Here’s something you don’t read often nowadays;
The Lib Dems are having a good day.
With the BBC election night news desk already into its umpteenth round of talking head interviews, and the question on everyone’s lips – Is Professor Sir John Curtice on TV? – now having an indisputable answer (yes, he is), that is the early indication of results in local elections across England and Wales this morning.
At the time of writing, the party has picked up 302 councillors, and majority control in eight councils clustered around the South of England and the South West, with a decent performance also being put in by the Greens. There are no prizes for correctly predicting that this was going to be a bad night for the Tories. But the scale of their losses (down 438 seats so far), and the fact they seem to be taking Labour down with them, has surprised a few of those talking heads.
As the esteemed Professor Sir John explained in our moment of psephological confusion: “It looks as though the key message from the voters to the Conservatives and Labour is ‘a plague on both of your houses.” It’s almost as if voters really are agreeing that our two-party system hasn’t delivered in the recent past?!
So is the #LibDemFightBack on? Perhaps. I hope it’s not too churlish to say that the party hasn’t really been heard of since flatlining at the 2015 general election. They failed to make serious inroads when their then-leader Tim Farron spent the entire 2017 campaign discussing the theological aspects of gay sex. And since then, their whole point of being the sensible middleman in UK politics has been aped by Change UK as if it’s a new concept. What’s more; their latest leader, Vince Cable, has announced that he will soon be standing down.
All of which, of course, might mean diddlysquat on the doorstep. With Labour and the Tories are toxic as they are, the Lib Dems are an easily recognisable alternative for voters who (a) don’t care to notice every bowel movement inside the Westminster bubble, and (b) might just be looking for any way to give the two main parties a good kicking – be it over Brexit or poorly-drawn double yellows on kerbsides. I’m not predicting a ‘yellow wave’, but there are signs of life yet.
Then again, we’re potentially less than a month out from the next set of European elections where Lib Dem losses – to quote one dearly-missed leader of our favourite rollercoaster party – might see me eating my hat.
US Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress. On Wednesday, Barr gave testimony to a Senate panel investigating the Mueller report into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, in which he said he was “unaware” of complaints by Mueller regarding his four-page summary of the report. Pelosi has now suggested Barr could be held in contempt of Congress, leading to a criminal referral or censure vote.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has appeared in public flanked by soldiers in defiance of an attempted coup currently underway in Caracas. The current clashes were sparked after Opposition leader Juan Guaidó tried on Wednesday to spark a rebellion supported by the military and force Maduro from office. Meanwhile, Spain has refused to hand over opposition politician, Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently seeking refuge at the Spanish Embassy.
The UK Treasury has confirmed that 1p and 2p coins will continue to be in circulation “for years to come”. The recommendation was made in an independent review of cash published in March, which suggested that cash was a necessity for an estimated 2.2 million people in the UK among the elderly, vulnerable and those living in rural areas.
Business and Economy
Bombardier has announced plans to wind up its activities in Northern Irelandas it looks to streamline its aviation units across sites in Montreal, Mexico and Texas. The Canadian headquartered aerospace business employs 3600 workers out of Belfast, making it Northern Ireland’s largest manufacturer, having operated in the region since the 1930s. Bombardier is looking for a buyer or buyers for all four of its sites in Northern Ireland and Morocco.
The activist investor Edward Bramson has been rejected by shareholders in his bid to gain a seat of the board of Barclays. Fewer than six per cent of other investors in the bank supported the extraordinary bid at yesterday’s AGM. The result was celebrated by Barclays chief executive, Jes Staley, who suggested he would continue to resist Bramson’s efforts to reduce the size of its investment division.
The City of Edinburgh Council has approved Diageo’s plans to install a Johnnie Walker whisky tourist destination on Princes Street. Diageo’s proposals were yesterday recommended for approval by council planning officers, and are expected to be passed by councillors next week. The £150 million investment will occupy the former House of Fraser building at Princes Street’s west end.
What happened yesterday?
The London market put in a poor performance yesterday despite upbeat trading updates from Smith & Nephew, Coca-Cola and Shell, and the Bank of England remaining quietly optimistic on the state of the UK economy. By close of play, the top-flight FTSE 100 index was down 0.46% at 7351.31 points, whilst the FTSE 250 was off 0.64% at 19686.66. Sterling was also down 0.03% on the euro at €1.17 and 0.18% lower on the dollar at $1.30.
Although the Bank decided to leave interest rates unchanged at 0.75%, it did also revise up its expectations for UK growth from 1.2% to 1.5%. Governor Mark Carney also paved the way for future increases by suggesting that their “frequency” was likely to accelerate during 2019.
In corporate news, the bulk of the day’s losses were incurred in the mining sector, where Anglo American (down 1.91%), Antofagasta (down 1.98%) and BHP (down 1.97%) all fell as copper prices slid. Citi also downgraded BHP to ‘neutral’. They were joined by Lloyds Banking Group whose stock fell 0.72% after smaller-than-expected earnings and a “slow” start to 2019.
Rosy first-quarter revenue updates at medical products makers Smith & Nephew (up 2.98%), Coca-Cola (up 1.25%) and Royal Dutch Shell (up 1.66%) were a counterweight an otherwise gloomy day. Barclays (up 0.61%) was also in the black after rogue investor Edward Bramson – who has been urging the bank to scale back its investment division – was not granted a seat on the bank’s board.
InterContinental Hotels Group
Smurfit Kappa Group
InterContinental Hotels Group
Symphony Environmental Technologies
UK Economic Announcements
(09.30) PMI Services
Intl. Economic Announcements
(10:00) Producer Price Index (EU)
(13:30) Non-Farm Payrolls (US)
(13:30) Unemployment Rate (US)
(14:45) PMI Composite (US)
(14:45) PMI Services (US)
(15:00) ISM Non-Manufacturing (US)
Columns of Note
In his weekly Times column, Sathnam Sanghera reflects on the power of ‘quiet influence’. The concept stresses ‘how shouty behaviour and top-down command-and-control leadership is dead’. Sanghera suggests this reflects wider societal change in the social media age where being understated is now a rarer quality. Good work, he predicts, will replace the need for good networking. (£)
In the Financial Times, Philip Stephens suggests that Brexit is making the case for Scottish independence. He comments that the simple act of asking Scots to leave the EU against their will is not going to predispose them well to the UK’s argument in any future referendum which will ask to choose between their Scottish, British and European identities. Questions remain over the economy and timing, but Stephens believes it hard to think Scots won’t opt for a new, optimistic relationship when asked again. (£)
Did You Know?
The Ms in M&M's stands for Mars and Murrie, the surnames of the two men who developed them.
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