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Sensemaker: Election bonanza

Sensemaker: Election bonanza

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The president of the New York Fed said the US economy would grow by 7 per cent this year, faster than at any point since the 1980s.
  • 19 people died and more than 800 were wounded in five days of protests against proposed tax increases in Colombia.
  • Oktoberfest has been cancelled for the second year in a row.

Election bonanza

This coming fortnight features a run of elections in the UK which are going to generate a lot of noise, but perhaps not as much light as we might hope. Not all these elections are equally important – nor is it clear that people will draw the right lessons from the results. So here, in order of importance, is what is coming over the next two weeks.

  • First, the election for the Scottish parliament (Thursday): we are expecting a majority in favour of independence – although perhaps not for the Scottish National Party alone. They might need the support of the Greens (and, perhaps, “Alba”) to get over the line. This will matter because it decides who will be running Scotland, but also raises the prospect of a stand-off between the Scottish and mostly-English Conservative government over whether the Scottish government is to be allowed to hold a second referendum on independence.
  • Second, the Democratic Unionist Party leadership election in Northern Ireland (either this week or next): Arlene Foster, the sitting first minister, has been pushed out for being too liberal. Edwin Poots will probably take over as leader of the DUP and, probably, be DUP nominee for first minister. In the short term there is a strong chance that Poots could collapse the NI executive. And in the medium term, the main threat to the DUP is that it will lose votes to more socially liberal parties, so choosing an uncharismatic extremist creationist who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old would be a, uh, bold strategy. 
  • Third, the election for the Welsh parliament (Thursday): Labour are currently in the lead, with the Tories in second place. Plaid Cymru, the nationalists, will be in a strong third. The arithmetic of the result will determine what happens after: Labour will likely win by a mile – but not have a majority. They are unlikely to be able to form a majority without Plaid. The Lib Dems, who once had a Welsh heartland, may be wiped out. 
  • Fourth, the various local elections, mayoral elections and the by-election for an MP in Hartlepool (Thursday): Hartlepool has been held by Labour for roughly as long as Edwin Poots thinks the earth has existed, but largely because of third parties – the Lib Dems and Brexit parties – eating the Tory vote. It would not be enormously surprising if it went Conservative. The flipside of Labour losing Hartlepool will be that it will win in London by record margins. The results will demonstrate that realignment is underway, with graduate-heavier areas broadly switching toward Labour while graduate-light areas switch away. 

What do all these mean for the next general election? What do they tell us about Keir Starmer’s chances of becoming prime minister? Beyond the facts of the realignment, these are elections held during a pandemic, just as the government is rolling out a very effective vaccine programme. I don’t think they are usefully informative about likely election results in 2024. The results, though, will shape the politics of the next few years.

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

India’s crisis
The horrific news from India continues: 20 million Covid cases in total have officially been reported, and 222,000 people have died. On Monday, 3,400 died from the disease. The true numbers, however, are much higher. The levels of stress in the health system are terrifying: 24 people died in a Karnataka hospital because it ran out of oxygen. It is unclear why governments – notably the UK and US – have not seen getting vaccines to India as a key objective. About 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are sitting in an Ohio warehouse, for example, awaiting approval for use in the US while it is already approved for use in India.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The Gates divorce
Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing after 27 years of marriage: this matters a lot, largely because the Gates have been such a presence in global philanthropy. The Gates Foundation paid out $1.75 billion this year for vaccine initiatives and research. The charity has assets of $43 billion, and focuses on public health, education and climate change. It has been run as a partnership between the two – but what happens now? And what of the rest of their huge fortune?

New things technology, science, engineering

Apple v everyone
Apple is currently engaged in two significant fights: on one hand, it is (broadly speaking) a goody in the fight against Facebook. It is using its market position to make it harder for Facebook, in particular, to track users’ movements. On the other hand, it is using the same oligopolist position to demand that companies wanting to deploy their software on Apple phones can only do so if they use Apple’s payment systems. Epic, a games company, sought to circumvent this – and were booted from their App store. A court case on Apple’s strategy started yesterday

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Lost in the Amazon
The world’s biggest online retailer registered €44 billion of sales in Luxembourg, its European HQ. But paid no corporation tax, because it ran a €1.4 billion loss. Amazon is unlikely to pay much tax any time soon, either: the Guardian reports it has €56 million in tax credits it can use to offset any future tax bills should it turn a profit. The company has €2.7 billion worth of carried losses to offset any potential future profits. This is why the Biden plan for a global minimum corporate tax rate is so attractive to a lot of other countries: Luxembourgers would not like it, since it would erode their tax piracy industry. But it could help force corporations to pay a lot more tax.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Unfrozen history
The retreating ice has laid bare some remarkable artefacts in Italy: facilities from the White War, the Italian front of the Great War, have been revealed by global warming. Soldiers who dug into shelters on mountainsides locked up their bunkers and left in November 1918 – facilities that have only recently been accessible to historians and archaeologists. The mountains made for a particularly nightmarish part of a nightmarish war. The rising global temperature keeps revealing bodies from this war, too – one emerges from the snow every few years.

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

Chris Cook

Photographs by Getty Images and Stelvio National Park

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