29 May 2019

Katie Stanton

29 May 2019

Good morning,
 
Everyone likes a bit of bants. From Game of Thrones to toilet humour, embarrassing drunken mishaps to outfit ridicule: if it’s between friends, I’m all for it.
 
So – with the exception of maybe football – I’m happy to participate in any level of witty repartee, safe in the knowledge that I can pretty much take any chat and give it right back.
 
But worrying developments at the University of Warwick have highlighted the dangers of using “banter” as an excuse for behaviour more akin to sexual assault.
 
Yesterday, BBC Three released a documentary detailing the horrific messages sent on an all-male Facebook chat, wherein university students made graphic, misogynistic rape threats against their female peers.
 
The messages were uncovered after Anna – not her real name – was sitting on the sofa in her student house when a stream of messages began popping up on her friend’s laptop. After asking him what they were about, he showed her. To her horror, she found hundreds of sexually violent messages referencing her and her friends by name.
 
He and his friends had changed their names to those of notorious serial killers and rapists and were making graphic threats about gang rape and genital mutilation. 
 
After uncovering the messages last summer, two of the victims made complaints to the university. It was then the university’s handling of the matter that made further problems arise.
 
Anna and the other complainant were to be formally interviewed. And who better for the job than Peter Dunn, the university’s director of press: the man directly responsible for protecting the university’s reputation as one of the leading academic centres in the UK?
 
The university later admitted that there was a potential conflict, but insisted that relevant press duties were “delegated” during the investigation. This was later found to be inaccurate. It is still unclear as to whether Dunn has actually completed any training on dealing compassionately with victims of sexual assault.
 
Nevertheless, the process carried on and the following punishments were ultimately awarded: one man received a lifetime ban from the university; two were given 10-year bans; and two were banned for one year.
 
But the case wasn’t closed – the two men who had been banned for 10 years appealed against the decision and, after a four month wait (which the university put down in part to a staff member taking a late summer holiday), it was announced that they had won. Their bans were to be reduced to just one year and they could be back on campus while Anna and her friends were still studying.
 
So, the women took to social media. Using #ShameOnYouWarwick, the case quickly gathered media attention and academic departments within the university began distancing themselves from the university management. Protests ensued and similar cases began to creep out of the woodwork at universities across the country.
 
In light of the backlash, the vice chancellor announced that the men would not be returning to Warwick. It remains unclear whose decision that ultimately was.
 
The university released a statement this morning in response to the BBC’s story, apologising “for any part we played in causing distress to members of our community”, adding that it was making changes to “minimise the chances of these mistakes being repeated”. A woefully insipid statement considering the damage done and the mishandling of the case over an extended time period.
 
The events that transpired at the university should serve as a shocking reminder of the flagrant sexism that continues to masquerade itself as “banter” within the safe confines of our social groups.
 
And it must also serve as a lesson to other institutions on how not to deal with threats of sexual violence against its own members.

News

Some councils in England have been warned that they risk running out of cash if they continue to spend at the current rate. The BBC has identified 11 authorities that the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy says will have “fully exhausted” reserves within four years unless they replenish them. The Local Government Association argues that councils are facing “systemic underfunding”.
 
MacKenzie Bezos has pledged to give away half of the $36 billion personal fortune she secured following her divorce from Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and richest man in the world. She has signed the Giving Pledge, which encourages the wealthiest people to dedicate much of their fortune to charitable causes. Her ex-husband, who has a net worth of roughly $114 billion, is the only figure out of the top five richest Americans not to have joined the initiative. (£)
 
John Bercow has said he plans to remain in his post as Speaker of the House of Commons, despite rumours that he was about to leave. The moves risks the fury of hardline Brexiteers who believe he wants to block a no-deal Brexit.

Business & Economy

Investors have hit back at Labour plans to renationalise some of Britain’s key companies, saying the proposals could impose unfair losses on shareholders where compensation is linked to asset value rather than market price. Labour has yet to spell out the precise mechanism it would use to settle with investors, but stressed compensation would be fixed by parliament rather than automatically linked to market prices. (£)
 
According to the firm’s top legal officer, the US move to put Huawei on a blacklist “sets a dangerous precedent” that will harm millions of consumers. Washington recently added the Chinese telecoms giant to a list of companies that US firms cannot trade with unless they have a licence. The trade ban is part of a wider trade war between China and the US.
 
In the latest blow to Britain’s high streets, Boots confirmed yesterday that it could close more than 200 shops over the next two years. The company, which is owned by US pharmacies giant Walgreens Boots Alliance, is reviewing its store portfolio amid falling sales and profits. (£)

Markets

What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 ended flat today, picking up after a positive US open. The index closed 8.8 points or 0.1% down at 7,268.95. British American Tobacco were top of the losers list, falling 3.3% on the news that it, together with rival Philip Morris, are being sued by the Brazilian government for the costs of treating patients with tobacco-related diseases over the last five years.
 
The FTSE 250 ended up 0.4% after Stobart jumped 9.7% on the announcement that the chief executive of budget airline Flybe will step down mid-July, following the sale of the airline to the consortium consisting of Stobart, Virgin Atlantic and Cyrus Capital.
 
In Europe, the implications of European election results weighed heavy on stocks. The broad Stoxx 600 index in Europe slid 0.1% having hovered at zero for most of the day. Italian assets were under particular pressure after a victory for the right-wing League party in the European elections, which investors said could embolden its leadership to step up a budget battle with the EU or push for early elections. The FTSE MIB index fell 0.6%.
 
Across the pond and Wall Street opened higher, led by technology stocks. This jump was despite investors’ caution following signs that the US-China trade war will rumble on indefinitely.
 
On the currency markets, the pound fell 0.13% against the dollar to $1.27. Against the euro it was up 0.11% at €1.13. 

Finals  
Aveva Group
HarbourVest Global Private Equity Limited A Shs
Stobart Group Ltd.
Telford Homes

AGMs
ASA International Group
Coca-Cola European Partners (DI)
DP Eurasia N.V. (DI)
EastPharma Ltd GDR (Reg S)
En+ Group GDR (Reg S)
Menhaden
Mod Resources Limited NPV (DI)
Oxford Biomedica
PureTech Health
S4 Capital
Sports Direct International
Total SA
Vectura Group
Xeros Technology Group 

UK Economic Announcements
(00:01) BRC Shop Price Index
 
Intl. Economic Announcements
(08:55) Unemployment Rate (GER)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)

Columns of Note

In this week’s Spectator, Leah McLaren explores the peculiar instance of finding out about the suicide of a friend through the popular media service WhatsApp. The preferred method of communication for most, WhatsApp is a relentless facilitator of parental anxiety. So in the wake of the suicide – after the formal sympathies had all been expressed – it took merely 24 hours for the group chats to whip up a frenzy of notifications and descend into fear for their children, rather than shared grief for their friend. (£) 
 
Adam Sage takes a view of the Notre Dame disaster that I hadn’t considered in The Times. He looks at the economic impacts for local traders of diminished tourist footfall. Apparently, business owners on the Île de la Cité, home to the 12th-century landmark, say their takings have plummeted. The situation is so serious, they are now appealing to the government to save them from bankruptcy. (£)

Did you know?

Unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup of the population.

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY
 
House of Commons

In recess until Tuesday 4 June 2019
 
House of Lords

In recess until Tuesday 4 June 2019
 
Scottish Parliament

Portfolio Questions
 
Scottish Labour Party Debate
Economy
 
Members’ Business
Expanding Scotland’s Railways – Mark Ruskell

TOMORROW

Scottish Parliament

General Questions

First Minister's Questions

Members' Business - Gordon MacDonald: Hard-line Visa Controls' Impact on Edinburgh's Festivals

Portfolio Questions

Ministerial Statement: Medium-term Financial Strategy

Scottish Government Debate: A Trading Nation