What just happened
Long stories short
- China’s population growth slowed to its lowest rate since 10-yearly censuses began in the 1950s.
- Covid infections surged in the Seychelles despite a 60 per cent vaccination rate, mainly with the Chinese vaccine.
- La Scala reopened after a six-month closure with a performance of “Patria Oppressa” from Verdi’s Macbeth.
Post-Covid politics. The UK government will reveal its legislative agenda for the next year, a hotch-potch of plans which they hope to press through. The question that is worth asking with their various schemes, though, is whether this government really means what it says. For example:
- Further education reform. This could be a big deal – with the university student loan scheme being opened to people who want to take technical education and the power to have ministers intervene in colleges. But the further education system has run aground after a decade of being slashed beyond the bone: already, companies with entitlement to, in effect, free further education for staff have struggled to take it up. None of this will work unless up-front money is found to refloat it off the rocks.
- Planning reform. The government will announce a move to a more permissive planning system to speed up the building of new homes. But the plans that we know of are opposed for a variety of reasons by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Mayor of London, local councils and Shelter, the housing charity. Furthermore, the Conservative party has a pretty deep nimby strain.
- Northern Ireland prosecutions. The government is planning new legislation that will halt prosecutions for a range of offences committed during the Troubles – by both British soldiers and paramilitaries. This is opposed by the moderate centre in Northern Ireland – both unionist and nationalist. We are also expecting the results of the Ballymurphy inquest into the killing of 10 people in Belfast in 1971 by soldiers at some point today.
- Voter ID laws. The government wants to make it fussier to vote by asking people to produce photo ID at the booth. This appears to be naked partisanship – given there is no problem with personation – and it has been opposed by David Davis, the Tories’ anointed leader on civil liberties issues.
- Gay conversion therapy. The government will ban the practise – although the gap between a maximalist ban and a thin one is rather large, particularly in how it would deal with respecting freedom of worship. You could end up with a formal ban that, in practise, does quite little.
All in all, it is quite possible that these changes will be very important, with major impacts. Or they could all be watered down and turn into damp squibs. Will Boris Johnson, a man who simply folded to the EU’s demands, hold out if the Daily Mail or Telegraph gets its teeth into these things, if it means standing up to his party or if he’s asked to back off by the Northern Irish legislative assembly?
Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries
Clashes in Jerusalem have boiled over into lethal force: a raid by the Israeli police on the al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan provoked militants in Gaza to fire rockets at the city. The Israelis responded with airstrikes. Palestinian officials have said at least 24 residents of Gaza are dead. The Israelis say they targeted leaders of Hamas. The core dispute is about attempts to remove Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem – a court hearing about the case has provoked weeks of protest, counter-protest, provocation and street violence.
New things technology, science, engineering
A curiosity in the bond markets: Amazon has borrowed $18.5 billion from investors at prices that are extremely close to the cost of debt for the US government itself. This is, the FT (£) reports, a record-breaking event. Bond investors clearly feel happy lending very cheaply to Amazon – within 0.1 per cent of borrowing costs for the US over two years, a benchmark often known as the so-called “risk-free” rate. Other competitors for the title of “cheapest borrowing” are Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Tortoise has banged on for a bit about seeing these companies as akin to nations: bond investors are already there.
The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY
The next vaccine roll-out
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is now approved for use in the US for children aged as young as 12, having shown 100 per cent effectiveness against the novel coronavirus. Students in the US are already expected to be vaccinated before taking up places at lots of institutions. Policymakers in the West may face a choice between cauterising their own populations’ susceptibility by expanding vaccine coverage into younger groups and deploying their stocks of vaccine to India, and other places in much direr need.
Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics
In the wind
The world’s renewable energy capacity grew at its fastest pace since 1999, according to the International Energy Agency – up by 45 per cent in a single year. As a result of the surge, the IEA is revising up its forecasts for the use of renewable energy by about a quarter for the coming years – the result of accelerated expansion in China, Europe and the US. China has been piling into renewables with incentives that will expire in the coming years, but the IEA hopes that, by then, they will have done enough to prime the pump.
Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity
Honour among thieves?
A surprise twist in the story of the hack of a US pipeline network that we mentioned yesterday: an apology from a gang of Russian cyber-criminals. DarkSide, which took the Colonial oil pipeline network offline at the weekend, wrote: “Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.” The network carries 2.5 million barrels a day – 45 per cent of the US East Coast supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel. Perhaps fearing being treated as a national security threat, DarkSide hinted they would not do this again: “From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”
Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can.
Photographs by Getty Images
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