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Editorials | The Guardian

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

Published: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:38:17 GMT2017-03-23T16:38:17Z

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

The Guardian view on the Westminster attack: solidarity against terror | Editorial

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:59:36 GMT2017-03-22T19:59:36Z

It is the moment everyone feared would come. But it must be kept in proportion

It was only ever a matter of time. This strike at parliament took aim directly at the heart of British democracy. It was perhaps meant to reach the prime minister – for today, the day of prime minister’s questions, was the one day when her movements would be well known – but more probably it was, like the attack in Berlin just before Christmas, simply an attempt to hit at a European centre of power. The earlier car attack on the dozens of tourists and office workers and three police officers on their way back from a commendation ceremony, caught walking across Westminster Bridge around 2.45pm, was plainly intended to magnify the terror.

This is the moment that everyone planned for and hoped would never happen, the Metropolitan police acting deputy commissioner, Mark Rowley, said at his first news conference afterwards. It was also the hardest kind of attack to stop, an apparently lone terrorist using low-tech weaponry seeking to do maximum harm, almost certain of death himself. He got through, but a dozen or more attacks have been foiled in Britain since 2013, 10 of them in the past two years. More than 500 live counter-terror investigations are under way at any given moment, Mr Rowley said recently. The police and the security forces have to be right all the time. The terrorists only need to be lucky once. It is important to hold on to that truth, and to remember that, terrible as the loss of life has been and grim as the aftermath will be, no one would want to live in the kind of world where such an attack had been made entirely impossible.

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The Guardian view on Rex Tillerson: a sidelined secretary of state | Editorial

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:59:25 GMT2017-03-22T19:59:25Z

The ideological clique around Trump is running foreign policy, while the top US diplomat is being circumvented and his department undermined

It is hard to think of a secretary of state in recent history whose start has been as unpromising as Rex Tillerson’s. He came to the job with no experience of government or related institutions, nor of policy. His business dealings with Vladimir Putin and his circle as ExxonMobil chief worried some, as did his lack of interest in paying even lip-service to human rights. In the context of the Trump administration, however, he was seen as a grown-up; his appointment, though to a lesser degree than those of James Mattis at defence and HR McMaster as national security adviser, reassured some analysts. He has been highly successful in his field, is used to negotiating with foreign governments and is not an ideologue.

Yet in his first full interview as secretary this week he appears both out of the loop and out of his depth, reinforcing the unfortunate reputation he is already acquiring. Perhaps the minimum to be expected of a secretary of state is visibility and good access to the President. Mr Tillerson avoids the press and – like Mr Mattis – was not even consulted on the controversial travel ban. The grown-ups are barely in the room. The extent to which they have been sidelined while Steven Bannon and Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, take charge is unwittingly highlighted by Mr Tillerson’s defenders with the assurance that he “talks all the time to Jared”.

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The Guardian view on Labour: not up to the job | Editorial

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:39:38 GMT2017-03-21T19:39:38Z

As Britain heads for the EU exit door under a government that botched the budget, Jeremy Corbyn’s party is failing to offer a credible vision

In last week’s Dutch general election, only 5.7% of the electorate voted for the Labour party; five years ago, its share was 25%. In France, opinion polls have the Socialist party’s presidential candidate averaging around 13%, compared with 29% in 2012. By such yardsticks, the UK Labour party’s 26% support level in this week’s Guardian ICM poll may not seem all that bad. If nothing else it is a reminder that Labour’s manifest problems are in some respects part of a more general slump and challenge for parties of the centre-left.

But not in all respects. Such a slump is not an iron law of history. There is nothing predetermined about the centre-left’s decline. In Germany, the return of Martin Schulz as the Social Democratic party’s chancellor-candidate against Angela Merkel has reinvigorated Europe’s most important centre-left party after a long period of decline; the latest Insa-YouGov survey has the SPD in the lead. In Portugal, António Costa’s socialist coalition government continues to defy the doomsayers; Mr Costa’s socialists are currently averaging 40% in the polls. It remains possible, both in theory and practice, for centre-left parties with the right combination of imagination, credibility and good leadership to turn events in their countries to political advantage even in tough times. That ought to be happening in Britain with the Labour party. It palpably is not.

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The Guardian view on the French campaign: a defining election | Editorial

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:06:26 GMT2017-03-21T19:06:26Z

The French start voting in one month – and Marine Le Pen is set to reach the presidential run-off. Whether she can then be defeated is the next big test for Europe and liberal democracy

The French will vote in a month’s time for what has arguably become the most consequential and unpredictable presidential contest since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958. These elections will be a defining moment not just for one country but for Europe at large. The second and final round on 7 May will settle whether France blocks the rising tide of populism that has shaken the west. Last week, Dutch voters showed it could be done. The danger that must be confronted now is Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, Europe’s largest far-right party.

Polls currently indicate Ms Le Pen will lead in the first round, or come out neck-and-neck with the centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron. They then predict she will be comfortably beaten in the run-off. Those statistics have put Mr Macron in something like a state of bliss: his ascendency at age 39, an outsider to party politics, a reformist and staunch pro-EU voice certainly ranks as a political phenomenon that few initially bet on. Yet to relax now in the belief that the dice have already been rolled, and that far-right demagoguery is on its way to the dustbin of history would be a risky assumption – if not folly.

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The Guardian view on triggering Brexit: into an unknown future | Editorial

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:18:19 GMT2017-03-20T20:18:19Z

Article 50 will be triggered next week, and there will be no election to interfere

It is weeks since the prime minister posed for the US Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz in January. The images released today that portray her sitting, hair blown off her face as if riding into battle, coincided aptly with two announcements that emerged from Downing Street which underline how she has recovered authority in the week since the humiliating defeat on a key budget proposal. The first was that the letter triggering article 50 will be sent next week, on 29 March, starting the two-year countdown to Brexit. Within 24 hours of receiving it, Donald Tusk, the European council president, will publish the draft negotiating guidelines to the 27 member states. The preliminaries in the Brexit process are over.

The second was that there really won’t be a general election before this parliament’s five-year term expires in 2020. Number 10’s denial was as firm a denial as could be given. Within minutes of the announcement, the latest Guardian/ICM poll came out putting the Tories on 45%. That is a 19-point lead over Labour, almost the biggest lead ever in this ICM series, and the biggest it has shown since the early 1980s. Not even last week’s rapid climbdown in the face of backbench pressure over national insurance contributions for the self-employed, only days after the budget, has dented either the Tory lead, or voters’ opinions of its economic competence. Neither a prime minister unable to carry a key economic proposal, nor the wider impression of a government in office but not in power, has undermined support for the Tory party when the alternative is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

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The Guardian view of Trump’s Russia links: a lot to go at | Editorial

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:26 GMT2017-03-20T20:17:26Z

Why days before the presidential election did the FBI announce it was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton – when it was silent about its probe into Mr Trump’s Russia ties?

When the president’s own staff turn up in Washington to publicly rebut his accusations that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor, it’s not good news for the White House. Yet the longer the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, and Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency appeared in front of a committee of Congress, the worse it got. Since last July, Mr Comey said, the president’s campaign has been investigated for colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Donald Trump’s election machine is coating his White House with sewage.

Yet Donald Trump, with the insouciance of a Bourbon monarch, shows no sign of taking any notice of the facts. Nor, it seems, will he retract false claims, nor will he be held accountable for his dissembling. Mr Trump is prepared to carry on in disgrace. He spent the minutes after his own intelligence officers called him out for peddling falsehoods by trying to create a bizarre counter narrative with the @POTUS twitter account that stretched his credibility so far it snapped.

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The Guardian view on music and poetry: growing up together | Editorial

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 19:45:36 GMT2017-03-19T19:45:36Z

Cultural forms built with words were once all indistinguishable, but in popular culture they are again coalescing. Figures such as Chuck Berry and Derek Walcott were part of bringing them together

The deaths of Derek Walcott and Chuck Berry prompt the question: what’s going to happen to poetry? In their very different ways, the two men worked on opposite sides of the great divide in reading that has grown up since the rise of amplified music. At least since the invention of printing, poetry has been written to be read in silence and perhaps in solitude. The rhythmic subtleties of Browning, Eliot, Graves and Walcott, too, all depend on the reader’s close attention to the voice they can only hear in their heads. This was not always or everywhere so; there are traditions of incantation and rhodomontade. Kipling and GK Chesterton could both write to a beat that pounds along, and the bouncy ones have been some of the most widely popular poets, but they have not often produced the words that readers have cupped in their hearts, lights sheltered from the wind.

The pleasures of subtly rhythmic poetry depend on hearing the beat that is not played, the pattern that persists in absence, in the same way that music can only really be listened to by hearing the gaps between the notes. Omnipresent amplified music designed to be half-listened to, along with the general noisiness of contemporary life, blunts our ability to hear anything not made explicit, and when that goes much of the traditional skill of reading vanish with it. Poetry is, at the very least, language sharpened to its finest edge. There should be no spare words in a poem any more than there should be any missing. Much of the bad poetry of the past, which is not so much unread as almost impossible to read today, violates these rules and won’t be missed when it is completely forgotten. But what about the good stuff that may also be forgotten?

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The Guardian view on Tory election spending: it’s a scandal | Editorial

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 19:44:30 GMT2017-03-19T19:44:30Z

The cost of perverting elections will have to be raised to such a level that parties do not think it is a price worth paying to win

In poor democracies, votes are bought directly. In rich ones, money is spent to secure votes. Instead of being bribed, voters are subjected to a deluge of advertising, rounds of door-knocking and incessant social media messaging. Laws in richer democracies are meant to be tightly enforced. A check on UK election spending is that contributions have to be declared correctly. That is why the decision to fine the Conservative party a record £70,000 for “numerous failures” in accurately reporting campaign spend at the 2015 general election and three byelections in 2014 is so important. It is a wrong compounded by cover-up. The Tories “unreasonably” failed to cooperate with the Electoral Commission, which acted after a Channel 4 News report.

Foolishly, David Cameron displayed not a hint of contrition, claiming he had won “fairly and squarely”. He ran a shambolic operation. It’s too early to say whether a criminal offence has been committed. Any prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is dishonesty not just non-compliance. The cost of perverting elections will have to be raised so that parties do not think it is a price worth paying to win. Money buys access to shape policies. Without strict rules and harsh penalties, politicians will be tempted to win office by mortgaging the future to an investing elite.

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The Guardian view on a key poll: victory for anti-Muslim bigotry | Editorial

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 19:41:46 GMT2017-03-19T19:41:46Z

In India there is increasing concern that minorities are being told they exist merely on the goodwill of the majority. For some of India’s 140 million Muslims it is enough to debate withdrawing from public life

The world breathed a sigh of relief last week as the Islamophobe populist Geert Wilders failed to become the head of the biggest party in Holland. The respite from elected bigotry did not last long. On Sunday an even more stridently anti-Muslim extremist took power in the biggest election of this year. Uttar Pradesh, with a population of more than 200 million, is not an independent nation. It is India’s biggest and most important state. UP, as it is known, by itself would be the world’s fourth biggest democracy – behind the rest of India, the United States, and Indonesia. In a stunning victory, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party swept the state elections, winning, along with its allies, 80% of the seats. Elections here are the most significant in India. UP sends 80 MPs to India’s national parliament of 545 seats. Regardless of party, they pay careful attention to the mood of UP’s electorate. If the nation’s governing parties do well in UP, parliamentarians feel they ought to stay in line. If opposition parties do well in UP, then gridlock rules in Delhi.

The man chosen by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, to lead UP, home of Hinduism’s holy Ganges river and the Moghul tomb of Taj Mahal, is a fellow Hindu nationalist, Yogi Adityanath. Mr Adityanath is a Hindu priest who, while elected five times from his temple’s town, has been shown repeatedly to be contemptuous of democratic norms. He has been accused of attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rioting. He says young Muslim men had launched a “love jihad” to entrap and convert Hindu women. Mother Teresa, he claimed, wanted to Christianise India. He backs a Donald Trump-style travel ban to stop “terrorists” coming to India. On the campaign trail, Mr Adityanath warned: “If [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men”. This cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. The argument that once in power the BJP would become more reasonable does not wash. There’s little sign India’s constitutional protections would enable the BJP to continue in power while the dynamics of its wider movement are kept in check. Mr Adityanath, now a powerful figure, is signalling that in India minorities exist merely on the goodwill of the majority. Step out of line and there will be blood. For some of India’s 140 million Muslims the threat is enough to see them debate withdrawing from public life to avoid further polarisation.

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The Observer view on George Osborne as editor of the Evening Standard

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 00:05:01 GMT2017-03-19T00:05:01Z

The ex-chancellor is walking into a minefield of his own making

Being “editor” of the Daily This, Evening That or Weekly Whatever is a most fuzzily flexible concept: one quite unlike George Osborne’s old deficit reduction targets. Of course, CP Scott (blissfully reincarnated as “CP Snow” on the Radio 4 Today programme on Saturday) managed to remain a Liberal MP and editor of the Manchester Guardian for 11 years. But 1906 is an eternity ago in political (and newspaper) history. If you want more relevant precursors think, perhaps, of Iain Macleod editing the Spectator before going on to become chancellor of the exchequer or RHS Crossman running the New Statesman – both of them, as with Boris Johnson at the Spectator years later, keeping Westminster seats warm at the same time.

It is, on examination, who an editor is and what he or she has been hired for that matters most. Lord Deedes, once the Tories’ cabinet minister for spin, could be editor of the Daily Telegraph and occasional speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher at the same time because his editing remit didn’t really stretch beyond the editorial pages. A hard-edged news professional called Peter Eastwood got the newspaper out. And that division between opinion and the rest is quite standard across swaths of the western press. Marty Baron at the Washington Post or Dean Baquet at the New York Times may seem like top editors at their papers: but their hegemony ends where viewspapering begins.

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A ‘jobs miracle’ that leaves millions worse off | Observer editorial

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 00:05:01 GMT2017-03-19T00:05:01Z

A ‘jobs miracle’ that leaves millions worse off

The former prime minister David Cameron two years ago coined the phrase “jobs miracle” to describe Britain’s economic recovery: an expression that has stuck among defenders of Conservative economic policy. On the surface of it, last Wednesday’s employment figures were just the latest round of good news: unemployment is now at its lowest level since 1975.

But as welcome as falling unemployment is, it is just one indicator of labour market health. The reality is that Britain’s economic recovery will be feeling far from miraculous to millions of low-paid workers. Since the financial crisis, the growth in jobs has come at the price of little growth in average earnings, with many workers finding themselves materially worse off. The Institute for Fiscal Studies expects average real earnings will be no higher in 2022 than they were in 2007; a dire situation its director has described as “completely unprecedented”.

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The Guardian view on Donald Trump and alliances: he doesn’t do them | Editorial

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 19:17:20 GMT2017-03-17T19:17:20Z

Britain’s row with the White House over allegations that GCHQ bugged Trump Tower ought to teach Theresa May that she is dealing with a new abnormal

Two months after Donald Trump became US president, it can be tempting to treat some of his political habits and tactics as a new normal that is somehow not worth responding to. It is a temptation that must be resisted, especially by those who are concerned to uphold politics in a civil and plural public space, and to maintain alliances that are intended to keep the world safe.

Mr Trump’s allegation that Barack Obama was a “bad (or sick) guy” who ordered the “wire tapping” of his New York offices during the presidential election campaign was made two weeks ago. Since then, no evidence whatever has been found to support the claims. On the contrary, all the known facts undermine them. By normal standards, Mr Trump seems to have committed a wholly unsupported calumny against Mr Obama and the institution of the presidency.

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The Guardian view on Brexit and publishing: a hardcore problem | Editorial

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 19:01:54 GMT2017-03-17T19:01:54Z

London book fair has shown how upbeat the literary world can be – and how worried our cultural businesses have become at the thought of losing old certainties

The mood at this week’s London book fair appeared upbeat, with hotly contested auctions leading to the return of the six-figure publishing deal. Musicians did particularly well, with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Suede’s Brett Anderson and drum’n’bass pioneer Goldie leading the way. Rumours of the death of literary fiction appear exaggerated. A collection of short stories, traditionally regarded as commercial suicide, earned Orange prize winner Lionel Shriver a place at the top of the sales league. The razzmatazz of such deals, however, is only part of the story of the modern books industry.

Publishing is a commercial enterprise, and like all businesses it thrives in an atmosphere of certainty that ceased to exist the day the UK voted for Brexit. In a heated opening debate on the impact of the decision to leave the European Union, a succession of leading publishers rounded on the prime minister, Theresa May, for “playing with people’s lives” in her negotiations. The government emissary parried criticism by insisting that ministers were “at the fat end of the funnel”, sucking up information from businesses to understand how best to represent them. The information came fast and furiously, with much of the concern about freedom of movement. We have heard a lot about the fears of the university sector about the drain on research and student income, but we know less about the impact on the more cultural corners of publishing.

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The Guardian view of George Osborne’s new job: something’s got to give | Editorial

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 19:01:06 GMT2017-03-17T19:01:06Z

The former chancellor is a celebrity catch for daily journalism. He will find it is a full-time job

The border between journalism and politics has always been porous. High-profile journalist-politicians have ranged from Marat and Wilkes to Mussolini, and Trotsky to Kossuth. More recently, Alastair Campbell has led a long line of journalists into prominent positions in ministerial press offices. Some of the crossings are as well-trodden as a car park at the end of this week’s Cheltenham festival.

Journalists have gone on to prosper in British politics. Michael Foot, Nigel Lawson, Ed Balls and Boris Johnson are among the most famous. Occasionally, politicians have moved successfully in the opposite direction, among them Bill Deedes, Dick Crossman and Matthew Parris. For years this newspaper was owned and edited by a sitting MP, CP Scott.

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The Guardian view on May and Scotland: blame Brexit gambles | Editorial

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 19:20:12 GMT2017-03-16T19:20:12Z

The prime minister must show sensitivity to former remain voters on both sides of the border

Nicola Sturgeon’s declaration of intent to hold a second independence referendum next year, made in Edinburgh on Monday, presumed one of two responses. Neither harmed her cause. Either the government would acquiesce and Scotland’s first minister would have forced a huge concession from the prime minister, or Theresa May would refuse the request, thereby reinforcing the nationalist argument that Tories are determined to stifle Scotland’s voice. Either there would be a rerun of the 2014 vote or an aggravation of the grievance that helps make the case for a rerun.

Of two unappealing options, Mrs May has chosen the second, declaring on Thursday that “now is not the time” to embark on a referendum. The prime minister argues that the Brexit outcome will not be clear enough by then for Scots to make an informed judgment on whether the union is worth preserving. Ms Sturgeon’s rebuttal is that Mrs May’s own Brexit timetable requires clarity about a deal in time for ratification by the European parliament towards the end of 2018. If the MEPs can form a judgment, why not the Scots?

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The Guardian view on Geert Wilders’ defeat: good news, to be treated with caution | Editorial

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 19:19:08 GMT2017-03-16T19:19:08Z

Dutch voters have shown that xenophobic populism need not advance unchecked. But the Freedom party’s gains and the prime minister’s embrace of some of its themes are alarming

It was – finally – a piece of good news for Europe’s liberal democratic order: in the Netherlands, a closely watched election has produced a defeat for xenophobic populism. After Brexit and Trump, and ahead of key elections in France and Germany, the Dutch vote was widely seen as a test for populist forces across the west. In the end, voters turned their backs on extremism. They turned out in large numbers and prevented Geert Wilders’ anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-EU Freedom party from delivering the populist “revolution” he had so fervently promised. With less than 13% of the vote, the Dutch far-right failed to reach first place. Clear victory went to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD party, which won the largest share of votes and is now set to form the next coalition. On the left, Labour suffered a severe setback. It may not be unrelated that the Greens and the centrist D66 party achieved notable breakthroughs.

After a campaign largely dominated by identity politics, the overall outcome signalled that even in an era of polarisation and fragmentation, the centre can hold and things do not necessarily have to fall apart. It showed that populist insurgencies are not a foregone conclusion and that democratic pushback can be effective. So it was no surprise that a collective sigh of relief could be heard from European capitals. Angela Merkel spoke of a “very pro-European result”. A Wilders victory would have been a boost to Marine Le Pen’s Front National, just six weeks ahead of the first round of the French presidential elections, as well as an encouragement for Germany’s far-right AfD party. In the wake of Donald Trump’s ascendency to the White House, the leaders of Europe’s national populist movement (Mr Wilders among them) had held a summit designed to hail a common “Patriotic spring”, saying 2017 would be the year Europeans “wake up”.

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The Guardian view on the budget U-turn: a climbdown that shows where power lies | Editorial

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:45:03 GMT2017-03-15T18:45:03Z

Philip Hammond was right to reopen the question of national insurance contributions by the self-employed. But the press and backbench Tory MPs would not let him

Even by the standards of recent budget U-turns – and there have been quite a few of those – the one performed on Wednesday by Theresa May and Philip Hammond takes some beating. Seven days after announcing an increase in national insurance contributions for the self-employed, the prime minister and the chancellor bent the knee on Wednesday morning by scrapping it. An about-face is rarely good for a political reputation. But this was an about-face on both a fiscal measure worth £2bn that played a prominent role in last week’s budget, and on a philosophical issue about fairness that is close to the heart of Mrs May’s inclusive conservatism.

The U-turn on NICs tells us where power lies in Mrs May’s party. It makes clear that power does not, after all, lie with her to the degree some have assumed. A leader who has been talked up as one of the strongest prime ministers of recent times first had to pause a relatively minor fiscal measure – £2bn is not a vast sum in the context of government spending – and then ordered an abject retreat.

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The Guardian view on a trustworthy web: it’s up to us | Editorial

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:44:46 GMT2017-03-15T18:44:46Z

Global internet companies have become a sophisticated and target-driven industry. Sir Tim Berners-Lee is right to warn about their power but not entirely right about what to do about them

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the world wide web, which he invented 28 years ago, has become an instrument of purposes he finds both sinister and corrupting, and in a letter released to mark the anniversary he warns that it is being turned against its users in three ways. They – we – have lost control of our personal data. It has made it astonishingly easy to spread lies and misinformation. And it is enabling sophisticated political advertising which plays on the precisely known personal weaknesses of its targets. All of these dangers are real and urgent. This paper has also warned against all of them. The problem comes with Sir Tim’s proposed remedies, such as they are. He is in the position of a civil engineer who has built a road for aid convoys to use and now finds it choked with tank transporters. The new problem can’t be solved entirely by better engineering.

The web, conceived as a means to spread democracy and decentralise knowledge, has also become an unparalleled instrument of surveillance and a means for small organised groups to spread lies to immense audiences, sometimes for political motives, sometimes simply for profit. But it turns out that when access to the world is so easy, most of the resulting traffic will be rubbish, little will be factually true and a great deal will be actively misleading. It’s all profitable, of course, for the companies that take a slice of advertising. This isn’t entirely new. Only a well-paid hack could look back at the years when print journalism was profitable and claim that all or even most of it was inspired by public spirit. But the slipperiness of the web, the way that it has shortened the interval between urge and reward, and the increasing sophistication of the algorithms used to keep people reading by supplying them with a little more of what they fancy than does them good, all make the problem larger and more urgent than it has ever been before. Earlier this week, MPs were rightfully vexed by the apparent ease with which Islamic State supporters and neo-Nazi groups could earn advertising revenue from their hate-filled YouTube videos.

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The Guardian view on the headscarf ruling: the toughest decisions have been left to national courts

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 19:27:56 GMT2017-03-14T19:27:56Z

The European court of justice’s ruling allows EU law to be interpreted differently in diverse cultural contexts, but may lead to some countries adopting laws others find uncomfortable

The right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf and full-face veil in workplaces and public spaces has never been under greater scrutiny. It is a right that has long been contested in those European countries whose constitutions guard a strict divide between the state and religion: France and Belgium restricted the right of women to wear the full-face veil in public places more than five years ago, in 2011. But the rise of populism across the continent is fanning the debate elsewhere. As immigration and integration have become increasingly salient political issues governing coalitions in both the Netherlands and Austria have pursued similar restrictions; and Angela Merkel at the end of last year endorsed a partial ban in Germany.

It is in this fraught context that the European court of justice on Tuesday ruled on the right of employers to ban female employees from wearing Islamic headscarfs in two cases referred by the Belgian and French courts. The court came to three key conclusions. First, it ruled that any prohibition on employees wearing Islamic headscarves at work that arises from a more general ban on political, philosophical or religious symbols does not constitute direct discrimination under EU law. Second, it concluded that it is legitimate for an employer to want to display a policy of religious or political neutrality in relation to employee dress, but only for workers coming into direct contact with its customers. Third, it ruled employers cannot use the expressed wish of a customer not to receive a service from an employee wearing a headscarf as grounds for differential treatment.

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The Guardian view on Charlotte Hogg’s resignation: a sorry affair | Editorial

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 19:26:28 GMT2017-03-14T19:26:28Z

Not just one woman, but the entire Bank of England needs to learn the lessons from this debacle

A regulator cannot be seen to break the rules. On those grounds alone, Charlotte Hogg was right to resign as deputy governor of the Bank of England. She had failed to disclose that her brother was a senior executive at Barclays, a bank that would be under her very own regulation. And she had failed to do so not once, but a number of times, despite a series of prompts by the Bank of England to declare potential conflicts of interest over the four years she worked on Threadneedle Street. The family connection only came up within the past few weeks when Ms Hogg went in front of parliament for a confirmation hearing. She could have tried to face down the critics, but wisely chose not to. It would in any case have been hard for her to carry on after yesterday’s report from the Treasury select committee that concluded “knowing what we know now, we would not have approved her.” As MPs themselves observed, this easily ranks among the most damning judgments ever made by the committee.

This unfortunate episode could be written up as the oversight system working as it should – parliament acting as watchdog, with a nasty advisory bark. Others, such as former chancellor George Osborne, see this as an example of a brilliant woman copping an unduly harsh punishment. But there is far more to this story than a mere clerical error by an otherwise talented official. Take at face value Ms Hogg’s assurances that she never discussed any work issues with her brother, and one is still left amazed at the attitude of the Bank’s senior most officials, including Mark Carney. Going by her resignation letter, the governor talked his deputy out of stepping down earlier. He evidently thought the infraction was not a major one and that the storm could be weathered. In this case, his judgment – and that of others at the very top of the Bank – is badly flawed.

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