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Editorials | The Guardian

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

Published: Fri, 28 Jul 2017 15:10:44 GMT2017-07-28T15:10:44Z

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

The Guardian view on Trump’s transgender military ban: sad

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:08:53 GMT2017-07-27T18:08:53Z

The proposed ban is wrong on every score: it is cruel and obscure, a nasty piece of positioning intended to deflect attention from the president’s mounting difficulties

Donald Trump’s ad hoc announcement-by-tweet that transgender individuals would be barred from the US military was not just bad; it was bad in three separate ways. It was contemptuous of those individuals already in the forces or aspiring to join them; it denied their right to equality despite a cynical campaign pledge to “fight for” LGBT people accompanied by the suggestion that safeguarding their rights required the curbing of migration. (Clearly, the real threat was at home.) The second, related issue is the depressing message that it sent to the right and to Americans in general, in normalising and legitimising prejudice and discrimination. The third is that it diverted attention from other increasingly pressing questions. The pages it has covered and the airtime it has consumed would otherwise have been taken up with examining the administration’s immediate battles over healthcare and, especially, links between Mr Trump’s entourage and Russia.

Mr Trump’s tweet was significant in itself for its cruelty and foolishness. But it also shed further light on government dysfunction: it was made while the secretary of defence, General James Mattis, was on vacation, while a related review was ongoing, and apparently without the knowledge of the Pentagon.

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The Guardian view on antibiotics: don’t keep taking the tablets | Editorial

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:07:02 GMT2017-07-27T18:07:02Z

When knowledge advances, so should the advice doctors give

The idea that we have a moral duty to complete any course of antibiotics that the doctor prescribes is intuitively comforting. Following the course to the end appears as an act of solidarity against the genuinely terrible threat of widespread antibiotic resistance, something that could make medicine as we know it impossibly dangerous. Following the doctor’s orders allows us to be mildly uncomfortable in pursuit of collective good. So it is rather shocking when the British Medical Journal reports that the instruction is mistaken and indeed counterproductive. We should not only take antibiotics less often; we should take them for much less time.

Nonetheless, the argument of the BMJ paper is very strong. It starts from history. At the beginning of the antibiotic era, the danger to patients came from insufficient dosage, not from too much. The very first patient ever treated with penicillin died after supplies ran out, even when they were recycled from what he had already consumed. Sir Alexander Fleming himself believed that antibiotic resistance would be stimulated by inadequate courses of antibiotics. In any case, there are compelling legal and social reasons why doctors are more worried about being accused of doing too little than too much.

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The Guardian view on employment tribunal fees: denial of justice | Editorial

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:53:44 GMT2017-07-26T18:53:44Z

The UK’s supreme court has ruled the government wrong to levy charges. They undermine the rule of law. Ministers must respect the limits of power

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, can be forgiven for boasting that Wednesday’s supreme court ruling against employment tribunal fees is “the biggest victory in a court in British employment history”. The justices’ decision that the fees, of between £400 and £1,200, are an unconstitutional denial of access to justice, is a triumph both for workers and for the union that has been fighting their corner ever since the fees were introduced almost exactly four years ago. Even the most buttoned-up of lawyers thought that the seven justices who heard the case had done more for working people than anyone in the past decade.

The judgment was more than that, however. It was, above all, a triumphant defence of the rule of law and a brutal reprimand to Chris Grayling, now transport secretary but who as justice minister introduced fees without proper parliamentary scrutiny, without gathering evidence to support his decision, and in a way that undermined the access to justice on which the rule of law depends.

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The Guardian view on air pollution proposals: too little, much too late | Editorial

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:42:10 GMT2017-07-26T18:42:10Z

If the UK government is serious about cutting noxious emissions, it needs to step on it. We should not have to wait 23 years to breathe easy

Only 20 years ago, it would have sounded like the stuff of fantasy: a clean, green image of the 21st century, with Britons gliding along in electrified, no doubt self-driving, cars. Even now, the pledge to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 has a bold, vaguely futuristic ring to it. That is its political genius. In fact, it reflects the current trajectory of the motor industry – while masterfully distracting us from the government’s persistent failure in the rest of its plan to address the health crisis that must be tackled now: the air pollution that chokes our cities.

The announcement may help to concentrate the minds of policymakers, consumers and car manufacturers on the need to press ahead with the switch and the huge changes that will be required. (Installing ranks of charging points is the least of it; how will Britain supply them all with power?) But the government has already said that 2050 emissions targets will require “almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040”. Norway is to ban the sale of all fossil-fuel-dependent cars by 2025. Momentum in electric purchases is building rapidly, thanks to falling costs, longer battery ranges and more charging points, even if the total number of sales remains relatively low; at present just 1 in 700 of the cars on Britain’s roads are pure electric. Volvo has said it will make only hybrid or fully electric cars from 2019. If anything, the need is for governments to offer short-term incentives so more people start choosing electric or hybrid vehicles now. Twenty-three years is too long to wait.

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The Guardian view on leasehold reform: well overdue | Editorial

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:56:47 GMT2017-07-25T18:56:47Z

The big homebuilders have been riding roughshod over planning authorities and housebuyers for decades. They need to brought under control, now

The leasehold exploitation that the Guardian has been campaigning against for several years is to be stopped within weeks. This is welcome news indeed for the future, though not for the hundreds of people who bought new flats and houses, mainly in the north-west of England, without knowing the risk of exploitation from buying only a leasehold rather than a more expensive freehold. Some householders have been left with a home that is all but worthless because the freehold has been sold on to a finance company that is levying huge charges from leaseholders for alterations and improvements, while quoting an absurd price to buy the freehold outright.

Not before time, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced proposals to make leasehold fairer. Selling houses leasehold will be banned altogether, and the ground rent for new flats sold leasehold will be set at a peppercorn level. These are practical proposals, first put forward by Labour last year. But they do nothing for more than a million people, many of them first-time buyers, who are already trapped in the leasehold nightmare.

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The Guardian view on Poland’s courts: people power and a glimmer of hope | Editorial

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:43:00 GMT2017-07-25T18:43:00Z

After days of protests against the government’s plans to control the judiciary, the president has vetoed part of the legislation. That is something – but not enough

People power has historically been a powerful force in Poland. The energy and singular determination of the 1980s grassroots Solidarity movement played a key role in ending Soviet-imposed dictatorship in central Europe. Strikes and demonstrations brought down tyranny through a peaceful transition. Recalling this is important today, as a polarised country struggles with threats to democracy levelled not from the outside but from within. Since 2015, an elected populist and nationalist government with a deep authoritarian streak has transformed Poland into a quasi-pariah in the European club, as well as a political battlefield.

This week, after eight days of nationwide street protests, the president, Andrzej Duda, surprised many by appearing to break ranks with the ruling party over its intention to place the judiciary fully under its control. Mr Duda vetoed two key pieces of legislation aimed at wiping out the independence of the supreme court and giving parliament control over the body that hires judges. His motives remain a matter of speculation. The bills, he explained, “would not strengthen the sense of justice in society”. Mr Duda had up until then sided with every government move to curtail independent institutions. Was this a genuine U-turn, or a tactical retreat designed to take the edge off the protests? His decision was welcome, but far from sufficient; he signed a third bill allowing political control over the heads of courts. The government already has control of the constitutional court. Many fear that the other legislation will return in only marginally amended form.

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The Guardian view on happiness: spending money to save time | Editorial

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:36:23 GMT2017-07-25T18:36:23Z

Research suggests that buying convenience or paying others to do tasks you dislike can boost satisfaction with life

You really can buy happiness, it turns out; but even when we can afford it, most of us don’t. A study suggests that those who outsource dreary chores or pay for convenience report greater life satisfaction, regardless of factors such as income or the number of children in the household. When researchers from the same team gave subjects $40 to spend on a material product, and then another $40 for something that would save them time, they found the latter option had a much more marked effect on happiness. People reported more joy and enthusiasm (perhaps paying for a taxi home had spared them an unpleasant commute, or allowed them time to unwind with friends) and fewer negative emotions such as anger (possibly because they were not wrangling about who should wash the floor). That is not much consolation to those who are both cash- and time-poor. “Nobody likes scrubbing the toilet bowl,” observed one of the study’s authors; but the people hired to scrub loos usually have to clean their own when they get home. Yet even among millionaires surveyed in the Netherlands, less than half regularly paid other people to do tasks they loathed. This may be why they were millionaires, but the money they saved was time they squandered. Enjoy yourself, if you can afford it: it’s later than you think.

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The Guardian view on the single market: a viable Brexit path | Editorial

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 18:15:10 GMT2017-07-24T18:15:10Z

The referendum mandate leaves many possible avenues for interpretation. None should be closed off prematurely

The instruction expressed by last year’s referendum does not get more detailed over time. It was as precise and as vague as the question on the ballot paper. A slim majority backed exit from the EU, but anything beyond that is a matter of interpretation.

There is no precedent. There are European countries that have close economic and political ties to the bloc without full membership. But none is neatly analogous in size or history to the UK. Arrangements that work for Iceland, Switzerland or Norway, cannot be plucked from a Brussels shelf and applied to Britain.

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The Guardian view on Turkish press freedom: standing up for democracy | Editorial

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 18:14:42 GMT2017-07-24T18:14:42Z

Seventeen journalists from Turkey’s oldest newspaper are threatened with long terms of imprisonment on baseless charges of terrorist links

Putting journalists on trial for doing their job, for informing the public or conveying opinion, is never acceptable. Like the canary in the mine, journalists can serve as an early alert to the erosion of the rights of every citizen. Where media freedom is curtailed other freedoms invariably follow. This may be stating the obvious, especially to those of us who enjoy the liberty and protection of democracy. But it is not an uncontested truth.

Freedom of the press is restricted wherever governments claim its exercise might run counter to political imperatives or what they define as national security. It is a freedom enshrined in UN texts, but it is far from universally recognised as a basic right. It might be tolerated, but only within boundaries subject to whim, in jeopardy whenever those in power feel their interests might be threatened.

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The Guardian view on Brexit and farming: outlook unsettled | Editorial

Sun, 23 Jul 2017 17:34:39 GMT2017-07-23T17:34:39Z

In his first speech last week, the new Defra secretary Michael Gove called Brexit ‘the unfrozen moment’. But that may not mean the sunlit uplands lie ahead for agriculture

The “unfrozen moment” Michael Gove, the new Defra secretary, called the impact of Brexit on agriculture and the environment in his first speech last week. It’s a deft description of the potential for transformation that leaving the EU offers, which is undoubtedly what Mr Gove intended. But it also conveys foreboding. That would be right too. Redesigning what is by far the most important relationship for the UK’s food and agriculture industry is full of risk – to the price the consumer pays for their food, to the familiar landscape of Britain, and to the complex network of relationships that sustains the rural economy.

The Brexit campaign was as light on the detail of what leaving the EU would mean for food and farming as it was for everything else – except for the claim that it would mean cheap food. Stripped of the costly common agriculture policy, the argument went, and able to import from around the world, the price of food in the shops would plummet. That remains an option. But it would come at a heavy cost. It would spell disaster for the farmers who compromise a little on productivity in order to nurture the environment; if, for example, it meant importing meat from the US, it would probably wreck Britain’s long improvement in farm animal welfare; and if it meant importing GM foods, it would almost certainly end the chance of a trade deal with Europe.

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The Guardian view on cryptocurrencies: bubble and chic | Editorial

Sun, 23 Jul 2017 17:34:25 GMT2017-07-23T17:34:25Z

The explosive growth of cryptocurrencies suggest there is more to the phenomenon than speculative froth. But what?

All money is a work of the imagination. Pound coins, dollar bills, and even the fragments of computer code known as bitcoins can do their work only because of a collective agreement that they will. That doesn’t mean they are imaginary. Their power is real, but it arises from mass belief. When people lose faith in a currency it can lose all its purchase on the real world and be reduced to nothing more than squiggles on paper, tulip bulbs or figures in a spreadsheet cell. So there is nothing unnatural in the efforts of libertarian computer programmers to invent their own money, and then to use these new currencies to buy things, among them old-fashioned currencies like dollars and euros. So long as enough people agree to believe in them, they exist like any other. Bitcoin, the oldest, best known and most valuable, has lasted for nine years now.

All these cryptocurrencies are made possible by an ingenious solution to a problem which would otherwise make purely digital currencies impossible. A digital currency is one which exists solely as a string of numbers inside a computer and copying numbers at lightning speed is the core competence of any computer. So there seemed to be no way to stop any given piece of digital currency from being copied and spent unlimited times. This ease of copying is what devastated the music industry and many others. It seemed to make digital money impossible even in theory. The solution turned out to be a programming device called the blockchain, which ensured that any transaction could be recorded in a way that was impossible for anyone ever to change. Applied to money, this means that the same bitcoin can’t be spent twice without changing hands.

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The Observer view on Poland’s assault on law and the judiciary | Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 23:05:01 GMT2017-07-22T23:05:01Z

The Polish government has gifted power over the supreme court to politicians. The EU must get tough and withhold funding

The decision by Poland’s upper house of parliament to give the government de facto control of the country’s highest court is a serious mistake with negative implications for Europe. The legislation compromises judicial independence and undermines confidence in the rule of law free from political interference. It deals a heavy blow to Poland’s far from robust post-communist democratic institutions. It is a staggering act of defiance of the EU, which explicitly opposed the measure. And it explodes the too-comfortable illusion, fashionable since Emmanuel Macron won France’s presidential election, that the dark forces of intolerant European nationalism and populism are in retreat.

Related: As well as protesting, Poles need to strengthen their state | Timothy Garton Ash

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The Observer view on Jane Austen’s immortality | Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 23:05:00 GMT2017-07-22T23:05:00Z

Two centuries after her death, her influence is still felt

Jane Austen, who died 200 years ago last Tuesday, has been enjoying an impressively vigorous afterlife. First, as an icon of her gender, there has been her controversial debut on the new £10 note, an appearance that sent some indignant Jane-ites into a tizzy about her image. “Airbrushed”, they cried; “inauthentic”, they snorted.

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The Observer view on persisting gender inequality| Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 23:00:00 GMT2017-07-22T23:00:00Z

The UK has its first female supreme court president and second female prime minister, but massive imbalance exists – as the BBC pay row shows

Congratulations to Lady Hale. On Friday, she became the first woman to be appointed president of the UK supreme court. So now we have 12 supreme court justices, two of whom are female. In October, a study of judicial systems by the Council of Europe indicated that Britain has one of the lowest proportions of female judges. As a model of diversity, the judiciary still has a long way to go before the exceptions – in this case, the hugely talented Hale – become the rule.

Related: BBC accused of discrimination as salaries reveal gender pay gap - as it happened

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The Guardian view on the supreme court: good for Lady Hale – and for us all | Editorial

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:23:34 GMT2017-07-21T17:23:34Z

The new president of the UK’s most senior court has years of experience

Though Justice is usually portrayed as a woman, it has in general been embodied by men. Brenda Hale, the new president of the supreme court, will bring years of experience at the highest level of the judiciary and a strong feminist voice to the country’s most senior court. Legal gossip suggests that the outgoing president, Lord Neuberger, was appointed in 2012 as a “stop Hale” candidate. She was considered eccentric, possibly even a little dangerous. Her appointment had seemed in the balance until it was finally confirmed on Friday. It was held back until the very last minute – and will only last for two years, since she must retire at 75 – but is a triumph not only for her personally but also for the slow diversification of the judiciary.

There has long been a tension between two ideas. The first – symbolised by the blindfold that statues of Justice sometimes wear – is that judges are incorruptible, not merely in the venal sense but also in terms of human sentiment and emotion. The second is the understanding that if all judges come from similar backgrounds, chosen on criteria that hugely privilege one particular type of candidate, then the justice they dispense will reflect only one set of experiences. And a very narrow set at that.

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The Guardian view on historical fiction: reimagining, not reproducing | Editorial

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:16:32 GMT2017-07-21T17:16:32Z

A once-disparaged genre has found new life thanks to Hilary Mantel and others. But what do we want from it?

In the first of her recent Reith lectures, Hilary Mantel spoke of the “cultural cringe” of being a historical novelist when she started out in the 1970s, a time when historical fiction meant historical romance and wasn’t respectable or respected. How things have changed – and in no little part due to Mantel’s own magisterial reimagining of the life of the self-made Tudor courtier Thomas Cromwell, which set its cap at the higher reaches of literary fiction and was rewarded with two Man Booker prize wins.

This year’s Booker longlist, to be announced next week, will certainly include historical titles, judging from recent years. Contenders include Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, already Costa Book of the Year and winner of the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction. This month we learned that Zadie Smith is to write her first historical novel, reportedly inspired by the exploits of a 19th-century highwayman, which led to a street in her old stamping grounds of north-west London being named Shoot-up Hill.

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The Guardian view on Mosul: the price of revenge | Editorial

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:33:03 GMT2017-07-20T18:33:03Z

There is growing evidence of abuses against suspected Islamic State members and their families. They will cost Iraq dear

In the days since Baghdad announced the liberation of Mosul, Islamic State’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, evidence has mounted of grotesque human rights abuses and revenge attacks against suspected members of the group. It includes a video apparently showing Iraqi troops killing an unarmed fighter by throwing him from a high ledge and accounts of brutal violence against not only alleged combatants but also their families. Earlier footage appeared to show members of a special forces unit torturing and executing civilians. A spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said last week that the government would announce action against those soldiers – but not yet, because it would “interfere with the current congratulatory victory messages”.

Even seen on a page or screen thousands of miles away, these tales and images horrify. They will be remembered long after the pictures of Iraqi soldiers dancing in celebration. Welcome as it is, the military victory is a very partial kind of success. The caliphate that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed from Mosul three years ago has crumbled; the battle for its de facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, is well advanced. But the conflict is far from over. The group still controls considerable territory and – more importantly – the assumption that it would return to its insurgent roots as it loses ground is proving correct. It mounts attacks in the cities it has lost. Foreign combatants are likely to pose a danger further afield, increasing the terrorist threat as they return home.

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The Guardian view on Sir Vince Cable as Lib Dem leader: a voice for the centre | Editorial

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:32:38 GMT2017-07-20T18:32:38Z

The Liberal Democrats are still in intensive care after the bruising experience of coalition and an election fought in a newly polarised country. But that leaves an important space for them to fill

Not only does Sir Vince Cable have the experience to lead the Liberal Democrats, he has actually done the job before. He held the reins temporarily before Nick Clegg was chosen in 2007. Since then, Sir Vince has published a well-received book on the causes of the financial crisis and served as a cabinet minister.

An opposition party suffering depleted influence might consider itself lucky to have a figure with those credentials ready to step into a leadership breach. Indeed, Sir Vince’s appointment is about as good an outcome as the Lib Dems could hope for, when optimism about their prospects is not abundant and, with only 12 MPs, the pool of contenders was small. It shrank to one as potential rivals ruled themselves out. Of those, Jo Swinson, the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, is the figure who might have offered the most dynamic alternative. The consolation is that she has a long career ahead. So the role is still notionally available to her one day.

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The Guardian view on BBC pay transparency: right thing, wrong reason | Editorial

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 17:17:48 GMT2017-07-19T17:17:48Z

The gender pay gap exposed by revealing talent pay at Britain’s national broadcaster is shocking. But it can also be turned to advantage

Advocates of pay transparency believe it has the power to transform a company’s internal dynamics. They say it can incentivise workers and build a sense of fairness and trust. Its critics believe that it can lead to unnecessary or unhelpful rancour. The BBC finds itself forced to conduct a very public transparency experiment, by critics in government and rivals in the media whose concerns have nothing to do with corporation morale or governance and everything to do with trying to cow an institution that challenges their worldview and sometimes their bottom line.

Forcing the BBC to publish details of what it pays its highest-earning stars falls into the category of things that are utterly fascinating to the public (why is Casualty’s Derek Thompson the highest-paid actor?) without contributing very much at all to the public interest. To most people, even the lowest-paid BBC star earns a sum they can only dream of. The ex-miner who called the Jeremy Vine programme this morning to ask if he thought he was worth the £700,000 that his listeners now know he’s paid raised the most fundamental question there is about salaries: how do you judge the value of someone’s work?

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The Guardian view on the future of crime: it will be online | Editorial

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:19:11 GMT2017-07-19T16:19:11Z

The dangers of machine intelligence will grow as it spreads. We need to prepare now

When software gets smarter, the first effect is to empower the already powerful. The fantastic powers available now to Google and Facebook, which are now in practice the publishers of most of what appears on the public internet, is one example. More sinister is the power of nation states to spy on us, to manipulate their own citizens, and to disrupt the workings of their enemies. But these advantages cannot last. Soon they have to be reinforced by law, and ultimately force, as the techniques behind them spread and hardware grows cheaper and more plentiful.

The speed of technological progress, and the ease with which ideas can now spread, mean that few techniques can long remain the preserve of large firms or entities. Every advance in power and convenience available to the ordinary consumer will soon be available to criminals too. Illegal commerce, whether in drugs, forged documents, stolen credit cards or emails, is nearly as slick and well organised as the legal sort. So are the criminal world’s labour exchanges: hiring someone to hack a website, or to boost your Twitter account with fake followers, is easily done. So is renting a botnet of suborned devices to knock an enemy’s website off the net. Last year large chunks of the consumer internet in the US were knocked out for hours, apparently by an assault launched from subverted home security cameras.

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