Long stories short
- Labour’s Keir Starmer said it would be an outrage if Boris Johnson’s father were knighted.
- Turkey’s opposition parties united behind Kemal Kilicdaroglu as their candidate to stand against Erdogan in May’s elections.
- CBI boss Tony Danker stepped aside over an allegation about his workplace conduct.
Florida’s state assembly will sit this year for just 60 days, starting today. The legislature has filled its docket with bills that would strengthen gun rights, allow the death penalty without a unanimous verdict, ban teachers from asking students for preferred pronouns, stop colleges and universities awarding gender studies degrees and outlaw puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors.
So what? Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, endorses his state’s agenda, campaigns on it and wants to be the next president of the United States. He is considered Trump’s only serious rival for the Republican nomination and is expected to announce his run in May.
Florida has been moving right for decades, but under DeSantis it’s become an incubator for some of the most radical conservative policies in the nation – and it’s hard to see his vision for the state as anything other than a dress rehearsal for the main show.
Road to run
- When first elected governor in 2018, DeSantis barely squeaked a win, but last year he won re-election in a landslide. That victory, combined with new Republican supermajorities in both state houses, has brought his political power to a peak.
- At 2.5 per cent, Florida’s unemployment rate is almost a full percentage point below the country’s (3.4 per cent) in spite of what he called “a great American exodus” from left-leaning states like California to Florida and others.
- DeSantis has been governor since 2019 but his resistance to Covid-era lockdowns and mask mandates put him on the national political map.
- The normal caveats about polling apply, but the RealClearPolitics polling average still shows Trump 16 points ahead of DeSantis among Republican primary voters.
Eyes on Florida. One state being innovative in policymaking is nothing new. Texas used to play the role Florida is playing now. What is new is the kind of socially conservative wedge policies that other conservative states are seeing in Florida and rushing to duplicate.
Those that have been copied in some way by another state include:
- The Parental Rights in Education (AKA “Don’t Say Gay”) bill, which prevents teachers discussing gender or sexuality with students under 10 and allows parents to sue schools which violate that rule.
- A ban on transgender girls competing on girls’ sports teams at public high schools.
- The use of state funds to transport unauthorised migrants from one place not in Florida (San Antonio, Texas) to another place not in Florida (Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts).
- The creation of Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security, which has arrested 20 people for allegedly committing voter fraud. (Most of those cases were later dropped.)
- The Stop WOKE Act, which DeSantis signed into law and which prevents schools teaching anything which may cause a student to feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over previous actions taken by members of their own race or gender.
The appeal. DeSantis is a serious contender for the Republican nomination despite Trump’s early lead, and his appeal to primary voters and donors is explicitly tied to his record in Florida.
- For primary voters: Although they still like Trump, they’re worried he may lose to Biden a second time. For them, DeSantis – whose gubernatorial record shows nothing if not that he’s a relentless culture warrior – is the best of both worlds: Trump’s ethos wrapped up in a much less inflammatory package.
- For donors: They care less about the culture wars and more about DeSantis’s record as an effective leader and legislator.
At the Ronald Reagan presidential library north of LA yesterday, he attacked what he called a “woke mind virus” infecting Democrats. He’s due in Iowa later this week as part of a national tour followed closely by Fox News, which has largely dumped Trump.
CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE
Khaled’s big house
Two numbers that don’t quite tell the story of The Holme, London’s most expensive private house, are £43 million and £250 million. The first is what Prince Khaled bin Sultan al Saud of Saudi Arabia paid for it in 1991. The second is what his people are seeking for it now. But he hasn’t made a profit of £207 million or even a much lower sum allowing for inflation. Instead the 40-room “mini-Buckingham Palace” on four acres in Regent’s Park has been used as collateral for a series of loans that Prince Khaled, a grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia, is having difficulty repaying. One was for a jet bought in 2016, the year before Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, detained dozens of Saudi billionaires in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton to teach them a lesson against profligacy. Prince Khaled wasn’t held in that purge but the sale of his flashiest house appears to be a sign that he too is having to re-cut his cloth.
TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THING
The UK’s defence ministry says Russian reservists are being sent into battle armed with shovels designed in the 19th century and known in the Russian army as MPL-50s. The MoD’s Defence Intelligence update of 5 March didn’t specify where the shovels were being used but did report an increase in hand-to-hand combat. It’s increasingly hard to sort fact from rumour in the battle for Bakhmut in the east, where journalists’ access is strictly controlled and front lines have been moving slowly but at staggering human cost for months. A recent Nato estimate suggests Russia has lost five soldiers for every one Ukrainian soldier killed there, and the Times reports today, citing Ukrainian sources, that Russian officers mutinied last month after losing up to 300 marines a day in a failed assault on Vuhledar, southwest of Donetsk.
The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT
The online counselling platform BetterHelp is the latest digital health company to face the (limited) wrath of the US Federal Trade Commission over sharing users’ personal data. The FTC has ordered the company to return $7.8 million to customers and has proposed banning the platform from sharing consumers’ health data for advertising purposes. “BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Although names and clinical data were not shared, details like whether someone was LGBT+ or had previously been to therapy were used to target consumers on social media. BetterHelp’s response to the FTC order was that its practices were “industry-standard”. Flo, a menstrual cycle tracking app, and GoodRx, a prescription drug discount provider, have also faced FTC penalties recently for similar practices.
Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics
If you ever needed convincing of the importance of trees to a community, look no further than the protests against the “chainsaw massacre” of thousands of trees in Sheffield as part of a £2.2 billion street improvement project. An independent report into a saga that made headlines about elderly residents being arrested for protecting trees concluded there had been a “failure of strategic leadership” by the city council and accused it of being “economical with the truth”. Sheffield Council, which tried to send one of its elected members to prison for protesting against the tree-felling, was also found to have misled the high court on two occasions. Sir Mark Lowcock, a former UN humanitarian chief who drew up the 227-page report, said it was “a dark episode in Sheffield”. The council responded by reiterating previous apologies and said it was “committed to doing better in the future”. A bit late for the trees.
CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING
Work longer? Nous?
The next round of public strikes against pension reform in France begins today, as union leaders shift protests into a “higher gear”. After five separate days of walkouts so far this year, some unions representing public transport workers and the energy sector have called for rolling strikes for the first time. More than 260 separate demonstrations are expected nationwide, with police anticipating up to 1.4 million people on the streets – which would represent the biggest day of public strikes in France for decades. “We always said that we would go into a higher gear if necessary,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 to protect the pension system as the population ages. Two-thirds of the public oppose the move.
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Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jess Winch and Phoebe Davis.
Photographs Getty Images
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This is the story of a politician incapable of living within his means but talented beyond measure at finding people to help him live beyond them. It’s the story of how that dependence on others sullied him and them. All of which leads to one simple question: just who is funding Boris Johnson?