(CNN)Geologist Jess Phoenix says she doesn’t mind being an underdog.
(CNN)Geologist Jess Phoenix says she doesn’t mind being an underdog.
Beleaguered PM is contrite and genuine in crunch meeting with 1922 Committee, promising to build consensus on Brexit
A contrite Theresa May bought herself time with Conservatives MPs by apologising for failing to secure an overall majority, while cabinet sources indicated that the prime minister would pursue a more conciliatory approach on Brexit to shore up her leadership.
May addressed a packed session of her partys backbench 1922 Committee on Tuesday with what was described as an upfront mea culpa. She declared: I got us into this mess, and Im going to get us out of it.
Senior insiders added that one of the ideas actively being considered to win backing across parliament was not to major on the controversial no deal is better than a bad deal position taken by May before the election.
Also under consideration is whether to exclude overseas students from the immigration numbers and even possibly to abandon the target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Although nothing has been agreed, any softening of the position on immigration could maximise the chance of a closer economic relationship with the EU.
May also admitted that the manifesto promise to make people pay more for their social care had been a mistake and said there would be no weakening of LGBT rights as the Tories attempted to secure an electoral pact on Tuesday with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist party.
The prime minister said more would be done to reach out to young voters and those working in the public sector. She was contrite and genuine, but not on her knees, said one senior MP who attended the meeting, adding that May had shown a warmer side. There was none of the Maybot, the person added, claiming that any talk of a leadership challenge had been silenced, for now at least.
Speaking after the meeting, MPs made clear that the prime minister had bought herself time with hopes that she could make it to the end of Brexit talks in two years.
A cabinet member admitted that work was under way on how to achieve a deal with the EU27 that could pass through a much more finely balanced parliament, involving seeking areas of compromise with other parties. Reports in the Telegraph and Evening Standard claimed that secret talks had already begun between cabinet ministers and some Labour MPs.
Any shift in tone will be seen as a coup for advocates of a soft Brexit, although those who campaigned to leave the EU are also offering their support to the prime minister.
Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, who has won more influence after the party took 13 seats in Scotland, said she was pushing for an open Brexit with maximum economic access after a private meeting with May in Downing Street. Davidson added that the party needed to reach out: I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward.
Downing Street is also preparing to put forward a skeleton version of a Queens speech, as the parliamentary mathematics threatens to bring domestic policymaking to a halt unless the Tories reach out to opposition parties.
The annual list of legislation, which may be delayed from 19 June, will have two big-ticket items of Brexit and counter-terrorism policy, but see most of the domestic agenda ditched, according to one source. Mays plans for a sweeping shakeup of education including new grammar schools could be boiled down to a few pilots, they said.
However, despite jitters within the party and suggestions that Mays days are numbered, her performance in front of the 1922 Committee appeared to reduce anger about the shock result. After the vote stripped the Conservatives of their majority and plunged the government into instability and the need for coalition talks with the DUP, Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, said the prime minister would be gone within six months.
However, after the 1922 meeting, Allen who has fought her own party over disability benefit cuts and tough positioning on Brexit said: I saw an incredibly humble woman who knows what she has to do, and that is be who she is and not what this job had turned her into. She has lost her armadillo shell and we have got a leader back.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who has been an outspoken proponent of Brexit, said: It was very positive to hear her take very firm responsibility for not being able to crystallise some of the seats wed hoped to win. I felt she had very deeply considered over the weekend whether she should continue and came to us to say: I will continue for as long as you want me to do so. And I think thats exactly what we all hoped she would say.
MPs said there was a tacit acceptance of the need to build a better consensus. A broader backing for Brexit has to be built and I think she recognises that, one former minister said. She was clear she was responsible. She agreed on the need to listen to all the wings of the party on Brexit.
One remainer on the left of the party was teary-eyed as they expressed their renewed support for the prime minister, while a hardline Brexiter agreed, describing her as very, very humble and saying: She has bought herself time. She showed a side of her that was very appealing. A warmer side.
At the centre of the debate were concerns about the manifesto. MPs admitted that it had been a disaster with voters, particularly the so-called dementia tax and the decision to press ahead with school funding cuts. Public sector workers felt very strongly about austerity, a former cabinet minister said. We have to offer a message of aspiration, which is a very Conservative word.
Jeremy Corbyns massive gains with public sector workers appear to have driven anti-austerity into the centre of political debate, even among Conservatives. May acknowledged several warnings from MPs who described meeting people who said they could not vote Tory because of cuts to hospitals, schools or failure to increase public sector wages in real terms.
Anna Soubry told the Guardian it had been an issue she repeatedly encountered on the doorstep. Writing in a local newsletter, she added: We need a kinder Conservatism that recognises the very real concerns about reduced school budgets, a shortfall in NHS and social care funding, and that some of our most valued public servants such as nurses, have had their wages cut.
Others argued that it was OK for the Tories to keep their position but that they had failed to make the economic argument during the campaign. Soubry said it was outrageous that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had not been given a bigger role in the campaign.
Several MPs told May they had had difficulties rebutting questions over school funding on doorsteps and in local hustings. May said that Justine Greening would address the concerns, and sources stressed that the education secretary had been making the case for better funding for schools for some time.
Tories banged on the tables for about 30 seconds as May arrived for the crunch meeting in a roasting hot room packed with members of the House of Lords as well as MPs. May took questions, but one MP described them as more like speeches.
There was no appetite for a leadership election, the MP said. Thats the last thing the country needs. She said she would serve us as long as we want her, and that shes been a party servant since she was 12 years old, stuffing envelopes.
MPs were pleased that the prime minister had removed her joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, as she pointed instead to her new top aide, the former Tory MP Gavin Barwell, and the chief whip, Gavin Williamson. One MP said that the party had faith in the two Gavins.
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office comes Saturday, and despite his downplaying of the significance of the marker, his team is prepped and ready to tout his accomplishments.
After the success of the Womens March, its International Womens Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality
I think the activism and organisation thats happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Womens March, but it was the largest global protest weve seen and thats because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now were not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director
Its a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.
However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.
It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.
Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland
With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing American computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network
Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the worlds press before him and told them they were liars. The press, honestly, is out of control, he said. The public doesnt believe you any more. CNN was described as very fake news story after story is bad. The BBC was another beauty.
That night I did two things. First, I typed Trump in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasnt how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of Go Donald!!!!, and You show em!!! There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the FAKE news MSM liars!
Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what Ive been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled mainstream media is And there it was. Googles autocomplete suggestions: mainstream media is dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media we, us, I dying?
I click Googles first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: The Mainstream media are dead. Theyre dead, I learn, because they we, I cannot be trusted. How had it, an obscure site Id never heard of, dominated Googles search algorithm on the topic? In the About us tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is Americas media watchdog, an organisation that claims an unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture.
Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding more than $10m in the past decade from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trumps single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money $13.5m of it behind the Trump campaign.
Its money hes made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called revolutionary breakthroughs in language processing a science that went on to be key in developing todays AI and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.
One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees money, is the most successful in the world generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns all Republican and another $50m to non-profits all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.
The Long Read: The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is declining. In its wake, a new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and putting democracy in peril
In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone no matter what their politics can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here.
Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various experts that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some peoples sense of political decency.
Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britains economy elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.
All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. Put bluntly, the British government its officials, experts, advisers and many of its politicians does believe that immigration is on balance good for the economy. The British government did believe that Brexit was the wrong choice. The problem is that the government is now engaged in self-censorship, for fear of provoking people further.
This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.
The declining authority of statistics and the experts who analyse them is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as post-truth politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to peoples emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own truth of what is going on across society.
Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?One way is to view statistics through the lens of their history.We need to try and see them for what they are: neither unquestionable truths nor elite conspiracies, but rather as tools designed to simplify the job of government, for better or worse. Viewed historically, we can see what a crucial role statistics have played in our understanding of nation states and their progress. This raises the alarming question of how if at all we will continue to have common ideas of society and collective progress, should statistics fall by the wayside.
In the second half of the 17th century, in the aftermath of prolonged and bloody conflicts, European rulers adopted an entirely new perspective on the task of government, focused upon demographic trends an approach made possible by the birth of modern statistics. Since ancient times, censuses had been used to track population size, but these were costly and laborious to carry out and focused on citizens who were considered politically important (property-owning men), rather than society as a whole. Statistics offered something quite different, transforming the nature of politics in the process.
Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety,rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didnt always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory.
Equally significant was the inspiration of the natural sciences. Thanks to standardised measures and mathematical techniques, statistical knowledge could be presented as objective, in much the same way as astronomy. Pioneering English demographers such as William Petty and John Graunt adapted mathematical techniques to estimate population changes, for which they were hired by Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.
The emergence in the late 17th century of government advisers claiming scientific authority, rather than political or military acumen, represents the origins of the expert culture now so reviled by populists. These path-breaking individuals were neither pure scholars nor government officials, but hovered somewhere between the two. They were enthusiastic amateurs who offered a new way of thinking about populations that privileged aggregates and objective facts. Thanks to their mathematical prowess, they believed they could calculate what would otherwise require a vast census to discover.
There was initially only one client for this type of expertise, and the clue is in the word statistics. Only centralised nation states had the capacity to collect data across large populations in a standardised fashion and only states had any need for such data in the first place. Over the second half of the 18th century, European states began to collect more statistics of the sort that would appear familiar to us today. Casting an eye over national populations, states became focused upon a range of quantities: births, deaths, baptisms, marriages, harvests, imports, exports, price fluctuations. Things that would previously have been registered locally and variously at parish level became aggregated at a national level.
New techniques were developed to represent these indicators, which exploited both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the page, laying out data in matrices and tables, just as merchants had done with the development of standardised book-keeping techniques in the late 15th century. Organising numbers into rows and columns offered a powerful new way of displaying the attributes of a given society. Large, complex issues could now be surveyed simply by scanning the data laid out geometrically across a single page.
These innovations carried extraordinary potential for governments. By simplifying diverse populations down to specific indicators, and displaying them in suitable tables, governments could circumvent the need to acquire broader detailed local and historical insight. Of course, viewed from a different perspective, this blindness to local cultural variability is precisely what makes statistics vulgar and potentially offensive. Regardless of whether a given nation had any common cultural identity, statisticians would assume some standard uniformity or, some might argue, impose that uniformity upon it.
Not every aspect of a given population can be captured by statistics. There is always an implicit choice in what is included and what is excluded, and this choice can become a political issue in its own right. The fact that GDP only captures the value of paid work, thereby excluding the work traditionally done by women in the domestic sphere, has made it a target of feminist critique since the 1960s. In France, it has been illegal to collect census data on ethnicity since 1978, on the basis that such data could be used for racist political purposes. (This has the side-effect of making systemic racism in the labour market much harder to quantify.)
Despite these criticisms, the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of evidence-based policy, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.
Since the high-point of the Enlightenment in the late 18th century, liberals and republicans have invested great hope that national measurement frameworks could produce a more rational politics, organised around demonstrable improvements in social and economic life. The great theorist of nationalism, Benedict Anderson, famously described nations as imagined communities,but statistics offer the promise of anchoring this imagination in something tangible. Equally, they promise to reveal what historical path the nation is on: what kind of progress is occurring? How rapidly? For Enlightenment liberals, who saw nations as moving in a single historical direction, this question was crucial.
The potential of statistics to reveal the state of the nation was seized in post-revolutionary France. The Jacobin state set about imposing a whole new framework of national measurement and national data collection. The worlds first official bureau of statistics was opened in Paris in 1800. Uniformity of data collection, overseen by a centralised cadre of highly educated experts, was an integral part of the ideal of a centrally governed republic, which sought to establish a unified, egalitarian society.
From the Enlightenment onwards, statistics played an increasingly important role in the public sphere, informing debate in the media, providing social movements with evidence they could use. Over time, the production and analysis of such data became less dominated by the state. Academic social scientists began to analyse data for their own purposes, often entirely unconnected to government policy goals. By the late 19th century, reformers such as Charles Booth in London and WEB Du Bois in Philadelphia were conducting their own surveys to understand urban poverty.
Brexit is just the latest instance of politicians bending figures to match their agenda
I love numbers. They allow us to get a sense of magnitude, to measure change, to put claims in context. But despite their bold and confident exterior, numbers are delicate things and thats why it upsets me when they are abused. And since theres been a fair amount of number abuse going on recently, it seems a good time to have a look at the classic ways in which politicians and spin doctors meddle with statistics.
Every statistician is familiar with the tedious Lies, damned lies, and statistics gibe, but the economist, writer and presenter of Radio4s More or Less, Tim Harford, has identified the habit of some politicians as not so much lying to lie means having some knowledge of the truth as bullshitting: a carefree disregard of whether the number is appropriate ornot.
So here, with some help from the UK fact-checking organisation Full Fact, is a nine-point guide to whats really going on.
Theres almost always some basis for numbers that get quoted, but its often rather different from what is claimed. Take, for example, the famous 350m, as in the We send the EU 350m a week claim plastered over the big red Brexit campaign bus. This is a true National Statistic (see Table 9.9 of the ONS Pink Book 2015), but, in the words of Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority watchdog, it is not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU. In fact, the UKs net contribution is more like 250m a week when Britains rebate is taken into account and much of that is returned in the form of agricultural subsidies and grants to poorer UK regions, reducing the figure to 136m. Sir Andrew expressed disappointment that this misleading claim was being made by Brexit campaigners but this ticking-off still did not get the busrepainted.
(CNN)Hillary Clinton embraced her moment in history Tuesday, becoming the first woman in the 240-year life of the United States to lead the presidential ticket of a major political party.