Italian PM Conte made it through phase one of the confidence vote yesterday and commentators now think he’s got the numbers to make it through the senate vote later today too. The numbers don’t stack up to an outright majority though and he’ll likely get through because of abstentions, rather than endorsements. This will leave him in a minority government position and though it is possible to govern on this basis, it’s not going to be easy, or likely long lived, as the day to day running will be fine, but when it comes to pushing through big legislation or reforms – the sort a government might feasibly want to do in the aftermath of a pandemic – it’s going to make it all the harder to reach consensus.
Next door, in France, the covid infection rate continues to rise, albeit to numbers that the UK will feel somewhat envious of. Yesterday they reported 18,270 new cases and though the number is rising they’re not yet ready to move to a national lockdown, instead relying on regional measures and a national 6pm curfew. France has done well to manage the numbers and avoid a lockdown, but is failing miserably in getting the vaccine rolled, having only broken the 400,000 jabs mark on Sunday. Logistics and red tape are to be blamed, but so far Emmanuel Macron hasn’t been able to do much about either. This is probably the yardstick for which leaders are going to be judged for a while to come, and with an election in 2022 and Marine le Pen level pegging in the polls, he and his government should really be doing better.
Getting goods between France and the UK continues to get harder and more expensive, data show. Logistics software vendor Transporeon who has more than 100,000 customers, says that prices to get goods into the UK were up 47% last week, compared to Q3 of 2020 and that’s an increase on the 39% we saw in week one of January. In addition to the price rises the amount of jobs being rejected is up 168% since Q3 of last year and again is up on last week’s numbers of 102%, clearly demonstrating that if the government is trying to overcome the teething problems, there’s still plenty more work to be done.
There are signs of the seafood routes improving a little, with shipping company DFDS yesterday confirming that they’re once again accepting ‘groupage exports’ where multiple companies bundle their goods into single shipments. These had been stopped earlier in the month as processing the paperwork was taking too long and there were instances that one batch not having the right paperwork meant the whole group was ruined. This is not to say that the wider situation is in any way resolved though and yesterday we saw lorries parked up outside Downing Street in protest at what they’re going through. Boris laid some of the blame on lack of demand for products because restaurants on the continent are closed due to covid, rather than holding his hands up. With no immediate long term solution in sight, the government is putting together a £23m fund to compensate companies for the financial losses, but for an industry that turns over a few million pounds a day, that really isn’t going to last long – and, if you didn’t read about it, the minister in charge of this didn’t even read the Brexit bill when it was published because she was busy with a local “nativity trail”! BoJo has backed Victoria Prentis to stay in her role as Defra minister, whilst unsurpsingly Nicola Sturgeon is calling for her to quit.
In the US, Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing in the Senate is today. Her pre prepared remarks are going to say that they should “go big” when it comes to stimulus, as interest rates are low and the “benefit will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time”. The art of a confirmation hearing is in getting your point across, but not being too radical as that’s going to lead to more questions and that in turn will take more time. All being well it should be done and dusted in a day.
Today is Trump’s last full day in office and is signing off with 100 presidential pardons, though the list is notably absent of himself and his family, for the time being at least. There are also a number of executive orders that he’d like to get taken care of. One that he proposed was lifting the UK and Europe travel ban, though Joe Biden said immediately afterwards that this wasn’t going to happen. Many are seeing Trump’s legacy as the economy and had covid not got in the way, that probably would have been so. We’ll give him the stock market rallies though, which have seen gains on US indexes of around 60% over his four years at the helm. Compare that to Germany’s DAX index which has risen just 20% over that time and, if that was the only benchmark, you’d say he’d done a great job. In just about every other area though, he hasn’t.