20 June 2019
Lens on the Week
REMAINING GREEN BOTTLES: At publication, the remaining bottles were as follows: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. The two names for submission to the party membership will be available by the end of the week.
LABOUR REFERENDUM: On the other side of the political divide it has been reported that Mr Corbyn will shortly switch his approach from an adjusted form of the May deal (the adjustment being that we remain in the Customs Union indefinitely) and, in the absence of a general election, to a call for a second referendum. The change in approach, long advocated by Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson, is a response to Labour’s poor showing in the European Election. It would give Labour a far better defined position, perhaps necessary at a time when the Conservatives are dominating the headlines as a result of their leadership election. Before long the division between the parties may be simply: Leave (Tory) or Remain (Labour) bringing echoes of the early 18th century when it was Hanoverian (Whig) and Jacobite (Tory).
HEATHROW: The failure of the legal challenge, which went to whether the Government had acted within its powers rather than to the merits of the expansion, has been followed by the first step in the consultation leading to the decision on whether planning permission (in this case technically a development consent order) should be given. On Tuesday Heathrow published its masterplan revealing a 30 year project, a 2.2 mile new runway involving any amount of compulsory acquisition, several new terminals, one of them so eco-friendly that it will resemble the Eden Project, the rerouting of the M25 part of which will be beneath the runway, and a total cost in the region of £15 billion. But no wonder. The expansion is huge, increasing capacity from 480,000 flights to 740,000 and the number of passengers from 81 million to 135 million.
It would make no sense for the Shaw Sheet to comment at the start of a 3 month enquiry but there are a couple of interesting points. One is a proposal to compensate those whose buildings are acquired at 125% of market price. That should avoid blight and mean that those who wish to sell and leave are not trapped by low values (the technique has long been used on the Continent). Second there is to be a drop off charge of £15. It seems a shame that the proposal for such a magnificent project should be tainted by Lutonization but no doubt it is environmentally sound.
As to whether this will all be a white elephant or a great hub for the eco-efficient planes of the future, we have no idea and nor does anyone else. Still, if it was all being done in France we would probably be talking sadly about it being a symptom of Anglo Saxon decline.
IRAN: Four oil tankers attacked off the coast of Iran last week, two more tankers attacked this week (attacks which most of the world believe originated from Tehran, though Tehran denies this), a rocket attack on a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen which injured 26 people, a threat from Tehran to turn its back on the Nuclear-Weapons Freeze agreement and start enriching uranium to 20 percent… It seems that Iran has a plan, but who can say what that plan is or what Tehran hopes it will achieve?
Iran certainly needs a plan. Its people are increasingly impoverished, repressed and discontented; the economy is tanking because of the regime’s expensive military adventures throughout the region and the re-imposition of sanctions following the USA’s withdrawal from the Nuclear-Weapons Freeze agreement; farming is suffering through a terrible and unprecedented drought; a hostile Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni states of the Gulf, plus Israel, are united against it.
Iran needs to come to some sort of agreement with the USA which will relax sanctions; perhaps it thinks that brazenly and defiantly playing with its fireworks á la Kim Jong-un will win it a more advantageous and prestigious place in negotiations with a president who won’t go to war. But it looks like Trump isn’t falling for that – he’s playing down the attacks in public, while sending more troops to the region.
It needs to keep the EU, Britain, France and Germany on-side as far as the Agreement goes so that they will continue to trade. But the threat to break with the agreement and start enriching uranium unless they come up with a way of getting round US sanctions and trading with Iran may well backfire. That and the reckless use of force may make Europe insist on a severe enforcement of the Agreement at the very least, and even drive them towards the USA and a complete economic break from Iran.
It needs to avoid further conflict with its enemies in the region, not stoke it up by increasing violence in the Gulf. It may think that the current political turmoil in Israel gives it a window of opportunity to cause trouble, but Israel continues to insist that it will not allow Iran to become a nuclear-armed power.
It needs to find friends elsewhere. Attacking a Japanese oil-tanker while the Japanese prime minister is in Tehran on a diplomatic mission is unlikely to achieve this.
NORMANDY 1944, ITV’S LAUGHING STOCK 2019: On reading Lynda Goetz’s latest exploration of the self-righteous, intolerant and narrow-minded “snowflake” epidemic in last week’s issue (Resilient vs Flaky), which contrasted the spirit of 1944 with that of 2019, the following observation was unavoidable: the people who fought on the Normandy beaches to liberate Europe seventy-five years ago were male, whereas the most strident of today’s snowflake voices are invariably female.
Is this a clue towards solving the enigma of this epidemic’s origins? The feminisation of society, as women at last take up their rightful places in it, is building a nicer world by encouraging us to be kinder and more caring and less tolerant of those who aren’t – but is it also encouraging us to be over-sensitive, unadventurous and self-obsessed?
This week ITV announced that it would no longer commission comedy shows from all male writing teams. ITV’s head of comedy Saskia Schuster complained that all-male teams “are not sensitively run and can be aggressive and slightly bullying”. It’s a good job she wasn’t around seventy-five years ago to tell those all-male teams to be less aggressive and more sensitive as they selflessly set about liberating Europe from fascism. But today’s fascists, dictators and abusers of power may well be cheering her on; her campaign could be the death of political satire, which by necessity is an aggressive, insensitive and bullying genre of comedy.
The irony, of course, is that her campaign – which is nothing less than discrimination and censorship – is itself insensitive, aggressive and bullying. But subjectivity rather than objectivity, self-regard rather than self-awareness, appear to be defining characteristics of the snowflake.
Also this week, a Dutch university – Eindhoven University of Technology – announced that it’s appointing only female staff for the next 18 months to improve its gender balance.
CALIGULA’S HORSE: Newspaper ownership is an increasingly difficult trade; although most national dailies remain profitable, the outlook is grim. Circulations continue to fall; advertising revenue drops monthly, and although the drift from print to digital continues (with a welcome cut in costs) the bigger drift is to TV news and to weekly sheets, (including of course, the Shaw Sheet). London’s evening newspaper, the Standard, now a freesheet, faces all this and now more. For some time it has been owned by the Russian family, the Lebedevs, who made the remarkable appointment of former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, as editor, in spite of a slight lack of experience in the newspaper business. The economics of the Standard are not known, but last year the Lebedev’s sold a 30% stake in their London media business (which also includes a small television station and the on-line newspaper, the Independent) to a Saudi family, the Abuljadayels. Little is known about them, which is concerning Mr Osborne’s former governmental colleagues, who have indicated they may issue an intervention notice to discover the extent of the deal and potentially, set it aside.
WOLF/HENHOUSE: In a slightly odd intervention in the debate over the failings of Woodford Investment Management, Gina Millar, joint owner (with her husband) of investment wealth manager SCM Direct, has called for an investigation of the Financial Conduct Authority, along with a whole load of new regulations to control how investment managers work. Ms Millar calls her firm a “vocal consumer campaigner”, which must be a bit concerning for those of her clients who thought it is there to make them money…
MUTUAL PARTING: More trouble for investment fund managers. The South African headquartered insurer, Old Mutual, has sacked its highly regarded chief executive Peter Moyo because of his relationship to an investment manager, NMT Capital. Mr Moyo founded NMT 15 years ago, and has had a long and distinguished career in finance in South Africa after graduating from Havard. Old Mutual was hardly unaware of the links – it owns 20% of NMT and has for many years, but said that it had discovered that NMT was paying dividends to Mr Moyo’s interests. That a commercial business was paying dividends ought not to be a surprise either, but Old Mutual said that this breached the terms of Mr Moyo’s employment.
BOOM BANG-A-BANG: That is the sound of trouble on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman just over a week ago. The US and UK governments say that the most likely cause of the fires on the tankers was an Iranian terrorist squad. So the oil price, nervous about the amount of the world’s oil supply that passes through the narrow seaway, rocketed up, right? Er…no. In fact the price of oil, which had been declining for weeks from a recent high of just over US$70 a barrel, continued downwards, finishing last Friday at $61.4 (there had been a blip up to $63 just after the incident). Nothing could more clearly show the lessening importance of Gulf oil in the international economy, partially because of ever growing sources of supply, the USA and Russia are now highly significant suppliers of the market, and partially of course, the world’s slowly falling reliance on carbon based fuels as renewable energy sources take over. And one other factor – the increasing fear of an approaching global recession – nobody wants to get caught holding large stocks of oil and everybody is trying to hold costs down. All that means the downward pressure on the oil price is not likely to go away.