According to new data from the Office of National Statistics,UK property prices rose 12.4% in the year to April. Housing is becoming ever less affordable for people on average incomes. Britain's housing market continues to exist in a parallel universe, weirdly detached from prevailing economic pressures. Visiting Northumberland on holiday last week brought home the reality of our distorted property market. Strolling around the pleasant streets of Alnwick we paused by an estate agent's window, curious to check local prices. I was struck by how expensive three-bedroom family houses were. Many were on the market for over £300,000. A glance online revealed the average salary in Northumberland is £31,000. If decent-sized family homes are trading at nine or ten times average pay in a region where property has historically been relatively cheap, then our affordability crisis remains acute. What is a young single person on average earnings without family wealth behind them - a nurse, a primary school teacher, a scaffolder, a gym instructor -  supposed to do, when even entry-level flats cost five times their wage? 

Orthodox political thinking has long held that people become more conservative as they grew older and acquire a material stake in society. This theory sees western lifespans as a predictable arc - education, steady job, rising income, mortgage, partner, family, pension. As we acquire more to lose so our political views change. A desire for security, an instinct to hold what we have, slowly dissolves any youthful idealism. People become pragmatic and averse to risk with age. Now, though, this thesis may no longer hold good. Younger Britons are faced with declining real wages, insecure jobs, surging inflation and skyrocketing housing costs. The age at which most can afford to contemplate buying a property, getting married and starting a family, never mind saving for a pension, is rising inexorably. The experience of this technology-savvy generation of 20-35 year olds, half of whom will go to university, means their lives and political attitudes are following a very different trajectory to their parents. 

For some time I've been convinced that this trend spells potential long-term disaster for the British Conservatives. If they can no longer rely on voters becoming more Tory as they get older they face an existential threat. As the Baby Boomers whose votes have propped up the last four Conservative governments begin to die off, our politics could shift in radical and dramatic ways. The timescale is hard to judge. We may not see significant change for five years or more. Even despite their by election disasters in Wakefield and Tiverton, the Tories could yet manage to scrape back into power at the next general election. But beyond that their prognosis looks bleak. A strategy centred on Brexit, English nationalism and trumped-up "culture wars" will have ever-diminishing effectiveness unless the Tories can find a way to broaden their appeal beyond the over-55s whose support currently keeps them in Westminster. For Labour the burning question is whether it can discover the ideas, vision and boldness to give young people in places like Alnwick a different and compelling vision of what modern Britain should be. Over to you, Keir Starmer.


At U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick Wins His First Major Championship - The New  York Times

Some golfers win one of the four major championships (British Open, US Open, US Masters, US PGA) then rapidly return to the obscurity from whence they came. The list of golfing journeymen who unexpectedly became one-time major winners is a long one. Many unheralded figures like Bill Rogers, Sean Micheel, Todd Hamilton, YE Yang, Jeff Sluman and Steve Jones have claimed a solitary major title in the course of unexceptional careers. Following Matt Fitzpatrick's triumph in the US Open I'm sure some American pundits will have hastened to add his name to the rollcall of forgettable one-off major champions. Any such condescension is badly misplaced. As Sky's Wayne Riley observed afterwards Fitzpatrick looks "the real deal". At 27 he has the air of a player who belongs in the golfing elite. Having tuned in at 10pm planning to watch a few holes of the final round before retiring for an early night, I found myself gripped by the unfolding drama, watching anxiously as Fitzpatrick fought a grippingly tense battle with Andrew Zalatoris before prevailing by a single shot. In becoming only the third British player to win the US Open the Sheffield-born player demonstrated a wonderfully impressive competitive toughness.

What especially struck me about Fitzpatrick was his ability to think clearly under the most extreme pressure. After missing a short putt to fall two shots behind Zalatoris with six holes to play, Fitzpatrick could have crumbled. Instead, he sank a curling 50-foot birdie putt at the next to draw level before giving a supreme display of precise shot-making over the closing holes. At the 18th he finally erred when, leading by one, he hooked his drive into a fairway bunker. With the ball lying heavily in the sand close to a spur of rough grass, Fitzpatrick faced the most important shot of his life. He did not flinch. As the commentators murmured that he must surely minimise risk by chipping out onto the fairway, Fitzpatrick struck a magnificent eight-iron shot, swerving the ball 30 yards from left to right in the air before it settled gently on the green 25 feet behind the hole. Two putts later, the title was his. It was an amazing display of mental clarity and total trust in his technique at a moment of head-crushing tension.

That steely composure and unfussy manner makes me think Fitzpatrick will be a formidable force in the game for years to come. I was reminded of the contrast between his assurance under pressure and the brittleness of Colin Montgomerie at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. On the verge of finally winning the major he had so long coveted, Montgomerie needed only a par on the final hole for the title but made a disastrous double bogey six to lose by one shot to Geoff Ogilvy. Watching that unfold I recall being struck by the strange air of blankness which seemed to settle on Montgomerie as his thoughts clouded; after playing two poor shots he seemed inexplicably unaware that even a scrambled five would be enough to put him in a playoff with Ogilvy and keep his hopes alive. As his brain seized up he attempted a risky third shot that turned five into six and made a poor hole into a calamitous one. Monty never came close to winning a major again. 

The comparison with Fitzpatrick, whose diffident demeanour belies his resilience, is instructive. The Yorkshireman has a smoothly efficient and consistent all-round game but, as important, I sense the powerful self-belief burning in him that marks out champions. He has the stuff to win many more majors.


Having been on holiday by the glorious Northumberland coast last week, I wasn't able to see England's astounding charge to victory against New Zealand at Trent Bridge but I did manage to catch the BBC Radio coverage as Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes unleashed their furious onslaught. It was total carnage, Bairstow destroying the NZ attack with an assault of bludgeoning power which reduced the commentators to near-speechlessness. Victory was cited as further evidence that England are newly liberated since Brendon McCullum's appointment as coach. McCullum brings to the job the buccaneering attitude that always characterised his batting. Both he and Stokes have spoken passionately about their desire to instil a fearless and aggressive approach into a team which looked timid under Joe Root's leadership. Even allowing for some good fortune - Colin de Grandhomme's untimely no-ball to reprieve Stokes in the Lord's Test, Kyle Jamieson's injury, Kane Williamson's Covid-induced absence, Tim Southee's collapse in form - the transformation has been remarkable: England bristle with intent.

It is great to see and I hope it proves more than a flash in the pan. Realism is certainly needed though. Pondering Zac Crawley's struggles does provide a sobering reminder of the perils of an enterprising approach. For batters, cricket is a merciless game where margins of error are fractional. The difference between success and failure is often distressingly tiny, especially for players with an attacking style. Crawley is an assertive strokeplayer who uses his height and reach to dominate bowlers and can look like a world-beater when he is on his best form. When he made 267 against Pakistan in 2020 it seemed that England had a shining new talent at the top of the order. Since then Crawley has been out in single figures in 18 of his last 30 Test innings. Invariably he has been caught behind or in the slips, usually attempting to drive. Crawley exemplifies the positive batting style which McCullum and Stokes promote but he cannot buy a run. Should he alter his mentality? Is it a temporary loss of confidence or a deeper underlying deficiency? In a team now infused with a spirit of calculating aggression it will be intriguing to see whether England keep faith with the embattled Crawley. His fortunes may give a telling signal of how far the barnstorming McCullum credo can ultimately go in transforming English Test cricket.


BT Sport's Big Match Revisited always evokes rich football nostalgia. Showing currently are games from the 1974-75 season which I relish recording to savour vintage highlights at my leisure. Amidst the exploits of half-forgotten journeymen like Len Badger, Alfie Conn and Viv Busby I noted the presence of Steve Whitworth of Leicester City in one game. Then a promising young full back, Whitworth had a long and distinguished career and won some England caps. Seeing him prompted me to check the statistics because I recalled that he was one of those players who never seemed to score a goal. Wikipedia duly informed me that Whitworth scored three times in 596 senior games. Even allowing for the fact that full-backs did not get forward much in those days it was a paltry return.

My curiosity piqued, I dug further to find out if anybody had a worse goalscoring record in top-level professional football. Two players stood out for their terminal inability to hit the net. Frank Clark, a moustachioed Durham-born left back with a fine combover hairstyle, played 389 league games for Newcastle between 1962 and 1975 without scoring a goal; after moving to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in their glory years he did finally hit the target once, in a game at Ipswich near the end of his career. Irish centre half Kenny Cunningham also managed just one goal from 531 league games for Millwall and Wimbledon but the non-scoring king is surely the great Des Walker. He was a magnificent defender but his reluctance to venture over the halfway line saw him score just a single goal in 724 games for club and country. 

Rummaging through the records brought back a piquant memory from my playing days. My west London team had a veteran left-back who was a true club stalwart, a performer of limited ability but boundless enthusiasm. Steve was pushing forty without a single goal to his credit over his career when we played an end-of-season friendly one April day . Coasting to an easy win against poor opponents, we were 5-0 up with ten minutes left when we won a penalty. As the designated penalty-taker I stepped forward to take it but noticed Steve lurking nearby. With nothing at stake there was only one thing to do - with an air of ceremony I handed him the ball. With loud cries of encouragement from team-mates ringing in his ears, Steve placed it on the spot with an air of trepidation. Finally, his chance had come.

The whistle blew, Steve took a stuttering run-up and struck a feeble shot just to the goalkeeper's left. It was easily parried but the ball rolled loose into the centre of the goal. Steve stepped forward quickly. He had the ball at his feet five yards from an empty net with the 'keeper lying prone. "Hit it Steve!" we all bawled but he just stood there, shifting uneasily over the ball and inexplicably glancing from side to side. "Steve, go on!" we yelled but still he was frozen. Almost in slow motion a defender lumbered up and booted the ball out for a corner. Utterly baffled, a few of us ran up to an ashen Steve. "I couldn't kick it, could I?" he muttered, "it's not allowed from a rebound is it?". To his dismay we forcibly pointed out that he had got the rules wrong. A penalty-taker is only prevented from scoring a rebound if the ball has hit the post or crossbar; if the goalie saves the kick, the taker is allowed to play the loose ball. It was the sitter of all sitters but the chance was gone. The look on Steve's face when his blunder dawned on him was one of stoic forbearance. He would end his career without a goal to his name but Steve had given us a post-match pub story that would never tire in the telling. 

 


As a footnote to my Jubilee post, I suspect the jolly public mood over the weekend celebrations must have influenced the surge of Tory MPs handing in letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson on Monday morning. Anger and disgust amongst true-blue constituents in Conservative heartlands will have been deepened by the glaring contrast between our constitutional figureheads. The wave of affection for the Queen reflects the qualities she symbolises to many - dedication to lifelong service, selfless commitment to public duty, stoicism, resilience, respect for traditions, unobtrusive hard work. Comparisons with the wretched conduct of the shifty poltroon in 10 Downing Street hardly need making.

Many MPs in established Tory heartlands are clearly panicking about their re-election prospects and have turned against the PM. The agonising problem the Tories now face is that politics is boiling down to a simple brutal judgement about the PM's character and personality - and that is a question on which millions have already firmly made up their minds. No amount of policy tinkering or Cabinet reshuffling is likely to change those views. That is why the outcome of the confidence vote is the worst possible result for the Conservatives with a damaged Johnson limping on at the head of a zombie administration.


A royalist I am not but neither am I a curmudgeon. Regardless of my long-held conviction that the royal family are an anachronism it was impossible not to share in the simple joy of the Jubilee celebrations. After a desperately tough couple of years it felt like a few days of liberation for many people and there is nothing at all wrong with that. Saturday's big concert at Buckingham Palace was a particularly remarkable feat of meticulous orchestration, a brilliantly-planned event for which the logistics, with so many performers on multiple stages, must have been mind-bogglingly complicated. To my mild surprise I found myself feeling slightly envious of the happy mass assembled on The Mall in the summer twilight; it looked like the type of evening that all present instinctively knew was special. And only the hardest of hearts could have been unmoved by the Queen's wonderful encounter with Paddington Bear, a true stroke of genius and a little piece of film that rightly acquired iconic status within minutes.

We did our bit locally by attending the lighting of our town beacon in Sevenoaks on Thursday night. A good-natured crowd gathered by the Vine cricket ground at the top of St John's Hill, not put off by the plummeting temperatures as the dusk thickened. The flames eventually roared forth after a very English sort of unexplained delay - local dignitaries shuffling about, the mayor looking benignly bemused, everyone too polite to ask what was going on, parents hushing fractious kids as they waited for something to happen. As we filed away into the night I felt a dim sense of the strength of the connecting thread that the monarchy represents in our national life. My own reservations remain intact but I suspect it is an institution that will abide, for all the many and formidable challenges it faces.


It is easy to be confused by political polls. Varying numbers from different surveys using different polling methods are frequently cited in news media, often carelessly so. This leads to invalid comparisons being made and potential margins of error not made clear. Care needs to be taken when breathless stories appear about poll results. A Savanta ComRes survey showing Labour with an 11-point lead over the Conservatives has caused excitement this week. This is unsurprising given that a general election vote on those proportions would eject the Tories from office. I read the numbers with interest then checked the most authoritative guide I know to British political opinion: YouGov's Voting Intention Tracker. This weekly poll asks people how they would vote if a general election were held tomorrow. By this measure Labour's lead is currently narrower than the Savanta study - 39% Labour, 31% Tory, with the Lib Dems at 12%. Beyond the present snapshot longer-term context is necessary though. I looked at the numbers back to the December 2019 election and some fascinating patterns emerged. I've boiled these conclusions down to a few salient points:

  1. "Don't knows" may be decisive
    That 39/31 Labour advantage can be misconstrued because the percentages relate only to those who say they will definitely vote and who have stated a preference for one party. Nearly one-third of the survey either don't intend to vote or don't know who they'll support. This "don't know" proportion presently stands at 18%. My hunch is that most of these folk are disillusioned Tories uncertain about what to do: disgusted by Boris Johnson's conduct and the incompetence of his government but unconvinced by Keir Starmer and not ready to move into the Lib Dem fold. These waverers may be the most important single segment of the electorate in determining the balance of Westminster power.

  2. The Tories are in a deep hole
    In early April 2020 the Conservatives held a 52-28 lead over Labour. The evaporation of such a commanding advantage is startling. Early in the first lockdown Johnson was in a position of total dominance. The first crack in the Tory dam was the Dominic Cummings saga in May 2020. Outrage over Cummings' trip to Specsavers saw the Tory poll lead halved in a week and the gap has never been as wide since. The Tories did regain a double-digit lead in the spring and early summer of 2021, when lockdown restrictions were gradually eased as the vaccinations programme began, but that supremacy proved temporary. What should worry the Conservatives now is the lack of movement in their poll ratings. They sank to 32% in December 2021, coinciding with the leaked video footage of Allegra Stratton's pretend press conference about a Downing Street party. For the six months since they have  stalled between 28% and 35%, with no sign of that trend changing. Labour has led in every single poll for the last 28 weeks.

  3. ...but they'll always have 30% of voters behind them
    The flipside is that three in ten voters look likely to vote Tory whatever happens. Donald Trump famously said that he could shoot someone on Park Avenue and his loyal base would still vote for him. Bedrock Conservative support appears to be almost as immovable. In only two of 129 weeks since the last election has the Tory share dropped below 30%. Presumably comprised largely of English pensioners, the loyalty of this rock-solid constituency is not to be underestimated.

  4. 40% looks like Labour's limit
    Labour have three times managed to edge to 41% in the YouGov survey, but never higher. Even with the drip-drip of Partygate revelations steadily corroding Tory support, Labour's share has stabilised between 36% and 39% for the last four months. This reinforces my point about the "Don't Knows". There are plainly many unhappy Conservative voters but many are not yet switching to Labour. Keir Starmer's lack of charisma must be a factor but I suspect there is a deeper visceral fear of Labour in some parts of the country that is putting a ceiling on their vote share. Labour's struggle to win trust on the economy reflects the continuing potency of the systematic Tory attack line, basically summed up as "Labour will spend all the money". Winning over more of these fiscal sceptics remains Starmer's biggest challenge.


  5. Events trigger rapid poll changes
    The figures illustrate how quickly one-off events can alter public opinion and shift the polls sharply. One of the clearest changes came in October 2021 when a Tory lead which had been consistent at 8-10% for several months melted away in three weeks. This was triggered by the Owen Patterson fiasco, when Johnson intervened to block his old chum's suspension from Parliament for egregious breaches of the lobbying rules. The ensuing public outrage prompted a hasty government about-turn but came too late to prevent the Tories losing the subsequent North Shropshire by-election. Conservative support fell into the low thirties after the Patterson imbroglio and has been stuck there ever since.

  6. It's about geography as well as numbers
    Our first-past-the-post voting system dictates that electoral outcomes are determined not just by the numbers backing each party but by the geographical distribution of those people. Any assessment of polls must take this into account or else the figures can be actively misleading. As a general rule, the Tories usually win more seats than Labour for a given share of the vote because their supporters are more evenly spread across England. Labour votes tend to pile up in their areas of strength, particularly London and the big cities, but winning an extra few thousand votes in a seat where Labour already hold a 10,000 majority counts for nothing in a general election. Tory votes normally translate more efficiently into seats won than Labour votes - or they have done in the past. 

Crunching the YouGov numbers does not make me any more confident about predicting the next election result. A few weeks ago I favoured a hung Parliament. Now, with Johnson in desperate trouble and a leadership challenge likely, it is a more volatile picture. I've said before that I think the best outcome for Labour and the Lib Dems would be for a damaged Johnson to cling to his job and limp on to the election. Such are his catastrophic personal ratings that I cannot see how even a renowned political survivor like Johnson could win again. But, I could be very wrong. Just keep an eye on those "don't knows".

 

 


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I spent a very happy hour at The Design Museum last week taking in their Designing The Beautiful Game exhibition. It is cleverly staged to allow ample time and space for the visitor to absorb a remarkable array of materials about the history, development and aesthetics of football around the world. Amidst the mass of artefacts and paraphrenalia there are many striking exhibits. The above photograph may look like a leather pouffe from a suburban living room in 1978 but it is,in fact, one of the first footballs, used by schoolboys at Harrow in the early nineteenth-century in one of the earliest organised forms of the game. Kicking around a ball resembling part of a sofa cannot have been conducive to flowing football but such were the sport's strange origins.

Elsewhere in the halls lie a plethora of fascinating objects, from the turnstile used at the opening of Wembley stadium in 1923 to the shirt worn by the 17-year-old Pele in the 1958 World Cup final (still a beautifully rich golden yellow today). I am a bit of a football anorak so it all tickled my fascination for the minutiae of the game. In one glass case stood the first referee's whistle ever blown. The Acme Thunderer was manufactured by Birmingham toolmaker Joseph Hudson in 1884. Old Joe must have known his trade because the Thunderer, with the bit of cork inside that apparently creates its piercing sound, is still in production today, 138 years on.

Pretty much any aspect of football has its space in the exhibition: boots, kits, balls, rules, stadium design, programmes, coaching techniques, the evolution of tactics, football games (Subbuteo nostalgia), scrapbooks, TV coverage: it's a soccer cornucopia and I absolutely loved it. There are some marvellous football photographs on show, including the work of a South African artist called Neville Gable. Over 25 years he took pictures of goalposts all over the world, whether on scraps of urban wasteland in South America, grassy savannah in Kenya or ice fields in Norway. The effect is oddly moving. I think it is because his photos bring home the simplicity and accessibility that is the essence of football's attraction. All you need is a bit of space, a ball and a goal of some sort and anyone can have a go. I can't ever walk past goalposts anywhere without secretly longing for a quick kickaround; no doubt I'll always feel that way. It is a terrific exhibition that taps deeply into the appeal of the greatest of all games. It runs until 29 August.


O Rory, where art thou?

I'm always keen to tell anyone who will listen about the How To Academy. How To run regular live events and online talks featuring a terrifically diverse range of writers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, activists, creators and generally clever folk with something to say. This week's event featured Rory Stewart, one of the most intriguing politicians of our time. Stewart is currently in Jordan doing charity work so it was staged by video link but with host Hannah MacInnes demonstrating all the deftness of the expert interviewer the discussion lost no impact. By the end I'm guessing many of the audience were asking themselves the same question as me - why can't HE be Prime Minister? Stewart's erudition, curiosity, wisdom, humanity and sheer intellectual range were tremendously impressive.

Now 49, Stewart left British politics in 2020 when he stood down from running for mayor of London. Having served under David Cameron and Theresa May in various junior ministerial roles he joined the Cabinet as Minister of State for International Development but resigned after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, citing his refusal to countenance a no-deal Brexit. Stewart had become an MP in 2010 after serving with distinction in the Foreign Office, including a stint as a provincial governor in post-invasion Iraq. An authentic polymath, he also built a reputation as an author, broadcaster, academic and charity founder, with an especially deep interest in Asia and the Middle East. In 2000-01 he spent eighteen months walking across India, Pakistan, the Himalayas and Afghanistan, a venture recounted in his award-winning book The Places In Between. He spent three years living in Kabul running a charity called the Turquoise Mountain Foundation before entering Parliament, helping restore historic buildings, provide water and electricity supplies and fund medical care. His passions reflect his upbringing: Stewart's father was a diplomat who served in China and the Far East for many years and became deputy chief of MI6. The list of accomplishments on Stewart's CV is dizzying, especially for one still relatively young. This is a man worth listening to.

The interview, befitting Stewart's breadth of passions, covered a lot of ground. He did not hold back in talking about Johnson. Both men are old Etonians and products of the British establishment but they could scarcely be more different. Where Stewart is serious, thoughtful and humane, Johnson is frivolous, arrogant and narcissistic. Stewart needed no prompting to let rip. He described Johnson as a "monstrous" and "grotesque" figure who was a "catastrophic" Foreign Secretary and an even worse PM. Cynics may say he is bitter because of his treatment by Johnson; Stewart was one of 21 Tory MPs thrown out of the party for their Brexit stance. But I think the differences go far beyond temperament and policy. Stewart has previously described himself as a Burkean Conservative and that sounds right to me. Edmund Burke was the eighteenth-century political philosopher whose thinking shaped traditional Toryism. Burke venerated qualities like stability, moderation, tolerance, pragmatism and continuity, espousing the virtues of gradual change, prizing experience over theory and warning against the dangers of rigid ideology.

Stewart's beliefs put him at the radical end of the Burkean spectrum, given that he is passionate about the need for active government intervention to tackle poverty, social injustice and climate change, but he does broadly represent that strand of classical Toryism, but with a sharper contemporary edge. Listening to him was a reminder that we live under a Conservative government only in name. The Johnson brand of right-wing English nationalist populism, with its casual destructiveness and chaotic incompetence, is an alien creed for followers of the One Nation Conservative philosophy which moulded Stewart. He illuminated the contrast by talking about the precedent set by Amber Rudd when she resigned from the Cabinet in 2019 after realising she had inadvertently misled Parliament. Rudd's only error was to unwittingly quote inaccurate statistics provided by a civil servant; compare her integrity with the shamelessness of Johnson, proven again by his pathetic response to the Sue Gray report.

I am far from agreeing with everything Stewart says and believes but I think it is an indictment of our degraded politics that there is no role for a man of his qualities in public life. Whilst we put up with government by fifth-rate lickspittles and charlatans, Stewart has returned to academia at Yale University. He is not yet 50 so perhaps more political upheaval in coming years may open up space for him to return. Much of what he said resonated strongly: the urgent need for electoral reform to make our voting system fairer and more representative; the disgraceful state of some of our public services, particularly adult social care and youth mental health provision; the idiocy of Brexit; the need for new political parties to fracture a moribund status quo; the corrosive public mistrust engendered by politicians spouting vapid slogans without the detailed policies to back up their words. 

Stewart spoke movingly of the deep rewards that public service can bring. He cited his term as Prisons Minister, when he took on a thankless and horrendously difficult job with great energy and imagination. It was a fascinating hour. He is one of the most stimulating figures in our public sphere, a politician of an increasingly rare type: one with a genuine intellectual and cultural hinterland and an animating passion for history, nature, global development and good government. We can but hope that we have not seen the last of him in politics.


A couple of stories this week starkly demonstrated the value of strong laws to protect data privacy. They also highlight the glaring contrast between Britain and the US. No federal privacy regulation yet exists in America and only five states have so far enacted laws to give people meaningful control over their personal information. The urgent need for proper rules to protect personal data in America was dramatised by a shocking revelation. A group of Democrat senators revealed that two big data research companies called Safegraph and Placer.ai had been secretly collecting data about the location, movements and online browsing behaviour of women visiting abortion clinics. The data was gathered from mobile phones without the knowledge or consent of the women concerned and then sold on to third parties. This is a horrifying breach of citizen rights, in a country where anti-abortion politicians in Republican-led states have previously put bounties on women who receive abortions and the doctors that provide them.  Anti-abortion prosecutors have also used online data to issue criminal charges against women seeking abortions. Such data is incredibly sensitive and its misuse can put women in danger. And yet, this despicable violation of privacy is not even technically against the law, depending on where the data was collected. The Senators have demanded answers from the two data brokers but no action has yet been taken. 

Contrast this with the tough stance taken by the UK data regulator, the ICO. They handed out a £7.5 million fine to a software company called Clearview. This firm have been collecting images of people from all around the world for years, gathered mostly from social media sites, in order to build up a vast database of over 20 billion photographs; they then used the photos as part of sophisticated facial recognition technology which they were trying to sell to law enforcement agencies, so that suspects and offenders could be readily identified and tracked. Clearview were breaking just about every principle of the GDPR, given that the images were assembled without telling the people concerned or explaining why it was being done. I find it reassuring that we have an alert regulator ready to clamp down fast on unscrupulous entities like Clearview. I am also puzzled by the complacency many people still display about their data privacy. Without wishing to sound sanctimonious, we ought to care more about this. There are too many powerful and rich corporations constantly chasing after our personal data to be blase. The scandal of the US abortion clinics graphically illustrates the kinds of abuses that can occur if lawmakers cease being vigilant.