Why we need to remember the Black and Asian people who fought in World War 1

These soldiers volunteered to help the British army despite what the British empire did to their home countries

Serving submariners hold wreaths of poppies during the Submariners Remembrance Service and Parade (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images)
Serving submariners hold wreaths of poppies during the Submariners Remembrance Service and Parade (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images)

|HABIBA KATSHA, i|AIWA! NO!|This year marks the 100 years since the end of World War 1 in November 1918.

Since then Every year we remember those who risked their lives for us to live a better life in Britain. However, it seems that the people of colour who fought in the war played a less significant role in WW1 and this isn’t true. 

Until recently, I didn’t know that people of colour fought in the battle and this is the case for many other British people. The lives of soldiers of colour are just as important as their English counterparts and it’s time we started telling their stories. Serving with ‘great gallantry’ During WW1, the British empire was still intact so black individuals from British colonies travelled from their respected countries to come and fight for Britain.

Britain was often referred to as “the mother country” and people came from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, and Jamaica to help defeat the Germans.

The British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was a unit made up of volunteers from British colonies in the West Indies. The BWIR made their mark in the military, especially in Palestine and Jordan. The name of former Northampton Town player Walter Tull is inscribed on the Arras Memorial.

Tull was killed on March 25th 1918 during the second battle of the Somme (Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images) 

The British Imperial Governor General Allenby sent a telegram to the then-Governor of Jamaica, William Henry Manning stating: “All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations.”  

Towards the end of the war, in November 1918, a total of 15,600 black men, had served in the (BWIR). A Black Brit who deserves an honourable mention is Walter Tull who died serving in the war. Tull was not only a soldier but a football player too.  

The footballer was born in Kent and was the first black outfield player to feature in the English top flight. He went on join the British Army and became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle. Tull suffered from shellshock and died in action in 1918 aged 29.

South East Asians also played a significant role in the first world war. Indians had a large presence in the WW1 as it’s estimated that 1.3 million Indians served in world war one and 74,187 Indian soldiers died. Indians troops helped various divisions in European, Mediterranean, Mesopotamian, North African and East African theatres of war.

Victoria crosses The Indian troops managed to break through the German defence by recapturing the town of Neuve Chapelle after the British had lost it. The Indian army fighting in the trenches suffered 34,252 total casualties during the trenches. Victoria Crosses is the highest award for gallantry that a British and Commonwealth serviceman can achieve.

Darwan Singh Negi and 10 other Indians received Victoria Crosses. He was given the title of subedar in Urdu which is the equivalent of British captain. Both of his sons went on to follow in his footsteps to become soldiers and joined the Indian army. As a person of colour, these stories make me proud of my Black and British heritage.

These soldiers volunteered to help the British army despite what the British empire did to their home countries. At a time when race and racism are touchy subjects in the UK, stories like these highlight how people of colour have contributed to Britain and that needs to be recognised. 

Trump Information-sphere – Debunking with data; Insights From Fact-checkers Around The World

CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA!NO!|EJC|Ever wondered if a politician’s claims really add up? Or perhaps you read a news story which seemed a little fishy? Armed with data, fact-checking organisations across the globe work tirelessly to help separate these facts from fiction, and any misnomers in-between.

To find out more about debunking with data, European Journalism Centre (EJC) gave subscribers to their data newsletter access to a global group of fact-checkers for an exclusive; “Ask Me Anything“.

How about starting with the most recent one; US President Trump’s UN LIE of the ‘century and centuries’ to come;  “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” line which drove the listeners into murmurs and laughter – mockery.2018-09-26

The world just laughed out loud at Donald Trump. That day, during the president’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, the audience laughed when Trump boasted that “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

As soon as the words left Trump’s mouth, a ripple of laughter traveled through the crowd and grew as Trump reacted to the guffaws

An unnecessary and embarrassing spectacle at that; if you ask me. Of course the humongous CLAIM was debunked as quickly as it was uttered; by the laughter of the audience and the world; also later on; hours later if I remember correctly, by Donald Trump himself;  

On the one hand, that is a pretty even-keeled response from someone as tantrum-prone as Trump.

Reader question: Can you share some good examples or best cases where data has been successfully used for fact-checking?

Anim van Wyk, Chief Editor, Africa CheckGood data aids good fact-checking, which need to point out exactly what the data can and can’t tell you. The more limitations, the less certain the answer becomes.

For example, it’s easy to use data from the World Health Organization’s Global Ambient Air Quality database to rank cities according to their pollution levels. But the fine print shows that these entries aren’t comparable. This is due to differences in the methods and quality of measurements – and the fact that some cities suspected to be the most polluted don’t report data to the WHO.

Samar Halarnkar, Editor, Factchecker.in: Data are [we never use the singular!] the foundation of fact-checking.

One example: The Indian telecommunications minister announced that within a year of taking charge, his administration ensured that the government-run telecoms behemoth, BSNL, had turned a operating profit, after seven years of losses, and had added subscribers. After a meticulous examination of data–including right-to-information requests–we found that operating profits did not mean the company had turned profitable; indeed net losses had increased, and the minister had, conveniently, not mentioned that more subscribers left than were added.

After a new right-wing government took over in 2014, there were many reports of lynchings, especially of minorities, based on violence related to cows, considered holy by many Hindus. The ruling party and its adherents insisted these were isolated incidents, were never reported before and were not related to the extreme version on Hinduism that they promoted. A debate raged nationwide, poisoning politics and society, made worse by the absence of data–national crime records did not register crimes related to bovines. At Factchecker.in, we created a database of each such crime from 2010 onwards, so that crime patterns could be compared with those after 2014, when the new government took office. Our database–now widely quoted in India and abroad–clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of the victims of such lynchings are minorities, in particular Muslims, and most violence has occurred in states run by India’s ruling party.

Image: Factchecker.in’s interactive database of cow-related violence in India.

Matt Martino, Online Editor, RMIT ABC Fact Check: Politicians in Australia often like to speak about records, both when attacking opponents and spruiking their achievements. A famous example in our unit was when the ruling Coalition Foreign Minister said that when the Opposition Labor Party were last in government, they bequeathed the “worst set of financial accounts” in Australia’s history to their incoming government. This particular fact-check took several months of work sourcing data from the history books on debt and deficit. We were able to find data on federal government surpluses and deficits, plus gross debt, stretching back to 1901, and on net debt handed over to incoming governments back to the 1970s. It’s a great example of where a claimant has used the raw number in place of a percentage, which puts the figure in historical context. In this case, experts told us that these figures must be expressed as a percentage of GDP to enable historical comparisons. Ultimately, we found that the Foreign Minister’s claim was wrong, as there were far larger (as a percentage of GDP) inherited deficits recorded during WWII, far larger gross debt inherited in the same period, and far larger net debt bequeathed to a government during the 1990s.

Dinda Purnamasari, Senior Researcher, Tirto.id: Data is the soul of fact-checking. But not just data, more importantly, the context of data itself is what makes our fact-check more reliable.

First, on 2 May 2017, Jake Van Der Kamp, an economist, shared an opinion entitled “Sorry President Widodo, GDP rankings are economists’ equivalent of fake news”. At that time, Kamp quoted a statement from President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) that Indonesia’s economic growth was third in the world, after India and China.

‘GDP is an attempt to emulate the corporate world by putting money numbers on performance but… with GDP you get no equivalents of the corporate balance sheet or profit and loss account and no notes to the accounts’“Indonesia’s economic growth is the third in the world, after India and China,” said Indonesian president Joko Widodo.

Third in the world, is it? What world is that? Within Asia alone I count 13 countries with higher reported economic growth rates than Indonesia’s latest 5.02 per cent.

They are India (7.5), Laos (7.4), Myanmar (7.3), Cambodia (7.2), Bangladesh (7.1), Philippines (6.9), China (6.7) Vietnam (6.2), Pakistan (5.7), Mongolia (5.5), Palau (5.5), Timor-Leste (5.5) and Papua New Guinea (5.4).

But of course President Widodo’s Indonesia is a very populous country with 261 million people. We cannot really compare it with pipsqueak places like Timor or Palau. Thus let’s draw the line at the 200 million people or more.

This gives us six countries across the world and, in terms of economic growth, Indonesia is in the bottom half of these six behind India, China and Pakistan. Try it at a cut-off of 100 million people or more and you still get no luck. Bottom half again.

Way to go, Joko. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. We’ll make a journalist of you yet.

 

After this opinion became an issue in Indonesia, Tirto.id decided to verify the data that had been used by Jokowi. We looked at data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and based on that we concluded that Indonesia was not in the third position using general criteria, but instead ranks third among BRICS and high populated countries.

Image: A graph from tirto.id’s fact-check, showing that Indonesia is ranked third out of the BRICS countries.

Second, in early August 2018, the Vice Governor claimed that their policy of odd-even traffic limitation had reduced air pollution in Jakarta. His statement became an issue, and even some media quoted his data. We verified the data using measurements from the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika – BMKG) and the US Embassy. Based on those, his statement was incorrect. The average of air pollution in Jakarta was still high and did not appear to be decreasing.

Tania Roettger, Head of Fact-Checking Team, Correctiv/EchtJetzt: Fact-checking only works for statements of fact, not opinions. So ideally there is data available to verify claims. We regularly use statistics about topics like crime, HIV-rates or jobs. If there are statistics on a topic, we will consult them. Of course, statistics differ in quality depending on the topic and who gathers the data.

Earlier this year, we debunked the claim that refugees sent 4.2 Billion Euros to their home countries in 2016. Data from the German federal bank showed that the 4.2 Billion Euros in remittances actually came from all migrants working in Germany for more than a year, not specifically from refugees. Most of the money, 3.4 Billion Euros, went to European countries, followed by Asia (491 Million) and Africa (177 Million).

Image: Correctiv/EchtJetzt rated the statement as four on their seven point rating scale.

Reader question: Have you seen examples where the same data has been manipulated to support both sides of an argument? If so, how do you ensure that your way of looking at the data isn’t biased?

Anim van Wyk: At Africa Check, we’re fond of the quip that some people use statistics “as a drunken man uses lamp posts – for support rather than illumination”. Depending on what you want to prove, you can cherry-pick data which supports your argument.

An example is different stances on racial transformation in South Africa, or the lack thereof. A member of a leftist political party said in 2015 that  “whites are only 10% of the economically active population but occupy more than 60% of the top management positions.” The head of the Free Market Foundation, a liberal think-tank, then wrote: “Blacks in top management… doubled.”

Both were right – but by presenting only a specific slice of the same data source to support their argument.

Again, you need to find out what the data cannot tell you and try to triangulate by using different data sources.

Image: Africa Check’s ‘mostly correct’ verdict means that a claim contains elements of truth but is either not entirely accurate, according to the best evidence publicly available at the time, or needs clarification.

Matt Martino: A great example of this was the debate over “cuts” and “savings” to health and education during the early days of the Abbott Coalition government in Australia. The government argued that they were making a “saving” on health and education by reducing the amount spent on what the previous Labor government had budgeted to spend. Labor, now in opposition, argued that this was in fact a cut. We investigated the figures and found that the Coalition was still spending above inflation so it couldn’t be called a cut, but the projections the Coalition had made about savings were over such a long period of time that it was difficult to say whether they would come to pass. In the end we called the debate “hot air”.

How do we make sure we’re looking at the data the right way? We always rely on several experts in the field to guide our analysis and tell us the right way to interpret the data. We’re not experts in any of the topics we explore, whilst academics can spend their entire careers researching a single subject, so their advice is invaluable.

Dinda Purnamasari: In our experience, many use the right data, but the context is incorrect. Then, the data becomes incredible.

For example, reports that PT Telkom (state-owned telecommunication company in Indonesia) had provided Corporate Social Responsibility funds of around IDR 100 million to a Mosque and, in comparison, IDR 3.5 billion to a church.

We found that the numbers (IDR100 million and IDR3.5 billion) were right, but the purpose of the funding was incorrect. The 100 million was granted by PT Telkom in 2016 to pay the debt from a mosque renovation process. On the other hand, 3.5 billion was granted to renovate the old church, which also became a cultural heritage site in Nusa Tenggara Barat in 2017.

In this case, again, the context of data becomes an important thing in fact-checking. We must understand the methodology and how the data was gathered or estimated, even by double-checking on the ground, if needed.

Tania Roettger: Crime-data is a good example. In 2017 crime rates in Germany went down. But the statistic only shows the crimes that have been reported to the police. This has lead some politicians to claim that crime has not actually gone down and that the statistics are “fake news“.

When the meaning of data is debated, we consult independent experts to collect arguments about how the data can or should be interpreted. Or we look at alternative sources, for example the surveys some German states conduct with people about the crimes they experienced but did not report. (However, the validity of these surveys is disputed.)

Samar Halarnkar: In this era of fake news, data are often used to reinforce biases.

For instance, there was much self congratulation when the government claimed that India’s forests grew by 6,779 sq km over the two years to 2017. We found that this was not wrong because that is what the satellite imagery revealed. But what it did not reveal was that these new “forests” included forests converted to commercial plantations, as well as degraded and fragmented forests, and that the health of these forests was being gauged by satellite imagery with inadequate resolution. Indeed, numerous studies had recorded a steady degradation of forests over nearly a century.

Image: Factchecker.in found that this map of forest coverage was not what it seemed. Credit: India’s state of forest report (ISFR) 2017.

Indian remote-sensing satellites produce images with a resolution of 23.5 metres per pixel, which is too coarse to unequivocally identify small-scale deforestation and cannot distinguish between old-growth forests and plantations. To make that distinction, India needs imagery with resolution of 5.8 m per pixel.

So, all data are not always what they appear. They need to be verified and cross-checked, either with studies, other databases or ground reporting.

Reader question: How do you fact-check stories or statements when data on an issue isn’t available?

Anim van Wyk: It’s really unsatisfactory to use our “unproven” verdict, but sometimes the evidence publicly available at the time “neither proves nor disproves a statement”, as we define this rating. Still, the absence of data doesn’t mean anything goes in making statements of fact about a topic. We then point out what is known and what isn’t.

Samar Halarnkar: If data are not available–or independently verified data are not available–there is only one substitute: Verification through old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting.

For instance, India’s Prime Minister once claimed that his government had built 425,000 toilets within a year. With no independent verification, this claim was hard to dispute. Obviously, it was impossible to verify that 425,000 new toilets had indeed been built in all of India’s schools. But after sending reporters to conduct random verifications in eight Indian states, it quickly became apparent that the Prime Minister’s claim was–to put it plainly–a lie.

Matt Martino: RMIT ABC Fact Check tests the veracity of claims made by politicians and public figures in Australia. If someone is making a claim to influence policy, our position is that they should have good evidence to back it up. Lack of evidence is no excuse so we try and persevere regardless.

Sure, this often leads to less-exciting verdicts, such as “unverifiable” or “too soon to know” but the verdict is not the be-all-and-end-all of a fact-check. In these situations, we explore what data is out there; we consult experts in the field for their opinion, and we present it to the audience as best we can so they can see how we’ve come to our decision.

Video: More detail on how RMIT ABC Fact Check finds and checks claims.

Dinda Purnamasari: If the data isn’t available, we will place it as unproven, though this flag is unsatisfactory. But, before we conclude the issue as unproven, we still explain the verification steps that we undertook. This is because we want citizens to understand that, when tirto.id places a claims as unproven, it means we could not find the credible source of the information.

As an example, one of our politicians stated that the LRT development cost for 1 KM was USD 8 billion. After we checked reliable and credible sources, and we couldn’t find the information, then we concluded the issue as unproven.

Tania Roettger: “Knife crime on the rise“ is a recent story, but the federal crime statistics do not list crimes committed with knives as a special category. Some states in Germany do, but among them, they differ in what they count as knife crime. That definitely does not make our work easier.

In cases like this, we source as much information for a claim as is available. If it turns out the material is not sufficient to verify or debunk the claim, we list what is known and clearly state what is missing. If there is no convincing tendency we give the rating “unproven”. But it is important to keep in mind that those making a claim also carry a burden of proof – if one makes a statement of fact, it needs to be based on evidence. This is one of the things we’re trying to show with our work.

Reader question: Are there any established guidelines for determining the reliability of a data source? How does your organisation determine which data is appropriate to use?

Samar Halarnkar: We do not have established guidelines. In general, we consider if the data source is reliable. Sometimes, it might not entirely reliable; for example, a government source, in which case we use the data but cross check with experts, independent studies and/or our own checks. Some public databases are largely reliable: for instance, government-run databases on health, farming and education. We do not consider those data that have previously proven to be compromised or are doubtful.

Matt Martino: We don’t have any hard rules around it, but generally the source should be a non-partisan organisation. In Australia, we rely heavily on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is a government organisation which has a reputation for providing objective data on a range of issues. This is an example of a good source.

When considering a source, it’s always pertinent to ask: “what is their agenda?” If their motivations for providing data might influence the data in a partisan way, it’s best to leave it alone. As always, it’s a good idea to consult experts in the field on what is the best source to use in verifying a claim.

Dinda Purnamasari: Since we already know that every data has their own nature, such as context, methodology, etc, we have established a standard for the secondary data that is used. Our first level of the source comes from the Government Statistic Bureau, Ministry/Local Government, company financial reports and the stock exchange. As a second layer, we use world organisations, verified and credible journals, consultants and research companies, as well the national or high reputation news agencies. Although, we have this standard, we also cross-check information by consulting with experts in the field, so that we use the best sources.

Tania Roettger: When we’re investigating a claim, one task is to understand what exactly a given piece of data is able to tell. We establish how and why it was collected, what it contains and it excludes. Usually we note the shortcomings of a statistic in the article. Whenever we are uncertain about the evidence we have gathered, we discuss the issue among our team.

Anim van Wyk: There’s no way round studying the methodology by which the data is collected. This must then be discussed with experts to get their input. And all data sources, even those considered reliable, have limitations, which has to be highlighted.

Reader question: What do you think about the potential of automated fact-checking?

Samar Halarnkar: I am sure it has immense potential, but this requires coding expertise that we do not currently have.

Tania Roettger: There are several ways in which automation could help the fact-checking process: extracting fact-checkable claims from speeches or sourcing relevant statistics and documents from a data-pool, for example. But so far we have not experienced or heard of a tool that would do our work for us.

Image: An overview of out automation could aid fact-checking from Understanding the promise and limits of automated fact-checking, by Lucas Graves.

Matt Martino: It’s an interesting area, but one which is currently undercooked. Parsing language is a big part of what we do at Fact Check, and machines are not yet capable of interpreting a great deal of the nuance in language. That being said, anything that allows greater access to the facts in a debate for audiences would be a good thing.

One area where there is already enormous potential is in searching for and identifying potential claims to check and key data on government website such as Hansard and budget papers.

I think that, like a lot of AI, there’s a long way to go, and we’ll be watching this space intently.

Anim van Wyk: The tools I’ve seen are helpful in monitoring important sources for claims to fact-check, such as transcripts from parliament. But I’m quite hesitant about fact-checks without any human intervention as nuance plays such a big role. The potential of getting it completely wrong when you are the one claiming to be correcting claims is not worth the potential credibility loss, in my opinion.

Dinda Purnamasari: It is very interesting, and could make the fact-checker’s work easier. But, for us, it is still long way to go. But, more importantly, to provide the context to data that I am sure is still hard to do by machine.

Reader Question: What are some of your go-to data tools?

Anim van Wyk: You’t can beat a good old spreadsheet. For illustration purposes, we keep it simple by using Datawrapper.

Samar Halarnkar: We use Tabula for extracting tables from PDFs. For analysis, we depend on Excel/Google Sheets and Tableau depending on the size and type of the dataset. For visualisation, we work primarily with Google Sheets, Datawrapper, Infogram and Tableau. We also use Google My Maps and CartoDB for some maps.

Matt Martino: We use Excel or Google spreadsheets for simple analyses; for more complex ones I use R Studio, which is more powerful and can handle much larger datasets. It requires coding knowledge, but the training is well worth it.

In terms of visualisation, we’ve tried many different platforms throughout the years, but Tableau Public has emerged as our go-to. Its abilities in formatting, design, calculation and visualisation are pretty much unrivalled in my opinion, and we’ve been able to create really interesting and rich visualisations using the platform, like those seen here and here.

Dinda Purnamasari: For analysis, we use excel, SPSS, and other statistical tools. It really depends on the purpose, size and type of our data and analysis. For visualisation, we use adobe illustrator, datawrapper, etc.

Want to participate in future ask me anythings? Sign up to the European Journalism Centre’s data newsletter here.

Tony Blair: ‘Brexit’s doomed coalition will burst’

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau
Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Leading French journalist Marion Van Renterghem meets Tony Blair, one of Remain’s Don Quixotes suddenly realising their task might not be as futile as it first seemed.

AIWA! NO!//From my side of the Channel, I initially saw you Remainers as some tribe of Don Quixotes, at war with windmills, assigning yourselves a quite impossible mission: to bring your compatriots back to wisdom.

Yet as time goes by, it seems that Quixotism might turn into something more achievable. The lies behind Leave are blowing up, the nation’s mood is changing, the move for a People’s Vote is growing. And you, Remainers, have become like little mosquitos, tormenting the government, creating a constant, inescapable noise which is giving ministers sleepless nights.

As a spectator, I am fascinated to witness such a spectacle: the officers who set the course are leaving the ship one after another (Farage has become a radio entertainer, David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others have cynically transferred their investments out of Brexitland); the captain herself, Theresa May, remains on the bridge – but hardly in control. And yet the ship carries on.

The UK today reminds me of the Fellini film E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On). In it, the ocean liner Gloria N sinks and the passengers evacuate by singing opera arias, after having triggered the First World War. As I watch, I’m amused. As a European, I’m bemused. And scared. Because your story is ours.

But there are mutineers on board the UK’s ship, and in recent months, I have been meeting with many of them: brilliant debaters emerging out of nowhere like Femi Oluwole; previously unknown voices like Gina Miller; older hands putting all their energy to shift opinion, like Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Peter Mandelson… and Tony Blair.

In Paris, Brussels and London, I’ve been meeting regularly with your former prime minister – the most intelligent and reformist politician you have had in recent times, and the man you hate the most.

At one meeting, he stares at me like a martian and dissolves into laughter when I tell him that Europe’s misfortune – Brexit – stemmed from the fact that Britain did not lose the Second World War. I insist: the arrogance of you British and your current teenage crisis over ‘independence’ results from the fact that you were able to stand up to Hitler. “You, the British, look down on Europe because it was defeated, while you weren’t,” I tell him. “As a result, you live under the delusion that the EU isn’t of any use to you, except possibly to facilitate your business affairs.”

He stops laughing and admits: “The British tend to forget the importance of their European heritage. They wanted to join the Economic Community in 1973 only, and they didn’t understand that they should have been a founding member in 1951 or 1957. This would have changed everything.”

He adds: “My vision of Europe has always been political as much as economic. We signed the European Social Charter and I personally laid the foundations for a European defence policy in 2000. Europe must not be only a market, but a broader project that takes into account the social dimension of the market.” The trouble is, even then, he was one of the only Britons to think so.

Years of criticism have given Blair the expression of a Hamlet haunted by some spectre. His hair has whitened, the forehead has darkened. Yet his courtesy and cheerfulness seem to have resisted all the blows.

Even in France, politicians of the left are careful not to mention his name publicly, even though some keep on having meetings with him and envy his exceptional career in power: elected three times for his visionary reforms in the NHS and education and for his humanitarian interventions in international crises.

When campaigning against the Conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007, socialist Ségolène Royal was blamed by her own party for praising Blair’s policy. Sarkozy himself was more open about their friendship, and said recently that he and Blair might work on some projects together. Emmanuel Macron, when a candidate for the French presidency, said that he was not ashamed to be compared to Blair – he didn’t insist too much, however, knowing this statement would act like a scarecrow to his voters on the left.

Anglo Saxon politicians can’t easily provide a simple template for French ones, who traditionally tend to celebrate the role of the state in the economy. Blair will always be considered a man of the right by the French left – just as he has come to be seen on the British left, since Corbyn shifted it further to the extreme.

Then there is Iraq. His burden, the tragic mistake that has thrown him into hell. His deep motivation for following George W Bush in his Baghdad mission remains a mystery. Was it strategic loyalty to the Atlantic alliance, as he himself explained? Or a kind of a religious revelation? A journalist told me he was present for a telephone conversation in January 2001 in which Bill Clinton urged his friend Blair to be “as close to Bush” as he had been to himself.

According to a YouGov poll earlier this year, only 17% of Britons have a favourable image of Blair. The most smiling of all prime ministers has learned to live with this hostility. “I can’t prevent people from hating me nor can I force them to listen to me,” he says quietly. “But they can’t prevent me from speaking out what I believe in.”

One of the main reasons – apart from Iraq – why Blair irritates you British so much might be that, in one crucial respect, he is so different to you: he is viscerally European.

By European, I mean supporting a community of political, ethical and social values – not only a single market, for one’s own interest. In that sense, Blair is the first genuine European to have occupied Number 10 since Churchill, even if – paradoxically – he is blamed on my side of the Channel for being too British and not European enough. Wasn’t he the strongest supporter to the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and the man who favoured intra-European immigration, both of which have contributed to today’s populism?

“The context was different,” he answers. “In 2004, the economy was booming. If I had been in power for the last ten years, I would have hardened the rules on immigration. It remains desirable and necessary for the economy, but we must hear the anxiety it arouses and regulate it. As for enlargement, can you imagine the eastern countries left behind, with the emergence of Russian nationalism? They would have been more vulnerable, and so would we.”

He pauses, looks for words by looking up to the ceiling and concludes: “The irony is that the single market and the enlargement are British initiatives – Thatcher, then Major, then me. The Brexiters now blame Brussels for what Great Britain wanted and supported… They want to ‘take back control’, but I can’t remember one single law imposed by Brussels that I would have been forced to apply. They want a ‘global Britain’ whereas only the European Union can be global, facing the three economic giants – USA, China, India.”

A silence again, eyes to the ceiling, then: “There are two irreconcilable groups among the Brexiters – those who are scared of globalisation and those who are scared of a too socialist Europe. If Brexit takes place, this coalition will burst.”

He adds: “The government wants to believe that this is a negotiation with the EU, but it is not. Either we stay close to the EU, then we wonder why there would be any reason to leave, or we leave the EU, then we accept to lose the benefits of the single market. There is no alternative.” The inevitable restoration of some sort of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic that Brexit will bring – an issue particularly pertinent for Blair, as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement – is, he says, a “metaphor of the impasse”.

The former prime minister was among the first to articulate calls for what is now called a People’s Vote. “We have the right to reconsider the issue once the deal between London and Brussels is known,” he told me, back in November 17. “It would not be a second referendum, but a new one, given the situation itself is all new. Brexit as it now looks like has nothing to do with what people have voted for. Until March 29 2019, it is not too late.” Back then, it was a fringe view. Not any more, if the polls are correct.

As a strong European myself, I couldn’t understand why you Remainers didn’t take the opportunity, at the last general election, to vote for one of the two only pro-European, UK parties you have: the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Instead, you showed a Pavlovian link to the two-party system, and then blamed Jeremy Corbyn for his persistent silence on Brexit, despite his notorious, long-standing anti-European credentials.

Blair insists he voted Labour in June 2017 and pretends not to have given up hope that Labour will play the role of a centrist party – “but that looks increasingly unlikely,” he admits. As we would say in France, by the time Labour comes back to the centre hens will have teeth.

So does a new, centrist party remain a possibility for the UK? “The paradox,” Blair answers, “is that a majority of people would vote for a centrist policy – a strong market economy together with a liberal society, justice and mobility not for the few but for the many – while both the two main parties can only be taken over from outside the centre. That is why they both are disappointing and deceitful.” What happened in France with Emmanuel Macron, who broke through with a new political party, En Marche, by blowing up the old ones, can hardly be replicated in the UK’s parliamentary system. But old French politicians thought the same regarding French politics. And all laughed at Macron when he launched his attempt. So perhaps, with Brexit, it should be worth a try in the UK.

The countdown is running in the UK, and across Europe, towards March 29, 2019. Whatever the outcome will be, the anger that caused Brexit remains. As in all European countries, British society is cut in half. In my meetings with politicians from different parts of Europe in recent months, I have never heard such uncertainty. In such uncertainty, as regards Brexit and the possibility of a second referendum, Blair can find some optimism – or pessimism, depending on how you look at it. “Everything is possible,” he says

Marion Van Renterghem is a reporter-at-large and a writer. This article has been partly adapted from a piece published in Vanity Fair France online

Section 377: India’s LGBT community celebrate ruling on gay sex

India’s top court decriminalizes gay sex2018-09-07 (3).png

New Delhi (CNN)Indian Supreme Court Justice Dipak Misra quoted Shakespeare as he read out the unanimous ruling of five judges to legalize gay sex. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Misra said, borrowing a phrase from “Romeo and Juliet,” as he overturned the colonial era Section 377. “The said phrase, in its basic sense, conveys that what really matters is the essential qualities of the substance and the fundamental characteristics of an entity but not the name by which it or a person is called,” Misra added.

Danish Sheikh felt a "sense of delight" after India's Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay sex.
Danish Sheikh felt a “sense of delight” after India’s Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay sex.
Sheikh, a law professor at the Sonipat-based Jindal Global Law School, is one of many LGBT Indians who have fought for years to overturn the country’s draconian anti-gay laws, inherited from the former British colonial government. As he listened to the ruling, he said he experienced a “sense of delight … which slowly turned to relief and headiness as they continued to read, and I absorbed just how significant this decision was.”
Sheikh’s political awakening came in part due to another Supreme Court ruling in 2013, which reversed a landmark ruling by the Delhi High Court that a ban on gay sex violated citizens’ fundamental rights. “After 2013, there was a lot of energetic activism in the country,” he said. “The kind of outrage that was felt resonated across civil society, outside the LGBT community … society started to tolerate, and even accept, queer persons.” For Sheikh, the issue of acceptance was one which cut far closer to home: in 2012, he had come out to his parents.
“They reacted with anger and sorrow, then took me to a psychiatrist who informed all of us that homosexuality was a mental disorder, possibly the result of a tumor in my hypothalamus, which he could cure with aggressive instant treatment,” he recalled in a Facebook post. “I stormed out of the doctor’s office, and their house. Something broke between us that day.”
While his mother made efforts to repair their relationship, Sheikh’s father didn’t talk to him for years, but in July when the court began hearing the case again “he called, and in a shaking voice asked if I’d like him and my mother to come to the court, if that would help, if I might need their support at this time?”  “It took me a while to find my voice,” Sheikh wrote. “Things can change.”
LGBT activists celebrate after the verdict by Supreme Court of India which stuck down on the British-era section 377 of the penal code that penalized people for their sexual orientation and ordered that gay sex among consenting adults is not an offence.

‘Deep joy’

Members of India’s LGBT community partied late into the night Thursday, even as torrential rain fell in Delhi and elsewhere. “Justice has finally come our way,” said Edwin Thomas, a 22-year-old gay man who works in the social sector. “We’ve been out and front and center for a really long time. It’s just that we needed the rest of society and our legal structure to catch up with us.” While the ruling was expected to strike down the law, Thomas said he and many others were nervous that it might go the other way.
Edwin Thomas was born in Dubai, but found acceptance and a community in India which enabled him to come out as gay.

“I came to India in 2013, when they recriminalized gay sex, and five years down the line things are looking up and that gives you hope. Hope is what keeps everyone going and that’s a good feeling,” he said. Like others, Thomas feels the ruling now paves the way for the start of a new Indian LGBT rights movement and as an “open avenue for newer ways of protection and justice.” Dhrubo Jyoti, a 29-year-old journalist and LGBT activist who identifies as queer, said there was a sense of “catharsis” with the new ruling for those “who were at the Supreme Court in 2013 and had their hearts broken.” “It not just affirms one’s faith in the Constitution but it also means that the gloom and the despair in this atmosphere of abuse for many of us, hopefully, for a new generation of queer people, it won’t be there,” he said.
While Jyoti recognizes that changing prejudiced mindsets will take a long time, he emphasized that changing the law was a vital first step in building a new society where LGBT people are protected and respected. “Without decriminalization, a further fight for rights cannot happen,” he said.

‘Relief … and sadness’

Prevailing attitudes against homosexuality were on show Thursday even as the ruling made gay sex legal. Indian media connected the issue to bestiality in coverage of the ruling, and even some of those celebrating were still fearful of being quoted by name as they may face prejudice for being openly LGBT. “My first reaction was of immense relief. My second reaction was the sadness that I felt for everybody who’s had to go through life thinking they’re criminals. Their entire identity to be reduced to ‘Oh, this person is gay or a lesbian’ and suddenly that doesn’t matter anymore. At least legally, that sanction now exists,” said a 57-year-old man who asked not to be identified. “It’s not something one should be ashamed of but because of cultural norms, there is discrimination.” He said that while he does not overtly hide his sexuality, it is also not something he makes an effort to speak about or highlight.
“I say this with caution, social change in India takes a very long time to come,” he said. “We may depend upon law to change certain aspects in the way we live but it is actually social norms, which really bring about that change, and that change is not going to come immediately.” While he has lived most his life in the shadow of discrimination, he was optimistic that those who come after him will have different experiences. “I accept the fact that change won’t come in my lifetime. What has happened is going to benefit the future generations, but I really hope to make the most of it.”
Women celebrate in Kolkata. Activists said the next stage of the fight will be for full legal protections and equality for LGBT people.
Women celebrate in Kolkata. Activists said the next stage of the fight will be for full legal protections and equality for LGBT people.
As the fight now turns to the broader issues of acceptance and legal protections for gay couples — and potentially the issue of same-sex marriage — many in India’s LGBT community are still reveling in their victory. “This is the beginning of a new phase of rights for LGBT rights but that isn’t the future today, today is a day of celebration for us,” said lawyer Arundhati Katju, who represented the petitioners at the Supreme Court. “We’re celebrating the petitioners, we’re celebrating our court, and ultimately our Constitution.”

Prime Minister Modi, President Trump set future directions for India-US relationship

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S. (File Photo)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S. (File Photo)   | Photo Credit: Reuters

New Delhi [India] : Taking their strategic partnership to a new level, India and United States of America on Thursday sat for the inaugural 2+2 Dialogue. The meeting was attended by External Affairs Minsiter Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and US Secretary of States Michael R. Pompeo and USSecretary of Defence James N. Mattis.

In her opening remarks Swaraj said that significant progress has been made in the IndiaUS relationship since June 2017 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modiand US President Donald Trump had met and set future directions for boosting the relationship between the two nations. “Prime Minister Modi and President Trump set future directions for our relationship. I am happy to note that there has been significant progress in all key areas of our relationship,” Swaraj said.

Swaraj expressed confidence that the decisions taken in this first 2+2 Dialogue will help in unleashing the untapped potential of relations between India and the US. “I am confident that our discussions and decisions that we will take today will help unleash the untapped potential of our relation and further elevate the level of our partnership,” she said.In his opening statement, Pompeo said efforts will be made to ensure freedom of the navigation and overflight, peaceful resolutions of the maritime disputes and promotion of market-based economics.

“Our two nations are united by shared values of democracy, respect for individual rights and a shared commitment to freedom. Given those values, India and the United States have a natural starting point. We should continue to ensure freedom of the seas, skies, uphold the peaceful resolutions of the maritime disputes, promote market-based economics and good governance and prevent external economic coercion,” Pompeo said
Sitharaman said that the meeting was a reflection of efforts made by the two countries in developing the ties over the past few years. “This meeting is a reflection of tremendous focus that we have made in developing our ties over past few years. It is a strong recognition of the immense potential of our bilateral partnership for benefit of our people, region and beyond,” the Defence Minister added.

Sitharaman also emphasised that the commencement of the first-ever 2+2 Dialoguebetween the two nations is a concrete manifestation of the vision of Prime Minister Modi and President Trump to take IndiaUS relationship to a higher trajectory.
Earlier, Swaraj and Pompeo held bilateral talks. “1+1 before 2+2! EAM @SushmaSwaraj had a productive meeting with United States Secretary of State@SecPompeo,” Ministry of External Affairs spokepserson Raveesh Kumar tweeted while mentioning the talks indicate elevating and strengthening strategic partnership between the two countries. “The two sides took stock of impressive strides in our bilateral relationship and discussed steps to take our relationship to an even higher trajectory,” he added.

NETHERLANDS – Feeling the power of reliable electricity

Over a billion people globally still have no access to energy. We are looking at companies that can provide reliable and affordable energy to communities across the developing world. Husk Power Systems is one.

Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President – New Energies at Shell

AIWA! NO!//During a recent trip to India, I met local printshop owner Mr Sushant in Tamkuhi Raj, a village in the state of Uttah Pradesh. He told me how businesses like his used to be heavily reliant on unpredictable electricity from the grid.

Villagers were lucky to get even a few hours of continuous electricity. Blackouts could last more than a day. Businesses suffered.

Listening to his challenges reminded me how easy it is for those with frequent, reliable access to energy to take it for granted. Yet for millions around the world, it is a very different story.

Fortunately, thanks to a mini-grid company called Husk Power Systems, this businessman’s reality is changing. Mr Sushant now controls his working hours. Business is picking up. Customers are encouraged by the reliability of his copiers and printers, and earnings are steady and consistent.

Electricity from Husk Power Systems costs less than half of what many families previously paid for kerosene lamps, and has far fewer environmental and health hazards.

For me, this example shows how access to reliable energy is not just about achieving a better quality of life. It is about giving people the means for income-generating opportunities that can improve livelihoods.

Behind the technology

So, what is the technology powering that print shop? Husk is a mini-grid company which uses a hybrid system that generates renewable power 24 hours a day. The system synchronises solar panels with biomass gasification power plants, supported by battery storage. The costs can be higher – but so is reliability.

Husk Power Systems sees electricity as a critical element in addressing poverty. “Access to better lighting improves people’s lives”, says Sinha. Photo credit: flickr/Acumen Fund

Husk has certainly improved the livelihood of this printshop owner. And it is my hope that this model could be replicated all over India and across the developing world.

Strategic investments

Earlier this year Shell was among those that announced a collective $20 million investment into Husk. The money will come from our New Energies business, which is focused on commercial ways to provide reliable and affordable electricity.

We were attracted to Husk because we see the firm as a leader in providing reliable and affordable energy to communities with no or unreliable electricity. They have a very credible business model.

This followed our investments in SolarNow BV, which provides decentralised solar energy to communities in East Africa, and SteamaCo, a British off-grid smart metering company. So far, these three companies have raised a total of about $30m in the most recent funding rounds, including money from Shell.

Each of them brings experience and expertise in energy access which, when combined with Shell’s capabilities and global presence, we believe will help these firms to grow.

Pitching in

But firms can’t do everything alone. We need a stable regulatory environment, an integrated vision from governments and support from multilateral institutions.

In India, where hundreds of millions of people lack access to reliable energy for example, the government has already laid out targets for electrification. Efforts must be combined.

Having seen the positive difference reliable power makes to lives, it’s clear to me why people desperately craving it are willing to pay more.

My hope is that through Shell investments in firms such as Husk, reliable power will change the lives of millions.

India vs England Cricket Battle, 3rd Test in Nottingham, Day 1: Rahul, Dhawan begin cautiously

ENGLAND lead India 2-0 and viewers tuning to watch and stream the third Test could see the home side seal the series with two matches to spare.

England cricket star Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes will hope to be England’s talisman vs India in the third Test (Image: GETTY)

India will be hungry to keep themselves alive in the five-match Test series against hosts England when they square-off in the third Test at the Trent Bridge. After losing the first two matches, India face a must-win situation. India gave a very good fight before losing the first Test by 31 runs in Birmingham.

In the second Test, they were outplayed by an innings and 159 runs at Lord’s, succumbing within three days. The Indian team management’s major responsibility on Saturday would be to find a perfect team combination as players are going through fitness and out of form issues.

India vs England Live Score, 3rd Test, Day 1: Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul Begin Cautiously Against England Seamers
India vs England Live: Rishabh Pant became the 291st player to represent India in Test cricket.© BCCI

India’s playing eleven is likely to witness few changes with Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant all set to make his Test debut replacing Dinesh Karthik, who has failed miserably so far in the tour, with scores of 0, 20, 1 and 0 in his four innings. Meanwhile, media reports suggest skipper Kohli has more or less recovered from his back problem and is expected to lead his side once again. Also, if opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan returns on Saturday, either Lokesh Rahul or Murali Vijay will be axed from the playing eleven.

Joe Root’s side won a close game at Edgbaston in the first Test with Sam Curran starring in only his second Test match with 4/74 with the ball in the first innings and a crucial 65-ball 63 with the bat in the second.

England triumphed by 31 runs courtesy of Ben Stokes taking 4/40 to bowl India out in the last innings but had to leave him out for the second Test as he attended the affray trial where he was found not guilty earlier this week.

The explosive all-rounder has been picked again at Trent Bridge and Curran is the unlucky man who misses out.

India captain Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli appears to have recovered from a back injury to play in the third Test (Image: REUTERS)

India meanwhile will be glad to have Virat Kohli fit after he recovered from a back injury that was aggravated during the innings defeat in the second Test at Lord’s.