Top story: Tories face losing seat to Lib Dems

Hello again – Warren Murray here, time to wake up and smell the copy (as in, you know, news copy).

The Brecon and Radnorshire byelection takes place today with the Conservatives battling to prevent their Commons majority being whittled down to a single seat. Despite being removed by a recall petition, over a conviction for diddling parliamentary expenses, the Tories’ Chris Davies is standing again and will hope to retain the seat.

If, as predicted, Davies is defeated by the Liberal Democrats’ Jane Dodds, Boris Johnson’s first major test as prime minister will result in his working majority in the Commons being reduced to one. Steven Morris has taken the temperature in this Welsh constituency where agriculture has been at the centre of the campaign, with warnings of heartache for sheep farmers and even civil unrest if there is a no-deal Brexit. Les, a sheep farmer, was taking his ease in the sunshine as the Brexit party’s bus rolled through Brecon. “They’re the sort that are here today, gone tomorrow,” he said.

Meanwhile the huge cost of a no-deal Brexit has been laid bare after Johnson’s government announced an extra £2.1bn for measure including stockpiling of medicines, an extra 500 border officials and a public awareness campaign about disruption. Labour has attacked it as an “appalling waste of tax-payers’ cash” – John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: “This government could have ruled out no deal, and spent these billions on our schools and hospitals.”

Biden put on the ropes – Joe Biden had to fend off multiple attacks at the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit overnight, as the party’s other contenders to take on Donald Trump in 2020 jockeyed to position themselves as a clear alternative to the current frontrunner. California senator Kamala Harris opened fire at Barack Obama’s vice-president over health care and race; former housing secretary Julian Castro attacked him on immigration; while New York mayor Bill de Blasio did so over deportations. New Jersey senator Cory Booker took a shot over criminal justice, Washington governor Jay Inslee said Biden’s climate change plan lacked urgency. Kirsten Gillibrand fired old prejudices about working women at him.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The two nights in Detroit have left Democrats with more questions than answers, contemplating a field fragmented across age, gender, race and policy. Among key moments, Biden criticised Harris’ healthcare plan as too costly and taking too long to implement, but Harris shot back that Biden’s own healthcare proposal would leave behind roughly 10 million Americans. Biden accused Booker of engaging in controversial “stop and frisk” policies as mayor of Newark, but Booker hit back: “You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavour.” The unruly and often contentious debate produced no clear winner, as some onstage cautioned against losing sight of the party’s real target: Trump. Biden bungled his closing line by asking viewers to “Go to Joe 3-0-3-3-0 and help me in this fight” – an apparent mangling of his website and a text line for supporters.

‘Al-Qaida heir’ reported killed – Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, who was trying to lead an al-Qaida resurgence, is believed dead. Reports suggested the US had a hand in the death of the roughly 30-year-old, sometime in the last two years, but Donald Trump declined to comment. In March of this year Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship after the US offered a $1m (£800,000) reward for help locating him as part of its “rewards for justice” programme. He was thought to have been based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, along the border with Afghanistan, from where he sought to inspire attacks on the west and its Middle Eastern allies after al-Qaida’s decline and eclipse by Islamic State.

‘Tide of hate’ – There were 892 reported antisemitic incidents between January and June in the UK, a 10% increase on the same period of 2018 and the third year in a row that reports have gone up, according to Jewish charity the Community Security Trust. It says dozens of cases were related directly to allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party. More than a third of incidents involved social media and two-thirds took place in Greater London and Greater Manchester, home to the two largest Jewish populations in the UK. David Delew, the trust’s chief executive, said: “The problem is spreading across the country and online. It will take people of all communities and backgrounds standing together to turn this tide of hate around.”

Thursday catch-up – The day’s just got that kind of feel about it …

> The head of China’s military in Hong Kong has made an alarming intervention, warning unrest should not be tolerated. The PLA released a video with an anti-riot soldier shouting in Cantonese: “All consequences are at your own risk.”

> Ronald Reagan was recorded calling African diplomats “monkeys” in a phone call to then-president Richard Nixon in 1971.

> Suspected sex offenders and others accused of serious crimes should be kept anonymous until charged if their reputation is at stake, the new justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, has said.

> The US has imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who seemed to take it in good humour: “It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”

> Severn View services on the M48 in Gloucestershire has been rated the worst motorway service station in England. Norton Canes (Roadchef) services on the M6 toll road in Staffordshire was rated the best by Transport Focus.

Black hole – BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor, has lost an estimated $90bn over the last decade by ignoring the financial risk of investing in fossil fuel companies, according to economic experts. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says BlackRock has squandered value by betting on oil companies that were falling in value and by missing out on growth in clean energy investments. Its multibillion-dollar investments in the world’s largest oil companies – including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP– were responsible for the bulk of its losses. BlackRock says its fossil fuel investments come about through investment indices that are controlled by third parties, not itself, but the IEEFA has called on BlackRock to propose its own low-emissions index benchmark for the passive funds.

Should I wash this? – Extending the life of your wardrobe is good for the planet and your finances. Sirin Kale has gathered experts tips on how to make your outfits last as long as possible. There’s not washing an item unless it really needs it: some stains dab out, and apparently lukewarm water and vodka in a spray bottle will get rid of smells. (One for yourself while you’re at it?) Other advice: guard against moths using cedarwood, support your local tailor and cobbler, and/or learn to mend things yourself. And the Briefing’s favourite, this bit of purchasing advice: “When you’re looking at a piece of clothing, turn it inside out and pull at every piece of string you find. If it starts to unravel – don’t buy it.” Then perhaps beat a tactical retreat out of the shop …

Today in Focus podcast: Understanding Dominic Cummings

James Graham, screenwriter of the TV drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, talks about Dominic Cummings, the former Vote Leave director now at the heart of Boris Johnson’s strategy team. And: Daniel Trilling on how the media covers refugees.

Today in Focus

Understanding Dominic Cummings

Lunchtime read: Migrants and the media

“The professional who moves to a neighbouring city for work is not usually described as a migrant, and neither is the wealthy businessman who acquires new passports as easily as he moves his money around the world,” writes Daniel Trilling today. “It is most often applied to those people who fall foul of border control at the frontiers of the rich world, whether that’s in Europe, the US, Australia, South Africa or elsewhere.

A boat dangerously overloaded with refugees lands near Molyvos on the Greek island of Lesbos, July 2015.

A boat dangerously overloaded with refugees lands near Molyvos on the Greek island of Lesbos, July 2015. Photograph: Jillian Edelstein

“That’s because the terms that surround migration are inextricably bound up with power, as is the way in which our media organisations choose to disseminate them. Instead, it implies an endless present: they are migrants, they move, it’s what they do. It’s a form of description that, until 2015, I might have expected to see more often in nature documentaries, applied to animals rather than human beings.”


Joe Root has been left frustrated at discovering pre-match player handshakes are listed among the events before today’s Ashes opener, despite not being consulted. Australia’s captain, Tim Paine, has dismissed suggestions that Edgbaston could have a detrimental effect on his players by claiming it would not make his top 15 most intimidating grounds. Joe Root’s return to the No 3 spot for the first Test has caused a fuss but it is just another part of the this enduring series’ mythology, writes Barney Ronay. Two 20-year-olds, Mady Villiers and Sophie Ecclestone, saved England’s blushes with fine bowling displays in the final match of the Women’s Ashes, a T20 won by 17 runs. Mike Brown is ready to sweat for a place in England’s Rugby World Cup squad after the full-back was called up by Eddie Jones for heat training in Italy. Andy Murray and brother Jamie have battled past French pair Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin to reach the quarter-finals at the Citi Open in Washington. And the sacked Australian rugby player Israel Folau has begun legal action against his former employers for unfair dismissal and is seeking $10m damages, an apology and reinstatement.


Asian stock markets have followed Wall Street lower after the US central bank cut its key interest rate but left investors uncertain about future reductions. Benchmarks in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Australia tumbled while Tokyo was little changed. We are tracking the pound at $1.212 and €1.097 this morning, while the FTSE looks like opening lower.

The papers

The i reports on “Britain beating plastic bags”, as does the Mail: “Plastic bag use halves in just a year”, which it claims as an “astonishing triumph” for its own anti-plastic bag campaign 10 years ago.

Guardian front page, Thursday 1 August 2019

Guardian front page, Thursday 1 August 2019.

The Guardian says: “Labour attacks ‘appalling waste’ as PM adds 2bn to no-deal fund”, the Telegraph reports: “Army trains keyboard warriors for digital war” (our take on that story here) and the Times has: “Suspects in sex crimes ‘should be anonymous’”. The Mirror has an interview with woman who won £1.8m at age of 16: “I’m proof kids must be banned from Lotto” and the Sun reports on an electrician who has wired his van to shock thieves: “Watt van man”.

The FT reports: “Fed cuts rates by a quarter point and signals more easing if needed” and the Express says: “Cut stamp duty to fix homes crisis”.

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