A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News. Delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Leading the week
The prospect of strike action looms large over the run-up to Christmas as the cost of living crisis continues to impact industrial relations. As newly released NHS figures show ambulance crews were unable to respond to nearly one in four 999 calls in October, a strike ballot closes on Tuesday (November 29) for 15,000 ambulance workers belonging to the GMB Union, which argues the government’s four per cent pay award amounts to a real terms pay cut amid record-high inflation rates. A second strike ballot for NHS workers closes the following day (November 30) for workers who belong to the Unite union who work across a number of NHS services (including ambulances) in a similar pay dispute. If approved, the ambulance and NHS staff could join nurses in pre-Christmas strikes, after the RCN announced today that its members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on December 15 and 20. Meanwhile, shoppers making the most of Cyber Monday (November 28) may find their deliveries disrupted as Royal Mail staff go on strike on Wednesday and Thursday (November 30-December 1) as part of their ongoing dispute over pay.
Rishi Sunak follows this week’s speech to leading business figures at the CBI conference with an address on Monday (November 28) to City grandees at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet. The pressure on the prime minister to wow his audience won’t be as high for this speech, but the broader messaging will still be worth noting after Sunak found himself in opposition to CBI chief Tony Danker about the best way to boost the economy in the coming months. Immigration continues to be a contentious topic among Conservative MPs and will likely be one of the defining issues of any forthcoming election campaign, and with the spectre of Brexit rising, Sunak will be expected to show he can manage the delicate balancing act required to keep business and party onside as he attempts to move on from the uncertainty of recent months.
Action continues in Qatar on Tuesday (November 29) as England and Wales meet for the first time at a FIFA World Cup. England have been the dominant force in Group B after a hugely impressive performance in their opening game, while Wales need nothing short of a miracle to reach the knockout stages after drawing with the United States and losing to Iran. England’s place in the round of 16 may already be secured by the time the two sides meet at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, but Wales know an unlikely win over Gareth Southgate’s side still might not be enough to join them.
Despite the home nations’ rivalry, there is a match with greater significance and symbolic importance on Tuesday, as the United States face Iran. In their opening match against England, the Iranian team stayed silent during the singing of their national anthem in a powerful sign of support for the ongoing protests across the country. Iranian state media blamed the protests and its foreign enemies for the loss, and the pressure on players will be even greater as they face the ‘Great Satan’ – a win would be a propaganda coup for the regime, while a loss could see the government double down on claims of ‘psychological warfare’. The two sides met in the 1998 World Cup, in what became known as the most ‘politically-charged’ match of all time, but the tensions between the Iranian team, fans and regime this year make the domestic ramifications at least as interesting as the international dynamic.
The conflict in Ukraine will be at the forefront of international news week as NATO foreign ministers gather in Bucharest on Tuesday and Wednesday (November 29 and 30) before the annual gathering of OSCE foreign ministers takes place in Lodz, Poland, on Thursday and Friday (December 1 and 2). Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is due to participate in the NATO meeting, and may join Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg among speakers at the Aspen-GMF Bucharest Forum taking place alongside the ministerial on Tuesday. Sweden and Finland’s bids to become fully-fledged members of the alliance are likely to be discussed following confirmation that Hungary will not block them, putting pressure on Turkey to follow through on its commitment to sign off on their membership. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is also, as it happens, speaking at the Aspen-GMF event on Tuesday.
The recent, ultimately unfounded, fears that a Russian missile had landed inside Polish sovereign territory were a reminder of the stakes in the conflict in Ukraine given its proximity to NATO members, and this won’t be lost on attendees at the OSCE meeting. The ministerial has often provided a neutral setting for relatively low-profile talks on the margins between the US and Russian foreign ministers, but not this year. Though US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected at both meetings, it appears veteran Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov won’t be permitted to attend the gathering following a decision by Polish authorities citing EU sanctions.
French President Emmanuel Macron is headed to DC next week, where he and his wife Brigitte will be hosted at the White House on Thursday (December 1) for the first full-scale state visit of the Biden presidency. Despite early tensions between Washington and Paris over France’s exclusion from the AUKUS security pace, Biden and Macron are likely to stress their shared priority of supporting Ukraine when they meet, though in private economic tensions – notably over US subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act – are sure to be raised.