Lucy Powell, Ed Miliband’s election guru: ‘You’ve just got to get on with the job’

By John Harris

As Labour’s campaign chief, Lucy Powell has a lot on her plate. And it doesn’t help when one of your own side is ‘probably’ out to get you

Lucy Powell has vivid recollections of just about all the general elections of the last 30-odd years, but two in particular stick out. In 1983, when the Labour party led by Michael Foot was all but crushed, she spent polling day with her Labour activist dad, on official party duty in her native south Manchester. “I was nine,” she says. “My Dad gave me a £1 note to sit outside the polling station and collect people’s numbers. He said I was the best polling teller he’d ever had.”

By 1992, when Neil Kinnock had raised his party’s expectations to the point that victory seemed to be within its grasp, she was at sixth-form college, where she stood in the obligatory mock election. “Obviously, I was the Labour candidate,” she says. “And I beat the other main parties, but an independent won it.” She smiles. “It was my first flavour of a Nigel Farage-type figure. He was quite charismatic, as I recall. And he offered all sorts of goodies to the student council.”

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Via:: The Guardian

Jeanette Winterson on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy – of course it’s political

By Jeanette Winterson

Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife gives the women behind the scenes – from Mrs Midas to Queen Kong – a glorious and powerful voice. She is a poet of vast imagination

Poetry is pleasure.

Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.

I was wind, I was gas

I was all hot air, trailed

I flew in my chains over the wood where

we’d buried

But behind each player stood a line of

ghosts

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Via:: The Guardian

Russell T Davies: ‘Equality doesn’t mean happiness’

By Dan Martin

Doctor Who’s saviour is back with three interlocking TV series, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, exploring what it means to be gay in modern Britain

Russell T Davies is returning to UK television with a three-pronged penis. After a period in Los Angeles following his revival of Doctor Who, he is back in his spiritual (and actual) heartland of Manchester’s gay community. Three concurrent new series, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, take their names from the findings of a Swiss scientific institute that spent 10 years studying the male erection. They came up with four categories: tofu, peeled banana, unpeeled banana and, finally, the mighty cucumber. Davies is going to get letters.

“Did you think it’s rude?” chirps the giant Welshman as we meet to discuss his comeback. “I showed it to my boyfriend and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a bit rude isn’t it?’ I said, ‘I can be a lot ruder…’”

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Via:: The Guardian

The strange and brilliant fiction of Hilary Mantel

By John Mullan

Mantel was writing novels for decades before her literary stardom – all of which display her dark wit and stylistic skill. What are her major works beyond the Cromwell bestsellers? As the BBC’s Wolf Hall hits our screens, John Mullan uncovers her career

So the novel begins: “When Mrs Axon found out about her daughter’s condition, she was more surprised than sorry; which did not mean that she was not very sorry indeed.” Mysteriously, Evelyn Axon’s daughter Muriel is pregnant, and “Her face wore an expression of daft beatitude.” Something is wrong with Muriel, but before we can work out what a visitor arrives, in dim autumnal light, at the Axons’ house in a suburban avenue of an English town. It is Mrs Sidney, who wishes to contact her dead husband. Evelyn, who is evidently a medium, offers her orange squash and the heat of a two-bar electric fire. Invited to talk about her husband, Mrs Sidney becomes distressed: “the scarlet line of lipstick above her top lip contorted independently of the mouth”. Evelyn contemplates her growing symptoms of distress. “There is, Evelyn reflected, a custom known as Suttee; to judge by their behaviour, many seemed to think its suppression an unhealthy development.”

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Via:: The Guardian

Five arrested in Afghanistan over Peshawar school massacre

By Associated Press

Afghan officials say men, all foreigners, were arrested near border with Pakistan, on suspicion of helping support attack

Afghan officials say that security forces have arrested five people suspected of being involved in a massacre last month that saw extremists attack a military school in Pakistan, killing 148 people, most of them children.

The three officials said on Saturday that the men helped support the assault at the Army Public School and College in the city of Peshawar. They say the men, all foreigners, were arrested in recent weeks near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.

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Via:: The Guardian

Roger Wright: ‘Music should be a natural part of everyday life’

By Nicholas Wroe

The chief executive of the Aldeburgh festival on Britten, Birtwistle and leaving Radio 3

When Roger Wright announced last March that he would be standing down as controller of BBC Radio 3 and the Proms to take over the running of the Aldeburgh festival there was a flurry of excited speculation as to the reasons behind his move: was it a snub to BBC director general Tony Hall who had just reiterated the organisation’s commitment to the arts? Was he jumping before budget cuts and the possible loss of an orchestra? Had he been overlooked for an internal promotion?

“An awful lot was predicated on people saying it was a precipitous move,” says Wright. “But I had been there longer than any other service controller in BBC history. So what exactly was the hasty bit? The main reason was that I was offered a fascinating challenge and it was something I thought I wanted to do. But, to Aldeburgh’s huge credit, my appointment had been kept a secret for some months, and so the rumour mill hadn’t been warmed up and it appeared to be a shock announcement, which was complete nonsense.”

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Via:: The Guardian

Safe sex and jam: the Women’s Institute at 100

By Eleanor Tucker You might think it’s all about jam and baking but the Women’s Institute – celebrating its 100th birthday – has always been at the cutting edge when it comes to championing family life.

Nearly 30 years ago, when Marylyn Haines-Evans was what she describes as a “slip of a girl”, she stood up before a group of elderly Women’s Institute members to talk to them about safe sex. As surreal as that might seem to a casual WI observer, it was actually well within the traditions of the organisation. You can forget Victoria sponge competitions because, over the past century, the WI has been a truly pioneering organisation that has paved the way for change.

It has lobbied on subjects such as mental health, litter, family planning, nursery places, health insurance and family allowance, as well as other social security benefits that we now take for granted. On almost every issue, the women were ahead of their time.

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Via:: The Guardian

Our 10 best orange recipes

By Guardian Staff

Swollen with sunshine, oranges are juicy reminders of summer are most welcome at this time of year. Transform them into a rich broth, a zingy fruit salad or fragrant polenta cake

A good marmalade is a fine thing, gem-like in colour and delicious on sourdough toast atop a generous slathering of butter. You will need a sugar thermometer to monitor the temperature here.

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Via:: The Guardian

Malawi floods kill 176 people

By Associated Press in Blantyre

Vice-president says more than 176 people are dead and at least 200,000 displaced, with southern areas worst affected

Flooding in Malawi has killed more than 176 people, displaced at least 200,000 others, left homes and schools submerged in water and roads washed away by the deluge, according to the vice-president of the southern African country.

Downriver in neighbouring Mozambique, floodwaters have left at least 38 dead, according to the Mozambican news agency AIM, displaced tens of thousands and damaged the main road linking the north and south of the country.

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Via:: The Guardian

Pope Francis meets typhoon survivors at emotional Philippines mass

By Agence France-Presse in Tacloban

Pontiff delivers impromptu remarks in Spanish to tearful crowd in city devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan

Pope Francis on Saturday celebrated an emotional mass with a sea of weeping survivors of a super typhoon in the Philippines that claimed thousands of lives, saying their pain had silenced his heart.

Francis flew in from the national capital of Manila to Tacloban, one of the cities devastated 14 months ago by tsunami-like waves, to be greeted by hundreds of thousands of people but also another storm.

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Via:: The Guardian

Sao Paulo’s water supply in ‘critical’ condition as drought bites

By Associated Press in Sao Paulo

Crucial reservoir is down to 6% of its capacity and experts warn urgent steps must be taken after worst conditions for 80 years

Halfway through the rainy season, the key reservoir for the southern hemisphere’s largest city holds just 6% of its capacity, and experts warned Friday that Sao Paulo’s authorities must take urgent steps to prevent the worst drought in more than 80 years from drying it out.

The system of reservoirs and rivers that provide water to millions in the Brazilian metropolis have received less rainfall than hoped during the first weeks of the wet season, raising fears they will not be replenished as hoped. Rainfall during the first two weeks of January totalled just 7.1 centimetres, well below the historic average for the month of 27.1cm.

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Via:: The Guardian