Viral Threat 2

Five weeks on from Grandad’s last posting and the Wuhan Virus now has a new name – plus has expanded world-wide. In the UK Covid-19 has now claimed 21 lives but that may well have increased even before this posting appears online.

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Elsewhere in Europe the situation has deteriorated rapidly with worst-case Italy reporting yesterday that 1,016 deaths had been identified as Covid-19 related. And many of these were senior citizens.

If the compounding growth rate of infections continues the next few weeks will see the number of deaths grow every day – claiming mainly the elderly and the already vulnerable. The short-term prospects are to prepare for bad news.

But even if the virus has no direct impact on your friends and family, the financial chaos that is being created almost certainly will.

Take cities like Oxford, Cambridge, York and even Edinburgh that depend upon tourism and overseas students for a large percentage of their turnover. Hotels, restaurants, retailers, airlines, coach and train companies are all going to experience drastic cuts to their incomes. Jobs will go and businesses will fail – even if there is billions in government support. And away from these high profile examples there will still be major disruptions and life-changing events. Take football – where many clubs below the Premier League depend upon gate receipts and local corporate sponsors. If both income streams stop then closure can be the only outcome.

The hope is that the numbers of new infections will start to decline by summer – and allow some of the restrictions to be lifted; so letting trade slowly return. However the UK, along with other major economies, was far from being financially healthy before Covid-19 appeared. This is why we have had such low interest rates – and why the Bank of England governor, Mary Carney, cut interest rates to 0.25% before the Budget last week. Quite a way to leave office – tomorrow!

How will this all turn out? Who knows. But Grandad is off to read-up about Spanish Flu and check that his will is still valid …

Changeable Weather

The 20’s decade has started out with a roar – with threats of everything from global pandemic to weather chaos; from stock market crash to royal family breakdown.

But have no fear an intrepid junior reporter has emerged. One who will stop the evil US president, outwit the scheming eastern dictator and mobilise the youth of the free world to stop climate change before we and all of the Earth’s animals starve, burn or are drowned.

Now Grandad remains unconvinced that Grintin has any real solutions and can only act as a voice for others. Hopefully those that have researched the issue in depth. But this leaves the whole climate action programme vulnerable to being hijacked by vested interests. And there are plenty who see their chance to make a lot of money out of phoney climate initiatives.

Clearly there are some big issues that need to be faced head-on – with the ever expanding human population being the key driver of almost all of them. Now if Grintin can convince the world to act on that then there is a chance for future generations.

But cynics will say that there is no money to be made out of population reduction – so it won’t happen. Not by any human actions that is …

Viral THreat

It is estimated that one deadly strain of avian influenza caused the deaths of 50 million people worldwide. In England it was named Spanish Flu. It broke out here in 1918 so towards the end of First World War.

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The current outbreak of Wuhan Virus is being taken very seriously but so far represents just a tiny fraction of the human cost that the pandemic of 1918 incurred. However the big issue that most commentators are not addressing is the disproportionate impact that the quarantine measures are going to have on world trade – and the global economy. In effect the entire world’s factory has been all but closed.

Each week that a factory in China, normally producing goods for export, remains closed around 2% of its annual production is lost. How many factories in China are already closed? And how many more will follow? How long before they can re-open?

Now we can all survive if the launch of the latest smartphone is delayed for months or even years. But the mighty Apple will soon feel the icy blast of recession if it runs out of products to sell. And it’s not just factory products impacted. At the opposite end of the process raw materials like coal, oil, iron ore, etc will experience a big drop in demand. This in turn will lead to a drop in prices and lay-offs in countries far away from the regions infected by the Wuhan virus.

There is a serious risk that there will be a collapse in world trade – and perhaps one big enough in scale to surpass the Wall Street Crash of the 1920’s … And that is yet another piece of 20th century history that no one wants to see repeated.

A Decade of Change?

With the scoreboard showing 1,314 days since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union the chances of another failure to deliver seem vanishingly small. And so just 3 more days remain for our country as a member. That in itself will be a first time situation for many British people. But then the 20’s seem set to be a decade of change in many ways.

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Starting at the top we have a monarch who has served for 67 years and will reach her 100 years in 2026 while her consort the Duke of Edinburgh will reach that milestone sooner – in 2021. A fact of human life is that it is finite – and so we must face the possibility that the 2020’s will be the last decade of the New Elizabethan era. So while Harry makes the headlines today it is the future of the monarchy that will come into question before too long.

Similarly the children of the 1940’s baby boom will reach their 80’s over the next ten years and fade away in greater numbers than ever before. A statistical fact used by pro-EU vote losers as a crutch to promote rejoining after another vote. Sadly for them this will never occur as both economic factors and bigger world issues will take priority over political manoeuvres in Europe.

And the biggest world issue will be climate change – along with the actions we are required to take in response. But that needs a separate posting …

Welcome Break

Coming back after a month’s absence we find that the British political map has been redrawn. Now many of the changes were widely predicted – or at least hoped for – but perhaps few thought that so many would be realised so swiftly.

The Labour Party were shown to have fallen for their own spin that the traditionally industrial regions would always vote for them no matter how little notice had been taken of their opinions. In the real world seats like Bolsover were full of voters fed up with the Islington doctrines. One typical result being that Dennis Skinner was ousted after 49 years of being the MP for this rock-solid labour constituency.

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And many of those MPs that had pushed their own agendas, rather than serve the people that they were elected to represent, got what they deserved. They wont be amongst those being sworn in to the new parliament next week.

Meanwhile the Brexit Party failed to get any of their candidates past the post in first place. This is not what many had hoped for – yet their effect on the result was far greater than either Labour or Conservative supporters – and the BBC – would admit.

Take our own constituency. The Conservative vote was up by less than 1.5% yet the well-liked sitting Labour candidate had a vote fall-off of almost 18%. Why? Because the Brexit Party took almost 14% of the vote. Not enough to do better than third overall but enough to sink Labour. So much for people who voted to leave the EU in 2016 having changed their mind, having died off or having been replaced by more intelligent first time Labour / Remain voters.

What next? A Conservative government with 162 more MPs than a leaderless Labour opposition certainly changes the game plan – especially after replacing dissident Conservative MPs with loyal party supporters and getting a new Speaker. Changes that should remove many of the obstacles to progress. And ones that will have already been noted by our European partners.

The May-Robbins-Johnson treaty with the EU is far from ideal – or even being desirable – but in practice the WTO option for leaving looks as dead as remaining. So neither side of the EU membership debate actually gets a clear victory. The outcome is coloured neither blue nor red but a muddy brown shade of compromise. Typical!

No More Nominations

It’s 4 pm so nominations for candidates in next month’s general election have closed.

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And after a short delay a full list of potential members of parliament for all 650 seats should be available to the voters. A list that should be notable if only because of the number of changes since the last national vote. Even without all the schemes for tactical voting – ie voting for someone you don’t like so has to disadvantage someone you like even less or just not fielding a candidate – there were around seventy seats where the previous MP is not standing.

Given that there are also seats where the previous MP is standing but has changed allegiance the total number of new MPs must be approaching a hundred. And that does not allow for the fact that the Labour Party has switched from – at best – neutral to firmly pro-EU. A move that that will change voting patterns that have been in place for decades in some pro-independence constituencies.

With the political turmoil of the past few years the 2019 result is going to be hard to predict – but it is quite possible that Friday the 13th will see the no end to the unrest …

Top Banker

The role of president of the European Central Bank (ECB) is vitally important for the prudent management of the euro. A tricky task when it is used in nineteen countries with widely-divergent economies.

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Until last week the role was filled by Mario Draghi and under his management trillions of extra euros were created and mainly used to fund government borrowing and EU industries through buying their bonds. This was intended to have the effect of getting businesses to expand.

On Friday Christine Lagarde started her eight year term as ECB president – and set out with a commitment for further euro printing. But that was arranged by Draghi before he left. An unusual move in the circumstances – and one that was opposed by seven of the twenty-five strong governing council. A body that reflects that basic problem with the EU – the differences between the financial policies needed in, for example, Greece and Germany. It is also a body that Mde. Lagarde will need for help – since she lacks any central bank experience herself.

But that never stopped her at the IMF so the chances are that the euro will not fall into terminal decline – despite various predictions in recent years. Just as long as the Germans can keep their economy buoyant … and stick with the euro.

Another False Dawn

It’s November and the UK’s position with the European Union remains unchanged. Despite all the promises we are still paying the EU vast amounts so that they can spend our taxes on themselves and their pet schemes in Europe and on aid around the world.

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Now the mythical leaving date has been moved to the end of January 2020. This gives the politicians just thirteen weeks to complete their scrutiny and implement some form of exit plan.

But the first six of these weeks will be spent campaigning in a  general election. Then at least the next three will be spent getting the new parliament in place and taking a Christmas-New Year break. Then no more than four weeks will remain for the new balance of power to take control and finalise a plan.

Of course the numbers are critical in determining how these four weeks progress – if at all. The so-called Liberal Democrats (George Orwell’s fictional NewSpeak becomes fact!) intend to revoke our request to leave if they get the chance. And there are constituencies that voted to remain in 2016 where today’s voters think that this is acceptable practice. With a number of MPs switching their allegiance the party could gain seats – but perhaps not enough to have another female Prime Minister just yet [sorry Jo]

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Meanwhile the Marx Brothers – and Sisters – say they will delay leaving yet again so that they can negotiate a better leaving deal and then campaign to remain through a second referendum. One that excludes the option to leave as a free agent under world trade terms. Considering that many Grandads from outside of Greater London who voted to leave in 2016 are also traditional Labour voters this approach seems doomed from day one. The only question is how many seats will Labour loose?

At the Shrine of the Dead Donkey the Conservative position is let’s back the May-Robbins-Johnson deal and move on. This policy could be good enough to convince enough voters and so add enough seats for a new government to have a working majority. Its major weakness is that it leaves the country shackled to our friends in Europe. And that man Barnier is already lined-up to extract the maximum punishment in the trade talks still to come. Given the time and effort spent to get to the current position – and what has happened with other trade deals – we could be suffering at the hands of the EU for many more years.

Finally we have the party that highlighted the problems created when widely divergent nations are tied to a common bureaucracy. In this election the Brexit Party will suffer from being seen as a one issue party – and from the Conservatives reluctance to spell out what their deal really means. The voting public are smart enough to treat Euro elections differently to domestic ones. So the TBP will not gain as many seats as they did earlier this year. However they have the possibility of gaining some and these could be critical in influencing the outcome of those four weeks in January.

It all depends on how well the implications – and shortcomings – of the current deal can be explained. And if the new parliament reverses the no-deal block that was imposed by political scaremongers in the last session.

Time to book some holidays away from all of this …

What More Can We Take?

This weekend should, according to previous promises by our Prime Minster, be the country’s last as a member of the European Union.

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And even though there are six remaining days for things to change, it seems almost certain that leaving at the end of October will become another promise that is broken.

True the lack of a majority in parliament has left the country with a government that is unable to govern. With an array of anti-exit political factions and vested interests against it any meaningful progress has become impossible – even the judiciary showed their bias.

Of course, for the many Grandads happy to support leaving without the far-reaching constraints demanded by the EU, this situation means that a bad deal has also been delayed – so far. But with many politicians demanding that No-Deal is taken off the table the chances of the UK actually escaping the spider’s web of EU control next week seem slim.

Obviously giving up on the present parliament and having a general election does offer a potential solution. But only if it results in a clear majority of MPs being in one camp or the other. Recent experience shows that another minority government could be the result – and then we are back in the same situation by Christmas.

The public’s view of our pseudo-democratic representatives must now have fallen to an all-time low – with plenty of justification.