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Sensemaker: Standstill Britain

Sensemaker: Standstill Britain

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Ukrainian war crimes investigators began exhuming bodies from mass graves outside Izyum (more below).
  • Ulf Kristersson said he would start forming Sweden’s first centre-right government since 2014.
  • Roger Federer announced his retirement from top-flight tennis after 22 years on the ATP tour.

Standstill Britain

In the 96 days following Boris Johnson’s resignation announcement, the UK will have had six days of fully working government. Fifteen days off at the end are attributable to party conference season but the 13-day pause in the middle for the Queen creates the longest administrative time-out most people can remember. Normal service won’t resume until 11 October.

In the meantime…

  • healthcare is on hold – not all of it, but hospital appointments for cancer, pregnancy and surgery including C-sections and hip replacements have been postponed for Monday’s funeral;
  • food banks will close in Stockport, Bristol, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Liverpool and elsewhere to let staff watch the ceremony; and
  • other people’s funerals have been postponed from Monday, including one for the mother of a woman who called LBC to say the funeral directors had phoned to say “I’m sure you know why we’re ringing”. She didn’t.

McDonalds branches, museums, London Zoo, Kew Gardens, most supermarkets and the airspace over London will be closed for all or part of Monday. 

Plans have been made to accommodate 750,000 people, enough to fill ten Wembleys, in the queue to pay respects to the Queen in Westminster Hall. That would be more than joined any other queue in the modern era except the one for Mao Zedong’s funeral in 1977.

The Queen’s lying-in-state has transfixed the nation and in a less contemplative moment might have divided it. One Twitter user said: “There are two types of people in the UK right now: 1. The people in the queue. 2. The people watching the queue with fascination.”

Jim Laslow joined it on Wednesday having flown in specially from New York. “I love the Queen,” he said. “She has always meant a great deal to me because half of America’s history is British history, and all her ancestors were kings of New York. So I think we feel like cousins.”

Moral support is provided by teams drawn from Anglicanism, Islam, humanism and the Jewish faith. “We’re chaplains to the queue,” said Father Nick, a retired Church of England priest offering solace and an ear nearby. 

Too much? Anticipating a 10-mile queue, organisers have marshalled 779 stewards together with more than 300 volunteers from the Scouts, the civil services and the Salvation Army, and a 600-strong St John’s Ambulance contingent. As of this morning the queue was four and a half miles long; queuing time 11 hours.

The funeral will be expensive and funded by taxpayers struggling with inflation at nearly 10 per cent, the NYT notes. Its approach has riled traditionalists like Isabelle Oakeshott, the journalist, who tried explaining to the voice of New York liberalism that dropping everything for  lavish ceremonies is “quite simply who we are”.

Center Parcs, the middle class holiday village company, has found otherwise. Its response to the Queen’s death has been a case study in tin-eared group think. Assuming staff would expect Monday off and guests would understand, it told them to find alternative accommodation, then U-turned in the face of an astonished customer backlash. 

Most people will remember where they were when the Queen died and when she was buried. Some will be on waterslides.


Mr Patagonia
Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, has been given away. “I never wanted to be a businessman” says Yvon Chouinard, the 83 year-old rock climber and (formerly) billionaire, who has irrevocably committed to giving away the business he founded in 1973. “Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” he told the NYT. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.” The company’s voting stock, equivalent to 2 percent of its shares, has been put into a newly-established trust to be overseen by the Chouinard family. The other 98 percent of Patagonia was donated to a seperate recently-established non-profit organisation called the Holdfast Collective, which will receive all the company’s profits and use them to combat climate change. The Holdfast Collective does not yet have a public website, and has not made clear how the profits will be spent. But it is a 501(c)(4), meaning it can make unlimited political contributions. Until this week Patagonia’s market value was around $3 billion, with annual profits of $100 million.


Not Chitin
Crab shells could provide an alternative to lithium for electrodes in rechargeable batteries. Eight million tons of crab, shrimp and lobster shells find their way to landfill each year, but they could instead be processed to produce a natural polymer called chitin which scientists at the University of Maryland have found works well as part of a chitin-zinc battery. Lithium-ion batteries dominate the rechargeable market but take hundreds of years to biodegrade and the supply of lithium is finite. Chitin has to be heated to 900 degrees C to be useful, and zinc is hard to extrude in smooth films, but in combination they could lead to a breakthrough in battery recycling. The journal Matter had the scoop; Popular Mechanics has a write-up.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Abortion own goal
Senator Lindsey Graham’s decision to put a 15-week federal abortion ban before Congress this week was a calculated risk. It’s unlikely to pay off. Similar bills have consistently failed to get through both houses, and this one seems to have played into Democrats’ hands. One party source tells Politico the bill was a “godsend”. Even the Republicans’ Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, an essential cog in the machine to overturn Roe v Wade, poured cold water on the bill. Why? The Dobbs v Jackson decision was centred on allowing states to impose or lift abortion restrictions by themselves. Most Republican strategists want to stick to that line for fear of losing voters who fear larger erosion of their individual rights. In a week when President Biden might have been on the back foot because of hotter inflation figures than expected, the headlines led with abortion. The midterms are in seven weeks. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

The greenwash papers
Shell plc hopes to persuade the public it’s serious about decarbonisation, but internal emails said its net zero pledges had “nothing to do with our business plans”. The emails have been seen by the US congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform, which this week accused the oil majors of basing their climate plans on “unproven technology, accounting gimmicks and misleading language” – in other words, of greenwash. At a separate hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee’s oversight panel, Democrats named and hoped to shame US PR firms they say are prominent in sowing confusion about climate change and sabotaging legislative efforts to fight it. So look out for press releases from Singer Associates, Story Partners and Pac/West Communications, and read between the lines. 


Europarl v Hungary
The European parliament has decided by a crushing majority that Hungary is no longer a full democracy. MEPs backed by 81 per cent a resolution declaring Hungary was now “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. The vote will make it harder for Viktor Orbán’s government to unfreeze €4.6 billion in EU Covid recovery funds that have already been frozen for more than a year, the Guardian reports. It will also make more likely a big cut to €24 billion earmarked in principle for “cohesion” funds for Hungary, to be spent on infrastructure and economic development. That sum could be cut by 70 per cent. Hungarians broadly favour EU membership but they have also returned two-thirds parliamentary majorities for Orbán’s hard-right, anti-immigrant Fidesz party for most of the past decade. Power corrupts. In addition to bigotry he stands accused of nepotism, favouritism and playing fast and loose with the rule of law.

Thanks for reading. Please do share your thoughts and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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