The UK Statistics Authority has written to Labour MPs pointing out that they haven’t been presenting statistics on zero hour contracts entirely clearly. Contrary to Labour’s suggestions, 1.8 million people are not ‘on zero hour contracts’ but rather around 1.8 million zero hour contracts were in use in August 2014. The number of people with a zero hours contract in their main job was estimated...
“EU orders Britain’s organic farmers to treat sick animals with homeopathy”—Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2015 For better or worse, homeopathic remedies are certainly promoted in EU organic food standards. But they’re not the only alternative to ordinary medicine, and organic farmers are allowed to call in the vet if ‘natural’ methods don’t work. The Telegraph reports of a “new EU […]
Customer asked to put their own salt and vinegar on their take-away fish and chips (to get the amount right) but was told that customers could not put their own salt and vinegar on meals due to “Health and Safety”.READ MORE
While most of us find it easy to recognise highly familiar faces such as those of family and friends, identifying faces that we have only briefly encountered is much more difficult. In fact, some research suggests that even experienced passport control officers make a large number of errors when matching faces to identity documents. Yet, recent work reveals that a small number of people may have extraordinary face recognition skills, outperforming typical people on a range of face recognition tasks.
These so-called “super recognisers” have an uncanny ability to recognise faces, remembering people they have not seen for decades, who have substantially changed in appearance, and who they have only fleetingly encountered. Some super recognisers have even been accused of stalking because the person that they recognised did not reciprocate the familiarity.
It is currently unknown how many people truly have superior face recognition skills. Popular tests assess participants’ ability to recognise photographs of celebrities that were taken a long time before they became famous. While these “before they were famous” tests are certainly fun to complete, it is very difficult to control for participants’ previous exposure to each celebrity.
A more reliable option is to assess performance on computerised tests that require participants to memorise faces and to later recall them. The number of correct responses can then be compared to the average score achieved by people with typical face recognition skills. This statistical procedure simply identifies the top 2% of the population – meaning that one in 50 people are currently classed as super recognisers.
Recent research carried out at Bournemouth University investigated whether these people are actually processing faces in a different manner to the rest of the population. It has long been known that the optimal way to process faces involves the use of a “configural” or “holistic” processing strategy.
This involves seeing faces as a whole, taking account of all of the facial features and the spacing between them. Interestingly, all of the super recogniser participants displayed heightened configural processing on at least one task. We also monitored their eye movements as they looked at faces. While control participants mostly looked at the eyes, super recognisers spent more time looking at the nose. It is possible that this more central viewing position promotes the optimal configural processing strategy.
What makes a super recogniser?
We also examined the potential causes of super recognition, finding no evidence that these people have higher intelligence levels or excel at all visual or memory tasks. In fact, their superior ability is restricted only to the recognition of faces. It currently seems that some people are simply predisposed to developing this skill, and there is increasing evidence that face recognition skills are heritable. Twin studies report a higher correlation in face recognition ability for identical compared to non-identical twins, and disorders of face recognition – prosopagnosia or face blindness are known to run in families, too.
Another important finding is that some people seem to be superior at specific face recognition tasks. For instance, while some of our super recognisers were excellent at remembering faces, others had typical face memory skills yet were extremely good at deciding whether pairs of simultaneously presented faces were of the same person or two different people. A further skill that has not yet been tested is the “spotting” of faces in a crowd. Many super recognisers claim to be particularly proficient at this task, and it is possible that some people may be “super spotters” yet not excel at other tasks.
The possibility that there are different subtypes of super recognition is particularly important when considering the applied value of this research. Passport control is one clear candidate for the use of super recognisers, and many policing scenarios would also benefit. Super recognisers might assist with the matching of faces captured on CCTV footage, the comparison of faces to identification documents, or the scanning of crowds for known troublemakers, wanted perpetrators or even missing persons.
They may also help with victim identification, or deciding whether a person moving between borders is using a fraudulent identity or is even a missing child. There may not be enough super recognisers to fill all these tasks in all locations, particularly given different individuals may be needed for different jobs, but an elite team of super recognisers could be deployed in times of need.
There has already been some movement towards this ideal, and certain police forces are now working with academics to screen their officers for super recognition. Like many sectors, security and policing agencies are increasingly being assisted by technological advances. However, the discovery of super recognisers presents a refreshing example of how a previously untapped human aptitude can make a real difference to local, national and global security.
If you think you are a super recogniser, you can register to participate in research here.
Sarah Bate does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
A record number of people—22.4 million—attended A&E in England last year. 93% of people are seen within four hours of arriving. The target is for 95% to be seen within this time. 89% are seen within four hours at the largest A&E units alone. 2014 has seen more targets missed and longer waiting times. Record...
“Already millions more people can see a GP 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm”—Conservative manifesto “Fewer patients waiting longer than the 18, 26 and 52 week targets than in May 2010. We have slashed the number of people who wait over a year for the treatment they need, from over 18,000 to under 500”—Conservative manifesto […]
South African president Jacob Zuma is due to deliver his eighth State of the Nation Address in parliament on Thursday. Last year he delivered two State of the Nation Addresses - one before and one after the country’s national elections in May. This report looks back at the claims he made about service delivery.
You’d not have known it from the media coverage, but the national election on May 7 was not the only contest playing out in the UK. Almost all English district and unitary councils – 279 of 293 – held elections too, and there were also votes for six mayors, for many parish and town councils, plus the odd local referendum.
There were no council elections in London, Scotland or Wales, but English voters – many doubtless to their surprise – were confronted by up to five ballot papers. Those in Bedford, for example, had votes for an MP, a mayor, two borough councillors, up to 11 parish councillors, and a referendum on their Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposal to increase council tax – the first ever of its kind.
These multiple ballots offered electors the obvious opportunity for split-voting: one for their MP or national government, and another more personal, local or protest vote.
The chief beneficiaries of any split-voting were expected to be minor parties and independents in the council elections. But, as the nearly complete results table shows, that was another prediction largely confounded in these elections.
Local government’s four-year electoral cycle means that the baseline with which to compare these elections was 2011, when most of the actual council seats up this year were last won and lost.
Since then, the opinion poll ratings of both Labour and the Conservatives have dropped. The Conservatives, though, were thought likely to be the bigger losers, having done well in 2011 and therefore defending far more seats than Labour, and having also been more damaged by UKIP’s dramatic rise.
But just as predictions for the national election proved wide of the mark, so did those for the 9,500 local contests.
The Conservatives were the unambiguous winners of these local elections and Labour not just the net, but absolute, loser. The Lib Dems suffered as painfully as they did nationally. The junior coalition partners were predicted to lose around 50 seats but ended up ceding more than seven times that number. UKIP made progress, but less than it hoped, and the Greens flatlined.
The Conservatives won overall control of more than 30 councils – mostly, it should be noted, councils without a single party majority before the vote. Those gains rightly got the headlines, but two of the party’s most satisfying results will be its retained and slightly strengthened control in Solihull and Trafford – the only two of the 36 big metropolitan councils it currently holds.
Other now Conservative controlled unitary councils include Basingstoke & Deane, Poole, and Bath & North East Somerset, where there are now two Greens, but 14 fewer Lib Dems and a first-time Conservative majority.
Shire district councils won included traditionally independent Babergh, Suffolk, also for the first time; Amber Valley, Gravesham, and North Warwickshire straight from Labour; Hinckley & Bosworth from the Lib Dems; Gloucester, St Albans, Scarborough, Winchester, and Worcester.
Further Labour losses included Walsall metropolitan borough and the unitaries Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent – all now left with no single majority party.
Even defeated parties must find consolation somewhere, and Labour’s will include hanging on to a knife-edge majority in Bradford, thanks to independent candidates, UKIP and Respect all losing seats, and gaining majorities in unitary Stockton-on-Tees, and, after a suspended recount and overnight rest, Cheshire West & Chester.
Labour is also now the largest party on Brighton & Hove – which in 2011 had become the first council to be run by the Greens.
As in the national election, the Greens’ recent membership surge didn’t really translate into hard results, though they will be encouraged by seven gains in Labour-dominated Bristol, bringing them within touching distance of official opposition.
In this year’s local elections, UKIP was the history maker. Party leader Nigel Farage had failed to become Thanet South’s MP, but his party reduced Labour councillors from 24 to four and won overall control of Thanet district – its first principal council.
Good Lib Dem news was at a premium all weekend, but enough of Bedford’s conscientious voters backed Dave Hodgson to re-elect him comfortably for a third term as the borough’s mayor.
In other mayoral votes, Peter Soulsby was re-elected for Labour in Leicester, Gordon Oliver for the Conservatives in Torbay, and Mansfield’s three-term Independent Tony Egginton was succeeded by his Mansfield Independent Forum colleague, Kate Allsop.
Another Independent, Mike Starkie, was elected as the first mayor of Copeland in Cumbria, while in Middlesbrough three-term Independent Ray Mallon has retired and is replaced by Labour’s Dave Budd – though only after a second preference count and the rejection of large numbers of spoilt ballots, presumably from the many Labour members who, despite the result, want the mayoral system abolished.
In these mayoral elections at least, then, there was something for almost everyone: Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, and Independent.
Chris Game does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Some letting agents and consultants are scaremongering landlords, for financial gain, by misinterpreting and exaggerating the legal requirements to manage and control legionella in domestic premises.READ MORE
Some areas within the UK have experienced higher levels of migration than others. London is the region with the highest share of foreign born people in its population, while the North East has the lowest share. Looking at more recent trends, increases in the foreign-born population during the 2000s varied regionally, with the largest percentage […]
Given that the meaning of the French Revolution is still contested, it’s no surprise that there are arguments over June’s EU referendum.
The word “advisory” crops up a lot in the debate at the moment. Here we’ll look what people mean when they say that the referendum was, or wasn’t, advisory.
Start with the law
The referendum was not legally binding. There’s no one source that can prove this statement true (although here’s a respectable one). That follows from the fact that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 didn’t say anything about implementing the result of the vote. It just provided that there should be one.
In other countries, referendums are legally binding—for example, because the vote is on whether to amend the constitution. The UK, famously, doesn’t have a codified constitution.
A UK referendum will only have the force of law if the Act setting it up says so. In practical terms this would mean someone would be able to go to court to make the government implement the result. The Alternative Vote referendum in 2011, for example, was legally binding in this way.
Otherwise, as the High Court put it on 3 November:
“a referendum on any topic can only be advisory for the lawmakers in Parliament”.
So, purely as a matter of law, neither the government nor Parliament has to do anything about the referendum.
Some people who oppose Brexit take the argument a step further. We see images like this one on social media, highlighting the non-binding nature of the vote:
“Which bits of this [briefing] are MPs now acting as if they either did not read or did not understand?” asks the philosopher AC Grayling.
The arguments aren’t just legal—there are political ones too
This is where the argument slides from legal into political. Former diplomat Brian Barder says that:
“members of parliament owe the electorate their own best judgement of the national interest—taking into account the referendum result—not their obedience to the opinions of a narrow majority in a referendum or otherwise”.
The argument goes that, the referendum being “advisory” and Brexit being bad, MPs should refuse to follow the result. Some MPs agree.
But some people who support leaving the EU say there’s plenty of evidence that the referendum was politically binding. They say that the referendum process sent clear instructions to MPs that they should support the decision made by a majority of voters—even if the formalities don’t require them to.
They point to the fact that, during one of the debates about the bill on 9 June 2015, the then Foreign Secretary said “decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians in this Chamber”.
Leaflets are not law, and the High Court has since told the government that it can’t keep this promise with the approval of Parliament. But that doesn’t stop anyone from making the case that MPs delegated the Brexit decision to the voters, and have no right to unmake it now.
A representative or a direct democracy?
In the end, the argument comes down to different visions for democracy in the United Kingdom. The conventional view is that ultimate political power lies with Parliament. The High Court came to its conclusion that the referendum was not legally binding guided by “basic constitutional principles of parliamentary sovereignty and representative parliamentary democracy”.
In a parliamentary democracy, as barrister Rupert Myers bluntly puts it, “the people are not sovereign”.
That’s why Nigel Farage, for example, accepts that the referendum result was technically advisory only, but says that “I would now wish to see constitutional change to make referendums binding”.
After a remarkable election night that defied pollsters’ predictions, Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.
The electorate repudiated the mass of commentators who had expressed disbelief that such a person was running so competitively for the office of president. With Hillary Clinton conceding to Trump by telephone, it appears to have been those “left-behind” voters who, despairing of a political system they feel has failed them, turned to “the Donald” as the saviour who “speaks their language”.
Both these stories have been told many times over. But one aspect of the Trump phenomenon remains a puzzle. This is not about who Trump is, or who his voters are: the questions is what he is.
Everyone seems to agree that Trump isn’t a politician in the true sense, either because he failed to meet the standards expected of a democratic representative or because he expressed no desire to be such a figure. But if (even after being elected) he really isn’t a politician in the truest sense, what is he? What role has he actually played in this bizarre American drama?
For those about to rock
Attempts to answer these questions came to dominate much of the coverage. No presidential election is really a straightforward exercise in political competition. As the writer George Saunders observed: “American presidential campaigns are not about ideas; they are about the selection of a hero to embody the prevailing national ethos.”
No-one seems any surer than they were just what sort of national hero he will be. Trump as rock or pop star was a persistent theme during the campaign: the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland described standing at the front of a Trump rally in “a kind of Trumpian moshpit”. In his book Trump and Me, Mark Singer twice quotes a Trump associate as saying: “Deep down, he [Trump] wants to be Madonna”. (Which of Madonna’s many incarnations he would choose to emulate is unclear.)
Author and music blogger Bob Lefsetz took the analogy one step further. Trump, to him, is a heavy metal band. “Donald Trump is a rock star,” Lefsetz wrote, “if you go back to what that once upon a time meant, someone who adhered to his own vision living a rich and famous lifestyle who cared not a whit what others said.”
The specific choice of musical genre is the key here. Metal, Lefsetz writes, is the music most despised and overlooked by the liberal elite, even though it is adored by its fans: “The reason metal triumphed was because it was the other, it channelled the audience’s anger, it was for all those closed out of the mainstream, and it turns out there’s plenty of them.”
The music writer Simon Reynolds also saw Trump as a rock star, but instead of Black Sabbath or Madonna, he drew parallels with David Bowie and T. Rex: “Trump surrounds himself with glitz. Trump and the glam rockers share an obsession with fame and a ruthless drive to conquer and devour the world’s attention.”
His tale has remained a kind of ‘80s prime-time soap of aspiration and ego … he cited his TV ratings the way another candidate might boast of balancing a state budget. Mr Trump’s primary win was like having a niche hit on cable … In programming terms, his campaign is nostalgia based content – that thing you used to like, I’m gonna bring it back again! He’s a classic TV show rebooted for Netflix: that old stuff from back in the day, but edgier and uncensored.
And, of course, Donald Trump is a reality television star. His role on The Apprentice is key to understanding his ability to play the role of presidential candidate. As David Von Drehle wrote in Time magazine, with reality TV stars: “Fans are encouraged to feel that they know these people, not as fictional characters but as flesh and blood”.
The idea that someone like this really could be elected to lead a major democracy was once the province of satire. But as I and my colleagues found in our research, many young people in the UK reportedly see people such as Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell as credible political leaders. They were seen as tough and decisive, attributes that were seen necessary to effective political leadership.
Treating Trump principally as a pop icon and his campaign and victory as an extended performance might sound flippant – but it’s crucial that we see this for what it is. Trump’s shocking ascent to the top job indicates that the role of the politician really has finally merged with the role of the rock star.
John Street does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
In this section Independent expert commentary from the Migration Observatory Manifesto clash: net migration Manifesto clash: exit checks Manifesto clash: migration target Introduction Immigration is seen as the most important single issue facing Britain today and one of the most important issues in helping people decide how to vote. The last two decades have seen historically […]