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Under The Radar – 04 February

This week, we discuss:

  1. Downing Street on charm offensive for big tech listings

  2. Biden to face far-right mid-term onslaught

  3. Vice secretly organizes Saudi ‘influencer festival’

Downing Street on charm offensive for big tech listings

What Happened? In a bid to preserve London’s status as the global pre-eminent trading hub, ministers have set out to woo buy-now-pay-later giant Klarna to list on the London Stock Exchange.

What does it mean?

Ministers have been busy courting some of Europe’s largest tech companies, amid fears that high-growth companies are snubbing the City of London for New York. The guest-list of high valuation fintechs that attended a virtual meeting with Number 10 this week tallied up to a total valuation of $102bn. Target number one is Klarna, the Swedish fintech company who have made it big in the Buy Now, Pay Later game. The company is valued at £34bn, making it a potential big-ticket winner for the London Stock Exchange.  Ministers are touting the post-Brexit opportunities London apparently offers as a way to woo Europe’s big tech companies after an overhaul of the UK’s listing regime last year.  It is not the first time that the government has stepped in to make a bid for big tech listings. Last year, the UK government took a hands-on-approach to Deliveroo’s listing, and even committed to rule changes that would allow founders to keep more control of their companies in a bid to secure Deliveroo’s £5bn stock market listing. The listing infamously went down like a lead-balloon, with the stock price plummeting on its debut day on the stock exchange.  The government will be hoping to avoid a repeat of any similar incidents if they are to woo the fintech world and secure London’s spot as the tech capital of the world.

Biden to face far-right mid-term onslaught

What happened? In this year’s midterm elections, a large contingent of far-right candidates threaten to reopen the Trumpist wounds of the January 6th insurrection. What does it mean?

The Anti-Defamation League, a not for profit that monitors hate groups, is claiming that over 100 far right candidates will be running for office in November’s midterm elections under the Republican banner.

While some are establishment figures shallowly co-opting far-right rhetoric, like Harvard graduate JD Vance, others have concrete links to white supremacist groups and extremist organisations, including the Proud Boys. Far right candidates aren’t just targeting incumbent Democrats to erode Biden’s political power, they are also trying to unseat incumbent Republicans who they find disagreeable.  More worryingly, some candidates are running for bureaucratic positions that are responsible for certifying elections. They would likely look to undermine trust in a Biden 2024 win.  The far-right phenomenon is a dangerous sign for American democracy, once again driving politics to its spectral fringes, showing that Biden has not been the unifying figure that would begin the healing process that many had hoped for. This far right onslaught, if successful, would lay the foundations for a Trumpist candidate, if not a return of the man himself, in the next Presidential election. Another interpretation, however, could be that the success of the far right is a failure of the centrists in the Republican Party, devoid of ideas as to how to move on from Trumpism. Biden could even benefit from this in the midterms, forgiven for perceived covid failures due to fears of a return to the extreme political battlegrounds that resulted in the Jan 6th insurrections.

Vice branded as hypocritical for secretly organising Saudi ‘influencer festival’

What happened?

Despite efforts to keep their involvement secret, it has emerged that Vice, the youth media company, was responsible for organising the Saudi government funded Azimuth music festival in March 2020. Vice publicly announced it would be ceasing its activities in the Middle Eastern Kingdom following the high-profile murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

What does it mean? The extravagant government-funded Azimuth music festival, dubbed the ‘influencer festival’, promised to bring together the best of music, art and food, merging “all that is Arabian with all that is Western”.  While you would not be mistaken for thinking that a Western-style festival in a deeply conservative nation is incompatible, this is part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MBS) wider attempts to reform the nation’s economic and socio-cultural life and place it at the centre of a modern Middle East.  A prime example is MBS’s ultimatum to international companies that the Kingdom would stop doing business with those who do not have their regional headquarters in Riyadh. In this context, Vice’s u-turn reflects the irresistible nature of the lucrative contracts that the Saudi government offers – especially when like Vice, you are under pressure from shareholders to turn around declining revenues.  Despite opposition from staff, Vice’s response to the revelations only confirms these suspicions, with the media company setting up a dedicated office in Riyadh last year.  Speculation has been rife over whether MBS’s ambitious reforms should be taken at face value. In truth, there have been some minor reforms that lend some credibility to the modernising agenda, but it is still little more than window dressing for what remains a feudal society with vast socio-economic inequalities.  

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. “Beijing Olympics: the new front line in the US-China cold war” by Demetri Sevastopulo et al. for The FT

  2. “Johnson’s hypocrisy and lies are emblematic of the British establishment” by Owen Jones for The Guardian

  3. “Energy bills: How Boris Johnson is still caught in a trap laid by Labour’s Ed Miliband” by Gordon Rayner for The Telegraph

  4. “Levelling up won’t save Boris Johnson” by Harry Lambert for The New Statesman

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