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The Observer 24 December 2017

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YOUR ULTIMATE
CHRISTMAS GUIDE
THE MAGAZINE
S
THE BIG
P
P U Z Z L E S QUIZ OF
Mind-bending, C
brain-twisting
2017
seven-page
How well do you
I
puzzle special
remember it?
A
www.observer.co.uk
Sunday
24
December
2017 �00
L
THE NEW REVIEW
FESTIVE TV
HIGHLIGHTS
What to watch,
from Doctor Who
and Alan Partridge
to Spiral
Huge health
gap revealed
between UK?s
rich and poor
�49 FOR
SUBSCRIBERS
PAGE 42 �
EXPRESS DELIVERY
? Poor spend far more time in A&E
? Inequality costing NHS millions a year
by Michael Savage Policy Editor
and Dulcie Lee
Children from poor families are far more
likely to end up in hospital A&E departments or need emergency treatment for
conditions such as asthma and diabetes,
according to shocking ?gures revealing
the consequences of poverty in Britain.
ON OTHER PAGES
?I regularly see rickets?: diseases of
Victorian-era poverty return 8
In findings that senior doctors said
showed the ?devastating impact? of
deprivation on child health, the nation?s
poorest teenagers were found to be
almost 70% more likely to appear in A&E
than their less deprived counterparts.
A comprehensive study that examined hundreds of thousands of patient
records found inequalities between children from the poorest and richest families were costing the NHS hundreds of
millions a year and contributing to pressures on the health system.
Across the 10 most common conditions leading to unplanned hospital
visits, the rates of admission were consistently highest among children and
young people from the most deprived
areas. The study, by the Nuffield Trust,
found inequalities in some areas of child
health had increased over the last decade in England, despite advances in care.
School-age children from the poorest areas are two and a half times more
likely to be admitted to hospital in an
emergency for asthma than those in the
richest areas. The research shows the
gap has grown substantially in a decade.
One of the study?s authors warned
that with child poverty increasing, it is
?hard to see the inequality gaps we highlight being eradicated any time soon?.
Other experts blamed cuts to school
nursing and the bene?ts system as contributing to the divide.
The most deprived young people are
58% more likely to go to A&E than the
Continued on page 8
The Santa Express steams through Oakworth yesterday. The station in West Yorkshire is famous as the location for the 1970 film
classic The Railway Children. The locomotive was originally built in 1945 to aid the US war effort. Photograph by Charlotte Graham
Deputy PM?s allies ?plotted to discredit me?
by Jessica Elgot, Michael Savage
and Mark Townsend
Kate Maltby, the Tory activist who
made allegations of inappropriate
behaviour against Damian Green,
believes that his allies orchestrated a
ferocious media onslaught in order to
discredit her.
The Observer understands that the
Whitehall inquiry that led to the de
facto deputy prime minister?s sacking
ON OTHER PAGES
Even with her closest ally gone, May
hangs on Anne McElvoy, Comment, 31
last week was handed material, seen
by Maltby, that suggested that Green?s
supporters fuelled negative articles
about her after she made her claims.
Several sources familiar with the
investigation said that the attacks on
Maltby back?red and contributed
to the ?rst secretary of state?s forced
departure. In her letter dismissing
Green, Theresa May said that those
affected by inappropriate behaviour
should be able to do so ?knowing they
can speak out if they need to?.
Green and his closest aides deny
any suggestion that they contributed
in any way to the attacks on Maltby.
But Maltby is adamant that collusion
between his allies led to a hostile and
Continued on page 9
INSIDE > WEATHER THIS SECTION PAGE 45 | CROSSWORDS SPEEDY, THIS SECTION PAGE 45 EVERYMAN PAGE 38 + AZED PAGE 39 IN THE NEW REVIEW
*
1 2 A
*
2 | NEWS
*
24.12.17
Russian tourists light candles in the
Church of the Nativity on 5 December. Donald Trump?s statement on
Jerusalem a day later caused visitor
numbers to slump. Alamy
Dispatch Bethlehem
By Manger Square, weary Palestinians
lament e?ect of Trump?s season of ill-will
After the US president?s Jerusalem statement,
tourist numbers to Christ?s birthplace have
collapsed and violent protests have grown
Peter
Beaumont
ont
In Bethlehem?s Manger Square the
huge nativity scene, donated by Malta,
sits in pride of place under a grid of festive lights draped across the plaza. On
Friday morning, a solitary hawker of
Santa hats was touting his business, the
only visible buyer a mother in a hijab
who bought one for the toddler she
was carrying in her arms.
Today ? as every Christmas Eve
? this square and the bulk of the
ancient Church of the Nativity which
sits on its periphery, will be lit up
by television lights to allow images
of Christmas in Bethlehem to be
transmitted around the globe. But
once again, say the West Bank city?s
Palestinian residents ? including the
large Christian minority ? it will be
another gloomy holiday.
The reason will be evident from two
large banners that the city?s municipality plans to hang in the square for
today?s celebrations.
In a direct response to US President
Donald Trump ? who earlier this
month broke with decades of international consensus to recognise
neighbouring Jerusalem as the capital
of Israel ? the banners will state that
Jerusalem is ?always the eternal capital
of Palestine?.
Bethlehem has already made its
feeling clear about Trump and key ?gures in his administration. Following
the US president?s 6 December
announcement on Jerusalem, his
avowedly Christian vice-president
Mike Pence was ?disinvited? from a
festive visit by both Palestinian religious and political leaders, who made
clear he was not welcome in the city.
In the fortnight or so since Trump?s
announcement, nowhere in the occupied Palestinian Territories has been
left untouched by his decision, even
as the wider international community has united to denounce it. The
United Nations general assembly voted
overwhelmingly on Thursday to reject
Trump?s move, ignoring the president?s
threats to cut off aid to any country that
went against him.
However, in the Holy Land,
Christmas has lent an edge and
poignancy to the fallout from Trump?s
declaration. In speeches, both local
and international, Palestinian ?gures ?
including President Mahmoud Abbas
? have insisted on linking the symbolic
way points in the Christian story ?
including Nazareth and Bethlehem ? to
the fate of Jerusalem.
Bethlehem and Jerusalem are the
alpha and omega of the Christian narrative; the ?rst the birthplace of Christ
and the second the site of his cruci?xion and resurrection. In Palestinian
Christian society during the major
festivals, the faithful have traditionally shuttled between the two. Before
the construction of Israel?s separation
wall, which sheared off Bethlehem
from Jerusalem?s outskirts, Palestinian
Christian life rotated around the two
cities ? and Jericho ? which were
seen as a series of key locations for the
Christmas celebrations.
?The link between the two cities is
traditional and historic,? explains Fadi
Kattan, who runs a guesthouse and
restaurant in the heart of Bethlehem?s
Old City, just off Star Street.
?Before the second intifada [20002005], Jerusalem, especially Saladin
Street, was where Palestinians from
Bethlehem went to do their Christmas
shopping. When I was a kid that?s
where we went to buy our Christmas
decorations and our ham. It is where
the wealthier Bethlehem families went
on Christmas Day, for lunch at the
American Colony and National hotels.
?Our own family tradition,? adds
Kattan, ?was to have a lunch for around
100 people to welcome the arrival of
the patriarch.?
Since those days, horizons have
Fireworks over the Church of the Nativity
as the Christmas tree lights go on.
?Palestinians are tired
... the US has always
been on Israel?s side,
all Trump has done is
put that on the table?
Jack Giacaman, shop owner
shrunk both physically and mentally. The separation wall has made
travel between Palestinian areas far
more difficult. Trump?s statement on
Jerusalem, despite the de?ance, has
now hacked away at a more visceral
emotional sense of belonging.
In his stone courtyard, where the
potted trees are hung with Christmas
decorations, Kattan speaks for
Bethlehem?s hoteliers and gift-shop
owners, as he describes how a good
autumn tourist season fell off a cliff
with Trump?s announcement and the
demonstrations that followed. ?We
have two groups of tourists,? he says.
?The domestic tourists [Israeli Arabs
of Palestinian origin] from such places
as Nazareth and Haifa and Akko, who
come to celebrate. They have all cancelled. Foreign tourists had already
booked their ?ights although longer
term, people are cancelling.?
A short drive away, a stone?s throw
from the separation wall, at a broad
junction overlooked by the wall and a
military watch tower, sporadic clashes
with Israeli security forces have taken
place since Trump?s announcement.
On Friday, as on the previous two
Fridays, youths gathered after prayers
to burn tyres and throw stones outside
the shuttered, luxury Jacir Palace hotel
as Israeli troops replied with tear gas
and sponge-tipped bullets.
It is these images, broadcast on
the world?s media, that archbishop
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic
administrator of the Latin Patriarch of
Jerusalem, said have been responsible
for ?dozens? of groups pulling out of
planned visits after being scared off.
?Of course this has created a tension
around Jerusalem and this diverted
attention from Christmas,? Pizzaballa
added. ?There are some tensions in
Jerusalem, and in Bethlehem. This
scared many people, so we?ve had
fewer people than expected.?
He added that the heads of the
Christian churches in Jerusalem would
?nd it difficult to accept an official
request by Pence to visit the city?s
holy Christian sites in January, and
called for him to ?listen more? to other
Christians.
Of all West Bank cities, Bethlehem
has always been religiously the most
diverse. On Friday, even as preparations continued for the Christian festival, Muslim worshippers ?lled Manger
Square for Friday prayers ? a place
where the call to mosque is rivalled by
the sound of bells.
In his shop, next to his olive wood
carving factory near the Milk Grotto,
Jack Giacaman lamented this year?s
sharp drop-off in tourist numbers, but
said the feeling of being let down was a
familiar one.
?Unfortunately, every year it is the
same result but with a different story.
This time it is Trump. The only thing
we don?t know is the real impact or
how long it will last. It was looking
like a very good season. In October
and November we were seeing 10,000
to 11,000 visitors a day. Then Trump
made his announcement and it
dropped off very quickly.
?Trump made a big mistake. He said
that Jerusalem is for one religion. For
the Jewish people. But Jerusalem is not
just for one religion. It is for Muslims
and Christians as well.
?Trying to cancel our existence and
our connection with the city is very
dangerous because it is mixing religion
with politics.?
Like many Palestinians this
Christmas, Giacaman is feeling very
weary. ?Palestinians are tired. It is
clear since the second intifada that the
Oslo peace accords have been a failure
and we should dissolve the Palestinian
Authority. Since the beginning it has
always been clear that the United
States has been on the side of Israel.
?All Trump has done is put that
on table in plain sight rather than
under the table. Nothing has changed
apart from that. And we, as Christian
Palestinians, have been victims of these
policies for years.?
24.12.17
NEWS | 3
*
Sequins sparkle again as party season
turns the fashion clock back to disco
Grace Jones and Abba are in
vogue as hedonism and
escapism dominate on the
high street and dance?oors,
writes Lauren Cochrane
As the search for that New Year?s Eve
out?t begins, the fashionable are looking back to the 1970s. This party season, disco is the reference ? with glitter,
sequins and shine dominating trends.
According to global fashion search platform Lyst, the use of sequins as a keyword
went up by 42% from June to November
and the disco trend features prominently
in January?s Vogue. With a new exhibition on Abba, Super Troupers, now open
at the Southbank Centre, the inspiration
for dancing queens has arrived.
Fashion?s love affair with discoapproved sequin is evident looking
at the catwalk ? in collections from
influential brands ranging from
Celine to Gucci and Saint Laurent.
The name to know is 29-year-old
New Yorker in London Michael
Halpern. His label, Halpern, founded
last year, could be credited with
bringing disco back into fashion. His
sequin gowns have a 70s feel ? he
has credited Studio 54 as an inspiration ? and have been worn by Amal
Clooney and Marion Cotillard. At the
Fashion Awards earlier this month,
he won the emerging talent award
and dressed the model of the year,
Adwoa Aboah. Aboah has become
something of a poster girl for this look.
She starred on the front of December?s
Vogue, the ?rst from new editor Edward
Enninful, which came with a 70s feel.
Her glossy lips, blue eyeshadow and
turban paid tribute to disco-diva style.
Fiorucci was also relaunched this
year. The Italian brand is so associated
with disco that the New York store in the
late 70s was dubbed ?the daytime Studio
54? and it was namechecked in the Sister
Sledge classic He?s the Greatest Dancer.
In 2017, it?s worn by Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Suki Waterhouse, and
the Brewer Street store in London has
a nightclub planned for the basement.
Georgia May Jagger, in the footsteps of
her mother Jerry Hall, stars in the advertising campaign.
On the high street, disco dressing is
proving popular. Asos reports that silver
and sequin are popular search terms,
with a sequin mididress one of the bestselling styles of the season. Topshop
backs this up, with sequin ?ares selling
out in two weeks. Asos design director
Vanessa Spence credits the lift in sales of
sequins with a new generation rediscovering an era. ?Disco has been so popular because of the early 80s in?uence in
fashion at the moment,? she says. ?It is a
way of customers getting a taste of that
era, but in a modernised way.?
Alice Casely-Hayford, the fashion
director of Refinery29, says the trend
Model Adwoa Aboah, left, is the poster girl for disco-diva fashion, which channels the style of Grace Jones, above. Getty
appeals in part because of social media.
Unlike the simplicity of the minimalism
that dominated the catwalk for so long,
disco style photographs well. ?Texture
and colour in clothing is key for the Instagram generation,? she says.
A new spin is the crucial element to
disco being a legitimate fashion trend,
rather than a pastiche more appropriate
for a fancy-dress party. Natalie Kingham,
the buying director of matchesfashion.
com, says it?s about context. ?What?s
interesting is that people are wearing
Halpern?s pieces in both a high glamour
and more relaxed way,? she says. ?It?s
either with platforms, nostalgic of Studio
54, or more casually teaming the sequin
pants with a white tee and trainers.?
A reassessing of disco in wider culture
has helped this trend take hold. Earlier
this year, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco, the documentary telling the
story of the illustrator who discovered
the likes of Jerry Hall and Grace Jones in
nightclubs, was required viewing, along
with Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, by
?lm-maker Sophie Fiennes. And BBC2
aired a special show on Friday, marking
the 40th anniversary of the release of the
?lm Saturday Night Fever. As for music,
David Mancuso?s pioneering 70s loft
party lives on in a quarterly night in east
London. Boiler Room, a dance music collective, recently staged an event in homage to the Paradise Garage. And London
now has regular disco nights ? Savage,
which takes place on Saturday night, and
Horsemeat Disco on Sunday.
Super Troupers will be this weekend?s cultural outing for Instagrammers
with out?ts from Abba?s tours, including
those classic capes. There?s certainly a
rich vein of disco-tinged maximalism to explore. ?It was the end of the
flower power era and we were bringing in something else where there was
extra everything,? remembers costume
designer Owe Sandstrom. ?The first
meeting I had with Bj鰎n he said to me
?nothing is too much?.??
Kingham argues that the rise of disco
style comes from a need to go to a happy
place: ?I think rather than buying into
safe and timeless pieces, our customers
are investing in these looks to lift their
spirits and make them feel glamorous
and fabulous.? This is an idea that Ashish Gupta, the designer behind the London Fashion Week label Ashish, echoes.
?If you can?t express
yourself socially or
politically, it feels
powerful to do that
through dressing?
Alice Casely-Hayford
He has been working with sequins since
launching his label in 2001 and believes
turbulent times sometimes inspire a
hedonistic style of dress. ?I think we
are in a dark time,? he says. ?There?s the
hedonism of escaping from reality and a
few hours to dance your troubles away.?
Casely-Hayford agrees with this. ?If you
can?t express yourself socially or politically, it feels powerful to do that through
your wardrobe,? she says.
Jonjo Jury, the resident DJ at Savage
where the likes of model Edie Campbell and designer Charles Jeffrey can be
found on the dance?oor, has noticed that
dressing up has increased over the past
year. He says blue eyeshadow, like that
seen on model Aboah, and Fiorucci?s
vinyl jeans on boys and girls are popular,
as well as ?some nudity, which is very
Studio 54?. He believes what is happening on the dance?oor is making its way
into mainstream fashion ? with Lucy
Fizz, the club?s transgender go-go girl,
appearing in an advert for Smirnoff this
year. ?Art directors are de?nitely looking
at the club scene again,? he says. ?It?s like
the Antonio Lopez girls ? people being
fabulous in nightclubs and going into the
mainstream.?
Jury says the parallels with the disco
era perhaps show why it chimes today:
?Even if reality is hard, a club is a place
where you can look like you?re living life
to the fullest. That harks back to disco.?
4 | NEWS
*
24.12.17
Thatcher aide derides blue passport ?nostalgia?
Charles Powell rebukes
ageing Eurosceptics in
row over colour change
by Mark Townsend
Margaret Thatcher?s key foreign policy
adviser has mocked commentators
rejoicing over the decision to change the
colour of the British passport, describing it as nostalgia driven by ageing Eurosceptics.
Confirming it was Thatcher?s government who ?chose? to ditch the blue
passport in the 1980s ? under no pressure from the European Union ? Charles
Powell said the clamour for the old-style
travel document was ?part of the nostalgia on which the predominantly elderly
Brexit constituency thrives?.
May had sought to end a fraught
political year on a triumphant note by
announcing the return of navy passports
after Brexit, describing them an expression of ?independence and sovereignty?.
However, by Saturday morning, her move
to change the colour of new passports in
2019 was being attacked by some as a PR
stunt, as it became clear there is no Brussels legislation stating that EU countries?
passports had to be a certain colour.
Powell rebuked politicians and
commentators who have greeted the
announcement, saying: ?So long as they
are content with symbols, rather than
substance, I see no harm in letting them
have their way.?
Burgundy will become ?navy? blue in 2019.
Powell, who served as private secretary to Thatcher from 1983 to 1990,
added: ?If we get their agreement to
full alignment with the single market in
return, it?s a good deal.?
The European parliament?s chief
Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt,
claimed that the decision to change
passport colour as a victory for Brexit
was mendacious, tweeting that ?the UK
could have had any passport colour it
wanted and stay in the EU?.
David Lammy MP went further,
describing the move as ?embarrassing?,
claiming: ?Brexit is beginning to feel like
a huge effort to turn the clock back with
some misguided imperial overtones.?
Scottish ?rst minister Nicola Sturgeon
was another who tweeted that the episode risked further damaging UK?s reputation on the world stage, denouncing
the return of the navy blue passport as
?insular, inward-looking, blue passportobsessed nonsense?.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna said:
?What utter nonsense. This belittles our
country and your office.? The party?s for-
mer leader, Ed Miliband, added: ?It is an
expression of how mendacious, absurd
and parochial we look to the world.?
Although the announcement had
been enthusiastically received at ?rst by
Brexit supporters, who had campaigned
for a return to navy, some advocates were
still not satis?ed.
An article in the Daily Telegraph
bemoaned that the shade of colour was
not quite right, noting that mock-ups
of the new passports showed it to be
blue, but ?that the pre-1988 passports
appeared to be very dark blue, if not
black?.
Other initial supporters of the change
then reacted with anger that the passports might have to be imported, with
the Daily Mail demanding the documents be made in Britain.
The tendering process for printing the
passports is expected to take place under
existing EU procurement rules, something that the current British contractor, De La Rue, recently admitted could
mean they were produced abroad. The
prospect has prompted many pro-Brexit
figures to speak out, including Jacob
Rees-Mogg, who tweeted: ?Symbolism
is important and I hope it will be printed
in the UK too.?
ON OTHER PAGES
Britain is losing its place in the world
Observer Comment, page 30
Help save Syrian
cancer children:
top UK surgeon
by Emma Graham-Harrison
A charity and a leading British surgeon
have made a desperate appeal for the
evacuation of seven children with ?curable cancer?, aged between eight and 12,
trapped in a besieged Syrian town.
The children, and 175 others in need
of treatment no longer available in the
area, live in Ghouta, an area just to the
east of Damascus that was a bread-basket for the Syrian capital before the war.
It has been under siege by forces
loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for
years, but troops tightened their cordon
after a ground offensive in April, pushing an estimated 400,000 people still
living there ?to the brink of disaster?.
Eastern Ghouta should be covered
under a de-escalation agreement
brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran
to reduce con?ict across Syria, but
residents have seen no let-up in the
?ghting or the siege.
?Hospitals in Ghouta are on their
knees, with few medicines left and
kind words for the dying children the
only palliative care available,? surgeon
David Nott and chemical weapons
expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon
wrote in their Christmas appeal, on
behalf of the Union of Medical Care
and Relief Organisations.
Both have extensive experience
working in Syria, and last year successfully appealed for another cease?re
to evacuate around 500 children from
Aleppo, reaching out to Assad and to
Russia?s Vladimir Putin, a key backer.
They hope to repeat that success, and
say they have reached out to both governments. ?We now appeal to at least
give these seven children a chance of
life by getting them to places which can
treat their curable cancers,? they wrote.
MP Alison McGovern, who chairs
the all-party Friends of Syria group in
parliament, called on the government
to make the evacuation a priority.
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ON OTHER PAGES
Dying children in Syria need more than
kind words Comment, 29
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24.12.17
NEWS | 5
*
Greek paradise
that inspired
the real-life
James Bond
Patrick Leigh Fermor, often said to have given
Ian Fleming the idea for 007, set up a dazzling
artistic community. Now a major exhibition at
the British Museum will celebrate its in?uence
by Jamie Doward
Oh, to have been a ?y on the bougainvillea-clad wall as the drinks ?owed and
the sun sank behind the beautiful house
tucked away in a remote part of Greece.
One night a visitor might ?nd Stephen
Spender or Louis MacNeice. Another,
Lawrence Durrell and John Betjeman.
But always holding court, cigarette
in hand, ouzo glass raised, would be Sir
Patrick ?Paddy? Leigh Fermor, the war
hero and travel writer often said to be
the inspiration for his friend Ian Fleming ?s most famous creation, James Bond.
In the late 1950s, the house Leigh
Fermor built with his wife Joan in Kardamyli, a seaside village located in the
Mani peninsula, in the southern Peloponnese, became a haven for writers and
?There?s a fashion for
Leigh Fermor. For
some it?s about his
work, others are
attracted to the legend?
Michael Llewellyn-Smith, curator
artists drawn to its owner?s extraordinary charisma and the wild, arid beauty
of the surrounding landscape.
It was here that Leigh Fermor, who
died in 2011 aged 96, built his close
friendship with two men ? the Greek
artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, who
lived on Hydra before moving to Corfu,
and the British painter, John Craxton,
who lived for a time on Crete. Now the
remarkable friendship is to be explored
in a new exhibition at the British
Museum that will open next spring.
Charmed Lives examines the influence that post-war Greece had on the
three men and brings together in the UK
for the ?rst time their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions. Among the items on display will
be Leigh Fermor?s typewriter (which
he never managed to master), his binoculars and a Leica camera belonging to
Joan, a professional photographer.
Striking paintings of Greek landscapes and local people by both Craxton
and Ghika will feature alongside extracts
from Leigh Fermor?s many books. Sir
Michael Llewellyn-Smith, a former
British ambassador to Athens, who knew
all three men and is one of the exhibition?s curators, conceded many would be
drawn by the cult of Leigh Fermor, a polyglot and autodidact once described as
?a cross between Indiana Jones, James
Bond and Graham Greene.?
?There?s a tremendous fashion for
him,? Llewellyn-Smith said. ?In a way
you?d expect it to diminish over time but
the opposite is happening and it?s very
difficult to explain. I don?t think it?s fully
related to his work. It is for some people
but there are others who are attracted by
the legend.?
Much of Leigh Fermor?s legend is burnished by his epic walk from the Hook of
Holland to Istanbul, made as an 18-yearold, and his heroics during the second
world war when, leading a group of Cretan resistance ?ghters, he captured the
German commander General Heinrich
Kreipe in one of the most audacious acts
in the history of the Special Operations
Executive.
While his postwar books such as A
Time Of Gifts cemented his legend and
led to Leigh Fermor being regarded as
one of the great travel writers, it transpires that the real-life 007 also dabbled
as an artist and several of his works will
be on display in the exhibition. These
include six portraits of Cretan resistance
?ghters painted in 1942. They are the
only ones out of around 20 similar paintings to have survived. The majority were
destroyed as the Germans advanced.
?Paddy had an extremely acute visual
sense and was himself an artist, an amateur,? Llewellyn-Smith said. ?When he
was walking across Europe, when he
was 18 to 20 years old, around Vienna
he had virtually no money and so he
started drawing portraits of people to get
enough to get a crust of bread or more.?
Llewellyn-Smith said the fact that
all three men had died only relatively
recently ?Ghika in 1994, Craxton in 2009
? meant there was much to be gained by
producing an exhibition of their lives
and friendship now.
?A lot of people who knew them are
still around, and therefore for those
organising the exhibition, such as
myself, it was possible to talk to them
and get their memories and anecdotes.
This couldn?t have been done if the exhi-
Greek artist Nikos
Gr
HadjikyriakosHa
Ghika, left, with
Gh
Patrick Leigh
Pa
Fermor on Hydra
Fe
in 1955.
bition had been delayed by many years.?
The organisers hope it will offer visitors an opportunity to re?ect on Greece?s
enduring role as a source of artistic inspiration. It may also offer a subtle reminder
that British-Hellenic relations can be
about more than that most famous of British Museum attractions, the Parthenon
marbles. ?This period when these three
men got to know each other was a period
of artistic and literary collaboration,
almost a renaissance between British
and Greek artists and writers,? Llewellyn-
Smith said. ?It didn?t have anything to do
with politics and returning sculptures to
Greece. That?s a different century.?
It may also offer clues as to why,
despite smoking around 80 cigarettes a
day, just like Fleming?s Bond, Leigh Fermor managed to live so long. ?When he
was in the Peloponnese he would go for
walks every day in the mountains behind
the house and he?d swim for half an hour
every morning,? Llewellyn-Smith said.
In his will, Leigh Fermor gave the
house to the Benaki museum in Athens
?
Still Life with
Three Sailors by
John Craxton, the
third of the great
trio of friends .
?
Numerous artists
visited the villa
Leigh Fermor built
on the Mani
peninsula. Alamy,
Benaki museum
with instructions for it to be turned into
a writers? retreat. While some of Leigh
Fermor?s devoted fanbase have grumbled
about the pace of its renovation ? which
at one stage appeared to have fallen victim to Greece?s economic woes, ? there
are hopes the exhibition may elicit funds
to speed things up.
If so, it would mean that more than
half a century on from when Leigh Fermor built his idyll, it will once again
help爊urture a new generation of artists
and writers.
Forgotten a gift? Don?t worry, you can still click and collect on Christmas Day
Small stores expect a
sales bonanza as orders
are left to the last minute
by Sarah Butler
Hundreds of harassed parents are
pushing their shopping opportunity to
the limit by picking up online orders
on Christmas Day as families prepare
for one of the most last-minute festive
seasons ever.
With the big day falling on a Monday
this year, many left their festive preparations later than ever, waiting to pick
up food and gifts until after ?nishing
their working week.
After a tough run-up to Christmas
for high street retailers, corner shops
are expecting a sales bonanza today as
their ability to stay open longer on a
Sunday gives them an edge over supermarkets and other large stores limited
by legal trading limits.
The Co-op is predicting a 41% sales
uplift and will have 2,000 stores open
until 9pm today or later to cope with
increased demand.
Chris Whit?eld, Co-op?s director
of retail and logistics, said he thought
Christmas Eve this year could be a
record-breaking day for the chain as he
predicted milk, mince pies, prosecco,
ice cubes and carrots would be the
most sought-after items. ?Christmas
Eve is typically our busiest sales day of
the year but this year small stores will
have an added advantage because of
longer Sunday trading hours.
?Some shoppers will be caught
unawares that larger stores will close
early,? Whit?eld said.
Small shops that remain open on
Christmas Day will now be able to offer
not only basics such as milk but also
a last chance to slip presents under
the tree. Last year CollectPlus, which
works with a network of 7,000 stores
that act as pick-up and drop-off points
Many families have decided to leave their
festive shopping until this weekend.
for online orders from the likes of
John Lewis, House of Fraser, Asos and
Office, said almost 500 people picked
up parcels on Christmas Day.
?We expect to see hundreds of Brits
picking up their online shopping on
Christmas Day again this year,? said
Neil Ashworth, chief executive of
CollectPlus. He added that last year
more than 130,000 people collected
parcels from CollectPlus stores in the
three days leading up to Christmas,
including over 35,600 people who
picked up parcels on Christmas Eve.
?Click and collect on Christmas
Day doesn?t surprise me at all. It?s a
potential marriage saver,? said Andrew
Starkey, head of e-logistics at online
retail trade body IMRG.
Improved delivery options are partly
driving the change in behaviour. Argos
boasts that shoppers can order up
until 1pm today for same-day delivery
tonight. Starkey said more retailers
were able to offer last-minute deliveries because they are storing stock in
smaller local warehouses and because
capacity in their distribution network
had been freed up because more shopping had been brought forward into
November by Black Friday.
?As you get nearer to Christmas the
volume has already gone through the
system,? he said.
ON OTHER PAGES
Christmas for Syrian refugees after two
years on a Scottish isle In Focus, page 22
With God on her side: the Queen
addresses the nation In Focus, page 25
Jodie Whittaker: the new Doctor
Observer pro?le, page 28
6 | NEWS
*
London zoo staff ?devastated? by
Misha the aardvark?s death in ?re
Four meerkats also go
missing after blaze
breaks out in ?animal
adventure? section
Two-thirds of
prisoners given
short sentences
go on to reo?end
by Michael Savage
Policy Editor
by Nadia Khomami, Mattha Busby
and agencies
An aardvark died and four meerkats
were still missing last night after a ?re
broke out at London zoo yesterday
morning.
A number of staff were treated for
smoke inhalation after the blaze in the
?animal adventure? section, which had
spread to an adjacent shop. ?Sadly our
vets have confirmed the death of our
nine-year-old aardvark, Misha,? the
zoo?s website said. Four meerkats are
missing, presumed dead. The zoo will
re-open today.
A zoo spokeswoman said that the
staff were upset at the aardvark?s death.
?All other animals in the vicinity are
being monitored closely by our vets, but
early signs suggest they have not been
affected,? she said. ?We will continue to
monitor them over the coming days.
?We are all naturally devastated by
this, but are immensely grateful to the
?re brigade, who reacted quickly to the
situation to bring the ?re under control.?
She said it was too soon to speculate
on the cause of the ?re, but added that
the zoo would be working very closely
with ?re investigators over the coming
days and weeks to discover the cause.
?We will aim to reopen when we
know it is safe to do so for animals,
staff and visitors,? the spokeswoman
24.12.17
The aardvark Misha, below right, was killed in the blaze. About 70 firefighters with 10 engines tackled the fire. Pixel8000
added. Dominic Jermey, the zoo?s director general, said of the staff members
affected: ?Given the circumstances
they are ?ne, but they, like all of us, are
absolutely devastated by this incident.?
ZSL London is the world?s oldest
scientific zoo. Its origins date back to
1826, and according to its inventory it
houses 20,166 animals.
Ten fire engines and more than 70
?re?ghters attended the blaze after the
London ?re brigade was called at 6.08am
yesterday to the zoo?s cafe and shop. It
took about three hours for the ?re to be
brought under control.
The cafe and shop include an animal
petting area which is home to goats,
sheep, donkeys, llamas and aardvarks.
London ?re brigade station manager
Clive Robinson, who attended the incident, said: ?Fire?ghters worked hard to
bring the ?re under control as quickly as
possible and to stop it from spreading to
neighbouring animal enclosures.?
David George, another London ?re
brigade manager, said: ?Our specialist
?re investigation teams will be searching through the debris and looking
and seeing if they can establish a likely
cause for the ?re.?
Almost two-thirds of prisoners serving
short sentences go on to commit further crimes, according to new ?gures.
The ?ndings will reopen the debate
over the use of short custodial sentences, with prison governors warning
that more offenders should be kept out
of jail to aid their rehabilitation and ease
pressure on the swollen jail population.
The reoffending rate for all prisoners serving a sentence of 12 months or
less grew from 61.8% of inmates in the
last quarter of 2011 to 65.6% in the last
quarter of 2015.
Almost 20,000 adult prisoners who
have served short sentences in the past
went on to reoffend in 2015. Among
juvenile offenders, the re-offending
rate was 70%, with 2,428 under-18s
committing another crime. There are
about 6,000 prisoners currently serving sentences of less than a year.
Campaigners are now pushing for a
presumption against short-term sentences in favour of tough, communitybased alternatives and tagging. Steps
have already been taken in Scotland to
move away from short prison stretches.
Andrea Albutt, president of the
Prison Governors Association, warned
short sentences are ?pointless? and that
all prisoners serving less than a year
could be given community sentences.
Jonathan Marks, the Lib Dem peer
who uncovered the latest ?gures, said
the ?appalling statistics? proved short
sentences do not work. ?With Britain?s
prisons ?lled to bursting point, there
is no opportunity to rehabilitate,? he
said. ?Prisons have simply become very
expensive academies of crime.?
24.12.17
Subject here | NEWS | 7
*
?No kind of role
model for our
girls? ? parents
want Suu Kyi
cut from book
Aung San Suu Kyi?s place
in the bedtime book, above,
has caused outrage since
the flight of Muslims from
Myanmar into Bangladesh.
Photograph by Hein Htet/EPA
A collection of bedtime stories has been
criticised for featuring the Myanmar leader
among a group of women to be admired
It is one of the most popular children?s
books of 2017, a collection of stories
about female role models from Amelia
Earhart and Marie Curie to Hillary Clinton and Serena Williams, inspiring girls
to aim high and challenge the status quo.
But Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,
likely to be in many Christmas stockings,
has run into controversy because of one
of the 100 women included in its pages.
When the book was written last year,
Aung San Suu Kyi was deemed a worthy
subject: winner of the Nobel peace prize
and epitome of courage in the face of
oppression. But her fall from grace over
her response to violence against Myanmar?s Rohingya Muslims, described by
the UN as possible genocide, has triggered calls for her to be taken out of
future editions. In response, the authors,
Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, are
considering removing her from reprints.
The book, aimed at children aged six
and over, devotes two pages to each of
its role models, including commissioned
illustrations by female artists. It quotes
Aung San Suu Kyi as saying: ?Since we
live in this world, we have to do our best
for this world.? It charts her story from
her protests against the junta through 21
years of house arrest to her release and
leadership: ?She won the Nobel peace
prize, and inspired millions of people in
her own country and across the world,
all without leaving her house.?
On the book?s Facebook page, Lenka
Uzakova wrote: ?As much as 99 per cent
of book is inspiring, I found it absolutely
disgusting that you have included someone suspected of genocide in the book.
Aung San Suu Kyi has no place between
those women. Someone who does nothing and perhaps is directly involved in
massacres, rapes, burning of kids alive ?
I am speechless she is in the book.?
Another parent, Gerri Peev, said yesterday: ?I bought this book for my threeyear-old daughter as an antidote to the
tyranny of ?pink princess publishing?. It
is ?lled with inspiring female role models who don?t rely on a prince to sort
their lives out. I was dismayed to see
this page effectively canonising Aung
San Suu Kyi. I hope the publishers issue
another edition, updating her fall from
grace over the Rohingya massacre.?
Labour MP and shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi, who has raised
concerns in parliament about the Rohingya crisis, said: ?I often wonder how
it can be possible to go from being one
of the most admired and respected civil
rights champions, a symbol of courage,
patience and principle, to someone who
shows such lack of compassion.
?I have no doubt that history will
remember her as the leader who
watched on while mass killing, systematic rape and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands who were forced to
live in squalid refugee camps. I?d encourage the authors to consider that there is
an entire generation of young Rohingya
?There is a generation
of Rohingya children
who are stateless and
hopeless, su?ering a
miserable existence?
Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP
Charity?s festive TV ad challenges view
that British Muslims are anti-Christmas
by Mark Townsend
The ?rst mainstream television advertisement by a Muslim charity will be
aired over the festive period, a development many hope will help to challenge
the misconception that Muslims are
anti-Christmas.
The 59-second advert for the West
Yorkshire charity Penny Appeal
highlights the often ignored role of
British Muslims in helping vulnerable
people across the UK over Christmas.
The commercial, which will debut
on Christmas Eve and will feature on
ITV and Channel 5 over the festive
period, underlines the fact that for
many British Muslims the festive
season is about helping others.
Recognition of the charitable
contribution made by Britain?s Muslim
community follows years of fake
news stories claiming that Muslims
are opposed to Christmas. The latest
emerged on Thursday, albeit in Italy,
and centred on claims ? later found
to be misreported ? from rightwing
media commentators that officials in
the north of the country had ordered
the removal of a Christmas tree to
avoid offending Muslims.
A UK parliamentary report
published the previous day promoted
a more accurate and competing
view, concluding that Muslims are
not recognised for the charity work
they undertake, particularly over
The Penny Appeal ad explains how it is
helping vulnerable people across the UK.
Christmas. The report by the all-party
parliamentary group (APPG) on British
Muslims said that charitable acts by
the UK?s Muslim community were
?wilfully? ignored by the UK media.
Former Tory cabinet minister
Baroness Warsi, treasurer of the APPG,
admitted that her own party, aided by
sections of the media, had fostered
negative and ill-founded allegations
against Britain?s 3 million Muslims.
?The narrative at this time of year
has been that Muslims don?t like
Christmas, that they almost want to
ban Christmas,? she said. ?My own
party has done that in the past. When
we were in opposition we would try
to ?nd ?Labour banning Christmas
stories? and invariably it would have an
ethnic minority link.?
Despite the report trending on
Twitter and receiving a positive
reception, it also provoked a backlash
from the far right. ?The usual suspects
who would normally say Muslims are
trying to ban Christmas were furious
that we were celebrating it,? added the
former chair of the Conservative party.
Last month, there were some
protests on social media over Tesco?s
Christmas TV advert which featured a
Muslim family celebrating. Tesco said
it was ?proud to celebrate the many
ways our customers come together
over the festive season?.
Bilal Hassam, creative director of
British Muslim TV, said he hoped more
people knew that Britain?s Muslims
embodied the true spirit of Christmas,
explaining that the faith encouraged
the helping of others but not the
promotion of such good deeds. ?People
don?t showcase their work. There?s
nothing more Christ-like than giving,
serving and helping your fellow man.?
Warsi added that Christmas in a
Muslim household is the same as
others throughout the UK. ?There will
be turkey, they?ll eat too much, they?ll
watch the Queen, but then they?ll go
out and help other people.?
Another element that Hassam said
tended to be overlooked was that most
of the charitable work by Muslims
was for the bene?t of non-Muslims,
including around 70% of Penny
Appeal?s UK efforts. The charity, set
up eight years ago, now operates in
30燾ountries.
children who are stateless and hopeless,
suffering a miserable existence. Aung
San Suu Kyi?s refusal to condemn makes
her complicit.?
In a statement the authors said:
?We?re monitoring the situation closely
and we don?t exclude the idea of removing her from future reprints.?
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was
?rst published in the US and is described
�
?If anybody
tells you
jelly is for
babies,
bring them
here and
feed them
this?
Jay Rayner
has fun
eating at
Sushi Atelier
pages 30-31
Observer
Magazine
by Jane Merrick
as the ?most-funded original book in the
history of crowdfunding?. It is published
in the UK by Particular Books, part of
Penguin Random House. Last week
Blackwell?s named it as its book of the
year, beating among others Arundhati
Roy?s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has won
more than 120 international honours,
including the Nobel prize, was last week
stripped of her Freedom of the City of
Dublin award and earlier lost her Freedom of Oxford accolade. The Dublin
decision came after musician and activist Bob Geldof returned his own Freedom of the City in protest. St Hugh?s
College Oxford, where Aung San Suu
Kyi studied, has taken down her portrait.
It is estimated that 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to
?ee to neighbouring Bangladesh since
the crackdown by Myanmar?s security
forces began. Last week the aid charity
M閐ecins Sans Fronti鑢es reported that
at least 6,700 Rohingya, including hundreds of children, were killed in the ?rst
month of the crackdown.
Criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi?s
response intensi?ed last week when it
emerged that two Reuters journalists
have been detained and face 14 years in
jail for reporting on the crisis.
ON OTHER PAGES
The year in pictures: momentous images
from around the world that sum up 2017
Focus page 26-27
8 | NEWS
*
?I regularly see
rickets?: diseases
of Victorian-era
poverty return
The study of
patient records
found inequality
was costing
the NHS
millions. Alamy
Doctors on NHS frontline say there must be
a debate about public health responsibilities
It may be Christmas, but it is business as
usual at Leicester Royal In?rmary children?s emergency department. Anxious
families sit in the waiting room, receptionists deal with the stream of admissions and doctors continue on their
never-ending rounds. The only concessions to the festive season are the murmur of a Christmas ?lm on the television
and some tinsel in the corridors.
Given the unrelenting pace of life
in the NHS, Dr Damian Roland, a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, says the social background of his
patients is not on his mind when they
arrive for treatment. But during a brief
lull in another frantic day, he re?ects on
how child poverty is manifesting itself in
the young people he treats.
?I don?t have time to sit with families
for ages and discuss those particular
social issues or have any chance of doing
anything about it,? he says. ?But clearly
it?s important ? and it?s affecting children. We need to recognise it as an issue,
and there needs to be a debate about the
public health responsibilities of frontline
NHS services.?
It comes as no surprise to senior doctors such as Roland that deprivation is
playing a part in poor children appearing
at hospital more often than their richer
counterparts. However, an eye-opening
study for the Nuffield Trust, revealed
today in the Observer and based on hundreds of thousands of patient records
over a decade, brings new and depressing evidence.
For condition after condition, the
poorest ?fth of young people are admitted in greater numbers than the richest
?fth. In cases of tonsillitis, viral infections, abdominal pain, respiratory infections, convulsions, gastroenteritis, poisoning, chest pain ? even head injuries
? the poorest young people were admitted for emergency treatment at rates
40% or more higher than the richest.
In the case of some conditions such
as epilepsy the gap has been closed, suggesting that education campaigns and a
good strategy can help. But no medical
professional believes that awareness
campaigns designed to head off emergencies will on their own stop poor chil-
dren needlessly turning up at hospital.
The worry is that with the NHS under
pressure, a housing crisis and state
spending squeezed, things will get worse
before they get better ? while stagnant
wages are heaping pressure on families
less able to cope with a medical issue
that is allowed to become an emergency.
One of the report?s authors, Dr Ronny
Cheung, a paediatric consultant at the
Evelina children?s hospital, London,
says he is seeing a growing evidence of
conditions not only exacerbated by poverty, but caused by it. ?I?m seeing kids
with rickets on a fairly regular basis in
�
?Success
is about
what you
do with
what you
have. At
school,
they teach
you we?re
all born
equal.
That?s
horseshit!?
Gene
Simmons
of Kiss
looks back
on a career in
rock ?n? roll
pages 10-11
Observer
Magazine
by Michael Savage and Dulcie Lee
24.12.17
my clinic,? he says. ?That is related to
nutrition at the very least. We are seeing more advanced cases. It should be a
Victorian illness. It shouldn?t be around
to this degree any more.
?What we see on a weekly basis is that
poorer families who come in often take
their children into hospital a bit later
than they otherwise would. Maybe that?s
partly down to health literacy, but ? and
I?ve spoke to parents about this ? it is a
struggle for them to bring children in.
If your ability to make a living is on the
line, your threshold for taking time off
work to check a child?s health is going
to be higher.?
Rates of admission for asthma are particularly alarming, having risen over the
last decade ? the poorest young people
are now well over twice as likely to be
admitted for the condition as the rich.
Medical experts say that environment,
and above all poor housing, is a prime
cause.
According to the latest government
data, there were 121,360 children in
temporary accommodation in England
in the third quarter of 2017 ? with more
than 88,000 of those in London. It is the
highest number in a decade. The ?gure
in London represents a 52% growth over
the last ?ve years. In the capital alone,
more than 3,000 children are living in
bed and breakfasts, or hostels.
?Housing problems can have a major
impact on child health ? whether that?s
increased likelihood of respiratory
problems because of poor housing conditions, or mental ill-health,? said Dr
Dougal Hargreaves, of the UCL Institute
of Child Health. ?In a recent survey of
paediatricians, over 40% had difficulty
discharging a child in the last six months
because of concerns about housing or
food insecurity.?
The Nuffield study is published as
years of progress in cutting child poverty is being reversed. Research by the
Joseph Rowntree Foundation earlier
this month found almost 400,000 more
children in the UK were living in poverty last year compared with 2012-13. It
warned that decades of progress were
being erased due to stagnant wages and
inflation. It has called on the government to unfreeze working-age bene?ts
and build decent, affordable homes.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal
Studies estimates the number of children living in poverty is likely to rise to
a record 5.2 million over the next ?ve
years. The Nuffield report suggests that
this also has serious consequences for an
NHS already under strain.
The pressures of that poverty on families, Dr Cheung says, are becoming tragically clear. ?A few months ago we had
discussions with social services about
whether a child was being cared for
properly,? he recalls. ?But it just turned
out that the mother was working two
jobs, she had two other children and was
simply under pressure not to take more
time off to go to an asthma appointment.
In the end, we agreed to see the child at
home because that was the only way we
could make it work.
?This is about life chances. It?s about
the fact that a quarter of the children
in this country live in material poverty.
It?s about a lack of social mobility. It?s
a燾ycle.?
Growing health gap revealed
between Britain?s rich and poor
Continued from page 1
least deprived groups, with the most
deprived teenagers experiencing
A&E attendance rates almost 70%
higher than those from the best-off
families. The most deprived groups
were 55% more likely to experience an
unplanned hospital admission, though
that gap narrowed over the last decade.
Experts said education, diet, environment and the pressures on families
living on the breadline meant poor
children often ended up in hospital
when their health issues could have
been headed off earlier. The report?s
authors warn that the most vulnerable
children are being let down by health
services.
In 2005-06, school-age children in
the most deprived areas had double the
emergency admission rate for asthma
compared with their least-deprived
counterparts. However, by 2015-16, the
gap had grown to about two and a half
times. That gap alone is costing the
NHS �5m per year.
There is also evidence of alarming health inequalities persisting into
adulthood. While unplanned admissions for diabetes have been stable or
have decreased for younger children,
analysts said there had been a ?striking
growth? for all 20- to 24-year-olds.
The most deprived children were
almost twice as likely to experience
an unplanned admission in 2015-16
as the least deprived. Reducing these
admissions to the level experienced by
the least deprived would have led to a
decrease of some 244,690 paediatric
emergency admissions in 2015-16, and
a potential saving of �5m per year.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of
the Nuffield Trust, said: ?Asthma and
diabetes are both conditions that we
should be managing outside hospital. It
is an indictment of how we are looking
after the most vulnerable in our society
that deprived children are now more
likely to experience unplanned admissions for asthma than their counterparts did 10 years ago.?
Dougal Hargreaves, Nuffield visiting
researcher, said: ?Receiving emergency
hospital treatment is often absolutely
essential, and emergency care saves
lives every day. But the level of variation between rich and poor, and the
growing inequalities gap in unplanned
admissions for asthma, is really worrying.?
Professor Russell Viner, officer
for health promotion for the Royal
College of Paediatrics and Child
Health, said that the report highlighted ?the devastating impact
poverty can have on child health,
especially in relation to emergency
admissions for asthma and diabetes.?.
Wendy Preston, head of nursing
at the Royal College of Nursing, said
asthma should be managed outside
hospital. ?Yet the worsening shortage
of school nurses and health visitors
means early warning signs and prevention opportunities are missed, and
vulnerable children do not receive the
support they need.
The Department of Health said:
?Progress has been made in reducing
the rate of emergency admissions for
the most deprived children ? but more
needs to be done. To help, we have
introduced the world?s ?rst diabetes
prevention programme, a new tobacco
control plan, targeting the most
vulnerable groups, and we are giving
local areas �bn to spend on public
health.?
24.12.17
NEWS | 9
*
Meet the queen of our festive television,
from Call the Midwife to Little Women
Everyone loves a
family show at this
time of year. Screen
writer Heidi Thomas
tells Sarah Hughes
the secret of a great
Christmas drama
Christmas wouldn?t be Christmas
without a relaxing television show for
the entire family, the sort of thing that
everyone from dozing grandparents to
over-wired children can settle down on
the sofa to watch. These days it is highly
likely that the programme will have been
written by Heidi Thomas.
The 55-year-old creator of the muchloved medical drama Call the Midwife is
increasingly the queen of the Christmas
schedules. In the past she has adapted
Ballet Shoes for the BBC and turned in
festive specials of Upstairs Downstairs
and Cranford. This year her three-part
take on Louisa May Alcott?s classic Little Women, which starts on Boxing Day,
promises to be one of the highlights of
the festive TV calendar while the nowtraditional Call the Midwife special ? this
one set ?during the big freeze of 1962-63?
? will air on Christmas Day.
The only problem for Thomas is that
just when she wants to relax and forget about her work, the rest of her family wants to watch it. ?We always have
a lot of people over ? 16 last year, plus
more in the evening ? but it?s always
a bit funny because the whole family
sits down to watch the Call the Midwife
Christmas special,? she says, laughing. ?I love them for it and I?m terribly
aware that I mustn?t glare if they reach
for the Quality Street or talk at the
wrong moment but I do feel the pressure. It?s a bit like: have the sprouts, eat
the pavlova, see what everyone thinks
of the feature-length period drama
you?ve written.?
As the seasonal festivities begin,
Thomas?s conversation is warm and
relaxed, taking in everything from the
amount of research for Call the Midwife
(?Tons, research really stimulates me
and we always have two medical advisers for each case?) to the importance of
libraries (?By the time I was 10 I?d read
all the books in the children?s section.
When they granted me an adult ticket
I felt such relief that there were more
books in the world?) and the way in
which she feels the world has changed
for the worse since she was young.
?I wouldn?t be sitting here if I hadn?t
gone to grammar school and got a free
grant to university. I might have had
a cracking career in retail ? I once had
a brilliant job in a ladies? underwear
department ? but I wouldn?t have been
able to be a writer. I was the ?rst person
in my family to go to university and the
way things are shaping up my son will be
the last. That?s not progress and it makes
me glad I have a platform to say so.?
Thomas was thrilled when the chance
to adapt Little Women came her way: it
was one of her childhood favourites and
the ?rst hardback book she owned. ?My
mother gave her copy to me and I can
still smell it. It was cloth-bound with sil-
Above: the new
TV version of
Louisa M Alcott?s
1868 novel Little
Women.
Left: Call the
Midwife has been
at the heart of the
BBC?s festive
houetted illustrations on the top of each
page,? she says. ?I was young when I read
it ? eight or nine, certainly younger than
the girls in the book ? so I looked up to
them as exciting older sisters.?
Like many Little Women fans, Thomas
has repeatedly returned to the story of
the four March sisters ? romantic Meg,
impetuous Jo, shy Beth and vain Amy
? over the years, taking something different from the book each time. But she
knew adapting it would not be easy.
?There is a sense that you?re putting
your head in the lion?s mouth adapting a
classic novel,? she says. ?And when it?s so
loved and you also love it yourself then
it?s even more delicate. It?s a book with
so many sacred moments, I found it quite
?I think these
stories are often
dismissed as
lightweight
simply
because the
focus is
on women?
Heidi Thomas
schedule for the
last five years.
Below: Heidi
Thomas: ?You?re
putting your head
in the lion?s mouth
when you adapt a
classic novel.?
BBC, Alamy
fraught trying to choose what to include
and where to put the emphasis.?
Thomas is infuriated by suggestions
that Little Women is ?women?s TV?, noting that the hugely popular Call the Midwife, which returns for an eighth series
in 2018, has been similarly put down in
its time. ?In the early days a lot of people
took Call the Midwife at what they felt to
be face value and ignored the fact that we
were telling strong stories about women
and the working class,? she says.
?We got called ?Horlicks TV? and I
would think what does it say about
our patriarchal society if a show
dealing with the effects of abortion,
sexual violence and domestic
violence is called lightweight
fluff? I find that attitude
disturbing but then again
in recent years attitudes
towards the show have
changed ? there?s certainly
more people who understand what it?s about now.?
What it is, Thomas
stresses, is a medical drama.
?Yes, we?re emotional, yes, the
stakes can be high, but that?s
because the stories we tell are about
births, relationships, marriages, deaths
? those are rites of passage. It touches
on truths of existence ? what is love,
what do we give each other, what do
we want from life and from each other.
Little Women does exactly the same and
I think these stories are too often dismissed as lightweight simply because
the focus is on women.
?In fact, maybe men would enjoy
Little Women more because they don?t
know the novel at all. My husband [actor
Stephen McGann, who plays Dr Turner
on Call the Midwife] had never read the
novel and cried when he watched the
?rst episode. He told me it was because
he identi?ed with Beth and her shyness
because he was agoraphobic in his teens.
He connected to the character and I?m
sure other men would too.?
Thomas has not ruled out future
adaptations of classics ? ?I?d love to do
a Dickens and I?m a huge fan of George
Eliot ? I?ve never done a Bront� ? but
she is currently working on two original
projects.
And the key is to a great Christmas
drama ? ?It?s about bringing people
together, being inclusive and beckoning
people in,? she says. ?Actually, sometimes I think my real mission in writing
Christmas TV is just to give everyone a
chance not to have to talk to each other
for a while ??
Call the Midwife is on BBC One on Christmas Day at 7.40pm; Little Women is in
three parts on BBC One starting on Boxing Day at 8pm.
Green?s allies accused of orchestrating a hostile media campaign against Maltby
Continued from page 1
personal article in the Daily Mail, headlined ?One very pushy lady?.
The claims of inappropriate behaviour made by Maltby were eventually
judged ?plausible? by the Cabinet
Office inquiry into the ?rst secretary
of state?s actions. Green ultimately lost
his job after admitting that he had lied
about the fact that pornography was
found on his parliamentary computer
during a police investigation in 2008.
May now faces the prospect of
replacing Green, who had chaired a
series of sensitive Brexit cabinet com-
mittees. Senior government ?gures on
both sides of the EU referendum debate
pointed to David Lidington, the justice
secretary and former Europe minister,
as the ?ultimate safe pair of hands?
who could do the job without upsetting
Remainers or Brexiters.
Opinion is split among senior Tories
over whether May should make the
changes as part of a major reshuffle
next month. It has not gone unnoticed
by party whips that the main troublemakers for May have been former
ministers such as Anna Soubry, Nicky
Morgan and Dominic Grieve.
The latest twist in the affair comes
as debate still rages over the role of the
two police officers, Bob Quick and Neil
Lewis, who were involved in Scotland
Yard?s 2008 investigation into Home
Office leaks. The investigation led to
Green?s arrest and seizure of his parliamentary computers. It was during the
course of that inquiry that online pornography was discovered. Green had
denied any knowledge of the existence
of the material, but has now admitted
that his denial was misleading.
The College of Policing, which sets
standards for serving officers through
an official code of ethics, said that it
expected the ethical code that the two
officers signed in connection with their
policing career to be upheld after they
depart the force.
The code states: ?I will treat information with respect, and access or disclose it only in the proper course of my
duties.? It also makes clear that officers
must ?access police-held information
for a legitimate or authorised policing
purpose only? and ?not disclose information, on or off duty, to unauthorised
recipients?.
The College of Policing told the
Observer: ?We expect that members
of the profession will be proud to
maintain the standards contained in
the code of ethics in relation to their
policing career, after retirement.?
However, senior police sources
believe there is a whistleblowing
defence for Quick and Lewis, arguing
that they acted in the public interest to
highlight inaccurate statements made
by a senior public employee. Sources
also say there is signi?cant support for
the two officers.
Georgina Halford-Hall, chief executive of WhistleblowersUK, said: ?It
raises really serious issues about when
people have information, who they
disclose it to, how they should disclose
it and how they should be treated.?
10 | NEWS
*
Homelessness rises by 75%
among vulnerable groups
24.12.17
Shelter has called
for urgent action to
reduce the number
of people forced to
live on the streets.
Alamy
People with mental and physical health problems are hit hardest
by Jamie Doward
Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has
increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and
there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children
who are classed as homeless.
According to official ?gures collated
by the Department for Communities
and Local Government, the number of
homeless households in England identi?ed by councils as priority cases because
they contain someone who is classed as
vulnerable because of their mental illness, has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to
5,470 this year.
Over the same period, the number
of families with dependent children ?
another priority homeless group identi?ed by councils ? has increased from
22,950 to 40,130. The number of home-
less households with a family member who has a physical disability has
increased from 2,480 to 4,370.
After a week in which the prime minister has come under renewed attack
over homelessness, housing charities have called on the government to
urgently build more affordable housing
and reverse a squeeze on bene?ts which
has left vulnerable people unable to pay
their rents.
?With homelessness soaring, it is no
surprise that the number of vulnerable
groups ? including families with children ? who are having to turn to their
council for help is on the rise,? said Polly
Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter.
?As wages stagnate, rents continue to
rise and welfare is cut, many people are
struggling to keep a roof over their head.
Eviction is now the number one cause of
homelessness.
?Our services across the country are
seeing an increase in the number of people with multiple and complex needs,
and we think this may be because other
services are failing to provide the help
that people need. The solution to our
housing crisis must be to urgently build
more affordable homes and, in the short
term, end the freeze on housing bene?t
that is increasingly pushing people over
the precipice into homelessness.?
Last week, Theresa May was accused
of failing to understand the plight of
homeless families following her House
of Commons response to Rosena AllinKhan, the Labour MP for Tooting, who
said 2,500 children in her constituency
would ?wake up homeless on Christmas
Day?.
May said: ?Anybody hearing that
[question] will assume that what that
means is that 2,500 children will be
sleeping on our streets. It does not.?
She added: ?It is important that we
are clear about this for all those who
hear these questions because, as we all
know, families with children who are
accepted as homeless will be provided
with accommodation.?
Her comments attracted criticism
CHARITY APPEAL 2017
PASSES � MARK
The Guardian and Observer charity
appeal in support of homeless
youngsters and destitute refugees
and asylum seekers has passed the
� mark. The appeal, which runs
until 7 January, is raising money for
three charities: Centrepoint, Depaul
UK and the No Accommodation
Network (Naccom), all of whom
deliver and support vital work on the
frontline of homelessness and
destitution in the UK. All three
charities have paid tribute to the
generosity shown by readers.
Read this week?s appeal story and
help us break the chain, page 12
from homeless charities and opposition MPs. ?The scale of rising homelessness shames us all,? said John Healey,
Labour?s shadow housing secretary.
?After seven years of failure on housing,
falling homelessness under Labour has
turned into rising homelessness under
the Conservatives.
?There was an unprecedented decline
in homelessness with the last Labour
government, but the number of homeless households has increased by half
since 2010 and it is some of the most
vulnerable groups who have been worst
affected. It doesn?t have to be this way.
Ministers need to get a grip.?
Labour has set out its plans to tackle
homelessness with a new national mission to end rough sleeping within the
next parliament.
In his Christmas address, Jeremy
Corbyn identi?ed homelessness as a key
issue as he called for people to show care
and love to others. ?It?s a time of the year
when we think about others, like those
who have no home to call their own or
who are sleeping rough on our streets,?
the Labour leader said.
?Tackling homelessness is a complex
issue with no single solution but we?re
determined to help the most vulnerable
in our society,? a government spokesman
said. ?While the number of homeless
peaked at over 135,000 in 2003-04 and
is now well below this level, we know
much more needs to be done.
?That?s why we?re providing over
�n through to 2020, bringing in the
most ambitious reform in decades to
ensure people get support sooner, and
trialling Housing First to help the most
entrenched rough sleepers.?
24.12.17
NEWS | 11
*
OUT OF THE PAST
Quintessentially
English: a thatched
house in Suffolk.
Far right, Peter Hall
(left) and camera
crew on location; a
harvesting scene
recreated for their
Akenfield film.
Alamy ;`
Rex Pyke/BFI
Aken?eld revisited: what a rural classic
reveals about our changing countryside
Ronald Blythe?s account of a ?ctional village
painted a vivid picture of 1960s country life. A
new study will explore how such communities
are dealing with the relentless spread of city
culture, reports James Tapper in Chars?eld
It was the essayist Ronald Blythe who
?rst conjured up life in Aken?eld in 1969
with his depiction of traditional rural life
? as experienced in a ?ctional Suffolk village ? just before it evaporated under the
white heat of technology.
Then Sir Peter Hall, the titan of English theatre, turned Aken?eld: Portrait
of an English Village into a ?lm in 1974.
Both were international hits and the
book became part of the school curriculum in Canada and the US.
Now researchers at the University
of East Anglia have begun working on
Aken?eld Now, a project that will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the
book?s publication, drawing on the same
techniques that Blythe and Hall used:
oral histories recited by people who have
grown up or lived in the village for much
of their lives.
The results of the new study may
provide a clue to solving an existential
dilemma: in a world of mechanised
farming, Uberised jobs and online automation, what is rural England for?
Aken?eld is not on any map, because
Blythe ?ctionalised it, using conversations he had with people from the hamlet of Debach, where he lived, and its
larger neighbour, Charsfield, 10 miles
outside Ipswich.
Superficially, Charsfield has not
changed much since Blythe described it.
The population is about 250, compared
with the 298 people who lived in Aken?eld in 1961. The Three Horseshoes pub
remains, as does St Peter?s Church, the
Baptist chapel, the village hall and even
Chars?eld primary school, which has 46
pupils, not many fewer than the 62 that
Blythe gave Aken?eld in 1875.
The author?s portrait was part fictional gazetteer, part oral history as
told by the villagers. He assembled a
cast ranging in age and social class: the
saddler, the colonel, the thatcher, the
magistrate, the gravedigger. The blacksmith with three apprentices struggling to keep pace with his order book.
The gardener at a country pile who
had to keep out of sight of ?Lordship
and Ladyship?. The Great War veteran
remembering how his father sold him as
a 13-year-old to work on a farm for four
and sixpence a week.
The portrait painted by the modern
villagers of Chars?eld is of a radically
different demographic. ?More than
half the people in the village are retired
and the rest of them commute,? Jerry
Bird爏ays.
He and his wife have run the Three
Horseshoes for ?ve years. ?We have a
few who live in London during the week.
There are two or three holiday cottages.?
This means that during the daytime
the village is ?sleepy?, with few obvious
signs of life. The pub is shut for lunch
these days ? Bird does a part-time job at
a care home and his wife works in the
post office during the day. They open in
the evenings for the commuters returning from Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds,
Felixstowe and London. Blythe recorded
a single London commuter in Aken?eld.
?It?s got a very strong community
spirit, stronger than anywhere else I?ve
been,? Bird says. When they had just
arrived, he had wanted to clear a patch
of bebrambled land behind the pub,
but was taken ill. The other villagers
pitched in and did it for him. They also
helped raise �750 for the pub to get a
new boiler.
Chars?eld may be a ?dormitory village? for commuters such as Andy Wyatt
? he?s not a local, having lived there for
only 18 years ? but he agrees that ties are
much closer than ?rst glance suggests.
?In times when the pub has shut,
we?ve had a pop-up pub,? he says. ?We
put some marquees up on the lawn and
got some beers. The village came out to
that on Christmas Day.? The Chars?eld
amateur dramatic society?s spring farce,
the annual fete, the regular fundraising
to improve the recreation ground (with
tennis courts, a picnic area, children?s
adventure playground and open-air
exercise machines) all help people get
together. It?s the smaller things that get
missed out. Jobs like trimming the grass
in the church graveyard are left to older
villagers. And there?s nowhere to bump
into people except the pub.
?There?s a lot of dog walkers,? Wyatt
says. ?But that?s about it.? One of the dog
walkers is David Sharp, a semi-retired
orthopaedic surgeon. He is also not
local, having been in Charsfield for
a mere 29 years, but remembers that
when he arrived there were two village
shops. They shut down not long after.
?I read Blythe?s book when I moved
here,? he says. ?I was very aware of
what Akenfield demonstrates, that it
was a two-class society, the landowner
and the worker. It?s much more middleclass now.?
Sharp is on his way to drop off Christ-
mas presents for Percy Mapperley, who
is now 90. His house was damaged by
fire several years ago, and his postman?s pension isn?t enough to renovate
the property like many other Chars?eld houses, with their smart, polished
front doors decorated with Christmas
wreaths and gazebo porches. ?More
people have got money but I don?t think
things have got better,? Mapperley says.
?Everything was a lot slower and everybody had time to speak to you. Everyone
would help everybody else.?
He moved to Chars?eld to get married in 1958. St Peter?s was a full house
then. Now he says they get a congregation of eight and the vicar has to tend to
eight or nine other parishes.
Mapperley used to work as a milkman and he also collected eggs from
homes with chickens to take them to
the packing station to be sold.
The farm that was the centre of economic life in the village, run by the
Youngman family, who have been here
since 1877, used to employ 18 farmhands. Now mechanised agriculture
means they need only three to tend and
harvest the blackcurrant and wheat
crops. ?The younger ones have moved
away because they need the work,?
Mapperley says. ?There?s no employment round here now.?
THE ORIGINS OF A CLASSIC
?When I wrote Aken?eld,? said
Robert Blythe, ?I had no idea
that anything particular was
happening, but it was the last
days of the old traditional rural
life in Britain. And it vanished.?
In the book, the villagers
recall a world that was being
lost. One of the bell ringers
remembers the tradition of
tolling bells for the death
of a fellow villager: ?It was three times
three for a man and three times two for
a woman. People would look up and say,
?Hullo, a death?? Then the years of the
dead person?s age would be tolled and if
the bell went on speaking, ?seventy-one,
seventy-two ? ? people would
say, ?Well, they had a good
innings!? But when the bell
stopped at eighteen or twenty
a hush would come over
the ?elds.?
In 2011, Blythe told the
Guardian: ?I just put these
people together in Chars?eld,
where I was the church warden,
and all the things one had heard
or seen since boyhood came
together... I actually haven?t worked on
this land but I?ve seen the land ploughed
by horses. So I have a feeling and
understanding in that respect ? of its
glory and bitterness.?
Charsfield?s primary school is an
anomaly. All the other village schools
nearby have shut and only a solid
defence of the school in the 1980s by
parents saved it. It has three teachers,
with mixed-age classes, with the smallest for 11 pupils. The small class sizes
make it popular with parents elsewhere
in the district ? of the 46 children, only
eight live within about a mile of the
school.
Children usually move on to Thomas
Mills high school in Framlingham ,
which is one of the secondary schools
working on the Aken?eld Now project,
run by John Gordon of the University
of East Anglia?s school of education
and lifelong learning. He is marshalling A-level students to ?lm oral history
interviews with Chars?elders and other
villagers in the Wickham Market area,
starting in July.
?I came at this because books like
Aken?eld are not in the English curriculum, which comes with an elitist view of
cultural heritage that focuses on national
identity,? Gordon said. ?If education is
partly about developing con?dence and
a sense of identity, how the curriculum
relates to local and regional identity is
really important.?
Which goes some way to addressing
rural England?s existential question. If
there is less room for Blythe?s Aken?eld
in the dormitory village of Chars?eld,
then are English villages ? the heart of
local and regional culture ? simply going
lose their identities and be absorbed by
the national culture emanating from the
big cities, like Strictly Come Dancing or
Premier League football?
?There?s a national view of reference
points that everyone needs to have,?
Gordon said.
?While that might be valuable, it overlooks the very distinctive regional reference points that people need to develop
to create a sense of place and a sense of
community.?
And how do people react if they don?t
recognise their own experiences in
?national reference points?
?It?s part of the divide that might
be developing between cosmopolitan
urban communities and other communities.?
12 | NEWS | Christmas appeal
*
24.12.17
Hostels offer shelter and hope to refugees
made homeless for years by asylum system
tance they need,? she says. Worryingly,
Naccom reports that the shelters and
projects it represents were forced to
turn away more than 1,000 people last
year because their services were full.
There simply aren?t enough spaces to
accommodate people. Cuts to legal aid,
along with delays in the asylum system,
have made matters worse.
It?s not just physical dangers that
face people who are living destitute.
The uncertainty of not knowing
whether you will have somewhere
safe to sleep that evening, let alone
whether you will be sent back to face
persecution in your home country,
has a devastating impact on a person?s
mental health.
Michael Moyo, who is staying at a
shelter in Coventry, ?rst applied for
CHARITY APPEAL
2017
Rebecca Ratcli?e
hears how the
Arimathea Trust gives
a roof and advice to
destitute people who
?ed war and poverty
Suzie Jones was 17 when she ?rst
arrived in the UK. She had travelled
alone, after ?eeing violence in her
home town, on the border of Somalia
and Ethiopia. When she was 13, her
father had been killed in front of her.
She hoped for a better, safer, life in
the燯K.
Instead, she found herself trapped in
an exhausting struggle with the asylum
system. ?It was like I was living in hell,?
she remembers.
Just over a year after her arrival,
Suzie was told her application for
asylum was refused and that she should
return to her home country. As a young
person she was entitled to housing, but
this would disappear when she turned
21. Then, she would be destitute.
Going home wasn?t an option, and
she had no choice but to ?ght the
Home Office decision. Suzie submit-
?When you say you?re
homeless, people
think: will she not
steal from me? She
must be dirty, she
hasn?t bathed?
Michael Moyo, who lives at a Naccom trust hostel, has been seeking asylum for 15 years. Photograph by Andrew Fox for the Observer
ted further evidence on three separate
occasions over the next decade. Each
time her case was being considered she
was moved to asylum accommodation
in an unfamiliar town and given around
� to live off per week. Each time
her application was turned down, she
would be evicted and have her ?nancial
support revoked. She was left to sleep
rough countless times, in London,
Leeds and Nottingham.
?Sometimes, because I didn?t have
anything to eat, I would faint in the
street, it was very bad for me,? she says.
Often, she would spend the night walking the streets. ?I didn?t want to sleep,
maybe someone could come and rape
me. I was scared,? she remembers. ?I
would just sit down and start crying.
?Sometimes people would say ?Why
are you homeless, where have you
come from?? Some of them were drunk,
ON THE WEB
CHARITY
APPEAL
2017
Find out more
about this year?s
charities:
Depaul,
Centrepoint and
Naccom (the No
Accommodation
Network)
gu.com/
guardianobservercharity-appeal
they?d swear at me, they?d throw something on me, they?d say ?Why do you
come in our country??.?
Suzie was eventually put in touch
with Nottingham Arimathea Trust,
which provides housing and support to
people whose ?rst claim for asylum has
been refused. Last March, after being
helped to build her application, she was
given refugee leave to remain.
Arimathea Trust is one of more
than 40 charities and projects that are
members of the No Accommodation
Network, or Naccom, which specialises in providing shelter and support
to destitute asylum seekers, refugees
and migrants who have no recourse to
public funds.
The network, one of three charities supported by the Guardian and
Observer appeal, helps desperate
people who have no right to work, no
?nancial support and nowhere to live.
?Many are forced to sofa surf, sleep on
the streets or enter into risky situations
to survive. They can be left in this limbo
for years, unable to return and unable to
rebuild their lives in the UK,? says Hazel
Williams, Naccom?s national director.
Naccom will use its share of the
Guardian and Observer appeal donations to build capacity into the network
and support frontline projects via selective grants. It is not known how many
destitute asylum seekers are living in
the UK, but some estimates suggest
there may be as many as 150,000 people, adds Williams. ?What we do know
is that only a small minority are able to
get the essential, often life-saving assis-
Ann Banda, hostel resident
asylum in 2002, but is still waiting
and unable to work. His relationship
with his wife ? who along with their
two children had her asylum application approved ? broke down after his
application was refused. He meets
his children in town because they
don?t know that he?s homeless. ?I feel
ashamed. I feel embarrassed,? he says.
?I?m supposed to be a father.? Michael
was an engineer in Zimbabwe. Today
he relies on meals from charities and,
until recently, sofa sur?ng with friends.
There?s only so long you can rely
on your community for help, says Ann
Banda, from Malawi, who stays in the
same hostel as Michael. ?The moment
you say you are homeless, people will
think, will she not steal in my house?
She must be dirty, she hasn?t bathed.?
Many tire of giving support, others
change the way they treat you. Gradually, you isolate yourself from friends.
For Suzie, who has no family in the
UK, the Arimathea Trust provided
emotional, as well as practical, support. ?They changed my life,? she says.
?They listen to me, and when I cry they
cry. Sometimes I come here and cry
and shout at them. They understand
why I shout. I?m not a bad person. [The
system] makes you feel crazy.?
Now that she has refugee leave to
remain, she wants to work and support
others. ?In these cold times, for someone to not have food or to be homeless,
they need help. I had to ?ght for my life.
I want to help people like me.?
Some names have been changed
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24.12.17
| 13
*
Barbara Ellen
We can?t break a
promise to take
in child refugees
I
s the plight of lone child refugees
yesterday?s news for this government? Is it hoping that the public
will simply stop caring and the
outrage, the headlines and the problem
are just going to melt away?
It appears that the Home Office isn?t
?lling the spaces reserved for unaccompanied child refugees under the
Dubs scheme. This year, the places,
which were expected to number
around 3,000, were announced to be
limited to 350. After a public outcry
and intervention from the House of
Lords, this was increased to 480.
Amber Rudd, the home secretary,
now says that the number of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK
speci?cally under the Dubs scheme
is ?over 200?, which sounds carefully
vague. (The government has been
steadfastly unco-operative about committing to numbers.)
Yvette Cooper, in the role of chair of
the Commons home
affairs committee,
says that government
promises are looking
?hollow? regarding
unaccompanied child
refugees (who are at
grave risk of trafficking and other exploitation) and that the
Home Office response
is ?completely inadequate?. It also sounds
chaotic, the mess
further complicated
by the government
saying that there were already around
4,000 lone asylum-seeking children in
care in the UK. This ?gure, if accurate,
was brandished at Cooper and the
committee as if it were someone else?s
doing ? that it somehow wasn?t the
government?s fault that there was such
widespread disorder.
Similarly, when Cooper pointed out
that 3,000 unaccompanied child refugee places could still be made available by local councils, should further
central government funding become
available, the response was that this
wasn?t an actual target, just a ?gure
relating to the maximum number of
child refugees who could be helped.
But, or so went the implication, they
sure as hell wouldn?t be. Well, thanks
for clearing that up. Merry Christmas!
It bears repeating that the ?gure
of 3,000 lone child refugees wasn?t
plucked out of the ?handwringing
do-gooder? ether. It was part of the
original campaign for the Dubs amendment ? in that it was deemed fair and
appropriate for Britain to help 3,000 of
the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied
child refugees, in the biggest refugee
crisis since the Second World War.
(Of course, there are innumerable
other child and adult refugees.) To
give it some context, around 200,000
asylum seekers were accepted into the
UK over a three-year period after the
break-up of Yugoslavia.
When the ?gure of 3,000 was so
drastically reduced, there was widespread public disgust bordering on
national shame. How could the UK
restrict the Dubs scheme to helping
such a small number of vulnerable,
unprotected children? Let?s be clear,
nobody, among campaigners or the
public, said: ?Let everybody in the
world come here if they want to?;
?Ignore British citizens
in need ? I prefer helping foreign people!?;
?I insist that you let
in grown men with
beards, and wives, as
?child refugees? under
the Dubs scheme.? Or
write your own ludicrous rightwing smearing of ?woolly liberals?
that kicks off whenever
helping refugees is on
the agenda. Rather,
there was a very
speci?c reaction to the
predicament of lone child refugees ?
kids who?d gone through so much and
were at such high爎isk.
This seems to be the very gut
instinct that this government would
prefer the British public to forget it
ever had. Which makes it even more
important for them to be held to
account, not just by the Commons
committee, but also by public vigilance. The government can?t make
insincere ?oh dear? noises about lone
child refugees and then not even meet
the puny total it permitted via the
Dubs scheme. It should also respond
to ongoing concern about all the other
child refugees languishing in dangerous, unsuitable camps and shelters
across Europe.
As 2017 draws to a close, it would be
nice to think that the lone child refugee
crisis is top of the agenda for 2018.
It?s not just Harry
and Meg. We?re all
Hollywood now?
T
Selfie conscious: Harry and Meghan smoulder. Alexi Lubomirski
�
?I already
know
there will
be a surfeit
of parsnips
and blue
cheese.
I know
because
I did the
shopping?
Nigel Slater
on the joy of
Christmas
leftovers
pages 26-29
T
here are reports of bumper sales
of turntables this Christmas.
Young people are buying them
and older people too, keen
to revisit their old records. Which
is understandable, though spare a
thought for those of us whose old vinyl
wouldn?t be up to it.
As a former music journalist, it?s
sometimes presumed that I ?must?
have a great vinyl collection. That
rather depends. I had a great time
listening to my records, but are they in
a great state now? Nope.
My surviving records are scratched,
reeking of wine, sprinkled with fag
ash and even a few boot prints. The
inner sleeves have nearly all vanished,
and I once found a copy of Kate Bush?s
Hounds of Love on the kitchen ?oor,
wrapped with drunken tenderness in a
dirty tea towel.
Why did these atrocities occur? That
would be because, at the grave risk of
generalising, I?m female. So, back in
the day, I actually played my records.
I didn?t alphabetise them, store them
in plastic sleeves or hold them at the
sides, snapping peevishly: ?No, like
this!?
I de?nitely had no thoughts about
their potential resale value, which is
why I would probably get about 99p for
the whole lot now or even have to pay
someone in a biohazard suit to dispose
of them safely.
Basically, my music was loved to
bits and treated extremely badly.
The upshot is that I?m pretty sure I
wouldn?t be able to play these records
any more. Oddly, I?d have to go full circle and buy them again. Do I regret my
vinyl vandalism? Not one bit. If I did it
the fun way, then I did it the right爓ay.
Observer
Magazine
For the record, I was a vinyl vandal
here?s been much excitement
over Prince Harry and Meghan
Markle?s ?Hollywood? engagement photos. Celebrity photographer Alexi Lubomirski took the snaps
and Markle wore a rather expensive
(�K!) Ralph and Russo gown and,
in an extra shot, sported a jumper
rumoured to be from the part of Victoria Beckham?s clothing range, where
women are allowed to retain all of their
ribs. Harry also wore something, not
that anybody cared.
Continuing the ?Hollywood? theme,
the couple smouldered at each other
with what continues to be politely
described as ?chemistry?, ?outing the
ancient bylaw that royal couples must
gaze upon each other as though they?d
secretly prefer to be petting an old corgi
or, as with William and Kate, had just
been formally introduced at a Boden
fashion shoot. It?s all lovely, but I?m not
convinced by this Hollywood talk.
On social media, it?s the house style
for couple-sel?es. Nearly every couple
is glowing, simpering and steaming
up the cameras, in gorgeous locations,
using ?attering ?lters. Take away
Meghan?s expensive frock and these
photos ?t in ?ne with British couplesel?e culture. In photos at least, everyone?s gone a bit Hollywood.
24.12.17
NEWS | 15
*
A view of the imposing railway viaduct across the Nidd at Knaresborough and, right, the town?s weekly market, believed by locals to be the oldest in Britain, attracts thousands of visitors each year. Alamy
Yorkshire town battles to save its historic
market against the plans of ?modernisers?
Knaresborough market was granted a royal
charter in 1310. Now a row about its future is
the talk of the town. Tony Howard pays a visit
It is, according to locals, the longest
continually running market in Britain.
Once a week, for more than seven centuries without pause, the historic North
Yorkshire town of Knaresborough has
hosted street traders selling all manner
of produce in its pretty town square.
Along with an impressive castle and a
picturesque river, the Wednesday market has become an integral part of the
town?s identity. So when local politicians ?oated plans to tamper with an
institution dating back to at least 1310,
a furore was inevitable.
Last month Harrogate Borough Council, whose remit covers nearby Knaresborough as well as Ripon, informed market stallholders that in future they might
have to provide their own stalls. The proposal was part of a wider plan to reduce
fees for stallholders. But in a town where
most ideas coming from Harrogate are
treated with deep suspicion, the proposal has not gone down well.
A straw poll among stallholders found
that 75% would be unable to continue
due to costs and practicalities, if the
council went ahead with the move. A
petition opposing the plans gathered
more than 6,000 signatures in a town
with a population of around 15,000.
In the normally sedate world of North
Yorkshire politics, Harrogate?s councillors found they had unwittingly created
a cause c閘鑒re.
?My company dates back to just after
the second world war and it has survived pro?tably since then, but now I
really fear for my livelihood, like never
before,? says stallholder Richard Lyons.
?I received a letter from the council in
late November, which included proposals requiring stallholders to buy, transport and erect stalls themselves, rather
than using those currently provided by
the local authority, and we were given
until the end of December to respond.
?The cost for a stall and transport is
beyond me, but even if I could afford
it, I am 67 years of age and suffer with
several health conditions. Yet they are
proposing that I transport a large metal
stall and erect it myself, which I simply
can?t do.
?I would have to give up work and
that would mean me being forced to live
off state bene?ts. It makes me feel sick,
just thinking about it.?
The council, which is Conservativecontrolled, argues that the market is in
decline, pointing out that stall occupancy
has shrunk by 10% since 2015. Council
leader Richard Cooper said: ?The people
of Knaresborough are passionate about
their market. So am I. These are ancient
markets which mix tradition and innovation. But, despite still being successful,
they are shrinking year on year. That is
why we need to look at changes. We are
doing that now with the local community, traders and shoppers.?
According to Cooper, giving stallholders the freedom to set up their own
stalls, rather than take what they are
given, would allow them to ?exhibit and
sell their goods in the way they want?.
But that optimism was not widely
shared last week in Knaresborough?s
market square, where stalls were selling
?sh, meat, Yorkshire pork pies, hand-
N O R T H
S E A
Knaresborough
York
Leeds
50 miles
bags, wool and Christmas goods. In the
shadow of a statue of John ?Blind Jack?
Metcalf, the Knaresborough native
who built thousands of roads across
the north of England, town crier Roger
Hewitt was announcing the news as he
does every market day. His theme was a
town council meeting where more than
120 protesters had demonstrated the
strength of feeling about what is being
called ?marketgate?.
Over a pint in the Old Royal Oak
pub, which dates back to the 18th
century, Hewitt said: ?Officially, the
market has been here for more than
700 years. In 1310 Edward II gave the
town the market charter. But from my
research it was ?rst recorded in 1240,
when it would have been classed as a
?black market?. And it has been operating all that time ? there hasn?t been a
recorded break in nearly 780 years. It
is a remarkable achievement. What an
absolute shame it would be to end what
is now a very rare and much-treasured
English tradition that brings thousands
of visitors.?
Steve Teggin, a hairdresser and president of Knaresborough?s Chamber of
Trade, has rallied stallholders and other
business owners to what he says is the
cause of saving the market.
He said ?The public and businesses
have come together to tell the council
that their proposals will mean the end of
the market as we know it. They haven?t
consulted properly and sent letters out
to stallholders at Christmas ? the busiest
time of year ? leaving them little opportunity to respond. We believe it is partly
about saving the �,000 subsidy the
council spends on the markets.?
Cooper denied th is, saying: ?We
spend �,000 a year direct costs on
supporting Ripon and Knaresborough
markets. This is viewed as an investment in the economic vitality of the
two towns rather than a cost to the taxpayer.?
Nevetheless, the traditionalists have
won the ?rst battle in what may turn
out to be a long war. Cooper said that
following the ferocious backlash, the
council has ?parked the plans for now?.
Regular market visitor Kathleen
Lynch, who was at the rowdy council
meeting last week, said: ?I hope they
listen to the people. My family have
been coming here for 50 years. It is a
prestigious market and means so much
to the community. It is a real focal point
socially and the town will be devastated
without it. Not only do the stallholders
bene?t, but all the surrounding businesses get the knock-on too. I hope the
council recognise that.?
Teggin believes this is only the start
of a long resistance campaign: ?I believe
the proposals will surface again in a
few months, but we are now united and
ready to ?ght to keep this jewel in Yorkshire?s crown alive. It has survived for
more than 700 years and it won?t be lost
without a battle.?
Plan to collect data on excluded pupils could put them at ?lifelong risk? of stigma
by Michael Savage
Policy Editor
The privacy of vulnerable children
who leave mainstream education could
be put at risk by a plan to store more
of their data, a coalition of charities,
academics and teachers has warned.
Sensitive reasons why a child may
have left a school ? such as physical
or mental health issues, pregnancy or
having committed a criminal offence
? would be recorded under plans to
expand a survey of those educated outside the mainstream school system.
The plan has caused concern among
some in the sector who warn that the
expansion of the so-called ?alternative
provision? census from January could
lead to sensitive details being collected
without the knowledge of parents and
pupils. The Royal Mencap Society, the
Alliance for Inclusive Education and
the young offenders mentoring charity
Trailblazers are among more than 20
organisations to put their names to the
Defend Digital Me campaign demanding a rethink.
They say the information could be
added to the national pupil database,
which holds data on millions of pupils.
They raise concerns that there are
not enough safeguards to ensure that
sensitive data does not end up being
passed on to third parties and damaging the privacy of those it covers.
Officials insist that more information needs to be collected to ensure
the reasons for pupils being sent to
?alternative provision? are understood. They say there is a robust
approvals panel charged with guarding the data, and that there are no
plans to share the new information.
Teenage pregnancies would not be
recorded as a matter of course, they
say, but pregnancy could be selected
as an option explaining a placement.
However, in a letter to the Observer
today, the coalition write that the new
survey would ?put school children in
England at lifelong risk?.
?The government must pause,
rethink, and put children?s best
interests ?rst,? the letter states. ?The
Department for Education will collect
-18 move
reasons why children age 2-18
from mainstream school into
to
alternative provision education.
ation.
clude
Those sensitive reasons include
a mental or physical health need,
pregnancy, and whether a child
moved to a young offender
institution.
?These labels will be
added to a child?s named
record in the national
pupil database, which now
Ofsted chief inspector
Amanda Spielman.
holds the con?dential data of more
than 23爉illion people without their
knowledge or consent.?
The letter comes amid increasing
concerns about the number of children leaving the mainstream schools
system, with both Ofsted chief Amanda
Spielman and children?s commissioner
Anne Long?eld accusing schools of
ridding them
themselves of difficult children to boost
bo their results.
A recent
recen report by the Institute
Publi Policy Research thinkfor Public
tank warned
that official ?gures
war
on the n
number of children
excl
excluded were ?the tip of
the iceberg?, and that ?ve
times
tim more were being
ed
educated
in schools for
excluded
pupils than offiex
cial
ci data suggests. Figures
fr
from
the Department for
E
Education
show 6,685
pu
pupils were permanently
excluded in England in 2015-16, most
of them in the run-up to their GCSEs.
The coalition warns that some data
released to third parties from pupil
databases since 2012 had been identifying. ?New data protection law is in
parliament, and while the government
talk about giving children?s personal
data special protections, and privacy by
design, their actions do not,? the letter
states. ?We must see safeguards put in
place to uphold children?s rights.?
A spokesman for the Department
for Education said: ?The reasons for
a pupil being placed into alternative
provision can be wide ranging. It is
important we understand these different reasons so we can ensure we have
an education system that works for all.
?The robust approvals panel and
other controls are in place to ensure
that this data, like all our data, is very
safely guarded and only used in legal,
secure and ethical ways.?
16 | NEWS
*
Rare treasures
from medieval
churches may
be lost for ever
after 600 years
24.12.17
ENGLAND?S HIDDEN HERITAGE
Urgent bid to save parish panel paintings that
survived turmoil of Reformation and civil war
but are now at risk from neglect ? and beetles
by Dalya Alberge
They have survived the religious purges
of the Reformation, the sectarian violence of the English civil wars, even the
widespread whitewashing of church
walls in the 19th century.
But now hundreds of priceless medieval panel paintings in churches across
East Anglia ? depicting gruesome scenes
from hell, biblical ?gures, English monarchs and angels and apostles ? face
a new and potentially deadly threat:
deathwatch beetles.
Infestations of insects and bats are
among the problems increasingly bedevilling Britain?s ancient, leaky churches
which are struggling to pay for repairs
as congregations and income dwindle.
Deathwatch beetles are boring through
wood, creating holes twice the size of
those made by woodworm; bats are
urinating over paintings, causing white
spotting and chemically altering the
paint; while moisture and ?uctuations in
humidity are also causing paint to ?ake.
Various bodies, including the Hamilton Kerr Institute at Cambridge University and the Church Buildings Council,
are involved with a major project to save
these treasures. They have submitted a
?When a painting has
been attacked by
deathwatch beetle,
it?s peppered with
holes like a gun blast?
Tobit Curteis, conservator
bid for about � to the Arts & Humanities Research Council, warning of the
need to investigate, safeguard and record
these treasures ?before they are lost due
to theft, neglect or lack of awareness?. A
decision is expected shortly.
Their submitted bid notes: ?East
Anglia is extremely rich in late-medieval
painted wooden church screens. Examples are found in more than 40% of the
medieval churches, putting the lie to the
received wisdom that all pre-Reformation art was violently smashed.?
Most are rood screens. Sited between
the nave and chancel and formerly
topped by a cruci?x (rood), more than
500 examples survive ? many stripped
of their paint ? within the historical
dioceses of Norwich and Ely, ?in higher
density than anywhere else?.
Around 200 of 350 medieval paintings
in Britain are in East Anglia. The report
notes: ?These objects are extremely
vulnerable? Screens are threatened by
humidity, temperature, light and degradation from pests. Without a conservation strategy, they will be lost for ever.?
Dr Lucy Wrapson, a Hamilton Kerr
senior conservator, said ?there?s really
no question? that paintings will be lost:
?You lose paint over time, and once you
lose it, it?s irreplaceable. It?s a slow drip,
drip, drip. Unless you?re able to keep the
building intact and drain the rainwater,
they can be terribly vulnerable to damp
and environmental problems.?
While there are ?very good? examples
of medieval paintings in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, that there?s nothing
comparable to East Anglia?s collection,
Wrapson said: ?Barton Turf and Ranworth are among the most exquisite
screens in Norfolk, and Bramfield in
Suffolk is also a gem. They are all beautifully painted in bright oil colours using
pigments such as vermillion. The lower
parts of these screens have the painted
?gures of saints and angels.?
At Ranworth, images include dramatic
?gures of St Michael and St George slaying their respective dragons. At Barton
Turf, they feature St Apollonia, patron
saint of dentistry, holding a tooth in her
pincers. Astonishingly, despite their
importance, these paintings have yet
to be studied properly in their entirety.
Wrapson and Paul Binski, professor of
medieval art history at Cambridge University, are planning the ?rst corpus of
British medieval panel painting.
Wrapson said: ?Nobody realises how
much of this stuff there is out there. It?s
not collated in one place, so a lot of scholarship doesn?t happen. We really want to
know what?s there.?
She has, for example, discovered a
portrait of Henry VII on the North Tuddenham rood screen. St Sebastian has
been given the ?pinched face? features
of the king, who was on the throne at the
time of its making.
The project involves Tobit Curteis, a
leading architectural conservator, who
said: ?There are some stunners out
there. You walk into these little isolated
churches and there is this absolutely
remarkable painting sitting there... We
have this fantastically important collection of artefacts and the wider public
doesn?t know they are out there. These
paintings of angels, saints, dragons
would have been an absolutely core part
of the colour, mystery and magic of the
medieval church. They are desperately
in need of care and conservation. Otherwise they will deteriorate and disappear,
which would be a complete tragedy.?
Part of the project is to make people
more aware of their signi?cance. Wrapson despairs at past decisions to hammer
nails into screens, poke wires through
them and even spray silver paint over
Christmas decorations draped on them.
Asked why the paintings are now at
risk, Curteis said: ?With the declining
church population, it is harder to raise
money to look after these buildings.?
Beyond leaking roofs and water coming up through the walls, he said that
deathwatch beetles tend to colonise
moist wood: ?They eat their way through
the structure when they?re hatching. In
some cases, they eat so much it becomes
structurally unstable and it collapses.
When you see a panel which has been
attacked by deathwatch beetle, it?s peppered with holes like a shotgun blast. If
you can control the moisture in the timber, the beetles choose not to live there.
?Bats urinate and defecate as they ?y.
The material they produce is extremely
caustic. It burns into the paint layer.?
Attempts are being made to combat bats
with measures like false ceilings.
He added that these paintings have
survived 500-600 years: ?If they deteriorate over 25 years, that is phenomenally
fast... Will we lose some of these artworks
before our grandchildren are around to
see them? Yes. There is an opportunity
now to take action ? but that takes a lot
of time and effort.?
Medieval
depictions of St
Matthew, above
left, and St
Sebastian are
among the
glories of
England?s
country parish
churches. Left,
the rood screen
at St Andrew?s,
Bramfield,
Suffolk.
Photographs by
Lucy Wrapson
?The puritans smashed up pictures, crosses and
stained glass ? we must protect what?s left?
COMMENTARY
Ti?any Jenkins
When we think of iconoclasm today
it is the ?ghters of Islamic State who
come most readily to mind. We think
of their assaults on the ancient city of
Nimrud, tearing down temples and
smashing the heads of magni?cent
Assyrian statues, taking a pneumatic
drill to a winged bull at the gates of the
ancient city of Nineveh. But Britain,
too, once was home to iconoclasts,
which is why our churches are less
colourful and adorned than those in
other parts of Europe, especially the
?amboyant palaces of worship in Italy
or France that we ?ock to on holiday.
In the middle ages, parish churches
in England were a festival of colour.
Their now bare walls and stripped
woodwork were covered in painted
images of saints and biblical stories.
Some of this remarkable artwork was
destroyed as the stuff of superstition
by Protestant reformers in the 1530s
and 1540s. A century later, during the
civil war, it was the turn of iconoclasts,
including the puritan soldier William
Dowsing, who lived in Suffolk.
In 1643, Parliament ordered the
demolition of images and superstitious monuments in churches, together
with ?things illegal in the worship
of God? that contravened the second commandment not to make any
graven image. Dowsing visited about
250 churches in Cambridgeshire and
Suffolk where he and his men smashed
pictures, crosses, stained glass, altar
rails and rood screens. His journal
for Wenham Parva, dated 3 February,
notes: ?We brake down 26 superstitious pictures, and gave order to break
down 6 more; and to levell the steps.
One picture was of the Virgin Mary.?
This destruction is why it is so
remarkable to ?nd that there still exists
a considerable number of amazing
medieval panel paintings and rood
screens. Were they in a celebrated
place they would attract a long line of
visitors but they are tucked away, off
the beaten track, spread across many
venues. This inattention is a major
oversight, for they are glorious.
The artefacts are evidence of our
pre-Reformation past, parts of which
were almost obliterated. We have a
responsibility to history to research
and preserve what is left: the carvings
and paintings are a small and unique
window on to our medieval past, about
which we know too little. As they are
matchless treasures on our doorstep, they must also be saved for art.
Showing amusing details not only of
golden angels but lions, ?sh, birds and
grimacing beasts, some works appear
to be painted by teams of specialist
local tradesman; others are in?uenced
by those further a?eld including
German craftsman.
This project deserves the funds it
has applied for ? and more. In the last
few decades, funding has been secured
for new buildings and for building
new audiences; the long-distant past
has been sidelined. We disregard our
history at our peril. If these paintings
and screens have survived the fury of
Dowsing?s hammer, we should ensure
they outlast our neglect.
Tiffany Jenkins is the author of Keeping
Their Marbles and is an honorary fellow
in Art History at Edinburgh University
*
World
Vote unleashes
fresh divisions in
Catalonia as judge
plans arrests of
top nationalists
24.12.17
VICTORY ? OR STALEMATE?
Tensions continue to rise as Catalans elect 19 jailed, exiled or
bailed politicians, and separatists claim the judiciary is acting
on Madrid?s orders. Stephen Burgen reports from Barcelona
The dramatic election in Catalonia on
Thursday was supposed to draw a line
under months of tension and division
across the Spanish region over its future
status. Instead it has opened a potentially damaging new division with suggestions that a fresh wave of arrests of
Catalan nationalists may be unleashed.
Altogether, 19 of the elected candidates are either in prison, on bail or in
exile, and face charges that carry up to
30爕ears in prison. Now the supreme
court judge Pablo Llarena plans to issue
writs against a further 11 people linked
with the deposed Catalan government
for their part in organising October?s referendum and fomenting secessionism.
They include Marta Rovira, acting
leader of Esquerra Rep鷅licana (Republican Left) ? its leader, Oriol Junqueras,
riel and Mireia
is in prison ? Anna Gabriel
Boy� of the anti-capitalistt CUP party,
and Josep Llu韘 Trapero, former head
adra police
of the Mossos d?Esquadra
force, who was hailed ass a hero for
his handling of August?s terrorist
attacks.
Even the name of Pep
ceGuardiola, former Barcech
lona football club coach
er
and now at Manchester
n a
City, has appeared in
police report that forms part
Football coach Pep Guardiola
ola
is named in a police report..
of the investigation into events leading
up to the unilateral declaration of independence on 27 October.
The report describes the huge but
peaceful demonstrations organised
by Catalan grassroots organisations as
?sowing the seeds of hate towards the
Spanish state?. At one such gathering, on
11 June, Guardiola read out a manifesto
for independence. The report has been
passed on to Llarena, who is in charge of
the investigation.
Commenting on the legal moves last
week, the deposed Catalan president
Carles Puigdemont said from his selfimposed exile in Brussels: ?I think it?s
clear that in Spain there are a number of
state prosecutors, judges and state attorneys who are under orders from politicians. The judges are political appointments. This is o
one of the weaknesses of
the Spanish judicial
jud
system.?
Puigdemont is not the only one to
complain that Madrid
M
is using the law to
deal with a po
political con?ict and to call
into question the separation of powers betwee
between the executive and the
judiciary Certainly the alacrity
judiciary.
wh the justice system has
with which
respond to the Catalan crisis
responded
m
is in marked
contrast to the glapa with which it is hancial pace
t hundreds of corrupdling the
ca
tion cases
involving members
r
of the ruling
Popular party.
l
The legal
assault on the seces-
VOICES FROM THE STREET
Anna Pi駉l, 19, student
I?m not surprised by the result because
a lot of people see Ciutadans (the
Citizens party) as the best way to stop
secessionism. But with only three seats
it?s pretty clear what the majority think
of the Popular party, and not just proindependence voters. One thing that?s
clear is that, if they want to reunite Spain,
they have to do something about this
sense that many of us Catalans have that
we?re under attack.
Sonia Gonz醠ez Vidal, 54, shop manager
For me, the priority is for all of us to
unite to change the constitution. The
polarisation in Catalonia is the greatest
challenge to that. We have to accept that
we are divided and try to pull together
for constructive change rather than risk
allowing these social divisions to destroy
us socially and economically.
Adara Jackson, 19, dancer
It?s simple, we wouldn?t be in this situation
if from the start the government had
let Catalans say what they think. A
binding referendum would have solved
everything, and the proof of this is that for
the ?rst time the Popular party came last
in the election.
Pep Planas, 53, actor
The results show that a majority of voters
want a republic. It?s not true that Catalan
society is divided down the middle. In a
climate of threats and intimidation it is
impossible to demonstrate that what
80% of people really want is a binding
referendum. The world has seen the
repeated failure of the government?s
repressive policies and there?s no
alternative but to negotiate a new
relationship between Catalonia and Spain
and to hold a proper referendum.
sionists began last March when the
superior court slapped a two-year ban on
the former Catalan president Artur Mas
from holding public office for his role
in organising the illegal referendum in
November 2014. Three members of his
cabinet were also banned. They then
faced ?nes of ?5.2m (�6m), about ?2m
of which was raised by independence
organisations 襪nium Cultural and the
Asamblea Nacional Catalana, but Mas
has had to offer his home as collateral.
The ANC and 襪nium have also had to
raise close to ?1m in bail for activists and
politicians, thus draining their resources
and their ability to organise pro-independence rallies and other events.
In September, the late attorney-general Jos� Manuel Maza threatened to
arrest 712 Catalan mayors who agreed
that their facilities could be used in the
banned 1 October referendum. They
faced charges of perverting the course
of justice and misuse of public funds.
The following month Jordi S醤chez
and Jordi Cuixart, leaders respectively
of the ANC and 襪nium, were held in
protective custody on charges of civil
disobedience. They are still in prison.
A few weeks later eight members of the
Catalan government that declared UDI
were jailed while Puigdemont and ?ve
cabinet ministers ?ed to Brussels.
Spain?s prime minister, Mariano
Rajoy, refers repeatedly to ?the rule
of law? whenever the Catalan issue is
raised and his government denies that
it is using the judiciary to do its dirty
work. ?There is a separation of powers
in Spain,? says Pablo Casado, a member
of the Popular party communications
department. ?We live under the rule of
law in a state where the judiciary is independent. In a democracy you never have
to fear the law.?
However, there is plenty of scope for
political interference. The 20 members
of the General Council of the Judiciary,
which appoints most senior judges, are
themselves appointed by congress and
the senate. Members of the constitutional court that declared the Catalan
referendum illegal are also political
appointees. In the EU?s 2017 ?Justice
Scoreboard? Spain came third to last
among 28� member states in terms of
public perception of judicial independence, above only Slovakia and Bulgaria.
Some 58% of Spaniards surveyed rated
judicial independence as ?very bad? or
?fairly bad?.
Although legal experts told the
Observer that there is a sound separation
of powers, the popular perception is that
?Judges in Spain
are political
appointments. This
is a weakness of
the judicial system?
Carles Puigdemont
ON OTHER PAGES
2017 in review: the pain and the joy
In Focus, page 26
politicians are using the courts for political ends. ?The con?ict between Spain
and Catalonia is a political con?ict and
the Spanish government has renounced
its political responsibilities and has hidden behind the judicial process,? Argelia Queralt, professor of constitutional
law at Barcelona University, said. ?But
this doesn?t mean they are manipulating
the courts, only that they are using the
existing legal means. It?s not a problem
of a lack of separation of powers, the
problem is that the government, instead
of using politics, has opted to treat the
question as a legal matter.?
A few days before Thursday?s election,
Spain?s deputy prime minister, Soraya
S醗nz de Santamar韆, told a meeting
of the Popular party faithful in Girona:
?Who has ordered the liquidation of
Catalan secessionism? Mariano Rajoy
and the Popular party. Who has seen to it
that the secessionists don?t have leaders
because they?ve been beheaded? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular party.?
Carme Forcadell, the former speaker
in the Catalan parliament, who is on
?150,000 bail on charges of sedition,
rebellion and misuse of public funds,
commented: ?Thank you for con?rming
something we all knew, which is that
there is no separation of powers in Spain
and that it?s the government that tells the
courts what to do.?
24.12.17
WORLD | NEWS | 19
*
The unionist Ciutadans party, left, and Catalan nationalists, above, celebrate as election
results come in on Thursday. Below, the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
Photographs by Guo Qiuda/Xinhua; Albert Gea/Reuters; Thierry Roge/Getty
Puigdemont can only hope to resist, not win, in a con?ict that is driven by fate
COMMENTARY
Miguel-Anxo Murado
When Spain?s prime minister Mariano
Rajoy decided to impose direct rule over
Catalonia in October, and call a snap
election to replace its regional parliament ? after it had declared independence from Spain ? he thought he was
?restoring normality? to Catalan politics
and putting an end to the con?ict.
Instead, the election has shown
that con?ict is the new normal. The
pro-independence parties have again
secured an absolute majority, and they
vow to restore the same government
Rajoy dismissed two months ago.
But far from a deja vu, this will be
something never seen before, for the
likely president of that government,
Carles Puigdemont, is in self-imposed
exile in Belgium, some of his ministers
are in jail in Spain, and all are accused
by the supreme court of rebellion, a
charge that could result in up to 30
years in prison. Rajoy?s gamble has
certainly back?red. It could be argued
that he didn?t have much choice, once
the Catalan parliament had broken
the law. And the move did defuse the
declaration of independence. But the
idea that it would permanently resolve
the crisis was predicated on an assumption that is very popular in Spain but is
wrong: that there is a ?hidden proSpain majority? in Catalonia, which
has never been allowed to express itself
at the polls, cowed by the prevailing
nationalist atmosphere.
If only ? the argument went ? there
could be an election with the central
government in control instead of the
nationalist-led one, a different Catalonia would emerge. But the result of last
week?s election, with a record turnout
of almost 82%, shows there are no more
?hidden votes? for Spain. There?s no
clear pro-Spain majority, and there is no
majority for independence either.
Catalonia is what it is, take it or leave
it ? and I don?t mean either literally.
So, what now? The obvious course
of action would be a dialogue, but that
is still not on the cards. Puigdemont
would not settle for anything less than
independence or a legally binding referendum. Rajoy says the constitution does
Spain?s prime
minister, Mariano
Rajoy, on the day
after the election
result.
not allow it, which is true. Changing the
constitution, if there were the will to do
so, is a daunting task.
The majorities that are needed ?
including an all-Spain referendum on
the reform ? make it almost impossible. Only a consensus among all the
parties, like the one that made possible
the constitution itself, could work the
miracle. But not even at Christmas does
that seem likely.
For now, we?re left with what has
been the main driver of this con?ict
for ?ve years: fate. Both sides seem
to put all their trust in theirs. Puigdemont may have won a majority, but he
knows he must return to Catalonia to
be pronounced president, and then he
will be arrested and sent to jail. He certainly hopes the ensuing international
scandal will help him out. He shouldn?t
count on that. Half his government has
already been jailed without the international community uttering a whisper.
Even in Catalonia the reaction has
been surprisingly muted. The main
asset of the Catalan movement has
always been its ability to mobilise hun-
dreds of thousands of supporters on
the streets. Now the quiet imposition of
direct rule has shown that to be a paper
tiger, at least for now. Puigdemont can
only hope to resist, but not to win.
As for Rajoy, he may stick to the
orthodoxy of the law and hope things
will change, his trademark strategy. To
be fair, it has worked for him many times.
But in this case, it means worsening the
surreal situation in Catalan politics. In
the absence of a political initiative, the
judges will continue to treat the nationalist movement as a ?rebellion against the
state?, an obvious exaggeration.
This will inevitably result in the jailing of the Catalonia government, many
of its MPs and perhaps dozens of other
leaders, who will be given decades-long
prison terms. Even Europe, which has
remained unquestionably on Rajoy?s
side, may begin to ask questions. But
then, if both sides have chosen to let fate
decide, they will have to live with its
verdict. If we are to trust the centuriesold literature on the subject, fate rarely
makes good decisions.
Miguel-Anxo Murado is a Spanish writer
and journalist
20 | NEWS | WORLD
*
24.12.17
Trump?s cheerleaders gather to denounce
?campus hate? and hit back in culture wars
Rightwing students
rallied in Florida to
listen to Donald Jr
? and others ? warn
of the threat posed by
intolerant liberals.
Richard Luscombe
reports from
West Palm Beach
It?s an American tradition that any gathering of students usually ends in a party.
Such a convocation in Florida last week,
barely a stone?s throw from Donald
Trump?s opulent retreat at Mar-a-Lago,
was billed as a political action summit
for young conservatives. In the event,
amid a multitude of Make America
Great Again caps and Trump for America ?ags, it was essentially a raucous celebration of the president himself.
About 3,000 students from campuses
nationwide gathered on Trump?s doorstep at the Palm Beach County convention centre for the four-day winter
summit, hosted by Turning Point USA.
The mission statement of this young
persons? activist group promotes ?nonpartisan debate, dialogue and discussion?. But its leanings were signalled
pretty clearly in the quasi-official motto
that was printed on placards placed on
every seat: Big Government Sucks.
A succession of Trump?s biggest
cheerleaders joined the party as headline speakers, from former White House
staffers Sebastian Gorka and Anthony
Scaramucci to rightwing commentators and broadcasters including Dennis
Prager and Tomi Lahren. Each warned
the eager young loyalists of the dangers
posed by the liberal left.
Some of the loudest appreciation was
however reserved for Donald Trump Jr.
The president?s son used his platform to
pour scorn on the faceless government
officials who are behind special counsel Robert Mueller?s investigation into
alleged collusion between the Trump
campaign and Russia in the run-up to
the 2016 presidential election.
?There is, and there are, people at
the highest levels of government that
don?t want to let America be America,?
Trump Jr told his enthusiastic audience.
?My father talked about the rigged system during the campaign, and it is. Now
we?re seeing it.?
Charlie Kirk, the 24-year-old founder
and executive director of Turning Point
USA, is seen as a rising star of the right.
He bristled at the suggestion his line-up
of speakers was weighted to deliver a
strongly pro-Trump message. ?It?s actually a very diverse group, racially diverse,
ethnically diverse and philosophically
diverse,? he told the Observer, shortly
before taking to the stage with Trump Jr.
?One of these dishonest reporters
I was talking to a couple of weeks ago
said, ?Hey Charlie, it seems your speaker
line-up is all people who love Trump
and work for Fox News.? I said, ?That?s
one of the most intellectually dishonest
statements I?ve ever seen.
?We have Austin Petersen, who ran
for president under the Libertarian
party, who is a total Never Trumper. We
have Ben Shapiro, who is like the leading Never Trump voice, we have libertarian speakers such as Dave Rubin.
?We want big names, people that
draw attention, and you know what?
There?s going to be a lot of contradictory statements. We?re cool with that.
There?s going to be Alex Epstein in a
shirt that says ?I love fossil fuels? and
we?re going to have speakers talking
about how conservatives should better embrace the idea of climate change.
It shows that we as Turning Point we
embrace conservatives, libertarians,
people in the middle.?
So why the need for an ?action? summit when Trump won the election 13
months ago and conservatives control
both houses of Congress?
?I?ve found over the last couple of
years how intolerant and dangerous college campuses have become for conservatives,? Kirk said, citing a ?culture war?
he sees raging between left and right.
?We find it unacceptable that students are kicked out of class for wearing Trump shirts or being ostracised for
their beliefs. We?re not going to accept
the campus culture. We?re not going
to play the victim card like we always
Pro-Trump members of Turning Point
USA in 2016, above,
and left, the
president leaves the
White House for
Mar-a-Lago last
week. Photograph
by Alex Wong/
Getty, Xinhua/
Bancroft Images
accuse the left of doing. We?re going to
be saying, ?Yeah we?re under attack, let?s
punch back twice as hard. Metaphorically, of course.?
On the floor, the opening night
matched anything seen at a Trump campaign rally. Shouts of ?lock her up? echoed whenever Hillary Clinton?s name
was mentioned; there were chants of
?CNN sucks? whenever anybody referenced the hated media. Prager, a
conservative radio talkshow host and
accomplished amateur conductor,
warned ?the left? was trying to hijack
?You have antifa
destroying cities,
Black Lives Matter
taking things to a
di?erent level, all the
marches and riots?
Greg Aselbekian, student
and kill off classical music. Trump Jr
claimed it was now illegal in California
to call a man with a beard ?sir? if they
identi?ed as female.
One of the most popular themes of
the night ? and the entire conference
? was the perceived victimisation and
persecution of conservative students
and accompanying restrictions on free
speech. It was a message reinforced by
breakout sessions entitled ?Suing your
school 101: knowing and defending the
1st Amendment on campus? and ?Fighting the PC police on your campus?.
Trump Jr backed up Kirk?s claim of a
culture war, with the nation?s colleges
and universities as the battleground.
?You guys are on the frontlines,? he said.
Greg Aselbekian, a 24-year-old studying business management at Nichols
College, Massachusetts, said he had
lost friends over his support for Trump.
?I feel the whole country is even more
divided,? he said. ?You got the media,
you got everybody telling you to vote
for Hillary or vote Democrat, and the
people who listen to them will not
really listen to our side because they
think the left side is the only way to be.
You have antifa [anti-fascists] destroying cities, you?ve got groups like Black
Lives Matter and feminism just taking
things way爐o a different level, all these
marches and riots.
?Anyone who?s white who voted for
Trump is a white supremacist. There?s
a price to pay when you?re in favour of
Trump or anything rightwing.?
Joel Valdez, 18, a ?rst-year political
science major at the University of Illinois, said a campus incident in which a
leftwing activist smashed his phone had
only bolstered his resolve. ?I?m a Hispanic American and they?re calling me
white supremacist,? he said. ?After the
election of Donald Trump the left was
really shaken up. But the conservative
message is going to resonate with people who felt left out by the Democrats.?
Hannah Bickford, 21, a music student
at Montana State University, dressed in a
Trump hat and college Republican shirt,
declared that she was ?very happy? with
the president?s performance so far.
?I?m here to network with people
and hear from amazing speakers and
people who share similar ideas, learn
from each爋ther and grow as a group of
people,? she said. ?I?m open to anything,
to listen and discuss.
?You can?t really learn unless you?re
open to new things.?
ON OTHER PAGES
Don?t be poor in the US. Trump has ripped
the safety net.
Heather Cox Richardson, Comment, 33
Bannon?s attack on Ivanka and ?dumb? Kushner lays bare enmity in Oval O?ce
by David Smith
Washington
Donald Trump?s daughter Ivanka and
her husband, Jared Kushner, are under
fresh scrutiny over their in?uence at
the White House after a public eruption of their feud with Steve Bannon,
the president?s former chief strategist.
Bannon gave a gloves-off interview
to Vanity Fair magazine that laid
bare the mutual enmity between the
senior advisers to the president. ?The
railhead of all bad decisions is the same
railhead: Javanka,? he said, using a
nickname that con?ates the couple.
Bannon, who returned to Breitbart
News, the rightwing website, after he
was forced out of the White House in
August, recalled an Oval Office meeting
in which he accused Ivanka of being
?the queen of leaks?. She allegedly
retorted: ?You?re a fucking liar!?
He also attacked her handling of the
special election in Alabama, where Roy
Moore, the Republican candidate for
the US Senate, was accused of sexual
misconduct with teenagers. Ivanka
said pointedly during the campaign:
?There is a special place in hell for
people who prey on children.?
Bannon, who supported Moore
only to see him lose the Republican
heartland to a Democrat, responded
in the Vanity Fair interview: ?What
about the allegations about her dad
and that 13-year-old?? He was referring to an unproven allegation from a
California woman that Trump raped
her as a teenager. He added: ?Ivanka
was a fount of bad advice during the
campaign.?
As for Kushner, Bannon made little
attempt to disguise his contempt. ?He
doesn?t know anything about the hobbits or the deplorables? ? using two
ironic terms for Trump supporters.
It was Kushner who reportedly
encouraged the president to ?re the
FBI director James Comey, a move that
could come back to haunt him during
the investigation into alleged collusion
with Russia in the election campaign.
Bannon said: ?It?s the dumbest political
decision in modern political history,
Jared
Kushner
and Ivanka
Trump
in Rome;
Steve
Bannon in
Alabama.
AFP, Reuters
bar none. A self-in?icted wound of
massive proportions.?
There was never much love lost
between Bannon and ?Javanka? as, like
medieval courtiers, they competed for
the ear of the president. Bannon, 64,
has an unkempt appearance ? one congressman remarked that he looks like
a ?dishevelled drunk? ? and grew up
in a working-class, Irish Catholic family in Virginia. He embodies Trump?s
instincts of insurgent nationalism
and anti-globalisation and has been
accused of stoking antisemitism.
Kushner is Jewish and, at 36, from a
different generation, with a clean-cut
smartness that contrasts with Bannon?s
scruffiness. The scion of a New York
property empire, he was previously
a Democratic donor who mingled
with the wealthy east coast elites that
Bannon despises. Ivanka, also 36, also
belongs to the ?New York faction? and
is seen as the favourite of Trump?s
?ve children. Liberal observers had
expressed a hope that ?Javanka? would
tame Trump?s wilder impulses but
there have been constant disappointments. The president?s decision to pull
the US out of the Paris climate deal was
a notable victory for Bannon.
Rick Tyler, a Republican analyst
and cofounder of the consulting ?rm
Foundry Strategies, said: ?These
things are very difficult when family is
involved with any elected official. They
have a different relationship with the
principal and it?s very difficult to work
around if there?s a problem.
?I don?t know what Jared and Ivanka
bring to the administration. Some
said they were going to moderate the
president and keep him presidential
but there?s not much evidence of that.
I think a lot of advice they provided to
the president has not been good.?
Kushner, meanwhile, appears to be
in retreat. It has been widely reported
that his gigantic portfolio has shrunk
and his in?uence is on the wane, raising questions over how long ?Javanka?
will remain in Washington.
24.12.17
WORLD | NEWS | 21
*
Sea Shepherd conservationists on board their
ship, the Steve Irwin,
approach a ?scientific?
whaler near Antarctica in
2008. Photograph by
Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd
How Sea Shepherd lost a battle against
Japan?s whale hunters in Antarctic haven
by Robin McKie
Science Editor
A fleet of Japanese ships is currently
hunting minke whales in the Southern
Ocean. It is a politically incendiary practice: the waters around Antarctica were
long ago declared a whale sanctuary, but
the designation has not halted Japan?s
whalers, who are continuing a tradition of catching whales ?for scienti?c
research? in the region.
In the past, conservation groups
such as Sea Shepherd have mounted
campaigns of harassment and
successfully blocked Japan?s ships from
killing whales. But not this year. Despite
previous successes, Sea Shepherd says
it can no longer frustrate Japan?s whalers because their boats now carry hardware supplied from military sources,
making the fleet highly elusive and
almost impossible to track. As a result
the whalers are ? for the first time ?
being given a free run to kill minke in the
Southern Ocean.
?We have prevented thousands of
whales from being killed in the past and
we have helped ensure that the quota of
minkes that Japan can take now is much
lower than in the past,? said Peter Hammarstedt, a Sea Shepherd captain.
?But they have put such resources
into this year?s whaling that we cannot
hope to ?nd their ?eet and stop them.
It is simply a matter of us not wasting
our own resources. We have other battles to ?ght.?
Japan is not the only nation to hunt
whales. Norway has a commercial operation in its own waters, for example. But
The bodies of
protected minke
whales lined up on
the Japanese ship
Nisshin Maru in the
South Atlantic in
2013. Photograph
by Tim Watters/
Sea Shepherd
what infuriates conservationists is that
Japan is hunting and killing whales in a
conservation zone, the Southern Ocean
whaling sanctuary, that surrounds Antarctica. Japan claims that it does so only
for scienti?c purposes.
?Essentially, they are exploiting a
loophole in the rules ? introduced in the
80s ? that govern the banning of commercial whaling,? said Paul Watson, the
founder of Sea Shepherd.
Originally Japan set out to catch more
than 900 minkes every year, as well as 50
humpbacks and 50 ?n whales. However,
its ?eet was rarely able to reach these
quotas because of actions by groups
like Sea Shepherd. ?We physically got
in between the whalers and the whales
and stopped the latter being killed,? said
Hammarstedt. ?One year we stopped
Japan getting all but 10% of its quota.
Their ships were nearly empty when
they got back home.?
Then, a few year ago, the International Court of Justice ? at the instigation of Australia and New Zealand
? ruled that the country?s whaling plan
had no scienti?c basis. Japan was forced
to halt whale hunting and had to come
back with a plan to carry out ?scienti?c whaling? in the region. This now
involves catching only 330 minkes, and
no humpbacks or ?n whales. It was an
important victory for conservationists.
But, crucially, the Japanese also doubled the area of the Southern Ocean
from which they said they would seek
whales, and that has made it much
harder to block their hunting. ?It is simply a lot more difficult to ?nd the whaling ?eet in a much larger area of sea,?
said Hammarstedt.
In addition, the Japanese have
provided military tracking hardware
to the ?eet, according to Sea Shepherd.
?Essentially, they can see exactly where
we are, but we still only have a rough
idea of their position,? said Watson.
?This is all part of the vast subsidy provided by the Japanese government for
their whalers. And to top that they have
also made it an act of terrorism for anybody to approach within 500 metres of a
whaling vessel. There are putting up a lot
of muscle against us.?
As a result, Sea Shepherd has decided
not to send a vessel to try to interrupt
Japan?s whaling efforts this year. ?We
have an obligation to our supporters that
if we cannot be successful in intervening
directly, then it would not make sense to
send a vessel,? said Watson.
Hammarstedt agreed. ?We were
active in the Southern Ocean for 10
years and saved more than 6,000 whales.
We also have many other critically
important campaigns to run elsewhere
in the world.?
Just why the Japanese are so
determined to kill whales when most
of the world wants to conserve them
is an intriguing issue. Since the 1980s,
the international community has been
largely united in agreeing to stop the
practice because of the dramatic declines
in populations that had occurred after
centuries of whaling. But not Japan.
?The Japanese get so much of their
protein from fish and other marine
creatures ? and that dependency worries their government,? said Watson.
?It fears that, if it gives in to calls for a
ban on whaling, that will be seen as an
admission that the international community can dictate what Japan can and
cannot do at sea.?
In other words, Japan worries that
conservationists would then move on to
other major marine issues ? such as the
blue?n tuna, another threatened species,
which the Japanese catch and consume
in large numbers.
?Japan does not want anyone else to
have in?uence on its marine policy and
as a result has followed a practice of
voting down anything and everything
to do with conservation at sea,? added
Hammarstedt.
There are other issues. Shinzo Abe,
the Japanese prime minister, is a conservative and a nationalist, and is
opposed to giving way to other nations
over traditional issues, say observers.
They point out that Abe has tried to turn
the catching of whales into a nationalist
concern by claiming it is a cultural topic
unique to Japan and should be given special international status.
The ministry of ?sheries in Japan is
also very powerful and the Institute of
Cetacean Research, which carries out
the ?scientific whaling? in the Southern Ocean, is part of that ministry. ?Its
bureaucrats are very senior and very
in?uential,? added Hammarstedt. ?They
tend to get their way.?
And then there is the issue of the
Antarctic Treaty which strictly controls how the continent and its waters
�
?Ol�!? he
said, as he
started
?icking
me with
an Herm鑣
scarf
Photographer
Michael
Powell
recalls a very
unusual
shoot with
Luciano
Pavarotti
page 25
Observer
Magazine
The Southern Ocean was a sanctuary ? but
now Japan?s boats have military hardware and
conservationists can no longer track them
are exploited. That treaty does not
expire until 2048. But if Japan maintains a presence in Antarctic waters
it could make a claim to be allowed
greater in?uence in the region when
a new treaty is negotiated by world
powers.
?This has become quite an issue for
Japan,? said Watson.
* 24.12.17
In Focus
?We have lots of wee
Syrian children with
Scottish accents?:
the refugees who
brought hope to an
island community
At Christmas two years ago, Bute o?ered sanctuary
ary
to 24 families ?eeing terror in their homeland. Now
w
Kevin McKenna ?nds residents old and new working
ing
side by side to deliver festive food boxes
A
star has settled over a
Scottish island this Christmas and once more people
from the east are bearing
gifts. Just before Christmas
2015, Bute, an archipelago
off the west coast of Scotland in the
Firth of Clyde, opened its doors uncertainly to a battered group of 24 Syrian
families ?eeing the daily threat of death
and persecution. Many among Bute?s
6,500 people were eager to welcome
those who had endured horror. In some
places the reception was chillier.
This reaction was fuelled by a
degree of suspicion and resentment
and given further oxygen by some
media coverage which sought to sew
fear and foment division. The editor
of the local newspaper, The Buteman,
was so appalled by the tone of some of
his readers? comments that he felt he
had to face them head-on in a hardhitting editorial.
?Mostly, these are just not-verythinly veiled ways of people saying ?I
don?t want them in my backyard?. Well,
I do,? wrote Craig Borland back then. ?I
want Bute to be a place where people
who come here with little more than
the clothes they are standing in can feel
safe and at home.?
Borland has since departed the
editor?s chair, but he will be delighted
to know that his Christmas wish of
2015 has been granted: these Syrian
families are indeed safe and they feel
at home. This gruff and unsentimental
little community now holds them
close to its heart. The Syrian arrivals,
in turn, feel that they belong here and
are eager to repay the kindness they
have encountered.
Two years ago Angela Callaghan
formed part of reception committee on
the island to help the refugees settle
and feel welcome. She runs Bute Oasis,
a gift and secondhand furniture shop
which she uses to fund a food bank.
Two years ago she expressed optimism
that the Syrian families? experience of
Bute would be a happy one.
?These people will become part of
our community and will not have much
time when they arrive to organise
meals. I know what it?s like, and it?ll be
no different for them, so we?ll all rally
round,? she said then.
This Christmas she is organising
more than 100 food boxes for local
and Syrian families alike and has given
them all a little festive ?ourish. On
Friday afternoon I ?nd her as I had
left her two years ago: organising the
delivery of the boxes. Helping her to
distribute them are two young Syrians,
Ahmas Fars and Bissam Midani.
?They just feel that they want to put
something back into the community,?
says Callaghan. ?They help out here
and on the counter in the shop, and the
locals love them.?
Her two Syrian helpers now have
their driving licences, which they
obtained after taking their tests in
Ireland, which offers the theory part of
the test in Arabic. ?The Syrian families
have all settled well here and the
community regards them as their own,?
she says. ?And that includes some of
those who were less inclined to be
welcoming when they ?rst came here.
We have lots of wee Syrian children
running around with broad Scottish
accents. Now I pop in and out of their
homes for dinner and cups of tea.
?I?m not saying there weren?t some
difficulties initially. I noticed that
three of the children were struggling.
There was fear and anger. But over
the course of a few months you could
see the tension leaving their eyes, and
whereas once they would be telling you
to back off, now they just want to give
you hugs.? She tells the story of a child
who became hysterical with fear when
she saw a helicopter approaching the
island ? in Syria the approach of a
helicopter was an apocalyptic event
bringing bombs and death.
One of Bute?s success stories is that
of Mohannad Helmi, who arrived
10 months ago with his wife Raghad
al Barkawi, their four-year-old son
Naeem and daughter Qamar, aged
18 months. Some members of his
extended family are also here.
Within a short space of time the
couple have made their modest house
a warm and loving home. When I visit,
Qamar is watching an Arabic children?s
TV channel and playing peek-a-boo
with me behind her hands. Her parents
are beginning to pick up English,
and tell me that Naeem now not only
speaks it ?uently but thinks in his new
language too.
?We are very happy here,? says
Helmi. ?We have been shown nothing
but friendliness and affection since the
day we arrived. It seems that everyone
smiles at us when we go to the shops or
go out for a walk. Everyone waves at us.
My aim is to learn English ?uently and
to then ?nd a job.?
He doesn?t feel he will be returning
to Syria in the immediate future,
although when he speaks about his
homeland, pain comes into his eyes.
The family ?ed Darayya, a suburb of
Damascus, after it was levelled by the
forces of President Bashar al-Assad
as they targeted rebels. As no food
was getting in, people faced death
REFUGEES IN NUMBERS
11m
Number of Syrians who have
?ed their homes since the
outbreak of the civil war in March 2011.
3.3m
1m
About one million Syrian refugees
have requested asylum in Europe.
Germany, with more than 300,000
applications, and Sweden with 100,000,
are the EU?s top receiving countries.
Turkey hosts the largest
number of registered
Syrian refugees ? 3.3 million ? while
Lebanon hosts 1.1m, and Jordan 660,000.
9,394
6.6m
Source: UNHCR/EU/UK Home O?ce
Number of people
internally displaced in Syria.
Syrian refugees
resettled in Britain, in
spite of support for greater numbers.
by bombing or starvation. ?In Syria I
was a professional printer and I?d like
to practise that in Scotland after my
English has improved sufficiently,? says
Helmi. ?I also want to put something
back into this community. People have
been so kind, and we now regard this
as our home from home. One day, God
willing, we may return to Syria but we
know that it won?t be the same country
that we left. And if we do, we will leave
a big part of our heart in Scotland.?
His wife, a woman clearly very much
in love with her husband, disappears in
and out of the kitchen bringing coffee
and cake. You gain a sense that they
have discovered happiness again and
a degree of security in their lives. You
also sense that this may be the ?rst
time in their marriage that they have
encountered a measure of tranquillity
and peace. Much of their happiness, it
seems, derives from the fact that their
children have now found a place where
they can be safe and discover the
simple joy of playing without fear.
?We do feel very safe here and very
much cared for,? says Helmi. ?It is a
lovely place to bring up our children
and it?s wonderful to see them happy
and safe.?
He doesn?t go into details of the
circumstances of their ?ight from
Damascus, but it?s obvious that both
the couple and their children were
in danger every day they spent there.
They smile and laugh a lot and tell me
that there is now an unbreakable bond
between this unfussy Scottish island
and the ancient nation of Syria.
Argyll and Bute Council is also
delighted with the way the Syrian
families have settled ? but more
especially with the manner in which
they have been taken to the heart of
the community. A vocal scarecrow
faction had tried to stir up suspicion
and to organise a backlash, but they
were repelled as a sense of Scottish
decency and goodwill prevailed. There
are still remnants of unpleasantness,
but those who espouse it are very
much a minority in the community.
The refugee families are living in spare
capacity housing, and nobody?s way of
life or entitlements has been adversely
affected.
The only moment of jeopardy came
24.12.17
| 23
*
LAST CHRISTIAN
MONARCH?
The increasing role of
faith in the Queen?s
Christmas message 25
MOHANNAD
HELMI AND
RAGHAD AL
BARKAWI
The couple, who
?ed Damascus
with their son
Naeem, four, and
daughter Qama,
18 months, say
they feel safe and
very much cared
for in their new
environment.
Photographs by
Murdo MacLeod
for the Observer
L
ANGELA
CALLAGHAN
Store owner who
welcomed the
refugees to Bute,
left, and uses the
money from her
shop to create
food boxes for
local and Syrian
families alike. The
island now regards
the newcomers as
their own, she says.
MOUNZER
AL-DARSANI
Worked as a barber
in Damascus for 15
years before
?eeing with his
family to Bute. He
has now reopened
his shop in
Scotland. ?I love
it here,? he says,
adding that he is
grateful to the
community for
showing refugees
?mercy in our
darkest times?.
when some media outlets released
the name of a suspect in the London
bombing along with a photograph of
him aboard the Bute ferry. He was
very quickly released without charge
but a minor frenzy erupted about Isis
bombers hiding among refugees. The
furore rapidly receded.
Graeme Murdoch, a photographer
and designer who lived on Bute for a
few years, said: ?The Syrian families
arrived on Bute not long after I pitched
up on the isle, and one of my thoughts
was: ?Ah, one of them might open a
decent restaurant in Rothesay.? I met
many of them during my time there
and found a generosity of spirit, despite
all that they had suffered, which
initially wasn?t returned by very many.
?Gradually though, friendships
began to develop, and one of the most
supportive was Aidan Canavan at Bute
Brew, the local micro-brewery; how
ironic that they could never sample
his joyous nectar because they don?t
drink alcohol. I?m so glad that most of
the families have stayed. The island
community is better for it.?
The council leader, Aileen Morton,
?I really want to put
something back into
this community. We
regard Scotland as
our home from home?
Muhannad Helmi, refugee
SCOTLAND
Glasgow
Isle of Bute
FORTH
OF
C LY D E
10 miles
said: ?The Syrian refugee resettlement
programme has been a great success,
both for Bute and for the families
involved. It?s heartening to see families
settling and growing in the community
to the bene?t of all. But from day
one this programme has been about
helping families in desperate need
to build secure lives; it?s been about
helping people ?eeing trauma to feel
safe, and I am delighted that they now
feel able to refer to Bute as their home.?
The role of Rothesay joint campus
primary and secondary school has been
crucial in the process of integration.
The school has always played an active
role in this community, and it is here
that the Syrian children will encounter
the values that the community seeks
to foster. I was told by more than one
islander that all the children are now
regarded as Scots, and that they are
entirely comfortable in the accelerated
west of Scotland genre of the English
language. One of the older Syrian boys
has become a captain of one of the
school houses and recently delivered a
speech in front of the entire campus.
Mounzer al-Darsani was a barber
for 15 years in Damascus before
?eeing with his family to Bute. He
was a well-known character in the
city, and his shop, the Orient Salon,
was always busy. Earlier this year the
Orient Salon rose from the ashes of
Damascus and was born again under
the same name on Bute.
It seems his Rothesay business is
now thriving as much as his Damascus
one did. It was his dream to be open
for business again in Bute, but he
knew he ?rst had to conquer the
English language.
?Immediately after I came here I
studied English for ?ve hours every
night in my own home, and after six
months I felt I was beginning to pick
it up,? he says. ?The locals have been
very helpful. They sensed I was keen
to learn and were very patient and
helped me out when I got words or
sentences wrong.
?I love it here. My family have been
made to feel very welcome. This is a
safe place and that is important. I also
volunteer at the Rothesay festival and
at the food bank because it?s my way
of saying thank you to the people of
Bute for having us here and for coming
to our aid and showing mercy in our
darkest times.?
Three years ago, Bute organised
a public meeting to solicit views on
how this formerly grand, but now
struggling, place might be revived.
According to the 2011 census its
population had declined by 10% in
the previous decade. Its formerly
magni?cent esplanade once thrummed
with the feet and voices of several
thousand Glaswegians ? a summer
bonanza which helped to sustain it for
the rest of the year.
Now almost every other shop space
along the front is an empty one. But
as well as the Orient Salon, a Syrian
bakery and patisserie will soon open.
The Syrian people ?eeing terror have
possibly brought with them the miracle
of life for Bute.
A small regeneration is taking place
on the island. Four new babies have
been born to the Syrian families and
another is on the way. In their own way
they are bringing optimism to a west
of Scotland community that had almost
forgotten what it meant.
24 | IN FOCUS
*
Technology
24.12.17
The year that
Silicon Valley
lost its grip on
reality ? and
we turned on
the tech titans
Peddling fake news, hosting hate speech ?
as big tech?s power has risen, it has grown
increasingly out of touch ? and, in
2017, has endured an annus horribilis,
writes Olivia Solon in San Francisco
W
hen Jonathan Taplin?s book Move Fast
and Break Things,
which dealt with
the worrying rise
of big tech, came
out in Britain in April, his publishers
removed its subtitle because they did
not think it was supported by evidence:
?How Facebook, Google and Amazon
cornered culture and undermined
democracy.?
When the paperback edition comes
out early in 2018, that subtitle will be
restored.
?It?s been a sea change in just six
months,? says Taplin. ?Before that,
people were kind of asleep.?
In the past year, barely a day has gone
by without a scandal placing technology
companies in the spotlight, whether
for sexual harassment, livestreamed
murder, Russian-in?uence operations
or terrorist propaganda.
Tech?s annus horribilis started with
calls to #DeleteUber, but the way
things are going, it could end with
calls to delete the entire internet.
This year has de?nitely been one
?when tech has found there is a target
painted on its back?, says Om Malik,
a venture capitalist based in northern
California. ?The big companies
have been so obsessed with growth
that there?s been a lack of social
responsibility. Now the chickens are
coming home to roost.?
The surprise election of Donald
Trump acted as a catalyst for scrutiny
of the platforms that shape so much of
our online experience. Even so, it has
taken many months for the enormity of
their role to sink in.
Perhaps the biggest wake-up call has
been the showdown in Washington.
Congress summoned representatives
from Facebook, Twitter and Google to
give evidence over their role in a multipronged Russian operation to in?uence
the 2016 presidential election. All three
admitted that Russian entities bought
ads on their sites in an attempt to skew
the vote.
In Facebook?s case, fake accounts
pushed divisive messages in swing
states; Google found similar activity
across its paid search tool and
YouTube; and on Twitter, armies of
bots and fake users promoted fake
news stories that were favourable
to Trump. Similar patterns were
identi?ed around the Brexit vote.
?The election shows the stakes
involved here,? says Noam Cohen,
journalist and author of The KnowIt-Alls, a wide-ranging attack on the
tech billionaires. In the past, to be a
critic of Silicon Valley was to say the
smartphone is making us dumb. Now
it?s incompatible with democracy.?
It has not been the only example of
technology companies monetising and
distributing unpalatable content and
acting surprised when it is uncovered.
In March, the Times revealed that
YouTube had paid Islamic extremists,
via an advertising revenue share,
to peddle hate speech, leading to a
boycott from many major advertisers.
A second boycott started last month
after brands discovered that their ads
were appearing alongside content
being exploited by paedophiles.
In May, the Guardian?s investigation
into Facebook?s content moderation
policies revealed that the social
network ?outed Holocaust denial laws
except in countries where it feared
being sued. Four months later, Pro
Publica discovered that Facebook?s
ad tools could be used to target ?Jew
haters?. Facebook?s chief operating
officer, Sheryl Sandberg, later said she
was ?disgusted? and ?disappointed that
our systems allowed this?.
Taplin ?nds the technology
companies? standard response of
?Oops, we?ll ?x this? frustrating
and disingenuous. ?Come on! What
were you thinking?? he says. ?If I can
target women who drink bourbon
in Tennessee who like trucks, then
of course I could use it for dark
purposes.?
UBER
The year began badly
for Travis Kalanick after
claims his taxi-hailing
?rm sought to pro?t
from Trump protests.
FACEBOOK
The site?s top lawyer,
Colin Stretch, testi?es
to Congress on Russian
in?uence ahead of the
presidential election.
EXTREMISTS
DONALD TRUMP
YouTube removed
tens of thousands of
videos of the radical
Yemeni-American
cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
His election was the
catalyst for closer
scrutiny of the online
platforms that help
shape our experience.
The deepening pockets and growing
in?uence of companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple has
raised concerns that they have become
goliaths, threatening the innovation
Silicon Valley was once known for.
You only have to look at Snap ?
Snapchat?s parent company ? to see
what happens when you nip at the
heels of a tech titan like Facebook:
?rst, it makes an offer to buy you ? a
strategy that worked with Instagram
and WhatsApp ? and, if that fails, it
eliminates you. In Snap?s case, this
meant watching Facebook clone all of
Snapchat?s features ? awkwardly at
?rst, but relentlessly until Snapchat?s
potential slice of the advertising
market shrivelled to a sliver.
?[The Snap CEO] Evan Spiegel is
having his hat handed to him,? Taplin
says, noting how Snap?s stock had
plummeted since the company went
public in March.
As power consolidates into the
hands of a few, the best a startup can
hope for is to be bought by one of
the tech giants. This, in turn, leads
to further consolidation. So the ?ve
largest tech companies ? desperate to
avoid the kind of antitrust regulation
that disrupted IBM and Microsoft?s
dominance ? are ?ooding Washington
with lobbyists, to the point where they
now outspend Wall Street two to one.
?Regulation is coming,? says Malik.
?We have got to prepare for that.
Everybody has ?gured out that we are
the enemy number one now because
we are rich and all the politicians smell
blood.?
It does not help that there?s a rising
number of former Silicon Valley
engineers and business leaders who
have morphed into tech dissenters,
complaining about the addictive
properties of the platforms and calling
for people ? particularly children ? to
unplug.
In November, Facebook?s founding
president Sean Parker said the
social network knew from the
outset it was creating something
addictive, something that exploited ?a
vulnerability in human psychology?
? a damning critique somewhat
?The election shows
the stakes involved
here. Silicon Valley is
now incompatible
with democracy?
Noam Cohen, author
undermined by the fact that it was
being delivered from the top of an
enormous pile of money generated by
that exploitation.
The vast wealth on display in Silicon
Valley ? in the private commuter buses,
sprawling campuses and luxury condos
? does little to endear the companies
and their employees to the rest of the
world. Like it or not, tech workers
have become the shining beacons of
prosperity and elitism, shining a bit too
brightly at a time of increasing income
inequality.
The fact that a ?rm making $700
internet-connected juicers can raise
$120m in funding before folding adds
to the sense that Silicon Valley has lost
its grip on reality.
?Silicon Valley at its core wants to
solve problems. I just think we?ve lost
touch with the types of problems that
actual people need solving,? says Ankur
Jain, who set up the Kairos Society to
encourage more entrepreneurs to solve
problems in areas where everyday
people are being ?nancially squeezed,
such as housing, student loans and job
retraining in the face of automation.
?People are so removed from the
rest of the ecosystem in Silicon Valley
that these problems feel more like
charity issues rather than issues that
affect the vast majority of the population,? Jain says.
For Malik, many of the problems
stem from the fact that Silicon Valley
has remained ?wilfully ignorant? of the
fact that ?at the end of every data point
there is a human being?.
All the problems to have arisen over
the past year are particularly jarring
given the tech companies? continued
insistence that they are doing good for
the world. Cohen says: ?It?s a form of
gaslighting to have these companies
doing so many harmful things telling
you how great they are and how much
they are helping you. It?s another form
of abuse.?
Malik agrees. ?Silicon Valley is very
good at using words like empathy
and social responsibility as marketing
buzzwords, but they are terms that we
need to internalise as an industry and
show through our actions by building
the right things,? he says. ?Otherwise
it?s all bullshit.?
ON OTHER PAGES
Who?s doing Google and Facebook?s
dirty work, asks John Naughton
The New Review, page 23
24.12.17
*
Society
IN FOCUS | 25
1952 ?Let us set out to build a truer knowledge of ourselves
and our fellow men, to work for tolerance ? among nations
and use science and learning for the betterment of man?s lot.?
1972 ?Britain and these other European countries see ? a new
opportunity ? They believe the things they have in common
are more important than the things which divide them.?
2000 ?For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal
accountability before God provide a framework in which
I try to lead my life.?
2013 ?For Christians, as for all people of faith, re?ection,
meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God?s
love, as we strive daily to become better people.?
2014 ?The life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose
birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an
anchor in my life.?
1966 ?In the modern world the opportunities for women to give something of value
to the human family are greater than ever, because, through their own e?orts, they
are now beginning to play their full part in public life.?
2016 ?Christ?s example helps me see the value of doing small
things with great love, whoever does them and whatever
they themselves believe.?
How the ?last Christian monarch?
has made faith her festive message
The Queen?s Christmas Day message is a
national tradition. Catherine Pepinster, a
former editor of The Tablet, argues that, over
the years, religion?s role has come to the fore
T
o the royal household, it
is known as the QXB ? the
Queen?s Christmas broadcast.
To millions of people, it is
still an essential feature of
Christmas Day. To the Queen,
her annual broadcast is the time when
she speaks to the nation without the
government scripting it. But in recent
years, it has also become something
else: a declaration of her Christian
faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen?s messages have followed
the opposite trajectory.
A survey of the broadcasts made
during her 65-year reign reveals that
for most of the time the Queen has
spoken only in passing of the religious
signi?cance of Christmas. There have
been references to presents linking
contemporary Christmas to the three
wise men, for instance, alongside trips
to Commonwealth countries, family
events such as weddings and funerals, and there were observations about
contemporary society. In 1966, for
example, she spoke of the progress of
women, and in 1972, she commented
on Britain joining the European
Community in language that would
make any Remainer proud.
But for the past 17 years, her messages have taken on a different tone,
with the Queen explaining her own
personal faith ? ?the anchor in my life?,
as she described it in 2014.
Last year she said: ?Billions of people now follow Christ?s teaching and
?nd in him the guiding light for their
lives. I am one of them because Christ?s
example helps me see the value of
doing small things with great love,
whoever does them and whatever they
themselves believe.?
The turning point in the content of
the broadcasts was the millennium.
Her broadcast in 2000 was devoted to
an account of Christ?s life and teaching
which, she said, ?provide a framework
in which I try to lead my life?.
This personal commentary has
continued ever since. According to
Ian Bradley, professor of cultural and
spiritual history at the University of
St Andrews and the author of God
Save the Queen ? The Spiritual Heart
of the Monarchy, ?this truly makes her
Defender of the Faith? ? a reference to
the title that all monarchs have used
since it was ?rst bestowed on Henry
VIII in 1521 by Pope Leo X before he
broke with Rome. Indeed, Elizabeth
II?s faith impresses the papacy today,
so much that one senior Vatican
official described her to me as ?the last
Christian monarch?.
Explanations for these overtly
Christian messages vary. Some royal
watchers suggest that it was the
Queen?s decision to use the 2,000th
anniversary of Christ?s birth as an
opportunity to speak openly about
Christianity. Others saw the hand
of George Carey, then archbishop of
Canterbury. Bradley sees the in?uence
of Prince Philip at work. ?After her
very personal account in 2000, she was
encouraged to continue because I?m
told she received 25 times more letters
than usual from the public in response
to that Christmas message than others,
and she had huge support from the
Duke of Edinburgh.?
But Stephen Bates, a former royal
correspondent and author of Royalty
Inc: Britain?s Best-Known Brand,
believes it was the death of the Queen
Mother that changed her. ?She loosened up after her mother?s death. The
Queen Mother kept a beady eye on her
and now she is more relaxed,? he said.
?She expresses more of what she feels.
I think this openness about her own
commitment is part of it as well.?
Before 2000, the Queen?s most
explicit commitments of faith were
made during a 1947 radio broadcast,
when she spoke of dedicating her life
to service, and ended it by saying, ?God
help me to make good my vow? and at
her coronation service.
Accession to the throne also meant
she became supreme governor of the
Church of England, the established
church, and since then her public
life has been inextricably shaped by
religious occasions: being seen by TV
audiences at church at Christmas and
Easter, distributing Maundy money on
Maundy Thursday and attending the
Remembrance Sunday service at the
Cenotaph.
But it is the Christmas broadcast
where the personal, as well as public,
is evident. No government official
is involved. Instead, those who cast
an eye in advance over what she has
written will be her private secretary,
now Edward Young, as well as the
Duke of Edinburgh. Lord Chartres, the
recently retired bishop of London, has
long been the go-to theological adviser
to the royal family and is believed to
proffer advice as well. Regular themes
include forgiveness, reconciliation,
compassion and, most often, service.
Lord Williams of Oystermouth,
who, as Dr Rowan Williams, served as
archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to
2012, said that at times Lambeth Palace
was consulted. ?We were occasionally
asked for any thoughts we might want
to throw in.?
Last week, the BBC admitted that it
has been re?ecting a secular version of
Britain and needs to do more to hold up
a mirror to faith in Britain. According
to Williams, the Queen has been bridging the divide. ?I think that as there has
been less overt Christian ?messaging? in
the general cultural environment, the
?As there has been
less overt Christian
messaging in our
culture, the Queen
decided to ?ll the gap?
Lord Williams of Oystermouth
Queen has deliberately decided to ?ll
the gap,? he said.
The recent messages always refer to
Britons of other faiths, too. Williams
also sees a link between the recent
Christmas messages and a landmark
speech the Queen made in 2012 at
Lambeth Palace at the start of her diamond jubilee year, when she described
the Church of England as, in effect,
an umbrella under which other faiths
could shelter.
?I think it is related to her position
as supreme governor and in line with
her speech at Lambeth in 2012 about
the Church of England?s responsibility
to be a positive gatekeeper for faith at
large in the nation, without sacri?cing
its particularity,? he said.
The tradition of the royal Christmas
message was begun in 1932 by the
Queen?s grandfather, George V, and
continued under her father, George VI.
?George V wasn?t particularly devout
but the Queen?s father was,? said
Bradley. They began as radio broadcasts but became televised in 1957 and
have been recorded at Buckingham
Palace ? once, famously, by David
Attenborough in 1986 in a stable at
the Royal Mews ?Windsor Castle and
Sandringham in Norfolk.
With the Queen now 91, thoughts
turn to the succession. The Prince of
Wales has become more public in confessing his own faith in recent years.
Last week, at a service for persecuted
Syrian Christians, he said: ?We must
do what we can to support our fellow
Christians.? It looks likely, then, that
as king he will follow his mother and
make his Christmas message a personal
credo.
26 | IN FOCUS
*
World a?airs
Catalonia?s
referendum,
in October.
Photograph
by Pau
Barrena/Getty
CATALONIA?S SHORT-LIVED
INDEPENDENCE AND THE EU
Catalonian separatists made a
decades-long dream a reality in
October, if only brie?y, passing a
declaration of independence in the
regional parliament.
Madrid (bloodlessly) seized back
control almost immediately. And
after a de?ant victory stroll round
his hometown, Carles Puigdemont,
the ousted president of the republic
or the region ? depending on your
viewpoint ? ?ed to Brussels, seeking
European support.
He found little backing ? both
the union and its member states
have stood ?rmly behind Madrid.
Catalonia?s independence bid was a
headache the European Union could
2017
It was the year photographers caught
the world in turmoil, from the despair
of thousands ?eeing Myanmar to
post-Mugabe Zimbabwean joy and
the unprecedented US presidency.
Emma Graham-Harrison reports
CHANGING OF THE
GUARD IN AFRICA
Zimbabwe had known only one
leader since independence in 1980
and, even when he turned 93 this
year, Robert Mugabe insisted he
had no plans to step down. His wife,
Grace, even suggested he could ?ght
elections from beyond the grave.
But as the year drew to a close, the
man whose intellect and political
instinct had kept him in power for
nearly four decades miscalculated.
He tried to ?re his vice-president
and former close aide, Emmerson
Mnangagwa, to clear the way for
Grace.
On 15 November, Mnangagwa?s
allies launched a largely bloodless
coup, although even as tanks and
soldiers took up positions around
Harare, everyone involved denied
there was a military takeover under
way. It was simply an intervention to
save the president from himself.
After four days of political
intrigue, Mugabe agreed to step
down. It is unclear how much
change Mnangagwa will bring, as
most accusations of human rights
abuses and corruption levelled
Zimbabweans
cheer Mugabe?s
resignation
in November.
Marco Longari/
Getty
do without, in a year of strains and
fragmentation.
The messy Brexit negotiations have
proved more painful for London than
for Brussels, but they have underlined
the loss of an economic and political
power most members would have
preferred to keep inside the union.
The populist triumph claimed
by Brexit supporters has inspired
Europeans with breakaway dreams
even as far away as Hungary, still
highly dependent on EU funds.
And in Poland the ruling Law and
Justice party is turning away from
liberal democracy, with incursions on
judicial independence that prompted
the European commission to trigger
the ?nuclear option?, a process that
could see the country stripped of
voting rights in Brussels.
24.12.17
Rohingya
Muslim
refugees
newly arrived
in Bangladesh
from Myanmar,
in September.
Photograph
by KM Asad/
Getty
THE PAIN,
THE JOY
AND THE
DONALD ?
The extraordinary spectacle of
Donald Trump?s presidency has dominated 2017: from Twitter wars withNorth Korea, to Robert Mueller?s
Russia inquiry, and the fast-shifting
White House cast, including several who encouraged Trump in his
embrace of the far right.
But it has been an astonishing
year of challenged assumptions even
beyond America?s borders. Heroes
have turned villain, none more prominently than the Burmese leader and
Nobel peace laureate, Aung San Suu
Kyi, who in effect looked away as her
military launched a killing spree.
In the Middle East, Isis?s dark
dream of a modern-day caliphate was
?nally crushed. And in Europe, old
nationalist dreams, from Catalonia
to Hungary, brought new tests for a
union already strained by challenges
from cyber-warfare to migration and
grappling with Brexit.
There have also been moments
of unexpected joy, including the
departure of leaders such as Robert
Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose
decades-long presidency had come to
de?ne his country.
The pictures here capture some of
the moments of tragedy and drama.
Iraqi forces at
Mosul?s Great
Mosque of
al-Nuri in July.
Photograph
by Ahmad
Al-Rubaye/
Getty
against Mugabe could also be made
against his successor.
But for many Zimbabweans, after
so long under one ruler, the prospect
of any change was intoxicating.
Mugabe ran the economy so
badly that even modest shifts in
policy could mean signi?cant
improvements in living standards
for many.
Beyond Zimbabwe?s borders,
citizens of other nations, weighed
down by decades of strongman
rule, found inspiration in Mugabe?s
downfall, at the end of a year of
change. The coup came soon after
Angola?s Jos� Eduardo dos Santos
chose to step down after 38 years as
president and less than a year after
Gambia?s Yahya Jammeh agreed
? under military pressure from
neighbours ? to relinquish power
and head into exile.
There is little question that
other long-serving African leaders,
from Uganda?s Yowerni Museveni
to Rwanda?s Paul Kagame will be
pondering the fate of their peers.
Critics hope they will conclude it is
better to leave power on terms they
can set, rather than cling on and end
up like Mugabe.
ISIS SEVERELY WOUNDED
IN IRAQ AND SYRIA
After bitter, months-long battles
Islamic State was ?nally ousted in
October from the cities that had formed
the heart of its self-declared caliphate,
Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
The end of Isis?s territorial dream
was celebrated on both sides of the
Iraq-Syria border that its ?ghters
once crossed with impunity. But few,
particularly in Baghdad, in the army or
in government think the battle against
the group is ended.
The jihadist group grew out of
insurgent roots and, as its territory
shrank, militant ?ghters had begun
to melt back into the countryside to
prepare for guerrilla attacks or had
headed overseas. Abroad, Isis aims
to sow terror by training ?ghters and
inspiring others to launch their own
violence. Even if largely subdued in
what was once its heartland, Isis has
branch units from Afghanistan to
Yemen, feeding on those con?icts.
Its reign has left deep scars
behind, particularly in Mosul and
the surrounding Nineveh plains,
once among the most religious and
ethnically diverse parts of Iraq.
Divisions are likely to take decades to
heal and some Christians and Yazidis
have said they do not want to return.
Seven years after the Arab spring,
hopes of greater democracy and
openness have been mostly replaced
by fear of chaos and violence, with
civil wars spiralling into ever greater
levels of brutality. Syrian president
Bashar al-Assad and his backers are
largely back in control of the main
urban centres, but the war is likely to
?icker on for years and many millions
of refugees who ?ed are too frightened
to return to live under his rule.
Yemen has also suffered particularly
badly, the violence compounded by
famine and the worst outbreak of
cholera in modern history.
Many of these con?icts are being fed
by ?erce regional rivalrly between Iran
and Saudi Arabia, where an ambitious
and aggressive new crown prince,
Mohammed bin Salman, was named
heir apparent in June. Both countries
deploy their arms, money and political
in?uence to support their client
leaders and warlords.
24.12.17
*
World a?airs
IN FOCUS | 27
ROHINGYA REFUGEES
FORCED TO FLEE MYANMAR
The world has grappled in recent
years with a succession of serious
refugee crises, from Sudan to Syria.
But violence in Myanmar triggered
an exodus on a scale and speed that
dwarfed anything seen for decades.
The horror began in late August
when insurgents from the oppressed
Rohingya minority attacked state
security forces. In response, authorities
unleashed a wave of indiscriminate
killing, rape and destruction on
the civilian Rohingya population,
so devastating that it forced more
than 650,000 to ?ee the country, the
majority into Bangladesh.
That is thought to be more than
half the Rohingya population living
in Myanmar, where authorities
deny them citizenship and have not
provided up-to-date population
numbers. They risked their lives to
cross rivers on ?imsy boats and rafts,
to be forced into squalid, overcrowded
Bangladeshi camps, short on supplies
and at risk of disease.
Yet even these grim conditions are
better than the terror they ?ed. More
than half of the refugees are women
and children, probably because men
are more likely to have been killed.
The attacks have been so extreme
that the UN?s top human rights official,
Zeid Ra?ad al-Hussein, has said that
genocide cannot be ruled out. The
Rohingya are mainly Muslim, the
Burmese state is Buddhist-dominated
? and this orgy of murder has come
after years of extreme discrimination.
Adding to global outrage has been
the silence of Myanmar?s de facto
leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel
peace laureate once almost universally
admired as a moral beacon. She is
credited with breaking the grip of a
military junta which ruled her country
for decades, at great personal cost,
including enduring years of house
arrest and separation from her family.
Yet after years insisting that human
rights are a universal birthright, she
appears to have decided to separate
the suffering of the Rohyinga from
that of other peoples, brushing aside
or ignoring the growing evidence of
terrible abuse and refusing to condemn
the military.
CHINA?S PRESIDENT
BECOMES ALL-POWERFUL
President Xi Jinping was enshrined
as the most powerful Chinese leader
since Mao Zedong. At a landmark
meeting in October the Communist
party added his ?political thought?
to its constitution, an honour not
accorded even to Deng Xiaoping in
his lifetime.
Xi also manoeuvred to keep
the standing committee of the
politiburo, China?s ruling body, free
of anyone young enough to take over
when his ?ve-year term as president
ends. That means that, in some
capacity, he will remain in power
beyond 2022, ending an informal but
well-observed system of succession,
which saw presidents serving for a
maximum of 10 years.
Although Xi endured some of
the worst horrors of Mao?s rule ? as
a boy his family suffered when his
father was purged ? the experience
does not seem to have turned him
against authoritarianism.
At home, he has consolidated
power through ruthless campaigns
against his rivals. He has also
cracked down on human rights and
Far-right
activists in
Charlottesville,
Virginia, in
August.
Photograph
by Samuel
Corum /Getty
OUTRAGE AS TRUMP FLIRTS
WITH THE FAR RIGHT
On the night of 11 August dozens of
far-right activists with ?aming torches
marched through the university
town of Charlottesville, Virginia,
shouting slogans of hate. The next day
a man rammed his car into a group
peacefully protesting against the white
supremacists, killing 32 year-old civil
rights activists Heather Heyer and
injuring 19 others.
President Donald Trump responded,
after a long silence, by accusing both
white supremacists and the peaceful
protesters of aggression. ?You had
people that were very ?ne people on
both sides,? he said in an extraordinary
news conference, that for many
marked the moment when the
resurgent far right ? often rebranded as
?alt-right? ? went mainstream.
As president, his top policy
priorities have including pushing
for a travel ban focused on Muslimmajority countries. His positions
have been supported by an army
of politicians and commentators
espousing views that would once have
been considered extreme enough to
have ended a career.
Across the Atlantic ideological
supporters included writers such as
Katie Hopkins, who called for a ??nal
solution? after the Manchester attacks.
Hopkins, who has also called migrants
?cockroaches? in a column in the Sun
newspaper, later said the post was a
?typo? and replaced ??nal? with ?true?.
Months after Charlottesville, Trump
would retweet anti-Muslim messages
from far-right group Britain First.
Less than two years earlier the killer
of the Labour MP for Batley and Spen,
Jo Cox, extremist Thomas Mair, had
shouted ?Britain ?rst? as he attacked
her. Trump de?ed criticism from
world leaders including Theresa May
to leave the offensive videos up. They
only ?nally disappeared when Twitter
took down the accounts of Britain
First leaders Jayda Fransen and Paul
Golding, under new rules banning hate
speech.
These are no longer fringe actors. In
September the New York Times asked a
question that would once have seemed
unthinkable for the 21st century: ?Is the
President a white supremacist??
civil society groups, including those
without overtly political agendas
such as feminists protesting against
sexual harassment. He has built up
an Orwellian security state in restive
western Xinjiang province, home to
the largely Muslim Uighur ethnic
group, and China is constantly
testing and strengthening online
controls and monitoring systems.
Abroad, Xi has been equally
assertive, boosting military reach in
the South China Sea and bolstering
economic in?uence and soft power
from Africa to Latin America.
However, he has struggled to rein
in the nuclear ambitions of China?s
unruly neighbour North Korea.
Deng?s admonition to ?hide
your capacities, bide your time?
seems to have been set aside.
Perhaps Xi judges the time has
arrived for China to assume a more
prominent global role. Certainly his
consolidation of power will have
worldwide rami?cations. Despite
serious challenges, particularly
environmental, the economy keeps
growing, the cost of confrontation
with Beijing has risen steadily ? and
the appetite for it among trading
partners has diminished.
Xi Jinping at his
party congress
in October.
Photograph
by Xinhua/
Barcroft
*
28 | THE OBSERVER PROFILE
24.12.17
Jodie Whittaker
Regenerating as
a woman ? the
new Doctor Who
Stepping into the shoes of the Time Lord is a
daunting task for any actor, but she will not
only be the ?rst female to pilot the Tardis
but also have the task of rescuing the
show?s falling ratings, writes Tim Lewis
M
att Smith, the 11th
Time Lord (20092013), winced when
I asked if he?d passed
on any advice to Jodie
Whittaker, the new
Doctor Who. ?Look, ?rstly, she?s going
to have the best time, that?s what I
said to her,? Smith replied. ?It?s such a
glorious part, creatively you?re satis?ed
and you?re happy, and that?s such a big
thing.?
Smith paused; you could tell there
was a ?but? coming. ?But the shift in
your life is extraordinary, because it
crosses generations,? he went on. ?So
when she goes to a wedding, she?s not
going to the wedding any more as Jodie
Whittaker, she?s going as the Doctor.
When she goes to a funeral, she?s not
going to a funeral as Jodie Whittaker,
she?s going to a funeral as the Doctor.
Something changes in the perception
of everyone else around you.?
Doctor Who is not the cultural
juggernaut it once was: in the David
Tennant era of the mid-late 2000s,
the BBC One show regularly attracted
more than 10爉illion live viewers;
with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, the
audience sunk to under half that ?gure,
the lowest ratings since it returned to
television in 2005.
But, when it is ?ring, Doctor Who
is still one of the only programmes
? and perhaps the only drama ? that
can draw a genuine family audience, sitting together in one room at
the moment of transmission. When
Capaldi announced he was moving on
in January, there was frenzied interest
in whom would be his successor: Kris
Marshall, Olivia Colman and Phoebe
Waller-Bridge were early frontrunners. The 35-year-old Whittaker was
eventually unveiled in July, in a teaser
trailer at the end of the Wimbledon
men?s ?nal. The headline that, after
half a century of white men there
would at last be a female Doctor Who,
was reported around the world.
There is good reason why the average tenure in the Tardis is approximately three years. Being the Doctor
is, by all accounts, ferocious work: the
show shoots up to nine months a year,
mostly in Cardiff, and, because the
Doctor is in almost every scene, the
line-learning is relentless. Moreover, as
Smith points out, on the rare instances
you are not ?lming, there are obsessive
Whovians everywhere you go, who
want to talk to you about the show.
Some of the actors selected are preexisting fans of Doctor Who (Capaldi);
others have literally never watched
it (Smith) ? Whittaker appears to fall
somewhere in the middle. After she
was told she had won the part, ?It
was incredibly emotional because my
entire life, as a child, all I ever wanted
to be was be an actor, and I wanted to
do it because I wanted to play pretend,
and that is the ultimate,? she told BBC
Radio�Music?s Shaun Keaveny in
August. ?I?m about to play an alien, a
Time Lord. And that as a girl? Who
knew? That?s incredible.?
Whittaker will appear for the ?rst
time in the teatime Christmas day special, Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time,
which is also a farewell to Capaldi. Her
casting has received praise from eve-
ryone from previous Doctors to those
behind the scenes (writer Mark Gatiss
and long-time showrunner Steven
Moffat) to Theresa May. ?I do like
watching Doctor Who at Christmas,?
the prime minister revealed last week,
presumably overjoyed at not being
asked to comment on the latest ballsup in her government, ?and I think this
is a great move forward for girl-power
that there is going to be female Doctor
Who, and one day there should be a
female James Bond.?
Certainly, the Doctor is by far the
most eye-catching role in Whittaker?s
career. To date, she?s best-known for
the ITV crime drama Broadchurch, in
which she plays the bereaved mother,
Beth Latimer. But she?s worked steadily
since leaving drama school in 2005 and
has also appeared in The Night Watch, a
BBC adaption of a Sarah Waters novel,
Joe Cornish?s Attack the Block and once
covered for Carey Mulligan, with three
hours notice, in a Royal Court production of The Seagull. This summer, she
starred in the four-part BBC drama
Trust Me, about a nurse and single
mother who in desperation takes the
identity of an A&E doctor.
In a 2011 interview, Whittaker said:
?I feel, maybe naively or arrogantly,
that I?ve got a best-case scenario that I
work a lot and no one knows who the
fuck I am. If you?re instantly recognisable you must be of interest to people
all the time.? Well, that?s all about to
change.
W
hittaker, who has a
distinct non-rhotic
Yorkshire accent
that, apparently,
the Doctor will
inherit, was born
in Skelmanthorpe, nine miles outside
Hudders?eld. Her father had a business supplying and ?tting protective
?lm for windows, and her mother
was a nurse. Whittaker seems proud
of her background: her father gave
Peter O?Toole, her co-star in the Hanif
Kureishi adaptation Venus, some Hudders?eld cricket club balls; meanwhile,
Viggo Mortenson, whom she played
opposite in the 2008 ?lm drama Good,
received a Hudders?eld Town football
shirt.
That role in Venus, where she is a
teenager who forms an unlikely bond
with a dying old man (O?Toole), proved
to be a breakthrough. Whittaker was
only a few months out of the Guildhall
School of Speech and Drama and was
so convincing in the audition that
Kureishi and director Roger Michell
changed the part from a Londoner to a
northerner. ?That girl Jodie is amazing,? Kureishi is reputed to have said.
Whittaker later commented: ?I?ll never
It is one of the only
shows that can draw a
genuine family
audience, sitting
together in one room
be able to quantify how important
Venus was for me or my career. I ticked
a huge box.?
But Whittaker has never pursued
the limelight. Away from work, she was
married in 2008 to the American actor
Christian Contreras, whom she met at
Guildhall. They have a two-year-old
daughter. But she?s very private about
that side of her life, and has no social
media presence. ?I don?t really want to
talk about relationships because it lets
people into stuff,? she has said. ?I?m not
on Facebook for that reason.?
Staying off social media might have
been a smart move since she has been
revealed as the 13th Doctor. While
there have been some heartwarming
responses ? a video of a young girl
watching the teaser in silence for a
minute before screaming, ?The new
Doctor is a girl!? has been watched
almost two million times ? there has
been a minority grumbling, as ever,
about political correctness and that,
in the words of RobDeWolf on the
Express website, an ?iconic? show is
sure to ?ruined?.
In reality, Whittaker?s appointment
might even save Doctor Who. While the
critics praised Capaldi, viewers have
drained at an alarming rate, slipping
from 9.2m when he made his debut
to under 5m by last summer. Part of
this can be explained by inconsistent scheduling ? the BBC moved its
slot to accommodate the Strictly live
shows ? but the series has also been
criticised for overly complex story arcs
and failing to engage younger viewers.
Whittaker arrives as part of a revamp
with a new showrunner: Moffat, who
has done the job since 2010, is being
replaced by Broadchurch creator Chris
the hit drama Broadchurch. And, of course,
emerging from behind a dark hood in July
as the ?rst female Doctor Who in 54 years.
What she says ?I was the attentionseeking child in class who needed
everyone to look at meee??
Worst of times Still to come, perhaps, as
her ?ercely guarded privacy is invaded by
the world?s media.
What they say ?A ?reball of mischief and
humour and energy.?
? Peter Mo?at
THE WHITTAKER FILE
Born Jodie Auckland Whittaker on 3 June
1982 in Skelmanthorpe, West Yorkshire.
Trained at the Guildhall School of Music
and Drama. Married to American actor
Christian Contreras; one child.
Best of times Starred in the three series of
Chibnall. Chibnall revealed that he
only considered women for the role
and that Whittaker stood out as ?a
super-smart force of nature?.
Smith, for one, is excited to see
how it plays out. ?How amazing now,
especially in this current climate, to see
a woman become involved and go, ?All
right aliens, let?s go!? And I think Chris
will be really clever about all that gender stuff and it won?t be on the nose.
It will be really intelligent and Jodie?s
very funny. I can?t wait.?
Actually, we?ll all have to wait until
autumn 2018 to see Whittaker?s ?rst
full season in the Tardis, but details are
already trickling out. Her co-stars will
be actors Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole and
57-year-old ex-Coronation Street star
Bradley Walsh. She?ll wear signature
mustard-yellow braces, navy culottes
and sensible leather boots. ?She is
practically attired, fashionably timeless,? declared Tamsin Blanchard in the
Guardian.
As for her approach to the role,
Whittaker is still making up her mind.
?The overwhelming sense of this is
it is such an exciting journey you?re
about to go on, and it?s to be enjoyed,?
she said. ?There?s no advice you can
give because no person plays this part
the same.? One thing is for sure: come
Christmas Day at 5.30pm, Whittaker?s
life and career will be forever upended.
As Tennant told the American talkshow host David Letterman in 2014,
?It?s a bit like being the president.
You?re always the Doctor.?
24.12.17
| 29
*
Comment
ALEX
CLARK
Let me tell you about
the birds and the trees
Page 32
A Britain of common values was always
a myth. By arguing, we shape ourselves
The heated row over UK passports has been more about symbolism than ideas ? typical of our times
Kenan
Malik
@kenanmalik
W
hat links the results of the Catalonia
elections last week with the row
in Britain over the proposed new
blue passport? The one is the latest
expression of the polarised character of electorates, the other of the way that the most arbitrary,
irrelevant issues can become the focus of intense
political controversy. Neither polarisation nor
con?icts over arbitrary issues is new. But both
have become de?ning features of our times.
Nations today seem divided down the middle on critical issues ? whether Catalonia over
independence, Britain over Brexit or America
over Donald Trump. This is not just a western
phenomenon. A week ago, Cyril Ramaphosa won
the election for the ANC leadership by the narrowest of margins ? 2,440 votes to his opponent
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma?s 2,261. Earlier this
year, the referendum called by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, to extend his powers
approved the measures by 51% to 49%. Every
electorate seems divided and uncertain.
Many see in such polarised nations societies that
no longer possess a sense of common values and
so have little material with which to bind themselves together. The consequences, many fear, are
more unstable societies with governments that
lack authority among large sections of the electorate and a political system open to exploitation by
extremists, especially far-right extremists.
From a historical perspective, though, contemporary polarisation does not seem particularly
acute. Go back a generation. Is Britain more polarised now than it was in 1984, at the height of the
miners? strike? Today, newspapers might describe
judges, of whose decisions they disapprove, as
?enemies of the people?. Then, it was government
ministers who called striking miners ?the enemy
within?. The full force of the state ? from the police
to propaganda ? was mobilised to crush the strike,
leading to mass invasions of mining communities, bloody confrontations, as at Orgreave, tens of
thousands arrested and a Britain far more divided
and embittered than it is today.
Or, as fractious as America is today under
Trump, is the nation more divided than it was in
the mid-1960s, when its major cities were in ?ames
as black protesters confronted a deeply racist state,
and when anti-Vietnam protests so in?amed the
authorities that National Guardsmen gunned down
student protesters at Kent State University?
It is a myth to imagine that societies in the past
had an undisputed vision of the common good
that bound them together. Societies have always
been fractured and fractious and values always
contested. What is different today lies not in the
way we look at our commonalities, but in the way
we look upon our differences.
Politics is, by de?nition, divisive. It divides society along ideological grounds and demands that
people take sides on fundamental issues. In the
past, the political divisions by which people made
sense of the world, and positioned themselves in
it, were de?ned primarily by left and right. Today,
as the left/right divide has eroded, so political
frameworks are often shaped less by ideology
than by identity. People ?nd their place in the
world today less through categories such as ?liberal? or ?conservative? or ?socialist? or ?communist? than ones such as ?Scottish? or ?European?
or ?Muslim? or ?white?. Even when people talk of
being ?liberal? or ?conservative?, or a ?Brexiter?
or ?Remainer?, they are often talking as much of
cultural identities as of political viewpoints.
The shallowness of political debate and
attachments means both that almost anything
can become ?political? and that almost nothing is. The most trivial of matters ? the colour of
one?s passport ? can suddenly seem ideologically
signi?cant, while politically profound issues ? the
meaning of sovereignty, for instance ? are barely
touched upon in public. Symbolism has become
almost as important as policy. This lends to contemporary politics an almost arbitrary character.
I
t was the case that old-style political attachments to left and right were often tribal in form.
I might vote Labour because my family always
had or because that?s what one did round here.
But such tribalism was not arbitrary and meaningless. The left/right divide expressed fundamentally different views of the world and of attitudes
to issues such as inequality or trade union power.
Tribalism was given meaning by these wider
political attachments.
Today, in the absence of wider social struggles or
political attachments, tribalism has become an end
in itself. Labels such as Remainer or Brexiter are
less a means of linking oneself to wider struggles
than of hunkering down and refusing to engage.
Why bother engaging when, for many Brexiters,
Remainers are unpatriotic, even traitors, and
enemies of the people, while, for many Remainers,
Brexiters are uneducated, bigoted, xenophobes?
Politics may be divisive. But it rests also upon a
willingness to have a public dialogue and debate, a
readiness both to listen to others and to scrutinise
our beliefs, an openness to accommodate others
and to change ourselves. It is such willingness and
readiness and openness that has faded.
The very idea of politics as an act of deliberation, by which people with different desires and
starting positions must work something out, has
become devalued. There are, naturally, limits to
political deliberation. Politics is about contesting
Politics may
be divisive,
but it also
rests upon a
willingness
to have
a public
dialogue
and debate
power and there are times when the contradictions between the political visions embodied by
different ideologies cannot be deliberated away
but have to be confronted directly. So it was with
the miners? strike. The Thatcher government
sought confrontation with the miners because
it recognised trade union power as an obstacle
to its economic and social policies. The miners
confronted Thatcher?s pit-closure programme
because it spoke to a larger attack on workingclass communities that needed resisting. The
eventual defeat of the miners, and of other trade
union struggles, opened the way for a much more
aggressively atomised society that helped snap
social bonds and hollow out civic life.
Social struggles are not only about confronting
power, but a means of shaping values and ideals.
Such struggles enable people to reach out beyond
their own identities and give meaning to civic
solidarity. It is through such social struggles that
we can de?ne what common goals or common
values should be.燱ithout such struggles, we can
neither work through differences nor shape what
we hold in common.
Social divides today seem more intractable
because they have become disconnected from
social movements. Symbolism has come to take
the place of real change. And there is the irony:
it is not that societies are too polarised, but that
they are not polarised enough. Societies have
become polarised, but without the possibility of
real social change.
Illustration by
Dominic McKenzie
Dying children in Syria need more than kind words
Curable cancer will claim seven young lives
unless Putin and Assad ?nd the will to intervene,
write David Nott and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon
A
s the world is consumed by
North Korea, tax issues and
Brexit, seven children with
curable cancer are dying in
Ghouta, Syria, for the want of drugs
and nourishment.
Another 175 children also desperately need hospital treatment
not available in Ghouta. Starved and
besieged for four years, people are
dying from malnutrition a stone?s ? or
rather grenade?s ? throw from the
bulging markets of Damascus and less
than 60 minutes from the border with
the free world.
Union of Syrian Medical Care
and Relief Organizations (UOSSM)
hospitals in Ghouta are on their knees
with very few medicines left, and kind
words for the dying children the only
palliative care available.
President Vladimir Putin declared
Ghouta a de-escalation zone earlier
this year, but in effect it is the ?nal
killing zone in this most intractable
and shameful of con?icts.
Ghouta is the one area that Bashar
al-Assad has not been able to subdue.
He has fought the rebels for four years
in the most brutal hand-to-hand,
street-by-street con?ict, reminiscent of Stalingrad during the Second
World燱ar.
Every weapon has been used, in
what appears to be the extermination
of this population who will not surrender or go ?quietly into the night?.
The deadly nerve agent sarin was
dropped on 21 August this year, killing
up to 1,500 and preventing the rebels
from breaking into Assad?s Damascus.
There are reliable reports that sarin is
still being used to winkle out people
from cellars and tunnels, in order
to kill them in the open. Medieval
siege爐echniques have resulted in
no aid for four years. Children, in
particular, are dying of starvation in
sight of the Lebanese and Jordanian
borders.
Last year at this time, we managed
with UOSSM and other NGOs to get
500 children out of Aleppo to safety.
We now appeal to at least give these
seven children a chance of life by getting them to places which can treat
their curable cancers.
This is very much in the hands of
Putin and Assad and, no doubt, also
the United Nations and members of
the permanent ?ve of the Security
Council to encourage these two to
do爏omething humane at this supposedly compassionate time of year. The
west爄n particular has left the majority of Syrian civilians to their own
fate, and 500,000 are dead, 11爉illion
displaced internally and four million
are refugees.
For God?s sake, for the god of every
religion, let?s try to end 2017 and
begin 2018 with a bit of compassion
and get these children out. We will
go ourselves to Ghouta and get them
on Christmas Day if need be. Come
on, Mr Putin, Mr Assad, show some
humility for the sake of humankind.
Dr David Nott and Hamish de BrettonGordon are directors of Doctors Under
Fire and advisers to UOSSM
30 | COMMENT
*
24.12.17
Established in 1791
Issue No 11,796
Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Telephone: 020 3353 2000 Fax: 020 3353 3189
email: editor@observer.co.uk
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
As Britain frets about its passport colour,
we?re losing our place in the world
T
he return of the blue British passport,
announced last week, has produced an
outbreak of jingoism among sections
of the Tory party ? and a vast ocean
of indifference around the world. Michael
Fabricant, a ?true blue? Conservative MP,
spoke of his uncon?ned joy. Brandon Lewis,
the immigration minister, said it would help
Britain ?restore our national identity and forge
a new path in the world?. Theresa May called
the new passport ?an expression of our independence and sovereignty, symbolising our
citizenship of a proud, great nation?.
The Sun, predictably, hailed the decision as
a ?stunning Brexit victory for the Sun?. The
new design would have the Queen?s ?Dieu
et Mon Droit? printed on its front page, the
paper triumphantly reported ? ignoring the
fact the EU passport already has that. And
never mind the words are still in French. Even
those unlucky under-30s who have only ever
known the EU?s lesser maroon version would
have their patriotic juices set ?owing by this
sublime regression.
What piffle, as old Etonians might say. Yet
this very British piece of puerile chauvinism
is a phenomenon worth examining. It speaks
to a largely imagined era of global imperial
glory, in?ated and magni?ed by time. Older
British ?subjects? (now ?citizens?) who owned
the pre-1988 passport will recall an outsize,
cardboard-fronted slab. Its dirty blue cover
quickly turned grubby and smudgy with use.
But forget such unpatriotic facts? or risk a
fake news ?ring squad of Twitter trolls. All
this delusional tub-thumping is unworthy.
It points to a chronically fragile, fragmented
national self-esteem. Who else in the world
relies on a mere travel document to validate
self-worth?
What is this all about? It was the Sun?s headline about a ?Brexit victory? that truly gave the
game away. Like this year?s grand cinematic
leap into the past, Dunkirk, which perpetu-
ates the myth that Britain?s military defeat in
1940 was somehow a triumph, those leading
the Brexit retreat-cum-rout on this side of the
Channel grab desperately at patriotic straws.
The upcoming royal wedding fantasy starring
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be used
as a similar distraction.
And if England win the World Cup next
summer, Brexit will surely be the reason.
You can see it now: ?Top of the world! Harry
Kane?s stunning extra-time Brexit winner!?
After our full-time, real-time drubbing in the
phase-one EU talks, any supposed or imagined
national success, however minor and specious,
will serve.
A blue passport will not assuage Britain?s
identity crisis ? it symbolises it. It will not
somehow re-anchor Britain in the world
or restore lost British power and in?uence.
Rather, it sets us further apart and further
adrift. Like a new �n Royal Navy aircraft
carrier holed beneath the waterline, Britain
is slowly sinking beneath the weight of its
un-splendid isolation. Rarely, if ever, since the
dark days of Dunkirk has the country been so
friendless and so alone.
Take the deteriorating state of relations
with Britain?s principal ally, the US. Donald
Trump?s attempted travel ban on Muslim
countries, his divisive stance on issues of race
and religion and his dangerously confrontational approach to North Korea and Iran have
put him at odds with British policy and British
values. His latest, deliberate provocation ? the
recognition of Jerusalem as Israel?s capital ?
has brought an open rift.
When May spoke to Trump last week, the
two leaders were reduced, almost, to wishing
each other a happy Christmas. On that they
could agree. On Russia, on climate change, on
free trade, on Trump?s tweeted support for
British racists and on the Middle East peace
process, there was little or no agreement at all.
It?s painfully obvious that Trump?s unwanted
visit to Britain next year is just another massive headache for May.
The insulting behaviour of Trump and his
ambassador, Nikki Haley, during last week?s
UN debates on Jerusalem was indicative of
how much trouble the ?special relationship? is
in. Behaving like some third-rate political hack
in House of Cards, Trump responded to almost
universal criticism with an onslaught of bad
temper, tantrums and bullying. It has been
said before, but the US president behaves like
a spoilt child when thwarted. By defying him,
twice, Britain is now on the roster of names
Haley says will be used to exact pay-back.
How idiotic for the US to behave in such
a way. And how counterproductive. Trump
lost both the UN votes by massive margins,
the US lost friends and respect and May lost
more ground in her attempt to maintain a
functional relationship. This is hardly her
fault. Yet when set against other major international challenges facing Britain, it is deeply
damaging.
O
ne such challenge is Russia, the
recipient of a much-postponed visit
last week by Boris Johnson, the
foreign secretary. Unsurprisingly,
given Johnson?s bumbling incoherence and
Vladimir Putin?s mute malevolence, it did not
go well.
May reeled off a long list of British grievances with Russia last month, ranging from
Syria to its covert efforts to in?uence democratic votes in Britain, France, Germany, the
US and elsewhere. Johnson duly delivered
the message. But all he got for his trouble was
a contemptuous brush-off. Is it normal for a
senior minister to be treated with such mocking disdain? No, not in the past. But nowadays,
Britain is a much diminished player on the
international stage. And the Russians know it
full well, even if the Tories do not.
Which brings us, unhappily, to the third,
shaky leg of the international tripod ? Britain?s
relations with Europe and the EU. British
statesmen from Churchill onwards recognised
the vital importance of balancing the American connection and keeping Moscow at bay,
through strong ties to the continent. Not so
this current generation of Tory Brexit wreckers. Indulging what Tony Blair calls nostalgic
nationalism, they conjure illusory pipe dreams
of a past that never happened and a future
that will never materialise. The French scorn
us, the Germans shake their heads. Even
well-meaning friends in places such as the
Netherlands and Denmark no longer know
what to say. They feel embarrassed for us and
betrayed, too.
The ?rst-phase deal struck at this month?s
EU summit on citizens? rights, Northern
Ireland and the divorce bill was not so much
a compromise as a capitulation. May, David
Davis and colleagues wasted more than a year
defending indefensible positions detached
from political reality. Inevitably, they were
forced to fold. The Tory spin on this ? namely,
that May has achieved a breakthrough and
strengthened her premiership ? is yet another
manifestation of Britain?s chronic addiction to
delusional politics. For their next trick comes
the absurd claim they can somehow win an
EU trade deal that does not seriously degrade
Britain?s economy. Dream on.
Cosying up to China?s hard-nosed, authoritarian leadership, as Philip Hammond and
David Cameron propose, will not restore Britain?s fortunes and independence. Making nice
with unpleasant, undemocratic governments
such as Poland?s, where May visited last week,
or the Saudi bombers of Yemen will not do
so, either. Under this government, Britain has
wholly lost its way in the world. It has forgotten what it stands for. It has no clue where it
is heading. And who needs a passport, of any
colour, when you have nowhere to go?
LAW
Atrocious failures blight our justice system. Should
disclosure decisions be taken away from the police?
T
he right to a fair trial is a linchpin of the rule
of law and a free and democratic society. So
it is right that the collapse of two rape prosecutions in recent days, both due to police
failure to disclose relevant material to the defence,
has cast a fresh spotlight on whether that right is
under jeopardy.
The obligation of police and prosecutors to
disclose unused material that might support the
defence case is critical to ensuring a fair trial.
Indeed, a failure to disclose relevant information
to the defence team is one of the most common
causes of miscarriages of justice. In the cases of
Liam Allen and Isaac Itiary, both accused of rape,
the Met police failed to hand over relevant text
messages to defence lawyers in a timely fashion.
When this ?nally happened, both cases were
dropped, but not before Itiary had spent four
months in jail awaiting trial and Allan two years on
bail. The attorney general rightly labelled this an
?appalling failure? of the criminal justice system.
There are competing narratives about what lies
behind this. Some hold up these cases as a sign that
the pendulum has now swung the other way in a
police force once notorious for its failures to take
rape allegations seriously. Angela Rafferty QC, the
chair of the Criminal Bar Association, has suggested
that ?unconscious bias? against those accused of
rape is holding the police back from properly scrutinising complaints in sexual offence cases.
But it is irresponsible to imply police failures in
disclosure are a problem speci?c to rape prosecutions. In July, a joint report on disclosure by the
police and prosecution service inspectorates raised
concerns about disclosure practices within the
police and CPS across all types of cases. To cast this
as a problem about rape plays into the myth that
false and malicious rape allegations are rife and
that the criminal justice system is loaded against
accused rapists. Evidence suggests false allegations
of rape are rare and there remain other, bigger
problems in the way in which rape allegations are
investigated and prosecuted, including the lack of
specialist support for women reporting rape.
Others have argued this is about austerity:
police and CPS budgets have been cut signi?cantly
since 2010 and the number of police officers has
declined by more than 20,000 even as recorded
crime has increased. Not only that, the government
has instituted massive cuts to legal aid.
There is no question that our criminal justice
system is becoming more and more stretched. The
result is that access to justice is impeded for growing numbers of people.
But the story does not start and end with
government cuts. Rules around disclosure were
?rst introduced in the 1990s after a series of highpro?le miscarriages of justice, such as the wrongful
convictions of the Birmingham Six. Twenty years
later, the amount of data involved in criminal cases
has ballooned, thanks to the proliferation of computers, tablets and mobile phones.
T
his makes the investigation and prosecution
of criminal offences far more complex and
time-consuming than ever, while the massive volume of data confronting the police in
all sorts of cases makes meeting their obligations on
disclosure increasingly difficult. The implications
of this accelerating burden on the criminal justice
system have never been properly debated; rather,
they have been shoved into the ?too difficult? box.
Police cultures also impede disclosure. The role
of the police is to act as an impartial investigator; it
is the CPS whose job it is to prosecute a case. But
the nature of police work means detectives and
officers have to develop theories about their cases.
Some officers may wilfully conceal evidence that
undermines the case they have constructed. But
basic human psychology ? none of us much likes
to be proved wrong ? means that many more may
be blinkered by unconscious bias that draws them
away from evidence that undermines their case
theory. This has led some to question whether it
is right to leave disclosure decisions to the police.
At the very least, the police need proper training,
but it has been found to be inadequate across the
majority of police forces.
The police wield immense power over our lives.
From Hillsborough to Stephen Lawrence, the
Birmingham Six to child sex abuse in Rotherham:
the past tells us that when they are not adequately
held accountable for that power, the result can be
deep injustices of the very worst kind.
Accountability has increased signi?cantly in
the past 20 years, with the establishment of the
Independent Police Complaints Commission and
independent inspectorate. But police failings on
disclosure have been swept under the carpet for
too long, even as they are further aggravated by
austerity and the sheer volume of data in the modern world. If we continue to ignore them, we will
pay the ultimate price: the guarantee of a fair trial.
24.12.17
COMMENT | 31
*
RIDDELL?S VIEW
Even with her closest ally gone, May
hangs on, as normal rules fall away
Damian Green?s demise is the latest in a litany of disasters, but the prime minister still shows her survival instinct
Anne
McElvoy
@annemcelvoy
D
oes Theresa May approach the ?nal week
of 2017 in better or worse nick than we
might have expected, given the bountiful
sack of Brexit troubles at Downing Street?s
festive door? The Bah Humbug case is clear. She
started the year under no pressure to hold an
election, risked one to establish her mandate and
put the Cameron years behind her, ran one of the
dreariest campaigns in living memory and squandered a 24-point lead to end up running a minority
government propped up by Northern Irish unionists. The drinks party joke at Westminster is that
TM is ?weak and stable?.
The more charitably inclined might concede
that by a miracle of circumstance, lack of options
and a dollop of her own gritty but persistent
character she is still in post when many thought
she would not be ? and edging forward on the
Brexit deal she was mandated to deliver, without
the eruption of Tory civil war.
To purists, Remain or Leave, the PM is an
unsatisfactory hybrid, talking hard Brexit while her
stance in Brussels delivers a softer, slow-cooked
one. This is not inadvertent, but it explains why
she ended up being applauded at the EU council
meeting this month. Beyond the permanent chill
of the commission and its charmless bureaucrats,
member state leaders would rather the Brexit
deal was got on with, the better to focus on other
pressing EU decisions. She then returned to a
rebellion over the EU withdrawal bill in her own
ranks and yet another cabinet departure.
The government May leads is a peculiarly ?ssile
entity, in which the usual land-grabs, ideological
distinctions and resentments are piled on to
the kindling of Brexit. The serial resignations
of Michael Fallon, Priti Patel and now her ?rst
secretary (and biggest ally), Damian Green,
have tipped the balance away from pragmatic
Remainers. Fallon was from the ?reluctant
Remain? grouping, Green an EU-enthusiast and
Patel a fervent Leaver).
It?s commonplace to blame May for presiding
over such an accident-prone cabinet, but not wholly
fair. Both Fallon and Green fell on the wrong side
of a long overdue cultural shift, which meant
that allegations of impropriety were ?nally taken
seriously at Westminster. They would have ended
up in hot water whoever ruled in Number�,
deservedly so. And as Green made clear, he was
sacked by May, who would have failed to take
seriously allegations of misbehaviour ? and denial
about it ? had she allowed him to stay. That does
not mean that the ex-?rst secretary will stay quiet.
He feels badly treated by the police and Number 10
and is adamant that his side of the story should be
heard. It adds yet another eventful episode to the
ministerial drama equivalent of Big Little Lies.
By the same token, if for very different reasons,
Patel?s departure was a self-in?icted injury, which
showed a crying lack of judgment. A lone wolf
policy on Israel and failure to declare private visits
in one of the most combustible political territories
on Earth is not a recipe for senior ministerial
longevity. In different ways, these pratfalls were
the result of an ill-disciplined and entitled culture
and the 2017 goners from the frontbench have no
one to blame but themselves.
Where May has fallen short, however, is in the
area of her traditional weakness ? an in?exibility
and clumsiness in responding to events. The
most extraordinary result of that was elevating
Gavin Williamson from the role of chief whip to
the role of defence secretary. It?s hard to think of
a candidate less quali?ed than the new defence
secretary for these tasks. ?It makes Boris Johnson
look like an accomplished foreign secretary,? is
the unkind judgment of one Tory veteran of the
security committees. Yet I would not write off
Williamson. He has impressed senior military
?gures by making bolder claims for defence
spending than Fallon. Even the unseemly
stand-up row with Philip Hammond has served
to remind Tory MPs that he is both ambitious and
pugnacious, characteristics the Tory party will
need as it undergoes its generational renewal.
One signi?cant detail is that Williamson,
who voted Remain in 2016, had shifted tribal
loyalties, along with the health secretary, Jeremy
Hunt, towards Leavers around the cabinet table.
The impact of these internal realignments will
become more obvious in the year ahead. They
signal understanding in the Tory body politic
that the only way to be in contention for the May
succession is to identify with Leave even if you
voted Remain in 2016. It works precisely the other
way round for Michael Gove, who is calculating
that being the Tory equivalent of a good corporate
citizen and not being shouty about the terms of
Brexit will pay dividends in the long run. We can
mock the Lewis Carroll nature of this government,
but its absurdities arise from the fact that full
clarity is impossible, when the divide over how
(and even if ) we leave the EU remains so bitter.
The acrimony was encapsulated in the
nonsensical row over a change in passport colour,
in which the restorers of the blue UK passport and
their opponents vied to see who can confect the
loudest anger about a gesture that the vast majority
of Brits could not give a ?g about. The storm in a
teacup demonstrates that May will not be able to
convince those who want an outright push to stop
Brexit that ?Leave-lite? is an acceptable recipe:
Brexit is not as much about which cultural tribe
you belong to as the details about trade deals. So
her core task is what therapists call ?managing
radical differences?, rather than making peace.
She can, however, only succeed in these terms if
Families approaching
Christmas with uppity
teenagers and grousing
elders might feel a
twinge of familiarity
her personal reputation for political management
improves from a low base. To that end, small signs
of a change in style are under way. The recent trip
to Cyprus to visit military families and encounter
small children was a tentative move towards
softening a brittle image. A former Downing
Street communications director notes that May
has ?nally broken away from a ?fear of meeting
people? that afflicted her after her election
disappointment. She was also furious with her
staff (and probably herself ) for mishandling the
aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster so badly.
A calculation aimed at ensuring that she was
not shown to be on the end of a shouting match of
public anger left her looking callous and unmoved
when those afflicted were in need of direct contact.
As Gordon Brown discovered when combating a
similarly dour image in the New Labour years, the
only way to cure the impression of being aloof is to
get out there, encounter the public and get better at
rolling with the blows. Ruth Davidson, a politician
slyly adept at damning with faint praise, said of
May in a Spectator interview last week: ?When
she?s comfortable with somebody, she can be good
company.? If the PM is to escape the trap of being
seen to be remote, she will have to meet more
people, open the doors of Number 10 to outside
debate (the May citadel feels so cut off that one
civil servant jokes about it as ?the Kremlin?) and
generally extend that narrow comfort zone in 2018.
T
he greatest risk she faces is described in
the words of one loyalist minister as being
?lost in transition? ? bogged down in the
arcane world of trade-deal options in the
second round of Brexit talks. It is still resoundingly
unclear what kind of leaving arrangement May
desires, beyond a longish transition. That will have
to change, since Tory Remainers are beginning to
assert themselves against any form of Canada-like
free trade deal, while Leavers are unlikely to concede on a continuation of the customs union. Pretty
soon, the prime minister will need to do something
she has studiously avoided since taking the job and
tell us what Brexit recipe she wants.
A tense three-way stand-off at cabinet last
Tuesday between Gove, Williamson and Amber
Rudd, as the senior Remainer-in-chief, over
starting conditions for round 2 of the trade talks
demonstrates the potential of all discussions to
turn into jostles for supremacy under (and after)
May. One witness reports: ?The contest for the last
word ended up in a verbal jostle and the PM having
to intervene to end the discussion.?
Any families approaching Christmas with a mix
of strained relationships among the adults, uppity
teenagers and grousing elders might, however, feel
a twinge of familiarity with May?s situation.
She has some quiet wins to celebrate with
her (favoured) gin and tonic this weekend. The
Conservative party clock for her departure is now
more likely to be set for 2019 rather than a rapid
dismissal. Jeremy Corbyn has downgraded his
prediction of being in Number 10 by Christmas
to some more distance scenario and a ?probable?
election wins next year.
But if, as Woody Allen put it, 80% of success is
just about showing up, the other 20 is about keeping
going. Stamina is an underestimated asset when
politics gets thankless. The real message of Theresa
May?s smiley Christmas card is: I?m still here.
Anne McElvoy is senior editor at the Economist
Andrew Rawnsley is away
32 | COMMENT
*
24.12.17
Bitcoin is a bubble, but the technology
behind it could transform the world
Blockchain poses as big a threat to banks as Facebook and Amazon did to conventional media ?rms
or Long Blockchain Corp. If you had bought
Facebook 13 years ago you would now be very rich.
One of the ?rst casualties could be banking.
Already, you can present your card to make a
contactless payment in a store, pub or taxi. Cash
has become digitised, although the payee wants to
know that a bank has validated the creditworthiness of the payer before accepting the transaction.
But blockchain changes everything. It becomes
a means to transfer digital cash ? or crypto-currencies, of which the best known is bitcoin ? in
vast amounts, across any border, instantaneously.
The blockchain makes sure bitcoin is spent once;
indeed, blockchain was ?rst invented by the originators of bitcoin to make sure there was no fraud.
No � limits. No credit or debit card necessary; no
central bank or government needed to guarantee
the value of the money. Just buy your bitcoin from
an online broker and you have buying power in
your digital wallet: better still, it may go up in value,
giving you more buying power still. The whole analogue apparatus of the ?nancial system could be as
severely challenged as newspapers and retailers
are by online reading and internet shopping.
Will
Hutton
@williamnhutton
H
umanity?s earliest, truly transformative
general purpose technologies were the
ability to cross-fertilise plants and crossbreed animals. Suddenly, it made more
sense to farm than to hunt and gather. The surge in
agricultural output meant humans could do other
things than worry about survival; they could live in
cities. Human civilisation began.
The story of the subsequent millennia has been
how some 30 general-purpose technologies of
equal power, ranging from the printing press to the
steam engine, have driven similar leaps in transforming our economy, our lives and our civilisation. Today, we are living through another.
Digitisation is, if anything, even more powerful: it is a meta general-purpose technology. No
area of human activity will be left untouched by
the translation of the physical into digital data.
Already, it has created astonishing new capacities: the chances are that you are reading this on a
smartphone or tablet. But the adventure is only just
beginning. Everything ? from banking to health ? is
about to experience similar transformations.
Last week, the growing impact of blockchain
and the price of one of the crypto-currencies
it underwrites ? bitcoin ? hit the front pages.
Regulators stopped the US stock market trading
in the Crypto Company (a tiny penny stock whose
main asset is its name) after its shares jumped
2,000%, so that it brie?y, and stunningly, joined the
Fortune 500 with a value of $12bn. As extraordinary, when the Long Island Iced Tea Corp ? yet to
make a pro?t ? announced that it was changing its
name to Long Blockchain Corp, its shares jumped
500%. The price of bitcoin itself ? $1,000 at the
start of the year ? brie?y hit $19,000 per ?coin? last
week before falling to $11,000 and then recovering
to $14,000 yesterday. A crazy wildness, emulating
every ?nancial bubble in history, has settled on US
investors.
But bubbles don?t come out of nowhere. Peoples?
animal spirits are sparked by something real that
collectively captures their imagination: blockchain and crypto-currencies are that something.
Blockchain is a foundational digital technology
that rivals the internet in its potential for transformation. To explain: essentially, ?blocks? are
segregated, vast bundles of data in permanent
communication with each other so that each block
People?s
animal
spirits are
sparked by
something
real that
captures
their
imagination.
Blockchain
and cryptocurrencies
are that
something
knows what the content is in the rest of the chain.
However, only the owner of a particular block has
the digital key to access it.
So what? First, the blocks are created by ?miners?, individual algorithm writers and companies
throughout the world (with a dense concentration
in China), who want to add a data block to the
chain. There is no government or central direction;
no permission is needed to create a block ? and
unless the law is broken, no government, regulator
or police authority can close the block down.
Just as the web once promised freedom, so does
blockchain. The chain is self-policing. Anyone who
attempts to launch an exchange of data outside the
protocols of the chain will immediately be spotted
by the other blocks ? and the exchange will be
aborted. Suddenly, the world has acquired a system
for the fast, trusted exchange of vast amounts of
data without intermediaries or supervision.
In the way that Facebook, Amazon, Net?ix and
Google (the ?Fangs?) replaced conventional media
and communication companies, that prospect
faces banks, insurance companies and many public
services. Our health data can be given to the whole
chain for it to assess, rather than an individual
doctor, and the chain can then assess and price an
insurable risk. No intermediary is safe. No wonder
investors are salivating at the prospect of old, analogue organisations being driven out of business
and mega fortunes being made by the companies
replacing them, perhaps by the Crypto Company
The price of bitcoin
almost halved last
week. Getty
T
he question is whether banks are going to
reinvent themselves using the blockchain
as a key tool and become crypto-currency
brokers before others. The trouble is that
bitcoin, like other crypto-currencies, is not a
reliable way of storing value ? a key function of
money ? when its price can nearly halve in a week,
as it did last week. Better not to think of bitcoin as
money; rather, as a commodity that uses blockchain
to make settlements faster, but it can?t ? and never
can ? be a way for the mass of workers to get paid
or make their purchases. It could take millions of
transactions away from banks and badly wound
them, but it?s unlikely to replace them.
But it could still represent a huge shock.
Blockchain will administer similar shocks to insurance, healthcare and all mass payment systems.
Intermediaries in the service industries will face a
new world in which their routine functions will be
performed by machines, programmed by arti?cial intelligence, while the blockchain becomes
the new means to do business safely, faster and
less riskily. There will be new concentrations
of economic power because, like the Fangs, the
blockchain economic model is more efficient and
more effective the larger the network. Moving ever
more economic activity into this universe, with
its anonymised transactions and secret keys, may
please the ultra libertarians ? but there remains a
public interest in ensuring accountability, justice
and fairness. We have, in short, to understand and
shape this new world before it shapes us. There are
precious few signs of that.
Alex Clark Let me tell you about the birds and the trees
From pigeons
to asylum
seekers ?
generosity and
friendship
are in short
supply
Y
ou had to admire the pluck
? tangential pun entirely
intended ? of the man on the
radio sticking up for the antipigeon spikes that, a mere three years
after being installed in some Bristol
trees, hit the news. It happened in the
way that these things now happen;
courtesy of wildlife enthusiast Jennifer
Garrett and a photograph taken by
Anna Francis, an image of said spikes,
vicious-looking things ?rmly attached
along whole branches, began to circulate on Twitter. Cue ? to my mind ?
justi?ed outrage. If modifying nature in
order to in?ict harm on animals going
about their ordinary animal business is
not bad karma, I don?t know what is.
Before too long, the creator of the
spikes, David Jones, was on Radio 4,
defending the Defenders�, as they
are called. His line of argument was
ingeniously counterintuitive ? they are,
he said, ?the humane solution?. But
how could this be so? Well, he pointed
out, better than being shot (not by
him, I should add, but by notional pest
control services). He knew, he added,
of a manor house with a tree in which
had been counted no fewer than 32
pigeons. 32! (Is that a lot? If you need
four and twenty blackbirds simply
to make a pie, and if blackbirds are
roughly the size of pigeons, it doesn?t
sound like a full-on avian invasion.)
Being poked with a spike is undoubtedly better than being shot. But it does
indicate somewhat stunted aspirations. Could there be a third way? I
propose not one solution but a trio
for the residents whose cars are being
protected from pigeon excrement: they
could purchase a waterproof car cover
(there?s one for �.99 at Argos, and if
you get a wiggle on, it could probably
still end up under a loved one?s tree
tomorrow); they could ?ll a bucket
with soapy water and look for a scout
on a bob-a-job week; or they could
chill out. After all, what manner of
person drifts off to sleep thinking: ?I
may have contributed, quite literally,
to driving the birds from the trees, but
at least my BMW 4 Series Coup� will
be spotless for my weekend drive to
Chipping燙ampden??
However, good though it might be
that these bird-botherers have come
to public attention ? indeed, a petition is now on the go demanding their
removal ? there is the awkward fact of
their having been in situ for a considerable time. What was happening in the
leafy suburb of Clifton that rendered
its inhabitants, not all, presumably,
car-fetishisers unable to cope with the
basic universal truth of animal digestion, silent on the matter?
Perhaps they weren?t; perhaps there
have been all manner of protests only
now being transmitted to a wider audience. But as we look around us ? from
spikes in doorways and armrests on
benches to prevent anyone reclining
on them to campaigners and charities gathering more stories of distress
and disorientation on the streets and
appealing more desperately for our
help, we might examine more closely
our concept of hospitality.
It is not, clearly, only a matter of
the food, drink and company we offer
to visitors, nor even the conviction
with which we support measures to
improve the circumstances of, for
Knocked off their perch: pigeons denied
tree space to keep cars clean in Clifton.
example, displaced people or those living in poverty. It is also about noticing;
about seeing, one day, that a tree has
sprouted sharp, uncomfortable prongs
and wondering why; about registering, as you make your ?nal Christmas
preparations, that more than a year
after the government agreed to open
our borders to nearly 500 unaccompanied child refugees, the ?rst two have
just燼rrived.
I
t is also about realising what a
broader idea of hospitality might
be; whether, for instance, it accepts
that a man who makes spikes to keep
birds off trees would indeed prefer that
to them being shot and is carrying out
the work that he has been asked to,
for reasons that make sense to those
with a different view of the matter. Not
just hospitality, in other words, but
generosity ? a trust in others? good faith
and a belief that they are doing their
best. The Greeks, as the phrase goes,
have a word for it: xenia, the courtesy
and friendship you extend to those you
don?t know and that is returned to you
by them.
We could look at almost any part
of our lives and wish that there were
evidence of more ? even any ? xenia.
I think of it every time I walk past a
nearby block of ?ats sporting a notice
that reads ?Private property: no
loitering?. The pavement isn?t private
property, I reason, and what counts
as loitering? Then I remember that
I?m not the one being kept awake at
night by loiterers who surely can?t be
entirely爄maginary.
It is easier to quarrel over the colour
of passports than it is to hold the
Home Office to account over its policies towards immigrants and asylum
seekers. It is easier to direct your anger
at Nigel Farage, or to Momentum, or
even to the impotent, frothing headline
writers of the Daily Mail, so obsessed
with rooting out traitors and malcontents, than it is to think about what will
move us away from this painful, zero
sum game of mistrust and accusation.
The culture of denunciation rather
than disagreement is a dangerous one.
There are situations ? of abuses of
power, of corruption, of violence, many
of which we have seen this year ? that
require denunciation, in which anger
is a proper response and anything less
is a form of appeasement to oppressors. But there is also, surely, a way that
we might adopt the basic principles
of xenia ? offering support, showing
friendship, expecting it in return ?
that might free us from thinking the
worst, narrowing our options, cutting
off those who might help us to see the
world from a different perspective.
This is immensely pious and we fear
piety ? or virtue-signalling, as we now
call it. I?ll take the risk and hope it will
save me from shouting at a screen, terminally furious and frustrated, unable
to change a damn thing.
24.12.17
COMMENT | 33
*
Inexorably, Trump is
taking apart the New
Deal?s glorious legacy
With huge tax cuts projected to create a $1.5tn de?cit,
cuts to social security and Medicare will surely follow
Heather Cox
ox
Richardson
n
@HC_Richardson
S
ince January, there have been frightening
signs that America is becoming an oligarchy overseen by a dictator. From the ?rst,
Donald Trump has followed an authoritarian playbook, beginning with his rejection of
objective reality. Forced early on to defend the
assertion that the crowd at Trump?s inauguration was the biggest ever witnessed, presidential
spokesperson Kellyanne Conway explained
that the administration used ?alternative facts?.
Since then, the president has repeatedly attacked
fact-based media as ?fake news?. Indeed, with
his insistence on an alternative reality, Trump
sometimes seems like an elderly Fox News-addled
neighbour suddenly given power to make his
bizarrely warped view of America real.
But now, it feels all too real, with Trump delivering on the economic core of his vision. He has
slashed regulations that protect workers, walked
away from the Trans-Paci?c Partnership, attacked
the Affordable Care Act (?Obamacare?) and gutted
the government. Finally, in a dramatic ?win? for his
administration, the Republicans last week passed
a major tax overhaul that slashes taxes primarily
for the wealthy and is projected to create an almost
$1.5tn dollar de?cit. Republicans have already said
that the only way to address that shortfall will be
with cuts to Medicare and social爏ecurity.
Since Democratic president Franklin Delano
Roosevelt established the New Deal in the 1930s,
radical conservatives have railed against the idea
that the government should intervene in the
economy. The New Deal responded to the Great
Crash and the ensuing Depression by regulating
business, providing a basic social safety net and
promoting infrastructure in order to maintain a
level playing ?eld for all Americans. Opponents
countered this principle by arguing that the
government must not hem in America?s business
leaders. In their view, government regulations
and laws to bene?t poorer members of society
crippled leaders? ability to prosper and, since their
prosperity drove the economy by trickling down
to everyone else, such laws destroyed progress.
But the New Deal was wildly popular, so conservatives sold their reactionary economic vision
by enlisting white racism. As the federal government promoted civil rights, they warned that an
active government redistributed the wealth of
hard-working, white taxpayers to African Americans, a ?special interest? that wanted better treatment than everyone else. In contrast, conservatives offered the image of the American cowboy
individualist.
Ronald Reagan, with his derision of the welfare
queen and his mantra that ?government is not
the solution to our problem; government is the
problem?, rode that racist anti-government cowboy image into the White House. Trump is this
conservative macho individualist exaggerated to
caricature. He brags about how he knows better
than anyone how to run a successful business, how
to ?ght Isis, how to ?nd ?the best people? for office.
While Reagan hinted at the discrimination
inherent in the conservative worldview, Trump
revels in it. But Trump delivered not just on the
racism and sexism of the individualist vision, but
also on its economics. In short, Republicans under
Trump have ?nally destroyed the New Deal,
turning the government over to a small cadre of
wealthy businessmen, unhampered, to run the
country as they see ?t. When Republican Senate
candidate Roy Moore put on his cowboy hat and
rode his horse to the polls in Alabama in December, he was deliberately embodying Republican
individualist principles.
And therein lies the rub. Moore lost the election. As Republicans under Trump have converted
the nation into an oligarchy of rich individualists,
Trump?s extreme macho individualism has bred a
backlash.
Since 1980, Republican shredding of the social
safety net has disproportionately hit women,
particularly women of colour. At the same time,
the Republican vision de?ned women primarily as
wives and mothers and suggested that since men
took care of their dependants, any woman protesting against her deteriorating conditions was
demanding special legislation. The election of a
man who used his privilege not to protect women
Homelessness is up 4% in New York this year. Across
the US, 553,000 people are without a home. Getty
but to assault them gave women a clear way to
rally against Republican individualism.
I
n October, the New York Times?s expos� of
?lm mogul Harvey Weinstein, who controlled
women?s access to work by demanding sexual
favours, lit the #MeToo movement. One
powerful man after another fell before what is
not simply a pushback against sexual assault, but
is a rejection of the worldview that privileged
dominant men.
Nowhere has the rejection of that vision been
clearer than in the victory of Democrat Doug
Jones over Roy Moore. Voters chose Jones, the
federal prosecutor who brought to justice two
Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963
Birmingham church bombing that killed four
African American girls, over Moore, an alleged
sexual爌redator.
In 2017, Trump brought to life the alternative
reality portrayed on Fox News, the individualist
vision designed to destroy the New Deal. Now
that it is exposed to reality, Americans reject it.
Trump?s approval rating is at 35%, a historical low.
Nonetheless, it is not clear that democracy
will爌revail. Trump admires not America?s demo-
He brags about how he
knows better than anyone
how to ?ght Isis and to ?nd
the ?best people? for o?ce
cratic allies but autocrats: Turkey?s President
Erdo?an, North Korea?s Kim Jong-un and Russia?s
Vladimir Putin. He has shown astonishing disregard for the law, ?outing nepotism and emoluments rules and treating regular government
procedures, including the authority of Congress,
with disdain.
He has tried to undermine the FBI and American intelligence agencies, shows a disturbing
affinity for Putin and Russian oligarchs, and has
tried to undermine the authority of special counsel, Robert Mueller, charged with examining the
role of Russia in the 2016 election. Acting again
from the autocrat?s playbook, he has repeatedly
attacked the press and has packed the courts:
appointing the supreme court justice Republicans
denied to President Barack Obama and 12 circuit
judges, more in a year than any other president in
history.
And Trump has followers who appear to be
willing to rally around him, no matter what he
does, even, perhaps, to dismiss as ?fake news? any
evidence of collusion with Russia that Mueller
produces or, maybe, as the president suggested, to
let him ?stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and
shoot somebody?. If Republican leaders are willing to enable Trump?s autocratic enthusiasms in
return for oligarchy, American democracy will die.
In the 1850s, when a small group of rich
slaveholders took the government away from the
majority and tried to create an oligarchy, Abraham
Lincoln implored Americans to work to guarantee
?that government of the people by the people for
the people, shall not perish from the earth?.
Words for Americans to think about in the
year�18.
Heather Cox Richardson is a professor of history at
Boston College
Who really pays for Manchester City?s beautiful game?
Nick
Cohen
@NickCohen4
E
ven though I come from the
red side of Manchester, I want
Manchester City to win every
game they play now. Hoping
City fail is like hoping a great singer?s
voice cracks or prima ballerina?s tendons tear. Journalists have written and
broadcast millions of words about the
intensity of Manchester City?s game
and the beauty of its movement. You
watch and gasp as each perfect pass
?nds its man and each impossible move
becomes possible after all.
Everything that can be said should
have been said. But here are words
you never hear on the BBC or Sky and
hear only rarely from the best sports
writers. Manchester City?s success is
built on the labour extracted by the
rulers of a modern feudal state. Sheikh
Mansour, its owner, is the half-brother
of Sheikh Khalifa, the absolute monarch of the United Arab Emirates: an
accident of birth that has given him a
mountain of cash and Manchester City
the Premier League?s best players.
An absolute monarchy is merely a
dictatorship decked in ?ne robes. The
usual restrictions of free speech, a free
press, the rule of law, an independent
judiciary and democratic elections
still apply in the Emirates federation
of seven sultanates. Critics are as
likely to disappear or be held without
due process as they are in less glamorous destinations. The riches that
supply Pep Guardiola?s �m salary
and ensure the �4m wage bill for
the players is met on time do not just
come from oil. The Emirate monarchies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia rely on
a system of economic exploitation you
struggle to ?nd a precedent for.
In the UAE as a whole, only 13% of
the population are full nationals. In
the glittering tourist resort of Dubai,
citizenship rises slightly to 15% and
in the Abu Dhabi emirate to 20%, but
everywhere a subclass of immigrants
does the bulk of the work. The obvious
comparison is with apartheid: Arab
nationals sit at the top, white expats
have some privileges, as the coloureds
and Asians had in the last days of the
South African regime, while the dirty
work ? from construction to cleaning
? is done by despised immigrants from
south Asia.
But comparisons with apartheid
or the Israeli occupation of the West
Bank or America?s old deep south
miscarry because the Arab princelings
import their working class rather than
rule over subdued inhabitants. It?s
like Spartans bringing in Helots. Or
if images of stern Spartan militarists
feel incongruous when imposed on
the ?abby bodies of Gulf aristocrats,
Eloi importing Morlocks. Timid labour
reforms are meant to have improved
the lot of the serfs. In law, employers
can no longer keep them in line with
the threat of deportation to India or
the Philippines if they do not please a
capricious boss. In practice, absolute
monarchies repress the lawyers and
campaigners who might take up their
cases. Now, as always, activists are
silenced and workers fear the cost of
speaking out.
You should be able to praise
Manchester City?s football and condemn it owners. Or, if that is asking
too much, you should at least be able
to talk about its owners or mention
the source of their wealth. If only
in passing. If only the once. Instead,
there is silence. With Mansour building a global consortium of clubs,
Qataris owning Paris Saint-Germain
and Emirate money poised to buy
Newcastle United, rich dictatorial
states are engaging in competitive
conspicuous consumption. They are
creating the world?s best clubs and may
one day take them off into an oligarchs?
league. You are not ?bringing politics
into football? when you worry about
Sheikh Mansour. You are recognising
that the future of football is political.
The silence about the fate of the
national game covers much of national
life. Everywhere you look, you are
struck by the arguments that are not
being made.
Mainstream Conservatives refuse
to join Tory rebels in speaking out
against the dangers of Brexit. They
like to boast that they are stable and
commonsensical types, with no time
for dangerous experiments. When confronted with the reckless nationalism
of the Tory right, however, they prefer
the safe option of keeping quiet until
public opinion shifts. Many Labour
MPs and leftwing journalists deplore
Corbyn and the far left. I speak from
experience when I say they talk with
great eloquence in private, but will
not utter a squeak of dissent in public
until Corbyn?s popularity among party
members falls. They, too, will speak
out when, and only when, they can be
certain that it is too late for speaking
out to make a difference.
W
e think of ourselves as
more liberated than our
ancestors, but the same
repressive mechanisms
silence us. In the 18th and 19th centuries, few wanted to say that gorgeous
stately homes and ?ne public buildings had been built because the British
looted Indians and enslaved Africans.
Today, it feels equally ?inappropriate?
? to use a modern word that stinks of
Victorian prudery ? to say that a beautiful football club has been built on the
proceeds of exploitation.
Football supporters reserve their
hatred for owners such as the Glazers,
who bought Manchester United
with borrowed money and siphoned
off the club?s pro?ts to pay down
the debt. If billions are available to
turn Manchester City or Paris SaintGermain into world-class clubs, the
fans do not care where the money
came from. Nor do neutrals who love
football for its own sake. For them, it is
as miserablist to talk about Manchester
City?s owners on Match of the Day as
to talk about the factory farming of
turkeys at the Christmas lunch table.
Honest sports writers fear the
accusation that they are joyless puritan
nags whose sole pleasure is ruining the
pleasure of others. In Britain?s vacuous
politics, Conservatives fear accusations
of ignoring the will of the people on
Brexit. Labour MPs fear their activists rather than their voters. In both
the Tory and Labour cases, the worst
that can happen to MPs is deselection.
Mail or Express journalists who came
out against Brexit would, I imagine,
risk their jobs or being moved on to a
different story. But no leftwing paper
would sack a columnist who criticised
Corbyn. The worst they would endure
is frosty words from line managers and
twaddle on Twitter.
We do not live in Abu Dhabi. The
police do not pick up dissidents. Jailers
don?t torture them. Yet peer pressure
and trivial fears are enough to suppress necessary arguments. If you do
not yet have a New Year resolution, it?s
worth resolving to treat both with the
contempt they deserve.
34 | COMMENT
*
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THE BIG ISSUE SECULAR SOCIETY
There?s plenty of good news
coming out of the Welsh valleys
A loss of Christian vocabulary
devalues Britain?s national life
Nick Cohen wonders how we talk
about human values when traditional
religious language loses signi?cance
(?In losing religion we lose touch with
each other?, last week). In the 20th
century, theologian Daphne Hampson
argued that after Christianity, we
must ?nd ways of talking about God
in the language of our day, as Jesus of
Nazareth and others did in theirs. She
isn?t the only feminist thinker to be
undervalued.
If all language about God is ?gurative, this surely includes the word God.
Nowadays, ?God? seems like a proper
noun, a personal name. The word can
be an obstacle to recognising what is
sacred to human beings.
Cohen is correct to write about such
things, though I don?t agree that all
gods, including God, are inventions
from humanity?s childhood. I?m not
more grown-up than Homer, Abraham
or their advocates; and I think there are
more dubious gods around these days
than we commonly recognise.
Janet Dub�
Peebles
I do wonder if there is a connection
between decline in the British religious
impulse, and the decline in the creative
work-ethic of British people to invest
for manufacturing exports. These
exports are needed to pay for needed
imports, and to curtail the ?nancial
debt-spiral that is taking resources from
the NHS, education and social services.
The study of the economics of
religion does suggest a relationship
between religious participation and
positive socio-economic outcomes.
Nick Cohen?s
column last week.
Secularisation removes this bene?t. It
may be that many British people face a
harsh future because of personal character changes partly brought about by
secularisation since the 1960s. Surely it
is through the very being, hearts, souls
and minds of people that a future needs
to be forged.
A good religious impulse can be very
bene?cial in this regard. Without it the
future looks bleak ? particularly for the
vulnerable in our society.
Barry E Jones
Malvern
I very much enjoyed Nick Cohen?s
piece about the loss of religious
imagery in Christmas cards and the
glut of Advent calendars, promising nothing but sweets or make?up.
I agree with his central premise, but
take issue with his claim that we still
understand the idea of the prodigal
son. In more than 30 years of teaching religious studies in many schools I
have seldom met a pupil, however able,
FOR THE RECORD
A column headlined ?Jeremy Corbyn is
being driven by the ?left-behind? middle
class? (Comment, 17 September) was
incorrect to state that a poem in praise
of the Labour leader had been read
out by a devotee at a meeting of the
Hornsey and Wood Green constituency
Labour party. We now understand that
an attempt was made to read a poem
but this was blocked by a councillor
who was later deselected and replaced
by a Momentum candidate.
Our report on the ?nal of Strictly Come
Dancing referred to ?what is sadly
becoming the annual Strictly race row
? despite two past non-white winners?. There have actually been four:
Mark Ramprakash, Alesha Dixon,
Louis Smith and Ore Oduba (?Holby
who was familiar with the lovely word
?prodigal?. So much more meaningful
than the modern substitute ?lost?.
Jane Kearey
Bristol
Nick Cohen cogently argues that in
losing religion we lose touch with
one another, and writes of the importance of language associated with
religion. No longer a believer, I retain
huge gratitude for early exposure to
Cranmer?s Book of Common Prayer and
the King James Bible, which so greatly
in?uence our spoken language and
literature and facilitate communication. However, it is possible that as
we no longer use familiar idioms in
their religious context we forget their
signi?cance. A爇indly friend explained
how she alone had sought to support
a woman in distress on a train because
she had lost her luggage. ?Everybody
else just turned the other cheek.?
Andrew Bunbury
London SW12
TOP 10 ONLINE LAST WEEK
City star Joe McFadden and Katya
Jones march off with Strictly crown?,
News, later editions last week, page 5).
A recipe for singed pine custard tart
(Food Monthly, last week, page 32)
suggested trimming ?eight pine twigs?
from a Christmas tree to singe before
infusing in cream. Christmas trees
are almost never pines but usually
spruce or ?r and they can sometimes
be sprayed with pesticides. Make sure
you use an edible variety of pine and
be careful not confuse pine with yew,
which is toxic. Merry Christmas.
Write to Stephen Pritchard, Readers?
Editor, the Observer, York Way, London
N1 9GU, email observer.readers@
observer.co.uk tel 0203 353 4656
24.12.17
Read them at observer.co.uk
1. Call o? Brexit bullies or face defeat,
Conservative peers tell May
2. Nigel Farage claims he is ?skint? and
says ?there?s no money in politics?
3. Ethan Hawke: ?The most romantic
thing I?ve done is have sex?
4. Outnumbered, defeated ? where
next for the diehard Brexiters?
5. Poo, nits and handsy dads: what
professionals think about your kids
6. ?There?s no life here?: a journey into
Britain?s precarious future
7. I?ve fallen in love with the friend who
saved my life Dear Mariella
8. Strictly crowns Katya Jones and Joe
McFadden in a sea of schmaltz
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi review
10. Hidden gems of 2017: great albums
It is important that stark regional
inequalities and the resulting impacts
on people and communities that exist
across our country are recognised and
responded to (?There?s no life here
at all: a journey to the heartlands of
Britain?s future?, News, last week). In
the case of Ebbw Vale and the towns of
the adjoining valleys, the communities
grew as a result of the minerals of the
area and the resulting coal and steel
industries. These have now gone, so it is
necessary to identify the assets that can
provide the basis for a new future. Most
important among these are the people.
James Bloodworth rightly highlights
the need for continued investment in
education and skills. The warmth and
welcoming nature of the communities
is also an asset in itself. So, too, is the
striking landscape, investment in road
and rail connections to cities such as
Newport, Cardiff and Bristol, and the
area?s heritage.
For the future, skills investment,
infrastructure and measures to address
health issues are clearly of vital
importance. But so, too, is developing
a new narrative and helping to build
con?dence and aspiration. Fantastic
things are happening in and around
Ebbw Vale through the effort, passion and commitment of local people
and organisations. These include the
international award-winning Green
Valley Films and associated community ?lm project Made in Tredegar, the
multiplicity of arts, training and other
activity run by the Ebbw Vale Institute,
the Market Hall cinema in Brynmawr,
which is the oldest in Wales and run
as a community enterprise, and the
construction of an aeroplane by Coleg
Gwent students.
As with all places, the future lies in
providing local people with the capacity to take and create opportunities and
also in its discovery by new people and
the energy and ideas they can bring.
Mel Clinton
Cheddar, Somerset
First-past-the-post blues
John Naughton (??Weaponised? social
media isn?t Brexit?s smoking gun?, New
Review, last week) is right to point up
the relationship between voting systems and political outcomes.
It?s not fanciful to equate the shoddy
?rst-past-the-post system with Trump
and Brexit: a disempowered electorate
will be more likely to kick out against
the political classes. Only the US and
UK use ?rst-past-the-post. No new
country, and no other country in the
EU, has opted for this electoral system.
One of the issues with it is the number of ?wasted? votes, votes which do
not contribute to a result, something
that single transferable votes in multimember constituencies does away
with. Ireland and Northern Ireland
use this system. The Electoral Reform
Society calculates that 68% of votes
were wasted in the last general election
and in ?ve constituencies, over 90% of
votes were wasted.
One of the bene?ts of any proportional system is that it gives voice and
representation to minor parties. This
produces higher turnouts, more political parties and more activism.
Jim McCallum
Leicester
Children?s privacy at risk
We write to warn that a new data
collection will put schoolchildren
in England at lifelong risk from next
month. The government must pause,
rethink and put children?s best interests ?rst.
The Department for Education will
collect reasons why children move
from mainstream school into alternative provision education. Those
sensitive reasons include a mental or
physical health need, pregnancy, and
whether a child moved to a young
offender institution. These labels will
be added to a child?s named record in
the National Pupil Database, which
now holds the personal con?dential
data of over 23 million people without
their knowledge or consent.
Data released to more than 1,000
third parties since March 2012 have
not been anonymous and already
include details of special educational
needs when given away, even for commercial re-use. While the government
talks about giving children?s personal
data special protections, and privacy by
design, its actions do not. We must see
safeguards put in place to uphold children?s rights. If the department cannot
stop the distribution of identifying data
for indirect purposes, and commit to
the rights of the child, the government
should not collect the data at all.
Alliance for Inclusive Education
Biometrics in Schools
The Campaign for State Education
and 16 others (see observer.co.uk)
Selling Britain by the pound
Readers of an older vintage must be
astonished by the relaxed way that
today?s pundits treat hostile takeovers
(?Is the global desire to buy British
a bad thing for our tech sector??,
Business, last week). At one time, losing a famous British name or prized
bit of tech would have been a cause for
national concern. Today?s airy unconcern probably derives from Margaret
Thatcher and Nigel Lawson?s desire to
have a bon?re of our national assets to
fund tax cuts and win elections.
Germany has a slightly different
system, in which the major stakeholders in a company have enough votes to
ward off foreign takeovers and where
there are commercial banks eager to
support German companies. Perhaps it
also has a greater culture of patriotism
in its politicians. Tottenham Hotspur
may need to sell to survive. The ?fth
richest country in the world should not
be in that position.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent
Friends should not be treated the way UK has treated Ireland
Brexit calculations have paid all too
o
little attention to their impact on Eire,
re,
writes former taoiseach John Bruton
on
L
et me ?rst try to explain why
the handling of Brexit by the
UK led to a crisis in Anglo-Irish
relations. Treaties between
nations are like contracts between
individuals. They in?uence how each
party behaves, towards one another and
towards the rest of the world. While a
contract or a treaty can be withdrawn
from, there is a legitimate expectation
that this will only be done with careful
advance consideration of how this will
affect the other parties to the treaty or
contract. This is not just a legal expectation, but an expectation of the sort of
civility that should apply in relations
between people and nations.
One also takes for granted that, if
the withdrawing party wants a new or
different contract with the same parties,
it will say in advance what it wants that
relationship to be. Even now, Ireland
has no clear idea what sort of relationship, compatible with the EU rules the
UK helped make, the UK wants with
the EU, and hence with Ireland. As the
country most affected by Brexit, there is
deep disappointment in Ireland that our
neighbour the UK has not been able, in
respect of Brexit, to live up to the normal expectations I have just outlined.
Forty-four years ago, Ireland and the
UK signed the same contract with one
another, and with the seven other countries that then made up the European
Common Market. We each renewed
that contract several times, in the UK?s
case with the sovereign approval of its
parliament. We each expected that the
others would continue to honour the
contract and we shaped our institutions and our economies on that basis.
In particular, when Ireland and the
United Kingdom negotiated the Belfast
and St Andrews Agreements, to resolve
the ongoing con?icts in and around
Northern Ireland, we each did so on the
unquestioned assumption that the UK
would continue to be an EU member.
We each assumed that the freedoms
created by membership of the EU could
continue to be used to strengthen relations between the two communities in
Northern Ireland, between North and
South, and between Ireland and Britain.
The renegotiation and referendum
process initiated by David Cameron,
which has led to Brexit, seemed to us in
Ireland to have been designed in a way
that took no account of the obligations
and expectations the UK had created in
Belfast and at St Andrews.
During the renegotiation phase, the
Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, supported
Cameron?s attempt to improve the special status the UK already had in the EU,
even though some concessions the UK
were given weren?t in Ireland?s interest.
Irish people saw other problems with
the process that led to Brexit. The com-
plex UK/EU relationship was reduced
to a simple ?Leave? or ?Remain? choice.
While it was clear what ?Remain?
meant, no effort was made by the government sponsoring the referendum
to say what sort of ?Leave? it would
choose. So ?Leave? became a vehicle
for fantasies and wishful thinking of the
most egregious kind. Explanations of
the choices between different forms of
Brexit ? such as whether to stay in the
customs union and the single market ?
were left until the people had voted.
T
here was no deliberative process
to inform public opinion, something one would have expected
of the UK parliament, one of the
oldest democratic deliberative bodies
in the world. The referendum was not
preceded by detailed green and white
papers. Thus, there was no informed
debate about the impact of Brexit on
the Irish border, and many other issues.
It is only in the past week that the UK
government has started to consider the
sort of post-Brexit relationship it will
ask for. In doing so, it will have to take
account of the fact that the EU works
because it is a single legal order, with a
single system that makes, implements
and adjudicates on the meaning of
shared EU rules. The UK has a sovereign right to decide what it would like,
but it cannot expect the EU to change
its very nature, just to accommodate a
country that is leaving.
In preparing its proposal, the UK will
need to take into account the Interlaken
principles that govern EU relations with
third countries, and the EU community
customs code, both of which UK ministers helped to draft. When it has done
this, the UK government can compare
the special position it already enjoys as
a voting EU member, with what the EU
is able to offer it as a non-member. Then
it can make an informed decision. We
are each allowed to change our minds in
our private lives, if the issue is important enough. Nations might sometimes
allow themselves the same privilege.
John Bruton served as Irish prime
minister from 1994 to 1997
24.12.17
*
Contact us Email financial@theguardian.com
Phone 020 3353 4791 Fax 020 3353 3196
| 35
Business
Agenda Happy holidays
MAKING THE NEWS
Markets rally as Trump
plays Santa on taxes
It?s a tradition of stock markets that
December usually sees a Santa rally.
This year, though, we?ve had a tax rally,
thanks to Donald Trump?s businessfriendly ?scal reforms, which ?nally
made their tortuous way through the
US legislative process.
With just a few days left until the
end of the year, US and UK markets
are close to their record highs, with
the FTSE 100 hitting a new peak a
couple of days ago. Despite this belated
achievement, the UK index has lagged
others throughout the year, and even
though European markets have fallen
back recently on political concerns
? German uncertainty and the latest
Catalan election result ? they have still
outpaced UK shares thanks to Brexit
worries and a recovering pound.
But there is still a week to go and
although the FTSE 100 is unlikely to
make up lost ground on Europe and
the US, it could still push to new peaks,
as could Wall Street. A dearth of news
is likely to make for some lacklustre
volumes, but consequently could lead
to volatility. Chris Beauchamp, chief
market analyst at IG, summed it up:
?[The week ahead] promises to be a
quiet one, as the corporate calendar
dries up and the economic schedule is
quite bereft. Now tax reform is out of
the way, the last question for the year
is, will the Dow hit 25,000? At present,
it seems unwilling to move higher, but
given the light volumes of next week
there is still a chance to pull one more
rabbit from the hat.?
New York traders: a good week.
Mad dash to shops ? or
dashed hopes for retail?
Today is the ?nal shopping day before
Christmas and high street retailers will
be hoping that consumers are out in
force looking for last-minute gifts. And
that they?ll come back on Boxing Day
for the sales.
Shopkeepers continue to face severe
difficulties, with growing competition
from online businesses and a squeeze
on household ?nances, as well as
hefty爎ate bills.
Christmas used to be the key time
BY NICK
FLETCHER
REVERSE THRUST
of the year, but these days retailers
fear that the Black Friday event
cannibalises festive sales, with
customers picking up bargains in
November rather than paying full
price in December. Indeed, according
to a CBI report last week, sales in the
run-up to Christmas rose by less than
expected. Even the hoped-for boost on
Boxing Day may be curtailed by people
ordering goods online as soon as the
Christmas turkey is eaten.
So look out this coming week for any
retail pro?t warnings, with companies
obliged to update the stock market as
soon as they know they will not meet
City expectations.
Last year saw a warning from Next
about its poor Christmas performance
that sent the whole sector into a
tailspin, while previous years had seen
the likes of Game Digital, Sports Direct
and Debenhams report worse-thanexpected seasonal sales.
As it happens, Next was the biggest
riser on the FTSE 100 on Friday: so
perhaps we should expect good news
this time.
Pre-new-year is time
for the annual meeting
Anyone looking for a bit of
entertainment in the post-Christmas
and pre-new-year lull might be
spoiled for choice ? at least if they are
shareholders in a clutch of companies
that have chosen one of the quietest
weeks of the year to hold their annual
meetings.
In London? Then Sirius Petroleum is
the one for you. The company recently
raised $9m to start drilling at a well
in Nigeria, and Wednesday is the day
when investors can catch up with all
the gripping details.
The same day in Reading, IT group
cloudBuy is asking investors to approve
a �4m cash injection from one of
its main shareholders, Roberto Sella.
It says that, despite a recent costcutting programme, it needs some
form of additional funding to avoid the
prospect of insolvency, so it may be
worth shareholders making the effort.
The following two days see, ?rstly,
drug development group Evgen
Pharma asking investors to turn up
in Wilmslow, and then, on Friday,
Andalas Energy and Power expecting
people to trek to the Isle of Man to quiz
directors. Both companies are also
asking for approval of fundraising.
Still, with luck, there may be some
refreshment at the meetings. It?s
the least the companies could do
to justify the unsociable timing of
their gatherings. Let?s hope it?s not
just leftover turkey sandwiches and
unwanted mince pies.
Michael O?Leary must be dreaming of a
flight Christmas. The Ryanair boss, faced
with the threat of potentially damaging strikes in the run-up to the festive
getaway, did a sudden reverse and agreed
to acknowledge trade unions representing pilots and cabin crew for the first time
in the airline?s 32-year history. He once
said this would only happen when hell had
frozen over, but needs must and all that.
The move was enough to halt most of
the planned industrial action, although it
was not a complete success, with talks in
Germany collapsing and pilots there striking for a few hours on Friday morning.
O?Leary is now hoping the gamble
pays off, and enough passengers use the
airline?s services over the festive period
to make the U-turn worthwhile. The row
has been rumbling for some time, and in
October O?Leary wrote to pilots offering
better pay and conditions after the airline
VITAL STATISTIC
PEOPLE
LONG BLOCKCHAIN CORP
Share price, US dollars
8
6
4
2
0
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
was forced to cancel thousands of flights.
It admitted to having ?messed up? the
planning of pilots? holidays.
Meanwhile, Ryanair has been called to
appear before MPs at the business and
work and pensions committees to answer
allegations about poor working conditions.
The airline suggested it would respond in
January, but said claims about cabin crew
pay and conditions were false.
Photograph by Stefan Rousseau/PA
A
S
O
N
D
In another sign of the frothiness of
cryptocurrencies, US soft drinks group
Long Island Iced Tea Corporation saw its
shares soar after it said it was changing
its name to Long Blockchain Corporation,
even though so far it has no investments
or partnerships in the technology.
Quote of the week goes to Chris
Cummings, chief executive of the
Investment Association. Following the
inclusion of several of Britain?s biggest
businesses on a list of ?rms rewarding
bosses with excessive pay and ignoring
investor concerns, he said: ?A signi?cant
number of companies need to seriously
start listening to shareholders? views and
acting on them.?
A good week for Lord
Grade. The former
BBC chairman and
his business partner
Ivan Dunleavy invested �5,000 in music
rights business One Media IP, whose
catalogue includes the Tremeloes, the
Troggs and Ricky Valance. The company?s
shares more than doubled from 4.25p to
9.1p following news of Grade?s involvement,
giving him a healthy pro?t in just ?ve days.
A bad week for Victoria
Beckham. Increased
losses at her fashion
business helped push
pro?ts at Beckham Brand Holdings ? which
includes husband David?s sponsorship
earnings ? down by 61% last year, though
the couple received about �m in dividends
over the past couple of years. Victoria was
also criticised after posting a picture of
couple drinking a �500 bottle of wine.
*
36 | BUSINESS
24.12.17
2017: the sequel ?
seven lessons for
Hollywood after
worst blockbuster
summer in years
Traditional box-o?ce wisdom has been overturned ? but
new audiences are starting to emerge, writes Mark Sweney
A
string of critical and commercial duds failed to light
up the US box office as Hollywood endured its worst
summer in 25 years. But it
was a good year overall for
the global ?lm market, with the boxoffice total set to edge ahead of 2016
with sales of more than $39bn (�bn).
Here are some lessons that the ?lm
business will have learned from some
of the year?s most prominent releases.
GLOBAL BOX OFFICE TAKINGS
US dollars
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
10.2
10.8
10.9
10.4
US
Other
22.4
Total
32.6
34.7
23.9
24.7
26.3
11.1
35.6
36.7
27.8
38.9
27.4
38.8
27.9
39.0
1. KING ARTHUR
Take $149m; budget $175m
A bad summer does not make a bad
year for Hollywood
2016
As the summer movie season drew to
a close in late August, Hollywood ?lm
bosses were in a state of panic. The
US box office, the biggest in the world,
had had its worst performance in more
than two decades. Takings were down
50% to $3.8bn, the lowest since 2006,
and cinema attendance hit a low not
seen since 1992. Summer hits such
as Wonder Woman and Spider-Man:
Homecoming failed to offset a string of
?ops including Baywatch, Tom Cruise?s
remake of The Mummy, and King
Arthur, which received a particularly
scathing reaction from critics and audiences. ?The box office suffered because
of underperforming sequels and
remakes, audiences tired of the same
old retreads and reboots,? says Paul
Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at
the research ?rm comScore. However,
a change in attitude by studios towards
the traditional summer blockbuster
season means big box-office hits are
starting to be sprinkled throughout the
year. Traditional summer ?lms Beauty
and the Beast and The Fate of The
Furious appeared in March and April,
and the now annual stocking-?ller of
a Star Wars hit at Christmas means
the US box office is set to recover to be
nearly ?at at $11.1bn ? while the international market has grown. ?It used
to be that summer set the tone for the
entire year in regards to box office, but
that?s just not the case anymore,? says
Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at
Exhibitor Relations, a research ?rm.
11.4
2017 (estimates)
11.1
2. WOLF WARRIOR 2
Take $870m, 98% from China
China is still booming
China has grown rapidly to become
the second largest ?lm market in the
world, and success there can be trans-
formative. Take the phenomenon of
the Chinese action sequel Wolf Warrior
2. It took $870m globally, the vast
majority from the domestic box office
? the second biggest take by a ?lm in a
single market, passing Avatar?s US performance and only behind Star Wars:
The Force Awakens in the US. Disneyowned Pixar?s animation Coco has
just passed the milestone of being the
studio?s ?rst ?lm to bring in more in
China than in North America. ?China
has been a saviour for Hollywood,? says
Bock. ?Studios go so far as to rewrite
and add elements to satisfy the Chinese
marketplace. No one else in the world
gets that kind of treatment.?
The latest outing of the ageing
Transformers franchise was saved by
its popularity in China, which was also
instrumental in driving The Fate of the
Furious over the $1bn mark globally.
3. JUSTICE LEAGUE
Take $636m; budget $300m
We are nearing peak superhero
Hollywood has become addicted to
the box-office powers of superhero
?lms. The success of Wonder Woman,
the second instalment of Guardians of
the Galaxy and the latest Spider-Man
?lm accounted for almost a third of
the total US summer box-office take.
But then there was Justice League
? Warner Bros bringing Superman,
Batman and Wonder Woman together
in an ensemble ?lm ? which ?opped
in the US, albeit with salvation coming
globally. ?The superhero problem is
that Disney?s [home of Guardians and
The launch of the fantasy adventure
Bright, starring A-listers Will Smith
and Joel Edgerton under the direction
of Suicide Squad?s David Ayer, marks
Net?ix?s biggest ?lm launch to date
and the latest statement of its intent to
challenge the Hollywood movie model.
?Is streaming killing the box office?
Yes, it most certainly is,? says Bock at
Exhibitor Relations. ?It is eroding it
at a pace more fast and furious than
expected.?
And it will get worse next year.
Net?ix, which has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide, has raised
its budget for buying and making TV
and ?lms to $8bn next year and is
doubling the number of original ?lms it
intends to release to 80 ? more than the
big ?ve Hollywood studios combined.
Bock says that what is really hurting
the industry is that big-name TV series
? such as Net?ix?s Stranger Things and
the �0m co-production The Crown
on selling its own handsets but can
administer everyone else?s. But the
biggest move may be on ?embedded?
software, where QNX is a crucial part
of a much bigger trend of making cars
and other vehicles that run almost
entirely on software.
BlackBerry has signed deals with
Ford and automotive parts makers
such as Denso, Delphi, Bosch and
Scion. Talking to the Wall Street
Journal, Chen said: ?The auto sector
is our best chance at revenue growth.?
QNX is able to handle real-time events
and multiple demands in a way that
software used on smartphones or PCs
cannot; more than 60 million vehicles
were using QNX by the end of 2015.
But most of them were using it for
entertainment systems; Chen wants
more. ?Infotainment is a handful of
dollars apiece,? he said. ?We?re trying
the Avengers] do ?ne, non-Disney
mostly don?t,? says Dergarabedian.
?But then there was [Warner Bros?s]
Wonder Woman?. By 2019, it has been
estimated that there will be at least
25 characters appearing in individual
and ensemble ?lms, raising the question of whether Hollywood is about
to hit peak superhero. ?There is some
evidence that while box-office returns
from superhero ?lms have increased
massively, this has been down to the
sheer volume of ?lms, and that the
amount made per ?lm is beginning to
decline,? says Richard Cooper, analyst
at research ?rm Ampere.
4. BRIGHT
Take: N/A
Streaming goes from strength to
strength thanks to Net?ix
Green shoots at BlackBerry? Fallen phone giant
turns its hand to software and self-driving cars
by Charles Arthur
Remember BlackBerry? The one-time
giant of smartphones has gone through
tumultuous times over the past six
years, and become a much smaller
software company. Its results last week
showed just how small: third-quarter
revenues were $226m (�9m), its
lowest three-monthly total since 2004,
with an operating loss of $258m.
The Canadian company?s chief
executive, John Chen, is a turnaround
specialist who believes that the
future is in self-driving cars, where
automakers and software ?rms see
huge promise. It is investing hope
in QNX, which it bought in 2010: a
maker of software that underpins car
entertainment and data systems.
That is a long way from the early
2000s, when BlackBerry was one
of the world?s biggest smartphone
makers and Apple had yet to launch
the all-conquering iPhone. A failure
to adapt to trends like keyboard-less
devices was its undoing as iPhones and
Android phones took off. Then came a
calamitous multi-billion bet on a new
phone operating system, BB10, in 2013.
It abandoned handsets last year and
the road ahead remains rocky ? not
least due to the state of its ?nances.
Nonetheless, analysts see potential
in the ashes. The stock jumped from
$11 to over $12 last week, as investors
liked what they found in the ?gures:
for instance, a new record for revenue
from software and services, at $199m.
BlackBerry stock is now back at levels
it hasn?t seen since mid-2013.
?It?s pretty impressive, beating on
both the top and bottom lines,? Ali
Mogharabi, an analyst at research
?rm Morningstar, told Reuters. ?The
growth speci?cally in enterprise
software is good to see.?
Chen was quietly famous for having
saved Sybase, which had looked in 1998
as if it might wither away. Chen saw
that the would-be database company
had lost out to Oracle, and decided to
focus on the ?unwired enterprise? ?
mobile services. That decision allowed
Sybase to regain its primacy in new
markets; it was sold to the enterprise
software giant SAP for $5.8bn in 2010,
compared to its market capitalisation
when Chen took over of $362m ? a
16-fold growth in value in 12 years.
But can he do it again at BlackBerry?
In many ways Chen is repeating the
formula that saved Sybase: look for
new opportunities while letting what
remains of the customer base cover
other costs. Thus he has focused on
the software side, where operating
margins often beat 50%, unlike
hardware, which often struggles to get
into double digits.
Speaking after the results, Chen
pointed to new contracts with the US
and Dutch governments, and with
Nato. BlackBerry?s purchase in 2015
of Good Technology, which writes
software for remote management of
smartphones, means it no longer relies
24.12.17
BUSINESS | 37
*
Hits and misses,
clockwise from
left: Wolf Warrior
2; Blade Runner
2049; Justice
League; Call me by
Your Name; and
Poppy Delevingne
in King Arthur.
Main photograph
by Beijing Century
Media
? have usurped Hollywood ?lms as
cultural talking points.
?The question these days isn?t what
movie have you seen, it is what series
have you been bingeing on recently,?
Bock爏ays.
5. THE LAST JEDI
Take $600m-plus; budget $200m
Disney is still king, despite what
fanboys say
Some diehard Star Wars fans may have
been critical of the latest ?lm in the
mega-franchise, but its force remains
strong at the global box office. The Last
Jedi has already passed the $600m
mark ? having notched up the second
largest opening weekend in history
behind 2015?s The Force Awakens ? and
is on course to hit $1bn by the end of
the year. Disney, which owns Star Wars
maker Lucas?lm, is set to top the global
BlackBerry has
gone from
smartphone giant
to small software
company. Getty
to enhance that with higher ASP
[average selling prices] by getting into
different components ? All the design
[contract] wins, whether with Denso
or Delphi, they?re in these areas that?s
beyond just traditional infotainment
systems. This is why I feel bullish
about the overall business on a longer
term in terms of growth.?
However, that?s in the future.
Despite the focus on more pro?table
software, pro?t remains elusive. Since
its slide started in 2011, BlackBerry has
made a net loss of $7.3bn, and though
$4bn of that was a writedown on
unsold handsets in autumn 2013, the
situation has not improved much since.
For the three quarters of this ?scal
year, net pro?t is $415m ? but that
includes an $815m payment related to
a dispute with chipmaker Qualcomm
over royalties, and a $137m payment
to Nokia over a patent row. Overall,
BlackBerry is $678m better off from
those disputes: but that shows how far
the rest of the business is from pro?t.
box office again in 2017. This year?s
clutch of hits also include Beauty and
the Beast, the biggest global ?lm of the
year so far, Guardians of the Galaxy 2
and Thor:燫agnarok.
Disney is realising the success of a
shrewd acquisition strategy over the
past decade, becoming the dominant
force in genres from superheroes to
animated children?s ?lms. In 2006, the
?The question these
days isn?t what
movie you have
seen, it is what series
have you been
bingeing on recently?
Je? Bock, analyst
company paid $7.4bn for Apple founder
Steve Jobs?s Pixar studio, the hit factory behind Finding Nemo and Toy
Story, to revive its once proud family
?lm division.
In 2009 came the surprise $4bn
Marvel purchase, bringing in 5,000
edgier characters including Iron Man,
Captain America and the Avengers.
This was followed with $4bn for
Lucas?lm, which also owns the
Indiana Jones franchise, in 2012. Then
this month, Disney announced it would
be buying�$66bn of assets from Rupert
Murdoch, including the 20th Century
Fox ?lm studio. The company can now
add franchises including Avatar ? the
highest grossing ?lm of all time which
is set for a series of sequels over the
next few years ? as well as X-Men,
Deadpool and the Fantastic Four
reuniting with the rest of the Marvel
family.
6. BLADE RUNNER: 2049
Take $258m; budget $150m
Sequels need to stay simple
Blade Runner: 2049 provided the year?s
cautionary lesson on sequels. The
revival promised so much, with the
return of Harrison Ford and the casting of Ryan Gosling to excite younger
?lm fans, but it only managed to make
$260m globally. Coming 35 years
after the original, and weighing in at
almost three hours, it failed to connect
with�lmgoers.
?It was one of the best movies of
2017, yet did not catch on because of
the relatively esoteric nature and lack
of familiarity to younger audiences,?
says Dergarabedian. This year, more
than 40 reboots, remakes and sequels
hit the screens in the hope of cashing
in on existing fanbases. As a general
rule, sequels make 10% to 15% less than
their predecessors, if they are lucky.
Nonetheless, Transformers, Pirates
of the Caribbean and the Fast and the
Furious brands attracted large global
sales despite signs of tiredness at home.
7. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Take $3.6m so far; budget $3.5m
There is still room for decent indies
The boom in big-budget drama fuelled
by Net?ix, which is increasingly luring
on- and off-screen talent, is putting
pressure on smaller-scale ?lms that
already struggle for audiences in
Hollywood?s shadow (studio ?lms
account for 92% of US box office). Yet
breakouts such as Call Me By Your
Name ? Luca Guadagnino?s comingof-age tale ? and Three Billboards
Outside燛bbing, Missouri, have proved
that there is still space for decent
smaller ?lms.
24.12.17
Analysis
*
BUSINESS | 39
Chief executives are hard to embarrass ? so
we need even tougher rules on pay disclosure
Chilly reality
awaits retailers
after basking in
Christmas glow
BUSINESS LEADER
T
heresa May has attacked
excessive boardroom pay
as the ?unacceptable face
of capitalism?. The prime
minister said in the summer
that too many ?rms fell ?short
of the high standards we expect of
them? when they ignored the concerns
of their shareholders by awarding pay
rises to bosses that far outstrip the
company?s performance.
Employers were also guilty of ignoring some of the most basic commitments to their employees, she said.
Understandably, the country expected
tough action to match the rhetoric.
Last week, one of the initiatives bore
fruit. The Investment Association, the
trade body for the fund management
industry, published the names of all the
companies listed on the London stock
exchange that suffered at least a 20%
shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives pay, re-election of
directors or other resolution at their
shareholder meetings.
The public register included on its
list the fashion label Burberry, broadcaster Sky, retailer Sports Direct, estate
agent Foxtons and Sir Martin Sorrell?s
advertising company WPP.
In the name of greater transparency,
May will open a second line of attack
in the form of rules obliging the same
?rms to publish by next June the pay
ratio between their chief executive and
their average British worker.
Chief executives? pay has soared in
recent years. A study by the Equality
Trust this year found that the average
FTSE chief executive earns 386 times
more than a worker on the ?national
living wage?. The charity used annual
reports from 2015 for all the companies
in the FTSE 100 to calculate that their
bosses pocket an average of �3m a
year, compared with �,662 for someone on the national living wage at the
time of �20 an hour.
Naming those companies under
attack from shareholders is considered
by ministers to be a big step in handing
workers the power to rein in excessive
awards. Greg Clark, the business secretary, billed the changes as a ?world-
C
The average FTSE chief executive earns 386 times more than those on the national living wage. Photograph by David Levene
leading package of corporate governance reforms?.
Equality campaigners took a different view. They said businesses would
emerge unscathed to award bosses
extravagant bonuses much as before,
especially after May watered down her
plans, leaving out proposals for workers on boards. Rebecca Long-Bailey,
Labour?s shadow business secretary,
said the proposals were ?just more
crony capitalism? that failed to impose
tough constraints on executive pay.
There is a philosophical point ? that
businesses should recover a moral
dimension ? that appears to be have
been lost in the last 30 years of grasping executive pay awards. The 18th
century economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith grounded his view
that business should be left unfettered
from government control in a belief
that owners of capital would behave
ethically. With this in mind, there
could be no better way to end excessive pay than by appealing to the better
nature of the company?s bosses or the
owners of the company?s shares.
For many people, this argument is
stretched to incredulity by an insular management class who appear
immune to embarrassment. They live
in a world where few people seem
to question high pay. Pension funds,
desperate to ?ll their ballooning de?cits, have a tendency to put bumper
dividends payments above issues like
executive rewards.
The rules could be tougher, but they
do raise a question: would people who
have refused to voluntarily restrain top
pay awards ? that is, the majority of
shareholders and directors ? comply
with new laws? Or would they join the
trend to take companies private, away
from the prying eyes of the public and
the most stringent government rules?
May has made provision for private
companies to publish pay data, but this
is voluntary. The temptation would be
to have a mandatory rule that encompasses all forms of ownership, whether
public or private. It is a temptation that
ministers should embrace.
Apple?s admission on batteries drains its users? goodwill
A
pple claimed last week that it
had had its customers? concerns
at heart when it admitted what
many users already suspected:
the tech giant deliberately slows down
older phones when their batteries start
to struggle.
An Apple spokesperson said: ?Our
goal is to deliver the best experience
for customers, which includes overall
performance and prolonging the life of
their devices.? But they are no fools at
Cupertino and they must have known
what would come next: a lawsuit from
disgruntled customers.
Apple now has a public relations
problem on its hands. Trust is an everrelevant issue in the tech sector, from
issues of privacy to the vulnerability of
your online life to hackers.
Apple has added to those concerns
unnecessarily. It is unlikely that the
battery story will have a material
impact on sales, but it will make it
harder to win back the public if the
company encounters more serious
problems in the future.
reditors usually wait for the
Christmas spending spree to
end before pulling the plug on
struggling retailers and there
is no reason to imagine that early 2018
will deviate from the normal pattern.
It would be a miracle if Toys R Us,
rescued last week, were to be the only
company having ?nancial difficulties at
this time of year.
After a surprisingly strong end to
2016, retailers have found life a lot
tougher in 2017. Firstly, consumer
spending has been subject to a nasty
squeeze on real incomes, with prices
rising faster than wages. The cannier
households realised in the months following the EU referendum that the fall
in the value of the pound would push
up the cost of imports and brought
forward purchases of big-ticket items.
That helps explain why business was
so brisk in the second half of 2016 and
has been weak ever since. New car
sales have been particularly soft.
Secondly, retailers have seen their
pro?ts squeezed by an above-in?ation
increase in the minimum wage and by
higher pension costs. They have sought
to pass on higher costs to consumers,
but this has not been all that easy when
household budgets are under pressure.
All this has come at a time when
retailing is going through a profound
change. Consumers know that they
can save time and money by shopping online, and this has come at the
expense of brick-and-mortar stores.
Life will get a bit easier in 2018, but
not by all that much. The main effects
of the pound?s depreciation after the
Brexit vote have now passed through
the economy, so the annual in?ation
rate will come down from its current
level of 3.1% over the coming months.
Average earnings growth, currently
running at an annual 2.3%, could also
edge up a bit, boosting spending power.
But the impact won?t be dramatic.
The economy has been over-reliant
on consumer spending as the engine of
growth, so some rebalancing towards
investment and production is actually
quite healthy. Retailers are unlikely to
see it that way, though.
Complacent regulators have two years to prevent a crash
ECONOMICS
ICS
Phillip
Inman
T
here is a complacency in the air
as we stumble into 2018. Global
economic forecasts are coated
with sugar. Stock markets keep
heading skywards and borrowing is
at an all-time high. Brexit may be a
brick through the window of the UK?s
economic outlook, but for the rest of
the developed world, the view is decidedly rosy.
Such is the exuberance among those
with plenty of spare cash that there is a
return of borrowing with the sole purpose of betting on stock market gains.
To this end, investors are using any
asset to hand ? their house, their pension or their deposit savings ? to get a
boost from the alpha funds that promise stellar returns. Bitcoin is another
feature of this relaxed attitude to risk.
Who needs safety nets when there is
no prospect of a fall? It?s not hard to
see why the picture looks so rosy and
why it is likely to conclude with an ugly
denouement.
Underpinning everything that makes
life easy are the ultra-low interest rates
of the past 10 years. Borrowing has
become cheaper and cheaper as banks
have used low rates to ?rst get their
balance sheets in order and then compete to offer better deals to businesses
and consumers.
The Bank for International
Settlements, known as the central
bankers? bank, has charted the real
interest rates offered globally and
concluded this month that they were at
their lowest level since records began.
It didn?t matter that the US Federal
Reserve started raising interest rates
in 2015 and has so far pushed the base
rate from 0.25% to 1.5%. Banks have
continued to cut each other?s throats
in爐he retail and corporate marketplaces for loans, offering lower and
lower rates each month to secure
new燽usiness.
Analysis by the ?nancial data provider Dealogic shows that companies
and governments have pushed their
collective borrowing to a new high
this year. The ?rm?s estimate of $6.8tn
of borrowing includes the debt issued
by countries like Argentina and Saudi
Arabia and mortgages sold as securities on ?nancial markets. It excludes
the safest government debt, such as US
treasuries and UK gilts, and debt issued
by local authorities.
A different measure of debt used by
the Institute of International Finance
estimates that a credit binge in emerging markets led by China has pushed
the global level of debt from 276% of
global GDP to 324%.
The Trump tax cuts are another spur
to those investors who would wish
away the prospect of a recession or,
worse, a ?nancial crash.
Donald Trump?s proposals are
expected to be signed into law sometime over the Christmas break or early
in the new year and look like injecting
$1.5tn into the US economy.
Wealthy Americans are expected to
gain the biggest bene?t and will most
The situation is
similar to 2005 when
interest rates were
rising and investors
were borrowing more
probably invest it in ?nancial markets.
They don?t need the money to ?nance
their lifestyles, so why not speculate
with it?
Already the Dow Jones index, the
main securities market in the US, is
soaring to new highs. In just ?ve and
a half years it has doubled in value to
almost 25,000 points.
Third on the list of catalysts is the
eurozone, which has woken up after
years of intermittent crisis following
the 2008 crash.
With the US accelerating on the
back of the Trump tax bill and China
re-energising its manufacturing sector, many European companies are
in demand, particularly if they have
machine tools, cars, pharmaceuticals
or marketing services to offer. Even
Brexit is seen by investors as a parochial event that can do little harm to
global growth.
All these forces delay a recession
that should be around the corner after
nine or 10 years of increased borrowing. The usual course of events would
dictate that a shake-out of debt-funded
companies drags on growth and even
sends the economy into reverse.
The late arrival of the eurozone to
the growth party, the Trump tax cuts
and the modest increases in inter-
est rates (carried out by the Federal
Reserve and signalled by the European
Central Bank), have all delayed the day
the shake-out occurs. And that means
the recession, when it comes, will be
deeper and more爃armful.
Maybe investors are right to heed
Janet Yellen?s valedictory message. The
departing US Federal Reserve chief
said the signals from the bond markets of a slowdown should be ignored.
There was, she said, a historical correlation between what was going on in
the bond markets at the moment and a
recession, but no ?causality?.
But listening to the Bank for
International Settlements might
be wiser, given that its former boss,
William White, warned about an
impending ?nancial crash 12 years ago.
In its latest global health check, it says
the situation is similar to 2005, when
interest rates were rising and investors
were ignoring the situation by borrowing more and taking bigger risks with
the cash.
That gives governments and regulators two to three years to prevent a
full-scale crash. At the moment nobody
appears to be paying any attention.
White is now at the OECD and making
the same warnings. Beware 2020: it
could be a very bad year.
40 | BUSINESS
*
Media
Press war on the
?pushy lady? risks
a Leveson revival
PRESS AND
BROADCASTING
Jane
Martinson
K
ate Maltby was accused
of ?immense narcissism?
and of ?demeaning? other
women who had ?legitimate
complaints? when she wrote
about being爌ropositioned
by a cabinet minister, as well as being
a disappointment to her family and a
?very pushy lady?.
The fallout from the forced resignation of that minister, Damian Green, is
likely to have huge rami?cations not
just for Theresa May?s government but
for the police force, enmeshed as it is in
separate allegations against Green over
porn found on his computer. But what
of its impact on the media, which both
aired the allegations and then set about
trashing the alleged victim?s name?
Just after Green?s ?resignation?
was announced, in a press conference meant to discuss Brexit, May was
asked: ?Have you done enough to deal
with sexual harassment? And have the
police questions to answer??
May ?libustered on the ?wide question? of harassment ? talking about
domestic violence strategies and grievance procedures ? but on the police she
was clearer, demanding an investigation into the release of the information.
Yet the media does have questions to answer over this sorry affair.
Columnists like the Sun?s Rod Liddle
have a right to suggest that women who
feel uncomfortable when powerful
men touch their knee and talk of promotion are part of a ?weird and obsessive campaign?. But should papers be
able to run character assassinations
which impugn their target?s motives
for every act ? even moving schools?
A ?friend? told the Mail?s Andrew
Pierce that Maltby?s parents were
?absolutely aghast by what Kate has
done.? When Green resigned, her
parents wrote of their pride in their
daughter, who had acted with courage ?despite the attempted campaign
in certain sections of the media to
denigrate and intimidate her and other
witnesses?. The Mail, to its credit,
published this statement.
Last week it defended the ?pushy
lady? spread. A spokesman pointed
out the paper had also published in full
Maltby?s article criticising Green, and
that with ?allegations which contributed to the ruin of a cabinet minister?s
career ? both sides had an equal right
to be爃eard?.
He said: ?This was entirely legitimate journalism and we have received
no complaints about either Andrew
Pierce?s or Jan Moir?s articles.?
Whatever the possible reasons are
for the Mail?s coverage ? from support
for a pro-Brexit PM to personal liking
for Green ? it is likely to have deterred
others from coming forward.
Among the unintended consequences of this saga is likely to be
greater political support for an
inquiry into the relationship between
the media and police, the so-called
Leveson� Much has changed since
the Tories set out their opposition to
the inquiry in their manifesto this year.
Both this inquiry and new laws over
costs are still hanging over the press.
Leveson spoke of the power of the
media, both to expose wrongdoing
and to deter anyone from speaking
out. With Maltby, papers have done
both. The Times and its Sunday sister
revealed the allegations, but the Mail
and others offered a masterclass in how
not to treat citizens who speak out.
The Mail?s hatchet job, on a journalist who dared to speak out against
a politician perhaps favoured by its
editor-in-chief, ends with a killer
line from a ?Tory source? suggesting
Maltby ?might be more careful the next
time she?s asked to write a piece trashing a decent man?. It seems fair to ask
whether the Mail will be more careful
next time it trashes a decent woman.
24.12.17
A threat from
Paradise to all
public service
journalism
T
Victoria and, below, Bake Off?s Paul Hollywood. Main photograph by Gareth Gatrell/ITV
Event TV is a thing of Christmas past
W
hat will you be watching on
Christmas Day? Millions of
us will choose ITV?s Victoria over EastEnders on the
BBC, Call the Midwife rather than Bake
Off on Channel 4. The battle for the
box was once as festive as turkey with
all the trimmings, but could soon be as
archaic as tying real candles to the tree.
The chances are that anyone under
24 is much more likely to be slumped
over their phone or other mobile
device. Last year, 12% of 16-to-24-yearolds watched television from subscription video on demand (Net?ix, Amazon
et al) compared with 5% of total UK
video viewers. In 10 years? time, 40%
of their viewing will be on demand,
according to Enders Analysis. In contrast, more than 90% of their parents
(or the over-55s) will still be looking at
the TV schedules to see what?s on.
Streaming services have two huge
advantages over their terrestrial rivals:
they don?t have to bother with watersheds and they have lots of money to
spend, mainly on high-cost drama.
So is it all over for public service
broadcasters at Christmas? Leaving
aside the fact that the oldest family
members usually control the remote,
drama accounts for just 17% of
UK viewing. More than 85%
of all TV watching is news,
sport and everything else.
What?s more, nearly half of
those watching drama are
watching homegrown soaps
? sitting next to teenagers
on their phones.
he Paradise Papers investigation
into the dubious tax schemes of
the world?s wealthiest inhabitants involved 96 media organisations across 67 countries. Appleby, the
offshore law ?rm at the heart of the
story, has launched breach-of-con?dence proceedings against just two: the
Guardian and the BBC.
Appleby has not suggested that the
stories about tax havens and abuses
aren?t true. After a statement that it was
?obliged to take legal action in order to
ascertain what information has been
stolen? it has made no further comment. So one can only surmise that
Appleby rates its chances of convincing
a British court to ?nd in its favour.
With the bar for journalists to prove
public interest in the UK higher than
in many other jurisdictions, the case
could prove a litmus test for the protections offered for genuine public interest
journalism. All while other protections ? exemptions for use of data, for
example ? are under threat.
The Paradise Papers revelations
prompted worldwide anger and debate
over an important issue. The International Consortium of Investigative
Journalists is concerned not just by the
blow to free expression in the UK but
also by Appleby?s demand that the consortium?s two British members hand
over 6 million documents ? demands
that could endanger the life and wellbeing of sources. The Guardian has
said that it will defend itself vigorously
against the claims.
As this battle to protect free expression commences, an older one returns
to parliament on 10 January, when a
bill that could further erode journalism exemptions returns to the Lords.
In essence, amendments made to the
data protection bill would give primacy
to privacy over freedom of expression
when it comes to the use of personal
information.
Described as a ?compromise?
between the rights of a free press
and victims of press abuse by
Baroness Hollins, who tabled the
amendment, a weakening of
laws meant to protect genuine journalistic endeavours
would be an awful way to
start 2018. British protection is bad enough as it is.
Peter Preston is away
24.12.17
*
Editor: Shane Hickey cash@observer.co.uk
Personal ?nance
CASH | 41
What can you
do to resolve the
UK consumer?s
most common
complaints?
From ?ight delays to mis-sold PPI, it has been
a troublesome year. Shane Hickey suggests
how to tackle the most frequent problems
What passengers can get depends on
the ?ight distance. Anyone delayed
for more than three hours can claim
�0 for a short ?ight and �0 for a
medium ?ight. For long-haul ?ights, it
is �0 for delays between three and
four hours, and �0 after that.
If any ?ight is cancelled, under EU
law airlines have to provide a refund
or arrange an alternative ?ight. The
right to compensation depends on
the reason for the cancellation and
airlines can claim ?extraordinary
circumstances? such as security risk
or severe weather. But Which? says
it is worth challenging an airline if
you don?t agree with its claim. Where
EU regulations end is when ?ying
into Britain from outside the EU on
non-European airlines ? for example
a journey from Dubai to London
operated by Emirates.
PPI insurance
Current accounts that charge monthly
fees for added features such as mobile
phone insurance or travel insurance
have resulted in huge numbers of complaints in the past few years.
Parallels have been drawn between
these accounts and PPI, as they have
been slated for being poor value
and some people have complained
that they have been pressured into
buying them. Other complaints come
from consumers who are unaware of
restrictions that have been in place,
such as age limitations on attached
travel insurance.
If you feel that you have been missold a packaged bank account, Which?
has a template letter to send to your
bank. The consumer group advises
giving as much information as is
possible and an explanation as to why
you believe you have been mis-sold a
product.
Resolver says that if the complaint
is upheld, then the bank may offer all
or some of your fees back along with
interest, which is calculated at 8%
per annum. In the case that the bank
rejects the claim, it can be escalated
to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Avoid using claims management ?rms,
which may charge high commission
fees.
The UK?s costliest mis-selling scandal, it has been estimated that there
have been 64 million PPI policies sold,
mostly between 1990 and 2010.
These were sold alongside loans,
credit cards, mortgages and other
forms of borrowing to protect
repayments if income was lost through
redundancy or ill health.
The policies generated huge
pro?ts, but many banks and ?nancial
?rms were found to have mis-sold
them, with people ending up with an
insurance that they did not want, need
or in some cases know they had.
Last month the Financial Conduct
Authority reported its site had
received more than 1 million hits
after a campaign to raise awareness
about the deadline to make claims for
compensation, which is 29 August 2019.
More than �bn had been paid back
to customers who have complained
before the campaign began.
Anyone who thinks they have
been mis-sold PPI should check loan
and mortgage statements for any
references. If there is no paperwork
available, check your credit reports.
You may have a claim if it was
not made clear that the insurance
was optional; if exclusions were not
explained; or if you were not made
aware that you could buy cover from
another provider, among other reasons.
If you feel like you have a claim, both
Which? and Moneysavingexpert have
free template letters on their websites,
while Resolver has an online tool to
guide you through preparing and
submitting a claim.
Flight chaos
A computer failure on British Airways?
system resulted in chaos in May and
June, with thousands of passengers left
in limbo, many of whom were separated from their baggage. Resolver has
reported 113,000 complaints surrounding ?ights this year.
In the case of delays, EU law gives
signi?cant cover for ?ights that have
departed from an airport within the EU
(plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway
and Switzerland), operated by any
airline, and for ?ights arriving at an EU
airport and operated by an EU airline.
Packaged bank accounts
Online shopping
As more people turn to their computer
screens to do the shopping, their gripes
have increased ? mainly about making
a mistake while ordering, not getting
what was ordered, or purchases being
delivered to a different house (or not
at all).
Online purchases can be returned
within 14 days. You
ou can cancel
4 days and
an order within 14
than have anotherr 14 days to
return it. Once thee trader gets
ave another
the return, they have
14 days to reimburse
rse you.
When shopping online, traders
he chance
should give you the
to check your order
er and
correct any mistakes
kes as
well as sending a full
con?rmation of what
you have bought.
In the case of a
delivery going
missing, the
British Airways passengers wait at Heathrow after delays; below, mobile users will soon be able to switch contracts by text. EPA
trader is responsible for the order up
until the customer receives it. Orders
should be delivered within 30 days of
purchase.
In the case of goods bought on
Black Friday ? the pre-Christmas
promotional sale ? consumers have
the same rights as if the product was
bought at full price.
Mobile phone problems
Resolver reported a spike of almost
one-third in the number of complaints
about mobile phones, among them
repressive contracts, insurance issues
and the failure of providers to tell customers when they have paid for their
handset.
There was some good news for
mobile phone users this week with the
announcement of reforms by Ofcom.
Consumers will soon be able to switch
mobile phone providers by sending a
text message. This is aimed at resolving
difficulties reported by consumers in
trying to switch amid attempts by the
mobile provider to make them stay.
About two in every ?ve people are
said to experience at least one major
problem when switching, according to
Ofcom.
Figures from the regulator have
shown that total geographic 4G
coverage ? where a signal is available
from all four mobile operators ? is in
place across just 43% of the UK. For
calls and text messaging, 30% of the
UK does not receive a signal from all
four operators. The government?s
infrastructure adviser, Lord Adonis,
has warned that urgent action is
needed to tackle the problem of poor
mobile phone coverage. He wrote to
Ofcom asking that all options be put
on the table to resolve the problem and
called on the regulator to act urgently.
to provide high-speed broadband to
anyone who requests it, no matter
where they are in the country.
Ofcom said earlier this month that
more than 1 million ?forgotten homes?
were unable to get sufficiently fast
broadband to meet a typical family?s
needs, such as streaming ?lms or
music. The communications regulator
said 4% of UK homes and offices, about
1.1 million properties, could not access
broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps.
Rural families were more likely to be
left behind, with 17% of homes not
�
?It?s a safe
topic,
you can
complain
about it?
Why
weatherman
Tomasz
Schafernaker loves
a storm,
pages 12-15
Broadband
Problems with broadband are wide
and varied ? from coverage to speed.
The UK still lags behind many parts of
the world in terms of speed: in Japan,
97% of connections have high speed
full-?bre lines, compared with 3%
in Britain. There has been a rise of
almost
almos a third in the number
com
of complaints
surrounding
broadband,
according to the
broad
Resolver
?gures.
Reso
Th
There was some good
news for beleaguered
households with sluggish
hous
ccoverage last week.
The government
announced homes
and businesses will
have a legal right to
high-speed broadband
b 2020. Broadband
by
p
providers
will now
hav
have a legal requirement
receiving decent internet, compared
with 2% in cities and towns.
And the rest...
There has been a steep rise in complaints about takeaways (almost 80%)
as the use of delivery companies also
rises. While there has been a huge
rise in online shopping, prompting
claims that the end of the high street is
near, the number of complaints about
in-store shopping is also up: most are
about the big supermarkets.
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a?�?� ?��┲? ??? ??� ???� ?� ???�??�?? �?
?? �?? ? ?�? ? ??? h=aa �???�???? 侵?�� ??
?�???? �?�????持?? %?? �???? ??????? 吵�?
???� ???�?智 ?? h=aa ????? ??� ?� ?� ?
Observer
Magazine
T
his has been a frustrating year
for consumers. From trying to
claw back money after being
stuck in an airport for hours
on end while waiting for a
?ight to take off to navigating
the pitfalls of shopping online, the public have had more than a few common
gripes over the last 12 months.
Consumer help website Resolver has
reported that amongst the many things
that have irked people this year have
been mis-sold bank accounts, problems
with broadband coverage and even
getting a Friday night takeaway.
But unsurprisingly, the most
consistent complaint is that
surrounding the perennial problem
of payment protection insurance
(PPI). Resolver said there were almost
660,000 complaints throughout 2017.
So what can consumers do to calm
their frustration about their most
frequent complaints?
m?? ?? ??? ?�??��? �?�?? ??�?
� � ?�
I??� ??� O??�? ?? /??�?� ?? ?? �?
m?� 1??�??�??? �种 ?� ??????? a�???? }??�
?�??持 �? ?�? ??? ??侵????� ???? ??????? ?
?�??��?� ?????�???????�?????? ??
� ??� ????
=???智 � /???�? �?????????? h�??持? I????智� ???????智 ?� ?�???智 � ??� /???�?
??�� ????????? /?侵????� /?侵???? =??�??????� ??� /?侵???? =??�?????? ???? ?� / ???�? ?�
??侵???? ?� /=I I????智? sGO???????????hV�?????�
42 | CASH
Personal
Your
problems
?nance
MORTGAGES
Anna Tims
I?m being chased
for rent but the
student block was
un?t for purpose
I recently graduated from the
University of Central Lancashire
where I rented private student
accommodation at Jubilee Court in
Preston.
The new building was un?t for
occupation for parts of the 2016/17
academic year and the facilities substandard for the rest of the time.
We spent the ?rst 16 days of our
tenancy in a hotel and were told we
could revoke our contracts if we
wanted. When we were allowed to
take possession on the ?rst day of
term, parts of the building were still
under construction, there was no car
parking that we had paid for, no lifts,
fridge, table or chairs. There was
intermittent hot water, then none at
all for four days in October.
Then the power outages started
as爓e were not on mains supply.
There were 20 power cuts for several
hours between November 2016 and
February 2017, and we had to be put
up in a hotel on three occasions.
At the end of November I asked to
terminate the contract and was told
I would have to pay the rental term
in full.
I spent most of the year
commuting from my home in
Liverpool, staying at Jubilee Court
only if necessary. At no point did the
management ?rm, Mezzino, reduce
the rent. Nominal compensation was
deducted in an ad hoc manner.
I left the property in May and was
advised by the students? union to pay
�000 towards the �568 rental dues
and ask for the rest to be written off. I
am now being chased by Mezzino for
amounts ranging from �2 to �7.
MR, Preston
Mezzino?s stance is hard to justify. I
see from correspondence that students
were told in writing that they would
not be charged the �0 rent during
that ?rst fortnight in temporary
lodgings, but it then declared the
accommodation manager did not have
the authority to make the offer.
Mezzino accepts the building was
un?nished but says students were
given the option to leave without
penalty until mains electricity was
connected in June 2017. You insist you
were told otherwise when you tried to
leave in November. The view seems to
be that since you had a roof over your
head, it ful?lled its role and the �
compensation for each power cut of up
to 15 hours was enough.
?Mezzino have acted in a
thorough manner giving tenants the
ability to relinquish their contract,
acknowledging dissatisfaction,? says
a spokesperson, adding that the sum
you owe keeps growing because of late
payment charges.
Your next step would be
Ombudsman Services: Property, of
which Mezzino is a member.
24.12.17
*
Soon after, I found both applications
were listed as ?hard searches? and
had affected my credit score.
It turned out my ?rst application was approved but didn?t go
through because of the system error
and was listed as a failed attempt
on my credit爃istory. The second
was rejected as it appeared the ?rst
attempt had failed less than 30 days
previously.
Halifax said both searches would
be cleared in 30 days. They weren?t.
I was then told to wait four to six
weeks. It?s been three months and
until my search history is cleared I
can?t apply to another bank.
RD, London
Halifax?s incompetence has left
me with a poor credit rating
When a potential lender examines a
credit record it is listed as a hard search
on the report. This allows other lenders
to see when you applied for credit.
Multiple rejected applications will
deplete your credit score.
Halifax?s incompetence will have
prevented you from applying for a loan,
credit card and mobile contract. It took
a further two weeks after I contacted it
for your credit ?le to be cleansed.
?We have apologised and offered
a gesture of goodwill,? says a Halifax
spokesperson.
Anyone in this situation can save
time by contacting the three credit
reference agencies directly. Such
disputes are usually resolved between
the bank and the agency in 14 days.
Also, you can add a note to your credit
report disputing an entry, which will
be visible to potential lenders.
I applied online for a credit card with
Halifax, which failed because of a
?system error?. Halifax said it was a
temporary fault and I should wait a
few days and reapply. I did so a few
weeks later. This was also rejected.
If you need help email Anna Tims at
your.problems@observer.co.uk or write
to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings
Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.
Include an address and phone number.
Lender
Type
Rate %
Term
Max
LTV %
Fee �
Contact
Yorkshire Building Society
?xed
1.24
29/2/2020
65
495
0345 1200 874
Sainsbury?s Bank
?xed
1.34
31/3/2020
75
745
0345 111 8010
Sainsbury?s Bank
?xed
1.74
31/3/2020
85
0
0345 111 8010
Coventry Building Society
?xed
1.75
31/3/2023
60
999
0800 121 8899
Sainsbury?s Bank
?xed
1.91
31/3/2023
75
745
0345 111 8010
Coventry Building Society
?xed
2.05
31/3/2023
85
999
0800 121 8899
Bath Building Society
?xed
3.29
3 years
95
800
01225 475 724
HSBC
bbr tracker + 0.74%
1.24
2 years
60
999
0800 030 4640
HSBC
bbr tracker + 0.84%
1.34
2 years
75
999
0800 030 4640
HSBC
bbr tracker + 0.99%
1.49
2 years
85
999
0800 030 4640
Barclays
o?set bbr tracker + 1.34%
1.84
2 years
75
999
0845 070 5090
Yorkshire Building Society
o?set ?xed
1.79
28/2/2021
75
995
0345 1200 874
SAVINGS
Provider
Account
NatWest
Savings Builder
Min �
Gross
AER %
1
Santander
123 Current Account
RCI Bank
Freedom Savings Account
1.50
1.50 &
1 �per
month
1
1.30
Post O?ce Money
Online Saver 28
1
Secure Trust Bank
120 Day Notice Account
Kent Reliance
Regular Savings Account 3
Oak North Bank
1,000
1.30
Notice
Notes
Contact
easy access
BATI
0800 255 200
easy access
AICD
0800 218 2352
easy access
I
rcibank.co.uk
easy access
BI
posto?ce.co.uk
1.56 120 days notice
I securetrustbank.com
25
3.00
easy access
AR
Personal 12 Month Fixed Term
1,000
1.77
1 year
IF
oaknorth.com
Paragon
2 Year Fixed Rate
1,000
2.05
2 years
IF
paragonbank.co.uk
The Access Bank UK
Sensible Savings 3Yr Fxd Term
Bond
48 Month Flexible Term Saver
5,000
2.25
3 years
PIF
01606 815440
500
2.23
4 years
IF masthavenbank.co.uk
Masthaven Bank
03451 220 022
Paragon
5 Year Fixed Rate
1,000
2.50
5 years
IF
paragonbank.co.uk
Shawbrook Bank
Easy Access Cash ISA 1
1,000
1.10
easy access
I
shawbrook.co.uk
Aldermore
2 Year Fixed Rate Cash ISA
1,000
1.65
2 years
IF
aldermore.co.uk
NS&I
Direct ISA
3 Year Investment Gtee Growth
Bond
1
1.00
easy access
TI
nsandi.com
100
2.20
3 years
IF
nsandi.com
1
2.25
no wdls until
18 yrs old
I
www.nsandi.com
NS&I
NS&I
Junior ISA
A branch opening; B rate includes bonus; C monthly fee applies; D based on �0 monthly spend; F ?xed rate; I internet
opening; T telephone opening; P postal opening; R save �to �0 every month. Please check rates before investing.
CREDIT CARDS
Provider card name
0% O?ers
Type
Sainsbury?s Bank Nectar
Purchase
31 months purchases
Purchase
Santander Everyday
30 months purchases
Purchase
39 months balance
transfer
Barclaycard Platinum With 38 months balance
Balance Transfer
transfer
American Express PlatinumNone
Cashback
American Express Platinum
None
Cashback Everyday
Santander All in One
Balance
transfer
Balance
Transfer
Transfer
fee %
Repr
APR
Cashback
Contact
na
18.9
not available
sainsburysbank.co.uk
santander.co.uk
na
18.9
not available
0.00
21.7
not available
santander.co.uk
1.40
19.9
not available
barclaycard.co.uk
Cashback
na
Cashback
na
28.2 1.0% Standard
+ Intro Bonus
0.5% Standard
22.9 + Intro Bonus
americanexpress.com
americanexpress.com
For the latest best buys on mortgages and savings check out our Money deals at http://theguardian.com/money
Table compiled 22/12/17. In case of late changes, always check rates and terms before transacting.
All above ?gures from independent ?nancial research company Defaqto (defaqto.com)
24.12.17
TRAVEL | 43
Five of the best Things to do in London over Christmas
1. Cabaret Covent Garden
1
4
Those who ?nd the annual pantomime trip hard to take might enjoy the
Showtime Cabaret Christmas Special
at the historic Cafe de Paris in Covent
Garden. The night features comedy
and circus acts, as well as lashings
of glitter, feathers and burlesque.
Audiences tend to dress up for the
night and, after the show, can party in
the nightclub until 3am (the club stays
open until 4am for the New Year?s Eve
Billionaire?s Ball).
31 December and 5 January, from
� on New Year?s Eve, otherwise from
�pp, cafedeparis.com
2. Dickensian nights Holborn
Calling itself a ?contemporary winter
festival?, Greenwich Winter Time
is putting on a broad programme of
events, with street performers, live
music, theatre and events from circus
shows to silent discos. There?s also
a winter market, plus all manner of
pop-up food stalls, a range of crafting
activities and a covered ice rink, all in
the grand courtyard of the Old Royal
Naval College.
Until 31 December, entry to the courtyard free, adult ice-skating costs �,
child ice-skating �, greenwichwintertime.com
2
Follow in the footsteps of the great
19th-century novelist by heading to his
former home in Doughty Street, which
is is open after hours as part of the
museum?s Christmas lates programme.
Visitors can enjoy drinks at a candlelit
bar, late-night carols and dramatic
readings of passages from the seasonal
classic A Christmas Carol. The house
is lavishly decorated in the style of a
traditional Victorian Christmas.
From 27-30 December at 3pm and
6pm, �, dickensmuseum.com
3. Finnish sauna Southbank
Get toasty on the riverside, thanks to
a specially designed sauna on the roof
terrace of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Offering respite from the winter cold ?
it?s 90 degrees inside ? then cool down
outside (the really brave can be doused
with buckets of cold water) and enjoy
the views over the Thames, followed by
Nordic canap閟 at the rooftop bar.
Until 11 February, �-�,
southbankcentre.co.uk
TRAVEL CLASSIFIED
4. Winter festival Greenwich
5. Refugee gift shop Soho
5
3
Making a change from the usual
consumerist pop-up, this year saw the
opening of a shop selling items that
can be given as gifts to refugees, from
blankets, coats and sanitary products,
shoes to food and medical supplies.
The organising charity, called Help
Refugees, works with more than 80
projects across the world to distribute
the gifts. The objects are grouped by
theme ? ?arrival, shelter, the future ...?,
giving shoppers greater understanding of the experience of travelling to
a爊ew燾ountry with nothing at all to
call your own.
Until 31 January, 18 Broadwick Street,
choose.love
Will Coldwell
To see the full list of festive
London activities, and thousands
more top 10s on everything from
the world?s best restaurants and
hotels to walks and beaches, visit
theguardian.com/travel
24.12.17
*
1004
(29.65)
9AM TODAY
3PM TODAY
SIX-DAY FORECAST
Mon
20
20
Orkney
6
8
(43F)
MODERATE
1004
(29.65)
11
12
Edinburgh
Glasgow
MODERATE
10
11
(50F)
(51F)
10
1012
(29.88)
(52F)
24
Glasgow
HEAVY
11
14
(51F)
10
SLIGHT
Newcastle
(49F)
17
Edinburgh
MODERATE
Newcastle
(50F)
Belfast
Belfast
1008
(29.77)
1016
(30.00)
9
11
(48F) Hull
SLIGHT
Dublin
10
(51F)
1020
(30.12)
(52F)
Norwich
Norwich
Birmingham
Birmingham
1016
(30.00)
9
(48F)
27
Gloucester
Cardi?
1024
(30.24)
Bristol
(50F)
28
Cardi?
London
Brighton
Plymouth
12
(53F)
London
MODERATE
10
1020
(30.12)
(49F)
Brighton
Plymouth
(50F)
20
SLIGHT
Gloucester
Bristol
(50F)
MODERATE
9
10
10
SLIGHT
1028
(30.36)
22
1024
(30.24)
UK TODAY
Channel Is, Cent S England, SW England, W Midlands, Wales: Largely cloudy
today and damp across western areas. A moderate south-westerly wind. Max
9-12C (48-54F). Remaining cloudy tonight with drizzle and hill fog in Wales and
South-west England. A moderate south-westerly wind. Min 7-10C (45-50F).
SE England, London, E Anglia, E Midlands: Generally cloudy today and dry in
most areas, though hill fog across the Midlands. A moderate south-westerly
wind. Max 8-12C (46-54F). Cloudy tonight with areas of fog. A moderate
south-westerly wind. Min 6-9C (43-48F).
Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, NW England: Mainly cloudy today with spells of rain
across North-west England. A moderate south-westerly wind; locally fresh
near the coast. Max 9-12C (48-54F). Cloudy tonight with occasional rain,
heaviest in north-west England. Min 6-9C (43-48F).
L
WARM
OCCLUDED FRONT
1000
(29.53)
Helsinki
3
TROUGH
L
Moscow
1016
(30.00)
Berlin
Warsaw
London
Paris
1032
(30.47)
Belgrade
Rome
Madrid
Athens
1032
(30.47)
5
6
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
20
22
21
23
ACROSS
7
8
9
10
Developing surface ?lm; sheen (6)
Net made by a spider to catch insects (6)
Young seal (4)
Transmission of recognisable
characteristics to descendants (8)
11/17 Rapidly and vigorously (4,3,7)
13 Revert (to bad habits, etc) (5)
15 Dissertation (5)
17 See 11
20/21 Tries to improve what is already
beautiful or excellent (5.3,4)
22 Be relevant to (4,2)
23 Join, meet with (4,2)
SOLUTION NO. 1,159
C
U
L
D
E
S
A
C
19
A
T
O
P
U B E
P A N
I
L
S
E N D I N G
G
N
A
M E N D
R A
E
D
WN I N G
L
E
D
T U N D R A
T
O
H
H R OW
L I
A
N
I
O L E S T A R
D E M I C
W
E
U
A N E A R
R
T
L
F F I A
N
T
O G G I A
N
V
E V O K E
D
U
R
G H T O N
E
D
E
P O U R
DOWN
1
2
3
4
5
6
12
14
16
18
19
21
4 Flurry
4 Showers
5 Rain
6 Cloudy
6 Fair
4 Snow
4 Showers
7 Rain
9 Rain
4 Rain
Bristol
10 Rain
6 Rain
4 Rain
5 Rain
8 Rain
9 Rain
Cardiff
11 Rain
7 Rain
6 Fair
6 Rain
8 Rain
10 Rain
Edinburgh
7 Rain
4 Fair
3 Fair
2 Fair
5 Fair
5 Snow
Glasgow
7 Rain
4 Fair
3 Fair
3 Cloudy
5 Rain
5 Snow
Leeds
11 Rain
6 Rain
4 Fair
4 Showers
7 Rain
8 Showers
Liverpool
12 Rain
6 Showers
5 Fair
5 Showers
7 Rain
9 Rain
London
12 Cloudy
8 Rain
5 Rain
5 Showers
9 Showers 11 Rain
Manchester 11 Rain
6 Fair
4 Fair
4 Showers
7 Rain
Newcastle
10 Rain
5 Rain
3 Fair
3 Fair
5 Cloudy
6 Rain
Norwich
11 Cloudy
6 Rain
5 Rain
4 Rain
7 Rain
8 Fair
Oxford
11 Rain
7 Rain
4 Snow
4 Showers
Plymouth
11 Rain
8 Rain
7 Cloudy
8 Rain
Swansea
11 Rain
8 Rain
6 Fair
York
11 Rain
6 Rain
3 Fair
Aberdeen
14
Anglesey
Belfast
8 Rain
9 Cloudy
10 Rain
10 Rain
11 Rain
8 Rain
8 Rain
10 Rain
4 Showers
6 Rain
8 Rain
ABROAD YESTERDAY
癈
癈
癈
Manchester 10 sh
Algiers
16
c
Nairobi
26
10 sh
Newcastle
12
Bangkok
32
s
New York
13
r
11
Norwich
11 m
Beijing
9
f
Perth
30
s
Birmingham 10 m
Blackpool
s
f
f
f
Nottingham 13 m
Beirut
25
f
Rio de Jan
37
f
10
r
Oxford
10
Cairo
22
f
Riyadh
24
f
Bournem?th 11
c
Plymouth
10 sh
Harare
28
c
San Fran
13
f
Brighton
11
f
Ronaldsway 11 m
Hong Kong 22
f
Santiago
31
s
Bristol
10 sh
S?hampton 9
c
Istanbul
7
r
Sao Paulo
29
f
Cardiff
10 sh
Scarbr?gh
12
r
Jeddah
32
s
Seychelles
28 sh
Carlisle
11 sh
Southport
10 sh
Jerusalem
21
f
Singapore
32
f
Edinburgh
13
Stornoway 13
d
Jo?burg
29
c
Sydney
29
s
Exeter
13 sh
Swanage
f
Karachi
29
s
Taipei
26
f
Glasgow
12 sh
Teignmouth 12 sh
L Angeles
21
f
Tenerife
15
s
Inverness
13 sh
Tenby
11 sh
Manila
30 sh
Toronto
2
sn
Jersey
10
r
Torquay
11 sh
Miami
28
f
Vancouver
1
s
Liverpool
10
r
Weymouth 12 m
Mombasa
31
f
Washington 19 sh
f
c
12
Spanish port and resort town (6)
Minor quarrel (4)
Rakish (7)
Nut of an oak tree (5)
Largest member state of the UAE and its
capital (3,5)
Slightly more aggressive disagreements
than 2 (3-3)
Hither and thither (2-3-3)
Euro ale? (anag) (7)
Harpsichord-like keyboard instrument (6)
Mark put over a vowel in German to indicate
a di?erent quality (6)
Con: leader singer of Police (5)
Air bag? (4)
Stuck? For help call 0906 200 83 83. Calls cost �10 per minute, plus your phone company?s access charge. Service supplied by ATS.
Call 0330 333 6946 for customer service (charged at standard rate).
Ankara
1131
First Quarter 26 Dec
2
2
2
2
Low
Low
Low
Low
Somerset (Monday) 6.3hrs.
0%
50%
100%
WEATHER VIEW
Glasgow
London
Manchester
Newcastle
2
2
2
2
Low
Low
Low
Low
Plymouth
Aberdeen
Leeds
Oxford
3
2
2
2
Low
Low
Low
Low
EUROPE SIX-DAY FORECAST
1016
(30.00)
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
癈 Wthr (Maximum temperature and overall condition)
Pressure in millibars,
(inches in brackets)
4
7
L
Stockholm
SPEEDY CROSSWORD NO. 1,160
2
Belfast
Birmingham
Bristol
Cardiff
984
(29.06)
992
(29.29)
Reykjavik
H
3 Fair
5 Sunny
AIR POLLUTION
COLD
1024
(30.24)
3 Fair
4 Cloudy
Moon rises
KEY
1008
(29.77)
4 Rain
11 c
N Orleans 21 r
York
12 m
Wellington 20 f
NE England, SE Scotland, SW Scotland, NE Scotland: Cloudy for much of today London
Key: c=cloud, dr=drizzle, ds=dust storm, f=fair, fg=fog, g=gales, h=hail, m=mist, r=rain,
with occasional rain, heaviest and steadiest in the west. A moderate to fresh
sh=showers, sl=sleet, sn=snow, s=sun, th=thunder, w=windy. Forecast/readings for noon
south-westerly wind. Max 5-11C (41-52F). Staying cloudy tonight with rain. A
moderate westerly wind. Min -1 to 7C (30-43F).
SUNSET TO SUNRISE
WEATHER STATISTICS
W Isles, N Isles, NW Scotland: Cloudy today with rain, though showery in the
Birmingham
15.57
to
08.17
Weather last week
Weather this week
northern Isles. A moderate west to south-westerly wind. Max 6-10C (43Bristol
16.06
to
08.15
Warmest by day: Peterhead London
Chance of rain
50F). Cloudy tonight and periods of rain and mountain snow. A light to moder- Dublin
16.10
to
08.40
Harbor, Aberdeenshire
Glasgow
15.47
to
08.48
(Tuesday) 16.0C
ate westerly wind. Min -2 to 6C (28-43F).
Glasgow
Leeds
15.49
to
08.24
Coldest by night:
Northern Ireland, Ireland: Largely cloudy today with rain in Northern Ireland;
Lochnagar, Aberdeenshire
London
15.57
to
08.07
(Sunday) -7.0C
drizzle along the southern coast. A light to moderate south-westerly wind.
Manchester
15.54
to
08.24
Dublin
Wettest: Kirkwall, Orkney
Newcastle
15.42
to
08.32
Max 9-12C (48-54F). Rain tonight. A light to moderate south-westerly wind.
Islands (Sunday) 30mm
Sun rises
0806
Moon sets 2220
Min 4-9C (39-48F).
Sunniest: Yeovilton,
EUROPE TODAY
A cold front will slowly sink to the south
across northern Britain today and tonight bringing rain to Scotland, northern
England and Northern Ireland. While
southern Britain will be generally dry, it
will be rather cloudy with damp conditions in western areas. Some hill fog is
possible in the Midlands. Low cloud and
damp weather will also be found across
northern France, Germany and Poland
today. A frontal system will bring areas
of rain and snow across eastern Europe
from the southern Baltics to Ukraine.
While much of northern Europe will be
unsettled with widespread cloud, an
area of high pressure across southern
Europe will bring dry and bright weather from Spain and southern France
into Italy and the Baltics. Much of the
Mediterranean will have sunshine and
a light wind.
Sat
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Amsterdam
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Athens
16 s
16 s
16 s
16 f
16 c
16 r
Barcelona
15 s
14 f
14 w
15 s
16 s
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Berlin
9 c
8 f
6 c
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5 r
8 r
Copenhagen
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Geneva
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12 c
Prague
6 f
6 f
4 c
3 r
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7 r
Rome
14 s
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13 f
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Venice
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28m in dividends
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couple drinking a �500 bottle of wine.
*
36 | BUSINESS
24.12.17
2017: the sequel ?
seven lessons for
Hollywood after
worst blockbuster
summer in years
Traditional box-o?ce wisdom has been overturned ? but
new audiences are starting to emerge, writes Mark Sweney
A
string of critical and commercial duds failed to light
up the US box office as Hollywood endured its worst
summer in 25 years. But it
was a good year overall for
the global ?lm market, with the boxoffice total set to edge ahead of 2016
with sales of more than $39bn (�bn).
Here are some lessons that the ?lm
business will have learned from some
of the year?s most prominent releases.
GLOBAL BOX OFFICE TAKINGS
US dollars
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
10.2
10.8
10.9
10.4
US
Other
22.4
Total
32.6
34.7
23.9
24.7
26.3
11.1
35.6
36.7
27.8
38.9
27.4
38.8
27.9
39.0
1. KING ARTHUR
Take $149m; budget $175m
A bad summer does not make a bad
year for Hollywood
2016
As the summer movie season drew to
a close in late August, Hollywood ?lm
bosses were in a state of panic. The
US box office, the biggest in the world,
had had its worst performance in more
than two decades. Takings were down
50% to $3.8bn, the lowest since 2006,
and cinema attendance hit a low not
seen since 1992. Summer hits such
as Wonder Woman and Spider-Man:
Homecoming failed to offset a string of
?ops including Baywatch, Tom Cruise?s
remake of The Mummy, and King
Arthur, which received a particularly
scathing reaction from critics and audiences. ?The box office suffered because
of underperforming sequels and
remakes, audiences tired of the same
old retreads and reboots,? says Paul
Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at
the research ?rm comScore. However,
a change in attitude by studios towards
the traditional summer blockbuster
season means big box-office hits are
starting to be sprinkled throughout the
year. Traditional summer ?lms Beauty
and the Beast and The Fate of The
Furious appeared in March and April,
and the now annual stocking-?ller of
a Star Wars hit at Christmas means
the US box office is set to recover to be
nearly ?at at $11.1bn ? while the international market has grown. ?It used
to be that summer set the tone for the
entire year in regards to box office, but
that?s just not the case anymore,? says
Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at
Exhibitor Relations, a research ?rm.
11.4
2017 (estimates)
11.1
2. WOLF WARRIOR 2
Take $870m, 98% from China
China is still booming
China has grown rapidly to become
the second largest ?lm market in the
world, and success there can be trans-
formative. Take the phenomenon of
the Chinese action sequel Wolf Warrior
2. It took $870m globally, the vast
majority from the domestic box office
? the second biggest take by a ?lm in a
single market, passing Avatar?s US performance and only behind Star Wars:
The Force Awakens in the US. Disneyowned Pixar?s animation Coco has
just passed the milestone of being the
studio?s ?rst ?lm to bring in more in
China than in North America. ?China
has been a saviour for Hollywood,? says
Bock. ?Studios go so far as to rewrite
and add elements to satisfy the Chinese
marketplace. No one else in the world
gets that kind of treatment.?
The latest outing of the ageing
Transformers franchise was saved by
its popularity in China, which was also
instrumental in driving The Fate of the
Furious over the $1bn mark globally.
3. JUSTICE LEAGUE
Take $636m; budget $300m
We are nearing peak superhero
Hollywood has become addicted to
the box-office powers of superhero
?lms. The success of Wonder Woman,
the second instalment of Guardians of
the Galaxy and the latest Spider-Man
?lm accounted for almost a third of
the total US summer box-office take.
But then there was Justice League
? Warner Bros bringing Superman,
Batman and Wonder Woman together
in an ensemble ?lm ? which ?opped
in the US, albeit with salvation coming
globally. ?The superhero problem is
that Disney?s [home of Guardians and
The launch of the fantasy adventure
Bright, starring A-listers Will Smith
and Joel Edgerton under the direction
of Suicide Squad?s David Ayer, marks
Net?ix?s biggest ?lm launch to date
and the latest statement of its intent to
challenge the Hollywood movie model.
?Is streaming killing the box office?
Yes, it most certainly is,? says Bock at
Exhibitor Relations. ?It is eroding it
at a pace more fast and furious than
expected.?
And it will get worse next year.
Net?ix, which has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide, has raised
its budget for buying and making TV
and ?lms to $8bn next year and is
doubling the number of original ?lms it
intends to release to 80 ? more than the
big ?ve Hollywood studios combined.
Bock says that what is really hurting
the industry is that big-name TV series
? such as Net?ix?s Stranger Things and
the �0m co-production The Crown
on selling its own handsets but can
administer everyone else?s. But the
biggest move may be on ?embedded?
software, where QNX is a crucial part
of a much bigger trend of making cars
and other vehicles that run almost
entirely on software.
BlackBerry has signed deals with
Ford and automotive parts makers
such as Denso, Delphi, Bosch and
Scion. Talking to the Wall Street
Journal, Chen said: ?The auto sector
is our best chance at revenue growth.?
QNX is able to handle real-time events
and multiple demands in a way that
software used on smartphones or PCs
cannot; more than 60 million vehicles
were using QNX by the end of 2015.
But most of them were using it for
entertainment systems; Chen wants
more. ?Infotainment is a handful of
dollars apiece,? he said. ?We?re trying
the Avengers] do ?ne, non-Disney
mostly don?t,? says Dergarabedian.
?But then there was [Warner Bros?s]
Wonder Woman?. By 2019, it has been
estimated that there will be at least
25 characters appearing in individual
and ensemble ?lms, raising the question of whether Hollywood is about
to hit peak superhero. ?There is some
evidence that while box-office returns
from superhero ?lms have increased
massively, this has been down to the
sheer volume of ?lms, and that the
amount made per ?lm is beginning to
decline,? says Richard Cooper, analyst
at research ?rm Ampere.
4. BRIGHT
Take: N/A
Streaming goes from strength to
strength thanks to Net?ix
Green shoots at BlackBerry? Fallen phone giant
turns its hand to software and self-driving cars
by Charles Arthur
Remember BlackBerry? The one-time
giant of smartphones has gone through
tumultuous times over the past six
years, and become a much smaller
software company. Its results last week
showed just how small: third-quarter
revenues were $226m (�9m), its
lowest three-monthly total since 2004,
with an operating loss of $258m.
The Canadian company?s chief
executive, John Chen, is a turnaround
specialist who believes that the
future is in self-driving cars, where
automakers and software ?rms see
huge promise. It is investing hope
in QNX, which it bought in 2010: a
maker of software that underpins car
entertainment and data systems.
That is a long way from the early
2000s, when BlackBerry was one
of the world?s biggest smartphone
makers and Apple had yet to launch
the all-conquering iPhone. A failure
to adapt to trends like keyboard-less
devices was its undoing as iPhones and
Android phones took off. Then came a
calamitous multi-billion bet on a new
phone operating system, BB10, in 2013.
It abandoned handsets last year and
the road ahead remains rocky ? not
least due to the state of its ?nances.
Nonetheless, analysts see potential
in the ashes. The stock jumped from
$11 to over $12 last week, as investors
liked what they found in the ?gures:
for instance, a new record for revenue
from software and services, at $199m.
BlackBerry stock is now back at levels
it hasn?t seen since mid-2013.
?It?s pretty impressive, beating on
both the top and bottom lines,? Ali
Mogharabi, an analyst at research
?rm Morningstar, told Reuters. ?The
growth speci?cally in enterprise
software is good to see.?
Chen was quietly famous for having
saved Sybase, which had looked in 1998
as if it might wither away. Chen saw
that the would-be database company
had lost out to Oracle, and decided to
focus on the ?unwired enterprise? ?
mobile services. That decision allowed
Sybase to regain its primacy in new
markets; it was sold to the enterprise
software giant SAP for $5.8bn in 2010,
compared to its market capitalisation
when Chen took over of $362m ? a
16-fold growth in value in 12 years.
But can he do it again at BlackBerry?
In many ways Chen is repeating the
formula that saved Sybase: look for
new opportunities while letting what
remains of the customer base cover
other costs. Thus he has focused on
the software side, where operating
margins often beat 50%, unlike
hardware, which often struggles to get
into double digits.
Speaking after the results, Chen
pointed to new contracts with the US
and Dutch governments, and with
Nato. BlackBerry?s purchase in 2015
of Good Technology, which writes
software for remote management of
smartphones, means it no longer relies
24.12.17
BUSINESS | 37
*
Hits and misses,
clockwise from
left: Wolf Warrior
2; Blade Runner
2049; Justice
League; Call me by
Your Name; and
Poppy Delevingne
in King Arthur.
Main photograph
by Beijing Century
Media
? have usurped Hollywood ?lms as
cultural talking points.
?The question these days isn?t what
movie have you seen, it is what series
have you been bingeing on recently,?
Bock爏ays.
5. THE LAST JEDI
Take $600m-plus; budget $200m
Disney is still king, despite what
fanboys say
Some diehard Star Wars fans may have
been critical of the latest ?lm in the
mega-franchise, but its force remains
strong at the global box office. The Last
Jedi has already passed the $600m
mark ? having notched up the second
largest opening weekend in history
behind 2015?s The Force Awakens ? and
is on course to hit $1bn by the end of
the year. Disney, which owns Star Wars
maker Lucas?lm, is set to top the global
BlackBerry has
gone from
smartphone giant
to small software
company. Getty
to enhance that with higher ASP
[average selling prices] by getting into
different components ? All the design
[contract] wins, whether with Denso
or Delphi, they?re in these areas that?s
beyond just traditional infotainment
systems. This is why I feel bullish
about the overall business on a longer
term in terms of growth.?
However, that?s in the future.
Despite the focus on more pro?table
software, pro?t remains elusive. Since
its slide started in 2011, BlackBerry has
made a net loss of $7.3bn, and though
$4bn of that was a writedown on
unsold handsets in autumn 2013, the
situation has not improved much since.
For the three quarters of this ?scal
year, net pro?t is $415m ? but that
includes an $815m payment related to
a dispute with chipmaker Qualcomm
over royalties, and a $137m payment
to Nokia over a patent row. Overall,
BlackBerry is $678m better off from
those disputes: but that shows how far
the rest of the business is from pro?t.
box office again in 2017. This year?s
clutch of hits also include Beauty and
the Beast, the biggest global ?lm of the
year so far, Guardians of the Galaxy 2
and Thor:燫agnarok.
Disney is realising the success of a
shrewd acquisition strategy over the
past decade, becoming the dominant
force in genres from superheroes to
animated children?s ?lms. In 2006, the
?The question these
days isn?t what
movie you have
seen, it is what series
have you been
bingeing on recently?
Je? Bock, analyst
company paid $7.4bn for Apple founder
Steve Jobs?s Pixar studio, the hit factory behind Finding Nemo and Toy
Story, to revive its once proud family
?lm division.
In 2009 came the surprise $4bn
Marvel purchase, bringing in 5,000
edgier characters including Iron Man,
Captain America and the Avengers.
This was followed with $4bn for
Lucas?lm, which also owns the
Indiana Jones franchise, in 2012. Then
this month, Disney announced it would
be buying�$66bn of assets from Rupert
Murdoch, including the 20th Century
Fox ?lm studio. The company can now
add franchises including Avatar ? the
highest grossing ?lm of all time which
is set for a series of sequels over the
next few years ? as well as X-Men,
Deadpool and the Fantastic Four
reuniting with the rest of the Marvel
family.
6. BLADE RUNNER: 2049
Take $258m; budget $150m
Sequels need to stay simple
Blade Runner: 2049 provided the year?s
cautionary lesson on sequels. The
revival promised so much, with the
return of Harrison Ford and the casting of Ryan Gosling to excite younger
?lm fans, but it only managed to make
$260m globally. Coming 35 years
after the original, and weighing in at
almost three hours, it failed to connect
with�lmgoers.
?It was one of the best movies of
2017, yet did not catch on because of
the relatively esoteric nature and lack
of familiarity to younger audiences,?
says Dergarabedian. This year, more
than 40 reboots, remakes and sequels
hit the screens in the hope of cashing
in on existing fanbases. As a general
rule, sequels make 10% to 15% less than
their predecessors, if they are lucky.
Nonetheless, Transformers, Pirates
of the Caribbean and the Fast and the
Furious brands attracted large global
sales despite signs of tiredness at home.
7. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Take $3.6m so far; budget $3.5m
There is still room for decent indies
The boom in big-budget drama fuelled
by Net?ix, which is increasingly luring
on- and off-screen talent, is putting
pressure on smaller-scale ?lms that
already struggle for audiences in
Hollywood?s shadow (studio ?lms
account for 92% of US box office). Yet
breakouts such as Call Me By Your
Name ? Luca Guadagnino?s comingof-age tale ? and Three Billboards
Outside燛bbing, Missouri, have proved
that there is still space for decent
smaller ?lms.
24.12.17
Analysis
*
BUSINESS | 39
Chief executives are hard to embarrass ? so
we need even tougher rules on pay disclosure
Chilly reality
awaits retailers
after basking in
Christmas glow
BUSINESS LEADER
T
heresa May has attacked
excessive boardroom pay
as the ?unacceptable face
of capitalism?. The prime
minister said in the summer
that too many ?rms fell ?short
of the high standards we expect of
them? when they ignored the concerns
of their shareholders by awarding pay
rises to bosses that far outstrip the
company?s performance.
Employers were also guilty of ignoring some of the most basic commitments to their employees, she said.
Understandably, the country expected
tough action to match the rhetoric.
Last week, one of the initiatives bore
fruit. The Investment Association, the
trade body for the fund management
industry, published the names of all the
companies listed on the London stock
exchange that suffered at least a 20%
shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives pay, re-election of
directors or other resolution at their
shareholder meetings.
The public register included on its
list the fashion label Burberry, broadcaster Sky, retailer Sports Direct, estate
agent Foxtons and Sir Martin Sorrell?s
advertising company WPP.
In the name of greater transparency,
May will open a second line of attack
in the form of rules obliging the same
?rms to publish by next June the pay
ratio between their chief executive and
their average British worker.
Chief executives? pay has soared in
recent years. A study by the Equality
Trust this year found that the average
FTSE chief executive earns 386 times
more than a worker on the ?national
living wage?. The charity used annual
reports from 2015 for all the companies
in the FTSE 100 to calculate that their
bosses pocket an average of �3m a
year, compared with �,662 for someone on the national living wage at the
time of �20 an hour.
Naming those companies under
attack from shareholders is considered
by ministers to be a big step in handing
workers the power to rein in excessive
awards. Greg Clark, the business secretary, billed the changes as a ?world-
C
The average FTSE chief executive earns 386 times more than those on the national living wage. Photograph by David Levene
leading package of corporate governance reforms?.
Equality campaigners took a different view. They said businesses would
emerge unscathed to award bosses
extravagant bonuses much as before,
especially after May watered down her
plans, leaving out proposals for workers on boards. Rebecca Long-Bailey,
Labour?s shadow business secretary,
said the proposals were ?just more
crony capitalism? that failed to impose
tough constraints on executive pay.
There is a philosophical point ? that
businesses should recover a moral
dimension ? that appears to be have
been lost in the last 30 years of grasping executive pay awards. The 18th
century economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith grounded his view
that business should be left unfettered
from government control in a belief
that owners of capital would behave
ethically. With this in mind, there
could be no better way to end excessive pay than by appealing to the better
nature of the company?s bosses or the
owners of the company?s shares.
For many people, this argument is
stretched to incredulity by an insular management class who appear
immune to embarrassment. They live
in a world where few people seem
to question high pay. Pension funds,
desperate to ?ll their ballooning de?cits, have a tendency to put bumper
dividends payments above issues like
executive rewards.
The rules could be tougher, but they
do raise a question: would people who
have refused to voluntarily restrain top
pay awards ? that is, the majority of
shareholders and directors ? comply
with new laws? Or would they join the
trend to take companies private, away
from the prying eyes of the public and
the most stringent government rules?
May has made provision for private
companies to publish pay data, but this
is voluntary. The temptation would be
to have a mandatory rule that encompasses all forms of ownership, whether
public or private. It is a temptation that
ministers should embrace.
Apple?s admission on batteries drains its users? goodwill
A
pple claimed last week that it
had had its customers? concerns
at heart when it admitted what
many users already suspected:
the tech giant deliberately slows down
older phones when their batteries start
to struggle.
An Apple spokesperson said: ?Our
goal is to deliver the best experience
for customers, which includes overall
performance and prolonging the life of
their devices.? But they are no fools at
Cupertino and they must have known
what would come next: a lawsuit from
disgruntled customers.
Apple now has a public relations
problem on its hands. Trust is an everrelevant issue in the tech sector, from
issues of privacy to the vulnerability of
your online life to hackers.
Apple has added to those concerns
unnecessarily. It is unlikely that the
battery story will have a material
impact on sales, but it will make it
harder to win back the public if the
company encounters more serious
problems in the future.
reditors usually wait for the
Christmas spending spree to
end before pulling the plug on
struggling retailers and there
is no reason to imagine that early 2018
will deviate from the normal pattern.
It would be a miracle if Toys R Us,
rescued last week, were to be the only
company having ?nancial difficulties at
this time of year.
After a surprisingly strong end to
2016, retailers have found life a lot
tougher in 2017. Firstly, consumer
spending has been subject to a nasty
squeeze on real incomes, with prices
rising faster than wages. The cannier
households realised in the months following the EU referendum that the fall
in the value of the pound would push
up the cost of imports and brought
forward purchases of big-ticket items.
That helps explain why business was
so brisk in the second half of 2016 and
has been weak ever since. New car
sales have been particularly soft.
Secondly, retailers have seen their
pro?ts squeezed by an above-in?ation
increase in the minimum wage and by
higher pension costs. They have sought
to pass on higher costs to consumers,
but this has not been all that easy when
household budgets are under pressure.
All this has come at a time when
retailing is going through a profound
change. Consumers know that they
can save time and money by shopping online, and this has come at the
expense of brick-and-mortar stores.
Life will get a bit easier in 2018, but
not by all that much. The main effects
of the pound?s depreciation after the
Brexit vote have now passed through
the economy, so the annual in?ation
rate will come down from its current
level of 3.1% over the coming months.
Average earnings growth, currently
running at an annual 2.3%, could also
edge up a bit, boosting spending power.
But the impact won?t be dramatic.
The economy has been over-reliant
on consumer spending as the engine of
growth, so some rebalancing towards
investment and production is actually
quite healthy. Retailers are unlikely to
see it that way, though.
Complacent regulators have two years to prevent a crash
ECONOMICS
ICS
Phillip
Inman
T
here is a complacency in the air
as we stumble into 2018. Global
economic forecasts are coated
with sugar. Stock markets keep
heading skywards and borrowing is
at an all-time high. Brexit may be a
brick through the window of the UK?s
economic outlook, but for the rest of
the developed world, the view is decidedly rosy.
Such is the exuberance among those
with plenty of spare cash that there is a
return of borrowing with the sole purpose of betting on stock market gains.
To this end, investors are using any
asset to hand ? their house, their pension or their deposit savings ? to get a
boost from the alpha funds that promise stellar returns. Bitcoin is another
feature of this relaxed attitude to risk.
Who needs safety nets when there is
no prospect of a fall? It?s not hard to
see why the picture looks so rosy and
why it is likely to conclude with an ugly
denouement.
Underpinning everything that makes
life easy are the ultra-low interest rates
of the past 10 years. Borrowing has
become cheaper and cheaper as banks
have used low rates to ?rst get their
balance sheets in order and then compete to offer better deals to businesses
and consumers.
The Bank for International
Settlements, known as the central
bankers? bank, has charted the real
interest rates offered globally and
concluded this month that they were at
their lowest level since records began.
It didn?t matter that the US Federal
Reserve started raising interest rates
in 2015 and has so far pushed the base
rate from 0.25% to 1.5%. Banks have
continued to cut each other?s throats
in爐he retail and corporate marketplaces for loans, offering lower and
lower rates each month to secure
new燽usiness.
Analysis by the ?nancial data provider Dealogic shows that companies
and governments have pushed their
collective borrowing to a new high
this year. The ?rm?s estimate of $6.8tn
of borrowing includes the debt issued
by countries like Argentina and Saudi
Arabia and mortgages sold as securities on ?nancial markets. It excludes
the safest government debt, such as US
treasuries and UK gilts, and debt issued
by local authorities.
A different measure of debt used by
the Institute of International Finance
estimates that a credit binge in emerging markets led by China has pushed
the global level of debt from 276% of
global GDP to 324%.
The Trump tax cuts are another spur
to those investors who would wish
away the prospect of a recession or,
worse, a ?nancial crash.
Donald Trump?s proposals are
expected to be signed into law sometime over the Christmas break or early
in the new year and look like injecting
$1.5tn into the US economy.
Wealthy Americans are expected to
gain the biggest bene?t and will most
The situation is
similar to 2005 when
interest rates were
rising and investors
were borrowing more
probably invest it in ?nancial markets.
They don?t need the money to ?nance
their lifestyles, so why not speculate
with it?
Already the Dow Jones index, the
main securities market in the US, is
soaring to new highs. In just ?ve and
a half years it has doubled in value to
almost 25,000 points.
Third on the list of catalysts is the
eurozone, which has woken up after
years of intermittent crisis following
the 2008 crash.
With the US accelerating on the
back of the Trump tax bill and China
re-energising its manufacturing sector, many European companies are
in demand, particularly if they have
machine tools, cars, pharmaceuticals
or marketing services to offer. Even
Brexit is seen by investors as a parochial event that can do little harm to
global growth.
All these forces delay a recession
that should be around the corner after
nine or 10 years of increased borrowing. The usual course of events would
dictate that a shake-out of debt-funded
companies drags on growth and even
sends the economy into reverse.
The late arrival of the eurozone to
the growth party, the Trump tax cuts
and the modest increases in inter-
est rates (carried out by the Federal
Reserve and signalled by the European
Central Bank), have all delayed the day
the shake-out occurs. And that means
the recession, when it comes, will be
deeper and more爃armful.
Maybe investors are right to heed
Janet Yellen?s valedictory message. The
departing US Federal Reserve chief
said the signals from the bond markets of a slowdown should be ignored.
There was, she said, a historical correlation between what was going on in
the bond markets at the moment and a
recession, but no ?causality?.
But listening to the Bank for
International Settlements might
be wiser, given that its former boss,
William White, warned about an
impending ?nancial crash 12 years ago.
In its latest global health check, it says
the situation is similar to 2005, when
interest rates were rising and investors
were ignoring the situation by borrowing more and taking bigger risks with
the cash.
That gives governments and regulators two to three years to prevent a
full-scale crash. At the moment nobody
appears to be paying any attention.
White is now at the OECD and making
the same warnings. Beware 2020: it
could be a very bad year.
40 | BUSINESS
*
Media
Press war on the
?pushy lady? risks
a Leveson revival
PRESS AND
BROADCASTING
Jane
Martinson
K
ate Maltby was accused
of ?immense narcissism?
and of ?demeaning? other
women who had ?legitimate
complaints? when she wrote
about being爌ropositioned
by a cabinet minister, as well as being
a disappointment to her family and a
?very pushy lady?.
The fallout from the forced resignation of that minister, Damian Green, is
likely to have huge rami?cations not
just for Theresa May?s government but
for the police force, enmeshed as it is in
separate allegations against Green over
porn found on his computer. But what
of its impact on the media, which both
aired the allegations and then set about
trashing the alleged victim?s name?
Just after Green?s ?resignation?
was announced, in a press conference meant to discuss Brexit, May was
asked: ?Have you done enough to deal
with sexual harassment? And have the
police questions to answer??
May ?libustered on the ?wide question? of harassment ? talking about
domestic violence strategies and grievance procedures ? but on the police she
was clearer, demanding an investigation into the release of the information.
Yet the media does have questions to answer over this sorry affair.
Columnists like the Sun?s Rod Liddle
have a right to suggest that women who
feel uncomfortable when powerful
men touch their knee and talk of promotion are part of a ?weird and obsessive campaign?. But should papers be
able to run character assassinations
which impugn their target?s motives
for every act ? even moving schools?
A ?friend? told the Mail?s Andrew
Pierce that Maltby?s parents were
?absolutely aghast by what Kate has
done.? When Green resigned, her
parents wrote of their pride in their
daughter, who had acted with courage ?despite the attempted campaign
in certain sections of the media to
denigrate and intimidate her and other
witnesses?. The Mail, to its credit,
published this statement.
Last week it defended the ?pushy
lady? spread. A spokesman pointed
out the paper had also published in full
Maltby?s article criticising Green, and
that with ?allegations which contributed to the ruin of a cabinet minister?s
career ? both sides had an equal right
to be爃eard?.
He said: ?This was entirely legitimate journalism and we have received
no complaints about either Andrew
Pierce?s or Jan Moir?s articles.?
Whatever the possible reasons are
for the Mail?s coverage ? from support
for a pro-Brexit PM to personal liking
for Green ? it is likely to have deterred
others from coming forward.
Among the unintended consequences of this saga is likely to be
greater political support for an
inquiry into the relationship between
the media and police, the so-called
Leveson� Much has changed since
the Tories set out their opposition to
the inquiry in their manifesto this year.
Both this inquiry and new laws over
costs are still hanging over the press.
Leveson spoke of the power of the
media, both to expose wrongdoing
and to deter anyone from speaking
out. With Maltby, papers have done
both. The Times and its Sunday sister
revealed the allegations, but the Mail
and others offered a masterclass in how
not to treat citizens who speak out.
The Mail?s hatchet job, on a journalist who dared to speak out against
a politician perhaps favoured by its
editor-in-chief, ends with a killer
line from a ?Tory source? suggesting
Maltby ?might be more careful the next
time she?s asked to write a piece trashing a decent man?. It seems fair to ask
whether the Mail will be more careful
next time it trashes a decent woman.
24.12.17
A threat from
Paradise to all
public service
journalism
T
Victoria and, below, Bake Off?s Paul Hollywood. Main photograph by Gareth Gatrell/ITV
Event TV is a thing of Christmas past
W
hat will you be watching on
Christmas Day? Millions of
us will choose ITV?s Victoria over EastEnders on the
BBC, Call the Midwife rather than Bake
Off on Channel 4. The battle for the
box was once as festive as turkey with
all the trimmings, but could soon be as
archaic as tying real candles to the tree.
The chances are that anyone under
24 is much more likely to be slumped
over their phone or other mobile
device. Last year, 12% of 16-to-24-yearolds watched television from subscription video on demand (Net?ix, Amazon
et al) compared with 5% of total UK
video viewers. In 10 years? time, 40%
of their viewing will be on demand,
according to Enders Analysis. In contrast, more than 90% of their parents
(or the over-55s) will still be looking at
the TV schedules to see what?s on.
Streaming services have two huge
advantages over their terrestrial rivals:
they don?t have to bother with watersheds and they have lots of money to
spend, mainly on high-cost drama.
So is it all over for public service
broadcasters at Christmas? Leaving
aside the fact that the oldest family
members usually control the remote,
drama accounts for just 17% of
UK viewing. More than 85%
of all TV watching is news,
sport and everything else.
What?s more, nearly half of
those watching drama are
watching homegrown soaps
? sitting next to teenagers
on their phones.
he Paradise Papers investigation
into the dubious tax schemes of
the world?s wealthiest inhabitants involved 96 media organisations across 67 countries. Appleby, the
offshore law ?rm at the heart of the
story, has launched breach-of-con?dence proceedings against just two: the
Guardian and the BBC.
Appleby has not suggested that the
stories about tax havens and abuses
aren?t true. After a statement that it was
?obliged to take legal action in order to
ascertain what information has been
stolen? it has made no further comment. So one can only surmise that
Appleby rates its chances of convincing
a British court to ?nd in its favour.
With the bar for journalists to prove
public interest in the UK higher than
in many other jurisdictions, the case
could prove a litmus test for the protections offered for genuine public interest
journalism. All while other protections ? exemptions for use of data, for
example ? are under threat.
The Paradise Papers revelations
prompted worldwide anger and debate
over an important issue. The International Consortium of Investigative
Journalists is concerned not just by the
blow to free expression in the UK but
also by Appleby?s demand that the consortium?s two British members hand
over 6 million documents ? demands
that could endanger the life and wellbeing of sources. The Guardian has
said that it will defend itself vigorously
against the claims.
As this battle to protect free expression commences, an older one returns
to parliament on 10 January, when a
bill that could further erode journalism exemptions returns to the Lords.
In essence, amendments made to the
data protection bill would give primacy
to privacy over freedom of expression
when it comes to the use of personal
information.
Described as a ?compromise?
between the rights of a free press
and victims of press abuse by
Baroness Hollins, who tabled the
amendment, a weakening of
laws meant to protect genuine journalistic endeavours
would be an awful way to
start 2018. British protection is bad enough as it is.
Peter Preston is away
24.12.17
*
Editor: Shane Hickey cash@observer.co.uk
Personal ?nance
CASH | 41
What can you
do to resolve the
UK consumer?s
most common
complaints?
From ?ight delays to mis-sold PPI, it has been
a troublesome year. Shane Hickey suggests
how to tackle the most frequent problems
What passengers can get depends on
the ?ight distance. Anyone delayed
for more than three hours can claim
�0 for a short ?ight and �0 for a
medium ?ight. For long-haul ?ights, it
is �0 for delays between three and
four hours, and �0 after that.
If any ?ight is cancelled, under EU
law airlines have to provide a refund
or arrange an alternative ?ight. The
right to compensation depends on
the reason for the cancellation and
airlines can claim ?extraordinary
circumstances? such as security risk
or severe weather. But Which? says
it is worth challenging an airline if
you don?t agree with its claim. Where
EU regulations end is when ?ying
into Britain from outside the EU on
non-European airlines ? for example
a journey from Dubai to London
operated by Emirates.
PPI insurance
Current accounts that charge monthly
fees for added features such as mobile
phone insurance or travel insurance
have resulted in huge numbers of complaints in the past few years.
Parallels have been drawn between
these accounts and PPI, as they have
been slated for being poor value
and some people have complained
that they have been pressured into
buying them. Other complaints come
from consumers who are unaware of
restrictions that have been in place,
such as age limitations on attached
travel insurance.
If you feel that you have been missold a packaged bank account, Which?
has a template letter to send to your
bank. The consumer group advises
giving as much information as is
possible and an explanation as to why
you believe you have been mis-sold a
product.
Resolver says that if the complaint
is upheld, then the bank may offer all
or some of your fees back along with
interest, which is calculated at 8%
per annum. In the case that the bank
rejects the claim, it can be escalated
to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Avoid using claims management ?rms,
which may charge high commission
fees.
The UK?s costliest mis-selling scandal, it has been estimated that there
have been 64 million PPI policies sold,
mostly between 1990 and 2010.
These were sold alongside loans,
credit cards, mortgages and other
forms of borrowing to protect
repayments if income was lost through
redundancy or ill health.
The policies generated huge
pro?ts, but many banks and ?nancial
?rms were found to have mis-sold
them, with people ending up with an
insurance that they did not want, need
or in some cases know they had.
Last month the Financial Conduct
Authority reported its site had
received more than 1 million hits
after a campaign to raise awareness
about the deadline to make claims for
compensation, which is 29 August 2019.
More than �bn had been paid back
to customers who have complained
before the campaign began.
Anyone who thinks they have
been mis-sold PPI should check loan
and mortgage statements for any
references. If there is no paperwork
available, check your credit reports.
You may have a claim if it was
not made clear that the insurance
was optional; if exclusions were not
explained; or if you were not made
aware that you could buy cover from
another provider, among other reasons.
If you feel like you have a claim, both
Which? and Moneysavingexpert have
free template letters on their websites,
while Resolver has an online tool to
guide you through preparing and
submitting a claim.
Flight chaos
A computer failure on British Airways?
system resulted in chaos in May and
June, with thousands of passengers left
in limbo, many of whom were separated from their baggage. Resolver has
reported 113,000 complaints surrounding ?ights this year.
In the case of delays, EU law gives
signi?cant cover for ?ights that have
departed from an airport within the EU
(plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway
and Switzerland), operated by any
airline, and for ?ights arriving at an EU
airport and operated by an EU airline.
Packaged bank accounts
Online shopping
As more people turn to their computer
screens to do the shopping, their gripes
have increased ? mainly about making
a mistake while ordering, not getting
what was ordered, or purchases being
delivered to a different house (or not
at all).
Online purchases can be returned
within 14 days. You
ou can cancel
4 days and
an order within 14
than have anotherr 14 days to
return it. Once thee trader gets
ave another
the return, they have
14 days to reimburse
rse you.
When shopping online, traders
he chance
should give you the
to check your order
er and
correct any mistakes
kes as
well as sending a full
con?rmation of what
you have bought.
In the case of a
delivery going
missing, the
British Airways passengers wait at Heathrow after delays; below, mobile users will soon be able to switch contracts by text. EPA
trader is responsible for the order up
until the customer receives it. Orders
should be delivered within 30 days of
purchase.
In the case of goods bought on
Black Friday ? the pre-Christmas
promotional sale ? consumers have
the same rights as if the product was
bought at full price.
Mobile phone problems
Resolver reported a spike of almost
one-third in the number of complaints
about mobile phones, among them
repressive contracts, insurance issues
and the failure of providers to tell customers when they have paid for their
handset.
There was some good news for
mobile phone users this week with the
announcement of reforms by Ofcom.
Consumers will soon be able to switch
mobile phone providers by sending a
text message. This is aimed at resolving
difficulties reported by consumers in
trying to switch amid attempts by the
mobile provider to make them stay.
About two in every ?ve people are
said to experience at least one major
problem when switching, according to
Ofcom.
Figures from the regulator have
shown that total geographic 4G
coverage ? where a signal is available
from all four mobile operators ? is in
place across just 43% of the UK. For
calls and text messaging, 30% of the
UK does not receive a signal from all
four operators. The government?s
infrastructure adviser, Lord Adonis,
has warned that urgent action is
needed to tackle the problem of poor
mobile phone coverage. He wrote to
Ofcom asking that all options be put
on the table to resolve the problem and
called on the regulator to act urgently.
to provide high-speed broadband to
anyone who requests it, no matter
where they are in the country.
Ofcom said earlier this month that
more than 1 million ?forgotten homes?
were unable to get sufficiently fast
broadband to meet a typical family?s
needs, such as streaming ?lms or
music. The communications regulator
said 4% of UK homes and offices, about
1.1 million properties, could not access
broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps.
Rural families were more likely to be
left behind, with 17% of homes not
�
?It?s a safe
topic,
you can
complain
about it?
Why
weatherman
Tomasz
Schafernaker loves
a storm,
pages 12-15
Broadband
Problems with broadband are wide
and varied ? from coverage to speed.
The UK still lags behind many parts of
the world in terms of speed: in Japan,
97% of connections have high speed
full-?bre lines, compared with 3%
in Britain. There has been a rise of
almost
almos a third in the number
com
of complaints
surrounding
broadband,
according to the
broad
Resolver
?gures.
Reso
Th
There was some good
news for beleaguered
households with sluggish
hous
ccoverage last week.
The government
announced homes
and businesses will
have a legal right to
high-speed broadband
b 2020. Broadband
by
p
providers
will now
hav
have a legal requirement
receiving decent internet, compared
with 2% in cities and towns.
And the rest...
There has been a steep rise in complaints about t
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