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7 January 2020updated 08 Jan 2020 9:59am

Evening Call: Iran tensions continue, as Westminster’s eyes turn to the Labour leadership race

Almost too quiet. 

By Jonn Elledge

Strange to relate, considering how apocalyptic the news has felt for most of the last week, but today has been that rarest of beasts: a quiet news day. Though whether this is a de-escalation, or the calm before some storm or another, remains to be seen.

So what’s happening with all the big stories? On the small, looming matter of World War Three – as some wags have pointed out, a crisis over Iran is literally the thing that sparks nuclear holocaust in the terrifying BBC film Threads, so that’s just terrific – US forces are on high alert, reports suggest that Iran is moving military equipment, and the US Department of Homeland Security is warning of plots against US infrastructure or cyberattacks.

But the word coming from some analysts is that, despite its rhetoric, Tehran does not actually want a war – which given the relative sizes of the two countries would be a pretty understandable choice. Meanwhile, the US has denied reports that the country’s military is preparing to pull out of Iraq, in which it’s been embedded since 2003, despite the Iraqi parliament formally requesting that foreign troops leave. In other news, at least 50 people are now thought to have been killed in a stampede at general Qasem Soleimani’s funeral yesterday.

Over in the world’s other apocalyptic crisis, it’s rained in parts of Australia, and temperatures have dropped a little. But the weather is expected to hot up again by the end of this week, and officials are warning that the country’s record-breaking bushfire season is not over yet. In all, nearly 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the crisis.

Here in Britain, eyes are turning to the Labour leadership race, on the grounds that personality politics and infighting are much more fun than policy. (The big news on that, by the way: Ian Lavery deciding to give Rebecca Long-Bailey a free run from the left. Patrick wrote that up here.)

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Policy matters, however, and the report I found most interesting today was this one from the Guardian’s Daniel Boffey, on how new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen is planning to strike a more conciliatory tone in the next stage of negotiations between the UK and the EU. Now that Brexit is a certainty, and the PM has a big enough majority that he no longer need fear attack from his right, undoing some of the damage the whole affair has done to relations between the UK and its continental allies – especially now, given all the other rising international crises – can only be a good thing. Whether warm words will be enough to negotiate a trade deal that doesn’t cross anybody’s red lines before the year is out, however, is a different question.

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Good day for…

Men, but especially men who make films about other men. The shortlist for the 2020 Baftas is dominated almost entirely by bloke-y offerings about the problems of being a man, such as Joker, The Irishman and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, while missing out an entire world of non-white talent. The list, writes our film critic Ryan Gilbey, “makes the Baftas seem stupid and out-dated”. More here.

Bad day for…

The homelessness crisis. The number of rough sleepers on Britain’s streets has grown so large that the Big Issue now has a more radical rival: a quarterly newspaper called DOPE Magazine, produced by the small anarchist publisher Dog Section Press. Anoosh has written about the rise of DOPE as part of our depressing-but-brilliantly-reported Crumbling Britain series. You can read her piece here.

Quote of the day

“Labour MPs know one design guy with one colour palette who is absolutely raking it in on leadership campaign work this year.”

Sometimes activist Tom Wilson, on the endless stream of white-text-on-a-red-background logos coming out of the various Labour leadership and deputy leadership campaigns. “That,” he continued, “or Lisa Nandy just really wants that New Statesman endorsement.”

The Wigan MP’s use of a suspiciously familiar colour scheme and font has caused much amusement in the NS office today. “Nandy clearly has the best font,” tweeted Stephen earlier. “It screams excellence. Quality. Enlightened thinking in dark times.” Indeed.

Everyone’s talking about…

A magnificently weird piece of data visualisation put together by the clergyman Fergus Butler-Gallie, who has worked out how far every Church of England bishop would have to walk to get to their nearest Nandos, and turned the results into a map.

Some bishops, such as London and Newcastle, barely have to step outside their cathedral. Barely a handful have to walk for more than an hour, which feels like a shocking indictment of something or another. That said, the diocese of Leeds messes things up slightly by maintaining three cathedrals of equal status, in Ripon, Bradford and Wakefield. You can see the map here.

Everyone should be talking about…

The Cypriot court case, in which a 19-year-old woman from Derbyshire was convicted of “causing public nuisance” for fabricating a rape claim. She maintains that only she did so under duress and that she was telling the truth about the allegations. Alona has written about what the case says about feminism and justice in Cyprus, Britain and Israel, where the group of men she accuses come from.


Questions? Comments? Drop me an email.

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