Issue 225: 2019 11 28: Lens on the Week

28 November 2019

Lens on the Week

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LABOUR’S GOODIE BAG: the Labour party has now published its manifesto which includes:

  • a promise to renegotiate the Brexit agreement within three months and then hold a referendum under which the public can choose between the revised deal and remaining in the EU.  The party has not made it clear how it will campaign in that referendum but it has said that it will abide by the result;
  • a reduction in emissions below 50% by 2030 with net zero emissions before 2040;
  • a £250 billion National Transformation Fund of which more than half would be spent on the transition to lower carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and restoration of the environment.  A further £250 billion in loans for enterprise, infrastructure and innovation over 10 years would be available from a new National Investment Bank;
  • the nationalisation of rail, mail, water and energy;
  • powers for councils to regulate and take over local bus services;
  • free fibre broadband for all;
  • a real living wage of £10 per hour and a ban on zero hours contracts;
  • stronger unions;
  • free university tuition and lifelong learning opportunities
  • free prescriptions and free basic dentistry;
  • 1 million new jobs in climate -related industries;
  • delivery of HS2

THE TORY CHRISTMAS STOCKING: The Conservative Party has now published its manifesto which includes:

  • extra funding for the NHS with 50,000 more nurses, 6000 more primary care professionals and 6000 more doctors providing 50 million more GP appointments each year;
  • 20,000 more police;
  • a pledge not to increase income tax, VAT or national insurance.  From next year a Conservative Government would raise the national insurance threshold to £9,500, the aspiration being that no tax or national insurance should be paid below £12,500.  Inevitably comments on the reform of the tax system include pledges to eliminate avoidance and evasion with more stamp duty for non resident buyers of UK property;
  • £1 billion more for childcare;
  • £100 billion into infrastructure with new railways etc but a review of HS2;
  • a target of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid 2020s;
  • points based immigration;
  • carbon net zero by 2050 with the usual stuff about clean energy/ infrastructure etc;
  • a new Office for Environmental Protection;
  • investment in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure with £14 billion extra going into schools over the next 3 years;
  • control of national debt;
  • completing the roll out of universal credit, making improvements and sorting out the difficulties claimants have in establishing health issues;
  • oh yes, and Brexit.

NHS DISPUTE: Labour has published documents showing that changes to drug prices are an issue the US wishes to table as part of a trade deal.  They say that this is part of a secret Tory agenda whilst the Conservatives say, and point to their manifesto as saying, that it is not on offer.

FILM BAN: Vue cinemas have ceased to show the film Blue Story after audience violence at a cinema in Birmingham and at 16 other sites.  Showcase cinemas initially withdrew the film but are now showing it with enhanced security.  Commentators have described the decision to withdraw the film as institutionally racist.  It seems more likely, however, that the cinema chains were seeking to minimise disruption at their sites and to protect their profits.


HONG KONG: Protests were suspended at the weekend while local elections took place.  Turnout was the highest ever, at 71% (compared to 47% in 2015).  The results were a resounding victory for the protesters: pro-democracy candidates won 75% of the vote, 385 of the 452 seats and control of 17 of the 18 district councils.  It was a disaster for pro-Beijing candidates, who had previously dominated all the councils.  (No one stood as a pro-independence candidate – none were allowed).

The councils have limited power (they’re responsible for garbage collection and other local services) but the elections were generally considered to be a referendum on the protesters’ aims and actions.  As such the results are an unequivocal challenge to Beijing from the citizens of Hong Kong.

The nature of Beijing’s reaction is not yet clear.  As long as the protests don’t spread to the mainland, Beijing might not react at all.  Beijing may well regard the protests as a festering sore best kept at arm’s length and left alone, even if they destroy Hong Kong’s economy.  The Chinese economy no longer needs Hong Kong, and the regime would be delighted if Shanghai overtook Hong Kong as a global financial centre.  And Hong Kong’s self-destruction would be a discouraging lesson to any restive city or population in mainland China.

However, the determination and success of a small civil population defiantly defending their rights may well be making the Chinese military abandon any plans it might have had for action against Taiwan.

SYRIA: General McKenzie, head of US central command, announced that a major operation by the anti-Isis coalition has captured Isis operatives and their arms and explosives in eastern Syria.  The operation sees the resumption of the US-led war against Isis after the announcement by President Trump six weeks ago that all US forces were being withdrawn from Syria.  At least 500 US troops are still there.

In March 2016, President Putin announced the end of Russian military involvement in Syria and the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. They’re still there.

In the same month, Saudi Arabia announced its withdrawal from the war in Yemen. It’s still there.

BOUGANVILLE: The world’s newest country is expected to emerge from a referendum among the 200,000 inhabitants of the Pacific island of Bouganville to secede from Papua New Guinea.  A war of independence in the 1990’s ended in a peace deal (brokered by New Zealand) which required a referendum on independence to be held by 2020.  Independence would nevertheless require the agreement of the parliament of Papua New Guinea.  The island has one of the biggest copper reserves in the world but its mine was closed down in 1989 even though billions of pounds worth of copper and gold remain.


NO MORE LICENCE (1):  To print money that is.  De La Rue, the FTSE listed security printer, which made its name and fortune printing bank notes, firstly UK note issues but later round the world, has warned that its continuance in business is in doubt.  De La Rue has been hit by a serious of minor problems – and a major one, the loss of its longstanding contract to print British passports.  But its fundamental problem is, as with so many businesses, digitalisation.  The number of bank notes in circulation is rapidly diminishing, and, worse, the new generation of notes are plasticised, giving them a much longer life.  That means much less printing, not helped by many security systems going on-line also.  The firm appointed a new CEO last month, Clive Vacher, whose rapid review has recommended scrapping the final dividend, improving stock control, and much tighter management of the cost base.  The company made a loss of £9.2m in the first half of this year (compared with a profit of £10.1m for the comparable half last year), and borrowings are escalating.  Mr Vacher thinks there is a viable business to winkle out, but that will be hard work and success is not guaranteed.

NO MORE LICENCE (2):  For Uber in Greater London.  TfL, which is licensing authority, regulator, and runs parts of the public transport network in London, has been hard on Uber’s case for a long time, accusing it of various breaches relating to safety, driver selection and monitoring, and insurance concerns.  It appears to outsiders that so soon as Uber has resolved one issue, TfL has produced others. Now TfL has said that the taxi operators must cease business with immediate effect as from Tuesday this week.  Uber immediately appealed which gives it at least a further 21 days on the streets, and there are rumours of preparation for court action.  The latest complaint from TfL is of 43 trips in 2019 and 2018 where the drivers were alleged to be using faked identities (Uber has 45,000 registered drivers in London).  Last time TfL tried to get Uber off the streets, the High Court gave the firm a 15 month extension whilst it resolved the matters which had been complained off.  Their passengers and their drivers (and their union, the IWGB) will be hoping for a similar court result this time.  Though no doubt black cabbies will be hoping for a non-Uber Christmas.

SCOTTISH NEWS: Edinburgh department store, Jenners, the prime retail jewel of Princes Street – the Harrods of the north it has been called, though most ladies from Morningside would say it is much better than that – is to close.  It has been on its present site for 180 years, in a building that resembles its Knightsbridge rival, but the Jenners business itself was sold to House of Fraser about 15 years ago – and thus passed to Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct Group when he bought HoF.  The building was not sold at the time but was later sold to the Danish property billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, for, it is said, £50m.  The Jenner’s lease is running out and Mr Povlsen has said he will not renew it, but wishes to restore and convert the building to principally a luxury hotel with boutique shops and restaurants.  Mr Ashley had plans to upgrade HoF to a more classy operation and it is not sure how this news will affect that intention (if it still exists); Jenners was the star of the HoF business, though a spokesman said it would be relocating to a new (and smaller) location.


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