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    David Cameron didn't get his way with Syria. It may seem counterintuitive, but this won't reflect badly on him.

    There is a recognised term for victories that are, in effect, defeats. In the classical world, a Molossian king of Epirus famously defeated the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum. Yet his losses were so heavy that he is said to have remarked: “One more such victory and we are lost.” His name was Pyrrhus and over the centuries the concept of the Pyrrhic victory has hardened into a cliché.
     
    We lack a similarly familiar idea to describe a victory that is dressed up as a defeat. That is how history may judge David Cameron’s “defeat” in the Commons over intervention in Syria. It was an inverse Pyrrhic victory. It leaves him stronger.
     
    The vote was initially interpreted as a crisis, even a humiliation. As Cameron entered Downing Street that evening, the question shouted at him by the television media was predictable: “Have you lost control, Prime Minister?” It was a revealing assumption – that leadership is always about ruthless executive grip, and that failure to execute a preferred plan inevitably leaves a leader weakened and diminished.
     
    Cameron’s defeat, however, already looks very different from that snap assessment. We saw the Prime Minister express his convictions openly and passionately. Yet we also watched him listening to the voice of parliament, which emerged strengthened and revitalised. A PM behaving bravely while operating in a strongly democratic parliament: should this be remembered as a crisis?
     
    One Conservative MP told me how his feelings about Cameron’s performance have changed over the past few days. “At the time, as I left the chamber, I thought, ‘He was underwhelming. Cameron can do better than that.’ Looking back now, I can see how it has strengthened him.” Another Tory friend of mine, usually fiercely critical of the Prime Minster, telephoned me after Cameron’s defeat on Syria. “For the first time, I felt truly impressed and I felt that from my gut.”
     
    I think a sense of respect for Cameron’s manner, if not his goals, was shared by non- Tories. It was obvious that he was passionate and personally convinced. More important, it was equally clear that he was not prepared to dress up his convictions as though they were certain facts. He acknowledged the uncertainties and drew attention to the unknowns, allowing his case to hang on its own strengths rather than resorting to overstretched rhetoric and political bullying. And he lost. Instead of assuming that as strategic failure, we might consider his strength in allowing the case to speak for itself.
     
    I admit this idea that Cameron’s defeat may turn out to be an auspicious one depends on how central liberal interventionism is to his political philosophy. Is interventionist Atlanticism Cameron’s defining characteristic? If so, the vote probably was a defeat. Or is scepticism Cameron’s central quality: a pragmatic reluctance to be seduced by a simplistic and overarching political idea? I suspect that the latter is closer to Cameron’s deepest instincts. And these have been well served by his handling of the vote on Syria.
     
    Behind the criticism of Cameron’s “humiliation” lies a common mistake about what constitutes strong leadership. The soapopera approach to political life is based on the premise that leaders must always announce their goals and be judged simply according to their ability to deliver them: win or lose, failure or “successful policy delivery”. This is part of the professional mantra of winning at all costs, as though leadership were merely a set of ruthlessly implemented decisions. A recurrent, Blairite critique of Cameron is that he is “bad at politics”, even “amateurish”.
     
    This reductive concept of “strike rate”, gauging a leader’s success by the proportion of victories he notches up, misses the central and mysterious quality of true leadership – judgement. And judgement applies as much to the way a leader pursues his decisions as it does to the positions he reaches in the first place.
     
    The best leader I encountered in the sports world always took the same care about how he presented his case as he did about reaching it. Debating whether to pick a particular player, sometimes he would allow himself to be swayed by the collective opinion of the selection panel, sometimes he would strongly seek to change the view of the majority and very occasionally he would insist that getting his own way was non-negotiable. In effect, he had at his disposal three or four ascending gears of conviction, which, consciously or not, he would select to suit the situation.
     
    Good leadership is not always about finding a position and then rationally pursuing it to its limits. Often, the appropriate means will emerge only as you begin the process of achieving your goal. To adapt Auden slightly, “How can I know how to persuade until I see what I say?”
     
    The win-at-all-costs mentality assumes that strong leadership always demands making the best possible case to win an argument. Not so. You make the case with appropriate certainty. For a leader to show true self-belief, he must allow for gradations of confidence and demonstrate a rhetorical and strategic range that reflects a healthy breadth of intellectual positions.
     
    In the case of Syria, Cameron did not have enough certainty to win – or, perhaps, he had just the right amount. A stronger case, less truthfully argued, might have won the day. And lost over the long term.
     
    There is something untrustworthy, as we saw with Tony Blair, about someone too ready and eager to swing his entire moral and intellectual weight behind every decision, as though the fact of having decided inevitably makes the case decisive.
     
    During the debates that led to Cameron’s election as Tory leader in 2005, David Davis made one stinging point, “This is not the moment for another Tony Blair.”
     
    It wasn’t. And Cameron isn’t.
     
    Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99) 

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    Ed Miliband has now sacrificed millions in donations, as well as one of his party’s main bargaining chips, without securing any concessions in return.

    At a recent private meeting at Labour’s London HQ, Ed Miliband warned party staff that his planned changes to trade union funding were a “risk” that would entail redundancies. Miliband’s plan to require union members to opt in to joining the party, rather than being automatically enrolled by general secretaries, is expected to cost Labour around £7m of the £8m it received in affiliation fees last year. Labour officials privately estimate that just 10 per cent of the current 2.7 million levypayers will choose to donate to the party, a figure confirmed by Michael Ashcroft’s recent poll of Unite members.
     
    What few anticipated, though, was that the changes would hit Labour’s funds even before being introduced. On 4 September, Westminster woke to the news that the GMB, the UK’s third-largest union, plans to reduce its funding of the party from £1.2m to just £150,000. The union, which endorsed Miliband’s leadership bid in 2010, currently affiliates 420,000 of its members to the party but will reduce this number to 50,000 from January. In a terse statement, it expressed “considerable regret” at the “apparent lack of understanding” demonstrated by Miliband’s proposals and warned of “further reductions in spending on Labour Party campaigns and initiatives”.
     
    More significant than the loss of funding was the timing. By pre-emptively disaffiliating 78 per cent of its members, rather than seeking to recruit more to the party, the union has cast a vote of no confidence in Miliband’s reforms. “Dream on . . . it’s fantasy land,” a GMB source declared when asked whether the union could persuade more than 12 per cent of its levy-payers to join Labour.
     
    After a week in which Miliband had regained authority as the man who prevented a precipitous rush to war in Syria, the GMB’s decision reopened internal divisions over Labour’s relationship with the unions. Tom Watson, the party’s former campaign co-ordinator, who resigned in the wake of the Falkirk debacle, wrote in a blog on his website: “If this is the beginning of the end of that historic link, it is a very serious development that threatens a pillar of our democracy that has endured for over one hundred years.”
     
    While Miliband speaks romantically of forging a “direct relationship” with “shopworkers, nurses, engineers, bus drivers, construction workers, people from the public and private sector”, others in the party are asking who is going to pay for the election campaign. In the second quarter of 2013, the unions were responsible for 77 per cent (£2.4m) of all major donations to Labour, with the party receiving just £354,692 in individual donations. Unless Labour can significantly widen its donor base before 2015, the concern is that the Conservatives will enjoy an even greater funding advantage than in 2010.
     
    Lord Ashcroft’s largesse may not have secured the Tories a majority last time round but the party’s targeting strategy still enabled it to win 32 more seats than it would have done on a uniform swing. The hope among the Tories is that a similar approach at the next election will at least allow it to remain the largest party.
     
    By promising to introduce an opt-in system, Miliband has sacrificed millions in donations, as well as one of his party’s main bargaining chips, without securing any concessions in return. After the GMB’s announcement, his judgement is once again being called into question.
     
    George Eaton is the editor of the NS politics blog The Staggers 

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    “Tackling a problem on this scale will take many years”.

    “Tackling a problem on this scale will take many years and a range of measures”
    Steve Webb, pensions minister, writes in the FT that Britain’s pensions gap is worse than was originally thought.
     


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    Three new books you may have missed.

    Auguste and Jean Piccard, along with Auguste's wife Jeannette, on another expedition in May 1934. Image: Getty
     
    Wilkie Collins: a Life of Sensation
    Andrew Lycett
     
    Andrew Lycett, a biographer of Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle, has done some investigating into the father of the detective novel and in this biography reconstructs Wilkie Collins’s tangled domestic life, which revolved around two mistresses. The writer who specialised in family secrets had secrets of his own. He also had a limitless capacity for drugs and a place at the centre of Victorian cultural life – he was a friend of Charles Dickens and the painter John Everett Millais. Here is the author of The Moonstone as a character from one of his “sensation” novels . . . except that this is all true.
     
    Hutchinson, 544pp, £20
     
    Earthly Mission: the Catholic Church and World Development
    Robert Calderisi
     
    The former director of the World Bank takes a balanced look at the contradictory and controversial stances of the Catholic Church, which has been criticised for its position on birth control, abortion, child abuse and priestly celibacy. Here, Robert Calderisi points out that 65 per cent of Catholic schools are in developing countries and that in some parts of Africa it provides up to 50 per cent of health and education services. It is also a provider of antiretroviral drugs to combat Aids and has established credit unions to promote economic self-sufficiency. There are two sides to the Catholic coin.
     
    Yale University Press, 304pp, £20
     
    The Explorer Gene
    Tom Cheshire
     
    The Swiss family Piccard has a habit of going higher, deeper and further than anyone else. In 1931 Auguste Piccard reached a height of 51,775 feet in a balloon, higher than any man before him. His twin, Jean Felix, then promptly went higher. Auguste’s son Jacques went to the deepest place on earth, the Mariana Trench, in a family-designed submarine, and his grandson Bertrand was the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. Tom Cheshire tells the story of these high – and low – achievers and examines what pushed them ever onwards.
     
    Short Books, 301pp, £20

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    If I were in Bashar al-Assad's office as Obama's speech at the White House was televised around the world, I think I would hear the following.

    If I were a fly on the wall in President Bashar al-Assad’s office as Barack Obama’s speech at the White House is televised around the world, I guess I would be listening to the following:
     
    Assad: What’s going on? We’ve been looking at the podium for the past 30 minutes, and nothing’s happened.
     
    Aide: Maybe he has been speaking and we just didn’t notice? (Laughter)
     
    Assad: Here they come. Let’s see what he has to say.
     
    Aide: More grey hair. The man looks exhausted.
     
    Another aide: Who’s the man next to him? He’s pulling funny faces.
     
    Wael Nader al-Halqi, prime minister of Syria: You moron. That’s Joe Biden, his vicepresident, also a Mossad agent.
     
    Assad: Shut up, all of you. Let me hear.
    Silence. Obama speaks.
     
    Assad: What? Did you hear what he just said? He is not waiting for the report of the UN inspectors!
     
    Omran Ahed Zoabi, the Syrian minister of information: This is unfair! After all the work we put into ensuring the success of their visit! (Laughter) More silence. Obama carries on talking.
     
    General Ali Abdullah Ayub, the Syrian army chief of staff: That’s it! He just said it! They are going to attack. I’m going to alert my troops.
     
    Aide: Your troops, or the rebel troops?
    A fistfight starts.
    Furniture is overturned.
     
    Assad: Stop at once! (His cellphone rings) Yes, Asma. No, not now. Obama is talking about us right now. No, Asma, later. What? My credit card? Another auction? Not the Christian Louboutin shoes again! For God’s sake, you have more shoes than Imelda Marcos. But I have to go now.
     
    Obama is still talking.
     
    General Ayub: I know what we can do to stop them. Let’s put human shields around the targets.
     
    Halqi: Good idea. Saddam was good at that.
     
    Assad: Maybe I’ll put some of you around the targets. (Silence) Relax, gentlemen, it was a joke. (Relieved laughter)
     
    Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister: What hypocrisy! (Jeers while repeating Obama’s phrases) To hold us accountable! When your father, may his soul rest in peace, bombarded those Shia bastards in Hama in 1982 and buried them alive, nobody said a word.
     
    General Ayub (whispering): But the father killed only 30,000, while the son . . .
     
    Assad: I heard that! Besides, Ayub, it’s all your fault. You shouldn’t have used the chemicals.
     
    General Ayub: But Mr President, you yourself ordered me to!
     
    Assad: I remember exactly what I said. I told you to be “nice to them”.
     
    General Ayub: And I heard “gas them”. Maybe the line wasn’t so good.
     
    Zoabi: By the way, I found out that we can kill as many of our own people as we want. The world doesn’t care, as long as we don’t gas them.
     
    Assad: Indeed. Anyway, Ayub, what are your plans in case they strike?
     
    General Ayub: I was thinking about attacking Israel immediately.
     
    Assad: Hmmm. Not such a good idea. Yom Kippur is what, two weeks from now? Last time my father attacked them on Yom Kippur, they were almost on the outskirts of Damascus within a few days. We need to think about something else, otherwise we are lost.
     
    Zoabi: Wait, listen to this! He is taking it to the Congress! Great commotion. Loud cheers. Cries of “Hallelujah” and of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”).
     
    Halqi: We are saved! Obama talks about the need for debate and popular support.
     
    Assad: This is exactly why I love democracy.
     
    Moallem: It’s obvious. He doesn’t want to do it. He saw his buddy Cameron defeated in the British parliament and hopes that Congress will do the same to him.
     
    Assad: I knew I could trust the Brits. They are not as squeamish as the Americans. They know when to leave us Middle Easterners alone so we can do our own thing. But have Argentina take from them a godforsaken island with some sheep in the Atlantic, and they will send their whole fleet across the ocean.
     
    Telephone rings.
     
    Aide: It’s President Putin, sir. He wants to congratulate you.
     
    Assad: Mr President, thank you so much. Yes, of course I watched it. You were absolutely right. I know. The world has changed. No, not one superpower any more. How true. Thank you, and God bless you. But Mr President, before you go, just one more thing. The villa you reserved for me and my family? Is it still available?
     
    Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem. He was the spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments of Israel from 1992 to 1996 

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    As he connects with Armenian peasants, we are reminded that this ill, suffering man, far from home, is one of the great writers of his time.

    In February 1961, KGB officers raided Vasily Grossman’s apartment. They were looking for his unpublished novel Life and Fate. They seized the manuscript, his notes and even the ribbon from his typewriter. But friends had already taken a copy away. It was smuggled to the west and is now widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20thcentury literature.
     
    After the raid, Grossman went to Armenia for two months. It is not altogether clear why. He was in the early stages of cancer and his marriage was in trouble. He had a commission to translate an Armenian novel into Russian and presumably he wanted to get away from Moscow. His account of his time there was published posthumously in 1965 in censored form. A complete version is now available for the first time in translation.
     
    An Armenian Sketchbook shows Grossman at the end of his life, far from his beloved Moscow, reflecting on the best and worst of humanity. One of the first things that strikes himin Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, is the huge statue of Stalin. “No matter where you are in the city,” he writes, “you can clearly see the titanic bronze marshal.” It is a monument to “the merciless builder of a great and terrible state”. Grossman was writing during the Khrushchev thaw and he is able to discuss crimes such as the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, but also the Gulag.
     
    He encounters an old Armenian whose father “was buried in Siberia, nobody knows where”. Later, he meets “a sweet, asthmatic old man” who was sent to a Siberian camp for 19 years. He then relates his aunt’s life story. “Her husband, an economist, was arrested for no reason in 1937 and died in Kolyma.” Her son, Volodya, “was arrested and then killed in prison by his interrogator”. This is the dark background to Grossman’s extraordinary travelogue. He writes beautifully about the ancient churches and monasteries, the harsh landscapes, the peasant food. He is fascinated by “the spirit of paganism” that lives on in the tiny hillside villages, “in drunken songs and stories from the past”.
     
    Grossman starts by reflecting on how different everything is. He reflects on national types. What are Armenians like? He notes how bleak the landscape appears. Then he goes into a small village hut and sees a stove and suddenly he realises that this stove is like every other stove he has seen all over the Soviet Union. He is 3,000 kilometres from Moscow and yet he is “back in village Russia”: “Here in Armenia, I witnessed the extraordinary steadfastness of the Russian stove, the Russian hut, the Russian porch . . .”
     
    Then Grossman listens to the peasants and realises how much he has in common with them as they talk about “love for other people, right and wrong, good and evil, faith and lack of faith”. It is not just that Grossman the translator and bespectacled Jewish outsider is at home with these people. He also connects through the values at the heart of his writing. Here, close to Mount Ararat, are people who believe in the very things that animate his novels – decency, compassion, humanity.
     
    An Armenian Sketchbook ends with a village wedding. Amid the remote, “stony desolation”, the author feels at home. When a villager proposes a toast to the Jews killed by the Nazis Grossman is tremendously moved. The outsider feels that he belongs. As he connects with these peasants, his writing comes to life and we are reminded that this ill, suffering man, far from home, is one of the great writers of his time, and that these values are at the heart of his greatness. 

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    The nationwide protests of the summer have mostly petered out, but Brazil's police and government still have a lot to answer for.

    At the end of August, as Brazil’s population reportedly passed the 200-million mark, the hashtag #OGiganteAcordou (“the giant has awoken”), used during June’s wave of protests, flickered briefly to life again online. The tag, a reference to the national anthem, in which Brazil is imagined as a colossus reclined on a tropical shore, was the strapline of a striking 2011 Johnnie Walker TV ad, in which Rio’s dark coastal mountains stirred into life and rose up to form a giant.

    Over two months on from the protests, the suggestion that Brazil's historically placid population was finally stirring into action now seems hopelessly optimistic: less an insurrectionary “Brazilian spring” than an ephemeral June bug. Small, sporadic protests smoulder on, including a spate of actions by a newly emerged anarchist black bloc, but the majority of June’s protesters have now dispersed.

    Despite historic inequality, Brazilians have tended towards non-confrontation. It’s one of the things that makes Brazil such a thoroughly pleasant country to live in; but it also means that in the years since the end of the 1964-85 dictatorship, although smaller, under-reported protests over issues such as police violence, indigenous rights and housing have been a fact of life in the country's marginalised periphery, the social peace has mostly remained undisturbed.

    The last time Brazilians took to the streets in large numbers was in 1992, when thousands marched against President Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned as his trial for corruption was about to commence. Corruption was again an issue this June, as the protests’ initial focus on the cost of public transport broadened to include it along with such things as perceived over-spending on the 2014 football World Cup.

    Corruption is a sensitive subject in Brazilian politics, since it apparently touches every party. In the “mensalão” trial currently taking place in the Supreme Court, a string of leaders from the governing Workers Party (PT) has been convicted of paying monthly bribes to opposition Congress members, in return for support for Lula's government. Politicians routinely appear to close ranks to protect their own. In a secret ballot held on 28 August, Congress voted against impeaching the incarcerated congressman Natan Donadon, notwithstanding his 13-year sentence for stealing £2.6m in public funds. (A week later, Brazil’s lower house, assailed by criticism after the Donadon vote, rushed through a proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban secret ballots in government. The amendment will now make its way through the Senate.)

    In the Senate, Renan Calheiros currently presides as leader of the house, despite his forced 2007 resignation in a corruption scandal. And at state level, in July, a multimillion-dollar racket came to light when the German company Siemens provided details of its part in a 20-year price-fixing scheme around contracts for metro construction, supply and maintenance. Those implicated include the powerful current and former governors of the state of São Paulo.

    A nationwide day of action against corruption and impunity in public office was called for Brazil’s Independence Day, on 7 September. But low turnouts on the day, despite a blast of sound and fury from the black bloc protestors, seemed to confirm that it will take more than corruption to stir Brazilians back to the level of outrage that fuelled June’s largest protests. Those were triggered by a night of ill-judged police violence against a peaceful demo on 13 June, which burst onto TV screens and Facebook, scandalising the watching multitude. While the usual victims of police violence - a problem throughout Brazil - tend to be the poor, the difference this time was that many protesters were better off, well-educated and media-savvy.

    The protesters were widely described by international as well as local media as being mainly “middle-class” Brazilians - and many of them were, in the sense of the term as most often used in Britain and other rich societies. Yet these people should not be confused with Brazil’s much-feted “new middle class” - workers who have recently emerged from poverty and gained access to credit, a slightly higher income, or a job in the formal economy. Although their prospects have improved as Brazil’s economy has grown, they do not benefit from access to a decent education (in Brazil, private schooling) and the kind of well-connected background that gives access to the best jobs.

    Such people are Brazil's real “sleeping giant”, but it remains to be seen whether  the effects of the current economic slowdown will finally bring them on to the streets. It might. A rampant crime rate and sharp rises in the cost of living  affect those at the lower end of the income scale most acutely, and if something has changed since June, it's a new sense that street protest is valid, possible behaviour for ordinary citizens. And more than ever it is being reported, including by a flourishing new strata of independent media collectives such as Mídia Ninja, whose members routinely make their way to places such as Grajaú, an immense neighbourhood on São Paulo’s periphery that is currently experiencing a wave of occupations and protests.

    The government, under the leadership of Dilma Rousseff, has kept a relatively low profile since the start of the protests. This stance, coming from a nominally  left-wing administration, has made it look increasingly out of touch. In an interview published in Folha de S.Paulo last week, the head of Goldman Sachs in Brazil, Paulo Leme, raised concerns about serious problems in the Brazilian economy - and about the government’s ability, political capital o r will to tackle them: “It’s not hard to conclude,” said Leme, “in the light of the protests, that orthodox economic adjustment would not be a welcome sight on people’s TVs on the eight o’clock news.”


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    A parked Bentley with the number plate I H8 TAX summarises everything that's going wrong with our beloved Heath.

    Once again, towards the end of the month, money starts getting tight, but the weather is still lovely and holiday-type things must be done – so, what to do? The Wallace Collection, for a start: that’s good free fun. It is, for some reason, an incredibly sexy place and not just because it has that amusing Fragonard showing a young man looking up the skirt of a girl on a swing.
     
    Everything there is voluptuous somehow and Howard Jacobson chose well when he made it the scene of a lover’s tryst in his novel The Act of Love. That takes care of one afternoon, then.
     
    Loafing around Regent’s Park with some bread, cheese and a chilled bottle takes care of another; but the third afternoon is the best, because someone has paid me unexpectedly early and although I could hardly call myself in rude financial health, I can at least top up the Oyster card and go somewhere on public transport. I’m only going to Hampstead Heath – my fellow columnist Mr Self regards pretty much everywhere on the mainland as being within walking distance, which I think is rather splendid, but I am not going to inflict a three-mile walk to the Heath on the Beloved, especially as we are going to be walking around a lot when we get there. Also, as she is not a native Londoner, she has never seen the Heath before and I am rather keen on introducing her to it.
     
    The Heath figures prominently in the childhood of anyone who grew up, as I did, anywhere near it. I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not aware of it, of its improbable vastness in the middle of the city. And the older I get, the more amazing I consider it. As readers of this magazine will be acutely aware, these are terrible times, with our freedoms under threat from all sides – from freedom of association to the meanest use of the word “free”: that is, free from cost. You can still, thank goodness, just bowl up to the Heath and walk straight in. (I gather you are now supposed to pay to use the swimming ponds, which is academic for me, as the days in which I would expose my body clad in swimming trunks to the world have passed.)
     
    So, one beaming Thursday, we do just that, along with a couple of buddies who know the Heath at least as well as I do – and it is marvellous. We do see some Lycra-wearing people walking up and then down, and then up and then down our chosen hill again, using those extremely silly walking poles, but they, too, have their liberty, so we confine ourselves to mild mockery while we eat our picnic.
     
    Eventually our friends peel off and the B and I are alone, so I show her through paths I remember from my childhood to the tree you can climb inside, and then on, using only my nose to guide me, to the Spaniards Inn for a pint. I note with approval the blue plaque on the house next to it, which reminds us of Henrietta and Samuel Barnett, Christian socialist reformers who did much to make Hampstead such a pleasant place and to lift the poor out of squalor. It is on the way back to the Hovel that I notice the Bentley parked outside one of the impossibly adorable houses in the higgledy-piggledy streets between the Heath and Heath Street. It’s not so much the Bentley itself – after all, London is now seething with them – it’s the number plate: I H8 TAX. You geddit?
     
    Now, while the relationship between the taxman and me is not a simple and straightforward one, it is a matter of my own incompetence rather than outright objection to the principle. So I am not, I must confess, very amused to see this number plate. It is not hard to come to some ungenerous conclusions about the charming man – it will be a man – who thinks this is a terrific joke.
     
    I think back to the plaque for the Barnetts on their old home by the pub and speculate about the kind of people who now buy such properties. I imagine a London a hundred years hence and the plaques that will decorate the walls of Hampstead. “—, hedge-fund manager, lived here from 2012-2040.” “Soand- so, arms dealer, lived here off the blood of thousands between 2000 and 2020.”
     
    You get the idea. We are living in an age that would seem to consider the very idea of positive social reform as a quaint mug’s game. London is now a playground for the rich and they have had enough of being within smelling distance of the poor. I am also aware that the body responsible for Hampstead Heath is the shadowy City of London Corporation and I wonder how long it will be before its overlords monetise it.

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    As the recession bites, state funding for Italy's museums and galleries has disappeared, and Italians are coming up with inventive forms of common ownership, to challenge power from the bottom up.

    To the right of the grand staircase leading up to the circle at the Teatro Valle in Rome is a plaque that says the theatre hosted the premiere in 1921 of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Now regarded as a modernist classic, the play shocked early audiences and was greeted with shouts of “Manicomio!” (“madhouse”) on its opening night. Today, the plaque is complemented by a more recent message, spelled out in pink stencilled lettering in English on the staircase: No Violence, No Homophobia, No Sexism, No Racism – repeated like a mantra as the steps stretch up into the darkness. “That’s from an event we did for Rome Pride,” says Valeria, my guide. “But we liked it so much, we decided to keep it.”

    Built in 1727, and located up a narrow street halfway between the ancient Forum and the Pantheon, Teatro Valle is the oldest theatre in Rome. It has long been known for promoting innovative work – but now the building itself is home to a bold social experiment. In June 2011, after Rome’s city council threatened to close the theatre, actors and employees occupied it in protest. This was not an unusual step as such: as the eurozone crisis drags on, Italy’s cultural assets – referred to as petrolio italiano (“Italian crude oil”), because of their economic importance – have become a flashpoint for discontent. Art gallery and museum workers have been particularly restive as state funds have declined – and the Colosseum has become a focus for strikes.

    But what began as a symbolic protest at Teatro Valle rapidly grew into something more. The occupation drew endorsements from some of Italy’s leading cultural figures, as well as thousands of messages of support from members of the public. Instead of leaving after three days as they had originally planned, the occupiers decided to stay and to keep the theatre running.

    Valeria explains that they have tried to make the venue as welcoming as possible. “Older ladies come and bring us lunch, or newspapers,” she says. “People who would never dream of entering a squat come in. It’s created a centre of community in central Rome where there was none.”

    Decisions are taken collectively: once a week, an open assembly is held in the theatre café, a room with tall glass windows that look on to the street, so that members of the public can see what’s happening and join in, if they want to. There, they discuss everything from the cleaning rota to the programming. “The point we are trying to make,” Valeria says, “is that there are things that cannot be managed by the public or the private. Some things cannot be privatised – schools, hospitals. But when the state cannot manage them properly, I the citizen should have the right to run it.”

    August in Rome is usually a time of mass exodus, as city-dwellers escape the oppressive heat and head down south to the coast or up into the mountains of central Italy. At the start of the month, roads leading away from Rome are jammed and the emergency services work overtime to deal with traffic accidents. But, as a recent edition of Italian Vanity Fairmournfully reported, those days “no longer exist”.

    Italy is mired in its longest postwar recession and has suffered eight consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Fewer people are going on holiday, and those who do go away take shorter stays in cheaper hotels. In the past year, apartment purchases fell by a quarter nationally. Four million fewer phone calls were made, and 3.4 billion fewer litres of petrol were used. Above all, the unemployment rate has soared to more than 12 per cent. Personal savings – or, for younger Italians, 42 per cent of whom are out of work, the option of returning to live in the family home – have provided a cushion of sorts in recent years. But as an Italian friend told me, “This year, for the first time, we’re starting to see the savings run out.”

    Public anger has turned towards Italy’s political class, its image already tarnished by the scandals of the Silvio Berlusconi years. At the general election in February, discontent manifested itself in a huge vote for the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by the stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo. A few months later, Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, was kicked out of office after five years in power.

    To many, Alemanno represented everything that was wrong with Italy’s political culture. Having begun his political career in the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, he was minister of agriculture under Berlusconi from 2001-2006. Fascist salutes from a crowd of young Roman skinheads greeted his election as mayor in 2008 and there was a flurry of alarmed international press coverage. But his reign was less dramatic, even though it gave a stimulus to the various far-right fringe groups active in the city.

    Guido Caldiron, a prominent political journalist and the author of a recent book on the extreme right, says Alemanno initially won support by exploiting anxieties about immigration and Roma gypsies, but he had no answers to the much more pressing economic problems. “He really did very little – there isn’t a single public initiative he undertook worthy of mention, while there are many shadows that accumulated along the way.”

    Caldiron is referring to corruption – one of Alemanno’s close associates was arrested in March on suspicion of taking bribes. And so many former members of right-wing extremist organisations were given official jobs that the press named the influx into the city’s administration “fascistopoli”.

    Meanwhile, many public assets were sold off to private developers or otherwise left to decay. When in 2011 the government, under Berlusconi, closed the fund that administered Italy’s most important theatres and handed over control to local councils, there was good reason to fear for the future of Teatro Valle. Already, two historic cinemas had been sold. One is now a shopping mall for the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton; the other is slated to reopen as a casino.

    Rome’s new mayor, the centre-left Ignazio Marino, has made encouraging noises about his commitment to culture in the city, but the immediate prospects do not look good. Nationally, politics has stalled. After the financial crisis forced Berlusconi from office in November 2011, Italy underwent a period of technocratic government, led by the economist Mario Monti, who imposed a programme of spending cuts and tax rises. This year’s elections, in which Grillo’s Five Star Movement came second, ultimately delivered a fragile governing coalition of centre left and centre right. Millions of Italians may have voted for change, but what they’ve got essentially is more of the same. Austerity continues apace and state funds for cultural projects keep on shrinking.

    A few miles north of Teatro Valle, in a working-class suburb of Rome, I visited another occupied building. This one - now named Officine Zero, "Workshop Zero" - was a former train repair factory, sold to developers and then occupied by its workers with a little help from a student squat next door. On the afternoon I arrived, you could see how the place straddled the divide between two generations of the Italian left. In one of the workshops – surrounded by the dismembered carcasses of Trenitalia carriages – I saw a set of faded photos of the workers taking part in trade union demonstrations. Pride of place was given to a framed panoramic photograph of a huge rally in Rome in 1984: a sea of red flags, viewed from behind the head of a speaker on the platform.

    In a tree-lined courtyard outside, some of those same employees seen in the photographs were sitting on plastic chairs in a circle, chatting quietly. The former train engineers have turned one corner of the factory into a recycling plant, and on the other side, office buildings have been converted into studio space by students, artists and writers. As Camilla, an Italian-language teacher involved in the project, explained to me, the recession has forced increasing numbers of young people into “freelance” employment, and working together like this is a way to overcome their isolation.

    Italy has a long history of setting up squats and occupying social centres, but the financial crisis has helped them to flourish anew. In San Lorenzo, Rome’s university quarter, a sprawling network exists, little centres of community life. When I visited, one was hosting a swing dance class; another was providing study space for students shut out of university library buildings that now close early because of budget cuts. Shendi Veli, an activist with the long-running ESC Atelier social centre, explained to me that, “for many people, the only alternative to the crisis has been self-organisation”.

    The occupation at Teatro Valle has tried to take this a step further. A few weeks after they first occupied the theatre, the activists invited the distinguished law professor Ugo Mattei to help them draw up documents that would give legal protection to their work – allowing them to continue running the theatre collectively. In 2007, Mattei had been a member of a commission of legal experts and jurists appointed by the government to make adjustments to Italian property law. They recommended a big change: to introduce a third category of property, neither public nor private, but “common”. When I contacted him by email, Mattei explained it was “based on access to and diffusion of power”; a challenge to the idea that the market knows best, .

    His proposals, which he describes as “anticapitalist” but transcending conventional left-right divisions, allow groups of ordinary citizens to take over public services and cultural institutions to stop them falling into private hands. In 2010, for instance, Mattei masterminded the successful campaign for a No vote in a referendum on whether Italy should privatise its water supply.

    With the help of Teatro Valle, this has become a growing movement. Activists have held meetings in cities around Italy at which participants are invited to discuss local problems that could be fixed with collective action. In Pisa, the people talked about factory closures. In L’Aquila, the mountain city partly destroyed by an earthquake in 2009, residents aired their frustration at the lack of progress in rebuilding – and the laws that ban them from doing it themselves.

    After several years of ignoring the commission’s proposals, the Italian Senate has just reopened discussions about whether to adopt formally the principle of “common” property. “We don’t need the state,” Mattei told me. “We need people organised from the bottom up, and that is why power is so scared of us.”

    To Valeria, the experiment at Teatro Valle points to a new way of doing politics. “People think that participation means ‘give my opinion’,” she told me. “But we have a strong belief that politics is made with bodies.” We were sitting on the main stage as we talked. Actors had just been rehearsing there, and through the lights I could just make out the rows of empty red velvet seats, overlooked by ornate baroque balconies. Valeria continued: “When people from other towns ask, ‘How can I help Teatro Valle?’, we say, ‘Occupy a theatre in your own town.’”


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    The highest ground pulsates with life.

    Take any path that leads upwards from a Swiss mountain village and you will find two distinct forms of meadow. The first, in clearings and open spaces below the treeline, has distinct flora, a lush mix of grasses and wildflowers that was once found all over Britain but is now mostly a fond memory (some estimates suggest that 80 to 90 per cent of our hay meadows was lost, in the space of about 70 years, in the shift from traditional farming to industrial agribusiness).

    We have to concede that, in one sense, these hay meadows are artificial – they arose where native woodland was cleared to grow hay for livestock – but they are extraordinarily rich spaces, nevertheless, with a diversity and abundance of plant and insect life that most of us can only dream about. Here, the open ground is a brightly coloured tapestry of geraniums, hawkbits, bellflowers and daisies, while the dappled shade at the meadow’s edge offers sanctuary to diadems of Astrantia and that “queen of poisons”, Aconitum vulparia. Wherever you look, butterflies of every hue and pattern drift from flower to flower in seemingly impossible numbers.

    These “artificial” meadows are a testament to what can be achieved when human culture dovetails with the natural world; they may result from our interventions, but they are havens for birds, bees and other wildlife and a perennial source of inspiration for painters, poets and musicians. That we have almost lost them demonstrates not only appalling carelessness, but also an astonishing stupidity on our part.

    Continue that walk a few hundred metres further up the mountain, however, and you come to natural, or perennial, meadow, a terrain that is as old as the mountains themselves. Here, in spring and early summer, the ground is covered with clusters and carpets of gentian and saxifrage, Androsace and primulas, mountain asters and those fleshy clumps of sempervivum that, in flower, look like miniature krakens from some 1950s science-fiction movie.

    The more you look, the more this natural variety and beauty become present to the eye. High Alpine meadows, like their near relatives prairie, desert and certain varieties of wetland, teach us to consider the world from a fresh perspective, to open our eyes and take account of what we have missed, reminding us that, in spite of our emphasis on the visual in everyday speech, we see so very little of the world. To appreciate these high meadows requires exquisite attention, but the exercise is salutary, considering how flabby our everyday awareness has become.

    So, it is gratifying to know that, over the past few months, meadows have been in the news: Prince Charles, whose own garden at Highgrove contains a traditional hay meadow, recently set up a scheme to fund 60 “coronation meadows” across Britain. A few local councils have come to recognise the importance of permanent meadowland, with such projects as the Sanders Park initiative in Bromsgrove garnering huge support. And individual gardeners are beginning to forgo the joyless backyard monoculture of mossfree, manicured lawns for wild gardens that, however small they may be, offer way stations and refuges for insects and birds in cities and suburbs.

    Any and all such projects, no matter how modest, are to be applauded, but we must always remember that, with regard to meadows, as with so much else, the elephant in the room is our continued tolerance of an agribusiness system that is both toxic and socially unjust.

    Unless we change the very nature of our rural economy – first by breaking the hegemony of corporate subsidy-milkers, and then by supporting only those for whom farming is both a vocation and the expression of a living tradition – the diversity and abundance that makes for quality of life, in the fullest sense of the phrase, may never be regained.


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    The Low Pay Commission should consider setting out how the minimum wage would increase over time if the recovery is sustained.

    How will the low paid fare should the economy move into a period of steady growth? This question is already creating interest across all three parties and looks set to become ever more central to the 2015 election - especially if living standards continue to decline at the same time as growth picks up.

    So we can expect there to be more interest in the nuts and bolts of how the minimum wage is set and whether it is likely to rise much over the medium term. Given that the wage floor has already fallen back below the level it was at in 2004, there are some who would favour an immediate hike, perhaps up to the level of the Living Wage, regardless of the fragility of the labour market. Many others worry about the impact of a higher minimum wage on unemployment (even if it is falling a bit) and future job growth. Faced with these competing pressures, policy-makers remain locked-in to the status quo in which the Low Pay Commission (LPC) takes an evidence-based, incremental, and typically cautious look at the level of the wage floor every 12 months.

    One possible route through this bind would be to set out how the minimum wage would increase over time if, and only if, the recovery is sustained. If this sort of conditional approach towards policy-making sounds familiar it’s probably because it echoes the much hyped ‘forward guidance’ for monetary policy which has been introduced by Mark Carney at the Bank of England.

    In relation to low pay, forward guidance could mean the LPC setting out the path of future increases in the minimum wage over a number of years so long as the recovery is maintained and unemployment falls. If, however, the economy weakens the LPC would revert to setting the minimum wage a year at a time. This approach would mean a shift from the established pattern of annual uplifts but it wouldn’t be wholly exceptional (the LPC has in the past set out its intention to increase the minimum wage above average earnings over a number of years).

    What might be the upside of this sort of approach? Well, it could give the lowest paid workers some much needed confidence that they won’t be locked out of any recovery. It would also give employers far greater certainty over the size of the wage pressures they would need to absorb over the medium term. And, politically, it would be used as a way of demonstrating that the low paid will share in growth whilst also providing an escape route should the economy flat-line again.

    Easy, then? No – this would be tricky to get right.

    There would be wage-disappointment, or more likely wage-rage, if the economy under-performs and the promised increases in the wage floor fail to materialise. A broken promise (as it would be seen) of a pay-rise that fails to show up may well be worse than receiving no such promise in the first place. Employer groups would doubtless blanch at what will inevitably look like chunky increases over the medium term. And, as Mr Carney’s critics have pointed out in relation to monetary policy, there is no such thing as a perfect proxy measure which can reliably be used as a good guide as to whether or not the recovery is robust.

    More specifically, if the LPC set out cash figures for the future level of the minimum wage over a number of years then this would effectively mean that the lowest paid workers in the land would be bearing the risk of inflation rising faster than forecast – hence the future increases might need to be set out as rises relative to inflation (which isn’t so easy to communicate). And, if it looked too much like the government was leaning on the Low Pay Commission, seeking to muscle it into increases that it didn’t want to make, then some members may walk away altogether, which could destabilise an institution that has served us well.

    Yet for all these challenges, this and other ideas on how best to tackle low pay need to be very carefully looked at. Objections will be raised against any proposal that leads to an increase in the wage floor, many of them coming from the very same people who opposed its introduction in the first place. Fifteen years on, it’s time to consider where next for the minimum wage and to interrogate these and other ideas that could help make it relevant to the decade ahead (as a Resolution Foundation project is doing).

    Despite the rhetoric coming from all sides, there is a real risk that interest in improving the plight of the low paid fails to translate into workable policy ideas that will improve the wages of many of those at the sharp end. As things stand, any recovery could all too easily pass them by. Maybe it’s time to plan for a pay-rise. 


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    David Cesarani praises Simon Schama's erudite, playful and personal history reinterpretation of Jewish history.

    The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000BCE – 1492CE)
    Simon Schama
    Bodley Head, 512pp, £25
     
    No one writes a history of the Jews without an agenda. The first effort that Jews made to write Jewish history, in a manner recognisable to us as history, was an arresting statement about the Jewish present and, quite explicitly, the Jewish future.
     
    Until the mid-18th century, Jews simply did not think in historical terms. As Simon Schama notes pithily, with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, “Jewish time stops.” Josephus, who chronicled the disaster, was the first and, for centuries, the last Jewish historian. He was comparable to Herodotus but unlike the Greek and Roman historians he had no acolytes. For Jews, the loss of the Temple – and with it self-determination – was a punishment by God. Until the Messiah came, they would be suspended in an eternal present framed by exile and suffering.
     
    Jews escaped this preconception only under the influence of the European Enlightenment and histories that did not ascribe everything to God’s providence. However, Christian scholarship on the Jews was hardly inspiring. European thinkers from Voltaire to Hegel regarded the Jews as a bizarre and unpleasant historical anomaly. Their beliefs and practices were apparently handed down unchanged from biblical times. Some radicals were willing to set aside the charge of deicide but nearly everyone agreed that the Jews were an alien people with obnoxious traits. To most (apart from those radicals), this more than justified their political and social exclusion.
     
    The first histories composed by practitioners of the Jewish Enlightenment were intended to counter this disdain and justify Jewish claims to equality. But these authors, such as Nachman Krochmal and Leopold Zunz, were fighting on two fronts. They wanted to show Gentiles that the Jews had a glorious past but they were also campaigning for reform within Jewish communities, to erase the infamies that critics identified. Their research demonstrated the mutability of Judaism. It suggested that customs considered at odds with the zeitgeist could be amended, or even scrapped. The past became a weapon of change.
     
    Heinrich Graetz, the first notable Jewish historian, was a product of German universities. A Hegelian, he believed that Jewish history was a progression from tribalism towards universalism. He gloried in the Jewish dispersion, because how else could the progenitors of monotheism be a light unto the nations? The hero of his multi-volume history, published between 1853 and 1870, was Moses Mendelssohn, who reformulated Judaism in an Enlightenment idiom. By contrast, Graetz despised the ultra-Orthodox Hasidim of eastern Europe who cleaved to tradition and rejected modernity. Yet he was not just an apologist. He expected that once the Jews shed their objectionable peculiarities, European society would embrace them as equals.
     
    The rise in anti-Semitism towards the end of the 19th century forced Jewish thinkers to reconsider. Simon Dubnow, a Russianeducated scholar, turned his back on the universalistic dream cherished by Graetz. Dubnow had emerged from the Pale of Settlement, where Yiddish-speaking Jews comprised a majority in numerous districts. They lived a semi-autonomous life with many characteristics of a national group. Whereas Graetz renounced Jewish nationality, arguing that Jews were distinguished only by their religion, Dubnow understood Jewish history in terms of nationhood, its loss and the struggle to recover it. The Jewish future would consist of gaining minority rights in the Hapsburg and the Russian empires where most Jews dwelled.
     
    Dubnow’s vision earned the scorn of Zionists. They agreed that the trajectory of Jewish history led to the reawakening of national consciousness and self-rule – but saw this taking place in a Jewish state. Zionism spawned a school of historians who characterised the diaspora as an entirely negative experience, a miasma of powerlessness. To Ben-Zion Dinur, the doyen of the “Jerusalem School”, Jewish history was about charting continuous manifestations of Jewish self-government and the revival of national pride, culminating in the establishment of modern Israel.
     
    Yet the 20th century offered little comfort to Zionists. Rather, it seemed to demonstrate the resilience of Jews in the diaspora. This dynamic appeared self-evident to Salo Baron, the first Jew to hold a chair in Jewish history in the US (at Columbia University, where Schama is now ensconced). Born in a border region of the Austro-Hungarian empire with a dense Jewish population, Baron studied at University of Vienna and migrated to the US. He observed how social and economic movements in one region could lift the Jews, while in another they created circumstances that doomed them.
     
    Unlike Dubnow, Baron did not regard politics as the motor of change in Jewish history. In his 18-volume history of the Jews, the crucial determinants of their fate were international trade, warfare and administrative centralisation in the places where they lived. Nor were Jews the passive objects of political upheaval. They were agents of change, if only by migrating in search of a better life. From his vantage point on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, capitalist urban modernity offered the Jews the most enticing prospect.
     
    In the 1960s, increasing numbers of professional Jewish historians began to graduate from US universities such as Columbia. They identified closely with the dilemmas of Jews in Europe two centuries earlier. Then, thinkers such as Mendelssohn confronted the challenge of Enlightenment rationalism and the possibilities offered by the French Revolution. Was it possible to be a French citizen and an observant Jew? How could Jews emerge from the ghetto without losing their distinctiveness? As Arthur Hertzberg, my teacher at Columbia, put it: “Jewish history became a question of how to enter modernity and still have the kids come home for Friday-night dinner.”
     
    So what is the agenda of Jewish history in a postmodern world? According to the Israeli historian Moshe Rosman, “Postmodernity has led to the emergence of a new, as yet not fully articulated meta-history that can be termed ‘multicultural’.” The unity of the Jewish story has been replaced by a multitude of local histories in which Jews mingle with their surroundings, morphing through varied degrees of hybridity. Jewish identity is constantly under construction and no one period or location is privileged over another. There is no Jewish authenticity. “The essence of Jewish history is diversity.”
     
    Schama fits perfectly into this mould. He begins his narrative not with Abraham and the patriarchs but with a community of soldiers and their families residing on the island of Elephantine in the Nile, around 475BC. These people observed many practices that we associate with Judaism. Brilliantly exploiting the fragmentary sources, Schama evokes their everyday life as well as their beliefs. They were “worldly, cosmopolitan”, speaking the vernacular and interacting with the locals. The first Jews were “obsessed with law and property, money-minded, fashion-conscious, much concerned with the making and breaking of marriages”. It all sounds like Manhattan.
     
    That is the point. Schama is not writing a conventional history of the Jews. Note the title: he is offering stories told by and about Jews. These stories have been chosen artfully to illustrate the syncretic nature of Jewish thought across the ages and from one continent to another; the porous boundaries between those identified as Jews and others around them; the Jews’ voluntary integration as against their periodic forced segregation. His reading of Jewish law and the commentaries, which rabbinical scholars may find selective to say the least, is bent towards demonstrating the inclusivity to be found even among the guardians of ritual purity.
     
    Schama is always readable, with uproariously funny riffs on everything from eccentric archaeologists to rabbinical advice about depilatories. He has a gift for rendering dryas- dust material into the demotic, referring to a bitty inscription as a “Hebrew tweet”. However, this liveliness comes at a price. Anyone expecting to find a conventional account opening with the hoary question of Jewish origins and the veracity of the Bible will be frustrated, not to say confused. Don’t expect to find the prophet Samuel, Saul, his kingly creation, or the tales of David and Solomon. He sidesteps the hallowed preoccupation with the singular genius and unique continuity of the Jews.
     
    Swaths of the book deal with visual representation. Schama’s look at the historicity of the Bible opens with a digression on Victorian explorers, cartographers and painters who depicted the Holy Land. He dwells on the wall paintings of the synagogue at Dura and the mosaics at Zippori, ostensibly because they give an insight into Judaism in its formative stages, around 240AD, following the destruction of the Temple and reification of the oral law. “Judaism as it was being remade was, in some respects, actually constituted from images almost as much as texts.” In this crucial respect, it was linked to, not separated from, the culture around it. The mosaics at Beit She’an show “the openness of Judaism to the cultures amid which it dwelled”. Schama offers a scintillating explanation of illustrated Hebrew manuscripts, notably the earliest Haggadah used for the Passover service, as ocular retorts to the demonic figurations employed to disseminate Judaeophobia after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
     
    There is another reason for this proclivity for visual points. The book is tied to a television series and is driven as much by what could be filmed as by what the primary and secondary sources disclose. Although Schama displays a wide breadth of learning, his book is not overburdened with footnotes and most of the sources are in English. He prefers exciting new revisionist works over plodding, older scholarship. The result is a breezy, often racy series of vignettes, usually centring on a place or a personality, stressing the material and the quotidian. Although Maimonides bulks large and there is a beautifully wrought segment on Hebrew poetry, he barely explores the evolution of Jewish thought.
     
    More problematically, he skips chunks of history too awkward (or dull) to accommodate. A terrifically moving rendition of how Jewish populations in Mainz and Worms were annihilated during the First Crusade, in a chapter puzzlingly titled “Women of Ashkenaz”, opens without any explanation of how Jews got there. The women appear much later, in an eccentric argument based on “some evidence” that as well as figuring prominently in business, they wore prayer shawls and participated in services.
     
    Schama loves to toy with stereotypes, teetering on the brink of decency. From the beginning, “To be Jewish was to be bookish.” The cardo (or main street) in Hellenised Jerusalem was “chapter one in a long history of Jewish shopping”. All Jews “like pickled cucumbers”. When Babylonian rabbis discussed rich women using flour as an abrasive, it was “the first time the Jewish princess takes a bow in literature”. Needless to say, there is a clutch of guilt-tripping Yiddisher mommas. Oh, and Jews are good at business: “There was nowhere Jews wouldn’t go for something precious to sell.”
     
    This is classic Schama: playful, ironic, immensely erudite, exuding humanity. It is also deeply personal, with references to his parents and memories of his boyhood. While The Story of the Jews may not be a comprehensive guide to Jewish history, it is a scintillating reinterpretation that makes the furthest reaches of the Jewish past seem familiar, even contemporary. To some, this will appear a postmodern fad but the gains balance the losses. And it will provide countless boys and girls with much welcome relief from the stodgy volumes that routinely serve as bar and bat mitzvah presents.
     
    The television series of “The Story of the Jews” is on BBC2 (Sundays, 9pm) David Cesarani is the Research Professor in History at Royal Holloway, University of London

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    After reading Cat Sense, you will never look at your cat in the same way again. You might wish you still could.

    Earlier this year, the BBC2 programme Horizon affixed “cat-cams” to 50 feline inhabitants of the Surrey village of Shamley Green to learn what the moggies got up to once they had exited the catflap and embraced their inner catness. To anyone who owns – or is owned by – a cat, the results were surprisingly unsurprising. The killer cats of Shamley Green roamed around a bit, carried out some light bin piracy, had remarkably little sex (it was a family show) and engaged in confrontations that were bigger on noise than paw-topaw violence. In general, they gave the lie to T S Eliot’s fantasy of a rich and rumbustious feline underworld. The answer to the question “What is my cat up to right now?” is almost always “sleeping”.
     
    The animal behaviourist John Bradshaw took part in The Secret Life of the Cat and his book promises greater depth than Horizon’s mild night-vision entertainment. Cat Sense is an attempt to dispel the mystery surrounding an animal that has lived alongside us for nine thousand years yet retains much of its wildness. Bradshaw’s goal is that by understanding the cat more fully – and accepting that it is neither completely domesticated nor the finished article in evolutionary terms – we become able to provide it with a better and more fulfilling existence. The home life of many pet cats which Bradshaw describes is stressful, with mismatched or rival animals packed too tightly into the urban setting, or boring. What we consider normal cat behaviour is often the product of status anxiety and a kind of feline anomie. No wonder they bring home dead birds and poo in the shower.
     
    Bradshaw’s desire for a comprehensive picture works against the book. To reach the juicy tinned meat of cat psychology and sociology, the reader must get over the hump of some numbingly dull opening chapters on feline evolution and domestication; if this is the cat bible, then there is an awful lot of begatting and begetting going on. Bradshaw also has a terrible weakness for digression: the section on the genetic provenance of striped v blotched tabby would try the patience of the most committed cat lover.
     
    Get past all that, though, and more engaging details emerge. Dr Johnson used to feed his cat Hodge on oysters, not then a luxury food; the ancient Greek word for cat was ailouros, or “waving tail”; and Britain got the orange tabby from the Vikings a thousand years ago. On physiology, Bradshaw goes well beyond charming did-you-knows to provide insights that could transform the average cat owner’s understanding of their pet. Far from an indiscriminate bin-rummager, the domestic cat is a specialised “hypercarnivore” that can no longer obtain certain essential nutrients from anything but meat.
     
    Its senses are even more attuned to balance and hunting than you might expect and much stranger, too. Because the cat processes visual images far faster than we do, it experiences fluorescent light or cathode-ray-tube TV as an incessant flicker (more misery for the housebound puss). It cannot focus its vision at close quarters and relies on its whiskers to sense prey at close proximity. This explains that strange thing a cat does when it moves its head backwards, not forwards, before pawing at an unfamiliar object. Cats can detect ultrasound up to the register of a bat’s call and can differentiate rodent species by squeak. Their olfactory receptors indicate that they can tell billions of odours apart – impressive, considering that there are only so many ways a mouse or bird can smell but, you know, Eskimo words for snow and all that.
     
    What of less palatable feline behaviours? Cat mating is explored in all its horrible, noisy, barbed-penis perversity. So, too, is spraying, which is not as purely malicious as it seems to the human nose. The smellier a tomcat’s urine, the more protein there is in his diet. He is not ruining your carpet out of spite; he is demonstrating his prowess as a hunter and thus his worth as a mate, with a quick spritz of feline Drakkar Noir. As for cats’ notorious cruelty – batting a vole around apparently for fun and then not even having the decency to eat it – Bradshaw explains it as a product of a hunting instinct that is entirely separate from hunger. Even on a full stomach, a cat can’t see a small scuttling object without wanting to kill it, as many a leaf, raindrop, spider, clockwork Dalek and escaped frozen pea in our household has learned to its cost.
     
    It is almost disappointing to learn that these most charismatic animals are not governed by some unknowable and amoral shared spirit as the Egyptians believed and the Vatican feared, but are subject to the same belittling system of rules, reward and reinforcement as the rest of us. Even the most committed rationalist might find it a little sad to have the four-legged mystery of their household explained as an evolved system, however magnificent. Do we want the feline enigma resolved? After reading Cat Sense, you will never look at your cat in the sameway again. You might wish you still could.
     
    Andrew Harrison is a magazine editor and cultural critic

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    The shadow defence secretary is not impressed by the Lib Dem president's paean of praise to Ed Miliband in the New Statesman.

    Ed Miliband is yet to respond to Tim Farron's paean of praise to him in this week's New Statesman, but shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy has let it be known that he's not impressed.

    Farron told me:

    I really like Ed Miliband, so I don’t want to diss him. I don’t want join in with the Tories who compare him to Kinnock.

    He went on to praise Miliband as a model progressive:

    First of all, he’s a polite and nice person. I think he is somebody who is genuinely of the Robin Cook wing of the Labour Party, from their perspective what you’d call the 'soft left'. Somebody who is not a Luddite on environmental issues, somebody who’s open minded about modernising our democracy, somebody who’s instinctively a bit more pluralistic than most Labour leaders and a bit more internationalist as well. And they’re other things too. For all that I think he could have done a lot more on the AV campaign, he did at least have the backbone to come out and back it.

    He mischievously added: 

    And they’re other things too. For all that I think he could have done a lot more on the AV campaign, he did at least have the backbone to come out and back it. He wouldn’t share a platform with Nick [Clegg], so he ended up with me, poor thing. I like the guy.

    As Farron knows, should Miliband refuse to form a coalition with Clegg in 2015, he could well end up with him again. It was this that prompted Murphy's Twitter put-down this morning.

    To which Farron gracefully replied:

    For the benefit of those who missed the interview (picked-up in today's Guardian), Murphy later added:


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    We probably shouldn’t be surprised that this term appeared in a trial about rape and sexual assault; it isn’t the first time.

    In case you hadn’t noticed the news blaring from what felt like every digital surface in the western world, Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell was this week found not guilty of charges relating to child sexual abuse. So far, so normal: the British justice system investigates crime, presents evidence, pronounces a person guilty or not according to the evidence at hand. But, but.

    Something very important happened in the summary of the case which had little to do with Le Vell at all. In addressing the jury before their decision, top prosecutor Eleanor Laws QC asked whether the ‘world has gone mad’ over ‘celebrity prosecutions’. She then used the word ‘witch-hunt’ to heavily imply that after Jimmy Savile, the public are baying for the blood of their once beloved TV stars. Chief crown prosecutor for the north west, Nazir Afzal, hit back that he ‘absolutely detest[s] this word witch-hunt.’ And he certainly has reason to.

    When people use the word ‘witch-hunt’, they’re obviously not talking black hats and broomsticks. A ‘witch-hunt’ is an unfounded instance of mass hysteria where everyone has got a little bit carried away and started identifying completely fictional bad guys. Witches, after all, don’t exist. People who believe in them are gullible and oversensitive. Meanwhile, everyone who had to suffer through GCSE teaching of The Crucible knows that the first accusers in the Salem witch trials were two deluded, attention-seeking little girls.

    Charlie Brooker’s poem ‘Witch Hunt’ effectively satirised the frequency with which the tabloids will cry ‘witch hunt’, while often engaging in the act themselves. Yet, when a spate of prosecutions for murder or grievous bodily harm arise, the term ‘witch-hunt’ is never used. Rebekah Brooks used the term after being charged with phone hacking and another equally charming contributor to the media, Richard Littlejohn at the Daily Mail, used it to refer to both phone hacking investigations AND the Jimmy Savile prosecutions in one article (if there’s one thing to be said for the Mail, it’s that they never waste column space.) In both cases, the word was used in an effort to discredit the alleged victims of a crime, to imply that they were fantasising.

    We probably shouldn’t be surprised that this term appeared in a trial about rape and sexual assault; it isn’t the first time. People often jump on their high horse about ‘witch-hunts’ where rape is concerned. According to data gathered by US charity The Enliven Project, only 10% of rapes are ever reported, a minority of these lead to actual prosecutions, and 2% of rape allegations are false. The Independent put this into UK numbers, showing 95,000 rape victims per year; 15,670 of these rapes reported to police; 2,910 cases reaching the courts; and 1070 rapists eventually being convicted.

    You don’t have to have a Masters in Criminology to know that rape is widely unreported and under-convicted. One of the reasons that the situation stands is because people like Eleanor Laws throw around the tired old ‘witch-hunt’ phrase in the courtroom and the media like it’s the biggest trend since skinny jeans. The discussion whirs into action again about whether those accused of rape should be afforded anonymity, over and above anyone who’s been accused of murder, terrorism, or a slew of equally horrific crimes. Perhaps every suspect of every crime should be afforded anonymity until conviction. But marking out rape as the singular crime deserving of that treatment seems to imply that it carries with it a far greater likelihood of false accusation. The woman who accuses a man of rape from motivations of attention, greed, revenge or rejection lives large in the public imagination.

    It was an odd feeling, watching how quickly the tabloid coverage of this particular case switched from the lurid, unsavoury headlines which seemed to almost imply a sick titillation (The Mirror ran with the front-page ‘He put a teddy bear in my mouth and then raped me’), to celebratory crowing and photographs of Le Vell grinning widely and holding a pint. Which we suppose that is what one does, after one has been subject to a celebrity child rape witch-hunt and found ‘not guilty.’ Now that the tabloids have begun questioning whether or not the CPS should have ever taken the trial to court, the DPP (cough witchfinder general cough) has had to wade in and explain that, contrary to what certain corners of the media might suggest, the Crown Prosecution Service does not operate on the basis of rumour or conjecture, or at the behest of ‘hysterical little girls’, but because it believes there is a case to answer. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

    So while those members of Le Vell’s family who chose to champion his cause tell the papers of their relief, of their enduring faith in his innocence, and of the vicious witch hunt which has destroyed the life of one man, it is worth remembering that there were people out there, professional people, expert people, who felt that the prospect of Le Vell being found guilty was realistic. They looked at the testimony and evidence before them, and concluded that there was good enough cause for a case. That the jury deemed Le Vell ‘not guilty’ does not undermine the importance of the CPS’ work in assessing the evidence for prosecutions. Nor is the principle of the 'not guilty' verdict difficult to understand; it means that the jury could not find the defendant guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

    The treatment and cross-examination of witnesses in sex abuse trials has recently resurfaced as subject of debate. We know that our legal system is not the most amenable to women wishing to report a rape, but much less discussed is the fact that the methods of gathering evidence seem to take much into account the effect that the reliving of traumatic events will have on testimony, often rendering it muddled and inconsistent. How the remembering of the terrible event over time can become more lucid or contradictory as new details surface. It’s in the nature of trauma. We should be focusing on these aspects too, rather than shining the spotlight on one particular case in which a man has been found not guilty and using it as an example to argue for the anonymity of rape defendants. The Le Vell case is over, but there are many other cases in which a ‘guilty’ verdict was delivered, and many others where one should have been but wasn’t.

    In the meantime, we’d do well to remember that a trial ending in acquittal does not negate the need for a trial.

    It’s called justice. Isn’t it?


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    On the contrary, our society is surprisingly tolerant of rape.

    There is no great stigma attached to being a rapist. Of course, it’s not a word anyone wishes to see applied to themselves. We’d all hate to be called rapists, just as we’d hate anyone close to us to be accused of rape. But when it comes to committing rape - actually having sex with someone who is not consenting? It seems a lot of us are totally cool with that. Go ahead, rape away, just make sure no one calls it by that name.

    A 2010 survey reported by Sky News revealed 46 per cent of men aged 18 to 25 do not consider it rape if a man continues to penetrate a woman after she has changed her mind. Last week a survey conducted by Rape Crisis and Reveal magazine showed a third of women do not believe a rape to have taken place if an alleged victim did not fight back. It’s only eight years since a poll by Amnesty International suggested 8 per cent people believe a woman to be totally - that’s totally - responsible for rape if she’s had many sexual partners. The truth is, an alarming number of people are very comfortable indeed with the idea of rape in certain circumstances. Like George Galloway, they merely see it as “bad sexual etiquette”. Rape doesn’t horrify them, not a bit; rape accusations do.

    Take the case of the actor Michael Le Vell, who was this week found not guilty of 12 charges relating to rape, sexual assault and sex with a minor. During the trial, the press pored over details of Le Vell’s private life, caring not one bit for the reputation of a man who had not (and still hasn’t) been convicted of anything. And yet it’s only now, once the trial’s over, that we discover the true horror of it all: the fact that Le Vell was accused at all.

    Soon after the verdict Phillip Schofield tweeted his outrage, proclaiming it “bloody ridiculous a mans [sic] life & reputation can be so comprehensively trashed in this way” (it’s probably churlish to mention Lord McAlpine at this point, but still). Calls were swiftly being made for anonymity to be granted to those accused of rape, with Christine Hamilton helpfully suggesting“it’s outrageous that we should know who the accused is but not the accuser, whom the jury obviously think is a serial liar”. Similarly keen on making up allegations about other people’s allegedly made-up allegations, men’s rights campaigner Peter Lloyd wrote in the Mail that “even UK charity Rape Crisis admit that almost 1 in 10 rape allegations are false” (Rape Crisis have of course refuted this false allegation). Amazing though it is, one acquittal has made it open season on rape allegations. Just what is going on?

    Having no interest in his private life and no reason to question his acquittal I have a great deal of sympathy for Michael Le Vell. I don’t, however, feel I am in a position to call his accuser a serial liar (maybe the wives of disgraced Tory MPs have special instincts for these things). I pity all victims of rape whose credibility is undermined by insinuations such as those made by Hamilton, just as I pity the small number of men who are falsely accused of rape. It’s a mess. Yet what strikes me as particularly bizarre is that in a society so tolerant of rape, in which significant numbers of people believe many forms of assault don’t even count, it’s being suggested that rape defendants need anonymity because so much shame and stigma is attached to being a rapist. This is nonsense. We’re far less likely to excuse shoplifting or benefit fraud than we are rape. We’re fine with rape. We just don’t like those who accuse and we don’t like those who are accused, either.

    Rape culture is so endemic that an actual rape trial doesn’t just put the accused in the dock; broader cultural attitudes are on trial, too. Unless we’re talking about the Yorkshire Ripper or John Worboys - those extreme, nowt-to-do-with-us types - an accusation of rape doesn’t just point the finger at an individual. It challenges the widespread assumption that sex without the consent of another person isn’t really a crime. I can’t help feeling there’s a serious amount of wilful distancing in our shunning of those on trial for rape. We might not have done the things they’re accused of, but we’re way too close to them for comfort.

    Hence the stigma but hence, too, the relief and triumphalism following an acquittal. Phew! So it wasn’t them - it wasn’t us - after all! Even though a not guilty verdict does not itself demonstrate that a complainant was lying (sorry, Christine), in terms of the fury it releases it might as well do. A litany of entirely implausible reasons for making a false accusation - such as a need for attention and fame - pour forth, together with contradictory demands that the fame-hungry attention-seeker’s anonymity be revoked. Yet there’s little to be gained from “crying rape” (as it’s so tastelessly called). Four fifths of assault victims responding to Mumsnet’s We Believe You survey had not made a report to the police, with most feeling that the media, the legal system and society at large are unsympathetic to rape victims. Oddly, we seem to think that if those accused of rape are losing out, those doing the accusing must be winning. This is rubbish.

    Attitudes to those accused of rape can be terrible but let’s not pretend for one moment that this is because we’re overly sympathetic towards those making complaints. We’re not. Both complainants and defendants face speculation, suspicion and dismissal. Whenever there’s reasonable doubt, rather than support those we believe, we denigrate those we don’t. This isn’t because we’re disgusted by rape. On the contrary, we just don’t like anything that reminds us how tolerant we are of something we ought to despise.

     


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    Does the Telegraph's new section A) aim to expand the boundaries of masculinity, or B) feature the same group of blokes whining about the same old rubbish?

    The Telegraph has launched a new section exclusively for its male readers, Telegraph Men, with the tag line “Sharp opinion and expert advice for the modern male”. There was a swish launch party with lots of dapper looking lads and lasses at Rook & Raven on Tuesday evening, followed by a website and Twitter launch today.

    The Mole cannot help but wonder at the logic behind this new development. The Telegraph is already strongly weighted towards the Y chromasome both in terms of its writers and the issues that it covers - if you'd like to test this out, visit their blogs page and scroll down - today I counted 18 men, not a single woman. Are we seeing the creation of a new platform on which to debate questions of masculinity, looking at the issues that really affect British men? Will there be space for gay and trans writers, or will everything that does not conform to a GQ-slick template of dark blues, suits, sexism and materialism? (And a vehicle, excuse the pun, for advertising expensive cars?)

    The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman tweeted this morning:

    Clearly she is not prepared to give Telegraph Men the benefit of the doubt. But this Mole keeps an open mind. There is room in the media landscape for writing which takes a contemporary view of parenting, mental health, identity and masculinity – will Telegraph Men be it?

     


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    Social media lull us into thinking we’re whispering to a friend at a party, when in reality we’re shouting through a megaphone. But every time we hold back from dishing the dirt, we become a little bit less human.

    Earlier this week the editor of Newsnight inadvertently reminded us that the internet can’t keep a secret.

    In what he thought was a Twitter message only he and his friend could read, Ian Katz referred to the MP Rachel Reeves, a guest on his show, as “snoring boring”.

    It was hardly inaccurate. But that he actually tweeted this to the world, including Reeves herself, was embarrassing for him, and for her (although I tend to think there’s an association between the capacity to drone on like that and the kind of skin that will keep a person warm through the bitterest winter).

    What with Twitter’s tricksiness and Facebook’s deliberately confusing privacy policies, not to mention those twin traps “Reply To All” and “Forward”, the internet is an engine for social embarrassment. Social media lull us into thinking we’re whispering to a friend at a party, when in reality we’re shouting through a megaphone.

    But every time something like this happens, we become a little harder to lull. Katz won’t be sending any loose talk via Twitter again. Like everyone else, he is learning that there is no such thing as an off-the-record electronic communication.

    The lessons have been unavoidable. First, we know we’re prone to screwing up our messaging protocols, like Katz did. Second, various corporate and political scandals have revealed to us that “delete” actually means “save until it’s time to publish”; that even our text messages – is nothing holy, LOL – can be retrieved by others long after we have forgotten about them. Third, we now know that not only can our bosses read every email we send, but so can our governments. The message is sinking in: don’t write anything you wouldn’t be happy to see on the front page of the New York Times.

    I will leave it to others to discuss what the internet means for freedom of speech. I’m worried about something else: freedom to gossip.

    Gossip depends on a transaction best captured by the phrase “between me and you”. Rumours spread like wildfire through entire populations, which is why the internet disseminates them so efficiently. But gossip is inherently personal. It is passed on one person at a time, or circulated in small groups.

    In the online world, there is no such thing as “between me and you”. There is only “between me and anyone who is reading this or who might do so at some point in the future…” The more we wake up to this, the more we resist the temptation to dish.

    I’ve noticed that friends at work exchange less of the kind of salty backchat about their managers that used to form the mainstay of the day’s entertainment. Even hinting at an informal confidence about a third party, in a one-to-one email, is these days more likely to be ignored, or to summon a stiffly formal reply.

    Gossip continues, of course, in the so-called offline world. Rather than saying what they think in email, colleagues are more likely to sidle up to each other and quietly suggest a walk outside, like they’re in a very low-stakes spy movie.

    But even out in the street, they’ll be nervously checking their phone because, well, we’ve all heard the stories of accidental dials and overheard conversations. As the offline world shrinks, gossip is becoming laced with paranoia.

    You might say that if gossip is in decline, that’s a good thing. Perhaps you are one of those people who quietly but ostentatiously withdraws from a group the moment that gossip begins. Gossip is certainly disreputable, ungenerous and frequently unpleasant. We all learn at an early age that it’s not nice to talk behind someone’s back; that it’s irresponsible to spread stories.

    But here’s the (paradoxical) thing: if you don’t gossip, I don’t trust you. The moment I establish that a new acquaintance is alert to the pleasures of gossip is the moment I start to trust them.

    I don’t mean, trust them not to speak ill of me (how could I?). I mean, trust that they see the world as I do: as a place where playfulness matters as much as rules, protocols exist partly to be subverted, and pleasures taken where they can.

    We use gossip to monitor about the dynamics of our social circles: the quickest way to establish the politics of your office is to go for a drink after work. Gossip has a high compression ratio: it fits a lot of information into short conversations; they don’t call it “the good stuff” for nothing.

    Gossip is great a leveller, too: that the people who would be happiest if you never gossiped at work are your bosses tells you something about its egalitatarian nature.

    If we stop gossiping, we will become a little less human. Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist, has argued that gossip was central to the development of early human communication. Apes and monkeys, our closest kin, spend a lot of time grooming each other, not for the purposes of hygeine so much as to cement bonds of trust and affection. Humans, says Dunbar, do the same, except we have always lived in larger groups, and it’s hard to stroke all of the people all of the time.

    So at some point our ancestors worked out that social chatter was a more efficient method of bonding, as well as a great way to get the inside track on who was up, who was down, and who was screwing who behind the big rock. The conventional view of the origins of language is that it enabled males to coordinate hunts. Dunbar thinks that it evolved to allow us to gossip.

    Let’s not allow the internet to turn us into poker-faced, strait-laced, inhuman dullards. Let’s stand up for gossip. And meanwhile, if you want to know what I heard about how the deputy editor of the New Statesman got her job, DM me.


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    Suicide bombings in Sinai and an assassination attempt on the interior minister are a sign that Egypt is facing a growing threat from Islamic extremists, and the violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood can only make things worse.

    Yesterday six soldiers were killed in a double suicide bomb attack in Sinai and ten soldiers and seven civilians were killed in Rafah, near the Israel border, by bomb blasts. Less than a week earlier, on 5 September, Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, survived a bomb attack on his convoy in Cairo. A Sinai-based al-Qaeda inspired group later claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt.

    If there’s anything unexpected about this increase in violence against government targets, it’s that it has taken so little time for militant groups to strike beyond their Sinai-stronghold and organise attacks in the capital. When the Egyptian military began its heavy-handed and short-sighted crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood last month, it could only expect a violent response from the extremist wings of Egypt’s Islamist movements. It’s worth remembering that the Salafists initially welcomed the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, it was the army’s brutality that changed their attitude.

    The Egyptian government should also expect that a new generation of Islamists will be radicalised and turn to violent confrontation, because the message the military has sent to the Muslim Brotherhood, its supporters and other Islamists is very clear: there’s no place for you in government and your vote doesn’t, and won’t ever, count.

    I don’t say this because I support the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s ousted, and now jailed, Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi showed alarmingly authoritarian tendencies. I understand why liberals, women and Christian minorities worried for their future under an Islamic government, and why many early supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood grew disillusioned. But by killing over 600 protesters on 14th August, arresting thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and shutting down Muslim Brotherhood newspapers and TV stations, Egypt’s interim government has shown little patience for peaceful dialogue, and a concerning disregard for democratic norms.

    Violence often breeds violence, and now Egypt faces the prospect of a return to the 1990s, when the military government faced a low-level Islamic insurgency focussed in Sinai. The difference is that Islamist insurgents will now benefit from greater instability in the region, and a ready supply of arms from neighbouring Libya. The present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a member of the Brotherhood who became involved in international jihad as a response to state repression in the 50s and 60s. Egypt should beware its disenfranchised and disillusioned Islamist youth.


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    The Bank of England governor tells MPs what George Osborne doesn't want you to hear.

    The most politically significant moment during Mark Carney's apperance before the Treasury select committee came when the Bank of England governor stated that "fiscal adjustment" (spending cuts and tax rises) "has been a drag on growth". 

    This might appear to put him at odds with George Osborne who in his speech on the economy earlier this week, derided the "fiscalists" who claimed that the cuts had been more damaging than expected. But the Tory Treasury Twitter account has responded by stating that Carney's comments are "consistent" with Osborne's argument that the OBR's 2010 fiscal multipliers (which measure the effect of cuts and tax rises on growth) were not too optimistic. 

    The Treasury did, however, refuse to concede that the cuts had, at least to some extent, depressed growth. As David Cameron was reminded by Robert Chote earlier this year (when he suggested that austerity had not hit output), the OBR's multipliers assume that "every £100 of fiscal consolidation measures reduce GDP in that year by around £100 for capital spending cuts, £60 for welfare and public services, £35 for increases in the VAT rate and £30 for income tax and National Insurance increases". Fiscal consolidation is estimated to have reduced GDP by 1.4 per cent in 2011-12 alone.

    Cameron and Osborne are understandably reluctant to admit that the cuts mean growth has been lower than in normal circumstances. It allows Labour to argue that a less aggressive deficit reduction plan would have enabled higher levels of output. Which explains why you can expect Ed Balls and Ed Miliband to leap with glee on Carney's quote and the Tories to try and act as if they never heard him. 


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