Lenders cut mortgage rates to give a kick-start to 2019

As Brexit takes its toll on the property market, there is some good news for borrowers

First-time buyers and homeowners remortgaging their properties have been given some good news at the start of the year as a number of lenders have cut their rates in an increasingly competitive market.

Last week HSBC dropped rates on 31 different mortgages while the market-leading product for a 10-year fixed-rate loan also went down.

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Corbyn expected to back move to block no-deal Brexit

Labour is considering a proposal that would force Theresa May to extend Britain’s membership of the EU

Jeremy Corbyn is poised to back a plan to block a no-deal Brexit as pressure builds within Labour and the trade unions for a delay to Britain’s EU departure.

It is understood that the leader and his shadow cabinet team are preparing to support a proposal that would force Theresa May to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership should no Brexit deal be agreed by early March.

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Norway Plus is not a silver bullet to resolve Brexit impasse

Trying to emulate the Norwegian model will only disillusion and betray both the Leave and Remain camps

Norway is known for its fjords and mountains, its coastline and the mystical northern lights. It is a fitting backdrop then for the Brexit saga’s latest myth, which centres around the Scandinavian country’s close but separate relations with the EU – an idea for a new deal being marketed as Norway Plus.

With gleaming public services funded by vast oil wealth and some of the highest taxation in the world, an economic philosophy of state-owned capital, rather than market liberalism, and 70% of workers signed up to union contracts, it is understandable that some in the Labour party are starting to see Norway as a silver bullet for the unfolding Brexit chaos. But by mimicking Norway’s EU relations, we will not magically gain our own $1tn sovereign wealth fund. It is far too late for that – Margaret Thatcher squandered our North Sea oil in exchange for tax cuts in the 1980s.

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What must happen next to break Brexit deadlock?

With all sides deeply entrenched after a historic defeat followed by a confidence vote, a solution to the chaos seems no closer

At 7.57pm last Tuesday, as MPs, their advisers and journalists began to file out of the House of Commons after the biggest parliamentary defeat for a government in modern history, Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, tapped Jeremy Corbyn on the arm and signalled to him to look up into the press gallery above the Speaker’s chair.

There Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications, had stopped on his way out of the chamber to brief the press and was trying to catch the Labour leader’s eye. As the two men – the most powerful double act in Her Majesty’s Opposition – met each other’s gaze, wide, triumphant smiles lit up their faces.

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‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions

We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.

Why choose 1495? Because we’re about the same distance into our revolution, the one kicked off by digital technology and networking. And although it’s now gradually dawning on us that this really is a big deal and that epochal social and economic changes are under way, we’re as clueless about where it’s heading and what’s driving it as the citizens of Mainz were in 1495.

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One thing to be grateful to Brexit for: Britons are buying less on credit

Consumer borrowing is falling, which is no bad thing. But it’s uncertainty, not regulation, that’s acting as the brake

A sharp decline in household spending on the never-never, and especially spending on credit cards, is a trend that must surely be welcomed. The Bank of England said last week in its quarterly credit health check that high street banks were about to witness the biggest decline in such borrowing since records began 12 years ago.

Threadneedle Street said its index of demand for credit card lending over the three months to the end of March had dropped to -20.7 from -7.2.

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Council houses were once a glory of the public realm. Let’s return to those days | Rowan Moore

It’s scandalous that local authorities are being forced to rent from private landlords the same properties they once owned… before right to buy

Build more council homes. Not so long ago, this idea was, although not new, radical. So thoroughly had Margaret Thatcher schooled the nation in the virtues of private property that, decades after her departure, it still seemed outlandish to mainstream politicians to go back to what had been the main way of addressing housing need. Now, as it has finally sunk in that the private sector cannot, will not and should not be expected to fill all the gaps in the supply of homes, even Conservative politicians are calling for local authorities to be given the powers to do so instead.

However, whenever the case is made, it raises the obvious question, which is where to find the money. Everyone knows that housing is expensive. Everyone knows – or did, before it was found that national wealth can be frittered and forsworn in the great Brexit adventure – that the government has been in the grip of austerity for all of this decade. It’s a reasonable point.

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California town sets up ‘goat fund me’ page to finance four-legged firefighters

Nevada City is seeking to raise $30,000 to acquire goats to munch through acres of vegetation that could fuel wildfires

A California town threatened by the sort of wildfires that recently wiped out a neighbouring community is appealing for an unusual type of help: a crack team of goats.

Related: The US won't be prepared for the next natural disaster

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California town sets up ‘goat fund me’ page to finance four-legged firefighters

Nevada City is seeking to raise $30,000 to acquire goats to munch through acres of vegetation that could fuel wildfires

A California town threatened by the sort of wildfires that recently wiped out a neighbouring community is appealing for an unusual type of help: a crack team of goats.

Related: The US won't be prepared for the next natural disaster

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Guy Kennaway: My sister said, ‘Well done Guy, you killed Mummy!’

When his 88-year-old mother asked him to buy heroin so she could end her life, the author Guy Kennaway decided there was only one thing to do: write a book about it

How can you resist an author who proclaims on his dust jacket: “Guy Kennaway lives for pleasure, producing books only when all else has failed”? He’s someone I’ve been running into at parties for years (he is friends with Jay Jopling of White Cube and the artist Mat Collishaw), but I never once suspected he was a writer. I thought maybe he was an art dealer of some sort, or possibly a collector – he was too well-dressed and socially assured to be an artist, still less a writer. That’s fine, he says; he doesn’t hang out with writers, because he thinks they are rather dreary, bitter people – he prefers artists because, “They know how to have a good time and they’ve got money.” But it turns out he has published five books, and his new book, Time To Go, is a corker which should keep book clubs arguing for years.

It is both a serious discussion of self-euthanasia – which is how the publishers seem to be billing it – and a darkly hilarious account of his tricky relationship with his mother, Susie. It starts with her asking him to get her some heroin because she wants to be able to kill herself when the time comes. She is 88 and her husband, Stanley, is even older. They are both getting frail and she fears they might end up in some ghastly care home. Also, they live in France and are worried Brexit might mean an end to free healthcare. So it would be nice if she and Stanley could die together, in their double bed, at a time of their own choosing. How sweet, you might think, how sensible. But then you don’t yet know Susie. She is “certainly no Mrs Tiggy-Winkle,” Guy warns us, but “a woman of passion, anger and determination. She still relished revenge and had many scores to settle.” He thinks one of the scores might be with him and that she is plotting to get him busted for heroin.

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Outside the Washington circus, shutdown havoc spreads

The government closure has pushed workers into hardship – and weakened the very immigration system it was meant to bolster

Briana Libby is not a federal employee, and she is not into politics. She lives 2,500 miles from the US border with Mexico, where Donald Trump has demanded funds for a wall in exchange for ending the partial government shutdown.

Nonetheless, the shutdown has hit Libby, 26, with devastating force. A mother of two daughters aged four and six, she was on the verge of buying her first home in southern Maine when the shutdown happened.

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Cut tuition fees and you shut the door to poor students | Anne-Marie Canning

Universities rely on income from fees to fund the outreach activities essential to make them more diverse

Last week, universities in England were preparing reports on how they have diversified their student populations. These reports will be submitted to the director of fair access at the Office for Students. My university, King’s College London, will report, happily, that our undergraduate intake is now 77% state school, more than 52% ethnic minority and has the fastest growing population of low-income students in the Russell Group.

And what has made all this progress and vital work possible? The very thing that many believe to be the enemy of educational opportunity – tuition fees.

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Cut tuition fees and you shut the door to poor students | Anne-Marie Canning

Universities rely on income from fees to fund the outreach activities essential to make them more diverse

Last week, universities in England were preparing reports on how they have diversified their student populations. These reports will be submitted to the director of fair access at the Office for Students. My university, King’s College London, will report, happily, that our undergraduate intake is now 77% state school, more than 52% ethnic minority and has the fastest growing population of low-income students in the Russell Group.

And what has made all this progress and vital work possible? The very thing that many believe to be the enemy of educational opportunity – tuition fees.

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The Observer view: the Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy is in ruins | Observer editorial

Ministers must act quickly to make up for the firm’s decision to axe its Wylfa nuclear power plant

By any standards, last week’s decision by Hitachi to end construction of its £20bn nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Wales was a major blow to Britain’s prospects of creating an effective energy policy for the 21st century. The move follows a withdrawal by Toshiba from the construction of a similar project in Cumbria last year and leaves Britain struggling to find ways to generate electricity for a low-carbon future.

Together, these nuclear plants would have generated 15% of Britain’s electricity – without emitting carbon dioxide. Now the government faces serious questions about how its electricity pricing policies scuppered these two key pieces of UK infrastructure. More importantly, the nation needs to know, very quickly, how ministers intend to make up for this lost capacity. Given the tepid nature of previous plans and continual changes made to energy policies, success is not guaranteed.

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The Observer view: the Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy is in ruins | Observer editorial

Ministers must act quickly to make up for the firm’s decision to axe its Wylfa nuclear power plant

By any standards, last week’s decision by Hitachi to end construction of its £20bn nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Wales was a major blow to Britain’s prospects of creating an effective energy policy for the 21st century. The move follows a withdrawal by Toshiba from the construction of a similar project in Cumbria last year and leaves Britain struggling to find ways to generate electricity for a low-carbon future.

Together, these nuclear plants would have generated 15% of Britain’s electricity – without emitting carbon dioxide. Now the government faces serious questions about how its electricity pricing policies scuppered these two key pieces of UK infrastructure. More importantly, the nation needs to know, very quickly, how ministers intend to make up for this lost capacity. Given the tepid nature of previous plans and continual changes made to energy policies, success is not guaranteed.

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Bill bans ‘abhorrent’ quizzing of domestic abuse victims in court

Landmark draft legislation also includes measures to raise awareness and support survivors

Domestic abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine their former partners in family courts under a comprehensive government package of reforms to tackle the issue.

The landmark draft domestic abuse bill, published tomorrow after an 18-month delay, will prevent victims from being subjected to the “abhorrent practice” of being interrogated in court by their abusers, alongside other measures designed to raise awareness, support survivors and tackle perpetrators.

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Bill bans ‘abhorrent’ quizzing of domestic abuse victims in court

Landmark draft legislation also includes measures to raise awareness and support survivors

Domestic abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine their former partners in family courts under a comprehensive government package of reforms to tackle the issue.

The landmark draft domestic abuse bill, published tomorrow after an 18-month delay, will prevent victims from being subjected to the “abhorrent practice” of being interrogated in court by their abusers, alongside other measures designed to raise awareness, support survivors and tackle perpetrators.

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Music festivals will have to be licensed in NSW following drug deaths

Organisers will have to apply for a specific liquor licence, similar to those for pubs and clubs, in bid to keep young people safe

Music festivals will have to be licensed in New South Wales under new regulations following a string of tragedies.

Five people have now died after attending music festivals, including 23-year-old Joseph Pham and 21-year-old Diana Nguyen, who both died of suspected drug overdoses after attending the Defqon.1 festival in September.

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I had to leave Australia to feel at ease on the beach for the first time | Omar Sakr

I grew up with an awful self-consciousness – not being as smooth and hairless as the white bodies I saw around me. In Italy, I finally took my shirt off and let the sun hit my furry chest

I tolerate beaches, I do not love them. This is only one of many ways I sit outside the popular Home and Away-mythologising of Australia as a waterside paradise of fit white bodies becoming an acceptable shade of light brown.

Among my Lebanese family, I was alone in feeling this way. On Sundays we would often go on a long drive to Wollongong beach in a caravan of cars, to dive or be hurled into the ocean. I’m not sure why we went so far from our home in Liverpool, in Sydney’s south-west. All I know is I hated it: the amount of time it took to fill Eskies with food and drink, for everyone to get ready, the hours in traffic that felt like forever in the heat, the flies, the BO, squished and sweating in the back of a Holden Commodore with half a dozen cousins.

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Super blood wolf moon: rare total lunar eclipse to grace northern hemisphere skies

Last blood moon for two years will combine with a supermoon to create unusual celestial phenomenon

An unusual set of circumstances will combine in the early hours of Monday morning in the skies above the northern hemisphere, resulting in a phenomenon called a super blood wolf moon.

A total lunar eclipse will give an apparent reddish colour to the lunar surface – known as a blood moon. At the same time, the moon will be slighty closer to Earth than normal and appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual – a phenomenon called a supermoon.

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Aiia Maasarwe’s sister learned of Melbourne death on TV news in Israel

Family initially thought the international student was kidnapped or had fallen while returning home to Bundoora from a comedy show

Noor Maasarwe was watching the news when she realised that her missing sister, Aiia, had been found dead in Melbourne.

“I [saw] in the news that they found a body. They didn’t say for who it was,” Maasarwe told Nine News on Sunday from Israel.

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