How to bottle Britishness

The US crackdown on trade finance for Russia from international banks – designed to impede imports needed for the continuing assault on Ukraine – is biting hard, reports the FT, quoting an investor who thinks ‘the logical endpoint of this is turning Russia into Iran’. Quite right too: sanctions like these are a vital non-military way to hobble Vladimir Putin’s campaign. But war and finance intersect in many different ways. Consider also the fate of 400 western-owned commercial aircraft that were leased to Russian airlines before the invasion in February 2022. Now stuck in Russia or its satellites, unmaintained to western standards and unfit to fly back into our airspace,

The Uber scandal highlights big tech’s big failure

A few years ago the Conservatives were excited about the march of the tech giants. Uber was offering an alternative to black cabs at a far lower cost, and Airbnb enabled homeowners to rent out a spare room to tourists at a fraction of the rate charged by hotels. Politicians were no longer dependent on traditional media but could reach the public via social networks, and there seemed to be an explosion of entrepreneurs, empowered by the new tech, taking on vested interests. The Tories intended to be part of this revolution. Their enthusiasm for people power was not to last. The government now plans to give regional mayors the

Is this the end of the gig economy?

Before too long, news that Uber will offer 70,000 drivers holiday pay and the national living wage will be viewed less as an unmitigated triumph than a Pyrrhic victory. In the UK you can be an ’employee’ with an ever-growing raft of employment rights, a ‘worker’ with rather fewer rights, or ‘self-employed’. These statuses have different implications for tax purposes. Last month, the UK Supreme Court, ending a six-year case brought by two Uber drivers, ruling that the ride-hailing firm must classify drivers as workers rather than self-employed. This week, the consequences of that judgment begin to be felt — though it is the government’s fault that, in repeatedly failing

The car industry is accelerating towards an electric future

Back in November, when Downing Street’s pandemic responses looked daily more incompetent, the announcement of a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, ten years earlier than originally planned, was largely greeted — along with the rest of the ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ — as another exercise in Johnsonian distraction and thin-air number-plucking. Auto makers responded defensively, citing the huge costs of re-engineering model ranges in short order and the shameful failure of ministers to encourage investment in plug-in networks for electric vehicles. Meanwhile, Tesla founder Elon Musk announced he would site a battery ‘gigafactory’ in Germany because Brexit made the UK

The problem with the Supreme Court’s Uber ruling

They are monitored by the firm. They don’t have the option of working for other companies. And they are entitled to all the protections that come with being an employee. The Supreme Court today potentially blew up Uber’s business model, and the model of many other fast-growing ‘gig economy’ companies as well, with a ruling that drivers for the app operator are not self-employed after all, as the company likes to claim, but staff, and should be treated as such. In truth, you can argue the case for or against that decision, as the lawyers have just done expensively in court. But in reality, this is a hugely important verdict

Who started America’s presidential debates?

Word for word US presidential debates are often traced back to the first televised debate, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960. But they were inspired by a series of seven debates held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas while contesting an Illinois senatorial seat in 1858. The debates would have stretched a modern audience — they were each three hours long. It is hard to imagine, too, how modern candidates would have coped with the format: the first speaker was invited to speak for an hour, the second for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a further half-hour. Douglas won the seat and, two

Letters: Why have the Conservatives decided Chesterfield is a lost cause?

Given up on Chesterfield? Sir: Matthew Parris makes some interesting and accurate points about growing Tory support in the north and Midlands (‘The Tory push north will end in failure’, 7 December). He did not mention Chesterfield in his article, but it is a good example of what he talks about. It seems to me that the Conservatives have decided Chesterfield is a lost cause, even though it would on the face of it seem promising territory for them. With an average age higher than the national average and no university, it is one of those ‘left behind’ areas with a lot of traditional working-class voters who dislike Corbyn. A good

There’s no need to mourn the loss of Uber’s London licence

Early experiences of Uber in London did not encourage me to become a regular user. My first driver thought I wanted to go to Birmingham when the ride had been booked from Clapham to Mayfair. The next was a furious driver who would have seen off Lewis Hamilton at Hyde Park Corner. Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer the pottering black cab with its opinionated Essex-dweller at the wheel and the possibility of paying in cash. So my own modus operandi is unaffected by Transport for London’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence in the capital and I’m not in the least upset about it. OK, life today is

Portrait of the week: Chief Rabbi speaks out, Uber loses its licence and police draw tasers at the cinema

Home The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, intervened in the election campaign by declaring that anti-Semitism was a ‘poison — sanctioned from the very top’ of the Labour party, whose claim to have dealt with cases was a ‘mendacious fiction’.The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said: ‘That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.’ Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, insisted that ‘rapid and effective’ action had been taken against offenders, and refused to apologise. Chris Moncrieff, a longtime lobby correspondent of the Press

The Uber ban is just more pointless protectionism

Transport for London doesn’t like Uber. It doesn’t like the innovations the app has created in transport; it doesn’t like how competitive platforms like Uber have become with black cabs; and it doesn’t like that customers have completely embraced the service. That’s why they’ve effectively banned the app – again. This morning TfL ruled that it will not be expanding Uber’s licence, because it claims the platform does not meet the ‘fit and proper’ requirements to be a private hire operator, nor has it done enough to address rider safety over the past few years (TfL refused to renew Uber’s licence back in September 2017 as well, but a court

Matthew Lynn

London’s Uber ban leaves us all worse off

It is unregulated, arrogant, unsafe and has destroyed the livelihood of the traditional black cabs. Ever since it was launched, the ride-sharing app Uber has been as controversial as it has been popular. Now it faces a ban in London that could see the ubiquitous Toyota Priuses favoured by its drivers disappear from the capital’s streets. It won’t happen immediately, because the decision will be appealed, but it could happen very soon. True, that will be a blow to the company, and a relief both to its ride-sharing rivals and even more to the cabbies. With three million passengers and more than 45,000 drivers, London is one of the company’s

Diary – 25 April 2019

The best moment of my Easter ended up being an impromptu debate with the delightful comedian Sarah Millican about the concept of ‘the ideal Easter egg’. If memory serves, Sarah may have preferred the large eggs with extra chocolates inside. I prefer the opposite — small, delicate ones with no extra treats. I hope my preference won’t be seen as another stereotypical middle-class protest against greed and excess… I was asked to be a judge of the Churchill Awards, which celebrate the societal contributions of the over 65s. At first I thought it must be a mistake. Don’t you have to be old to do that? Then I checked. I

Diary – 19 July 2018

It was blessedly cool inside the Romanesque nave, its massive arches resisting the heat as they had done everything else that history had thrown at them in the past thousand years. Through the great west doors, which had been left open for ventilation, I could glimpse the ruins of the adjacent Norman castle, bleached white by the intense sunshine. In front of me were the serried ranks of prep school pupils at their speech day and I was presenting the prizes. The boys were in blazers; the girls in boaters and the staff were gowned. The head opined sensibly and the dean prayed. The organ thundered; the choir sang exquisitely

How tech lobbyists harness the power of grassroots activism

A strange thing happened after TFL’s decision last month not to renew Uber’s license to operate in London. The ride sharing app started a petition on the website change.org. To defend the livelihoods of 40,000 drivers – and the consumer choice of millions of Londoners – sign this petition asking to reverse the decision to ban Uber in London. Thousands of stranded bus-shy Londoners rushed to sign, making it the fastest growing petition in the UK this year. (At the time of writing it’s reached 855 thousand signatures). And of course it was accompanied by the mandatory hashtag #saveyouruber, which was shared by the official Uber UK Twitter account. Big

Raising the threshold crappiness

I love anything open late at night. Never mind ‘the sigh of midnight trains in empty stations’; even mundane activities like filling up with petrol become enjoyably Edward Hopperish after midnight. Often the places are so quiet you wonder why they bother opening at all. But it is a strange psychological fact that opening a shop 24 hours a day often pays, even if nobody ever buys anything between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Somehow the knowledge that the shop never closes means people are far more likely to shop there at conventional times. This quirk also explains why the most successful coach firm between Oxford and London runs services all

Disruptive companies like Uber are the lifeblood of the free market

It has long been my understanding that innovative business entrants are the very lifeblood of our free market society. In recent months, however, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is no longer the case. Uber, Taxify, AirBnB, Deliveroo, Amazon, Google, along with many other modern innovators, have at times been treated like pariahs. Some of this criticism has been legitimate, with shortfalls in conduct or corporate culture rightly condemned. But much of the vitriol appears to be fuelled by those who have lost out to what is simply a more competitive and appealing business model. Customer service deficiencies or poor practices – even those that are easily addressed – are

Portrait of the week | 28 September 2017

Home Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, told the party conference that Labour was ‘on the threshold of power’. The party had been ‘war-game-type scenario-planning’ for things like ‘a run on the pound’, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said at a fringe meeting. Mr McDonnell had delighted conference-goers by denouncing Private Finance Initiatives: ‘We will bring existing PFI contracts back in-house. We’re bringing them back! We’re bringing them back!’ But next day, Jon Ashworth, the shadow health spokesman, said: ‘It’s only a handful which are causing hospital trusts across the country a significant problem.’ Mr McDonnell also promised to renationalise rail, water, energy and the Royal Mail. At a fringe event,

Barometer | 28 September 2017

Lost in the post Postcard maker J. Salmon is to close after almost 140 years, because holidaymakers now send phone selfies rather than cards. — What is believed to be the very first postcard was a selfie of sorts. It was a caricature of postal workers that practical joker Theodore Hook sent to himself in Fulham using a penny black stamp in 1840, the year the penny post was introduced. — It was another 30 years before postcards were officially accepted by the Royal Mail, and the now standard design of a picture on the front, address and message on the back was established only in 1902. — Mr Hook’s

Martin Vander Weyer

Uber was the ugly snowplough that cleared the path but its dominance is bound to fade

An Uber insider tells me not to write off the ride-hailing giant too soon, because it’s a very smart company for all its faults — and because the numbers of drivers and users for whom it is part of daily life will make it difficult for Transport for London to uphold its licence withdrawal on appeal, so long as Uber makes gestures of humility. But the moral of the story, says my source, is that as a ‘tech disrupter’ invading a regulated sector, the company created by Travis Kalanick ‘relished the fight with governments and entrenched interests far more than was normal or reasonable’, rather than seeking to be part

In banning Uber, London is fighting the future

For the last ten months I have been working as an Uber driver in London. It is an amazing company to work for. Totally flexible, constantly innovative, fair and prompt in its payments. I’ve driven old people, youngsters, businessmen, drunks, choirgirls, cancer patients, a woman about to give birth, athletes (fit and injured) and visitors from every corner of the globe all over our great capital without any problem. It is a fantastic social enabler for anyone on a budget in the metropolis. And I’ve found it to be a perfectly fair and reasonable provider of income for self-employed, self-motivated people, such as myself. I first started working in London