View from the Street: 2018 Current Affairs Alphabet

David Gaffney

View from the Street: 2018 Current Affairs Alphabet

Gathering grim-faced to draw the straws that would decide which one of us would accept responsibility for writing this blog the day after our office Christmas night out, we hit upon a cunning plan. What if lots of people wrote a wee bit each? Could that work? Well, we’ll let you be the judge of that, dear reader, as we present our 2018 Current Affairs Alphabet, a patchwork of contributions from a slightly bleary-eyed bunch...
 
A is for Aston Martin, the famous car marque with the infamous market debut. It has survived seven bankruptcies so is no snowflake, but its disappointing share price performance to date will likely have left some investors both shaken and stirred.
 
B is for Backstop. Type the words “what is the” into Google and the first and second suggestions you’ll receive relate to the legally-binding insurance policydesigned to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without an all-encompassing deal. As simple as telling the time, isn’t it?
 
C is for Cheese Submarines. Many analogies have been applied to the Brexit process over the last couple of years, but it’s fair to say that The Times columnist Hugo Rifkind broke new ground this week, capturing the imagination of the twittersphere and US network television news along the way.
 
D is for Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo. Don’t click the link. I’m warning you. Whatever you do, don’t click the link.
 
E is for ERG. The European Research Group, that is. Not the publicly listed Italian energy company, or the unit of energy and work equal to 10-7 joules. We’re talking about the group of backbench Conservative MPs defined by its opposition to the UK’s membership of the EU. Which is quite a topical thing lately, in case you hadn’t noticed.Chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the group has been described variously as “powerful”, “highly influential”, “myopic”, “nobodies”, “dad’s army” and “Brexit bulldogs”. They have not, as far as I can tell, been described by anyone as diverse.

F is for FAANG. While FAANG (denoting Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) isn’t a new term, we’ve seen increased political and media scrutiny of the world’s largest technology companies in the last 12 months. Bared fangs are a universal sign of aggression, and it will be interesting to watch how those companies react if they find themselves backed further into a corner during 2019.
 
G is for George H. W. Bush. As a one-term president, Bush 41 is often overlooked. However, the obituaries following his death last month reminded us of the remarkable life he led. One of the youngest American pilots during World War II, he became an oil tycoon after leaving the navy, going on to hold various public roles – congressman, UN ambassador, CIA director, and vice-president – before ascending to the highest office in the US.
 
H is for High Street. In the first half of 2018, UK shops closed at a rate of almost 14 each day. With this trend only set to intensify, I do feel slightly guilty about bulk ordering my Christmas presents in a recumbent two-hour online spending frenzy (only slightly though, getting out of bed on a Saturday is overrated).
 
I is for It’s Coming Home. It didn’t, in the end, but the possibility did reinvigorate an old musical favourite and inspire a multitude of imaginative memes. But could it actually have come home anyway, given Scotland weren’t at the World Cup and everyone knows that fans of the beautiful game have the Scots’ “civilising intervention” to thank for football as we know it?


J is for Jamal Khashoggi. Time magazine’s person of the year. “He told the world the truth about [the Saudi government’s] brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it.”
 
K is for Key ingredients. Running out of the very thing your brand – indeed your whole proposition – is built upon might accurately be described as a bit of a corporate crisis. A bit like Dunkin’ having no Donuts, Burger King selling out of patties, or Apple running out of, erm, chips. So kudos with a capital K to KFC for turning February’s chicken supply calamity into a brand enhancing opportunity by responding nimbly, boldly, and humourously to its poultry predicament.    
 
L is for Loneliness. Like a puppy under the tree, loneliness is no longer an issue that only receives attention at Christmas time. Instead, it is now widely understood to be a year-round epidemic, affecting everyone from the old to the young, with studies showing young people are now most at risk, exposed as they are to dislocated living arrangements, technology and social media. Action is set to follow understanding, however, with the UK government making headlines this month by appointing the world's first loneliness minister.
 
M is for Migrant Caravan. The 7,000 strong group passing through Mexico to the US border soon became a wedge issue in the US mid-term elections. President Trump lost no time in declaring the procession “an invasion” and making it clear that it would be met with military force. After a cold welcome in Tijuana, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, broke with his predecessor’s approach and sent a fact-finding delegation to the camps, but with less than 100 people per day permitted to seek asylum in the US, authorities fear that loss of life will be the inevitable consequence of inadequate action.
 
N is for Novichok. The nerve agent attack on the Skripals in Salisbury in March – followed in June by a secondary contamination in which local resident Dawn Sturgess lost her life – reminded the world of the often unseen hand of Russia abroad. A tit-for-tat round of diplomatic expulsions followed, along with a ludicrous episode of denials shrouded in highly improbable levels of enthusiasm for English cathedral towns.
 
O is for Oumuamua. Our first interstellar visitor came tumbling back into the news this year as scientists listened for signals from the mysterious cigar-shaped object as it progressed through our solar system.  Using equipment capable of picking up omnidirectional transmissions between 30 and 300 milliwatts, scientists ruled out the possibility that the object was our first contact with alien technology.  What had led them to think it might be in the first place?  The non-gravitational acceleration observed when it was first spotted last year, of course, although that’s now thought to have been caused by jets of gas erupting from the object’s icy surface as it was heated by the sun. The truth is still out there.
 
P is for People’s Vote. As Theresa May traipses tiredly from Brussels to London with little hope of a breakthrough on either side of the channel, the Brexit stopwatch ticks away. In all likelihood, Britain will require an extension to Article 50, or perhaps, as Tony Blair has argued today, a new referendum all together.
 
Q is for Quantitative Easing. Quantitative easing is the controversial means by which the UK’s economy was propped up following the financial crisis. While the Bank of England has said it will start selling the assets it acquired through the process, a ‘no deal’ Brexit in 2019 could yet scupper that plan.
 
R is for Regime. Not Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Venezuela, or even Russia. Mark Wahlberg’s daily regime, of course, which had millions of us setting our alarms for 2.30am and searching our local high streets (ok, yes, it was actually Amazon) for a cryo chamber.
 
S is for Stock Market. The stock markets began 2018 in fine fettle, with a number of record highs posted in the first half of the year. It’s been a less rosy picture recently and the FTSE 100 has seen 18 years of gains wiped out.
 
T is for Trade War. Have we reached peak bickering in 2018? There’s certainly been a lot of it between President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, as two big egos battle it out over trade tariffs. The leaders seem to have settled their differences for now, but tensions simmer below the surface and these two global economic behemoths have the next 90 days to reach an agreement.
 
U is for Unwanted Hugs. You wouldn’t have thought it needed to be stated explicitly but, if nothing else, 2018 appears to have seen us reach a generally held consensus view that it isn’t acceptable to go around kissing colleagues’ ears in the workplace. Ray Kelvin, founder of Ted Baker, was the trigger, having been criticised by staff at the label for dishing out unsolicited and extended hugs, shoulder massages and ear kisses. *shudder*
Kelvin has taken a voluntary leave of absence as investigations into the claims continue.
 
V is for Vertical. “Staying calm and performing at your best when you know any kind of mistake would mean death requires a certain sort of mindset.” Alex Honnold, the first person to free-solo climb the 3,000ft high El Capitan in Yosemite, provided this and many other great understatements in a Ted Talk to mark his jaw-dropping and ground breaking ascent.
 
W is for Wild Boars. The successful rescue of a Thai youth football team – the Wild Boars – after 17 dark days trapped in a cave was one of the more uplifting news stories of the year, despite Elon Musk’s unseemly and bizarre attempts to hijack the attention.
 
X is for XXXTentacion. The American rapper XXXTentacion was shot and killed in June. Following months of investigations, Florida police have charged four young males for the murder. His death, sadly, was one of many reminders this year of the appalling gun violence problem that continues to plague the US.
 
Y is for Yellow Vest. Until this year, le maillot jaune was the most famous piece of yellow attire in France, but it was recently overtaken by le gilet jaune, as highly visible protestors gathered at demonstrations across the country from May. Motivated by rising fuel prices and living costs, the movement’s leaders settled upon their unofficial uniform because French laws require all motorists to carry one in their car, meaning it was widely available, inexpensive and symbolic.
 
Z is for Zookeepers. If nothing else, during 2018 we learned that bears can smell things 20 miles upwind. So they’d know for sure if their local KFC had run out of chicken, which would save them a journey at least.
 

David Gaffney is a partner at Charlotte Street Partners