Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
There is a feeling of déjà vu across England as we are once again encouraged to work from home where possible as part of Boris Johnson’s Plan B measures to help control escalating cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Despite pubs, restaurants and theatres remaining open under the new guidelines, cancellations of corporate Christmas bookings have prompted hospitality leaders to warn that the industry is entering “survival mode”. The City Pub Group chairman Clive Watson said the sector needs “enhanced state aid” to help tide businesses over in January and February, warning that businesses will run out of cash without it. Despite the call for help, the government has ruled out fresh financial support.
Amid ongoing strikes over Night Tube services, Transport for London staff from the RMT union ballot for further action in a dispute over TfL’s plans to cut around 600 jobs due to a funding crisis. RMT General secretary Mick Lynch said the row had been “deliberately engineered” to drive a cuts agenda, while London Underground has said the pandemic made TfL think about “more efficient” ways to run services, making the cuts a necessity.
TIME Magazine announces its 2021 Person of the Year, recognising the individual or group deemed to have had the greatest impact on the year’s events. The winner of this year’s readers’ poll was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has had an undeniable influence over his country’s botched pandemic response, environmental backsliding and corruption scandals. As the second year of the pandemic draws to a close, frontline health care workers and vaccine scientists are considered likely contenders.
The next stage in the government’s Plan B for this week sees the introduction of Covid passports for large gatherings following a vote in the House of Commons today. The vote is an opportunity for restive Tory MPs to inflict a very public bloody nose on the Prime Minister after days of anonymous briefings over his handling of the festive parties fiasco, and the long-time anti-passport Covid Research Group is likely to be joined by more unhappy backbenchers in voting against the regulations. The vote should go the government’s way with opposition party support, but the numbers could be a useful stocktake for those considering whether it’s time to write that letter. If approved, the passports come into effect on Wednesday.
The High Court hears the opening of a two-day legal battle which challenges Dido Harding’s appointment as head of the National Institute for Health Protection. The Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project argue that the government has overseen a lack of open competition in the recruitment process for key roles, forcing Downing Street to deny allegations that ministers have been running a “chumocracy” by failing to properly advertise the posts.
Monthly inflation data out today will be closely watched after last month’s showed inflation rising at its highest level in a decade, largely attributed to higher energy prices and supply shortages linked to the global recovery from the pandemic. This month’s release comes a day before the Bank of England’s interest rate decision; BoE Governor Andrew Bailey had to deny suggestions last month that he was an “unreliable boyfriend” after the bank delayed a rise in rates that many investors had believed was a certainty. This time around, the consensus seems to be that rate hike on Thursday is less likely, not least due to the uncertainty surrounding the economic impact of the new Omicron variant.
The health service faces the possibility of industrial action in the new year as the strike ballot for NHS staff in the GMB union closes. In October, union members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ballot for strike action in a dispute over the government’s three per cent pay offer, which the union’s national officer Rachel Harrison says is below inflation and amounts to a real-terms pay cut. The GMB is calling for a “restorative” 15 per cent pay increase for workers in the health service.
More potential bad news for Boris Johnson as the Conservatives face the very real prospect of losing Owen Paterson’s old seat in today’s North Shropshire by-election. The Liberal Democrats were already making up ground in the race over the Tories’ handling of the standards scandal which led to Paterson’s resignation, but recent events have seen the party’s candidate Helen Morgan, a distant third in the 2019 general election, installed by some bookmakers as the favourite to overturn a huge 22,000 majority and become the 13th Lib Dem MP. Results are expected early Friday morning.
EU leaders meet for the last European Council of the year and the first for new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel on 8 December. Scholz wasted no time in burnishing his European credentials with visits to Paris, Brussels and Warsaw planned for his first days in office. On top of COVID-19, energy prices and migration, the Council agenda also includes the situations in Belarus and Ukraine; Scholz has already joined other EU leaders in warning Russia against threats to the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.
A pre-inquest review into the death of Novichok poisoning victim Dawn Sturgess takes place at the High Court in London, which is expected to lay out details of the imminent public inquiry. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the inquiry’s establishment in November, promising it would begin work “as soon as possible” in 2022. Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent in Amesbury in June 2018, just months after the same poison was used to target Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
A rare note of good news for TfL amid the funding woes and threat of mass walkouts as night services resume on the London Overground following the return of the Night Tube last month. The return of late-running services to some of London’s most popular destinations will be a welcome boost as the city continues its economic recovery, particularly after a London Assembly committee report noted the importance of transport links to the capital’s night-time economy.
It’s a slow Saturday as we creep towards Christmas, with a review of pre-Plan B measures that was expected today now looking like it’ll be wrapped into January’s review of Covid passes and work from home guidance. But if today’s date does ring a bell, it’s because it marks the anniversary of the alleged Christmas party at Downing Street; a review into those troublesome gatherings by the Cabinet Secretary, requested by a contrite Prime Minister last week, is thought to need only days to complete and may even release findings by this weekend.
Football pundit Gary Neville, who has been a vocal critic of Johnson’s government, has called for a protest to mark the anniversary.
A staple of the festive season, the BBC crowns its Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday with a ceremony at Salford’s Media City. Though the contenders for the gong have yet to be revealed at time of writing, US Open Champion Emma Raducanu, Team GB stars Adam Peaty and Laura Kenny, and last year’s winner Lewis Hamilton are all expected to make the shortlist. One of the early favourites heading into this year’s event had been Tyson Fury, though the “Gypsy King” has threatened legal action against the broadcaster if nominated.
A stark choice faces voters in Chile as a run-off takes place in the country’s presidential election. The two remaining candidates following the 21 November first round are Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old leftist lawmaker and former student protest leader, and José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman with a soft spot for former dictator Augusto Pinochet. The absence of centrist candidates in a country that for years has been renowned for its stable politics has been viewed as the result of frustration with the status quo, as evinced by the widespread protests in 2019 that resulted in an ongoing process to rewrite the country’s constitution.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.