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- 11/26/13--02:30: _The New Statesman C...
- 11/26/13--03:27: _No more dancing on ...
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- 11/26/13--05:07: _Once the full stop ...
- 11/26/13--05:19: _WHO retracts claim ...
- 11/26/13--05:43: _Salmond's only hope...
- 11/26/13--06:03: _"What makes a great...
- 11/26/13--07:24: _The Radical Indepen...
- 11/26/13--07:37: _The online advertis...
- 11/26/13--08:19: _The Scottish indepe...
- 11/26/13--08:24: _The White House is ...
- 11/26/13--09:09: _A 24-hour Tube serv...
- 11/26/13--23:12: _Morning Call: pick ...
- 11/27/13--02:05: _I'm excited about V...
- 11/27/13--02:18: _Debunking the myths...
- 11/27/13--02:19: _Labour and the Lib ...
- 11/27/13--02:43: _QE is distorting th...
- 11/27/13--03:35: _Why the "immigratio...
- 11/27/13--04:01: _Sustainability and ...
- 11/27/13--04:20: _Why Movember isn't ...
- 11/26/13--03:27: No more dancing on her own: students create a robotic Robyn
- 11/26/13--03:46: The Staggers named Best Online Comment Site
- 11/26/13--05:43: Salmond's only hope of victory is a Tory recovery
- 11/26/13--06:03: "What makes a great political thinker?" asks the Daily Politics
- 11/26/13--23:12: Morning Call: pick of the papers
- 11/27/13--02:05: I'm excited about Valve's games console, and you should be too
- 11/27/13--02:18: Debunking the myths: what is sex really like for ordinary people?
- 11/27/13--02:43: QE is distorting the financial system - it needs to stop, now
- 11/27/13--03:35: Why the "immigration debate" is getting us nowhere
- 11/27/13--04:01: Sustainability and business - how many planets are enough?
- 11/27/13--04:20: Why Movember isn't all it's cracked up to be
The 44-year-old journalist was recently imprisoned for eighteen years on "terrorism" charges after criticising the Ethiopian government's use of anti-terror laws to silence free opposition.
Inside the front cover of the programme for Amnesty International’s Media Awards earlier this year was a list that made for sobering reading. Under the headline: "The following journalists have been killed or imprisoned for carrying out their work", a list of over 300 names in tiny print filled four columns of the A4 page.
One of those names was 44-year-old Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega. In June last year, Eskinder was convicted of "terrorism", somewhat ironically, after writing articles criticising the government’s use of anti-terror laws to silence its critics, and for speculating on whether the Arab Spring uprisings could be replicated in Ethiopia. His reward for exercising his right to free speech? Eighteen years behind bars.
Eskinder is no stranger to the dirty cells of his Addis Ababa prison block. This is his eighth spell in jail in ten years. Each time he’s been sent down for defending human rights.
And he’s not the only one. Last year Amnesty recorded a number of cases in Ethiopia where journalists and political opposition members were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on terrorism charges after calling for reform, criticising the government, or for links to peaceful protest movements.
To make matters worse, their trials were marred by serious irregularities, including a failure to investigate allegations of torture; denial of, or restrictions on, access to legal advice; and use of confessions extracted under coercion as admissible evidence.
The crackdown on journalists and opposition politicians is part of a wider worrying pattern. According to Amnesty’s 2012 annual report, dissent is not tolerated in any sphere and peaceful protests are suppressed. Arbitrary arrests and detention are common, and torture and other ill-treatment in detention centres is rife. Further, many communities around the country have been forcibly evicted by the authorities to free up land which is then sold to foreign investors.
A few years ago, Eskinder’s wife Serkalem - also a journalist - fell foul of the Ethiopian legal system. She was pregnant in 2005 when she was sentenced to two years in prison, where she was forced to share a small, filthy cell with 70 to 80 prisoners and where she gave birth to their son, Nafkot. Eskinder was also in prison at that time, as was family friend and former opposition leader Birtukan Midetska.
Birtukan told Amnesty that Eskinder is one of the most "virtuous" people she knows in Ethiopia.
"He really believes in the good of all of us," she said. "It’s vivid in his personal life and his activism. The love he has for his country, his dedication to seeing people live a dignified life – it’s really huge."
"He didn’t start his activism with just criticising the government. He always gave them the benefit of the doubt. He was relentlessly committed to expressing his views, his ideas."
It was that commitment that triggered a campaign of harassment including threats, a ban on the newspaper he ran with Serkalem, and his repeated imprisonment. In 2005 when all three were jailed, Eskinder was thrown into solitary confinement for months on end. Somehow he managed to retain his optimism and belief in his cause, said Birtukan.
Amnesty has designated Eskinder a "prisoner of conscience" - as it did with Serkalem and Birtukan when they were in prison - and is calling for his immediate release. His case features prominently in Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaign, which the New Statesman will be supporting in the run up to Christmas.
The campaign successfully connects men and women, young and old in the UK with people elsewhere who have been wrongly imprisoned, at risk of harassment and intimidation for carrying out human rights work and to family members seeking justice for their loved ones.
As Amnesty has seen in previous years, not only does sending a letter to the authorities and the people at risk remind the recipients that thousands are aware of their plight and are standing in solidarity with them, it also sends a worrying signal to the authorities who see the number of messages being delivered to these men and women at risk that the world is standing up with them, and for them.
When Birtukan’s case was featured in Write for Rights in 2009 after she received a life sentence for her opposition politics, all the cards and letters were a lifeline.
"In 2009 only my mum and daughter were allowed to visit me," she said. "I was really cut off from the whole world. I didn’t have access to the media. We were not allowed to talk about Amnesty International’s initiatives but my mum mentioned to me that Amnesty people were trying to advocate for me. That was like a silver lining. It gave me hope. It connected me to the real world."
Birtukan was finally released in October 2010.
“The pressure you guys were exerting on the Ethiopian government was instrumental in securing my release,” she said.
It takes just two minutes to do the same for Eskinder. Visit https://www.amnesty.org.uk/eskinder and do so today.
Every week in the run up to Christmas the NS will feature a profile from Amnesty of a figure we particularly urge you to support. You can see all the pieces together here.
Call your girlfriend and tell her that there's a dancing robot version of Robyn, because science.
Swedish roboticists at the KTH Institute of Royal Pharmacology have built a robot that dances just like the pop star Robyn, for reasons that will be evident to anyone who has ever heard one of her tracks (she’s amazing):
Announced earlier this year and now almost finished, the Robot Project was thought up by students who were inspired by her unique dancing style, as well as robot-themed songs like “Fembot”, ”Robot Boy” and ”The Girl And The Robot”. It picks up noises nearby and dances along to perceived rhythms, with a certain degree of "structured randomness" to make it seem more lifelike in the moves it chooses. Creating a dancing robot that can do stuff like this, while remaining balanced and stable, is quite a challenge.
Robyn has been on board with the idea from the start, meeting with the students and suggesting ideas. Now that the robot’s almost done, Robyn has visited the students again for a look - and she thinks what they’ve come up with is “cute”.
In a video interview, she explains: “I don’t want to think of the result, I want to think of the process of how you can use technology like this to do something with an emotional value. I think that it’s really good that you can use the functionality and the construction, the way it’s all connected together, it brings out the human aspect more. It feels kind of vulnerable.”
She also said “I think the neck is really nice,” which is sweet.
For comparison, here's the "Call Your Girlfriend" video - it's got some great, angry moves in it:
There’s also a second Robot Project video where she talks about how important it is “that women get to do whatever they want”. She said: “Sometimes what’s tricky is that many girls don’t realise that they’re interested in technology because it’s not presented as something that they could be interested in ... It’s nothing to do with gender, it’s to do with how much you are confronted with something.”
It's well worth a watch:
“If you haven’t been in front of computers it might not feel like a place where you belong, so it’s about getting past that point to a point where you can get creative with technology to where you’re not focusing so much on the technological aspect but on the will to do something, and I think it’s important that women get to see themselves in that position more, and at least get to see the possibility."
(via the Atlantic)
The New Statesman wins another gong at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards.
We're celebrating at NS towers this morning after this blog was named best online comment site at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. As I said in my acceptance speech, the "Staggers" began life as a pejorative (in reference to the NS's periodic crises in funding, management and ownership) but like other terms that originated as insults, such as "impressionist", "suffragette" and "intellectual", we've reclaimed it as one of honour.
Thanks to all who have contributed, especially my colleague Rafael Behr, Richard Morris and James Maxwell, and to all of you for reading and commenting.
Among the other winners were David Allen Green, who was named best mainstream media blogger for his forensic legal commentary for the NS, City AM's Allister Heath (business commentator - a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the libertarian position) Flip Chart Rick (independent blogger), the Times (best comment pages - Tim Montgomerie has proved to be as fine an editor as we all expected) and Caitlin Moran, who won a remarkable four awards: cultural commentator, commentariat of the year, Twitter public personality and chair's choice (should they be renamed The Caitlins?)
Here's the full list of winners.
Best Online Comment Site: The Staggers, the New Statesman
Business Commentator: Allister Heath, City AM
Cultural Commentator: Caitlin Moran, the Times
Economics Commentator: David Smith, the Sunday Times
Foreign Commentator: Patrick Cockburn, the Independent and the Independent on Sunday
Independent Blogger: Steven Toft (AKA Flip Chart Rick)
Mainstream Media Blogger: David Allen Green
Media Commentator: Michael Wolff, GQ
Political Commentator: Daniel Finkelstein, the Times
Science Commentator: Anjana Ahuja, freelance writer
Sports Commentator: Matthew Syed, the Times
Twitter Public Personality: @caitlinmoran
Columnist of the Year: Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph
Best Comment Pages: the Times
Commentariat of the Year: Caitlin Moran, the Times
Chair's Choice: Caitlin Moran, the Times
The perpetual flow of instant messaging fears a heavy full stop - it means the conversation is over, or that you're being sarcastic, or angry. How did this happen to a once neutral punctuation mark?
The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”
Say you find yourself limping to the finish of a wearing workday. You text your girlfriend: “I know we made a reservation for your bday tonight but wouldn’t it be more romantic if we ate in instead?” If she replies,
we could do that
Then you can ring up Papa John’s and order something special. But if she replies,
we could do that.
Then you should probably drink a cup of coffee: You’re either going out or you’re eating Papa John’s alone.
This is an unlikely heel turn in linguistics. In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. “Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off?
It might be feeling rejected. On text and instant message, punctuation marks have largely been replaced by the line break. I am much more likely to type two separate messages without punctuation:
sorry about last night
next time we can order little caesars
Than I am to send a single punctuated message:
I’m sorry about last night. Next time we can order Little Caesars.
And, because it seems begrudging, I would never type:
sorry about last night.
next time we can order little caesars.
“The unpunctuated, un-ended sentence is incredibly addicting,” said Choire Sicha, editor of the Awl. “I feel liberated to make statements without that emphasis, and like I’m continuing the conversation, even when I’m definitely not.”
Other people probably just find line breaks more efficient. An American University study of college students’ texting and instant messaging habits found they only used sentence-final punctuation 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time in online chats. The percentages were even lower for “transmission-final punctuation”: 29 percent for texts and 35 percent for IMs. The same is likely true of Twitter, where the 140-character limit has made most punctuation seem dispensable.
“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”
It’s a remarkable innovation. The period was one of the first punctuation marks to enter written language as a way to indicate a pause, back when writing was used primarily as a record of (and script for) speech. Over time, as the written word gained autonomy from the spoken word, punctuation became a way to structure a text according to its own unique hierarchy and logic. While punctuation could still be used to create or suggest the rhythms of speech, only the exclamation point and question mark indicated anything like what an orator would call “tone.”
“Explicit representations of the emotional state of the person doing the writing are fairly rare,” said Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Writers, linguists, and philosophers have occasionally tried to invent new punctuation marks to ease the difficulty of inflecting tone in writing. The “irony mark,” in particular, has been proposed many times. But none of these efforts has been successful.
Now, however, technology has led us to use written language more like speech—that is, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. “[P]eople are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” Clay Shirky recently told Slate. This might help explain the rise of the line break: It allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech. It has also confronted people with the problem of tone in writing, and they’re trying to solve it with the familiar punctuation marks that the line break largely displaced.
It’s not just the period. Nearly everyone has struggled to figure out whether or not a received message is sarcastic. So people began using exclamation points almost as sincerity markers: “I really mean the sentence I just concluded!” (This is especially true of exclamation points used in sequence: “Are you being sarcastic?” “No!!!!!”) And as problems of tone kept arising on text and instant message, people turned to other punctuation marks on their keyboards rather than inventing new ones. The question mark has similarly outgrown its traditional purpose. I notice it more and more as a way to temper straightforward statements that might otherwise seem cocky, as in “I’m pretty sure he likes me?” The ellipsis, as Slate noted, has come to serve a whole range of purposes. I often see people using it as a passive-aggressive alternative to the period’s outright hostility—an invitation to the offender to guess at his mistake and remedy it. (“No.” shuts down the conversation; “No…” allows it to continue.)
Medial punctuation, like the comma and parentheses, has yet to take on emotional significance (at least as far as I’ve observed). And these newfangled, emotional uses of terminal punctuation haven’t crossed over into more traditional, thoughtful writing. (I have used the period throughout this story, and I’m in a perfectly pleasant mood.) Perhaps one day it will, though, and our descendants will wonder why everyone used to be so angry. For posterity’s sake, then, let my author bio be clear:
Ben Crair is a story editor at The New Republic!
The WHO's latest health inequity report made a startling claim that "about half" of those with HIV deliberately infected themselves in order to claim benefits, a claim not backed by the study cited.
You may have seen this tweet going around yesterday, featuring a screenshot of the most recent issue of New Scientist:
holy effing feck (New Scientist) pic.twitter.com/LKzAvRPWhH— Charlie (@timmyconspiracy) November 25, 2013
This statistic is unbelievably horrific - that is, it is so horrifying that it is hard to believe it’s true. It comes from the World Health Organisation’s final “Review of social determinants and the health divide in the WHO European Region” report, which was prepared by University College London’s Institute of Health Inequity. You can read it here.
The passage that the New Scientist piece seems to refer to is this, on page 112:
Suicides rose between 17 percent between 2007 and 2009 and to 25 percent in 2010, according to unofficial 2010 data. The Minister of Health reported a further 40 percent rise in the first half of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Suicide attempts have also increased, particularly among people reporting economic distress. Homicide and theft rates have doubled. HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drug-substitution programmes.
In this section, “about half” is cited as coming from a 2011 study published in the Lancet. That study - available to read here - records a 52 percent increase in the number of HIV infections in 2011 compared to 2010. It also claims that “half of the currently observed increases [are] attributable to infections among intravenous drug users”, which sounds like it could be what “about half” in the WHO report was referring to.
However - as Media Matters has pointed out - the section of the WHO report that deals with self-inflicted infections actually claims this:
An authoritative report described accounts of deliberate self-infection by a few individuals to obtain access to benefits of €700 per month and faster admission onto drug substitution programmes. These programmes offer access to synthetic opioids and can have waiting lists of 3 years or more in urban areas.
That figure, in turn, is cited as coming from the Greek Documentation and Monitoring Centre for Drugs. It’s not “about half”, not even close. Considering the WHO’s authority on matters like this - which usually means reputable publications like New Scientist can take its reports at face value - it’s a serious mistake to make.
The WHO has now admitted it made a mistake:
In this report, an erroneous reference is made to: “HIV rates and heroin use have risen significantly, with about half of new HIV infections being self-inflicted to enable people to receive benefits of €700 per month and faster admission on to drug substitution programmes.”
The sentence should read: "half of the new HIV cases are self-injecting and out of them few are deliberately inflicting the virus". The statement is the consequence of an error in the editing of the document, for which WHO apologizes.
If that really was the result of "an error in the editing of the document" - which is PR speak for "typo" - then that's baffling, as what they say the sentence should have read is nothing like what it actually reads. The kindest guess is that two sentences - one about half of those being infected had been sharing needles, one about self-inflicted infections - somehow became combined in a hasty edit.
It's also extremely unfair on the residents of Greece who are - as the report makes very clear - suffering quite enough under the effects of austerity to be given such a desperate reputation on top.
To triumph against the odds, the Yes campaign needs fear of a Conservative government and permanent austerity to push voters towards independence.
After trailing in the polls by a double-digit margin for most of the last year, Yes Scotland is hoping that the launch of today's independence White Paper marks the beginning of a remarkable comeback. Alex Salmond has long spoken of the possibility of a revival similar to that enjoyed by the SNP against Labour in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election. He told the NS back in June, "This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign. I went into an election [for the Scottish Parliament] in 2011 20 points behind in the polls and ended up 15 in front. The real game hasn’t even started. We are just clearing the ground."
Only the foolhardy would write off a campaigner as formidable as Salmond, but the odds are overwhelmingly against him. There has never been a majority for independence in Scotland (around 20 per cent of SNP voters support the Union) and the uncertainty created by the financial crisis and its aftermath has made voters even more reluctant to take that leap into the dark. The SNP's refusal to publish the legal advice on whether Scotland would inherit Britain’s membership of the EU and the uncertainty over its preferred option of a currency union with the rest of the UK (Unionist figures privately suggest that they may pledge to stage a referendum on the issue and Wales has already vowed to veto it) have also damaged its cause. After pledging to preserve so many of the features of the British state - the monarchy, the pound, Nato membership - independence looks increasingly like a solution in search of a problem.
The great irony of today's launch is that the headline announcement was on childcare (the SNP pledged to ensure that, over time, "every child from age one to starting school is guaranteed 30 hours of provision for 38 weeks of the year"), an area already devolved to Holyrood (Nicola Sturgeon responded by saying that she didn't want the additional tax revenue raised by parents returning to work to accrue to Westminster). Salmond repeated his promise to abolish the bedroom tax, the issue that he has predicted "might well have the same galvanising effect as the poll tax". But Ed Miliband's unambiguous pledge to do the same means this is less likely to prove the elixir he needs.
The increasing probability of a Labour victory in 2015 has helped to further tilt the odds against independence. One of the arguments Salmond made for secession was the risk that the UK could leave the EU. Earlier this year he gleefully cited a poll showing that the No campaign's lead evaporates when the Scottish public are asked how they would vote if Britain looked set to leave. But the diminishing likelihood of a Tory victory, and of an in/out referendum in 2017 (Labour has still not, and may not, promise a public vote), means it will be harder for him to warn that we're heading for Brexit.
With just one Conservative MP in Scotland (compared to 41 for Labour), the fear of another five years under the Tory yoke, and a government wedded to permanent austerity, could help to push many towards independence. But if Labour is still comfortably ahead in the polls in September 2014, far fewer will fear what lies ahead. For this reason, a Tory recovery is perhaps the essential precondition of a Salmond victory.
Andrew Neil's BBC politics show is currently profiling the lives of influential figures such as like Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.
In the world of politics, everything is essentially an argument over ideas. But just because a politician has a number of ideas, it doesn’t make them a philosopher.
Indeed, making a series for BBC Two’s Daily Politics programme called “Great Political Thinkers” has revealed two immediate surprises. First, many of those who made our list were never politicians and second, it’s fair to say that many of them were not exactly fans of politics and government in the sense that we understand it.
We drew up an initial shortlist and asked a number of our regular guest commentators to add their suggestions. We whittled our list down to ten, although we haven’t ruled out another list in the future.
Some of those who have made our final list are obvious choices. The men (for it is mainly men — a sign of their times) who laid the foundations of ideas we now take for granted: Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Then there are those whose names are controversial but cannot be ignored; Karl Marx, whose reputation for some will always be tainted by the Soviet era that claimed his name, or Ayn Rand, the woman who inspired millions but seemed to dislike pretty much everyone.
Finally there are the unexpected choices like Guy De Bord, chosen by Will Self, and E F Schumacher, the father of Sustainability, who is championed by impressionist Alistair McGowan.
In fact it’s been as interesting learning about our Political philosophers as it has been learning about the people who chose to talk about them.
Conservative MP Jesse Norman made an obvious choice in Burke as Norman had just written a book about him.
Labour MP Gloria de Peiro had selected 18th Century campaigner for women’s rights and education, Mary Wollstonecraft, weeks before her party selected her as a spokeswomen for just such issues.
Alistair McGowan may have given us his frighteningly accurate William Hague and Boris Johnson impressions but in his own voice he was passionate about the work of Fritz Schumacher and the environment and sustainability, not least digging beetroot on my own allotment!
What’s helped us understand the ideas these thinkers expounded is not just their champions but also the contribution of Dr Elizabeth Frazer, reader in politics at Oxford University, who has worked with us on each film. She has managed to wonderfully encapsulate the main thrust of the political thinkers’ arguments, the criticisms levelled at them, how their reputation has fared since and what modern politics has absorbed from their work. She is most passionate explaining how Thomas Paine, Enlightenment author of The Rights of Man, is the architect of our modern concept of Human Rights, how Mary Wollstonecraft is the pioneer of feminism, that some Economists still argue Friedrich Hayek’s ideas are the key to modern economic success, and how John Stuart Mill frames our modern ideas of liberty in the face of the State.
But don’t panic if philosophy isn’t your thing. We’ve learned plenty of things that might be deemed “curiosities”. Who knew that Thomas Paine has a beer named after him, that Karl Marx liked getting drunk and running from policemen, that Alistair McGowan doesn’t like beetroot, that a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft has been spray painted on the side of a London church (and they like it) and Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged is the only one of our philosophical works that’s been made into a Hollywood movie.
The movement's message of "Scotland for the people" offers the best chance of winning over those alienated from politics.
Alex Salmond lanched the White Paper on independence at a glitzy press event in Glasgow this morning, beginning a canny air war that has already enraged the unionists. But while political junkies are glued to the live coverage, forces on the ground that could ultimately determine the referendum are mobilising.
Crucial to this ground war is the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). They are a motley army of socialists, anarchists, greens, trade unionists and radicals of all stripes. On Saturday, I joined them as over a thousand rallied in Glasgow's Marriott Hotel to share ideas and flesh out their strategy to "take Scotland back for the people".
The pro-Union campaign Better Together has described RIC as "the true face of independence." Far from a compliment, this is meant to tarnish the SNP, painting them as secret radicals. In the eyes of the unionists, RIC are nothing more than a bunch of lefty loonies determined to ditch the Queen, the pound and Nato membership in favour of building a socialist republic. In fact, they exist outside of the party and the official Yes campaign. Which is why it is astounding that in the space of a year they have built up such a strong following. Run on a shoestring by a small group of young activists, they have also managed to open local branches across Scotland, from the Highlands to the borders.
On Saturday, the campaign launched a rousing declaration of intent. It ends with the call for "a Scotland of the Common Weal, of shared wealth and shared wellbeing. Our Scotland. All of us first." The all-day conference was crammed with debate on how to build a new green economy, claim the oil wealth for the public and bolster the welfare state. The Common Weal initiative, referred to in the declaration, gives substance to their vision of a fairer, more equal Scotland with policy proposals for a high-wage, high-tax economy.
The Radical Independence Campaign is easily dismissed as utopian. But this misses the point. While they will not achieve their objectives, RIC may play a pivotal role in convincing voters that the independence movement is on the side of the common people. On Saturday, Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation called the referendum "a class conflict". He said "the rich are voting No", while those suffering under austerity are more likely to place their hopes in an alternative future.
The hope versus fear argument is also designed to reach out to the young. It's no surprise that the SNP made giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote a priority. For many young people in Scotland, growing up within the Union looks like a bleak prospect. Next year they will choose between strengthening the powers of a nation that offers them free education and a London government set to strip benefits from under-25s. They look to those implementing the cuts and see a Tory government for whom the Scottish never voted.
Take the story of Liam McLaughlin, a campaign activist. Liam is 17 years old and grew up in Easterhouse, one of the most deprived areas in Scotland. For him, the referendum boils down to an essential question: "is this the best that we can do?" On Saturday, he spoke about how the campaign can "plant the seed" in the minds of young people. He is helping to set up a Scotland-wide school students network to persuade first-time voters that an independent Scotland can do better. According to RIC, door-to-door campaigning in Easterhouse this month found not one resident in favour of staying in the UK.
The problem is getting these people to vote. Will the independence movement reach the "missing million", those habitual non-voters that are so often the elusive pot of gold for political parties? Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, believes so. "The UK's political culture is dead on its feet" he argued, while in contrast "this is the most inspiring and creative period," he said he could remember in Scottish politics. It is this civil awakening, outside of the SNP party structures, that has a chance at convincing those disaffected with politics. The Radical Independence Campaign’s strident message of "Scotland for the people" is more persuasive than debate on the ins and outs of corporation tax levels. The National Collective, who organised the after party on Saturday, will also prove important in getting the word out. As a loose network of artists and musicians for independence, they are spreading the message to Scots who may not trust campaigners or politicians.
When the SNP won the Scottish parliament back in 2011, it came as a shock to the political and media elite. The system was supposed to be geared to stop that majority from happening. I would not be surprised if another shock is around the corner. At least, for those who weren’t at Saturday’s conference. It ended with Cat Boyd, one of the most committed organisers, quoting the trade union activist Jimmy Reid: "The untapped potential of our north sea oil is nothing compared to the untapped potential of our people." Every one of the thousand participants on Saturday was urged to put boots on the ground, go door to door and reach the "missing million" of Scotland in the coming year. The Better Together campaign can only dream of bringing that number of activists together, let alone with that level of commitment and energy.
Outside the conference hall in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, 30 per cent of homes are jobless. These people have little faith in the political system to change their lot. But this is no ordinary vote. If apathetic and disillusioned citizens can be persuaded that an independent Scotland will bring real change to their lives, it isn’t even a question. Scotland will vote yes, with a mandate from the missing million.
Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and front page editor at openDemocracy
Facebook has used advertising to turn its fortunes around - the question, now, is how the industry can keep pace and keep growing.
This month saw Twitter hit the headlines for its hugely impressive debut on the New York Stock Exchange. After its first day of trading, shares in the site closed at $44.30, up more than 73 per cent from their initial price of $23. Last May, there was a huge frenzy around Facebook’s gargantuan floatation. Share prices initially dropped and many naysayers proclaimed that Facebook had overshot its mark, entering at $38 a share. However, from July to September 2013, its share price doubled and is currently trading around the $50 mark.
It’s not just brands going public. Acquisitions for huge sums of money are taking place regularly. Instagram had only 12 employees when it was acquired for a cool billion dollars last year. Just last week, the founder of Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook. Such moves have led to plenty of not-so-hushed murmurs of a tech bubble forming, especially around digital brands.
But how are brands able to command such large valuations, or, in Snapchat’s case, turn such substantial offers down. Put simply, it’s down to a transformation of business models and the potential it offers for monetisation. Snapchat, for example, is hugely popular among teenagers – a bracket it is notoriously difficult to reach. This means, if it can get its platform strategy right, it is going to be in a very strong position to command significant revenue for advertising and marketing on its platform.
Facebook has used advertising effectively to turn its fortunes around. Its most recent results revealed it had broken through the $2billion revenue barrier and exceeded forecasts from Thomsons Reuters. A major contributor to these better-than-expected results was mobile advertising. It stated that 49 percent of its ad revenue – or $882 million – came from mobile devices, up from 14 percent a year earlier. Analysts have also stated that there has been a real rush to advertise with Facebook thanks to the new ad format it rolled out earlier this year. The ability to integrate in-stream ads into the user experience has worked, thanks to it being new, cheap and able to bring better response rates.
Shortly before Twitter declared its intentions to go public clear, it made a shrewd investment, shelling out $350m for MoPub, a mobile advertising exchange. This will enable Twitter to expand its influence as well as serve different formats, such as native advertising – which aims to deliver less intrusive ads to its user base.
In short, advertising is at the heart of online’s success and, increasingly, we will start to see more interesting and useful content delivered to users. The sector is booming and the question that is being levelled at the industry is “how is it going to maintain this pace and keep growing?”.
Firstly, Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly doing well, thanks to their advertising strategies. But it should be pointed out that, despite being vast, they are closed networks. Brands certainly need to harness the opportunity social networks present, but in order to capture optimal audience engagement, they need to ensure they are not restricting themselves solely to these walled gardens. The term “social” should not be restricted to these behemoths. The whole web is based on social communication (the emergence of sharing buttons, the resilience of email etc.) and herein lies the real opportunity.
A swathe of data is being produced and shared across the entire web every second. It’s for this reason that I believe we are actually on the verge of an incredibly significant landmark in advertising’s history – and one that we can draw parallels with the financial industry.
In 1986, the financial industry experienced its “Big Bang”, where everything changed. Almost overnight, the bowler hats and handshakes for completing a deal disappeared and were replaced with electronic, screen-based trading. It completely shook up the industry and saw London’s position as a financial capital considerably enhanced.
We are, without doubt, approaching a similar moment in the advertising industry, albeit less abrupt.
The volume of the conversation online continues to get louder, but realising this is only the first step, the elixir is not only to be present, but also prepared to intelligently and safely use the huge amount of data available from this digital behaviour. Humans don’t have the speed to extract the key nuggets of information from it all, in a timely way. As such, it’s all about understanding and reaching audiences “programmatically”.
Customers have evolved - meaning marketers must evolve with them. They expect a different approach, and have adopted a form of “banner blindness”: an ability to blank out and ignore ads for products that are either not relevant or have already been purchased, rendering the advertising useless. Marketers must move in real time with their target audience, and understand the value of big data in order to identify where potential consumers are on their journey; business intelligence is of critical importance.
This is why a programmatic approach is going to be the key to the evolution of both advertising and content online. Unlocking these insights will give organisations a “Single Customer View” and valuable understanding of consumer behaviour, allowing them to engage with customers, helping create more targeted marketing campaigns, which results in increased return on investment and business growth. The Big Bang for advertising is undoubtedly coming and it’s the brands that adapt to this change that will reap the benefits.
Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne
Alex Salmond's promise of lower taxes and higher spending is based on little more than wishful thinking.
The Scottish government’s long awaited white paper is a piece of fantasy economics. More spending and lower taxes: everybody wins. Alex Salmond’s argument today is that Scottish voters can have it all. All gain and no pain. Nowhere is this truer than on welfare where there is a long list of commitments to repeal unpopular policies and offer new goodies. Other than a (contentious) assertion that the tax base north of the border is stronger than in the rest of the UK, it is unclear how any of this can be paid for.
On pensions, the SNP want to make the state pension more generous, increase it faster and delay the rise in the age at which people can claim it. This is for a Scottish population that is ageing more quickly than the rest of the UK. It is as if Scotland is immune from the affordability pressure on pension provision across the developed world. And that’s before the administration question is considered. The proposal today is for two quite distinct state pension systems across the UK to be run through one system. Is anyone clear whether this is feasible?
On working age welfare, the SNP are calling for a halt to reform. Plans to implement Universal Credit and replace Disability Living Allowance would be abandoned under an independent Scotland. There are problems with both these measures, but it is more than a little worrying that the Scottish government is so vague about what would come in their place. These are major benefits affecting hundreds of thousands of Scots, many of whom depend on these payments for their day to day living.
One of the headline grabbing aspects of today’s announcement is on childcare, where the Scottish government rightly advances an argument for following a Nordic path of extending provision for parents with young children. The first obvious point to note in response is that childcare is already a devolved issue, so there is no need for independence for such important progress to be made. The trickier problem for the SNP is, again, how the extra provision would be paid for. There would be fiscal gains if the maternal employment rate increased, which an independent Scotland could recoup, but in every country where a similar shift has taken place, a sizable upfront investment has been needed to get things going.
What the white paper fails to mention is that Scotland stands a much better chance of meeting the future costs of welfare if it remains part of the UK social union. By coming together the nations of the UK are able to pool financial resources and share risks across a large and resilient political community. This matters because economic shocks tend to be asymmetric, affecting individuals and places in different ways and at different times. Equally different parts of the country vary demographically, with some parts like Scotland today ageing more quickly than others, creating different pressures over time for public services. The social union therefore ensuers that if one part of the UK endures a period of economic or social hardship, it can be supported both by itself and by the other parts.
This can be seen operating in both directions, in Scotland’s history. Scotland today benefits from relatively high levels of welfare spending from the UK pool to allow it to meet the pressures it faces (today Scots benefit from financial transfers and additional spending per-head on welfare overall – £3,255 per head in 2011/12, nearly 2% higher per head than the UK average of £3,200). But, similarly, oil revenues from what would be Scottish waters contributed very substantially to that UK pool during the 1980s.
A commitment to the UK social union is not anathema to further devolution. There is a strong case for strengthening the powers of the Scottish parliament in respect of welfare (an issue IPPR will cover in its devomore programme). Housing benefit could, for instance, be devolved to allow Holyrood to respond to the housing supply shortage by switching spending from benefits to bricks. And, once devolved, there would be nothing to stop the Scottish government ridding itself of the bedroom tax.
Independence, however, would permanently break the UK’s social union weakening the ability of Scotland to cope with the fiscal and demographic pressures welfare states the world over face.
Graeme Cooke is Resarch Director at IPPR and Guy Lodge is Associate Director at IPPR
It's traditional for the US president to pardon a turkey every year before Christmas - and this year, the people are being given a vote on which one to save.
Barack Obama's presidency is having a rough time as the Healthcare.gov scandal rolls on, caused pretty much entirely by some terrible IT project management. So, considering that, you'd think the White House would have all of its developers working day and night on fixing the website of the president's flagship policy.
You would not expect to see something like this:
But wait, you haven't seen the fight cards yet!
That, right there, is the White House turning the bizarre tradition of the president "pardoning" a turkey every year just before Thanksgiving into the Hunger Games. Or, for older readers, it's a "two men enter, one man leaves"-type scenario. With more gobbling - and they've even recorded both turkeys gobbling in case you need to take that information into consideration when making a judgement.
Truman was the first president to be presented with a turkey, but it was George H W Bush who made it a permanent tradition with his first turkey in 1989. The theory is that the pardoned bird will be allowed to live a happy, carefree life at Mount Vernon, a sprawling estate that was once George Washington's and which now belongs to the nation.
In practice, turkeys - what with being bred to be raised fast and killed as soon as they reach a decent weight - rarely live beyond four years. Every turkey Obama has pardoned so far, including the one he pardoned last year, has already died, according to ABC. A reporter visited
Mount Vernon (EDIT: Kidwell Farm in Virginia) in 2001 and asked a farmer there how happy the turkeys which had been sent there were:
“We usually just find ‘em and they’re dead,” the farmer told him, before explaining that the birds are bred for eating and not retirement.
“Their flesh has grown so fast, and their heart and their bones and their other organs can’t catch up,” he explained.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Improvements to Tube are badly needed. Official projections show London’s population is growing by 2,000 every eight days. Getting more out of our existing infrastructure is essential to keeping London competitive and keeping its economy thriving.
In an open letter to passengers, the mayor and Transport for London have committed themselves to a 24-hour Tube service. It’s an exciting announcement, and will undoubtedly deliver a boost to London’s £8bn a year dining and entertainment industry. But there are wider implications for the capital.
For decades, the Underground has run New Year’s Eve “all-nighters”, but the plan almost certainly means that regular all-night running will happen for the first time ever. Initially limited to five lines, and beginning in 2015, Friday and Saturday operations could grow to cover more of the network and eventually Thursday nights.
The changes would do more than make life easier for revellers, however. They would mark a dramatic achievement for City Hall and Tube bosses. For decades, central government and then the first mayor wrestled with unions, engineers and complex public-private partnership contracts to get all-night running on the network. A host of reasons were lined up to say why this was not possible or unaffordable. Then came the Olympics.
London’s transport system worked efficiently to deliver record volumes of passengers, and the Tube ran longer and started earlier. Londoners seized on these achievements. What if the energy of the Olympics could be harnessed for delivering public services for London on a regular basis?
Improvements to Tube service are certainly pressing. Official projections show London’s population is growing by 2,000 every eight days. Over the next ten years or so, the city’s headcount will grow by a number equivalent to the population of Birmingham. Getting more out of our existing infrastructure is essential to keeping London competitive and keeping its economy thriving. It will help us compete in a global race with cities like Berlin, Paris and New York.
But to keep up with demand, city leaders should go further. Mayoral control over suburban rail, quiet out-of-hours deliveries, improved shopping streets, diesel-free taxis and further improvements for cyclists are a few ideas that come to mind. Running bus and Tube services on Christmas Day is another. No other multicultural world city shuts its transport system down the way London does.
Delivering these initiatives will require investment and control by local politicians. Permitting the mayor and London’s councils to keep a greater proportion of the capital’s taxes would allow more projects to be funded and services to be improved. Londoners would be able to enjoy the benefits that growth brings, and authorities would have the resources to deal with more of the pressures.
Alongside congestion charges, the cycle hire scheme and delivering the Olympics, a 24-hour Tube is a testament to London devolution. Ministers should now go further and be bold with city finance reform. As the London Finance Commission recommended, Whitehall should let Londoners and their leaders have more financial freedom to improve the capital's fabric. We may then see more of the improvements vital for a thriving city, that increasingly doesn’t want to sleep.
The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
1. Stop lecturing the Scots. They want freedom, not wealth (Guardian)
Westminster's arrogance has played straight into the SNP's hands: next year's Scottish referendum could deliver the shock of the century, writes Simon Jenkins.
2. Movement in Europe needs to be less free (Financial Times)
Vast migrations extract talent from countries that need their best people, says David Cameron.
3. What Barack Obama’s deal with Iran can teach us about big ideas (Daily Telegraph)
The shrinking horizons of British politicians are reducing politics to a scrap for marginal votes, says Mary Riddell.
4. Green growth is a worthwhile goal (Financial Times)
Given the lack of certainty the wisest course is to drive cautiously, writes Martin Wolf.
5. Do the right thing and you win elections (Times)
It’s not small ideas or mudslinging that woos voters, says Daniel Finkelstein. A new book proves the power of real accomplishments.
6. The state cannot step in to legislate on everything that assails our economy (Daily Telegraph)
The simple, tragic truth is that our political elites, with a handful of courageous exceptions, have turned decisively against the market economy, writes Allister Heath.
7. What the Maoist slavery sect tells us about the far-left (Guardian)
Far-left 'splittist' sects like Comrade Bala's proliferated in the 70s – and a genuine desire for change was corrupted, says Tariq Ali.
8. Be honest, Alex. Scots love being British (Times)
The independence White Paper suggests the Yes camp have a problem - the institutions that bind us all together, writes John McTernan.
Sexual violence predates the internet, writes Zoe Williams. Blaming technology is another way of ignoring young people's experiences.
The mood shifted when complex hedging products began to be sold, writes Hamish McRae.
The new Sony and Microsoft consoles have been released, but there's been talk of another - more mysterious, more interesting - rival.
Games journalism has borne a striking resemblance to 24-hour news channels recently. With the onslaught of a new console generation, they've camped outside the consoles’ homes and reported on every move and subtle peak from behind their curtains.
Articles have flooded in detailing the outside of the consoles, the insides of the consoles, the launch titles of the consoles and how the consoles react in a microwave; it’s all been a little taxing. However, I don’t think the relentless coverage is taxing - it's just covering something that I’ve lost interest in.
My interest has been subsumed by another console announcement that has really piqued my interest. That console? Valve’s Steam Machine. Not a lot can be said about it because there's not much known about it yet. In fact, there isn’t even a confirmed console, just a prototype – but I’m excited about it nevertheless.
First, I need to explain why I’m enamoured by Steam. It’s a digital distribution platform for games – that means, basically, it's like a shop where you can buy games, and the shop keeps the discs there for you for when you want to play with them.
You can probably sense a problem here - why would you want to keep your games in the shop instead of bringing them home with you? This is where we trudge into the muddy waters of digital rights management (DRM), where Valve sells us the right to use software that they still own, stored on their server as digital copy. What that means today, not just in gaming but in all forms of culture, is an article in and of itself, but suffice to say DRM is a controversial matter.
Microsoft was pilloried at the recent E3 game show for the DRM policies on the Xbox One, but somehow Steam has risen above this (no pun intended) to the point of managing to build a monopolistic grasp on the PC gaming market. I think this is due to how Valve does things - I mean, look at this delicious propaganda. It's a company proud to do things differently.
The main reason Steam has maintained this hold is because it provides a great service. The draw of the digital market is that with one click you get your content, without a fuss. Steam makes this even easier by automatically downloading all the patches and updates associated with a game in the background. It’s a lazy person’s dream. "But consoles have digital markets like this as well!” I hear you say. Yes, but Steam - despite effectively being a monopoly – doesn’t act like one.
Games are competitively priced, especially during the annual Steam Summer Sale. This is even more impressive when compared to the console alternatives, where the latest games can cost up to £62.99 through their digital distribution channels. This doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. Why would a customer pay an inordinate amount for something they may not even fully own? The console digital markets can do this because they are in fact monopolies; if you don’t like the pricing, there’s no other way to own the games digitally, it’s like it or leave it. With PCs, however, there’s real competition out there with other digital sellers like Good Old Games, Amazon and the Humble Bundle Store.
Valve is also extremely forward-thinking seems to want to do good by the gaming community. They’re pioneering digital sharing methods, and yesterday even announced a new review system that includes user play-time, to help others choose between critics when buying something new.
Steam Greenlight - a system for picking indie games that would be added to the storefront - may have launched with problems, but it was a step in the right direction. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the resurgence in indie games has been in a large part due to the success of Steam, and indie games are the ones I’ve been getting most excited about recently. The only part of E3 that put a smile on my face was Sony’s showcase of indie developers (well, that and Metal Gear Solid 5 - I’m a long-time Kojima fan). Octodad looks surreal. The Witness looks beautiful. I’m pretty sure these games will eventually end up on PC, though, and that’s where I’ll play them, thanks to Steam.
Now, to the Steam Machine. After having lauded Steam, I’m sure you are as intrigued as I am to see what Valve has come up with in terms of hardware. Right now, that's not set in stone – they’re still meeting up with developers to see what they can improve. What can be said is that there will be different consoles by different manufacturers, and in line with Valve’s three-tier system of “Good”, “Better”, and “Best”, all budgets should be accounted for.
There are rumours that that at the bottom end there will be a device that allows a game running on a PC to be streamed to a television, whilst at the top end there is Valve’s prototype that may or may not go into production. That prototype, though, is very powerful – its graphic card, the Nvidia GTX Titan, is worth £770 on its own. That single component is worth more than the PS4 or Xbox One by itself. You'll be able to change the parts of the Steam Machine as you see fit, making it essentially a PC masquerading in console clothing.
There are two key problems with the Steam Machine, however. First, its operating system, Steam OS, is Linux based, and at the moment the library of Linux games isn’t huge, to say the least. Second, everyone who has Steam already has access to hardware – they probably don’t need anything new. The beauty of a PC is that you can upgrade it as you want already, but with the Steam Machine, it could end up being rendered obsolete.
So, who is the Steam Machine for? Well, me.
I don’t have a PC. I play my “PC” games on a MacBook Pro and it isn’t that great. Also, I love console gaming, my first love. Consoles were created because they are plug-in-and-go, and the Steam Machine is directly aimed at those of us who are too lazy or too scared to build a gaming rig for ourselves. I trust Valve to provide me with something that is competitively priced and that will fit on the shelf in my living room. We can be pretty sure, too, that the Steam Machine will be able to boot Windows on to it as well, in order to play those non-Linux games.
But, who know, perhaps the Steam Machine will spark off a generation of Linux developers too. I probably won’t be able to afford the high-end variation but I know I’ll probably be pleased to have a Steam Machine in my house. After all, how can you not trust a company that encourages you to do this in its FAQs?:
Can I hack this box? Run another OS? Change the hardware? Install my own software? Use it to build a robot?
"Few people enjoy a perfect sexual relationship - we need to encourage those people to access the services and support they need."
As a nation we’re fascinated by sex and we all want to know whether our own sex lives are ’normal’. It’s surprisingly difficult to find out, because media stories tend to focus on the sensational and many people hesitate before sharing their personal experiences with others. We are vulnerable to the myth that we can, and should, have the perfect sex life. This myth shapes our expectations of our own sex life and can leave us feeling dissatisfied. Unbiased, reliable data is so important in getting the facts straight.
The three National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) have been documenting trends in sexual behaviour in Britain from 1990 through 2000 to 2010. Over that time they have collected data on over 46,000 individuals and provide the most reliable information on sexual behaviour and sexual health in Britain. The results of the most recent survey - Natsal-3 - led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UCL and NatCen Social Research, have just been published. In Natsal-3, we extended the age range to 74 (in Natsal-2 it was 44) and we broadened our focus to look at health and well-being in relation to sexuality. This enabled us to explore how health and relationships affect our sex lives.
The Natsal data show that on average over the past two decades there has been a decrease in how often people have sex, from a median of five times a month in 1990, to three times in 2010.This is partly because fewer people are in relationships, but even those in relationships are having sex less often. This trend is best explained by changes in lifestyle, and the increased stress and busyness of modern life seem likely culprits.
Our health can also affect our sex lives. The Natsal-3 survey shows that one in six people have a health condition that affects their sex life. Those in poorer health are less likely to have had sex recently and are less likely to be sexually satisfied, even after taking into account their age and whether or not they have a partner. Poor health does not necessarily spell the end of an active and satisfying sex life, but what is striking is that only a quarter of men and a fifth of women who say they have a health condition that has affected their sex life have sought help or advice from a professional. That suggests that there are a lot of people with unmet need.
Sexual problems are a common feature of ordinary sexual relationships. Around half of women and four out of ten men report a recent sexual problem, with lack of interest being the most common. Young people are not exempt from experiencing sexual problems either. One in ten women aged 16-24 say they lack enjoyment in sex and one in ten young men say they lack interest. Some things get easier with age - as they get older, women tend to experience less anxiety and men are less likely to climax too quickly. But some things get more difficult - older women increasingly report vaginal dryness and men increasingly experience difficulty getting and keeping an erection. Although sexual problems are common, only one in ten people report distress about their sex life, so it’s important to take account of the personal significance of problems to each individual.
Few of us enjoy a perfect sexual relationship. Around a quarter of men and women say they don’t share the same interest in sex as their partner and almost one in ten do not share the same sexual likes and dislikes. Just under one in five of us has a partner who has experienced difficulties in the last year, and this proportion increases with age, particularly for women.
Natsal-3 used a new measure to come up with a composite score of sexual function – the extent to which an individual is able to participate in and enjoy a sexual relationship. The measure takes account not only of sexual problems, but also of the relationship in which they occur and the degree of personal distress and dissatisfaction. Using this composite score, we found that individuals with depression and poor general health are more likely to have low sexual function. We also found a strong connection between low sexual function and experiencing relationship breakdown and not being happy in a relationship.
It seems that few of us have the perfect sex life and that it would be healthier to aim for a good-enough one instead. On the other hand, there are a large number of people who are not seeking help even though they would benefit from doing so. We need to encourage those people to access the services and support they need, and when they do, we must ensure that we have the resources to provide them with good quality advice and treatment. We also need to spend more time educating young people so that they start out with realistic expectations, and so that they learn that sex is about relationships and relationships are about respect.
Dr Kirstin Mitchell is Lecturer in Sexual and Reproductive Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and co-author of the Natsal study, which was conducted in partnership with UCL and NatCen Social Research.
It was left to EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor to point out that "the British public has not been told all the truth".
If you're looking for a liberal critique of David Cameron's plan to crack down on "benefit tourism" by restricting payments to new migrants, don't look to any of the main parties. The Lib Dems have welcomed the proposals as "sensible and reasonable", while Labour is busy arguing that it came up with the idea first. Yvette Cooper said this morning: "After Labour proposed this change in March, the government said it was all fine and nothing needed to change. Yet now, rather than following a coherent plan, they are flailing around." Neither party challenged the premise on which Cameron's intervention was based.
With the other main voice in the debate, Nigel Farage, complaining that the UK is "still being far too generous", it was left to EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor to provide a dose of reality. As he told the Today programme, "The point is that the British public has not been told all the truth." The truth being that "benefit tourism" is almost entirely a myth. As a recent EU study noted, "the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work" and benefit tourism is neither "widespread nor systematic". Another truth rarely mentioned by any party is that migrants contribute far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services, and benefit the economy as a result.
An OECD study earlier this year showed that they make a net contribution of 1.02 per cent of GDP or £16.3bn to the UK, since they are younger and more economically active than the population in general. In addition, the DWP's own research found that those born abroad were significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals. Of the 5.5 million people claiming working age benefits in February 2011, just 371,000 (6.4 per cent) were foreign nationals when they first arrived in the UK. That means only 6.6 per cent of those born abroad were receiving benefits, compared to 16.6 per cent of UK nationals.
It's for these reasons, among others, that, as the Office for Budget Responsibility has shown, we will need more, not fewer immigrants, if we are to cope with the challenge of an ageing population and the resultant increase in the national debt. Should Britain maintain net migration of around 140,000 a year (a level significantly higher than the government's target of 'tens of thousands'), debt will rise to 99 per cent of GDP by 2062-63. But should it reduce net migration to zero, debt will surge to 174 per cent. As the OBR concluded, "[There is] clear evidence that, since migrants tend to be more concentrated in the working-age group relatively to the rest of the population, immigration has a positive effect on the public sector’s debt…higher levels of net inward migration are projected to reduce public sector net debt as a share of GDP over the long term relative to the levels it would otherwise reach."
One might expect a fiscal conservative like Cameron to act on such advice but, as so often in recent times, the PM is determined to put politics before policy. By refusing to challenge the terms on which the debate is conducted, Labour and the Lib Dems are doing the same.
There is good evidence to show that banks, stuffed with cash, are helping feed the rising stock markets.
The first time I was told to shut up was in 1987 when I dared to question the policy of the Thatcher government. “Won't it lead to inflation and a decline in the pound?” I asked.
The next time was in the late 1990s when I questioned the wisdom of investing in companies that made no money, had no products and were just ideas. More recently I wrote an article pointing out that the US housing market was falling to pieces and again I was informed I was scaring the horses unnecessarily.
So it’s not surprising that I am currently being shouted down about the global equity markets. After all there are quite a lot of reasons why anyone would want them to keep going on their stratospheric trajectory: investors like it, politicians like it because it creates a feel good factor amongst the electorate and, dare I say it, fund management companies like it because their revenues increase. But, unfortunately, the evidence and the vested interests are once more diverging.
The reason is the money sloshing around the system – especially in the United States. There is good evidence to show that banks, stuffed with cash, are helping feed the rising stock markets. You can see it in the gap between their deposits and what they are lending to the system. As the banks have pulled back on their lending activity, so the amount of money available for investment and speculation has risen - and with it the US stock market.
This isn’t as conspiratorial as it might sound – it’s actually one of the desired side-effects of quantitative easing. But has it gone too far?
There are many ways of looking at what the "right" level for a stock market might be. Here is one of them which has, in the past, been very reliable; mix together fundamental factors like employment, the cost of living and how consumers feel and relate this to the stock market. The result is remarkably accurate. Alarmingly, theory and practice are now diverging in a way they haven’t in the past.
The US Federal Reserve has signaled that it isn’t prepared to stop completely the process of pumping up the financial system through QE for a long time – it may slow the process in December or in 2014 but that isn’t the same as switching off the life support system. So this can go for quite some time. But we are now entering into the zone where the financial system is becoming twisted and distorted out of shape so badly that the original intentions of QE are being lost in its side-effects. I think it’s time it was stopped ... is that shouting I can hear in the distance?
The more we stoke public anger and distrust on immigration, the more we threaten the stability of our political system in general.
Fifty years ago, two academics set out to study the 1964 general election. Aside from tracking the influence of the usual issues, David Butler and Anthony King pointed to the growing importance of a new issue in British politics: immigration. The picture they painted is eerily familiar: a heavy majority of voters believed there were too many immigrants; politicians were accused of joining in a conspiracy of silence on the issue; the then-Conservative leader, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, warned that a million Commonwealth migrants were waiting to descend on Britain; and renegade local campaigns played viciously on these concerns, as in Smethwick where voters were given the infamous slogan, "If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour" (which Douglas-Home refused to publicly repudiate).
Fast forward 50 years, and immigration looks set to dominate the next two big elections in British politics: the European elections in May 2014, and the general election in May 2015. And not a lot has changed since the 1960s. British voters remain strongly in favour of reducing immigration and hostile toward immigrants and are now more so than their European neighbours. Commentators attack political
To understand how the immigration debate is impacting on British politics, take a look at the chart below. This is based on average responses in different opinion polls to the question of which political party do you trust/think would handle immigration the best. The purple line is the percentage of voters who reject the three mainstream parties on immigration, and who have switched to an outsider party, like the UK Independence Party, or, perhaps in earlier years, the British National Party. The black line is the percentage of voters who go even further, telling pollsters they are unwilling to back any party on immigration, or do not know who to back.
This shows, firstly, how outsider parties have become a far more significant force. Their support on immigration first peaked in 2006, a year when the BNP were enjoying gains in areas like Barking and Dagenham, UKIP had a record presence in the European Parliament and public concern over immigration was about to reach an all time, which it did the next year when 46% of voters (unprompted) told Ipsos-MORI that immigrati
We can gain a clearer picture of this growing disconnect between the established parties and voters on immigration by pooling these disenchanted groups together. By placing those who no longer back any of the main parties on immigration, with those who reject all political parties, and those who don’t know who to trust, we are left with a picture that is even more striking – and worrying. As shown below, the overall share of the electorate who, in one way or another, have abandoned the mainstream on immigration has rocketed from almost 30% in 2005 to almost 48% in 2013. If we take a further step back, then since 2001, the number of voters who do not trust the British political mainstream on immigration has more than doubled.
To be sure, public disillusionment over immigration has peaked on two earlier occasions, in 2003 and 2006-07, amidst earlier debates over asylum and EU expansion. But since 2010, it has been consistently on the rise, and never before has this trend lasted for so long. This is especially worrying for Labour who have consistently trailed among this disenchanted lump of voters since 2000, reflecting how they have simply not connected in any meaningful sense on this issue. And the issue looks set to become only more important as concerns over the economy subside, which is one big reason why UKIP will finish strongly in May, including in Labour areas.
This growing gulf should worry us all, as there is evidence to suggest it is undermining not only public trust in mainstream parties, but overall levels of trust in our political system. In other words, the more we stoke public anger and distrust on immigration, the more we threaten the stability of our political system in general. Back in the 1960s, voters were certainly angry, but most were at least willing to express their anger by remaining within the mainstream of political life. But today almost half of the electorate shun our main democratic organs on this issue. Those on the margins will celebrate; but those in the moderate majority should be deeply worried.
As in the 1960s, some pundits trace this disconnect to a failure among elites to allow an 'honest debate' about immigration, or to give voters the policies that they want. But this is mostly nonsense for two reasons. First, for over a decade, from the northern riots in 2001, to the London bombings and to the current furore over EU migration — Britain has tirelessly debated immigration and its effects. To the average tourist we seem obsessed by the issue (and a bit nasty, actually). Those who argue we have not been given a national debate are like students who turn up to seminars to argue with everybody, but having not actually read anything. It is also often the same voices who willingly fuel mass hysteria and open xenophobia, assuring voters they are right to demand what governments cannot deliver under current treaties, to conclude there is an active conspiracy among elites to ignore their wishes, and to deliver a message similar to that sung by Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka’s Factory: "I don't care how/I want it now". These corrosive and irresponsible voices should be called out, and more forcefully by those in politics.
Second, irrespective of whether you agree with the content, voters who are concerned over immigration have been given a sustained array of policy offers. Just think for a second about what the current generation of voters has been given on immigration: reductions in net migration; criticism of multiculturalism; talk of limiting EU migrants' right to benefits; cuts to international students; proposals to stamp down on 'health tourism'; vans urging illegal migrants to 'go home'; preference over migrants when distributing public resources; and even talk of withdrawing from the UN refugee convention just so that we can remove asylum seekers. Yet despite all of this, public discontent with the political mainstream has gone up, not down. Public distrust of our politicians has gone up, not down. And overall levels of public concern about immigration are going up, not down. This is why the new plans on EU migration simply won’t satisfy the British electorate, or help the ratings of Cameron and the Conservatives on immigration. Voters have been raised on a diet of demand, demand and demand, and are ignorant of how policy works or the constraints that government is under.
There will come a point, which perhaps we have already passed, where the damage that is being inflicted on our politics becomes irreversible. Rather than cling to the conventional wisdom that disenchanted and perhaps would-be UKIP voters will respond rationally to a change of policy or tougher rhetoric, we should accept the reality that irrespective of what is offered, more and more voters are moving from the mainstream to the margins, guided by a toxic and - to be frank - nasty group of opinion-makers in our society who appear to relish sowing the seeds of xenophobia, protest and division. Make no mistake: unless we chart another course this 'debate' will have serious and long-term effects on our politics, and the already fragile link that binds our citizens to the democratic arena.
Matthew Goodwin is Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Fellow at Chatham House. He tweets @GoodwinMJ
Matthew Goodwin would like to thank Dr Will Jennings at the University of Southampton for some data used in this piece.
For boards, climate change needs to be made meaningful not in terms of “did we do a good thing”, but in terms of “what are the dangers and opportunities this company faces in the years ahead?”.
I watched a TV programme this week on how to create a new planet. It was light scientific stuff but it reminded me of the WWF statement that “If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated carbon dioxide at the rate we do in the UK, we’d need three planets – not just one − to support us.” Our populations and consumption are growing at exponential rates supported (or not) by a finite resource. This is not sustainable.
Natural capital is the value of the earth’s resources and the Natural Capital Coalition, of which the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is a founding member, commissioned a study of 26 leading early-adopter businesses on “natural capital management”. Companies included the likes of Dow, PepsiCo, Nestle and Rio Tinto.
Asked what their resource concerns were for the next three to five years (not a long period) they put the top four as fresh water, climate change regulation, food and fibre, and were clear that delayed action on these was a substantial business risk. Asked what their challenges were likely to be, they identified a lack of harmonised methods to assess impact, a lack of government regulation and consumer demand.
So what does this all mean? Well, I think for those of us advising boards, it means that we need to start thinking about environmental issues not as things we’d like to have but as sources of risk we need to address - and with some urgency.
A great example is climate change. One very quick way to make a big dent in this one would be to end the $1.4trillion spent in energy subsidies. This is the figure the IMF calculates as the cost to society and the environment (so-called "externalities") in the form of air pollution and climate damage caused by fossil fuels, and argues that this figure should be levied in taxes. This is based on a modest cost of carbon of $25 per tonne, but even at this modest estimate it is still 2.5 per cent of global GDP. If the IMF is saying this - the issue is now out of the fringes and into the mainstream. This could well mean additional taxes and lots of them.
October saw the introduction of regulations requiring UK companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). This represents about 1,100 companies. The regulations require these companies to disclose annually, in either their Directors’ or Strategic Reports, the greenhouse gas emissions for which they are responsible, the methodology they used to calculate the data, at least one intensity ratio and the information disclosed in the previous year. The regulations came into force on 1 October 2013 for financial years ending on or after 30 September 2013.
But what is the point of this disclosure requirement? From Defra’s perspective it is to help the government reach its climate change objectives: based on the belief that public disclosure will drive behaviour change and efficiencies, thereby lowering the country’s emissions. As the Directors’ and Strategic Reports are aimed primarily at investors there is also clearly the hope that they will use this information in their investment decisions.
This of course depends on investors, and businesses, actually wanting to use this information. Investors have seemingly been reluctant to use such information to date and, if companies simply produce the footprint and intensity ratio, then one wonders how it will be meaningful or useful information for investors. Indeed those businesses that regard these regulations as yet another costly burden will presumably wonder at their value.
For GHG information to be valuable it needs to be linked to an assessment of physical and regulatory risk as well as to strategy. The Climate Disclosure Standards Board (whose Technical Working Group ICAEW is a member of along with other accounting bodies around the world and the leading accountancy firms) has developed guidance along these lines and I urge you to read it.
For boards, climate change needs to be made meaningful not in terms of “did we do a good thing” or a public relations home-run, but in terms of “what are the dangers and opportunities this company faces in the years ahead and are we ready to steer this organisation through them?”.
As board members and advisors we cannot continue to ignore this thing called sustainability.
One of the Movember mantras is: “Real men, growing real moustaches, talking about real issues”. The slogan is as misguided as its campaign: Movember is divisive, gender normative, racist and ineffective against some very real health issues.
Ah, autumn days. That time of year defined by jewelled grass, silky chestnut shells, and men across the nation eyeing their top lips like adolescents in a month-long event of back-slapping, high-fiving and Instagram-liking. We are now in the thick of Movember season. The last few weeks have seen our Facebook newsfeeds littered with selfies, as the otherwise banal and natural (yet for the female amongst us: totally unacceptable) process of hair growth is eagerly tracked with tongue-in-cheek insults pertaining to the thinness, style or “gingerness” of the emerging whiskers. Precious few of the posts, or the resulting comments, focus on men's health issues, and virtually none recognise the pernicious gendered and racial connotations carried by the practice.
For the most part, sponsored activities (day-long silences, sponge-throwing, public waxing) depend on the extreme, the outrageous, the ridiculous. Friends and family are, apparently, only willing to part with money to witness something odd, humorous or downright unpleasant. So what message does Movember convey to those whose moustaches are more-or-less permanent features? With large numbers of minority-ethnic men—for instance Kurds, Indians, Mexicans—sporting moustaches as a cultural or religious signifier, Movember reinforces the “othering” of “foreigners” by the generally clean-shaven, white majority. Imagine a charity event that required its participants to wear dreadlocks or a sari for one month to raise funds—it would rightly be seen as unforgivably racist. What is the difference here? We are not simply considering an arbitrary configuration of facial hair, but one that had particular, imperial connotation to British men of our grandfathers' generation and currently has a separate cultural valence for men from certain ethnic groups. Moustaches, whether or not “mo-bros” mean theirs to be, are loaded with symbolism. We often wonder how our fathers (both life-long moustached men) must feel each November, when their colleagues' faces temporarily resemble theirs, and are summarily met with giggles and sponsor-money. No doubt they draw the obvious conclusion, that dovetails with many other experiences of life as an immigrant: there are different rules for white faces.
Further, the inclusivity of Movember deserves examination. For one, only men (and even then, only some men) can grow a moustache. The decision to focus on the moustache to raise awareness of men's health issues might seem like an apposite one (though there's no obvious relationship between moustaches and cancers), but it reinforces the regressive idea that masculinity is about body chemistry rather than gender identity, and marginalises groups of men who may struggle to grow facial hair, such as trans-men. Ironically, Movember also excludes the very men it is supposed to uplift; many men who have undergone radiotherapy or surgery to treat testicular cancer are rendered “hypogonadal” and are therefore unable to grow facial hair.
In solidarity with Movember, some women have also relaxed normative shaving-etiquette during “No Shave November.” Instead of being met with the same teasing words of encouragement, many have been subject to ferocious abuse across social media, reflective of the intolerability of women's body hair, as opposed to the acceptability of a range of—albeit sometimes humorously viewed—male facial hair-styles. From this we learn that men's facial hair (as with the appearance of men more generally) is neither here nor there, and is therefore fair game for a bit of charitable fun, while female breaches of prescribed gender norms are quickly policed, and may result in disgust, ostracisation, and threats. Movember is a reminder that women should think carefully before subverting their sexually objectified bodies to join in with boy's games, something female athletes know only too well.
As the month of sacrificial hirsutism draws to a close, mo-bros may convene at their nearest “gala party”. These events showcase the worst of what the Movember “movement” is really about: white young men ridiculing minorities, and playing up to the lad culture within which the charitable practice has become embedded. Across nine cities in the UK, participants dress up in costumes that mock and trivialise racial minorities (“turbanator” Indians, fez-topped Arabs with day-hire camels, Mexicans in sombreros and bandoliers) and the LGBT community (parodies of the Village People), celebrate war and imperialism (gun-toting cowboys, colonial generals in pith helmets, and cavalrymen in slouch hats), and emulate racist fictional characters and sexist stereotypes (such as 'Dictator' Aladeen with a harem of female bodyguards, Hulk Hogan lookalikes, hard-hatted builders). Meanwhile, female attendees take on the uniforms that now seem fit for any occasion, yet really for none at all: Playboy bunnies, air-hostesses, nurses, cheerleaders. Unsurprisingly again, the woman deemed best-looking or best-dressed picks up the title of “Miss Movember”. Set against this damaging carnival of normativity, an official Movember t-shirt slogan “Moustaches Against Establishment” seems particularly empty and hypocritical. This culture is summarised in the language of the website, which is itself a lesson in how to reinforce traditional conceptions of masculinity (witness: 'fighting the good fight', 'moustache army', 'flying the flag'), once again precluding the ostensible aim of breaking down the norms that force men to adopt pre-packaged roles which discourage the discussion and acceptance of serious illness.
Some may respond that Movember is surely “just a bit of fun, in aid of a good cause”. But, to answer to the second part of this specious defence, how efficacious is the campaign itself? The idea is that men, on the whole, visit their doctor less frequently, are more cagey about discussing health issues with friends and family, and lead less healthy lifestyles. Undoubtedly, these factors combine to contribute to a shorter male life expectancy, which is thought to be in large part due to higher rates of heart and vascular disease (interestingly, not the sex-specific diseases that Movember targets). If there is to be a male-focused health campaign, shouldn't it be centred on tackling the root causes of this gender disparity? Shouldn't the campaign instead be focused on deconstructing the strict gender norms that keep so many men suffering silently? Shouldn't it be built around teaching men to self-examine for lumps, challenging taboos surrounding psychiatric illness, and encouraging men to minimise drinking, smoking and red meat consumption, all of which have been associated with increased risk of heart disease and cancer? It would seem that Movember isn't really about “changing the face of men's health”, so much as fetishising facial hair for the entertainment of young men. According to Movember’s own data, only 43% of those who take part in the campaign reported increased awareness and education regarding the health risks they face. It pays to ask what the other 57% of men thought they were doing.
One of the Movember mantras is: “Real men, growing real moustaches, talking about real issues”. The slogan is as misguided as its campaign: Movember is divisive and gender normative, not least because it centres on the notion that there is such a thing as a “real” man; it is racist, inasmuch as it steamrollers over the cultural significance of the moustache (and thereby ignores what the campaign means for the men who really have moustaches); and it is non-optimal, because it does not tackle—in fact it only compounds—the very real health issues that hurt the men we love.