21 December

Katie Martin

Good morning,

As workplaces and schools wind down for the festive break, it may seem like Christmas this year has been a long time coming. The fireworks had barely fizzled out on Guy Fawkes Night before festive advertising campaigns were launched and we were subjected to a barrage of Christmas songs and in-store and online retail promotions. So it may give you comfort – or, more likely, an increased sense of outrage – to know that Christmas does in fact start earlier than it used to in the UK.
According to data from Google, UK interest in the festive period is beginning earlier in the year, as search engine results have more than doubled in the last seven years between September and October. Google also claims people in Britain make more Christmas searches than anywhere else in the world, with browsing interest in the UK more than one-third higher than in the US.
On this, the shortest day of the year, it’s worth bearing in mind the negative impact of reduced daylight, over exposure to twinkly lights, Slade on repeat, and the frantic pursuit of last minute gifts, lists, plans and high expectations, in order to better steel oneself against the potential for festive stress. It’s little wonder that The Guardian has chosen to explore why the Christmas season can be anything but merry, noting that to avoid it requires “time, effort and investment.” A bit like embracing it, then.  
Perhaps that explains why, according to Google, Christmas internet search interest now begins as early as July. And therein lies the festive silver lining – we should perhaps just be grateful that the Christmas adverts didn’t start in the height of summer. There’s always next year.


Dominating the headlines this morning is the news that Damian Green, First Secretary of State and effectively the prime minister’s deputy, has been forced to resign after he was found to have breached ministerial code. Mr Green was asked to stand down by the Prime Minister after he was found to have made “misleading statements’”about what he knew of claims that pornography had been found on his parliamentary computer. It is not yet clear who will replace him, and with Parliament due to go into recess today, there are suggestions that there will be no announcement on a cabinet reshuffle until the new year. 
Voters in Catalonia will go to the polls today in a snap election called by Madrid to elect a new regional government. As divisions deepen in the region, polls suggest Catalonia could be heading for a hung parliament as the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) is neck-and-neck with the unionist, centre-right Citizens party.
Trump has hailed his tax reform bill as a “Christmas gift to Americans” at a White House celebration last night after the bill was passed through Congress for the second time this week. Following a procedural hiccup, the tax bill was pushed through the House and succeeded by 224 to 201 votes. The bill is said to be the most comprehensive tax reform in the US since the 1980s.


Business & Economy

As you contemplate the best route home after your Christmas party over the next few days, spare a thought for Uber, which was yesterday found by the European Court of Justice to be a transport company rather than a digital service. With Uber consequently required to accept stricter regulation and licensing within the EU as a taxi operator, Sam Dumitriu in The Telegraphconsiders the potential implications for this judgement on innovation, posing the question: if Uber is a taxi firm, is Just Eat a supermarket?
A vote will take place later today on a plan that would see Toys R Us continue to trade while it restructures. The company voluntary arrangement is one step short of the company entering administration and the outcome of the vote by creditors is expected to be known this afternoon. The retail giant has run into trouble over its pension deficit, with the Pension Protection Fund requiring the company's US owner to pump money into the fund. However, the US parent company has itself filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the States.
A global clampdown on Bitcoin is coming soon, insists the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. With a steep growth in value in the past year from $1000 to around $20,000, Mr Carney expects global rule-makers will be prompted to examine digital currencies amid concerns about a speculative bubble. 


What happened yesterday?

The FTSE 100 closed on a low, falling 0.31% or 23.3 points to 7,520.81.
The biggest loser on the index was NMC Health, down 4.4% to £27.27, after it announced that operations in the second half of the year have continued to perform in line with expectations.
Tullow Oil led the winners, up 5.6% to 192.8p after its stock was upgraded by an analyst.
Sterling strength pulled the wider market lower as the FTSE 100 slipped from a six-week high, down 0.3 per cent or 18.87 points at 7,525.22.
The FTSE 250 ended flat, up just 0.04% or 8.8 points to 20,350.29.

Karelian Diamond Resources (KDR)
Plexus Holdings Plc (POS)
Transense Technologies plc (TRT)
Trinity Capital plc (TRC)
APQ Global Limited (APQ)
Duke Royalty Ltd (DUKE)

UK Economic Announcements
(00.01) GFK Consumer Confidence
(09.30) Public Sector Net Borrowing

International Economic Announcements
(12.30) Philadelphia Fed Index (US)
(13.30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13.30) Gross Domestic Product (US)
(13.30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditures (US)
(14.00) House Price Index (US)

Columns of Note

In The Times, David Aaronovitch considers the BBC’s publication of its religion and ethics review. As well as the appointment of a new religious affairs team and religion editor, the review promises primetime coverage of Eid, Diwali and Passover festivals alongside its Christmas and Easter programming, to recognise a range of different faiths. Aaronovitch requests that the BBC exercise the “right to criticise and question” should it insist on more faith coverage.
Ayesha Hazarika provides her personal guide to how to celebrate Christmas as a Muslim in The Scotsman. In the face of Christmas becoming a “festival of shopping and consumerism” Ms Hazarika has embraced the celebration, regarding it as as a time for friends, family, community and carol singing.


Did you know?

Jingle Bells is the first song which was broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the Gemini 6 crew serenaded Mission Control after they reported seeing a "red-suited" astronaut.

Parliamentary highlights


House of Commons

Oral Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (including Topical Questions)

Attorney General

Backbench Business
Russian interference in UK politics and society -  Tom Brake

House of Lords
Oral Questions
Impact of the UK leaving the EU on the provision of housing that people can afford -  Lord Greaves

Number of social houses built as a consequence of the Budget Statement -  Lord Shipley

Scottish Parliament
General Questions
First Minister's Questions

The House of Commons 
In recess.  The House will next sit on Monday 08 January 2018.
House of Lords
In recess.  The House will next sit on Monday 08 January 2018.
Scottish Parliament
No business scheduled.  Parliament will next sit on Monday 08 January 2018.