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Tuesday's Business and Politics round-up

21 Mar 2017
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IoD in the news

Bloomberg - U.K. Small Businesses Urge Government to Avoid Brexit Cliff Edge
The Times - Anti-fracking activists ‘using hostile tactics’

Extreme vetting

Google executives were in full fire-fighting mode yesterday as M&S became the latest company to freeze its online advertising over concerns about extremist content. The issue stems from a recent investigation by The Times, which found that a number of high profile firms had seen advertising placed alongside radical content on YouTube (which is owned by Google). Moreover, some were also found to have unwittingly funded those posting extremist videos, as adverts appearing alongside videos earn the poster around £6 per 1000 clicks generated. The M&S move comes on top of a tough few days for the search engine giant, as executives were hauled up in front of Cabinet Office officials to explain how government advertising had also wound up alongside radical content. Alongside M&S, other major firms to freeze google advertising include L’Oreal, RBS, and Audi.

Speaking at an Advertising Week conference in London, Matt Brittin - Google’s European boss - acknowledged the failure, saying ‘we apologise. Whenever anything like that happens, we don’t want it to happen and we take responsibility for it’. Google has now said it will shore up the way it monitors extremist content online, although Mr Brittin fell short of saying that they would hire new people to actively seek out radical posts. With YouTube users uploading around 400 hours of video every minute, executives are - perhaps understandably - nervous about the cost of policing them all manually. Instead, they are likely to use a mixture of better (smarter) technology and more tools for users to flag harmful content to fix the problem in future. They will also give advertisers more control over where content appears.

Amongst the controversial videos appearing alongside high profile advertising were white supremacist videos from the US and a hate preacher banned in the UK.

The ties that bind

Divisions, plots and scandals in the Labour Party never seem far from the top of the news nowadays, but Tom Watson’s claims that Unite (the union) could be tied to a ‘secret plot’ to place a left-wing group in charge of the Labour Party have drawn particular attention over the past couple of days. Labour’s Deputy Leader made the claims after Jon Lansman, founder of the hard-left group Momentum, was filmed saying that Unite could affiliate itself to the group, rather than simply the Labour Party. He urged Len McCluskey, the union’s General Secretary, to publically state that Unite would not fund Momentum, adding that the plan ‘threatens our very existence as an electoral force in the land and it needs to stop’.
Responding to the accusation, Mr McCluskey said he had never met Jon Lansman and there was no secret plot. Moreover, he painted Mr Watson’s accusation as a deliberate attempt to ‘sensationalise something in order to influence the outcome of the general secretary election of Unite’. The comments were echoed by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
This latest round of in-fighting comes on the back of a tough few weeks for Labour. Their loss in the Copeland by-election (a seat they’d held for over 30 years) was a big blow to party confidence, and Jeremy Corbyn drew heavy criticism recently for his perceived failure to capitalise on a difficult budget for the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. To now have his Deputy Leader making more accusations of entryism and plotting may turn the Labour Leader’s headache into a full blown political migraine.

Naming the day

After several months of speculation, four weeks of parliamentary ping pong, and one failure to launch, Theresa May has finally confirmed that the UK will trigger its formal exit from the EU next Wednesday. The PM has always maintained that she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March, and she’s pushed herself right up to the limit of the timetable with the decision to wait until next week. However, with Nicola Sturgeon stealing away last week’s golden opportunity and in light of celebrations this week to mark the anniversary of the EU’s founding, the last week of the month must have seemed like only sensible option left open to the PM.
A Downing St spokesman said yesterday that the UK’s ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow had given advance notice of the Article 50 date earlier on Monday. In response, Donald Tusk tweeted that ‘within 48 hours of the UK triggering Article 50, I will present the draft Brexit guidelines to the EU27 Member States’. He is also expected to call an extraordinary summit of EU leaders within the next few weeks to put together a mandate for the EU’s negotiating team.
Theresa May will no doubt be hoping that by giving EU leaders and the public advance notice of the trigger date, she will give negotiators on the other side the opportunity to craft a constructive (and friendly) response. Moreover, she may be hoping that by publicising a week-long lead time before triggering Article 50, she has given foreign exchange traders plenty of time to price the move into their thinking, thereby avoiding another rocky day of trading for the pound.

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