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Sensemaker: French lockdown

Sensemaker: French lockdown

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The head of the US Centers for Disease Control said she was “deeply concerned” about a possible resurgence of Covid case numbers after 29 of 50 states reported a week-on-week increase.
  • The governor of Nigeria’s Zamfara state said all 279 school girls abducted by kidnappers last week had been released.
  • A Companies House filing showed the hedge fund manager Chris Hohn earned the equivalent of £940,000 a day last year, a British record.

French lockdown

Nicolas Sarkozy has been convicted by a French court, and the former president now faces a year of imprisonment. The 66-year-old says he will appeal the charges of corruption and influence-peddling, and he said he had not abandoned hopes of a political comeback. But the charges are grim for someone who stood on law-and-order platforms. He was found guilty of trying to illegally obtain information on another case against him from a judge in return for promises to use his influence to secure a prestigious job for him.

It is not clear, at this stage, that Sarkozy will ever get banged up: the sentence will not start until appeals are heard and, in any case, Sarko’s lawyers argued that it should be home arrest. Even so, this is a bit of a moment: Sarkozy had already become the first former French president to attend his own trial. It is also the first trial of an ex-president for crimes committed in the highest office in the land: Chirac was convicted in his dotage, but in absentia due to ill health. And the trial concerned events during his tenure as the mayor of Paris.

Generally, by the time you are having to bribe judges, other things have already gone wrong for you: Sarko himself faces other charges. He stands trial later this month in a case about whether he bust his 2012 presidential campaign spending limits. And, rather more shockingly, he is accused of having received funding for his 2007 campaign from Muammar Gaddafi, the now dead Libyan dictator. 

The normal liberal piety here is that it shows the strength of the French institutions, in that they actually hold their leaders responsible. But François Fillon, Sarko’s former PM and standard-bearer of the traditional right, has been convicted of straightforward embezzlement. And Christine Lagarde, current president of the European Central Bank and Sarko’s finance minister, has been convicted of an offence of “negligence by a person in a position of public authority”. I wonder if the balance of effort ought not be a bit more stopping crime up-front than prosecuting it post hoc.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

The big Budget number
The UK is a poorly run place – and this week Britain showcases it. The Budget process will start with the chancellor of the exchequer giving a speech outlining measures they want to take – and Labour responds before they are allowed to read through the document. The whole charade encourages lame theatrics. It prevents proper examination of tax changes. The most important number for Budget day is a very small one: about 0.75 per cent. That is the annual interest rate at which the UK government can currently borrow for ten years. That is, for context, very low – and it has been falling consistently for years: before the financial crisis, it was up at around 4.5 per cent. For all the debt scolding, the combination of the Bank of England hoovering up government debt plus the fact that UK government debt is seen as a safe haven means that there is little pressure on the government to rein in its borrowing from the bond market.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Hong Kong
China continues its long nose-dive into further authoritarian repression. A total of 47 people in Hong Kong are being charged under the draconian new security law, as the government continues to stamp out free political expression in the city. Their offence: organising a political primary to pick a slate of pro-democracy candidates. Meanwhile, efforts continue in legislatures around the world to have the elimination of the Uyghur culture termed a “genocide”, with an Australian motion now under discussion.

New things technology, science, engineering

Burmese days
Myanmar’s five-year spell of civilian rule changed the country: it meant that, when the coup first started, we saw footage leaking out. The country was more porous than it had been. Civil society armed itself with the accoutrements of modern technology. But so did the state. The NYT ($) has reviewed budgets from Myanmar and found the government was building a repression arsenal. The paper reports that hardware sold to police to catch criminals is being used to track opponents of the coup, and says it has seen documentation for post-coup arrest warrants that “shows that Myanmar’s security forces have triangulated between their critics’ social media posts and the individual addresses of their internet hookups to find where they live”. Myanmar’s own Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has put the number of arrests since the coup at 850, excluding hundreds more thought to have been made last weekend.

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

Vaccine joy
The UK government’s analysis of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out says that the effects of the programme are already showing up in hospitals and death rates – or, rather, not showing up in hospitals and death rates. A single shot cuts the prospect of serious illness by 80 per cent for the over-80s. France is now rolling out the Astra vaccine for over-65s. We are quite a long way from Macron’s sniffiness about it: he had claimed it was “quasi-ineffective” on that age group, whatever that means.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

The International Energy Agency has dashed hopes that something good might have come out of the past year. By December 2020, carbon emissions from the energy sector were 2 per cent higher than in the same month the year before. We have, of course, reduced aircraft emissions, for example. But the lack of progress in cleaning up electricity generation is quite a blow when it had been hoped that 2019 would be the ceiling for energy sector emissions. Still, there is some optimism in the report: governments that put money into a green recovery did better than those that did not.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can.

Chris Cook

Photographs Getty Images

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