Internal News Angles Memo

Date: 2 July 2019
To: All editors
From: Ceri Thomas
Subject: Today’s stories on the radar

Dear James,

It’s hard to take your eyes off Hong Kong at the moment. There’s quiet on the streets this morning, the most striking development is that Beijing has finally started to allow the protests to be acknowledged within China (to be condemned, of course). In part, that may be a recognition that the blanket ban on media coverage wasn’t quite working; in part it may be a gamble that support for the protestors on the mainland is limited. Either way, it’s impossible to look at the young protestors in Hong Kong without feeling deep fear about how this will end.

In Tortoise today, we’re looking forward to the semi-final of the football World Cup this evening, and back to our Festival of ThinkIns. One of the very best discussions in a brilliant weekend was about whether women and men should be paid the same in sport. You can catch up on the conversation and you can see some of the startling facts about the differentials in money and media coverage here. You may end up persuaded, as we were by one of the contributors in the room, that we’ll look back on the way women’s sport has been treated and ask ourselves “What on earth were we thinking?”

Belonging Identity, Society, Beliefs, Countries

One we made earlier
British manufacturing is in a dreadful state (the latest depressing figures are here) but – what’s this? – we’ve made something! A saint. Pope Francis announced yesterday that on October 13th John Henry Newman will become the first English person living after the 17th Century to be canonised. Britain has very few saints, whereas Italy turns them out like Fiats so it’s probably good news of a sort. And whatever you think of the two miracles you need to qualify for the role, there’s no doubt that Newman was a cultural and intellectual giant. In a rather strange contest, he’s at least a very interesting candidate.

Our planet Environment, Natural resources, Geopolitics

Targeting Vietnam
Vietnam is fascinating at the moment. Money is flooding there as western companies switch production from China in response to US tariffs (and the amazing story of the industrial conglomerate Vingroup has been attracting attention. Here’s a recent FT (£) long read about it: the scale of the company’s ambitions is extraordinary. This year it will make 5 million smartphones, next year 125 million; it opened a car factory under its VinFast brand last month and plans to make half a million cars there soon). Realising that tariffs on Chinese goods have moved manufacturing round the corner to Vietnam rather than back home to Pittsburgh, Donald Trump has now started making threatening noises about hurting Hanoi as well as Beijing.

Wealth Investment, Fairness, Prosperity

Money back
Neil Woodford is frantically trying to turn his Equity Investment Fund into the sort of fund his customers thought they were investing in: one with enough liquid assets for them to withdraw cash when they want it. The fund has been frozen for a month and investors thought it might be unlocked yesterday. Last night they learned that it won’t reopen for at least another 28 days. At the beginning, the Woodford story was about the downfall of a City giant; now it’s about public confidence in a financial system which still allows institutions to play right up to the edge of the rules on liquid assets, and way beyond a common sense understanding of what they ought to mean. The Daily Mail is hitting its stride on behalf of savers who are still paying fees even though they can’t access their savings.

The 100-year life Health, Education, Living, Public policy

Change in the air
Can the UK’s regional and city mayors really make a difference to daily life? The evidence from London today is that they can. London’s new-ish clean air zone has dramatically changed car buying (here’s the FT [£] on the story): it’s the death of diesel in the city. A car dealer reports diesel sales down from 25% last year to 2%. For the moment, drivers can still offload second-hand diesels elsewhere in the country, but Manchester, Birmingham and other cities are looking at their own air quality rules. Britain’s relatively brief love affair with diesel cars is coming to an end, in cities at least.

New things Technology, Science, Engineering

Trust up
Thanks to Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View newsletter for pointing out a fascinating story in technode about enforced trustworthiness. Some highlights: a Chinese company called E Umbrella lost almost all its 300,000 shared umbrellas just 3 months after its 2017 launch; and when two Chinese supermarkets ran an experiment in ‘honour-payments’ at unstaffed shops only 62% of people bothered to pay. Now the Chinese commercial giant Alibaba is testing whether its system of social credit can improve trustworthiness (the social credit system rewards consumers for good behaviour like paying bills on time in Alibaba’s case; and citizens for good behaviour like not dropping litter in the government’s case). Alibaba claims its rewards system pushed honour payments in supermarkets up to 95% but the trials don’t look big enough to be decisive. Fascinating, though, to see both the Chinese state and big companies placing bets on social credit as the way forward.

Ceri Thomas
Partner and Editor