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The Guardian view on Carillion: reaping the consequences of corporate greed | Editorial

15 January, by Editorial[ —]

The failure of the outsourcing behemoth must be explained. Then we need a better way of managing public services

To get a sense of the impact of the failure of Carillion, you only have to look at how far its ripples are spreading. Uncertainty now hangs over Aberdeen’s £750m western bypass, Sunderland’s biggest ever regeneration project, the glamorous new hospital in Liverpool, and another in Smethwick, the £350m Midland Metropolitan hospital. The ripples reach thousands of homes where military families live which Carillion is contracted to manage, the trains they are contracted to clean, and the school dinners they are contracted to make. The tentacles of this giant construction and outsourcing company, valued at £2bn only the summer before last, reached into the nooks and crannies of every part of the UK’s public services. It was a kind of parasitic growth in Whitehall growing fat on the contracts that government fed to it. It must not now be allowed to nationalise its losses.

It is bleak for Carillion employees, direct and indirect. David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, promises wages will be paid, but in the longer term jobs are in doubt; the pension fund is in deficit. Much-needed public investment will be delayed. Investors have lost everything: but what of Chris Grayling, the transport minister who awarded nearly £2bn of contracts, even after the company first issued profit warnings? Ministers insist the taxpayer is protected, but eyebrows were raised at the time at what looked less like a good deal than a bid to keep Carillion afloat. The government could have declared Carillion too risky to work with. It didn’t.

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The Guardian view on Egyptian democracy: it would be a good idea | Editorial

15 January, by Editorial[ —]
Within months Egyptians will get a chance to elect a president. The result is not in doubt. The country’s future is

Earlier this month Egypt’s authorities announced the dates for the nation’s next presidential poll. Yet before the starting pistol has been fired, the winner seems not in doubt. The country’s current president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, will almost certainly be his nation’s next president. A growing list of potential candidates have either withdrawn their bids or have seen them blocked. The man with the best chance of tapping the discontent in the Arab world’s most populous nation had been Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general who narrowly lost the country’s only free presidential election in 2012. His lawyer took to Twitter to claim that the government had forced him to pull out.

This is a profoundly depressing but wholly expected turn of events in Egypt. Now the main threat from within the establishment is a former military chief of staff, though doubts linger over whether he will end up on the ballot. The army is reported to be secretly buying up private media groups to back a Sisi presidential run. All the signs point to the election being little more than a rerun of the 2014 poll, when Mr Sisi won 96% of the vote. Ludicrously, Mr Sisi’s opponent in that two-person contest finished third behind the spoiled ballots. Mr Sisi, a former head of the army, is coy about running again but everyone expects he will.

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The Guardian view on UK defence strategy: Britain’s priorities must be European | Editorial

14 January, by Editorial[ —]
Brexit or no Brexit, the UK and France must use this week’s summit to work more closely together on military and security issues

Whether Brexit happens or whether it does not, one thing will not change. Britain will need a defence strategy for the future that better reflects its real place in the world. Geographically, Britain’s place is going nowhere, Brexit or no Brexit. Geopolitically, the world is changing. As China’s power rises, the US turns isolationist under a dangerous president, terrorist and cyber-threats continue and nuclear arms proliferate. Britain’s defence strategy needs to adapt and keep pace.

Prime ministers and defence secretaries still talk as if Britain is a global power with post-imperial reach, able to deploy a sweeping range of armed forces and weaponry in support of allies, principally the United States, from the Irish Sea to the Pacific. Most of Britain’s wars and deployments since 1945 have been made on that basis, with some exceptions like the missions in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. But this is not sustainable on the scale of the past, either politically or financially.

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The Guardian view on contemporary art in schools: a joyful idea reborn | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/braqueplay episode download
14 January, by Editorial[ —]
In the 1940s, School Prints were a visionary notion to bring affordable, adventurous artworks into classrooms. Reinvented for the 21st century, they still are today

In 1946, a letter was sent out to a number of British artists. It began: “We are producing a series of auto-lithographs … for use in schools, as a means of giving school children an understanding of contemporary art. By keeping the price as low as possible, we are able to bring this scheme … within reach of all Education Authorities.” This was the beginning of a project called School Prints. The idea had been that of a dashing Etonian (and European federalist) called Derek Rawnsley, who died in 1943 while in the RAF. It was carried through by his young widow, Brenda – an equally dashing figure who, fluent in Arabic and French, had served during the war as an intelligence officer in Algiers, Cairo and Palestine, and undertook missions such as a clandestine visit to a bombmaking factory in Germany.

Not knowing a great deal about art, she co-opted someone who did: the critic Herbert Read. Between them they persuaded artists including John Nash, Tom Gentleman and Barbara Jones to contribute to the project. Schools enthusiastically embraced their gentle, playful images, which included a harvest scene, dray horses and a fairground. In 1947, having already persuaded Henry Moore to make an abstract work for her, she broadened the series to French artists and – by dint of hiring an aircraft and employing her considerable charm – convinced Dufy, Picasso, Léger, Matisse and Braque to take part. Though less popular with postwar British schoolteachers, the French set is the one that has best stood the test of time.

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The Observer view on Donald Trump | Observer editorial

14 January, by Observer editorial[ —]

The president is a disgrace to his country on so many levels

It is almost one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president. Will he last another 12 months? Day after tumultuous day since 20 January 2017, Trump has provided fresh evidence of his unfitness for America’s highest office.

The Observer is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791. It is published by Guardian News & Media and is editorially independent.

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The Observer view on the government’s environment and obesity plans | Observer editorial

14 January, by Observer editorial[ —]

Only when she tackles producers and retailers will May have workable strategies on recycling and healthy eating

Last week, Marks & Spencer withdrew the “cauliflower steak” from its shelves. Essentially a thick slice of cauliflower that came with a sachet of lemon and herb drizzle, the product was widely criticised for its excessive plastic packaging and sizable markup, retailing at a “special offer” price of £2.

That a retailer thought it saw an opportunity in marketing a slice of raw vegetable in this way reveals much, not just about our penchant for faddish food trends, but our attitudes towards waste. As a society, we produce far too much of the stuff: every year in the UK, 1bn plastic food trays are sent to landfill. We collectively throw away £13bn of food each year. Recycling rates in England lag far behind those of countries such as Germany.

The Observer is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791. It is published by Guardian News & Media and is editorially independent.

Related: We won’t save the world by watching celebrity nature shows | Lucy Siegle

The 5p charge for carrier bags resulted in the number of single-use plastic bags in circulation plummeting by 85% in six months

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The Guardian view on Germany’s coalition deal: Merkel in the balance | Editorial

12 January, by Editorial[ —]
The coalition agreement in Berlin is step towards giving Germany a new government. But Angela Merkel’s future rests in the hands of her prospective partner party

Crisis? What crisis? With its buoyant economy, increasing industrial output, renewed export boom and its record low unemployment, Germany looks to be getting along fine without the little matter of a government. This week, official data in Berlin showed the workshop of Europe’s economy returning to something like full speed. Output has registered its best monthly rise since 2009, while Germany’s trade surplus has widened the way it did in the days before the eurozone crisis. Now even the nearly four-month post-election absence of a government in Berlin is being dealt with, after Angela Merkel and the social democrats reached agreement on Friday morning on a programme for a new coalition government.

All this renewed stability is good news for Germany, and thus for the European Union, and thus also, in a Brexit context, perhaps for Britain too. After the rise of the rightwing AfD in September’s election, it was essential that Germany’s established parties should find a way to work together to renew their social market model for new times. But it would be prudent not to break open the Sekt too soon. Mrs Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative bloc has certainly struck a coalition deal with Martin Schulz’s centre-left SPD. But it is far from certain that the deal will hold.

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The Guardian view on Tunisia unrest: riots redux? | Editorial

12 January, by Editorial[ —]
In 2011 Tunisia was the first Arab country to oust its dictator. People power is now targeting democrats

Tunisia is starting to feel a lot like 2011. Then the self-immolation of a street vendor over repression and unemployment sparked an uprising that became the Arab spring, beginning with the fall of the Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Now, seven years after the dictator’s departure, Tunisians have taken to the streets over an austerity programme and rising prices. At least one demonstrator has been killed and hundreds arrested in sometimes violent confrontations.

For some, Tunisia may be too small, too lacking in oil wealth or too lightly populated to warrant much attention. But since 2011 it has eclipsed all other Arab nations in building democratic institutions and adopting a liberal constitution. Civil society won a Nobel peace prize. Tunisia’s gains were not easily achieved; nor are they close to secure. Successive governments have failed to bring about the kind of revival Tunisians hoped for from elective government. The north African economy is lacklustre, unable to create enough jobs and with its foreign exchange earner – tourism – battered by terror attacks. It’s been forced to borrow $2.9bn from the IMF, in return for which unpopular price hikes and spending cuts are being pushed.

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The Guardian view on Trump’s non-visit: social media beats diplomacy | Editorial

12 January, by Editorial[ —]
The president’s decision not to come to open the new US embassy begs the question – in an age of terror, are diplomats still necessary?

The reason why President Trump called off his visit to London to open the new US embassy may never be clear. It might be wise not to overthink it; he probably didn’t. Perhaps it was the threat of hostile demonstrations, or maybe a sign of the low priority he gives to a working lunch with Theresa May. Or it could even have been, as the president himself tweeted late on Thursday night, because the real estate magnate in him reckoned it was a bad decision to replace the “best located and finest embassy in London” with an “off location” address – a decision he wrongly blamed on President Obama.

In fact, the move was decided in the Bush era, partly because Grosvenor Square had been outgrown, and partly because its swanky Mayfair location fell well short of the extreme security demanded of US embassies after a series of terror attacks. But, unwittingly, the president has drawn attention to a different question: whether embassies are still needed at all. When a Skype call can be set up in seconds, communication is instant and secure, and keeping up with social media reveals intelligence even the best-placed diplomat might miss, why spend billions of dollars setting up a target for terrorists?

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The Guardian view on the NHS crisis: it’s not just the flu | Editorial

11 January, by Editorial[ —]

There is no mistaking the depth of the crisis faced by the health service. But how much are we prepared to pay, who will pay it – and what exactly will it buy?

It has been a terrible day for the NHS in England and Wales (and not a lot better in Scotland, where there are also complaints about long waits, or Northern Ireland). But it was even worse for the health service’s political masters. An unprecedented letter was sent to the prime minister by 68 of the most senior emergency medicine specialists from across England and Wales. It warned in the starkest terms of the extent of the crisis in A&E caused by “severe and chronic” underfunding: some care was not safe. Treatment was taking 10-12 hours from the decision to admit to finding a bed. For want of that bed, people were dying on trolleys. Patients were sleeping in clinics. Sometimes 50 patients at a time were waiting in emergency departments. They need more staff, more beds and more cash for social care.

Earlier, the body representing all NHS providers warned that the funding crisis had driven hospitals to a watershed where hard choices were becoming unavoidable. As they have for more than a year, most hospitals are breaching their constitutional obligations. The warning accompanied statistics showing that only 77.3% of A&E patients met the four hours target in December. Performance is already worse than in its worst month, January 2017. It the worst since records began, and it is very likely to get worse still. Theresa May suggested to reporters that it was because of the flu epidemic. This is not the flu: it is a system-wide crisis brought about by seven years of mounting austerity. Oh, and that is getting worse, too. The official defence is that this is not a crisis, because there is a plan. Certainly the consultants acknowledge in their letter to Downing Street that huge effort went into trying to avert a crisis. But planning can’t magic up highly trained doctors and nurses. Plans do not make hospital beds. And while vaccination helps, you can’t entirely plan your way out of the impact of flu.

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