Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Pedestrians pass a large advertisement on the Arndale Centre shopping mall reading “Act now to avoid a local lockdown” in Manchester, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. London will face tighter restrictions from Saturday, with a ban on households mixing indoors, but political leaders in Manchester, northern England, are now in open revolt, refusing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to move to the highest level of pandemic curbs unless he provides more generous financial support. Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sensemaker, 20 October 2020

Sensemaker, 20 October 2020

Pedestrians pass a large advertisement on the Arndale Centre shopping mall reading “Act now to avoid a local lockdown” in Manchester, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. London will face tighter restrictions from Saturday, with a ban on households mixing indoors, but political leaders in Manchester, northern England, are now in open revolt, refusing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to move to the highest level of pandemic curbs unless he provides more generous financial support. Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Socialist candidate Luis Arce claimed victory in Bolivia’s presidential election, a year after his ally Evo Morales was ousted from the country by security forces.
  • Ireland announced a six-week coronavirus lockdown to exclude schools, starting at midnight on Wednesday.
  • Imperial College London will run a human challenge trial to test Covid vaccines by deliberately infecting subjects with the virus.

The UK is now locked in a fight with itself: the government is set to announce that Greater Manchester is to be plunged into a so-called Tier 3 set of restrictions (example measure: shutting bars) against the wishes of the city’s leadership. A deadline of midday has been set for the city to agree terms of a support package with Westminster, or they will be imposed upon it.

Greater Manchester has, in effect, been under Tier 2 restrictions (example measure: no household mixing) since August in an attempt to control an outbreak. These are tougher restrictions than in most of the rest of the UK. Lacking a functioning test and trace system, hard restrictions are still the only tool left in the British locker. Other places will follow – Sheffield is already in negotiations with the Treasury over its measures – so the fight has broader consequences.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of the Manchester city region, has been resisting the order – and he is leading the charge to make sure that, if there must be a lockdown, his 2.8 million people are properly supported: “I think it is fair to recognise that if you put a place under restrictions for as long as we’ve been under restrictions it grinds people down. It pushes businesses closer to the brink.”

Manchester’s ask on money – supported by the city’s borough leaders and local politicians of all political hues – is to top up the “standard” package for lockdowns by £15 million per month. This is, to use a technical term, “peanuts”. Even if you scale that to the whole country, you would need to expect months of lockdown to get to a sum that the Treasury could even account for. It is simply not worth burning local goodwill and compliance over.

This has been a disaster; a strong man act by central government that is burning political credibility and support in a virus hotspot. And the local leaders are right. If Manchester goes into Tier 3, the priority will be to save businesses. Yes, there is reason to doubt whether Pret A Manger stores will be sustainable in a year’s time, but there are plenty of businesses which definitely will be, particularly in the arts. And there are people who will face serious hardship through no fault of their own, and so may not be able to afford to follow the rules. They need help.

Northern Ireland has gone into a hard lockdown for a fortnight, including closing schools. Wales will enter a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown on Friday. Ireland is starting a six-week lockdown. Worse things may yet come. And, at the risk of flirting with the sunk cost fallacy, paying billions of pounds to keep businesses afloat at the start of the crisis only to let them fold for the sake of peanuts at the end of it strikes me as hard to defend.

The Treasury may not like paying a bit more to the current local lockdowns, but the whole point of having a fiscally conservative Treasury, as Britain does, is that it is able to respond to a rainy day. It is still raining.

Today in the app… In the next part of our file on the looming economic crisis of 2021, director of the Institute for Government Bronwen Maddox and former Bank of England long-timer Tony Yates discuss what should be next for the government and the Bank, respectively. Join us for our Open News meeting today at 1pm and sign up for tomorrow evening’s ThinkIn on the British businesses that profited from slavery.

Please share this Sensemaker with friends and colleagues.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

France and Islam
Four school students are among 15 people taken into custody by the French police over the terrorist murder of Samuel Paty, a school teacher. Paty had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class about freedom of speech – and offered students who would be offended the opportunity to leave the room. The attack, by a murderer who trailed him as he left school, was carried out during the Charlie Hebdo trial in which 14 suspects are charged with helping attackers who murdered 12 people in and near the satirical magazine’s offices in January 2015. “Je suis Samuel” has become an echo of “Je suis Charlie” on the streets of Paris since Paty’s murder. How deep that sense of solidarity goes, and where it leads, are fraught questions in such a self-consciously secular country.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

US financial aid
Negotiations continue in DC on a proposed package to assist with the next phase of the Covid crisis: the White House has proposed a $1.8 trillion deal, while the Democrats promise to spend $2.2 trillion. The word “stimulus” is not quite the right one for this thing. Yes, there are normal stimulus elements – but it is, in part, a sedative to keep the patient able to sustain low levels of economic activity. And it includes aid to states, not so they can expand and stimulate growth – but so they can respond to a public health emergency. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Sir Samuel Brittan
I was very sad to read that Sir Samuel Brittan, a long-time FT columnist (and former colleague), has died. It is hard to think of any person of letters as important as Sir Samuel over the course of the past few decades: his obits in the FT and the Guardian do not quite do justice to his importance in genuinely progressing the causes of liberalism and prosperity. I can neither quibble with, nor better, the verdict of the FT leader column on his life: “If John Maynard Keynes was, as an amateur, the foremost economic journalist of the interwar years, Samuel Brittan was, as a professional, the foremost economic journalist of the postwar era. We are greatly in his debt.”


New things technology, science, engineering

Cyberwarfare
The US has charged six Russian intelligence officers with a hacking spree that targeted a wide range of targets – from attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid and the labs that investigated the poisoning of Sergei Skripal through to Emmanuel Macron’s party and the 2018 Winter Olympics. A big lesson of the past five years is that you do not need to hack the Pentagon to cause a serious national security crisis and do serious harm. There are many softer targets. The US election is, once again, being affected by what appear to be Russian attempts to smear Trump’s opponent.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Going to the Moon
There is an old joke on the internet about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Maslow describes how humans are driven by the need for food and shelter, then they worry about safety, then community and so on. The gag version has WiFi scrawled in as the first, most primal need. This may, it appears, not be a joke anymore. Nokia is putting 4G internet on the moon. This will allow for “vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video”. The first stage of putting humans on the Moon long-term is, it turns out, a good internet connection. I wonder if they can do south London next.

Stay safe, wash your hands.

Chris Cook
@xtophercook