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    The Labour leader is confident that by 2015 voters will not be judging parties according to who they think will be better at inflicting austerity.

    A mainstay of political commentary this parliament has been the assertion that Labour lacks economic credibility, which has generally been taken to mean the party is perceived to have spent too much money when in government and isn’t yet trusted to take charge of the Exchequer again.

    That is certainly the judgement that the Conservatives want to embed in the minds of voters. Tory election prospects rest heavily on the hope that Britain will ultimately recoil from the idea of returning to office the people who presided over the worst financial crisis in living memory and reject Ed Miliband as a potential national leader. David Cameron’s campaign message will, in essence, be: “See how far we’ve come. The economy is growing. Now look at that guy. Are you ready to risk it all on him?”

    At the root of Miliband’s speech on the economy today is the ambition not simply to rebut the charges that Tories would level against Labour but to change the terms on which economic credibility itself is judged. Opposition strategists know that Labour will struggle to win an arms race with the Conservatives over who is more committed to spending less. George Osborne has already made it clear this year that he intends to challenge Labour to a kind of austerity arm-wrestle – who can be more macho with their cuts – and Miliband is declining the invitation.

    Instead he wants to cast the Tory approach as itself lacking credibility because it follows benchmarks of economic performance that don’t equate to long-term prosperity for the majority. Labour will now seek to characterise the Tory position as cutting for cutting’s sake, sitting back and waiting for growth to do the rest. It is Miliband’s profound conviction (as he has consistently argued over many months) that structural flaws in the way the British economy is organised mean that even a return to headline GDP growth will not effectively feel like a return to good times for most voters.

    The “cost of living crisis” thus becomes not a temporary hit that people are taking as Britain emerges from recession but an historic challenge that needs to be met with a programme of systematic interventions. The Labour view is that the Tories are conceptually unable to meet that challenge because they wear ideological blinkers. As Douglas Alexander says in an interview in this week’s New Statesman: “The Conservatives are in hock to a bad philosophy, which is that in the 21st century, trickle-down is the route to modern prosperity.”

    Labour’s strategic ambition for 2014 is to escalate the cost of living question, which dominated much of the political agenda towards the end of last year, from a debate about how best to ease pressure on family finances in the short term to a debate about which party truly understands where the squeeze is coming from and what therefore needs to be done in the long term to correct it. In his speech today, Miliband categorised that as a choice between “new economy and old economy”, with Osborne and Cameron peddling obsolete remedies that will keep Britain locked in a pattern of unfairness, lacklustre growth, crappy wages and perpetual insecurity.

    The judgement in Miliband’s campaign team is that the Tories think they have so definitively won the blame game over who is responsible for the nation’s economic malaise – Gordon Brown and friends – that they can pretty much re-fight the 2010 general election but with more confidence. (Plus a bunch of 1992 attack lines thrown in for good measure.) In response, Labour will say they are the party that has moved on, that is talking about the future with optimism and vision when their opponents are desperately pointing at the past to ramp up fear and division. The Tories will try to fight the election on Labour’s economic record. Labour want to build an argument that says the coalition’s record is so dismal and their prescriptions are so faulty precisely because the Tories (and their Liberal Democrat collaborators) haven’t learned the lessons of the build-up to the crisis. 

    In essence, Miliband announced today that he has no intention of fighting a general election on economic terms dictated by the government. He nominally recognises fiscal responsibility as a passport to voters’ trust but he also thinks the Tories are deluding themselves if they think Britain will choose its next government based on who is better at inflicting austerity.

    The question that then arises is whether the policies that the opposition has offered so far – house-building; the energy price freeze; the new banking market shake-up; regional industrial policy – look like the start of a convincing prescription for the kind of systemic post-crisis reform that Miliband insists is necessary. At least if the debate starts to focus on that challenge, in those terms, progress will have been made in changing the way the test of "economic credibility" is applied, moving on from Osborne’s fiscal dividing lines. That would be quite a result for the Labour leader.

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    Shadow chancellor insists "there’s no prospect of an unhappy relationship" but says the Bank of England governor is wrong to oppose a cap on bank bonuses.

    There was much resentment among Labour at how Mervyn King leant greater credibility to the coalition's austerity programme by publicly endorsing it after the election. So when Mark Carney told the Treasury select committee on Wednesday that he was opposed to a "crude bonus cap" (as supported by Labour) and warned that caps on banks' market share (the policy announced by Ed Miliband in his speech today) in the US failed to prevent, and may have even encouraged, the financial crisis, some in the party worried that history was repeating itself. 

    Asked about this on The World At One, Ed Balls began by demonstrating his experience, revealing that he had known the Bank of England governor for "many years" (their paths will have crossed during Balls's time as Gordon Brown's chief adviser) and that he "spoke to him yesterday". He added: "I don’t think he’s suggesting that the thing that caused the subprime banking crisis, or the irresponsible lending to homeowners in southern America was too much competition and too much diversity in the US banking system. There was a massive regulatory failure in America, and in Britain too, and we need tougher regulation...we want more competition." 

    When pressed on Carney's obvious scepticism of the idea of limiting banks' size, Balls emphasised again, "As I’ve said, I’ve known Mark Carney for a decade and there’s no prospect of an unhappy relationship." But he went on to note one unbridgeable difference between the pair: on bank bonuses. Balls said: "On the issue which he raised on Wednesday, of bank bonuses, and our view that pay and bonuses, where the bonuses are more than 100% higher than the salary, he disagreed with that. On that one, I’m going to disagree with the governor of the Bank of England. I don’t think that is the right approach for bankers’ pay. " This explicit criticism contrasted with the more emollient tone adopted by Chuka Umunna on Today this morning, when he said: "I think it’s not healthy for us to involve governors of the Bank of England in big political debates and I don’t want to drag him into that." 

    While there is little political cost to Balls disagreeing with Carney on this issue, given the public's near universal hostility to bank bonuses, the Tories will hope that this is a hint of other differences to come. If the governor can help to encourage scepticism of Labour's plans for radical market reform, just as King did over fiscal stimulus, George Osborne will feel that he has earned every penny of his £874,000 salary.  

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    Southwark Crown Court has heard claims that Vicky Pryce broke off her engagement to Chris Huhne after he apparently confessed he had had liaisons with other men.

    A Mail on Sunday journalist approached a barrister and part-time judge investigating whether disgraced former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne had “liaisons with men”, a court has heard.

    Constance Briscoe said she had spoken to journalist David Dillon about several potential stories, including claims that economist Vicky Pryce broke off her engagement to Huhne after he apparently confessed he had had liaisons or relationships with other men, Southwark Crown Court heard.

    The lawyer, who is charged with trying to pervert the course of justice in connection with the investigation into Huhne's speeding points scandal, also told police officers during an interview after she was arrested that Dillon had asked her about a story he was pursuing over claims that Huhne had infected Pryce with pubic lice.

    But Briscoe denied ever speaking to the journalist about Huhne passing speeding points to his now ex-wife Pryce, the court heard.

    Briscoe, 56, denies three counts of intending to pervert the course of public justice.

    . . .

    She said the other story Dillon was pursuing was claims that Huhne had infected his wife with pubic lice.

    "The other contact that he was pursuing - and I'm not quite sure whether I should say this but I am going to, I am going to say it because I'm not having any of this bloody nonsense about me perjuring myself.

    "When Chris was in wherever he was a European MEP he had come home and he had infected Vicky with crabs.

    "And the explanation that he had given when Vicky had crabs was that he had contracted the crabs from the clean sheets in whatever hotel he was in."

    Read more on this story at Press Gazette

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    Restoring the minimum wage to its pre-crash level is the perfect encapsulation of a "stronger economy, fairer society" policy.

    Apparently there is wailing and gnashing of teeth going on amongst my Westminster Lib Dem betters over the Damascene conversion of the Chancellor not only to the principle of the minimum wage, but to the need for a large rise in its level. It seems the general view is that George has nicked a Lib Dem policy, announced his opinion without telling anyone in general (or Vince Cable, whose purview this falls under, in particular), and that he hasn’t been playing fair. "It wasn’t even on the Downing St. grid" goes the cry. Like we‘ve never done that…

    It seems to me that they are missing a trick. Let’s stop moaning. Let’s celebrate the fact that, apparently, the Chancellor has decided that he agrees with Nick (or at the very least, Vince). Having spent two years banging the "stronger economy, fairer society" drum, the Chancellor has now presented us with a brilliant opportunity to prove our case. Restoring the minimum wage to its pre-crash level is the perfect encapsulation of a "stronger economy, fairer society" policy. As is raising the tax threshold, another policy that the Tories said couldn’t happen because we can’t afford it, but now seem keen to try and take the credit for.

    When Nick claimed that there would be no economic recovery without the Lib Dems what he really meant was that the support of the Lib Dems had allowed a UK government to get more done than any of the alternative results from the 2010 election. But now the Tories seem set on also telling the world that they agree with a stream of Lib Dem policies there’s some economic policy meat in that lobby fodder sandwich. The party of economic competence has decided that the Lib Dem playbook is the one with the right answers. Much more of this, and the Tories will be claiming that the Mansion Tax is not only a thoroughly good idea, but that they’ve backed it from the word go.

    Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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    Too many pub companies force their licencees to buy limited products at inflated prices. But the Tories have consistently failed to act.

    I often say that one of the best things about my job is that no two days are the same. But for the first time since I became shadow minister for pubs, I’m getting a strange feeling of déjà vu. This is now the third January in a row I’ve been involved in a grassroots campaign to drag ministers to the House of Commons to talk about supporting British pubs.
    Pubs need this support so they can get a fair deal. Most people know a favoured local which has been left derelict or transformed into a supermarket. These personal stories are reflected by the national figures. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) estimates that 26 pubs close each week and that each closure costs the local economy £80,000. Pubs are more than just businesses – they are community hubs, part of the fabric of neighbourhoods which bind us together.
    That is why it is so important that we fix the unbalanced and unfair relationship between landlords and the large pub companies (known as PubCos) from whom they rent their premises. In the House of Commons on Tuesday we will be repeating our call for a proper statutory code to govern this relationship and protect landlords.
    Many landlords used to dream of opening a pub so they could be their own boss and run their own business. Unfortunately this dream is all too often not matched by reality. The PubCos own three quarters of Britain’s pubs and often require their licencees to buy all drinks products from them, at whatever price they determine. There also many disputes about setting of rents on pubs, and even cases where a licencee works hard to increase the profit of their pub only to see this swallowed up in increased rents the next year. The PubCos have been accused of creating perverse incentives to squeeze short-term finance out of their properties rather than promote long term stability. No wonder CAMRA estimates that three fifths of landlords tied to PubCos earn less than the minimum wage.
    The cross-party BIS Select Committee has investigated this issue several times and has consistently recommended a strengthened statutory code to rebalance this relationship. Such a step is also supported by trade unions and small business groups. However, the Tory-led government has consistently failed to act.
    A new statutory code would not be a silver bullet addressing all of the challenges that publicans face, but it would certainly make a positive difference.
    In January 2012, the House voted unanimously to introduce such a code, but the government did nothing. So in January 2013, I called an Opposition Day Debate to highlight this inaction.  Just 24 hours ahead of the debate the government announced a dramatic U-turn and promised finally to introduce the code.  But a year later, despite a lengthy consultation, nothing has changed in legal terms.
    So next Tuesday we will be debating the issue once again.
    I will make a genuine offer to work collaboratively to get a code on the statute book to support local publicans.  But any new code must meet three key tests:
    1. The Beer Tie, whereby landlords can only buy products from their PubCo, works for some licencees. However, for many others it means they can only buy limited products at inflated prices. We want every landlord to have the choice of whether to go free-of-tie. This would allow licencees to operate in a re-constructed market which would actually be more competitive.
    2. When a new licencee takes over a pub, or when an existing rent contract expires and is renegotiated, there should be a fully transparent and independent rent review completed by a qualified surveyor.
    3. There must be a truly independent body to monitor the regulations and adjudicate in disputes between licencees and pubcos.
    Many Lib Dems privately claim that they are persuaded of the need for these measures, but have difficulty persuading the Tory side of the coalition. I hope we are able to gain enough support from right across the House to ensure that next Tuesday marks the start of a brighter future for this great British industry.

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    If journalists were not so “concerned” about anorexia and bulimia those of us with eating disorders could go back to creating our own arbitrary thinness tests without fretting over which of these now gets external endorsement.

    Yesterday evening, I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.

    To be fair, I wouldn’t know about any of these phenomena if it wasn’t for all the hand-wringing articles which document how “everybody” (i.e. no one) is talking about them already. Indeed, there are few things more damaging to those who already have eating disorders than today’s ever-present eating disorder concern trolling. If journalists were not so “concerned” about anorexia and bulimia those of us with eating disorders could go back to creating our own arbitrary thinness tests without fretting over which of these now gets external endorsement. Not worried about the thigh gap? Well, you should be. Everybody else is! To someone with an eating disorder it starts to feel arrogant not to tick all the body paranoia boxes. After all, it’s not as though you’re someone special. On the contrary, you’re useless, a non-person. How could you possibly let yourself off the hook regarding thigh gaps when “everybody” – including the “normal” people – is panicking about them, too?

    At the same time, these articles never fail to make it clear that worrying about such trifles is stupid and means, not only that you are fat, but that you are a bad person to boot. If you can’t be thin, why can’t you at least be more like Lena Dunham, trotting naked around the set of a hit TV show you write, produce and star in? Or Gabourey Sidibe, silencing the Golden Globe body fascists by casually referring to your private jet and dream job? It’s fine to recognize body image worries as pointless and trivial, providing you are also really fucking exceptional in other ways (sadly, the chances are, you’re not. So you’re back to thinking you’re a hateful blob of ugliness, albeit with the added sting of knowing you’re self-indulgent and foolish for even feeling this way).

    When I think back to the worst of my experiences with anorexia, I’m unsure whether to see it as a terrible time in a situation beyond my control, or to hate myself for being such a total knob. I know that plenty of people at the time – many of them medical professionals – did indeed see me as a total knob, or worse, and treated me accordingly. The perception that worries about size and shape, however extreme, are markers of privilege (haven’t you anything better to worry about?) follows some women to their painful deaths. Hence when I read about bikini bridges and thinspiration, I wonder about the connections that will be made, and the impact that these will have on responses to seriously ill people. I wonder whether, once again, we will be forced to draw arbitrary dividing lines between the harm done by trauma and abuse, and that done by the hectoring of misogynist popular culture. I sometimes think “well, at least I can think of worse things to blame for being ill. Otherwise, what kind of a fool would I be?”

    There’s no returning to a time of innocence when “body shocks” and “size zero horror” were not, apparently, all around us. The pressure to look, but also not to have any meaningful response, is overwhelming. It only becomes irrelevant when the right to take up space in the world starts to feel like second nature. For most of us, for so many different reasons, that is not how it feels. It will take more than the wilful naming of yet another body panic to change this.

    This article first appeared on and is crossposted here with permission

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    "Tough Young Teachers" on BBC 3 has exposed some of the difficulties of life in the classroom. So why do we still undervalue a profession from which we've all benefited?

    I’ve never much cared for teachers. Consequently, I was quite an intolerable student. I thought myself rather brilliant because I knew the meaning (not to mention the pronunciation) of the word "synecdoche". I once locked the deputy head out of the chemistry lab, because I thought work was overrated. I released an "underground magazine" - that's four sheets of paper, bound with a single staple - because my head teacher didn’t like my piece on faith schools in the student newspaper. Take that, authority.

    Admittedly, from my nice south-west London state school, I wasn’t exactly fashioning shanks out of table legs. But my actions revealed a clear lack of respect. George Bernard Shaw famously quipped "those who can, do, those who can’t, teach", and as a student I was convinced that the people trying to educate me were just irrelevant OAPs with right-wing tendencies who fetishised equations. Watching Tough Young Teachers on BBC3 this week has completed the transition in my thinking - taking me from condescending antipathy to pure admiration.

    The show, which follows six new teachers fresh from the Teach First graduate scheme into the classrooms of struggling schools around London, is an endearing look at what it’s like to be chucked in at the deep end. Tough Young Teachers - somewhat gleefully - depicts the various slip-ups that the teachers make, after only six weeks of training. Children don’t listen, skip detention and misbehave, and teachers are, understandably, reluctant to give up so much of their time (and dignity) for their students.

    "A kid said to me the other day, you should be up till midnight marking my work because that’s your job. You know, they’re taking us for granted," says Oliver, one of the teachers, from Scotland. Claudenia, a young science teacher, disagrees, as they sit around eating pizza: "I think that’s wrong. We agreed, when we signed that contract that ... we were going to go in and do whatever, because if anyone owes anyone anything, we owe them our best. We’re the adults, they’re the students. We owe them".

    This conversation reveals some of the difficulties teachers face. The profession requires a patient selflessness in order to deal with apathetic, lazy, disinterested students, brimming with a sense of educational entitlement. A teacher I know recently posted the following on Facebook: “Teachers still do not get paid enough to put up with rude, disrespectful children that ruin everyone else's learning by taking the fun out of it.” The bitterness is easy to detect, even in less strident teachers. While we accept that having an education is essential, as soon as this appreciation is extended to our teachers, we can be reluctant to make the connection. We still see the profession as unimpressive. The pay is good, but not exceptional. The hours are longer than you’d think, with marking, lesson plans and after school activities, not to mention how emotionally tiring the job can be. A former teacher of mine described it as "training in resilience". Tough is not an overstatement.

    And yet we still don’t care about teachers. There are many of them, and we’ve all met them, so they tend to be disregarded. It’s hard to see a job as prestigious when it’s one of the most common jobs in Britain. Considering this, it’s also difficult to moderate. You’re always going to get bad teachers into the state system because there is no foolproof arbitration system, which drags down our perception of the quality. It is also tempting to presume complete autonomy when it comes to education. People are often reluctant to admit they had help in achieving their grades. Teachers are the people we are last to thank.

    As a society, we need to change the way we view the profession. If we expect little from teachers, we get little in return. Of course, there are barriers – the "talent drain" to better-paid jobs at private schools, or the impossibility of defining what makes a good teacher, for example. Nonetheless, we need to avoid becoming a culture which fails to appreciate their importance. Don’t suffocate them with an overly rigid curriculum. Pay them more and make the most of their academic interests. In Ireland and Switzerland, the teaching average is around $50,000 a year, though this does include the private sector. It’s an investment in a brighter society, which results in a richer, healthier society. Education lowers unemployment, health issues and reduces poverty levels.

    It’s incredibly counter-intuitive to degrade the profession, when education is one of the best tools we have for social mobility. We need to discuss education as a nation, and to value it.

    Also, just incase you were wondering, it’s pronounced “syn-ek-da-kee”.

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    The Labour leader argued convincingly that the cost-of-living crisis is the direct result of the deep structural faults in the economy.

    There was plenty of politics in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning. The Labour leader has an election to win and banker bashing isn’t going out of fashion any time soon. But the speech was also a serious attempt to bring together the twin tracks of Labour’s economic thinking, which have in the past seemed a little too distant.

    By arguing that the cost-of-living crisis is the direct result of the deep structural faults in the economy Miliband made a jump from short-term pressures on family finances to the prospect of long-term decline and insecurity. He brought together the micro-economics of living standards with an argument for a structural, macro-economic reordering.

    The case for rebalancing, not just a resumption of growth, is now compelling. Next month a Fabian Society research report weighs up the positive and negative signals emerging from the recovery. On the plus side, growth is of course better than no growth, and the labour market has brought genuine good news. But most of the indicators suggests a deeply-skewed recovery which won’t deliver sustainable, broadly-shared prosperity any time soon: business investment and productivity are flat; household savings are falling and housing is becoming less affordable; real median earnings are not yet growing; and poverty and inequality are on the rise.

    In his speech, Miliband talked about business investment, skills and the changing nature of jobs. So Labour is making a serious attempt to respond to these structural faults with long-term structural solutions, not just election-day bungs.

    Now the party has to sign-up to market interventions which will move the needle on the big macro-economic indicators, and without costing too much public money. To make a difference on this larger scale it takes a lot of micro-economic interventions (the clue is in the name). So Labour needs to leap-frog the Chancellor's intervention on the minimum wage and promise a slew of similarly radical policies.

    The story continues next weekend when Ed Balls makes his first big speech of the year at the Fabian New Year Conference. Balls has sometimes been portrayed as somewhat detached from Miliband’s agenda for economic reform. However, in his interview with the New Statesman earlier this month, the shadow chancellor talked of the economic task being to deliver more balanced growth.

    The more Miliband makes "responsible capitalism" sound like it’s really about the economic fundamentals of investment, earnings, productivity and inequality, the more he and the shadow chancellor are likely to be at one. Labour will not be able to sell its economic story with only one Ed. Next week is Balls’s chance to pick up the baton.

    Ed Balls will be speaking at the Fabian New Year conference on 25 January

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    The Scandinavian giant has kept itself afloat amid economic turbulence with a steady flow of natural resources - but is this nature-loving nation prepared to promote growth at all costs?

    The recent Norwegian elections have taken the country in a conservative direction. While talk of cost cutting, limits to immigration and religious education reform are at the forefront of the political discourse, the national energy debate is proving problematic for the new coalition government. Reconciling Norway’s all-encompassing apprecation of the natural world with the desire to export gas and oil supplies is proving difficult, forcing the parties to ask themselves which matters more: growth or the environment?

    The new blue-blue coalition government, elected this September, has already begun a reversal of some key Norwegian ideologies, turning to privatisations, tax breaks and welfare cuts. The coalition, made up of the Conservative Party (Høyre) and the far-right, anti-immigration (ironically named) Progression Party (Fremskrittspartiet), came to power following the previous Labour government’s nine-year term. Most attributed the change to an overwhelming apathy towards the inclumbent government: they hadn’t done anything wrong, they’d just been there for a while. Although Norway managed to dodge the recession with the help of huge oil and gas reserves (and high taxes), the shift in attitude seemed to mimic corresponding shifts across Europe: fear of potential economic downfall resulting in an abrupt reversion to right-wing policy.

    Norway’s attitude to nature is deeply entrenched. Even in the capital city, Oslo, access to nature is easy and encouraged. Lakes, mountains and ski resorts are close by and can be reached by train. Buildings can only be built to a certain height, to avoid overdevelopment. Recycling is strictly enforced, even in student housing and in the most built-up areas. Norway continues to be hugely under-populated, boasting large unspoilt landscapes. To be solitary seems to be an essential tenet of Norwegian life, and to be solitary in nature is the epitome of this.

    Norway’s ability to maintain its sparsely populated city and untouched natural resources has been largely due to its huge North Sea oil and gas reserves. In 2011, Norway was the 8th largest exporter of oil in the world, as well as the 2nd largest exporter of gas, maintaining its status as the 4th richest country (per capita) in the word, according to the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, Norway aspires to commit to renewable energy, though this ambition is proving difficult. The country's primary energy source is hydroelectric power (95 per cent, in fact). Norway is ranked 30th in the 2008 list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita, and has yet to achieve its ambition of cutting its emissions by 30 per cent.

    Norway faces a dilemma when it comes to energy. It’s exportation of oil and gas causes a huge number of carbon emissions, almost 500 million tonnes. For a country that is in no way struggling financially, even compared to its western neighbours, the government still wants to increase exports of these natural goods - increasing its carbon footprint. The current blue-blue government coalition is desperate to drill for oil in areas of northern Norway such as Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, but have had to make a deal with the minor parties on the right side not to explore these areas in order to gain a majority. The areas are both very beautiful, and extremely vulnerable, due to the narrowness of the fjords and the harsh climate in those areas, meaning that the risk is higher than drilling in open sea. The potential damage is devastating.

    The sale of oil and gas has been wildly lucrative for Norway. A recent article in Aftenposten reported that the “net present value of revenues” from oil and gas in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja would be 1,925 billion Kroner (about 188 billion British Pounds). If there’s anything that’s going to convince you to destroy some natural habitat, 188 billion pounds is probably it.

    It’s clear to see why the government is so keen to drill, but the Norwegian attitude to nature coupled with the smaller parties’ commitment to the environment might delay excavation. It appears that for the next four years, the ecological moral values of most Norwegian citizens, as well as the fjords, will remain untouched. 

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    Is this trend set to continue?

    A survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) has revealed that the amount of houses sold per surveyor has more than doubled since 2009. We answer five questions on the survey's findings.

    How many more house sales are there now compared to 2009?

    In January 2009, 9.8 houses were sold per estate agency branch. In the last three months of 2013 this rose to just over 21 sales per estate agency branch – a rise of just over 11 houses per surveyor. This is the highest number since March 2008.

    What can this rise in UK house sales be attributed to?

    According to Rics, the rise has come from an increasing availability of affordable mortgages and "pent-up" demand from a market that has seen many viable buyers unable to enter the market in recent years.

    Is this trend set to continue?

    According to the surveyors interviewed in the survey, prices and sales are going to keep rising.

    What else has Rics said?

    The institute added that unless more properties are built, prices could continue to rise.

    Peter Bolton King, global residential director at Rics, said: "Unless we see a marked increase in the number of homes coming up for sale we could well be looking at a price rises becoming unsustainable in some areas."

    What has the building industry said about this?

    According to Bovis Homes, which released a statement today, the number of new homes being built is rising and they are also seeing an increase in forward sales.

    David Ritchie, Chief Executive of Bovis Homes, said: "2013 was another successful year for Bovis Homes. Our forward order book is in its best position for many years."

    The company’s average sale price was up 14 per cent to £195,100.

    What have the experts said?

    Lucian Cook, head of residential research at property adviser, Savills, told the Telegraph: "The positive sentiment in the housing market is likely to result in further increases in transactions in 2014. But with the mortgage market review looming, they could remain well below the pre-crunch norm and heavily weighted to those with equity."

    Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight, also told the publication: "There is a real danger that house prices could really take off over the coming months."

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    The first major exhibition of Hannah Höch is being held at the Whitechapel Gallery.

    The most famous work by German artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) remains Cut with the Kitchen Knife: Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Culture Epoch (1919), exhibited at the International Dada Fair in 1920. One of Höch’s largest collages, Cut with the Kitchen Knife showcased both the satirical possibilities and political ambiguities of the form, which she pioneered. Using the titular ‘kitchen knife’ to symbolise her cutting through male-dominated society, Höch incorporated newspaper headlines, animals, industrial landscapes, and political or cultural figures, loosely divided into ‘anti-Dada’ and ‘Dada’ sections, leaving open the question of which represented the most positive force in the new Weimar Republic.

    Cut with the Kitchen Knife: Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Culture Epoch 

    Although the Dadaist ‘anti-art’ that arose in Zürich and Berlin during the First World War had opposed militarism, monarchism and conservatism, the movement’s fundamental negativity complicated its relationship with socialism. Dada painter George Grosz was unwilling to lionise the proletariat as a counterpoint to his Pillars of Society, which its ruling class heads full of excrement, and years later, Richard Hülsenbeck explained that when they sought a target for their resentment, the Dadaists asked themselves “What is the bourgeois?” and “made the sad discovery that we were all bourgeois”, which kept the group from the Communist affiliation of their Surrealist successors.

    Although it attacked the bloated, beer-fuelled German military after the war and the crushing of the revolution of November 1918, Cut with the Kitchen Knife was not didactic. Rather, it presented an array of images – the deposed Kaiser and new president Friedrich Ebert in the ‘anti-Dada’ section, Marx and Lenin with Grosz and Höch, fellow montage artist John Heartfield and Dada artist Raoul Hausmann, who was Höch’s lover from 1916 to 1922. Sadly, in the Whitechapel Gallery’s retrospective – the first in Britain – we see only a detail of its Dada section, with the fragile original in Berlin’s Neues Nationalgalerie, with the whole appearing in the catalogue.

    There are 120 other works from Höch’s life, however, with the downstairs gallery charting her development until the end of the Republic, with a few collages from the mid-1930s, and two upstairs looking at how she worked in private after the Nazis declared her art Degenerate, and how she resumed her career after 1945. The first section is strongest, showing how Höch’s aesthetic and political interests evolved, from her involvement with Dada and Hausmann to her European travels, friendships with Bauhaus and De Stijl artists and relationship with female Dutch poet Til Brugman in the late 1920s.

    Höch was one of several women associated with Dada, besides artist Sophie Täuber and performer/poet Emmy Hennings, but she was not given a nickname or included in all of the Berlin group’s activities. The significance of her position in Dada, and in Germany, is highlighted: having worked in the industry, Höch often used images from fashion magazines, pasting male heads on to female bodies or vice versa. Her critique of traditional gender roles and how they upheld a conservative society is often subtle, especially when compared to post-war feminist art, but is most effective when making explicit the role of violence in maintaining them: The Father (1920) is particularly jarring, placing a composite of male authority heads onto a woman’s body in a white dress, her feet in stilettos, with a boxer punching the baby in her arms.

    Höch’s engagement with the mid-1920s idea of the ‘New Woman’ also emerges strongly. The ‘New Woman’ had bobbed hair, worked, and had sex – a product of getting the vote, and Article 119 of the Weimar constitution stating that marriage was ‘based on equality of the sexes’. However, many remained in low-status work with unequal pay, and married women were not allowed jobs if able-bodied veterans could take them. Within her circles, Höch was the New Woman, sharing both her style and her frustrations, and her background made her acutely aware of how this figure was a media creation and an advertising target. Portrait of Hannah Höch (1926) and another from 1929 show her looking like the New Woman, with her short hair and androgynous dress, but far from satisfied, let alone liberated.

    Unlike many of her contemporaries, Höch stayed near Berlin between 1933 and 1945. Unable to exhibit, she began collating the Album – a change in her method, putting existing images together in a way that, shown here in a book, allows viewers to find meanings in their juxtaposition, rather than cutting fragments together to generate new works. Her interests in the New Woman and ethnography remain constant, but overt visual messages are resisted – unsurprisingly, given the conditions.

    The collection of post-war works in Gallery 8 shows how Höch first borrowed elements of Dalí or Magritte’s Surrealism, and then turned towards a more abstract style, in her ‘Fantastic Art’ which explored the ‘tension … between the world of ideas and the real world’. These were often more colourful than her Dadaist montages, but become repetitive, being most successful when Höch revisits her inter-war social concerns. Homage to Riza Abazi (1963) presents a jumble of Orientalist signifiers of female beauty to Western audiences, with Höch’s techniques retaining the power to defamiliarise. Her huge Life Portrait (1972-73) shows Höch from childhood to old age, often with the Dada artists she’d outlived, closes the exhibition, letting her have the final word on a history that has often excluded her, commenting on her times with all the scale and force of Cut with the Kitchen Knife.


    Hannah Höch is at the Whitechapel Gallery until 23 March 2014

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    It would look presumptive to start naming his cabinet before the election and would put him under pressure to guarantee others their jobs.

    In his interview on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Ed Miliband again guaranteed that Ed Balls would be shadow chancellor at the time of the general election. Asked "is Ed Balls safe in his job at the moment?" he replied: "Ed Balls is doing a really good job and, absolutely, I've said that he's going to be the shadow chancellor going with me into the election". That should put an end to speculation that Alistair Darling could return to his old job after the Scottish independence referendum, or that Chuka Umunna or Rachel Reeves could be rapidly promoted. But someasked why Miliband didn't go further and pledge that Balls would serve as chancellor in a Labour government. Is he planning to replace him after May 2015? Is he holding out the post for the Lib Dems? The speculation goes on.

    But as one Labour source pointed out to me this morning, there are two considerations that likely explain why Miliband chose not to give this guarantee. The first is that it would look "presumptive" for him to start announcing what jobs his shadow cabinet ministers will do in government (akin to "measuring up the curtains"). It would give the impression that Labour believes the voters have already made up their minds. The second is that guaranteeing Balls will serve as chancellor would inevitably lead to speculation about other top positions. Will Harriet Harman be deputy prime minister? Will Douglas Alexander be foreign secretary? Miliband can't have one rule for Balls and another for them. For these reasons, much as journalists may wish otherwise, don't expect Miliband to start naming his cabinet in advance of 7 May 2015.

    Miliband went on to say of Balls: "People have their critics; the thing I'd say to you about Ed Balls? He's got a clear sense of what this economy needs, he's working with me on tackling the cost-of-living crisis that we face and he's got the toughness to stand up to lots of people who want more spending when actually it's going to be tough for Labour."

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    It's a neat idea, sure, but don't expect 3D printers to replace builders, bricks and mortar any time soon.

    Pictures of 3D-printed houses keep popping up in the news. I've written about three such projects before for Wired, including Enrico Dini's impressive D-Shape, a gantry large enough that it can print out gazebos. There are other examples of such systems under development that work on similar principles, like Contour Crafting at the University of Southern California, or FreeForm Construction at Loughborough University. Nasa is even working on robots that may be able to construct bases on the Moon by melting moon dust into blocks and walls using lasers.

    It's not a wacky gimmick, in theory. Developing societies across the world struggle to cope with the demands of urbanisation: China's urbanisation rate will reach 60 percent by 2015; a 2007 UN report found that between 2000 and 2030 sub-Saharan Africa's urban population could be expected to double, while at least 72 percent of the urban population was living in slums. A way to quickly produce homes that are more livable than slum shacks would be a valuable tool in combating poverty. (And as for moon bases, laser sintering is a much better idea that flying concrete all the way up there.)

    These printers are, basically, scaled-up versions of desktop models, and they work the same way - a nozzle, on some kind of robotic arm, is programmed to follow a design which separates a three-dimensional objects into a number of two-dimensional slices. Thin layer upon thin layer of material (usually plastic on desktop, usually concrete in construction) goes down until it's built up the full object.

    Anything that'll spurt out of a nozzle and set hard will work, but some materials are better than others for different uses - chocolate's great for 3D-printing food, for example. For buildings, the normal material (or "aggregate") is usually a kind of concrete. The nozzle moves back and forth, laying down material for the first layer, then it moves up (say, 5mm, or 10mm) and lays the next layer, and the next, through to the very top. Voila, a house.

    The problems that researchers are having with scaling 3D printing up to the scale of houses should be pretty obvious - concrete isn't very strong on its own. A house that's 3D-printed might stay up (and some of Dini's structures are certainly impressive) but they're nothing on concrete houses built with such boring, traditional things like reinforcing rebar. Even a wooden frame is better, because then there's the possibility of having a second floor.

    Nevertheless, these systems are generally said to be able to build the frame of the house in roughly two days at top speed if you're after something like a small bungalow, or maybe doing 20 or so larger buildings a year. And, because the walls and so on are done in one go, there's the potential to design certain things into the structure - like routes for ducts, or piping and wiring routes - that are fiddly, and have to be attached to a building's frame during a normal construction.

    That's quite important, as the things that take up most of the time when building small homes is the fiddly, small stuff - wiring, windows, fixtures, fittings, plastering, that sort of thing. It's also quite cheap - again, in theory. There's just a problem in that it acts a replacement for the bit that's already quite cheap and quick when it comes to building homes. In rapid-build affordable housing projects the fiddly stuff could be cut back on, but that would be somewhat self-defeating.

    There's quite an illustrative lesson from history that we can rely on here. Architect Wallace Neff was famous in the 1920s as a designer of mansions for the stars of Hollywood, and became instrumental in developing southern California's distinctive architectural style. However, in the later stages of career he tried to turn his hand to the problem of affordable housing. America's post-WII population boom demanded cheap housing that could be built quickly.

    His solution, inspired by the resilience of bubbles of shaving foam in his bathroom sink, were "bubble houses" - concrete homes (using low-density, high-strength concrete called gunite), built by spraying a mix of water and cement at high speed over a large balloon. In 48 hours the concrete would be dry, the balloon could be deflated and dragged out of the front door, and there would be a perfectly solid and large building, ready to be used as a home.

    (If you've never listened to 99% Invisible, by the way, now is a good time to start - it's one of the best podcasts available, and the episode about Neff's bubble houses is superb and detailed.)

    (There's also a good article on Slate that features some wonderful pictures of some of Neff's bubble houses under construction.)

    Neff loved and adored his homes, moving into one himself and dreaming of building hundreds of thousands of them. The public response to his idea was less enthusiastic, and only a few hundred were built. Only one survives in the US today, in Pasadena - the rest were demolished. 

    While that last bubble house in Pasadena has become something of an architectural landmark, it is a radical design even by today's standards. For all the internal space, the houses left people feeling cold, as if living inside a sculpture. You can't hang a picture on a curved wall, you see. It's hard to fit conventional furniture in without leaving dead space. Sound travels strangely, bouncing off the roof in unexpected directions. The atmospherics are off; it doesn't feel like a home, perhaps the most crucial design requirement of a house.

    Developed countries have had huge problems getting people to love mass-produced, pre-fabricated, high-density concrete buildings, which went up in their thousands in the post-war period as a solution to a population crisis. The reasons for their success and failure were complex - just as much down to social and political factors, like aesthetic taste or slashed maintenance budgets, as structural quality - but 

    3D printing does what it does cheaply and quickly by skipping over or ignoring construction materials and designs that a lot of people like. Wooden floors with a bit of give, for instance, or brick walls, or wooden skirting boards. These are simple additions, but they are ones that require time (and the labour of actual people) to complete. The more you offer those trimmings, the more the houses move away from being cheap and quick to make, and more towards normal houses. Once you're there, you might as well just build normal houses.

    These printers are also rubbish at scales normal for mass production - it's much more suited, on a desktop scale, for making prototypes, or for enabling delicate designs that might otherwise be made by hand. This applies just as much to housing as it does to trinkets, where pre-fabs are a perfectly fine method of building big buildings (even big, tall buildings) quickly, and especially in cities, where building low-density houses is often a luxury only afforded to the wealthy.

    If 3D printers have a home in architecture, it will be as a tool of self-builders. Just as 3D printing is potentially great for democratising product design, it's something that - combined with open-source architectural blueprint sites like WikiHouse - would suit the architecturally ambitious just great. It's not hard to imagine Grand Designs featuring some bright-eyed young couple who have rented a 3D printer sometime in the next decade, lugging it out into the countryside where they plan to lay down some wavey-curvy mansion that looks like something out of Buck Rogers.

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

    1. What exactly can private schools teach the state sector? (Guardian)

    As the head of an independent school puts forward plans to tackle inequality, he forgets his sector's dire record when working in state education, says John Harris.

    2. The rise of a new US federalism (Financial Times)

    With federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities, writes Edward Luce.

    3. What is it about male politicians that they seem to have such problems dealing with women? (Independent)

    In France, female MPs endure obscene gestures, wolf whistles and other insults, writes Yasmin Alibhai Brown. 

    4. Our housing is in crisis – we need both brownfield and greenfield sites (Guardian)

    The tougher the planning controls, the higher the house prices, writes Chris Huhne. We must ease restrictions in our cities and in the countryside.

    5. Cleggton Keynes in England’s rolling hills? No thanks, Nick (Daily Telegraph)

    We don’t need any new 'garden’ cities, writes Boris Johnson. London’s brownfield sites can solve the housing crisis.

    6. Obama’s plan for US surveillance (Financial Times)

    The proposals offer only a modest advance on what is needed, says an FT editorial. 

    7. After Owen Jones’s open letter to Ukip voters last week, here is my reply (Independent)

    I fear that you may have been reading too much into a statistical sample and haven’t taken the time to get out and meet our voters, writes Nigel Farage to Owen Jones.

    8. Growing Pains (Times)

    As the global economy slowly recovers, policymakers should recall that debt-fuelled consumption has limits, says a Times editorial.

    9. I believe this ghastly woman hastened my friend's death (Daily Mail)

    Lord McAlpine was broken down by the cruel strain of being a victim of Sally Bercow's terrible lie, writes Simon Heffer. 

    10. If we don’t care, we will legalise euthanasia (Times)

    Dutch right-to-die laws opened the door to the killing of mentally ill patients, writes Peter Franklin. 

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    By seeking to ensure that all jobseekers acquire English and maths skills, the party is tackling one of the long-term causes of unemployment and of low pay.

    Rachel Reeves's first major speech as shadow work and pensions secretary has been long anticipated. Back in November there was a memorable furore when the Telegraphreported that Labour was planning to "scrap benefits for under-25s" as part of its new approach to social security (Ed Miliband has told shadow ministers not to use the term "welfare"). The claim was quickly denied by Reeves, with angered activists told to wait for her speech in January, but it still aroused the suspicion of the left. Then on Saturday, in a story headlined "Youth Dole Axe", the Sunclaimed that Reeves was set to announce plans to "take away" benefits from the young, prompting another wave of Twitter outrage.

    Today, Reeves finally has a chance to speak for herself and will announce a policy far more sophisticated than the Sun's story implied (it is puzzling how some on the left, who consistently criticise tabloid reporting, are nevertheless prepared to believe their accounts of Labour policy). In her speech at IPPR, Reeves will detail Labour's plan to introduce a "Basic Skills Test" for all new claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance within six weeks of them signing on. Those who are deemed to lack basic maths, English and IT skills will be required to take up part-time training or lose their benefits (the party estimates that it will affect around 25,000 a month). No one will be automatically stripped of their benefits and the policy will apply to all jobseekers, not just the under-25s (proving the inaccuracy of those earlier reports). Reeves will say: "We all know that basic skills are essential in today’'s jobs market, but the shocking levels of English and maths among too many jobseekers are holding them back from getting work.  This traps too many jobseekers in a vicious cycle between low-paid work and benefits.

    "Government plans in this area just aren'’t enough. They’'re now asking jobseekers who exit the failed Work Programme to take up literacy and numeracy training, three whole years after those people first make a claim for benefits.

    "A Labour government will introduce a Basic Skills Test to assess all new claimants for Job Seekers Allowance within six weeks of claiming benefits. Those who don’t have the skills they need for a job will have to take up training alongside their jobsearch or lose their benefits. Labour’s Basic Skills Test will give the long-term unemployed a better chance of finding a job and will help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis."

    There are some on the left who will bridle at the conditionality (accept training or lose your benefits) but the policy deserves to be welcomed by those genuinely committed to supporting the jobless. Too often in the past, jobseekers without basic skills have been left to stagnate on the dole, or accept insecure, low-paid employment (leaving them cycling between welfare and work). Nearly one in ten people claiming JSA lack basic literacy skills, while more than one in ten lack basic numeracy skills (making them twice as likely as those in work to not have these skills). Half are unable to complete basic word processing and spreadsheet tasks and nearly half lack basic emails skills (which may prove problematic if the online-only Universal Credit is ever fully introduced). Government research found that a third of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance had claimed the benefit at least three times before and that nearly 20 per cent of those with repeat claims had problems with literacy or numeracy.

    By ensuring that all jobseekers acquire basic skills, Labour is seeking to tackle one of the long-term causes of unemployment and of low pay. The policy is a natural companion to the previously-announced jobs guarantee, which would ensure that all young people out of work for more than a year and all adults out of work for more than two are offered a job paying at least the minimum wage.

    The Tories are protesting that the new "Basic Skills Test" is just a "weak version" of a policy announced by George Osborne at last year's Autumn Statement. A Conservative spokesman said: "Labour are copying a Conservative policy that already exists and that is superior to the one they are proposing.

    "After 13 years of Labour running our education system, many young people looking for work do not have the English and Maths skills they need to get a job. That's why, starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without these basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits. And we are making the long-term changes needed to fix the system by requiring all young people who have not achieved a proper qualification in English and Maths at 16 to continue studying these subjects until age 19.

    "Without basic English or Maths, there is a limited chance any young person will be able to stay off welfare. David Cameron's long-term economic plan will give young people the skills they need to get on in life and have a more financially secure future." 

    But Labour is pointing out that the coalition's policy is merely a pilot for 18-21-year-olds, rather than an offer of training for all adults without basic skills. By combining such "tough love" measures with plans to abolish the coalition's most pernicious measures, such as the bedroom tax and the national benefit cap (replacing it with one regionally-weighted), Reeves is outlining a balanced welfare policy that both the left and the public can support. 

    Elsewhere in her speech, she will again pledge to reform the system so that it gives greater weight to "contribution". This is a return to the Beveridgean principle that those who put more in, get more out. In an article last year, Reeves's predecessor, Liam Byrne, pledged to to examine a higher rate of Jobseeker's Allowance for those who have contributed more. He wrote: 

    I think social security should offer more for those that chipped in most either caring or paying in National Insurance. Our most experienced workers and carers have earned an extra hand. We should make sure there something better for when they need it. That’s why we’re looking at just how we put the something for something bargain at the heart of social security reform, starting with a new deal for the over 50s.

    This might sound attractive, but one concern among some in Labour is that, to to be affordable, higher benefits for some must mean lower benefits for others. As one Blue Labour figure told me, "our main welfare policy could actually prove more expensive". Unless the party makes it clear who will pick up the bill, the Tories will be able to charge it with promising more of the "unfunded spending" that "got us into this mess". I'm told that Reeves will be offering detailed proposals around contribution, and on pensions, in speeches later this year. 

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    The party needs a "social investment" strategy to reduce the subsidisation of private landlords, low-paying employers and long-term worklessness.

    When George Osborne used his new year political message to raise the prospect of a further £12bn of cuts to working age benefits, it confirmed that the Conservatives will put welfare at the centre of their re-election strategy. In a speech at the IPPR today, Rachel Reeves will set out her first response to this challenge as part of a series of interventions from the Labour frontbench to connect their arguments about the "cost of living crisis" to the need for longer term social and economic reform.

    Having signed up to the principle of a cap on structural welfare spending, the priority for Labour is to contest the debate about which party has the best strategy for sustainably controlling rises in the benefits bill and squeezing the greatest value from taxpayers' money. This requires a "social investment" strategy to reduce the subsidisation of private landlords, low-paying employers and long-term worklessness. The goal should be, over time, to shift spending from cash transfers and into housebuilding, childcare, apprenticeships and back to work support. As Ed Miliband argued last week, Britain has to earn its way to higher living standards.

    A political direction of this kind can also be connected to Labour’s stated interest in reviving the contributory principle within the welfare system. In most of continental Europe, a distinction remains between social insurance (protection from cyclical risks for those who have contributed) and social assistance (means-tested support to those on the lowest incomes). However, over a number of decades, these two functions have been almost entirely conflated in this country. Restoring the distinction would mean aiming to reduce reliance on the state for permanent income replacement wherever possible, while strengthening temporary protection at key moments when earned income drops, like losing a job and having a child.

    Marrying social investment and the contributory principle in this way would require a significant re-engineering of social policy, re-orientating of public spending, plus institutional innovation to revive the currently moribund National Insurance system. As part of IPPR’s Condition of Britain programme, we are exploring how such a strategy could be advanced, within the constraints of plausible fiscal scenarios for the next Parliament.

    One option is to expand the role of income-contingent loans in providing much more substantial support to those who have contributed into the system if and when they face a drop income due to job loss, on a temporary and repayable basis. Our proposal for National Salary Insurance is one variant on this idea. Another is to provide a higher rate of short-term benefit for those who lose their job after having paid into the system, funded by increasing the number of years of contribution required before this entitlement kicks in. This could be modelled on Statutory Maternity Pay, which pays a much higher rate for the first six weeks – and is only available to those women who worked before having a child.

    In the coming months, we will be analysing ideas such as these with a view to setting out practical, costed proposals for shifting to social investment and restoring the contributory principle. This will also include looking at how drawing a clearer distinction between the "social insurance" and "social assistance" tracks could affect the back to work support people receive and their interactions with the welfare system. We also want to explore how the institutional architecture of the National Insurance Fund – which evokes a tradition of mutual protection in this country – could be revived to help this task.

    It is clear that the debate about benefits will be at the forefront of the political battleground over the coming year. It is vital that those of us committed to a resilient and effective welfare system advance feasible reforms that can chime with popular values, as well as defending against the worst attacks on vulnerable people.

    Graeme Cooke is Research Director at IPPR

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    High-profile leakers have largely set the terms in the debate over transparency and privacy. But do they deserve the prestige and influence that has been accorded to them?

    This article first appeared on

    We live in the age of the leaker. Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and Julian Assange are celebrated as heroes on op-ed pages and across glossy magazine spreads.

    By exposing the secrets of the government, they claim to have revealed its systematic disregard for individual freedom and privacy. Theirs are not the politics of left against right, or liberals against conservatives, or Democrats against Republicans, but of the individual against the state. To oppose them is to side with power against liberty, surveillance against freedom, tyrannical secrecy against democratic openness.

    What’s astonishing about their ascent to heroism is the breadth of their support. The embrace of the antiwar left and the libertarian right was to be expected. But effusions of praise for the leakers can also be found throughout the liberal establishment. The New York Times, which has come to rely on the leakers as prize sources, is now crusading on Snowden’s behalf. Its editorial page has celebrated him for having “done his country a great service” and supports clemency for the crimes he has committed. A stellar array of liberal intellectuals and pundits, from David Bromwich and Robert Kuttner to Richard Cohen and Ezra Klein, have hailed Snowden, as have elected officials, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden. To criticise the leakers, as the legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin and a few other writers have done, is to invite moral condemnation. Even mild objections to their methods are dismissed as damning proof of either corruption – “principle-free, hackish, and opportunistic,” in Greenwald’s words – or outright complicity with Big Brother.

    So far, the adulatory treatment the leakers have received closely mirrors their own self-presentation. But important caches of evidence have gone largely unexamined by the media. Documents are, of course, the leakers’ stock-in-trade – and they have produced quite a few documents of their own. The internet houses a variety of their writings for message boards, blogs, and magazines. Much of this writing was produced before the leakers entertained the possibility of a global audience. They are documents in which one can glimpse their deepest beliefs and true motives. What they reveal is at odds with the flattering coverage the leakers have received, and goes beyond personal eccentricities or dubious activities in the service of noble goals. They reveal an agenda that even the leakers’ most dedicated admirers should question.

    Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange hardly subscribe to identical beliefs, and differ in their levels of sophistication. They have held, at one time or another, a crazy-quilt assortment of views, some of them blatantly contradictory. But from an incoherent swirl of ideas, a common outlook emerges. The outlook is neither a clear-cut doctrine nor a philosophy, but something closer to a political impulse that might be described, to borrow from the historian Richard Hofstadter, as paranoid libertarianism. Where liberals, let alone right-wingers, have portrayed the leakers as truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors, that’s hardly their goal. In fact, the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.

    Edward Snowden has presented his decision to steal nearly two million files from the National Security Agency (NSA) and release them to the world as a simple tale of a political awakening. He recounts the story this way: While working for the CIA in Geneva in 2007, he began having serious misgivings about the Bush-era surveillance state. Even then, Snowden considered leaking classified material. He stayed his hand because of the election of Barack Obama, who had vowed to reform the intelligence system. When the changes he had hoped for didn’t arrive, he became bitterly disillusioned. “[I] watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in,” Snowden later told the Guardian. “I got hardened.”

    That’s when Snowden hatched his plan for crippling the NSA. According to a Reuters report, in April 2012, while working as an NSA contractor for Dell, Inc., he began downloading information about eavesdropping programs. Then, last March, Snowden took a job in Hawaii with the government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, intending to steal an even vaster collection of classified material. “[The job] granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked. That is why I accepted that position,” he later confessed to the South China Morning Post. Of course, as he explains it, he undertook his illicit mission with the most principled of motivations. The NSA’s activities pose “an existential threat to democracy,” he said. Closer examination of Snowden’s background, however, suggests that his motives were more complicated.

    Snowden’s history is very difficult to piece together, not least because the CIA and the NSA are prohibited from confirming or denying details of his work for them. Still, there is enough information available to assemble a provisional profile.

    By 1999, a 16-year-old Snowden had moved with his family from North Carolina to Maryland. He had dropped out of high school in his sophomore year and become enamored with computers. Snowden spent increasingly large swaths of his time on Ars Technica, a technology news and information website for self-described “alpha geeks.” Soon, he was posting regularly in the site’s public chat rooms under the user name “TheTrueHOOHA.”1Snowden, it seems, mostly engaged in postadolescent banter about sex and internet gaming – and occasionally mused about firearms. “I have a Walther P22,” he wrote. “It’s my only gun, but I love it to death.” The Walther P22, a fairly standard handgun, is not especially fearsome, but Snowden’s affection for it hinted at some of his developing affinities.

    In May 2004, Snowden enlisted in an Army Special Forces program. He did so, he later told The Guardian, because he felt “an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression.” But he failed to complete the training and was discharged five months later. (He broke both of his legs in a training accident.)

    After his discharge, Snowden found work as a security guard for the NSA at its Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland, and, later, as an I.T. security specialist for the CIA. In 2007, he was posted to Geneva. Writing on Ars Technica, he described Switzerland as “pretty cool” but also “horrifically classist.” (He was, however, impressed with the country’s Nigerian immigrants: “Motherfuckers have been there like eight months and speak all three languages.”)

    Snowden has traced his political conversion to the Bush years. And by the end of Bush’s second term, Snowden certainly held the president in low esteem. But not, apparently, his intelligence policies. Nor, it seems, was he drawn to insiders who exposed details of these programs. Quite the opposite: Snowden vilified leakers and defended covert intelligence ops. In January 2009, Snowden lambasted the New York Times and its anonymous sources for exposing a secret Bush administration operation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Such infuriating breaches had occurred “over and over and over again,” Snowden complained. The Times, he railed, was “like wikileaks” and deserved to go bankrupt; sources who leaked “classified shit” to the Times ought to “be shot in the balls.” When an online interlocutor suggested that it might be “ethical” to report “on the government’s intrigue,” Snowden replied emphatically: “VIOLATING NATIONAL SECURITY? No.” He explained, “that shit is classified for a reason.”

    The Ars Technica posts also complicate Snowden’s narrative about Obama. It seems as if he never invested great faith in him. It is true that, during the 2008 election, TheTrueHOOHA compared him favorably to Hillary Clinton, whom he called a “pox.” But in the end, he voted for an unspecified third-party candidate.

    And nearly as soon as Obama took office, Snowden developed a deep aversion to the new president. TheTrueHOOHA reacted furiously when Obama named Leon Panetta as his new director of central intelligence. But it was Panetta’s credentials he objected to, not his stance on surveillance matters. “Obama just named a fucking politician to run the CIA,” Snowden erupted. And he became furious about Obama’s domestic policies on a variety of fronts. For example, he was offended by the possibility that the new president would revive a ban on assault weapons. “See, that’s why I’m goddamned glad for the second amendment,” Snowden wrote, in another chat. “Me and all my lunatic, gun-toting NRA compatriots would be on the steps of Congress before the C-Span feed finished.”

    At the time the stimulus bill was being debated, Snowden also condemned Obama’s economic policies as part of a deliberate scheme “to devalue the currency absolutely as fast as theoretically possible.” (He favored Ron Paul’s call for the United States to return to the gold standard.) The social dislocations of the financial collapse bothered him not at all. “Almost everyone was self-employed prior to 1900,” he asserted. “Why is 12% employment [sic] so terrifying?” In another chat-room exchange, Snowden debated the merits of Social Security:

    <TheTrueHOOHA> save money? cut this social security bullshit

    <User 11> hahahayes

    <User 18> Yeah! Fuck old people!

    <User 11> social security is bullshit

    <User 11> let’s just toss old people out in the street

    <User 18> Old people could move in with [User11].

    <User 11> NOOO

    <User 11> they smell funny

    <TheTrueHOOHA> Somehow, our society managed to make it hundreds of years without social security just fine

    <TheTrueHOOHA> you fucking retards

    <TheTrueHOOHA> Magically the world changed after the new deal, and old people became made of glass.

    Later in the same session, Snowden wrote that the elderly “wouldn’t be fucking helpless if you weren’t sending them fucking checks to sit on their ass and lay in hospitals all day.”

    Snowden’s disgruntlement with Obama, in other words, was fueled by a deep disdain for progressive policies. The available postings by TheTrueHOOHA do show concerns about society’s “unquestioning obedience to spooky types,” but those date to 2010. Contrary to his claims, he seems to have become an anti-secrecy activist only after the White House was won by a liberal Democrat who, in most ways, represented everything that a right-wing Ron Paul admirer would have detested.

    After Snowden revealed himself as the NSA leaker, the high-tech and legal expert Joe Mullin published an in-depth investigation of his Ars Technica postings, which concluded, “The Snowden seen in these chats is not the man we see today.” Mullin was referring to Snowden’s views about leaking government secrets, and to that extent, he was certainly correct. However, there is no reason to doubt that, when Snowden stole the files from the NSA, he still held many of the same views that he expressed as TheTrueHOOHA. Snowden’s politics seemed to still be libertarian-right: He sent Ron Paul two contributions of $250 during the 2012 presidential primaries.

    Other evidence challenges Snowden’s trustworthiness. Snowden implied that, despite his lack of formal education, he had won posts of considerable authority within the NSA, due to his advanced skills as a programmer. But as Reuters has reported, Snowden gained access to mountains of classified material through more prosaic means: obtaining log-ins and passwords from a small number of highly trained co-workers, some of whom have since been fired from their posts. One of Reuters’s sources suggested that Snowden acquired the log-ins by telling his colleagues that he needed them “to do his job as a computer systems administrator.”

    Reading Snowden’s selection of writings on Ars Technica, it’s hard to see evidence of a savvy – or even consistent – mind at work. Snowden doesn’t seem like a man prepared to become a global spokesman against government surveillance. And the posts certainly don’t indicate a man with a master plan. But over a year ago, he began communicating with Glenn Greenwald, a blogger at the Guardian, who possessed precisely the sophistication about politics and media that Snowden lacked.

    In the mid-’90s, Glenn Greenwald was an associate at the prestigious corporate law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he had a reputation as a hard-knuckled combatant. But the job bored him – he would later admit to spending hours at work devouring political commentary on the web.

    Greenwald had the background of a conventional liberal. Raised in modest circumstances in South Florida, his first role model was his paternal grandfather, a local city councilman with a socialist bent. At New York University Law School, he was an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Yet in his online travels, he gravitated to right-wing sites such as Townhall, where he could engage in cyber-brawls with social conservatives. Over time, he met some of his antagonists in the flesh and, to his surprise, liked them.

    By 1996, Greenwald had co-founded his own litigation firm, where he would spend the next decade. The firm did well, although by Greenwald’s own admission, many of the cases he worked were “shitty.” It was in his pro bono work that Greenwald discovered his true passion: defending the civil liberties of extremists.

    In several cases over a five-year span, Greenwald represented Matthew Hale, the head of the Illinois-based white-supremacist World Church of the Creator, which attracted a small core of violently inclined adherents. In one case, Greenwald defended Hale against charges that he had solicited the murder of a federal judge. Hale was eventually convicted when the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, produced the FBI informant with whom Hale had arranged the killing. Greenwald’s other clients included the neo-Nazi National Alliance, who were implicated in an especially horrible crime. Two white supremacists on Long Island had picked up a pair of unsuspecting Mexican day laborers, lured them into an abandoned warehouse, and then clubbed them with a crowbar and stabbed them repeatedly. The day laborers managed to escape, and when they recovered from their injuries, they sued the National Alliance and other hate groups, alleging that they had inspired the attackers. Greenwald described the suit as a dangerous attempt to suppress free speech by making holders of “unconventional” views liable for the actions of others. His use of a euphemism like “unconventional” to describe white nationalists was troubling, but on First Amendment grounds, he had a strong case and he made it successfully.

    Greenwald’s pro bono work is not evidence of anything more than a principled lawyer providing hateful people with constitutionally guaranteed counsel. “To me, it’s a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it ... not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate,” he recently told Rolling Stone. But Greenwald soon grew restless with litigation of any kind.

    In 2005, Greenwald wound down his legal practice and launched his own blog, Unclaimed Territory, producing the sort of impassioned political writing that had fascinated him for a decade. His early postings included detailed accounts of the unfolding Valerie Plame affair and unsparing criticism of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The blog’s chief interests – intelligence policy, civil liberties, media criticism, and national security – were largely the same as Greenwald’s today. So was its style: several lengthy, deeply informed postings a day, pitting the forces of light against the forces of darkness; mixing lawyerly analysis with bellicose hyperbole. Greenwald seemed to take pride in attacking Republicans and Democrats alike; hence, presumably, the title of his blog.

    It wasn’t long before Greenwald had acquired a dedicated following. In 2007, he became a regular columnist for Salon, where his slashing attacks on the Bush White House made him very popular on the left. Over the coming years, he would win enthusiastic praise from, among others, Christopher Hayes, Michael Moore, and Rachel Maddow, who dubbed him “the American left’s most fearless political commentator.”

    On certain issues, though, his prose was suffused with right-wing conceits and catchphrases. One example was immigration, on which Greenwald then held surprisingly hard-line views. “The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known,” Greenwald wrote in 2005. The facts, to him, were indisputable: “illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” Defending the nativist congressman Tom Tancredo from charges of racism, Greenwald wrote of “unmanageably endless hordes of people [who] pour over the border in numbers far too large to assimilate, and who consequently have no need, motivation or ability to assimilate.” Those hordes, Greenwald wrote, posed a threat to “middle-class suburban voters.”

    Greenwald has since reversed his position and renounced the post about the “parade of evils.” (In his characteristically combative way, though, he blamed the recent rediscovery of his immigration writing on “Obama cultists” out to discredit him.) He ascribes that particular outburst to callow ignorance – a rather inadequate defense of remarks made by a seasoned 38-year-old New York lawyer.

    By this point, Greenwald had come to reside in a peculiar corner of the political forest, where the far left meets the far right, often but not always under the rubric of libertarianism. He held positions that appealed to either end of the political spectrum, attacking, for example, US foreign policy as a bipartisan projection of empire. Like most of his writings, his critique of America abroad was congenial both to the isolationist paleo-Right and to post–New Left anti-imperialists. His social liberalism struck an individualist chord pleasing to right-wing libertarians as well as left-wing activists. Greenwald began to envisage bringing these groups together – to dissolve the usual lines of political loyalty and unite the anti-imperialists and civil-liberties activists on the left with the paleoconservatives and free-market libertarians on the right – in a popular front against the establishment alliance of mainstream center-left liberals and neoconservatives.

    Along those lines, Greenwald found common ground with the upper echelons of right-wing free-market libertarianism. In August 2007, he appeared at the Cato Institute’s headquarters in Washington. “I’m a real admirer of Cato,” Greenwald declared, “and of the work that Cato does and has done for the last six years under the Bush presidency.” He was not only referring to Cato’s criticism of the war on terror. Under Bush, Greenwald explained, “a political realignment” had occurred, one that rendered “traditional ideological disputes” irrelevant. Politics now turned on a fundamental question: “Are you a believer in the constitutional principles on which the country was founded and a believer in the fact that no political leader can exercise vast and unchecked powers?” To this question, Greenwald had a ready answer: “I find myself on the side of the Cato Institute and other defenders of what in the 1990s was viewed as a more right-wing view of limited government power.”

    Greenwald had identified a vehicle for a political realignment: the presidential candidacy of the old libertarian warhorse Ron Paul. In November 2007, Greenwald called Paul “as vigilant a defender of America’s constitutional freedoms ... as any national figure in some time.” He acknowledged that “there is at least something in Paul’s worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate,” and he described Paul as “an anti-abortion extremist” and “near the far end” of the right’s stance on immigration policy. Still, he believed Paul to be a rare truth-teller, prepared to buck a corrupt bipartisan consensus.

    This portrayal required highly selective political reasoning, not to mention a basic ignorance of US history. Paul, a longtime supporter of the John Birch Society, is a quintessential paleoconservative, holding prejudices and instincts that predate the post–World War II conservative movement founded by William F. Buckley Jr. and others. Paleoconservatives, in their hatred of centralised government and consequent isolationism, regard US history as a long series of catastrophes, starting with the defeat of the Confederacy. From the 1940s to the present, paleoconservatism has thrived on the fringes, in an ideological family tree that extends from the America First Committee to the Birch Society to Paul’s political operation.

    Savvy about media self-presentation, Paul usually obscures the dark underbelly of this ideological legacy. Since the term “isolationism” has been discredited since the days of America First, Paul calls himself a “non-interventionist.” But there’s an entire archive to confirm Paul’s place in the far-right procession. His newsletters, produced over the years under various titles, disclose a disturbing pattern of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia (proposing the slogan, “Sodomy=Death”), and conspiracy-mongering. (Paul has implausibly denied writing the newsletters that were published under his name.) The newsletter’s racial writings are voluminous: “It is human nature that like attracts like,” read one edition of his newsletter. “But whites are not allowed to express this same human impulse. Except in a de facto sense, there can be no white schools, white clubs, or white neighborhoods. The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.” Paul aims not to curtail the liberal state and the progressive taxation that underwrites it, but to obliterate them: “By the way, when I say cut taxes,” he proclaims, “I don’t mean fiddle with the code. I mean abolish the income tax and the IRS, and replace them with nothing.”

    After Paul dropped out of the presidential race in June 2008, Greenwald wrote articles tepidly supporting the Obama campaign, emphasising the “vitally important” task of defeating John McCain. (Paul had gone on to endorse the racist theocrat Chuck Baldwin of the Constitutional Party.) But he also sought to advance the realignment he had described to Cato. Greenwald appeared in February 2008 as a keynote speaker at Cato’s “Annual Benefactor Summit,” a conference of high-rolling donors in Las Vegas. Later that year, he appeared at a conference sponsored by the right-wing free-market libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation. In 2008, Greenwald joined with the anti-conservative founder Jane Hamsher to back the Accountability Now/Strangebedfellows PAC, with an assist from some of Ron Paul’s fund-raisers.

    When bloggers confronted Greenwald about his associations with libertarians, the darling of the netroots and MSNBC left angrily batted the claims away as distortions. He need not have reacted so forcefully. Accused of working for Cato, for example, he might simply have said that he believed in addressing any organisation that wanted to hear from him and left it at that. Instead, Greenwald attacked his critics as “McCarthyite” purveyors of “falsehoods, fabrications, and lies.”

    In 2010, Greenwald began attacking the Obama administration from the left on a variety of domestic issues, attacking Wall Street corruption, opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and decrying inequality. Yet even as he insisted on his left liberalism, he remained a steadfast promoter of Ron Paul – “far and away the most anti-war, anti-Surveillance-State, anti-crony-capitalism, and anti-drug-war presidential candidate in either party.” (After Paul’s son, then senatorial candidate Rand Paul, questioned the Civil Rights Act, Greenwald agreed with criticism that the remark was “wacky,” but insisted that the real “crazies” in American politics were mainstream Democrats and Republicans.) In a debate with the Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, Greenwald justified how progressives could back Ron Paul over Obama. How his vaunted allies would govern over issues that he professes to hold dear – Social Security, Medicare, economic inequality, gay rights – is a subject he has not addressed.

    During his political pilgrimage, Greenwald became consumed: For him, the national security apparatus is not just an important issue; it is the great burning issue of our time. He beholds American liberals, and American liberalism, as no less guilty than the so-called conservatives of the Republican Party for expanding and defending, at all costs, brutal American imperialism abroad and tyrannical surveillance at home. It is hard to imagine any system of intelligence gathering Greenwald would endorse.

    In 2010, Greenwald spoke to Julian Assange for a Salon column praising WikiLeaks for its “vital” work. His enthusiasm for Assange’s mission drew him into the world of computer hackers and security leakers – a world where it became possible not simply to criticise the national security state, but to sabotage it.

    In May 2010, Julian Assange delivered an address that neatly captured his bizarre historical understanding and the messianic sense of mission that pervades WikiLeaks. Speaking to the Oslo Freedom Forum about state censorship and human rights in the West, Assange declared that the American slogan emblazoned on the gates of Guantánamo – HONOR BOUND TO DEFEND FREEDOM – is a worse “perversion of the truth” than the signs at Nazi concentration camps proclaiming that work makes you free.He went on to offer an eccentric sketch of contemporary history. “The alliance that once existed between liberals and libertarians and the military-industrial complex in opposing Soviet abuses in the cold war is gone,” Assange said. Since 1991, the “natural interests” of the malevolent forces in the world – authority, the intelligence agencies, and the military – had taken over. The task for today’s freedom fighters, he concluded, is to “find secret abusive plans and expose them where they can be opposed before they are implemented.” It is an animating ideology that could only have emerged from Assange’s own singular history.

    Born and raised into the 1970s Australian counterculture, Assange’s biological father abandoned the family before he was born. In 1980, his mother, Christine, became involved with Leif Meynell, a member of a new-age cult known as the Family. The couple had a son together, but when the relationship broke down, Christine became fearful that Meynell would seize their child. She took the boys on the run, moving dozens of times during Assange’s teenage years. Along the way, Assange developed an entrenched distrust of authority and a prodigious talent for computer-programming. By the time he was 16, he was becoming a gifted hacker.

    Working with two other hackers under the name International Subversives, Assange used the pseudonym Mendax to hack into the systems of various major institutions, including the US Air Force’s 7th Command Group. In 1994, he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes, which carried the possibility of a ten-year prison term. When the case came to trial the following year, Assange pleaded guilty to 25 of the hacking charges and was only required to pay a small amount in damages. The experience set him on the intellectual path that would lead him to found WikiLeaks.

    Assange had never understood the charges against him. The way he saw it, he had neither stolen information nor harmed the sites he accessed; his crime was victimless – if it was a crime at all. While awaiting trial, he read Solzhenitsyn and identified with the doctors and scientists who were thrown into the gulag. As Raffi Khatchadourian observed in a New Yorker profile, Assange came to see “the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution.”

    Assange’s manifesto, “Conspiracy as Governance,” completed in 2006, lays out his core philosophy. Authoritarian power, he wrote, was lodged in conspiracies of operatives who, “in collaborative secrecy, work[ed] to the detriment of a population.” In order to destroy that apparatus, Assange reasoned, the defenders of “truth, love, and self-realisation” must disrupt the authority’s communication systems and cut off its secret information flows. Stealing and leaking a regime’s secrets were thus vital tactics in the struggle against authoritarian evil. In 2006, Assange launched WikiLeaks to put these ideas into practice.

    The site’s early scoops exposed a random mélange of material, including protocols for the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, secret manuals of the Church of Scientology, the actor Wesley Snipes’s tax returns, and a list of contributors to Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman. Then, beginning in February 2010, came the Chelsea Manning leaks of a vast trove of classified documents, many of them concerned with Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the next 18 months, WikiLeaks would release hundreds of thousands of these documents, including the so-called “Iraq War Logs” (until then the largest leak of classified material in the Defense Department’s history) and a quarter of a million unclassified, confidential, and secret US diplomatic cables. Five major news organisations – the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel– partnered with WikiLeaks to run stories based on the Manning documents. Suddenly, Assange was an international celebrity, and the accolades and awards poured in, including the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

    And then, just as suddenly, the whirlwind veered off path. In August 2010, two Swedish women leveled accusations of sexual violence against Assange, and prosecutors sought his extradition from the United Kingdom. It was the beginning of a spectacularly weird sequence of events that landed Assange in asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012, where he remains. He and his defenders protested that the entire affair was a set-up; his U.K. lawyer, Mark Stephens, claimed the heroic leaker had been caught in a “honey trap” laid by “dark forces.”

    In the wake of the WikiLeaks frenzy, Assange often tried to clarify where he stood politically. His simultaneous embrace of leftist icons such as Noam Chomsky and right-wing libertarians seemed to indicate that he was open to ideas from either end of the political spectrum, so long as they were directed against authoritarianism. Finally, in 2013, Assange proclaimed, “The only hope as far as electoral politics presently ... is the libertarian section of the Republican Party.”

    Yet even that declaration was misleading. In practice, Assange has a history of working closely with forces far more radical than the Republican Liberty Caucus. Late in 2012, Assange announced the formation of the WikiLeaks Party in Australia. The party nominated Senate candidates in three states, with Assange running for office in Victoria. (He stumped via Skype from his refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy.) It had been expected that WikiLeaks would ultimately throw its support to the Green Party – especially after the party’s National Council voted in favor of such a move. Instead, WikiLeaks aligned with a collection of far-right parties. One was the nativist Australia First, whose most prominent figure was a former neo-Nazi previously convicted of coordinating a shotgun attack on the home of an Australian representative of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. Members of the WikiLeaks Party blamed the flap on an “administrative error”; mass resignations from the party’s leadership followed. Those who quit cited a lack of transparency in the party’s operations, and some pointed to remarks Assange had made blasting a Green Party proposal to reform Australia’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers. For his part, Assange welcomed the walkout, saying that it had eliminated elements that were “holding the party back.” He won 1.24 percent of the vote.

    Even more disconcerting was Assange’s expanding relations with official Russia. In October 2010, just before WikiLeaks reached the acme of its influence with the release of the State Department cables, Assange vowed that WikiLeaks would expose the secrets not just of the United States but of all repressive regimes, including that of Russia. In an interview with Izvestia, a formerly state-controlled daily, he explained, “We have [compromising materials] about your government and businessmen.” The same day, Kristinn Hrafnsson of WikiLeaks told a reporter, “Russian readers will learn a lot about their country.”

    Unlike the Americans, though, the Russians put WikiLeaks on notice. The day after Hrafnsson’s interview appeared, an anonymous official from Russia’s secret police, the FSB, told the independent Russian news website, “It’s essential to remember that given the will and the relevant orders, [WikiLeaks] can be made inaccessible forever.”

    Then, something strange happened: A few days after Assange was arrested on sexual assault charges, Kremlin officials emerged as some of his most vocal defenders. The Moscow Times reported that Vladimir Putin himself had condemned Assange’s arrest: “If it is full democracy, then why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison? That’s what, democracy?” Putin’s indignation was echoed by other top Russian politicians, including State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov, who observed, “The real reason for his arrest is to find out by any means who leaked the confidential diplomatic information to him and how.”

    Within weeks, contacts commenced between WikiLeaks and elements favorable to Putin’s ruling party. The promised damning documents about Russia never saw the light of day. The Moscow Times article also recounted how the Russian Reporter, a Putin-friendly publication, had gained “privileged access” to “hundreds of [American diplomatic] cables containing Russia-related information.”

    These contacts began when, according to the Guardian, Assange made batches of the State Department cables available to Israel Shamir, a Russian-born Israeli journalist who was involved with WikiLeaks. After Shamir took the cables to Moscow, he traveled to Belarus. There, he met aides to the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who was then campaigning in a sham election. (Shamir, a controversial figure within WikiLeaks, has evolved into a vociferous Holocaust denier, obsessed with Jewish power.) Not long after Shamir arrived, according to accounts published by the Index on Censorship and the American online magazine Tablet, local news outlets started reporting that the official media was preparing to publish secret documents about the Belarusian opposition.

    On December 19, 2010, Lukashenko declared himself reelected with 80 percent of the vote. His nearest opponent, the respected dissident Andrei Sannikov, carted off to jail, where he has reportedly been tortured. After the election, Shamir wrote a glowing account of Lukashenko’s government in CounterPunch, denouncing the opposition as “the pro-Western ‘Gucci’ crowd.” He also boasted that WikiLeaks had exposed American “agents” in Belarus, according to an account in the New Statesman.

    The boasts were ugly but not idle. The next month, a state-run newspaper published what it claimed were excerpts from cables provided by Shamir, which supposedly identified prominent dissidents, including Sannikov, as paid American agents. James Ball, a former WikiLeaks employee who now works for the Guardian, has written that when he and others raised questions about Shamir’s actions, “we were told in no uncertain terms that Assange would not condone criticism of his friend.”

    The Belarusian affair coincided with a deepening of Assange’s connections to Putin’s government. Without much public commentary, Assange has acquired something like Russian government media sponsorship. In April 2012, he launched a half-hour political TV show – eventually named “The Julian Assange Show” – on the Kremlin-funded and -controlled RT television network and website. His first guest was the normally furtive Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. At a moment when Assange’s bright light seemed to be fading, the Russians gave him his own outlet on a network whose primary mission is to advance Putin’s political line. (Greenwald has defended Assange’s association with RT, arguing that working for the Russian network is no different from writing for major US outlets such as the Washington Post, NBC, and the Wall Street Journal, all of them supposedly corrupted by their right-wing corporate ownership.) Assange’s connections to Putin’s regime would appear to have something to do with the next chapter in the NSA controversy – how and why Edward Snowden came to seek asylum in Russia.

    On May 20, Snowden fled Hawaii with hard drives full of NSA material and arrived in Hong Kong, where he was joined by Greenwald and his associate, the filmmaker and activist Laura Poitras. The day after the pair revealed to the world Snowden’s identity as the NSA “whistle-blower,” Assange praised him as a “hero” from within the Ecuadorian Embassy. In time, Assange would disclose that WikiLeaks was paying for Snowden’s travel and lodgings and providing him with legal counsel. In mid-June, Assange’s confidante, the WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison, arrived in Hong Kong and joined Snowden. From this moment on, Assange and WikiLeaks became central to the Snowden story.

    In initial interviews with Greenwald and Poitras, Snowden said he willingly accepted the risk of going to prison and that he wanted to end up in a country with strong protections for privacy rights, possibly Iceland. But the Obama administration indicated that it regarded Snowden as a serious criminal, and before long, it became clear that Snowden’s chief concern was in finding a country that could safely get him out of Hong Kong, no matter how despicable its own record on privacy rights.

    On June 21, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Snowden took up residence at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong. Two days later, he and Harrison boarded an Aeroflot flight for Moscow. Reports vary about who exactly steered Snowden to the Russians. But WikiLeaks has claimed the credit, tweeting that it had helped to arrange for Snowden to gain “political asylum in a democratic country.” Izvestia divulged that the Kremlin and its intelligence services, in collaboration with WikiLeaks, had completed Snowden’s escape.

    Within days of Snowden’s arrival in Sheremetyevo airport, powerful Russians expressed interest in having him work with the Putin government. Senator Ruslan Gattarov, a Putin ally, offered to hire Snowden as a consultant for a Duma working group that would investigate whether US internet firms gave information about Russians to Washington. Kirill Kabanov, a member of Putin’s so-called Human Rights Council, called for the Kremlin to grant Snowden political asylum; Putin had offered to consider such a request soon after news broke about Snowden’s thefts.

    On July 12, having been holed up at the airport for three weeks, Snowden held an event widely described as a press conference to announce that he would be seeking temporary asylum. He spoke not before the hundreds of journalists who had flocked to the airport, but before a carefully selected group of invitees that included “pro-Kremlin figures in the guise of civic activists,” according to a posting on the New Yorker website by Russia expert Masha Lipman. Also in attendance was Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent attorney who serves on the pro-Kremlin Public Chamber and the body appointed to oversee the FSB, and who has since become Snowden’s lawyer and sole spokesman to the world.

    In his statement Snowden praised the international resistance to “historically disproportionate aggression,” by which he meant the US attempts to bring him to justice. “Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.” No credible public figure has praised Russia’s increasingly vile record on civil liberties for many years. For Snowden and for WikiLeaks, it appears, what really counts in the field of human rights is a willingness to protect Edward Snowden.

    The payoff of the Snowden affair for Putin and the Russians thus far has been substantial. Just as the Kremlin’s human rights reputation, already woeful under Putin, has spiraled downward, it is able to swoop in to rescue an American political outlaw, supposedly persecuted by the Obama administration. The dissident journalist Masha Gessen has observed, “The Russian propaganda machine has not gotten this much mileage out of a US citizen since Angela Davis’s murder trial in 1971.”

    More than that, the Russians have used Snowden to embarrass the United States with one very specific complaint. The Putin regime has long hated the central role that the United States plays in setting the rules of the internet through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and wanted to assert maximum control over the internet within its own borders. With Snowden, it had scored the ultimate data point in its case – the crucial evidence that the United States was manipulating the internet for its own nefarious means. “We need to quickly put these huge transnational companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook under national controls,” Gattarov told an interviewer. “This is the lesson Snowden taught us.”

    Some of the documents stolen by Edward Snowden have revealed worrisome excesses on the part of the NSA. Any responsible whistle-blower, finding evidence of these excesses, might, if thwarted by her or his superiors, bring the evidence of those specific abuses to the attention of the press, causing a scandal, which would prod Congress and the NSA itself to correct or eliminate the offensive program.

    The leakers and their supporters, however, see things very differently. To them, national security is not a branch of the government; it is the government, or it is tantamount to being the government: a sinister, power-mad authority. As Greenwald has argued: “The objective of the NSA and the US government is nothing less than destroying all remnants of privacy. They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another, things that we say to one another, things we do with one another, places we go, the behavior in which we engage, that they know about it.” It is impossible, therefore, to reform this clandestine Leviathan from the inside. And so the leakers are aiming at de-legitimating and, if possible, destroying something much larger than a set of NSA programs. They have unleashed a torrent of classified information with the clear intent of showing that the federal government has spun out of control, thereby destroying the public’s faith in their government’s capacity to spy aggressively on our enemies while also protecting the privacy of its citizens. They want to spin the meaning of the documents they have released to confirm their animating belief that the United States is an imperial power, drunk on its hegemonic ambitions.

    According to the leakers’ own evidence, however, this interpretation is simply not the case. The files leaked so far strongly indicate that the US intelligence system, although in need of major reform, is not recklessly spying on its citizens. The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies found serious problems with the NSA’s data collection, and recommended, among other restrictions, outlawing the NSA’s practice of amassing and storing the phone records of virtually all Americans. Yet it also showed persuasively that the NSA has acted far more responsibly than the claims made by the leakers and publicised by the press.

    There are many examples of such sensationalism. Early on in the affair, for example, Snowden’s most spectacular charge was that, at his desk, without a warrant, he could eavesdrop on anyone “even the president, if I had a personal email.” Several weeks later, Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, revealed a document that purportedly substantiated that claim –“training materials” for a supposedly “top secret” program called xKeyscore, described in the document as the NSA’s “‘widest-reaching’ system for developing intelligence from the internet.” The gist of Greenwald’s article was widely reprinted in the American press.

    Inspected carefully, however, the documents are plainly not “training materials.” Instead, they are more likely the PowerPoint version of a puffed-up marketing brochure, possibly or even probably from an outside contractor trying to sell the program to the NSA. The title slide dates from January 2007, which means that they predate important legislation passed in August 2007 and July 2008 that sharply checked the NSA. And the slides say absolutely nothing about giving users the power to read e-mails, with or without a warrant. Greenwald’s article does cite another set of xKeyscore materials which dates from 2012, and which might well prove that the article’s claims and Snowden’s statement were accurate and truthful. But Greenwald and the Guardian have not made those materials public, and when the defense writer Joshua Foust, who pointed out many of these criticisms, subsequently questioned them about the documents, Guardian editors replied that they had no intention of releasing them. The champions of “transparency” have been remarkably opaque when they choose to be.

    A similar pattern recurs with other supposedly damning documents. Among those cited by the New York Times, in its editorial supporting clemency for Snowden, is one that purportedly proves “the N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor.” But the Times was drawing on a Washington Post report that failed to say whether the “thousands” of violations amounted to a significant proportion of the total uses of the database, or only a relative handful, within the margin for human error. The Times also failed to emphasise that, according to the document, the vast majority those violations, as audited in the first quarter of 2012, were due to simple human or mechanical error and that there was no way of knowing whether the balance involved serious, as opposed to technical, violations of law. The findings, finally, came from an internal audit by the NSA – an indication that the NSA takes steps to police itself.

    The leakers have gone far beyond justifiably blowing the whistle on abusive programs. In addition to their alarmism about domestic surveillance, many of the Snowden documents released thus far have had nothing whatsoever to do with domestic surveillance. As Fred Kaplan has pointed out in Slate, Snowden has exposed NSA operations to track the Taliban in Pakistan, monitor e-mails for intelligence of developments in Iran, and more surveillance abroad. These operations, Kaplan notes, were neither illegal, improper, or, in the context of contemporary global affairs, immoral. Regardless of whether any of these documents in any way compromised US interests abroad, they were plainly not the revelations of “whistle-blowers” seeking to secure Americans’ constitutional rights. They are the revelations of leakers, out to damage their bugaboo national security behemoth.

    Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange have largely set the terms in the debate over transparency and privacy in America. But the value of some of their revelations does not mean that they deserve the prestige and influence that has been accorded to them. The leakers and their supporters would never hand the state modern surveillance powers, even if they came wrapped in all sorts of rules and regulations that would constrain their abuse. They are right to worry, but wrong – even paranoid – to distrust democratic governments in this way. Surveillance and secrecy will never be attractive features of a democratic government, but they are not inimical to it, either. This the leakers will never understand.

    Sean Wilentz is a contributing editor at The New Republic and the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University.

    This article first appeared on


    1Ars Technica has released a small selection of his postings. While there’s no absolute proof that TheTrueHOOHA and Snowden are one and the same, overwhelming evidence suggests they are. Snowden used the same screen name on other sites and every aspect of TheTrueHOOHA’s biography lines up with Snowden’s. The New York Times and Reuters both attribute TheTrueHOOHA’s writings to Snowden.


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    “We are the party born of the self-respect and solidarity of working communities.”

    I'd like to thank you all for coming, and thank IPPR for hosting us, and also for all the excellent work they do to inform and stimulate thinking and debate on the centre left.

    Last week Ed Miliband spoke about the continuing squeeze on family finances, about the growing fears that many feel about the future, and about the need to build a stronger economy that can fulfill the "British promise" of rising living standards for the next generation.

    Over recent days we've also heard my shadow cabinet colleagues, Emma Reynolds and Tristram Hunt, talk about how a Labour government will ensure we get the house building we need to strengthen our economy and improve people's quality of life, and about how we raise standards in our schools to ensure our children are equipped to succeed.

    And later this week Ed Balls will be saying more about how we ensure we have an economic recovery that benefits all working people, not just a privileged few at the top.

    Today I'm going to talk about how the economic reform we need to earn our way out of the cost of living crisis, and social security reform to ensure the system is fair and affordable, go hand in hand.

    Because it's only by getting more people into work and creating better paid and more secure jobs, that we'll tackle the drivers of rising benefits bills and ensure the system is sustainable for the long term.

    And putting the right values at the heart of our system, so that it rewards work, responsibility and contribution, is a critical part of our plan to build that better economy for the future.

    It is the Labour Party that is best placed to deliver this, because of our central belief in the value and dignity of work.

    As Ed Miliband has reminded us, “the clue is in the name”. We are the party born of the self–respect and solidarity of working communities.

    We are the party that has always stood for those men and women who go out to work to earn a living for themselves and their families.

    And today our belief in the dignity of work is at the heart of our vision of a “One Nation” Britain – a country in which everybody plays their part, and everybody has a stake.

    Now it’s important to say at the outset that there will always be people who cannot do paid work, because of illness or disability.

    And it is part of our responsibility to them to make their rights a reality: rights to dignity and respect, to a decent standard of living, and to the resources and support that can empower them to contribute and participate equally and fully in society.

    And of course we all have a life beyond our work – as well as being an MP and a Shadow Secretary of State – I am also a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter, a friend . . .

    But for most of us, the work that we do is integral to and intertwined with the other aspects of our identity – it shapes and is shaped by the other choices we make, and the course our lives take.

    It runs like a thread through the story we tell about ourselves.

    It was to find work in the shoe factories that my grandparents moved from South Wales to Kettering. My father went to college so he could train to be a teacher, and found a job in a school in South London, where he met my mother.

    It was work that took me from South London to Yorkshire where I am now honoured to serve as Member of Parliament for Leeds West.

    Work helps define us, and it is how we define ourselves.

    That is why the right and responsibility to work, as well as the fight for fair pay and the improvement of working conditions: equal pay for women, the national minimum wage, and now the living wage, has always been so central to the Labour Party's mission.

    And it is why today it remains central to how we meet the deep–rooted aspiration to “earn and belong” that Jon Cruddas has put at the heart of our policy review.

    So my argument is that this mission, and the moral values that underpin it, require Labour to lead the way on social security reform.


    It’s now clear that the Tories cannot deliver this. They promised a new approach to poverty and welfare. And yet four years on, the record is clear: their reforms are running into the sand, hardship and deprivation are increasing, and the economic and fiscal costs of their failure are mounting.

    Why is this?

    Fundamentally, for all David Cameron’s rebranding, Iain Duncan Smith’s epiphanies and conversions, and George Osborne's tough talk, the Tories just don’t get it.

    They don’t know what it takes to overcome the barriers that many who are unemployed face.

    They don’t know what’s like to work hard, but struggle to earn enough to make ends meet.

    They can’t see that the spread of insecurity, and over–reliance on of low–paid, poor quality jobs is undermining our country’s ability to earn out way out of the cost of living crisis, and making it harder to get the costs of social security under control.

    And when it comes to tough choices, they’ll always put the privileged few before the rest – protecting vested interests, and cutting taxes for those at the top – and letting the majority pay the price.

    It’s because of this failure to get our economy working for working people that they’ve overshot their own plans for spending on social security and tax credits this parliament by a shocking £15 billion and are now set to fail to deliver on their central pledge balance the books by 2015.

    This means the next government, whatever party wins the election, will have to make tough choices on spending, including spending on social security.

    That’s why we have said we would have a cap on structural social security spending, so that government is alert to upward pressures on the benefits bill, and ensures problems are dealt with to keep the budget within limits.

    But only a Labour government can deliver the reform we need to ensure our social security system is both fair and affordable.

    Today I want to focus on how our belief in the value and dignity of work is at the heart of our plan for change:

    – first, making sure all those who can and should be working, are working

    – second, improving wages and working conditions, so that work always pays

    – and third, rewarding work by ensuring that the contributions people make are properly recognised in the social security system.


    Our first and most fundamental challenge is to ensure that everyone who can and should be working is in a job.

    The headline unemployment figures are starting to move in the right direction. But this has taken far too long, and long term unemployment is still at levels not seen since the last time we had a Tory Government in control.

    The Tories’ complacency about this crisis has already cost our country dearly. Last year, spending on Jobseeker's Allowance alone was half a billion pounds higher than when this Government took office.

    Over five years the government is spending 1.4 billion pounds more on Jobseeker's Allowance than they originally budgeted for.

    And we’ll be paying the price of this failure many years into the future – because the scarring effects of long term unemployment have a devastating effect on people’s employment prospects and earnings through the rest of their lives.

    The Prince’s Trust recently highlighted the pessimism about the future, and increased risk of mental illness, among the young unemployed. While Professor Michael Marmot has described the current numbers of young people out work as “a public health timebomb waiting to explode”.

    And this is not just an injustice for the individuals whose life chances have been stolen; it will cost us all in lost tax revenue, extra social security expenditure, and lost economic output and growth for decades to come.

    And this is why the centrepiece and foundation stone of Labour’s economic plan is a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long term unemployed.

    This would mean that anyone over 25 who has been receiving JobSeeker's Allowance for 2 years or more and anyone under 25 who has been receiving JobSeeker's Allowance for 1 year or more would get a guaranteed job, paying at least the minimum wage for 25 hours a week and training of at least 10 hours a week.

    Like the Welsh Assembly Government’s Jobs Growth Wales programme we expect most of the jobs to be in small firms. And experience there is showing that once a company has invested six months in a new recruit the chances are they will want to keep them on after the subsidy has ended.

    This investment in the compulsory jobs guarantee would be fully funded by repeating the tax on bankers bonuses, and a restriction on pension tax relief for those on the very highest incomes.

    Nothing more clearly demonstrates the importance of Labour values in a time of tough choices than the priority we will give to dealing with the waste of youth and long term unemployment.

    Taking action to prevent further long term costs to our economy and social security system as well as giving back a chance for a better life to hundreds of thousands of people who under this government have been written off.

    The job guarantee will provide a backstop for our social security system, making it impossible for people who could and should be working to remain on benefits for years on end. It puts a strict limit on the amount of time that people can lose touch with the world of work, and so limit the scarring effects that can blight people’s long term employability and earnings potential.

    But we also need to improve the support we give to those looking for work at every stage so that we can reduce the number of people who even reach this point.

    That means a work programme that actually works. Under this government we’ve seen a billion pounds paid out to contractors on a scheme that has seen more people return to the Jobcentre than find a job. A Labour government will not be renewing those contracts in 2015–16.

    In place of the top–down, bigger–is–better model imposed by this government, our replacement will be jointly commissioned by central and local government, so it can be better integrated with local economic strategies more closely connected to local businesses, and make better use of innovative charities and social enterprises.

    You’ll be hearing more from me and the rest of Labour’s Work and Pensions team about this, and the better targeted support we need for key groups such as single parents and disabled people over the months to come.

    But today I want to say more about how we tackle the skills gaps that are holding individuals and our economy back.

    We all know that basic skills are essential in today’s jobs market.

    But the shocking levels of English and maths among too many jobseekers are holding them back from getting work, and trapping them in a vicious cycle between low paid work and benefits.

    Nearly one in ten people claiming JSA don’t have basic English skills, and over one in ten don’t have basic maths.

    And IT skills among jobseekers are even worse; nearly half don’t have the basic email skills which are now essential for almost any job application.

    And we know that this keeps people out of jobs: those out of work are twice as likely than those in work to lack basic English and Maths.

    When people who lack these skills do get jobs, they too often find themselves in short term or temporary work, with a swift return to benefits. Research shows that nearly one in five of those who have made multiple claims for unemployment benefits have problems with reading or numeracy.

    Schools have a critical role to play in ensuring that young people have the skills they need to succeed. That’s why Tristram Hunt’s emphasis on school standards, and Ed Miliband’s call for a renewed focus on the “forgotten fifty per cent”, including compulsory English and Maths up to the age of 18, is critical to ensuring our education system equips everyone to get a job.

    But we also need to need to take action to ensure that those who are unemployed now have the skills they need to move into the long term jobs they want, and that the country needs them to take.

    So today I am announcing another important plank of our plan to address this problem: a new requirement for jobseekers to take training if they do not meet basic standards of maths, English and IT – training they will be required to take up alongside their jobsearch, or lose their benefits.

    We’ve long known that addressing skills gaps is vital to securing Britain’s future success as well as improving individuals’ life chances. That’s why the last Labour government put funding in place so that anyone who needs basic skills training could get it.

    The Tories are now proposing that basic skills training should be mandatory for people who leave their failing work programme without finding a job. But that is three years after people first start claiming benefits. Nearly three years that could have been spent in work if the right requirements and support had been in place at the start of their benefits claim.

    So will ensure that people’s skills needs are assessed, and basic skills gaps addressed, from the start of a Jobseeker's Allowance Claim, not after months and years of neglect.

    The difference is clear: the Tory–led government is leaving people on benefits for up to three years without ensuring they have the basic skills they need to get a job.

    With the Basic Skills Test I am announcing today, a Labour government will make sure anyone claiming Jobseeker's Allowance undertakes the training they need within weeks of signing on.

    The Basic Skills Test will help us attack the root causes of worklessness and prevent more people falling into long term unemployment, or “low–pay–no–pay” cycles, that build up more costs to our social security system and undermine the strength of our economy.

    As in so many areas, it is early, preventative intervention that is the best way of making savings over the long term.

    And the Basic Skills Test I am announcing today follows the same principle of mutual obligation that is at the heart of Labour’s approach to social security reform:

    the responsibility of government and employers to do what they can to improve the opportunities to those without work;

    the responsibility of those in receipt of benefits, who can work, to do what they can to prepare for work, look for work, and accept all reasonable offers of work

    So on basic skills, we say: – if you need extra training to help you get a job, then it’s our responsibility to make sure the training is there – but it is your responsibility to do the training you need to get off JobSeeker's Allowance and into work. If you don’t, then there will be sanctions.

    Of course, the vast majority of people on benefits want more than anything else to be in work and are doing all they can to get work.

    But it’s right that we retain that principle of reciprocity as the lynchpin of a fair and sustainable system.


    We in the Labour Party are the first to stress that a job is almost always better than no job. But we have to care also about the kind of jobs we are creating, and the kind of recovery we are building. We cannot afford to take an approach that says “any old job will do”. We have to be more ambitious for the future of our country.

    And we shouldn’t allow welcome falls in headline unemployment figures to conceal deeper problems in our labour market. Problems that will undermine our ability to earn our way out of the cost of living crisis and ensure our social security system is affordable for the long term

    People used to understand a basic bargain: get a job and you’ll be able to support your family. But today, the majority of people below the poverty line are in work.

    And two thirds of the children growing up in poverty live in a household where someone works. Parents trying to do their best to support their kids, but struggling in a jobs market that seems stacked against them.

    Now our social security system has a critical role to play in ensuring that work pays and helping those on the lowest earnings keep their heads above water.

    Indeed, one of the most striking features of this government’s unfair approach to deficit reduction, for all their nasty, divisive rhetoric about “skivers”, has been its attacks on support for people in work – punishing people who are trying to do the right thing

    But just as you can’t control the cost of unemployment if you’re just cutting benefits but not doing what’s needed to get people into work; you can’t control spending on in–work benefits and tax credits if you’re just cutting the level of support that working people are entitled to without doing anything to make sure they can earn enough to cover the rising cost of living.

    That’s why, despite cuts that have seen in–work families more heavily targeted than out–of–work families total spending on in–work benefits is set to rise in real terms over the coming years – because the number of people who can’t earn enough to live on is going up faster than even this government is able to take away the support that people are entitled to.

    The record number of workers paid less than the living wage, now more than 5 million, is costing an estimated £2.2bn a year in extra spending and lost revenue according to analysis published by the IPPR with the Resolution Foundation.

    And there are also now record numbers people who want to be working full time but can only get a part–time job – 1.47 million people according to the latest statistics. Figures I commissioned from the House of Commons Library suggest that this could be costing us £4.7 billion pounds a year in lost tax and national insurance revenue, and extra benefits and tax credits including 1.8 billion pounds a year on Housing Benefit alone.

    Despite the upturn in growth that is now finally forecast government figures published alongside last month’s Autumn Statement show: – spending on Housing Benefit for people in work set to rise by over £1bn over the next three years; – and downgraded projections for wage growth between 2015 and 2018 adding £500m to the tax credit bill.

    And the increasing insecurity we see, with too many stuck in temporary jobs, and rising numbers of zero hours contracts, makes it harder for people to get a mortgage to buy their own home, or save for a pension, all of which adds to the pressure on our social security system.

    The costs to the country of low pay, under–employment and insecurity go far beyond the annual social security bill. Because our economy’s over–reliance on a long tail of low wage, low productivity, insecure jobs is a massive weakness and missed opportunity.

    It means we’re failing to develop and make full use of the talents and energies of our people and we’re failing to build the competitive businesses and sectors that we will need to pay our way in world in future.

    The action on skills that I’ve already outlined would make an immediate difference to this problem, as well as tackling worklessness and reducing spending on unemployment benefit.

    Because ensuring people have the skills they need to get a job and keep a job will also give them a better chance of earning a better wage and building a career.

    And it adds to and reinforces the programme Labour are setting out to improve the availability of good quality jobs, offering security, progression and decent wages.

    A Labour government will mean a strengthened minimum wage, toughening up enforcement, restoring its real value, and asking those sectors who can afford to pay more to do so.

    A Labour government will mean more workers paid a living wage, (as many enlightened employers and, I’m proud to say, increasing numbers of Labour councils, are already doing) –offering temporary tax breaks to employers that commit to paying it, and requiring transparency of large companies, so employees, consumers and campaigners can hold them to account.

    A Labour government will mean new rules to prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts, and the closure of legal loopholes that allow migrant workers to be exploited and used to undercut all workers’ wages and working conditions.

    A Labour government will drive forward the economic and industrial policy that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna have been developing to create more high quality jobs in every region of the country by reforming our banking sector, modernising our infrastructure, and working with businesses to get the long–term investment we need in growing SMEs and the high productivity, growth industries of the future.

    So as well as raising living standards and expanding opportunities, this agenda is also critical to controlling the costs of our social security system – relieving and reducing our reliance on tax credits and housing benefits to make up for inadequate or irregular wages.


    Finally, as well as getting people into work, and taking action to improve wages and working conditions, a social security system built on our belief in the dignity of work, must ensure that people are rewarded for the effort and contribution they make throughout their working lives.

    The importance of recognising work and contribution and reinforcing the contributory principle in our social security system is why we must do what we can to ensure that those who come to live in Britain from other countries work and contribute to our social security system before taking out of it.

    The overwhelming majority of those who come to Britain from the EU or beyond make a significant net contribution to our public finances and economy as well as enriching our society.

    But it’s right that we protect the integrity of our social security system and reassure people that is not open to abuse – which is why I am glad that the government belatedly responded to Labour’s call to ensure that people could not arrive in Britain and start claiming Jobseeker's Allowance from day one.

    And it’s why we will look at any practical proposals they come up with to extend the period new migrants have to work and contribute before becoming entitled to full support and addressing the anomaly that allows child benefit to be paid out for children not living in this country.

    But we also need to address more directly people’s worries about whether the economy and social security system is working for them.

    Last week Ed Miliband spoke about the sense of insecurity, and gnawing anxiety about the future, that is felt today by increasing numbers of people, whatever their line of work, and risks sapping our confidence as a country.

    As well as the failure of wages to keep up with prices that has seen the average worker lose £1,600 in annual income since the Tory–led government took office more workers are worried about losing their job than at any time since these records began.

    And many of those who lost their jobs in the wake of the global financial crisis and the continuing restructuring we see in many sectors, are shocked when they discover how little help they were entitled to, despite the contributions they had made over the course of their working lives.

    It’s worth bearing in mind when we talk about the unemployed today, on the latest figures, this includes 134,000 former managers, 107,000 professionals, and 172,000 who previously worked in skilled trades such as engineers, electricians or IT technicians.

    But far too many of these people feel that the social security system offers little for them when they need it.

    We are developing plans to improve the help that the system gives to older workers who lose their jobs.

    And we also need to look at how we can better reflect records of contribution in the benefits people are entitled to.

    Now of course there are those who move in and out of work and I’ve set out how we want to do more to get them into long–term jobs. But in recent years we’ve also seen more people rely on the system who’ve not claimed in years.

    The IPPR have today announced that they will be looking at options and costings for increasing the initial rate of Jobseeker's Allowance paid to those who have built up a sufficient record of contribution.

    If this can be done in a cost neutral way by extending the period people need to be working and paying national insurance to qualify for contributory JSA it would be a very valuable step forward.

    For example, a higher rate of Jobseeker's Allowance paid for the first six weeks of unemployment to those who have lost their jobs after perhaps four or five years in work could be a big help in cushioning the immediate financial impact of redundancy and give them a better chance of getting back into work and back on their feet sooner.

    And it would be a powerful way of restoring that understanding of collective insurance against unemployment that was such an important impulse behind Beveridge’s original plan but which today has been all but lost from sight.

    So I welcome the IPPR’s plan to look at this area, and look forward to the conclusion of this work in the coming months.

    Restoring a sense of “something for something” across the social security system, and over a working life must be part of a One Nation agenda for social security.


    Let me bring what I’ve said to a conclusion.

    Working families want a social security system that is fair and affordable: – one that meets genuine need and rewards responsibility, – while keeping costs under control over the long term.

    It is the Labour Party, based on its belief on the dignity of work, that will deliver this

    – by tackling unemployment, with measures like our compulsory jobs guarantee and the basic skills test I am announcing today;

    – by making sure that work always pays, with measures to strengthen the minimum wage, promote the living wage, and support the creation of more high quality jobs;

    – and by making sure that work is rewarded over the long term, by reinforcing and renewing the contributory principle in our social security system.

    This is the right agenda for the times we face. It’s an agenda based on Labour values, and the values of the British people.

    It’s an agenda we need to get started on as soon as possible, so we can all work and earn our way to a better future.

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    Of the Lib Dems' seven female MPs, five hold seats among the party's 12 most marginal.

    The Rennard affair has focused attention on the dramatic under-representation of women in the Lib Dems. Just 12.2 per cent (seven) of the party's 57 MPs are female, compared with 31 per cent of Labour MPs (the only party to use all-women shortlists) and 16 per cent of Tories. But some in the party fear the situation could be even worse after 2015. 

    Of the Lib Dems' seven female MPs (not one of whom is in the cabinet), five hold seats among the party's 12 most marginal, including deputy leadership hopeful Lorely Burt, Jo Swinson and Tessa Munt, while none hold any of the 20 safest. The two safer seats held by Lib Dem women - Cardiff Central and Hornsey & Wood Green - are both vulnerable to a Labour challenge having been gained in 2005 on the back of the party's opposition to the Iraq war and top-up fees. Here they are listed in order of marginality.

    1. Lorely Burt (Solihull) 0.3%, 175 votes

    2. Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset) 0.6%, 269 votes

    3. Tessa Munt (Wells) 1.4%, 800 votes

    4. Sarah Teather (Brent Central) 3.0%, 1,345 vote

    5. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) 4.6%, 2,184 votes

    6. Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central), 12.7%, 4,576 votes

    7.  Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green) 12.5%, 7,875 votes

    Of these seven, two (Brooke and Teather) are standing down. Brooke has been replaced as the party's Mid Dorset candidate by Vikki Slade and Teather has been replaced by Ibrahim Taguri.

    One point in the party's favour is that it has selected women in two other seats where incumbents are retiring (Julie Pörksen for Alan Beith in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Lisa Smart for Andrew Stunell in Hazel Grove), both of which are winnable (the party has a majority of 2,690 in the former and 6,371 in the latter, with the Tories in second place in each). 

    Whether the Lib Dems manage to at least maintain their current level of female representation will depend on how successful they are at defending their seats against mainly Conservative opponents. With Swinson, Willott and Featherstone all at risk from Labour, they will have to hope that the split in the Tory vote (owing to UKIP) allows Burt, Brooke and Wells to preserve their tiny majorities. But it is plausible that the Lib Dems could be left with as few as two or three female MPs after the election. 

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    Using science to explain art is a good way to butcher both, and is intellectually bankrupt to boot.

    This article first appeared on

    Proust was a neuroscientist. Jane Austen was a game theorist. Dickens was a gastroenterologist. That’s the latest gambit in the brave new world of “consilience,” the idea that we can overcome the split between “the two cultures” by bringing art and science into conceptual unity – which is to say, by setting humanistic thought upon a scientific foundation. Take a famous writer, preferably one with some marketing mojo, and argue that their work anticipates contemporary scientific insights. Proust knew things about memory that neuroscientists are only now discovering. Austen constructed her novels in a manner that is consistent with game theory. Bang, there’s your consilience.

    There is only one problem with this approach: it is intellectually bankrupt. Actually, there are a lot of problems, as Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s abominable volume shows. If this is the sort of thing that we have to look forward to, as science undertakes to tutor the humanities, the prospect isn’t bright. Game theory is a method for modeling decisions, especially in contexts that involve a multiplicity of actors, in mathematical terms. One would think, given its title, that Chwe’s book offers an in-depth game-theoretical analysis of the ways that Austen’s characters (specifically, her heroines and heroes) work through their choices (specifically, the ones they make in relation to one another) – why Elizabeth Bennet, to take the most obvious example, rejects Mr Darcy the first time he proposes but accepts him on the next go-round.

    No such luck. What we really get, once we fight through Chwe’s meandering, ponderous, frequently self-contradictory argument, is only the claim that Austen wants her characters to think in game-theoretic ways: to reflect upon the likely consequences of their choices, to plan out how to reach their goals, to try to intuit what the people around them are thinking and how they in turn are likely to act. But this is hardly news. Austen describes a world in which young ladies have to navigate their perilous way to happiness (that is, a rich husband they can get along with, or, more charitably, a man they love who happens to be wealthy) by controlling their impulses and thinking coolly and deliberately. Act otherwise and you end up like Lydia Bennet, yoked forever to the feckless Mr Wickham. That Austen is no D H Lawrence – that she believed that reason should govern our conduct – is pretty much the most obvious thing about her work.

    But Chwe himself is not content with being reasonable. When he says that Austen was a game theorist, he means for us to take him at his word. Never mind the fact that game theory did not emerge until the middle of the twentieth century. Austen, he claims, was a “social theorist” who “carefully establishes game theory’s core concepts” and “systematically explored” them in her novels, which are “game theory textbooks.” This is a perfectly valid statement, as long as we ignore the accepted meaning of most of the words it contains. Chwe apparently saw the title of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and took it literally. Jonah Lehrer, to give him what little credit he deserves, does not actually believe that the author of the Recherche conducted experiments with rats and prions. But Chwe insists that Austen’s novels do not just adumbrate some social-scientific concepts, they represent a pioneering “research program” into game theory (which, again, did not exist) that constituted her essential purpose in creating them. This, apparently, is how you achieve consilience: by pretending that artists are scientists in disguise.

    We’ll get to the category errors in a minute. For now, let’s recognise that Chwe, a professor of political science with a PhD in economics, is making two rather large and improbable claims: that Austen programmatically developed such concepts as “choice (a person takes an action because she chooses to do so), preferences (a person chooses the action with the highest payoff), and strategic thinking (before taking an action, a person thinks about how others will act)” – thundering ideas, to be sure – and that she was the very first to show an interest in them.

    Chwe falls down the moment he begins to make the case. “The most specific ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Austen is centrally concerned with strategic thinking is how she employs children: when a child appears, it is almost always in a strategic context,” as a pawn or bit player “in an adult’s strategic actions.” Really, that’s the best you can do? First of all, when a child appears in Austen, it isn’t almost always in a strategic context. She also often uses them – Emma’s nieces and nephews, for example, whom we see her love and care for – to certify the goodness of her heroine’s heart. More importantly, what would it prove if she did always use them in a strategic context? Children are not a privileged category of representation; in Austen, in fact, they are a very minor one, never more than incidental to the action. Yes, they are sometimes used strategically – but so are pianos and snowstorms and horses. So what?

    The balance of Chwe’s evidence is comparably trivial. As a clincher, he cites the moment where Jane and Elizabeth Bennet find their comically pedantic sister Mary “deep in the study of thorough-bass and human nature.” Thorough-bass, he reasons, is a mathematical approach to music. By having Mary study music and human nature the same way, Austen suggests the possibility of a mathematical approach to the latter – that is, game theory. Don’t worry, I don’t get it either. No one said that Mary studies them the same way, only at the same time. Besides, as everyone but Chwe can see, the character is being held up as a figure of fun, not an intellectual role model. As hard as it is to believe that Austen undertook to construct a systematic approach to human behavior along game-theoretical lines, the notion that she did so within the kind of quantitative framework that exists today – decision trees, decision matrices, numerical inputs and outcomes – is truly idiotic.

    As for the question of Austen’s priority as a “game theorist,” there is a grain of truth to the idea. She did depict strategic thinking in everyday social situations with a new depth, a new detail, and a number of new techniques – literary techniques, such as free indirect discourse, not mathematical ones. But she was hardly the first in the field. As even Chwe acknowledges (as quickly as he can), literature has been exploring the mind, and strategic thinking in particular, for as long as it has existed. The Odyssey, the story of a master strategist, is the most obvious early example. But the whole history of stage comedy, with its tricky servants and maneuvering lovers, as well as of dramatic tragedy – Hamlet, Iago, Richard III, Edmund in King Lear (as well as Lear himself, as a failed example), not to mention Marlowe’s Barabas and Jonson’s Volpone – is replete with schemers. The ways that people try to use each other to achieve their ends, and the grief they often come to in the process, is a central subject of classical theater, as well as of a giant chunk of the other narrative genres.

    But neither Homer, nor Shakespeare, nor Austen, nor any other writer worth their salt believed that people think only strategically. You see, it is not enough for game theory to analyse strategic thought; at least in Chwe’s account, it regards such thinking as the exclusive explanation of human behavior. Chwe runs through a series of alternatives – emotions, instincts, habits, rules, social factors, ideology, intoxication (not being in your right mind), the constraints of circumstance – claiming to show that Austen rejects them as possible sources of action. But Austen wasn’t dumb enough to think that people never act out of habit or instinct or sudden emotion. All Chwe really shows is that she thought they shouldn’t.

    Austen knew, in other words, that human motivation is enormously complex. Reducing it to any single factor – well, for that you need a social scientist. Great literature has the power, through painstaking art, to fashion a convincing representation of human behavior in all its inextricable, mysterious, and endlessly ramifying mixture of sources. That is why it never becomes obsolete. What does become obsolete are the monocausal theories of people such as Chwe. Literature puts back everything the social sciences – by way of methodological simplification, or disciplinary ideology, or just plain foolishness – take out. That is why the finest literature responds to every monocausal theory you can throw at it. Shakespeare was a game theorist, too – and a neuroscientist, and a political scientist, and a Freudian, and a Marxist, and a Lacanian, and a Foucauldian, and all the -ists and -ians that we haven’t yet devised.

    Though really, of course, he was none of these. He was a dramatist, just as Austen was a novelist. She didn’t write textbooks, she had no use for concepts, and she wasn’t interested in making arguments. If she had a research program, as Chwe insists, it was into the techniques of fiction and the possibilities of the English language. She was no more a social theorist than Marx or Weber was a novelist. Chwe has much to say about “cluelessness,” the inability to think strategically, another concept he insists that Austen pioneered. After cataloging five Austenian varieties of the phenomenon, he adds an equal number of his own. But he forgets a few. You can also be clueless because you have sworn allegiance to a theory, or because you never learned to handle the material in question, or because you didn’t do the work to find out what you’re talking about, or because you want to get an academic promotion and need to publish another book. Jane Austen, game theorist: as Mencken, the great American bard of cluelessness, said, “There is no idea so stupid that you can’t find a professor who will believe it.” Usually, of course, because he thought it up himself. 


    Chwe’s book, apparently, has made a stir in social-scientific circles – that is, among the kind of readers who know even less about Jane Austen, and literature in general, than he does. A depressing enough thought, but what really bothers me is that his titular idea is the kind of effluent that contaminates the cultural water supply. Without even opening his book, a lot of otherwise intelligent people are going to go around believing that Jane Austen “was” a game theorist, just as lots of them undoubtedly believe that Proust “was” a neuroscientist. Which means that Chwe’s book, like Lehrer’s, reinforces the notion that art is merely a diffuse or coded form of scientific or social-scientific 
knowledge, and that its insights are valid only insofar as they approximate (or can be made to seem to approximate) those of those disciplines – or worse, the latest fashions in those disciplines.

    Lehrer is pretty direct about this. Contemporary science is “true,” and that art is best which best accords with it. “Their art,” he writes in reference to the eight creators, largely modernist, whom he discusses in his book, “proved to be the most accurate, because they most explicitly anticipated our science.” Poor Sophocles, poor Rembrandt. But art is not about being accurate, the way that the solution to an equation can be accurate; it is about being expressive. Art does not have winners. Cézanne might have been “right” about the cognitive science of vision, as Lehrer tells us, but there are many ways, in art, of being right. Raphael, Vermeer, Turner, Matisse – they were also right, and still are.

    Insofar as we do sometimes talk about art as if it had winners, it is not because of science. We speak of Shakespeare as supreme among the writers not because he had a systematic conception of human behavior (and if he did, it was probably the medieval theory of the humors), but because his work has been felt to constitute, persistently and by the widest number of people, the most profound and powerful representation – not explanation – of our shared experience. It doesn’t matter, in that respect, what science happens to believe today about the material substrate of that experience, which may not be what it will believe tomorrow. Whom would Lehrer have anointed, in the visual arts, if he had written half a century ago? Not Cézanne, just as it is likely not to be Cézanne half a century from now. Lehrer can point, in retrospect, to the art that best accords with the current state of scientific knowledge, but what about the artist who proposes something science hasn’t (yet) discovered? How can we guess what it will?

    Lehrer belongs to the “we used to think ... now we know” school of science writing. He understands that scientific discoveries are always provisional, but he keeps pushing the recognition away. He also knows that art and science do not belong to the same order of knowledge, but he cannot sustain the idea. Although his writing is more stylish than Chwe’s, his command of his material is not much more sophisticated. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, Lehrer believes, the arts were merely “pretty or entertaining.” (You know – Goya, Beethoven, Swift.) Then came modernism, inspired by the science of its time (a claim he never supports and, in seeking to align his subjects with the science of our time, frequently contradicts). Lehrer is the kind of person who believes that people woke up on January 1, 1500 and started speaking Modern English. “Cézanne invented modernist art.” Stravinsky “steeped himself in angst.” As for Gertrude Stein, “after a few years, her revolution petered out, and writers went back to old-fashioned storytelling.” “All of these artists,” Lehrer tells us, “shared an abiding interest in human experience.” Really, all of these artists? “In a move of stunning arrogance and ambition, they tried to invent fictions that told the truth.” Too bad Dante never thought of that. Lehrer, innocent of subtlety or history or depth, with no idea of how much he doesn’t know, is like the college student who comes home for winter break, all eager to regurgitate the things he has learned in Freshman Humanities.

    Like Chwe’s, his argument advances through hyperbole, self-contradiction, oversimplification, and sheer incoherence. Maybe those are no more than the failures of these two men in particular, but I think they point to something larger. I have read other efforts to analyse artistic phenomena in scientific terms – most notably, in the emerging field of literary Darwinism, itself an outgrowth of the highly dubious discipline of evolutionary psychology – and they tend to falter in the same sorts of ways. At best, they tell us things we already know – and know immensely better – through humanistic means. They are almost always either crushingly banal or desperately wrongheaded. Pride and Prejudice is about mate selection. Hamlet struggles to choose between personal and genetic self-interest: killing Claudius and usurping his throne (but the latter never crosses his mind) or letting Gertrude furnish him with siblings (though since Hamlet is already thirty, that isn’t all too probable). Interpretive questions are not responsive to scientific methods. It isn’t even like using a chainsaw instead of a scalpel; it’s like using a chainsaw instead of a stethoscope. The instrument is not too crude; it is the wrong kind altogether.

    The problem of “the two cultures” is not, in fact, a problem at all. There’s a reason that art and science are distinct. They don’t just work in different ways; they work on different things. Science addresses external reality, which lies outside our minds and makes itself available for objective observation. The arts address our experience of the world; they tell us what reality feels like. That is why the chain of consilience ruptures as we make the leap from material phenomena to the phenomena of art. Physics can explain chemistry, which can explain biology, which can explain psychology, and psychology might someday tell us, at least in the most general terms, how we create art and why we respond to it. But it will never account for the texture, the particularities, of individual works, or tell us what they mean. Nor will it explain the history of art: its moments, its movements, the evolution of its modes and styles, the labyrinths of influence that join its individual creators. The problem isn’t just that there is so much data that is unrecoverable. It’s too late now to turn up Sappho’s DNA, but even if we dug up Austen’s bones and sequenced her
genome, it will never tell us why she wrote Persuasion, or how she came up with the opening of Pride and Prejudice, or what we are supposed to make of Emma. Art is experiential. It doesn’t just speak of experience; it needs to be experienced itself, inhabited in ways that proofs and formulae do not. And experience cannot be weighed or measured; it can only be evoked.

    Scientists did not appreciate it when the “science studies” hucksters were attempting to usurp their turf, nor should they have. Even the disciples of consilience seemingly retain a dim awareness of the independent validity of humanistic knowledge, as witnessed by their tendency to appeal to Shakespeare – that is, to argue that he lends support to this or that contemporary view of human nature. So here is a suggestion: why not simply go to him directly, and learn what else he had to say? And after Shakespeare, you can turn to Virgil, and Goethe, and Tolstoy, and Rumi, and Murasaki – and, well, the possibilities are endless. You can give yourself, in other words, a humanistic education. And that is neither game nor theory.

    William Deresiewicz is a contributing editor at The New Republic. His new book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life(Free Press), will be published this summer.

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