22 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Days before Article 50 is triggered, with Britain wobbling halfway over the cliff edge like the van at the end of The Italian Job, Labour speaks only to itself. Or, more accurately, bits of itself scream at other bits like a loft full of mad aunts and uncles.
On one side of the attic, a leaked tape suggests a planned Momentum-Unite alliance to ensure the far left retains power in perpetuity. On the other, surviving Blairites stagger lividly about beneath the pulverising weight of their sense of entitlement denied. Wandering morosely about in the middle are the undead, whose craving to be rid of Jeremy Corbyn is outmatched only by fear of strengthening him with another laughable leadership challenge.
Meanwhile, Tom Watson, the Glastonbury tent bopper who moonlights as deputy leader, pours petrol on the fire by exaggerating any pact between Jon Lansman of Momentum and Unite’s Len McCluskey into an existential threat.
It's not as bad as that?  In the immortal words of Mr Dalgleish, "mibbes aye, mibbes naw"


21 March 2017

All over the shop

So, 29 March is the big day for the invocation of Article 50, thus initiating the negotiations for Brexit.

Do you suppose that the Government have made sensible use of the nine months that have elapsed since the referendum last June?  That they now have a clear idea of what they want from the negotiations and that they have identified their red lines?  That they have been in touch with friendly sources in the rest of the EU to determine what is and is not possible?  That they have identified the key ministers and officials to lead in the negotiations?  In short, that they have a viable plan?

No?  Me neither ...


19 March 2017

Am I bovvered?

So, BA is cutting back on the first class perks:
A tasty amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers — all free. These were the little touches that first-class customers with British Airways had come to expect.
Insiders at the airline, however, claim that BA is now cutting back on some of its first-class and business-class perks as it races to cut costs.
My usual mode of airline travel is cattle class on Ryanair where luxuries are non-existent.


18 March 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

From George Osborne's diary (here):
So. It’s been announced. There’s quite the uproar. At lunchtime I visit the paper and tell the staff how excited I am to be becoming a top journalist. Then I call Theresa May, to let her know I’m a newspaper editor now, because, well, why not, and how hard can it be?
“I’m surprised you have the time,” she says.
“Stop it,” I say. “It’s only editing a newspaper! It’s like people have forgotten I combined being an MP with running Britain’s economy for six whole years!”
“And how did that go?” says Theresa.
“That’s irrelevant,” I say.


17 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
First minister’s questions in Scotland is an altogether more enlightening affair than prime minister’s questions down south. Not least because serious questions get asked. And answered. It helps that the two main adversaries, Sturgeon and Conservative Ruth Davidson, are rather sharper than their UK counterparts – not difficult for Davidson as Jeremy Corbyn hit a new low at PMQs the day before by even forgetting to ask a couple of questions. It’s also a major plus that the rest of the chamber manages to listen without sounding like a Bash Street Kids school reunion. When each speaker has finished talking, there is a round of applause. Or silence. It’s disconcertingly polite.


Has Theresa May been lured into a trap?

If I were Nicola Sturgeon (which, thank the Lord, I'm not sir), I would not - inwardly - be excessively displeased by the turn of events:
Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of sealing the fate of the United Kingdom after the prime minister rejected her demand for a second Scottish independence referendum before the Brexit talks conclude.
The first minister said May’s stance was “completely outrageous and unacceptable”, hours after the prime minister had insisted that “now is not the time” for the referendum that the SNP had hoped to stage between autumn 2019 and spring 2019.
Sturgeon said on Thursday: “It’s an argument for independence, really, in a nutshell, that Westminster thinks it has got the right to block the democratically elected mandate of the Scottish government and the majority in the Scottish parliament. History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the union was sealed.”
She insisted she would press on with plans for a vote at the Scottish parliament next week seeking its approval to request the legal power from Westminster to stage the referendum on Holyrood’s terms – a vote she is expected to narrowly win with Scottish Green party support.
I am far from sure that the Blessed Nicola actually wanted IndyRef2 at this time (or at least within the next two years) but felt obliged to go along with the bulk of opinion in the SNP, even if the omens for an early referendum were less than propitious (oil, currency, economy and all that).  So now she may be quietly relieved that Theresa has produced the kibosh.  Nicola can once again point to perfidious Westminster, thus keeping the party activists happy while metaphorically girding her loins for a more realistic prospect of a successful IndyRef2 in the early 2020s when Brexit will have been proved to be a catastrophe but the Tories remain likely to be in power for ever and ever.

Well, maybe ...

16 March 2017

Double quote of the day

From The Guardian (here).

The phone call had come through just after eight in the morning while Phil “The Undertaker” Hammond was eating breakfast. It was the prime minister ordering him to bury Class 4 NICs. He had tried telling her that doing a U-turn on your only real budget measure less than a week after it had been announced made him and the government look hopelessly incompetent, but Theresa wasn’t having any of it. The Tory backbenchers were on her back. The Daily Mail was on her back. And now she was on his back.
Six hours later The Undertaker rather sheepishly arrived in the Commons to try to explain how it was that, though he still absolutely stood by his budget because it was his budget that was his, he now wanted to fundamentally change it because although he hadn’t broken any promises in the Conservative party manifesto, as that’s not the sort of thing he would ever dream of doing, he had in fact broken the promises he had made in the Conservative party manifesto.

It had been absolutely right to raise NICs and that’s why he wasn’t doing it. And no, before anyone asked, he hadn’t worked out how to fill the £2bn black hole that had just opened up in the country’s finances. Give him another six months. Maybe changing to one budget a year wasn’t such a good plan after all.

The Treasury select committee chair, Hilary Benn, warmed up with a bit of free association. Did no deal mean WTO tariff barriers? “Yes,” said Davis. Would there be border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland? “Yes.” Would the EU/US open skies agreement be dead in the water? “Yes.” Would we lose passporting rights of financial services? “Yes.” Did this mean that the foreign secretary was idiotic to say that dropping out of the EU on WTO terms would be fine? “Yes.” Whoops. He had just landed Boris in it. Still, Boris wouldn’t have thought twice about knifing him.
Benn then went for the throat. Had Davis made any calculation of the exact costs of leaving the EU on WTO terms? “God no,” said Davis breezily. “I know how it’s going to work out. I just haven’t quantified it.” Every member of the committee – even the leavers – stared into the abyss. Davis had just admitted the government was saying no deal would be better than a bad deal when it didn’t even know the cost of no deal. A parish council wouldn’t get away with that level of unaccountability. Davis shrugged. There was something liberating about telling the truth. Why not let the country know that the chancellor hadn’t a clue about the economy and Brexit was heading for the rocks? It wasn’t as if there was an effective opposition to stop them.

15 March 2017

An unlikely champion?

The Independent comes to the aid of the First Minister:
... May should ... focus on the central reason for Monday’s coup de theatre. Sturgeon has always believed independence offers her country its best future. With Scotland a backseat passenger in a vehicle careering towards the cliff’s edge, she probably believes it more passionately than ever.
Now, you can agree or disagree with her there. For what incalculably little it’s worth, I agree. Were I Scottish, I would be mad for independence. I’d say sod the crude oil price, sod the Barnett formula and sod the pernicious English meme that poor wee Scotland hasn’t a prayer of making it across the road without Nanny May holding her hand.
I’d also say sod the uncertainties. With Brexit, how much more uncertain can it possibly get? And I’d certainly say sod the buffoons of Brexit – Gove, Boris, Fox, and the rest – who argued last summer that liberation from a union which restricted self-determination justified any risks, but will now counsel the Scots to keep a hold of nurse for fear of something even worse. How transparently hypocritical do these people need to get before a residue of self-respect automatically shuts their mouths?
I can sympathise with the sentiment.  But we Scots need a more dispassionate approach; we cannot let our hearts rule our heads.  If we opt for independence, it needs to be based on a rational assessment of the costs and benefits.


14 March 2017

It's a paradox

So both Theresa and Nicola want to retain one union intact but leave another.  Different unions of course but still ...   What's a poor voter to do?

It will end in tears all round.


09 March 2017

Smugness personified

Nice work if you can get it.  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne has declared a salary of £650,000 a year for working just four days a month at BlackRock, the world’s biggest fund management firm, as well as almost £800,000 for speeches to financiers.
The former chancellor’s earnings were revealed in the latest register of MPs’ interests, which shows that he will make more than eight times his salary as a backbencher as an adviser to the Wall Street firm.
No need to call on the foodbank, then.


08 March 2017

Believe it if you like

If you are asked about your sex life, will you answer truly?  The Guardian reports:
Adults are having sex less often than they were 20 years ago, according a US study based on a survey of almost 27,000 individuals.
Researchers have found that adults, on average, were having sex seven fewer times annually in the early 2010s compared to the early 1990s, and nine fewer times compared to the late 1990s.
The study follows research published by the same team last year which found that the percentage of adults aged between 20 and 24 who had had no sexual partner after the age of 18 had more than doubled between those born in the 1960s and the 1990s, rising from 6% to 15%.
Taken together it would seem that millennials are having less sex, but the finding is not necessary bleak. “It is very possible that for young people this is a conscious life choice,” said Ryne Sherman, co-author of the study from Florida Atlantic University, pointing out that millennials might be choosing to spend their time in other pursuits or could simply be more empowered in their sex lives.
Alternatively, respondents are being more or less truthful, then or now...


02 March 2017

Wishful thinking, perhaps ...

... but hope for UK expats in Spain (of which I am a sort of country member).  Bloomberg reports:

... at an EU summit in Malta earlier in February, May and Rajoy were said to have struck an understanding.
The pair agreed they wanted to reach an early agreement on reciprocal residency rights for their citizens, according to British officials. May’s team in London believe Rajoy could also make a powerful ally during complex trade negotiations that will form part of Brexit talks, one official said.
Almost 18 million Britons, a number equivalent to almost a third of the U.K. population, visited Spain last year. Spanish companies also export far more to the U.K. than the other way around.
 But there's a fly in the ointment:  Gibraltar.  Rajoy will seek joint sovereignty and May will inevitably resist.


Oh dear

Kinda defeats the point.  The BBC reports:
AG Barr is to halve the amount of sugar in its leading Irn Bru brand, ahead of a government crackdown on the fizzy drinks industry.
The Cumbernauld-based firm, which also makes Rubicon and Tizer, said it would cut Irn Bru's sugar content from about 10g per 100ml to just below 5g.
It will reduce the calorie count per can from just under 140 to about 66.
AG Barr said the move was part of a "long-standing sugar reduction programme".
I will have to find some other way of getting my calories in future ...

28 February 2017

Quote of the day

England rugby XV flummoxed.  From The Guardian (here):
It was not simply the prolonged failure to find a way around the Azzurri’s cute diversionary ruck tactics – odd as that appeared in an era when coaches can get messages on to the field almost instantly. More glaring still was the lack of mental flexibility, the bafflement and the sheer confusion when the anticipated masterplan – a 60-point romp in this instance – unravelled. At times it was like watching 15 Daleks stuck at the bottom of an unexpected staircase.


25 February 2017

Well done!

Victory, at last:
Scotland Women bounced back at Broadwood to close out a tough match against Wales to claim a one-point win – their first victory in the Six Nations since 2010.
It was two tries a piece with Edinburgh University backs Lisa Thomson and Rhona Lloyd each scoring for Scotland, with Sarah Law sealing the 15-14 win with a penalty kick on the 77th minute.
Wales’ captain Carys Phillips crossed the whitewash for her side followed by a penalty try in to take a 7-point lead into the break.
But it was Scotland’s ambition and belief up until the final whistle that saw them through to defeat Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2005.
It's no fun losing all the time.   But the women finally did it.  Congrats.


24 February 2017

Don't feel too gut-wrenchingly sad ...

So farewell Claudio.  The Independent reports:
Gary Lineker has condemned Leicester City’s decision to sack Claudio Ranieri as “inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad”.
Ranieri, who led the relegation-tipped club to a remarkable Premier League title victory last season just nine months ago, was relieved of his duties on Thursday night.
The Italian’s departure was confirmed in a statement on the club’s official website, which claimed that “a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club’s greatest interest.”
But there's always a but:
Ranieri, who was named FIFA’s Coach of the Year just last month, signed a new four-year contract with Leicester last August.
So he will probably be entitled to a massive pay-off, likely to be in the millions,  and should have little difficulty finding another lucrative post.


22 February 2017

Shades of the poll tax ...

Rates revaluations cause trouble.  It was the threat of a rates revaluation in Scotland (with the losers screaming blue murder and the winners sitting tight) that led to the introduction back in the 1980s of the poll tax to replace domestic rates.  And we all know how that resulted.

So now we have another revaluation, this time for the purposes of  business rates.  And it is looking ominous.  The Guardian reports:
It’s a bit rich for the chancellor, now reportedly in “listening mode” on business rates, to signal that he is aware of the challenges the digital economy presents to a property-based tax. That fundamental problem has been voiced for more than a decade and has simply been ignored by government. Amazon and the other big online retailers are no longer modern creations.
Philip Hammond, one suspects, will end up inventing various reliefs to try to quell the anger of those small businesses in London facing increases of up to 400%. But something more than a sticking-plaster is required. If not, this toxic row will return every time potential rents – the basis for establishing rateable values – are recalculated.
Aye, but what is the answer - nobody seems to know.

(Incidentally, the valuation bands for council tax bands in Scotland are still based on property valuations made in the 1990s.  This inevitably embeds unfairness in the system as the increase in property values varies according to location.  But successive Scottish governments have done nothing, preferring to let sleeping dogs lie.  Sooner or later, those dogs will come back to bite them.)

21 February 2017

Corn beef

I have long since abandoned any attempt to hear dialogue on television and rely heavily on subtitles.   Apparently, other viewers are still coming to grips with the BBC's alleged inadequacies:

First, it was the BBC’s costume drama Jamaica Inn, which attracted thousands of complaints in 2014, then last year’s Happy Valley. Now, the alternative history miniseries SS-GB has become the latest primetime BBC programme to draw criticism about characters mumbling their lines.

Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
But the first episode of SS-GB – which had already faced some scathing reviews from TV critics for its first episode on Sunday night – has been criticised by viewers who said they had struggled to hear what was going on.
The broadcaster has promised to promised to examine the sound levels before the next episode is broadcast after dozens of viewers complained.
I'm not really bothered by the sound quality.  But I rather doubt that in the 1940s our hero would be wearing a natty dark blue shirt and tie to the office.  It would also add to the verisimilitude if the actors had learned how to smoke a cigarette without looking as if they had never done so before.

Oh, and don't get me started on actors giving each other so-called meaningful looks ...