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    Deepfakes are here and can be dangerous, but ignore the alarmists – they won’t harm our elections | Ciaran Martin

    Sixteen days before the Brexit referendum, and only two days before the deadline to apply to cast a ballot, the IT system for voter registrations collapsed. The remain and leave campaigns were forced to agree a 48-hour registration extension. Around the same time, evidence was beginning to emerge of a major Russian “hack-and-leak” operation targeting the US presidential election. Inevitably, questions arose as to whether the Russians had successfully disrupted the Brexit vote.The truth was more embarrassingly simple. A comprehensive technical investigation, supported by the National Cyber Security Centre – which I headed at the time – set out in detail what had happened. A TV debate on Brexit had generated unexpected interest. Applications spiked to double those projected. The website couldn’t cope and crashed. There was no sign of any hostile activity.But this conclusive evidence did not stop a parliamentary committee, a year later, saying that it did “not rule out the possibility that there was foreign interference” in the incident. No evidence was provided for this remarkable assertion. What actually happened was a serious failure of state infrastructure, but it was not a hostile act.This story matters because it has become too easy – even fashionable – to cast the integrity of elections into doubt. “Russia caused Brexit” is nothing more than a trope that provides easy comfort to the losing side. There was, and is, no evidence of any successful cyber operations or other digital interference in the UK’s 2016 vote.But Brexit is far from the only example of such electoral alarmism. In its famous report on Russia in 2020, the Intelligence and Security Committee correctly said that the first detected attempt by Russia to interfere in British politics occurred in the context of the Scottish referendum campaign in 2014.However, the committee did not add that the quality of such efforts was risible, and the impact of them was zero. Russia has been waging such campaigns against the UK and other western democracies for years. Thankfully, though, it hasn’t been very good at it. At least so far.Over the course of the past decade, there are only two instances where digital interference can credibly be seen to have severely affected a democratic election anywhere in the world. The US in 2016 is undoubtedly one. The other is Slovakia last year, when an audio deepfake seemed to have an impact on the polls late on.The incident in Slovakia fuelled part of a new wave of hysteria about electoral integrity. Now the panic is all about deepfakes. But we risk making exactly the same mistake with deepfakes as we did with cyber-attacks on elections: confusing activity and intent with impact, and what might be technically possible with what is realistically achievable.So far, it has proved remarkably hard to fool huge swathes of voters with deepfakes. Many of them, including much of China’s information operations, are poor in quality. Even some of the better ones – like a recent Russian fake of Ukrainian TV purporting to show Kyiv admitting it was behind the Moscow terror attacks – look impressive, but are so wholly implausible in substance they are not believed by anyone. Moreover, a co-ordinated response by a country to a deepfake can blunt its impact: think of the impressive British response to the attempt to smear Sadiq Khan last November, when the government security minister lined up behind the Labour mayor of London in exhorting the British media and public to pay no attention to a deepfake audio being circulated.This was in marked contrast to events in Slovakia, where gaps in Meta’s removal policy, and the country’s electoral reporting restrictions, made it much harder to circulate the message that the controversial audio was fake. If a deepfake does cut through in next month’s British election, what matters is how swiftly and comprehensively it is debunked.None of this is to be complacent about the reality that hostile states are trying to interfere in British politics. They are. And with fast-developing tech and techniques, the threat picture can change. “Micro” operations, such as a localised attempt to use AI to persuade voters in New Hampshire to stay at home during the primaries, are one such area of concern. In the course of the UK campaign, one of my main worries would be about targeted local disinformation and deepfake campaigns in individual contests. It is important that the government focuses resources and capabilities on blunting these operations.But saying that hostile states are succeeding in interfering in our elections, or that they are likely to, without providing any tangible evidence is not a neutral act. In fact, it’s really dangerous. If enough supposedly credible voices loudly cast aspersions on the integrity of elections, at least some voters will start to believe them. And if that happens, we will have done the adversaries’ job for them.There is a final reason why we should be cautious about the “something-must-be-done” tendency where the risk of electoral interference is concerned. State intervention in these matters is not some cost-free, blindingly obvious solution that the government is too complacent to use. If false information is so great a problem that it requires government action, that requires, in effect, creating an arbiter of truth. To which arm of the state would we wish to assign this task?
    Ciaran Martin is a professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, and a former chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre More

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    Beware the Biden factor, Keir Starmer: you can govern well and still risk losing the country | Jonathan Freedland

    The smile was the giveaway. Asked whether he was “just a copycat” of Tony Blair at the launch of his Blair-style pledge card on Thursday, Keir Starmer positively glowed. He was delighted with the comparison, which the entire exercise was surely designed to encourage. Blair “won three elections in a row”, Starmer said, beaming. Of course, he’s thrilled to be likened to a serial winner. And yet the more apt parallel is also a cautionary one. It’s not with Starmer’s long-ago predecessor, but with his would-be counterpart across the Atlantic: Joe Biden.It’s natural that the sight of a Labour leader, a lawyer from north London, on course for Downing Street after a long era of Tory rule, would have people digging out the Oasis CDs and turning back the clock to 1997: Labour election victories are a rare enough commodity to prompt strong memories. But, as many veterans of that period are quick to point out, the circumstances of 2024 are very different. The UK economy was humming then and it’s parlous now. Optimism filled the air then, while too few believe genuine change is even possible now. And politics tended to be about material matters then, tax and public services, rather than dominated by polarising cultural wars as it is now.All of which partly explains why it’s a comparison to the US president that Starmer should be thinking about – even if it’s not nearly so encouraging.Start with those aspects of the Biden story that can give Starmer heart. The veteran Democrat showed it is possible to win office thanks less to a wave of popular enthusiasm than a hunger for change after years of chaos. He proved that you can make a virtue of a lack of swash and buckle, offering steady solidity as a respite after frantic drama. In 2020, Biden demonstrated that dependable and capable can be enough to win when voters have had enough of charismatic and crazy. It worked for him after the era of Donald Trump, just as it’s working for Starmer after an era that, for all Rishi Sunak’s efforts, is defined by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.In other words, in 2020, Biden showed that playing a hand much like the one dealt to Starmer can be enough to win. The trouble is, in 2024 he’s showing why that might not be enough to win twice.Take a look at the New York Times poll published this week. The headline findings are bad enough, with Biden trailing in five of the six battleground states where the election will be decided. Behind in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he’s ahead in Wisconsin alone. The underlying numbers are worse still with, improbable as it may seem, Trump gaining among Black, Latino and young voters especially. Most alarming for Biden is the finding that 70% think the US political and economic systems need major change – or should be torn down altogether. It makes the 2024 contest a change election in the US, just as it is in the UK – and for an incumbent such as Biden, that is dangerously bad news.Put another way, the US appetite for change is so great that it is causing the unravelling of key parts of the Obama coalition – minorities and the young – and its reassembly behind Trump. Barack Obama offered himself as the change candidate in 2008, an outsider who would challenge the establishment, and Trump, even though he is a self-described billionaire and a former president less than four years out of office, is successfully making the same rebel pitch.What’s more, those Americans itching for something new are prepared to use as their agent of change a man who incited a violent insurrection against the US government, sought to overturn a democratic election, has made no secret of his dictatorial ambitions for a second term, has been found liable for sexual abuse and is now standing trial on criminal charges in New York. When so many Americans are willing to flock to that person as the alternative, it tells you how much they dislike what they have now.There is a warning here for Starmer. Not for his prospects in the coming election – Biden’s success in 2020 tells him he can be confident – but for the election after that. The former Conservative cabinet minister David Gauke thinks Priti Patel is a decent bet as the next Tory leader, perhaps offering to keep the seat warm for the return of Boris Johnson. If Trump makes the comeback to end all comebacks in November, do not think Johnson will not be tempted to repeat the trick.How is it that a second Trump presidency is even conceivable; how is it that Biden can be lagging behind such a flawed, widely loathed rival? The US economy is improving; the stock market is roaring; inflation is falling. The US is set to grow at double the rate of its fellow G7 nations this year. More to the point, through a series of landmark legislative achievements – a record that outstrips Obama’s – Biden has spread the jobs and investment around, even to those parts of the US left derelict by decades of post-industrial decline. Take his gargantuan infrastructure package, the poorly named Inflation Reduction Act: more than 80% of its green investment dollars have gone to counties with below-average wages. This is levelling up made real.And yet, Biden is struggling, even in those places he has helped most. It’s a reminder of a core fact that is so often forgotten. That politics is an emotions business, one that turns not on what people think but what they feel. All the economic data in the world won’t help you if voters feel squeezed and reckon the country is on the wrong track.As the US commentator Joe Klein puts it, politics often comes down to “the art of competitive storytelling”. The successful politician tells a story that goes beyond the practical matters of pay and public services, speaking instead to voters about the way they see their own lives and the future, for themselves, their families and the country. In that competition, Trump beats Biden. His story is dark and vengeful, pitting his people against a menacing other, but it is compelling. Biden has a narrative, too – he will protect democracy and abortion rights from the Trump threat – but it is defensive.This is the gap Starmer needs to plug – and you can see how he might do it. One Labour luminary says that too many Britons “don’t just feel a loss of income, but a deficit of dignity” and that politicians have to address that. Starmer gets close when he speaks of “dignity at work”, of the human need for respect. It sounds authentic, as if it might even be his animating purpose, when he recalls the way his father, a toolmaker who worked in a factory, “always felt … that he was looked down on. Disrespected.”Whatever the story is, he needs to tell it. Right now, what Keir Starmer offers will almost certainly be enough to get him into No 10. But the lesson of Joe Biden is that, if he wants to stay there, it will take much more.
    Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist More

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    Redone, hidden, burnt: seven famous subjects and the portraits they hated

    Vincent Namatjira’s portrait of Gina Rinehart has found no favour with the subject, with the mining tycoon asking the National Gallery of Australia to remove the painting from an exhibition. But Australia’s richest womanis not the first person to take a painting of their likeness to task.Here we take a look at seven notable examples.Winston Churchill by Graham SutherlandDespite being one of the most highly regarded artists of his time, Graham Sutherland produced a portrait of Winston Churchill that was so detested it was secretly burnt by his wife.The painting was commissioned by the Houses of Parliament to mark the former prime minister’s 80th birthday in November 1954. In it, Churchill was seated and wore a dark suit, displaying his famous bulldog demeanour.The wartime leader is said to have found his likeness “like a down-and-out who has been picked out of the gutter”. The painting was taken to his home, Chartwell in Kent, where destroyed it in a bonfire.Germaine Greer by Jeffrey SmartPrim, seated and with her hands clasped around a handbag, a likeness of the author and feminist Germaine Greer was so unlike her, the sitter reportedly complained of the 1984 portrait painted by Jeffrey Smart.The sitter and artist were friends but Greer reportedly refused to pose after seeing initial pencil studies of her face, forcing Smart to use a body double. While Greer may have hated the painting, it sold for $1,227,273 in 2022.Bernard Breslauer by Lucian Freud A double chin was to blame for the destruction of the portrait of the millionaire antiquarian book dealer Bernard Breslauer by Lucian Freud. The art academic Catherine Lampert made the discovery in 2008 after visiting Breslauer’s New York apartment, where she reportedly learned that he had not been flattered by Freud’s depiction of his baldness and bulging chin.Freud was told of the painting’s fate when he was 85, some 50 years after the portrait was completed. Had it survived, the portrait could have fetched a seven-figure sum at auction. Malcolm Fraser by Bryan WestwoodThe prime minister’s first official portrait was instantly rejected when it was revealed in 1983, with Malcolm Fraser reportedly “loathing it at first sight”.Bryan Westwood, who went on to twice win the Archibald prize, captured the prime minister standing with folded arms against a dark background.Westwood’s agent, Robin Gibson, told the Canberra Times that the late former PM saw the painting as “too casual and domestic”. The painting was originally consigned to a National Gallery storage unit but was eventually moved to Old Parliament House. Lyndon B Johnson by Peter HurdThe president is said to have called his likeness, standing and clutching a history book with the Capitol at dusk in the background, “the ugliest thing [he] ever saw”.In turn, its painter, Peter Hurd, was not shy about calling LBJ’s behaviour “very damn rude”.Theodore Roosevelt by Théobald ChartranAfter the 1902 portrait was unveiled, Theodore Roosevelt felt the Frenchman had made him look more like “a mewing cat” than the powerful leader he preferred to imagine.He reportedly hid the painting in a wardrobe before having it destroyed. A second – and more successful – official portrait was commissioned, this time by John Singer Sargent.Ronald Reagan by Aaron ShiklerThe 1989 official portrait of Ronald and Nancy Reagan was a second attempt after Aaron Shikler’s first version was rejected because it reportedly lacked a “twinkle in his eye”.Two years later, the official portrait was replaced by a third, by Everett Raymond Kinstler.Other notable unlikenessesGough Whitlam refused to sit for his prime ministerial portrait after his dismissal. His Archibald-winning likeness by Clifton Pugh was instead chosen as his official portrait. Lucian Freud’s painting of Queen Elizabeth was both admired and derided when it was unveiled in 2001. While some said the likeness was more like that of a corgi than the Queen, the sitter tactfully told Freud: “Very nice of you to do this. I’ve very much enjoyed watching you mix your colours.”  More

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    Clownfall: don’t be taken in by the trick of a great dictator | Letters

    I thank Adrian Chiles for drawing attention to Adolf Hitler’s chilling quote from the 1920s: “It makes no difference whatever whether they laugh at us or revile us … whether they represent us as clowns or criminals; the main thing is that they mention us, that they concern themselves with us again and again…” (Everyone laughed at Hitler in the 1920s. A century on, are we making the same mistake?, 24 April).As a very young child, I lived through the second world war in Dublin; while Ireland was neutral, the war was nonetheless very present to us there. Like Chiles, all my life I have wondered how millions of people could have been taken in by a figure such as Hitler, with terrible consequences.And while there may be significant differences between Hitler and a certain figure south of the Canadian border, it’s not hard to see the ploy that was advocated in the quote that so chilled Chiles being employed by the latter – and successfully, to judge by much media coverage.David BlackwellEastern Passage, Nova Scotia, Canada Adrian Chiles’s column was excellent. As a liberal American, I take the danger that is Donald Trump very seriously. I, and most of my circle of contacts and friends, understand that half the electorate in the US will vote for Trump, irrespective of anything he does or any court proceeding. We find this very frightening.I would like to think that some, if not most, liberal voters have thought this through, particularly after the 2020 election and its aftermath. It’s vital that some journalists finally have chosen to puncture the fragile facade that is the reliability of American democracy.Gary RintelmannMequon, Wisconsin, US I have to agree that political leaders who are laughed at, such as Hitler, still have the potential to rise into power and produce destructive outcomes. I have read many books on Hitler and 20th-century history. While there was a unique set of circumstances that helped propel him into power, his narcissistic belief in himself and a fanatical determination to fulfil his imagined destiny are basic human traits (found mostly in men) and will always be present in the human race until one of them finally wipes all of us from this planet.Ed StrosserEast Elmhurst, New York, USView image in fullscreen More

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    Trump fangirl Liz Truss channels Maga menace at US conservative thinktank

    Was that Donald Truss? Or Liz Trump? A former British prime minister turned up in Washington on Monday channeling the Maga menace who once lorded it in the Oval Office and now spends his days in a dingy courtroom.Liz Truss was at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank in Washington, within sight of the US Capitol dome, to promote her grandly titled book Ten Years to Save the West. Why does she keep coming back to America? It was not hard to figure out.Far from the London literary critics sharpening their knives, Heritage offers Truss a happy place, full of gushing sycophancy with an audience hanging on her every word. In this regard the 48-year-old has gone all Trumpy: the ex-president loves to surround himself with oleaginous flatterers who dare not cross him.How divine that the politicians who whine about “groupthink” and “safe spaces” are the ones who cling to groupthink and safe spaces.To illustrate the point, Truss’s war on “the global left” establishment evidently includes the Guardian. Last Friday, this reporter received an email from Heritage about the Truss event that said: “Due to space limitations, we unfortunately must rescind your in-person invite.”Curiously, come Monday morning, Truss posted a tweet encouraging members of the public to register the event and enclosing a link. So much for space limitations. But those who did attend were informed they couldn’t get a signed copy of the book due to “supply chain issues”.Others were still able to watch a live stream on YouTube where, three hours after it ended, the event had just over 700 views. (Heritage’s biggest hit on the site is a Tucker Carlson speech that attracted a million views.)Heritage is the thinktank behind Project 2025, a sprawling plan for a second Trump presidency. Wearing a dark blue jacket and trousers, white blouse and shiny black shoes, Truss noted that when she was first invited to Heritage as environment secretary in 2015, she was warned against not to go by then British ambassador Kim Darroch.“He says to me, ‘You’ve got to be wary of this organisation. They’ve spoken out against President Obama. They’ve even been critical of Prime Minister Cameron. Are you really sure, minister, that you want to go and see them?’” Truss recalled, speaking from a wooden lectern against a backdrop of the Stars and Stripes and a blue wall dotted with Heritage Foundation logos.“And I said, yes, I’m sure because I’m a conservative and they’re a conservative thinktank in the United States of America, our closest ally. So eventually, I prevail because I am a determined person but the car from the embassy dropped me off two blocks away from the Heritage Foundation so that the British flag wouldn’t be sitting outside the building.”Making a lot of sub-Trump hand gestures with open palms, Truss proceeded to deliver her standard speech railing against left-dominated institutions, an anti-growth coalition, the IMF and Conservatives in name only. Naturally there was a swipe at wokery as “another bad neo-Marxist idea developed from Foucault and all those crazy postmodernists in the 1960s, the idea that biological sex is not a reality”.She blamed these forces for making her the shortest serving British prime minister in history (49 days that sparked mayhem on the financial markets). She reeled off a list of foes, foreign and domestic, who joined the “pile on”. Among them was Joe Biden, who had the temerity to criticise her radical mini-budget’s tax plans “from an ice cream parlour in Oregon”. There was some laughter in the auditorium. So vanilla!The Trump fangirl had some advice to impart: “I come today with a warning to the United States of America. I fear the same forces will be coming for President Donald Trump if he wins the election this November.”Truss repeated her plea from the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland for the right to grab a “a bigger bazooka” to combat the activist left with their money and “friends in high places”. She called for a “bonfire of the quangos” and, echoing Trump ally Steve Bannon, declared: “We need to dismantle the administrative state.”In her book, Truss writes that she was an early fan of the reality TV show The Apprentice and “enjoyed the Donald’s catchphrases and sassy business advice”. She also pays little heed to the convention that senior British politicians stay out of US elections.She told the audience on Monday: “I worked in cabinet whilst Donald Trump was president and while President Biden was president and I can assure you the world felt safer when Donald Trump was in office… Getting a conservative back in the White House is critical to taking on the global left.”Praise for Truss was laid on think by Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and a former foreign policy researcher for Thatcher herself. He has been named one of the 50 most influential Britons in the US by the Daily Telegraph.In God we Truss; no lettuce jokes here. The baby-faced, bespectacled Gardiner proclaimed her book “an absolutely tremendous read”, “very robust”, “very gutsy”, “very courageous”, “a wonderful read”, “very powerful”, “a thrilling read”, “a tremendous book” and “a wonderful message”. He speculated that the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, might be writing memoirs in the near future but “yours are far more conservative and interesting”.Truss and Gardiner sat on plush white armchairs with glasses of water on a table between them. Truss warned that another Biden term would mean “the promotion of leftwing ideology”, girls unable to use bathrooms in privacy and no policy to deal with immigration and the southern border. “Four more years of this would be a disaster for the US internally. I think Bidenomics has been a failure.”Gardiner wondered what a second Trump term would mean for Britain. Truss said free the world needs conservative leadership. “It’s only Britain that has a conservative government. We’ve got Biden in the US, we have Trudeau in Canada, we have Macron in France, we have Scholz in Germany and it’s not working. The west is not winning.”Trump has said he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any Nato country that doesn’t meet spending guidelines on defence. But Truss echoed Trump’s call for Europe to spend more. “There are too many countries free riding at the moment who are in serious threat. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he won’t stop there… Donald Trump is right to say to Europe: you need to pay up.”Elise Stefanik? Kristi Noem? Marjorie Taylor Greene? Forget it. Trump-Truss 2024 would have been unstoppable. If only she had been born in Kansas. More

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    The Guardian view on Labour and Brexit: a subtle but important strategic pivot | Editorial

    For most of the period since the decision was taken to leave the EU, British politicians have overestimated how much thought the continent gives to Brexit. Once shock at the referendum result receded, relations with the UK came to be seen as a technical problem to be solved by hard-headed negotiation.At critical moments, when deadlines neared, Brexit leapt up the agenda. After the treaties were signed, they dropped right down, overtaken by the other issues facing a large bloc with many borders and problems. That represents a perverse kind of victory for Boris Johnson and his chief negotiator, David Frost. The deal they signed was so skewed against British interests that Brussels has little incentive to reopen the settlement.This is a problem for those who think Brexit has gone badly – comfortably a majority opinion, according to polls. The road out was hard, but it was also a unilateral choice. The way back, even to a much looser association, means persuading EU governments and institutions that Britain has something unique to offer and, crucially, that it can be relied on to stay the course.The difficulty with that process is as much a limitation on Labour’s policy as the more commonly recognised domestic electoral taboos against upsetting leave voters. David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, understands this, which is why he and Sir Keir Starmer are proposing a new UK-EU security pact as the main instrument for improving the cross-Channel relationship. This is a field where Britain, as one of Europe’s top two military powers (alongside France), has capabilities and expertise that open doors in Brussels. A security partnership could be wide-ranging, covering energy and climate cooperation, without relitigating the terms of trade and regulatory alignment that inhibit discussions of enhanced economic intimacy.The economic cost of Brexit will still one day need to be addressed. On that front, the options are limited for as long as Labour refuses to countenance talk of a customs union or meaningful reintegration into the single market. This may be overcautious, but general public negativity about the way Brexit has worked out isn’t the same as eagerness to go through the whole gruelling exit process in reverse. And the old terms – the opt-outs and budget rebate – would no longer be available. Mr Johnson’s unpalatable cake cannot simply be unbaked.Even the keenest pro-Europeans – and Sir Keir was once counted in their ranks – must see the many complex practical implications of recognising that Brexit is a fait accompli, for Brussels no less than Britain. The starting point for a new and mutually beneficial relationship is an acknowledgment of geopolitical forces compelling the two sides to work together. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine makes that point compellingly. The prospect that Donald Trump could return to the White House next year doubles the urgency. The former US president, if restored to the Oval Office, would be an unreliable ally to Europe’s democracies and a wilful saboteur of international institutions.The Eurosceptic vision of Britain thriving without its home continent was always a delusion. In the current international context it is unsustainably perilous. The Conservative party’s choice to ignore these facts is as predictable as it is dangerous. Labour’s Brexit policy is still marked by caution, but on the need for a strategic pivot back to Europe, thankfully the silence is breaking. More

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    What does Liz Truss’s book tell us about her American ambitions?

    In her new book, the former British prime minister Liz Truss directs scathing attacks and mockery at Joe Biden, president of her country’s closest ally. Biden was guilty of “utter hypocrisy and ignorance”, Truss writes, when the US leader said he “disagree[d] with the policy” of “cutting taxes on the super wealthy” in the mini-budget Truss introduced in September 2022, shortly after taking power.“I was shocked and astounded that Biden would breach protocol by commenting on UK domestic policy,” Truss adds. “We had been the United States’ staunchest allies through thick and thin.”Such harsh words between British and American leaders, in or out of office, would normally seem unusual. But Truss has scores to settle. By the time Biden spoke, in an ice-cream parlor in Portland, Oregon, Truss’s mini-budget had already caused panic over British pension funds, threatened to crash the UK economy and been withdrawn – a humiliating reversal for any prime minister, let alone one little more than a month into the job. Six days later, Truss was forced to resign.A year and a half later, offering the public her version of what went so terribly wrong, Truss still manages to thunder: “What the Biden administration, and the [European Union], and their international allies didn’t want was a country demonstrating that things can be done differently, undercutting them in the process.”Perhaps. Either way, Biden is still president while Truss is now a mere backbench MP for a constituency in rural Norfolk. But the release of her book, Ten Years to Save the West, alongside her founding of Popular Conservatism, a new pressure group, says a lot about where she sees her future.Far from taking her allowance and pursuing traditional, relatively sedate pursuits – lobbying, say, or trying to achieve peace in the Middle East – Truss wants to remain relevant on the global populist right, particularly in the US.Truss’s book is published in the US and UK on Tuesday. The American jacket carries praise from two hard-right senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, both vocal enemies of Biden. It also carries a different subtitle from the British edition. In the UK, Truss is said to offer “Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room”. In the US, she is “Leading the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment”.It’s a lot to pack in between the school run – Truss has two daughters – and her duties as a Norfolk MP. But it all points to a clear ambition to carve out a presence in rightwing US media, long on plain display.In February, Truss attended the CPAC conference in Maryland, giving an address to an audience of what Politico called “bewildered conservatives” before appearing with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former campaign chair and White House adviser, a leading far-right voice who pitched Truss into controversy with remarks about the jailed far-right figure Tommy Robinson.View image in fullscreenTruss will soon be back, visiting Washington to promote her book at the Heritage Foundation, the thinktank behind Project 2025, a vast and controversial plan for a second Trump administration.Truss’s relationship with Heritage is well established. She spoke there in 2015, as trade secretary and over the objections of the British ambassador, and accepted an award named after Margaret Thatcher there last year. Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage, also blurbs the US edition of Truss’s book.The foundation is a couple of miles from the White House, but Truss is hardly likely to seek contact with Biden or his administration. That may be just as well. Elsewhere in her book, she describes meeting the president at the White House in September 2021, when she was foreign secretary under Boris Johnson.“Our Oval Office meeting lasted around an hour and a half,” Truss writes, adding that this was not a sign of favor.“The truth was it owed more to Biden’s penchant for telling extended anecdotes in response to any issue that came up. ‘Ah, that reminds me …’ he would say, as his officials looked at each other with knowing smiles. Ten minutes later, the story would end and he would move on to something else.”Biden’s age, 81, and mental capacity to be president are the source of constant media speculation and political attack – and strong White House pushback. But Truss has more to say. At the Cop 26 climate conference in Glasgow, later in 2021, she “bumped into Joe Biden again. He remembered our meeting at the White House, telling me he’d never forget ‘those blue eyes’, even though we’d both been wearing Covid masks.”It is not clear if the reader should think Biden or Truss was under the impression mouth coverings also obscure the eyes.Truss is still not done. She includes the president with the former House speaker Nancy Pelosi among US politicians deemed “unhelpful” over Northern Ireland issues, their interventions “generally on one side of the argument, doubtless egged on by the Irish embassy in Washington”.She also describes how in September 2022, as prime minister, she attended the UN general assembly in New York. There, she says, “Biden regaled me with tales of the Democrat campaign trail, including an incident in which he had fallen over. He said, ‘I can see them thinking, ‘You can’t get up, grandpa’, but I got up.’“I formed the view that he was running again in 2024,” Truss writes, before risking a self-own by writing about a faux pas at the same event, when she called out “Hi, Dr Biden!” to “a blonde lady” who turned out to be Brigitte Macron, the wife of the president of France.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“I hope she didn’t hear!” Truss writes.The vignette about Biden at the UN is not the only one in Ten Years to Save the West in which Truss uses “Democrat” to refer to the Democratic party. It is a telling choice. Republicans have long used the incorrect term as a term of political abuse. Nor is it the only instance in which Truss – or her US editors – must adapt or explain her language.When writing about UK politics, as in most of the book, Truss must often offer translations or explanations for US readers. For one small but telling example, in referring to her distaste for National Insurance – a payroll tax that supports state pensions and unemployment and incapacity benefits – she calls it “a social security entitlement”. On the US right, “entitlement” is almost as dirty a word as “Democrat”.At least until the eve of publication day, Truss had shied from saying Donald Trump’s name but said she wanted a Republican in the White House in 2025. She says so in her book but abandons any pretense of subtlety when it comes to praising Trump, now the presumptive GOP nominee despite facing 88 criminal charges and multimillion-dollar penalties for tax fraud and defamation, the latter arising from a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”.Calling herself “an early fan of the TV show The Apprentice” who “enjoyed the Donald’s catchphrases and sassy business advice”, Truss says that when Trump entered politics in 2015, colleagues in parliament and “elderly ladies” in Swaffham, a town in her constituency, were united in “seem[ing] genuinely animated by the disruptive Republican candidate”. She makes a common link between support for Trump and support for Brexit – which she campaigned against before becoming its hardline champion on her way to leading her country.View image in fullscreenWhen Trump was president, Truss writes, she “chased” Boris Johnson “down a fire escape” in New York, to demand inclusion in a meeting between the British and American leaders. According to Truss, who was then trade secretary, that meeting saw Trump urge her and his own trade representative, Bob Lighthizer, to get on with talks for a UK-US trade deal – only for Johnson to try to make Trump focus on restoring the Iran nuclear agreement, a tactic that did not work.Truss never got her trade deal. In part, she blames “many in Number 10” Downing Street who “seemed to want to hold Trump at arm’s length for political reasons”.“The UK media provided universally negative coverage of Trump, and leftists in the Conservative party were keen to insult him at every opportunity,” Truss writes. “My view was that he was the leader of the free world and an important ally.”That view stands in stark comparison to her abuse of Biden, who beat Trump conclusively in an election Trump still refuses to concede. Furthermore, when it comes to the deadly fruits of that refusal – the attack on Congress Trump incited – Truss keeps her observations to a single paragraph.On 6 January 2021, Truss writes, she was “on a phone call with Bob Lighthizer”, “working on” removing a US tariff on Scottish whisky. From the Executive Office building, next to the White House, Lighthizer “remarked … in passing that the street was full of people with huge American flags walking towards Congress. Little did I realise how seismic that event would turn out to be.”Truss eventually saw the whisky tariff removed – in summer 2021, after “talks with the new Democrat administration”.“But with Joe Biden as president,” Truss writes, “it was made quite clear that a trade deal with the United Kingdom was no longer a priority. We had missed the boat.” More

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    ‘Grownup’ leaders are pushing us towards catastrophe, says former US climate chief

    Political leaders who present themselves as “grownups” while slowing the pace of climate action are pushing the world towards deeper catastrophe, a former US climate chief has warned.“We are slowed down by those who think of themselves as grownups and believe decarbonisation at the speed the climate community calls for is unrealistic,” said Todd Stern, who served as a special envoy for climate change under Barack Obama, and helped negotiate the 2015 Paris agreement.“They say that we need to slow down, that what is being proposed [in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions] is unrealistic,” he told the Observer. “You see it a lot in the business world too. It’s really hard [to push for more urgency] because those ‘grownups’ have a lot of influence.”But Stern said the speed of take-up of renewable energy, its falling cost, and the wealth of low-carbon technology now available were evidence that the world could cut emissions to net zero by 2050. “Obviously it’s difficult – we’re talking about enormous change to the world economy – but we can do it,” he said.View image in fullscreenStern would not name any world leaders, but he said the UK was in “retrenchment” over climate issues. Rishi Sunak and Claire Coutinho, the energy secretary, made several U-turns on climate policy last year, and have repeatedly said climate policies imposed “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families” and that by slowing such action they were “being pragmatic and protecting family finances”.Stern said that, in fact, delaying action to cut greenhouse gas emissions was leading to disaster, given the rapid acceleration of the climate crisis, which he said was happening faster than predicted when the Paris agreement was signed. “Look out your window – look at what’s happening,look at the preposterous heat. It’s ridiculous.”Leaders who claimed to be grownups by saying the pace of action had to be slowed had to be honest about the alternatives, he said. Just as political leaders took swift action to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in 2020, so must they confront the consequences of slowing climate action now.“All hard questions of this magnitude should be considered by way of a ‘compared to what’ analysis. The monumental dangers [the climate crisis] poses warrant the same kind of ‘compared to what’ argument when leaders in the political and corporate worlds balk at what needs to be done.”He warned of the backlash against climate action by “rightwing populism” in Europe. “Hopefully, it doesn’t go very far,” he said. “If that kind of attitude gets some purchase among parts of the population, that’s not helpful.”Stern praised Joe Biden for “an extraordinarily good first term”, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which he called “far and away the most significant climate legislation ever in the US, and it’s quite powerful”.But he warned that if Donald Trump were to be elected this November, the US would exit the Paris agreement and frustrate climate action globally.“He will try to reverse whatever he can in terms of domestic policy [on climate action],” he warned. “I don’t think anybody else is going to pull out of Paris because of Trump, but it’s highly disruptive to what can happen internationally, because the US is a very big, very important player. So [without the US] you don’t move as fast.”Stern called for stronger demonstration from civil society of support for climate action. “What we need, broadly, is normative change, a shift in hearts and minds that demonstrates to political leaders that their political future depends on taking strong, unequivocal action to protect our world,” he said.“Normative change may seem at first blush like a weak reed to carry into battle against the defenders of the status quo, but norms can move mountains. They are about a sense of what is right, what is acceptable, what is important, what we expect and what we demand.”Stern first gave his warning in a lecture at the London School of Economics on Friday night, in honour of the British civil servant Pete Betts, who served as the EU’s chief climate negotiator for the Paris agreement. He died last year. More