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

23 July, by Editorial[ —]
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

23 July, by Editorial[ —]
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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It’s not just the BBC that must come clean about underpaying women | Sophie Walker

23 July, by Sophie Walker[ —]
The Women’s Equality party is calling on other broadcasters to publish the salaries of their top earners, along with a gender pay gap action plan

• Sophie Walker is the leader of the Women’s Equality party

When the BBC published the salaries of its top earners, the results were not surprising, but they were shocking. They even managed, momentarily, to silence the gender pay gap myth-busters: the trolls who daily patrol social media challenging any mention of a pay gap with supposedly hard facts about the “choices” women make.

Silence fell – briefly – as everyone realised that this pay gap didn’t care about the privilege of its victims. The few female top earners were generally white, middle class and non-disabled. As horrifying and unjustifiable as the pay discrepancies are, the women who made the list earn considerable amounts of money. The BBC has also taken steps to improve its diversity. Its staff and programming still do not perfectly reflect the wider population, but compared with some other media organisations, it is making progress. So what hope do the rest of us have if the pay gap is this wide, regardless of the seniority of the staff or good intentions of the organisation?

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A reformed EU, not Brexit, offers best hope of more progressive UK | Letters

23 July, by Letters[ —]
Readers respond to Larry Elliott’s piece claiming that Brexit was the most effective way to challenge capitalism’s worst excesses

Larry Elliott (Why the moaning? If anything can halt capitalism’s fat cats, it’s Brexit, 21 July) mentions the EU’s state aid rules as a stumbling block towards the pursuit of progressive economic policies. As someone who has been teaching and researching this subject for over a decade, I find Mr Elliott’s comments unfounded. It is wrong to claim that state aid law prevents the UK from funding sunrise industries. Indeed, this is the kind of initiative that is typically allowed under EU law. It is equally wrong to claim that state aid law prevents nationalisations. There are a number of examples of nationalisations both in Europe and in the UK which have not been stopped by “Brussels”.

State ownership or participation is widespread throughout Europe. One need only look at Norway, which, despite not being an EU member state, is bound by EU state aid law. Norway’s most important industries are state-owned. There are publicly owned banks in a number of EU countries, including Germany. A number of European states or regions have shareholdings in companies such as EDF, Renault and VW. Elliott’s suggestion that Brexit will mean ditching the state aid rules is also misleading. No UK-EU trade agreement is likely to be possible without a commitment from the UK to respect these rules. The reason is simple: they are designed to prevent “beggar thy neighbour” policies. To state the obvious, whatever their future relationship, the UK and the EU will continue to be neighbours.
Francesco de Cecco
Lecturer in law, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University

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Grenfell and a Tory-run council not fit for purpose | Letters

23 July, by Letters[ —]
Kensington and Chelsea Lib Dem councillor Linda Wade calls for a cross-party committee system in the borough

The meeting last Wednesday night (Fire survivors call on council leader to quit during chaotic town hall meeting, 20 July) demonstrated how out of touch the Conservative administration of the council is with the realities of life for many in one of the richest boroughs in the world. It also highlighted the disadvantages of a majority group that has been in power for too long. Cllr Elizabeth Campbell stated that there would be radical change, but instead voted in a new leadership team which is a cabinet in all but name.

We, as the Liberal Democrats, could not vote for Cllr Campbell for leader and wrote to Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for communities and local government, requesting that commissioners took over the administration, as we feel that this council is not fit for purpose.

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UK’s visa ban raises spectre of apartheid | Letters

https://www.theguardian.com/world/iranplay episode download
23 July, by Letters[ —]
Author Beverley Naidoo condemns the UK’s decision to deny an Iranian artist a visa to attend the Edinburgh festival

The UK government’s denial of a visa to Ehsan Abdollahi (Iranian artist barred from Edinburgh festival after ‘Kafkaesque’ visa refusal, 21 July) suggests a game of snakes without ladders in a hall of mirrors. Being divorced, he was told that “no one is dependent on you” ie a bad mark for not having a pull factor to go back to Iran. Last year, however, the artist Marjan Vafaian was refused a visa despite her husband intending to stay in Tehran when she’d be travelling. Her bad mark was apparently for being too young. Making pots of money as an artist in the UK would be a pull factor to keep her here while, in Abdollahi’s case, his work as an illustrator and teacher in Tehran was insufficient explanation for the funds in his bank. 

This is the third year that the brave little indie children’s book publisher Tiny Owl has had artists’ visas turned down. I have a personal interest as Marjan Vafaian is illustrating my text of Cinderella on the Nile and I have been hoping that we can do some events together after our book is published next year. Apartheid South Africa banned people and books in order to stop dialogue and communication of ideas. These visa denials ban UK audiences, particularly young people, from engaging with these Iranian artists. Why?
Beverley Naidoo

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Glasgow cathedral set to be a same-sex Gretna Green | Letters

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/big-brotherplay episode download
23 July, by Letters[ —]
Same-sex marriages | Civil partnerships for heterosexuals | Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent | Boots | Must-watch TV

Perhaps Glasgow’s Episcopal cathedral of St Mary will become the new Gretna Green for English same-sex couples as yet unable to marry one another in Anglican churches south of the border (Glasgow to host first Anglican same-sex marriages in UK, 21 July)? A mock-up carpenter’s shop, as opposed to Gretna’s Old Mill Forge (currently offering an “exclusive use package” for a mere £3,795), could prove to be a nice little earner.
Fr Alec Mitchell

• Deborah Dickinson complains (Letters, 20 July) that there is still a legal difference between gay and heterosexual people in that heterosexual couples cannot enter into a civil partnership. Civil partnerships were a public endorsement of the view that gay couples’ relationships are inferior and would taint the institution of marriage. Mixed-sex couples seeking civil partnerships are like gentiles applying to wear a yellow star.
Paul Brownsey

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Letter: Heathcote Williams obituary

23 July, by Michael Horovitz[ —]

While Heathcote Williams was indeed primarily committed to the written word, he was equally and superlatively concerned with both the performed, and even the painted word.

Williams was a prime mover, with the King Mob Situationists tribe, of a vigorous spate of diversely calligraphed graffiti on the walls of both downtrodden and well-to-do residences and other buildings around Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove between the late 1960s and early 70s. Thus the school wall on the corner of the Grove and Lancaster Road suddenly declared: “We teach all hearts to break”, and charming dialogue sequences played out from day to day.

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The UK peddles a cynical colonialism and calls it aid | Zoe Williams

23 July, by Zoe Williams[ —]
We applaud ourselves for spending 0.7% of GDP on aid, but this is just self-interest dressed up as benevolence

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

Most of the Conservative 2017 manifesto read like a sloppily constructed plot point in a tale of hubris. All platitudes, jingoism and bear traps, it was it was like the document you produce when you think you can’t lose, just before you do. Yet on the matter of international aid, it was precise: we were to maintain the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid, a target finally reached in 2013 and enshrined in law two years later. But we would, in the Conservative plan, “work with like-minded countries to change the rules”. And if that didn’t work, we would “change the law to allow us to use a better definition of development spending”.

In the context of the aid debate – which has been coarsened right down to: should we spend any money on foreigners, when we have problems of our own? – this seemed pretty innocuous. Money is money: what does it care about definitions? It has its own physical laws, and when you spend it, people benefit. More delicate questions of narrative and framing matter even less. So what if we stop talking about “aid” and start talking about “investment”? Doesn’t that just forge a more equal relationship between source nation and recipient? Why not talk about mutual benefit, about how our aid to others makes our own nation safer and more prosperous? If the secretary of state for international development, Priti Patel, has made it explicit that she wants to use the aid budget to “tear down the barriers to free trade”, isn’t that better than such an aim being implicit?

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