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The trouble with leaving your old life behind is that you can’t go back home without something to show for it. The line belongs to Veronika, the Bulgarian prostitute in Trainspotting 2, and it was only when she delivered it that the penny dropped. Unlike the first Trainspotting, the sequel isn’t really about heroin addiction. It’s about the guilt implicit in leaving somewhere for a better life, and the bittersweetness of coming back as a tourist.
For to leave the small town, or the social class, or the country or faith or community in which you grew up, smacks of betrayal. How can it not be a judgment on those left behind, the friends and family all settling for a life you just snubbed as too small, too narrow, or just not enough?Continue reading...
How can a disaster be unprecedented and yet also entirely predictable and preventable? And how can it be that, when such a catastrophe can be halted, we still fail to do so? That is the situation now unfolding across four countries, where 20 million people may starve to death within six months. The first famine recorded worldwide in six years has already been declared in part of South Sudan. Yemen, northern Nigeria and Somalia are also on the brink, according to the Famine Early Warning System, which says global hunger levels are at their highest for decades.
In the past, famine was often misunderstood as an inadequate food supply. Now we have grasped that – notwithstanding the alarming implications of a soaring global population, climate change and the effects of current farming practices – the key question is who can access food. People die because of disintegrating governments as well as poor rains. In each of the current cases, the problem has complex roots, but the striking common thread is conflict: the impact of jihadist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, the civil war in South Sudan and a war – fuelled in part by British and US bombs – that has destroyed and paralysed Yemen’s ports, to devastating effect in a country which imported 90% of its food. In Somalia, the primary immediate cause is drought, but decades of conflict have left it vulnerable.Continue reading...
The House of Lords has been in the line of fire this week. During its debate on article 50 there were claims that peers had no right to thwart the will of the House of Commons or the referendum result. As if to emphasise the point, prime minister Theresa May sat in the chamber as the bill was discussed.
And then, ahead of a BBC documentary on the Lords to be screened on Monday, there were allegations about peers signing in to claim their £300 daily allowance while their taxi was running.Continue reading...
I began studying economics at night school in Leeds in the 1950s and continued, at various institutions, as an external student of London University. Our courses were broadly, but not uncritically, Keynesian. We abjured fancy equations and sprinkled our essays with phrases like “a tendency to” and “pressure towards” this or that as a consequence of some other event. As a teacher I have tried to keep reasonably up to date, and learned in the early 70s, for example, to regard most monetarist nonsense as the fantasies of “Friedmaniacs”.
With this background, and aware of the influence on our leaders of Oxford’s PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) course, I have often wondered what on earth they taught them. Andy Beckett’s article (The degree that runs Britain, 23 February) gives the answer. PPE graduates are “intellectually flexible”. Or, to put it another way, they sway with the wind. And the winds of monetarism and arrogant attempts to make human behaviours as subject to mathematical predictions as the laws of physics, have captured economics academia for the past 40 years. Conservative, Labour and, to our eternal shame, Liberal Democrats have been equally culpable, as the damage done to the bottom 20% in this country, and to 80% of the population of Greece, so clearly demonstrates.Continue reading...
Your article (Pension changes could cost 11m Britons thousands of pounds, 21 February) says 75% of pension schemes use the retail price index (RPI). But all the public-sector schemes, which must be more than 25%, as well as many in the private sector – eg BT, BA – have used the consumer price index (CPI) for years. The article says RPI is usually greater than CPI; in fact it is virtually always greater because of the different way they are calculated – it’s called the formula effect. To cut a long and complicated story short, RPI may overstate inflation by about 0.2% on average but CPI understates it by about 0.8%.
Over time that’s a big difference and will of course affect future pensioners (today’s young) more than it will current pensioners – this is not a baby boomer issue. Basically CPI was never meant to be a real measure of inflation; rather it was a way of comparing inflation in EU states. Its adoption by the government as the measure of inflation rises – on benefits as well as pensions – since 2010 is basically a mendacious scam.
It’s worth asking who exactly would benefit from Andrea Leadsom’s suggestion that farmers should replace workers with robots (Farmers deliver stark warning over access to EU seasonal workers, 22 February; Letters, 23 February). Not the farmers, who would lose the freedom to exploit their workers while any cost savings associated with the robots would be swallowed up by competition and the supermarkets’ hold over the supply chains. Not the workers, who would lose their jobs, with nothing similar to go to. Not consumers, who would remain at the mercy of the supermarkets’ cynical “price wars”. Ah, I’ve got it: it must be the bankers, who have lent the farmers the money to buy the robots. The secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs used to work in banking, I believe.
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
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The concept of poor behaviour as perpetrated by those perceived as “other” is not just a contemporary problem (Suzanne Moore, G2, 23 February). As a student at a northern university in the 70s, I can remember cosmopolitan friends being appalled that we northerners had to have signs telling us not to spit on buses. Such crass behaviour was so unthinkable in the civilised south that no such instructions were necessary. Until I pointed out that London buses displayed notices informing passengers that expectoration was prohibited. An example of a superior class of poor behaviour in the polysyllabic south?
• When I was a schoolboy, not only did the chemistry sets on sale in toy shops contain bottles of acids but they could be refilled at the chemist’s without question (Acid is all too readily available in the UK, Letters, 17 February). Moreover, our radio used an accumulator containing sulphuric acid, and one of my chores was to take it to the village shop to be charged. Many a pair of trousers had holes burned in the leg by the time I got home.
The star’s Brits routine featured dancing starter homes and Trump and May puppets. Good job we had an excitable Tory MP to tell us what it means
Theory: I don’t think the dancing house fell off the stage during Katy Perry’s Brits routine. I think it was trying to escape. Still, talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. No sooner had the little dwelling jumped off the stage, away from the most will-this-do? “political” routine ever, than it fell into the clutches of some hideous UK music executives and their demurely coked second wives. It is now being forcibly relocated to Bray, and being fitted with a media room and conservatory.
And so to the Brit awards in the age of Trump/Brexit/Ultron, which are still a tenth as edgy as they were in the late-90s era of political consensus, when even the Sun backed Tony Blair. Jarvis sabotaging Jacko, Chumbawamba offering an early shout on New Labour … I’m afraid I can’t do you any of that. What I can offer is a swear-bleep machine programmed to 1959, and an event that takes the same attitude to grime as Anthea Turner.Continue reading...
Many of the challenges confronting a 21st-century police officer were unimagined when Cressida Dick, newly appointed commissioner to London’s Metropolitan police service, started out as a beat constable in 1983. The existence of a globally connected digital realm accessible by mobile device – never mind that network’s subversion for wrongdoing – was the stuff of science fiction. Cybercrime wasn’t even a word.
Some things change less. Thirty-four years ago the capital needed protecting from terrorists, but they were Irish republican extremists not Salafi jihadists. Thirty-four years ago London’s police force had a diversity problem. It did not reflect the ethnic composition of the communities under its jurisdiction and struggled to recruit minorities. The way stop-and-search tactics were used highlighted the fact that too many policemen saw all black men as criminals. Anger had boiled over into the Brixton riots in 1981; a similar frustration was involved in the 2011 riots – triggered initially by a police shooting of a young black man.Continue reading...