Weekly News Review : 31st Oct – 6th Nov
Editors Weekly Poke
These are extraordinary and challenging times. The lockdown in England and the US election reminds us of this. Many are still thinking – what is going on and who do we trust. The immediate question is will Donald Trump go if he loses without an undignified exit that may well stoke already raised tensions? And then back home, has Boris Johnson lost control of the public health the economic crisis and where is that going? Both of these questions should be nowhere near the seats of power. More than ever, solid leadership should be providing a path for us all to confidently tread – but sadly, this is not the case.
For Johnson, it is clear he lives in a parallel world to the rest of us. His constant missteps over the handling of a national crisis in the form of Covid-19 have closely followed those he made over what is now the looming national crisis not just in the economy but in Brexit. In these cases, he only saw what he wanted to see, not the painful reality. With Brexit, he saw a twinkling world where the British economy would somehow blossom in its newfound freedoms by shunning its largest trading partner. With a global pandemic, he visualised a virus that would miraculously abandon the people of the British Isles while he shook hands with its victims and everywhere else in the world was being ravaged. It says a lot when your PM sees a world that simply does not exist.
How many times did government ministers go out and tell businesses that there would be no second lockdown? The trouble is, they believed Johnson. And as U-turns go – this one is about as destructive to the economy as it gets. In the space of just 48 hours, it is staggering just how quickly they shifted from ‘another national lockdown would be ruinous’ and ‘don’t listen to the experts’ to ‘screw you’ – this is what we’re doing to save our political skins. And the reality of the dreadful political games they play is that you can hardly blame people for being sceptical or dismissive of a government that really has no idea of what it is supposed to be doing.
As for the wider questions going on in the USA – it is depressingly clear that if it hadn’t have been for a global pandemic, Trump would have breezed through this election and secured a second term. After four years of a lying, dangerous, narcissistic fascist who openly displays his misogynist and racist tendencies – who separates families, cages kids, stokes violence and endorses white supremacy, whilst dismissing 230,000 Covid deaths – America has overwhelmingly demonstrated that almost everything is still broken. The election of Biden won’t change that. And we shouldn’t forget – Trump didn’t invent racism or fascism – he’s capitalised on the former and prefers the latter. The American people should have quickly dismissed Trump this time around – but they didn’t.
No matter what the result of the American election ends with, it will embolden the likes of Johnson, Gove, Cummings and the rest of their cronies in No10 to continue tearing down the democratic institutions of the UK. What they have witnessed in America is a playbook in action. They see that anything goes, that there is confirmation that truth and political competence no longer matter and that lying and propagandising is a route to keeping power. They are still learning the language of power grabs from the worlds foremost experts in Washington DC. Dominic Cummings will have analysed all of Trump’s successes and failures and will soon start to readjust the strategies to keep this miserable bunch of freeloading incapables in office.
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But there’s another lesson to be learned here. The fight to protect our great institutions, against nationalism, against deliberately stoked divisive culture wars and other dubious (often illegal) strategies will, no doubt, be arduous. After all, in Britain, rather depressingly, there is another four years of this government. But, the American election also shows us that they can be defeated. Lying and cheating has had its day. Immorality and malfeasance can be checked. Populism has had its moment. We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel because those traits failed. It is time to start the work of truly ‘taking back control.’ That is of democracy, of justice, the rule of law and most of all – of good governance.
Inside ‘Drowning’ Street
Matt’s Moonshot: The Moonshot plan was trailed in the newspapers papers as some sort of effort to show the way out of lockdown at the beginning of December. The reality is that the capacity to regularly test the whole population wasn’t originally expected to arrive until two months later and has since proven almost impossible for this government to achieve. In any event, even if the entire nation was regularly tested – the track and trace programme has been a total failure – and so what would be the point? To combat that, Boris Johnson has decided to shift any blame onto the public – “What needs to happen is that those who are contacted need to self-isolate and we’ll be making a big, big push on that” (source).
Bunker Mentality: There is deep concern among British business leaders that there is nobody in a strong position in Number 10 who really understands them or the economy more widely. They also express their views that there seems to be nobody who understands that global trade is primarily driven by large companies and their supply chains. David Henig – former UK director of global trade policy and a TTIP veteran commented on the ‘bunker mentality of Downing Street that has emerged (source).
Matt the Leaker: An investigation has been launched in Whitehall after details of the government’s plans to introduce stricter national lockdown measures were leaked to newspapers. If you’ve had your internet connect disabled – you might not know that the prime suspect is Matt Hancock. By the time the investigation is over, manipulated and turned into a propaganda piece – Dominic Cummings will be looking for a high profile scalp to throw under the Covid blame bus and it has Hancock’s name written large – he’s not popular anyway and dispensible (source).
The Big Lockdown Question: Lockdown2 was never going to be about rebels posing any type of serious threat to Johnson’s authority this time but he’s out a luck if infections/deaths don’t fall and wants to extend it further. Come December 2, when Downing Street has to decide its next course the Tory rebellion, this time just 35 MP’s could easily romp past 80 MPs, meaning Johnson is in big trouble. The next three weeks will determine a lot. Watch this space.
Biden/Brexit: A the time of writing the presidential election was not called. The expectation is that Biden will win. That being the case, Boris Johnson’s negotiating position with Brexit has just been dramatically weakened. The EU’s senior negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain was playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship and that what was emerging was “a recipe for disaster.” EU negotiating teams will remain in contact for the next few days over videoconference and talks will continue in London next week. Realistically, there is less than two weeks now to do a deal that could be in place by the year end. Tick Tock (source).
‘Fuck Business’: In June 2018, Boris Johnson was asked about corporate concerns over a so-called hard Brexit, at an event for EU diplomats, where Johnson replied – “Fuck business.” It appears that little has changed given that the government continues to warn business about the huge business interuption that Brexit will bring at the end of the year – but doesn’t actually what change. Goinf along this line of disdain of business – when Johnson did not show up to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference this week, it was only the second time in the history of the event the country’s leader had not spoken at it (source).
Thumbs Down: Just to give some perspective about what the public really thinks of Boris Johnson cosying up to Donald Trump. In Hanbury polling for POLITICO — not a single British constituency would back Trump. The poll confirmed that Biden would win 76 per cent of the vote here to Trump’s 24 per cent (source). For Johnson – he’s rapidly approaching a moment where he’ll be mugged by the truth. If Trump wins and Johnson attempts a trade deal with the USA – on their terms (as reported), there will be mass public protests. If Biden wins – Johnson is forced into doing a deal with the EU – and that deal won’t be anything as economically advantageous as the one we had (source).
Born to mislead: The FT has had enough of Boris Johnson both in terms of Brexit and its handling of Covid. These are just some of the words used to explain Britain’s PM – “Johnson’s missteps over coronavirus have closely followed those he made over Brexit … He went beyond patriotism to embrace British exceptionalism. As coronavirus spread in early February, he mocked the idea that it would affect the global economy, insisting that the UK was “ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles”, and act “as the supercharged champion” of free trade … These futile promises are a hallmark of Mr Johnson’s leadership… Some people are born to mislead…” – and so on. In other words, Boris Johnson is dropping adherents to his personal crusade like a drug dealer drops his goods in trade in a police raid (source).
Criminal Checks: Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee asked the Minister for Future Borders & Immigration what future border security checks will be in Jan if the UK loses access to the SIS2 criminal database currently used to check everyone. Neither Minister nor officials could say what system they have or what would happen (WATCH TWITTER CLIP).
Internal Markets Challenge: Boris Johnson is facing further legal action from the EU after he missed a deadline to explain why he is planning to break international law over Northern Ireland. The European Commission confirmed on Tuesday that the deadline to respond to the letter has now come and gone without a UK response, meaning the court action against the UK will move to the next phase (source).
Inside the Economy
No ‘V’ Shape: The unexpected second lockdown in November will set the UK economy back by as much as 10%, in a projection that departs from earlier analysis for the rest of the year. The four-week return to lockdown will create a contraction in November’s GDP of between 6% and 10%, Deutsche Bank said in a note on 2 November. Meanwhile, the fourth quarter is now expected to fall between 2.5% and 3.5%, up from the bank’s previous estimate of 2.1%. The bank said it is now “more likely” that 2020 GDP will shrink by just over 11% by the year-end. The faint hope of a ‘V’ shape recovery has now disappeared (source).
Darwinian Fightback: The coronavirus has created a “Darwinian moment” for the U.K. economy, which the government needs to match with a massive job creation program, the outgoing head of business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry said. Carlyn Fairbairn said that “permanent damage” to the economy would occur unless huge government investment was not made quickly. Proposing a new “national commission for economic recovery” consisting of businesses, government, unions, universities, colleges and local leader – Fairbairn said that to leave such an effort until after the crisis had ended would mean it was “too late” (source).
QE Ramped Up: The Bank of England is expected to launch another £100 billion of economy-boosting action on Thursday amid fears the new lockdown in England will leave the UK on the brink of a double-dip recession. Economists are widely expecting the Bank to unleash more quantitative easing (QE), taking its mammoth bond-buying programme up to £845 billion, as it looks to shore up the economy in the face of a second wave of the pandemic (source). At the time of writing – experts were not expecting policymakers on the nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to deploy negative interest rates … yet.
However: Given the QE is expected to be ramped up – investors are beginning to question how long the Bank of England can rely on bond-buying as its main tool for stimulating the UK economy, especially as the economy is not going to do well whatever happens. As investors appetite declines – the only tool left for the Bank of England will be to apply negative interest rates. The surge of bond-buying is now greater than at the peak of the financial crisis.
But, But: Given that QE is ramped up and that investors start to get cold feet buying government bonds – markets are already currently pricing in a decline in interest rates to roughly minus 0.05 per cent by the middle of next year. The UK head of rates at Aegon Asset Management said not only that rates will go negative but that it could easily go further than many expect – “they will get there eventually. And if you are going to go to the trouble of doing it, there’s not much point doing it in tiny increments” (source).
Public Protest Outlawed: The government are now very worried about the lockdown in terms of potential protests – which would be a very public message against this government. Consequently, demonstrations of more than two people are to be banned during the month-long lockdown in England after ministers removed an exemption that has allowed protests to take place in recent months. Priti Patel has briefed chief constables over enforcement after Boris Johnson’s ditched regional rules in favour of national measures to curb transmission of coronavirus across the country. In addition, the national terror threat has been raised to ensure everyone stays off the streets (source).
Hallelujah: At last – Twitter has finally suspended the account of the lizard loving, self-proclaimed ‘son of god’ conspiracy theorist David Icke, who had nearly 370,000 followers. Mr Icke has made numerous false claims about the pandemic and spoken at rallies against government restrictions against Covid-19 this year, which stoked up all manner of negative responses to an array of restrictions to help Britain combat the virus (source).
Fraud, Fraud, Fraud: These are the keywords that will be used against this government when Covid is finally beaten. Tens of billions in taxpayers money has been literally poured down the drain in waste and just as much hoovered up in corruption. Last week – millions of medical masks purchased by the British government for £45m magically vapourised after a major PPE deal collapsed amid accusations of fraud. In this deal, a British company has been ripped off by another located in the British Virgin Islands. This example is bound to end up being one of many when investigations properly get underway sometime in the near future (source).
And there’s more: A Tory minister, namely Matt Hancock, gives a £133m contract to a firm that is advised by an ex-Tory minister for tests. The tests don’t work. So what happened, they gave them another contract worth £347m (source).
Glass Gonad: Transport for London is almost bankrupt and Sadiq Khan is in the firing line. The latest salvo to crush the mayor – Khan confirmed last Tuesday that the Greater London Authority (GLA) will leave City Hall (aka the glass gonad) next year and move to The Crystal building in the Royal Docks – estimated saving £61m over five years.
Could it get any worse…
MPs have for a second time overturned measures from peers aimed at protecting UK food standards in future trade deals. The House of Commons voted 331 to 272, majority 59, to disagree with a House of Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill which sought to ensure imported foodstuffs met equivalent benchmarks to those followed by UK producers. There are various reports on this that says other protective measures are in place, which is nonsense. When trade deals are negotiated, the Tories not only allowed them to be made in secret, they then banned ministers – or anyone for that matter – to know what is in the trade deal. Brexiteers have consistently promised the public and the agricultural industry that food and animal welfare standards would be protected. They lied – and now Britain is rapidly approaching a situation where these ‘protective standards’ will be about as useful as American standards are – which are so low they might as well not exist at all. Commenting on this result, environment minister Victoria Prentis, who is presumably living in some sort of hallucinatory induced LaLa land said: “We stood on a clear manifesto commitment that in all of our trade negotiations we wouldn’t compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards.” The Bill now goes back to the Lords. (source).
Contact Tracing – the battle zone: Bloomberg reports that Palantir Technologies is now talking to the government about Covid contact tracing – as the current £12billion system has failed. Palantir’s clients are as dodgy as they come and includes at least twelve groups within the US government, including the CIA, NSA, FBI, CDC and Special Operations Command to name just a few (source). It uses technologies designed for winning ‘hearts and minds’ in war-torn countries, throwing democratic elections in Africa and Asia and was at the heart of the Brexit scandal with SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Today, Palantir already has access to very large parts of the NHS database. “No contract has been finalised with the government and the U.S.-based company, and any deal would represent an extension of work the company already does for the U.K.” However, given their success in helping to drag Brexit over the line – expect Palantir to bag a £multi-billion deal – and have access to every mobile number in the UK as well (source).
Thought of the Week
America is at it again – destabilizing Britain for its own gain. Brexit simply isn’t enough for them. They wanted their stooge in office and he’s there in the insidious form of Boris Johnson and the free-market headbangers from the ERG. What they wanted was Trump, the global deity of deregulation to reign over us. And whilst he may well have been voted out of office, the free-marketeers can’t do what they want without an infrastructure – and they most certainly can’t achieve these things without destabilising the very institutions that keep civil society – civil. A forthcoming book – ‘The War Against the BBC’ by Patrick Barwise & Peter York, uncovers much of the activities of the far-right, which includes US-influenced origins of the anti-BBC campaign. It explodes the claims you often see on social media that people no longer trust it and are turning away from it in large numbers.
Whilst you may not agree – the writers explain how the BBC is our most important cultural institution, our best-value entertainment provider, and the global face of Britain. They show that the BBC is the most trusted news source (which it is) in a world of divisive disinformation. But they also show how it is facing relentless attacks by powerful commercial and political enemies, including deep funding cuts – much deeper than most people realise – with imminent further cuts threatened by this government.
There is an unprecedented combination of hostile forces at work whose goal it is to destroying Britain’s greatest cultural institution. Those that undertake to destabilise the BBC are doing so to stop much of the basic truths getting out that would wreck their plans. There’s a war on against the BBC. It is under threat as never before. And if we lose it, we won’t get it back.
Make no mistake – the BBC has its faults and what happens to it in future is a debate needed in Britain. However, it’s not the job of American neo-conservative extremists, funded with dark money from huge corporations to undermine British institutions such as the BBC (READ MORE).
Quotes of the Week
“Nurses today take home 25% less in real terms than in 2010. We don’t want charity from companies. We don’t want badges, nominations for awards or more clapping. They don’t pay our bills. We want 10 Downing Street to pay us properly for the work we do”. Nurse of the Year 2018 (source)
“The rate of Coronavirus deaths announced today is greater than a Hillsborough disaster happening every six hours. Future generations will read with bewilderment that we kept schools open through this.” Social media account ‘Tory Fibs’ with 150k followers commenting on the latest UK fatality rate from Covid-19 (source)
“There is deep concern among business that there is nobody in a strong position in Number 10 who really understands them or the economy. Also, nobody who understands that global trade is primarily driven by large companies and their supply chains.” David Henig –UK Director of global trade policy and TTIP veteran commenting on the ‘bunker mentality of Downing Street.
“On nights like this it strikes me that we’ve still never come to terms with the fact millions and millions of people once voted for the Nazis” – Journalist and Human Rights Activist Jonathan Lis – commenting on the US Election as Biden and Trump are neck and neck into the first day of the electoral college count (source)
Recommended Weekend Reading
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is going to a tribunal to force a council to release key details of how it has invested huge sums of taxpayers’ money. Earlier this year the Bureau revealed Thurrock council in Essex had borrowed £1bn from other local authorities and then invested hundreds of millions in a complex and potentially risky series of bonds connected to solar farms. The council refused to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act who it borrowed from and what it invested in. This story is close to demonstrating what many other councils have been doing with their money – and in these uncertain times, could push many into insolvency – or push up local taxes. (READ MORE).
Deadly Brands: Air pollution has risen up the political agenda in recent years, as studies link it to a range of health conditions, including lung cancer, asthma and heart disease. A landmark report jointly published in 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found poor air quality could be contributing to as many as 40,000 early deaths per year in the UK and causing more than £20 billion in annual costs. And yet, lobby groups backed by big brands are resisting clean air measures across the UK (READ MORE).
UK plays leading global role in legal threats against investigative journalists: Across the world, journalists investigating financial crimes are most likely to face international legal action by UK-based companies, according to new research. It outlines how the UK harbours the biggest legal threat and is the origin of more legal action against journalists than any other, a new report by the Foreign Policy Centre says. “Particularly alarming is the level and frequency, as highlighted by our survey, of legal threats being sent to journalists all over the world. The UK is the highest international source of these legal challenges – almost as high as EU countries and the US combined” (READ MORE).
We’re being mugged by the government: The Taxpayer, now besieged by a government completely out of control over its handling of the pandemic are bearing the brunt of outrageous interest rates and arrangement fees charged by so-called ‘lenders’ providing emergency Covid-19 bailout loans for struggling businesses. The very reason for these loans is to ensure people remain employed in viable businesses, not load those same businesses with debts they can’t pay (READ MORE).
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