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The news that GHCQ spies on journalists reveals a threat to a free, independent press

Broadchurch, Page 3, inequality, and the importance of journalistic independence.

A woman looks at e-mails. Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Will the right-wing press now concede that Edward Snowden, the American computing contractor who leaked classified US security documents, is not a traitor but a brave whistleblower who performed an enormous service to western democracy? Thanks to the Snowden files, we now know that emails from the BBC, Reuters, Guar­dian, New York Times, Le Monde, NBC, Washington Post and even the Sun were accessed and retained by GCHQ, which lists investigative journalists as a higher-priority threat than terrorists.

The Mail on Sunday made a great fuss about how police hacked its phone records to identify the sources of stories that led to the conviction of the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne for perverting the course of justice. Such intrusion, the paper argued, “strikes at the heart of one of the bulwarks of a free, independent press”. Indeed, yes. And the systematic trawling of press emails – the Snowden files reveal that GCHQ accessed 70,000 in less than ten minutes on one day in 2008 – would pose a similar threat, making investigative journalism, particularly across national boundaries, all but impossible.

Yet the Daily Mail and its attack dogs, particularly Max Hastings and Stephen Glover – former broadsheet editors who should know better – have persistently criticised Snowden. Hastings launched his latest Exo­cet after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities, implying that Snowden, Julian Assange and their supporters would have blood on their hands if similar attacks came to Britain. Snowden, he wrote, was “a treacherous fugitive” who “damaged the security of each and every one of us” and issued a stirring call to “acquiesce in electronic surveillance”.

Can Hastings explain how collecting journalists’ emails assists “the security of each and every one of us”?


Page three puts a top on

Why the Sun? Perhaps GCHQ thought it was hiding secret messages in the captions to its page three girls. Whatever the truth, the page three stunner, after 45 years, is no more. Unlike my feminist colleagues, I was never greatly exercised about the feature. If anything, it seemed more offensive in the 1970s, when it represented the vulgarity, raucousness and general celebration of ignorance that Rupert Murdoch brought to the British press. In recent years, against far worse objectification of women on countless internet sites, it seemed harmlessly quaint, a sign that the Sun was an ailing, unfashionable, onanistic newspaper not to be taken seriously. My fear now is that Murdoch’s editors will find worse things to put on page three, such as more rants against “benefit scroungers” and immigrants.


Unequal voices on inequality

A curiosity of the age is that the Organisa­tion for Economic Co-operation and Development, International Monetary Fund and World Bank – gatekeepers of the “Washington consensus” in favour of letting markets rip – have far more to say about inequality than either the US Democrats (at least, until President Obama’s latest speech) or the British Labour Party.

“Lower net inequality,” the IMF reported last year, “is robustly correlated with faster and more durable growth.” To Blairites, the E-word (for equality) is more of an obscenity than either the F- or C-word. As for class war, it was left to the billionaire American investor Warren Buffett to admit that there is one and that his class is winning it.

And now the Davos economic summit, the annual shindig of the top 0.0001 per cent (approximately), has invited the executive director of Oxfam International to be a co-chair. She will tell the assembled plutocrats – as she was presumably expected to do – that “rising inequality is dangerous”.

What is going on? You can choose between two explanations. First, that the elite want to seize the narrative of inequality and initiate minor ameliorations to avoid more serious disturbance of the post-Keynesian, small-state capitalist order. The IMF hinted at this when it reported that, according to some economists, “even if inequality is bad for growth, taxes and transfers may be precisely the wrong remedy”. The second explanation is that the rulers of capitalism have lost faith in their ideology and will
abdicate, as did the rulers of communist Russia and apartheid South Africa. All that is needed, in this scenario, is a Gorbachev or de Klerk. Perhaps Buffett should assume that role and run for the White House.


Sponsor the Queen

Meanwhile, corporate dominance of our public life continues with Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the London Eye, which, henceforth, will be decorated in the dreadful drink’s garish red. Some national institutions – the monarchy, parliament, Downing Street, the Church of England, for example – continue to resist sponsorship. But for how long? If the Queen lived in Starbucks Palace, MPs debated in the Vodafone Chamber and David Cameron resided in 10 Amazon Street, at least the Treasury would get something from tax-avoiding corporations.


I told you so

I wrote two weeks ago that I don’t normally watch sequels because the plots become contrived. But I didn’t anticipate the extent to which ITV’s Broadchurch would follow this rule. The sequel has featured not just implausible coincidences – the worst of which were highlighted by my colleague Rachel Cooke in her TV review last week – but also numerous events that simply could not happen in an English criminal case.

The family of the boy murdered in the first series would not be allowed to select their own prosecuting barrister when the case came to trial (unless it were a private prosecution, which this isn’t), nor would the prosecutor agree to meet witnesses informally in advance. Nor would the jury remain in court while barristers argued before the judge over whether confession evidence should be excluded.

Just as I feared, Broadchurch has become a second-rate soap opera.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 23 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Christianity in the Middle East

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The 8 bits of good news about integration buried in the Casey Review

It's not all Trojan Horses.

The government-commissioned Casey Review on integration tackles serious subjects, from honour crimes to discrimination and hate crime.

It outlines how deprivation, discrimination, segregated schools and unenlightened traditions can drag certain British-Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities into isolation. 

It shines a light on nepotistic local politics, which only entrench religious and gender segregation. It also charts the hurdles faced by ethnic minorities from school, to university and the workplace. There is no doubt it makes uncomfortable reading. 

But at a time when the negative consequences of immigration are dominating headlines, it’s easy to miss some of the more optimistic trends the Casey Report uncovered:

1. You can always have more friends

For all the talk of segregation, 82 per cent of us socialise at least once a month with people from a different ethnic and religious background, according to the Citizenship Survey 2010-11.

More than half of first generation migrants had friends of a different ethnicity. As for their children, nearly three quarters were friends with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Younger people with higher levels of education and better wages are most likely to have close inter-ethnic friendships. 

Brits from Black African and Mixed ethnic backgrounds are the most sociable it seems, as they are most likely to have friends from outside their neighbourhood. White British and Irish ethnic groups, on the other hand, are least likely to have ethnically-mixed social networks. 

Moving away from home seemed to be a key factor in diversifying your friendship group –18 to 34s were the most ethnically integrated age group. 

2. Integrated schools help

The Casey Review tells the story of how schools can distort a community’s view of the world, such as the mostly Asian high school where pupils thought 90 per cent of Brits were Asian (the actual figure is 7 per cent), and the Trojan Horse affair, where hardline Muslims were accused of dominating the curriculum of a state school (the exact facts have never come to light). 

But on the other hand, schools that are integrated, can change a whole community’s perspective. A study in Oldham found that when two schools were merged to create a more balanced pupil population between White Brits and British Asians, the level of anxiety both groups felt diminished. 

3. And kids are doing better at school

The Casey Report notes: “In recent years there has been a general improvement in educational attainment in schools, with a narrowing in the gap between White pupils and pupils from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black ethnic backgrounds.”

A number of ethnic minority groups, including pupils of Chinese, Indian, Irish and Bangladeshi ethnicity, outperformed White British pupils (but not White Gypsy and Roma pupils, who had the lowest attainment levels of all). 

4. Most people feel part of a community

Despite the talk of a divided society, in 2015-16, 89 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive, according to the Community Life Survey, and agreed their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This feeling of cohesiveness is actually higher than in 2003, at the height of New Labour multiculturalism, when the figure stood at 80 per cent. 

5. Muslims are sticklers for the law

Much of the Casey Report dealt with the divisions between British Muslims and other communities, on matters of culture, religious extremism and equality. It also looked at the Islamophobia and discrimination Muslims face in the UK. 

However, while the cultural and ideological clashes may be real, a ComRes/BBC poll in 2015 found that 95 per cent of British Muslims felt loyal to Britain and 93 per cent believed Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws. 

6. Employment prospects are improving

The Casey Review rightly notes the discrimination faced by jobseekers, such as study which found CVs with white-sounding names had a better rate of reply. Brits from Black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than Whites. 

However, the employment gap between ethnic minorities and White Brits has narrowed over the last decade, from 15.6 per cent in 2004 to 12.8 per cent in 2015. 

In October 2015, public and private sector employers responsible for employing 1.8m people signed a pledge to operate recruitment on a “name blind” basis. 

7. Pretty much everyone understand this

According to the 2011 census, 91.6 per cent of adults in England and Wales had English as their main language. And 98.2 per cent of them could speak English. 

Since 2008-2009, most non-European migrants coming to the UK have to meet English requirements as part of the immigration process. 

8. Oh, and there’s a British Muslim Mayor ready to tackle integration head on

The Casey Review criticised British Asian community leaders in northern towns for preventing proper discussion of equality and in some cases preventing women from launching rival bids for a council seat.

But it also quoted Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and a British Muslim. Khan criticised religious families that force children to adopt a certain lifestyle, and he concluded:

"There is no other city in the world where I would want to raise my daughters than London.

"They have rights, they have protection, the right to wear what they like, think what they like, to meet who they like, to study what they like, more than they would in any other country.”


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.