28th November 2019
Written by Tom Gillingham, Associate Partner
Edited by Kevin Pringle, Partner
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” The famous line, translated from Dante’s 1320 epic, Divine Comedy, can be understood as a warning to tread very cautiously, to stay away or quite simply not to enter. All three interpretations could easily be applied to a half-hour opposite Andrew Neil. Yesterday’s papers have already chewed over Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn’s clashes with the veteran BBC journalist, so I’m more interested in the viewer figures and whether these set pieces actually resonate with the electorate and, ultimately, what this could mean for the prime minister’s chances of participation. It turns out that the British public is pretty keen on the modern-day equivalent of a tired gladiator squaring up to a particularly well-briefed rhino. Yesterday it emerged that three million viewers watched the Rumble and the Mumble - Corbyn vs Neil - live. On Monday night, 2.3 million live viewers had watched the equivalent all-Scotland clash of Sturgeon vs Neil. To put this in context, ITV’s leading source of public figure humiliation - the latest series of I’m a Celebrity - pulled in 3.5 million live TV viewers for its opening show. These numbers will go far higher when streaming and catch up figures are added but in the age of Twitter hot-takes and on-demand entertainment, it’s clear that live televised suffering still holds a special place in UK hearts. In these times of uncertainty, who can blame the electorate for feeling a little bit vindictive? Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage have now confirmed they will brave the arena next week. It remains to be seen if the prime minister will do the same, however. Both Swinson and Johnson are nursing wounds from mild public maulings in the Question Time bear pit last week and, along with the surprisingly low-key Farage, they must have all been looking on in horror as Neil systematically attacked their opponents. Actual gladiatorial bouts only lasted fifteen to twenty minutes, and Johnson’s team in particular must be contemplating a big thumbs down to this particular broadcast ‘opportunity’. Many politicians like to imagine that they operate in the high culture of Dante, but perhaps the reality is more like an Italian ‘epic’ from 2000 - Gladiator. Are we not all entertained?
Following prolonged unrest in Hong Kong, US president Donald Trump has signed into law a bill that supports pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The Human Rights and Democracy Act is designed to check if the former British territory has enough autonomy from China to justify its current ‘special status’ with the US via an annual review.
The YouGov-MRP polling model that predicted the outcome of the 2017 election has suggested Boris Johnson will wake up to a comfortable majority of 68 seats (£) on the morning of 13 December. The model found that the Conservatives would win 359 seats, Labour 211, the SNP 43 and the Liberal Democrats 13 if the election were held today.
Supermarkets’ plastic “bags for life” should be banned or have their price increased, according to campaigners. New research from Greenpeace and the EIA reveals a surge in purchase of the bags is fuelling an uptick in the plastic packaging footprint of leading supermarkets. In 2018, supermarkets used an estimated 903,000 tonnes of plastic packaging, an increase of 17,000 tonnes on the 2017 figure.
Business and economy
Data suggests that Black Friday may have already had its day in the US. According to Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, Black Friday this year is “probably going to be more noise than signal,” and UK retailers will be carefully watching trends in the US to determine their approach to what is a relatively new phenomenon this side of the pond. There is set to be more turmoil in the British steel industry with the announcement that Tata Steel is planning to axe 1,000 jobs in the UK. Suggesting it is struggling with the crisis facing steelmakers across the world, the company said it must “accelerate innovation and the company’s journey towards carbon-neutral steelmaking.” Japanese beer exports to South Korea hit zero last month following boycotts sparked by a trade row between the Asian neighbours. The current tension began as a diplomatic feud about compensation for wartime labour. Exacerbated by tightened Japanese controls on South Korean exports, it as now evolved into a trade row between the countries. Official figures showed Japanese food exports were down 58.1% in October.
What happened yesterday?
London equities finished up yesterday, with investor sentiment buoyed by optimism over a China-US trade deal and strong performances from tobacco stocks after a well-received update from British American Tobacco. At the other end of the scale, speciality chemicals company Johnson Matthey struggled as Liberum slashed its price target on the stock following the company’s first-half results earlier this month and cut its earnings per share estimates. Overall, the FTSE 100 ended 0.36% higher at 7,429.78. The pound was up 0.3% versus the euro at 1.1708 and up marginally by 0.14% against the US dollar at 1.28816. In the US, Wall Street’s indices finished positively ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, thanks in part to the same renewed US-China trade optimism. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.35% to 28,164.00, the S&P 500 added 0.42% to 3,153.63, and the Nasdaq Composite was 0.66% improved at 8,705.18.
What's happening today?
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Columns of note
Writing in the Guardian, Rafael Behr claims that voters have shifted since 2017, with attitudes to Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn hardening. He also warns that there’s also little trust in Boris Johnson amongst Conservative voters. He likens the current prime minister to a schoolboy shoplifter, hoping to slide past the checkout without triggering an alarm before polling day. In a piece for the Times (£), Justin Webb outlines the headache Michael Bloomberg’s late presidential nomination dash poses for the Democratic Party. He argues that rather than being an eccentric outsider, Mr Bloomberg is a key figure in the party’s future and asks whether they can they keep him sweet while denying him the nomination.
Did you know?
100 years ago today, US-born Lady Nancy Astor was elected as MP for Plymouth Sutton. She was the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons
TODAY House of Commons and House of Lords Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are in dissolution. They will next sit on Monday 16 December 2019. Scottish Parliament General questions First Minister’s questions Portfolio questions Finance, Economy and Fair Work Ministerial statement Final report of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce Stage one debate Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill TOMORROW Scottish Parliament No business House of Commons and House of Lords Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are in dissolution. They will next sit on Monday 16 December 2019.