Hi everybody, and welcome to the weekend. As part of my job running the Opinion section, I spend a lot of time scouring the FT for interesting news stories to comment on. This week, we covered everything from the IMF/World Bank meetings in Bali and the disappearance of a Saudi journalist to the case for vaping and trans rights, and I was struck as ever by the quality and originality of the FT’s reporting. Here are some of the stories I was fascinated by, plus a few from elsewhere you shouldn’t miss.
If you want to receive Long Story Short by email every Friday, you can sign up here.
‘Killed by Pret sandwich’ or how not to manage a crisis
Pret A Manger is a lunchtime institution. It has grown like topsy, expanding in three decades from one central London sandwich store to a network of 500 outlets in nine countries. But it is under attack following reports that its products caused the death of two people. Writing my business column this week, I was struck by how unprepared its executives were for the inquest into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a 15-year-old who had a fatal allergic reaction to sesame seeds in one of its baguettes. They knew for more than 18 months that the hearing was coming yet opted not to put allergy labels on individual sandwiches. Natasha’s parents criticised Pret for doing the “bare minimum” on customer safety and the coroner called for a rethink of labelling rules. One PR adviser says:
“I don’t think they’ve lost the British public [but] if a single person has suffered because they didn’t relabel, then it’s a different ballgame.”
The case for a childcare revolution
When I had my first child, my bosses (not at the FT) were stunned to hear I planned to return to my deadline-driven reporting job after maternity leave. Fortunately, attitudes have changed: many more mothers of young children now return to work. In a richly reported piece combining telling interviews and statistical analysis, Janina Conboye and Valentina Romei examine decades of government data to explore how policies have helped boost the numbers. They also discover that high childcare costs are a factor behind the lower employment rates for mothers of pre-school children in the UK than in other countries. Béatrice de Montille, an entrepreneur with four children who recently returned from London to Lyon, says:
“French people are always complaining about childcare and the lack of places, but it is much better than the UK.”
Even investment bankers need to know coding
Now my kids are a bit older, like many mothers I worry about what the world of work will look like when they’re ready to start building their careers. So I was drawn to Laura Noonan’s article about how JPMorgan Chase is putting hundreds of new investment bankers and asset managers through mandatory coding lessons. The bank likes to call itself a technology group, and its leaders are convinced it will prosper if its front-line business staff work more closely with its technology teams. According to Mary Callahan Erdoes, the head of JPMorgan Asset Management, who learnt to code at university:
“Coding is not for just tech people, it is for anyone who wants to run a competitive company in the 21st century. These are the skillsets of the future.”
An Iron Curtain for the 21st century
Over in Silicon Valley, Google’s former chairman is making waves by pointing out the risks of the internet becoming the “splinternet”. Eric Schmidt predicts that we’ll see a divide between an American-led version and a separate Chinese-led counterpart behind a “cyber curtain”. This will have serious implications for the potential reach of the biggest internet groups — and for their investors. The companies’ stratospheric stock prices tend to assume that all 3bn internet users are potential customers, writes Gillian Tett. I read Gillian’s columns because she explains complex markets and economics issues in straightforward language that I can borrow for use at parties. She explains:
“Most economists or investors are only slowly waking up to the risks. If Schmidt’s prediction turns out to be true, the sunny assumptions about the future size of the internet user base — and market — may need to be revised.”
Pantsuit Nation’s political power broker
Back to hard-working mothers — have a look at Simon Kuper’s compelling interview with Libby Chamberlain. Just before the last US presidential election, the “stay-at-home mom slash part-time school administrator” from Maine founded an invite-only group for Hillary Clinton supporters. She named it after the former candidate’s emblematic outfit. It has since grown into one of America’s largest private Facebook groups — an informal national support circle for those who oppose President Donald Trump. Since November 2016, countless Pantsuit members (there are almost 4m in total) have gone from apathy to daily Democratic activism. Dozens are among the record number of US women running for office in next month’s midterms. Chamberlain explains:
“We were trying to connect people with meaningful things to do, as opposed to just yell and cry . . . to say: ‘OK, if you’re mad about this, here’s something you can do.’”
Other FT stories that have caught my eye this week
- I was fascinated by Michael Peel and Jim Brunsden’s deep dive into the shadowy world of undocumented migrants in the EU. This issue is often discussed in the US but there are also millions of people in this situation in Europe. Cities such as Barcelona are finding that get-tough policies don’t work.
- Markets were in turmoil as a big US sell-off of tech stocks carried over to Asia and Europe. Here’s an explanation of what’s been going on.
- Tesla is in the news again, with reports that outgoing 21st Century Fox chief executive James Murdoch is a leading candidate to replace Elon Musk as chairman. Andrew Hill looks at the differences between Musk, the car company’s volatile boss, and Jack Ma, Alibaba’s more hands-off founder.
- Patisserie Valerie, the British coffee and cake chain, revealed “potentially fraudulent accounting irregularities” this week. Then its finance director was arrested. Here’s Matthew Vincent’s take on how a winning business recipe went wrong.
- Anyone who’s spent time with a teen with self-righteousness tendencies will chuckle at Robert Shrimsley’s musings on his 15-year-old daughter’s lurch into vegetarianism. “Given the opportunities for parental torture available to teenagers,” he writes, “this lifestyle choice is pretty benign.”
Best of the rest
What I’ve been reading elsewhere
- One year of #MeToo. The New Yorker, along with The New York Times, helped galvanise the movement with its investigation of film producer Harvey Weinstein. To mark the first anniversary, the magazine asked eight writers to reflect on what we have learnt. I was particularly struck by Han Zhang’s piece on how the movement eludes official surveillance in China. (The New Yorker).
- What is Nikki Haley up to? She resigned this week as US ambassador to the UN and some are touting her as a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Here’s a look at some of her possible motivations for quitting (The Economist).
- Should art be a battleground for social justice? Wesley Morris looks at how concerns about race, gender and politics are making it hard for people simply to enjoy television shows, literature and other art forms. It may be naive to look at culture in a moral vacuum but trying to take all of these factors into account at all times creates its own problems (The New York Times).
Before you go
My Instagram pick Taylor Swift showed the world the extent of her influence this week. The singer used her Instagram account to weigh in on the Tennessee contest for the US Senate, a race that may determine control of the body. Despite her general desire to vote for female candidates, she wrote: “I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.” She added that she would therefore be voting for Democrat Phil Bredesen rather than his (female) Republican rival. She also urged her 112m followers to register and vote in November. Vote.org says more than 100,000 people aged 18 to 29 registered to vote in the 48 hours after her intervention. That’s an influencer.
We always want to hear your thoughts and feedback, so please do email us at email@example.com — and have a lovely weekend.
Opinion and analysis editor
Get alerts on World when a new story is published