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The Observer view on forging a Brexit consensus

25 June, by Guardian Staff[ —]

Theresa May and the Tories have no mandate to make this momentous decision alone

Britain has had many governments, of many complexions. There have been one-party governments, coalition governments, minority governments and governments of national unity. In 1806, following the death of William Pitt the Younger, there was even a “ministry of all the talents”, intended to hold the country together. It did not last long and failed to end the war with France. Yet rarely if ever has Britain seen anything like the government we have now.

It is most unfortunate that we have so many makeweights and mediocrities collected together in the same place, at the same time, and under the same leader – especially when Britain is wrestling with Brexit, the most important decision in generations.

Among moderate MPs, fear of questioning Brexit is being overtaken by an even greater fear of another Great Depression.

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The Observer view on the housing crisis | Observer editorial

25 June, by Observer editorial[ —]

Government must be prepared to build when private initiatives fail

As we report today, research by Shelter shows that by 2020 more than a million households are likely to find that their housing benefit doesn’t cover the rent they pay to private landlords. The consequence will be hardship, eviction and, for many, homelessness. They will be victims both of high private rents and of government restrictions on benefit, both of which stem from the failures of housing policies for more than 30 years.

Rents are high because housing is scarce and property values high, and because millions excluded from both owning homes and living in social housing have nowhere to go but the private rental sector. Benefit is being restricted not only because of generalised austerity but also because the total housing benefit bill has been pushed up by the reduction of publicly-owned housing, thanks to the right-to-buy policy introduced under Margaret Thatcher and by restrictions on local authorities’ ability to replenish their stock.

The most effective way to address housing need would be to allow local authorities to borrow to build

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The Guardian view on Brexit: Wrong then, wrong now, wrong in the future | Editorial

23 June, by Editorial[ —]

Twelve months after the EU referendum, Theresa May’s latest Brussels trip reveals that the EU is leaving Britain behind, not the other way round

In one of the several low points of her stunningly inept general election campaign, Theresa May warned that Jeremy Corbyn would be “alone and naked” in the Brexit negotiating chamber. This week, though, it is Mrs May herself who has been revealed as Brexit’s empress with no clothes. Everything about her performance in Brussels over the last two days has underlined both the larger national tragedy of Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the deepening personal failure of Mrs May’s attempts to deliver it.

Mrs May went to this week’s Brussels summit promising a “fair and serious” offer on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK citizens in the EU, after Brexit. She met a humiliating response. The EU-27 told her these were not matters for a summit but for the negotiations. Angela Merkel said the proposals were no breakthrough. Emmanuel Macron said there was a long way to go. Even Donald Tusk, often a friend of Britain, called them “below expectations.” Meanwhile in Britain, EU citizens’ groups dubbed the plan pathetic, and George Osborne revealed that Mrs May had unilaterally prevented a fairer and more serious offer immediately after the referendum last June because that would strengthen her leadership election chances.

Related: Theresa May makes 'fair and serious' offer on EU citizens rights in UK

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The Guardian view on al-Jazeera: muzzling journalism | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/world/arms-tradeplay episode download
23 June, by Editorial[ —]

In the Arab world, freedom of speech is being curbed to stop old and new media from raising questions about the way in which countries are run. This is wrong

In the conservative autocracies of the middle east, Qatar, a wealthy gas-rich emirate, has built up a reputation as a maverick, epitomised by its ownership of the al-Jazeera satellite television channel, which has often infuriated many Arab leaders. Since the TV station gave voice to the Arab spring, many autocrats no doubt wished it would be taken off air, permanently. Al-Jazeera, which arrived long before the internet in the region, broke the mould by reaching directly into Arab living rooms. Along with social media, al-Jazeera has in recent years stirred public opinion in ways Arab governments could not ignore. But now Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates think they can silence it with a blockade of Qatar that will only be lifted if al-Jazeera is shut down.

This is ridiculous. Qatar’s neighbours want to gag media that raises questions about the way these nations are run. Al-Jazeera is not perfect. Its Arabic outlet has been accused in the past of being antisemitic and partisan. It rarely criticises Qatar’s absolute monarchy. However, Qatar abolished formal censorship two decades ago. By comparison, in 2012 the UAE demanded David Cameron rein in adverse BBC coverage or it would halt lucrative arms deals. Abu Dhabi is a regional media player. The UAE’s deputy prime minister owns Sky News Arabia, along with Rupert Murdoch’s broadcaster. According to observers this station put out fake news about Qatar’s ruler.

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The Guardian view on plutocratic Mars missions: escape velocity | Editorial

23 June, by Editorial[ —]
The race between wealthy tech billionaires to get to Mars is a distraction from mortality

For science fiction writers ranged across the astronomical distance that separates Edgar Rice Burroughs and Kim Stanley Robinson, Mars has been a theatre of dreams, variously realistic. Now the tech billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are competing to see who will make it first there in reality. Bezos is spending a billion dollars a year out of his Amazon stock to keep his project going; Musk has announced he wants the first manned private flights to set off by 2026. He hopes that the price can be brought down from around $10bn to $200,000 and that reusable spaceships will ferry a million people to Mars over a period of decades until they can start a self-sustaining civilisation there. This, of course, is only the beginning: once the technology of reusable spacecraft fuelled by methane made from raw materials found at their destination has been mastered, Musk foresees no limit to their explorations.

Related: Life on Mars: Elon Musk reveals details of his colonisation vision

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The Guardian view on the UK’s workers: divided and conquered | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/business/interest-ratesplay episode download
22 June, by Editorial[ —]
The Bank of England’s chief economist is right to say a casualised, de-unionised and atomised labour market has weakened workers’ ability to bid up wages. He’s wrong to say it may be time to raise interest rates

Life is getting interesting at the Bank of England. Next month will mark the 10th anniversary of the last time the technocrats of Threadneedle Street raised the official cost of borrowing, but the chances of an interest rate rise are higher than they have been for some while. Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, thinks the time is not yet ripe for a tightening of policy. He used his delayed Mansion House speech in the City of London this week to voice concerns about the negative impact of higher inflation on consumer spending and the uncertain effects of Brexit negotiations on the economy. But three of the eight members of the Bank’s monetary policy committee took a different view, and they were almost joined by a fourth, the Old Lady’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, who said the time was fast approaching when he would vote for an increase. Mr Haldane’s intervention was significant, not just because he has hitherto been seen as one of the MPC’s most prominent “doves”, nor because his intervention came little more than 24 hours after that of his boss. Rather, it was because the bombshell was dropped at the end of a speech that seemed to argue the opposite.

For years, the Bank of England has been trying to find the answer to a puzzle: why is wage growth so weak even though unemployment keeps coming down? Britain currently has its lowest jobless rate since the mid-1970s, but there has been no sign of an acceleration in earnings growth. Quite the contrary, in fact. At least part of the answer, according to Haldane’s analysis, stems from structural changes in the labour market: a decline in union membership; more self-employment; more zero-hours contracts and more part-time and temporary work. The clock has been turned back not one century but three, so that the world of work in 2017 bears more than a passing resemblance to Britain as it was before the Industrial Revolution. There were no trade unions. Most people were self-employed or worked in a small business. The Uber drivers of that era were the agricultural workers hired only when there were cows to be milked or crops to be harvested. In those pre-industrial days, the relationship between wages and unemployment was strikingly similar to the one seen since the recession of 2008.

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The Guardian view on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince: the age of ambition | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/world/iranplay episode download
22 June, by Editorial[ —]
At 31, the country’s new heir could have a long reign ahead of him. The reverberations are likely to be felt far beyond its borders

Everyone knew Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman was a young man in a hurry. Every step necessary for his advancement had been made in the two years since his father assumed the kingdom’s throne. Some judged him to be already the country’s de facto ruler. But at 31 his public triumph has come perhaps a little more quickly than anticipated. This week King Salman made him crown prince, supplanting his vastly more experienced cousin Mohammed bin Nayef. The new heir’s elevation has erased the kingdom’s image as a cautious, rather dull gerontocracy (the horizontal system of succession has passed rule from brother to brother; even his former rival looked young at 57).

Change is long overdue, and some have applauded the new crown prince as an energetic reformer. But it is clear he has no plans to meddle with the country’s nature as an absolute monarchy intolerant of dissent, let alone challenge the foundational partnership between the House of Saud and conservative Wahhabi clerics. Saudi’s religious leadership – according to reports – has been vocal in recent days about protecting autocracy from democracy. And the dramatic economic and foreign initiatives he has spearheaded have had dismal results.

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The Guardian view on the Queen’s speech: In office but not in power | Editorial

21 June, by Editorial[ —]

The minority government’s programme junks many of the things it wanted to do, in favour of measures it thinks it can get away with

Westminster in the record-breaking high heat of midsummer. The elderly Queen opening parliament for the 64th time in this longest of royal reigns. A crowded and noisy Commons chamber, with the party leaders straining to make their points across the despatch box. The unwary, catching the event on the television news afterwards, may have got the impression today that this was all very familiar, that the 2017 Queen’s speech marks the resumption of British political business as usual. Yet the unwary would be very wrong.

British politics were radically recast on 8 June. The new political landscape is different in almost every way bar the names of the two main party leaders. The Conservatives are in office but not in power. Labour is in one-more-heave mode for the first time since the 1990s. The SNP challenge has retreated though not ended. In this hung parliament, shaped by what is now a minority government, this was a Queen’s speech from a humbled Tory party under a leader whose authority has suddenly drained away.

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The Guardian view on Uber after Kalanick: only window dressing? | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/business/travis-kalanickplay episode download
21 June, by Editorial[ —]
The board finally acted to force the chief executive’s resignation. But the change may only be superficial

The resignation of Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick is a victory for everyone who cares about the way businesses are run, about the duty of corporations to obey the law and of employers to respect and treat fairly their employees. It is a win against the Silicon Valley cult of the genius-founder. It is a triumph for years of brave and determined investigation by a group of journalists who never stopped exposing the ride-hiring platform’s corporate culture even in the face of a $1m counteroffensive from Uber. And it is vindication for the Uber software engineer, Susan Fowler, who precipitated the final crisis when she described her experience of sexual harassment, a claim that provoked more than 200 other similar complaints. It is a belated exercise of power by the Uber board and investors. It will end a particularly nasty iteration of runaway executive authority. It is even a small step in the fight against the gig economy. But it is not the end either of a feeble form of corporate governance, nor of the employment model on which Uber and many other tech businesses depend.

Mr Kalanick embodied the extreme autocracy – sometimes referred to as the asshole strategy – that sometimes appears to be the hallmark of tech businesses, a culture of sharp elbows, “toe-stepping” and, in Uber’s case, what it called “principled confrontation” with regulators. It broke Apple’s privacy rules by writing its own code. Its so-called self-employed drivers are offered car-leasing arrangements that tie them into onerous obligations; their complaints are poorly handled and many end up earning less than the minimum wage. Although the chief executive’s personal behaviour finally energised an investors’ revolt and forced his decision to turn a leave of absence into resignation, it is not axiomatic that the company’s unbridled appetite for the fight has been dulled in any way. Renaming the war room the peace room, as Uber has, doesn’t cut it. The best that can be said is that the influence of Mr Kalanick’s behaviour as a model endorsed by success has been weakened.

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The Guardian view on the fall of Raqqa: the deadliest phase | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/world/iranplay episode download
20 June, by Editorial[ —]
The noose is tightening around Islamic State at a time when the Middle East is in tumult. Miscalculations or accidental incidents could easily spark a wider conflagration, whose spiralling effect no one could then control

The rush to Raqqa, Islamic State’s capital on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria, marks the beginning of a new and perilous phase in one of the world’s most dangerous battle zones. The capture of the capital of Isis’s self-declared caliphate would be partly symbolic – the end of a fountainhead of terror – and partly material: Raqqa would provide a treasure trove of information about the workings of Isis. What is clear is that when Isis is routed, there’s a race to control vacated territory. The jostling between forces means care is required to ensure trigger-happy troops on the ground or in the air do not allow impatience to cloud good judgment.

Syria is a battlefield between a regime and an armed opposition, regional powers, Russia and the west. And it is entering an ominous phase in the almost six-year-old, multifaceted and evolving war that has devastated an entire country. Of the many battles between proxies, perhaps the most worrying are the clashes between forces supported by the US along with its coalition partners, and Iranian-backed groups acting in support of the Assad regime – with Russia as a powerful ally. And there are signs that five months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the risk of an overt confrontation between the US and other actors grows day by day.

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