Charlotte Street Partners

DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

The medium is the mess

Written by Charles Clegg, senior associate 
Edited by Iain Gibson, associate partner
10 February 2021

Good morning,

Sometimes a very silly film plot can illuminate the world around us. Today’s example is 1924’s The Hands of Orlac, in which an executed murderer’s hands retain their capacity for evil even after they are transplanted to Conrad Veidt’s upstanding concert pianist.

In The Hands of Orlac, an appendage guides the actions and morality of its bearer. Another appendage, Twitter, recently severed from its most enthusiastic bearer, Donald Trump, yesterday reported sluggish user growth. Its quarterly revenue was, however, at a record high. Its weaker-than expected uptake of “average monetisable daily active users” may be down to its attempts to encourage more “thoughtful” discussions around the US election.  

Trump the demagogue and Trump the Twitter user grew up together. He used Twitter to tell stories that were necessarily reductive and, in his hands, inevitably harmful. Now that Trump is off the “hateful echo chamber” of social media, he is apparently much happier. One of the chief beneficiaries of Donald Trump’s social media ban is Donald Trump. 

My film comparison runs out here. Trump was not a thoroughly decent chap whose Twitter account took on a mind – and a presidency – of its own. The forces that instigated, defined, and refused to end the Trump presidency were bigger than a website. But they were helped by it. The desire to constrain such damaging forces has motivated governments worldwide to recognise their responsibility to police content.

Here’s where one’s (well, my) churlish desire to cheer Twitter’s poor results should end. In the west, it is almost our privilege to see government figures abuse or constrain social media. It is almost our privilege to see social media as the wicked hands stitched onto our unwilling society. We can forget social media’s positive, radical power to connect and enfranchise. This remains a threat to more straightforward despots, who, like Myanmar’s new regime, have banned the platforms outright. 

We are still in the early days of social media but the US election may have inaugurated a new era, one defined by increasing regulation. We are many successes and failures away from finding out whether this change is for the better. If, however, constraining the hands of social media can lead to one more contented retirement in Florida, perhaps it will be worth it. 

News

The US Senate has agreed the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump can go ahead. Trump’s lawyers had argued it would be unconstitutional for the Sente to try a president once he had left office. The upper chamber, including a handful of Republicans, voted 56 to 44 to proceed with the trial.

UK Government health secretary, Matt Hancock yesterday announced jail terms of up to a decade for travellers from 33 “red list” countries who lie about where they have been. Travellers who avoid quarantine could face fines of up to £10,000. The moves have been criticised as draconian by some Conservative MPs and airline industry figures. (£) 

Having reached a deal with the Treasury, UK Government housing minister, Robert Jenrick is today expected to announce increased funding to speed the removal of cladding from buildings. The scale of the funding will be confirmed in a parliamentary statement today. Questions remain over the extent to which leaseholders will have to contribute to the removal of cladding. 

Business and economy

Dame Elizabeth Gloster, a former high court judge, has criticised the Governor of the Bank of England’s evidence to MPs. Dame Elizabeth, who wrote a report on the £236m London Capital & Finance investment scandal, claimed she “must disagree” with Andrew Bailey’s evidence to the Treasury select committee.

The British Beer and Pub Association has asked the UK Government for a re-opening plan as restrictions hit their members’ sales by 56% last year. The association has set out a roadmap for recovery in which pubs and bars will re-open alongside non-essential businesses. The UK Government responded that changes to measures would be announced in the week commencing 22 February.

A report in the Financial Times looks at how UK stocks appear to be coming back into favour with asset managers after years of “benign neglect” since the EU referendum. Now that the UK has left the EU with a trade deal, the FTSE 100’s more understated recovery is proving attractive to investors, especially in comparison to booming US markets. (£) 

Columns of note

In the Guardian, University of Sheffield psychology professor, Richard Bentall, outlines the results of his study, which challenges the narrative of a Covid-related “mental health tsunami”. Covid has particularly affected the mental health of the poor, the young, and those living with small children. Overall, however, the number of people who report above-threshold psychiatric symptoms is lower than it was during the first lockdown. Bentall claims the “tsunami” narrative risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Martin Wolf argues in the Financial Times that since Covid is a global threat, it is time to vaccinate the whole world. Wolf highlights the overall economic effect of the pandemic has been less than expected, which gives wealthier countries more room to invest in vaccines for the developing world. Such an effort will help stem the spread of the virus across borders while boosting the world economy. (£) 

Cartoon source: The Times

Markets

What happened yesterday?

In Europe, the region-wide Stoxx 600 index closed down 0.1% and Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax closed down 0.3%. London’s FTSE 100, however, rose 0.1%.

Wall Street indices were mixed, pausing a huge rally. The FTSE’s All-World index rose 0.2% to set an all-time high while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also gained 0.2%. By contrast, the blue-chip S&P 500 declined 0.2%. 

In company news:

General Motors will extend production cuts at three North American plants until at least mid-March due to a worldwide shortage in semiconductor chips.

Airbus and Boeing have lost £3.01bn in investment from Singapore Airlines Ltd. The airline has deferred the investment in aeroplanes after reaching agreements with the aircraft manufacturers to delay deliveries. 

What’s happening today?

Finals
Smurfit Kappa

Interims
Ashmore
Avingtrans
Dunelm

AGMs
Catalyst Media
Future
GCP Infrastructure Investments
Grainger plc
Inc&gwth Vct
Keystone Investment Trust
Ramsdens Hldgs
Rws Hldgs
Tharisa

UK economic announcements
(07:00) GDP (Preliminary)

Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(13:30) Consumer Price Index (US)
(15:00) Wholesales Inventories (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

American diplomat and historian, John Lothrop Motley, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts and died in Dorchester, Dorset.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Women and Equalities (including topical questions)

Prime Minister’s Question Time

Ministerial statement
Housing update – Robert Jenrick

Motion
Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2021–22 (HC 1162) – Priti Patel
Local Government Finance – Robert Jenrick

General Committees
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee – Debate: The draft Scottish Rates of Income Tax (Consequential Amendments) Order 2021

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Oral evidence: Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol

Home Affairs Committee
Oral evidence: UK-EU security co-operation

Transport Committee
Oral evidence: Reforming public transport after the pandemic

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Oral evidence: Economics of music streaming

Women and Equalities Committee
Oral evidence: Reform of the Gender Recognition Act

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Various

Private Notice Question
Calls from 180 human rights organisations to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in China – Lord Addington

Statement
Yemen – Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Legislation
Domestic Abuse Bill – committee stage (day 6) – Baroness Williams of Trafford

Grand Committees
Orders and regulations: Various

Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee
Oral evidence: Post-Brexit common frameworks

Scottish Parliament 

First Minister’s Questions
 
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Debates
Crown Office
Covid-19 response and the role of local newspapers
 
Approval of SSIs
 
Education and Skills Committee
Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill (Stage 2)
 
Finance and Constitution Committee
Oral evidence: Budget Scrutiny 2021-22
 
Rural Environment and Connectivity Committee
Oral evidence: Climate Change Plan
 
Local Government and Communities Committee
Subordinate legislation: Various
Oral evidence: Budget and local government settlement 2021-22

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