Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
Economic growth continues to struggle in a post-pandemic Britain, with slow growth throughout the third quarter of 2021. Although growth was strong during September, the three months leading to this point recorded only a 1.3 per cent increase in output, 0.2 per cent lower than the Bank of England’s forecast. This may have been the result of a combination of rising COVID cases and shortages across the UK, hindering the possibility of economic recovery. To further exacerbate the issue, the hospitality sector continues to struggle, with sales across restaurants, bars and hotels down 10% compared to the same period in 2019. These slow recoveries may cause issues for the conservative government, which claims to be “levelling-up” the economy.
Following several reports of backlash against the UK government last week, Johnson has doubled down on his anti-sleaze stance and is now condemning MPs that have second jobs, saying their primary focus should be on their constituents. This comes after reports that Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox is reported to have earned almost £1 million last year through his legal work, which was conducted in his House of Commons office. However, fellow Conservatives are confused by Johnson’s new stance, as only a week ago he defended Owen Paterson’s conduct, who had been accused of sleaze. Furthermore, Johnson himself has a long history of earning from second jobs whilst being a public servant, having earned more than £4m from outside interests in the last 14 years. This continues the negative attention surrounding the Tories, as many are unsure where Johnson stands on issue second job; does he truly believe MPs should solely focus on constituents, or is this just for public approval?
Europe: Cameron Fulton
Austria and the Netherlands have reintroduced stringent covid measures on the unvaccinated to curb rising rates once more. Austria’s Chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, stated on Friday that the unvaccinated population was to enter lockdown on Monday, arguing that those who are vaccinated should not suffer due to the ‘hesitation’ of others. This signals the end of EU’s green pass certificate usage, which would instead only require a negative PCR to provide complete access to services, as Austria diverge from the bloc. About 1/3 of the population has not even had their 1st dose, in one of the worst vaccination programmes in Europe. The Netherlands have alternatively chosen a complete population lockdown, with non-essential shops being shut by 6 pm on Saturday, the reimposition of the 1.5m rule, teleworking and a limit of 4 guests per household. This comes as 16,287 new cases were announced. But despite these numbers, the public has been angered by the move, with stones being pelted at the Hague in reaction. Such moves parallel a majority of the continent, with Germany and Spain reintroducing social restrictions.
The EU is considering the imposition of restrictions and sanctions on Belarus in reaction to the migrant crisis. This move is to stop Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko from continuing his forced flow of migrants out of the country into neighbouring EU states. The bloc believes his actions are in retaliation for their support of opposition parties in the state. But this could boil into a trade war, with Lukashenko stating that Belarusian transit of energy and goods into the EU could be limited.
Finally, Hungary is implementing a fuel cap to combat the energy crisis and impending inflationary pressure. PM Viktor Orban stated on Facebook: “We have made a decision: the price of gasoline and diesel cannot exceed 480 forints [€1.30]”. This comes as inflation reached 6.5% for October. Shares in major energy companies slumped, but the move has been praised for curbing inflation, one of Orban’s key promises in the run-up to the state’s elections in April. This comes as the surprise opposition leader, Peter Marki-May, promised an overhaul of the constitution in order to loosen the autocratic grip Orban seemingly holds over the country. He holds a 6-party alliance against Orban but will be unable to wrestle power away easily, needing a 2/3 majority at present that may induce institutional crisis.
Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans
Singapore has agreed to work with Japan to better standards of emissions monitoring and reporting in South-east Asia. This is in an attempt to assist the largest emitters in the region to reduce their carbon footprint and increase access to green financing schemes. The alliance will entail Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) collaborating with the Japan Overseas Environmental Cooperation Centre and other partners to create guidelines which will aid firms in better measuring and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions. This will be implemented as part of the second phase of the Partnership to Strengthen Transparency for Co-Innovation, launched last week on Friday at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The first phase encompassed discussions with over 40 company and governmental representatives to identify what support was needed by firms to improve emission measurement and reporting across ASEAN. The importance of this partnership for the ASEAN region was highlighted by Japanese Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi who stated that, “Nowadays, more investors require disclosure of climate change-related information from companies, and therefore, measuring and disclosing emissions data is becoming critical to attract investment.”
An American journalist named Danny Fenster, who has been in prison in Myanmar since May, was found guilty of three charges last Friday. He received an 11-year prison sentence – the maximum possible. He was convicted on charges that include disseminating information that could harm Myanmar’s military, who currently rule the country. Mr Fenster’s current employer in Myanmar, Frontier Myanmar magazine, announced the sentencing after a closed court hearing in Yangon, stating that “Frontier Myanmar is deeply disappointed at the decision today” and that “the sentences imposed were the harshest possible under the law.” In response to the news, representatives in the US condemned the ruling as an “unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma.” The charges made against him supposedly lacked evidence, as Mr Fenster’s lawyer stated that prosecutors had mistakenly said he still worked for his previous employer, Myanmar Now, and charges were made on that basis. The state department has stated that they are “closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release.” The arrest serves as a reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, as of today the junta have killed more than 1,250 people and detained more than 7000.
A rare Antarctic Adelie penguin has made an unexpected 3000km journey across the Southern Ocean to New Zealand. The bird, affectionately nicknamed Pingu by locals, is the third recorded live penguin of the species to make it to New Zealand. The bird was spotting looking lost at Birdlings Flat, a small settlement on New Zealand’s South Island. Its arrival is a daunting reminder of the threats that such birds are facing due to warming waters, which has increased competition over food supplies and changed habitats. Locals called a Penguin Rehabilitation centre to rescue the bird, over fears it may be vulnerable to dogs. ‘Pingu’ has since been released into a bay on the banks of the Banks peninsula, in hopes that it will find its way home.
India: Rudra Sen
The national capital, Delhi’s air quality index has reached its worst level this season with an average of 471 in a period of 24 hours and continues to remain in the ‘severe’ category. The Central Pollution Control Board has urged residents of Delhi to limit their outdoor activities. It has also advised the state government and private entities to reduce their vehicular usage by at least 30%. This has prompted the Delhi government to announce the shutdown of all schools and government offices for a week. Construction activities too have been stopped for a duration of three days. Concerned by the alarming situation in Delhi, the Supreme Court of India has asked both the Central and Delhi governments to consider taking emergency measures such as imposing a lockdown or stopping vehicles to prevent the situation from getting worse.
Recent trends and surveys show that India might soon emerge as the new hub for cryptocurrency globally. In light of all this, Prime Minister Modi recently chaired a review meeting on cryptocurrency, indicating that the government plans on tabling a bill on cryptocurrency regulations in the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament. Sources close to the government have said that unregulated crypto markets cannot be permitted as they can easily transform into platforms for terror financing and money laundering. India’s central bank, the Reserve bank of India has also said that it has major concerns on the use of cryptocurrencies and advises investors to do their due diligence. That being said, the Indian government is likely going to adopt a more moderate approach towards cryptocurrency unlike the ban imposed by China.
North America: Amelia Brown
A former political advisor to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, was indicted on federal charges of contempt of Congress for ignoring subpoenas relating to the January 6th attack on Capitol Hill. The two charges against Bannon are failing to show up at a deposition and not producing documents related to the Capitol riot. The court date has not been set yet, but both charges could carry a $1000 fine and a year in jail. The Congressional panel leading the investigation into the riot have faced issues getting documents from any former Trump advisor. Mainly, Trump has continued to legally fight their ability to access any of his records, stating executive privilege. A court on Friday has listened to Trump’s appeal, blocking the release of National Archive records that a lower court had said could be turned over. The struggle to get any information on Trump and his team leading up to the event has proved very difficult. Other members of the former president’s team are refusing to comply with subpoenas, with the Congressional investigative panel willing to hold the others in contempt of congress too if they continue to refuse to comply.
Growing tensions between the US and Canada are looking to be addressed this coming week when the Three Amigos summit reconvenes in D.C. for the first time in five years. The one day conference between Canada, Mexico, and the US is a change for the three leaders to discuss trilateral interests and issues. However, Trudeau wants to use the time with Biden to also address bilateral concerns from Canada such as distribution to Canada’s oil and car manufacturing industry, and displeasure over America’s late reopening of the border to Canadians. The trilateral discussion may focus on climate change, as Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador skipped COP26 and notoriously scoffs at renewable energy projects. Despite the tension between the three countries, the leaders hope the conference is a good chance to figure out the vision for North America and where Canada and Mexico can fit into the US economy as it pulls away from China.
Latin America: Leo Le Borgne
A prison clash rocked Guayaquil, Ecuador this week, leaving 68 dead so far. The clash is said to have started between two rival gangs, who have connections to the drug trafficking cartels in Mexico. Concerned relatives of the prisoners could be seen waiting outside anxiously for updates from the police. This is not the first incidence of violent conflict in the Penitenciaria del Litoral, which has earned a bloody reputation over recent months following a string of gang fights at the prison. A clash at the prison resulted in over 100 dead prisoners earlier this year, with reports of some victims being beheaded. The surge in prison gang warfare is reflective of the current situation in the whole of Ecuador. In October, President Guillermo Lasso declared a national 60 day state of emergency to combat the rise of crime, particularly organised crime. Lasso highlighted that at least 70% of violent deaths in Guayas, home to the Penitenciaria del Litoral, can be connected to gangs.
Business: Aoife Doyle
The consumer price index for October showed that prices in the US rose by 6.2% over the last twelve months, marking a sharp jump from September when prices were rising at 5.4%. Every sector in the US has seen some price inflation over the past twelve months, except for airfares and alcoholic beverages. Inflation has been a growing concern for both shoppers and policymakers as the economic impact of the pandemic persists. The Bureau for Labour Statistics said that the rising price of food, shelter, used and new vehicles were among the most significant contributors to blame for the rise in prices. The US is also experiencing the effect of global shortages in oil and gas, with gasoline prices at seven-year highs across the nation. President Biden has said that reversing the spike in inflation is a top priority for his administration; however, the Federal Reserve, an independent body from the government and responsible for monitoring inflation, believes that the current high rate is transitory. To combat rising inflation, the usual response is to raise interest rates. However, the Fed may not plan to implement such action until late 2022, despite growing pressure from stubborn inflation, media outlets and politicians. The Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell announced a scale-back of the Fed’s bond-buying program, the first move towards tightening monetary policy.
Vietnam’s largest city Ho Chi Minh City, an industrial hub and the country’s virus epicentre, has spent summer in a strict lockdown which was extended through until the end of September. The series of increasingly stringent lockdowns were introduced to combat the eruption in COVID-19 cases in the country that was praised for their coronavirus controls in early 2020. Such measures were so successful the country experienced the highest economic growth in Asia at 2.9% during 2020. The outlook now is bleak as many of the factories in the city temporarily closed in July, paralysing commercial activity and adding further stress to a strained global supply chain. Officials in Ho Chi Minh City told factories that their workers had to comply with the “three on site” model to continue operating. This model meant that eating, living and working needed to be done within the factory’s premises. Many businesses could not bear the costs so shut down production, leaving thousands of workers lacking a safety net in the city. As a result, government figures showed that 1.3million workers left for their hometowns between July and September. Despite additional benefits being offered to workers to return to work, such a distrust in companies and authorities built from the pandemic is slowing the return of workers. As restrictions loosen, companies are left with too few staff to complete the backlog of orders.
A government initiative, led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, freeports are low-tax special economic zones that aim to reboot the local economy. They were sold as a key advantage of Brexit and central to the “levelling-up” agenda of Johnsons’ administration. The freeports are also said to be part of the UKs’ “green industrial revolution.” 11 sites are planned across the UK, offering tax breaks, and streamlined customs. The first of the sites to open – Teesside, Humber, and Themes – will see tax cuts worth millions of pounds enabled by legislation on Friday. The opening of Teesside will create 18000 new jobs and bring £3.2bn of benefits for the economy over the coming years. Despite such benefits being publicised there is concern for the limited scope of freeports as the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government’s tax and spending watchdog, computes there will be few meaningful benefits as economic activity that would have taken place anyways is moved from one area of the UK to another – with an added cost to taxpayers.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
Even with COP26 finishing over a week ago, protestors and activists are still marching and bolstering their points to officials and politicians. Many of these activists have been dubbed as ‘young climate diplomats’ with many citing that politicians targets aren’t centred around climate change due to the majority of them being baby boomers and significantly older therefore will not suffer the consequences of global warming. Eva Peace Mukayiranga, an activist based in Rwanda, stated ‘they want a separate pot of money that would compensate countries for losses and damages from climate change’ making the point that politicians would rather pay for reparations than actually implement climate adaptive policies.
Legal LGBT+ rights in Eastern Europe are at further risk following several events. In particular, in Hungary, since its leader, Viktor Orbán, has taken office in 2010 a slew of LGBT+ regressive policies have been implemented including bans on adoption by same sex couples and the removal of legal recognition of trans people and further efforts to end any LGBT+ related content in schools. However, the people of Hungary haven’t been complicit with these policy changes with many protesting these changes. This past Monday, the largest LGBT+ related protest in Hungarian history (excluding pride marches) took place indicating the shift in citizen’s view of the minority. However, this regression isn’t isolated to the east, in the UK the BBC has announced its withdrawal from Stonewall – the largest LGBT+ organisation. In their statement, it says the BBC said its participation ‘has led to some to question whether the BBC can be impartial when reporting on public policy debates’ implying that LGBT+ equality is a political movement rather than a human rights one. This shows how even the UK (which is one of the most progressive countries in the world in terms of LGBT+ rights) still has issues pertaining to homophobia and transphobia.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
Inflation is making headlines in most major economies. But it is not only climbing consumer prices that are going to be hit by this inflationary pressure. In the last decade, foreign exchange markets have seen relatively little volatility as a result of slack inflation and interest rates. Inflation threatens this, as concerns shake the currency market. Currency markets were shaken on Wednesday when the US consumer prices print came out, that showed a broad-based rise that was at its fastest rate since 1990. The long period of low volatility may now be over.