18 November 2017

Music of the week

Not one of my favourite mistakes

Yes, I am a shareholder.  It looked a reasonable prospect at the time.  Government contracts, handsome dividends - what could go wrong?  Well, just about everything.  The Guardian reports:
Carillion, one of the construction companies working on the HS2 London to Birmingham rail line, is racing to refinance its business after issuing its third profit warning in five months and suffering a collapse in share price.
Shares in the company, which is at the heart of several major building projects in the UK, were suspended eight times on Friday after the shock update to the City that it would breach the terms on its existing lending at the end of the year.
The shares crashed 60% when the stock market opened on Friday – to their lowest ever levels – and closed down 48% at 21.5p. At this price, about 25p, the shares are barely a tenth of the 240p level seen at the start of 2017 and the value of the company is just £92.5m.
 Ach weel, you win some, you lose some.

Quote of the day

Vacuous, utterly vacuous.  The Maybot in full flow.  From The Guardian (here):
Leaving the summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, May told reporters she agreed that more needed to be done to advance the negotiations. “But we are clear and I am clear that what we need to do is move forwards together and that’s how we can ensure that we are going to get the best deal for the UK and for the EU,” the prime minister said.


This is not going to work

The consequences of Brexit for the Northern Ireland border have moved up the agenda.  The Independent reports:
Theresa May has been handed an ultimatum to guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland by December if Britain wants to move to trade talks before the spring.
The EU and Ireland made clear on Friday that the issue of the border had joined the divorce bill as one of the two main problems where “much more progress” is needed to start talking about a transition period.
Following a meeting with the Prime Minister in Gothenburg, the European Council President Donald Tusk suggested British ministers must be joking if they believed it was the EU’s turn to make concessions in talks, attributing such suggestions to an “English sense of humour”.’
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Ireland and the EU needed a promise in writing by December that there would be no hard border and suggested eurosceptics had not “thought all this through” in the years they had been pushing for the UK to leave the EU.
I do not see how this question can be resolved.  If the UK insists on leaving the single market and customs union, there would have to be some kind of controls on the Northern Irish border, a position which is now declared by the Irish Republic to be unacceptable.  If Northern Ireland were to remain by itself  in the single market, there would need to be border controls between it and the rest of the UK, a position which would be equally unacceptable to the British government (probably even if it were not dependent on the DUP for its continued survival).  The only other conceivable option would be for the Republic of Ireland to leave the EU along with the UK; and that is obviously a non-starter.

I cannot see an available fudge or compromise.  I don't know where we go from here, other than towards either a cliff-edge no-deal or the abandonment of Brexit altogether.


17 November 2017

Quote of the day

The Times ponders the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Conservative Party:
The usual conservative view is risk-averse and frightened of grands projets by their sheer complexity and by the low capacity of the state to administer them. The true conservative, who is not a reactionary in thrall to the past, is also not a radical excited by a better tomorrow. He or she instead makes a fetish of the present. Better not to risk change for fear it will be worse than what we have. The caution and the complacency can be infuriating but it is a fool who sees no wisdom in the position.
Where are these conservatives today? Can you name a single one? Who is the person who holds the quintessentially conservative view, which is that the EU is a bit of a mess for which no affection can really be mustered but who thinks that leaving is really not worth the candle? The process of leaving, thinks the historical conservative, is just too difficult, too far beyond the capacity of the civil service to deliver, just far too much bother. To attempt the most complex administrative task that the British state has undertaken since the conduct of the Second World War is just a profoundly unconservative thing to do.
Wise words.


Pots and kettles

So David Davis has warned the EU not to put politics before prosperity.

That would be the David Davis who supported the British Government when it decided to call an EU referendum for domestic political reasons (mainly to dish UKIP), utterly heedless of its leaders' (Cameron and Osborne) stated opinion that it would severely damage the UK economy.

That would be the David Davis who is part of the British Government which, for political reasons,  has yet to clarify what kind of post-Brexit deal it wants and whose leaders (May, Johnson, Gove, Fox, Hammond, etc) are far more concerned about their place in the future of the Conservative Party than the future economic health of the country.

That would be the David Davis who is part of the British Government which has consistently ignored the warnings of business organisations and trades unions about the severe economic consequences of the absence of an early settlement on transitional arrangements for Brexit.  Because to do otherwise would cause political turmoil on Tory backbenches.


16 November 2017

Quote of the day

The Cabinet appear to have the intellectual capacity of primary schoolchildren.  The Times reports:
Michael Gove faces a backlash from senior Tories who have accused him of using cabinet meetings to “audition” to be the next chancellor.
The environment secretary has angered cabinet colleagues by straying beyond his brief in what is regarded as an attempt to persuade the prime minister to give him Philip Hammond’s job.
At the most recent meeting, on Tuesday, Mr Gove again made a point of using “lots of long, economicky words”, according to two people present.
Oh my!  "Long economicky words".  Whatever next?


15 November 2017

Getting cynical in my old age.

I have no doubt that Ms Hodge's request will be granted, in that the Chancellor will indeed address the issue of tax avoidance in his budget:
The senior Labour MP Margaret Hodge has called on Philip Hammond to use his budget to deal with tax avoidance by the rich and powerful “on an industrial scale” as exposed by the Paradise Papers and other leaks from tax havens.
The former chair of the Commons public accounts watchdog said tax avoidance had become too widespread among the wealthy and called on the chancellor to legislate to force tax transparency on UK crown dependencies.
“The actions and the culture of powerful large corporations and of the wealthiest in our society as revealed in the Paradise Papers constitute a national and international disgrace,” she said. 
“What we have learned is that tax avoidance is not just a trivial irritant practised by a small number of greedy individuals and global corporations. It is the widely accepted behaviour of too many of those who are rich and influential.
After all, successive chancellors - in every budget I can remember - have claimed that they will deal with excessive tax avoidance.  The problem is that none of their efforts ever seem to bear serious fruit.  I do not expect it to be any different this time around.

Especially because this is the government that last week sought to water down EU efforts to crack down on corporate tax havens.


14 November 2017

Confused? You will be ...

David Davis has announced to Parliament that there will be a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal:
As Davis is also the kinda man who is more than capable of confusing even himself with one of his statements. Several MPs wanted clarity on just how meaningful a meaningful vote would be. Dopey David started to get a bit narked. Why were people so unwilling to take him at his word. He had said there would be a meaningful vote and there would be a meaningful vote. End of.
At this point, several Brexiteers started having palpitations. But we would still be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 regardless, they enquired breathlessly. “Oh yes,” said Dopey David. While it was the government’s principal aim to allow parliament to have a meaningful vote on the final deal, it would at worst be a “take it or leave it” vote and at best take place long after we had left the EU.
So there was nothing for the Eurosceptics to worry about. Once he had failed to reach an agreement – an inevitability given that Davis doesn’t even know what he can agree to himself – we could crash out of the EU with no deal just as they hoped. Sure parliament could have a nice chat about the wreckage afterwards, but in all probability the only meaningful vote it would be getting was a non-meaningful one.

11 November 2017

Are the Brexit negotiations making progress?

Don't count your chickens.  The Guardian reports:
It’s all starting to get a bit embarrassing. In the press conferences following the early rounds of negotiations, Michel Barnier used to make a point of making most of his remarks in English to make things easier for David Davis. But at the sixth time of asking he’s clearly decided there isn’t any language that Davis properly understands, so he might as well suit himself and speak in his native French.
Questions from the media only underlined how little progress had been made. Was it true there was no chance of the European council agreeing to move the talks on to the next stage unless Britain put a whole load more cash on the table within the next two weeks, a German reporter asked. Barnier paused. There was a time when he might have been inclined to dodge that question to give the Brits a bit of slack, but now he was right out of patience. Davis would just have to suck it up. “Je pense que oui,” he said. (“I think so.”)
Even Dopey Dave understood that. There were just two weeks to try to save Brexit. He looked around for help, before it dawned on him that he was the person on whom the country was counting. He mumbled something about being willing and able, while sounding anything but. His expression was of a man who had only just realised he was completely out of his depth. Defeat oozed out of every pore.
“We’re making progress,” Davis insisted as he was led away by his childminder. One day he would say it and it might be true. But not today. Or probably any time soon.

09 November 2017

Up in the skies

When life gives you a lemon, best ask for a gin and tonic.  The Guardian reports:
36,000 feet above Egypt on flight KQ100 to London, Priti Vacant fidgeted anxiously in her seat. She wasn’t used to being downgraded to Premium Economy and hadn’t fancied any of the inflight movies. Apocalypse Now or Falling Down somehow didn’t appeal.
Besides, it just wasn’t fair. There she had been, just minding her business in a Golan Heights water park with her family, when who should be on the next sunbed than Benjamin Netanyahu? It would have been much too rude not to talk to him and one thing had just led to another and before she knew it she was having meetings with 12 of his mates. As you do.
It had been no big deal. So she hadn’t really seen the need to tell anyone about her playdates with Bibi. Besides, it all seemed such a long time ago now and everything had become a bit of a blur. If only Bibi hadn’t brought this all up at his meeting with Theresa the week before, then no one would have been any the wiser.
Vacant asked for a gin and tonic to calm the nerves and handed over her departmental credit card to pay. “I’m afraid it appears to have been blocked,” said the steward. “Do you have any cash?”
Sic transit gloria Priti ...


08 November 2017

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."

The government is falling apart.  The Times reports:
A once dangerous force is in retreat, losing followers and no longer the threat it was. Boris Johnson came to parliament to deliver two statements: one about progress in slowly destroying Daesh and the other on the parlous state of his own career.
Last week the foreign secretary wrongly told a committee of MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British mother, may have been training journalists in Iran when she was arrested last year. The Iranian courts thought this enough to try to double her five-year sentence.
“I accept that my remarks could have been clearer,” he said carefully. Or maybe just different. Or even factually correct?
Mr Johnson had at least turned up. Earlier Priti Patel missed a question about her holiday jaunt where she just happened to bump into the Israeli PM and others without telling Theresa May. Sadly Ms Patel was jetting off again, this time to Africa (that’s what she’s told No 10) and she was “in the air”. Much like her future as a cabinet minister.
A rabble of incompetent clowns.

07 November 2017

06 November 2017

Did you think they were noble?

So Her Maj has hidden millions in offshore tax havens.  Doesn't everyone?

Just because they're royalty does not mean that they are less avaricious than than the average fatcat sleazebag billionaire.


05 November 2017

Put not your trust in smartphones

The Independent explains:
Now think about your iPhone. It knows who you are. It knows where you are. It knows how many steps you have taken that day, or any day. It knows who you have spoken with and the sites you have visited. It may know how much you paid for your lunch. True, any smartphone with the right apps knows all this and more. But the iPhone X knows something else: It knows with great precision exactly what you look like, for that is how you can unlock it.
Evil things ...

Me, I'm still getting to grips with an ordinary bog-standard mobile phone.  Basically, luddite.


04 November 2017

Sexual harassment

This is becoming has become serious.  The Times reports:
Many Tory figures fear that there could be more departures. A former senior minister described the situation as desperate, saying: “I was told this morning that there are now seven members of the cabinet considering their position.”
Wait until the Sundays get a hold of it ...


02 November 2017

The Blue Brazil don't usually make the headlines

The teuchters are unhappy

The Guardian reports:
“You’d struggle to find anyone in the Highlands who is anti-tourist,” says the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes, “but some people have been pushed to the brink.” Forbes adds succinctly: “There is perfectly legitimate nimbyism going on when someone is doing the toilet in your garden!”
Locals and politicians agree that the summer of 2017 saw the exponential growth in tourist numbers reach a tipping point. Across the Highlands, this year’s peak season brought reports of motorhome waste dumped by the roadside in the Western Isles, police advising visitors to Skye to book overnight accommodation in advance, and warnings of an increase in accidents along the newly launched North Coast 500 route as unfamiliar drivers struggled to negotiate narrow single track roads.
Ever increasing visitor numbers caused intolerable strain on parking, toilets, wifi, phone reception, public transport and wet weather facilities, according to a report from Highland council.
They complain when there are too many tourists; they complain when there are too few.  They better avoid Edinburgh, where the town is choked with tourists all year round.


The Independent thinks that the government has become distracted:
The zombies arrived a day late for Halloween. All across the front bench and beyond, the undead sat. Some had their arms folded, some let them hang by their sides, as their eyes stared lifelessly at an unfixed mark in the middle distance.
Words reverberated around their ears. Dennis Skinner jabbed his finger in their direction, but real life wasn’t troubling the world inside their skulls. There were traumas going on in there. Public shame. Online ridicule. Thermonuclear rows at home, no doubt.
Yesterday morning Mr and Ms A, B and C had been the member for X, Y and Z. Now they knew they were the “handsy” one, the “very inappropriate” one. The one who’d had “sexual relations.” The one who’d “fornicated.”
At least it takes their minds off Brexit ...


01 November 2017

Quote of the day

Garrison Keillor on Trump (here):
He is so over. Totally irrelevant, exhausted, flamed out. The sleepytime eyes and la-di-da hair and the tweet-tweet-tweet say it all. Real men don't tweet. Ask anybody. We bark, we protest, we thunder, condemn, denounce, we give 'em hell, sometimes we post. Wimps tweet. And now the perps are going to start walking and talking. And the fat lady is waiting in the wings.


31 October 2017

All the President's Men

Those of you old enough will remember the great movie where Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman gradually uncovered the mis-doings of President Nixon.  Trump-Russia provides similar material:
The special investigation into Russian election meddling closed in dramatically on Donald Trump on Monday, as news broke that a former foreign policy adviser pleaded guilty to perjury over his contacts with Russians linked to the Kremlin, and the president’s former campaign manager and another aide faced charges of money laundering.
In a day of rapid and surprising developments in Washington, George Papadopolous, the former foreign policy adviser, was revealed to have pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI investigators over his contacts last year with two people with apparently close ties to the Russian government. One was an unnamed professor – identified by the Washington Post as Joseph Mifsud – who offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Another was a woman who portrayed herself as “Putin’s niece”.
Meanwhile, in a federal courthouse in central Washington, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty to an indictment for money laundering, tax evasion, failure to register as agents for foreign interests and conspiracy to defraud the US government.
A federal judge ordered Manafort and Gates to be confined at home and set bail at $10m for Manafort and $5m for Gates.
Depending upon how things pan out, there is probably too much content for a straightforward movie.  I envisage at least one series, provisonally entitled "The West Wing Gone Wrong" or "The Game of Presidents" or "The House of Fake Cards".



27 October 2017


And so the situation in Spain and Catalunya becomes ever more worrying.

I cannot help feeling that this progressive escalation might have been avoided if both parties had been willing to talk more.  Concessions on either side might have eased the position.  A little more devolution, a postponement of moves towards independence.  Instead, Madrid and Barcelona have driven themselves into corners with little or no room to back down.

I think of Marco, my erstwhile Catalan colleague in Brussels, who - like most Catalans - has a dual loyalty to cope with and who will be worried about friends and family back home.

Meanwhile, the EU (and the UK) appear to take sides with Madrid.  I appreciate the diplomatic and constitutional reasons why this has to be so.  But I can only hope that behind the scenes they are pressurising both sides to step back from confrontation.


25 October 2017

Preparing for a no-deal Brexit

It is impending chaos.  The Guardian reports:
The tax authorities will need up to £450m in extra funding and up to 5,000 extra staff to deal with the impact of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, MPs have been warned.
Jon Thompson, the senior civil servant in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), also told the public accounts committee that he could not guarantee that a new customs system would be ready for Brexit in March 2019.
Get ready for gridlock at the ports.  Because neither the extra staff, nor the extra funding, nor the new customs computer system, is likely to be forthcoming in the next 18 months ...

Quote of the day

Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs (here):
The Government do not really know whether they are coming or going. The Conservative party and the Government say they have full confidence in universal credit, but will not vote for it. They say they will end the NHS pay cap, but will not allocate any money to pay for it. The Communities Secretary backs £50 billion of borrowing for housing, but the Chancellor says it is not policy. The Brexit Secretary says they are planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Chancellor says they are not.

Isn’t it the case that this Government are weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country?

If she carries on nodding like that, her head might fall off ...

24 October 2017

Not exactly a vote of confidence

Big Angie comes down on the side of sisterhood.  The Times reports:
Angela Merkel is “furious” over leaks from private Brexit talks amid fears that further hostility from Brussels may topple Theresa May, The Times has been told.
The German chancellor expressed anger at reported leaks from a dinner last week between Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, it is understood. A German newspaper suggested on Sunday that the prime minister “begged” for help on Brexit, seeming “anxious, despondent and discouraged”. The article said that the meeting last Monday was like hearing “cries for help”.
Mrs Merkel is thought to be frustrated by the Tories’ perceived refusal to offer more detail on Brexit. But she is concerned above all that talks will collapse.
Doesn't say much for Mrs May's reputation or influence in European circles.


23 October 2017

Shocking stuff

Oh dear, the BBC has upset bourgeois sentimentalities, again.  The Guardian reports:
The BBC’s new primetime drama, Gunpowder, was described as unnecessarily gruesome and brutal over graphic scenes of violence, which aired minutes after the watershed on Saturday night.
The three-part series chronicles the plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605, with Game of Thrones star Kit Harington playing his ancestor Robert Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot.
The opening episode contained close-up scenes of a young priest being hung, drawn and quartered and a woman stripped naked before being crushed to death by a stone slab, prompting complaints from viewers.
I have to agree that some of the footage was unnecessarily gruesome, adding little to the development of the plot.  I was rather more shocked by the shoddy acting.  Is it unreasonable to expect Harington to deploy more than three facial expressions - angry, sad and befuddled appear to be the limit of his thespian range.  And at an alleged mere 5 ft 8 inches, he is on the short side for the part.


21 October 2017

Mrs May goes to Brussels

As one flowerpot said to another, it's not getting any easier.  The Guardian reports:
As always when in trouble, she began to talk pure Maybot.
“I have been clear that I have said what I have said,” she said. She would be thinking about the financial commitments at such a time when thinking about financial commitments was necessary.
If the Brexit secretary was talking up a no deal scenario, shouldn’t businesses be seriously preparing for one also? No. She had been very clear that she was aiming for a good deal that might turn out to be no deal. It was too early to say.
When she went through the financial commitments line by line was it possible the UK would end up paying £60bn? “I have been very clear about the process of going through the process line by line,” she muttered. English was now not even her second language.