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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: Mon, 22 May 2017 23:46:55 GMT2017-05-22T23:46:55Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017
 



The Guardian view on the social care debacle: weak and wobbly | Editorial

Mon, 22 May 2017 18:56:11 GMT2017-05-22T18:56:11Z

It’s a crisis that urgently needs a solution, but not this one, and not like this

Never, in the long history of election manifestos, has a party done a U-turn on a proposal that has already been included in its offer to the electorate. Sir David Butler, who has covered every general election since 1950, used his new Twitter account to declare it unprecedented. A manifesto is set in stone, a sales pitch to voters that becomes a mandate for the exercise of power.

But on Monday morning the unprecedented happened. Three torrid days after her “dementia tax” had been unveiled, Theresa May roared into a U-turn on it. There would, after all, be a cap on how much any individual would have to pay. The principle, she insisted to widespread scepticism, was unchanged. This was a mere extra detail. But in fact the plan now looks very like Sir Andrew Dilnot’s plan, endorsed by the Conservatives at the last election, and dismissed only last Thursday. This is all Mrs May’s own work.

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The Guardian view on moderating Facebook: we need to talk | Editorial

Mon, 22 May 2017 18:55:14 GMT2017-05-22T18:55:14Z

Should Facebook be policed as a public space or a private one? We need a wide-ranging debate on this giant company’s responsibilities

Facebook became one of the largest media companies in the world by positioning itself as not a media company at all. That way it could not be held to the same kind of legal responsibilities as its competitors were. Instead it was, and remains, largely free to set its own editorial standards. As our revelations this week show, these are sometimes shocking. Now that Facebook has grown so large that it is no longer just a media company but a kind of hybrid beast that does not fit into any of the traditional categories, the question of who should control its content is hard to dodge and harder to answer. At the moment, Facebook claims the right to determine its own policies, although this is constrained by national or – in the case of the EU – supranational laws.

The main policy is that nothing should be taken down without a complaint, although some clearly objectionable content has in the past been left up even after complaints. The company has responded to criticism and hired thousands of new moderators. Pornography and pirated intellectual property can be detected and zapped by algorithmic analysis. But that’s the easy bit. The hard part is making judgments about human interactions: bullying, hatred and exploitation. Facebook executives in Australia have just been found touting the ability to target users as young as 14 for advertising when they are feeling “stressed … worthless … or insecure”. Although the company denies that it uses or condones the use of these powers, it is a horrifying example of the reach it gains from its industrial collection and processing of personal data. It also shows up the limitations of the company’s categorisation of “vulnerable” people, which forms a central part of its policy on abusive or violent speech.

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The Guardian view on the Green party: useful and necessary | Editorial

Mon, 22 May 2017 18:53:44 GMT2017-05-22T18:53:44Z

The Greens should be praised for wanting to flatten inequalities. The Conservatives’ plans to change the electoral system in England are a cynical act to silence their voice

Britain’s political parties are bundles of opinion, yet this diversity is often submerged by party unity. Even worse, the distance between parties shrinks because of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral arrangement. It’s an unforgiving system that disadvantages smaller parties, which tend to represent distinct interest groups. To some extent the Green party has bucked this trend, energised by parliamentary success and a membership that briefly surpassed that of the Lib Dems.

Its manifesto fizzes with ideas, so many in fact that the party’s raison d’etre – the environment – sometimes feels pushed into the background. The retail offer is a four-day week, a nod to universal basic income and a second Brexit referendum. The Greens see a broken Britain where the rich run away with the nation’s wealth and hoard power thanks to a system rigged in their favour. They propose higher taxes and spending on essential public services. They should be praised for wanting to flatten inequalities.

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The Guardian view on fear of the future: a failure of political imagination | Editorial

Sun, 21 May 2017 18:58:42 GMT2017-05-21T18:58:42Z

A general election campaign is meant to offer vision for the road ahead but Labour and Tories are both blocked by nostalgia

Election campaigns routinely prove the wisdom of Simon Hoggart’s “law of the ridiculous reverse”, which states that a political phrase is meaningless when no one in their right mind would assert the opposite.

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The Guardian view on marriage: not what keeps couples together

Sun, 21 May 2017 18:58:11 GMT2017-05-21T18:58:11Z

This weekend’s glamorous wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews provided pages of pictures but no truths about life together

Wittily dubbed the wedding of the rear, Saturday’s marriage of the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, Pippa Middleton, to a banker, James Matthews, has provided some sunny uplift in dreary times. Good-looking couple, cute kids, extreme frocks, and royalty too: it’s such good newspaper-selling cheer that some produced souvenir picture pull-outs. It was also, in the sheer eye-widening expense (estimates vary but they start at around £250,000 – the cost of the average home), a vivid commentary on how what used to be a sacramental rite of passage has become about many other things too.

Marriage has always been a celebration, but its scale has ebbed and flowed in line with prosperity and social attitudes. For some couples, its roots in the long history of female oppression are happily obscured under heaps of rose petals and frothy lace like that on the £40,000 Giles Deacon dress that Pippa Middleton wore. For others, those roots make the whole idea of marriage unacceptable, which may be one reason why the marriage rate has been in steady decline since the 1970s. Even people who do get married are less likely to have a religious than a civil ceremony.

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The Observer view on the Tory manifesto | Observer editorial

Sat, 20 May 2017 23:05:39 GMT2017-05-20T23:05:39Z

The Conservative proposals are full of promise but Brexit-related pitfalls are all too obvious

Theresa May’s election manifesto is a watershed moment in British politics. It defines Conservativism’s decisive and long overdue break with Thatcherism . The declaration in the statement of manifesto principles that Conservatives do not believe in the “untrammelled free market”, nor “selfish individualism and abhor social division, unfairness, inequality and injustice” is startling. No less arresting are the following paragraphs declaring a belief in the “power of government to do good” and that “nobody, however powerful, succeeded alone and we all have a debt to others”. Society, it proclaims, is “a contract between generations”.

These should be unexceptional statements, but they would not have been made by Lady Thatcher, who had no truck with social contracts or the capacity of government to do good. After 40 years in which the dominant Conservative doctrines have been that virtue lies in individualism, that markets rarely make mistakes, that while social bonds may be important they must not obstruct the process of wealth generation and that state action is always self-defeating, Theresa May’s principles are little short of astonishing. Perhaps as eyecatching are many of the proposed policies, from capping energy bills to giving workers rights to acquire information. As Britain leaves the European Union, its mainstream party of the right is borrowing much more from Europe’s successful Christian democrats than the car crash that is contemporary American Republicanism.

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The Observer view on gay rights and the progress achieved | Observer editorial

Sat, 20 May 2017 23:05:39 GMT2017-05-20T23:05:39Z

It has been a long, slow road, but we can be proud of a more civilised life in Britain

Oscar Wilde was released from Reading jail on 19 May 1897, having completed two years of a brutal sentence for “acts of gross indecency”. One hundred and 20 years later, Irish and English homosexuals can flourish in a society that would be unrecognisable to the author of The Importance of Being Earnest. Fifty years on from the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexual acts between adults, we celebrate this anniversary as a landmark in the progressive humanisation of British society.

Ever since Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 20 of “the master-mistress of my passion”, our culture has grappled with unresolved, and sometimes troubling, issues of gender and sexuality. There is a side of English life that’s raucous, philistine and homophobic. But there’s respect and affection, too. Before his disgrace, Wilde was spoofed by Gilbert & Sullivan in Patience. It is also intrinsic to the national tradition that “the poorest he” should have a fair hearing.

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The Observer view on Scotland’s windfarm dilemma | Observer editorial

Sat, 20 May 2017 23:04:38 GMT2017-05-20T23:04:38Z

The government must find a way to proceed with green energy projects while maintaining responsibility for its environment

For anyone who has concerns about our environment and about humanity’s future in a rapidly heating world, the proposed construction of massive offshore windfarms in Scotland’s Firths of Forth and Tay poses a dilemma of some magnitude. On one hand, the four projects – Inch Cape, Neart na Gaoithe and Seagreen Alpha and Bravo – offer the prospect of generating enough electricity to power 1.4m homes without burning fossil fuel or producing carbon emissions. At the same time, between £314m and £1.2bn could be generated for the Scottish economy. Such prospects – claimed by the Scottish government and local industry – are powerful inducements to proceed with the farms’ construction.

But some environmentalists point to the cost. Every year, the windfarms’ 335 giant turbines could kill thousands of Scotland’s seabirds – puffins, gannets and kittiwakes – when they stray into the giant blades that have been erected in their feeding areas. Hence the RSPB’s dismay at last week’s decision by Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, to reverse previous legal bans on the projects. As we report, environmentalists are now locked in opposing camps. One side claims the windfarms will help make Scotland the green energy leader of Europe. Others point out that the country’s nesting seabirds make a crucial contribution to Scotland’s highly lucrative tourism industry. Their slaughter could have serious financial consequences. More importantly, the nation has a duty of care to its wildlife.

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The Guardian view on the election in Scotland: a pivotal poll for the SNP | Editorial

Fri, 19 May 2017 18:34:53 GMT2017-05-19T18:34:53Z

The last general election was a triumph for the SNP. Now the nationalists face a pushback that will decide if Scotland has a second independence referendum

There are at least three different general elections taking place in the United Kingdom right now. The first, in England and Wales, is largely about Theresa May and Brexit. The second, in Northern Ireland, is about the province’s historic communal divisions. The third is in Scotland, and it is about the issue of independence versus the union, seen through the Brexit prism.

Theresa May went to Edinburgh on Friday and plunged into the third election. Launching the Scottish Conservative manifesto, Mrs May made no bones about her unionism and her intention “to stand up to the nationalists”. This was not the time for a second independence referendum, she warned. Anything except a vote for the Scots Tories was a vote to weaken the union.

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The Guardian view on irreligion in the US: a rising tide | Editorial

Fri, 19 May 2017 18:33:31 GMT2017-05-19T18:33:31Z

Growing numbers of Americans no longer say they belong to any church. This could profoundly change politics and culture

For the first time, the number of Americans saying that the Bible is composed of “fables” by human beings has overtaken the number who say it is the literal truth. The preponderant belief, held by about half the country, is still that the Bible is “inspired by God” but not to be taken literally. Although that figure has hardly varied over 50 years, the rise of scepticism and the decline of determined credulity marks an important shift in American culture. It takes effort, as well as ignorance, to read the Bible as if it could be literally true, and the world less than 10,000 years old. Somehow this effort has come to seem less and less worthwhile over the last 20 years, in which the number of unaffiliated adults has doubled to 18% according to Gallup’s figures. These underplay the generational change: among young Americans Christianity is eroding very rapidly. More than a third of those born after 1981 now say they have no religion. In 1957, the figure for all ages was 1%. That is lower than the corresponding British figure, but the direction of travel is the same.

The idea that the US formed a unique and lasting exception to the general secularisation of the west has been part of the conventional wisdom for a very long time. Last year, research by Professor David Voas pointed out that this has been untrue for at least 50 years. The process that hollowed out Christianity in Europe has been at work in the US too, although running decades behind. This has little to do with theology. Despite the claim that conservative churches flourish while liberal ones shrivel, conservative churches have shrunk too. In the US, the so-called evangelical churches now preach a form of nationalist and materialist Christianity where the flag is displayed far more prominently than the cross, and the preacher’s private jet is taken as a mark of God’s favour. Parents, and perhaps especially mothers, have not been passing on Christianity to their children, and especially their daughters. This has been going on ever since the second world war, slowly at first, accelerating gradually from the 60s, and now at speeds almost visible to the naked eye. The Trump presidency, and the election that produced it, have tended to make the process more salient and more powerful.

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The Guardian view on Theresa May’s manifesto: a new Toryism | Editorial

Thu, 18 May 2017 18:43:10 GMT2017-05-18T18:43:10Z

Like Tony Blair in 1997, Mrs May is where the majority of voters are: to the left on the economy and to the right on social issues. She plays to this mood, a political judgment that risks society closing in on itself rather than opening up

Theresa May’s manifesto reveals more about her plans to refound the Conservative party than her plans to run the country. Her programme for the Tories would read as a heretical document to many in her party, brought up on a diet of state-shrinking, me-first Thatcherism. Instead, Mrs May talks about rejecting the “cult of selfish individualism” and says her party does not now believe in “untrammelled free markets”. To see how big a leap this is. consider how much the Conservative party of the recent past changed the temper of Britain, fostering a mood of materialistic individualism. Mrs May consciously jettisons this individualist heritage because she knows that the public associate Thatcherism less with an unleashing of economic virtue than an unfettering of the social vices of selfishness and greed. It has contributed, as Mrs May has long contended, to the Conservatives’ reputation as the “nasty party”.

In many ways Mrs May is swimming with, not against, the political tide. No classical liberal party is contesting this election. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have moved leftwards. By proposing to cancel key Lib Dem achievements – such as the constitutional reform of fixed-term parliaments – Mrs May signals that she wishes to wipe out traces of “Liberalism” from government.

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The Guardian view on America’s Russia investigation: watershed or Watergate? | Editorial

Thu, 18 May 2017 18:43:00 GMT2017-05-18T18:43:00Z

The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel means the road lies open to prosecutions that will define the future of the Trump administration – and perhaps its survival

The first months of Donald Trump’s presidency have been marked by extraordinary chaos and disruption. The administration has begun to come apart at the seams, above all because of the president’s own behaviour and incompetence. Every day brings a new diversion. But the appointment by the US justice department of a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a clarifying act. For the administration it is a watershed moment. It may also, perhaps, prove to be a Watergate one.

Special prosecutors are lesser but still powerful versions of judge-appointed independent counsels such as Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation itself and Kenneth Starr in the Bill Clinton era. Congress found them just too independent and the law authorising them lapsed in 1999. Robert Mueller is in the job thanks to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who took on the issue after his ideologue boss Jeff Sessions rightly recused himself, and has some of the appearance of a political appointment. But it has been welcomed by senior Democrats and Republicans alike. That the appointment was made in the face of White House insistence that it was entirely unnecessary, and in the midst of yet another “worst week so far” for the president, reflects well on Mr Rosenstein and the justice department. The decision is a sign that constitutional principles and ethical norms survive within the federal government in spite of Mr Trump’s utter disregard for them in so many ways. It will reshape politics on Capitol Hill too.

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The Guardian view on the economy: it’s bad | Editorial

Wed, 17 May 2017 18:48:00 GMT2017-05-17T18:48:00Z

It’s becoming slowly apparent that modern-day Britain suffers from poor productivity and a system where owners of capital accumulate faster gains than workers. Best to call an election before too many people notice

“You’ve never had it so bad” has rarely been a good election-winning pitch. There’s a good reason why governing parties are usually reluctant to go to the country if voters are getting poorer: when they do, they lose. Historical precedent therefore suggests Theresa May is taking a gamble by holding an election on 8 June. As the latest labour market statistics show, the 2017 general election will be fought with prices rising faster than pay. This is highly unusual. On average, wages adjusted for inflation have risen by 1.5% a year since the second world war. In years ahead of an election they have increased by 3%. The last prime minister to fight an election against a backdrop of falling living standards was Gordon Brown in 2010, and he had no choice. Mrs May is fighting an election at a time of her own choosing even though annual inflation of 2.7% and annual earnings growth of 2.1% fulfil Mr Micawber’s definition of unhappiness.

Philip Hammond says something will turn up. The chancellor today played down the fall in real incomes as an aberration caused by a temporary spike in inflation, but this argument doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny. The unemployment rate was last this low in 1975, at which time the annual inflation rate was 10 times as high as its current rate, and wages were growing at 30% a year. The really remarkable feature of the economy is the weakness of earnings, especially at a time when the percentage of people in work is close to 75%, the highest since modern records began. Only in two years in the past decade have real wages risen, and then only because inflation was unusually low as a result of the collapse of oil prices. The real average weekly wage is lower than it was in 2007, marking the worst decade for earnings since the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century.

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The Guardian view on the Lib Dem manifesto: to boldly go | Editorial

Wed, 17 May 2017 18:47:10 GMT2017-05-17T18:47:10Z

The party brand is now unmistakable. But it is unlikely to get the vote out

Want to know what the Liberal Democrats stand for? The answer is that leaving Europe isn’t inevitable. The party’s big election message is that when a Brexit deal has been agreed, there should be a second referendum. This unblushing defence of Lib Dem principle shuns concessions to those who voted leave, even though that might include as many as a third of Lib Dem voters. This is an attractive strategy, but flawed.

Challenge number one is the polls, which suggest that around a half of last June’s remainers are now reconciled, however reluctantly, to leaving. For them, resistance to Brexit is not a vote-defining issue. The second is that the cleavage that runs through the British electorate, dividing liberal, outward-looking voters from the inward-looking, more authoritarian other half, also cuts through all the main parties. Analysis of the seats Lib Dems once held and must win again if they are even to begin to bounce back shows that in 14, more than half voted leave, and in another 11 it was just less than that.

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The Guardian view on Google’s NHS grab: legally inappropriate | Editorial

Wed, 17 May 2017 18:46:21 GMT2017-05-17T18:46:21Z

The company that wants to organise the world’s data needs to respect its users’ privacy, especially if they are patients in the NHS. DeepMind’s cavalier approach needs to be penalised and admonished

That the Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind obtained the personal medical records of 1.6 million patients on a “legally inappropriate” basis is unnerving. The complacency of both the NHS in north London and Google in the face of basic principles of privacy is remarkable. Why weren’t alarm bells ringing? The reason is the overwhelming asymmetry between a wealthy, technologically supercilious firm and overstretched public services in possession of our most sensitive, identifiable data.

Related: Google DeepMind 1.6m patient record deal 'inappropriate'

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The Guardian view on the Labour election manifesto: widening the bounds of the thinkable | Editorial

Tue, 16 May 2017 18:39:07 GMT2017-05-16T18:39:07Z

Jeremy Corbyn’s programme may not persuade those outside the Labour heartland, but it could fire up his supporters

Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto is a big break with the recent past. Whether the manifesto allows the party to make a fresh connection with the British electorate won’t be clear until 9 June. What is beyond doubt is that this manifesto proclaims that politics and government in Britain do not have to be done in the way the country has long been accustomed to. That is true, and Labour is offering the country a real choice. So far, so very good, on both counts.

Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest achievement is to put several propositions back into the arena that had been thought extinct. That does not mean all of them deserve a new lease of life equally. Nationalisation in the shape of expensive, centralised public ownership is one to treat with caution, not least because of the power it gives to trade union leaders to drive up costs. There are signs that Labour’s economic team recognises that, but not enough detail about how it can be done. Other changes, though, are more straightforwardly welcome. The most important of these concerns taxation.

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The Guardian view on Assad’s crematorium: he cannot hide his tracks | Editorial

Tue, 16 May 2017 18:38:52 GMT2017-05-16T18:38:52Z

The Syrian regime’s apparent efforts to conceal evidence of its crimes suggests it could be more worried about international justice than it cares to admit

The Assad regime in Syria is not only responsible for the worst state-orchestrated mass killings so far this century, it now appears to be trying to cover up at least some of its tracks in the belief that this will one day help it evade accountability when the war is over. It is a cynical ploy which must not be allowed to succeed.

A place where this new sinister development can be most clearly seen is a military prison on the outskirts of Damascus: the infamous Saydnaya detention centre, where thousands of opponents of Bashar al-Assad have died of torture, starvation, hangings and summary executions. A former inmate, quoted in an Amnesty report earlier this year, described it as “the worse place on earth”.

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The Guardian view on Theresa May and workers rights: a start, but much still to prove | Editorial

Mon, 15 May 2017 18:01:54 GMT2017-05-15T18:01:54Z

Labour makes the error of treating workers’ rights and union power as synonymous. The Conservatives make the mirror image error of thinking unions can be ignored

Those who say Conservative policies on workers’ rights are a contradiction in terms do not know their history. That the Tories are the party of employers is not in dispute. That the Thatcher-era Tory party was an enemy of the trade unions is long past argument. But there is a more nuanced and centuries-long history of Conservative workplace reforms too. Peel produced the first health and safety measures for those working with machinery. Disraeli decriminalised trade union liability and legalised picketing. Neville Chamberlain introduced paid holidays. Heath brought in rights against unfair dismissal.

Now Theresa May has published a 12-point plan to strengthen workers’ rights. It should be judged on what it says and achieves, not dismissed at the outset as spin or a piece of electoral opportunism towards traditional Labour voters. Mrs May has come up with her plan because it has become unavoidable. Post-crash workplace rights, employment protections – and, never to be forgotten, take-home pay – are buckling and eroding in the fast changed and changing world of work. Reform cannot be postponed much longer.

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The Guardian view on digital electioneering: out of the shadows | Editorial

Mon, 15 May 2017 18:01:33 GMT2017-05-15T18:01:33Z

Citizens should have the right to know what data is held on them – and which algorithms manipulate it

The first reports are coming in from the digital front in the election campaign: 77 Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat Facebook ads have been collected and analysed by a citizens’ group, Who Targets Me. This partial information is much better than nothing. Only Facebook has access to the data that could definitively settle the question of what attempts are made to influence which voters on the network, and the company is most unlikely to release it. Either the data would suggest that the influence was negligible, which could threaten its own business model at the root, or that the influence had been decisive, which – because these ads are meant never to be seen outside their narrow target markets – would threaten our understanding of open democracy.

The claim that social media supplies an unprecedented and uniquely effective way to influence voters must be taken with a pinch of salt. The algorithms which steer people around on social media tend to reinforce their existing biases, with a little more outrage added with every click. That’s the reverse of the process of persuasion which leads oppositions to win elections. The real novelty of social media comes with what we don’t see: it is not what our screens tell us, but what we tell them that changes the balance of power. Huge databases make voters very much less anonymous to the people who are trying to reach them. This allows parties to target their efforts much more precisely. In the 2015 election campaign, the Tories used data sold normally to advertisers to identify the priorities of small groups of undecided voters in key marginal seats. These voters were targeted repeatedly, on the phone, via messaging and on the doorstep, as well as on Facebook. But it would be a mistake to see us – the voters – as entirely passive victims of this kind of manipulation. The struggle against advertising, online as well as off it, is a constant arms race. Greater persuasion will always be matched by greater scepticism. While the Tories’ 2015 digital election campaign was widely praised, the same people ran the remain side’s propaganda in 2016. Similarly, Cambridge Analytica, the firm alleged to have helped deliver the Brexit referendum for leave and, after that, the US election for Donald Trump, had earlier worked for Mr Trump’s rival Ted Cruz until his campaign was crushed. Nonetheless, the claim, made by a Trump aide, that the campaign used targeted ads to discourage people from voting is extremely worrying.

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The Guardian view on securing the internet: collective action needed | Editorial

Sun, 14 May 2017 17:59:33 GMT2017-05-14T17:59:33Z

The NHS cyberhack owes something to scarce resources, but it’s the fault of the software manufacturers and national agencies too

Europol and the NHS are both warning people going back to work after the weekend to start up their computer with care. The cyber-attack on the UK health service, which also brought down systems in at least 150 countries, is an illustration of the vulnerability of the networks and software on which societies and economies now depend. In an ironical twist, it appears that the unknown writers of the “WannaCry” malware had themselves left a security hole in their creation, which allowed the attack to be halted once their mistake was discovered.

We do not yet know how much damage WannaCry caused. People may have died; trauma units have been shut down and operations postponed. The attack serves, among other things, as a warning that nothing and nowhere is really secure.

Related: Cyber-attack could escalate as working week begins, experts warn

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