Dominic Raab’s campaign to replace the Human Rights Act began even before he entered Parliament in 2010. But he’s never explained how getting rid of it would enhance personal freedoms. He’s praised supposedly unique British liberties – above all, free speech and jury trials – but otherwise he’s mostly stressed the need to deport foreign criminals. His Bill of Rights Bill is correspondingly sneaky.

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28 June 2022

Failure to Protect

Charlotte Shane

To accuse a father of incest or other forms of abuse proved disastrous for most mothers and children. Beyond the omnipresent influence of pre-existing, internalised sexism, new family court judges were sometimes explicitly advised by more seasoned colleagues not to believe women. Mothers were faulted for appearing angry or emotional, while a father’s even temper was proof of his innocence (and his anger showed how deeply he cared). With incest seen as a family problem not fit for criminal proceedings, custody battles became the primary method of redress, and they came with the imperative to keep the father in the child’s life at almost any cost. Women who denied their exes court-ordered access to children could be fined or even jailed, as in the highly publicised case of Elizabeth Morgan, who was imprisoned for two years in the late 1980s when she refused to disclose her daughter’s whereabouts to the father she accused of sexual abuse.

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27 June 2022

In Victoria Square

Daniel Trilling

‘Foreign Exchange’ by Hew Locke. Photo © Shaun Fellows

At first sight, as you walk uphill along New Street, it looks as if a UFO has landed in Birmingham’s Victoria Square. As you get closer, it turns out to be a boat, stranded in mid air – on top of what used to be a statue of Queen Victoria, outside the city’s council buildings. Victoria stands in the middle of the boat, surrounded by four smaller replicas. The cloned queens are all looking outwards, their bodies pointing in the direction of travel. But the boat isn’t going anywhere, fixed as it is to the top of a plinth.

Hew Locke’s Foreign Exchange, a temporary sculpture commissioned to mark the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer, hasn’t replaced the bronze statue that usually stands there (itself a replica, cast in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, of a marble original from 1901). Locke has constructed a removable resin shell that fits over the monument. His replica Victorias have been modified, wearing warrior-like golden helmets and medallions that commemorate moments of British imperial conquest: the Second Afghan War, the sacking of Benin, the defeat of Tipu Sultan.

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24 June 2022

Mick Lynch keeps his cool

Conrad Landin

Picketing railway workers are used to being confronted by irate commuters. Outside London’s St Pancras Station six years ago, when Eurostar workers were striking for a ‘better work-life balance’, an agitated man told the RMT pickets they were ‘going about it the wrong way’. ‘You’re holding the country to ransom,’ he said. ‘You’re standing in the way of progress.’ Without a blink, the unrattled union official overseeing the dispute responded: ‘I’ve worked on the railways all my life, and I know what progress is.’ That official was Mick Lynch, who had recently been elected RMT’s assistant general secretary. Now in the union’s top job, Lynch has shot to cult hero status this week for his unblemished record of calmly facing down Conservative MPs and ill-informed news anchors.

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23 June 2022

The Best Basketball of His Life

Benjamin Markovits

Stephen Curry warming up before a game against the Dallas Mavericks in May. Photo © Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

There was an argument heading into this year’s NBA Finals about whether Stephen Curry needed to win a Finals MVP (most valuable player) to fill out his resumé.

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22 June 2022

Orwell’s Teeth

Arianne Shahvisi

‘The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth,’ George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air begins. Two paragraphs later, we learn that the narrator is forty-five years old. In 1984, Winston is surprised at Julia’s advances: ‘I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got false teeth.’ And in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, an even younger Gordon Comstock glumly evaluates his life: ‘thirty years old, with twenty-six teeth left; with no money and no job; in borrowed pyjamas in a borrowed bed; with nothing before him except cadging and destitution, and nothing behind him except squalid fooleries.’ It’s not so much an oral fixation as a sign of the times. Teeth were hard to keep, especially if you were poor. In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell reads the teeth of working-class people in the industrial north.

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21 June 2022

Unpresidented

Arun Kapil

The one thing everyone can agree on is that the outcome of the second round of the French legislative elections was inédit, unprecedented. It was utterly unexpected, too. Emmanuel Macron had every reason to believe after his re-election on 24 April that the legislative ballot would conform to precedent, with the presidential alliance coasting to victory. Since the introduction of the five-year presidential term in 2002 and the alignment of the electoral calendars, the freshly elected head of state has been all but guaranteed a comfortable legislative majority. Parliamentary elections became an afterthought to the all-important presidential contest, reflected in the ever increasing abstention rate, which reached a historic 52.5 per cent in the first round this year on 12 June.

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