From anxiety to Zuckerberg: an A-Z of Brexit

Hard or soft, clean, dirty or frictionless? As the EU debate reaches boiling point, it’s time to take a closer look at its unique lexicon

The syndrome known as “Brexit anxiety” is now so common that a team of psychotherapists from the Existential Academy is offering free sessions to help people avoid “being sucked into a vortex of gloom and doom”. Unfortunately only continental Europeans living in the UK qualify, so the rest of us will just have to pretend we like living in a vortex.

Continue reading...

Politics and Fairy Tales: Early Versions of “The Three Little Pigs”

Recently, author Chuck Wendig got into a minor spat on Twitter with another Twitter user who insisted that stories do not have to be political. As an example, the Twitter user mentioned “The Three Little Pigs.”

My screams probably could have heard on the other side of the ocean.

So, even though Chuck Wendig already did a good job of explaining just why this story is perhaps not the best example of non-political storytelling, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a more in depth look at the tale here and its history. Even though I HATE THIS STORY. And even though many early versions don’t even MENTION pigs at all…

First, a general note: fairy tales are inherently political. Indeed, in many cases, authors deliberately chose fairy tale subjects in the hopes of making political points—sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously so, in the case of some satirical fairy ...

Penal or nudist: what kind of ‘colony’ will Britain be in Boris Johnson’s Brexit vision?

The former foreign secretary said Britain was ‘truly headed for the status of colony’ if it followed Theresa May’s Brexit plan – but what does that mean?

So farewell, then, Boris Johnson, who this week resigned from the cabinet because the latest Brexit plan meant that “we are truly headed for the status of colony”. No one knows why this should have suddenly offended the principles of a man who once wrote that the “problem” with Africa was “not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.

A “colony” in English was originally just a farm: “colonia” in Latin was a farm or estate, but also a group of Roman citizens garrisoned in a newly conquered country; so “colony” came to mean a settlement by some country in another, regardless of the wishes of the existing inhabitants, as well as ...

Imperial Twilight by Stephen R Platt review – lessons for today from the opium war

A beautifully written and expert account of western aggression in 19th-century China casts light on the Chinese reaction to Trump

While campaigning for the US presidency, Donald Trump talked tough on China. He accused the country of “raping” the US economically: its trade policies and currency manipulation were allegedly perpetrating “one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world”. In March, Trump put his money where his mouth was, announcing up to $60bn of tariffs on Chinese imports. The US, the White House proclaimed, was “strategically defending itself” from “economic aggression”. Within hours, the People’s Republic responded by announcing its own tariffs on key US exports: pork, apples, soybeans. The rhetoric of public opinion in China was revealing of the deeper history of this trade row. Chinese editorialists promptly linked Trump’s action back to 19th-century western aggressions, and specifically to the collisions that dragged China violently into a ...

How Democracy Ends by David Runciman review – what Trump and Corbyn have in common

A wonderful, contrarian book captures Twitter-era politics and the danger of allowing democracy to be eroded from within

“Democracy dies in darkness” runs the slogan on the Washington Post masthead, but if democracy really is dying around us, its demise has never been so loudly heralded nor so brightly lit. Even before Donald Trump’s emergence as a presidential candidate, it was clear that the global trend away from authoritarian regimes to democratic ones had slowed down; his rise was accompanied by a barrage of authors’ warnings that we are heading back into the 1930s. Never have the last days of Weimar seemed so worthy of study. Historians have developed a nice sideline in self-help manuals for a life of underground resistance to tyranny.

David Runciman’s bracingly intelligent new book is both a contribution to this debate and a refutation of it. How Democracy Ends shares the widespread sense that ...

May’s Brexit ‘dividend’ is imaginary – there is no Brackpot

Theresa May’s reference to a ‘dividend’ implies a mathematically precise calculation of how Brexit will boost NHS funding. In truth the sums don’t add up

This week Theresa May announced that she’ll spend more on the NHS because of the “Brexit dividend” (Brividend). Like a “jobs-first Brexit” or a unicorn, it’s a thing that’s entirely imaginary, since the likely loss of tax revenue due to slower growth after Brexit will more than offset the slightly more than 1% of the government budget we currently pay to the EU. Still, let us at least applaud May’s sobriety in not announcing a Brexit bonanza (Bronanza) or a Brexit jackpot (Brackpot).

Most apposite in today's political context is the sense of 'dividend' that means the proceeds from gambling

Continue reading...

Public libraries are life-affirming | Letters

Judith Daniels thanks her council for her wonderful local library, Keith McClellan looks at the role they play in democracy, and Keith Martin argues their closure is breaking the law

I could not agree more with your leader (Editorial, 18 June) and the wonderful, life-affirming institutions that are public libraries. While sitting in my local community library writing this letter, I am surrounded by myriad activities including a well-attended jobs fair, people browsing shelves, and a cafe stocked with delicious food.

It is a sad indictment that our libraries are being decimated because local councils are being starved of the very necessary funds to keep them alive. Every generation from a child in arms to a centenarian can feel at home in a library’s multicultural, inclusive atmosphere. Loneliness is the scourge of our disconnected and alienated world, so libraries help to solve a real mental health problem by ...

Female role models to inspire change in society | Letters

We need more books for both boys and girls that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders, writes Jean Pollard. And why can no one remember the work of Eleanor Marx? asks John Airs

I very much enjoyed the supplement of best new children’s books (16 June) but how disappointing to see the continuing massive overrepresentation of male protagonists in these stories. While some recommended books did have a female lead, and there were a couple of books about real heroic women (one described as being sure to inspire girls – why not boys?), there were far, far more where the lead character was a boy and where girls remain accessories in boy’s stories. We need more books for both boys and girls to read that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders in a whole host of activities hitherto seen as “boys’ stuff” if we are ...

Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control?

Technology is starting to behave in intelligent and unpredictable ways that even its creators don’t understand. As machines increasingly shape global events, how can we regain control?

The voice-activated gadget in the corner of your bedroom suddenly laughs maniacally, and sends a recording of your pillow talk to a colleague. The clip of Peppa Pig your toddler is watching on YouTube unexpectedly descends into bloodletting and death. The social network you use to keep in touch with old school friends turns out to be influencing elections and fomenting coups.

Related: YouTube to clamp down on disturbing kids' videos such as dark Peppa Pig

Continue reading...

24-hour news has cut politicians’ shelf life, says Gordon Brown

Former PM says politicians now get about six years at the top, because voters get bored

The age of 24-hour news has brought about the end of long political leaderships, the former prime minister Gordon Brown has said, estimating that a politician’s time at the top is now no more than six years.

Brown told the Hay literary festival in Wales that invasive modern media meant the public got sick of politicians more quickly.

Continue reading...

Is rising inequality responsible for greater stress, anxiety and mental illness?

That’s the claim made by the authors of The Inner Level, which furthers arguments first laid out in their 2009 work, The Spirit Level. They reveal the bleak truth about uneven societies

In 2009, when the world was still absorbing the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis, a book called The Spirit Level was published. Written by a couple of social epidemiologists, it argued that a whole raft of data conclusively showed that societies with greater inequality also had a range of more pronounced social problems, including higher rates of violence, murder, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity and teenage pregnancies.

Given that naked profit motive had just taken the world to the brink of economic collapse, it was a good moment to take stock and reflect on where rising inequality was leading us. For the previous 30 years a broad consensus had operated in politics, particularly in the US and ...

David Miliband: I would join any campaign against any Brexit deal

The former foreign secretary says there should be a second vote on Brexit

David Miliband has said he would take part in any campaign to vote against the terms of any Brexit deal but has no plans to return to the cut and thrust of UK politics.

Miliband, who has been based in New York as president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) since 2013, is still seen, at the age of 52, as a future leader of the Labour party and has never categorically ruled it out.

Continue reading...

Even the elephants gave Gavin Williamson the cold shoulder | John Crace

Also this week, David Davis gets lost at a festival and Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets

My children’s ability to surprise me shows no sign of letting up even now both are well into their 20s. Earlier this year, our daughter told us she would be getting married in the UK in October. About a fortnight ago we got a call to say there had been a change of plan. She and her partner, Robert, would now be getting married in Minnesota in 10 days’ time while they were visiting his parents. Cue mini-panic as my wife and I set about cancelling various previous arrangements and booked a weekend trip to Minneapolis. The ceremony itself took place in Robert’s parents’ kitchen and was conducted by his uncle, who had managed to get himself his own ministry the week before. It was somehow both something I had never imagined but also just ...

British ‘linguaphobia’ has deepened since Brexit vote, say experts

New research shows teachers reporting that the vote to leave the EU has hardened monolingual attitudes

Britain faces further isolation after Brexit if it doesn’t adjust its citizens’ attitude towards learning foreign languages, a panel of experts has warned, with Britons becoming increasingly “linguaphobic” in the wake of the EU referendum.

Speaking at the Hay literary festival on Friday, a panel including Cardiff University professor Claire Gorrara and linguist Teresa Tinsley, said that Britons had too long relied on a false belief that English was the world’s lingua franca. Only 6% of the global population are native English speakers, with 75% of the world unable to speak English at all. But three-quarters of UK residents can only speak English.

Continue reading...

Forget Trump – populism is the cure, not the disease

Two recent books are typical of the current consensus in presenting populism as a new threat to liberal democracy. But properly understood, it is neither modern nor rightwing

Why are the traditional parties of the left in the western world being defeated in so many places by outrageous blowhards of the right? The answer most often given is that rightwing politicians have discovered and embraced a diabolical form of super-politics known as “populism”. With its combination of magic words and evil deeds, this populism is breaking rules, beguiling voters and winning elections.

Populism is a subject I know something about. In the 1980s I studied the angry American agrarians who, a century before, squared off against railroad monopolists. I became fascinated with the populist culture of the Roosevelt era, with all its Fanfares for the Common Man and its admiration for working people.

Continue reading...

John le Carré letter reveals author’s contempt for British political class

Message to American friend in 2010 pours scorn on ‘ragbag of ivy league Tories’, ‘eco-ostriches’ and ‘born again PR men’ returned to power in UK

John le Carré’s stinging disdain for British politicians is displayed in a caustic letter to an American friend, coming up for auction, which sees him pouring scorn on the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Labour alike.

The handwritten letter to an obstetrician from Maine was written by the author in August 2010, after the Conservative party had failed to win a majority in the general election and had formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Or as Le Carré astringently put it: “The Etonians have taken back the shop with the help of some B-list inexperienced liberals who will evaporate in their own hot air before long, leaving the shop to a ragbag of ivy league Tories, born again PR men, sexists, anti-Europeans, nostalgists and ...

How Democracy Ends review – is people politics doomed?

Representative government is experiencing a calamitous midlife crisis, argues David Runciman in this scintillating if gloomy treatise

Some people sniff the air and smell an alarmingly foul whiff of the 1930s. The rise of demagogues and “strongmen”; the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalisms and fundamentalisms; the denigration of expertise and the celebration of ignorance; scorn for consensus-builders and pragmatic compromise; the polarisation of politics towards venom-spitting extremes. Haven’t we seen this horror movie before?

No, argues David Runciman in this scintillating treatise about representative democracy and its contemporary discontents. Donald Trump is “an old man with the political personality of a child”, but he is not “a proto-Hitler”. We are not reliving the first half of the 20th century in Europe. Vladimir Putin presides over a “parody democracy” in Russia, but he is not Stalin. Some of the symptoms of democratic decay may seem familiar, but the disease is different. We ...

Never-ending nightmare: why feminist dystopias must stop torturing women

The Handmaid’s Tale has inspired a new generation of writers whose dystopian worlds are ever more bleak, dark and sadistic. But where is the hope?

A woman, pregnant by rape, is denied an abortion, legally detained and subjected to a forced caesarean. A woman on low income wants to leave her controlling partner but can’t, because a government policy designed to “prevent family breakdown” means all their benefits are paid into his account. A woman reports a sexual assault, but the police don’t believe her, so they prosecute her for making a false allegation, while her attacker remains free to attack more victims. Girls are systematically groomed into prostitution, and police ignore their abusers. A man boasts on tape that he can “grab” women “by the pussy”: he is elected president. These are all things that happened in Ireland, the UK and the US over the last decade.

As the ...

May 1968: the revolution retains its magnetic allure

A Stone Roses album, a Hari Kunzru novel, a Gucci ad campaign ... 50 years after the events of May 1968, our writer reflects on how the ideas and energy of that moment live on today

We are now as far from the events of 1968 as the people involved were from the end of the first world war. Cliche has long since reduced much of what occurred to “student revolt”, but that hardly does these happenings justice, partly because it ignores the workers’ strikes that were just as central to what occurred during ’68 and the years that followed, but also because the phrase gets nowhere near the depth and breadth of what young people were rebelling against, not least in France.

This was the last time that a developed western society glimpsed the possibility of revolution focused not just on institutions, but the contestation of everyday reality, which is ...

Karl Marx at 200: Aaron Bastani picks five books to understand Marxism

The post-crash era, political polarisation and tech revolution have revived big ideas. Marxism is pivotal to leftwing thought, so here are some books to help understand it

The global financial crisis of 2008 was the catalyst for a number of trends whose endpoints remain uncertain. One is a continuing crisis of the economic system: previous growth levels have never recovered, particularly in Europe, while wages have stagnated and living standards fallen. Home ownership is declining in both Britain and the United States, with labour markets everywhere increasingly precarious.

Another factor is the reemergence of political polarisation. In 2011, Time magazine’s Person of the Year was “The Protester”. While dissent was primarily limited to the streets for several years – including the Arab spring and the Occupy movement – it would ultimately underpin the rise of politicians whose radicalism and popular appeal were previously unimaginable. Step forward Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie ...