The Guardian view on Theresa May’s Munich speech: partnership should be indivisible | Editorial

Britain is offering commitment and cooperation to Europe on security and intelligence. It should do the same in its Brexit strategy

Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018






Theresa May and Angela Merkel speak in Berlin on 16 February 2018. ‘Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist.’ Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

A year ago, the annual Munich security conference – the most important gathering of international defence chiefs and ministers in the calendar – met to debate the proposition: “Post-truth, post-West, post-Order?” A year on, this weekend’s Munich conference has a new theme: “To the Brink – and Back?” The sense of relief implicit in the difference between the 2017 and the 2018 themes is unmistakeable and, to an extent, justifiable. The Trump administration has not, after all, trashed everything in the policymakers’ world, as it threatened to do 12 months ago. Explosions in relations with Iran, North Korea and even China have been averted, for now. Washington has not so far rolled over in the face of Russian aggression in eastern Europe. The so-called Islamic State has been pushed back, for the moment. The insurgent political tide that swept the US and the UK in 2016 has mostly been kept at bay elsewhere.

Yet while the worst may have been avoided, genuine positives are thin on the ground. Global confrontations continue and in some cases – the Middle East, for example – to deteriorate dangerously. The alliances that exist to control and resist them are still in shock at the Trump effect. Theresa May is in every context except Brexit a traditional multilateralist. She will certainly give a less thoroughly provocative speech at the Munich conference on Saturday than the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, did at the same venue 12 months ago, when he ludicrously described Brexit as a national “liberation”. Yet, viewed from elsewhere in Europe, Mrs May still leads a country that, by voting for Brexit, has made a serious contribution to the problem of instability, not one that is playing a reliable role in solving it.

Mrs May’s rhetorical answer is the mantra that Britain is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. Her visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday and her appearance at the Munich conference are designed to underpin that message and to make it a springboard for her Brexit strategy. Britain, Mrs May says, is fully committed to European cooperation, through Nato and in other ways, to deal with common threats to security. She will cite the fact that British troops are on the frontline against Russia in Estonia, that she has just pledged a new support role with France in the Sahel, that planned troop withdrawals from Germany are now being reexamined, and that the UK is a heavy-hitting and reliable partner in intelligence sharing and police coordination.

Security and intelligence have now been placed squarely in the vanguard of Mrs May’s political effort to persuade the rest of Europe that Britain remains a reliable and committed post-Brexit partner. The head of MI6, Alex Younger, appeared in Munich on Friday with his French and German counterparts to commit themselves to cross-border information sharing. His predecessor Sir John Sawers and the former GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan took to the media with a similar message. And the prime minister will cap this all off on Saturday in a speech that repeatedly urges closer cooperation with Europe and proposes a new UK-EU security treaty.

There are things to welcome here. After a grim two years of government negativity about the EU, it is a relief to hear the prime minister praising the union and being practical about it. Yet it is hard to see what EU partners are supposed to make of a prime minister who embraces the union at one moment then turns her back on it the rest of the time. The one thing that she could do to make her protestations more credible is to bolster it with a soft Brexit strategy. But this, disastrously, is the one thing she is terrified of doing.

Private water payouts are a public scandal, says Labour

John McDonnell promises renationalisation of water, energy and rail under Labour

John McDonnell






John McDonnell has called the shareholder payouts of water companies a ‘scandal’.
Photograph: James McCauley/Rex/Shutterstock

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers.

The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”.

McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders.

“It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said. “These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water.

“The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.”

Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

Michael Roberts, the chief executive of Water UK, which represents private water companies, said McDonnell was completely mistaken: “It’s wrong for Labour to suggest that our water system is broken. Water companies secure capital provided by lenders and shareholders, who need water companies to make a return in order to finance significant improvements to the industry.

“Under public ownership, the water sector in England was starved of cash and standards were poor. Private companies have instead invested heavily to reduce leakage, improve drinking water quality, and protect the environment – and they continue to invest £8 billion each year in even better services. In real terms, bills are roughly where they were 20 years ago and will be falling over the next few years.”

Meanwhile, at a conference on alternative models of ownership in London, Corbyn backed the nationalisation of Britain’s energy system as a way to tackle climate change. He said that “the challenge of climate change and the threat of climate catastrophe requires us to be at least as radical” as the 1945 Labour government that created the National Health Service. Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities.

“We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said.

“From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

The water industry was privatised in 1989, transferring the assets and personnel of the 10 water authorities into limited companies. Capital was raised by floating the companies on the stock exchange, accompanied by a one-off injection of public capital, the write-off of government debt and the provision of capital tax allowances.

Angus Robertson steps down as SNP deputy leader

Robertson leaves role after losing Moray constituency to Tory Douglas Ross in May

Angus Robertson






Angus Robertson.
Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The deputy leader of the Scottish National party has stepped down eight months after losing his Westminster seat in the general election.

Angus Robertson announced his resignation on Saturday. He said he felt he was no longer able to fulfil his mandate after losing his Moray constituency to the Conservative Douglas Ross last May.

Ross overturned Robertson’s 9,065 majority with a 16.5% swing to end his 16-year tenure.

In a letter to the SNP’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, Robertson said: “I believe I am no longer able to fully discharge my mandate, which was to partner you as Westminster SNP leader and as a parliamentarian representing a rural constituency.

“While it would be my greatest privilege to continue as deputy leader, I know you understand that I have to focus now on pursuing new career opportunities.”

He said he was “tremendously honoured” to have held the role and would now work to support public policy development in Scotland as an advisory board member of the Scottish Policy Foundation.

Sturgeon told Robertson she had immense gratitude for his efforts and hoped he could return to frontline politics in the future.

Angus Robertson steps down as SNP deputy leader

Robertson leaves role after losing Moray constituency to Tory Douglas Ross in May

Angus Robertson






Angus Robertson.
Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The deputy leader of the Scottish National party has stepped down eight months after losing his Westminster seat in the general election.

Angus Robertson announced his resignation on Saturday. He said he felt he was no longer able to fulfil his mandate after losing his Moray constituency to the Conservative Douglas Ross last May.

Ross overturned Robertson’s 9,065 majority with a 16.5% swing to end his 16-year tenure.

In a letter to the SNP’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, Robertson said: “I believe I am no longer able to fully discharge my mandate, which was to partner you as Westminster SNP leader and as a parliamentarian representing a rural constituency.

“While it would be my greatest privilege to continue as deputy leader, I know you understand that I have to focus now on pursuing new career opportunities.”

He said he was “tremendously honoured” to have held the role and would now work to support public policy development in Scotland as an advisory board member of the Scottish Policy Foundation.

Sturgeon told Robertson she had immense gratitude for his efforts and hoped he could return to frontline politics in the future.

National Audit Office to investigate East Coast rail ‘bailout’

Watchdog to look at decision to allow Virgin and Stagecoach to hand back franchise early

Campaigners protest in King’s Cross station, London against the decision to terminate the East Coast franchise early.






Campaigners protest in King’s Cross station, London against the decision to terminate the East Coast franchise early.
Photograph: Wiktor Szymanowic/Barcroft Images

A controversial decision to allow two companies to hand back a rail franchise three years early is to be investigated by Britain’s public spending watchdog.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, was accused of effectively bailing out Stagecoach and Virgin’s joint venture Virgin Trains East Coast by allowing them to cut short their deal to run trains on the East Coast mainline. The termination of the franchise came after projected growth in passengers failed to materialise.

The decision means that the companies were freed from paying around £1.5bn in premiums to the Treasury, though some of the money will be recouped when a new operator is put in place. Virgin and Stagecoach complained that promised upgrades to the line had been delayed.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has announced it has launched an official investigation of the way the Department for Transport (DfT) has handled the franchise. Industry insiders said that crucial delays had meant ministers were left with no choice but to allow the companies to give up managing the line in 2020, three years early.

The DfT has insisted that taxpayers will not be facing any additional costs as a result of the decision. However, any criticism from the NAO will be another blow to Grayling, who has also faced questions over his decision to hand contracts to a consortium that included the doomed construction giant Carillion after serious problems emerged with its viability. Carillion has since folded.

Andrew Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary, told the Observer at the end of last year that Grayling should have faced the sack for his handling of the East Coast mainline. However, Grayling kept his job in Theresa May’s recent reshuffle.

The NAO is expected to report its findings in the spring. It said: “We expect to examine the department’s management of the franchise to date and the implications of its plans for the new ‘partnership’ [to run the line after 2020].”

National Audit Office to investigate East Coast rail ‘bailout’

Watchdog to look at decision to allow Virgin and Stagecoach to hand back franchise early

Campaigners protest in King’s Cross station, London against the decision to terminate the East Coast franchise early.






Campaigners protest in King’s Cross station, London against the decision to terminate the East Coast franchise early.
Photograph: Wiktor Szymanowic/Barcroft Images

A controversial decision to allow two companies to hand back a rail franchise three years early is to be investigated by Britain’s public spending watchdog.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, was accused of effectively bailing out Stagecoach and Virgin’s joint venture Virgin Trains East Coast by allowing them to cut short their deal to run trains on the East Coast mainline. The termination of the franchise came after projected growth in passengers failed to materialise.

The decision means that the companies were freed from paying around £1.5bn in premiums to the Treasury, though some of the money will be recouped when a new operator is put in place. Virgin and Stagecoach complained that promised upgrades to the line had been delayed.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has announced it has launched an official investigation of the way the Department for Transport (DfT) has handled the franchise. Industry insiders said that crucial delays had meant ministers were left with no choice but to allow the companies to give up managing the line in 2020, three years early.

The DfT has insisted that taxpayers will not be facing any additional costs as a result of the decision. However, any criticism from the NAO will be another blow to Grayling, who has also faced questions over his decision to hand contracts to a consortium that included the doomed construction giant Carillion after serious problems emerged with its viability. Carillion has since folded.

Andrew Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary, told the Observer at the end of last year that Grayling should have faced the sack for his handling of the East Coast mainline. However, Grayling kept his job in Theresa May’s recent reshuffle.

The NAO is expected to report its findings in the spring. It said: “We expect to examine the department’s management of the franchise to date and the implications of its plans for the new ‘partnership’ [to run the line after 2020].”

Technology will widen pay gap and hit women hardest – Davos report

Research into jobs finds men’s dominance in IT and biotech is reversing trend towards equality

Female engineers assembling robotics in factory






Women are struggling to break into high-growth industries such as IT, biotech and infrastructure.
Photograph: Getty/Hero

The gulf between men and women at work – in both pay and status – is likely to widen unless action is taken to tackle inequality in high-growth sectors such as technology, say researchers at this week’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

A new WEF report on the future of jobs finds the dominance of men in industries such as information and biotechnology, coupled with the enduring failure of women to rise to the top even in the health and education sectors, is helping to reverse gender equality after years of improvements.

The report estimates that 57% of the jobs set to be displaced by technology between now and 2026 belong to women. According to Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of education, gender and work, this underlines that global efforts to reduce gender inequality in business are stalling.

“We’re really looking at a worsening of inequality, particularly in IT but across all sectors,” Zahidi said. “We are losing valuable opportunity to reduce gender inequality.”

The warning comes at a historic moment in the 47-year history of Davos: for the first time, the annual gathering of the world’s political and financial leaders in the Swiss mountain resort will have all-female co-chairs, in an attempt to increase awareness of longstanding gender and other inequalities in business and wider society.

The seven women chosen to lead the meeting come from all sectors of society: from the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, to Chetna Sinha, an Indian social entrepreneur focused on micro-finance for female entrepreneurs.

Davos co-chair Sharan Burrow leads the world’s largest trade union federation.



Davos co-chair Sharan Burrow leads the world’s largest trade union federation. Photograph: Jacky Delorme/IUTC

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and another of the seven co-chairs, said the fact that no men have been appointed to any of the meeting’s strategic roles this year “sends a strong signal that all is not right with the world”.

Burrow, an Australian union leader who described herself in her acceptance speech in 2010 as a “warrior for women”, said recent events had made it even more important to speak up for gender equality in the workplace and society at large. “We saw a wave of misogyny unleashed last year and it’s been allowed to escalate by government and corporations,” she told the Guardian.

The US president Donald Trump, who is expected to attend Davos this week, was “partly responsible for unleashing” this wave, she added.

Despite introducing a quota in 2011 designed to increase the number of female delegates attending, men continue to dominate Davos. Just 21% of some 3,000 delegates are women.

The WEF’s annual gender gap report at the end of last year calculated that the gulf between male and female opportunity had widened for first time since it started gathering data in 2006. “The global economic model has failed working people and failed women more than most,” Burrow said. “In the world of work, using any set of indicators, progress for women has stagnated. This has been driven by corporate greed and profit, more than anything.”

Chetna Sinha, the founder and chair of the Mann Deshi Foundation, believes that the all-female panel will bring gender inequality into “the heart of the corporate/business world, and that’s a really useful thing”.

She is particularly keen to ensure that “voices of poor women” are heard, adding that the panel emphasises the diversity of experience at Davos, with non-governmental and grassroots organisations joining the political and business leaders. “At Davos, I see myself representing the fractured world,” she said.

Despite introducing a quota in 2011, just 21% of 3,000 delegates at Davos are women.



Despite the introduction of a quota, just 21% of 3,000 delegates at Davos are women. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Zahidi, whose team’s report on the future of work is published on Monday, identified two potential causes for the stalled progression of women in business. First, the fact there are fewer women working in high-growth areas such as IT, biotech and infrastructure, leading to a “smaller pipeline” even as larger numbers of women are going into higher education to study the relevant subjects.

Second, Zahidi said that even in high-growth sectors which typically employ lots of women – such as education, health and the care sector – the “leadership positions are still dominated by men”.

Despite widespread warnings about increasing automation – robots (real and virtual) doing the work of human beings – hitting so-called blue collar jobs in manufacturing, less has been said about “pink collar” jobs in customer service and administration typically held by women. Zahidi said corporations needed to consider organisational change at all levels of the workplace. “It needs a holistic approach from companies when thinking about gender equality – not just board-level positions. Diversity leads to creativity, which is even more necessary in a world undergoing an industrial revolution,” she said.

Each year, studies such as one from accountancy firm Grant Thornton in 2015, Women in business: the value of diversity, point out that companies perform better when they have at least one woman on the board. Yet change has been glacial and, after years of some improvement, is beginning to stall.

Mervyn Davies, the former senior banker and minister whose 2011 report set a 25% target for women on FTSE-100 boards, is not attending Davos this year. He applauds efforts to increase participation at the meeting, and believes any future progress will be led by “upwardly focused activism” rather than the old model, exemplified by Davos, of “downward discussion”.

“I think the mood of society is really changing very speedily. We are at a tipping point where the up-and-coming generation is going to say ‘we’re not going to tolerate this,’ ” Lord Davies said, adding, “We’ve got to get women back in all workplaces.”

Two years after his final report on the issue, Davies talked about the entrenched opinions he faced even as a successful chairman of a leading bank, Standard Chartered. “I faced a huge amount of hostility from men. I was a member of their club and because I was an insider they accused me of being an agent provocateur from the inside.”

His final report called for one third of all FTSE-350 boards to be held by women.

Despite the signs of stagnation, both Davies and Zahidi, who last year authored a book about the impact of more women joining the workforce in the Muslim world, are optimistic, partly because of the next generation. “The fact there has been a very public conversation around sexual harassment, around the #MeToo and the Time’sUp movements – all of this reflects the fact that a much larger number of people care about the influence of power,” said Zahidi. “There is now positive momentum and we need to make sure material change is achieved.”

Zahidi points out that among the younger people attending Davos, the so-called global leaders and global shapers, 54% are women.

Arriving in Davos, Burrow said: “We have the power in our hands to really change. The question is, do we have the courage?”

World-changing women? The seven Davos co-chairs

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.


Christine Lagarde
Managing director of the IMF
The French lawyer and former cabinet minister has been the head of the International Monetary Fund since 2011, when she replaced the scandal-hit Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Re-elected for a second five-year term in 2016, she is regularly ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbesmagazine.

Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty
Chief-executive of IBM
Having started as a systems engineer in 1981, Rometty worked in sales, marketing and strategy before becoming the first woman to lead the head IBM in 2011. One of the best paid executives in the US – she earned $33m (nearly £24m) last year – she has faced mounting criticism for taking pay bonuses despite huge employee layoffs.

Sarah Burrow

Sharan Burrow
General-secretary of International Trade Union Confederation
The Australian was the first woman to become general secretary of the Brussels-based ITUC, the world’s largest trade union federation with 180 million workers in 162 countries and territories. This self-styled “warrior for women” has worked on several campaigns for workers’ rights in the growing digital economy.

Chetna Sinha

Chetna Sinha
Founder/chair of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank
The Mumbai-born social activist set up a bank that lends tiny sums to women in rural India after meeting a woman unable to save because other institutions thought her aim – to buy a tarpaulin to shelter her family during the monsoon – was too small. Singha’s bank, the first run for and by rural women to get a co-operative banking licence, has reached hundreds of thousands of women.

Erna Solberg

Erna Solberg
Prime minister of Norway
Elected Norway’s second female prime minister in 2013 after serving as leader of the Conservative party since May 2004. As minister for local government, a tough stance on the country’s asylum policy earned her the nickname “Jern-Erna” (Iron Erna). Subsequently involved in the decision to reject a request for asylum by the Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Solberg was re-elected last year.

Fabiola Gianotti

Fabiola Gianotti
Director-general of Cern
In 2016, the Italian particle physicist became the first woman to run Cern – the pan-European nuclear research organisation best known for its large hadron collider. Always ranks high on lists of global thinkers and most influential scientists – of either gender.

Isabelle Kocher

Isabelle Kocher
Chief-executive of Engie
The only female CEO in the CAC 40, the benchmark French stock market, Kocher has led a radical transformation of the energy group formerly known as GDF Suez since her appointment in 2016. Having decided Engie should “take its responsibility” over climate change, she has sold 20% of its assets, notably in coal power. She also set internal targets for at least a quarter of Engie executives, and 35% of “high-potential staff” to be women.

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