Fresh elections in the UK: Holiday gift or lump of coal?

In a breakthrough that will give the British people one more chance to weigh in on the tortured question of Brexit, the UK Parliament – after a series of baroque machinations – agreed late yesterday to hold a general election on December 12.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed for this vote (four times now!) because he's gambling that his Conservative Party can win the majority he needs to push through his Brexit deal before the newly-extended deadline to leave the EU hits on January 31. Although his party leads in the polls (some even show the Conservatives up by double digits), there is no shortage of risks for him—the polls could just be wrong (as they were when his predecessor Theresa May tried to cushion her own parliamentary majority by calling a snap election in 2017, only to actually lose seats), or voters could hold Johnson, and his entire Conservative party by extension, responsible for the endless anguish of Brexit. Some Britons will even treat this as a de facto second Brexit referendum instead of a national election since there are no guarantees they will have another chance to make their voices heard.


That's exactly what certain parties are counting on. The Liberal Democrats, for their part, will campaign for votes among those who favor remaining in the EU, as will the Scottish National Party, while the upstart far-right Brexit Party will try to poach Brexit supporters who think Johnson hasn't been hardline enough.

One of the big questions is how the opposition Labour Party will fare. Labour, which held out until the last moment on supporting a fresh election, is badly divided over whether to leave the EU or not. They will campaign on renegotiating the Brexit agreement and then putting their new deal to a vote to the British people. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a better campaigner than he is an opposition leader, but asking Brexit-fatigued folks to extend the political chaos so Labour can have a turn negotiating with Brussels is a tough message to win an election on.

What's certain is that this will be the most bitter and tumultuous British election campaign in recent memory. What is not as certain is whether it will in fact yield a clear majority for any of these parties. If not, the hell of Brexit will roll right through snowball season…

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Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.