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Sensemaker: Man seeks plan

Sensemaker: Man seeks plan

What just happened

Long stories short

  • At least 17 people were killed in a Russian missile strike on Odesa.
  • The US Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to curb emissions from power plants (more below).
  • Chris Pincher, deputy chief-whip, resigned from Boris Johnson’s government after drinking “far too much” and groping two male colleagues. 

Number of the day: 40 per cent (see “housing” below)

Man seeks plan

Sir Tony Blair gathered dozens of fertile centrist minds at a hotel in London yesterday to fill the “gaping hole” in British politics where he says there needs to be a plan to get the country out of its present funk.

Low growth, high living costs, a neglected climate crisis and the realities of Brexit demand bold new solutions from and for the political centre where, despite everything, most voters still see themselves, Blair said.

Tech gurus and ex-Tories joined in. So did Larry Summers from Harvard and Lord Darzi, the surgeon. An assistant editor at Conservative Home said it was a conference of “middle-aged, middle-class liberals still coming down from seeing Macca at Glasto”, although he admitted not actually being there.

It was not the launch of a new party. It did not necessarily fill the gaping hole. But for anyone in search of a one-stop shop for expert analysis of what ails Britain in 2022 it was the place to be. 

Cost of living. The combination of war, surging global energy demand and a botched British energy price cap system means UK households face an energy bill explosion over the next eight months unlike anything they – or politicians – have ever had to cope with. Martin Lewis, the self-appointed money saving expert, had the numbers: 

£800 – average annual energy bill 18 months ago

£1,277 – average bill now

£2,980 – average bill by October, up 51 per cent since April 

c. £3,000 – average bill next January

c. £2,800 – average bill next April 2023

Cost of dying. Since the mid-50s the cost of healthcare for an ageing population has risen steadily from around 7.5 per cent of total government spending to around 18 per cent, said Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The size of the state relative to GDP has barely changed in that time, so something else had to give and that was defence spending, down from 22 to less than 5 per cent of public spending. 

Education. Education spending has hovered between 7.5 and 12 per cent of public spending for 70 years. It’s now at about 10 per cent, as it was in 1968, which may not be appropriate for what aspires to be a knowledge economy.

Housing. The number of 25-34 year olds who own their own homes has plunged by 40 per cent in 20 years, from more than 60 per cent to just over 20, meaning that

  • a generation of young professionals is paying rent rather than accumulating capital; 
  • and a Conservative party still steeped in the spirit if not the letter of Thatcherism has wiped out its future home-owning base by not building enough houses.

Cost of Brexit. Broad disenchantment. 45 per cent of voters say Brexit has made life worse, per Ipsos-Mori, compared with 17 per cent who say it’s made life better. Blair concurs with Sir Keir Starmer, the current Labour leader, that Brexit can’t be reversed at least for a generation, even though last month the Office for Budget Responsibility stood by its assessment that the new arrangement is costing the UK £100 billion a year in growth foregone. 

Hope from gloom. Master of the bright side, Blair finds grounds for optimism in evidence from polling by his Institute for Global Change that UK voters, broadly speaking, grasp the scale of the problem and see centrism as the solution.

More numbers: 

69 – percentage share of voters who believe the UK is heading for a period of decline

62 – per cent who already believe the country is no longer a leader on the world stage

75 – per cent who feel the country has no clear plan

76 – per cent who believe the political system is broken and the main parties cannot fix it

Key finding: replacing the prime minister won’t cut it. The UK’s biggest challenges are systemic. 


Chinese layoffs
Two Chinese tech giants are laying off thousands of staff because lockdowns and regulations are eating into profits. Tencent, which owns the Activision Blizzard video game powerhouse, will be shrinking its workforce across all divisions at least until the end of the year, the WSJ reports, and Bytedance, parent of TikTok, is cutting hundreds of jobs in its gaming division. This is not as niche as it sounds. Officials are starting to see how Xi Jinping’s campaign to tame the tech sector, starting with Jack Ma’s Ant group in 2020, is hobbling growth nationally, and they’re already trying to ease regulations imposed as recently as last year. They could be too late. As the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd tells Andrew Neil in The Backstory, Xi is finding that “if you bugger up the economy, you bugger up everything else”. 


Dogs’ ancestors
Most dogs are descended from Siberian wolves, but some owe more to western grey wolves like those still found in Syria. A new study published in Nature analysed 72 ancient wolf genomes from Europe, Siberia and North America to test the theory that all dogs were descended from Asia. It doesn’t quite hold up. Most modern dogs owe at least part of their genetic heritage to Siberian wolves, but many, especially in the Middle East and Africa, carry western material in their genomes. Confession: the Nature study is unbelievably complicated, and the Guardian’s piece based on it quotes the study’s lead author as saying western wolf ancestry is most evident in a 7,000 year-old Israeli dog breed – but doesn’t make clear what that breed is. It could be the Basenji. Clarification welcome.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Archie Battersbee
Archie Battersbee’s parents have won the right to take their 12 year-old son’s case back to court, as they continue to dispute he is dead after suffering a traumatic brain injury in April. On 11 July the UK’s High Court will hear arguments from the family’s lawyers that errors were made in the court’s previous judgement that Archie is dead and life-support should end. Families often bring life-support disputes into the courtroom. What makes this case different, as the Press Association’s Brian Farmer noted in a recent ThinkIn, is that the family is seeking the standard of proof typically seen in criminal trials: beyond reasonable doubt, rather than on a balance of probability. Archie’s parents, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, will also argue Archie’s religious beliefs weren’t considered in the ruling. It’s believed Archie was injured taking part in an online challenge. 

Separately: a mother is suing TikTok’s parent company for unleashing “a predatory and manipulative app” that “pushed exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges”. Her 10 year-old daughter was watching ‘Blackout Challenge’ videos on the platform before strangling herself to death. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Scotus v EPA
The US Supreme Court’s vote to uphold a challenge to the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set emissions standards for power stations is a huge blow to efforts to clean up one of the world’s biggest polluters, and a signal that this court could go on to cut the powers of other federal agencies it deems guilty of mission creep. The EPA had asserted the authority under the Clean Air Act to enforce emissions caps that would eventually force the power sector to dump coal for renewables. The court held by 6 votes to 3 that the act gives no such authority. Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent for the three liberals, said the court had appointed itself a decision-maker on climate policy, and she couldn’t think of many things more frightening. The fossil fuel sector is delighted. 


Xi takes Hong Kong
Xi Jinping went to Hong Kong to mark 25 years since its handover by the UK, and said 1997 was when true democracy took hold there. Night is day. Black is white. Two plus two equals five and another tyrant turns reality on its head. Do follow the Hong Kong Free Press and its fundraising campaign on Twitter. It accurately describes itself as one of the last uncensored voices in Hong Kong, and is running out of money.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Imy Harper.

Photographs Getty Images

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