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Waking up to woke
Written by Adam, senior associate partner
Edited by Kevin Pringle, partner
26 February 2021
During the years of the Trump administration, I often found myself turning to The West Wing for solace – the decency and intellect of the fictional Democratic president, Josiah Bartlet, providing temporary escapism from grim reality.
I don’t expect to be needing as large or regular doses during the Biden years. However, I suspect I’ll still be delving in every so often, such is the timeless quality of the show.
One of many great moments that the series delivered was an episode from the final season, titled ‘The Debate’, which aired in November 2005.
With Bartlet’s second term coming to an end, Matt Santos (portrayed by Jimmy Smits), a young Latino Democratic congressman, and moderate Republican senator Arnie Vinick (played by Alan Alda), are competing to succeed him.
This particular episode was unique in that it aired live, mimicking a real-life presidential debate.
One the defining moments is when Santos offers a robust defence of liberalism, listing liberal achievements and saying: “When you try to hurl that word ‘liberal’ at my feet, as if it were something dirty, something to run away from, something that I should be ashamed of, it won’t work, senator. Because I will pick up that label and wear it as a badge of honour.”
I’ve been reminded of that piece of television history amid the UK government’s “war on woke” rhetoric.
Few could be opposed to being woke based on the Oxford dictionary definition: “alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”.
However, it’s become a weaponised term, with some commentators of a certain political persuasion using it as a stick to beat those with whom they disagree.
The competing narratives around wokeism were best exemplified by a simple question to Boris Johnson last month. When asked if he thought Joe Biden is woke, there was even more waffle than usual from the prime minister as he tried, unsuccessfully, to straddle two stools.
His government has since taken a dimmer view of wokeism. There are, of course, legitimate concerns around protecting diversity of opinion and not imposing a revisionist view of history. But describing something as “woke” has become the new “political correctness gone mad” – a way of shutting down a discussion and dismissing issues that need addressed.
It shouldn’t be controversial to take a holistic view of Winston Churchill. It’s not rewriting history to accept that the British Empire involved exploitation. Most importantly, it’s not talking Britain down to say that we need to do more to tackle social injustice and inequality.
If more of our leaders were willing to own being woke and wear it as a badge of honour, we might be better placed to do so.
Alex Salmond will appear before the Holyrood committee looking into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment complaints against him later today. The former first minister will be questioned by MSPs over his claims of “malicious and concerted” conduct and his assertion that Nicola Sturgeon, his successor, misled parliament over her involvement and breached the ministerial code. Sturgeon is due to give evidence next Wednesday.
Joe Biden has spoken with Saudi Arabia’s King Salaman for the first time as president. This comes ahead of the expected publication of a US intelligence report into the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which is expected to implicate the Saudi crown prince and test US-Saudi relations. The White House read out of the call said that Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”.
In related news, Biden has ordered the first known military action of his presidency. US forces launched airstrikes against targets in eastern Syria, in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq on 15 February that killed a civilian contractor and wounded coalition troops. A Pentagon spokesperson described the action as a “proportionate military response”.
Business and economy
The chancellor of the exchequer has hinted at an extension of the furlough scheme beyond April and until the end of June ahead of Wednesday’s budget. Rishi Sunak has warned, however, that public finances need to be restored after government borrowing soared over the past year to pay for the response to the pandemic, which could see the government raising taxes now before cutting them in a pre-election budget.
The cabinet minister is also expected to reveal a £5bn “restart” grant scheme aimed at retail, hospitality, and other businesses most affected by the coronavirus crisis. The scheme, which is intended to support firms in England through to 21 June and be administered by local councils, would take total spending to £25bn and be worth £18,000 for the biggest companies.
AstraZeneca has sold its 7.7% holding in Moderna for more than $1bn, following the American biotechnology company’s rally off the back of its Covid-19 vaccine. The British-based pharmaceutical, which was Moderna’s second largest investor last year, will use the extra cash to bolster its finances as it develops new drugs and finalises the $38bn purchase of American rare diseases specialist Alexion. (£)
Columns of note
In The Times, Sathnam Sanghera uses his column to explore how companies replace office rewards and perks during remote working. He makes five suggestions before offering a sixth, which he argues is the most important – assuring colleagues that working from home is not permanent and that we will be back together soon. (£)
The Financial Times Big Read takes an in-depth look at the balancing act Rishi Sunak faces in next week’s UK government budget as he seeks to protect the economy while simultaneously returning fiscal discipline. The piece highlights that in doing so he will be setting the parameters for the next general election. (£)
What happened yesterday?
US and European stocks closed in negative territory, as investors digested a slew of earnings reports and the anticipation of stimulus measures resulted in heavy selling of US government bonds.
The FTSE 100 ended the session down 0.11% to 6,651.96 and the FTSE 250 was down 0.54% to 21,198.12.
Standard Chartered was the biggest faller on the main index, shedding 6.16% after reporting that annual pre-tax profits had dropped 57% on the back of bad loan impairments associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The company also warned that the challenges posed by coronavirus and low interest rates will “be with us for some time”, but did reinstate its dividend.
Packaging group DS Smith was one of the day’s strongest performers, rising 5.7% on reports that rival Mondi is considering a £5bn takeover bid (£).
Mining stocks also made gains as the price of copper increased. Anglo American, Rio Tinto and BHP were up 3.94%, 1.97% and 1.12% respectively.
In the US, the S&P 500 fell 2.38%, the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 1.35% and the Nasdaq was 3.11% lower.
On the currency markets, sterling was 0.3% weaker against the dollar at $1.4099 and was down 0.89% on the euro to €1.1521.
What’s happening today?
Ab Ignitis. S, Afarak Group, Avation, Essentra, Glenveagh, Jupiter Fund Management, Man, Rightmove, Electrica Regs, Vr Education H.
Jupiter European Opportunities Trust
UK economic announcements
(07:00) Nationwide House Price Index
Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Import Price Index (GER)
(13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditures
(13:30) Personal Income (US)
(13:30) Personal Spending (US)
(14:45) Chicago PMI (US)
(15:00) U. of Michigan Confidence (US)
It’s estimated that only around one in 1,000 turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood. This is down to the long time it takes for them to reach maturity and the many dangers faced by hatchlings and juveniles – from predators to marine plastics.
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