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Thursday's Business and Politics round-up

20 Apr 2017
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IoD in the news

Financial Times - Business hopes the snap election will improve Brexit
Economia - Labour pledges to increase taxes for the rich

The unlucky 13

Members of Parliament voted by 522 votes to an unlucky 13 to bring forward the election from 2020. Labour and the Liberal Democrats helped to secure the two-thirds majority needed and of those MPs to oppose May’s plans, 9 were Labour, 3 were independent, as well as the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell.

Although Parliament will not be officially dissolved until early May, campaigning is now officially under way having received the backing of the Commons. Party leaders wasted no time to start having their message heard. Speaking in Croydon on his first campaign stop, the Labour leader said if elected, he would raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour and increase spending on the NHS, social care and council housing. The Lib Dem leader Tim Farron addressed a rally of activists in south-west London.

Meanwhile, speaking in Bolton, Theresa May made it clear the David Cameron and George Osborne's "long-term economic plan" mantra days were well and truly over. The phrase has now been replaced with "strong and stable", and I can guarantee you that is not the last you’ve heard of it. You can hear it now “strong and stable leadership means strong and stable leadership”. In fact, political pundits counted that Mrs May mentioned the phrase at least 13 times in her launch speech yesterday.

Notably, Mrs May immediately took the fight to the Opposition, flying to the target seat of Bolton North East, a Labour marginal that voted for Brexit in the EU referendum. Her choice of location shows how and on what grounds she intends to run this campaign.

There were some surprises yesterday as the Evening Standard (yes…I was thinking the same thing) exclusively revealed George Osborne would step down as an MP. In other revelations, veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke will stand again and ardent Brexiteer Gisela Stuart will not.

Today, in his first full day of general election campaigning, Jeremy Corbyn will vow not to "play by the rules" if elected PM and will insist the polls are not a foregone conclusion. The Labour leader will say "powerful people" do not want him to win, vowing "prove the Establishment experts wrong and change the direction of this election".

Bill Gatekeeper of aid

Bill Gates has warned the UK Government that cutting foreign aid spending would cost lives and reduce Britain's influence in the world.

The billionaire American philanthropist said “The big aid givers now are the US, Britain and Germany – those are the three biggest and if those three back off, a lot of the ambitious things going on with malaria, agriculture and reproductive health simply would not get done.”

The Microsoft founder urged the UK to keep spending at least 0.7% of national income - or GDP - on foreign aid, saying it was proof of the country’s goodwill and humanity. This commitment was first enshrined in law during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2015, but Theresa May has refused to say if she will retain the pledge in the Conservative’s election manifesto.

Mr Gates stressed aid spending was not just altruistic, but helped the UK achieve its strategic goals, such as reducing global outbreaks of infectious diseases or avoiding war and large-scale migration.

Appearing on BBC’s Newsnight alongside the billionaire, the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, pledged her own “absolute” commitment to it. She said “I think that international aid not only benefits… the countries that receive it but we benefit too”.

Aid commitments equated to more than £12bn in 2015, and there has been growing speculation that the Conservatives will attempt to row back on this in their new manifesto. Newsnight’s political editor Nick Watt has said there was pressure in Whitehall to subsume aid spending in a larger budget, which would include defence and trade. This would therefore allow the government more flexibility on how the cash was spent.

Mrs May has in the past praised Britain's aid spending as proof of its global leadership, but it is hardly unknown that like many politicians, the Prime Minister has gone back on her word, once or twice. In the commons yesterday, she refused to confirm that her party's election manifesto would renew the commitment. A Conservative spokesman said the party would set out its plans in due course.

On a different brain-wavelength

Facebook has revealed it is working on technology to allow us to control computers directly with our brains.

Although it is in its early stages, the tech giant says it is developing “silent speech” software to allow people to type at a rate of 100 words per minute. It will require new technology to detect brainwaves without needing invasive surgery.

Regina Dugan, the company’s head of Building 8, the hardware research lab, made the announcement. Ms Dugan said the company intends to build both the hardware and software to achieve its goal, and has enlisted a team of more than 60 scientists and academics to work on the project.

She assured the public that "We are not talking about decoding your random thoughts” but rather that we have many thoughts, and this device will be able to pick up on the ones you choose to share.

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