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Preview: The Guardian newspaper: Editorials & reply | guardian.co.uk

Editorials | The Guardian



Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice



Published: Sun, 04 Dec 2016 20:52:36 GMT2016-12-04T20:52:36Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2016
 



The Guardian view on Christianity in Britain: neither here nor there | Editorial

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:09:48 GMT2016-12-04T18:09:48Z

Britain struggles with the uneasy legacy of the much more religious country it once was

Something very strange is going on. The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission feels he must tell employers it is OK to celebrate Christmas, and that this will not offend unbelievers. The prime minister announces in parliament that of course people should be able to speak freely about their religious convictions. A thinktank argues that there should be a duty of “reasonable accommodation” to religious belief. All these are symptoms of a deep unease and confusion about the role of Christianity in British life.

Britain is a country with an established church in England and another national church in Scotland, a secular ruling class, and a population largely indifferent to distinctively Christian beliefs and overwhelmingly reluctant to go to church, which displays a growing hostility to the notion of “religion” at all. There are also significant religious minorities, primarily Muslim, who have their own arguments with secularism as well as with Christianity.

Nervousness over Christmas is an absurd expression of a real void at the heart of soulless technocracy

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The Guardian view on aid for Nigeria: return corrupt cash to the poor | Editorial

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:08:42 GMT2016-12-04T18:08:42Z

Boko Haram’s attempt to create a caliphate has been a disaster. Millions of displaced people need food, medicine and help – which could be funded by the cash UK police have seized

A preventable, human-manufactured disaster appears to be unfolding in north-east Nigeria. While the spotlight of media attention is facing elsewhere, the spectre of starvation stalks an area staked out by jihadists as their caliphate. One small state in Nigeria has more displaced people than the entire refugee influx that arrived in Europe last year. The brutal armed conflict has sent a million children out of school. Health services have been decimated and cholera and polio, once eradicated, have returned. The violence of Boko Haram, the jihadist group that still controls parts of the region, is characterised by child killing, abductions and sexual abuse – an oppressive, murderous atmosphere hardly conducive to stable government in a part of Africa the size of Belgium.

Farmers are unable to harvest their crops and aid agencies say they are unable to reach isolated communities. The region is now entering its third season without a harvest. Where food is available, prices have soared – partly due to a decision to depreciate Nigeria’s currency, the naira.

Related: Money from Nigeria laundered in UK 'should go to helping starving children'

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The Observer view on the need for better integration in society | Observer editorial

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 00:21:02 GMT2016-12-04T00:21:02Z

Minority groups are still not being given enough support from either left or right

At the turn of the millennium, after a decade free of racially motivated unrest, it seemed such violence had been consigned to Britain’s past. Yet just a year later, race riots broke out in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, taking the political class unawares. Ted Cantle’s independent review concluded these towns had been characterised by communities divided along ethnic lines, living a “series of parallel lives”. His report created a frenzy of government activity in its wake: new Whitehall units set up, experts deployed, targets set.

Fifteen years later, the publication of a new government review on integration by Louise Casey this week offers us the opportunity to reflect on how much has changed.

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The Observer view on the risks to Britain of a hard Brexit | Observer editorial

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 00:01:01 GMT2016-12-04T00:01:01Z

Theresa May is leading the country towards a total and economically calamitous EU divorce in 2018

By any measure, it has been a bad week for hard Brexiters and Theresa May’s government. Problem is, the two have become all but synonymous. Thursday’s shock byelection result in Richmond Park showed that the pro-Europe convictions of nearly half the country’s voters cannot wisely be ignored. Conservative supporters were alienated by May’s “pandering” to hardline party zealots and Ukip fellow travellers, the victorious Liberal Democrats claimed. “One of the things that concerns a great deal of people in this constituency is… the Conservative government seems to be shifting very rapidly towards the right,” said Sarah Olney, the unashamedly Europhile winning candidate.

There is a widely shared perception that May, far from reuniting the country in the wake of the EU referendum, as she promised, is cementing and entrenching divisions. It would be wrong to see in the byelection outcome definitive proof that the national mood has radically shifted in the past six months. Most Richmond voters favoured Remain in June. But the scale of Tory defections suggests deep unhappiness with May’s subsequent, lopsided approach. It is as though she and her ministers have wholly dismissed the views of the 48% who rejected Brexit, just as they arrogantly rejected last month’s impartial, legally sound high court judgment that parliament must be consulted prior to the triggering of article 50.

Related: We’re marching towards a mad Brexit. Someone must speak for the 48% | Jonathan Freedland

Related: Brexit: rising frustration across EU at Britain's unclear exit strategy

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The Guardian view on Richmond Park: slowly does it | Editorial

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 19:01:18 GMT2016-12-02T19:01:18Z

The byelection was an epic victory for the Lib Dems, but it does not mean a halt to Brexit

The Liberal Democrat victory in Richmond Park was a triumph for Sarah Olney, her campaign team, and the strategy of the leader, Tim Farron, who declared in his conference speech in September that the party could win as the voice of the 48%. It is also a compelling example of what can be achieved if pro-European Tories, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems work together. And while Ms Olney’s defeated rivals will take comfort from the nature of the byelection – in a prosperous, pro-European corner of south-west London that might have been tailored for a Lib Dem revival – there is no hiding from the fact that it was a personal humiliation for Zac Goldsmith. It was his second defeat of the year, close on the heels of his shameful campaign to become London mayor. It should, at the least, give the prime minister, whose working majority is now just 13, reason to reconsider her divisive rhetoric. And Labour, which won fewer votes than it has members in the seat, must bang heads together to get a clear, less contested approach to Brexit.

After the rout of the 2015 general election, many Lib Dems gloomily anticipated years of rebuilding. They may still be right. Yet even if Richmond Park, a seat they held from 1997 to 2010, could hardly be bettered as a battleground for them, it remains an extraordinary achievement to win it with a 20-point swing from the Tories. The party’s once-formidable byelection machinery had been well-oiled and successfully trialled at the Witney byelection in October. Party activists and past leaders turned out in impressive numbers to support a strong local candidate, who – new to politics – was untainted by association with the coalition years. In her victory speech in the early hours of this morning, Ms Olney sounded exactly the right note of unity and conciliation over Europe, ending on the rousing pledge that “we will not let intolerance, division and fear win” – an overture all the more attractive in the light of the bilious response to the result from the Brexiters.

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The Guardian view on European politics: Italy’s turn on the brink | Editorial

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 19:00:10 GMT2016-12-02T19:00:10Z

France and Austria may be shifting to the right in presidential elections, but the referendum in Italy is the immediate challenge for Italy and the eurozone

The surprise would have been if François Hollande had decided to run for a second term in 2017. Even so, the socialist president of France’s announcement on Thursday that he will not run again in the spring is another milestone in Europe’s political crisis. This weekend, attention will shift to Italy, which holds its much-anticipated constitutional referendum on Sunday, as well as to Austria, where the presidential election re-run may result in Europe’s first far-right head of state since 1945. The sense that the old order is under serial threat across large parts of Europe is palpable.

Mr Hollande’s unpopularity and withdrawal both stem from his manifest inability to provide an effective route out of the aftermath of the financial crisis, as well as fears exacerbated by migration and terror attacks. France’s growth is still sluggish at best, while unemployment, is still stuck at about 10%. Yet he has no clear successor. Whoever emerges with the socialist nomination after planned primaries in January will struggle to make it into the second round of next year’s election, probably leaving François Fillon and Marine Le Pen to fight it out on the right. Mr Hollande has been a personally undistinguished president, but the crisis is not his alone. The French left as a whole is divided and weak, bereft of leaders, confidence and ideas for tackling France’s social divisions.

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The Guardian view on Sheffield’s trees: decline and fall | Editorial

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 18:51:16 GMT2016-12-01T18:51:16Z

We need greenery to feed the forests of our imaginations. The protests in Sheffield are about saving a community that has become marooned from local decision-making processes by austerity

Residents of the city of Sheffield are at war with their council over the cutting down of trees. According to protesters, 4,000 have already succumbed since the council signed a contract with Amey, a private contractor commissioned to improve the city’s roads. The battle of Rustlings Road, on 17 November, was an inglorious affair: on the one hand, men wielding chainsaws against the street’s trees at 5am; on the other, three residents, including sociology professor emeritus Jenny Hockey and retired teacher Freda Brayshaw arrested and detained for staging a peaceful protest against the felling. Today two other opponents of the fellings in Sheffield pleaded not guilty to charges under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, which criminalises those who prevent a worker from carrying out a lawful task, in this case tree surgeons. Meanwhile, residents are rallying to protect the trees of Western Road, also threatened – and these venerable planes considerably raise the stakes in the dispute, since they were planted in 1919 to commemorate pupils from a nearby school who died in the first world war.

The British like to romanticise trees: in our stories woods are places of mystery, escape and enchantment; sometimes of threat. Robin Hood’s Sherwood is a locus of freedom from tyranny. Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, in As You Like It a (windy, rainy) asylum from the “painted pomp” of court, where the exiled Duke finds “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks/Sermons in stones, and good in everything”. In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the ancient Ents of the Forest of Fangorn – “tree shepherds” who have grown to be much like trees themselves – rise up to defeat the wizard Saruman; as in Macbeth, when a forest is on the move, it’s time to be alarmed. The children’s first glimpse of Narnia, as they tumble through the fur-coat-hung wardrobe in CS Lewis’s story, is a snow-muffled forest. Even the regimented, unromantic plantations of Scotland are capable of a certain mystery in British art: the final scenes of Jonathan Glazer’s cinematic masterpiece, Under the Skin, take place under the waterlogged, treacherous shadows of windswept pines.

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The Guardian view on Sir Michael Wilshaw: ruffling the right feathers | Editorial

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 18:49:52 GMT2016-12-01T18:49:52Z

The outgoing Ofsted chief has an appetite for controversy but his comments are underpinned by evidence

Recent political campaigns have shown beyond reasonable doubt that dry statistical claims that things are getting better don’t work when the public suspects that they are not. So the claim that the percentage of schools ranked good or outstanding has increased in the past five years is unlikely to be reassuring to anyone who frets about the condition of education in England. Technically, though, that is true. For primary schools, the rise is from 68% to 89%; for secondary schools it is from 66% to 78%. One person keener than most to advertise those numbers is Sir Michael Wilshaw, since they reflect his four-year tenure as chief inspector of schools. He is standing down at the end of the year.

It is easy to find fault with the inspection regime, to challenge the criteria on which judgments are made, to criticise the way data is collected, to lament the imprecision of verdicts expressed in crude categories and league tables. But it is also easy to forget that an imperfect system for upholding standards and giving parents a tool to monitor progress came into being because previously there was no system at all that allowed parents to judge how their child’s school was doing.

Related: Ofsted chief slams Theresa May’s ‘obsession’ with grammar schools

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The Guardian view on Aleppo: the west’s grim failure | Editorial

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:53:33 GMT2016-11-30T19:53:33Z

As Assad’s forces, backed by the Russians, make their final move on Syria’s second city, the world can only count the cost of a humanitarian and military disaster it failed to stop

Exhausted parents clutching terrified children in their arms, young people pushing the old in makeshift carts or wheelchairs and families pulling overstuffed suitcases: the scenes from east Aleppo are those of a new exodus. As Syrian government forces move on the last urban stronghold of the anti-Assad opposition, helped by Shia militias from Iraq, Iran and Hezbollah, hundreds of men have been rounded up and disappeared. Their relatives, as well as human rights activists, fear they may already be dead, or have become victims of Assad’s network of jails and torture centres where thousands have been murdered.

Related: Aleppo families fear for 500 men seized by forces loyal to Assad

Related: The battle for eastern Aleppo in maps: how rebel territory is shrinking

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The Guardian view on international students: too valuable to limit | Editorial

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:52:39 GMT2016-11-30T19:52:39Z

The statistics on immigration in general and overseas students in particular are not good enough to be the basis for a potentially ruinous British policy

Tomorrow’s official statistics are expected to show that immigration to the United Kingdom continues to be far above the government’s often-repeated and recently re-adopted target of “tens of thousands”. So far, so familiar. In the ever more politicised context of Brexit, however, the figures – and the arguments about how they are compiled – are taking on a new and sharper significance. This is only likely to grow as the Brexit arguments deepen and become more intense, even though anxiety about immigration was just one element in June’s referendum vote. But Theresa May has now staked her prime ministership on being able to resolve it. She aims to show voters that, once out of the European Union, Britain can control its borders with measures and resources that will bring down the numbers coming into the country in the long term. Others in the Conservative party have differing Brexit priorities, but it is hardly an exaggeration to say that in Mrs May’s mind, every aspect of the forthcoming negotiation is subordinate to the goal of reduced immigration.

Migration numbers are not the only weapons available to Mrs May to help her make that case but they are undoubtedly one of the most important. This makes two things about her approach to the statistics both odd and unsustainable. The first is that the UK’s official migration data is so unreliable. The second is that she continues to resist calls to remove students from the overall migration numbers.

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The Guardian view on British business: stop stroking the fat cats | Editorial

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 19:49:20 GMT2016-11-29T19:49:20Z

Companies run like piggy banks for a select few are crippling our economy. The practice must stop

As important as the detail of the government’s proposals to change the way big businesses are run is the context. Today’s green paper comes in the year of Brexit and Donald Trump, at a time when voters, as Theresa May recently said, “see the emergence of a new global elite who sometimes seem to play by a different set of rules and whose lives are far removed from their everyday existence”. Well ensconced in that global elite are the chief executives of major companies. Think of Philip Green, whom MPs have accused of letting BHS die. Think of Mike Ashley, apologising for staff mistreatment at Sports Direct. Think of all those bumper pay deals at FTSE 100 firms.

As the High Pay Centre points out, the average FTSE 100 CEO is now earning as much as 147 of their own employees. The average CEO pay package comes in at £5.5m a year. Those are just the front-page stories: leaf through the business section of any paper and chances are it will contain some tale of fat-cattery. Crucially, all this is happening in the middle of the sharpest pay squeeze for 70 years and historic spending cuts.

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The Guardian view on world chess rivalries: no return to the cold war | Editorial

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 19:48:39 GMT2016-11-29T19:48:39Z

It is tempting to present the Carlsen-Karjakin tussle in world chess championship as a clash between east and west. Thankfully times have changed

From Wednesday night chess lovers can finally get some sleep. The world chess championship, which has been gripping chess fans for three weeks, with some games lasting seven hours or more, must be decided in New York on Wednesday. More than two decades ago the Soviet grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov played a match that lasted for more than five months, and even then wasn’t finished, the world governing body decreeing that the players’ health was in danger if the match lasted any longer. Chess today marches to a faster beat. The current world title match between the Norwegian champion Magnus Carlsen and his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin won’t be such an epic struggle.

A series of tie-breakers – rapidplay games, blitz games with very short time controls, and even a so-called “Armageddon” game where the player with the disadvantage of the black pieces and less time on the clock only has to draw the game to win the title – will determine who is champion. It is the chess equivalent of a penalty shootout and would have horrified the purist former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, founder of the Soviet chess system, who, when asked whether he ever played blitz, replied that yes, he had played it once, on a train.

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The Guardian view on France: Fillon v Le Pen is the wrong contest | Editorial

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:20:19 GMT2016-11-28T19:20:19Z

The shift to the right in western democracies is undeniable. The left shares the blame, in France as elsewhere

Across the western democracies, the centre of political gravity shifts erratically but inexorably to the right. Britain’s Brexit vote caused a tilt to the right in Theresa May’s cabinet and has been followed by the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress in America. This weekend, Austrians may elect a far-right president, while the centre-left Italian government could fall after this Sunday’s constitutional referendum. In France, meanwhile, the centre-right Republican party has now selected the more conservative contender François Fillon as its presidential candidate in the 2017 contest that could end as a head-to-head with the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen.

It is a mistake to treat these developments as simply interchangeable. Every country has its own local political dynamics. Mr Fillon, for example, is routinely depicted as an admirer of Margaret Thatcher – a charge that will be trumpeted by opponents between now and April. But his focus on France’s Catholic roots puts him in a long tradition of French conservatism which has no real equivalent in Britain. His politics are not the same as those of Mrs May, who is again sharply different from Mr Trump. The new Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, who took over from Nigel Farage today, is not Britain’s Ms Le Pen either.

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The Guardian view on Turkey’s repression: stop this stalemate | Editorial

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:15:05 GMT2016-11-28T19:15:05Z

Post-coup crackdowns in Turkey are wrong in themselves and risk putting relations with Europe in jeopardy

For the past four months, Turkey’s leader has subjected his country to sweeping political purges – but there are few signs of an end soon. The new announcement that 6,000 teachers will be reinstated in their jobs after having been suspended is a welcome gesture but does little to reduce the level of tension.

Since the mid-July failed coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime, the president has orchestrated what amounts to a counter-coup. What Mr Erdoğan sees as a clean-up of the Turkish body politic looks like the biggest purge in Turkey’s modern history. More than 125,000 people have been dismissed or suspended and around 40,000 others arrested. Amnesty says there are “credible reports” of detainees being subjected to “beatings and torture, including rape”. Judges, military personnel and professors have lost their jobs.

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English nationalism is a growling dog with no bite and no bark | Editorial

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 22:01:12 GMT2016-11-27T22:01:12Z

Ministers’ messy devolution plans might be less provocative than critics feared. However, England’s role will have to be reassessed and arguments about nationalism may become sharper as Brexit looms

In the June referendum, majorities in England and Wales voted to leave the European Union, while majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. English people account for around 85% of the population of the UK. So one way of reading the result is that England (and Wales) is forcing Scotland (and Northern Ireland) out of the EU against their will. The referendum arithmetic makes that claim hard to deny. But it is not the only truth about the Brexit vote, and some Scottish nationalists go much further. They say that the vote should be seen as an expression of a growing and specifically English, not British, nationalism. The hard evidence for that is much less convincing, however much it may suit other nationalists.

Even today, English nationalism remains the dog that does not bark in British politics. In the words of Neal Ascherson, the distinguished Scottish commentator who recently described the 23 June decision as an English independence vote, Englishness has long “dozed quietly under the cloak of Great Britishness,” but has now awakened and thrown off the cloak “in a sour temper”. The problem with accepting this view is that, while it may become true one day, but there is not much sign of it right now. It is true that more English people than in the past now self-identify as English rather than British. That is a significant change. But it doesn’t mean their votes in the referendum can be interpreted as expressions of resurgent English feeling, let alone make them English nationalists. Nor does it automatically mean they want to leave the EU or break up the UK. Ukip, which is often portrayed as an English nationalist party, doggedly refuses to self-identify as one most of the time. Nigel Farage greeted the Brexit win as the United Kingdom’s “independence day”, not England’s. Maybe that will change. But in its current confusion, it is hard to know exactly what Ukip actually stands for about anything.

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The Guardian view on Fidel Castro: man of history | Editorial

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 19:23:11 GMT2016-11-27T19:23:11Z

Situate the Cuban leader in the political and intellectual setting of 20th-century Latin American anti-colonialism rather than seeing him through the eyes of the 21st centuryRecovering the figure of Fidel Castro from the legacy of the failures of communism, his own chequered reputation, the hours-long flights of rhetorical bombast and hipster beard is no easy task. One should situate him in the political and intellectual setting of 20th-century Latin American anti-colonialism rather than seeing him through the eyes of the 21st century. Castro’s passing sees the departure of one of the giants of the cold war era and a revolutionary guerilla leader. He must be judged by the conditions that made him possible, but not indulged by them. He emerged victorious in a battle against a brutal and corrupt US-friendly regime at a time when democracy had yet to reach most of the Caribbean or indeed what we now know of as the developing world. Although his brother Raul assumed presidential powers in 2006 before getting the official title in 2008, modern-day Cuba was built by Fidel Castro. The early years saw him embrace faraway Soviet Union and reject the United States next door, expropriating American assets in the name of his revolution. Castro’s alliance with Moscow brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962. Yet he survived – and thrived on – the brinkmanship, even if the world very nearly did not.From there came a series of human rights abuses and restrictive policies that can never be excused or simply explained away as “a product of their time” or a “strategic necessity”. Sham trials saw hundreds of summary executions of political opponents. Despite studying law, the Cuban leader defended such actions claiming “revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction”. Power flowed from the gun and a repressive state pointed weapons inward. Perceived cultural subversion was punished. Even in the 1970s Cuba was imprisoning homosexuals and long-haired hippies. But there also emerged a remarkable system of health care and education, producing life expectancies and literacy rates only found in far richer nations. Castro’s international reputation was built partly on a foreign policy of supporting other third world struggles that, while not perfect, has certainly been far more impressive than most of the west. In 2010 Havana sent 1,200 medics to fight cholera in Haiti after an earthquake when everyone else had left. As Ebola ravaged west Africa, Cuba led aid efforts while the west fretted. Cuba gave shelter to those wanted by Washington. He visited Vietnam in 1973 – two years before the north drove out the US army. Castro never lost his touch for the dramatic: sending an expeditionary force across the Atlantic in 1975 to help save the communist regime of newly independent Angola from a South African invasion. None of this was forgotten. In Africa Castro’s fight against apartheid cast him as a liberation icon. In dealing with US criticism of his relations with Cuba, Nelson Mandela noted the counsel came from “people who supported the apartheid regime these last 40 years. No honourable man or woman could ever accept advice from people who never cared for us at the most difficult times.” Continue reading...[...]


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The Observer view on child abuse | Observer editorial

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 00:05:46 GMT2016-11-27T00:05:46Z

For all the measures taken to combat abuse, young people are still suffering. It has to stop

Last week’s BBC interview with Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Jason Dunford and Chris Unsworth was devastating to watch. Sometimes weeping, these men displayed incredible bravery in sharing the horrific, painful story of how their football coach, Barry Bennell, took advantage of their childhood dreams to manipulate, groom and sexually abuse them.

In recent days, as more of those abused by Bennell have come forward, further details have come to light about how this was allowed to happen. One former board member of Crewe Alexandra, the club where Bennell spent much of his career as a coach, said the club was warned about Bennell, but they took no action to remove him from his post.

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The Observer view on corruption, repression and violence threatening fragile democracies | Observer editorial

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 00:05:45 GMT2016-11-27T00:05:45Z

The populations of Malaysia, Thailand and Burma are increasingly suffering under their leaders

Malaysia, Thailand and Burma are all suffering a backwards slide from the basic standards expected of modern-day representative democracies. While the reasons vary, the results are similar: growing public unrest, increased state repression, negative economic effects, weakened institutions and reputational damage.

Malaysia vividly exemplifies these phenomena. The former British colony has never been a faultless democracy. The United Malays National Organisation, representing the ethnic Malay majority, has held power since independence in 1957. The mostly non-Muslim, ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, whose ancestors were shipped in by the British as cheap labour, have suffered historical discrimination, yet this furore has little to do with history, race or religion. It is about probity in government – which appears to be sorely lacking.

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The Guardian view on leaving the EU: not easy for us, not easy for them | Editorial

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 19:02:25 GMT2016-11-25T19:02:25Z

British voters are yet to confront the real cost of what is in store. We must pay heed to perspectives from across the Channel

Since 23 June, the choice to leave the European Union has been debated in Britain largely as if it were a reflexive action – something the nation does to itself. But Brexit must also be understood transitively – something this country does to other countries. Naturally, domestic considerations dominate the discussion, especially since separation talks have not begun. But as the outline of those negotiations comes into view, it is essential that more attention is given to perspectives from across the channel. That picture is far from simple. The EU position will combine the interests of individual member states and the priorities of supra-national institutions, as David Davis had occasion to remember on a trip to Brussels last week. The Brexit secretary met Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister who will represent the European parliament in the divorce negotiations.

MEPs must approve any final agreement and they cannot be expected to rubber-stamp anything. No EU leader welcomes the imposition of Brexit on to an already difficult agenda. France, the Netherlands and Germany all hold elections next year in which European solidarity will be corroded by insurgent nationalism. A constitutional referendum in Italy next week could destroy the government there. The eurozone debt crisis is in remission, not cured. This context makes the UK’s negotiating position weaker in two ways. First, embattled governments are disinclined to make time for British concerns. Second, a perception that Brexit is one of many forces conspiring to undo the whole European project strengthens the feeling that Britain cannot be seen to be rewarded for an act of destabilising, unilateral adventurism. That is the view taken by the commission’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, who also met Mr Davis. Mr Barnier said the encounter was a “courtesy visit” granted at the Brexit secretary’s request – a formulation that underlines EU officials’ refusal to be drawn into any substantial discussion before article 50 is triggered.

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The Guardian view on independence for Hong Kong: made in Beijing | Editorial

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 18:58:19 GMT2016-11-25T18:58:19Z

Instead of dealing with a political problem, China has sought confrontation. Without compromise the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better

No one can accuse Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, of not being prepared to scrap with China to defend liberal values in the territory. The Conservative peer and chancellor of the University of Oxford took the view – rightly – two decades ago that Hong Kong’s prosperity was underpinned by a free and plural society. He pushed for more representative institutions, albeit far too late in Britain’s century-and-a-half tenure in charge. In doing so he earned the enmity of Beijing. Its media organs churned out ever more elaborate descriptions of the governor. A “serpent” and a “wrongdoer who would be condemned for a thousand generations” are among the kinder epithets hurled by mainland propagandists. His elected council was dissolved upon Hong Kong’s handover to the people’s republic in 1997.

So it is strange now, perhaps, to find Beijing and Lord Patten in agreement over the antics of two pro-independence Hong Kong legislators. Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung, 30, had pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and unfurled a banner declaring “Hong Kong is not China” during a swearing-in ceremony earlier this year. In conflating the push for greater democracy with the argument for independence, activists are, in Lord Patten’s words, “dishonest, dishonourable and reckless”. Words that might not go amiss in the editorials of Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times which mocked “the Hong Kong independence farce”.

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