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Sensemaker: 500 agendas and a funeral

Sensemaker: 500 agendas and a funeral

What just happened

Long stories short

  • President Biden said American troops would defend Taiwan if China attacked.
  • Alla Pugacheva, Russia’s most famous pop star, denounced the war in Ukraine.
  • Hurricane Fiona knocked out all power across Puerto Rico.

500 agendas and a funeral

A sumptuous sunset bathed Westminster in light on the Queen’s last evening in London. Were the gods trying to say something? Even hard-boiled republicans have to admit the marathon of remembrance drawing to a close with her funeral today has shown a self-sustaining power. 

Call it magnetism. The funeral has drawn 500-odd emperors, kings, presidents and heads of government to Westminster Abbey. The crush is a serious tribute to the Queen’s longevity and her success as an embodiment of soft power abroad. But when the guests go home her country will need all the friends it can get.

A reminder: the Queen died two days into a tenure in Number 10 in which Liz Truss had already

  • promised an unfunded ÂŁ170 billion energy bill bailout;
  • doubled down on trickle-down economics to save the economy and the public finances; and
  • faced a crisis of personal legitimacy arising from her elevation to prime minister on the strength of the support of about 0.1 per cent of the electorate.

Post-Elizabethan Britain’s global standing will rest on its status as a trading power and its relationships with the US, Europe and the Commonwealth. All are shaky.

Trade. The details are for another day but the numbers are bad. Overall trade values are high, but only because of spiralling gas prices which are also responsible for the worst UK trade deficit in more than quarter of a century.

US. Biden arrived early for the funeral but postponed a planned bilateral meeting with Truss until later this week. Not unrelated: his insistence that Truss’s hardline Brexit cabinet unbends on the Northern Ireland Protocol if it wants a US-UK trade deal. Possibly unrelated but certainly unhelpful: this Sunday Times / Sarawak Report scoop on Truss’s chief of staff, Mark Fullbrook, who turns out to have been helping the FBI with enquiries about an alleged $300,000 plot to bribe a Puerto Rican politician.

Europe. The UK has set a solid example on how to respond to Russia in Ukraine but Truss pandered to her party’s Europhobic ultras as a leadership candidate, saying the jury was out on whether France’s Emmanuel Macron was “friend or foe”. He has resisted rising to the bait, paid elegant tributes to the Queen and – as Lord Ricketts notes – deserves an apology.

Commonwealth. All 56 member states are represented at the funeral. Not all are happy with the status quo. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda plans to hold a referendum on becoming a republic within three years. Jamaica is likely to follow. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern says it’s only a matter of time before her country chooses its own head of state.

China matters as an export market and potential partner in the fight against climate change, so its funeral delegation was allowed to view the Queen lying in state despite an attempted veto by Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle. He tried to keep Vice President Wang Qishan out of Westminster Hall because of Chinese sanctions against MPs who’ve dared to call out Chinese genocide in Xinjiang, but was overruled.

India matters as the go-to case study of what Global Britain might mean in the real world. More trade? More visas? Modi is not at the funeral but India’s president, Droupadi Murmu, is. She is a former teacher and provincial governor, and a quiet reminder of non-hereditary ways to choose a head of state.

Russia matters as an exporter of death, destruction and misinformation, so was disinvited. Its foreign ministry called the decision to bar diplomats as well as Putin “immoral” and “blasphemous” to the memory of the Queen, though it was in keeping with fresh confirmations of Russia’s pariah status from China and India at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand. India’s PM Narendra Modi told Putin this was “not an era of war”.

The Queen inherited the remains of an empire on which the sun never set. She bequeathed a country struggling to find its new place in the sun – and flummoxed by Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the alleged murderer and human rights abuser, said he wouldn’t be at the funeral but would fly in anyway to pay his respects to the royal family. King Charles is fond of Saudi Arabia, which he’s visited 12 times. A diplomatic bear trap looms.

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Rites of passage

Matthew d’Ancona

The Queen’s funeral marks the end of a remarkable ten days in national life. The monarchy will evolve. But it is not among the institutions in greatest need of radical reform


CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE

Nigerian dollars
Nigeria is running out of dollars. It has plenty of naira, its own currency, but hard currency earnings from oil are tanking because of theft and – who knew? – because it’s that time of year when 100,000 of the country’s wealthiest families need dollars to pay overseas school fees, so demand is intense. One result, the FT reports, is that airlines are struggling to convert local naira earnings into dollars to repatriate them, with the knock-on effect that Emirates has suspended flights to and from Nigeria until the central bank releases $265 million of $464 million the Dubai-based airline says it’s owed. Part of the context is economic populism. Nigerians are promised some of the world’s cheapest petrol. That means huge and growing subsidies as world oil prices rise. Abuja is committed to paying them, but can’t afford them. It’s a rum-old situation for Africa’s biggest oil producer.


TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS

ATACMS v Shahed drones
The war in Ukraine is about national identity, fighting spirit, megalomania, geopolitics and 21st-century intelligence. And hardware. First Ukraine needed Turkish Bayraktar drones and showed the world how useful they could be against lumbering Soviet-built armour. Then American-built HIMARS guided rocketry proved crucial for destroying Russian command posts and ammunition dumps, enabling this month’s advance in Kharkiv province. Now Ukraine wants longer-range US rockets, the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), to probe even further behind enemy lines. Meanwhile Russia wants Iranian Shahed-136 attack drones, and no wonder. The NYT quotes Ukrainian officers who have seen them obliterate US-supplied mobile howitzers “not like artillery that hit us before”. The problem is that Russia is getting its drones while Ukraine isn’t getting any ATACMS, yet.


The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Not so sweet
Despite the distraction of a state funeral, the UK’s treasury under its new management has found time to announce a review of current anti-obesity strategy, with a view to scrapping the sugar tax introduced in the teeth of industry opposition under David Cameron. Liz Truss criticised “taxes on treats” for those on low incomes during her leadership campaign and argued for cutting red-tape for business ahead of this week’s mini-budget. Healthcare workers aren’t pleased. Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor, wrote in the Times that by slashing the restrictions Truss “will condemn even greater numbers of society’s most disadvantaged members to illness, suffering and early death”. Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health and chair of campaign group Action on Sugar said it would be a “national scandal” to support the food industry over decreasing obesity. But Thérèse Coffey, the health secretary and a close ally of Truss, is “on-board”. 


Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Fossil fuel database
The first public database tracking fossil fuel production, reserves and emissions worldwide launches today, ahead of critical climate talks at the UN general assembly this week and COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh in November. The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, developed by the Carbon Tracker think tank and the Global Energy Monitor, includes data from 50,000 oil, gas and coal fields in 89 countries and represents the first public inventory of countries’ remaining reserves – useful for investors and activists. It found that the US and Russia still have enough fossil fuel underground to blow through the world’s remaining carbon budget, or what the world can afford to burn to keep global warming under 1.5C. “We already have enough extractable fossil fuels to cook the planet. We can’t afford to use them all – or almost any of them at this point,” said Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the database. Global oil consumption is forecast to rise by at least 2 million barrels a day at least until the end of 2023.


CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING

Vineyard visit
Last Thursday, an asylum seeker in his early 20s walked down a street in Martha’s Vineyard, a summer playground for American celebrities and presidents off the coast of Massachusetts. A burger in a nearby restaurant cost $26 – more than the migrant made in a month in Venezuela, CNN reported. The young man did not plan to travel to Martha’s Vineyard; around 50 people were put on planes from Texas under plans made by Florida’s Ron DeSantis as Republican governors transport migrants to liberal areas to draw attention to record crossings across the southern border. The White House called the flights “shameful, reckless and just plain wrong”. DeSantis promised more of them. After 44 hours, the migrants were taken to temporary housing at a military base, and volunteers who sheltered them at an Episcopal church packed up the cot beds and said the place felt lonely. “The governor of Florida got it wrong,” said church organist Charles Rus. “I think he thought we wouldn’t know what to do. And actually people here really give a damn.”


The week ahead

UK

19/9 – Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral; 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers at Liverpool docks begin strike action, 20/9 – Liz Truss to attend UN General Assembly in New York; £150 disability cost of living payment sent to six million people, 21/9 – MPs return to House of Commons and swear oaths to King Charles III; deadline for Scottish National Party to file written submissions to Supreme Court on holding a second Scottish independence referendum, 22/9 – Bank of England to announce delayed interest rate decision; health secretary Thérèse Coffey to set out plans for NHS, 23/9 – Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng to announce mini-budget, two men to be charged over new IRA terrorism offences 24/9 – Labour Party conference begins in Liverpool 

World

19/9 – Sergey Lavrov holds briefing in Moscow on Russian priorities at UN; trial due to begin of Donald Trump supporter Tom Barrack on allegations he illegally acted as an agent of the UAE; Climate Week begins in New York; 20/9 – Milan fashion week starts, 21/9 – Washington National Cathedral memorial service for Queen Elizabeth II; World Alzheimer’s day; Earthshot Prize innovation summit; US Federal Reserve interest rate decision; Belize and Malta national days, 22/9 – Transatlantic dinner hosted by Antony Blinken with 27 EU member states; European Central Bank General Council; court hearing to indict former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan for contempt of court; public holiday for day of mourning in Australia for the Queen, 23/9 – Fridays for Future global climate strike; Autumn equinox in northern hemisphere, 25/9 – Second round of regional and local elections in Russia; Italy holds election after collapse of coalition led by Mario Draghi; Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah


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

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Jessica Winch.

Photographs Getty Images


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