How privatisation went wrong

🥸 WeWork for spooks | 🎪 Woodstock 1769 | 👌 Endless animation

In the headlines

A major food charity has suspended its operations in Gaza after seven of its workers, including a British national, were killed in an Israeli airstrike. World Central Kitchen, which is responsible for 60% of the non-governmental aid getting into the Palestinian territory, said its convoy was hit despite coordinating movements with the Israeli army. JK Rowling has challenged Scottish police to arrest her under the country’s new hate crime laws, by describing several transgender women – including sex offenders, activists and celebrities – as men. The legislation, which came into force yesterday, outlaws “stirring up hatred” relating to protected characteristics including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Adidas has banned football fans from buying the German national team shirt customised with the number 44, after complaints that the new design resembles the Nazi SS symbol. The company said the similarity to the lightning-like rune (pictured) was unintentional, and that it is working on an alternative design.

Spot the difference: the German football shirt (left) and the SS symbol


One of the government’s “Tell Sid” adverts for British Gas shares in 1986

How privatisation went wrong

The dire financial plight of Thames Water is merely the latest evidence of an obvious truth, says Libby Purves in The Times: privatising essential services is a “dead 1980s dream, fit to join Joan Collins’s Dynasty shoulder pads in the dustbin of history”. When Margaret Thatcher entered office in 1979, there was some logic to selling the likes of steel, aerospace and shipbuilding back into private hands. Even some on the left could see the value of replacing “weary jobsworth managements” with “go-getting business-like dynamism”. But more critical services soon went the same way: power, railways, water supply, sewerage. By 1990, more than 40 state-owned firms had been sold, often at knock-down rates.

Apart from perhaps BT, few of these privatisations have been a success. Ofgem has had to fix power prices and bail out failed companies; the rail industry is a shambles; “and let’s not start on the Post Office”. Other countries were much more cautious: Ireland’s mail, rail, buses and water have stayed public, along with Denmark’s national grid, France’s postal service and Switzerland’s “immaculate” railway system. Strikingly, almost no one else has “entrusted clean water to private profit”. The reason is so obvious it’s barely worth stating: in the absence of decent competition or effective regulation, private companies will alway prioritise their shareholders over the public. Of course, the Tories will be loath to undo “St Margaret’s legacy”. But with Thames Water, they need to bite the bullet: let it fail, “pick up the assets dead cheap and run it properly”.


The winners and runners up in this year’s World Nature Photography Awards include snaps of red-tinged cloud cover above Chile’s Villarrica volcano; a stand of yellow-leaved aspen trees in Colorado; the lunar-like landscape of a beach at the foot of Iceland’s Mount Vestrahorn; a cheetah getting the better of a zebra and her foal in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve; and a killer whale diving through a herring bait ball in Norway. See the rest here.

Nice work if you can get it

America’s spies can now enjoy the high-end co-working experience, says Bloomberg. Traditionally, spooks have had to work in secure, government-run offices known as Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs). But with more people demanding flexible work, privately run SCIFs are popping up around Washington and the Pentagon. They have to conform to the same security standards as the federal offices – with shredders, “burn bags” and bars on the air conditioning vents – but offer much cushier surroundings, with perks “from cappuccino and kombucha on tap to high-speed Wi-Fi”.


Yesterday brought the usual array of April Fools’ pranks from celebrities, brands and media outlets, says The Independent. Aldi Scotland unveiled a Haggis ice cream (“Häggis-Dazs”), while Krispy Kreme promised to glaze anything – burgers, watermelon, even pizza – that customers brought into stores (pictured). Blenheim Palace convinced BBC Oxford that it had discovered evidence of a festival in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, in 1769, two centuries before the iconic event in upstate New York. And on This Morning, Dermot O’Leary pranked co-host Alison Hammond by smashing a vase that belonged to a “guest” who had just been told it was worth £30,000.

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Stephen Fry: Garrick member and brave social justice warrior. Jack Taylor/Getty

Let’s demolish this “ancient bastion of privilege”

After a lot of thought, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT, I’ve decided to press ahead with my application to join the Garrick club. Not, you understand, because I enjoy hobnobbing in fancy West End clubs. No, like so many of the club’s “social justice warriors”, I am joining to bring change from within. Do you really think the likes of Stephen Fry and Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, wanted to be members for their own benefit? “Lord no.” As Case explained, he “fearlessly” joined a club that doesn’t admit women so that one day, “after lots of good dinners”, he might be able to vote for a change of policy. Case and some other “brave warriors” have sadly resigned, but I’m ready to “pick up that torch and drink champagne from the pewter mug of progress”.

Well, I’m so inspired by The Guardian’s “vitally important” work on the Garrick that I’m launching a social justice campaign of my own, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph: “to make The Guardian hire its first ever state-educated journalists”. I realise this will horrify the traditionalists. “Must we really shatter the tranquillity of this charmingly eccentric and ultimately harmless London institution, purely in the name of social engineering?” Why shouldn’t the high-born have a newspaper of their own? These “specious arguments” will be trotted out by commentators determined to maintain the status quo – to ensure that all the newspaper’s thinkpieces about poverty and capitalist greed “continue to be written by people who went on school trips to Val d’Isère”. But we must not give up. We will never achieve true equality in Britain until “this ancient bastion of privilege is finally dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world”.

🏝️🙄 The Goncourt brothers, the 19th century French writers, joked that if two Englishmen washed up on a desert island, the first thing they’d do is set up a club, says Joy Lo Dico in the FT. In her book London Clubland, Amy Milne-Smith adds that if there were three, “two would form a club and blackball the third”.

Gone viral

This digital artwork by animator Jesse Martin has racked up more than 4.2 million views on YouTube, says The Browser. It consists of someone seemingly zooming further and further into a surreal animation, “giving the effect of worlds within worlds”. Watch the full video here.


In a reflection of Japan’s “rapidly aging society”, says The Guardian, one of the country’s leading nappy manufacturers has announced it will stop producing them for babies and increase production of those for adults. Oji Holdings says it will make the move in September “amid a sharp decline in demand” – Japan’s birth rate is now at only 1.3 children per woman, while almost 30% of the population is aged 65 and over.


Snapshot answer

It’s the price of cocoa, says Bloomberg, which surged above the “previously unthinkable” $10,000 per metric tonne last Tuesday. In west Africa, which produces about 75% of the world’s supply of the much-loved bean, a perfect storm of “aging trees, diseases and bad weather” has resulted in the largest shortfall for more than six decades.


“The English are like their own beer: the dregs are at the bottom, the top is nothing but froth, but the middle is quite excellent.”

That’s it. You’re done.