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Hello from The National.

Here are this week’s most compelling and exclusive stories from the UK and Europe.

BIG PICTURE

 

Bare knuckle

Hold on to your hats. The 2024 UK general election has been notably dull but the gloves are coming off as Conservatives flicker to life on the idea that Labour may yet be denied a crushing landslide.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fear that the Tories could be out of power for a decade, possibly longer.

Not wholly my words, but those of former minister Sir Oliver Letwin for the Teneo consultancy, who writes that Labour "are going to win the general election, and … are likely to be in government for at least the next 10 years due to the political implosion of the UK Conservative Party".

Looser talk has it that the rise of Nigel Farage and his Reform party spells the end completely for the Conservative Party.

Chris Blackhurst writes for us that taking the low road is not that simple. There are those around Rishi Sunak who say that he still believes he can produce the political shock of all shocks and win. He utterly refuses to engage in defeatist talk.

Mr Sunak stakes his reputation on being different from the rest, with a sense of duty and desire to serve.

True, his wealth and boarding school background have featured in the campaign, but not as frequently as might have been supposed at the outset.

Likewise, his ethnicity and hailing from immigrant stock have also not been raised, except implicitly by Mr Farage.

These are desperate days and the Tories could well be fighting an existential battle. A tougher attack campaign plan might light the fire under their side.

Some in Labour are already duking it out at the local level. Shabana Mahmood stands to become the UK's justice secretary if her party wins the general election, but first she must overcome a challenge whipped up by her party's stance on the Israel-Gaza war.

Outsider Akhmed Yakoob believes "this election is mine to lose" as an independent candidate who is a local solicitor and has recently ditched his Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce cars as his political interest grows.

Amid the Palestine flags and rundown housing of Ms Mahmood's Birmingham Ladywood constituency lies a discontent that could well unseat her.

Confident, pugnacious and armed with about 195,000 TikTok followers, Mr Yakoob aims to use his outspoken position on the Gaza war to cause a significant upset in the election.

He also comes equipped with a turn of phrase that he uses to break through with younger muslims who may previously have been seen as part of a Labour block vote.

“Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter,” he tells The National at his spacious lawyer’s office in Birmingham, when asked what it would mean if he defeated the Labour frontbencher.

Damien McElroy
London bureau chief

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Invest to grow

If Labour's campaign message was three words not just the official one – Change – it would be as in the line above.

The same Sir Oliver, who was pivotal in the 2010 transition to the coalition, reckons the Labour party needs to start an investment boom in high-growth industries to fulfil its long-term plans.

As Labour's relationships with the business community and certain financiers in the City of London are well developed this year, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said she wants to quickly pull in capital from around the world.

Just this week she said that if elected, a new Labour government would hold an investment summit in the first 100 days of its administration.

That would mean that, by the middle of October, a Labour government would have set out its case for investing in Britain and how it intends to bolster it.

Hitting the ground running with a clear timetable of measures to improve the conditions for investors would be an important tool for Ms Reeves.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research advises that offering a high degree of fiscal stability would make the UK more attractive to foreign investors.

As such, setting out a "fiscal diary" would mean international investors would be far more likely to commit money, secure in the knowledge that political horse-trading would not increase the risk to their investments.

"Of late, there's been a lot of uncertainty and there's been a lot of policy churn," said Dr Benjamin Caswell, senior economist at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

With less than three weeks before polling day and as the political parties home in on economic pledges in their manifestos, there was good news from this Office for National Statistics this morning.

Inflation has returned to the 2 per cent target for the first time in almost three years.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation fell to 2 per cent in May, down from 2.3 per cent in April.

 

Completion stakes

The £15 million ($19 million) sale of a London property that was once the headquarters of the shipping line that built the Titanic was rushed through to avoid a potential rise in stamp duty after the general election, the agent has told The National.

The duplex penthouse and two-bedroom apartment at the Grade II listed Oceanic House on Cockspur Street in Westminster was bought by an EU citizen from western Europe who works in the City, saving £150,000 in tax by completing the sale in only two days.

It was in that very same apartment – then used as administrative offices and a studio for technical draftsmen at the White Star Line – that the ill-fated Titanic was designed in the 1900s.

 

Drone threats

Ukraine has unveiled its latest weapon against Russia's Black Sea Fleet – a high-powered sea drone, which can reach speeds of 74kph, with a range that could hit the Kerch bridge between Crimea and mainland Russia.

The unmanned vessel, 5 metres long and 1.2 metres wide, is called the kamikaze Stalker 5.0 and has an operational range of 600km.

It is driven by a 60-horsepower speedboat engine.

As its name suggests, the drone, which is equipped with a Starlink satellite terminal that can relay a live video feed back to its operator, can be used for one-way missions and carry payloads of up to 150kg.

Each unit costs £50,000.

It could also be used to deliver essentials, including food, water and military or medical supplies.

 

OTHER STORIES THIS WEEK

UAE retains position as world's top wealth magnet for third year
Cyprus’s YouTube prankster could change EU politics
Why extreme heat will soon make the summer Olympics 'impossible'