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Insights from the UK and beyond

from Global Investing:

Global FTSE 100 shrugs off parochial UK GDP data

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Britain's FTSE 100 seems to be almost impervious to any bad data that can be thrown at it. GDP data shocked the market showing the UK unexpectedly contracted in the third quarter.

Sterling tumbled more than a cent against the greenbackand gilts jumped while the FTSEurofirst 300 pan-European equity index trimmed gains considerably.

But Britain's FTSE shrugged it off, hugging its 1 percent gains in the face of data which shows the UK economy is still ailing badly.

 It is the cosmopolitan nature of the FTSE which is keeping it buoyant. Miners and energy firms make up over 32 percent of the index, while miners banks, also very much global institutions make up a further 16 percent.

from Global Investing:

Pity Poor Pound

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Britain's pound has long been the whipping boy of notoriously fickle currency markets, but there are worrying signs that it's not just hedge funds and speculators who have lost faith in sterling. Reuters FX columnist Neal Kimberley neatly illustrated yesterday just how poor sentiment toward sterling in the dealing rooms has become and the graphic below (on the sharp buildup of speculative 'short' positsions seen in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data) shows how deeply that negative view has become entrenched.              

 While the pound's inexorable grind down to parity with the euro captures the popular headlines, the Bank of England's index of sterling against a trade-weighted basket of world currencies shows that weakness is pervasive. The index has lost more than a quarter of its value in little over two years -- by far the worst of the G4 (dollar, euro, sterling and yen) currencies over the financial crisis. The dollar's equivalent index has shed only about a third of the pound's losses since mid-2007, while the euro's has jumped about 10% and the yen's approximately 20% over that period.

Clouds of change: Buzzwords from conference season

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dave1Opposition leader David Cameron has delivered his speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester.******Cameron told delegates there would be “painful” cuts in public spending, promised to send more troops to Afghanistan and stressed the importance of confronting “Labour’s debt crisis.” He also pledged to modernise the pension system, “break the cycle of welfare dependency” and cut back on bureaucracy to make life easier for entrepreneurs.******Cameron’s speech brings conference season to an end. Leaders of the three main parties — Cameron, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats — have all laid out their plans for Britain ahead of a general election due by June 2010.******The ‘word clouds’ below have been generated using the complete texts from each of the leaders’ keynote conference speeches, in the order they were given. At first glance there are some striking similarities and fascinating overlaps — but we will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.******How did you think each of the leaders performed? Who did you find the most convincing? Is David Cameron ready to lead the country?******Keywords from Nick Clegg’s speech:******cleggwordcloud2****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******Keywords from Gordon Brown’s speech:******brownwordcloud3****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******Keywords from David Cameron’s speech:******cameronwordcloud

Does class matter in politics?

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borisThree big speeches have been delivered at the Conservative Party conference so far — by party leader David Cameron, the mayor of London and national bumbler, Boris Johnson, and the party’s spokesman on the economy, George Osborne.

What do all three men have in common apart from their membership of the Conservative Party? They were all educated at elite public schools (Johnson and Cameron at Eton and Osborne at St Paul’s) and all went to Oxford, where they were members of the same dining and social set, the secretive and selective Bullingdon Club.

Do you have a favourite Monty Python sketch?

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Monty Python membersNothing was sacred to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” — and that is probably why the comedy troupe’s television show became so popular.

The irreverent programme starring  John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman first aired 40 years ago in 1969.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Britain: On exits and entrances

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With one million Britons of Pakistani origin, and as the former colonial power, Britain has a unique relationship with Pakistan. But concerns about Britain's vulnerability to bomb attacks planned by Pakistan-based militants -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that three-quarters of the most serious plots investigated by British authorities had links to al Qaeda in Pakistan -- has made for a rocky relationship.

Irfan Husain, a columnist for Dawn newspaper who divides his time between Britain and Pakistan, writes that these tensions are being worsened by the problems Pakistanis have in obtaining visas to visit Britain.

from Matt Falloon:

Labour lays down policy gauntlet


The Conservatives might be wishing they could have held their party conference before Labour.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's address to his party conference in Brighton on Tuesday has thrown down a flood of new ideas, policies and initiatives from faster cancer diagnosis to choosing how Britain votes in what read more like an mini-election manifesto than a speech.
Brown played to his strengths (policy) and avoided trying to overcome his well-known weaknesses (not much of a political entertainer) in public. Trying to be someone else could have been a disaster for a man way behind in the polls to the Conservatives.
Whether it will be enough to make any difference to the polls remains to be seen -- Labour needs a miracle there after all.
But, for now, going for the policy jugular seems to have done the trick -- giving his browbeaten party something to get excited about and hitting the Conservatives where it hurts.
David Cameron's Conservatives have been accused of not giving enough detail on how they would govern the country if the polls are correct and they are to win power next year.
They will have to start showing their hand soon if they are going to convince voters that they have the ideas to run the country and aren't just a vote for change for the sake of it.

Mandelson shows Brown the way

Peter Mandelson
There haven’t been many highlights from the podium at this year’s Labour party conference so far, but business minister Peter Mandelson pulled the cat out of the bag.
A rip-snorting rouser of a speech on Monday — full of gags and inspirational lines — has energised the party faithful and left commentators drooling.
It was just what Labour needed given all the negativity around the party at the moment.
Way behind in the polls, scrambling for policies that will capture the public mood and seemingly doomed to defeat at the next election to the opposition Conservatives, a week-long conference in sunny Brighton could easily turn into a painfully long few days.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown takes to the stage on Tuesday and must follow Mandelson’s lead if he is to convince the doubters in his own party and beyond that he has what it takes to reverse Labour’s fortunes.
Brown is not known for his imaginative speeches but he needs to find one now.
He did it last year — when plotters in his party wanted him out.
Can he do it again?

from FaithWorld:

Britain muddles through with assisted suicide guidelines

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purdyPressure is growing in Europe for some form of legalised euthanasia but few governments have gone as far as the Benelux countries in allowing assisted suicide in clearly defined cases. The mix of growing public support for ending lives of the terminally ill or brain dead but continued prohibitions on it in the law has led to some long and hard-fought legal battles in Italy (Eluana Englaro) and in France (Vincent Humbert). (Photo: Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, whose case prompted Britain's new guidelines, 2 June 2009/Stephen Hird)

It has also created a legal and ethical twilight zone where for compassionate reasons the law did not really punish the doctors, nurses or relatives who helped someone die. In France, this became clear in a number of court cases where the person accused of assisted suicide were convicted but got only a short suspended sentence. In Britain, a frequently used way to get around the law has been the so-called "suicide tourism" route to the Dignitas suicide group in Zurich.

Can Britain still afford nuclear weapons ?

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BRITAIN-NUCLEAR/As the public spending axe starts swinging, attention inevitably turns northwards to the chilly waters of the Clyde where Britain’s nuclear deterrent is based.

The four Vanguard class submarines which make up what is left of the UK deterrent come to the end of their lives around 2019 and their Trident missiles will need updating in the 2020s.

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