09 May 2019
Lens on the Week
EURO ELECTIONS: The European elections will go ahead on 23 May after all. With no prospect of anything constructive emerging from the cross party talks it seems likely that the electorate will be given the opportunity to express themselves by voting. The pundits seem to think that the turnout will be low but that is almost certainly wrong. The Shaw Sheet predicts that there will be a large turnout and candidates favouring a further referendum will prosper as they hold out the only route by which matters can be authoritatively resolved.
GREAT JUNCKER: Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday revealed that he could have swung the UK Brexit referendum by exposing the lies of “leave” and regards his keeping out of it as a mistake. That presumably means that he will campaign in any further referendum which should at least be amusing.
NUFFIELD TRUST: The figures produced by the Nuffield Trust for the BBC are hard for a layman to interpret. On the face of it a decrease of 10% in GPs over five years sounds like bad news although the fact that the take up of training places has increased by 29% over the same period holds out hope of the downward trend reversing in due course. There are clearly parts of the country where waiting lists for appointments are much too long but others where they seem to be OK. The BMA says that doctors are being asked to work longer and harder, without recognition or an increase in pay; but then they would, wouldn’t they?
It is a confusing picture with cases where there are clearly severe problems intermixed by the BBC’s need to create a story. The response sheet on the website says it all, with a clear bias to dissatisfied replies. Worse still, Panorama is going to do programs on it, no doubt with mournful tones enlivened by reporters wielding microphones and jumping out of the way of cars.
The public need to be told the truth about how serious this is and how projections of GP numbers fit in with the NHS strategic plans. Any volunteers?
FLOWING AWAY: It is reported by The Times that a Labour party briefing paper proposes nationalising the water companies at less than 50% of their market price.
TIMPSON REPORT: A report by Edward Timpson, previously an education minister, proposes a wholesale reform of the current policy on exclusions from state schools. Although he supports the rights of head teachers to expel disruptive pupils, he believes that the school should retain responsibility for them by giving it, along with the local authority, the task of finding alternative provision, and by including a proportion of the excluded children’s results in their figures. That is particularly important to prevent schools massaging results upwards by a policy of excluding less able pupils. The recommendations also include a reduction in the maximum number of temporary exclusions per pupil from its current level of 45 days a year.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Two days of violent conflict between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces left 25 people (including two children and two pregnant women) dead in Gaza and 4 civilians dead in Israel. Islamist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 690 rockets at Israel; Israel Defence Forces hit 360 targets in Gaza (including military compounds, tunnels, rocket launch sites and other weapons facilities) with tank, jet and artillery fire. An Israeli spokesman said that at least 90 of the missiles fired from Gaza failed to cross into Israel and at least 150 others were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. A senior Hamas official, Hamed Ahmed al-Khodary, was killed by a targeted strike on his car. Israel believes that he was instrumental in the channeling of funds from Iran to Hamas militants in Gaza.
The conflict apparently began when a sniper on the Gaza side of the border shot two Israeli soldiers. Israeli soldiers hit back by shooting two militants and two protestors, and the conflict escalated with Palestinian militants retaliating with rocket attacks. A failure in the monthly delivery of funds from Qatar through Israel to the Gaza government (see The Price of Peace, Shaw Sheet issue 178, 15 November 2018) was apparently at the root of the outburst. A cease-fire deal was agreed after two days, with Qatar pledging $480 million to the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank.
The violence came at a time of political uncertainty for Israel (politicians are still trying to put a government together after last month’s inconclusive elections) and when the Middle East is awaiting the imminent announcement of the Trump administration’s new peace deal for Israel and Palestine.
ELECTIONS: In India, the marathon general election which began on April 11 and has been progressing through seven phases is now drawing to a close. The results of the world’s biggest ever election in the world’s biggest democracy are expected on 23 May. In Kashmir, separatist militants shot dead an official of the ruling BJP party just before the state went to the polls.
General elections take place in South Africa this week. 47 parties are competing against the ANC. The ANC is expected to win (the main opposition party, the liberal Democratic Alliance, is unlikely to increase its 20% of the vote), but President Ramaphosa is finding it difficult to distance himself from the failings of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, which damaged the party’s standing.
Elections will take place in Malawi later this month. Police are giving special protection to the county’s albino population, as previous elections saw spikes in the murder of albinos; it’s thought that some politicians are willing to pay for albino body parts which witch-doctors claim give their possessors power and success. Less sinister, the wife of an opposition candidate has recorded a rap song urging voters to support her husband.
Turkey’s supreme election council (the country’s highest electoral body) overturned the recent election in which the opposition Republican People’s Party won Istanbul from Erdogan’s governing AKP. The city – Turkey’s biggest and most important, economically and culturally – had always been an Erdogan stronghold, and reports suggest that the president had not been very happy to lose it. A new election will take place. Opposition activists claim that a fair competition is unlikely and that the council’s verdict is another step on the path towards dictatorship.
PIGGING OUT: Bad news for Chinese farmers, as Asian Swine Flu sweeps across China. So far it is estimated that one million pigs have been slaughtered to try to control the outbreak, which is highly contagious and almost always results in the quick death of infected animals. It is not known when the outbreak began, but it is now being taken very seriously by the government in Beijing, which is slaughtering pigs in buffer zones, and has banned pig transportation around the country. China consumes half the pork produced in the world, so this is a real disaster, and will make the country more dependent on importing pork – mainly from the west, already a major supplier. Hogsides, the measure of trade in the pig business, have risen in price by 40% already this year, and most analysts expect the price to double before long – which is going to have a serious impact on the price of your bacon and sausage breakfast. The only possible good news is that once the outbreak is under control pigs have very large litters of young and getting the world herd back to full strength will not take long.
LEFTWARD MARCH: For several years The Guardian newspaper has struggled financially, and indeed has only survived because of the support of its owner, the Scott Trust, which sold its regional newspaper chain in 2010 and its 50% stake in AutoTrader in 2014, ensuring liquidity to support the Guardian and its Sunday version, The Observer. The Guardian, unlike most newspapers, has kept a large editorial team and concentrated on its print version; four years ago it began to develop a digital version which has been a success, but not enough to compensate for the fall in advertising revenues suffered by all newspaper businesses. That has meant some cost cutting and streamlining, such as giving up direct printing and distribution. That finally paid off, with the newspaper breaking even in the year ended March 2017. The Scott Trust has also been busy trying to develop new income sources to protect its somewhat dwindling capital, mainly focussing on acting as an investment fund for new smaller digital enterprises. It has also encouraged The Guardian to diversify with new income sources which fit with its artsy leftish orientation, particularly in the field of education.
READ THE SMALL PRINT: It’s not clear whether the London Borough of Newham read the small print when it signed up with NatWest Bank for £150m in long term (50 years) loans in the early 2000’s. The agreements contained clauses that enabled the banks to adjust the interest rates to market conditions but giving the borrower an option to repay. The bank duly raised the rates, but LB Newham did not repay, and has been paying above market rates of interest rates since market rates went down again. Now the council claim to have won a major victory over NatWest enabling it to repay the loans – by borrowing the required amounts from the ever open-handed Public Works Loan Board. This, says the council, will save it around £3.5m in annual interest payments. The council seems to be blowing its own trumpet a little too forcefully – what seems to have happened is that NatWest have simply agreed an additional optional repayment date which the council have triggered. There are a number of similar actions approaching the High Court, so it will be interesting to see what NatWest (and indeed, Barclays) do regarding those – and if the Public Works Loan Board will continue to flourish the cheque book.