49. Weekly Newsletter
The month of December contains two by-elections in two ultra-safe Conservative Party seats but neither of which are likely to experience strengthened majorities due to disappointing polling data for the Party. Nationally, the ruling party is now polling neck-and-neck with the opposition (Labour) party at 37% and 36%, respectively, of voters which is 5% below their 43% vote share in the 2019 General Election. The first of these contested seats is the ‘Old Bexley and Sidcup’ constituency, located in East London, and relates to the death of the former Cabinet minister James Brokenshire. The by-election (2 December 2021) saw the Conservative vote decline 13.0% to a still safe majority of 51.5% (Labour up 7.4% to 30.9%) but with the second lowest voter turnout for a Conservative seat since WW2.
Britain’s second by-election is scheduled for next Thursday (16 December) in the agricultural constituency of ‘North Shropshire’ which has consistently elected Conservative MPs since the 1830s. The seat is being contested by 14 parties and has gained widespread attention due to this by-election being triggered by the resignation of the local MP amid controversy over having “second jobs” whilst being a member of parliament. This week two local councillors in North Shropshire defected from the Conservatives and the apparent main rival unexpectedly appears to be the Liberal Democrats. However, the seat is likely to remain with the ruling party but political analysts will be looking to where constituents distribute their votes outside of the two main parties.
The Newspapers & COVID
The Times now reports that “Omicron cases in UK double every three days” despite other newspapers arguing “Boris Johnson set to ‘confirm Christmas is on’ with no further COVID rules” due to the current data indicating that the Omicron variant is less dangerous than Delta. This is partly evidenced by none of the UK’s currently known 336 Omicron so far being in hospital. Other coverage includes the damage caused by Storm Arwen which, 10 days later, still has left 4,700 homes in the north of the UK without power with a new storm warning already featuring in the headlines.
Over 10.5m people in the UK have tested positive for COVID over the course of the pandemic and cases are now on the rise to around 51,000 people testing positive per day. A total of 145,646 deaths have been attributed to the virus. Nationally, 51.12m people have received their first vaccine, 46.56m have received their second, and 20.58m (up from 19.90m seven days ago) have received their third/booster dose. This brings the total number of inoculations carried out, by the private sector and National Health Service, to almost 118.26m.
The UK’s ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’ policy paper outlines the PM’s global ambitions for the nation to become an international “champion for free trade”. High levels of FDI and overseas buyers flocking to the UK have led to record levels of activity during 2021 for mergers and acquisitions. During the first three quarters of 2021 the UK experienced $247bn in M&A deals and thus already exceeds the value of deals across the entirety of 2020 ($212bn). The year also brought about the major acquisition of the Morrison’s supermarket chain and a $8.4bn merger with Avast Plc by U.S. investors.
The latest British icon to gain the interest of a foreign investor is the luxury department store group: Selfridges. The company was established in 1908 and has been a staple of London, Birmingham and Manchester for decades; for instance, the London store on Oxford Street is the second largest shop in the country and is only beaten by Harrods in size. The buyer is expected to be a Thai conglomerate called Central Group in a deal worth an estimated £4bn to the owning Weston family. It is worth noting that the Weston’s still hold major stakes in Associated British Foods (who own Primark and British Sugar), Fortnum & Mason, and Heal’s.