DPAC’s letter to Jonathan Reynolds MP, regarding his statement today that “Welfare should reflect ‘what you put in’ to tackle public mistrust”

Dear Mr Reynolds Regarding your statement that “Welfare should reflect ‘what you put in’ to tackle public mistrust” In a comment to the Morning Star, our spokesperson described your comments as “Toxic idiocy”. Toxic, because, as (too few) wise and responsible senior politicians are well aware, we live in a dangerously fractured, highly unequal society.… Continue Reading DPAC’s letter to Jonathan Reynolds MP, regarding his statement today that “Welfare should reflect ‘what you put in’ to tackle public mistrust”
Author: Bob | Source

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The politics of the spice rack: chili powder

Each jar and packet in the kitchen is part of a wider story, involving geography, culture and politics.

Evolution gone wrong – or right? Botanists believe that chilies developed their high levels of capsaicin, the chemical compound which produces the burning sensation in the back of your mouth, because it deterred fungi and mammals, but birds, who have significantly less developed taste receptors, ate them freely, spreading their seeds unharmed.

But there is one mammal who quite likes the spicy sensation caused by capsaicin: us. Far from deterring us from eating them we have been growing them and cultivating them for thousands of years.  Our love of them, and our desire to find and try the hottest of them, led the American pharmacist Walter Scovile to invent the Scovile scale, which measures the number of capsaicinoids in a chili, to differentiate the mild and gentle flavours of the bell pepper from the punch and power of the habanero.  And while our digestion is not as kind to the chili as that of a bird, we have spread chilis far and wide with far greater dedication than any other animal. The capsaicin didn’t protect the chilis from mammalian consumption: but it did facilitate the spread of them nonetheless.

Our love of chilis may even be responsible for the development of civilisation as we know it. Chilies originate in Mesoamerica, one of the five or six parts of the world where early humans, entirely independently of one another, abandoned their lifestyle of hunting and gathering in order to rear livestock, plant seeds and build permanent dwellings. (The reason why I say “five or six” is we still aren’t certain whether south-east Asia produced two separate independent civilisations or if they were interlinked.)

The descendants of these early chilis provide the bedrock to the cusines of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The early civilisations of Mesoamerica spread chilis as far as the West Indies, and the descendants of those chilis can be found in the cuisines of the Caribbean.

It was Christopher Columbus who helped to spread chilis further afield: ironically he did so while searching for another spice: pepper, the original “black gold”. He hoped to discover a second trade route to Asia, which the Spanish government, the financiers of his journey, would control the new supply of pepper and with it finance their military adventures closer to home.

Instead he gave Europeans access to a host of other spices. But it was not his employers, the Spanish, who were the major spreaders of chilis: the Portuguese, the 16th century’s most successful empire builders, were the major spreaders of chilis. They brought chilis to the Indian subcontinent, where they grew so naturally and so rapidly that for years, botanists believed they were native flora: rather than the children of their Mesoamerican parents. Through conquest and trade, the Portugese brought chilis to Brazil, south-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The British Empire brought chilis full circle. The Africans they bought and traded took their cooking methods – which included the chilis brought by the Portuguese – with them to the plantations of the West Indies. And the love for the foods – if not always coupled with an awareness of who produced them – of those conquered nations of the Empire is seen today in the United Kingdom, where Indian cooking and eating can be found in every town and food shop in the country. 

Chili powder – as a commodity to be bought and sold rather than something you do yourself with a mortar and pestle – is an American invention. Just as early humans turned to animal husbandry in five (or six) different places entirely independently, two late nineteenth century American businessmen both appear to have invented it at similar times, entirely independently of one another.

Cincinatti businessman DeWitt Clinton Pendery and German immigrant William Gebhardt, both of whom travelled to Texas to make their fortunes, were shopkeepers trying to overcome the same challenge. The cuisines of Mexico, Spain and the various immigrant communities that made up the United States were already blending together to make the cuisine we know now as “Tex-Mex”: the result was the meal known as “chili” that is now enjoyed the world over. But there was a problem: you needed chilis to make the meal and you couldn’t secure fresh chilis the year round. So they ground chilis into a powder – Pendery ground ancho chilis along with cumin and oregano, while Gebhardt ground red chilis. The rest is history.

Although in the United Kingdom chili powder is largely bought and used for cooking recipes from the Indian subcontinent, like Pendery and Gebhardt’s powders, the contents of your chili powder are up for grabs.

Because chilis can grow basically everywhere, the modern spice trade tends to operate by taking small amounts of spice from hundreds of individual farms, grinding them at a third or a fourth site and then finally bottling and selling them. The result is that very little of the value of your spices makes it back to the grower, and the environmental impact of growing them is far greater than it needs to be, though there are a number of businesses that are happily beginning to emerge which are shortening their supply chains, benefiting both the growers and the climate.

If you look at the chili powder in your own cupboards, unless you have been very disciplined in your choice of brand, you will notice that they have very different compositions and very different ingredients. You don’t even need to check the back of the packet to see that – just look at the colour. What constitutes “mild” or “hot” chili powder is completely up for grabs.

Now, of course, the value of chili powder is that, just as with chilis, you can do an awful lot with it. I have a lot of named chili powders which I’ll discuss over the coming weeks: I also have a lot of generic chili powder, some from quite different brands that I’ve had to buy on holiday.

I’ve never found that a recipe that goes really well with Sainsbury’s hot chili powder is utterly horrible with some from the Co-op: but it will be a bit different, sometimes very different. I’ve started to try to discipline myself by buying my spices from one company partly because of the good work they do around supply chains, but also because it improves my cooking to know just exactly how much punch my chili powder has and what it’s made from. Mine is ideal for recipes from the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean, but a poor fit for food from elsewhere.  

As strange as it may seem, there really is no such thing as “chili powder”: and the only way to work out which you like best and how much of it to use is to try different types.

This week I fucked up…

…because I ordered a “box” of cherries and a box turned out to be quite large. It didn’t really matter because I just didn’t have any other fruit. At the suggestion of the FT’s Federica Cocco I bought some miso paste to have with the cherries, some sour cream and a sprinkling of sugar. It was very good though I now have a lot of miso paste leftover and have been cooking with it a great deal in what feels like the culinary of the old lady who swallowed a spider.

This week I enjoyed…

…some Dover sole. I melted salted butter, dill and parsley together, poured it over the fish and stuck it in the oven to roast for half an hour.  

I got my fish from Pesky Fish, a new start-up that allows fishermen to sell their catch direct to you and me, without it spending days and days in transit or on supermarket shelves. This means fresher, tastier fish, more sustainably sourced and a better deal for fishermen. It also means you can enjoy the rush of clicking through the day’s catch every morning from 8am, desperately hoping that someone else hasn’t got the last of the sea bass. (They had.)

Author: Stephen Bush | Source

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How do Trump’s Republicans compare to the rest of the world’s political parties?

An accademic survey shows the American Republican party ranks as one of the worst in the world when it comes to standing up for the rights of ethnic minority groups.

On conventional left-right measurements, there’s not much distinguishing America’s Republican party from mainstream conservative movements in Europe. In fact, when it comes to economic left and right, there are governing parties on the right in Europe who are more “extreme”.

On attitudes towards ethnic minorities and respect for liberal democratic values, however, it’s a different story.

The Global Party Survey (GPS), a project authored by Harvard University’s Pippa Norris, has sought to allow international comparisons between political parties on a variety of issues. Those include the social and economic views of those parties, as well as whether they are populist or pluralistic in outlook.

The survey’s findings suggest America’s Republican Party remains “mainstream” in many respects (on a scale of conventional liberalism-conservatism, the GOP sits comfortably near Britain’s Tories and the French Republicans) – but not when it comes to its defending the rights of ethnic minorities and standing up for liberal principles.

On those issues it is far more extreme than Europe’s centre-right governing parties and sits closer to the likes of Austria’s Freedom Party, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, and India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the governing movement often accused of inciting hatred against the country’s Muslim minority.

Trump’s GOP is one of the most extreme western parties when it comes to both undermining liberal democratic principles and opposing rights for ethnic minorities

The survey was based on an extensive questionnaire completed by political scientists and experts in the field of particular political parties. Respondents were asked to place each party in its current state on a scale of 0-10 in a number of categories. These include “social leaning” – whether a party was socially liberal or conservative – and then moved on to more detailed positions, such as a party’s attitude to women’s rights or liberal democracy.

The survey pointed towards something commentators have long suspected: conservative and right-wing parties have increasingly embraced populism over pluralism, and populist parties are increasingly negative towards liberal democratic principles.

If we redraw our graph grouping parties by their left-right orientation (according to ParlGov classifications), it is parties of the right and radical right that dominate the top-right quadrant.

Not all parties that employ populist rhetoric are opposed to liberal democratic principles

Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left, more commonly referred to as Syriza, is one of the only major parties of the radical left in the west to favour populist over pluralistic rhetoric.

Though an overwhelming majority of western parties described by ParlGov as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are likely to be positive towards ethnic minorities, the same cannot be said for their attitudes towards immigration.

Not all liberal parties are liberal about immigration

There is no simple left-right formula, however: Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement, which swept France in a wave of anti-politics pluralism in 2018, is now seen by political scientists to have a more negative attitude towards immigration than Australia’s Liberal Party. That might partly reflect the tone of the political debate over immigration in France, where the presence of Marine Le Pen and her National Rally (formerly National Front) has to some extent forced opponents to appease as well as confront.

Parties favouring populist rhetoric are more likely to be nationalistic

What do we know of populism? Populist movements are typically nationalistic, critical towards immigration and cynical about liberal democratic principles.

The above chart illustrates a pretty clear trend: the more multilateralist you are, the less populist you will be. There are, however, some quite clear outliers. Both Syriza and New Zealand’s National Party are classed as multilateralist populists. And then,of course, there are Denmark’s Social Democrats. Sensitive to the collapsing support for the hard-right Danish People’s Party, the Social Democrats tacked right on migrant’s issues in their 2019 election campaign as they sought to tempt voters to their side. Party leader Mette Frederiksen told one televised debate: “You are not a bad person just because you are worried about immigration”. The party topped the poll – albeit with a reduced vote share – and Frederiksen became prime minister.

Since this is the first year the survey has been carried out, we cannot measure change. We cannot say, for example, to what extent Trump has changed the way the Republicans are positioned. We can only say that – right now – the world sees his party as highly populist, poor on ethnic minority rights, and prone to undermining basic democratic principles. That might be a concern for us, but it’s probably not for him: insular populists tend not to care what the rest of the world thinks.

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Donald Trump
Author: Ben Walker | Source

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Why the economic repercussions of the UK’s quarantine plan are causing concern

Objections are being raised to plans to make international travellers self-isolate for 14 days.

Is the government heading for trouble over its plans to quarantine international travellers? Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, British Airways’ parent company, has said that IAG is considering suing the British government over the plans for English airports, which, he says, will have catastrophic consequences for his business and other airlines. 

The economic repercussions of the plan are what is causing consternation among Conservative MPs. If a mechanism can be found to bring the issue to a vote in the House of Commons – remember that thanks to the powers of the coronavirus bill, many of these regulations can be set without a vote – then there are certainly enough Tory critics of the scheme to imperil the government’s majority.

Of course, that shouldn’t matter – because the principles behind the quarantine are broadly backed by the opposition parties. The problem, though, is that there is plenty about the government’s quarantine plans for supporters of the lockdown to criticise. Most new arrivals won’t be screened and there are no plans for a central quarantine. Anyone who is asked to self-isolate will be left to hop on, say, the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow Airport, without anyone to check whether they are self-isolating. They will also be allowed to sho and attend funerals.  

Those holes both increase the danger of the disease spreading and give the opposition parties licence to oppose them in the House while supporting the general principle – increasing the risk to the government.

The more important risk, of course, is to public health: and because of the various problems and delays to the United Kingdom’s test and trace infrastructure (which is not expected to be fully operational until September or October), the United Kingdom, as with much of Europe, continues to ignore and neglect the third pillar that has allowed Oceania’s democracies to contain the novel coronavirus: the ability to test, trace and isolate new cases. Without adequate measures to deliver that last of the three, any attempt to revive the economy will be blighted by social distancing measures – or derailed by a second spike in infections. 

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Heathrow airport
Author: Stephen Bush | Source

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Labour accuses government of cover-up over BAME Covid-19 report

Vital recommendations that could help protect people are missing from review, say MPs

Labour has accused the government of “covering up vital recommendations” that could help prevent black, Asian and minority ethnic people dying from coronavirus.

Concerns about censorship mounted this week after third-party submissions, which reportedly highlighted structural racism and social inequality, were left out of the government-commissioned report on the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on BAME people.

Continue reading…

Author: Mattha Busby | Source

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250k who applied for Universal Credit over Covid have not been paid the benefit

EXCLUSIVE: We knew record numbers were applying for the six-in-one benefit, but until now we didn’t know how many actually got a payment. DWP ministers insisted there was good reason why some are not paid – and branded criticism ‘feeble’
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Calls for local lockdowns as study finds R value above 1 in north-west England

Matt Hancock defends easing of lockdown as regional leaders say they fear second spike in deaths

The government is under pressure to bring in tougher local lockdowns in some areas, as a new study showed the R value was rising across England and had tipped above 1 in the north-west for the first time since the peak of the coronavirus epidemic.

The development raises concerns that a return to stricter physical distancing may be needed in some areas and that the UK could continue to see hundreds of daily deaths for weeks.

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Author: Hannah Devlin, Helen Pidd and Haroon Siddique | Source

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