BBC 2024-07-08 00:06:26


The far right is close to power in France. Will the rest of Europe follow?

By Katya AdlerEurope editor

How likely is France to wake up on Monday morning to a new far-right dawn?

That was the garishly painted, hotly debated scenario in media headlines, the EU in Brussels and seats of government across Europe following the first round of France’s parliamentary vote last week.

But despite the spectacular showing by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, the short answer is: an RN majority is possible. Not probable.

French centrist and leftist parties have strategically withdrawn candidates to bolster each other’s contenders ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round.

But the impact of this election will be seismic, whether or not the RN wins an outright majority – or whether Jordan Bardella, its social media-savvy young president, becomes France’s new prime minister.

Polls predict RN is all but guaranteed to win more seats than any other political grouping.

That means a decades-old taboo will have been shattered in France, a core EU nation.

The EU was born out of the ashes of World War Two. It was originally designed as a peace project, with wartime enemies, France and Germany, at its core.

Far-right parties were banished to the outer fringes of European politics.

Last month, world leaders gathered in northern France to mark 80 years since D-Day, the allied amphibious assault in Normandy that helped secure the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But now, “far-right” or “hard-right” or “populist nationalist” parties are part of coalition governments in a number of EU countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Finland.

There are challenges in labelling these parties. Their policies frequently change. They also vary from country to country.

And their normalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon. Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a centre-right politician, was the first EU leader to take the plunge. He formed a government with the post-fascist political group, Movimento Sociale Italiano, back in 1994.

Six years later, Austria’s conservatives went into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. At the time, the EU was so outraged that it blocked official bilateral contacts with Austria for several months.

Post-war political etiquette dictated the political mainstream must form a , a “health barrier”, at election time to keep the extreme right out of European governments.

The universally recognised term for that practice is French, which gives you a sense how passionately many in France felt about it.

In the 2002 Presidential election, some French voters clipped a clothes peg to their noses on their way to polling stations – a way of showing they’d vote for a candidate they didn’t really like, just to keep out the far right.

This was a far right that for years was led by Marine Le Pen’s father, with French former members of a Nazi-led Waffen SS unit in his party ranks.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Marine Le Pen’s ambition, 10 years in the making, to detoxify her father’s party – changing its name and trying hard to clean up its image – appears to have been a roaring success.

The now has a searing gash in it, after the leader of France’s centre-right Les Républicains struck a deal with the RN not to compete against each other this Sunday in specific constituencies. This was an earthquake in French politics.

Crucially for Marine Le Pen, those who support her aren’t embarrassed to admit it any more. The RN is no longer viewed as an extremist protest movement. For many, it offers a credible political programme, whatever its detractors claim.

French voters trust the RN more than any other party to manage their economy and (currently poor) public finances, according to an Ipsos poll for the Financial Times newspaper. This is despite the party’s lack of government experience and its largely unfunded tax-cutting and spending plans.

  • Ugly campaign ends and France draws breath before election
  • In Marseille, pétanque masks political divides
  • Analysis: Le Pen’s party now dominant force in France

Which begs the question, when you observe the angst-ridden despair in liberal circles in Europe at the growing success of the so-called “New Right”: if traditional lawmakers had served their electorates better, perhaps there’d be less of an opening for European populists to walk into?

By populists, I mean politicians like Ms Le Pen who claim to listen to and speak on behalf of “ordinary people”, defending them against “the establishment”.

This “them and us” argument is extremely effective when voters feel anxious and ignored by governing powers. Just look at Donald Trump in the US, the sudden unexpected breakthrough of Reform UK in Thursday’s UK election and the huge success of Germany’s controversial anti-migration AfD party.

In France, many perceive President Macron – a former merchant banker – as arrogant, privileged and remote from the everyday cares of ordinary people outside the Paris bubble. A man who made difficult lives even tougher, they say, by raising the national pension age and trying to put up fuel prices, citing environmental concerns.

It must be a source of frustration for France’s president that his success at lowering unemployment rates and the billions of euros he spent trying to soften the economic effects of the Covid and energy crises seem largely forgotten.

Meanwhile, the RN concentrated much of its campaign on the cost-of-living crisis.

The party has pledged to cut taxes on gas and electricity and to raise the minimum wage for low earners.

Priorities like these mean the RN should no longer be labelled a far-right movement, its supporters insist. They point to a widening support base and say the party shouldn’t be forever tarnished by its racist roots under Le Pen senior.

A similar argument echoes out of Rome. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, once used to praise fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Her Brothers of Italy party has post-fascist roots but she now heads one of the EU’s most stable governments.

She recently censured a meeting of her party’s youth wing. Members had been filmed giving fascist salutes. There was no room in her party for nostalgia for the totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century, she said.

While critics at home warn of attempts to influence Italy’s media landscape and Ms Meloni’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, her concrete proposals to tackle irregular migration have won plaudits from the European mainstream, including the EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK’s recently ousted prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Frankly, on hot-button issues like migration, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the political rhetoric of the far right in Europe and traditional mainstream politicians intentionally sharpening their speeches to try to hold on to voters.

Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was a prime example of this, and Emmanuel Macron too, the more he’s felt the heat of Marine Le Pen’s popularity.

More from InDepth

One of the inadvertent effects of mainstream politicians aping parties further to their right on migration is that it makes the original anti-immigration parties seem more respectable, acceptable and electable.

Witness the recent stellar performance in the Netherlands’ general election of anti-migration politician Geert Wilders, who has been regularly accused of hate speech.

The label “far right” is one that needs to be debated. Much depends on the make-up of each party.

But the kind of acceptance now enjoyed by Ms Meloni in wider international circles is still a remote dream for Ms Le Pen.

The RN insists a parliamentary majority is still within reach this Sunday. More likely, polls suggest, is a paralysed hung parliament or an unruly coalition government of non-Le Pen parties.

Any and all of these scenarios reduce Emmanuel Macron to a pretty lame-duck president.

Political instability at home means big EU powers, France and also Germany, are turning inwards at a time of great global uncertainty.

Wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine. EU and Nato-sceptic Donald Trump is poised to possibly return to the White House.

It’s a precarious moment for Europe to be without leadership. Voters feel exposed.

Even if not this Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s followers firmly believe their time is coming. Soon.

Biden interview fails to quell Democrat concerns over fitness

By Rachel Looker and Courtney SubramanianBBC News, Washington
Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos

President Joe Biden’s Friday night TV interview does not seem to have quelled an uprising within his own party to end his re-election campaign after a halting debate performance against Donald Trump.

A fifth House Democrat, Angie Craig of Minnesota, on Saturday joined colleagues in calling for the president to step aside, and reports suggest more could follow.

In his rare prime-time ABC News interview, Mr Biden dismissed his debate performance as just a “bad episode” and said only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to end his bid for re-election.

Mr Biden, 81, is spending Saturday at his family home in Delaware before two public events on Sunday.

There is growing unease among Democrats, although no senior members of the party have called for him to quit.

Some polls show Trump’s lead over Mr Biden widening, and many are concerned about losing the presidency and House seats, along with the Senate majority, if he leads the ticket.

Ms Craig, who is running in a competitive district in Minnesota, said on Saturday that she did not believe Mr Biden could “effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump”.

She said that while she respected his decades of service, “there is simply too much at stake to risk a second Donald Trump presidency”.

Minutes after the ABC interview, Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett, the first House Democrat to call for Mr Biden to drop out, said on CNN that the need “is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it”.

He said the longer it took Mr Biden to make a decision to withdraw, the “more difficult for a new person to come on board who can defeat Donald Trump”.

Other House Democrats including congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts called on Mr Biden to withdraw on Friday.

They join Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva’s call on Wednesday.

In his interview, Mr Biden declined to take a cognitive test and make the results public to prove he was fit to serve another term.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test – everything I do [is a test],” he told George Stephanopoulos.

This response did not resonate with Democratic congresswoman Judy Chu of California, who told Politico that his answer was “unsettling and not particularly convincing” and that she would “be watching closely… especially in spontaneous situations”.

During the 22-minute ABC interview, Mr Biden rejected suggestions allies may ask him to stand aside, saying “it’s not going to happen”.

Mr Stephanopoulos pressed the president on his capacity to serve another term.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden, who is due to speak at a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday, thanked Vice-President Kamala Harris for her support during the ABC News interview.

Ms Harris has emerged as a top contender to replace him if he were to step down.

In an interview on Saturday at the Essence black culture festival in New Orleans, the vice-president said that November’s election was crucial to American democracy, but made no mention of Democratic disquiet about Mr Biden.

“Understand what we all know – in 122 days, we each have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in,” she said.

She said Trump “has openly talked about his admiration of dictators and his intention to be a dictator”.

Essence was the first of a number events in July that appear to target female black voters, a key constituency for Democrats in November.

However, questions around Mr Biden’s candidacy and the potential for Ms Harris to take his place will be difficult to avoid.

Ms Harris has spent the last week close to the president, flying from Los Angeles to attend the White House 4 July celebration, sitting in a meeting with governors and Mr Biden, and also being involved in his call with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Vice-presidents have the delicate balancing act of projecting unequivocal support for their bosses while also tacitly proving they are up to the main job. That has been more so for Ms Harris as questions swirl around Mr Biden’s re-election bid.

However, some Democrats acknowledge concerns about Ms Harris as a presidential candidate. She struggled to gain her footing early in her vice-presidency as she was given responsibility for issues including immigration, student debt and voting rights.

Low approval ratings have dogged her in office, although they have improved in recent months. She has since refocused her attention on issues such as abortion rights, which Democrats believe will be crucial in November.

More on President Biden:

After Covid and Olympics, Tokyo’s first female governor set for third term

By Toby LuckhurstBBC News, London

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is certain to win a third consecutive term in Sunday’s gubernatorial election, according to exit polls.

The 71-year-old first female governor of Japan’s most populous city, will secure her position for another four years.

Her victory will be a relief for struggling Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who backed the 71-year-old to win a third term.

She was elected in 2016, and won her second term in 2020. The conservative governor successfully guided the city through the coronavirus pandemic and its delayed summer Olympics in 2021.

Japan’s tumbling fertility became a major issue during this campaign, and the victorious candidate will now have to work hard to improve Tokyo’s shockingly low birth rate. At 0.99 – less than one child per woman aged between 15 and 49 – it is the lowest of any region nationwide.

Her appointment makes her one of the most powerful women in Japan’s male dominated politics – with Tokyo accounting for about 11% of the population and contributing to nearly 20% of the country’s total GDP.

It also puts her in charge of the city’s budget – which climbed to a staggering 16.55 trillion yen ($100bn; £80bn) this fiscal year.

Ms Koike, 71, got more than 40% of the vote according to Reuters.

Declaring victory, Ms Koike said her main challenge was “how to proceed with digital transformation as industries have changed significantly.”

She said she would consolidate efforts to keep improving Tokyo, including “the environment for women’s empowerment”, which she said was “insufficient [in Japan] compared to other parts of the world.”

Unexpectedly, Shinji Ishimaru, 41, an independent candidate and the former mayor of Akitakata, a town in Hiroshima prefecture, placed second, a position that was long thought to be guaranteed for Renho Saito.

Ms Renho, 56, supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), came in third.

Mr Ishimaru, was relatively unknown in Tokyo before the official campaign began.

During the election campaign, he focused on boosting his profile by reaching out to his large social media following.

Mr Ishimaru’s success is thought to be down to his appeal among young voters. As a former banker, he also focused on advancing the economy and industry of Tokyo.

After the polls closed, he told his supporters, “I did all I could”, alluding to the fact that he had no particular party affiliation, unlike the two main contenders.

Who is Yuriko Koike?

Yuriko Koike started her career as a journalist, working as a television news anchor before moving into politics in the early 1990s.

But it was not until 2016 that she came to true national prominence after winning the governorship of Tokyo for the first time. She was not the official candidate of LDP, but still managed to win comfortably, taking more than 2.9 million votes to become the first woman in the role.

“I will lead Tokyo politics in an unprecedented manner, a Tokyo you have never seen,” Ms Koike promised supporters on election night.

She officially left the LDP in 2017 to set up her own political party, though she retains the support of many in the party – who gave her their backing in the 2024 race.

Ms Koike vowed to focus on local issues during her term, including tackling overcrowding on public transport, as well as the culture of overworking in the city. But it was global issues that came to dominate her time in office.

The emergence of Covid-19 forced Tokyo to delay its summer Olympics, planned for 2020. Ms Koike won a second term that year after her successful handling of the pandemic, and garnered further praise for managing the delayed Olympics, held in the city in 2021 in the shadow of the coronavirus.

Ms Koike, however has not escaped scandal. An allegation that she never graduated from Cairo University – first reported during her first term – has never quite died away. Despite repeated denials from her and a statement confirming her graduation from the university itself, reports that she falsified her graduation documents still persisted during her try at a third gubernatorial term.

Opponents also criticised her for failing to follow through on her pledges in Tokyo. The trains remain overcrowded and overwork culture remains a problem, they say.

Of the 56 candidates the voters had to choose from, it had been expected Renho Saito would be Ms Koike’s main opponent.

The former upper house member was backed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, as well as the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Ms Renho left the CDP before official campaigning started on June 20. She lost her Upper House seat when she filed her candidacy.

She rose to lead the centre-left group in 2016 as its first ever female head, but resigned a year later over poor results in Tokyo’s prefectural election.

Japanese media projected the race as a proxy war between national parties, as the conservative incumbent was challenged by the left-leaning opposition politician.

The gubernatorial election also took place amid a climate of general mistrust towards politics. Critics say this is linked in part to the economic difficulties of the Japanese followed by an end of the long historical period of deflation, and the weakening of the yen.

New foreign secretary wants to reset UK-EU ties

By Paul AdamsBBC News

David Lammy’s whirlwind first trip as foreign secretary, organised at very short notice, is not about instant results or even brave new horizons.

It is all about perception – the appearance of a new, vigorous administration, determined to hit the ground running, brimming with goodwill towards some of the UK’s most important partners.

After an evening spent with his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock – the two found time to watch a few minutes of England’s European Championship quarter-final – Mr Lammy’s tour moved to the bucolic surroundings of the country estate of Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky.

After a couple of hours of talks, it was back on the plane for a short flight north to one of Nato’s newest members, Sweden.

Why Germany, Poland and Sweden?

Partly because of Ukraine. Along with Britain, all three countries play important roles in sustaining Kyiv’s war effort. With the new Defence Secretary John Healey on the ground in Odesa, Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer’s government is keen to stress that the UK’s commitment to Ukraine will remain rock solid.

“We want to double down on our commitment to Ukraine,” Mr Lammy said, as dragonflies swooped over a tranquil lake and a pair of majestic eagles circled overhead.

France, in the midst of its own election – one which seems destined to have far-reaching consequences – was not on the itinerary. Not this weekend.

No stop in Brussels, either. Sir Keir has said the UK will not return to the EU “in my lifetime”.

But Poland and Sweden are both key European partners and fellow Nato members – good places for the foreign secretary to start exploring the outlines of closer future relations.

“I want to reset both our bilateral relationship and our relationship with the European Union,” Mr Lammy said, adding a reference to Labour’s still rather nebulous pledge to strike a new EU-UK security pact.

He said that when European leaders gather at Blenheim Palace on 18 July for the next meeting of the European Political Community (established by Emmanuel Macron in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), “the new spirit of co-operation will be on show”.

Lammy’s concerns: Russia, China, Gaza

The trip comes just days before Sir Keir takes his own first steps on the international stage as prime minister, at the Nato summit in Washington DC.

These are tricky times to be shoring up relationships, with France taking a lurch to the right and the US possibly on the verge of returning the unpredictable Donald Trump to office.

Mr Lammy agreed this was a “tough geopolitical moment”, but said it was important not to confuse disagreements between mature democracies with the threats posed by authoritarian regimes.

“I am concerned when I see Iranian drones turning up in Ukraine,” he said.

“I am concerned when I see shells from North Korea being used here on European soil.

“And of course I’m concerned with the partnership that I see Russia brokering across those authoritarian states.”

Other issues hang heavy over the new foreign secretary’s first trip, in particular the war in Gaza.

In Germany on Saturday, Mr Lammy spoke to the need to strike a “more balanced approach to Israel-Gaza”.

It is not clear exactly what he meant, but with ceasefire talks apparently poised to resume, finding a way to end the Gaza war and revive the Arab-Israeli peace process seems destined to consume a large amount of diplomatic time in the coming months.

For his part, Mr Lammy’s famously anglophone host said the relatively new Polish government shared something in common with the incoming Starmer administration.

Both, Mr Sikorski said, were “the product of the public being tired with enthusiasts on the nationalist side of politics” – a remark which perhaps only partially reflected the true nature of last week’s general election.

Mr Sikorski said he looked forward to “a more pragmatic approach” from Britain to its relationship with Europe and said the two ministers had discussed “some creative ideas of how to further that”.

PNG minister charged with assault in Australia

By Kathryn ArmstrongBBC News

Papua New Guinea’s influential Petroleum Minister Jimmy Maladina has been charged with assault following an alleged “domestic dispute” in Australia, according to court documents.

Police said a 31-year-old woman was allegedly attacked in Sydney by a 58-year-old man who was known to her on Saturday morning local time.

Mr Maladina was granted conditional bail ahead of a court appearance on 11 July.

In a statement, he said he was “aware of the recent media reports” and was “cooperating with the authorities to address this matter”.

“I understand the gravity of this situation and the concerns it raises,” said Mr Maladina.

“As a public servant, I hold myself to high standards of conduct, both personally and professionally.

“I want to make it clear that violence in any form is unacceptable, and I am committed to handling this situation with integrity and transparency.”

Police said the woman who was allegedly attacked had suffered facial injuries.

Mr Maladina became Papua New Guinea’s petroleum minister earlier this year and is a key adviser to President James Marape.

He is heavily involved in the country’s lucrative project to commercialise its natural gas resources.

Rob Delaney says he wants to die in same room as his son

By Charlotte GallagherCulture correspondent

The US actor and comedian Rob Delaney has said he wants to buy the home his son died in so he can also experience his last moments there.

Delaney’s two-year-old child Henry died in 2018 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Delaney told Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he asked the landlord when he moved out: “Listen, if you ever go to sell this place, let me know first because I would like to buy it.

“So when I’m 81 I can crawl in here and die. In the same room that my son died in, that my other son was born in.”

Before Henry died, his parents told him they were expecting another child.

The Catastrophe and Deadpool 2 star said: “He had to know that this family that loved him was alive and was growing and that there was somebody that we were going to tell about him.

“We knew that they would not overlap corporally on this Earth, even though Henry’s younger brother was born in the same room that Henry died in, our living room.”

Delaney, 47, told the programme that he and his wife, Leah, had considered leaving London but had continued to live in the city because of memories of Henry.

“For so many reasons, we’ve stayed, one of which is I like to go put my hands on slides at the playground that Henry slid down.”

He added that he sometimes bumps into the nurses that looked after his son and said London and the NHS had taken very good care of his child.

Delaney has previously described the NHS as “the pinnacle of human achievement” and that his family received “truly unbelievable” care while Henry was sick.

Heart was ‘torn into pieces and dissolved in salt’

Delaney thought he would struggle with the birth of his new son, saying his heart had “been torn into pieces and dissolved in salt” and was just “garbage”.

But he told host Lauren Laverne that the “nanosecond he exited my wife’s body, I looked at him and just you know, started weeping and was so in love with him and just wanted to sniff them and eat them and put them into my shirt and squeeze them and I love him desperately.

“And then you have to feel and honour your pain. You have to let it hurt and you can’t run away from it. When the feelings come it’s best to let them.”

Delaney also spoke about his recovery from alcoholism, saying he has been sober for more than two decades after a car crash prompted him to stop drinking.

He added: “It’s nothing more interesting than garden variety alcoholism, you know, I found that drinking just made me just feel better, complete, happier, relaxed.

“You know, anytime I took a drink, it was just like, ‘this is it’. I first got drunk at 12 and then began to drink with more regularity at 14.

“I had alcoholism on both sides of my family. And so then I got it too and… it doesn’t really care where you come from.”

French turnout high as far right aims for power in key vote

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

France is voting in one of its most significant elections in years, with the far right hoping for a historic victory, but with political stalemate the more likely result.

This is the first time the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella has had a realistic chance of running the government and taking outright control of the National Assembly.

But after the RN’s first-round victory last Sunday, more than 200 rival candidates dropped out to give others a better chance of defeating the far right.

Voting ends at 20:00 (18:00 GMT) and by midday turnout was 26.63%, marginally up on the first round and the highest figure in a parliamentary vote since 1981.

Whatever the result, it is difficult to see President Emmanuel Macron coming out of this well.

Four weeks ago, he said it was the responsible solution to call a snap vote in response to the RN’s victory in European elections, minutes after the party’s 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella challenged him to do so.

It is not yet clear if there will be another presidential address after the exit polls come out when voting ends on Sunday evening.

The two-round election came as a shock to a country gearing up for the start of the Paris Olympics on 26 July. Security was already tight and now 30,000 police have been deployed for a period of heightened political tension.

There are fears of violence in Paris and other French cities, whatever the outcome of the vote, and a planned protest outside the National Assembly on Sunday evening has been banned.

In Dreux, a historic old town on the road to Normandy, Sunday’s vote fell on the day the Olympic flame was passing through. “For us it’s a massive thing, bigger than the election,” says Pauline in the tourist office.

The flame has been travelling around France for almost two months, and Dreux is holding a weekend of festivities to mark its arrival.

“Macron should have waited until after the Olympics,” Dreux resident Antoine told the BBC.

Veteran commentator Nicolas Baverez believes the president has not just blown up his term in office and opened the gates of power wide for the far right. “He’s compromised the running of the Paris 2024 Olympics, which could deliver a final blow to France’s credit and its image,” he wrote in Le Point on the eve of the vote.

The constituency that includes Dreux is one of the races to watch in the second round of this election.

Candidates such as Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella have already won their seats, by winning more than half the vote. But another 500 contests are being decided in run-offs, mostly involving either two or three candidates.

Former conservative cabinet minister Olivier Marleix was beaten in the first round by far-right candidate Olivier Dubois. They both qualified for the run-off, along with a candidate from the left-wing New Popular Front, which is in second place nationally.

But because Nadia Faveris was narrowly beaten into third by her conservative rival, she pulled out of the race “to block National Rally”.

One voter, Morgan, was sceptical that anything would change in the town, whoever won.

BBC
For 10 years, our governments have been making promises but they’ve never delivered. If RN wins I don’t think anything would change either

There have been 217 of these withdrawals across France, including 130 Popular Front candidates and 81 from the president’s Ensemble alliance.

And that has dramatically changed the balance of this pivotal general election.

There are 577 seats in the French parliament and projections after Sunday’s first round gave the RN a fighting chance of securing an outright majority of 289. However, final opinion polls on Friday suggested that was out of reach, with 205 to 210 seats as a potential maximum.

The parties trying to block an RN victory range from the radical left, Communists and Greens to the Macron centrists and conservatives. They say they are defending the country from the extreme policies of the far right.

National Rally has watered down many of its plans but still wants to give French citizens “national preference” over immigrants for jobs and housing. It aims to abolish the right of automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who have spent five years aged 11 to 18 in France. It also wants to bar dual nationals from dozens of sensitive jobs.

Opinion polls are not necessarily reliable. Each of the 500 races is a local contest and voters do not follow recommendations from political parties.

If the RN managed upwards of 250 seats, it might seek out allies to form a minority government. President Macron’s party had to make do with similar numbers until he became frustrated with his limited ability to pass reforms in parliament.

That kind of RN government is unlikely, believes Prof Armin Steinbach of HEC business school in Paris. It would soon face a vote of no confidence, he believes, and under the constitution, France cannot have another general election for at least another year.

Another potential scenario is a “grand coalition” that would involve most of the other parties, except for the radical France Unbowed (LFI) party, which the Macron alliance and conservatives reject as extremists.

This idea has gained some momentum in recent days, but Greens leader Marine Tondelier has made clear “there’ll be no Macronist prime minister”, whatever happens.

There is also talk of a technocrat government, similar to those that ran Italy during the eurozone debt crisis. But instead of choosing experts from outside politics, it might include politicians with proven expertise in particular fields.

In any case, France is entering uncharted territory, says Jean-Yves Dormagen of the Cluster 17 institute.

President Macron himself has said he is not about to resign and will continue to serve out his final three years in office.

“We will have Macron as a lame duck president who created this mess without having to do so,” Prof Steinbach told the BBC. “And he’s losing legitimacy.”

The immediate concern for France is to have some kind of government in place during the Olympic Games.

Constitutional expert Benjamin Morel believes the president could form a national unity government until the end of the Paris Games.

“That would give the parties time to to reach an agreement between now and the start of the school year and the next budget,” he told Le Figaro.

Like a Tarantino scene – why result is so hard to predict

By Henri AstierLive reporter

The striking feature France’s politics today – apart from the unprecedented strength of the far right – is that it is no longer a left-right contest.

This election is a three-way duel between left-wingers, pro-Macron centrists, and the hard right. Think of it as a scene from a Tarantino movie where each gunman has to keep an eye on two deadly rivals. Versions of that fight have been been playing out in 577 constituencies all over France for the past week.

To make it to the second round, a candidate must gather enough in the first. Runs-off have traditionally been between two candidates. But this time around a whopping 306 constituencies have seen three candidates qualify (there were only eight such “triangulaires” races in the last election in 2022 and just one in 2017).

Tactical withdrawals have reduced the number of three-way battles to 89.

But that is still a huge number – and there are two four-way races.

This makes the result harder to predict than ever. Only when the dust settles we will know who has survived.

Jordan Bardella could soon be French PM at 28. But for many he remains an enigma

By Hugh SchofieldFrance Correspondent

The French would dearly love to know who is the real Jordan Bardella.

The question was interesting when Mr Bardella was merely president of the country’s biggest party, the far-right National Rally (RN).

Now that he is being openly spoken of as the country’s next prime minister, it has become a matter of urgency.

In two weeks the country goes to the polls in a snap election called by President Emmanuel Macron following his humiliation by the RN at the European elections last Sunday.

If the RN has pulled off another big win after the second round of voting on July 7, then Macron will have no choice but to offer it a chance to govern. And if that happens, Mr Bardella – who shares the party leadership with Marine Le Pen – is expected to be named as prime minister.

The French all know the basics about Mr Bardella, and his lightning rise from jobless school-leaver in the northern Paris suburbs to Le Pen protégé and president of the party.

They know that he is ridiculously young, just 28, but that this seems to matter less nowadays, when experience no longer counts for much. The current president is just 46, and the prime minister 35.

They know he is perpetually neat, that he speaks well, is ultra-presentable.

But what he thinks, where he stands ideologically, what kind of person he is – these are unknowns. The French have the distinct feeling that the man they see is a package. Nicely-wrapped, but the contents are a mystery.

The official version of Mr Bardella – the one on the label – is a young man who grew up in a deprived estate in Seine-Saint-Denis and after living with the scourge of drugs, poverty, lawlessness and uncontrolled immigration came to believe that only the hard-right had the answer.

This is “le story-telling”, a French borrowing from the world of marketing.

As he himself has said: “I am in politics because of everything I lived through there. To stop that becoming the norm for the whole of France. Because what happens there is not normal.”

The truth is more nuanced. Mr Bardella was indeed brought up by his single mother, Luisa, in the Cité Gabriel-Péri in the town of Saint-Denis, so his experience is real enough. Both his parents are of Italian origin, and his father had an Algerian grandmother.

But Mr Bardella’s father, Olivier, who moved out when Jordan was very young, ran a drinks distribution business, and was relatively well off. He lived in the commuter town of Montmorency. And Mr Bardella did not go to the nearest state school, but to a semi-private Catholic establishment popular with the middle-classes.

“The young Bardella had a foot on either side of the tracks,” said Pierre-Stéphane Fort, the author of a critical biography of the RN president.

For a recent profile in Le Monde newspaper, the authors went back to Saint-Denis to find friends and acquaintances of the young Mr Bardella.

They found he had left little trace. Friends – of mixed racial backgrounds — remembered that he was a fan of video games, and set up a YouTube channel to discuss the latest releases. They recalled that he had given literacy classes to immigrants after hours at his lycée when he was 16. But they did not remember any particular interest in far-right politics.

“My theory is that he looked around the political world and spotted the place where there was the best chance of climbing the ladder,” Chantal Chatelain, a teacher at his lycée, told Le Monde.

Mr Bardella joined the party at 17, and his rise was meteoric. It happened because he became part of Ms Le Pen’s outer circle.

Much at the top of the RN operates around personal relationships and clan loyalties, as it did when Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, was at the helm of the party that was then known as the Front National (FN). Mr Bardella became the boyfriend of the daughter of an old FN hand, Frederick Chatillon.

Within days of being introduced to Le Pen in 2017, she had named him the party spokesman. In 2019 she asked him to head the party’s candidate list at the European elections, which the RN won. He became an MEP. Then in 2022, she made him party president.

According to Pascal Humeau, a media trainer who worked with Mr Bardella for four years, Ms Le Pen spotted straightaway how the young man – with his perfect tale of banlieue hardship – would be of service to the party. She called him her “lion cub.”

But Mr Humeau is far from complimentary about Mr Bardella himself. The two parted ways after a row over money, so his testimony needs to be treated with caution. But today he describes the RN leader as a product of pure PR.

“He was an empty shell. In terms of content there wasn’t much there,” Mr Humeau said. “He didn’t read much. He wasn’t curious. He just absorbed the elements of language given him by Marine.”

Mr Humeau said he worked for months on getting Mr Bardella to shed his stiff bearing, and to smile more naturally. “I had to humanise the cyborg. My job was to get people who would otherwise hate him to say, ‘huh! for a fascist he’s nice!’”

The biographer Pierre-Stephane Fort is another critic of Mr Bardella who says there is little substance behind the personable image.

“He is a chameleon. He adapts perfectly to the environment around him,” he said. “And he is a chronic opportunist. There is no ideology there. He’s pure strategy. He senses where the wind is blowing, and gets in there early.”

Indeed, identifying Mr Bardella with any of the RN’s different courants or political clans is impossible. At different times he has been with the “social” wing, with its focus on the poor and building social housing, and the “identity” wing with its focus on race and preserving French culture. But mainly he goes where Ms Le Pen goes.

Like her, and the party as a whole, he has a general standpoint built around a tough response to crime and immigration, and has spoken of France being “submerged by migrants”. But on specifics, the answers are left deliberately hazy.

On the stump with Mr Bardella, there is no denying his popularity. Young women think he is “gorgeous”, and he has a smile and a selfie for everyone. But watch for a while, and you see the smile routine coming round again rather too automatically.

And listen for a while, and you hear the same tropes and formulae coming round again too.

At a recent TV debate with the prime minister Gabriel Attal, Mr Bardella held his own, but it was obvious who was the smarter. Luckily for Mr Bardella, Mr Attal blew his advantage by adopting a constant smirk – exactly the kind of condescension that the RN feeds on.

For Ms Le Pen, the lion cub has been a huge asset, and has allowed her to broaden the party’s appeal far beyond its traditional social categories. With his TikTok habit, Mr Bardella obviously connects with the young. He regularly posts short videos of himself (which have been packaged up by a media company) to his 1.3 million followers.

He also has a good rating among graduates, pensioners and city-dwellers – segments that have proved resistant to the RN in the past.

But the question has still not been answered. Is his appeal merely the result of brilliant communication, or is this a man with the right stuff to run the country?

He is 28, never went to university, and has no experience of government. He has never held a job outside the RN, apart from a month one summer at his father’s company. Until recently, this would have made it inconceivable that he be named prime minister of France.

But do the old rules still apply?

Fifty violent attacks shock France ahead of crunch vote

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

More than 50 candidates and activists in France have come under physical attack in the run-up to Sunday’s tense final round of parliamentary elections, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said.

He revealed the figure after government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot, her deputy Virginie Lanlo and a party activist were brutally assaulted as they put up election posters in Meudon, south-west of Paris.

The motive for the attack is not clear, but Ms Thevenot returned to Meudon on Thursday with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who condemned what he called “attacks of intolerable cowardice”.

The spate of assaults across France reflects the febrile mood on the final day of campaigning in an election that the far-right National Rally (RN) is poised to win.

Although RN is well ahead in the polls, 217 candidates have dropped out from local run-off races so another candidate has a better chance of stopping them winning an outright majority in the National Assembly.

Mr Darmanin told news channel BFMTV the attacks were taking place in a climate in which France was “on edge” and more than 30 people had been arrested.

He said the attackers were either people who had “spontaneously become angry” or they were the “ultra-left, ultra-right or other political groups”.

Images filmed from a block of flats showed the youths swarming around the candidate, her deputy Virginie Lanlo and a party activist for President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble alliance.

Ms Thevenot told Le Parisien website that when she and her colleagues objected to the youths defacing party posters “they immediately attacked one of my activists, injuring Virginie”. Ms Lanlo suffered an arm injury, while the activist was punched and hit with a scooter, ending up with a broken jaw. The car windscreen was also smashed by the scooter.

Three teenagers and a man aged 20 were arrested by police and the incident was quickly condemned across the political spectrum.

Mr Attal called on people to “reject the climate of violence and hatred that’s taking hold”, while RN leader Jordan Bardella said one of his “big commitments as prime minister” would be to “combat record insecurity and repeat offending”.

Mr Darmanin has announced that 30,000 police will be deployed across France for Sunday’s vote in an attempt to prevent “the ultra-left or ultra-right” from stirring up trouble.

The BBC spoke to voters in his constituency in northern France on Thursday who said they feared youths would go on the rampage whoever won, to express their anger at the political system.

Law and order is one of RN’s big priorities, alongside immigration and tax cuts to target the cost-of-living crisis.

RN candidates have also come under attack. Marie Dauchy described being “violently assaulted” as she campaigned at a market in La Rochette near Grenoble in the south-east.

A conservative candidate allied with RN, Nicolas Conquer, complained that he and a female colleague had been pelted with eggs. And last month another RN candidate was treated in hospital after he was set upon while handing out pamphlets.

Having won 33.2% of the vote in the first round of the snap election, called out of the blue by President Macron, Mr Bardella’s party is now aiming to win an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly.

But his political opponents have agreed to do all they can to block the far right from winning enough seats to form a government.

Seventy-six seats were won outright in the first round by candidates who won more than half the local vote in their constituency, including 39 RN candidates and their allies.

The other 501 seats will be settled in run-off votes, and 217 third-placed candidates have pulled out of the race to hand a rival a better chance of defeating RN. Of those 217 withdrawals, 130 candidates came from the left-wing New Popular Front and 81 from the Macron alliance.

Marine Le Pen has complained bitterly about the operation to secure “mass withdrawals”, and blamed those who sought to “stay in power against the will of the people”.

However, she said she thought there was still a chance of winning an absolute majority, if the electorate turned out in big numbers.

The latest Ifop poll suggests RN will win 210-240 seats, short of the 289 it needs to form a government. That is down on the 240-270 range of seats that it was estimated to win after the first round.

Nevertheless there is fear among some of France’s minorities of what RN might do if it gets into power.

It aims to give French citizens “national preference” over immigrants for jobs and housing and to abolish the right to automatic French citizenship for children of foreign parents, if those children have spent five years in France from the age of 11 to 18.

Dual citizens would also be barred from dozens of sensitive jobs.

One Muslim woman in a district that voted 54% for RN last Sunday told the BBC that RN was gaining ground with every election that took place.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are investigating an extremist “patriotic network” website that published a list of almost 100 lawyers “for eliminating”, after they signed an open letter against National Rally.

On the eve of France’s quarter-final tie against Portugal in the European Championships in Germany, national football captain Kylian Mbappé called on voters to “make the right choice”.

After Sunday’s “catastrophic” first-round results, he said “we can’t put the country into the hands of those people”, without specifying who they were.

French elections: How do they work and why are they so significant?

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call two rounds of elections on 30 June and 7 July is seen by rivals and allies as a reckless gamble that is about to hand political power to the far right.

His aim was to regain control of French politics, but that’s not what the opinion polls say will happen.

Why is France holding elections?

Mr Macron had no need to call National Assembly elections for another three years.

But an hour after his Renew alliance was trounced in European elections by the far-right National Rally party of Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen on 9 June, the French president went on TV to say he couldn’t act as if nothing had happened.

His party came third and he said it was time for France’s people and politicians “who do not recognise themselves in the extremist fever” to build a new coalition. It was, he said later, the “most responsible solution”.

What was Macron thinking?

Apparently Mr Macron had been thinking about calling an election for months, but it came out of the blue even for his closest colleagues.

France is on the cusp of a massive event, with the Paris Olympics running from 26 July to 11 August. It has now had a lightning-fast election campaign as well.

Mr Macron clearly wanted to break a logjam, after his failure to secure an absolute majority in the National Assembly in June 2022. Passing laws has become a real headache – he had to force through pension reforms without a vote while tougher immigration rules required National Rally support.

“France needs a clear majority if it is to act in serenity and harmony,” Mr Macron argues. And yet he has left French politics and his own party in turmoil.

His centrist Ensemble alliance of Renaissance, Horizons and MoDem is languishing in the polls, behind a swiftly formed left-wing New Popular Front, made up of Socialists, Greens, Communists and the far-left France Unbowed (LFI).

“He killed off the presidential majority,” said Horizons leader and ex-Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

“This decision has created everywhere in our country, in the French people, worry, incomprehension, sometimes anger,” says Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Why are these elections so significant?

For the first time in France, National Rally could win power, despite widespread appeals to voters to steer clear of extremes.

RN is led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella and in parliament by Marine Le Pen, who has fought for the presidency three times and lost each time.

But each time she won more votes. Now the polls says her party could become the biggest in France, falling short of an absolute majority.

Ms Le Pen also has an eye on the next presidential election in three years’ time.

How do French elections work?

There are 577 seats in the National Assembly, including 13 overseas districts and 11 constituencies that represent French citizens abroad. For an absolute majority a party needs 289.

The Macron alliance had only 250 seats in the outgoing Assembly and had to build support from other parties every time to pass a law.

The first round eliminates all candidates who fail to win the support of 12.5% of locally registered voters.

Anyone who scores more than 50% of the vote with a turnout of at least a quarter of the local electorate wins automatically. That normally happens only in a handful of constituencies, but the RN believes this time it could win dozens.

The second round is a series of run-offs fought either by two, three or sometimes four candidates.

Because turnout is expected to be high, Ipsos pollster Brice Teinturier estimates at least 250 seats could become three-way races next Sunday.

Some candidates may drop out before 7 July to give an ally a better chance of stopping a rival from winning, for example from the far right.

What will happen?

The two-round system means nothing is certain, but political expert Jérôme Jaffré says there is a real risk for the Macron camp that many of their MPs will either not qualify at all for the run-offs or scrape through in third place.

RN have 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, but polls suggest they could win 220 to 260.

Until now voters have traditionally used “le vote utile” – tactical voting – to form a “barrage” and keep the far right out.

But that barrage is this time more likely to benefit the left than Mr Macron’s Ensemble. And many voters in the centre might prefer RN over the Popular Front, because of the dominance of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left France Unbowed.

What if Macron’s party loses?

Whoever wins, Mr Macron has said he will not resign as president.

If his party loses, and National Rally wins, then the question is whether RN can win an absolute majority of 289 seats, or a relative majority similar to that held since 2022 by the Macron camp.

An RN victory could open the door to almost three years of “cohabitation”, or power-sharing, when the president of one party heads the state and another party runs the government.

It’s happened before, with domestic policy in the hands of the prime minister and foreign and defence policy in the hands of the president.

Will Jordan Bardella be PM?

Not necessarily.

Under the constitution it is Mr Macron who decides who leads the next government. And Mr Bardella says he will not become prime minister if RN doesn’t secure that absolute majority: “I don’t want to be the president’s assistant.”

A relative majority, he said, would leave him unable to act: “I’m not going to sell the French people measures or actions that I couldn’t follow through.”

But Mr Macron does have to reflect the make-up of the new Assembly, so if National Rally are the predominant party he could find it hard to choose someone else.

Party campaign posters proclaim Mr Bardella as prime minister. He has a big presence on TikTok but his biggest job has been as a member of the European Parliament since 2019.

Has cohabitation happened in France before?

Not for more than 20 years, as parliamentary elections now come hard on the heels of presidential votes, and voting preferences do not change much within that time.

There have been three periods of cohabitation in the past:

1997-2002 Socialist Lionel Jospin was prime minister under centre-right President Jacques Chirac

1993-95 Centre-right Prime Minister Edouard Balladour worked with Socialist President François Mitterrand during his second term

1986-88 Jacques Chirac was prime minister under President François Mitterrand

But nothing has really prepared France for the kind of cohabitation that could occur after 7 July.

Is National Rally still far-right?

For years Marine Le Pen has sought to “de-diabolise” or detoxify her party from the antisemitic and extremist roots of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his fellow founders of the National Front, which she renamed as National Rally.

Much of its focus now is on the cost-of-living crisis, but many of its strict anti-immigration policies remain and a ruling this year by the Council of State, France’s highest court for administration, confirmed it could be considered “extreme right”.

France football captain Kylian Mbappé has warned his compatriots “the extremes are at the gates of power”, prompting Mr Bardella to hit back at multimillionaire sports figures “giving lessons to people struggling to make ends meet”.

Mr Bardella wants to ban French dual nationals from sensitive strategic posts, calling them “half-nationals”. He also wants to limit social welfare for immigrants and get rid of the automatic right to French citizenship for children with foreign-born parents.

But a planned ban on wearing headscarves in public is for now not a priority.

Anti-Nato and anti-EU policies have also been softened and National Rally’s close ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia have been quietly dropped.

Leaving the EU has not been on the agenda since 2022. Instead, Mr Bardella focuses on cutting VAT (sales tax) on energy and a list of 100 essential goods and repealing the Macron pension reforms in a matter of months.

What does the left promise?

The New Popular Front is an unlikely alliance of Socialists, Greens, Communists and France Unbowed.

They have promised to scrap the Macron pension and immigration reforms and their platform is otherwise based on the idea that “it’s either the far right, or us”.

President Macron has attacked the group as being “totally immigrationist” and allowing people to change gender at their town hall, an accusation that has prompted allegations of transphobia.

The Popular Front has promised to fight antisemitism, even though it includes candidates who have been accused of making antisemitic remarks.

She accused Assange of sexual assault, but is glad he’s now free

By Phelan ChatterjeeBBC News

Swedish human rights activist Anna Ardin is glad Julian Assange is free.

But the claims she has made about him suggest she would have every reason not to wish him well.

She is one of two women who accused the WikiLeaks founder of sexual assault 14 years ago.

The allegations – which Assange has always denied – were explosive, and made headlines across the world. They set off a chain of events which saw him trying to avoid extradition to Sweden by seeking asylum in a London embassy for seven years.

In 2019 the Swedish authorities ended their investigation. However, he spent the next five years in a British prison fighting extradition to the US, where he faced prosecution over massive leaks of confidential information.

These include US army footage showing Iraqi civilians being killed, and documents suggesting the US military killed hundreds of Afghan civilians in unreported incidents.

Assange was eventually freed last month, after a plea deal with the US.

Ardin is fiercely proud of Assange’s work for WikiLeaks, and insists that it should never have landed him behind bars.

“We have the right to know about the wars that are fought in our name,” she says.

“I’m sincerely happy for him and his family, that they can be together. The punishment he’s got has been very unproportionate.”

Speaking to Ardin over Zoom in Stockholm, it quickly becomes clear that she has no problem keeping what she sees as the two Assanges apart in her head – the visionary activist and the man who she says does not treat women well.

She is at pains to describe him neither as a hero nor a monster, but a complicated man.

The 45-year-old activist is also a Christian deacon, with a belief in forgiveness, and she uses the words “truth” and “transparency” again and again throughout the interview. It might explain why she is in awe of what WikiLeaks accomplished but, at the same time, bitterly disappointed that the assault allegations she made against Assange were never formally tested.

Ardin describes her encounter with Assange in her book, No Heroes, No Monsters: What I Learned Being The Most Hated Woman On The Internet.

In 2010, just three weeks after WikiLeaks’ release of the Afghan war logs, she invited him to Stockholm to take part in a seminar organised by the religious wing of Sweden’s Social Democrats.

Assange did not want to stay at a hotel for security reasons and Ardin was due to be away, so she offered him her flat. But she returned early.

After an evening of discussing politics and human rights, they ended up having what she describes as uncomfortable sex during which she says he humiliated her.

Ardin says she agreed to have sex with Assange as long as he used a condom, but the condom broke and he continued.

Ardin suspects he broke it deliberately. If this was the case, he probably would have committed an offence under Swedish law.

Later, Ardin writes that she heard from another woman – named in legal papers as SW – who had attended the seminar. SW apparently said that Assange had penetrated her without her consent when she was asleep.

In a 2016 statement to Swedish prosecutors, Assange maintained that his sexual relationship with SW was entirely consensual, and that in texts seen by his lawyers, she told a friend that she had been “half asleep”.

Both women filed police reports – Ardin’s case was categorised as alleged sexual misconduct, and SW’s as alleged rape.

The press got hold of the reports, setting off an extraordinary series of events.

Assange denied the allegations, and suggested that they were a US set-up. WikiLeaks had just leaked 76,000 US military documents – sparking massive global attention and scrutiny of US foreign policy.

On 21 August, 2010, WikiLeaks tweeted: “We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks’. Now we have the first one.”

Another post followed the next day: “Reminder: US intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks as far back as 2008.”

Assange’s UK lawyer Mark Stephens claimed that a “honeytrap” had been sprung and that “dark forces” were at work.

A social media furore erupted which Ardin describes as “hell” – she tells me the amount of harassment and death threats forced her to leave Sweden at one point.

“I couldn’t work. My life passed me by for two years.”

To this day, many believe Ardin is part of a US conspiracy, and that her allegations are false. Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, a long-time supporter of Assange, last week described her claims as “mud” and “innuendo”.

No evidence has ever been found to link Ardin with US intelligence. She concedes that the narratives spread by Assange had an air of plausibility, because he had been “messing with the Pentagon”, but says the claims were nothing but “lies” and a “smear campaign”.

Months after the incidents, an international arrest warrant was issued for Assange, who was in London at that point.

In December 2010, he admitted to the BBC that it was “not probable” he was part of a classic honey-trap operation – but he still denied any wrongdoing.

Assange was convinced that if he went to Sweden he would then be extradited to the US – where he feared the death penalty awaited. In 2012, he took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Sweden refused to guarantee he would not be extradited to the US, but said any move to do so would need to be approved by the UK too. Both countries also said they would not extradite him if they thought he might face the death penalty.

In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into Ardin’s allegations as time had run out.

In 2019, prosecutors abandoned their investigation into SW’s claims, saying the evidence had “weakened considerably due to the long period of time since the events in question”.

By this time, Assange was being held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, facing extradition to the US on espionage charges. If convicted there, he could have faced 170 years behind bars.

Assange finally won his freedom in 2024, after agreeing to plead guilty to a single charge under the US Espionage Act.

Ardin still wishes he had faced trial for the alleged assault against her. “But he won’t. So I have to let it go.”

She says some of her doubters don’t take her seriously because they don’t think the details of her experience, or reaction, were dramatic enough.

She suggests there’s an expectation of sexual assault to always be brutal, involve a lot of violence, and leave the victim heavily traumatised – and if that doesn’t happen you can’t be a real victim, or a real offender.

But that doesn’t align with what Ardin describes as the reality of her experience. She stresses that doesn’t make it any less serious or unacceptable.

She slams many of Assange’s supporters – and journalists – for seeking a “one-sided narrative” which turns him into a hero, and her into an evil CIA agent.

“I think that we have a problem that we have to have these heroes that are flawless… I don’t think heroes exist outside fairytales.”

Ardin says her intention was never to write off Assange as a one-dimensional villain, to be “kicked out of society”.

Offenders are seen as “monsters, completely different from all other men”, she says. And this means the “system goes on”, she argues, as “normal” men don’t realise that they, too, can be prone to violence – so they don’t interrogate themselves.

“I want him to be seen as a normal guy. That’s what normal guys do sometimes. They cross other people’s boundaries.”

She thinks that progressive movements often have problems calling out leaders, fearing any criticism delegitimises the entire cause. “You can’t be a leader and abuse the people who are active in your movement, because the movement will not survive.”

People should not be able to get away with sexual crimes, or any crimes just because they’re influential, she adds.

The BBC contacted Assange’s lawyers for comment on the claims repeated by Ardin in our interview with her, but they said he was “not in a position to respond”.

I ask what justice would have looked like for her at the end of this saga.

Ardin tells me she is only interested in getting to what she describes as the truth. She is less interested in punishment.

“Justice for me would have been to have transparency. I was not happy that he was locked up because he was [locked up] for the wrong reason.”

Ardin is a left-wing Christian who attaches great importance to reconciliation and transformation.

But for that to be possible, she says that perpetrators need to own up and genuinely commit to change.

After all this contemplation, I wonder what she would say to Assange, if face to face with him now.

Ardin tells me she would urge him to work on himself.

She would ask him to admit that he “did not have the right to do what he did to me, and he doesn’t have that right towards other women either”.

“He has to admit that for himself… He has to reflect on what he did.”

BBC Action Line

‘I’m worried’ – Democrats at Biden rally open to change

By Mike WendlingBBC News, Madison, Wisconsin
Democratic voters chime in on Biden’s ability to run for office

The hundreds of die-hard Democrats who turned out to see Joe Biden in Wisconsin on Friday didn’t need much convincing.

The US president received an enthusiastic response to his loudly delivered remarks at the rally in Madison, especially when he attacked his Republican rival Donald Trump.

But as some major Democratic donors and lawmakers call on Mr Biden to exit the presidential race, even some of his most ardent supporters here in Madison are keeping an open mind about whether he might be replaced – and what might come next.

“It’s OK to change our minds,” said Catherine Emmanuelle, 44, who paused and considered her thoughts carefully before outlining her opinion.

She stressed that she was impressed with Mr Biden’s 17-minute speech, which she called a “presidential litmus test”.

“But if something happens in three days or a week or three weeks, we shouldn’t be afraid of having a conversation about change,” she told BBC News.

Mr Biden is under tremendous scrutiny after a disastrous debate performance last week, marked by a hoarse voice and several instances where he lost his train of thought.

The president, 81, is facing a tide of doubts about his mental acuity and ability to beat Trump, 78, in November’s election.

  • Listen: Americast – I’m still standing: Biden strikes back

Friday’s rally, held in this reliably Democratic town in a critical swing state, was an indication of the support Mr Biden still has in many parts of the country.

But the raucous crowd, which waited through several opening speakers and a hour-long delay from the planned start time, was also shot through with low-grade anxiety.

“I’m worried about his capacity to beat Trump,” said Thomas Leffler, a 33-year-old health researcher.

“As he gets older, I think it’s going to increasingly be an issue. But I’ll vote blue no matter what,” he said – a reference to the Democratic Party’s signature colour.

Mr Leffler suggested that picking a new candidate might have unexpected benefits.

“If you go through some sort of open process, you can re-energise people, and show that there’s a process better than what Republicans have, which is basically just to bow down to Donald Trump,” he said.

Earlier this year, both the president and Trump secured the delegates needed to be their party’s respective presumptive candidates.

The Democrats’ nominee will officially be chosen at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago from 19-22 August.

On Friday, Mr Biden was defiant about staying in the race, telling the crowd: “I am running and going to win again.”

Some of the biggest cheers on Friday came when the president directly went after his predecessor.

“Trump is not just a convicted criminal,” he said. “He’s a one man crime wave.”

The prospect of a second Trump administration was an animating factor for many who came to the rally.

“During the debate, he told a bunch of lies,” said Greg Hovel, 67. “How is that any worse than what Biden did?”

Mr Hovel said he believed the country was in a “great place” and that Mr Biden didn’t get enough credit for his economic and pandemic recovery policies.

“At this point, in the next six weeks, the Democratic Party is going to have to make up its mind” whether to retain Mr Biden as their candidate or pick someone new, he said.

But the president’s performance on Friday further bolstered something he strongly believed, even before the speech.

“I think Biden can win,” he said.

More on the election

  • Where Biden and Trump stand on key issues
  • What’s in Trump’s second term wish list, Project 2025
  • What Moscow, Delhi and Beijing make of rematch
  • Who will be Trump’s vice-president?

Forget Ethiopia’s Spice Girls – this singer salutes the true queens

By Penny DaleJournalist

Gabriella Ghermandi recalls with laughter the annoyance she felt about the so-called Ethiopian Spice Girls – charity-backed pop group Yegna that hoped to change narratives and empower girls and women through music.

The all-female group sparked controversy in the UK because it was partly funded by British aid and some say it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. But for Ghermandi, assumptions that Ethiopian women had to be taught by outsiders was the issue.

“I was like, what?” Ghermandi tells the BBC. “They want to teach us how to empower women? Ethiopia? With all its epics of women?”

So, Ghermandi – an Ethiopian-Italian author, singer, producer and ethno-musicologist – also turned to music as a way of “saying to the world that we have a huge history about brave women who had as much power as men”.

The result is a nine-track album called Maqeda – the Amharic name for the Queen of Sheba, a hugely important figure in Ethiopian history.

Every song is an homage to female figures, communities, rituals and musical styles.

Many would label this album Ethio-jazz but it encompasses so much more, says Ghermandi.

“It’s a very rooted Ethiopian music, but at the same time, there are very prog sounds, very rocky and punk sounds. You can find everything”.

Maqeda was lovingly developed over four years, bringing together the Ethiopian and Italian musicians she has worked with since 2010 as the Atse Tewodros Project – plus Senegalese guest musicians, as well as a beat-boxer and a body music performer.

“We wanted to digest the music,” says Ghermandi of the collaboration, adding that every musician had a role in the arrangements “because I really wanted my two countries to be one”.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1965, to a father from Italy and an Ethiopian-Italian mother, Ghermandi recalls the international feel of the capital city where she spent her early years.

“Every place, every corner was [filled] with music and dance. And I think I learned the rhythm that has stayed in my blood,” she says.

On the same street as her mother’s clothes shop was a record store run by a Greek woman which blasted out an array of sound from Congolese music to the Beatles.

Fela Kuti and other African greats played at the nightclubs where Ghermandi would tag along with her older brothers, while on Sundays there were tea-dancing parties at an Italian expat club.

Although Ghermandi had no formal music training, a thorough immersion in Ethiopian musical styles came from the many wedding and church ceremonies that were part of family life.

Travel was another constant in Ghermandi’s childhood – thanks to her father.

In 1935 he left Italy to work in Eritrea, then an Italian colony. In 1955 he moved to Ethiopia and met her mother, who was 17 years younger.

His jobs in construction took him to remote areas, and Ghermandi would often visit.

She was only three months old when she was taken to the Rift Valley of southern Ethiopia. Her father wanted her to be given a moytse – or “sound name” – by the local Oyda people.

For girls, a cow horn is blown – and whatever sound is heard by a very old and very young woman waiting together underneath a tree in the forest becomes the sound name. Ghermandi’s moytse is tumlele, tumlele, tumlelela.

Her father died in 1978. By then, the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled Ethiopia and so, in the early 1980s, by then a teenager, she moved to Italy. Ghermandi now lives between Italy and Ethiopia.

But those cherished early experiences have stayed with her, and this latest album draws on childhood visits to Ethiopia’s remote communities as well as meticulous research as adult.

Ghermandi says she started with the community she grew up with – the Dorze people originally from the southern highlands of Ethiopia, whose women head villages and sing in powerful polyphonic choirs.

You can hear that way of singing – with up to six voices or parts, each with an independent but harmonising melody – in the song Boncho, which means “respect” in the Gamo language.

Ghermandi worked with an Ethiopian female poet to create Set Nat (She is a Female), to counter a common saying in Ethiopia that when a woman achieves something it is because she is as brave as a man.

“I hate this saying, because it used to tell me that it’s not enough to be a woman,” Ghermandi says with passion in her voice. “And I want to say to the world that being a woman is more than enough!”

The song is led by a choir whose call-and-response has a distinct, rhythmic feel in a 7/4 time signature. “This is very typical of a part of Ethiopia – and it is a memory of my childhood,” she explains.

Another track, Kotilidda, honours the matrilineal society of the Kunama people who live close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan. It showcases the avangala, a two-stringed instrument which sounds like a bass guitar – played only by the Kunama people.

“I really wanted to mix the Ethiopian traditional instruments with modern instruments because Ethiopia does not promote enough its traditional instruments outside the country,” says Ghermandi.

“I also want to show to Ethiopian artists that these instruments can have a dialogue with modern instruments – and be very modern at the same time, even if they are traditional.”

Saba, meanwhile, sings of the legendary Queen of Sheba’s camel journey to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon.

The masinqo – a one-stringed fiddle – plays an ancient Hebrew melody at the end, in recognition of the belief that Ethiopia’s Jewish community is descended from those who followed the son of Sheba when she returned home from what is now Israel.

Ghermandi points out the parallels between that ancient, likely mythical, journey and the very real journeys taken today by many thousands of Ethiopians who have fled conflict, oppression, drought and poverty for a new life elsewhere.

“In the song there’s the idea of walking – and the idea of facing all the things that you find during your journey.”

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Iran’s new president gives hope to some women and younger voters

By Kasra NajiSpecial Correspondent, BBC Persian • Caroline HawleyBBC Diplomatic Correspondent

A relatively moderate member of the Iranian parliament, Masoud Pezeshkian, has been declared the next president of Iran after beating his hardline conservative rival by a decisive margin in Friday’s run-off presidential elections.

The 69-year-old will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.

Dr Pezeshkian’s mostly young supporters took to the streets of the capital, Tehran, and other cities to celebrate – even before the final results were declared, singing, dancing and waving his campaign’s signature green flags.

He has given some of the nation’s younger generation hope at a time when many were despondent about their future. Some were even planning to leave the country to seek a better life elsewhere.

Representing the city of Tabriz in the Iranian parliament since 2008, he has previously served as the country’s heath minister.

In the 1990s, he lost his wife and one of his children in a car accident. He never remarried and raised his other three children – two sons and a daughter – alone.

His win has upset the plans of the Islamic hardliners, who hoped to install another conservative to replace Raisi and – alongside supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – control all of Iran’s levers of power.

At a polling station in Tehran, 48-year-old Fatemeh told the AFP news agency she had voted for the moderate as his “priorities include women and young people’s rights”.

Afarin, 37, who owns a beauty salon in Isfahan, told Reuters: “I know Pezeshkian will be a lame-duck president, but still he is better than a hardliner.”

Many voters boycotted the first round of voting last week, angry at repression at home and international confrontation which have brought Iran increased sanctions and expanding poverty.

They were also frustrated by the lack of choice in the elections. Of the six candidates who were allowed to run, five were hardline Islamists.

And there was a sense of despair that – with Ayatollah Khamenei having final say over government policy – there is little chance of real change.

One of those who refused to cast a ballot was Azad, a 35-year-old HR manager and activist in Tehran who has been jailed twice for criticising the Iranian government.

Azad, whose name has been changed for her own safety, says she is still traumatised from being kept in solitary confinement and enduring exhausting interrogations.

She told the BBC that regardless of Dr Pezeshkian’s win, the supreme leader remains the “puppeteer” in Iran.

“The reformists have had 45 years and they have made no effort to reform the political structure,” she said, referring to the time since the Islamic Revolution.

But in the run-off election on Friday, some seem to have changed their mind and turned out at polling stations, many voting tactically for Dr Pezeshkian in order to block victory for Mr Jalili.

He would have reaffirmed many policies that have been the subject of both domestic and international discontent, such as Iran’s controversial morality police patrols.

Mr Jalili took an anti-Western stance during his campaign and criticised the 2015 deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear programme in exchange for eased sanctions. Voters were concerned that if he won, his presidency could have antagonised the US and its regional allies – and worsened Iran’s economic situation.

  • Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian elected Iran’s president
  • Raisi’s death leaves Iranians with mixed feelings

By comparison, Dr Pezeshkian has called for “constructive relations” with Western nations, and to revive the nuclear deal to “get Iran out of its isolation”. He has said that Iran’s economy cannot function with the crippling sanctions currently placed on it.

A win for Mr Jalili would have also signalled a shift to a potentially harsher domestic policy, reinforcing the requirement for women to wear a headscarf.

Dr Pezeshkian is against using force to impose the compulsory hijab rule – a major issue in the past few years.

He has previously lamented the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who had been arrested for an alleged violation of the law. Her death sparked massive nationwide protests, unlike any the country had ever seen.

The president-elect is expected to take the reins of power in a matter of days to fill the void in government left by Raisi’s sudden death.

As well as pushing to revive the nuclear deal and ease sanctions, Dr Pezeshkian has promised to see Iran join international banking conventions. Conservatives have been reluctant to do so, depriving Iran of normal banking relations with other nations.

He has also said he will remove Iran’s extensive internet censors.

But it is unclear how much political freedom he will be given to bring about meaningful change.

He will have to “work across the conservative-dominated Iranian system to try and build support” for his more moderate agenda, said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London.

“He won’t have too much independent room for manoeuvre except on the economic portfolio that sits squarely with the president,” Dr Vakil told the BBC, adding that even there, “meaningful progress can only be achieved through negotiations with the US to obtain sanctions relief”.

Scammed by the fake Chinese police

By Elaine Chong and Ed MainBBC Trending

Chinese people around the world are being targeted by an elaborate scam in which criminals pretend to be Chinese police. A British-Chinese woman has told the BBC that she handed over her life savings to con men who wore uniforms in video calls and gave her a virtual tour of what appeared to be a police station.

Helen Young still has nightmares about the fortnight that she was made to believe she was on China’s most wanted list.

Scammers posing as Chinese police manipulated the London-based accountant into believing she was under investigation for a massive fraud back in her homeland.

Helen was presented with a mountain of fabricated evidence which appeared to implicate her in a crime she knew nothing about.

When the fake police then threatened her with extradition to a jail cell in China, Helen sent them her £29,000 life savings as “bail money”, in a desperate attempt to stay in Britain.

“I feel a bit stupid right now,” she says. “But there’s no chance I can know that’s not real. It’s so convincing”.

Helen’s story may sound extraordinary but there have been numerous similar cases in the Chinese diaspora.

China’s embassies around the world have issued public warnings about police impersonation scams, as has the FBI after a number of cases in the US. One elderly woman in Los Angeles reportedly handed over $3m, believing it would stop her extradition.

Typically these scams begin with the target receiving a relatively innocuous phone call. In Helen’s case it was somebody claiming to be a Chinese customs officer who told her they had stopped an illegal parcel sent in her name.

Helen hadn’t sent anything, and she was told she must file a police report if she believed someone had stolen her identity. Although she was sceptical, Helen didn’t hang up.

“Chinese people like myself because we were born and bred in China, we were taught obedience,” she says. “So when the party asked me to do something or my parents asked me it’s very rare that I will say no.”

Helen was transferred to a man who said he was a policeman in Shenzhen called “Officer Fang”. Helen asked for proof and he suggested they went on a video call. When they connected, Helen saw a uniformed man whose face matched the police ID he flashed.

Officer Fang then used his phone to give her a tour of what looked like a fully functioning police station with several uniformed officers and a desk with a large police logo.

“That moment all my suspicions are gone. So I say: ‘I’m sorry, I just have to be careful nowadays, there are a lot of criminals out there’,” Helen says.

While they were talking, Helen heard a message on the tannoy in the background, telling Officer Fang to take a call about her.

Officer Fang put her on hold and when he returned he was no longer interested in the illegal parcel. He said he had been informed that Helen was suspected of involvement in a large financial fraud.

“I said: ‘That’s nonsense’. He said: ‘Nobody says they’re guilty. So it’s the evidence that counts’.”

Helen was shown what looked like a bank statement for a vast amount of money in her name. Officer Fang told her that if she was innocent she must help them catch the real crooks. He made her sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell anyone about the investigation. Helen was warned that if she did, she would get an extra six months in prison

“He said: ‘If you tell anyone you have been interviewed by the Chinese police, your life will be in danger’.”

The scammers also made Helen download an app so they could listen in to what she was doing day and night.

Over the next few days, Helen tried to act normally at work. She spent her evenings working on a personal statement that she was ordered to write, detailing every aspect of her life.

Then Officer Fang called back with the news that several suspects were now in custody. He showed her written statements in which several people accused her.

Helen was sent a video which appeared to show a male prisoner confessing to police, and naming her as his boss in the fraud.

We have taken a closer look at the video, and because the suspect is wearing a large Covid mask, it’s impossible to tell if what you’re hearing matches his lip movements. It would be easy to add a fake soundtrack that mentions Helen’s name or another victim.

But for Helen – who had been convinced she was dealing with genuine police officers – the effect was devastating: “After I heard my name like that I was vomiting. It convinced me I was in deep, deep trouble.”

Helen believed Officer Fang when he then told her she would be extradited to China – even though she’s a British citizen.

“He told me: ‘So you got 24 hours, you pack your bags. The police are coming to take you to the airport’.”

Helen was told she could halt her extradition if she could raise bail. After sending over her bank statements for inspection, she was told to transfer £29,000.

“I felt terrible, because I promised my daughter to give her money for her first flat,” Helen says.

But a few days later the fake police were back. Helen was ordered to find another £250,000 or be extradited: “I was fighting for my life – if I go back to China, I may never come back.”

After Helen tried to borrow the money from a friend, he alerted her daughter. Helen broke down and revealed everything. But not before she had put her phone in a kitchen drawer and taken her daughter into a bedroom, and put a duvet over their heads so the scammers couldn’t listen in.

Her daughter listened patiently and explained it was a scam. Helen’s bank eventually refunded her money, but her ordeal could easily have had a bleaker ending: “For two weeks I hardly slept. How can you sleep when somebody is monitoring your phone?”

In her sleep-deprived state, she crashed her car twice. On the second occasion, she wrecked it entirely: “I didn’t kill anyone, but I could have. These types of criminal scam could kill people.”

Other victims of police impersonation scams have been pushed to even greater extremes.

In some extraordinary cases, some Chinese foreign students who can’t meet the financial demands of the fake police have been persuaded to fake their own kidnappings in order to seek a ransom from their families.

Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi of New South Wales Police fronted a publicity campaign to warn about so-called virtual or cyber-kidnappings, after a series of cases in Australia.

“Victims are coerced into making their own video of them being in a vulnerable position, to appear as if they’ve been kidnapped – tied up with tomato sauce on their body to make it look like they’ve been bleeding, and calling for help from their loved ones,” he says.

The students are then ordered to isolate themselves while the scammers send these images to families back in China, with a ransom demand.

The scam victims may also find themselves being manipulated into helping to scam others.

“Scammers will trick a victim into believing that they are working for the Chinese government. They will send them documentation and swear them in as a Chinese police officer,” Det Supt Doueihi says.

He says the victim – who may have already handed over money to the criminals – is sent to monitor or intimidate other Chinese students in Australia.

Many of these frauds are thought by experts to be run by Chinese organised crime groups operating from compounds in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Chinese state media has reported that tens of thousands of suspects have been returned to China over the last year.

Awareness of these types of scams is growing. We spoke to a student in Japan who realised he was being targeted by criminals, and recorded their conversation.

He asked not to be named, but shared the recording with the BBC. In it, the scammers tell him that if he revealed anything about the call to anyone, then he would be jeopardising the “investigation”. He refused to hand over any money and they stopped pursuing him.

He’s aware that he had a lucky escape: “I never thought it would happen to me. Just be really careful when you get a call from a number that you don’t recognise.”

For more on this story:

Watch BBC Trending: Scammed by the fake Chinese Police – now on YouTube

BBC World Service tells the story of scammers posing as Chinese police.

Holly Jackson: ‘Obviously, I love murder – fictional murder’

By Shola LeeBBC News

Bestselling author Holly Jackson shares her secrets for plotting a modern murder mystery – and explains how true crime has influenced her.

For the author of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, the process of writing a whodunnit is as meticulous as investigating a crime.

“I am obsessive about it,” she says. “I don’t quite have a ‘murder board’ because it’s not on the wall, but it is on the floor.”

Each scene in one of Holly’s books corresponds to an index card, which is then carefully placed into columns for each act in the story. The author admits this “does rather take over the room”.

While this is great for planning a storyline, Holly says opening her office door a “bit too ferociously” can literally blow her plot out of place.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder follows plucky heroine Pip Fitz-Amobi as she investigates a closed murder case. Pip soon finds a co-detective in Ravi Singh, whose brother was implicated in the crime.

Each clue, twist and turn in the story has been thoroughly discussed by Holly’s fans on TikTok; the hashtag for A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – #agggtm – has more than 58,000 posts.

And the story has now been turned into a BBC drama by lead writer Poppy Cogan, with Holly serving as executive producer.

The Guardian called the series a “very modern Nancy Drew,” with fans on TikTok praising the show, stitching their reactions with clips from the new series.

The BBC spoke to Holly about the process of writing her hit novel. “Obviously, I love murder,” she says, “fictional murder.”

‘I need true crime in my ears’

Holly, 31, from Buckinghamshire, published her debut in 2019. She won a British Book Award the following year and has sold millions of copies around the world.

While her fiction fits into the young adult category, Holly does not shy away from heavier topics, like crime. Her first novel, for example, follows the disappearance and apparent murder of a school girl.

And Holly says true crime content – like the podcast Serial – became a “very useful” tool when writing A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. The structure of the book feels like a podcast, Holly says, adding: “We have transcripts of dialogue the whole time.”

In the sequel to Holly’s first book – called Good Girl, Bad Blood – Pip even creates a true crime podcast herself.

And Holly says this research tool soon seeped into her real-life. “I can’t really do anything without a true crime podcast,” she says. “If I’m walking the dog or washing the dishes, I need true crime in my ears.”

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In the last ten years, true crime series have won international acclaim: Serial won a Peabody Award in 2015 and In The Dark– a long-form investigative journalism series – became the first podcast to win a George Polk Award in 2019. And, according to The New York Times, Serial has had more 705m downloads.

Even Holly is curious why crime is such a popular source of entertainment.

“Especially with young women,” she wonders, “is that like, an instinct in us that’s trying to protect ourselves?”

Georgia Hardstark is the co-host of My Favorite Murder, a US podcast that looks into historic and modern cases, with one episode covering the Dancing Plague of 1518 and the Paper Bag Killer.

For Georgia, part of the reason she is so interested in true crime is that it helps her feel less “paranoid” and validates her anxieties about life, she explains.

“That is at the forefront of my mind, constantly, you know, ‘What’s around the next corner? Are my doors locked?'”

‘I know who the murderer is’

For Holly, the line between fact and fiction is clearly drawn: unlike true crime cases, she always knows “the ending before I even write the first sentence”.

“I knew from the get-go who the murderer was going to be, this whole setup,” she says. “The slightly more complicated thing is not working out the mystery – it’s working out how Pip is going to solve the mystery.”

In A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, for example, Pip uses her Extended Project Qualification – an accreditation where a student independently researches a given topic – to interview suspects and keep track of clues for the case.

While Holly uses true crime as a “jumping off” point for research, she notes the content, often used as a source of entertainment, is “obviously, about real life people’s trauma”.

Jessica Jarlvi – a “Scandi-noir” writer and lecturer on the University of Cambridge’s Crime and Thriller Writing course – says things like true crime podcasts risk sensationalising these events.

“It just puts me off,” she says, “whereas in fiction, you don’t have to worry about that.”

In Georgia’s view, however, ignoring real-life crime – often with women victims – “is to sweep it under the rug”.

‘I don’t have passive readers’

Modern crime readers are “becoming more and more demanding”, Jessica adds.

Holly agrees: “I don’t have those passive readers, I have the really active ones who are looking to solve the mystery.”

On TikTok, fans of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder share videos with their predictions and suspect lists as they read along with the book.

In one video, a reader guides people on how to annotate the book to keep track, colour co-ordinating sections into “clues” and “conflicts”.

“It makes me have to up my game a bit more,” Holly says.

Wondering how to watch A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder? You can stream the series on BBC iPlayer.

More on this story

Western US bakes in heatwave

By Aleks PhillipsBBC News

A record-breaking heatwave that has already caused large wildfires in western US states is set to continue next week.

Around 130m people were under some form of heat warning or advisory on Saturday. Nearly 57m people remain under heat alerts, as at least one child has already died in heat-related circumstances in Arizona.

Meteorologists are warning that warm nights will lead to people suffering heat stress. Temperatures could reach 128F (53C) in Death Valley on Monday.

While it is hard to link individual heatwaves to climate change, scientists say they are becoming more common and intense because of it.

We have too many prisoners, says new PM Starmer

By Paul SeddonPolitical reporter • Sam FrancisPolitical reporter
‘Change won’t happen overnight’ – Starmer on broken prison system

Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to reduce the number of people going to prison through renewed efforts to cut reoffending.

In his first press conference as prime minister, Sir Keir said too many people found themselves back in jail “relatively quickly” after being sent there.

He added that intervening to prevent young people committing knife crime would be an early priority for his new government.

But he said there would be no “overnight solution” to prison overcrowding, adding: “We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons.”

It comes after he appointed a businessman as his prisons minister who has previously said only a third of prisoners should be there.

James Timpson, boss of the shoe repair chain which has a policy of recruiting ex-offenders, said in an interview with Channel 4 earlier this year that “we’re addicted to punishment”.

Labour, which won a landslide general election victory on Thursday, has promised to review sentencing after regaining office for the first time since 2010.

It has also inherited a ballooning crisis in Britain’s jails, and has already committed to keeping the previous Conservative government’s early release scheme in place to ease current levels of overcrowding.

Last week the Prison Governors’ Association, which represents 95% of prison governors in England and Wales, warned that jails were due to run out of space within days.

Tory ex-justice secretary Alex Chalk first announced plans to release prisoners early in October 2023.

Mr Chalk, who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in the general election, told MPs at the time the “prison population is greater than it has ever been” and the UK “must use prison better”.

However, he added: “We must do whatever it takes to always ensure there are always enough prison places to lock up the most dangerous offenders to keep the British public safe.”

Details of Labour’s review are yet to be unveiled, but Mr Timpson’s appointment has offered an early signal that a change of approach may be on the cards in this area.

Sir Keir has appointed him a member of the House of Lords, allowing him to take up a post as prisons minister at the Ministry of Justice.

The businessman told a Channel 4 podcast in February that prison was a “disaster” for around a third of prisoners, and another third “probably shouldn’t be there”.

He said too many people being in prison for “far too long” was an example of “evidence being ignored because there is this sentiment around punish and punish”.

“We’re addicted to sentencing, we’re addicted to punishment,” he added.

Prison ‘escalator’

Asked about his comments at a Downing Street press conference, Sir Keir did not offer a view on whether he agreed with those estimates.

But he added: “We do need to be clear about the way in which we use prisons.

“For so many people [who] come out of prison, they’re back in prison relatively quickly afterwards.

“That is a massive problem that we have in this country, that we do need to break.”

He said his party wanted to cut knife crime in particular, and cited his plan to set up a network of “youth hubs”.

Sir Keir, a former lawyer, added: “I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts and watched people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison.

“I’ve often reflected that many of them could have been taken out of that system earlier if they’d had support”.

Steve Searby – from the Prison Officers’ Association, which represents thousands of prison workers – told BBC Breakfast the situation “has been coming for years and years”.

“I cannot see how we are getting out of this crisis,” Mr Searby said. “The situation isn’t something which is going away, you have to deal with it. There is no immediate fix.”

He added: “You need to get people who know what they are talking about around the table.”

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Labour says it wants to create 20,000 prison places by enabling ministers to override local councils on planning decisions.

But it also plans to keep in place the scheme implemented by the last government under which some lower-level offenders can be released up to 70 days early.

Sir Keir said Conservative ministers had created a “mess” by failing to build enough prisons and mismanaging the prisons budget.

Defending his decision to keep the early-release scheme in place, he added: “We don’t have the prisons we need, and I can’t build a prison within 24 hours.”

The latest official figures, published on Friday, put the prison population of England and Wales at 87,453 out of a “useable operational capacity” of 88,864.

The SNP-run Scottish government, responsible for prisons in Scotland, plans to release between 500 and 550 inmates in the coming months.

It comes as Sir Keir convened the first Labour cabinet meeting in 14 years, telling his top team he expects them to hold themselves and their departments to the “highest standards of integrity and honesty”.

A Downing Street readout from the meeting said the prime minister told ministers “the whole country was looking to the government to deliver on their priorities”.

Following the cabinet, Sir Keir was grilled by journalists at his first press conference as PM.

Asked about tax hikes, Sir Keir said he would take “tough decisions” and face challenges with “raw honesty”.

The new Labour government faces tough choices on public finances, with forecasts suggesting major spending cuts.

But Thursday’s landslide victory in the General Election has given Labour “a clear mandate to govern for all four corners of the United Kingdom,” Sir Keir said as he set out plans to tour all four UK nations in the coming days.

Saturday also saw the final result of the general election, with the Lib Dems winning the Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire constituency.

The outcome had originally been expected at about 05:00 BST on Friday, but a recount meant the results were delayed until Saturday afternoon.

Candidate Angus MacDonald gained a majority of 2,160 over the SNP’s Drew Hendry.

It means the Lib Dems have won 72 Westminster seats. Six of these are in Scotland, meaning the Lib Dems overtake the Scottish Conservatives as Scotland’s third largest party in Westminster.

Across the UK, Labour won 412 seats while the Conservatives were on 121.

Flames, chains and grains: Africa’s top shots

A selection of the week’s best photos from across the African continent:

On the eve of Mauritania’s presidential election, a man arrives at the Grand Mosque in Nouakchott for Friday prayers…

Days later supporters of the incumbent president celebrate his re-election. The runner-up, an anti-slavery campaigner, alleges that the vote was stolen.

On Saturday, Ayra Starr becomes the first Afrobeats artist to perform on the Pyramid stage at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival…

Followed the next day by fellow Nigerian star Burna Boy.

Also on Sunday, South African singer Tyla appears at the BET awards in the US and takes home two trophies – for best Best New Artist and Best International Act.

Angola’s Silvio de Sousa and Spain’s Willy Hernangomez vie for the ball during an Olympic basketball qualifier on Wednesday.

Eritrean cyclist Biniam Girmay takes in the moment after winning the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday. He becomes the first black African competitor to win one of the 21 stages in this yearly feat of endurance.

Fishermen bring their catch to shore in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Saturday.

The next day, Nigerian golfer Georgia Oboh lines up her putt at the Dow Championship in the US.

Protests continue in Kenya on Tuesday even though an unpopular draft law to raise tax is dropped…

Young people have been at the forefront of these demonstrations in cities and towns across the country.

And on Friday in the Tunisian town of Nabeul, a woman spreads couscous out to dry in the sun.

BBC Africa podcasts

Cyclist fined for kissing wife during Tour de France

By Michael Sheils McNameeBBC News

French cyclist Julien Bernard has given a light-hearted apology after being fined for kissing his wife during a Tour de France time trial.

The Lidl-Trek rider was made to pay 200 Swiss francs ($223; £174) by the International Cycling Union (UCI) for stopping briefly during stage seven of the race.

The governing body said the fine was for “unseemly or inappropriate behaviour during the race and damage to the image of the sport”.

Writing on social media, Bernard apologised to the UCI for “having damaged the image of sport” but said he was willing to pay the fine “every day and relive this moment”.

Stage seven of the Tour de France is a short course of 23.3km (14.5 miles) and is one of two time trials in the race – where cyclists race against the clock for the best time.

The climb takes place in the famous wine region of Burgundy. According to Cycling News, Bernard was just 30 minutes from where he lives when he was met by his supporters.

As he reached the top of a climb, friends ran towards him holding signs and his wife stepped forward – at which point she gave him a quick kiss, holding their son who was dressed in a replica cycling kit.

A fine for the same amount and for breaking the same rule was given earlier in the race to Italian cyclist Davide Ballerini, after he stopped to watch Britain’s Mark Cavendish sprint to a record-breaking 35th Tour de France stage victory.

In a television interview following the stage, Bernard said the encounter with his loved ones had been a unique moment in his career and he had pushed hard earlier in the stage so he would have enough time to do so.

“It was really incredible. My wife has been organising this with some friends for a few weeks now and she did a really, really good job,” he said.

“On a time trial, you have time to enjoy yourself. It’s these moments that keep me going and cycling.”

Slovak PM in first public appearance since shooting

By Aleks PhillipsBBC News

The Slovakian prime minister has made his first public appearance since being wounded in an assassination attempt.

Robert Fico was shot several times on 15 May while greeting people outside a cultural centre in Handlova, about 180km (112 miles) from the capital Bratislava, after holding a meeting there.

He was rushed to hospital to undergo emergency surgery, before later being discharged to receive care at home.

On Friday, Mr Fico spoke during a ceremony at Devin Castle in Bratislava to mark Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a public holiday in Slovakia.

Cyril and Methodius were brothers credited with converting Slavic people in the region to Christianity in the 9th Century and creating an early version of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Mr Fico, 59, used a speech at the commemoration to criticise the supposed expansion of progressive ideologies and the West’s stance towards Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Moment leading up to shooting of Slovak PM

He said “meaningless” liberal ideas were “spreading like cancer”, and that there were “not enough peace talks” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the Russian invasion, according to local and international media reports.

Mr Fico, a populist who returned to office last October, is a divisive figure both domestically and within the wider EU, with calls to end military aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia. He has also proposed abolishing Slovakia’s public broadcaster.

His attacker, previously named as 71-year-old Jurac C, has been described as a writer and political activist.

Footage of the incident shows a gun being pulled in the crowd and five shots ringing out. The Slovakian PM was then bundled into a car by his bodyguards while the suspected shooter was detained at the scene.

In a video address posted on social media on 5 June, Mr Fico said he forgave his assailant and felt no hatred towards him, while blaming the attack on his parliamentary opposition.

  • Published

One of the bosses of the Aston Martin Formula One team said he was in his “dream job” as he prepares for his team’s home Grand Prix on Sunday.

Andy Stephenson has spent more than 30 years in the sport, starting with the Jordan motor racing team in the late 80s.

He is now the sporting director of Silverstone-based Aston Martin, which returned to Formula One in 2021.

The 56-year-old said: “When I was at school, I went to the careers office [and] said ‘I want to work with fast cars and travel the world’.” He said he was told he “won’t find a job like that, but fortunately I did”.

After returning to the sport, Aston Martin leapt from the midfield to be regular podium contenders at the start of 2023.

In 2024, the team have had several top-six qualifying positions for lead driver Fernando Alonso and sit fifth in the constructors’ championship after 11 of 24 races.

Stephenson said that although there have been significant changes in technology since he started in Formula One, “the aim is still exactly the same”.

“We want to go racing; we want to win races; we want to be competitive; and we eventually want to win World Championships,” he said.

‘Silverstone is special’

He said once the Silverstone site in Northamptonshire is fully open the team will have “close to 1,000 staff”.

“It’s certainly changed from the day I first walked into the factory owned by Eddie Jordan, where there were eight of us,” he said.

Stephenson, who is from Northampton, began as an engineer and now represents the team in discussions with the sports governing body, the FIA.

He said: “It is a lot of fun and has a lot of challenges; it’s not all champagne and trophies, but something that’s really, really enjoyable and a job that I love.”

The sporting director said Silverstone was a circuit “that’s very special to my heart”.

He said: “My mum used to work here as a young girl at the weekend selling burgers and hot dogs and I have been working here ever since, so it is really special.

“When you see a Formula One car at full pace around Silverstone, it still sends shivers down my spine.”

, external, external, external, external

Are deep shifts in Muslim and Jewish voting here to stay?

By Aleem MaqboolReligion editor

However big the headline change in the vote between the past two elections, drill down into two demographic pockets of Britain and you find staggering shifts.

It all centres around the relationships between the Labour Party and not just Muslim voters, but Jewish voters too.

It leaves a party in government that has made progress in winning back trust among people from one faith group while suddenly finding itself with a lot of work to do to win back many members of the other.

The drop in the Labour vote share among British Muslims between 2019 and 2024 very obviously played out in several constituencies. This happened most dramatically in Leicester South, with a Muslim population close to 30%, where Shadow Paymaster General Jon Ashworth lost his seat to independent Shockat Adam.

In the seat of Dewsbury and Batley, in Birmingham Perry Barr and in Blackburn, there were wins for independents in what had been safe Labour seats with large numbers of Muslim voters.

In places like Bradford West and the seat of Bethnal Green and Stepney in east London, sitting Labour MPs clung on with startling reductions in their majorities.

Mish Rahman, from Walsall, is not just any Muslim voter. He currently sits on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party, a body of fewer than 40 members.

He is furious with the party’s response to the killing of tens of thousands of people in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there.

“In my community it has got to the point where I am now embarrassed about my affiliation with Labour,” he says.

“It was hard even to tell members of my own extended family to go and knock on doors to tell people to vote for a party that originally gave Israel carte blanche in its response to the horrific 7 October attacks,” says Mr Rahman.

He lays the blame for the decline in Muslim voting for Labour squarely at the door of the Labour leader.

Sir Keir Starmer was criticised by many in his party, including councillors, for an interview with LBC in October in which he suggested that Israel “had the right” to withhold power and water in Gaza. His spokesman subsequently suggested the Labour leader had only meant to say Israel had a general right to self-defence.

Then when Labour MPs were told by the party leadership in November to abstain from voting on an SNP-led motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, some Labour councillors resigned and, for many Muslims, trust in their Labour MP was lost.

Faith communities are far from homogenous, of course. There are myriad factors that govern how a person will cast their vote, but faith does throw up a unique set of considerations that plays out in broad voting patterns.

Muslims are estimated to form around 6.5% of the population of England and Wales, with around 2% in Scotland and 1% in Northern Ireland.

Well over 80% of Muslims are believed to have voted for Labour in 2019. Research just ahead of the 2024 election suggested that had dropped nationally by up to 20 percentage points, and in some constituencies the Muslim vote for Labour clearly fell further.

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The contrast with Jewish voting data could not be more stark. In 2019, the proportion of British Jews (about 0.5% of the population) who voted for a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn is thought to have collapsed to just single figures. Research suggests that figure could have climbed back to above 40%.

“What we have seen is a huge bounce-back for Labour among Jewish voters,” says Adam Langleben, who was until recently the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Mr Langleben, a former Labour councillor and now director of Progressive Britain (formerly Progress), points to Labour wins in London in the Finchley and Golders Green seat and also Hendon as well as Bury South in Greater Manchester, all constituencies with large Jewish populations.

“Jewish voters returning to the party has undoubtedly delivered seats to the Labour Party,” says Mr Langleben.

“You don’t need a majority of Jewish voters to win in these constituencies, but you also can’t only have 7% of them voting for you and expect to win,” he says.

Mr Langleben had been a senior member of the Jewish Labour Movement but was one of many Jewish members of the party to give up their membership during the Corbyn era. When he left in 2019, he said it was on account of the party being “led by antisemites”, an accusation always strongly denied by those leading the party at the time.

“It was a situation that was all-consuming. I would be canvassing for the Labour Party in a Jewish area and had people in tears on the doorstep saying there was no way they could vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and I was trying to juggle this huge personal tension,” he says.

Mr Langleben puts Mr Corbyn’s problems down to both a lack of personal reflection about who he was associating with, and what he says was the party’s inability to deal with extreme elements in its base and tolerance of the use of antisemitic tropes.

“From day one, Keir Starmer pledged to work with the Jewish community to try to deal with the issues inside the Labour Party. For him, fixing what went wrong was a personal mission,” he says.

But given that Keir Starmer supported Jeremy Corbyn throughout his leadership, Jewish voters at hustings in synagogues and community centres around the country had been grilling Labour candidates as to why they should trust the current leader now.

“The Jewish vote is now split and that’s how it should be. The results show there wasn’t a dominant party of choice, and that’s healthy, and still represents a huge transformation for Labour,” says Mr Langleben.

So while mistrust clearly still remains, what is responsible for the transformation in the perception of the Labour Party among some British Jews?

The fact that the current leadership’s criticism of Israel’s response to the 7 October attacks has been more tempered than it may have been under the previous leadership may have contributed.

But long before that, Mr Langleben cites a change in the way complaints around “protected characteristics” like faith are dealt with by the party, but also refers to one thing that convinced him he was right to re-join the party.

“The fundamental moment was Jeremy Corbyn being suspended from the Labour Party and then subsequently having the whip removed, because it showed Keir Starmer’s determination and his willingness to take on parts of the party that previously he had not been willing to take on,” he says.

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is precisely identified by Mr Rahman too as the first major showdown between different wings of the party under Keir Starmer.

Except, as someone who had been inspired by Mr Corbyn from the days of Stop the War protests in the lead-up to the UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mr Rahman was on the other side, saying that was the moment when the alarm bells started ringing for him that the party leaders were not safeguarding the values he believed in.

Mr Rahman does not see the party’s anti-Muslim slant as being limited to its response to events in Gaza. He does not question there have been serious cases of antisemitism but does not believe all accusations of racism are treated equally.

“There is a clear hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party. Some instances of racism, including Islamophobia, aren’t taken as seriously as they should,” he says.

Mr Rahman cites the case of Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the EHRC, who was suspended for alleged Islamophobia.

Mr Phillips had said British Muslims were “a nation within a nation” and previously that their opinion was “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”, though later he suggested this had not necessarily been meant as a criticism.

Mr Phillips was readmitted to the party in 2021 without it going to a panel inquiry.

Mr Rahman, like many other Muslims, also points to Keir Starmer’s own comments, like those made in a Sun livestream during the election campaign, when he talked of migrants being sent back to the countries they came from.

“At the moment, people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they’re not being processed,” the Labour leader said.

“Can you imagine the Labour Party saying that about people of any other ethnicity? Saying they’re going to deport people to Israel or Ukraine or Hong Kong? It wouldn’t happen and neither should it,” says Mr Rahman.

Such is his disenchantment with Labour’s response that, coupled with wider concerns regarding the treatment of Muslims, he lays a serious charge against the party.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that Labour is currently institutionally Islamophobic,” says Mr Rahman.

Mr Rahman wants to use his voice to call out hypocrisy in the party while in government, in the hope that it will learn what he says is a lesson of this election – that no voter can be taken for granted.

Mr Rahman did give up his membership of the Labour Party once before, in protest at Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War.

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He, and other Muslims, felt persuaded to come back to the party in 2014 when the then-leader Ed Miliband condemned the scale of an Israeli operation in Gaza and the hundreds of civilian deaths.

Once again, at the same moment, Mr Langleben was seeing things very differently on the doorsteps of Jewish voters.

Even though Mr Miliband was himself Jewish, it was a time when polls were showing a rapid decline in Jewish support for Labour, particularly when the party’s 2015 manifesto talked about a parliamentary vote to recognise a Palestinian state.

“There were sometimes quite horrible conversations with Jewish voters who really cared about the issue of Israel,” says Mr Langleben.

“People in 2015 were accusing the Labour Party of antisemitism, but I think it fundamentally misread what antisemitism is. Then, it was a primarily about a foreign policy issue, Israel. That changed by 2019 when conversations were around a particular strain of far-left anti-Jewish racism,” says Mr Langleben.

For some of those supportive of the Corbyn-era leadership, that sense that criticism of Israel was being conflated with antisemitism was also something they felt occurred while he was leader.

The Hamas attacks of the 7 October 2023 happened during the week of the Labour Party conference and Mr Langleben says it was strange to see normal political business go on while he and other Jewish delegates were going through a difficult and upsetting period.

Ultimately, Mr Langleben says he has been pleased with the way Keir Starmer has handled the crisis, seeing it as Labour realigning itself with UK and US government policy on Israel.

This is precisely why during this election campaign, Mr Rahman had the hardest conversations on the doorsteps of Muslim voters he had ever had, with anger and frustration boiling over about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“If you look back at the history of the relationship between our communities and the Labour Party, it’s always been a one-sided affair of loyalty from our communities,” Mr Rahman says. The Labour Party’s roots in his own family go back to his grandfather, who was a factory worker in the 1950s and 60s. Mr Rahman talks of feeling “betrayed”.

Gaza of course is not just a Muslim issue, and not all Muslims ranked it is one of the key considerations on which they voted, but it had an impact.

Similarly, Israel policy is not necessarily a major consideration for all Jewish voters, and even for those for whom it is, there are those who are highly critical of the Israeli government and are at odds with the response of Labour under Starmer.

But while over the decades the Jewish vote has swung between the two main parties broadly in line with the general population, it would appear that if one puts to one side all of the rows over antisemitism, the party’s outlook on Israel does impact voting intention.

Separately, both Mish Rahman and Adam Langleben are very clear that their accusations of discrimination levelled at the party in different eras do not just relate to party policy on the Middle East.

Even if everyone can be satisfied that accusations of discrimination are dealt with equally, such are the modern tensions around Middle East policy that political parties may struggle to find a position that does not alienate some members of one of these faith communities.

Labour has achieved much in winning back the levels of Jewish voters it has, but it has also left huge swathes of loyal Muslim voters in Britain feeling politically adrift, and large swings in culture and policy over recent years leave many in each community needing convincing of the true nature of the party.

Biden interview fails to quell Democrat concerns over fitness

By Rachel Looker and Courtney SubramanianBBC News, Washington
Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos

President Joe Biden’s Friday night TV interview does not seem to have quelled an uprising within his own party to end his re-election campaign after a halting debate performance against Donald Trump.

A fifth House Democrat, Angie Craig of Minnesota, on Saturday joined colleagues in calling for the president to step aside, and reports suggest more could follow.

In his rare prime-time ABC News interview, Mr Biden dismissed his debate performance as just a “bad episode” and said only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to end his bid for re-election.

Mr Biden, 81, is spending Saturday at his family home in Delaware before two public events on Sunday.

There is growing unease among Democrats, although no senior members of the party have called for him to quit.

Some polls show Trump’s lead over Mr Biden widening, and many are concerned about losing the presidency and House seats, along with the Senate majority, if he leads the ticket.

Ms Craig, who is running in a competitive district in Minnesota, said on Saturday that she did not believe Mr Biden could “effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump”.

She said that while she respected his decades of service, “there is simply too much at stake to risk a second Donald Trump presidency”.

Minutes after the ABC interview, Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett, the first House Democrat to call for Mr Biden to drop out, said on CNN that the need “is more urgent tonight than when I first called for it”.

He said the longer it took Mr Biden to make a decision to withdraw, the “more difficult for a new person to come on board who can defeat Donald Trump”.

Other House Democrats including congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts called on Mr Biden to withdraw on Friday.

They join Arizona’s Raúl Grijalva’s call on Wednesday.

In his interview, Mr Biden declined to take a cognitive test and make the results public to prove he was fit to serve another term.

“I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test – everything I do [is a test],” he told George Stephanopoulos.

This response did not resonate with Democratic congresswoman Judy Chu of California, who told Politico that his answer was “unsettling and not particularly convincing” and that she would “be watching closely… especially in spontaneous situations”.

During the 22-minute ABC interview, Mr Biden rejected suggestions allies may ask him to stand aside, saying “it’s not going to happen”.

Mr Stephanopoulos pressed the president on his capacity to serve another term.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden, who is due to speak at a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday, thanked Vice-President Kamala Harris for her support during the ABC News interview.

Ms Harris has emerged as a top contender to replace him if he were to step down.

In an interview on Saturday at the Essence black culture festival in New Orleans, the vice-president said that November’s election was crucial to American democracy, but made no mention of Democratic disquiet about Mr Biden.

“Understand what we all know – in 122 days, we each have the power to decide what kind of country we want to live in,” she said.

She said Trump “has openly talked about his admiration of dictators and his intention to be a dictator”.

Essence was the first of a number events in July that appear to target female black voters, a key constituency for Democrats in November.

However, questions around Mr Biden’s candidacy and the potential for Ms Harris to take his place will be difficult to avoid.

Ms Harris has spent the last week close to the president, flying from Los Angeles to attend the White House 4 July celebration, sitting in a meeting with governors and Mr Biden, and also being involved in his call with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Vice-presidents have the delicate balancing act of projecting unequivocal support for their bosses while also tacitly proving they are up to the main job. That has been more so for Ms Harris as questions swirl around Mr Biden’s re-election bid.

However, some Democrats acknowledge concerns about Ms Harris as a presidential candidate. She struggled to gain her footing early in her vice-presidency as she was given responsibility for issues including immigration, student debt and voting rights.

Low approval ratings have dogged her in office, although they have improved in recent months. She has since refocused her attention on issues such as abortion rights, which Democrats believe will be crucial in November.

More on President Biden:

The far right is close to power in France. Will the rest of Europe follow?

By Katya AdlerEurope editor

How likely is France to wake up on Monday morning to a new far-right dawn?

That was the garishly painted, hotly debated scenario in media headlines, the EU in Brussels and seats of government across Europe following the first round of France’s parliamentary vote last week.

But despite the spectacular showing by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, the short answer is: an RN majority is possible. Not probable.

French centrist and leftist parties have strategically withdrawn candidates to bolster each other’s contenders ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round.

But the impact of this election will be seismic, whether or not the RN wins an outright majority – or whether Jordan Bardella, its social media-savvy young president, becomes France’s new prime minister.

Polls predict RN is all but guaranteed to win more seats than any other political grouping.

That means a decades-old taboo will have been shattered in France, a core EU nation.

The EU was born out of the ashes of World War Two. It was originally designed as a peace project, with wartime enemies, France and Germany, at its core.

Far-right parties were banished to the outer fringes of European politics.

Last month, world leaders gathered in northern France to mark 80 years since D-Day, the allied amphibious assault in Normandy that helped secure the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But now, “far-right” or “hard-right” or “populist nationalist” parties are part of coalition governments in a number of EU countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Finland.

There are challenges in labelling these parties. Their policies frequently change. They also vary from country to country.

And their normalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon. Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a centre-right politician, was the first EU leader to take the plunge. He formed a government with the post-fascist political group, Movimento Sociale Italiano, back in 1994.

Six years later, Austria’s conservatives went into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. At the time, the EU was so outraged that it blocked official bilateral contacts with Austria for several months.

Post-war political etiquette dictated the political mainstream must form a , a “health barrier”, at election time to keep the extreme right out of European governments.

The universally recognised term for that practice is French, which gives you a sense how passionately many in France felt about it.

In the 2002 Presidential election, some French voters clipped a clothes peg to their noses on their way to polling stations – a way of showing they’d vote for a candidate they didn’t really like, just to keep out the far right.

This was a far right that for years was led by Marine Le Pen’s father, with French former members of a Nazi-led Waffen SS unit in his party ranks.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Marine Le Pen’s ambition, 10 years in the making, to detoxify her father’s party – changing its name and trying hard to clean up its image – appears to have been a roaring success.

The now has a searing gash in it, after the leader of France’s centre-right Les Républicains struck a deal with the RN not to compete against each other this Sunday in specific constituencies. This was an earthquake in French politics.

Crucially for Marine Le Pen, those who support her aren’t embarrassed to admit it any more. The RN is no longer viewed as an extremist protest movement. For many, it offers a credible political programme, whatever its detractors claim.

French voters trust the RN more than any other party to manage their economy and (currently poor) public finances, according to an Ipsos poll for the Financial Times newspaper. This is despite the party’s lack of government experience and its largely unfunded tax-cutting and spending plans.

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Which begs the question, when you observe the angst-ridden despair in liberal circles in Europe at the growing success of the so-called “New Right”: if traditional lawmakers had served their electorates better, perhaps there’d be less of an opening for European populists to walk into?

By populists, I mean politicians like Ms Le Pen who claim to listen to and speak on behalf of “ordinary people”, defending them against “the establishment”.

This “them and us” argument is extremely effective when voters feel anxious and ignored by governing powers. Just look at Donald Trump in the US, the sudden unexpected breakthrough of Reform UK in Thursday’s UK election and the huge success of Germany’s controversial anti-migration AfD party.

In France, many perceive President Macron – a former merchant banker – as arrogant, privileged and remote from the everyday cares of ordinary people outside the Paris bubble. A man who made difficult lives even tougher, they say, by raising the national pension age and trying to put up fuel prices, citing environmental concerns.

It must be a source of frustration for France’s president that his success at lowering unemployment rates and the billions of euros he spent trying to soften the economic effects of the Covid and energy crises seem largely forgotten.

Meanwhile, the RN concentrated much of its campaign on the cost-of-living crisis.

The party has pledged to cut taxes on gas and electricity and to raise the minimum wage for low earners.

Priorities like these mean the RN should no longer be labelled a far-right movement, its supporters insist. They point to a widening support base and say the party shouldn’t be forever tarnished by its racist roots under Le Pen senior.

A similar argument echoes out of Rome. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, once used to praise fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Her Brothers of Italy party has post-fascist roots but she now heads one of the EU’s most stable governments.

She recently censured a meeting of her party’s youth wing. Members had been filmed giving fascist salutes. There was no room in her party for nostalgia for the totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century, she said.

While critics at home warn of attempts to influence Italy’s media landscape and Ms Meloni’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, her concrete proposals to tackle irregular migration have won plaudits from the European mainstream, including the EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK’s recently ousted prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Frankly, on hot-button issues like migration, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the political rhetoric of the far right in Europe and traditional mainstream politicians intentionally sharpening their speeches to try to hold on to voters.

Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was a prime example of this, and Emmanuel Macron too, the more he’s felt the heat of Marine Le Pen’s popularity.

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One of the inadvertent effects of mainstream politicians aping parties further to their right on migration is that it makes the original anti-immigration parties seem more respectable, acceptable and electable.

Witness the recent stellar performance in the Netherlands’ general election of anti-migration politician Geert Wilders, who has been regularly accused of hate speech.

The label “far right” is one that needs to be debated. Much depends on the make-up of each party.

But the kind of acceptance now enjoyed by Ms Meloni in wider international circles is still a remote dream for Ms Le Pen.

The RN insists a parliamentary majority is still within reach this Sunday. More likely, polls suggest, is a paralysed hung parliament or an unruly coalition government of non-Le Pen parties.

Any and all of these scenarios reduce Emmanuel Macron to a pretty lame-duck president.

Political instability at home means big EU powers, France and also Germany, are turning inwards at a time of great global uncertainty.

Wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine. EU and Nato-sceptic Donald Trump is poised to possibly return to the White House.

It’s a precarious moment for Europe to be without leadership. Voters feel exposed.

Even if not this Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s followers firmly believe their time is coming. Soon.

Scammed by the fake Chinese police

By Elaine Chong and Ed MainBBC Trending

Chinese people around the world are being targeted by an elaborate scam in which criminals pretend to be Chinese police. A British-Chinese woman has told the BBC that she handed over her life savings to con men who wore uniforms in video calls and gave her a virtual tour of what appeared to be a police station.

Helen Young still has nightmares about the fortnight that she was made to believe she was on China’s most wanted list.

Scammers posing as Chinese police manipulated the London-based accountant into believing she was under investigation for a massive fraud back in her homeland.

Helen was presented with a mountain of fabricated evidence which appeared to implicate her in a crime she knew nothing about.

When the fake police then threatened her with extradition to a jail cell in China, Helen sent them her £29,000 life savings as “bail money”, in a desperate attempt to stay in Britain.

“I feel a bit stupid right now,” she says. “But there’s no chance I can know that’s not real. It’s so convincing”.

Helen’s story may sound extraordinary but there have been numerous similar cases in the Chinese diaspora.

China’s embassies around the world have issued public warnings about police impersonation scams, as has the FBI after a number of cases in the US. One elderly woman in Los Angeles reportedly handed over $3m, believing it would stop her extradition.

Typically these scams begin with the target receiving a relatively innocuous phone call. In Helen’s case it was somebody claiming to be a Chinese customs officer who told her they had stopped an illegal parcel sent in her name.

Helen hadn’t sent anything, and she was told she must file a police report if she believed someone had stolen her identity. Although she was sceptical, Helen didn’t hang up.

“Chinese people like myself because we were born and bred in China, we were taught obedience,” she says. “So when the party asked me to do something or my parents asked me it’s very rare that I will say no.”

Helen was transferred to a man who said he was a policeman in Shenzhen called “Officer Fang”. Helen asked for proof and he suggested they went on a video call. When they connected, Helen saw a uniformed man whose face matched the police ID he flashed.

Officer Fang then used his phone to give her a tour of what looked like a fully functioning police station with several uniformed officers and a desk with a large police logo.

“That moment all my suspicions are gone. So I say: ‘I’m sorry, I just have to be careful nowadays, there are a lot of criminals out there’,” Helen says.

While they were talking, Helen heard a message on the tannoy in the background, telling Officer Fang to take a call about her.

Officer Fang put her on hold and when he returned he was no longer interested in the illegal parcel. He said he had been informed that Helen was suspected of involvement in a large financial fraud.

“I said: ‘That’s nonsense’. He said: ‘Nobody says they’re guilty. So it’s the evidence that counts’.”

Helen was shown what looked like a bank statement for a vast amount of money in her name. Officer Fang told her that if she was innocent she must help them catch the real crooks. He made her sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell anyone about the investigation. Helen was warned that if she did, she would get an extra six months in prison

“He said: ‘If you tell anyone you have been interviewed by the Chinese police, your life will be in danger’.”

The scammers also made Helen download an app so they could listen in to what she was doing day and night.

Over the next few days, Helen tried to act normally at work. She spent her evenings working on a personal statement that she was ordered to write, detailing every aspect of her life.

Then Officer Fang called back with the news that several suspects were now in custody. He showed her written statements in which several people accused her.

Helen was sent a video which appeared to show a male prisoner confessing to police, and naming her as his boss in the fraud.

We have taken a closer look at the video, and because the suspect is wearing a large Covid mask, it’s impossible to tell if what you’re hearing matches his lip movements. It would be easy to add a fake soundtrack that mentions Helen’s name or another victim.

But for Helen – who had been convinced she was dealing with genuine police officers – the effect was devastating: “After I heard my name like that I was vomiting. It convinced me I was in deep, deep trouble.”

Helen believed Officer Fang when he then told her she would be extradited to China – even though she’s a British citizen.

“He told me: ‘So you got 24 hours, you pack your bags. The police are coming to take you to the airport’.”

Helen was told she could halt her extradition if she could raise bail. After sending over her bank statements for inspection, she was told to transfer £29,000.

“I felt terrible, because I promised my daughter to give her money for her first flat,” Helen says.

But a few days later the fake police were back. Helen was ordered to find another £250,000 or be extradited: “I was fighting for my life – if I go back to China, I may never come back.”

After Helen tried to borrow the money from a friend, he alerted her daughter. Helen broke down and revealed everything. But not before she had put her phone in a kitchen drawer and taken her daughter into a bedroom, and put a duvet over their heads so the scammers couldn’t listen in.

Her daughter listened patiently and explained it was a scam. Helen’s bank eventually refunded her money, but her ordeal could easily have had a bleaker ending: “For two weeks I hardly slept. How can you sleep when somebody is monitoring your phone?”

In her sleep-deprived state, she crashed her car twice. On the second occasion, she wrecked it entirely: “I didn’t kill anyone, but I could have. These types of criminal scam could kill people.”

Other victims of police impersonation scams have been pushed to even greater extremes.

In some extraordinary cases, some Chinese foreign students who can’t meet the financial demands of the fake police have been persuaded to fake their own kidnappings in order to seek a ransom from their families.

Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi of New South Wales Police fronted a publicity campaign to warn about so-called virtual or cyber-kidnappings, after a series of cases in Australia.

“Victims are coerced into making their own video of them being in a vulnerable position, to appear as if they’ve been kidnapped – tied up with tomato sauce on their body to make it look like they’ve been bleeding, and calling for help from their loved ones,” he says.

The students are then ordered to isolate themselves while the scammers send these images to families back in China, with a ransom demand.

The scam victims may also find themselves being manipulated into helping to scam others.

“Scammers will trick a victim into believing that they are working for the Chinese government. They will send them documentation and swear them in as a Chinese police officer,” Det Supt Doueihi says.

He says the victim – who may have already handed over money to the criminals – is sent to monitor or intimidate other Chinese students in Australia.

Many of these frauds are thought by experts to be run by Chinese organised crime groups operating from compounds in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Chinese state media has reported that tens of thousands of suspects have been returned to China over the last year.

Awareness of these types of scams is growing. We spoke to a student in Japan who realised he was being targeted by criminals, and recorded their conversation.

He asked not to be named, but shared the recording with the BBC. In it, the scammers tell him that if he revealed anything about the call to anyone, then he would be jeopardising the “investigation”. He refused to hand over any money and they stopped pursuing him.

He’s aware that he had a lucky escape: “I never thought it would happen to me. Just be really careful when you get a call from a number that you don’t recognise.”

For more on this story:

Watch BBC Trending: Scammed by the fake Chinese Police – now on YouTube

BBC World Service tells the story of scammers posing as Chinese police.

Charge over alleged inmate and officer sex video

A woman has been charged over a social media video allegedly showing a member of prison staff having sex with an inmate in a jail cell.

The Metropolitan Police said Linda De Sousa Abreu, 30, from Fulham in west London, was charged on Saturday with misconduct in public office.

The Met added it began its investigation on Friday “after officers were made aware of a video allegedly filmed inside HMP Wandsworth”.

Ms De Sousa Abreu is due to appear in custody at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

In May, an “urgent notification” about conditions at HMP Wandsworth was issued by chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor.

It came after inspectors found Wandsworth was stricken with severe overcrowding, vermin and rising violence among inmates.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons declined to comment due to the pre-election period.

Ministry of Justice figures from June 2023, quoted by the House of Commons Library, showed HMP Wandsworth was operating at 163% of Certified Normal Accommodation – the standard that the Prison Service aspires to provide all prisoners.

There are more than 1,500 inmates at the jail in south-west London, which was built in 1851.

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England’s oddity of a Euro 2024 campaign was encapsulated by two qualities as they moved almost without trace into the last four of a major tournament once more.

Gareth Southgate and his players have heard, with justification, plenty about what they cannot do as a largely indifferent set of performances took them through the group stage and stumbling into the knockout rounds.

It is now time to give England credit for what they can do. The quarter-final win on penalties over Switzerland in Dusseldorf was another graphic example of a team making life difficult for themselves but still prevailing.

For all their misfiring so far, Southgate’s team have the capacity for individual brilliance bolted on to in-built resilience. In a campaign of contrasts, there is still the possibility of a glorious conclusion.

England may not have left it until the last 86 seconds to pull themselves away from the precipice this time, as they did against Slovakia in the last 16 thanks to Jude Bellingham’s moment of genius, but sweat may well have been forming on Southgate’s brow before Bukayo Saka’s drive levelled Breel Embolo’s Swiss opener with only 10 minutes left.

There was an irony in England’s Euro 2024 side looking at their most composed and in control during a penalty shootout – the cause of such heartache to previous generations.

Five flawless penalties from Cole Palmer, Bellingham, Saka, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold, combined with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s save from Manuel Akanji, got the job done. Next it’s on to a semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday.

England have existed in moments of brilliance in Germany. That has allowed strength of character to see them through.

It happened when Bellingham produced a stunning flying header for the winner against Serbia in their opening Group C game against Serbia, then most notably with the stunning overhead kick against Slovakia just as England’s cases were being packed for departure.

Against Switzerland it was Saka, England’s best player on the day, who produced the goods by cutting in from the right to send a low drive past keeper Yann Sommer. It was a deserved reward for an outstanding performance.

England’s win was settled on those penalties to give Southgate a record of three semi-finals and a quarter-final in four major tournaments. They still have to leap that last barrier and win a trophy but they are in a position to do so, almost despite themselves.

This is an England team who struggled to break down Denmark and Slovenia in two draws in Group C. They only got past Slovakia and Switzerland, the latter on penalties, after extra time in the knockouts. They have not set pulses racing and yet they are still in the last four.

Southgate switched to a three-man defensive system after a series of flawed midfield selections but it was a set-up just as lacking in menace until Saka dug them out of a hole.

England looked more comfortable in the system. And the drama and elation of the win on penalties offered up the temptation to don rose-tinted spectacles when much of the fare in Dusseldorf was average.

Saka’s goal, as with Bellingham’s against Slovakia, was England’s first shot on target, evidence of the lack of creation, even with a more solid structure.

England deserve their due for a refusal to buckle in the face of adversity, which has rescued them twice, first against Slovakia and now Switzerland. The fact that it actually takes adversity to jolt them into life is less praiseworthy, a fault that applies to Southgate as well as his players.

England had started to drift before Embolo put Switzerland ahead, Southgate instantly sending on Luke Shaw for his first action in five months, plus Palmer and Eberechi Eze, with Kieran Trippier, Ezri Konsa and Kobbie Mainoo the three men replaced. It was reactive management prompted by falling behind.

Southgate could say he was holding his nerve but it is hardly the sign of a considered gameplan to throw three players on the moment you have to score.

England have been making an art of living dangerously and getting away with it. The talented Dutch may not be as generous as Slovakia and Switzerland. But Southgate’s side are not easily beaten – and their confidence will be fuelled by the belief there is so much more to come from them if they can get it right.

Southgate will be assured by the composed performance of Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa as deputy for suspended Marc Guehi, while 19-year-old Mainoo was nerveless, making another excellent contribution before he was substituted.

Harry Kane is a concern, however, looking out on his feet for much of the game, and barely able to raise a gallop or a jump by the time he was substituted. He will be vital against the Netherlands so Southgate will hope the captain can regain his drive and energy.

As for Southgate himself, he now prepares for another semi-final as England – despite everything – stand one game away from the Euro 2024 final in Berlin on 14 July.

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For years, England fans, players and pundits have feared the very mention of penalty shootouts.

England have now been in 10 shootouts at European Championships and World Cups. Their record? Won three, lost seven.

But things seem to have changed. England have no reason to be scared of penalties any more – and based on the perfect shootout win over Switzerland, they have no fear at all.

Under Gareth Southgate, the Three Lions have won three of their past four shootouts – including beating the Swiss 5-3 in Saturday’s Euro 2024 quarter-final.

All five penalties were fired home with precision, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford crucially saved from Manuel Akanji.

This win follows shootout victories under the management of Southgate in the 2018 World Cup against Colombia, and versus the Swiss again in the 2019 Nations League third-place play-off.

The blot on the copy book is a big one – defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final. But it seems like this England team have not been shaken from the spot.

Former England defender Matt Upson told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We have players who have an arrogance and a confidence in themselves. That will help England because sometimes, these key moments and big games can come down to that sort of bottle.”

‘Pressure is for tyres’

As Alan Shearer memorably exclaimed as England celebrated Saturday’s shootout victory: “Pressure is for tyres.”

None of England’s takers – Cole Palmer, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold – looked to be feeling any pressure as they tucked their penalties away in Dusseldorf.

England scored all five of their penalties against Switzerland, making it just the second time they have netted 100% of their efforts in a shootout, also doing so at Euro 96 versus Spain.

Palmer lived up to the Cold Palmer nickname he has cultivated at Chelsea, sending Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer the wrong way.

Bellingham brought all his main-character energy to the shootout, rolling the ball into the right-hand corner and celebrating in his trademark, wide-armed manner.

Saka fired into the side-netting to gain redemption for missing in the Euro 2020 final, having scored the brilliant equaliser to drag England to this point.

Toney, sent on for England captain Harry Kane in extra time, was undaunted and scored into the bottom-left corner without even looking at the ball.

And to top it all, Alexander-Arnold – dropped after the second game of the Euros following a failed central-midfield experiment – smashed the ball into the top corner to spark bedlam and ecstasy.

They were all excellent, but Toney’s really caught the eye as he stared straight ahead at the goalkeeper and kicked the ball into the net.

“It is my routine. It is what I do. Some people see it as crazy but it is working,” said the Brentford striker who scored 30 penalties in his career.

Upson praised Toney’s approach: “He is addressing the penalty that the psychology is more important than the technique.

“He has got total eyes on the goalkeeper so can tweak and adjust which is why you see him hit it into the empty side of the net so often.”

‘Akanji: Dive left’

There were two other heroes on the pitch for England’s shootout – Pickford, and Pickford’s water bottle.

The England goalkeeper had every Switzerland player and the direction he should go when facing their penalties, including “dive left” next to Akanji’s name.

He did just that and saved Akanji’s shot.

Pickford has saved four of the 14 penalties he has faced in shootouts at World Cups and Euros, twice as many as all other England goalkeepers combined saved between 1990 and 2012.

While his saves from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho could not deny Italy at Euro 2020, his stops from Carlos Bacca in 2018 and Akanji in 2024 were essential in sending England through.

“I believe in my mentality and I believe I will save at least one,” Pickford said after the game, while also revealing he was threatened with a booking by referee Daniele Orsato if he did not stay on his line and stop putting off Swiss takers with his antics.

Anyone hoping to copy Pickford’s penalty preparations were left disappointed, however, as a question aimed at digging down into the subject at the post-match media conference was shut down by the England press officer, who said: “We don’t want to give away the secrets.”

Why were England so good at penalties against Switzerland?

Such is the growth in confidence of the current crop, there was no fear in subbing regular penalty taker Kane off in extra time, something which would have been unthinkable as recently as Qatar 2022.

It is the second successive game in which Kane has been taken off in extra time – both he and Bellingham were withdrawn against Slovakia in the last 16.

But in both games, England have been confident they have enough quality takers on the pitch.

Kane told 5 live: “I was weirdly calm on the bench. I see the way the guys prepare and the way they take them. We have a lot more players who take them for their clubs, and I know Pickers is going to save one.”

Toney, Palmer and Saka all lead on penalties for their clubs, as does Eberechi Eze who was unused against Switzerland.

The English attitude towards penalties has also changed. No longer are they seen as a lottery, but as something which requires extensive preparation and much skill.

Gary Neville told his Overlap podcast last month that they “tried everything” during his England career for penalties.

“We won one penalty shootout in my time. I recognise now we felt penalties was 50/50,” Neville said. “It isn’t. You have to have really good technical players on the pitch.

“Someone told me the other week what Gareth does. He takes three players to a very quiet area of the training ground. They take three penalties each in a real methodical way. Quite short but concentrated and focused. Basically, they are told to pick a place where they are going to take the penalty and they go in.”

Neville detailed some of the previous attempts. “We had penalty competitions, leading up to the tournament, which meant whoever won the penalty competition were the best five penalty takers. That was Sven in 2006 in Germany. That’s how [Jamie] Carragher ended up on the pitch, coming on for two or three minutes, as he actually won the penalty competition.”

Instead of using a casual competition as grounds for qualification to take penalties in a major tournament quarter-final, Southgate’s England take a rather more regimented approach.

Chris Markham spent four years at the Football Association (FA) as game insights lead, and worked closely with England managers in making preparations for penalties more professional.

Markham told the Daily Mirror, external: “I think I found quotes from each of the last five England managers before Gareth Southgate, not including Sam Allardyce, that said either the penalty shootout was a lottery, penalties are all down to luck, or that you can’t practice that kind of pressure.‌

‌“Luckily for us, Gareth and his staff were extremely open-minded and respectful of good-quality work. But they don’t suffer fools gladly so we knew it had to be at a really high standard. Talking about run-up steps, angle, pace, you know everything from breathing techniques, optimal areas of aiming, goalkeepers, looking at goggles.”

Bellingham gave 5 live insight into how that work has been taken on, and highlighted the role of England coach Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the former Chelsea striker who joined the backroom staff in March 2023.

“I was really confident in my preparation and the things I’d talked through with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink,” he said.

“He’s stepped up for us massively and it’s the work he does behind closed doors with the lads willing to take on that information that put us in those situations to be able to win.

“This is a massive team effort. Another thing is Dean Henderson, Aaron Ramsdale and Tom Heaton, who have been with us this camp, have been huge in helping us practice the penalties.

“They won’t get the credit they deserve but essentially if they don’t put in the right effort we don’t get to practice properly. And in those moments you don’t have the right practice to go out and execute.

“There is so much that goes into it now. You are always trying to find the edge in every game.

All that hard work has paid off, and now England have no fear of paying the penalty right now.

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Carlos Alcaraz inched a step closer to successfully defending his Wimbledon title with a hard-fought victory over Ugo Humbert.

The 21-year-old Spaniard held off a late charge from 16th seed Humbert to win 6-3 6-4 1-6 7-5 and move into the last eight at SW19.

It took Alcaraz’s winning streak at Grand Slams to 11 following his French Open triumph last month.

“I feel great playing today, I think I played a really high level,” he said.

“Playing a leftie, I try not to think about it and play my own game.”

Alcaraz will next face compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut or American 12th seed Tommy Paul, the Queen’s Club champion.

It seemed unlikely Sunday’s opening match on Centre Court would live up to the five-set classic Alcaraz played against Frances Tiafoe on Friday.

And it became even more improbable when, with little effort, he found himself two sets up in what appeared a relatively dull encounter.

But the three-time major winner suddenly faltered in the third set and Humbert stepped up to take advantage.

The Frenchman, 26, raised his intensity, hitting the chalk with brilliant winners and breaking serve three times to force a fourth set.

Both players struggled to hold in a tense set, and an increasingly frustrated Alcaraz turned to the crowd and his team for help, waving his arms animatedly to stir up support.

With their backing, the defending champion found another gear, impressively holding his serve under immense pressure and breaking for a 6-5 lead. Alcaraz then served out the match and, relieved, he applauded all four corners of Centre Court in appreciation.

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Italian Jasmine Paolini is into the Wimbledon quarter-finals after a tearful Madison Keys retired with an injury in the deciding set.

The American, 29, was forced to stop with the score locked at 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 5-5 on Court One.

Keys appeared to pick up the injury when she hit a forehand while serving for victory at 5-2 in the final set.

She took a medical timeout at the change of ends when leading 5-4 and was treated before leaving the court.

The 12th seed reappeared with strapping high on her thigh and was clearly hampered by the injury.

Paolini, 28, broke the serve of Keys again to level at 5-5 before Keys decided she could no longer continue.

“Right now I’m so sorry for her,” said Paolini. “To end the match like this is bad. What can I say?

“I think we played a really good match. It was tough. A lot of ups and downs. I’m feeling a bit happy but also sad for her. It’s not easy to win like that.”

French Open finalist Paolini had never won a match in the Wimbledon main draw before this year’s tournament.

After winning the first set, she trailed in the second 5-1 but rallied brilliantly to force a tie-break – which Keys eventually took on her fourth set point.

Keys established a big lead again in the decider before her injury.

Paolini will play the winner of the all-American meeting between Coco Gauff and Emma Navarro in the last eight.

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