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Sensemaker: Reclaiming the streets

Friday 12 March 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • France eased Covid travel restrictions for seven countries including the UK.
  • Prince William said the royal family was “very much not racist”.
  • An artwork that exists only online sold for a record $69 million (more below).

Reclaiming the streets

Yesterday, eight days after Sarah Everard was last seen alive, the UK government’s minister for London said he hoped women would feel reassured by the police response to her disappearance. The reverse seems to be true. 

This is a case that has prompted an outpouring of expressions of fear rather than reassurance, and the Met police face at least three urgent questions about its response. 

  • What was it doing to investigate a claim that the main suspect, PC Wayne Couzens, exposed himself in a separate incident three days before Everard’s disappearance? Couzens was off duty when Everard was kidnapped but he had reportedly worked a 2pm-8pm shift guarding the US Embassy in Battersea that day. Should he not have been suspended while the earlier incident was investigated?
  • Why was Couzens treated for head injuries after being taken into custody and how might this affect his prosecution? Little has been said publicly about the injuries but the official term for their cause – “police contact” – suggests they weren’t self-inflicted.
  • Why are police threatening fines and prosecution for the organisers of a vigil planned for Saturday in south London by Reclaim These Streets? The answer is apparently that the vigil would violate Covid restrictions – so why not work with the organisers instead to make it compliant and safe?

There’s no reason to doubt Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, when she says the force is “utterly appalled” that one of its own is being held on suspicion of Everard’s murder. But so far social media – and parliament – have done a far better job of articulating the broader implications of this case.

There was some reassurance in the fact that MPs managed to dispense with two distractions: the idea that these cases don’t reflect a systemic problem because they are rare, or because most men aren’t stalkers. Jess Phillips dealt with the first by reading out the names of the 118 women and girls killed so far this year in cases in which men have been convicted or charged. “Killed women are not vanishingly rare,” she said. “Killed women are common.” Bernard Jenkin dealt with the second, or at least he tried to. “I am the representative man who is here to take the punishment and the blame, and I do that,” he said.  

Women’s fear and safety on the streets of London will be a big issue in the mayoral election on 6 May. Of all the candidates only Sadiq Khan, for Labour, has so far drawn attention to Everard’s murder on his campaign website. None has proposed anything as radical as Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb, the Green Party peer, who argued in the House of Lords for a 6pm curfew for all men to help women feel safer.

But it makes you think. It’s there in Hansard. It’s where we are.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Brexit and trade
It’s official: Britain’s trade with the EU took an almighty hit in January. New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed a 40.7 per cent fall in exports and a 28.8 per cent fall in imports. Temporary teething problems with new customs rules will be partly to blame. Ditto deliberately lower shipment levels made possible by stockpiling late last year. But these are still the biggest month-on-month declines on record. The economy as a whole shrank less than expected, but Brexit is real now and so are its effects. The question is how long we’ll put up with them.

New things technology, science, engineering

Non-fungible tokens
A self-taught Wisconsin-based artist called Beeple has sold an online-only artwork for a record $69.3 million. It’s a giant collage called “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days”. You can view it on a smartphone or (presumably) project it onto the Empire State Building, but it exists only as a digital file and its sale price is more than has ever been bid for a Gauguin. Christie’s sold it yesterday and will send the successful bidder an equally digital proof of ownership called an NFT or non-fungible token, which is like a Bitcoin in that if it’s yours it can’t be anyone else’s. No cutting and pasting, then. This is a new frontier for art but also, of course, for assets.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Coal hold
The Cumbrian coal mine plan that threatened to become an embarrassment for Boris Johnson as he prepares to welcome the world to COP26 has been put on hold. Robert Jenrick, the local government secretary, says the application to dig the mine “raises planning issues of more than local importance”. You can say that again. Greta Thunberg and John Kerry (the US climate envoy) have noted that it looks odd to be allowing more mining when trying to lead the fight against climate change because coal fires up global warming like almost nothing else. A group of 40 northern Conservative MPs accuses the government of “capitulating to climate alarmists” – and Johnson may yet have to listen to them. Just not before COP. 

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

John Hollis, superperson
A former sports reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution turns out to have so many natural antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that you could dilute their concentration by a factor of 10,000 and he still wouldn’t get Covid or any of its variants. His name is John Hollis and he has “super antibodies”, which attack the virus in many ways, not just by neutralising its spike proteins. NBC caught up with him in January in his new job at George Mason University in Virginia, where a team of researchers now hopes his antibodies could help them create the pharmaceutical holy grail of a single vaccine for all Covid variants. “If that sounds crazy to you, imagine how it feels to me,” he said.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Macron and Covid
Emmanuel Macron, personification (for many) of French modernity and competence, has failed to grasp how fast Covid and its variants spread, missed most French cases entirely and followed “bad science” in his not-so-subtle attacks on the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is the critique of the French president’s performance offered to Channel 4 News by Catherine Hill, a well-known epidemiologist and biostatistician. She calls Macron’s decision to question the AZ vaccine’s efficacy for over-65s a “gigantic mistake” and a combination of slow roll-out and vaccine hesitancy certainly seems to doom France to another spike in deaths: the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says they won’t peak till 3 April, six weeks after they peaked in the UK. 

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell

Photographs Getty Images

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