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2 January 2020

Evening Call: What’s on the news agenda for 2020?

Buckle up, everybody. It’s going to be another year.

By Jonn Elledge

The streets and cafes of central London were strangely deserted this morning, as though half the city has decided to extend their Christmas break, and what’s worse, the New Statesman office is absolutely freezing cold. All of which leads me to suspect that I’ve made an absolutely terrible decision by coming into work today at all.

In keeping with this sense that the world has not entirely restarted yet, it’s been a fairly quiet day in news terms. Parliament isn’t back until next week (the treason why our sister newsletter Morning Call has yet to re-awake, in case you were wondering). As a result, politics hasn’t really got going yet, and one of the day’s big stories concerned a steak bake.

The slight pause, however, seems an excellent opportunity to look ahead to what’s coming, before everything starts getting crazy again. So – what’s on the slate for 2020?

The big event looming on the horizon already is Brexit: It’s Actually Happening This Time Day, which is 31 January. At that point, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU and its political structures, and you will no longer be able to live out your dreams of just packing it all in and moving to Berlin whenever you feel like it, so congratulations I guess. The assumption is that both the European and UK parliaments will have finished ratifying the withdrawal agreement by then – it’s already passed the second reading stage in the Commons, so we can be fairly confident that at least it won’t be a no deal.

After that, we have months and months of trade talks to get excited about, to prevent a second cliff-edge on 31 December, when the UK is due to leave the EU single market too. The government will be hoping everyone largely ignores this as it’s boring. Will that be enough to get a new trade relationship agreed on the sort of schedule that no trade experts seem to think is realistic? Wait and see.

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Other things starting to loom on the horizon: now Christmas is out of the way, we can expect the Labour leadership race to really start getting going: recent developments include party chair Ian Lavery noisily declining to rule out a run, while shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has said he’ll run for the deputy post. Also due to hot up – pause for hollow laughter – at some point soon is the Liberal Democrat leadership race, although details on that so far remain scant. The party is being co-led by its deputy leader and president, Ed Davey and Mark Pack, on an interim basis until that happens.

The other big political event this year – arguably bigger even than the Lib Dem leadership race – is the US presidential election, which will finally happen on 3 November after the traditional 5,000-year build-up. The next big news day on that one will be the Iowa caucus, on 3 February, followed in short order by the New Hampshire primary on 11 February, both of which should give us some insight into who Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent will be. Another candidate, Julián Castro, dropped out of the field earlier today.

Earlier I asked the NS team if there were any other big events worth highlighting in this space. The same colleague, who I’m not going to name for reasons that are about to become obvious, offered two. One was the UN Climate Change Conference COP 26, which will take place in Glasgow in November. The other was the 40th birthday of Harry Potter (the boy, not the book; that’s just 23), which happens on 31 July.

Buckle up, everybody. It’s going to be another year.

Good day for…

Keir Starmer’s leadership hopes. The first poll of Labour Party members, courtesy of YouGov, showed the shadow Brexit secretary leading the field, with 31 per cent of first choice preferences, compared to just 20 for his nearest challenger Rebecca Long-Bailey. Stephen thinks it rings true – but noted in his write up that not all of the candidates on offer are likely to make the ballot, and that anyway there are three months to run and these things change. You can read more here.

Bad day for…

Lauren Laverne. (I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?) The NS ran a great piece by Rachel Aroesti earlier about the reasons for the long and upsetting tradition of endless criticism of everyone and anyone who ever hosts Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. It’s worth a read.

Quote of the day

“I simply will not put up with that.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps talking about the failings of the Northern Rail franchise on BBC Breakfast this morning. This has been widely reported as a promise to strip Arriva of the franchise – but actually, as I explained on CityMetric earlier, the truth is a little more complicated than that.

Everybody’s talking about...

The new Greggs vegan steak bake. Obviously. It’s not made quite the splash that last year’s vegan sausage roll did, but it’s still had quite a lot of attention for what is, let’s recall, some grey fast food. It went down well with the NS web desk at least, although Indra has some questions about the cynicism of it as a marketing plot. You can read her write up here.

Everybody should be talking about…

The Australian bush fires, which continue to burn, and from which so much smoke has now emanated that it’s visible from Dunedin, on the east (that is, more distant) coast of New Zealand, more than 2,000 miles away across the ocean. Some of the pictures coming out of them are genuinely – and I use this word deliberately – apocalyptic. The BBC has a round-up here.


I made a mistake in the last Evening Call of 2019, when I said that a quote from Zac Goldsmith was referring to the EU. Actually it was referring to House of Lords reform. This actually made it more damning, so it’s a real shame I mucked that up.

Anyway. Questions? Comments? Do say hi, if only to make me feel it was worth getting up at all this morning.

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