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    Lloyds TSB re-brand 600 stores.

    The name TSB will once again feature on the UK’s high streets after Lloyds TSB re-brand 600 of its stores across the country with the name. We answer five questions on TSB’s comeback.

    Why has Lloyd TSB branded 600 of its branches TSB?

    The bank, which is 39 per cent owned by the taxpayer, is branding the branches TSB – which used to be on the high street 18 years ago – in preparation to sell of the new bank next year as part of a process ordered by the European Commission to provide greater competition.

    It was also a condition of the government’s bail out of the bank. 

    How will this affect customers of Lloyds TSB?

    For the five million people who will have their accounts transferred to the new bank the only change they will experience is a change in name.

    Bank account numbers and sort codes will remain the same and no one’s card will stop working because of the switch, the bank has reassured.

    Instead customers will receive a new card with the new name in due course.

    Until the sell-off will TSB be run as a separate bank or part of Lloyds?

    The bank will be run as a separate entity until its shares are sold off next year.

    The creation of a separate bank comes after a deal with the Co-operative Group to buy the branches fell through due to concerns about the financial stability of the Group.

    What have the experts said?

    Many experts have raised doubts over whether selling off TSB as a separate bank will make much difference to competition.

    Shore Capital's banking analyst Gary Greenwood told the BBC: "TSB will be painted as a new challenger brand on the high street but I doubt that its pricing is going to be very differentiated to competitors.

    "Current accounts tend to be very sticky and customers only tend to move if they have a really, really bad experience."

    When was TSB originally set up and what happened to it?

    TSB was set up 200 years ago as the Trustee Savings Bank and 18 years ago it was merged with Lloyds.


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    Rhetoric aside, how does Syria today actually compare to Iraq in 2003?

    Iraq has been the benchmark against which many commentators judge American foreign policy in the Middle East – no one wants “another Iraq”. But rhetoric aside, how does Syria today actually compare to Iraq in 2003?


    1. Bashar Al-Assad vs Saddam Hussein

    Both Assad and Hussein were Ba’athist dictators presiding over countries that are an unstable balance of different sectarian, political and ethnic groups. Long before any talk of US military involvement, both regimes committed atrocities against their civilian populations. In 1988 Hussein dropped chemical bombs on Kurdish citizens in Halabja, killing around 5,000 and injuring many more. Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar’s father and Syria’s former leader, crushed an uprising in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982, killing 20,000 people.


    In the political vacuum created by the US-invasion, Iraq was plagued with sectarian violence, and this continues today. The Syrian civil war is already dividing along sectarian lines at a time when these divides are deepening across the rest of the Middle East.


    2. The case made for war


    The case made for the US-led invasion in Iraq centred on Hussein’s failure to co-operate with weapons inspections and since-discredited evidence on the country’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. When it comes to Syria, Obama has signalled that Assad’s use of chemical weapons on unarmed civilians is a “red line” and the US wants to disrupt and degrade the regime’s military capabilities against civilians.


    The UN estimates that around 100,000 have been killed in Syria so far. We know that if the US doesn’t intervene, many more will die before a political solution is found, but we don’t know how many will be killed if the US carries out military action. The Iraq body count estimates between 114,407 and 125,380 civilians have been killed following the US invasion. It’s hard to argue that this many would have died if Iraq was not invaded in 2003.


    3. The cost of intervention


    Estimates of the overall cost of the Iraq war run as high as $2trn. The US has signalled that military action in Syria will be more limited, and there will be “no boots on the ground.” This blog by the Cato institute has a stab at estimating the cost of a Syrian intervention. It suggests training rebels could cost $500m and that establishing a Syrian no-fly zone could cost $500m initially, and then up to a billion dollars a month.


    The Cato Institute blog also points out that in 2003 then-Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki predicted in February 2003 that it would take “several hundred thousand soldiers,” to stabilize Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. So expect costs to inflate beyond official figures.


    4. Outside involvement


    Unlike Iraq pre-2003, there is already a high level of external involvement on the ground in Syria. The Gulf States and Turkey as well as the US and Europe are offering varying degrees of financial and military support to a broad range of anti-Assad factions, while Assad can still count on backing from Iran and Russia.  There can be no doubt that Syria’s interventions will have far-reaching repercussions across the Middle East, and post-Arab Spring, politics across the region is far more volatile and unpredictable than it was ten years ago.


    5. Appetite for war


    The US’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have dampened public appetite for war, and have reduced expectations that any US military involvement will be neat or quick. If Obama wins support for the Iraq war in Congress, the US will go to war in Syria with France as its chief European partner, not the UK. The US can expect support from the Arab League, too. It urged the international community to "take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for". Just as in Iraq, the US cannot hope for UN backing for its actions – arguably this was seen as more important in 2003 because today we have lower expectations of the UN’s divided Security Council.

     

     


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    Green shoots in this sector are just as important.

    Last week’s manufacturing and service sector data caused many sighs of relief, in Threadneedle Street, in Westminster, and also in boardrooms up and down the country, as evidence built of a sustained economic recovery in the UK. However, as is often the case, many were noticeably more enthusiastic about information from the "making things" part of the economy, than from the "doing things" part.

    Much of that interest in manufacturing can be attributed to the perception that manufacturers offer the solution to the UK’s trade deficit. However, while it is certainly be part of the solution, the service sector has an equally important part to play in ensuring the UK’s international competitiveness.

    The UK leads the world in many specialist and high-quality areas of manufacturing, but we also possess genuine excellence in the services sector. The UK has world leaders in media, marketing, publishing, entertainment, accountancy, law, technology, scientific research, business consulting and more. Those are all industries capable of providing knowledge and expertise at an economically significant level for global consumption, and helping to secure a sustainable recovery for the UK economy.

    And to laud our professional economy should not take away from those parts of the service economy that do not export – the retail parks, the high streets and the back offices of our country. Such enterprises are often condemned by those wont to complain that our economy is the weaker for having such a high proportion of service sector businesses, but this is wrong. A manufacturer that does not export still adds value to the economy, and the same is true of a wholly domestic service business.  The contribution of such a business is not measured in the value of exports, but in the efficiency of the business, and the support it can render to its customers in the wider economy. Such businesses are as worthy of investment as any other and, as we plan for a brighter economic future, we will need to plan for the long-term future of both manufacturing and services, and not just those services with an international operation.

    So, how should we go about preserving and enhancing the UK’s success in services – to make sure that our international companies compete with the world’s best, and that our non-professional services add the maximum value to the economy? Well, in this case, service industries should take their cue from the manufacturing economy, where leaders have long called for a fundamental change in the skills and knowledge that young people take from their basic education.

    Much of the UK’s education system is world-class but, if it is to sustain a world-class economy, then ongoing reforms will need to ensure a greater focus on science, technology, engineering, and maths (otherwise known as STEM) skills. In fact, that is one change that could help secure the successful future of both manufacturing and services. STEM skills are now just as important for service workers as they are for those in manufacturing. The business world is now so reliant on technology that few processes can be properly understood without some knowledge of the enterprise systems and applications that make them possible.

    Furthermore, it would be a huge mistake to think that such understanding is only relevant to those destined to be managers and technicians. In my work, I see all levels of the service economy – one day I might be showing a publishing CEO how technology can help her company engage with new audiences, the next I might be advising a telecoms customer experience manager on how to keep his contact centre staff motivated and appropriately skilled. Whether speaking with MBA graduates or school leavers, my team and I see that the skills and knowledge required in the modern workplace are changing quickly.  Whether for a customer service representative being asked to advise on appropriate apps for a small-business phone user, or a lawyer who sees her case turn on the capabilities of data protection infrastructure, some level of technical knowledge is often indispensable.

    Successful businesses and successful economies are not just built on good management, but on good work, and good work comes from a workforce with skills and knowledge appropriate to the world in which it operates. If we want the British workforce to be like this, then we should make sure that the foundation for such skills and knowledge is laid at the earliest opportunity.  Doing so will have equal benefits for both services and manufacturing, helping us preserve our global leadership in the creative and professional industries, and making sure that the consumer facing service businesses we use every day remain fit for purpose.


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    Including, this is still the slowest recovery for 100 years, the economy is 2.9% smaller and most people are still getting poorer.

    After the economy grew for two consecutive quarters and growth forecasts were revised from the terrible to the merely mediocre, George Osborne has decided it's time to declare victory. In his speech earlier today in east London, the Chancellor claimed that "those in favour of a Plan B have lost the argument" and that Britain was "turning the corner". The media, most of which endorsed austerity in 2010, has every interest in echoing his words. But here are five reasons why it's still the Chancellor and his supporters who have all the explaining to do. 

    1. This is still the slowest recovery for more than a century

    Growth has returned - it was always bound to at some point (and no Keynesian ever suggested otherwise) - but this remains the slowest recovery for more than 100 years. Had Osborne achieved the OBR's original June 2010 forecasts, the economy would now be 8.1% larger. Instead, after a collapse in private and public investment, it's only 4% larger. To make up the lost ground since 2010, the economy would need to grow at 1.3% a quarter for the next two years. Output of 0.7% is the least we should expect (not least when the population is growing). 

    2. The economy is 2.9% smaller than before the crash (the US is 4.5% larger)

    Owing to three years of anaemic growth, the economy is still 2.9% below its pre-recession peak. In the US, by contrast, where the Obama administration maintained fiscal stimulus, the economy is 4.5% larger than in 2007 after growth three times greater than that of the UK since autumn 2010. And it's not just the Americans who have outpaced us. The UK recovery has been slower that of any other G7 country bar Italy. 

    3. Unemployment hasn't fallen for six months and underemployment is at a near-record high

    Before the economy returned to growth, the Tories were hailing employment as this government's success story (as they did when the most recent were published). But the data, as so often, tells a different story. After falling from 8.4% to 7.7% between November 2011 and November 2012, the headline rate of unemployment has been stuck at around 7.8% for the last six months, 0.1% higher than its previous low.

    That total joblessness has not risen to the heights experienced in the 1980s owes more to the willingness of workers to price themselves into employment (real wages have fallen by a near-unprecedented 9%) than the success of the government's strategy.  

    Alongside this, underemployment is surging, with a record 1.43m in part-time jobs because they can't find full-time work. Worst of all, long-term unemployment (those out of work for more than a year) is at a near-record high and youth unemployment is at 973,000 (21.4%).

    4.  His deficit reduction plan failed and he's forecast to borrow £245bn more

    For a man whose raison d'etre is deficit reduction ("The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement," states the Coalition Agreement), Osborne isn't very good at it. Having originally pledged to eliminate the structural deficit by 2014-15 and ensure that debt is falling as a proportion of GDP by 2015-16, he's been forced to push both targets back to 2017-18.

    Contrary to what some on the right claim, this isn't due to any lack of austerity. Infrastructure spending has been slashed by 42%, VAT has been increased to 20% and 356,000 public sector jobs have been cut, so that the state workforce is now at its lowest level since 1999. Despite all this, Osborne is still forecast to borrow £245bn more than planned across this parliament and more in five years than Labour did in 13. 

    5. Most people are still getting poorer - and that won't change soon

    While the media and the political class fixate over GDP, it's a poor measure of the nation's economic health. As we saw even before the crash, a growing economy can disguise stagnating or falling wages for the majority. Between April and June, average weekly earnings (excluding bonuses) rose by just 1.1% compared with a year earlier, 1.7% below the rate of inflation (2.8%). Since the election, average pay has fallen by £1,350 a year in real terms, with most now earning no more than they were in 2003, a worse performance than every EU country except Portugal, the Netherlands and Greece.

    And the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon. Wages aren't expected to outstrip inflation until 2015 at the earliest and earnings for low and middle income families won't reach pre-recession levels until 2023


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    My Glaswegian father won't be celebrating the Glorious Twelfth, but the Scottish economy depends on moneyed tourists shooting grouse in a stylised countryside idyll.

    Having lunch with my Father in Glasgow a couple of months ago, he was telling a friend about a planned trip abroad during August when his friend interrupted,"But you'll be away for the Glorious Twelfth! I mean, you couldn't possibly miss that."

    My father put down his malbec, raised his eyebrows, looked up at his friend and said, "Aye."

    'Aye' to a Scot is a word with multiple meanings. The tone, the timing, the context is everything. My Father never has dressed up in tweed, sauntered off to a Scottish moor and shot carefully positioned semi-wild birds - and I am willing to bet any amount of money that he never will. 'Aye' in this context was an able substitute for an expletive filled sentence. 

    No one I know in Scotland goes hunting for grouse or partridge. Quite a few fish, and some do occasionally go pigeon-shooting, but never grouse. It is not something that people like me, us, do.

    On returning from living in Spain, I began to consciously realise how differently we think of the countryside and shooting things in it. Hunting in most of Europe is something old men do in the country. Villagers get together and hunt: quails, partridge, pheasants. In France, more game is eaten in the countryside than in cities, and it is cheaper there. In Germany, hunting is something done by farmers, often as part of land management, and it is rare to find people in cities who are particularly interested in killing as sport. There is no great celebration in capital cities for the beginning of the season, no rush to be eating the first kill in the best place; it just arrives, as surely as wild mushrooms and figs. Elsewhere, the great Castillian writer Miguel Delibes often said in interviews that he considered himself a hunter who wrote. He would explain that his ability to express the language of the peasant in Castille, to understand the people of small towns and villages came from his many years hunting on the plains and talking to those he was with. I cannot think of any British writer who would say that hunting brought them close to the common man.

    The issue, as with so many things in this country, is a class one, and is the result of more than 200 years of the upper classes idealising the countryside.

    A perfect example of this is Thomas Gainsborough's painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews in 1750. They have engaged an important portrait artist at considerable expense and have arranged a delightful rural landscape to be at the centre of the painting. Mr Andrews has both a hunting dog beside him and a gun. Mrs Andrews is in a well made, high quality material blue "shepherdess" dress, the 18th century equivalent of an Alexander McQueen peasant gown. There are artistically arranged bundles of wheat and the outline of sheep in a field in the background. This is not the countryside of poor, malnourished peasants tending to the land, or indeed even well-off, well-fed ones; it is a theme park for the super rich.

    This rural playground was highly stylised and managed. The great landscape gardener Capability Brown made gardens such as those at Blenheim Palace seem like wild landscapes. The clusters of trees, the artificial lakes systems of dams and canals to create an illusion of rivers, were all an exercise in creating a pleasing, artificially tame countryside idyll.

    Nowadays the super rich can hire hunting lodges and go shooting and fishing in a wild landscape that no longer needs Victorian stereoscopes to look like the stylised ideal. Heather is burned and trees prevented from growing to enable grouse to flourish. Moorland has been greatly extended at massive costs to trees and forests, and while certain types of rare wildlife flourish in moorland, the lack of forest affects other, equally important parts of the ecosystem. The wild, untamed Scottish moors are, in reality, about as wild and untamed as a back garden in Surrey.

    Grouse shooting brings in an average of £30m per year to the rural Scottish economy, bringing a few badly needed jobs away from the traditional tourist season. £30 million sounds like a lot, until you consider that the pay day loan company Wonga recently posted pre tax profits of £84.5 million.
    The Glasgow Herald was in jubilant mood last week quoting Visit Scotland's Chairman Mike Cantlay: "The Glorious Twelfth provides Scotland with a great opportunity to showcase our country sports credentials to wealthy visitors from around the world." Rich people coming to play country aristocrats in rural Scotland brings in £250 million a year. Merlin entertainments, who run Alton Towers, Legoland and Madame Tussaud's, brought in £928.4 million in 2011 and made an operating profit of £222.5 million in the same year.

    It is hard to make a living in the countryside; even modern farming is surprisingly difficult to turn into profit. Meanwhile, keeping vast tracts of land in a certain condition for the entertainment of the rich, deliberately creating land masses for the purpose of having enough suitable birds to make it easy to shoot them, making all these things "reassuringly expensive", and having a class-ridden elitist ideal of these sports isn't making enough money anymore either. Entertaining the rich, in these circumstances, just isn't profitable enough.

    It seems that these pared-down bloodsport theme parks for the British moneyed may well be finally going out of fashion.


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    Tickets for LFF 2013 go on sale on this Thursday (12 Sept). Our film critic Ryan Gilbey picks ten of the most promising films from this year's line up.

    With booking for this year’s London Film Festival opening to BFI members on Thursday 12 September (and to the public on Friday 20 September), it’s time for the customary lucky-dip round-up of some of the most promising titles in the programme. As usual, I’ve tried to exclude the big, headline-grabbing movies that will doubtless be sold out within seconds, or which go on release anyway within a few days or weeks of being unveiled at the festival.

    The opening film, Paul Greengrass’s factually-based Captain Phillips, which puts Tom Hanks at the helm of a US container ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, will be hitting cinemas nationwide a week later, where you can see it for a fraction of its £32 Opening Night Gala price. Similarly, why grab a two- or three-week jump on Stephen Frears’s Philomena (which won Venice’s Best Screenplay award for Jeff Pope and star/co-writer Steve Coogan, and opens on 1 November) Alfonso Cuarón’s admittedly long-awaited Gravity (8 November), this year’s Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour (15 November) or The Selfish Giant (25 November), the Oscar Wilde-inspired new film from Clio Barnard, director of the visionary semi-documentary The Arbor? Go digging instead.

    Surprisingly, neither of the films which took the top prizes last weekend at the Venice Film Festival are currently to be found on the LFF horizon—Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA, a documentary set on and around the Grande Raccordo Anulare (Rome’s ring road), and the runner-up, Tsai Ming-liang’s Jiaoyou (Stray Dogs), which Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times described as “a kind of madly lyricised Lear of the Taipei underworld.” But there is always time for last-minute additions, even outside the Surprise Film category (which tends to be reserved for something English-language and broadly audience-pleasing: last year the slot was taken by Silver Linings Playbook). Below are ten try-your-luck picks, some big, some small, taken from those titles already confirmed for the 57th London Film Festival:

    At Berkeley

    Master documentary-maker Frederick Wiseman takes four hours to explore life at Berkeley University as it is shaped and threatened by budgetary cuts of more than 50 per cent.

    Computer Chess

    Andrew Bujalski is one of the progenitors of the US indie “Mumblecore” movement (along with Greta Gerwig and director Joe Swanberg, whose new film Drinking Buddies is also in the LFF). I’ve heard great claims made for his 1980s-set study of chess geeks developing a computer program that can trounce a human opponent at the game.

    Eastern Boys

    Writer-director Robin Campilo usually co-writes and edits with Laurent Cantet, branching out every now and then with his own work. He made Les Revenants, which inspired the recent hit TV series The Returned, and now he has directed this drama about the relationship between a middle-aged French man and a Ukrainian teenager.

    Exhibition

    The only title on this list that I’m not recommending sight unseen is this creepy but compassionate third feature from Joanna Hogg (Unrelated, Archipelago), about an artist couple preparing to sell the spectacular Modernist home in west London that has been their protective shell.

    Great Passage

    The compiling of a new dictionary over 14 years is the starting point for this humorous tale from Japan. The LFF brochure calls it “Dickensian.” That’s enticing enough for me.

    Kon-Tiki

    The incredible story of Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who set out in 1947 on a hazardous raft-trip from Peru. A Canadian friend said of one CGI-enabled sequence in the film: “For a moment, I felt the way I did seeing movies as a tyke, awestruck at the cheap thrills movies can provide.”

    Night Moves

    Kelly Reichardt frustrated as many viewers as she impressed with her doggedly realistic western Meek’s Cutoff (for the record, I was in the latter camp). Her new film is a thriller about environmental activists played by Jesse Eisenberg (who can also be seen in the LFF in Richard Ayoade’s The Double) and Dakota Fanning.

    12 Years a Slave

    Rave reviews have flooded in from the Toronto Film Festival for the third film from British artist and director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame). This reportedly powerful slavery drama stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch.

    Under the Skin

    An obvious pick, perhaps—I selected it at the start of this year as one of the films I was most looking forward to in 2013—but the polarised reaction from Venice to Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel about a predatory alien (Scarlett Johansson) has surely only inflamed the sense of anticipation.

    We Are the Best!

    There was relief at the festival press launch when a trailer for this comedy-drama about a female, teenage punk band in 1980s Stockholm indicated that the filmmaker Lukas Moodysson, here adapting a graphic novel by his daughter Coco, had returned to the wit and energy of his early features (Show Me Love—aka Fucking Amal—and Together).

    The London Film Festival runs 9—20 October.


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    It is surely no surprise that when there is a predominantly right-wing government, those not in power will use other means to challenge government decisions - that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    The second salvo in the Government’s war against Judicial Review was launched last week. At least, that is what you may think after reading the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling’s fire-breathing op-ed in the Daily Mail, in which he gets within a whisker of saying Judicial Review was invented by Karl Marx to foment socialist revolution.

    Beware kite flyers", warned former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley in a recent article. Before Mr Grayling’s latest article, Sir Stephen argued that placing a political attack dog in the constitutionally delicate role of Lord Chancellor ”exposed the legal system to the vagaries of politics and policy, with profound implications for the rule oflaw“. Law was hardly insulated before. But it is difficult to remember a Lord Chancellor putting his case in such a nakedly political and incendiary way.

    He begins: “The professional campaigners of Britain are growing in number, taking over charities, dominating BBC programmes and swarming around Westminster“. Really, that’s how it starts. Taking over, swarming, dominating. Here come the lefties!

    I want to concentrate, for now, on the focus of Grayling’s article, that is the concern that Judicial Review has become a “promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners“. I will make three points.

    First, Mr Grayling’s case is (again) crushed under the weight of his own department’s statistics. He argues there are now “thousands” of Judicial Review claims and “many are no longer just an opportunity for an individual to challenge an official decision, but are used by campaign groups as a legal delaying tactic for something they oppose“. But how many is many? Well, according to the Government’s consultation document, “50 judicial reviews per year have been identified that appear to have been lodged by NGOs, charities, pressure groups and faith organisations, i.e. by claimants who may not have had a direct interest in the matter at hand” (para 78). So, “many” is actually 50 per year, our of around 11,500. Which, percentage fans, is just shy of 0.5%. And, of that tiny proportion, only six per year, are successful.

    According to the milder, but still in its own civil-servanty way, incendiary consultation document, the Government is “concerned that the wide approach to standing has tipped the balance too far, allowing judicial review to be used to seek publicity or otherwise to hinder the process of proper decision-making. ” 50 claims per year, out of 11,500. Tipped the balance too far. Really? There is a respectable argument against the rise of public interest litigation – that some issues are better dealt with by elected representatives than judges – but if its growth so limited, it is difficult to see how any change is justified.

    Second, Judicial Review is not a pinko lefty conspiracy. It has regularly been utilised by non-lefties such as The Daily Mail over the Leveson Inquiry, the Countryside Alliance over fox hunting, Stuart Wheeler seeking a referendum over the Lisbon Treaty and Lord Rees Mogg (Senior) attempting something similar over the Maastricht Treaty. I am not sure the mostly Tory councils challenging the high-speed rail link or those criticising the decision to bury Richard III in Leicester (on which see this), both referred to explicitly by Mr Grayling, would be happy to be included in this overly simplistic picture of a left-wing conspiracy.

    Third, it is surely no surprise that when there is a predominantly right-wing government, those not in power will use other means to challenge government decisions. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. MPs make the law but are also subject to it. By using Judicial Review, individuals can challenge the legality of actions of the state in court. MPs would probably quite like to get on with their jobs without pesky constituents and judges challenging their decisions. But that’s not how a balance of power system works. As Dr Mark Elliott points out, it “be surprising if the government were judicial review’s biggest fan“.

    There are good reasons why courts have liberalised the rules on standing over the years. As Lord Diplock (not a famous left winger) said in ex parte National Federation of Self Employed [1982] AC 617, 644 (quoted by Richard Edwards):

    ‘It would, in my view, be a grave lacuna in our system of public law if a pressure group like the federation, or even a single public-spirited taxpayer, were prevented by outdated technical rules of locus standi from bringing the matter to the attention of the court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped.’

    The point is that everyone benefits from unlawful conduct being stopped, not just the busy bodies (for more, see this excellent article). It is hardly in the public interest for public authorities to be able to evade the rule of law just because no directly affected individual has brought a claim. In our increasingly complex society, charities and Non Governmental Organisations are often the only ones keeping pace with difficult, convoluted policies and should be allowed to challenge them through the courts where necessary. The consultation document even recognises that “the court may benefit from the knowledge which expert groups can bring”, so what exactly is the point of this change? If it is to limit inconvenient criticism of the Government, then it should be rejected.

    Sometimes, especially with Government consultations, a kite is raised in order to distract from what is really happening on the ground. As with the last phase of JR reform, the rhetoric is more extreme than the reality. But the proposals themselves, taken as a whole, are significant (Dr Elliot summarises them here). They will further limit Judicial Review as an effectives means of challenging unlawful state actions. The real mischief, far from the distracting kite, is probably the ongoing restriction on legal aid funding for Judicial Review as well as increasing the cost consequences of bringing one. As Dr Elliot puts it

    the most concerning matter is the underlying – but very clearly implicit – assumption that the nature of the relationship between the government and the courts falls to be determined by the former (with the assistance of Parliament where necessary). It is the very fact that such lop-sidedness is hard-wired into our existing constitutional arrangements that makes political restraint imperative; and it is precisely such restraint that is increasingly lacking.

    It is now clear that even the limited restraint exercised by Mr Grayling’s predecessor, Ken Clarke, has been jettisoned and replaced by the beat of the ideological drum. Judicial Review is not about left or right. It is about Government being subject to the law. The legal community, as well as the left and right wing civil society groups which think Judicial Review is important, need to respond forcefully in order to bring this kite back down to earth.

    This article first appeared on ukhumanrightsblog.com, and is crossposted here with the author's permission


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    We need to teach children how to differentiate between threatening situations and threatening people, whether those people are familiar or not.

    Recently, Daybreak performed an 'experiment' to see if children would leave a public park with someone they don't know. We have a clean link to the Daily Mail piece here. We have removed photographs from this link, as we are concerned about the ethical nature of an experiment that pixelates the adult 'stranger' but not the children who were involved.

    Some of the children offered to help the ‘stranger’ in finding his lost dog - he was no doubt plausible, and will have been able to relate to the children in order to engage them in this experiment. Some of the children went with him, some started to and then changed their minds, and some were called back by their mothers before they were out of sight.

    Children are compliant by nature.  We tell children that they should listen to adults, that they must do what adults tell them to do, and they must respond promptly to instructions.

    Unless they are a ‘stranger’.

    Now, I don't know about you, but I taught my child about stranger danger when she was quite small. When she was three years old, we went to see Father Christmas, and when he asked, “Have you been good this year?”, she responded by looking at me and whispering, “You said I shouldn't talk to strangers.” Cue much embarrassment by the jolly man in the red suit, and motherly pride that my teaching was having an impact.

    How wrong I was.

    Not long after that, I attended some training for my job called Protective Behaviours (PB). Now, as far as I'm concerned, PB should form the basis of all supportive work with children. Unfortunately, although schools teach about safety, not all of them discuss the intricacies of those physiological responses that can alert us; not just to danger, but to something ‘not quite right’.

    Protective Behaviours has two themes, both simple and self-explanatory but needing a little expansion:

    We all have the right to feel safe, all of the time.

    Do most children know what feeling 'safe' feels like? Not in my experience. I've worked with many children (schools, children's services, women's services) and often, they have no idea what feeling safe means, as no-one taught them.

    Children don't know what it means to feel safe. Have we absolved ourselves of the responsibility for teaching our children what it is to feel safe? 

    Children need to be taught about risk, managing risk and being safe. Teaching them about safety means talking about feelings and emotions, and how those affect our physiological responses – something as simple as ‘tummy butterflies’ indicating that we are excited, nervous or anxious, for instance. Indeed, ignoring our physiological responses when we are unsafe is an issue for both children and adults. We ignore those 'early warning signs' for many reasons, one of them being mistrust in our body responses because we don't understand them. We don’t understand them, in turn, because nobody teaches us to.

    Once a child understands what it is to feel safe, we can then talk about what to do when they don't.

     

    Nothing is too awful, or too small, that we cannot talk to someone about it.

    We all understand the 'awful'. We know that children are physically, sexually and emotionally abused (most often by those close to them) and neglected by adults who should care for them.

    The 'too small' relates to minor issues that adults often dismiss: name-calling in the playground, feeling that they haven't got any friends, worrying about homework - all of which can cause children to feel anxious, worried or scared and therefore unsafe.

    Protective Behaviours works on the basis that a child can talk to someone who makes them feel safe. Because without knowing what 'safe' is, children may not talk to anyone.

    Once children understand how their physiology helps them understand their emotions, they can get help to be safe. Arbitrary decisions based on 'strangers' or people close to them are useless - in fact, they could be dangerous. This is because strangers are often those people who can help: a voice on a helpline, a social worker, a police officer, a support worker. How do we teach children to differentiate between 'adults who will help keep them safe' and 'strangers'? Without giving them the skills to understand their own right to safety and what it feels like, we can't.

     

    This post isn't to say that we shouldn't teach children about stranger danger because the risk is low. Teaching children to differentiate between 'unsafe' and 'safe' adults gives them a space to talk, to be believed, and protects them more than any blanket 'don't talk to strangers' message ever will.

    Children are not responsible for keeping themselves safe; that is the job of adults. Persisting with the notion that we can keep children safe by repeating the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ line is misleading and unhelpful.

    We need to be having open and honest conversations with our children about their ‘early warning signs’, what it means to feel safe, who they can trust and where to get help from - and at the same time, we should be talking about those who do abuse children, as that is our responsibility too.

    The biggest concern is that those conversations seem curiously lacking.


    End Victimisation & Abuse are a women's collective. As survivors of stalking and domestic abuse, they prefer to remain anonymous. Find out more at everydayvictimblaming.com.

     


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    David Skelton's proposal shows how the Tories could begin to expand their appeal but the PM seems happiest playing the old tunes.

    While David Cameron and many other Tory ministers often give the impression of never being happier than when at war with the trade unions, David Skelton, the director of Renewal, the new group seeking to broaden the Conservatives' appeal, advocates a more thoughtful approach. 

    To coincide with the TUC conference, Skelton has called for the Tories to include a commitment in their manifesto to offer free party membership to all trade unionists. He rightly notes that there almost 7 million union members in the UK (a number which increased by 59,000 last year) and that they hold the balance of power in many of the midlands and northern marginals that the Conservatives need to win to stand any chance of achieving a majority. It's a perspective that contrasts notably with that of many other Tories. In a post on ConservativeHome earlier this year, Harry Phibbs listed a fall in union membership in 2011 as a "coalition achievement".

    Skelton said:

    There won’t be any Conservative Ministers speaking at the TUC Congress this week and, in the eyes of many, Conservatives and the trade union movement remain poles apart. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Conservatives should look to the example of Margaret Thatcher, who made 'Conservative Trade Unionists' a thriving organisation, with around 250 branches. There’s no reason why such an organisation, with national and regional spokespeople shouldn’t exist today. Likewise it makes sense to offer all trade unionists free membership of the Conservative Party. I can’t see Len McCluskey or Bob Crow signing up. But the fact that union leaders are often out of touch with their members provides an opportunity for Conservatives to appeal to union members over the heads of their leaders.

    Conservatives should be careful not to put off instinctively conservative union members through over-zealous anti-union rhetoric. Treating all trade unionists as some kind of ‘red under the bed’ threat is neither credible nor likely to make union members more willing to listen to the Conservative message.

    It's an argument that Conservative MP Robert Halfon has previously made on The Staggers ("Why the Tories should embrace the trade unions"), warning that when the Tories criticise unions, "the effect is not just to demonise militancy, but every trade union member, including doctors, nurses and teachers." He praised unions as "essential components of the Big Society", noting that "they are the largest voluntary groups in the UK. They are rooted in local communities, and are very much social entrepreneurs. TUC research shows that trade union officers are eight times more likely to engage in voluntary work than the average."

    There was a time when Cameron shared this ambition to win over the unions. He became the first Conservative leader in more than a decade to meet the then TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and even appointed a union emissary, the former Labour MEP Richard Balfe, to spearhead secret negotiations. But more recently, he crudely attacked unions as a "threat to the economy", a remark reminiscent of Thatcher's notorious branding of the miners as "the enemy within". 

    The 2005-era Cameron would surely have seized on the idea of free party membership for trade unionists as soon as it was proposed. But even after failing to win a majority in 2010, he seems ever happier to play the old tunes. If the Tories are to expand, rather than merely preserve, their support, that will need to change soon. 


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    Conveniently ignored.

    Much has been made in the press of Britain’s looming energy crisis over the past few years, with the more hysterical among us claiming that rolling blackouts are just around the corner. It is certainly true that if demand for electricity rises as predicted over the next decade or so, Britain will not have the generation capacity to keep up with demand. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that much of the country’s current power supply, especially its aging nuclear power plants, is reaching the end of its design life and will shortly be closed down. In fact, by 2023, all but one of Britain’s currently operating nuclear plants will have ceased operation, with the remaining reactor at Sizewell B soldiering on alone until 2035.

    This has spurred the government into action, searching in earnest for new generation capacity to plug the looming gap. The cheapest and quickest solution would be to build larger and larger coal-fired thermal power plants, an especially attractive option given the current low price of coal on the international market, thanks to demand falling in the US as a result of its boom in shale gas production.

    Of course, as well as being environmentally-toxic, this solution is also politically-so, with few willing to advocate a non-green solution to our energy needs. This leaves the government with the choice between renewables and nuclear power, both much cleaner alternatives, barring any Fukushima-style meltdowns. At this stage, it boils down to the cost of the electricity produced, on a per megawatt hour (MwH) basis. By the time the first of the new power plants is up and running in the 2020s, experts are predicting nuclear power to sell for around £95/MwH , whereas the leading renewable alternative, offshore wind power, would come in at just over £100/MwH. So, nuclear it is, simple as that.

    Having reached this conclusion, so followed a global search for investors willing to stump up the cash for a fleet of new ultra-efficient, ultra-safe nuclear power plants. So far, the Horizon project, with plans to build reactors in Oldbury and Wylfa has been spearheaded by Japan’s Hitachi, and new reactors at Sizewell and Hinkley Point have been agreed with France’s EDF. The Financial Times has also reported that state-owned Chinese and Russia nuclear power suppliers are keen to enter the UK market, showing no shortage of potential options. At £95/MwH, investors know they can turn a profit, despite the large initial capex of nuclear power, estimated by EDF to stand at £14bn for the construction at Hinkley Point.

    But what this price prediction fails to recognise is the massive cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors once they are finally closed after decades of service. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the body responsible for coordinating the dismantling of closed nuclear power facilities and the disposal of radioactive waste, is learning the hard way just how much decommissioning can cost.

    A government white paper in 2002 estimated the cost of decommissioning Britain’s current fleet of plants would be £43bn, many times greater than EDF’s investment at Hinkley Point. This estimate has slowly been revised upwards since then, finally reaching £73bn in 2007, before the NDA admitted the following year that it could still go up by several billion more.

    One of the major costs is the safe disposal of highly radioactive material, which will not decay sufficiently as to become safe, for hundreds of thousands of years, most of which is held in temporary storage at the Sellafield reprocessing facility in Cumbria. Home to what The Observercalls “the most hazardous industrial building in western Europe”, building B30 houses an ageing cooling pond whose contents is not entirely known, even to the managers at the site, being a collection of spent fuel rods and other reactors parts from Britain’s earliest forays into nuclear power. This is just one of several such buildings on the site, whose contents is not known and is too radioactive to be adequately investigated.

    Decades of successive governments have not quite known how to deal with this legacy of highly toxic waste materials accumulating at Sellafield, with further waste coming to the site and stored as other reactors from plants around the UK have produced spent fuel rods. Earlier this year, the Public Accounts Committee heavily criticised the cost of operations and clean-up at Sellafield, which has risen from £900m a year in 2005 to £1.6bn today.  In 2006, an idea was floated for deep geological storage of some of the highly toxic waste, some 200-1000m below the surface. But again, this plan has yet to receive firm funding, so the saga continues.

    The current government knows that it will be long gone by the time these new reactors are shuttered and authorities must face up to their decommissioning, so it is convenient for them to continue conveniently ignoring the additional cost this process will have on the total overall financial impact of nuclear power on the UK taxpayer. It may be the cheaper and easier sell now, but certainly the more expensive in the long run. The spiralling costs at Sellafield are testament to that.


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    Labour leader will say in his TUC speech that Cameron's declaration that trade unions are a "threat to our economy" was reminiscent of Thatcher's "the enemy within" and Romney's "47%".

    After weeks of increasingly visceral abuse from the Conservatives, Ed Miliband has decided that attack is the best form of defence. In his speech to the TUC tomorrow, Miliband will use some of the strongest language we've heard from him in an extended assault on David Cameron. After Cameron described trade unions as a "threat to the economy", he will accuse the PM of reviving memories of Margaret Thatcher's notorious description of the miners as "the enemy within" and will compare him to Mitt Romney, who memorably dismissed "the 47%" of the US electorate who would never vote for him.

    In a return to the "one nation" theme of his 2012 conference speech, he will also argue that past Conservative leaders such as Benjamin Disraeli would be "turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty, divisive, small-minded rhetoric of the leader of their once great party." Here's the full extract:

    They [one nation Tories] knew the Conservative Party had to represent the whole country. They couldn’t write off whole swathes of people if they were to be worthy of governing Britain. It seems extraordinary to have to even talk about this historical lesson. But I do.

    We have a Prime Minister, who writes you and your members off. Who doesn’t just write you off, but oozes contempt for you from every pore. What does he say about you? He says your members are a “threat to our economy”. Back to the enemy within.

    Six and a half million people in Britain. Who teach our children, who look after the sick, who care for the elderly, who build our homes, who keep our shops open morning, noon and night. They’re not the enemy within. They’re the people who make Britain what it is.

    How dare he? How dare he insult people, members of trade unions as he does? How dare he write off whole sections of our society? One Nation Conservatives, would be turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty, divisive, small-minded rhetoric of the leader of their once great party.

    We know from recent experience what happens to political leaders who write off whole sections of a country. That’s what Mitt Romney did when he talked about the 47% of people who would never vote for him. And look what happened to him. Friends, my job is to make sure that’s what happens to David Cameron as well.

    l expect Conservatives will respond by pointing out that Cameron was referring to the threat of a general strike, rather than to trade unions per se. He said at Prime Minister's Questions on 12 September 2012: "The trade unions do provide a threat to our economy. They threatened a strike to stop our fuel supplies, they threatened a strike to disrupt the Olympics, now they threaten a strike to wreck the economy."

    But if Cameron wishes to avoid appearing to hold all trade unionists in contempt (as he often does), he could do worse than take up Renewal director David Skelton's proposal of offering free Conservative membership to union members. Skelton, whose new group is seeking to expand the Tories' appeal among working class and ethnic minority voters, wisely warned today: "Conservatives should be careful not to put off instinctively conservative union members through over-zealous anti-union rhetoric. Treating all trade unionists as some kind of ‘red under the bed’ threat is neither credible nor likely to make union members more willing to listen to the Conservative message."

    Elsewhere in the speech, Miliband makes a principled defence of his plan to reform the Labour-union link so that trade union members are required to opt-in to donating to the party, rather than being automatically affiliated by general secretaries. He will say:

    Some people ask: what’s wrong with the current system? Let me tell them: we have three million working men and women affiliated to our party. But the vast majority play no role in our party. They are affiliated in name only. That wasn’t the vision of the founders of our party. I don’t think it’s your vision either. And it’s certainly not my vision.

    That’s why I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of their local party, making a real choice to be a part of our party so they can have a real voice in it.

    This is an historic opportunity to begin bringing people back into the decisions which affect their lives. It means we could become a Labour party not of 200,000 people, but 500,000, or many more. A party rooted every kind of workplace in the country, a party rooted in every community in the country, a genuine living, breathing movement.

    Of course, it is a massive challenge. It will be a massive challenge for the Labour Party to reach out to your members in a way that we have not done for many years and persuade them to be part of what we do. And like anything that is hard it is a risk. But the bigger risk is just saying let’s do it as we have always done it.

    It is you who have been telling me year after year about a politics that is detached from the lives of working people. We need to build a party truly rooted in the lives of all the working people of Britain once more.

    That’s why we must have the courage to change. I respect those who worry about change. I understand. But I disagree. It is the right thing to do.

    Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am absolutely determined that this change will happen. It is the only way to build a truly One Nation party so we can build a One Nation country.

    The policy meat of the speech, as I wrote this morning, is Miliband's plan to end the "exploitative" use of zero-hour contracts. He will ban employers from forcing workers to be available even when there is no guarantee of work, pledge to outlaw employers from requiring workers to work exclusively for one business, and promise to give anyone working for a single employer for more than 12 weeks on a zero-hours contract the automatic right to a full-time contract based on the average time worked over that period.

    Miliband will say: "We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation. Exploitation which leaves workers carrying all of the burdens of unpredictable hours, irregular pay, no security for the future.

    "Of course, there are some kinds of these contracts which are useful. For doctors, or supply teachers at schools, or sometimes, young people working in bars. But you and I know that zero hours contracts have been terribly misused. This kind of exploitation has to stop. We will support those businesses and workers that want to get on in life. But we will ban practices which lead to people being ground down."

    After spending the summer telling voters how badly off they are under the coalition, this is the start of a gear change that will see Miliband outline how voters would be better off under Labour.


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    The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

    1. Miliband and the left misread Lehman (Financial Times)

    As long as the central fact of politics is scarcity, parties defined by public spending will struggle, says Janan Ganesh.

    2. Forget the BBC, unions, civil servants. The cause of Tory fury is other Tories (Guardian)

    Once Cameron charmed his critics, but now his government lashes out – enraged by its failure to control its own party, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

    3. Now Britain needs a recovery that will last (Times)

    George Osborne has nothing to boast about, says Ed Balls. On every test he set himself, he’s failed.

    4. Germany focuses on small beer (Financial Times)

    German political debate is peculiarly parochial considering it is the leading power in Europe, writes Gideon Rachman.

    5. Obama's rogue state tramples over every law it demands others uphold (Guardian)

    For 67 years the US has pursued its own interests at the expense of global justice – no wonder people are sceptical now, says George Monbiot.

    6. This Labour mouse needs to find its roar (Times)

    Ed Miliband should scrap the antiquated voting system that helped to elect him leader in the first place, writes Rachel Sylvester.

    7. Italy's racism is embedded (Guardian)

    The shocking abuse of minister Cécile Kyenge stems from the country's failure to face up to its past, says Maaza Mengiste. 

    8. BBC bosses are all at sea in an ocean of self-regard (Independent)

    The cast of characters at this committee hearing could hardly have been bettered as a mini-portrait of those who reach the top of a certain part of our establishment, writes Mary Dejevsky.

    9. Shining a light on the shadowy figures who shape our politics (Daily Telegraph)

    This bill is not about lobbyists, but the left’s control of the national bully pulpit, says Gideon Rachman.

    10. The unions should realise - this isn't an attack (Independent)

    It's not "Blairite" to question the links between the unions and Labour, says Donald Macintyre. 


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    The programme's new editor insults the Labour shadow cabinet minister and refers to his former trade as "snooooozepapers".

    After last night's Newsnight, an eclectic edition featuring interviews with Chris Huhne, Alex Turner and Rachel Reeves, new editor Ian Katz decided to share his thoughts on the programme with a friend on Twitter. Unfortunately, he also did so with his other 26,563 followers after accidentally posting a public message.

    Katz, the former deputy editor of the Guardian, branded Reeves, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, "boring snoring" and referred to his former trade as "snooooozepapers". 

    An unsurprisingly aggrieved Reeves, who discussed zero-hour contracts and Ed Miliband's trade union reforms on the show, sarcastically replied: "thanks..."

    Katz has now apologised to Reeves but what about those still unfortunate enough to work for "snooooozepapers"?


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    News stories from around the web.

    Fresh China data point to economic rebound (FT)

    Chinese industrial output, investment and retail sales all strengthened in August, the latest evidence of an upswing in growth in the world’s second-biggest economy.

    Jaguar Land Rover to create 1,700 UK jobs to build sports cars (Telegraph)

    Jaguar Land Rover is to create another 1,700 jobs at its Solihull factory in Birmingham to support a new range of sports and cross-over cars featuring the latest in lightweight aluminium technology.

    Glencore Xstrata lifts cost-cutting target to $2bn (FT)

    Glencore Xstrata has significantly increased the cost-cutting targets from the largest takeover ever completed in the mining sector.

    Twitter makes its largest acquisition (FT)

    Twitter has made its largest acquisition to date with the purchase of MoPub, a mobile advertising company, bolstering its ad sales platform as it prepares to go public in coming months.

    High Street vacancies still stubbornly high, says report (BBC)

    High Street vacancies remain "stubbornly high", according to a report from the Local Data Company.

    Its data for Britain showed that the average vacancy rate in the top 650 centres was 14.1 per cent, down just slightly from the previous reading of 14.2 per cent taken in February.


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    The 2013 British Social Attitudes report shows a significant rise in support for higher benefits even if it means higher taxes.

    One truism among George Osborne and his team is that "you can never be too tough on welfare". But after three years of benefit cuts, the new (and always fascinating) British Social Attitudes report shows that support for the welfare state and sympathy for the unemployed is rising. 

    The number of people agreeing that benefits for the jobless are "too high and discourage work" fell from a high of 62% in 2011 to 51% in 2012. There has also been a five point increase in the number (47%) who believe that cutting benefits "would damage too many people’s lives". In addition, 34% support spending more on social security even if it means higher taxes, up from 28% in 2011. The proportion who believe that the unemployed could find work if they really wanted to, has fallen from 68% in 2008 to 54%. It does appear, as the survey's organisers suggest, that austerity is "beginning to soften the public mood" although it's also possible that the coalition's welfare reforms (such as the benefit cap) have increased confidence in the system. 

    Less happily, support for the welfare state remains at a near-record low. In 1987, 55% of the population favoured spending more on benefits, a figure that now stands at 34%. But given the misinformation spread by the media about the system, this is hardly surprising. More than eight out of 10 (81%) believe that large numbers of people falsely claim benefits (fraud actually represents just 0.7% of the budget) compared with 67% in 1987.

    But if there is any consolation for social democrats, it's that the numbers are at least moving in the right direction. I'd expect this trend to continue as Osborne's cuts to in-work benefits and tax credits (which are being uprated by just 1%, a real-terms cut) hit families already suffering from the longest squeeze on living standards since the 1870s. The coalition, which rejoices in reinforcing tabloid myths of "scroungers", may yet find that it has underestimated the decency of the public. 


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    The $350m deal is the largest for the social networking service.

    Twitter has agreed to acquire mobile advertising exchange MoPub for $350m in an effort to launch its independent mobile advertising exchange in the near future.

    As well as enhancing its relationship with conventional media firms, the deal will also support Twitter’s ad sales platform and e-commerce services as it plans to file a new initial public offering.

    With annual revenues of more than $100m, MoPub is a hosted ad serving solution built specifically for mobile publishers.

    Kevin Weil, vice president for revenue products at Twitter, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying: “Mobile is obviously key to Twitter as a whole and to our advertising platform. Allowing advertisers to buy ads in real time, at the instant they are delivered to the app user, improves targeting and relevance for both brands and users.”

    As part of acquisition, about 100 employees of MoPub will join Twitter, while MoPub CEO Jim Payne will become vice president and will report to Twitter’s revenue head Adam Bain, reported the Wall Street Journal.

    Research firm eMarketer estimates that Twitter’s advertising revenues will reach $1bn in 2014.

    Payne, in a statement, said: “Like MoPub, Twitter has been ‘mobile first’ since their inception, which makes our two companies a natural match. In addition to investing in new capabilities for our publisher platform, we believe there are opportunities to bring better native advertising to the mobile ecosystem. With the support of the team and resources of Twitter, we’ll be able to move even more quickly towards the realization of our original vision.”

    In August, AOL has agreed to acquire video ad platform Adap.tv for $405m, while Millennial Media has agreed to acquire Jumptap for $225m.


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    In ancient Athens, each citizen had to take a turn offering his governance. The Rational Parliament attempts to bring that spirit back, because certain issues are too important to leave to the professionals.

    Last month, thousands of farmers descended on the centre of New Delhi to show their support for the use of biotechnology in agriculture. A few days earlier, thousands of other citizens had gathered in the same place. Their goal was to persuade the Indian government to do the opposite: not to allow field trials of genetically modified crops.
     
    Had these two gatherings taken place on the same day, violence would almost certainly have ensued. The issue of genetic modification is a flashpoint for extremism, with ideology and egos elbowing facts out of the debate.
     
    India has a fast-growing population, and the Indian parliament is considering if biotechnology should play a part in the food production industry. Thanks to public interest litigation on the matter, so is India’s Supreme Court. Here’s a question: why aren’t you?
     
    Most of us feel unqualified to approach these issues. But our use of biotechnology matters wherever we are, and there is no reason to think you are less qualified than the politicians who get to make the call. In ancient Athens, each ordinary citizen had to take his turn offering governance, making thought-out decisions on the questions of the day, based on his best understanding. What makes you so special?
     
    It’s hard to find a good way to engage with complex problems. Marches and rallies inevitably polarise opinion. Debates between panels of experts often leave an audience feeling powerless and paralysed by partisan rhetoric. Wouldn’t it be good if you, like the Athenians, could discuss both sides for yourself, quietly and without fear of provoking violence? And then listen, politely, to other people’s views before casting a vote on whether we should proceed with something?
     
    That’s the idea behind the Rational Parliament, which will debate genetic modification at its inaugural meeting in Conway Hall, central London, on 10 September. It is open to anyone and everyone who wants to take part (though numbers are limited). There will be short presentations from scientists who have published on the subject, but anyone who turns up will be considered a Member of the Rational Parliament (MRP) and can ask questions or table motions. Towards the end of the evening, MRPs will use a ballot box to cast a vote for or against the motion.
     
    It’s just possible the outcome will have some influence in the UK’s other parliament. As the Speaker of that house, John Bercow, recently pointed out in a controversial speech on reform, history shows societies can lead as well as follow parliaments. The Rational Parliament’s aim is dignified democratic engagement with the scientific topics of the day – difficult to achieve in the older house.
     
    At the Rational Parliament, submission of robust evidence will be encouraged but “gut feelings” are valid submissions, too, and if they are widely shared they will be influential. Not everything that matters can be put into peer-reviewed journals (though they’re a good place to start).
     
    In fact, when it comes to GM and many other current issues, we have a lot of facts at our disposal. Should we choose to sit down and look at them without prejudice, it may well be that there is an obvious answer. But it is also possible there is no right answer yet, just a right way forward. Either way, it’s far too important to leave to the professionals.
     
    Michael Brooks will be speaker of the house at the inaugural debate of the Rational Parliament. Details: rationalparliamentgm.eventbrite.co.uk 

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    Targeting gender marketing in toys is a worthy battle. Children like my son know what pinkness and blueness mean, and they fear a life without the correct marker.

    This weekend my eldest son had a birthday party. The first present he received was handed over by a shame-faced mother, who apologised profusely for the fact that the wrapping paper was a bright shade of fuchsia. This paper was all she had left, she said. After all, she only had girls. The need for blue paper didn’t usually arise.

    Of course, this mother was right to expect my son not to like pink; he hates it. He has learned to do so, moving first from liking, then to not liking, then to outright revulsion. Green used to be his favourite colour but now it is blue. There is nothing in-between, just blue and pink. Nothing else, no other colour, merits the slightest response.

    Sexism-by-shorthand is insidious. Children like my son know what pinkness and blueness mean, and they learn to fear a life without the correct marker. To them, the wrong colour has to come to mean the wrong self. You are either a pink girl or a blue boy. Anything else is not difference but failure.

    It’s hard to measure the precise impact that this has on children’s lives. We know that stereotype threat can seriously restrict a child’s range of interests and potential. We know that the qualities associated with pinkness push girls towards a passive, decorative role, while blue qualities are more aligned with aggression and violence. We know that when a girl reaches adulthood, a pink role – a life of caring, being pretty, waiting to be rescued – doesn’t really pay, while the true blue standards of manliness frequently collapse in on themselves into a much-vaunted “crisis of masculinity”. We know that all this is arbitrary, and that not too long ago pink was for boys, blue for girls.We know all of this, but it’s hard to put a figure on the damage. It’s just something we’ve allowed to happen because … well, it never feels quite as harmful as it is. Pink, blue, boy, girl, they’re just colours, just words.

    One group who have been challenging our acceptance of this gendered worldview is Let Toys Be Toys. Their campaign originates from a thread on Mumsnet and yes, I know how that might sound to some – more middle-class mummy feminism, focussed on the trivial. But gender stereotyping isn’t trivial. It affects everyone, altering relationships, self-esteem and opportunities. Whether we get the pink/blue messages from parents, employers, teachers or toys, they still hold us back.

    The reach and engagement of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign has been broad. A petition aimed at retailers has led Tesco, Boots, Sainsbury’s and TK Maxx to agree to take down ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signage for toys. More recently they’ve met with Toys R Us UK board members, who have agreed to draw up a set of principles leading to the long-term removal of “explicit references to gender” in their toy marketing.

    I think this is brilliant news. It suggests that the old-style gender essentialism which has, in recent years, been rebranded as science and/or harmless fun isn’t convincing people any more. And if the decision made by Toys R Us is based more on finances than morals, then perhaps sexism no longer sells. Gender-neutral toy marketing – once the preserve of posh boutique toy shops selling ultra-expensive Noah’s arks – has finally gone mainstream. Hooray for that! Nevertheless, we’ve still a long way to go.

    Retailers can commit to removing explicit references to gender – but what about all the implicit ones? Removing the categories “for girls” and “for boys” is important, as is including a mix of children playing with different toys in catalogue illustrations. Nonetheless, without further changes made by retailers, advertisers and manufacturers, we will still know which toys are meant for whom.

    We don’t have to use words. Colours and categories are enough. We all know that, as long as domestic or family play is seen as distinct from work play, there will be girls’ aisles and boys’ aisles. Truly imaginative play, whether it’s based in real life or in fantasy, remains a long way off.

    The sad thing is, given half the chance, children are far better at mixing things up than we are. Why shouldn’t Luke Skywalker visit the Sindy hospital? Isn’t that the best place for someone who’s just had his hand cut off by Darth Vader? And if you’re going to play houses, it’s frankly irresponsible not to at least have the option of playing emergency services too (who hasn’t left the imaginary iron on once or twice?). Life is not compartmentalised into pink and blue; the active mixes with the passive, the public with the domestic. Children are more than capable of engaging with this creatively, at least until we teach them not to.

    In case you are wondering, my son was not bothered by his pink wrapping paper. This may be because an enormous tantrum over the party guests “not singing happy birthday properly”  meant very little attention was paid to presents at all. Alas, such full-on, in-your-face outbursts transcend all gender boundaries. Let’s hope that in future we don’t have to go to such extremes in order to disregard definitions that are harmful, dull and utterly disrespectful of who we all are.


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    The British premium automaker introduces its first ever sports crossover concept vehicle.

    Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is planning to create 1,700 jobs at the Solihull plant in the West Midlands, as part of its £1.5bn investment plan to build new vehicles featuring the all-new technically-advanced aluminium vehicle architecture.

    The company, which is part of Tata Motors of India, is planning to launch a mid-sized sports sedan with aluminium vehicle architecture in 2015.

    Ralf Speth, CEO of JLR, said: “Jaguar Land Rover is a business driven by design, technology and innovation and this investment and level of job creation is yet further evidence of our commitment to advancing the capability of the UK automotive sector and its supply chain.”

    JLR said that the new technology will allow it to compete with major global brands, apart from creating new markets.

    Vince Cable, UK Business Secretary, said: “This all-aluminium architecture project typifies the type of innovative and high value R&D that the UK excels in and government is supporting through the automotive industrial strategy.”

    Since 2011, JLR has created about 11,000 new jobs in the UK, including the latest 1,700.

    In addition, the company has introduced its first ever sports crossover concept vehicle called C-X17 with an all-new aluminium monocoque architecture.

    JLR will invest circa £2.75bn in its product creation and facilities during the financial year ending March 2014. It sold 27,852 vehicles in August 2013, which is an increase of 28 per cent compared to the same period last year.

    Earlier this month, JLR has revealed details of a new £16.3m research project named Evoque_e, which will see the realisation of three research vehicles demonstrating next-generation technologies for a mild hybrid electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid vehicle, and a 100 per cent battery electric vehicle.


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  • 09/10/13--02:14: Why HS2 should speed ahead
  • We need bold policies.

    Anyone who has been fortunate enough to take the Eurostar will have felt no small wonder at the speed and grace with which the sleek train snakes under the Channel and into Paris. Plans for HS2, a second high-speed line, have stirred anew such excitement.

    Compared to the reality so many of us experience daily of overcrowded and delayed carriages pulling in to dirty, decaying stations, the fast and futuristic HS2 seems a welcome departure. From the golden age of steam we can progress to the golden age of speed and ignore the intervening seventy years of stagnation. 

    But this is currently romance: despite the clear demand for better infrastructure the sums don’t seem to be add up. Cutting running times by 34 minutes to Birmingham will cost £21 billion, £618 million a minute, and the calculation of economic benefits to business is skewed too: it doesn’t account for the advent of the plug socket and WiFi – ie people working on the trains. Arguably nor will it bring more business to the regions from London, but likely the other way around.

    There will be disruption to thousands living in the country, whose houses will be demolished entirely or undermined by constructions works or new noise, and the taxpayer will have to compensate them. Add to this the difficulties faced by farmers who will see their farms severed by the project. And urbanites must suffer too, with potentially 40 per cent of Euston services being cancelled until 2026.

    The planners have not even engaged in joined-up thinking: HS2 will not connect at St Pancras, for a swift onward journey to the Continent, but at Euston, a brisk walk or Tube journey away.

    These frustrations are many and have seen the government change tack in arguing HS2’s ability to mitigate overcrowding by running fourteen services an hour. Critics have responded by saying most people commute from surrounding suburbs rather than intercity across hundreds of miles. A straw man but a valid point on infrastructure expenditure.

    The sorest point is the cost. Is it really cheaper to buy a new network than upgrade what exists? Will the economic benefits materialise? And who believes an HS2 train ticket will be affordable?

    The bigger picture

    But these challenges show the scale of planning: these are unwanted but accounted-for problems. Ultimately no-one wants to keep the current antiquated rail network, with rail passenger numbers rising, and the employment in its construction is welcome. If we are going to spend big we should at least guarantee we will have the best transport system, future proofed and fast.

    As oil prices rise and emission quotas bite, high speed rail is a superb option, not least as we internationalise and need to connect our expanding airports. There is a much bigger, longer-term picture here that shows the real cost will be in waiting.

    Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has highlighted the fact that Britain should have the best possible infrastructure and said on the Today programme this morning that HS2 was ‘essential’ to Britain. He is right.

    No great thing is ever easy; it is my sincerest hope that such an ambitious project can overcome these challenges. Bold policies can transcend politics and what better way to spark economic growth than through comprehensive and innovative infrastructure. 

    Alex Matchett is a writer for Spear's magazine

    This piece first appeared here


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