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

23 July, by Observer editorial[ —]
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

23 July, by Observer editorial[ —]
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

23 July, by Observer editorial[ —]
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

21 July, by Editorial[ —]
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

https://www.theguardian.com/books/francis-spuffordplay episode download
21 July, by Editorial[ —]
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

https://www.theguardian.com/world/iraqplay episode download
20 July, by Editorial[ —]
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

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/liberaldemocratsplay episode download
20 July, by Editorial[ —]
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

https://www.theguardian.com/media/radioplay episode download
19 July, by Editorial[ —]

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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