
Day is typically a busy and jolly
affair, as mums are pretty universally popular, many people are fortunate enough to have one, and
a high proportion of those take
the opportunity to celebrate the
fact over lunch. At my restaurant
Brunswick House, in Vauxhall,
London, (a somewhat over-decorated Georgian mansion doubling as
dining room and architectural salvage yard), we probably had about
twice the amount of diners booked
in as usual, and had corralled all
available staff, filled the kitchen’s
fridges, emptied New Covent Garden
market of flowers, and generally
rolled out the barrel. All morning as
we busied away, anxious guests calling to beg a spare table were regretfully disappointed, and all the guests
who’d reserved tables, many weeks
ahead, were called to confirm their
expected arrival time, allergies, and
so on. However, by about 1pm it
was clear something was up. Guests
were not appearing. They were suddenly not taking or returning our
calls. This was the moment my head
started spinning, and the sharp, biting pang of my least favourite gastric ulcer started nibbling away. I
clutched on to the nearest stainless
steel counter, seeing exactly what
was coming.
It is, in some ways, a golden age
of British dining. The renaissance
of committed, talented and diverse
producers and growers all over the
isles has given us a range of extraordinary produce. Equally, the adventurousness of the British palate,
following years of greatly reduced
travel costs and relative prosperity,
not to mention a cosmopolitan attitude to other cultures settling here,
has opened diners’ eyes to the wonders of myriad flavours beyond the
old stalwarts of trad British cuisine.
On the other hand, I have never
known a more difficult period for
restaurants, at least from an operational perspective, which is why,
in some ways, the occasion of the
recent Mother’s Day massacre felt
more concerning than any of the
many crises I’ve had to face down in
the last decade of life in restaurants.
There are a few well-documented
problems with the independent restaurant model. Rents and rates,
especially in London, have for the
last few years been growing out
of all proportion to inflation. VAT,
which penalises restaurants heavily, as much of what they purchase
cannot be reclaimed (food is bought
zero-rated, but restaurants have to
sell it with the tax added), went up
some time ago to 20%. Living costs
in London are, as with rent, escalating at a rate which necessitates
The Observer
Jackson Boxer
fears restaurants
like his will
not survive
being ‘cynically
Photograph by
Vicki Couchman/
Camera Press
the first time in our lives felt truly
at home. The lucky and the plucky
(or perhaps just unlucky and pigheaded) found, after a period of
rapt tutelage, a way to open a small
place of our own, and stuck out the
remorseless hours and shattering
disappointments of launching your
first venture long enough to get on a
steady course and achieve the mythical point to which all hash-slingers
aspire, the break-even.
That’s the truth, ultimately. We’re
all hopeless optimists who drag ourselves through every long and burdensome day for the pleasure of
seeing guests smile in the candlelight at the end of it. It’s pathetic
really, how hard we work just for a
few gracious words of thanks, and
the odd cash tip. Because it really
would be foolish to hope for anything more. Small independent restaurants have never been profit
machines; there’s no way they could
be. Our honest and humble ambition is to set a table in a nice-looking
room, cook you a tasty dinner, leave
you to have a lovely time, then wash
up after you leave.
We lost a lot of money last
Sunday from standing around
for guests who never showed –
a full 36% of our bookings
a constant climb in staff wages.
Ingredient costs have also been
soaring, especially staples like flour
and dairy. The falling pound has
pushed up the price of wine dramatically, and the weak economy
has seriously damaged our diners’
sense that what little of their income
remains after essentials have been
accounted for is best spent eating
out. On top of this, there have never
been more restaurants trading, nor
fewer skilled staff to prop them
up, fighting over a rapidly declining audience, all of which feels like
some heavy weather is brewing.
Of course, none of us got into
this to make money. There are very
few restaurateurs who could be
described as wealthy, and that number becomes vanishingly small when
you exclude those who made their
fortunes before they got into restaurateurs. Largely we do this because,
through some youthful and naive
indiscretion, we found ourselves in
a kitchen, or on a dining room floor,
felt the buzz of being surrounded by
happy, chattering strangers, and for
We lost a lot of money last
Sunday, from all the wasted food
and fruitless labour, preparing and
standing around for many guests
who never showed, a full 36% of our
bookings. Sure, we recouped a few
walk-ins, but that will probably be
the last time we resist the miserable
and pernicious course of demanding
a deposit and imposing a no-show
charge. Restaurants are expensive,
but so is much of modern life, and
the heavy competition demands that
we keep our margins as low as possible without giving our suppliers
cause to think we might renege on
our monthly bills.
I have a few dark and mordant
views on the direction this country is going: however it is my hope
that we can snatch a few moments
of decent, life-affirming restaurantbased escapism on our path into the
great collective unknown. I’m not a
great believer in letting daylight in
upon magic, or revealing the drudgery that goes on behind the scenes
to keep the show going on, night
after night, but if guests are going
to start cynically screwing us, without a thought to the implication,
then I feel duty bound to issue this
cry for help. We need you. But you
need us also. Now possibly more
than at any time in recent memory.
And as depressingly inured as we’ve
become to stories of corporate greed
and egregious profiteering, not all
private enterprise exists to rip you
off, or even profit at all. Some of us
just really like the punishment. But
please, don’t add insult to injury.
Jackson Boxer is founder and
chef-patron of Brunswick House
restaurant in London
Trump gathers
a den of hawks
in his own image
As the president tells
his latest victim ‘you’re
fired’, US foreign policy
is likely to become
ever more extreme,
writes Julian Borger
in Washington
he end, when it comes
to a job in the Trump
administration, can be
messy and brutal. The
secretary of state, Rex
Tillerson, was fired
last week while returning from a
gruelling Africa tour not long after
the death of his father.
When he complained through an
aide about the summary manner
of his dismissal, the White House
stuck the boot in, telling journalists
that the 66 year-old former Texan
oil executive had been fired by telephone while sitting on the toilet, suffering from a stomach bug,
according to the Daily Beast.
On Friday, deputy FBI director
Andrew McCabe was sacked two
days before he would have qualified
for a full pension. The official reason
was that he’d talked to the press and
then not been forthcoming about
it. McCabe said he was targeted
because he is a potential witness
in the special counsel investigation
into collusion between the Trump
election campaign and the Kremlin.
ctims had
The two most recent victims
lic speculato endure months of public
ity. The
tion about their job security
o the
same is happening now to
national security adviser, HR
d to
McMaster, widely reported
be the next on the chopping
The constant speculation and uncertainty is
all part of the Trump circus, a reminder that,
sialthough his property business resulted in repeated
bankruptcies, he was suc-cessful as a reality show host.
wThere are distinctions, howingever, between Trump as ringmaster on The Apprentice and
President Trump.
One of them is that, in real
life, he never fires his sub-as
ordinates in person but has
the news delivered by an
aide, preferably when the
recipient is a long way from
Washington. More impor-onger
tantly, the carnival is no longer
contained within a showbusiness bubble but rip-
ples across the world, with very real
Trump has claimed that the constant churn has a purpose: the creation of an administration in his own
image. He told reporters this past
week he was finally “close to having
the cabinet that I want”.
Trump is remodelling his administration in his own image, replacing
top officials who were hired because
of their private sector reputations
with people who have less stature
but are more loyal and more attuned
to the president’s gut instincts.
Thus Gary Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs who left
after Trump announced the introduction of steel tariffs, is being
supplanted by a television commentator, Larry Kudlow, who is more
enthusiastic about protectionism.
In foreign policy, the new Trump
Unbound era looks to be more confrontational. At the state department, Tillerson’s job is being taken
by the CIA director, Mike Pompeo,
who is considerably more hawkish than his predecessor on Iran
and North Korea. Pompeo is adept
at echoing the president’s thinking
and delivering morning Oval Office
intelligence briefings in a lively
enough manner to keep the president’s attention.
One of the candidates to replace
McMaster is John Bolton, a Bush-era
hawk who has advocated bombing
North Korea and wielding American
military might elsewhere rather
than getting bogged down in multilateral agreements.
Donald Trump
last week
Rex Tillerson
as secretary
of state.
The chill of the new era was
immediately felt in Europe. On
Thursday, two days after Tillerson’s
dismissal, diplomats from the US,
Europe, Russia, China and Iran
gathered in Vienna for a discussion
on the future of the nuclear deal
they had signed in 2015. The agreement was initially heralded by its
signatories as a major diplomatic
achievement, but in the group picture on Thursday, the participants
looked grim.
Trump has made no secret that
he wants to kill the deal. Tillerson
had been a critic but had argued for
its retention because its collapse
would trigger a slide back to nuclear
confrontation in the Middle East.
Trump cited differences over the
Iran deal as one of the motives for
getting rid of Tillerson.
“I wanted to either break it or do
something, and he felt a little bit differently,” the president said. “So we
were not really thinking the same.
With Mike Pompeo, we have a very
similar thought process.”
James Carafano, the vice president
of the Heritage Foundation, said
that Tillerson’s firing demonstrated
Trump’s increased confidence in
his own instincts on foreign policy. Tillerson and other top aides
had told Trump that his decision to
move the US embassy to Jerusalem
would spark an eruption of unrest
across the Middle East. But the
actual response was muted.
“The one thing that Trump may
have figured – he does a lot of this
stuff, and there are bad outcomes
and they are not necessarily apocalyptic outcomes,” said Daniel
Drezner, international politics professor at the Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Similarly, the president was
warned that his bellicose rhetoric
on North Korea risked triggering a
violent backlash from Pyongyang
but instead Kim Jong-un has invited
him to talks.
“I think we are entering a phase
where he is becoming more
confident about his foreign policy
views,” said Julianne Smith, a former
senior national security council
official now at the Center for a New
American Security. “It’s clear he is
proud of what he views as a victory in securing a meeting with
the North Koreans. He thinks that
is because of his own aggressive
A Trump-Kim summit offers
the potential of a dramatic breakthrough but carries a high risk of
failure if it turns out the North
Korean leader is not cowed by
threats and sanctions.
A failure to reach agreement
could lead both leaders to feel
slighted and goaded into raising
the stakes. And where Tillerson
was a voice of restraint, Pompeo,
an advocate of regime change in
Pyongyang, is more likely to encourage brinksmanship.
Ultimately Trump will have
to decide whether he is ready
to use the weapons he has
been brandishing, with all the
implications that would have for his
America-first aspirations.
The Observer
The Hague’s
the heart of
government in
the Netherlands.
Nearby, the End
of Life Clinic.
‘I’m getting ready for
my trip now. Thank
you for everything...’
Aurelia Brouwers, aged 29, was allowed to end
her life at a Dutch euthanasia clinic because she
suffered long-term depression. Her case is raising
questions about the country’s assisted-suicide
laws, writes Harriet Sherwood from The Hague
t 2pm on 26 January,
Aurelia Brouwers lay
down on her bed to
die. Clutching a toy
pink dinosaur and listening to her favourite music, the 29-year-old drank
her prescribed medication as close
friends gathered round. “She asked
me to lie next to her. She had a smile
on her face, and then she went softly
into sleep,” Sjoukje Willering told
the Observer. “It was very serene and
calm. It was beautiful.”
Four hours earlier, Brouwers
had posted her last message on
Facebook. “I’m getting ready for my
trip now. Thank you so much for
everything. I’m no longer available from now on.” Brouwers died at
home in the small Netherlands town
of Deventer less than a month after
being declared eligible for euthanasia under the country’s 2002
Termination of Life on Request
and Assisted Suicide Act, which
permits the ending of lives where
The clinic is in
an unassuming
building in the
north of the
city, close to
a number of
there is “unbearable suffering” without hope of relief. Her death has
triggered a fierce debate in a country that has one of the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world.
For not only was Brouwers young,
she did not have a terminal disease such as cancer. She suffered
from psychiatric illnesses, including severe anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychosis. She
self-harmed and had attempted suicide numerous times. She had spent
nearly three years as an inpatient
at a psychiatric hospital, and had
served time in prison for arson.
Some say Brouwers’s death is a
terrible illustration of the “slippery
slope” inevitably associated with
euthanasia legislation. Others who
supported legalisation now also fear
it has gone too far. Her supporters
see her case as an important prec-
edent, an escape to those in hopeless situations. “Every day was so
hard. She was in a deep black hole,”
said Willering. “She said it felt like a
hundred knives being stabbed into
her head. She never had a moment
of doubt that she wanted it to end.”
Her death was inevitable, one way or
another, she added. “But she wanted
the right to die with dignity, and she
wanted other psychiatric patients to
know that they also have a choice.
This was her message to the world.”
This month, annual figures from
the bodies which review euthanasia cases in the Netherlands showed
an 8.1% increase in assisted deaths
in 2017, taking the total to nearly
6,600 people. It came on top of a
10% annual increase the previous
year. The vast majority had cancer,
heart and arterial disease, or diseases of the nervous system, such
as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. But 169 had dementia, up from
141 the previous year. And 83 had
investigation began into a 74-yearold woman with dementia who had
requested euthanasia before her illness became severe. Confused and
agitated, she had to be restrained
by family members to allow a lethal
injection to be administered.
The focus of the current review
of Brouwers’s death is a large redbrick house in The Hague, close
to a clutch of museums in the
north of the city. It houses the
Levenseindekliniek – End of Life
Clinic – a last resort for those who
have been refused euthanasia elsewhere. Brouwers came here after
failing to convince her own doctors
and psychiatrists that she met the
criteria for euthanasia. According
to Steven Pleiter, the clinic’s avuncular director, a doctor and a nurse
assessed Brouwers and built a relationship with her over a long period.
Her case was also reviewed by a
multidisciplinary group at the clinic.
“Aurelia was known to us for years.
‘People are getting used to
euthanasia – and that is exactly
what should not be happening’
Professor Theo Boer
severe psychiatric illnesses – up
from 64 in 2016. “Supply has created
demand,” said Professor Theo Boer,
who supported the 2002 legislation but resigned from a regulatory
body in 2014 amid concern about
rising numbers. “We’re getting used
to euthanasia, that is exactly what
should not happen. We’re no longer
speaking about the exceptional situations that the law was created
for, but a gradual process towards
organised death.”
The review bodies found that in
99.8% of cases, euthanasia was carried out in line with legal guidelines.
However, Dutch prosecutors have
recently opened criminal investigations into four cases, and last year an
She was young but had already been
suffering for a long time. Our processes are very careful,” Pleiter said.
The Levenseindekliniek has 62
doctor-nurse teams working parttime, but is on a significant recruitment drive to meet the spiralling
demand for euthanasia. In 2012,
the first year it was open, the clinic
helped 32 people to die. Last year
the figure was 750. But, Pleiter
pointed out, that was only 30%
of 2,500 applicants. One in every
four does not meet the legal criteria, another 25% withdraw their
request, and 20% die while their
cases are being evaluated. Last year
9% of those undergoing euthanasia through the clinic had psychiat-
The Observer
The law elsewhere…
ric illnesses and 10% had dementia.
The costs are covered by the country’s health insurance system.
“Death by euthanasia is 4% of all
deaths in the Netherlands. Is that a
slippery slope? I don’t think so,” said
Pleiter. Much of the demand was
coming from the baby-boomer generation, he added. “They are thinking differently about the way life
ends. God and religion are less dominant in their lives. They want more
autonomy. But every case is unique.”
The decision Brouwers had
waited so long for came on New
Year’s Eve. It was “the best present
I could have”, she wrote. “She was
very happy, but she also had some
hard moments, knowing she had to
say goodbye to friends and family,”
said Willering. “She was very open
about it. You could ask her at any
moment, ‘Aurelia, is this really what
you want?’ and she would say, ‘Yes,
I want to die.’ ” Another friend, Toon
Krijthe, also at her bedside when
she died, said: “I was glad for her,
because I knew this was her only
option – and I knew if it wasn’t a
yes, she would find another way.”
Brouwers spent the days until
26 January saying goodbye to
friends and working on a television
documentary that was broadcast
after her death. “She also visited the
crematorium to plan and rehearse
her funeral,” Krijthe said. “She
believed in God, and she prayed, but
she didn’t go to church.”
On the appointed day, two doctors from the Levenseindekliniek
were present as Brouwers swallowed the liquid medication prescribed for her. “It took about 10 or
15 minutes for her to fall into sleep.
She was very ready for it,” Willering
said. She was cremated a week later.
Within the Netherlands, it was a
huge news story. “Personally I sympathise with her, and I’m happy she
got a humane death,” said Boer, who
teaches ethics at the Theological
Brouwers, who
chose to end
her life at 29.
‘She wanted to
die with dignity,’
said a friend.
Linelle Deuk
University of Kampen. “But
culturally, I’m concerned that her
death is being portrayed as a brave
solution to severe suffering. She had
huge support on social media.
“A border is being crossed
between individual empathy and
societal acceptance. If it becomes a
societal norm that a person who has
a psychiatric condition can opt to
die, that is a problem.”
owever, according
to Professor Agnes
van der Heide, an
end-of-life expert at
Erasmus University
in Rotterdam, public opinion surveys show “a substantial proportion of our population
think the law should be even more
liberal – especially with regard to
dementia”. Many who see their parents or grandparents in the grip of
advanced dementia wish to opt out
of such a bleak end-of-life scenario
for themselves.
Not all doctors agree. Last year a
group of 220 took out a newspaper
advertisement saying they would
refuse to euthanise patients with
dementia who were unable to give
verbal consent, even if the individual
had signed a declaration of wishes
in advance. “Our moral abhorrence
at ending the life of a defenceless
person is too great,” they wrote.
“It’s difficult to see how you can
administer a lethal injection to a
patient who doesn’t understand
what you’re doing. So there is a conflict between doctors and the public,” said Van der Heide.
Yet some want to go even further. Pia Dijkstra, an MP and member of the centrist-liberal D66 party,
has proposed a law allowing anyone over 75, without a diagnosis of
physical or mental illness, to request
euthanasia. “There is a growing
number of older people who want
to decide themselves how their
life should end – how, when and
where, and in a dignified way. They
The Netherlands, Belgium and
Luxembourg all have permissive
laws on assisted dying and
voluntary euthanasia, based on
applicants’ suffering, and restricted
to citizens of those countries.
Switzerland allows assisted
dying on compassionate grounds,
and some clinics there, such as
Dignitas, accept people who are
not Swiss residents.
More restrictive laws exist
elsewhere: assisted dying is legal in
six US states (California, Colorado,
Montana, Oregon, Vermont and
Washington) plus Washington DC;
in Canada; and in the Australian
state of Victoria (after a campaign,
pictured above). New Zealand is
considering legislation. These are
based on the “Oregon model”,
which permits assisted dying for
people with a terminal illness who
are mentally competent and have a
defined life expectancy.
In 2015, MPs in the UK voted
against an assisted dying bill by
330 votes to 118. The campaign
group Dignity in Dying advocates
a law based on the Oregon model,
covering people with less than six
months to live. “Aurelia Brouwers
made her choice in a very different
legal context from the one we are
campaigning for,” said Tom Davies
of Dignity in Dying. The group is
supporting Noel Conway, 68, who
has motor neurone disease and
has mounted a lawsuit to allow him
a “peaceful and dignified death”
by taking medication prescribed
by a doctor. The court of appeal is
expected to hear his case in May.
feel their life has been good but it’s
now complete. They want control.
The existing euthanasia law doesn’t
meet their needs,” she said.
A study is to be carried out
before a bill goes to parliament,
but Dijkstra said the proposal had
the support of 60-70% of the public, with some arguing for no age
restriction. “I have had an enormous
number of emails and letters from
elderly people who want this possibility. But it’s important to have
a good debate. And it’s so important to let older people know they
are valued by society, and that this
should be their choice.”
Euthanasia advocates say people are helped to die regardless of
the law. “About 80% of cases are
reported to the review committees,
which means 20% are not,” said Van
der Heide. Some were in the area of
so-called mercy killings, carried out
by medical staff or family members;
some involve palliative sedation, to
relieve suffering but which ends in
death. Penney Lewis, head of the
Centre of Medical Law and Ethics
at King’s College London, said:
“Underground euthanasia happens
in permissive and prohibitive jurisdictions. It happens everywhere.”
Despite the permissiveness of
Dutch law, many applicants are
refused, she said. “There is a lot of
debate among Dutch doctors about
what constitutes unbearable and
hopeless suffering. But I think a
model based on suffering is preferable to one based on a diagnosis.
“I’m not convinced by the ‘slippery slope’ argument. Of course,
there’s evidence that the more
people understand that this is an
option, a greater proportion will
avail themselves of it.”
The “normalisation” of euthanasia is of deep concern to Boer. “It is
not good for society to have organised death facilitated by the state.
A culture of euthanasia undermines
our capacity to deal with suffering,
and that is very bad for society.”
The Observer
The picturesque
Trough of
Bowland is
an Area of
Natural Beauty.
How hidden jewel of northern
landscape came into its own
A house-price boom in
Lancashire has shone
a spotlight on the
Forest of Bowland.
Kevin McKenna visits a
region on the rise, with
an ancient history
he north-west is
awake once more and
returning to enchant
England on the wings
of the most unlikely
of property booms.
Significant rises in house prices in
Blackburn and its surrounds are
occurring while London’s building
bonanza has gone into reverse.
Estate agents are predicting an
average UK growth of around 14% in
house prices over the next five years
with the north-west experiencing a
boom at 18%. In contrast London,
where it once seemed a dog kennel could fetch more than a semidetached in Blackburn, is expected
to slip back to around 7%.
The experts have cited an assortment of familiar-sounding property
market forces such as the shock of
Brexit and the pleasing design and
geographical layout of new housing
estates in and around places such
as Blackburn. The north-west of
England though, possesses natural
and historic charms that are much
more enduring than these. The
Forest of Bowland, whose southern fringe is barely nine miles from
Blackburn, is among the finest.
There can be few more historic
villages in England than Slaidburn,
in the heart of the Ribble valley. Its
population of just over 300 wakes
up each morning to its own gilded
expanse of England’s built heritage.
In this Lancashire village, that can
trace its lineage to before the Magna
Carta, 50 properties are on the
National Heritage List. This includes
the Grade I-listed St Andrew’s
church complete with its dreamy
churchyard where the deceased rest
in the lee of some of the grandest
vistas the country has to offer.
Churchyards are the most quintessentially English places and none
more so than the one at Slaidburn.
On Friday a tractor and plough trundled past and the shadows of cattle dotted the surrounding slopes.
Everywhere there are echoes of
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard, that most
English of poems.
This village is one of a dozen or so
that form the Forest of Bowland, a
beautiful wilderness designated an
area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
in 1964. No printed description can
ever do this Lancastrian treasure
justice. Turning off the M6 around
50 miles south of Carlisle you are
soon into a natural landscape never
hinted at by the anodyne flats that
flank the motorway. This takes you
through the Yorkshire Dales, whose
bleak enchantments prepare you for
the barren beauty of Bowland and
its stone villages.
Vicky Wood has run the Hark to
Bounty inn in the village with her
partner Nick Hays for 14 years, and
can never see herself leaving. “It’s
the most beautiful place in England,”
she says. “When you’ve experienced
this place you never really want to
leave. But it’s not just the outstanding natural beauty, it’s the community spirit around here.”
A brisk walk around Slaidburn
confirms this. Everyone greets you
and you silently rebuke yourself for
ever having entertained the northern stereotype of dour, brusque
and surly. This is the backbone of
England, and where its hearts of oak
were truly formed.
Wood and her family all hail from
here – the majority of local people are from families who have
been here for centuries. Yet rather
than turn in on themselves, they
are eager to share the benefits of
the forest. “We don’t regard ourselves as remote in any way,” she
says. “We’re really not that far from
the major roads and we’re noticing
more walkers, cyclists and anglers.”
The Rev Jonathan Oldfield has
been parish priest of St Andrew’s
for two years. He, too, acknowledges the spirit of the area. His
is the largest parish in England,
covering 70,000 square miles.
“It’s a very friendly and engaging
place and very welcoming,” he says.
“It’s an estate village belonging to
the local squire who owns most
of the properties, but they offer
affordable rents for young families.”
The grim stereotypes of fond
dilettante southern imagination depict the north as a dark and
grimy hinterland of eternal winter
with strange dialects and customs.
Forest of Bowland
Trough of Bowland
50 km
50 miles
Modern northern literature inadvertently feeds such notions in its
urgent desire to convey the reality of
a different, less anointed England.
As recently as 2014 Melvyn Bragg
said: “I’m not a fan of the working
class being mocked, including by
some of our famous writers … even
by those who came from it. All this
‘it’s grim oop North’ sort of stuff.
Well it was a joke once, but we’ve got
to the stage where the working class
has been turned into a cliche and it
deserves a lot better.”
In 2003 I encountered a young
professional couple from Blackburn
who were visiting my home city of
Glasgow. They trashed their own
city, telling me that I “could walk
through the town centre without
seeing a white face”.
I mumbled something about
Glasgow being proud of its ethnic
diversity and shuffled away. Yet their
views chimed with a siren narrative
then beginning to take root in the
north-west and which for a while
flourished in the racist outpourings
of the BNP.
It picked up several local council seats in Burnley, Bradford and
Blackburn at around this time as it
exploited white, working class insecurity and shifted their resentment
away from far more deserving targets in Westminster.
Now London is bearing the ill
effects of Brexit uncertainty and
people are looking north again to
the old industrial cities which suffered in post-industrial decline. The
dark satanic mills may be about
to experience some sunlight, but
the countryside surrounding them
never lost its delights – it’s just that
England forgot them.
Now they too are ready to welcome people back.
The Sunday Essay
A dangerous virus,
as yet unknown, has
the potential to wipe
out millions. Why are
public health bodies so
mired in complacency?
A glorious distraction no more,
the beautiful game is turning ugly
sport committee reviewing his and the FA’s pathetic
handling of a discrimination case against Eni Aluko, a
striker for the England women’s team. The interrogation
revealed deep and institutionalised forms of sexism and
racism in the FA. In government and in football, as in so
many areas of our lives, we continue to allocate power
from this narrow stratum of the mediocre and the overpromoted, and let them degenerate into bullies.
Once millions turned to football
as a release from foul reality. But
increasingly, the national pastime
simply reflects wider social ills
n 27 June 2016, four days after the
EU referendum, England were beaten 2-1 by Iceland
in the knockout stages of the European football
championships. It was a remarkable display of collective
paralysis and the corrosive consequences of fear. Nearly
two years later, the country does not appear dissimilar:
less than the sum of its parts, bereft of a guiding
collective philosophy, close to humiliation and going out
of Europe.
Fortunate as we are to have such an accurate avatar
of our lives, it makes me wonder whether football’s
uncanny capacity to reflect our social identities and
collective moods is also a curse. Many of us, myself
included, still look to football as an entertainment,
a glorious illusion, a soap opera of distraction. Even
though we all know that the spectacle is deformed by
the worlds of commerce and politics, we still want to
disappear into the zone of play, pleasure and irrelevance:
at the game, on the screen, lost in our noisy Twitter
feeds. But this season, reality just keeps on intruding,
and I don’t want to look.
Sometimes, it’s just the parallels that strike one. The
domination by Manchester City (owner: Abu Dhabi’s
Sheikh Mansour) of the Premier League displays the
same brazen invulnerability of the global super-rich; we
keep watching, as with poverty-porn shows, to see who
among the poor and vulnerable will be dispatched. More
seriously, the exposure of football’s appalling record on
safeguarding and the widespread incidence of sexual
abuse in the game, is just one gruesome version of the
same tale told across innumerable institutions. As the
legal cases resulting from the Hillsborough inquiry drag
on, almost 29 years since the tragedy, one wonders how
the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster must rate their
chances of truth and justice.
In the past couple of weeks, the real world has
been more tangibly present. Consider just these
three incidents. The foreign secretary, in response to
the nerve agent attacks in Salisbury, has declared a
dignitary boycott of the World Cup and others have
followed his lead by calling for a sporting boycott.
Martin Glenn, chief executive of the FA, in a wearily
familiar cycle of unreflective discriminatory statements
followed by clumsy apologies, equated the swastika
with the Star of David before rushing off to clarify
things. The owners of West Ham United, in the middle
of the team’s thrashing by Burnley, were forced to leave
their seats at the Olympic stadium when faced with a
very angry fan protest.
One could read the foreign secretary’s seeming
enthusiasm for a World Cup boycott as a welcome
recognition of the intertwining of sport, politics
and human rights; a backhanded apology by the
Conservatives to the sporting politics of the antiapartheid movement, which they so venomously
opposed. It is, in fact, just an expression of Britain’s
international weakness, an indicator of how few
diplomatic and political options we have. The sporting
equivalent of our schoolboy secretary of defence telling
the Russian state to “shut up!” and “go away!”
It also highlights our hypocrisy. We may not be
sending the House of Windsor to Russia but we will, no
doubt, continue to welcome the Russian money that
has come into our football (at Chelsea, Bournemouth
and Arsenal for example) and that we have laundered
through the City.
Glenn has been here before. Last October, he received
a four-hour grilling from the digital, culture, media and
Illustration by
Michael Driver
eanwhile, the situation at West Ham is
just one of dozens of conflicts between fans and owners.
However, what gives it real edge and momentum is that
the move from the club’s old East End stadium – sold
off for high-end housing – to the Olympic stadium (a
£200m subsidy to West Ham Plc) has been an emotional
and experiential disaster: soulless, fragmented,
deracinated and anodyne. In the absence of any kind
of real voice, and with the option of exit blocked by
emotional loyalties, a part of the fan base has turned to
intimidation and riot.
There are other options, but in such a rigged system
as English football, there are no guarantees of success.
Dulwich Hamlet, in south London, is an exemplar of a
modern, rejuvenated community club – open, superdiverse and a lot of fun. Yet it has been forced from its
home by developers.
Last year, Millwall almost lost its stadium to an
insidious and socially destructive development plan
hatched by the local Labour council. Blackpool’s
organised fans have had to conduct an arduous longterm boycott of the club to remove the Oyston family
who took the club to the Premier League, only to
asset-strip it back down to the bottom as they enriched
themselves and insulted the supporters.
Today, as they do every Sunday, Fans Supporting
Foodbanks and the Wirral Deen Muslim centre will
be the only people feeding the homeless on the entire
Wirral peninsula. Fans Supporting Foodbanks was
founded as a joint venture by the Everton and Liverpool
supporters trusts. They collect donations at every home
game in the city. The idea has spread to more than a
dozen other clubs. Their work reminds us of the game’s
amazing capacity to mobilise empathy, solidarity and
love. Yet the fact that they have to be responsible for a
quarter of the city’s food bank supplies is shattering.
I can accept the strange melancholy of watching
the best and most exhilarating Spurs team of my life,
knowing that they can’t win the league. I have processed
the fact that I have paid to watch, in the freezing cold, a
reliably disappointing Bristol Rovers, now the plaything
of Jordanian carpetbaggers. These require illusions I can
sustain. However, the idea that I have tried to hold on
to, that the best of English football and the society it so
closely tracks, outweigh the worst of both, is unlikely to
make it to the end of the season.
David Goldblatt is the author of The Game of Our Lives,
which won the William Hill sports book of the year 2015
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Established in 1791 Issue № 11808
The Cambridge Analytica Files
ethos imperils
acebook likes to present itself
as a tech company, but often
appears more like an advertising
corporation that happens to use
digital technology in order to
conduct its core business. The
personal information and data
trails left by its 2 billion users to
construct detailed profiles allows
advertisers to send precisely
calibrated advertisements to people who are likely
to be susceptible to, or persuaded by, them.
Although the original intention was to build an
automated machine for delivering commercial
messages, it rapidly became clear that the technology
could also be used for delivering targeted political
messages to voters, and this appears to be what
happened in both the Brexit referendum and the 2016
US presidential election. What this meant was that
Facebook acquired both political power and serious
The revelations in our lead story today are
Salisbury attack
We need our allies
to help us manage
the Russian crisis
s Vladimir Putin engaged in a longrunning, murderous and ongoing
campaign to silence Russian
defectors, emigres and dissidents
living in the UK? That is perhaps the
most pressing of many questions
facing the government after Sergei
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were
poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury.
Russia’s retaliatory expulsion of 23
diplomats, announced yesterday, was
as unjustified as it was expected. Its
vindictive and unwarranted decision to
go further and shut down the British
Council highlighted the Putin regime’s
fear of open societies and disregard for
its citizens’ best interests.
It has been suggested that the attempt
to murder the Skripals was timed to
shocking not just because they reveal the extent to
which Facebook’s advertising system was exploited
for political purposes in the 2016 election, but also
because they demonstrate the company’s inability to
comprehend the responsibilities that accompany its
newfound power.
The revelations show that a data analytics firm was
able to harvest the Facebook profiles of about a third
of all US Facebook users, which were then used to
construct psychological models of those individuals for
campaign purposes.
This was no run-of-the-mill cybercrime heist that
merely stole credit card details. The information
that Facebook holds on its users (at least 98 data
points per user) is deeply revealing – including of
their tastes, preferences, habits, sexuality, politics,
hopes and fears. Academic research has shown
that even knowledge of a few “Likes” can reveal an
astonishing amount about an individual Facebook
user. For political campaigners, this is the purest gold
dust, because it enables messages to be precisely
calibrated, and for this to be done at a scale that was
unimaginable in the pre-internet era.
In a breathtaking piece of corporate casuistry,
Facebook claims that this data harvest was not really a
data breach at all, because the researcher who opened
the floodgates did so “in a legitimate way and through
the proper channels”.
The problem, they say, was that the individual in
question didn’t abide by the company’s rules because
he passed the information on to third parties. A senior
Facebook executive told MPs that while the non-breach
might have garnered lots of data, “it is not data that we
have provided”.
Our revelations also show that by late 2015
Facebook had found out that information had been
harvested on an unprecedented scale but failed to
take firm measures to deal with the consequences or
to notify the affected users of what had happened.
This seemingly cavalier indolence provides an ironic
counterpoint to the company’s latest insistence that
“protecting people’s information is at the heart of
everything we do”.
whip up nationalistic fervour and boost
Putin’s presidential re-election bid, which
culminates today. Another theory is that
the use of an illegal, highly toxic nerve
agent, whose detection was certain, was
intended to humiliate Britain and send a
message about the risks of confronting
a Russia supposedly restored to great
power status.
It is also argued that Russia has
been prematurely blamed and that
the intelligence services may be
surreptitiously pushing Britain into a
new cold war, just as they ostensibly
pushed us into Iraq.
All these hypotheses fall wide of
the mark. Putin’s re-election is not in
doubt; he effectively fixed the result
in advance. The west is well aware of
Moscow’s revived ambitions; it needs no
reminding. And in terms of might, reach
and influence, Putin’s Russia is a sickly
shadow of the former Soviet Union. He is
the capo of a corrupt rogue regime, not
the leader of a once proud superpower.
And Putin has form. What now
seems most likely is that the Salisbury
atrocity was part of a wider campaign
against Russian nationals in Britain who
Putin personally regards as traitors or
In a way, this kind of casual indifference to the
unintended consequences of digital technology is
par for the Silicon Valley course – where the mantra
of “creative destruction” has the status of religious
dogma. And it appears to have been a particular
hallmark of Facebook. When suspicions about
the exploitation of its systems by political actors
(including Russian agencies) first surfaced, the reaction
of its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was one of
hurt denial that his creation could have such malign
Since then, further allegations have been levelled,
and he has been obliged to follow in the footsteps
of the hero of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein
– gradually forced to come to terms with the
implications of the monster that he and his employees
have created.
The revelations we publish today as part of an
award-winning investigation by Carole Cadwalladr
should serve as a wake-up call for governments
and regulators. Facebook represents a new kind of
corporate power, the dimensions of which are only
now becoming apparent. The automated machine
it built, with the capacity to target individuals with
commercial messages, turns out to be exceedingly
useful for targeting voters with political messages
calibrated to produce political effects – to raise
anxiety, reinforce prejudices, suppress turnout,
amplify partisanship and increase the reach of
misinformation and conspiracy theories.
And at the moment, all this can be done under the
radar of the institutions that democracies have created
to ensure free and fair elections, control campaign
funding and maintain transparency about political
Shortly after Facebook became a public
company, its founder famously exhorted his
employees to “move fast and break things”. It was,
of course, a hacker’s trope and, as such, touchingly
innocent. What perhaps never occurred to
Zuckerberg is that liberal democracy might be one of
the things they break. It’s time for him – and them –
to grow up.
enemies. One aim is to silence them, by
whatever means. Another aim is to send
an intimidatory message to Russians in
Russia that challenging the regime is a
potentially life-threatening activity.
The suspected murder in London last
week of Nikolai Glushkov, a long-time
Putin critic, must now be added to a list
of 14 suspicious deaths of Russians in
Britain, first compiled in a BuzzFeed
investigation last year. Belatedly, the
government has acceded to calls from
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, among others,
to investigate possible involvement of
the Russian state or state-sponsored
The exceptional significance of the
Skripal attack cannot be overstated. It
involved the use of a chemical weapon
on European soil for the first time
since 1945. It potentially endangered
thousands of British citizens. It showed
blatant disregard for international law
and the UN charter. And because the only
really plausible, credible explanation is
that it was ordered or approved by Putin
and his cronies, it represents a direct
challenge by the Russian state not only to
Britain but to all law-abiding countries.
Yet the growing suspicion that the
Skripal affair is but one incident in a
continuing succession of lethal outrages
dating back to the 2006 murder by
Russian agents of Alexander Litvinenko
raises the problem to an even higher
level of seriousness. An obvious, urgent
question is: who’s next? It is right that
counter-terrorism officers are now
reportedly talking to Russian exiles about
their safety.
Theresa May’s government bears an
enormous responsibility. The expulsion
of Russian diplomats was the easy bit.
May and her ministers must ensure
that no further killings take place on
British soil; that everything is done to
demonstrate, incontrovertibly, whether
Russia attacked the Skripals, and that the
correct technical procedures are followed
through the Organisation for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the
UN; that effective measures are finally
taken to stop the flow of dirty Russian
money through London; and that key
allies, notably France and the US, which
initially questioned Britain’s case, do not
go wobbly again.
Britain cannot manage this crisis
alone. It needs the help of its friends and
allies if it is to force Putin to back off.
Kings Place,
90 York Way,
London N1 9GU
020 3353 2000
email editor@
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
Corbyn’s cross-eyed attitude towards
the Kremlin doesn’t inspire confidence
emember “Agent Cob”? A few
weeks ago, the rightwing press frothed with excitement
about the revelation that Jeremy Corbyn had meetings
with a Czech agent during the cold war. This spy tale
appeared to leave most of the public neither shaken nor
stirred. The affair was neatly ridiculed by Private Eye
when the magazine chortled that the Labour leader was
“the spy who came in from the allotment”. That business
ended up being more damaging to his critics than to Mr
Corbyn. They looked more hysterical than he did sinister.
Things are not turning out so positively for the
Labour leader after his self-revealing responses to the
attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a Russian
double agent. This is not a cobwebbed file from the cold
war archive. This is the real-time case of a conspiracy
to murder on British soil using a military-grade nerve
agent, which poisoned the target, his daughter and a
policeman. If it was not an act of war, it was certainly a
warlike act. Mr Corbyn is no longer a backbencher on the
margins of his party. He is the leader of Her Majesty’s
opposition. The positions that he takes matter, here and
abroad. They matter a lot.
Three of Britain’s closest allies – the US, France and
Germany – agree with the British government that the
assassination attempt represents an “assault on UK
sovereignty” and that there is “no plausible alternative
explanation” to Russian involvement. If you say we should
be a bit wary of taking such statements wholly at face
value, I agree. So I also listen to the experts in chemical
weapons and Russian politics who also put Moscow in the
frame. For my money, one of the big convincers has been
the Kremlin’s behaviour. Vladimir Putin’s government
has not sounded affronted by this grave charge; it has
responded with sneers and taunting. Russian state
television, a mouthpiece for the Kremlin, mockingly
warns anyone who is “a traitor to the motherland” not to
go to England because “in recent years there have been
too many strange incidents with a harsh outcome. People
get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes and
fall out of windows in industrial quantities.” Moscow
formally denies having a hand in attempted murder
while simultaneously gloating about deaths on British
soil. This is mighty strange behaviour if the Putin regime
is as innocent as the Siberian snow. The Skripal case fits
with an established tradition of using killings by exotic
methods to issue fear-instilling messages. The statement
is: we did it and we want you to know we did it because
we are too ruthless and powerful to be touched.
In his first parliamentary performance, and in
subsequent interventions, Mr Corbyn refused to blame
the Putin regime while raising a spray of questions that
undermine the case for coordinated western action.
Was it really the Kremlin? Can the government prove
that? Or was it rogue actors within the Russian state?
Jeremy Corbyn:
his refusal to
blame the Putin
regime for
the attack on
Sergei Skripal
disturbed Labour
MPs. Reuters
Why has Mrs May not sent a sample of the chemical
weapon for analysis in Russia? Can we trust what
British intelligence is saying when people were misled
in the run up to the Iraq war? Some of these questions
might seem reasonable, but collectively, they make him
sound like a man searching for any possible reason
not to assign responsibility to the Kremlin. Writing in
the Guardian, the Labour leader argued that we should
not “resign ourselves to a new cold war”, a statement
apparently oblivious to the fact that the Putin regime
is already engaged in a broad spectrum struggle with
democracies. At other times, Mr Corbyn’s position has
been just contradictory, as he has tried to bridge the gap
between his reflexive reluctance to blame Moscow with
the demands of his horrified parliamentary colleagues
for a robust stance. So he has ended up saying that
Britain should not “rush” into retaliatory action while
at the same time endorsing Mrs May’s expulsion of 23
Russian diplomats identified as intelligence officials.
His position has triggered anger among Labour MPs,
and that is not just confined to those who have always
loathed his leadership. Even allies in the shadow cabinet
have disowned him. The turbulent two and a half years
since he became leader have
been marked by repeated
resignations from the
senior team, with the result
that everyone within the
parliamentary Labour party
who is willing and able to
serve on its frontbench has sat
there. So those now occupying
seats in the shadow cabinet
are either hardcore loyalists
or non-Corbynites who have
a high threshold of tolerance.
These are not people who
will break with him lightly.
Emily Thornberry is Mr
Corbyn’s constituency neighbour in Islington. When his
cheerleaders line up, Ms Thornberry usually waves the
biggest pom-pom. So it was notable when the shadow
foreign secretary contradicted him by agreeing that
there was “prime facie” evidence that the assassination
attempt originated in Moscow and lambasted the
Russians for not even attempting to provide “any
credible, alternative explanation”. The shadow defence
secretary, Nia Griffith, was even blunter when she said
what her leader will not: “Russia is responsible for this
To understand Mr Corbyn’s prevarications, we need
to remember his past. The formative experience of his
young adulthood was the Vietnam war and this animated
an enduring hostility to the west in general and America
in particular. He has spent his life campaigning against
Nato. As a young man, his idea of a romantic trip
abroad was to take Diane Abbott on a motorbike tour
of East Germany when it was a Soviet colony. He and
his segment of the left romanticised Fidel Castro’s
dictatorship in a way they would never have done had
Cuba been a one-party state aligned with Washington
rather than a one-party state allied with Moscow.
This visceral anti-western sentiment outlasted
the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia ceased to be a
communist state nearly three decades ago and is now
better categorised as gangster capitalist. Yet the old
muscle memory of wanting to defend Russia against the
west still kicks in at defining moments. Mr Corbyn was a
founder and chairman of Stop the War, an organisation
that is rather selective about the conflicts it thinks
worthy of protest. It was hotly opposed to the western
military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya,
conflicts that were ritually deplored in Mr Corbyn’s piece
for the Guardian. Stop the War has been less energetic
about organising demonstrations outside the Syrian and
Russian embassies to oppose the atrocities perpetrated
by the Assad regime and its sponsors in the Kremlin.
The contemporary horrors of Syria didn’t merit a single
mention in Mr Corbyn’s piece.
he positions taken by the Labour
leader have consequences. “Divide and rule” is one of
the key ambitions of a Putin foreign policy that aims to
destabilise the democracies by fostering divisions within
them and by setting one democracy against another. Any
evidence of a confused response from Britain and its
allies will be greeted with great delight in the Kremlin.
The muddle in Labour’s position hobbles the
opposition from attacking the failings of Theresa May’s
government in relation to the Putin regime. For a long
time now, British ministers have been complaining
about the Kremlin’s adventurism on Russia’s borders,
cyber-attacks on democracies, the testing for
vulnerabilities in energy grids, data networks and other
critical infrastructure, and meddling in elections. At
the same time, dirty Russian money has been allowed
to wash through London. I have heard members of
the current cabinet talk privately in alarming terms
about threats posed by the Putin regime. The self-same
ministers have then turned up in black tie for Tory
fundraisers populated with Russian oligarchs. The wife
of a former Putin minister is still owed a tennis match
with Boris Johnson and David Cameron, having made
a winning bid of £160,000 for that privilege at a Tory
event. There are extremely good points to make about
the Russian money sloshing around at the top of British
society, and the Tory party’s repeated failure to take
the necessary steps to clean this up; points that the
Labour party would make much more powerfully if its
leadership wasn’t cross-eyed about the Kremlin.
Jeremy Corbyn is his party’s candidate to be prime
minister. One reason Labour did not win the last contest
was because a crucial segment of the electorate, among
them many traditional Labour supporters, did not trust
him to keep Britain safe. To put it at its mildest, those
voters won’t be feeling any more confident now.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Riddell’s view
Focus on minorities speaking English misses wider points
Racism, sexism, the
gender pay gap and
voter registration
are far more
pressing issues
n BBC radio, I was
asked if ethnic minorities were
doing enough to get on and fit in.
Not the first time I’ve been asked
this question. But is anyone asking
the caller if he’s faithful to his end
of the bargain? In the Runnymede
Trust’s new integration briefing
we found that many white British
residents are living in isolation
from other ethnic groups. A contract
works only if both parties sign it.
When the government launched
its integration green paper,
communities secretary Sajid Javid
made it clear which side he felt had
work to do. He promised to expand
English language classes, claiming
that 770,000 people can speak little
or no English, most of them women
from Pakistani or Bangladeshi
communities. The actual number
is closer to 138,000, many of them
pensioners. Younger Britons of
Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage
almost all speak English. So if he’s
serious about bringing “divided
communities together”, then why
is he so focused on 0.3% of the
population? And if the government
is serious about increasing access
to English lessons, why did it
slash funding by £132m between
2010 and 2015? It is handing
over only £50m to implement its
entire integration strategy.
English language classes
should be available for those who
need them. But they need to be
targeted at the right people and
properly funded. We need genuine
policy solutions, not hyperbolic
statements, false deadlines and
patronising lectures.
By focusing on Bangladeshi and
Pakistani women, ministers risk
stereotyping entire communities
and stoking cultural differences. The
strategy promises more work on
gender equality with “marginalised
women” – a transparent pseudonym
for Muslim women. Great – but the
Westminster harassment scandals,
and Time’s Up and #MeToo
movements showed us that no
part of society is inoculated against
sexism. The gender pay gap unveiled
inequality in our institutions.
In our report, we show that
surveys consistently find ethnic
minorities feel strongly affiliated
to Britain, and support tolerance,
democracy and equality – all
features of the British values agenda.
The government should dedicate its
policies to stamping out sexism and
inequality everywhere and not focus
on specific communities.
One of the biggest differences
between BME people and white
British people isn’t culture – it’s
rates of voter registration. Black
African people are four times less
likely to be registered to vote. For
every one case of voter fraud, more
than 10,000 BME people are not
registered. The government should
scrap its unnecessary voter ID trials
and use those resources to make our
democracy representative. A voter
registration drive that targets those
on low incomes, Commonwealth
and Pakistani citizens and BME
communities is needed. Obsessing
over the values we already share,
instead of the real issues fracturing
our country, wastes the precious
little residue of time Brexit leaves
That time should be dedicated to
making equality in the workplace a
reality. We mustn’t forget that more
than half a million BME people are
missing from the workforce. We’re
glad that the government has shown
leadership with its Race Disparity
Audit and is looking at inequality
in the job market. At work, we
have to achieve goals collectively
with all sorts of people. Many of us
spend most of our week there. If
integration and mixing is going to
happen anywhere, it’s at work.
To achieve equality in the job
market we’ll need to stamp out
racism and discrimination. Racism
isn’t just something people keep in
their heads. It has real consequences
in the workplace. Our work with the
National Centre for Social Research
found 44% of those surveyed
believed that “some races are born
harder working than others”. If
you believe this – who would you
hire for a job? This shouldn’t be a
surprise to us. The anonymous troll
that emailed me after I appeared on
BBC News to say: “kimberly ‘hood
bitch’ mcintosh to go back to zoo.
her narcist monkey face makes me
to puke. ugly n*****”, may well be
responsible for hiring and firing
people. It’s little surprise that a CV
with an English-sounding name
received three times as many
interviews than the applicant with a
Muslim-sounding one.
I have never questioned my place
in British society until other people
have. I’ll never forget a teacher
telling me on a primary school
trip that I was “Jamaican” and not
“British” – even though I was born
in Reading. We need a society
that makes space for the reality
of people’s differences without
overstating them. Yes – being able to
speak English is vital, but we need
not overstate the scale of the issue.
If the government is serious
about creating a cohesive society,
we need a strategy that focuses on
everyone’s rights, and everyone’s
responsibility to make it work.
Kimberly McIntosh is the Runnymede
Trust’s policy officer
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Elon Musk sent a car
into space. AP
Stephen Hawking
had nobler ideas
about space than
these plutocrats
Intergalactic plans by
Elon Musk and others
have little to do with
looking up at the stars
hile no one
would rank it among the greatest
of Professor Stephen Hawking’s
achievements, he plainly had a
unique impact on Richard Branson,
founder of, among other things,
Virgin Galactic, a space tourism
“I heard Stephen say in a radio
interview,” Branson wrote in a
tribute, “that his ultimate ambition
was to fly into space, but he thought
no one would take him. I was on
Necker Island and called him up
straight away to offer him a seat. We
have a strict no free tickets policy,
but he was the exception that would
prove the rule.”
This one-of-a-kind impulse
presumably occurred before
“Stephen”, who revered the NHS and
campaigned against its privatisation,
could have guessed that Branson’s
Virgin Care would one day extract
£328,000 in compensation from
NHS funds. Equally, when Branson
phoned from tax-exempt Necker
Island with his offer of a free space
ride, Professor Hawking had yet
to advance the case for wealth
redistribution. “Everyone,” he wrote,
“can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure
if the machine-produced wealth is
In the event, Hawking’s free
trip would never take place, owing
to unexpected delays on the
Virgin intergalactic service. The
honour of organising Hawking’s
weightlessness fell, instead, to a
US zero-gravity ride specialist,
who offered a trip in a Boeing 747.
Before embarking, in 2007, Hawking
endorsed commercial space travel. “I
think the human race has no future
if it doesn’t go into space.”
Hawking’s blessing is
understandably cherished by a new
subset of billionaires, composed
of self-styled space explorers and
colonists. “He was part of our Virgin
Galactic family from day one,”
writes Branson, for instance, and
there is no reason to doubt him.
Both “family” and “day one” may
mean something quite different on
faraway Necker Island.
For his part, a more ambitious
space-explorer, Yuri Milner,
a Russian billionaire who
collaborated, sort of, with Hawking
on a scheme that will involve
shooting 100m mph “nanocrafts”
at our nearest star system, told
the BBC: “When future historians
consider who were the outstanding
people of our age, they will think of
Professor Hawking.”
Will the same apply to plutocrats
such as Milner and his principal
counterparts in privately funded
space discovery: Elon Musk (Tesla
and SpaceX); Jeff Bezos (Amazon and
invested in Facebook and Twitter.
Tweet inspirational spacey bollocks,
like Jain – “You can have, be, or do
anything; there are no limits” – not
pedestrian explanations of his
lawsuit-decorated business career.
Hypothesis one: even Philip
Green, if he aimed at the moon, and
not Monaco, could yet restore some
of his former pomp. Look up to the
stars, Sir Philip, not down, at the
BHS pensioners.
Hypothesis two: the more
hilariously inflated the plutocratic
space ambition, the less critical
will be the public response. Musk’s
“Making Humans a Multi-Planetary
Species”, with its fleeting glimpses
of life in Elonville (or whatever he
decides to call his “self-sustaining
city”) is a document confidently
unconcerned by the existence of
international legislation designed
to protect planets from human
contamination. “It would be quite
fun to be on Mars,” he predicts. “You
would be able to lift heavy things
and bound around.”
Blue Origin); Robert Bigelow (hotels,
aerospace); Naveen Jain (formerly
Infospace, Moon Express); and to
a possibly lesser extent, Russia’s
Igor Ashurbeyli (Socium Holding,
founder of Asgardia)? Plans for space
exploration have attracted, in all
cases, a level of international interest
these men might never have enjoyed
as purely Earth-oriented speculators.
In fact, whatever becomes of their
various tourist rockets and space
colonies, their orbiting hotels and
brave schemes for moon or Mars
“harvesting”, the men have already
served fellow entrepreneurs, if not
all humankind, by demonstrating
the awesome power of space talk
to renew and refresh commercial
reputations. Last week, Hawking’s
advice to “look up to the stars, not
down at your feet” was repeatedly
quoted. Apart from anything,
the above business leaders
have confirmed, it is a fabulous
marketing strategy.
Keep on looking up at the stars,
not down, at virtually non-existent
tax liabilities, and you might, like
the world’s richest man, Amazon’s
The Audit
The government last week
released figures detailing
the extent of our use of
prescribed medicines
of adults in
England take
at least one
medicine a week
1,104 m
dispensed in 2016
The average
number of
items per person
Hawking said:
‘I think the
human race has
no future if it
doesn’t go into
Jeff Bezos, winner of the 2017 worst
ethical consumer rating, also win the
Explorers Club’s 2018 Buzz Aldrin
Space Exploration award. Even as
Bezos invites US cities to compete
to be Amazon’s new tax-avoiding
base, his reputation gains from
the traditional understanding of
space travel as brave, clever, noble.
“We have to go to space to save
Earth,” he says. Look up and dream,
like explorer Jeff, of a firmament
blessed, for the first time, with heavy
industry (waste disposal tbc).
Again, look up like Branson,
Necker’s salvator mundi, not down,
at his debt to generous British
taxpayers. Think interplanetary laser
thingies, like Yuri Milner, not the
sublunary Gazprom money he once
o planet Amazon
Prime, then, or to Musk’s Elonia?
Hard to choose. Especially when
Musk writes, magnanimously:
“I actually have nothing against
going to the moon.” Either way,
the adventurous traveller will find
more practical detail in the pages of
Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar the King,
in which the elephant founds and
builds Celesteville.
Musk does, however, seem
aware of certain ethical objections
to his priorities. “Life cannot just
be about solving one sad problem
after another,” he tweets. Why
can’t it be? The answer, perhaps, is
Bill and Melinda Gates. Compare
the levels of excitement around
their vaccines with the fuss made
of Musk when he wittily dumps a
car in space, or of Bezos, when he
proposes state subsidy for his vanity
space settlements. We are all in the
gutter, but some of us are looking
at never to be repeated investment
The total
cost at list
price of
in England
in 2016
Take three
or more
a week
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
If Hammond feels
Tiggerish about
the economy, he
can’t care about
living standards
The chancellor’s
bouncy optimism is
guided by the national
debt – not Britain’s
stagnant growth
ritain has just endured
the worst economic decade of
modern times, and official forecasts
for the next five years, offered in
the spring budget, predict more of
the same. Yet Philip Hammond, the
chancellor, began his otherwise lowkey budget speech declaring he was
feeling Tiggerish.
There was light at the end of
the tunnel, he said, with day-today spending now balanced and
the national debt set to fall in
three years’ time. The government
would meet its self-imposed fiscal
mandate. If the Office for Budget
Responsibility (OBR) remained
upbeat in the autumn – you never
know – he might be able to allow
some extra public spending,
building on the concessions he was
already making. Hurrah!
At any other time, Hammond’s
statement would be regarded as
May I have
a word?
The shifting patterns of
English. This week:
how language evolves – and
not always for the better
an extraordinary admission of
defeat – a supine acceptance of a
completely unacceptable economic
performance and one that abdicated
stewardship of Britain’s public
services to the next economic
judgment of the OBR. Lifting
this year’s growth forecast from
1.3 to 1.4% does not represent a
breakthrough in optimism. Nor is
a forecast that growth in the next
five years – if all goes well – will
average 1.4%, well below how the
British economy has performed for
decades, anything other than bleak.
You can only be Tiggerish if your
guiding star is the national debt
rather than rising living standards,
a robust social contract and an
economy which everyone believes
will deliver a better tomorrow. Brexit
Britain is already such a diminished
place that we are now apt to be
happy that by 2023 real wages will
have finally got back to where they
were in 2008 – the longest period
of stagnation ever. Also, output is
now 20% lower than predicted back
then. At least we may have avoided a
Brexit recession.
Only just. It is a combination of
world boom and British consumers
unexpectedly running down their
savings that has averted a recession
– even while the rise in business
investment is the shallowest for
more than 50 years. The OBR
says that the next few years are
unusually hard to predict. If the
uncertainty lifted and Britain’s trade
relationships were guaranteed (say,
by staying in the EU, although the
OBR cannot spell this out) there
It is one of those commonly
held opinions that language
is constantly evolving and
that we shouldn’t be too
preoccupied with long-held
But when it was announced
that Robert Smith of the Cure
would be curating this year’s
Meltdown festival, the use of
“curating” brought me up short
yet again. I know that it has
been used in this context for
some time, but it still seems to
have moved a long way from
A Bentley worker
at GKN, ‘one
of our great
could be a boom. If there is an
unexpected discontinuity (like a
hard Brexit) then the economy could
slide into recession.
It goes for the middle way – but
even that implies less stimulus from
trade over the next decade as we lose
access to European markets. There
is no disguising the truth. Brexit is
a debacle. The OBR even assumes
that immigration continues at only
a slightly diminished rate; so we get
all this Faragist-induced economic
pain and we’re not even keeping out
the hated foreigner.
Equally dismaying: in a
week when Unilever moved its
headquarters to Rotterdam and
vultures circle over one of our
great engineering companies,
GKN, neither the government nor
the opposition has any coherent
philosophy of wealth generation
that might lift these dismal
forecasts. True, the government
champions an industrial strategy
and the Treasury tries to promote
restricted pools of long-term,
patient capital for hi-tech start-ups,
the dictionary definition of a
curator as a superintendent,
especially one of a museum.
Quite how there is an
equivalence between running
the Ashmolean and putting
on a series of gigs featuring
Nine Inch Nails, Mogwai and the
Libertines escapes me.
On the subject of the arts,
I noticed mention in another
paper of a “gallerist”. I take
this to be a gallery owner, but
my dictionary offers no helpful
info. The closest it comes is the
but it is all done in the shadow of
Brexit, deemed to be unavoidable,
and the overwhelming fixation
with lowering the national debt.
Instead, it needs to be shouted from
the rooftops. Never in any economy
has growth ever been associated
with either high or low levels of
national debt. It is the obsession of
particularly morbid Micawberish
abour is at least
free from that – but while it too
champions an industrial strategy
and a national investment bank,
now crucial with the withdrawal of
the European Investment Bank from
British lending, it is all done within
the fixation of regaining statist
control of the commanding heights
of the economy. Another statement
needs to be hurled from the
rooftops. Sustainable growth in no
Robert Smith: from Cure
to curator.
economy ever has been associated
with statist direction and control.
What is required is the kind of
alchemy Unilever judges available in
the Netherlands, however imperfect,
and for which GKN, as it fights
for its life from predators only
interested in personal enrichment,
must ache. Thus the Netherlands
offers shelter from hostile takeovers,
structures to promote engaged longterm shareholding and an amazing
training system.
Try as it might, Unilever could
not interest the government in
reproducing this in Britain: it might
have upset its dominant Faragist
right. For such ecosystems are
designed by the state, certainly, even
while it abstains from directing
and controlling – a philosophy that
neither the Tory party nor the statecontrol-obsessed Labour leadership
seems capable of embracing.
On one count Labour does score.
Taxation will need to rise in the
years ahead, and Jeremy Corbyn’s
willingness to say so – even if he
hides behind the fiction that only
the really wealthy need pay – is a
long overdue injection of realism
into the debate.
For there is no Brexit dividend,
as the shamelessly economically
ignorant Jacob Rees-Mogg keeps
claiming. The Institute for Fiscal
Studies computes that just to
stop public spending falling as a
proportion of national income,
while balancing the budget
will mean another £30bn of tax
increases by the mid 2020s, with
£11bn on top to pay pensions and
meet the demands of the elderly on
services. Inheritance, companies and
property will need to be more highly
taxed – but so will everyone.
All these choices would be less
invidious if Britain had stayed in
the EU because our growth would
have been higher. It needs to be
said again. Pity our poor country,
misled by fantasists and unable to
do what needs to be done. But that
is the hallmark of all countries in
irreversible decline.
delightful “galleryite”, one who
frequents the gallery in the
theatre. Onwards, I suppose,
but not always upwards.
Meanwhile, the spirit of
military theorist Carl von
Clausewitz is everywhere.
Sarah Lee, of the Countryside
Alliance, lamenting that billions
are being lost because of slow
broadband, talks of the need
for a “rural digital strategy”; an
advertisement commands that
you should “build your bitcoin
trading strategy”; while Capita
has appointed a new bloke
“to manage the company’s
resourcing strategy”.
Blimey, I knew that the City
was a cut-throat world, but
I hadn’t realised quite what a
martial environment it truly
Mind you, when you read
of “lower conversions of the
pipeline” you can understand
the need to be on a war
footing and ready to retaliate
against such infelicities at the
earliest possibly opportunity.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Sheffield’s trees
When Jarvis and
Gove join forces
something is
definitely amiss
can’t imagine that Michael
Gove and Jarvis Cocker often
share the same point of
view, but both are opposed
to Sheffield council’s policy of
felling up to 25,000 trees deemed
“dangerous” and replacing them
with saplings.
Gove has called for the
“destruction” to stop, while Cocker
hosted a fundraiser with Richard
Hawley for the Sheffield Tree
Action group, and called the fellings
“crazy”. The saga is as gripping as
any new binge-watching must-see
on Netflix; in fact, if the streaming
service is looking to branch out
– sorry – into new British drama,
then this story of private finance
initiative contracts gone wild and
local heroes protesting the loss of
their streets’ trees should provide
plenty of inspirational material.
The details of the dispute are
depressing, a labyrinthine and
frustrating portrait of marketisation
that flies in the face of what residents
actually want their city to look like.
Dr Simon Crump, a senior lecturer in
creative writing at Huddersfield, said
this week that he was willing to go to
prison for the cause. “I’m prepared to
put my head above the parapet and
Standing up
to bullies:
Simon Crump.
stand up to bullies. For me, it’s about
the right to peaceful and effective
protest. If they can do this to us over
some trees, they can do this to us for
anything,” he said, a true Swampy for
the modern age.
When Gove, Cocker, two Sheffield
MPs and South Yorkshire’s police
and crime commissioner, Dr Alan
Billings, are among the many voices
requesting some common sense
and decency; when police resources
are being stretched because up
to 30 police officers are turning
up to fellings with as many as 90
protesters; when the council has
hired private security to enforce
injunctions against protesters; and
when it’s all, essentially, down to
money, then it seems like it’s time
to, well, stop and try to see the wood
for the (old and loved) trees.
Emma Gonzalez
Wow – a happy
resolution to
conflict on
social media
Too big for her boots?
Her confidence
should be feted
stupidity to do so publicly. Gibson
has since apologised and dropped
out of the race. Eryn Gilchrist, 28, will
stand as the Democratic candidate.
She had no previous interest in
running, but was so appalled by
his comments that she thought her
community deserved better. Gibson
was an inspiration after all.
Jessica Chastain
Alexandra Burke
lexandra Burke has
been speaking up for
confidence, telling BBC
News that the UK has “a
massive problem” with mistaking
self-belief for arrogance. Burke
managed not to win Strictly
Come Dancing in 2017 despite
consistently dancing better than
all of the other contestants. There
was a feeling that the audience
had not warmed to her, based
on the fact that viewers regularly
tweeted things such as “fake” and
“false” and said she had too much
experience as a dancer to win a
best dancer competition.
“It’s a shame that some people
mistook that determination and
that will to want to do well, which
everyone should have in life by
the way, for arrogance or anything
other than what it was,” she told
the BBC last week. Burke became
famous when she won The X
Factor in 2008, after duetting
with Beyoncé, a superstar now
so aloof that she doesn’t bother
with interviews, issuing only new
photographs, which I imagine
she peels from a pile and scatters
like banknotes at the feet of
desperate editors. Their version of
Listen ended with Burke sobbing
on Beyoncé’s shoulder, before
Dermot O’Leary tied a ribbon
around this odd time capsule by
calling Beyoncé “hun”. It feels like
longer than 10 years ago.
I spent some time last week
on TV sets. Both productions had
female directors. I watched these
authoritative, confident women
taking charge of the room with
Emma Gonzalez:
The low road has
Others will
rise above you
eslie Gibson, a Republican
candidate who was running
for state office in Maine,
took the lowest of roads
when he called Emma Gonzalez, the
inspirational teenage gun-control
activist, a “skinhead lesbian” and
“bald-faced liar”. Gonzalez is a public
figure only because she survived
a high-school massacre. It takes a
special kind of cruelty to criticise
victims of horrendous crimes
because their politics do not align
with your own, and a special kind of
an easy, warm bluntness that was
efficient and necessary, and I
found this to be awe-inspiring.
And then I realised what a shame
it was that it seemed noteworthy to
me, this brilliant, gleaming
confidence. It has taken
me years, for example, to
stop couching work emails
in apologetic language,
to trim the “Do you mind
if we…” to “Let’s…”, to cut
“Is it okay with you if I…”
to just, “I’m going to…”
It’s hard to break the
habit, and that’s down to
accepting that it’s okay to
be confident.
Is it a British thing?
Perhaps. We’ve always
had a fondness for the
underdog; we don’t like
it when people get too
big for their boots. You see it
again and again with British
successes in Hollywood, say
– any hint of a transatlantic
twang, no matter how many
decades that person has lived
abroad, and they’ll be told to
wind their neck in.
But confidence is a curious,
nebulous concept, and the
possession of it comes from a
multitude of places, whether
that’s the class you were raised
in, the education you received,
your gender, or the workplace
that surrounds you. For many, it’s
innate, and for others, it’s learned.
Regardless of where it came from
for Alexandra Burke, I’m pleased
that she felt confident enough to
justify her confidence.
or all the misery inflicted
by social media’s opendoor policy to assholes (to
paraphrase Heathers, one
of the greatest teen movies of all
time), it offers an occasionally
heartwarming reminder that
conversation can find shared
humanity in conflict and bring
opposing sides together.
When Jessica Chastain posted a
picture of herself in a “We should
all be feminists” T-shirt, user Karin
H Schulz replied: “Yes feminist that
believe in God and stand up for The
Unborn. I would be for that kind of
Rather than opting for the
internet’s favourite responses of
name-calling or far-right memes,
or death threats, Chastain replied
kindly, explaining that her respect
for choice extended to everyone’s
beliefs, then donated $2,000
to Schulz’s fertility fund, after
discovering the woman’s difficulties
with conceiving. It’s not often the
internet seems utopian these days,
but how delightful to see that taking
the high road can feel so right.
Jessica Chastain:
‘We should all be
Burke does not
do underdog.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
This week’s issue
Benefit of gene tests
far outweighs cost
Mary Warnock is right that consent
has to be assumed from the child
if genetic modification can avert
a serious and often distressing
condition (“We need to use gene
editing wisely but also embrace its
vast potential,” Comment, last week).
The test is of whether the procedure
is “in the child’s best interest” and,
if confined to serious diseases, as
Warnock alludes to, then I believe
that most appropriately informed
parents will agree that it is.
Cost is harder to assess. Not all
serious conditions are immediately
fatal or life-threatening and the
initial expense of testing must be
balanced against that of potentially
many years of expensive medical
care and, quite likely, social support
and special educational needs. In
addition, the cost of many tests
becomes relatively cheaper as they
become better established and more
readily available.
With successful treatment,
perhaps a fulfilling career may
ensue, with the opportunity to
support the economy for many years,
so maybe an initial investment could
be well rewarded. Finally, how do
you balance the scale of physical
and emotional pain and distress in a
currency of pounds sterling?
And so to Warnock’s final point:
Stephen Hawking championed
the fact that even severe disability
need not abolish a fruitful and
meaningful life if one nurtures
areas that were not affected by the
disability. He spoke out against
euthanasia. The world will be
eternally grateful that he existed
but I strongly suspect that, given
the choice, he would have favoured
maintaining his physical faculties.
Dr John Trounce
Underestimating the unions
It was exasperating to read such
old-fashioned, sexist references
to a woman standing to be
general secretary of the Labour
party, never mind misleading
caricatures of unions (“Don’t look
to Len McCluskey and his sorry
ilk to defend workers’ interests”,
Comment, last week).
But that’s what happens when
unions are seen through the narrow
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
Genetic modification: a scientist
prepares DNA samples for testing.
lens of Westminster politics, instead
of real workplaces far beyond.
Day to day, unions are defending
jobs, keeping workplaces safe and
organising against exploitation. Far
from forgetting the victories of the
match women and the dockers, their
example inspires us.
At Sports Direct’s warehouse,
amid an atmosphere of fear and
intimidation, Unite won more than
£1m for workers cheated out of the
national minimum wage. Unison
struck a huge blow for the low paid
by getting tribunal fees abolished.
The GMB took on Uber, Hermes
and Addison Lee over bogus selfemployment in the courts. Members
of the bakers’ union at McDonald’s
went on strike against zero-hour
contracts – and won a pay rise.
Prospect’s cinema workers have
stood strong in demanding a living
wage. But UK unions are held back
by some of the harshest laws in the
world. Our right to strike is under
threat and we have no rights to enter
a workplace to recruit members.
If Nick Cohen is really concerned
about turnouts, he should direct his
fire at the government for denying
unions the right to use safe and
secure online balloting, just as
political parties already do.
With insecure work on the rise
and wages stagnating, working
people need unions more than ever.
Anyone who stands for a fairer
society would do well to get behind
union organising, rather than taking
pot-shots at our leaders.
Frances O’Grady
TUC general secretary
London WC1
Rock’n’roll will never die
I read Barbara Ellen’s article with
waves of nostalgia (“Farewell NME
– irreverent, acerbic, essential”,
Comment, last week). From 1954
until 1966, I had every copy, stacked
in a yellowing pile at the foot of my
bed. This was surely its golden era,
as it covered a revolution in popular
music, the like of which has never
been seen before or since.
In the mid 50s, it wrote about
skiffle and its king, Lonnie Donegan.
In the late 50s and early 60s, it
charted the rise of rock’n’roll,
through Bill Haley, Elvis and Buddy
Holly to the black musicians who
founded it, such as Chuck Berry,
Fats Domino and Little Richard
and eventually to the first British
rock’n’rollers, Tommy Steele, Cliff
Richard and Marty Wilde. And in
the mid 60s, it was there to report
the explosion of British bands who
conquered the world and played
a big part in changing the face
of our society, led by the Mersey
sound of the Beatles, Gerry and
the Pacemakers and the Searchers,
followed by bands such as the
Rolling Stones, the Animals, the
Hollies and the Who.
Every week, we pored over the
Top 40 chart and every year, we
voted in the NME poll. Sadly, when
I married in 1966, my mother’s
ultimatum was “You’re not leaving
those old newspapers here” and
my wife’s retort was that I wasn’t
bringing them to our new home. So
I got rid of them – a decision I regret
to this day.
Mike Worthington
A battle won, a war lost
Donald Macintyre’s memories of
the battle of Grosvenor Square
(including my failure to rescue him
from the forces of law and order),
and our antipathy to the Wilson
government has underlined one of
the more regrettable consequences
of those times (“My part in the antiwar demo that changed protest for
ever”, Focus, last week). It is that a
whole generation of the left turned
its back on the Labour party and on
careers in parliamentary politics.
We can only speculate about the
consequences for social democracy
– something that we belittled
at the time but was grievously
extinguished soon after and seems a
distant prospect today.
Michael Harloe
Donald Macintyre’s list of events of
the “year of the soixante-huitards”
omitted the civil rights march
in Derry on 5 October 1968, the
ramifications of which continue to
influence British politics.
Rodney Brunt
New Ross, Co Wexford
Reasons to be miserable
Andrew Hindmoor might accuse
me of miserabilism (“Why the left’s
hellish vision is so ruinous”, The
Sunday Essay, last week), but I think
he underestimates the challenges
we face in the 21st century.
Yes, there are great advantages
to living here (compared, for
example, with the United States,
where I’m originally from), but
those advantages have been under
increasing threat.
The most fundamental role of
government is to provide public
services and public goods. These
crucial functions – local government,
the NHS, social care, transport and
other services and industries that
have been outsourced and privatised
– have been undermined by both
Tory and New Labour governments
since the Thatcher era. It is not
merely neoliberalism that is the
problem, although that provides the
ideological excuse for both the right
and much of the old centre-left. It’s
George Osborne once said that we
will go from “austerity to prosperity”.
The opposite is happening.
The private sector requires
profitability and “shareholder value”.
Unfortunately, in key sectors these
are not available, and pursuing them
just runs down those sectors. The
result is more and more inefficiency
and poorly run oligopolies.
Philip G Cerny
Professor emeritus of politics
University of Manchester
For the record
To clarify an ambiguity: the
Russian, Alexander Litvinenko, was
murdered in London in 2006; the
inquiry that concluded the killing
was probably approved by Vladimir
Putin began in 2014 and reported
publicly in January 2016; Theresa
May was home secretary from 2010
to July 2016 (“Trump won’t help
Britain, nor will the UN”, Focus, last
In summarising OECD global survey
data on attitudes to family size, we
did not separate personal responses
from generalised responses. UK
women aged 15-39 said they
personally would like to have 2.3
children on average. Asked about
ideal family size generally, 0.67% of
UK respondents said zero children
(“From older mums to the happily
childless”, 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 … recycling
The Independent
‘Measures can work’
HuffPost UK
‘Reluctant millennials’
to recycle than older
“The country is starting to
deal with its plastic waste,
with commitments from the
mayor, charges on plastic cups,
reductions in takeaway food
packaging and the shunning of
plastic drinking straws. Such
measures can work - imposing
a 5p charge for carrier bags has
slashed their use by 85 per
“From passionate tweets
about ‘Planet Earth II’ to the
rejection of fast fashion,
millennials are widely
perceived as a more woke
generation when it comes to
environmental issues.
But new research suggests
25- to 34-year-olds are
actually far more reluctant
The Telegraph
‘A right to know’
cent. The way we care for the
world is rubbish. At one end
we are running out of materials and resources, yet at the
other we are throwing them
Barbara Chandler
“The last year has witnessed
a revolution in shopping
culture, as the charge for
plastic bags led to a dramatic
decline in use. Reusable mugs
for tea and coffee were next;
the campaign against plastic
straws will follow. Most
of us want to do the right
thing and need straightforward advice about what
does and doesn’t help the
environment. And when
we have spent precious
time sorting our waste
into various bags and bins,
we have a right to know
that it will be disposed
of in the way we were
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Lead is even deadlier
than we feared as the
full extent of its toxic
effects are revealed
Decades after this
newspaper won a ban
on this poison in our
fuel, there are still
calls for more proof
How the Observer reported the plan to ban lead in petrol in 1983.
author, Herbert Needleman, was
twice investigated for scientific
misconduct. He was vindicated but
ministers still refused to act on lead
until a UK study had come up with
the same result. One told me that
British children had to be shown to
be affected as well as US ones – as
if they were different species. The
final blow was struck by a year-long
public campaign led by the activist,
Des Wilson, and – in April 1983 –
the government finally announced
that the use of the toxic metal would
be phased out. Crucially, it did so on
a precautionary basis.
ooking back, it seems
insane. Bluntly put, we took a
known poison and – for three
quarters of a century – used it
in machines that puffed it out in
breathable form. Then we drove
them millions of miles a day, all over
the world, regularly dosing billions
of people with the toxin.
Now the full effects of using lead
in petrol – surely the greatest ever
mass poisoning experiment – are
becoming clear, almost exactly
35 years after an award-winning
Observer campaign caused it to be
banned in Britain. They seem far
worse than anyone imagined, and
provide a stark warning against
cutting pollution standards after
Brexit. Last week, a massive new
study concluded that lead is 10
times more dangerous than thought,
and that past exposure now causes
one in every five US deaths. A similar
effect is expected in Britain.
The study, published in the Lancet
Public Health journal and believed
to be the first to research the effects
of low levels of lead exposure on the
general public, also concludes there
is no safe level of the toxic metal:
people with the lowest detectable
amounts were still affected.
Researchers at four North
American universities, led by
Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, studied the
fate of 14,289 people whose blood
had been tested in an official US
survey between 1988 and 1994. Four
fifths of them had harboured levels
of the toxic metal below what has,
hitherto, been thought safe.
The study found that deaths,
especially from cardiovascular
disease, increased markedly with
Children inhaling exhaust fumes in 1973. Hulton Archive
exposure, even at the lowest levels.
It concluded that lead kills 412,000
people a year – accounting for 18%
of all US mortality, not much less
than the 483,000 who perish as a
result of smoking.
Philip Landrigan, of New York’s
Mount Sinai School of Medicine,
possibly the world’s top expert on
pollution’s effect on health, endorses
the study and Alastair Hay, an expert
on lead from Leeds University, calls
it “very well done”. He adds that,
since blood lead levels in the UK
were similar, there could be much
the same effect as in the US.
Of course, we suspected none
of this when this newspaper
campaigned against lead back in
the early 1980s. We pressed for a
ban because of increasing evidence
– dismissed by the scientific
establishment – that low levels
of the toxic metal were damaging
children’s brains, lowering IQ and
increasing disruptive behaviour.
An especially nasty form of the
metal, tetraethyl lead, was first put
in petrol to prevent car engines
“knocking” in 1922. By the early
1970s, more than 100,000 tons of
it were put into American vehicles
alone each year. By then, a lone
scientist, Derek Bryce-Smith, of
Reading University, had begun to
campaign against it. He would say
that he had first been alerted to the
dangers when, as a young man, he
had asked the manufacturers for
a sample of tetraethyl lead for an
experiment and was warned that “if
I got any on my finger it would drive
me mad or kill me”.
He was ridiculed and
marginalised by other scientists.
Slowly, however, people took up the
cause, most notably a Wimbledon
housewife, Jill Runnette, who ran a
campaign that – against all the odds
and entrenched scientific opinion –
succeeded in persuading ministers
to reduce its level in petrol by two
thirds in 1981.
Her hand was strengthened by a
meticulous US study that showed
conclusively that lead knocked
several points off children’s IQ. Yet,
even before it was published, four
leading British authorities circulated
a paper attacking it. And the study’s
ith leading
scientists still resisting the evidence
of effects on children, a royal
commission advised that action
should be taken, short of absolute
proof, as there were enough
grounds to suggest the danger
was real. First, the rest of Europe,
then almost every nation on Earth,
followed, and levels in blood have
fallen worldwide.
It was not before time. Since
then, low levels of lead have also
been linked to high blood pressure,
stroke, heart and kidney disease,
ADHD and accelerated ageing. There
is even evidence that it increased
juvenile crime: many studies have
shown rates mirroring the rise and
fall of lead in petrol. In 2002, the
World Health Organisation called
lead in petrol “a catastrophe for
public health”.
Worryingly, the “precautionary
principle” that led to the phase-out,
and is enshrined in EU law, is in
danger from Brexit. Some industries
and rightwing politicians have long
campaigned against it, demanding
much more evidence. On Thursday,
the environment secretary, Michael
Gove, promised at a conference
organised by Prosperity UK to
strengthen pollution controls on
leaving the EU. But he failed to
give a specific reassurance on the
precautionary principle.
This is important because undue
delay kills. Absolute proof of damage
comes from counting corpses. If
Britain had waited for it before
taking action on lead in petrol, this
week’s alarming news would have
been more devastating still.
The world’s view on … the US schools walkout
Weekly Standard
‘A chance to skip class’
“The most passionate among
the protester-students — my
teenaged daughter holds this
view even more firmly than I
do — feel strongly about the
issue of gun-control precisely
because they know hardly
anything about it. Which is
why a huge proportion of the
participants had no interest in
addressing gun violence and
mainly enjoyed the chance
to get out of class and crack
jokes with friends and smoke
a furtive cigarette or two.”
New York Times
‘Cynicism vs idealism’
“At times, the protesting students seemed to be
everywhere — on social media,
on television, in communities.
And they offered a needed jolt
of inspiration. David Axelrod,
the political strategist, has
said that today’s central political battle is cynicism versus
idealism, and it’s clear which
side the students are on.”
Toronto Star
‘Turned their backs’
“They’re not old enough to
vote, most of these students
who protested Wednesday, or
held 17 minutes of silence for
the 14 students and three faculty murdered a month ago,
or six minutes of silence for
the amount of time it took
for the shooters to do all that
carnage. Yet they’ve been
hard to ignore, especially the
kids from Marjory Stoneman
Douglas, who’ve even gone
to Washington in recent
weeks. Hundreds of students from DC stood across
from the White House and
symbolically turned their
backs on 1600 Pennsylvania
Blvd, as, they rightfully
argue, the White House has
turned their back on them.”
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
The cranks have turned the world
upside down – it’s time to fight back
Union and China shows that western
parochialism is not a novel vice.
Grand historical objections aside,
it is obvious to anyone who has
argued with conspiracy theorists
that their ideas are anything but
simple. When you imagine global
warming is a hoax you need
hundreds of pieces of scaffolding
to support your fantasy. You must
believe that about 95% of climate
scientists are lying and that none
ever had or would ever have a
crisis of conscience and confess
“the truth”. The complexity of the
delusion explains why conspiracy
theory so often ends in fascism. For
such a huge and devilish con to be
pulled, true believers have to invoke
a group with supernatural powers to
arrange and conceal: the Jews or the
“Zionists”, as they say today.
Populist leaders from around the world: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Reuters, Getty
Conspiracy theories
were once a fringe
interest. In the era of
populists, they’ve now
gone mainstream
othing makes the
contented turn of the century feel
further away than the indulgence
with which the old world treated its
cranks. Their prime purpose was
to be entertaining freaks for the
allegedly sane majority to laugh at.
The BBC ran shows where Louis
Theroux met religious zealots and
white nationalists. As they watched,
broadcasters and the audience had
an unspoken pact that made sense
20 years ago but is meaningless
today: however dangerous these
people might be to those close to
them, they could do no real harm.
The ironic documentaries of
the 1990s now seem as remote as
medieval frescoes. If producers
wanted to commission a successor
series, they would have to take
their cameras to the White House,
Kremlin, the office of the leader
of the opposition in Westminster,
the Sándor Palace in Budapest
and Chancellery in Warsaw. They
would have to ask how a Russia
that has turned paranoid delusion
into an instrument of foreign policy
became the dominant power in
the Middle East and a corrupting
force in the west. They would have
to acknowledge that conspiracy
theorists rule nuclear-armed states
and that the fake news and the
loud-mouthed bombast of men
once dismissed as clowns on Have I
Got News for You pushed Britain out
of the EU. It’s the clowns who are
laughing now and the cranks who
rule the world.
Beyond the well-explored reasons
for the rise of demagogic movements
lies an embarrassing failure. For
once you have examined the effects
of the crash, the stagnation of
living standards, austerity, the mass
movement of migrants, racism,
globalisation, the influence of the
web and Russian money, you still
have to ask why mainstream society
did not take demagogues seriously
until it was too late.
Until the moment Trump was
elected, American politicians and
journalists refused to believe that a
man like him could possibly be their
president. No senior conservative
politician in office said the only way
to preserve American democracy
was for moderate Republicans to
hold their noses and vote for Hillary
Clinton. That they are cowards
has been proved by their collusion
since Trump came to power. But
they seem as much fools as villains
when you remember they thought
he was doomed to lose. David
Cameron called the Brexit vote with
an unshakeable conviction that he
would win and carry on in Downing
Street. Centrist MPs turned Labour
from a social democratic party into
a playground for post-communist
tyrannophiles when they put Corbyn
on the ballot paper to “have a debate”,
and then found they couldn’t debate
him because they had never once
tried to understand the strengths and
weaknesses of the new far left.
All of us can mistake the familiar
for the permanent and find change
inexplicable. But there was a deeper
fault. The comforting idea that
conspiracy theorists didn’t matter
was not confined to documentarymakers. When confronted with halfmad ideas that global warming was a
lie or that the CIA destroyed the twin
towers, intelligent people reassured
themselves that these were
delusions shared by a few people
who needed the simple explanations
global conspiracies gave them to
make sense of life’s chaos.
Richard J Hofstadter’s classic
essay of 1964, The Paranoid Style in
American Politics, is still read today.
But its conclusion was surprisingly
optimistic. Although conspiracy
theories were “a persistent psychic
phenomenon”, they affected only a
“modest minority of the population”.
That Hofstadter could be so
nonchalant when Nazi Germany
was fresh in the memory and
communists still ruled the Soviet
Anyone who has
argued with
theorists knows
that their ideas
are anything
but simple
hey also have to
explain motive. This problem is
haunting the Corbynite left and
Faragist right as they struggle to
explain why the attempted murder
of a Russian double agent and
his daughter is not the work of a
Russian state which murders its
critics as a matter of routine. They
blame the Americans, the May
administration, which doesn’t have
the competence to conspire its way
out of a paper bag and, inevitably,
the Jews. Corbyn eggs them on by
saying that “Russian mafia-like
groups” may be behind it. But why
would the mafia want to do it?
It’s easy to sink into despair
now the cranks and creeps aren’t a
“modest minority of the population”.
When Hitler and Stalin controlled
mainland Europe, Stefan Zweig
looked back with nostalgia to a time
30 years before when “there was as
little belief in the possibility of such
barbaric declines as wars between
the peoples of Europe as there was
in witches and ghosts. Our fathers
were comfortably saturated with
confidence in the unfailing and
binding power of tolerance and
conciliation. They honestly believed
that the divergences and boundaries
between nations and sects would
gradually melt away.”
Zweig committed suicide in 1942.
The alternative to despair is to fight
and find a pleasure in fighting.
Many, myself included, are enjoying
the grim satisfaction of engaging in
arguments that have a significance
the trivial pursuits of the millennium
could never claim. No one can wake
up now and say there are no good
causes left. They need only look
around to see dozens of deserving
targets that demand to be hit.
Is it the end
of the line
for coppers?
The Treasury has called
for a review of the future
of 1p and 2p coins. It is
estimated that six out of
10 coppers are only used
once before being put in a
jar or simply thrown away.
If they end up “retired”,
they won’t be the first.
Here are a few that we
have spent for the last
time …
Originally worth 12 pence,
it was first minted around
1503 during the reign of
Henry VII. Often referred to
as a “bob”, it’s worth five
new pence.
The first British machinestruck gold coin, in 1663, it
was originally a £1 coin, but
was changed to 21 shillings,
or £1.05. Payments in
guineas were considered
more gentlemanly.
The name comes from the
word “fourthing” because
this coin was worth one
quarter of a penny. It
ceased to be legal tender
in 1960.
Half crown
Equivalent to two shillings
and sixpence. Introduced
in 1549, they were
discontinued in 1967. In
today’s terms, a half crown
would be worth 12½p.
Comment & Analysis
The Observer
Illustration by Dominic McKenzie
Jonathan Quick
A dangerous virus, as yet unknown,
has the potential to wipe out
millions of us. Such future perils
could dwarf Sars or Ebola in their
tragic effects. Why then are public
health bodies so mired in denial
and complacency?
The looming threat
omewhere out there a dangerous
virus is boiling up in the bloodstream of a bird, bat,
monkey or pig, preparing to jump to a human being. It’s
hard to comprehend the scope of such a threat, for it has
the potential to wipe out millions of us, including my
family and yours, over a matter of weeks or months. The
risk makes the threat posed by Islamic State, a ground
war, a massive climate event or even the dropping of a
nuclear bomb on a major city pale by comparison.
A new epidemic could turn into a pandemic without
warning. It could be born in a factory farm in Minnesota,
a poultry farm in China or the bat-inhabited elephant
caves of Kenya – anywhere infected animals are in
contact with humans. It could be a variation of the 1918
Spanish flu, one of hundreds of other known microbial
threats or something entirely new, such as the 2003 Sars
virus that spread globally from China. Once transmitted
to a human, an airborne virus could pass from that
one infected individual to 25,000 others within a week,
and to more than 700,000 within the first month.
Within three months, it could spread to every major
urban centre in the world. And by six months, it could
infect more than 300 million people and kill more than
30 million.
This is not alarmist science fiction. It is one of several
highly plausible scenarios – and far from the worst –
developed by infectious disease specialists working with
disease-modelling experts. Bill Gates, who funds a group
Continued on page 54
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
Continued from page 53
that uses computer simulations to predict the spread
of diseases, said: “The Ebola epidemic showed me that
we are not ready for a serious epidemic, an epidemic
that would be more infectious and would spread faster
than Ebola did.” He put the likelihood of a catastrophic
epidemic at “well over 50%” in his lifetime.
Gates’s model estimates that a perilous virus, carried
via cars, planes, ships and trains, and spreading quickly
in packed cities, could kill up to 33 million people in just
over 200 days.
In the last century alone, smallpox killed 300 to
500 million people. The 1918-19 Spanish flu killed
50 to 100 million and Aids has taken 40 million lives
since it was first recognised in 1981. The annual
influenza outbreak still claims half a million people
a year worldwide. The west African Ebola crisis took
more than 11,000 lives – seven times the total of the 22
Ebola epidemics that preceded it. But widespread death
isn’t the only threat. For those who survive the initial
infection, an epidemic leaves its own particular trail of
disfigurement and disability. People who contracted
smallpox suffered characteristic, sometimes horrific,
scars, along with blindness, limb deformities and other
disabilities. As a lifelong condition, Aids and the sideeffects of treatment can affect nearly every body system,
from brain to bone.
In the early stages of a new epidemic – before it has
been recognised or how it spreads has been determined,
and before appropriate protection measures are in
place – health workers die in high numbers. As with
war, where common illness can take more lives than
war injuries, epidemics sometimes take more lives
from disruption of primary health care than from the
epidemic itself. Because health workers are diverted
to emergency response centres, and health facilities
are sometimes closed, epidemics can also disrupt
routine public healthcare needs such as immunisation,
treatment of acute illness and facility-based births.
Finally, there is the stunning financial and economic
cost to households, communities, businesses and entire
countries. Such a pandemic could cause a global stock
market crash that obliterates the livelihoods and savings
of millions of survivors. “A severe and prolonged global
pandemic could … hit global GDP by as much as 5-10% in
the first year,” noted the authors of the Bank of America/
Merrill Lynch 2015 Global Pandemics Primer report.
Oxford Economics has suggested that the cost of a
global pandemic, including spillover across industry
sectors, could be as great as $3.5tn – an impact far
greater than the magnitude of the great financial crisis
of 2008.
Every year, the world spends more than $50bn
controlling epidemics such as avian influenza, HIV/Aids,
malaria and polio, and responding to new threats such
as Ebola. In addition to the direct cost of preparedness,
immunisation and emergency response, there’s the
indirect cost of disruption in travel, transport of goods,
tourism, financial markets and other areas of economic
activity. Wherever it has been measured, this indirect
economic impact is at least equal to and usually greater
than the direct cost, bringing the total cost of infectious
disease epidemics close to $100bn a year. In short, even
in the absence of Gates’s imagined pandemic, we can
expect to spend $1tn on epidemics over the next decade
unless we fundamentally change course.
Scientists don’t know which microbe it will be, where
it will come from or whether it will be transmitted
through the air, by touch, through bodily fluids or
through a combination of routes, but they do know that
epidemics behave a bit like earthquakes. Scientists know
that a “big one” is coming because scores of new, smaller
earthquakes pop up around the globe every year.
I write this not just because I’m scared. I’m also
furious. Many leaders, economists and scientists believe
that the risk of potentially devastating epidemics could
be prevented for a fraction of the cost of battling an out
of control global pandemic.
The obvious question is this: why aren’t we deploying
absolutely everything we have to make sure that the next
disease outbreak doesn’t turn into a global catastrophe?
There are three broad answers.
First, there’s fear. We are all afraid of death. We
respond to the fear of epidemic disease by wanting to
blame someone else. Any time a threat arises, we want to
blame the “other”, those not like “us”. At the outbreak of
the 1918 Spanish flu, Americans blamed “the Hun”. Aids
was blamed on gay men.
We want to punish those with the disease, pretending
that whatever makes them other has cursed them.
The most contagious behavioural reaction that affects
political leaders, businesspeople and the public is panic
that disproportionately exceeds the actual event. Scared
people overpersonalise the news, and their worries
increase. Fear is a warning system intended to alert us to
impending danger, just as it is in animals. When we let it
override our rationality, we make things much worse.
Second is denial and complacency, which often starts
at the top, with political leaders or public health officials
who reject the reality before them. Denial undermines
the very trust needed to combat an epidemic. And
complacency sets in when the last epidemic passes. We
feel that we’ll have the silver bullet vaccine in time; that
technology will save us, so we don’t need to spend time
and money on basic prevention.
Finally, financial self-interest: how many vaccines
never get developed because poor people can’t pay
for the drugs that pharmaceutical companies could
develop? How many times do governments and leaders
plead that there is no budget for preparedness? How
many disease-fostering agribusiness companies line the
pockets of politicians who conveniently overlook the
threats bubbling up from factory farm sewage?
Not recognising these failings – and not doing
everything we can in spite of them to prevent a
potentially staggering loss of life and livelihood – would
be not just irresponsible, but criminal.
ll kinds of complex and
interconnected social, economic and environmental
risk factors contribute to the emergence and spread of
Consider how just one, population growth, leads to a
whole set of others. The world’s population is now more
than 7.5 billion and it is projected to increase by more
than 2 billion people by mid-century. More than half that
number will be born in Africa, and most of them will be
packed into dense urban areas where an epidemic can
spread like wildfire.
The more people there are, the greater the demand
for shelter, food and water. Imagine that you are a
poor person living in a remote part of Guinea or the
Amazon jungle, and you want to do the thing that is
most instinctive for all of us: to stay alive. If you are
lucky enough to procure cows, goats or chickens, you
need room for a pasture. And if you need wood for fires
or to build a house, you chop down the trees. But your
own personal needs are nothing in comparison to the
demands of agribusiness and industry, which obliterates
millions of acres of forestland each year. Between 2000
and 2010, these industries annually consumed some
13 million hectares (50,000 square miles).
Clear-cutting – cutting down every tree in an area –
brings people in closer contact with primates, rodents
and bats that carry dangerous pathogens. Some
researchers believe that ravaged tropical forests and
increased human activity in countries such as Liberia
and Guinea presented an ideal opportunity for the Ebola
virus to jump from its natural reservoir to humans.
Deforestation also leads to flooding, which attracts
mosquitoes. The hotter the jungle (and the planet)
becomes as a result of all this deforestation, the happier
mosquitoes are. If you’re living near a forest in Africa
and have the leisure to be focused on more than your
survival, you may have begun to notice that some
amphibians and birds that hunted mosquitoes have
disappeared (because they are extinct). Those that are
not extinct may have migrated to more northerly realms
that are rapidly becoming more hospitable, thanks to
global climate change.
Viruses such as Ebola, Aids and Zika aren’t like
A burial team
retrieve the body
of a 60-yearold Ebola victim
from his home
near Monrovia,
Liberia, in
August 2014.
Photograph by
John Moore/Getty
fastidious plants that stay rooted in only one place.
On any given day, millions of people around the world
are moving around on planes, trains, boats, trucks and
automobiles, some from places where undiscovered
viruses are festering in the bloodstreams of wild beasts
and fowls. An average of 10 million people a day take to
the skies; 3.5 billion passenger flights a year.
All this creates huge opportunities for the
transcontinental spread of pathogens such as Sars,
Ebola or Zika. A person who has been infected in a hot
zone won’t feel ill for days or weeks, not until they land
in Dallas, Singapore, London or New York. And the
duration of the longest intercontinental flights is now
greater than the incubation period of several common
pathogens. A person may be asymptomatic when they
get on a jumbo jet in Hong Kong, but by the time they
land in New York they will have spread the virus to the
crew and passengers.
In the case of Aids, the virus spread slowly at first.
Then, as Africa became more urbanised and roads
connected remote regions to cities, men went to the
cities to look for work. Those men hooked up with
infected prostitutes who spread the virus to clients.
Disease travels especially fast in west Africa, where
the population is highly mobile. People move around a
lot to look for work or food or to visit extended family
members across borders. Also, sick people will travel to
countries that have the resources to treat them when
their own countries do not. One sick individual crossing
a border to seek a cure could start a wave of new
infections across a country that has all but succeeded in
controlling an outbreak. The problem is compounded
by the illegal trade of goods, animals and people; there
is often no record of who or what may have entered
a country, or when or where that person or animal
carrying a deadly virus might have done so, making the
prevention and treatment of the disease very difficult.
And like the proverbial butterfly whose beating
Comment & Analysis
A localised epidemic that affects
hundreds or thousands of people
An illness or infection that is in
excess of normal expectations
An epidemic over a very wide
area, crosses borders and touches
thousands or millions of lives
wings can set off a hurricane somewhere far away, any
single human being can do something that sets off
catastrophic consequences. People need to have sex;
before Aids broke out, thousands spread the disease
through unprotected sex, and a few irresponsible ones
continued this behaviour even after discovering they
had contracted HIV.
Humans hug and kiss: during the Ebola crisis,
containing the disease was made far more difficult not
just because of an ancient tradition of kissing dead
bodies but because people insist on touching one
another. And human beings need to eat: given a choice
between starvation and risking disease, most people
would prefer to roast a monkey or a bat.
Ebola, Aids and Zika each arose in the first half of the
20th century and spent their first several decades in the
African bush, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
But they are three very different examples of emerging
infectious diseases. And they are just three of nearly 400
new infectious diseases that have been identified in the
last 75 years. Since 1971, scientists have discovered at
least 25 new pathogens for which we have no vaccine
and no treatment.
Even more worrying is the rate at which emerging
infectious diseases are appearing: the number of new
ones has been increasing each decade, more than
tripling between 1940 and 2000. During the 1980s, the
number of new infectious diseases rose to nearly 100,
reflecting an association with the Aids pandemic. In
2014, the World Health Organisation recorded more
than 100 disease outbreaks.
Death toll
Number of deaths*
by type of virus
• Influenzas
• Non-Influenzas
avian flu,
Sars coronavirus
H1N1, swine flu
avian flu
Mers coronavirus
West Africa Ebola virus
Zika, western hemisphere
Source: Bean A, Baker M, Stewart C et al. Studying immunity to zoonotic diseases in the natural host − keeping it
real. Nature Reviews: Immunology 2013;13:851-61. *Sizes of circles are not proportional.
hat to do?
For less than $1 per year for every person on the
planet (spent on the right things), we could prevent the
next local disease outbreak from turning into Bill Gates’s
feared global pandemic. That’s less than half of what
Americans alone spend on video games each year and a
small fraction of Gates’s net worth. It’s far less than the
current annual cost of dealing with Aids, an epidemic
the world allowed to spin out of control. And it’s nothing
compared with what a pandemic would cost the world
in emergency response and economic disruption.
Those investment funds would support innovation for
prevention, strengthen developing countries’ health
systems, and support emergency response to ensure
that microbial invaders never arrive at the gates.
There are seven essential sets of actions if we want
to set about ending epidemics. These seven actions
emerged out of in-depth analyses of five epidemics:
smallpox, influenza, Aids, Sars and Ebola. I chose these
five diseases because together they killed more than half
The Observer
a billion people in the last 100 years and because they
reflect different types of epidemics.
 1. Lead as though the house is on fire
Just as firefighters race into the burning building,
those responsible for protecting public health need
to act rapidly and on the basis of scientific evidence,
not political interests. Leaders at the highest level
must put
p the public good above parochial interests.
 2. Resilien
Resilient systems, global security
Strong nationa
national public health systems are the
foundations for prevention and preparedness. National
governments, the private sector, communities and
faith-based organisations
have been enormously
successful when
whe they work in concert to fight disease.
Robust international
agencies and non-governmental
organisations are essential to support even the poorest
countries in mounting successful defences.
 3. Active prevention, constant readiness
Epidemics can be stopped by prevention through healthy
self-care habits, immunisation and fighting mosquitoes;
early detection of disease through surveillance at all
levels; and rapid response to treat the sick, prevent the
spread and maintain routine health services.
 4. Fatal fictions, timely truths
In the face of an epidemic, terror, blame, rumours and
conspiracy theories, distrust of authorities and panic can
take hold simultaneously. This is why establishing and
maintaining trust through honest, clear communication
at local level is paramount. History continues to show
us that health communication lies at the heart of
epidemic control. Fighting rumour with truth is a job
for professional communication teams working with
governments, international agencies, communities,
print and broadcast media and social media.
 5. Disruptive innovation, collaborative transformation
We need to do everything we can to support the work
of scientists who are applying breakthrough techniques
to identify viruses and prevent them from jumping to
people, and we must help those who are working to
nip outbreaks in the bud. We need to do better research
and development to diagnose illness quickly and treat it
immediately. We must discover new vaccines, make more
of them and figure out better distribution strategies.
 6. Invest wisely, save lives
A worldwide pandemic could cost the economy several
trillion dollars. But an ounce of prevention, in terms of
money, is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes
to stopping epidemics. By investing an average of just
$7.5bn more annually for the next 20 years ($1 per person
per year) in the right preventive and response measures at
the right times, we can substantially reduce the chance of
epidemics and more than repay ourselves in savings.
 7. Ring the alarm, rouse the leaders
… with local, national and international voices that
track capacity, performance and resources. This is a job
for citizens and concerned stakeholders. We achieve
progress through a combination of good science, strong
leadership and committed advocacy.
I vividly remember the debates we had among global
health professionals about Aids treatment in 2000 and
the sense of achievement we felt in 2010. During that
decade, the unthinkable became reality before our eyes.
A determined group of activists, people living with
HIV/Aids, health officials and political leaders built a
global movement that proved the naysayers wrong by
successfully overcoming each barrier to build the largest
public health treatment programme in history. That
experience transformed my understanding of the word
“impossible” and what we can do – with these seven
essentials – to stop epidemics.
We know how to stop the next epidemic. This is no
excuse for unpreparedness. If we are to save ourselves
and our children we must act decisively. The threat is
real. The pathway is known. The time for action is now.
Dr Jonathan D Quick, of the Harvard Medical School, is
Chair of the Global Health Council, and author of The End
of Epidemics.
The Observer
Comment & Analysis
The Observer Archive
16 March 1978
Quentin Crisp
with a cup of tea
in his bed-sit.
At home with
Quentin Crisp
Performer reflected
on his newfound
success on the eve of
a nationwide tour
Photograph by
Jane Bown for the Observer
This week
in 1977
Because the Ulster crisis is
so intransigent, we often
fail to see the wood for the
trees. But there is one sharp,
uncomfortable and tragic fact
that no citizen of the United
Kingdom or the Irish Republic
should forget.
It is that what began, more
than eight years ago now, as a
campaign to achieve fuller civil
rights in Northern Ireland has
culminated in the loss of the
greatest civil right of all – the
right to freedom from murder.
We must not allow our
capacity for human horror
and pity to be calloused.
The past week has been
particularly horrible:
A boy of 12, waiting for the
school bus in his village street,
sees his father, a part-time
soldier, shot dead by the
IRA (who also wounded his
Catholic workmate). A Catholic
in Belfast, accompanied
by his 10-year-old son,
decides to visit friends in a
Protestant area; the father
is killed, the son injured,
presumably by Protestant
Quentin Crisp has lived in the same
Chelsea bed-sit for the past 38 years.
But despite his new-found
success as a stage performer, he has
no intention of moving from the
decidedly grimy home which he has
made part of his character over the
years. His one-man show, which
ended its highly successful London
run on Friday, is now going on tour
around the country before he flies
extremists. In Fermanagh,
an 18-year-old policeman
becomes the Royal Ulster
Constabulary’s hundredth and
youngest victim. An English
businessman, on a oneday visit to Belfast, to help
provide jobs for West Belfast
Catholics, is murdered; and the
IRA say, No, they didn’t get the
wrong man; so his widow is left
to explain to a weeping nineyear-old why his father died.
There is no sane
explanation. We do well to
remind ourselves of that.
off in June for a two-month spell in
As we waited for his ancient kettle
to boil on his almost equally ancient
gas stove last week, Crisp told me
he still cannot get used to the idea
that after a lifetime as an object
of derision and scorn, “suddenly
I’m someone everyone wants to
introduce to their mothers”.
‘In the mixed
economy, it’s
the mix that
Margaret Thatcher
Leprosy is becoming resistant
to drugs that have treated it
successfully for 30 years, and
Dr Stanley Browne, director
of London’s Leprosy Study
Centre, believes the outlook is
“very serious”: “Dapsone has
been an effective treatment
since 1946,” he said. “But if you
treat a chronic disease with
just one drug, that disease will
develop resistant strains.”
Leprosy beats the drugs, News
On stream
Can music service
Spotify ever
make a profit?
Proud to wear the shirt: contrasting styles
of two retail veterans loyal to the brand
Camera-shy Ray Kelvin
of Ted Baker and Next’s
midfield mastermind,
Simon Wolfson, face
the music this week,
writes Simon Goodley
In the world of football, the traditional notion of a one-club man – a
player who spends his whole career
turning out for the same team – has
been going out of fashion for decades.
We may revere Franco Baresi’s
peerless defending during his years
at AC Milan, the wonder goals of
Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier
and the, er, sensational dribbles of
Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, but for
every one of those examples there
are scores of contemporaries who dot
around the league, taking whichever
contract their agents fancy.
It is the same in the City, where the
notion that a chief exec might spend
a career plying his trade for a single
outfit feels rarer still. Yet such people
do exist. Just about.
Take this week, for example, when
the retail trade is on show. Amid the
inevitable questions about how the
“beast from the east” has affected
trading, there might be some longerterm questions posed to the two
shopping stalwarts pencilled in for
a run-out.
Simon Wolfson came through the
youth team at the family firm – the
retailer Next – becoming chief executive at 33. That was back in 2001, so
he’s now been there long enough to
hire shop assistants who had yet to be
born when he first got the gig.
We also have a scheduled update
from fashion chain Ted Baker, where
The enigmatic
Ray Kelvin, left,
founded Ted
Baker in 1987
and never left.
Above, Simon
Wolfson, boss
of Next.
Photograph by
Eddie Gallacher/
Alpha Press
founder Ray Kelvin has long passed
Wolfson’s landmark – having created
his firm in 1987 and floated it on the
stock exchange in 1997.
Each, of course, has a very different
style of play, yet they also have more
in common than their longevity.
What ties them together is that
both have managed to steer their
companies through the constant
challenges in their sector, only suffering the odd problematic season
that seems to afflict their rivals more
frequently. These achievements come
despite each retailer having scores of
physical stores in an era when the
future of the high street is constantly
thought to be under threat from the
rise of online shopping.
Wolfson has even been opening
new outlets – albeit on increasingly
flexible leases – and starting to do
eyebrow-arching deals with the space
he has, including an agreement with
car dealer Rockar that, oddly, gives
Manchester punters the chance to
shop for cheap suits and a new motor
at the same time.
Meanwhile, Kelvin has hinted he
might shut a few Ted Baker shops.
Then again, he says, he might not.
All of which rather suggests that
even this pair are not totally sure what
the future of the high street looks like.
The uncertainty leaves shareholders
wondering if they might, therefore,
compare these business one-club
men to Le Tissier – from whom football fans used to tolerate 89 minutes
of almost total inactivity in exchange
for a screamer that saved the day at
the death.
For now, though, that is probably too pessimistic an assessment.
Wolfson’s record of making the job
of running a mid-market retailer look
simple next to his perspiring rivals
perhaps makes him more of a Baresi.
The Italian, when swapping shirts
at the end of a tough fixture, nonchalantly used to hand over a jersey
smelling solely of his cologne.
Meanwhile Kelvin – who, bizarrely,
always avoids having his full visage
photographed – suddenly seems to
have more in common with Carragher,
who is currently suspended from
broadcasting duties after spitting
on a teenage girl. Both, it seems, feel
ashamed to show their face.
Vital statistic
HSBC reports largest Unilever denies HQ
Airbus deals a blow
gender pay gap in UK move linked to Brexit to £8.1bn GKN sale
Pork pies fall out of
UK shopping basket
Men are paid two and a half times
more per hour than women on average at HSBC – the largest gender
pay gap reported to date by a major
UK company. The gender pay report
from the UK’s largest bank, published on Thursday, revealed that
less than a quarter of its most senior
staff were female, while more than
two-thirds of those in junior roles
were women.
Women’s activewear leggings,
quiche and raspberries are in vogue,
while pork pies and bottles of lager
drunk in nightclubs are out, in the
annual shakeup of the UK’s official shopping basket. Gym leggings,
made popular by “athleisure” brands
such as Beyoncé’s Ivy Park, have
been added to the basket used by
the Office for National Statistics to
measure inflation.
Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer
goods giant, picked Rotterdam
over London as its new sole headquarters, but denied the move was
related to the Brexit vote. Britain’s
third-largest company, which makes
well-known consumer brands
including Marmite, Dove soap and
Magnum ice cream, had been jointly
based in London and Rotterdam for
nearly a century.
Engineering group GKN faces an
exodus of customers if it is sold
to turnaround specialist Melrose,
opponents of the proposed £8.1bn
deal claimed after the aviation firm
Airbus said it would take its business elsewhere in the event of a
takeover. The intervention is a major
blow for Melrose’s hopes, given
Airbus is GKN’s largest customer,
accounting for about 7% of its sales.
Amount Philip Hammond will
need to impose in tax rises to
balance public finances by 2025,
says the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Extra sum IFS believes may be
required because of “additional
demographic pressures”.
The Observer
Can Spotify
and Dropbox
prove that tech
is a sound
After an underwhelming flotation for Snap, the
music service and the data storage site have their
doubters, write Charles Arthur and Mark Sweney
he message to investors
from Spotify last week
had a familiar ring for
any veteran of the tech
gold rush: “The trend
towards profitability is
clear.” The music streaming service is
hoping to banish the memory of a difficult year for technology flotations.
Similar promises of digital alchemy –
heavy cash investment transforming
into an ever-burgeoning bottom line
– followed the stock-market launch of
Snap last year. So far, investors in the
owner of Snapchat have been underwhelmed, but last week 35-year-old
Daniel Ek, Spotify’s co-founder and
chief executive, was adamant that
his music streaming service would
deliver the kind of returns that have
proved elusive for tech upstarts since
the blockbuster float of Facebook.
The test for Stockholm-based
Spotify will come when it floats in
New York on 3 April, while Dropbox,
the online file storage company, is
preparing to launch its initial public
offering this week. Those companies
must answer two simple questions:
will Spotify ever go into the black and
justify the near-$20bn (£14.4bn) valuation that private trades in its shares
put on it; and is Dropbox really worth
between $7bn and $8bn?
With both companies preparing
to join US stock markets, they could
determine whether investors regain
their enthusiasm for new technology stocks after a disappointing year
in 2017, during which Snap, mealkit company Blue Apron and bigdata business Cloudera all went for
public listings – and disappointed.
Shares in Snap are down a quarter
since it floated – a poor performance
for investors hoping it would emulate Facebook, which has risen nearly
400% since it floated in 2012. (Twitter,
meanwhile, finally recorded its first
quarterly profit last month, five years
after going public.)
One analyst thinks the latest flotations will restore faith. “Spotify and
Dropbox have a very good chance of
success because the technology world
is about one company dominating one sector,” says Mark Mulligan,
a tech analyst at Midia Research.
“Spotify and Dropbox are each dominant forces in their respective sectors. Snapchat wasn’t, because of the
might of Facebook and its Instagram
service. Snapchat is a second-tier
player: Spotify and Dropbox are toptier players. It is a completely different ballgame.”
Some big names are counting on
Ek and his counterpart at Dropbox,
Drew Houston. Lining up behind
Dropbox and Spotify are ride-hailing service Uber – given a notional
value of $50bn in 2015 – and the
short-term letting agency Airbnb. The
former isn’t profitable; the latter is.
With markets jittery, both Spotify and
Dropbox are working hard to push
a story of future profits and growth.
On Wednesday, Spotify used a web
presentation to reassure would-be
investors that it has a clear path to
profit, pointing out that revenues
grew 39% to €4.1bn (£3.6bn) in 2017,
though financing costs from a €1bn
loan helped push operating losses
up 8% to €378m. “The trend towards
profitability is clear when you look at
operating losses as a percentage of
revenue,” it said soothingly.
Spotify is also taking an unusual
approach to its listing – going direct,
so that its shares aren’t handled by
an investment bank or underwriters,
but simply offered from the company
on the exchange to would-be buyers.
Analysing that approach last year,
the business magazine Fortune said:
“If an IPO is like a wedding, a direct
listing is running off to elope. A faster,
easier, cheaper route to the same
result.” Of course, like an elopement,
you might not get the big benefits: an
IPO guarantees money from institu-
tional buyers snapping up millions
of shares. A direct listing could flop.
Others aren’t so sure about Spotify’s
potential, based on its finances and its
business model. Spotify users have the
option of a free service, in exchange
for listening to adverts intermittently,
or paying a monthly subscription fee
of £9.99, $9.99 or €9.99 for no-advert
streaming. It is a compelling service
Share price, $
+384% since float
Share price, $
Source: Bloomberg
with 71 million paying users, but the
cost in payments to artists and record
companies is huge: it has forked out
$9bn in royalties since it launched.
According to one investor, Spotify’s
gross margin – a measure of profitability once certain costs are stripped
out – is not high enough and indicates that royalty rates have to come
down. “A 20% gross margin business
Share price, $
Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg
is not a good business,” says venture
capitalist David B Pakman. “One of
two things has to happen: they have to
enter new business lines with higher
gross margins, or somehow magically transform the rate structure with
labels.” The latter rate is how much
Spotify has to pay per track streamed.
Dropbox, meanwhile, was valued
at $10bn when it last raised capital
in 2014, but that has been slashed to
between $7bn and $8bn for its forthcoming IPO. Steve Jobs was famously
dismissive of the company: in a 2009
meeting, the late Apple chief told
Houston that he had “a feature, not
a product”. In other words: Apple
or Microsoft or Google could add
Dropbox’s functionality – you drop a
file in the folder on your PC, and it’s
available on your phone or tablet – to
their existing software for free.
Houston shrugged off Jobs’s disdain to build a company that in 2017
The Observer
Rise of renewables
begins to reshape
global energy giants
German deal reflects
changes in industry
across Europe
Three of Spotify’s
biggest draws
last year:
Rihanna, left,
Taylor Swift,
above, and
Ed Sheeran.
by Timothy A
Clary/AFP, Mario
Matt Jenlonik/
‘They are each
dominant forces
in their sectors.
Snapchat wasn’t,
because of Facebook’
Mark Mulligan, analyst
had 500 million users and $1.11bn in
revenues. Not bad for a “feature”.
So why has its notional value gone
down? Partly it’s the company’s revenues: in the absence of profits (it
made a net loss of $112m in 2017,
almost halved from $210m in 2016),
a typical measure of capitalisation is
a five- or six-fold revenue multiple.
With the company’s filings showing
revenues up 31% in 2017, the $7bn
figure looks reasonable compared
to rivals such as Box, which does the
same file synchronisation but with a
focus on commercial clients.
“The pricing [for Dropbox] had to
come down to lure in the investors,”
says Phil Davis of the investment
advice service Phil’s Stock World. Eric
Schiffer, of private equity company
the Patriarch Organization, calls the
pricing “a slap in the face to investors
of the 2014 round”.
It’s therefore starting to look as
Drew Houston,
founder of
Dropbox, has
built a company
with 500 million
though the sky-high valuations of
a few years ago were mistakes born
of over-optimistic expectations.
In 2012, the venture capitalist Bill
Gurley called Dropbox “a major disruption”, saying that Houston and
his team had “taken a hard problem
– file synchronisation – and made
it brain-dead simple”. But now such
synchronisation is a feature offered
by almost everyone.
Dropbox’s broader problem is also
its biggest opportunity. Of its 500 million users, only about 11 million pay
for its extra features, such as more
storage, administrative tracking, and
integration with Microsoft Office.
With only 2% of users paying,
there’s plenty of headroom for revenue growth: Spotify’s figure of
71 million paying users from a total
of 159 million is an impressive 44%.
Dropbox’s challenge is persuading
people to flip over to paying for something they can largely get for free:
Apple and Google both offer unlimAppl
ited photo storage and as much free
as Dropbox.
file storage
So, for both companies, plenty of
ancillary questions remain over
valuations. Is Dropbox
really a product? Or has the
march of technology turned it
into just another feature? And
will Spotify ever make a profit
when its margins seem to be
determined by its suppliers – the
record labels? Investors’ feelings
about the answers to those quesab
tions could have a knock-on effect
on many other businesses.
even years after an earthquake off Japan’s eastern
coast led to three meltdowns at the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear power
station, the aftershocks
are still being felt across the world.
The latest came last Saturday when
E.ON and RWE announced a huge
shakeup of the German energy industry, following meetings that ran into
the early hours.
Under a complex asset and shares
swap, E.ON will be reshaped to focus
on supplying energy to customers and managing energy grids. The
company will leave renewables. RWE
will focus on power generation and
energy trading, complementing its
existing coal and gas power stations
with a new portfolio of windfarms
that will make it Europe’s third-biggest renewable energy producer.
The major change comes two years
after both groups split their green and
fossil-fuel energy businesses, a result
of the plan by the German chancellor,
Angela Merkel, to phase out nuclear
by 2022, and also the Energiewende,
Germany’s speeded-up transition to
renewables after Fukushima.
Coming so soon after 2016’s drastic
overhaul, last week’s shakeup raises
the question of what a successful
energy utility looks like in Europe
today. How do companies adapt to
a world where the rapid growth of
renewables pushes down wholesale
prices, and the electrification of cars
begins to be felt on power grids?
Peter Atherton, an analyst at
Cornwall Insight , said the deal
showed that E.ON and RWE did not
get their reorganisation right two
years ago. It marks a decisive break
with the old, traditional model of a
vertically integrated energy company
that generates energy, transports it
and sells it.
By and large, companies are being
broken up and becoming more specialised. However, RWE argues that
today the only way to compete in
European government auctions for
renewable energy subsidies is to go
big. Rolf Martin Schmitz, the group’s
chief executive, said: “Critical mass is
the key in renewable energy. Before
this transaction, neither RWE nor
E.ON was in this position.”
After the deal, RWE will have
around 8GW of renewable capacity and another 5GW in the pipeline,
which will together account for 60%
of its earnings by 2020.
Schmitz also said that a new type
of company was needed to thrive in
a world where windfarms and other
green energy projects would soon
have to succeed on market prices, not
government subsidies. “Renewables
will evolve from a regulated business
to market competition,” he said.
E.ON, meanwhile, is majoring on
supplying people with energy and
services, and will grow from 31 million customers to roughly 50 million
after the deal. It will also have a much
greater proportion of its earnings –
80%, up from 65% – coming from the
regulated, lower-return but lowerrisk business of energy networks.
John Feddersen, chief executive
of Aurora Energy Research, said the
two firms were going in very different directions, but the path E.ON had
taken was less well trodden.
“This is to some extent a question of try it and see what works. [For
E.ON], owning grids and lobbying
government for good regulatory outcomes is a well-understood business.
However, the [customer] services side
is untried,” he said.
The changing nature of power generation in Europe has been felt most
keenly in Germany because of the
Energiewende, but industry-watchers say the same pattern is driving
companies to transform themselves
British Gas
owner Centrica
is selling off its
power stations
and getting into
services such as
smart heating.
across the continent. In the UK,
British Gas owner Centrica is halfway through a sometimes painful
reinvention of itself as a customercentric energy company, divesting its
power stations to focus on selling services such as smart heating systems,
as well as gas and electricity.
The UK’s second-biggest energy
firm, SSE, is moving in the opposite
direction. It is getting out of domestic energy supply, banking instead
on regulated networks and renewable power generation, where prices
are guaranteed.
The picture is further complicated
by the entrance of big oil, which is
taking serious steps to diversify out
of oil and gas and into the world of
energy utilities. Norway’s Statoil last
week rebranded itself as Equinor
to reflect its transformation into a
“broad energy” company.
Investors seem to like the paths
E.ON and RWE have taken, with big
bumps in the share prices of both
after the deal. But no one knows if we
will be back here in two years’ time. “I
would view this very much as a test of
the right structure for an energy company,” said Feddersen.
The Observer
Finland’s story shows equality is a better
route to happiness than rapid growth
Business leader
f you can’t buy happiness,
perhaps you should move
to Helsinki. Finland has
emerged from a 10-year
economic depression to
be ranked by the UN last
week as the happiest place to live
on the planet. The most important factor in Finland topping the
UN’s happiness ranking is the country’s history of equality. It has managed to strike a balance between the
sexes, between workers and bosses,
and within the education and welfare systems. An equal society can
bond together to survive the bad
times when so many countries pull
themselves apart.
At the turn of the century Finland
was riding high. It boasted one of
the world’s most successful tech
companies – Nokia – and a had
a well-deserved reputation for
embracing the internet revolution.
It had escaped from the shadow of
the Soviet Union to become a robust
neighbour to Russia.
Then Nokia found itself on the
wrong side of the smartphone revolution, following the launch of
Apple’s iPhone. Slow to react, it
went into terminal decline. After the
financial crisis hit, Finland was unable to recover.
By 2016, and after five years of
declining national income, the economy had stabilised. Last year the
bounce-back finally took hold and
the economy is estimated to have
grown by 3.2%. This year the country’s largest bank, OP Financial
Group, says gross domestic product
is expected to keep up the pace of
expansion at 3.3%.
Yet this recovery takes Finland
back only to where it was before
the financial crisis. The UK, by contrast, bounced back to its 2008 peak
in 2014. The US recovery was even
Airbus may
shoot down
hopes that
GKN’s sale can
be blocked
A bigger splash: Finland is ranked first in the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report. Alamy
All these areas of
Finnish life exemplify
a cooperative spirit
that commentators
say is born of the
harsh climate
quicker. So why, when the UK, the
US and many other European countries have contended with huge populist waves that have culminated
in a vote of no confidence in their
ruling political elites, has Finland
remained happy?
A state education system that
shepherds all children through to 18
without the need for selective or private schooling has for many years
kept the country at or near the top
of the rankings of the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and
During the 1990s, research
and development in Finland was
around the highest in the developed world, at 4% of GDP; while it
has slipped back to just below 3%, it
remains among the best in Europe.
The health service and welfare programmes remain universal, even if
not quite as generous as they once
were. Its state broadcaster is ranked
alongside the BBC as among the
most innovative in Europe.
Tech companies such as the
games studio Supercell, creator of
Clash of Clans, has taken over where
Nokia left off, paying more than
€800m in tax and producing seven
of Finland’s top-10 income tax payers in 2016. Not that Nokia has
disappeared. It is still a major manufacturer and the largest employer,
with 102,000 staff, followed by escalator maker Kone. The salaries of the
best-paid 10,000 or so workers are
published for all to see.
All these areas of Finnish life
exemplify a cooperative spirit
that commentators say is born of
the harsh climate. The cold forces
people to be independent and
overcome inhospitable conditions. It also forces them to come
together to achieve things, nurturing a degree of neighbourliness
that extends into public life and
state policies.
Nevertheless, the period of economic depression has been scarring.
The rise of the far-right True Finns
party, which elected an anti-immigration hardliner as its leader last
year, is evidence of that.
The conservatives who control the
coalition government were the most
vocal critics of a bailout for Greece,
and are currently pushing through
parliament steep cuts in healthcare
that will force more Finns to go private. This move, which may dent the
happiness figures, is in response to
one of the most rapidly ageing populations in Europe.
urnaround specialist
Melrose is a seasoned
deal-making warrior
with a string of takeover scalps under its
belt, but its £8.1bn
hostile tilt at engineer GKN is proving to be its most bruising battle yet.
The proposal is already facing fierce
opposition from trade unions and a
cohort of MPs, including party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable.
Opponents of the deal have
branded Melrose an asset-stripper
that can’t be trusted not to rip the
guts out of a key player in Britain’s
industrial landscape. The government has also indicated that
it is mindful of concerns about
national security: GKN makes parts
for military aircraft including the
Typhoon fighter jet and A400M
transport plane.
But noises from Whitehall have
suggested that GKN might not be
pivotal enough to Britain’s military power to warrant interference
in private enterprise. Enter aviation
titan Airbus, diving out of the sun to
launch a volley at Melrose’s plans.
Airbus is GKN’s biggest customer,
accounting for nearly £700m of
sales. It warned last week it could
not support the sale of a major supplier to Melrose, which it feared had
short-termist intentions. Like pilots,
aircraft manufacturers prefer to see
a long way ahead of them.
There may yet be hope for
Melrose. Airbus had been miffed
at a perceived “lack of engagement” from the company and
could be using public scepticism to
strengthen its hand in private talks.
A sit-down scheduled for the end
of the month will give Melrose the
chance to flesh out pledges such as
continued spending on research.
Engineering champion RollsRoyce, which accounts for 3% of
GKN’s £3.4bn aerospace sales, has
made it clear that it won’t stand in
Melrose’s way. So if Airbus can be
brought around, MPs and unions
could yet be drowned out by the roar
of jet engines.
Honesty is certainly not the best policy if you’re moving the HQ to Europe
hy blame
Brexit for
a decision
to leave the
country and
trigger the
resentment of 17 million referendum voters? Unilever must have calculated that a planned move to the
Netherlands could spark protests
from Brexit voters if it blamed their
electoral preference for its decision.
The Anglo-Dutch maker of Dove
soap and Hellman’s mayonnaise
will instead move its headquarters
to Rotterdam as part of a restructuring to simplify management
The previous London/Rotterdam
split HQ may have worked for decades, during which time the company has become one of the world’s
largest consumer products firms
with a £50bn turnover, but not any
more. The uncertainty surrounding
the outcome of Brexit negotiations
was of no consequence, it said.
Maybe Brexit wasn’t the main reason. Maybe Unilever, having sold
the margarine and spreads business developed by the Dutch half of
the firm, needed to offer a sop to the
Amsterdam government. Or it could
be that its board of directors, topheavy with Dutch executives, wanted
a move to favour their homeland.
They certainly denied that the
Dutch were better at protecting firms from unwanted takeovers and that that was the reason
for the move. Unilever, let it not
be forgotten, recently fought off
an aggressive £115bn takeover bid
by Kraft, the voracious US cheeseand cereal-maker that earlier
swallowed Cadbury.
So we can’t know the real reason.
And that will probably be the case
whenever a British company with
large foreign holdings or a foreign
owner says it is moving a factory, a
division or the HQ, and then claims
Brexit played no part in its thinking.
It would be foolish for a large
firm, especially one that deals
directly with the public, to say that
the loss of the single market and
customs union lay behind a decision
to quit: it might leave a bad taste in
British mouths.
here is a warning to
the government in
the latest official figures on research and
development: they
reveal that most of the
research is being done by the three
industries most vulnerable to Brexit.
Another red flag is the UK’s 11thplace ranking in the European R&D
league – behind the Nordics, France
and Germany, which we have come
to expect, but also, surprisingly,
Austria, Slovenia and the Czechs.
The three industries at risk are
pharmaceuticals, aerospace and
cars. Between them they spent
£9.4bn on R&D in 2016, which was
almost half of the £22.2bn spent by
business in total.
The UK car industry, which is
almost entirely foreign-owned, has
already made its concerns clear to
business secretary Greg Clark. It
wants to move parts around Europe
without barriers, either in the form
of tariffs or extra administration.
The company to watch is Jaguar
Land Rover (JLR). It is a largely diesel car company in a world where
diesel is dying. It is Britain’s largest
carmaker, with an annual output of
more than 640,000 vehicles. Where
will its Indian owners – Tata Group
– build a new generation of electric
cars? The decision is due this year.
Already Tata has commissioned
Magna, a Canadian car parts maker,
 @phillipinman
R&D can’t
fly against
the winds
of austerity
and Brexit
to build the first model under contract at sites in Austria.
JLR has told Clark that he needs
to spend £450m on infrastructure
in the Midlands before it even considers retooling factories in Solihull,
Coventry and Wolverhampton.
Clark is known to be in talks with
the Treasury and the Tory mayor
of the West Midlands, Andy Street,
and has handed Street £31m to fund
the testing of driverless cars on
the region’s roads. He is also considering an £80m bid for a battery
research institute in Coventry. It’s all
good stuff, but he has some way to
go before he hits £450m.
Meanwhile, JLR is building a £1bn
factory in Slovakia. It isn’t clear if
the plant is gearing up to work with
Magna, but there is every chance
Austria and Slovakia will become the
centre of JLR’s electric ambitions.
That would be a huge blow to
the West Midlands, the UK and the
chancellor, Philip Hammond, who
is only too aware of the UK’s woeful
record on R&D spending.
Last November, Hammond said
he wanted to push total R&D spending from 1.67% to 2.4% of GDP, past
the EU average of 2.06%, to leave the
UK in sixth place. He promised to
release an extra £2.3bn in 2020-21,
which he said could be added to the
£4.75bn extra in his budget plans for
the next three years. The 2.4% target is due to be reached in 2027 and
the extra costs he is incurring are
among the reasons Hammond is on
course to miss his balanced-budget
target in 2025.
All his extra money is going on
investment, leaving nothing spare
to ease welfare cuts or boost spending on health, prisons or the police.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has
warned the chancellor that his plans
are heroic and risk a huge backlash.
The heroism stems from the
task of shifting the UK from a pattern of spending that has locked
R&D investment at 1.7% of GDP or
thereabouts for 30 years – and that
Hammond wants to channel funds
to industry by imposing the longest
period of austerity in history.
Much of Clark’s focus is on the
pharmaceutical industry. To keep it
happy, he will need to come up with
even more money than demanded
by the motor bosses.
For years, pharma companies have milked the EU’s R&D
The Observer
budget, using it to subsidise some
of their most basic research. With
Pfizer’s decision to pull out of the
UK, almost all pharma research is
being done by GlaxoSmithKline
and AstraZeneca. They are unlikely
to up sticks when Brexit hits, especially as they are embedded in projects with Cambridge University and
other institutions. Yet, over time,
there could be an acceleration in the
current leaching-away of research to
cheaper locations.
Aerospace firms also benefit from
the EU’s R&D grants, but their major
concern is long-term investment.
That’s why Airbus threatened to
withdraw all its business from supplier GKN if it succumbs to a takeover by Melrose – a firm with a
reputation for wringing businesses
dry before selling them on.
This month, Airbus also warned it
would need to consider its position
in the UK without clarity over customs rules after Brexit. Factories in
north Wales were at risk, executives
told MPs last year. It also said factories could soon consider stockpiling
parts to avoid border delays – adding costs that could make UK operations uncompetitive.
It is hard to see how Hammond
can generate the laudable stepchange he wants in R&D spending amid austerity and Brexit.
Something will have to give. Maybe
it should be his deficit target.
The Observer
Unfair practices
by lettings
agencies ‘show
urgent need
for regulation’
Charities and experts say government must step
in to protect people in the rental sector from
unscrupulous landlords, writes Anna Tims
Cannan moved
to London to
take up a new
job, he found
a room to rent
for £145 a week on It
was advertised by an individual called
Sara, but when he applied he found
himself dealing with a letting agent,
Citiside, which confirmed the room
was available to view.
On arrival at the agency, he was
informed that the room had already
been let, but was shown photos of a
similar room that came with a regular cleaning service. “I was told it was
not available for viewing and that if I
asked them to reserve it before I made
a decision I would have to pay a £500
holding deposit, which was nonrefundable after three days,” Cannan
says. “Foolishly, I was pressured into
taking it based on the photos. When I
moved in I found the room was filthy
and covered in black mould.”
Cannan’s new employer paid for
him to transfer to a hotel as the accom-
modation was a health hazard. “Since
then I’ve written to Citiside several
times to cancel my contract, citing
misleading advertising and hygiene
violations, but the manager has told
me to hire a lawyer if I want to rescind
it,” he says. “I believe the majority of
tenants attracted by Citiside’s cheap
prices are on low incomes, so it gambles that they will not be able to afford
to take it to court.”
Online forums tell a similar tale.
Numerous prospective tenants claim
to have been lured to Citiside’s offices
by ads for rooms that turned out not
to be available, then pressured into
accepting an alternative without viewing it. Reviewers make allegations of
poorly maintained accommodation
and Citiside’s refusal to return their
deposit when they complain. Since
many responded to ads on thirdparty websites in the names of individuals, they were not forewarned of
the agent’s dismal online reputation.
Citiside has pledged to abide by The
Property Ombudsman’s (TPO’s) code
of practice, which includes a commit-
‘I’ve written to
Citiside to cancel my
contract, but the
manager has told me
to hire a lawyer’
Alex Cannan, tenant
ment to fair and honest advertising,
and an effective complaints procedure. TPO confirms it has received
complaints about the agency and has
helped to resolve disputes “amicably” on a case-by-case basis. Citiside,
however, continues to be a member
of the scheme, although its website,
with misspellings and sections containing gobbledygook because no one
has bothered to write them up, contains no official complaints procedure
as required by the code of practice.
When the Observer rang Citiside for
a comment, the agent hung up and
two emails have been ignored.
The fact that such agencies can
continue with impunity exposes
the inadequacies of property regulation. Instead of a single body with
regulatory powers, tenants and
purchasers have to navigate four
redress schemes that investigate
unresolved complaints.
Estate and letting agents are not
allowed to trade unless they sign up
The Observer
New builds, new problems
There is no ombudsman scheme that
covers new developments, except for
warranty issues that can be referred
to the financial ombudsman. When
things go wrong, purchasers have
to rely on the warranty issued by
the National House Building Council
(NHBC) or another approved provider.
Although the warranty is for 10
years, developers only have to rectify
problems that arise in the first two
years following completion. After that,
homebuyers have to claim on the
warranty provider’s insurance, which
only covers serious structural issues.
As a last resort, new homeowners
can appeal to the Consumer Code for
Home Builders adjudication scheme.
But it costs £120 to lodge a complaint
and its findings are not legally binding.
Also, it only applies to developments
that are registered with the three
main warranty providers: NHBC, LABC
Warranty and Premier Guarantee.
Lettings agents
must sign up to a
redress scheme,
but there are
several, with
differing codes of
practice. Alamy
to TPO, the Property Redress Scheme,
Ombudsman Services, or the Housing
Ombudsman, all of which have differing codes of practice.
Large sectors of the housing sector such as new developments, landlords and home improvement have
no redress schemes at all. It is left
to overstretched trading standards
authorities to intervene if an agent
is suspected of abusing the market.
Tower Hamlets council fined
Citiside £10,000 in December for
not adequately displaying its fees.
The agency is appealing against the
charge. Last month, Ombudsman
Services said it would withdraw
from handling complaints about the
property sector because the system
offered a “broken solution to a broken market”.
“For an ombudsman to be effective it needs a regulator,” says the service’s chief ombudsman, Lewis Shand
Smith. “There are rogue letting agencies out there but we can investigate
only individual problems, with no
powers to address the root of them,
whereas a regulator can step in when
systemic failures are identified.”
The service plans to wind up its
redress scheme for surveyors and
managing, estate and letting agents
by the summer and focus on advising
the government on regulatory reform.
The government is consulting
on proposals that include a single housing ombudsman to handle
complaints. Crucially, landlords and
developers may be obliged to sign up
and companies could be named and
shamed to stamp out shoddy practice. The housing secretary, Sajid
Javid, said last month: “The current
choice of schemes risks leaving thousands without answers, with others
having to manoeuvre between at least
four different services just to work out
where to register a complaint.”
According to the housing charity
Shelter, increasing numbers of tenants like Cannan have been left at
the mercy of unscrupulous letting
agents and landlords. It is calling for
new laws to enable them to challenge
insanitary conditions.
“The dearth of affordable homes is
forcing desperate people to rent from
a minority of dodgy letting agents
and landlords, who subject tenants
to sub-standard properties, whether
it’s a flat covered in mould or a house
infested with vermin,” says Shelter’s
chief executive, Polly Neate. “The
proposed fitness for human habitation bill would give renters greater
rights to legally challenge poor and
unsafe conditions – meaning letting agents will have to ensure the
landlords on their books keep their
properties up to scratch. We strongly
urge the government to help make
that a reality.”
In the meantime, Cannan has
moved back into his substandard
room to spare his employer escalating
hotel bills while he battles to terminate his tenancy agreement. Citiside
removed the mould when he threatened legal action, but he says the
place remains insanitary.
“The law is being broken on a daily
basis but the majority of tenants do
not have the money for legal action,”
he says. “Lives are being ruined
as people are stuck in properties
unfit for habitation, with no option
to leave.”
Moreover, a builder can invalidate
the warranty, as Nadine Owen
discovered when, a year after she
moved in to an estate in Lincoln, the
developer, Beal Homes, realigned
driveways with the road to meet
council adoption requirements. As the
works, which were carried out against
Owen’s wishes, were not authorised
by the NHBC, the driveways are
now exempt from the 10-year
Buildmark warranty and the houses
will not be covered if damage such
as flooding arises from alterations to
the gradient and drainage system.
Beal told the Observer that no part
of the warranty had been invalidated
as it did not include drives. The NHBC
insists it has and it does.
The financial ombudsman,
meanwhile, has ruled that the NHBC
should have rectified numerous other
defects after Beal failed to resolve
them. Beal says it has complied with
all requirements. “The NHBC is still
finding substandard aspects in the
house,” says Owen. “It’s important to
highlight how little an NHBC warranty
is worth and how it can be taken away
through no fault of your own.”
This is not an isolated incident, says
Paula Higgins, chief executive of the
HomeOwners Alliance. “Situations
like this are one of the reasons we
need an overhaul of the regulatory
system in the housing market.”
The Observer
Some borrowers
may be able
to switch to a
repayment loan
or extend the
term of their
mortgage if they
are worried
about paying
it off. Antonio
How to deal with
your interest-only
mortgage shortfall
Homeowners should
review payment plans
and talk to their lender
soon, says Shane Hickey
t is the mortgage that has
been labelled a ticking
timebomb. The City
regulator recently warned
about the significant
number of people with
interest-only mortgages who are in
danger of losing their homes as they
may be unable to repay what they
owe at the end of the loan term.
Following the latest alarm
bell from the Financial Conduct
Authority (FCA), consumer groups
are now working to help people with interest-only mortgages
– some of whom are avoiding talking to their mortgage provider – to
resolve the situation.
“The benefit of an interest-only
mortgage is that the monthly payments will be significantly lower
than a repayment mortgage,” says
David Blake of Which? Mortgage
Advisers. “However, interest-only
mortgages are less popular than
they used to be. Despite the benefits,
they can cause financial uncertainty
towards the end of the term.”
So what can the troubled homeowners who are only paying interest
do to avoid losing their homes?
The problem
With interest-only mortgages, the
borrower makes no capital repayments on the loan, just interest.
They are expected to have an invest-
ment plan in place to pay off the
debt but some of these plans have
been underperforming, while some
borrowers never even set them up.
“The majority of policies are likely
to have been sold with mortgage
endowments, so there should have
been a way of repaying the loan,
even if it was underperforming,”
says Martyn James of complaints
website Resolver.
“However, the FCA’s nervousness
comes from the fact that
some people took endowment
compensation and failed to realise
they needed to pay off the mortgage
with it. Then there are the people
who knew they had interest-only
policies but were relying on an
inheritance or other windfalls to
cover the final bill. This isn’t as rare
as you might think, given that the
heyday of interest-only policies was
in the crazy lending days before the
financial collapse.”
Sooner rather than later
To save for
your retirement
A nice planet
to retire to
It is estimated that 600,000
interest-only mortgages are due to
expire by 2020. The FCA says there
are two maturity peaks expected
after that – in 2027-28 and 2032.
While the dates may sound like they
are some distance in the future, people have been told to act sooner
rather than later. The FCA has
issued guidelines for those with the
mortgages, saying the earlier they
talk to their lender, the better.
Which? says the first step should
be to review your plans and see
whether you will be able to pay the
amount in full. If you do have an
endowment policy in place, it is
advisable to check how much will be
available when the policy expires.
According to the FCA, acting earlier could mean borrowers may
be more likely to be able to either
switch to a repayment mortgage or
part-capital repayment mortgage,
extend the term or make additional
payments. Later on these options
may fade and the prospect of selling
the home could become more likely.
ISAs for people exactly like you
(although some actually like wearing hats)
“If you can’t repay the loan in
full, you may need to look into
remortgaging your property,” says
Blake. “If you stay with the same
lender, they can often switch you to
a repayment mortgage or extend the
term of your existing arrangement
– though you may move to a higher
interest rate.”
People who have interest-only
mortgages from before April 2014
may have difficulties switching
as, since then, lenders have had to
put borrowers’ repayment plans
under greater scrutiny with a full
affordability assessment.
“When granting new loans,
lenders must assess whether you
can afford to make the necessary
payments,” says guidance from the
government’s Money Advice Service.
“This includes cases where you want
to remortgage to another lender –
your new lender will need to satisfy
itself that you can afford the loan.
“Your existing lender is allowed
to offer you a new deal (ie switch
to another interest rate) as long as
it does not involve increasing the
amount you borrow (other than any
fees for switching).”
The FCA has illustrated the effects
on an average mortgage if the loan
terms were changed. In the case of
a £125,000 interest-only mortgage
taken out over 25 years at a rate of
3%, the repayments would be £313
per month, with £125,000 due at the
end of the term. The total cost would
be £218,750.
If someone chooses to switch to
a repayment deal after 10 years, the
monthly repayments rise to £864
per month for the last 15 years, with
total cost £192,881.
In the case of a borrower switching with 10 years left, their monthly
repayment will be £1,208 per month
and the final cost is £201,092.
Lenders’ responsibility
In some cases people do not realise that they have not been paying
off the capital. Frequently this can
be women whose partners have died
and who may not know what sort of
mortgage was on their property.
“Worst of all are the people who
didn’t realise they weren’t paying
off their capital. I’ve spoken to a few
over the years,” says James. “I’m sad
to say, in many instances, they are
women whose partners have died
and who subsequently have found
out their home isn’t being paid off.
“In such situations, mortgage providers should reasonably have been
expected to have flagged up concerns about how the property was to
be paid for, so if they haven’t done
this they should come up with a
payment plan for the property, given
the consumer’s finances. However,
this isn’t a legal obligation, so a person in this position could be turfed
out by the mortgage provider.”
Anna Tims
Red weather warning not
enough for a taxi refund
In February I booked a taxi by telephone from Onward Travel
Solutions to Glasgow airport for the
following day and to bring us back
on 18 March. I paid £90 in advance
by debit card. A few hours later, a
red weather warning was put in
place and Glasgow airport was
When it became clear our trip
could not go ahead our holiday
company was great and gave us a
full refund. We contacted Onward
Travel Solutions to cancel the taxis
and request a refund. This was
more than 12 hours before the first
taxi was due. I was told that it does
not give refunds with less than 24
hours’ notice. After several emails I
am no further forward.
RC, Glasgow
Onward Travel Solutions’ stance
feels unreasonable. A “red warning” for Scotland warned of danger
to life, and people were urged not
to travel. It would therefore appear
foolhardy for the firm to have risked
a driver on the roads, even if you
had not cancelled.
Moreover, you say you were not
informed of its cancellation policy or
directed to the terms and conditions.
Given that most taxi firms do not
charge a cancellation fee if advance
notice is given, this should, under
Consumer Contracts Regulations,
have been explained over the phone
or in any confirmation message.
Passengers would have to locate
the terms and conditions on the
website and read almost to the end
of the small print to discover this
vital caveat for themselves.
OTS, which runs a national airport transfer service, decided to
return the money for both journeys,
minus a £7 admin fee for each leg,
as soon as the Observer pointed this
out. It said that customers who cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice
can rebook an equivalent journey for
no extra charge within 60 days, but
this is not mentioned in the terms
and conditions and, since your holiday is cancelled, you won’t be needing a transfer in that time.
As for the failure to draw your
attention to the cancellation policy, OTS argues it is available on the
website, and adds bafflingly: “Our
cancellation policy is significantly
more forgiving than the law requires
and, as such, we do not give a verbal
notice with every booking.”
In fact, the law says that any cancellation charge must reflect the
actual costs incurred by the company as a direct result of the cancellation. The £7 OTS applies to all
cancellations, regardless of how
much notice is given, would amply
cover the cost of tapping a keyboard.
OTS needs to acquaint itself with
the Consumer Contracts Regulations
and you would do well to use a local
minicab firm in future since these
do not tend to require upfront payment or charge for cancellations.
My villa break fell
through a loophole
I booked a villa holiday in Mallorca
for £1,624.76 with an online company called
The firm then stopped all contact.
The night before our departure, I
researched the company online and
discovered it was a fraudulent website which had scammed others.
I immediately contacted my
bank, Santander, and made a
claim for a refund under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
But it says that, because I paid via
TransferWise, I was not protected.
MG, London
You’ve fallen foul of a little-known,
and even less understood, loophole
in the Consumer Credit Act which
holds card issuers jointly liable if a
trader breaches a contract.
For section 75 to apply, there must
be a direct relationship between the
customer, the card issuer and the
offending merchant. If that relationship is broken by a third-party payment handler, the protection is lost.
The trouble is, many online com-
panies use specialist payment processing companies – PayPal is the
best known – and customers aren’t
necessarily aware of the fact, let
alone its implications. It doesn’t help
that even experts are confused.
The Financial Ombudsman
Service recommends affected customers get in touch because not all
third-party payment mechanisms
invalidate section 75 and deciding
which do, and don’t, is complex.
Try your luck with its arbitration
service, since Santander confirms
section 75 does not apply as you
paid TransferWise and it fulfilled
its part in the deal by transferring
the money to,
which is no longer online.
Last Year Action Fraud disclosed
that nearly 100 people a week are
scammed by companies that clone
legitimate holiday websites. A payper-click-deal with Google means
they appear at the top of a search for
keywords such as “Balearic villas”,
but the too-cheap-to-be true properties either don’t exist or have been
let out already by reputable firms.
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
To grow
your money
The Observer
To shrink fossil
fuel usage
ISAs for people exactly like you
(although some actually like olives)
The Observer
Victoria’s silo art trail
The five best places to stop along the route
Australia’s ‘cowboy’
country is being
rediscovered through
a series of towering
portraits on disused
silos that form a road
trip with a difference
1 Lascelles
3 Brim
The first silo is at Lascelles, a settlement named after the “Father
of the Mallee”, Edward Harewood
Lascelles, and home to just 93 people. It has a pub, the Minapre Hotel,
the area’s only drive-through bottle shop, and a mural on its silo by
Melbourne artist Rone. Rone’s work
focuses on “finding the fine line
between beauty and decay” and his
subjects are an old farming couple, Geoff and Merrilyn Horman.
“They’re not local,” say the locals,
“they’ve only been here 25 years.”
The monochrome images blend
into the concrete’s soft sepia, giving it a haunting quality, like a faded
Guido van Helten’s monochrome
portrait of four figures – the first
silo to be painted – has a ghostly
quality. His work focuses on identity: not of the individual but of the
local marginalised farming communities. He strove to capture the
essence of this place – its struggle,
its stoicism and its hardship.
2 Patchewollock
This township takes its name from
two aboriginal words: putje, which
means plenty, and wallah, the word
for porcupine grass. Before Brisbane
artist Fintan Magee came to town,
its claim to fame was the annual
country music festival – with the
added attraction of sheep racing.
Magee’s lean, lanky subject is Nick
“Noodle” Hulland, a local farmer
who typifies the stoic spirit of the
Wimmera Mallee, with his faded
blue shirt and sun-bleached hair.
4 Sheep Hills
Melbourne artist Adnate also reveals
the plight of marginalised communities through his works. His silo at
remote Sheep Hills is the only one
to portray the original Aboriginal
inhabitants of the area. His theme is
the passing on of wisdom and culture to the next generation.
5 Rupanyup
This steel grain silo, painted by
Russian artist Julia Volchkova, is at
the end of the trail. She chose a couple of teenagers who play netball
and Aussie Rules football, highlighting the importance of sport for the
young in rural areas. The striking
black-and-white portraits celebrate
team spirit and hope for the future.
Words: Lucy Gillmore
Photographs: Rone; Common State;
Round 3 Creative; Lucy Gillmore
The Observer
Homes &
Homes & Interiors is a selection of offers supplied to
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The Observer
Forecasts and
provided by
AccuWeather, Inc ©2017
Your forecast for the week ahead
UK and Ireland
Noon today
Low -1 High 6
Sunny Mist
Mostly cloudy
Sunny intervals
The Shetlands
Sunny showers
Heavy snow
Light to moderate snow will fall across
southwestern England today, with
snow showers and squalls across the
eastern coast. A winter storm will
bring moderate to significant snow and
ice to southern Ukraine into eastern
Romania with outbreaks of rain for
the southern Balkans. Another storm
waits across northern Italy with
scattered rain and mountain snow. It
will be unseasonably cold across the
Baltic States to Germany. Showers will
continue across Spain.
Cold front
Warm front
Thundery rain
Thundery showers
It will be warmer
across the
United Kingdom
on Monday.
Showers will be
mainly in the east
on Tuesday.
Snow showers
L Ankara
Light showers
1000 Belgrade
Low 0 High 8
Sunny and heavy showers
Occluded front
Wind speed,
The Channel Islands
Around the world
Jet stream
The main jet
stream will remain
south of the
United Kingdom
today and
tomorrow, keeping
the storm track
into Portugal.
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. 1,172
1 Ironically (6-2-5)
8 Hostelry (3)
9 Stress (9)
10 Appended comment (8)
11 Ring of bells (4)
13 Notoriety (6)
14 Bird of prey (6)
16 Short dagger (4)
17 Edible snail (8)
20 Invaluable (9)
21 Little devil (3)
22 Impetuosity (13)
1 Larcenist (5)
2 Eccentric (13)
3 Online identifier (8)
4 Ascribe (6)
5 Cajole (4)
6 Influential, though unofficial, person (8,5)
7 Seat of Soviet power (7)
12 Careworn (8)
13 Exhaustively (2-5)
15 Climb (6)
18 Spanish savouries (5)
19 Internet image (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).
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