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The best days of the internet are over – now our privacy will suffer

Thankfully, nobody can see the Freddie Mercury impression I uploaded to YouTube in 2006. Tomorrow's teenagers, however, might not be so lucky.

In the 11 years since I uploaded it to YouTube, 48,514 people have watched a video of my 14-year-old self singing and dancing to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. If you wanted to find the video today – and I don’t see why you would, considering that, as I arrive at “scaramouche, scaramouche”, I get distracted by a cat and, two minutes later, I hit my head on a ceiling light – you wouldn’t be able to. This is because when I started applying for grown-up jobs, I set the video to “private”. It exists on the internet but can only be seen by me.

There is an idea, propagated by anyone who nostalgically remembers a time when children played out on the streets and didn’t come home until dinner, that kids who use the internet are destined to be haunted by what they post online. Thus far, my life has not been blighted by my YouTube video, nor by the pictures I posted to Bebo in 2005, nor by the poems I scribbled on Myspace in 2008. Yet I fear that things will be different for my children, or their children.

The internet has changed so rapidly over the past decade that I can now prematurely join the “back in my day” brigade. The old Wild West of the World Wide Web has now been colonised by a few big-time cowboys. The experimental social media pages of the Noughties quickly died and took my embarrassing teenage pictures with them, but today’s social networks become more embedded in our lives by the day. While “private” used to be simply a button I could press to hide my YouTube shame, it is now a concept under threat.

At the end of 2016, the Investigatory Powers Act – or “Snoopers’ Charter”, as it has come to be known – became law. The act grants the government unprecedented spying powers, so that your online communications and search records can be intercepted by 48 different agencies, including – bizarrely – the Department for Transport and the Food Standards Agency. The level of surveillance that the act permits is dystopian, especially when used in concert with the Digital Economy Bill, which has just passed its second reading in the House of Lords. This legislation seeks, among other things, to ban “adult” sites that don’t implement age-verification measures. The word “adult” here seems deliberately vague.

The near-lawless era of the internet so far is coming to an end. Age verification, a process that involves handing over your identity, threatens internet anonymity, which in turn threatens much of the internet’s art (and arguments). The banning and blocking of websites that do not comply with the government’s moral ruling destroys the foundational freedoms of the information age, while surveillance powers threaten the way in which we use the internet.

None of this threatens my 2006 YouTube video, nor my ability to make another in 2017, but it shows that we must change the way we think about how our internet histories will haunt us as we grow. It is not embarrassing YouTube videos or pictures of drunken antics that should worry today’s teenagers, but the keywords that they search and the messages that they send. Until now, we have taken for granted that such things will remain private. That is no longer the case.

Even before the law began to curtail the Wild Web, its individual territories had already been seized, bit by bit, by a handful of powerful corporations. Facebook has acquired more than 50 companies in the past 12 years, including social networks, speech recognition services and virtual reality developers. Through these acquisitions, Face­book has obtained a staggering amount of personal data. Last August, the social network revealed that it uses 98 different aspects of your private information just to target adverts at you.

Naturally, this encroachment of our privacy has provoked a backlash. Yet the people who started sending messages on WhatsApp to avoid being spied on by Face­book Messenger were deterred when the former was acquired by the latter in 2014. This month, we learned that WhatsApp messages, too, can be intercepted and read.

Then  there is the “internet of things” (IoT). Gradually, we invite internet-connected kettles, toys and even hairbrushes into our homes, many of which are equipped with microphones that can be hacked to listen to our every word. Yet before any malicious hacker sets his or her fingers to their keys, the companies behind many IoT products freely admit to saving and storing an abundance of your personal data. Echo, Amazon’s “constantly listening” smart speaker, records everything you say to it and stores it on a server. It is George Orwell’s telescreen, except that you pay £149.99 for the privilege of having it in your home.

It feels dramatic to claim that the era of internet freedom is over, yet all the signs point that way. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called these “dark, dark days”. Who will stop our freedoms being infringed further? We stand to lose so much by exiting the European Union that there has been little mention of how it protects online freedom. Last December, the European Court of Justice declared the Investigatory Powers Act to be unlawful, but will this matter after Brexit?

Posting a video of myself singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” was not the worst thing I did online in 2006, but it was by far the most visible. As a curious teenager, I undoubtedly asked Google how to dispose of a dead body, and long before that I definitely sent messages that should never, ever have been sent. But while I only had to worry about my poor Freddie Mercury impression, tomorrow’s teens will have to be aware that they are being watched every time they press send.

Amelia Tait is a digital culture writer for Helen Lewis is away

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era
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Progress was slow on the Women’s March, but that’s a pretty useful metaphor

You inch and shuffle along. You start to feel you might get crushed. But you know you’re going in the right direction.

On the morning of the London Women’s March, I realise I am underdressed. I don’t have a slogan T-shirt, or badges, or a banner. I do, however, have sandwiches. “My body is my banner,” I say facetiously to someone on Twitter, and later on, it feels quite true. The sight of all these women’s bodies gathered together in one place does look like a statement, as powerful as any of the words on the placards.

The placards, many and various, are all great. They say “Nasty Woman” and “Fight like a girl”. A group in full suffragette costume hold up the words “Same Shit Different Century”. There is passion, but humour, too, giving the lie to the notion that this is a bunch of sanctimonious prigs out for a day of virtue-signalling. “Grab ’em by the patriarchy”. “Feminazis against actual Nazis”. “I know signs, I’ve got the best signs”. Ambivalence shows itself, too, an awareness that some of us are outside our comfort zone, like with the guy holding a placard that says, “Not usually my thing, marching – but honestly,” and my favourite of the day, which sums up the generalised exasperation many feel, a simple and heartfelt “FOR F***’S SAKE”.

As we march, there’s not much chanting, perhaps because there isn’t one single slogan that sums up our purpose. No “Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out”, or “The National Front is a Nazi front, Smash the National Front”. Someone starts up a refrain of “Dump Trump, dump Trump” and everyone joins in for a minute, but it sounds like a mob of supporters chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” so it soon fizzles out.

On Park Lane cars whoosh past in the opposite direction, hooting in support, and a Mexican wave of cheering rolls through the crowd. Then suddenly we catch up with a slowly moving sound system on a bike, loudly playing Althea and Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking”, and for a few blocks the crowd is dancing and singing “Love is all I bring”, until we move on and the music fades behind us.

By the time we get to Trafalgar Square we are a hundred thousand strong. My little gang and I climb up on to a raised grassed area in front of the National Gallery, and from there we watch the rest of the marchers stream into the square. The crowd gets tighter and tighter and still they come, more people than I thought possible, and even though we’re too far back to hear a word of any speeches, I look up at the David Shrigley sculpture on the Fourth Plinth that towers over us and see that it’s giving a big thumbs-up to the day.

The spirit has been buoyant, motivated, positive. For those who ask what the march was for, I would answer it was a morale boost, a shout of “You’re not alone, you’re not mad!” in the face of crowing and gaslighting. It was for the promotion of defiantly keeping your pecker up. I get home and I see the images from around the world, the great flowing crowds, rivers into oceans, and of course I also see the comments that dismiss what we’ve done, deriding the futility of it, but I’m too cheered up to give a single shit. My only riposte on Twitter is: “DON’T bring along a CLOUD to rain on my PARADE!”

For we’re not fools. We know a march won’t change the world. A crowd can be inspiring and uplifting. Surrounded by like minds, you feel empowered, and yes, it’s easy to get carried away. But an event of this kind also operates as a pretty useful metaphor. Because the truth is, on a march of this size you don’t do much real marching. You inch and shuffle along, you stumble and stop, your progress is incremental at the best of times. You hit a bottleneck and the entire crowd grinds to a complete standstill; the line gets backed up, and as people press in around you on all sides you start to fear that you might get crushed.

It’s understandable at that point to want to get out, maybe try to stand to one side. But then, slowly, slowly, something up ahead clears and the crowd starts to move again, plodding forward, step by step, and you’re happy just to be going in the right direction, craning your neck to try and see the endpoint, just there up ahead in the distance, always around the next corner. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.
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We’re hiring! Join the New Statesman as a digital sub-editor

Applications close on 10 February.

The New Statesman is looking for a hard-working, conscientious individual to oversee its digital production. The role will include subbing and headlining online stories, adapting print headlines to the web, and overseeing the iPad and other digital editions. It is a full time role based in our office in Blackfriars.

The successful applicant will:

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Experience of iPad and Kindle production is desirable but not essential. This role will report to our digital editor. The salary is dependent on experience.

To apply, please send a short covering letter outlining your suitability for the role and 200 words on how the New Statesman could improve its digital production.

Emails should be sent to with the subject line “Online sub-editor”. The closing deadline for applications is noon on Friday, 10 February.
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The Monzo question: should you ditch the high street and do all your banking on your phone?

Monzo - the mobile-only start-up bank - is giving out "golden tickets" to skip its waiting list. But is it a good deal?

For a few days I see the word everywhere – but I don’t bother to Google it. It sounds like a lesser-known Muppet or a new type of sausage, and I resolutely ignore the mentions of it that seem to flood social media. But then, just as I’ve resigned myself to forget about the whole thing forever, a good friend messages me to say: “Would you like to try Monzo? I have a golden ticket.”

Monzo is a startup mobile-only bank that allows you, among other things, to track your purchases via an app, create budgets, and freeze your card temporarily if you misplace it. Yet as well as being one of the first solely digital UK banks, it is also the first bank that has managed to get people tell-all-your-friends-and-scream-about-it-online excited. How? Tom Blomfield, Monzo’s CEO and co-founder, attributes this to one thing:

“Our strategy is pretty simple – make something people want.”

Blomfield says he and his team created Monzo because they are “hugely frustrated” with the state of traditional banking. “I've banked with NatWest for 16 years and I feel like I'm trapped in an abusive relationship… we want to do something that actually works for people.”

In its current iteration, Monzo is simply a pre-paid debit card that you can top up, with an app that will show you your purchases in real time. This might not sound like much, but it is sufficient to create a buzz with people frustrated that their current banking apps will only show their purchases (or whether they’ve slipped into their overdraft) two to three days later. The app also uses your phone’s geolocation chip to process when you’ve gone abroad and inform you of exchange rates. “Every time I go abroad with my traditional bank card it gets blocked for fraud,” says Blomfield. “We want to use the technology to remove a lot of the painful edges of banking.” In the coming months, the app’s restricted banking license will be lifted and they will offer a full current account with an overdraft. 

Yet although Monzo is different, it is not unique. Multiple startup banks exist, including Loot, Atom, and Tandem, but Monzo has received the most publicity. The popstar Lily Allen has tweeted about the app (back when it was called Mondo, before a trademark challenge), and recently Ben Greenwood, a self-described “Social Media Influencer” has praised the bank. Blomfield says neither of these posts were sponsored, so how has Monzo managed to generate so much hype?

“I wish I could say I signed up for Monzo in order to get my finances in order. To be honest, it was the draw of being part of something new,” says Brenda, the friend who first told me about the app. Monzo currently has a week-long waiting list, but gives current customers – of which there are 100,000 – a “golden ticket” to give to their friends. This means they can gain immediate access.

“It's a really useful throttling mechanism so we don't get overwhelmed with demand,” says Blomfield, “The waiting list has created a real scarcity about it, so we’ve played into that.” A large proportion of tweets about Monzo seem to mention golden tickets – proving the marketing strategy has been highly effective, and explaining the sudden hype. 

But it’s not just the technology and marketing that are revolutionary about Monzo – according to Blomfield, it's the entire ethos of the company. “We actually don't hire that many people from banks because they seem to have been brainwashed,” he says. “When we interview our new job candidates we always talk about customers’ problems and how you might solve them and people who don’t work in banks come up with all these amazing solutions to really help people. People who have worked in banks typically come and say ‘Ah for that problem you need a credit card, for this other problem you need a fixed term loan’, they don't think about what customers are really pissed off about and how to fix that.”

It’s at this point where things start to sound a little too good to be true. Yet Brenda tells me she is “continually impressed” by the app, and enjoys the lack of banking jargon and the use of emojis in notifications. “However there is one key thing that's missing,” she says, “Trust. I still don't use it as my full 'current account', instead I top it up with £20, £30 every couple of days. There is something preventing me from putting my full trust into Monzo - perhaps it's because it hasn't earned it.”

When I first look into Monzo, this too is my primary concern. It seems risky to trust a startup with something so crucial as your finances, and the amount of data Monzo collects is vast. “Your bank has a ton of your personal data, but they don't use it for your benefit,” counters Blomfield when I express these concerns. “Our fundamental philosophy is that the data belongs to the customer.” He adds that each customer must agree before any of their data is shared with third-parties. 

Blomfield also takes security seriously, and Monzo frequently ask hackers to attempt to infiltrate their servers as a way of uncovering any flaws. When it comes to a more traditional theft, Blomfield says services within your phone, such a thumbprint scanners, can protect the app. “If someone chops your thumb off then yes, they can steal your money.”

Yet Monzo still has to earn consumers' trust. “Don’t switch from day one,” he says. “That’s like asking someone to get married on the first date. Put £100 on the card. Try it out, give it a go, and if stuff goes wrong, see how we deal with it compared to your traditional bank.” 

Although talking to Blomfield reassured me, something else provoked me to download the app this weekend. On Friday, I lost and cancelled my bank card, only to discover it nestled in my coat pocket this morning. The ability to freeze a card temporarily - which Monzo offers - would have saved me a world of pain/hold music. In the end, then, the sales pitch is not about how revolutionary Monzo is - but how backward every other bank seems to be.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.
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Why Boris Johnson is Theresa May's biggest Brexit liability

The Foreign secretary is loved by Eurosceptics and detested by EU negotiators. 

Boris Johnson is a joke in Brussels but not the funny kind. He is seen as the liar who tricked Britain into leaving the European Union.

Since his election as a MEP in 1999, Nigel Farage has sucked EU money into his campaign to get the UK out of the EU. But the contempt reserved for Boris is of a different order - because he should have known better.

Johnson has impeccable European pedigree. His father Stanley was an MEP and influential European Commission official. Unsurprisingly, Stanley is a Remainer as is Johnson’s brother Jo.  

The fury reserved for Johnson and his betrayal is of a particularly bitter vintage. Johnson was educated in the European School of Brussels in the leafy and well-heeled suburb of Uccle, where, years later, Nick Clegg lived when he was a MEP.

The contempt stems from his time as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. Fake news is now big news. Many in the self-styled “capital of Europe” believe Boris pioneered it.

Johnson was an imaginative reporter. Many still discuss his exclusive about the planned dynamiting of the European Commission. The Berlaymont headquarters stands untouched to this day.

Rival British hacks would receive regular bollockings from irate editors furious to have been beaten to another Boris scoop. They weren’t interested in whether this meant embroidering the truth. 

Johnson invented a uniquely British genre of journalism – the Brussels-basher. It follows a clear template.

Something everyday and faintly ridiculous, like condoms or bananas, fall victim to meddling Brussels bureaucrats. 

The European Commission eventually set up a “Euromyth”website to explode the pervasive belief that Brussels wanted you to eat straight bananas.  Unsurprisingly, it made no difference. Commission staff now insist on being called "European civil servants" rather than bureaucrats.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was so worried about negative headlines that he stalled energy efficiency legislation until after the referendum.

When he shelved sensible laws to restrict excessive energy consumption on toasters and hairdryers, he was rewarded with a Hero of the Week award by the German tabloid Bild, which had developed a taste for Boris-style hackery.  

Many in Brussels draw a direct line from Johnson’s stories to the growing Eurosceptism in the Conservatives, and from that to Ukip, and ultimately Brexit.

To make matters worse, Johnson was the star of the Brexit campaign. His performance confirmed the view of him as an opportunistic charlatan.

The infamous £350m a week bus caused outrage in Brussels, but not as much as what Boris did next.

He compared the EU to Adolf Hitler. Boris knows better than most how offensive that is to the many European politicians who believe that the EU has solidified peace on the continent. 

European Council President Donald Tusk was furious. “When I hear the EU being compared to the plans and projects of Adolf Hitler I cannot remain silent,” said Tusk, a Pole.

“Boris Johnson crossed the boundaries of a rational discourse, demonstrating political amnesia,” he declared, and added there was “no excuse for this dangerous blackout”. It was the first time a leading EU figure had intervened in the referendum campaign.

After the vote for Brexit and his failed tilt at the premiership, Johnson was appointed foreign secretary, to widespread disbelief.

When the news broke, I received a text message from my Italian editor. It read: “Your country has gone mad.” It was the first of many similar messages from the Brussels press pack. 

“You know he told a lot of lies to the British people and now it is him who has his back against the wall,” France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Johnson “outrageous”.

Could Johnson jeopardise the Brexit negotiations?  He can damage them. In November, he was ridiculed by European ministers after telling Italy at a Brussels meeting that it would have to offer tariff-free trade to sell prosecco to the UK.

European Union chiefs moved earlier this week to quell fears they would punish Britain for Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May had threatened to lure investment away from the EU by slashing corporation tax rates in her speech last week.

Juncker and Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which will chair the first Brexit negotiations, both insisted they was no desire to impose a “punitive deal” on the UK. Donald Tusk compared May’s speech and its “warm words” to Churchill. 

An uneasy peace seemed to have been secured. Enter Boris. 

Asked about comments made by a French aide to President Francois Hollande, he said, "If Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War Two movie, then I don't think that is the way forward.”

The European Parliament will have a vote, and effective veto, on the final Brexit settlement. Its chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt lashed out at Johnson.

“Yet more abhorrent and deeply unhelpful comments from Boris Johnson which PM May should condemn,” he tweeted.

Downing Street wasn’t listening. A spokeswoman said, “There is not a government policy of not talking about the war.”

And just as quickly as it broke out, the new peace was left looking as shaky as ever. 


James Crisp is a Brussels-based journalist who is the news editor of
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Trident is dangerous - and not for the reasons you think

Fixating on Trident is like replacing the guest bathroom while your own toilet flush doesn't work. 

Backing Trident is supposed to make a politician look hard, realistic and committed to Britain’s long history of military defence.That’s why the Tories delighted in holding a debate on renewing the nuclear weapons system in June 2016.

But it was the Tory Prime Minister who floundered this weekend, after it emerged that three weeks before that debate, an unarmed Trident missile misfired - and veered off towards the United States instead of Africa. Downing Street confirmed May knew about the error before the parliamentary debate. 

Trident critics have mobilised. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the revelation “serious”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said the error was “pretty catastrophic”. 

The idea of a rogue nuclear missile heading for the White House may have fuelled the disarmament movement. But even if you enjoy the game of nuclear poker, fixating on Trident is dangerous. Because while MPs rehearse the same old Cold War arguments, the rest of the world has moved on. 

Every hour debating Trident is an hour not spent debating cyber warfare. As Peter Pomerantsev prophetically wrote in April 2015, Russian military theory has in recent years assumed that it would not be possible to match the West militarily, but wars can be won in the “psychosphere”, through misinformation.

Since the Russian cyber attacks during the US election, few can doubt this strategy is paying off - and that our defence systems have a long way to catch up. As shadow Defence secretary, Emily Thornberry described this as “the crucial test” of the 21st century. The government has pledged £1.9bn in cyber security defences over the next five years, but will that be enough? Nerds in a back room are not as thrilling as nuclear submarines, but how they are deployed matters too.

Secondly, there is the cost. Even if you back the idea of a nuclear deterrent, renewing Trident is a bit like replacing the guest bathroom when the regular loo is hardly flushing. A 2015 Centreforum paper described it as “gold-plated” - if your idea of gold-plated is the ability to blow up “a minimum of eight cities”. There is a gory but necessary debate to be had about alternatives which could free up more money to be spent on conventional forces. 

Finally, a nuclear deterrent is only credible if you intend to use it. For this reason, the British government needs to focus on protecting the infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now under threat from a US President who declared it “obsolete”. Eastern Europe has been nervous about the bear on its borders for some time - the number of Poles joining the country’s 120 paramilitary organisations has tripled in two years.  

Simply attacking Trident on safety grounds will only get you so far - after all, the argument behind renewing Trident is that the status quo will not do. Furthermore, for all the furore over a misfired Trident missile, it’s hard to imagine that should the hour come, the biggest worry for the crew of a nuclear submarine will be the small chance of a missile going in the wrong direction. That would be missing the rather higher chance of global nuclear apocalypse.

Anti-Trident MPs will make the most of May's current embarrassment. But if they can build bridges with the more hawkish members of the opposition, and criticise the government's defence policy on its own terms, they will find plenty more ammunition. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.
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19 things wrong with Daniel Hannan’s tweet about the women’s march

The crackpot and these women.

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

State of this:

I mean honestly, where do you even begin? Even by Daniel’s rarefied standards of idiocy, this is a stonker. How is it stupid? Let me count the ways.

1. “Our female head of government” implies the existence of “their female head of government”. Which is odd, because the tweet is clearly aimed at Hillary Clinton, who isn’t anybody’s head of government.

Way to kick someone when they’re down, Dan. What next? “So pleased that my daughter received a wide selection of Christmas presents, unlike those of certain families”?

2. I dunno, I’m no expert, but it’s just possible that there are reasons why so few women make it to the top of politics which don’t have anything to do with how marvellous Britain is.

3. Hillary Clinton was not “the last guy’s wife”. You can tell this, because she was not married to Barack Obama, whose wife is called Michelle. (Honestly, Daniel, I’m surprised you haven’t spotted the memes.)

4. She wasn’t married to the guy before him, come to that. Her husband stopped being president 16 years ago, since when she’s been elected to the Senate twice and served four years as Secretary of State.

5. I’m sure Hillary would love to have been able to run for president without reference to her husband – for the first few years of her marriage, indeed, she continued to call herself Hillary Rodham. But in 1980 Republican Frank White defeated Bill Clinton’s campaign to be re-elected as govenor of Arkansas, in part by mercilessly attacking the fact his wife still used her maiden name.

In the three decades since, Hillary has moved from Hillary Rodham, to Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Hillary Clinton. You can see this as a cynical response to conservative pressure, if you so wish – but let’s not pretend there was no pressure to subsume her political identity into that of her husband, eh? And let’s not forget that it came from your side of the fence, eh, Dan?

6. Also, let’s not forget that the woman you’re subtweeting is a hugely intelligent former senator and secretary of state, who Barack Obama described as the most qualified person ever to run for president. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be so patronising as to imply that the only qualification she had was her husband, now, would you?

7. I’d love to know what qualifications Dan thinks are sufficient to become US president, and whether he believes a real estate mogul with an inherited fortune and a reality TV show has them.

8. Hillary Clinton got nearly 3m more votes than Donald Trump, by the way.

9. More votes than any white man who has ever run for president, in fact.

10. Certainly a lot more votes than Theresa May, who has never faced a general election as prime minister and became leader of the government by default after the only other candidate left in the race dropped out. Under the rules of British politics this is as legitimate a way of becoming PM as any, of course, I’m just not sure how winning a Tory leadership contest by default means she “ran in her own right” in a way that Hillary Clinton did not.

11. Incidentally, here’s a video of Daniel Hannan demanding Gordon Brown call an early election in 2009 on the grounds that “parliament has lost the moral mandate to carry on”.

So perhaps expecting him to understand how the British constitution works is expecting too much.

12. Why the hell is Hannan sniping at Hillary Clinton, who is not US president, when the man who is the new US president has, in three days, come out against press freedom, basic mathematics and objective reality? Sorry, I’m not moving past that.

13. Notice the way the tweet says that our “head of government” got there on merit. That’s because our “head of state” got the job because her great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother happened to be a protestant in 1701 and her uncle wanted to marry a divorcee – all of which makes it a bit difficult to say that our head of government “ran in her own right”.  But hey, whatever makes you happy.

14. Is Daniel calling the US a banana republic? I mean, it’s a position I have some sympathy with in this particular week, but it’s an odd fit with the way he gets all hot and bothered whenever someone starts talking about the English-speaking peoples.

15. Incidentally, he stole this tweet from his 14-year-old daughter:

16. Who talks, oddly, like a 45-year-old man.

17. And didn’t even credit her! It’s exactly this sort of thing which stops women making it to the top rank of politics, Daniel.

18. He tweeted that at 6.40am the day after the march. Like, he spent the whole of Saturday trying to come up with a zinger, and then eventually woke up early on the Sunday unable to resist stealing a line from his teenage daughter. One of the great orators of our age, ladies and gentlemen.

19. He thinks he can tweet this stuff without people pointing and laughing at him.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. He is on Twitter, almost continously, as @JonnElledge.
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How board games became a billion-dollar business

A new generation of tabletop games escaped the family table – and fuelled a global industry.

In Birmingham not long ago, I watched a political catastrophe take place. A cabal of academics was clamouring for a liberal manifesto and an anti-capitalist government agenda. The working classes were demanding authoritarian rule with fewer socialist policies. And the ruling party, beset by infighting and resignations, was trying to persuade everyone that it had their interests at heart. It all felt disturbingly familiar – except that these politicians were brightly coloured cartoon drawings, their policies were drawn from a fat deck of cards and the people pulling the strings of government were a young family and a bunch of cheerful twentysomething men in T-shirts.

This was Statecraft, one of hundreds of board and card games on display at the UK Games Expo (UKGE) in Birmingham last summer. Now in its tenth year, UKGE is Britain’s biggest event in the increasingly crowded and profitable world of tabletop gaming and, with its milling crowds, loud music, packed stalls and extraordinary costumes (I spotted Judge Dredd, Deadpool, innumerable Doctors Who and more sorcerers than you could shake a staff at), it felt like a mixture of a trade show, a fan convention and a free-for-all party.

For anyone whose last experience of board games was rainy-day Monopoly and Cluedo, or who has doubts about the place of cardboard in an entertainment landscape dominated by screens, there was no better place to come for a Damascene conversion.

Statecraft’s creator, Peter Blenkharn, a gangly and eloquent 23-year-old with an impressive froth of beard, was in his element. “Our game also has one-party state scenarios,” he explained, brandishing a colourful deck of terrifying political events. “Sectarian violence. Hereditary establishments. An egalitarian society. Each one tweaks the mechanics and the mathematics of the game. There might be a housing crisis, a global pandemic, extremist rallies, a downturn in the economy, and with each you get a choice of how to react.”

Blenkharn is one of many new designers making careers out of the current boom in tabletop gaming. He founded his company, Inside the Box Board Games, with Matthew Usher, a friend from school and Oxford University, and raised £18,000 on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to make their chemistry-themed puzzle game, Molecular. It was manufactured in China and shipped to Blenkharn’s mother’s house, where his family helped to send copies to the game’s backers. Last year, a second Kickstarter campaign for Statecraft made more than twice as much money, prompting Blenkharn to go into the business full-time.

“Publishing your own games is definitely profitable,” Blenkharn told me. “The profit margins are enormous on medium runs, and there’s a huge amount of room for more indie publishers . . . People collect 20, 30 or 40 board games at £20 or £30 a time. You can play with a range of different people. And while video games have a fairly niche age range, as you can see . . .” – he gestured around at the milling crowds – “. . . these games appeal to everyone. The market is exploding.”

The figures appear to support this optimistic prognosis. Last August, the trade analysis magazine ICv2 estimated that the “hobby games” business in 2015 – that is, board and card games produced and sold for a dedicated “gamer” market, rather than toys – was worth $1.2bn in the US and Canada alone. On Kickstarter, where independent designers can gauge interest and take pledges to fund production, tabletop games made six times more money than video games in the first half of 2016.

One of the most startling of these Kickstarter success stories was Exploding Kittens, a simple, Uno-like game illustrated by the creator of a web comic called The Oatmeal. This unassuming deck of cards, crammed with daft cartoons and surreal humour, earned nearly $9m in the month of its crowd-funding campaign, making it the seventh most successful project in Kickstarter’s eight-year history; so far, the only products on the platform to raise more money have been four iterations of the Pebble smart watch, a travel jacket with a built-in neck pillow, a drinks cooler that ices and blends your drinks – and a reprint of another board game, the fantastical (and fantastically expensive) Kingdom Death Monster, which costs $200 for a basic copy and is taking pledges of up to $2,500. It has already raised more than $12m. The figures for other games are scarcely less impressive: a game based on the Dark Souls series of video games, for example, raised £4m in crowd-funding pledges last April.

Touring the aisles of the UKGE, I started to wonder if there was any subject about which someone hadn’t developed a board game. A family was deep in a new edition of Agricola, a German game that involves scratching a living from unforgiving 17th-century farmland. “I’m going to have trouble feeding my child this harvest,” I heard one of the players say. Nearby, two people were settling into Twilight Struggle, a tussle for ideological control set in the Cold War, in which the cards bear forbidding legends such as “Nuclear Subs”, “Kitchen Debates” and “We Will Bury You”.

I spotted three games about managing fast-food chains, one about preparing sushi, one about eating sushi, one about growing chillies and one about foraging mushrooms; I watched sessions of Snowdonia, about building railways in the Welsh mountains, and Mysterium, a Ukrainian game in which a ghost provides dream clues to a team of “psychic investigators” using abstract artwork. A game called Journalist (“‘Where is that promised article?’ roars your boss”) seemed a little close to home.

Spurred by the opportunities of crowd-funding and the market’s enthusiasm for new ideas, a legion of small and part-time designers are turning their hands to tabletop games. I met the Rev Michael Salmon, an Anglican vicar whose football-themed card game Kix, a tense battle between two players with hands of cards representing their teams, has echoes of the Eighties classic Top Trumps. Nearby was Gavin Birnbaum, a London-based driving instructor who designs a game every year and carves them individually from wood in his workshop; 2015’s limited edition from his company, Cubiko, was Fog of War, in which perfect little tanks crept around a board of wooden hexagons, zapping each other.

Perhaps the most impressive prior CV belonged to Commander Andrew Benford, who developed his hidden-movement game called They Come Unseen beneath the waves in the Seventies while serving on Royal Navy subs. Sold at UKGE in a snazzy cardboard version by the war games company Osprey, it had come a long way from the “heavily engineered board covered with thick Perspex and secured to an aluminium board” that the nuclear engineers prepared for the original. Benford, now retired, was already thinking about an expansion.

This surge in innovation has also made these interesting times for established creators. Reiner Knizia, one of the best-known names in board games, told me, “There are enormous changes in our times, in our world, and this is reflected in the games. It’s wonderful for a creative mind.” Knizia is a German mathematician who quit a career in finance to become a full-time designer in 1997. His interest in games began in his childhood, when he repurposed money from Monopoly sets to devise new trading games, and he now has more than 600 original games to his credit.

Knizia’s games are frequently remarkable for a single innovative twist. In Tigris and Euphrates, a competitive tile-laying game set in the Mesopotamian fertile crescent, players compete to win points in several different colours, but their final score is calculated not on their biggest pile but their smallest. His licensed game for the Lord of the Rings series developed a method for co-operative adventure – players collaborate to win the game, rather than playing against each other – that has become a separate genre in the 17 years since its release.

But Knizia is no doctrinaire purist. The design experiments he conducts from his studio in Richmond, London (“I have 80 drawers, and in each drawer I have a game, but no sane person can work on 80 products at the same time”), embrace new methods and unusual technologies – smartphones, ultraviolet lamps – in their pursuit of what he calls “a simple game that is not simplistic”. When I mentioned the assumption common in the Nineties that board games would be dead by the millennium, he raised an eyebrow. “That clearly wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “Just as if you said travelling would die out because you could see everything live on television. There are basic needs of human beings: to socialise with other people, to explore things, to be curious, to have fun. These categories will stay. It doesn’t mean that we have to have printed cardboard and figures to move around: we might lay out a screen and download the board on to the screen. The act of playing, and of what we do in the game, will stay,
because it is in our nature.”

This question of the appropriate shape for board games – and how they are to utilise or shun the glowing screens that follow us everywhere – is one that many game designers are asking. Later in the summer, I had the chance to play the second edition of a game called Mansions of Madness, a reworking of an infamously complex board game based on the work of the horror writer H P Lovecraft. In its original incarnation, players navigated a series of terrifying colonial mansions, encountering monsters and events that needed to be drawn from piles of pieces and decks of cards by a human opponent. Like many games that involve huge numbers of interacting decisions, the first edition was a horror of its own to manage: the set-up took an eternity and one false move or misapplied card could ruin an entire game. For the second edition, its publishers, Fantasy Flight Games, streamlined the process – by handing over responsibility for running the game to an app for smartphones and tablets.

“To some, I’m the great Satan for doing that,” Christian T Petersen, the CEO of Fantasy Flight, told me when we discussed the integration of apps and games. “There was a portion of the gaming community that resisted it for various reasons: some on the basis that they didn’t want a screen in their lives, some on the basis of interesting thought-experiments that if they were to bring their game out 50 years from now, would the software be relevant or even possible to play? Maybe it won’t. I don’t even know if some of these inks that we have will last 50 years.”

Also a designer, Petersen was vigorous in his defence of the possibilities of mixed-media board gaming. “We’re trying to use technology to make the interface of games more fun,” he said. “Too much integration and you’ll say, ‘Why am I playing a board game? I might as well be playing a computer game.’ Too little and you’ll say, ‘Why is it even here?’ But I believe there’s a place in the middle where you’re using software to enhance the relevance of what this can be as a board game. We’re still experimenting.”

Other experiments have gone in different directions. The program Tabletop Simulator, released in 2015, is a video game platform that represents tabletop games in a multiplayer 3D space. Players can create their own modules (there are hundreds available, many of them no doubt infringing the copyright of popular board games) and play them online together. A recent update even added support for VR headsets.

While designers debate the future of the medium, tabletop gaming has been creeping out of enthusiasts’ territory and into wider cultural life. In Bristol, one evening last summer, I stopped by the marvellously named Chance & Counters, which had recently opened on the shopping street of Christmas Steps. It is a board game café – like Draughts in east London, Thirsty Meeples in Oxford and Ludorati in Nottingham – where customers pay a cover charge (£4 per head, or £50 for a year’s “premium membership”) to play while eating or drinking. The tables have special rings to hold your pint away from the board; the staff read the rule books and teach you the games.

“When I was growing up,” explained Steve Cownie, one of the three owners of Chance & Counters, “board games were associated with family time: playing Monopoly at Christmas and shouting at each other. Now, it’s been repositioned as a way for young professionals, students, just about anyone, to spend time with each other. It’s a guided social interaction, where there’s a collective task or a collective competition.”

There is barely a smartphone in the place. “People aren’t sitting around checking Face­book,” agrees Cownie. “They’re looking each other in the eye, competing or co-operating. It’s amazing to see, really.”

A board games café is an odd social experience but a compelling one. Before taking our seats at Chance & Counters, my companion and I were ushered by a waiter towards a wall of games that ran down the side of the building, past tables of other people bent in rapt concentration or howling in riotous disagreement over rules. “Would you like something light?” he asked. “Something heavy? Something silly? Something strategic?” The rows of gleaming boxes stretched out before us. Somewhere in there, I knew, was exactly the game we wanted to play. 

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era
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Was this Apple Tree Yard sex scene written by a sexually frustrated politician?

No mortal can resist the Chapel in the Crypt.

After much anticipation, the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, an adaptation of Louise Doughty’s novel, aired last night. Newspapers had whispered excitedly over its opening sex scenes – the Sun exclaimed that this would be “the most explicit bonkbuster yet” (whatever that means), as the first episode would have more than five minutes of graphic sex throughout, in locations as varied as a toilet and an alleyway.

But the most toe-curling scenes of all occurred in a grander location – Westminster Palace. Dr Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson) meets a tall, dark and handsome stranger after giving evidence on genomes to the government (as all politics nerds know, there is nothing sexier than a select committee meeting.) What follows feels like the erotic fanfiction of a political hack who has spent far too much time at the Houses of Parliament.

They “run into each other” in the canteen, and flirt in Westminster Hall. Yvonne is about to leave - then our politico stranger brings out the big guns. Yep, the alpha move of all Westminster workers and tour guides. Here it comes.

Pow. No mortal can resist the Chapel in the Crypt. As he runs off to get the keys, Yvonne’s loser husband Gary texts her.

Ugh, boring Gary, sat at home sniffling. You can just tell from a text like that that Gary has never been to the Houses of Parliament. Gary refers to the whole palace as “Big Ben”. Gary’s never even heard of the Chapel in the Crypt.

Not like this bloody Keeper of the Keys.

So in they go to the chapel, handsome stranger smoothly remarking that you can get married in here, because, as he knows, weddings are basically porn to women (seeing as they don’t watch actual porn). The sexual tension is palpable as he deploys facts about royal peculiars, Oliver Cromwell’s horses and Lord Chamberlain.

Yvonne gets dust on her coat, and our man hands her a handkerchief, because he really knows what he’s doing.

If you’ve ever been to the Chapel in the Crypt, you know what’s coming next. “That’s not the best bit,” says the stranger, walking over to a cupboard at the back. Yes, here comes the pièce de résistance, the sexual cherry on top of this weird fucking cake. “You’ve come this far,” he says lightly, but he knows this is the point of no return: if Yvonne sees this next reveal she will surely be a lost woman.

They creep into the cupboard, where he shows here the back of the door. YES, IT’S THE TONY BENN EMILY WILDING DAVISON PLAQUE!!!!!!!!!!!!

In one fell swoop, this complete stranger has persuaded a beautiful woman to climb into a dark and secret broom cupboard with him, whilst he simultaneously shows off his feminist credentials. He even explains who this iconic feminist was to Yvonne. A man showing off a plaque, made by another man to commemorate a dead Suffragette, to a woman. I have literally never seen anything more feminist in my fucking life.

And then, of course, they bang, right in front of the plaque. Did Emily Wilding Davison die for this? Probably.

It brings a tear to one’s eye. Undoubtedly this is the perfect British politics geek’s sex scene, and I, for one, applaud the BBC for this brave and stunning work.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.
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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era