Watership Down should be about death and destruction, not fluffy rabbits | Stephanie Merritt

Watership Down should be about death and destruction, not fluffy rabbits | Stephanie Merritt

I loved the 1978 film as a child, even though it terrified me. The remake should have kept the wild darkness, not toned it down

We don’t like to think about death too much at Christmas these days, especially when it comes to children’s stories. This is a shame, because dwelling on the proximity of darkness has been a significant part of our collective storytelling tradition at this time of year, since long before the Green Knight crashed King Arthur’s Christmas feast.

The Christmas ghost story used to be a family occasion; Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black both begin with the telling of fearful tales around the fire on Christmas Eve, a reminder that as we gather with loved ones around the warmth and lights of the hearth, the dark and the wild are still outside the windows, remnants of our pagan past – frightening and far from cosy.

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Jimmy McGovern’s Care has shed light on a crisis. Now we need a solution | Dawn Foster

Jimmy McGovern’s Care has shed light on a crisis. Now we need a solution | Dawn Foster

A ‘Grey New Deal’ for Britain could halt the crisis in elderly care – budget cuts are ruining lives

Early in Jimmy McGovern’s BBC drama Care, broadcast on Sunday, an occupational therapist takes Mary, a character recently diagnosed with vascular dementia after a stroke, to a test kitchen in the hospital and asks her to make herself a cup of tea by first placing a teabag in a cup. Her daughters, seated behind her, dismiss the exercise as a farce: Mary has lost the ability to communicate verbally, is permanently panicked and aggressive. Yet if she succeeds in placing a teabag in a cup she will be deemed fit for discharge from the hospital, to return home and look after herself. She fails the test, trying instead to eat the bag, but the episode marks the first of many examples of the gatekeeping of care budgets.

Related: A ‘volunteer army’ is no substitute for the doctors and nurses the NHS needs | Hannah Jane Parkinson

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Theresa May’s cowardly blunder might have saved us from Brexit | Polly Toynbee

Theresa May’s cowardly blunder might have saved us from Brexit | Polly Toynbee

A second referendum is now the only way out of this car crash

What cowardice. She roused the country to the great climax of Tuesday’s parliamentary vote on her EU withdrawal deal, only to beat a retreat – yet another fateful error in Theresa May’s miserable, blundering leadership. This vote was set to be the cathartic moment when the country finally faced the Brexit truth. The cataclysmic collapse of May’s deal would have wiped the slate clean for her, for every MP and every party, freeing everyone to think again. Yes, hers was the only deal possible – but only if she was right that the nation’s ultimate uncrossable red line really is stopping immigration and free movement. If closing our borders is non-negotiable then hers was the only deal, whoever was prime minister. But that deal was set for a parliamentary defeat no government had suffered in living memory, with public opinion overwhelmingly against.

Related: A no-deal Brexit would be the deranged action of a rogue state | Rafael Behr

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A no-deal Brexit would be the deranged action of a rogue state | Rafael Behr

A no-deal Brexit would be the deranged action of a rogue state | Rafael Behr

This poisonous idea must be taken off the table. Theresa May’s irresponsibility is unforgivable

The Conservative party is in a post-Theresa May state of mind. The prime minister might cling to power for a while longer, tenacity being her most consistent quality, but the call to postpone a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal feels like a condemned prisoner’s last-ditch plea for clemency. Moving the date doesn’t commute the sentence.

That means there could be a Conservative leadership contest within weeks, even days. May’s deal would then be history, and the race to succeed her will feature candidates who say that Britain can leave the EU with no deal at all. If that isn’t shocking, it proves that Brexit has deadened nerve endings that once reacted to high-voltage political insanity.

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The Guardian view on the Brexit vote: the prime minister is on the run | Editorial

The Guardian view on the Brexit vote: the prime minister is on the run | Editorial

Theresa May continues to treat parliament with contempt, as her authority drains away on the most important issue facing Britain

Theresa May decided to pull the parliamentary vote on her Brexit withdrawal agreement because she knew she would lose. She has been humiliated by her own MPs. It is staggering that this defeat only became obvious to her after it had been clear to everyone else for weeks. In the end, she chose to run rather than stand and fight for what she had agreed with European leaders. Mrs May is not saving her leadership, she is devaluing it to the point of worthlessness. The prime minister has no one to blame but herself for this mess. In the last two years the government has devoted itself to leaving the European Union in a manner consistent with Mrs May’s obsessions – primarily controlling immigration. Her resulting withdrawal agreement has been rubbished by her own unruly troops. They will not be easily instructed to march in a different direction.

The prime minister is trying to buy herself time by getting Brussels to accept some tweaks in her Brexit deal over the Northern Ireland backstop as a means of persuading some doubters to vote for it. These will be cosmetic, as EU leaders say there can be no further renegotiation of the terms of the UK’s departure.

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How to fix Oxbridge’s biased admissions system | Letters

How to fix Oxbridge’s biased admissions system | Letters

Readers discuss ways to make entry to Oxford and Cambridge fairer to students from state schools

The Sutton Trust, when rightly calling for Oxford and Cambridge universities to “make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process” does not go far enough (Eight top schools dominate entry to Oxbridge, 7 December). A slim chance of success is not the only reason “high-flying pupils from state schools” are far less likely to apply for an Oxbridge place. Fear of humiliation in an interview designed to trip up all but the best prepared must play a significant role; those interviews must focus more on what the candidate knows, and how knowledge gaps can be filled. If private schools have to rely on “personalised mentoring and university preparation classes”, what chance do pupils coming from underfunded state schools have?

“Top” universities should not be choosing candidates schooled in their requirements and traditions, but offering opportunities to the genuinely talented, who gain good grades in spite of their backgrounds. A pupil with three grade Bs at A-level from a school in an impoverished area probably has more talent and innate ability than a pupil from a privileged background even if A-level grades are higher!

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We no longer have a functioning government. May must step aside | Ian Lavery

We no longer have a functioning government. May must step aside | Ian Lavery

The prime minister has bottled it and pulled the vote on her Brexit deal. The country can’t go on like this

Theresa May has bottled it. She’s realised her deal is so disastrous that she has taken the desperate step of delaying her own vote at the 11th hour.

For weeks, she has insisted that her Brexit deal is the best possible deal, even though it’s opposed by most people in her party and across the country.

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Marx in London review – Dove’s opera spins comic capital from revolutionary icon

Marx in London review – Dove’s opera spins comic capital from revolutionary icon

Theater Bonn
The sexual tangles of Karl and his middle-class family make for a colourful if conventional show with a political message

An opera about Karl Marx? A comic opera about Karl Marx? Jonathan Dove has never been afraid to think outside the box, and his new piece, premiered at the Theater Bonn, does so again. Marx in London is set on a single day in 1871. It depicts the financial and sexual tangles of the middle-class emigre Marx household in London’s Kentish Town against the backdrop of his political squabbles and his efforts to get Das Kapital finally written.

If you are expecting an opera about dialectical materialism or the labour theory of value you will be disappointed. Dove’s opera, with a witty libretto by Charles Hart, is a genuine comedy, although in Jürgen Weber’s production it’s not without its underlying political messages. It is above all an operatic entertainment, and is full of reminders of why, according to a recent survey, Dove is the third-most performed living opera composer after Philip Glass and Jake Heggie. If London theatregoers find some echoes of Richard Bean’s recent play Young Marx, that’s because Dove and Bean began discussing the project before heading in different directions with it.

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Priti Patel’s Brexit comments showed ignorance about Ireland. She’s not alone | Bobby McDonagh

Priti Patel’s Brexit comments showed ignorance about Ireland. She’s not alone | Bobby McDonagh

Since the Brexit vote, many in the UK have exposed how grossly they underestimate Irish intelligence and power

Priti Patel’s appalling comment about using food shortages to pressurise Ireland in the Brexit negotiations showed a breathtaking ignorance of history. However, while the boorishness of her remark is in a category of its own, misunderstanding Ireland has become a common feature of public discourse in the UK.

“Backstop” was listed by the Collins Dictionary recently as one of the new or notable words of 2018. It defines “backstop” as a system that will come into effect if no other arrangement is made. The concept became so current in the context of solving the Brexit Northern Ireland conundrum that negotiators came to talk comfortably about a “backstop to the backstop”. However, there are deeper challenges to mutual understanding than being able to agree on the meaning of a word. The two years since the Brexit referendum have witnessed a startling decline in the capacity of many in London to understand Ireland.

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