22 April 2017

Music of the week

If you have never heard of Zizi Jeanmaire or Sacha Distel, this is probably not for you ...

21 April 2017

More wishful thinking?

It is surely not as bad as The Times intimates:
A charismatic leader with a competent team running on a left-wing programme would lose an election to Theresa May. Labour is insulting the electorate by putting up a man of no charisma and little intellect who, on small matters like Britain and the EU, has nothing to say. It is a recipe for catastrophe and the only question is how bad it gets. Spare yourself the inevitable “oh, but Trump”, “oh, but Brexit”, “oh, but Le Pen” nonsense. Labour is putting a cast-iron solid dud in front of the British people and they are going to deliver the message to Mr Corbyn that his own party has struggled to articulate.
Or is it?


Wishful thinking?

Could Corbyn do the business after all?  The Independent indulges itself:
Corbyn is a natural and life-long campaigner. Some of those at his London rally noted that he seemed more cheerful and at ease than he had for months. Leadership, in the sense of management, may not be his forte, but he has no problem commanding a platform. Remember, too, that Labour membership in the country at large is at a record level, and includes many young voters. At these new grassroots, it is, of course, a different Labour from the New Labour that won three elections. But it is a Labour that reflects the experience of three failed wars and the banking crisis and the failure to bring those responsible for any of these national catastrophes to account. Corbyn’s talk about the system being “rigged” has resonance.  
As the surprise showing of the leftist candidate in France has shown, and that of Bernie Sanders in the US before him, there is a new following for what looks rather like old, ideological, socialism – Corbyn’s socialism, as it happens. Whether he can hijack the electoral agenda away from Theresa May’s brand of patriotic Brexit and towards the policies he was starting to formulate, predicated on old ideas of social justice, is a question. But the battle between the two could be what this election comes to be about.
And if, just if, the polls were wrong (it does happen), and the Prime Minister failed to increase her majority or even suffered defeat, what then? Would that bring Brexit back into play? How does the will of the people as expressed in a referendum stack up against the will of the people as expressed in a parliamentary vote? Could the referendum be rerun? Dream on, you will say. But this is a general election – another – and the campaign is yet young.
Dream on is about right.


19 April 2017

Quote of the day

The Guardian  explains why Mrs May decided to call an election:
The problem was the opposition. They were doing the wrong thing by opposing her. Never mind that they weren’t being very effective, the problem was that they existed at all. They were a nuisance. Come to think of it, President Erdo─čan had a point in clamping down on any dissent. “At this moment of national significance, there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division,” May said. She had changed her mind over Brexit when she had spotted the opportunity to become prime minister and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why other people couldn’t be so flexible with their principles.
“The country is coming together,” she continued, waving away the inconvenient truth that no one could remember a time when it had been more split. “But Westminster is not.” Labour MPs had said they might vote against a deal with the EU if they thought it wasn’t good enough. How very dare they!
The Lib Dems – all nine of them – had threatened to grind government business to a standstill. The SNP had promised to be the SNP. Life had become just impossible for her. Her opponents had tried to take advantage of her small majority, so now she was going to punish them by wiping them out completely.


A hiding to nothing?

The Independent thinks that an early general election will favour the SNP:
Nicola Sturgeon must be rubbing her hands with glee at this moment.
In the aftermath of Theresa May’s announcement to hold a snap election, Sturgeon knows how most Scots will receive the news: badly.
Provided May is allowed to hold the election by Parliament, it will most likely lead to a Conservative victory and further degradation of the opposition – one poll predicts the Conservatives will end up with a 100-seat lead in Parliament. So long 2020: May could stay in power until 2022.
Sturgeon’s tweet after the news hit the nail on the head: “The Tories see a chance to move the UK to the right, force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper cuts. Let's stand up for Scotland. #GE17,” she said.
Me, I'm not so sure.  The SNP already holds 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.  The best that Sturgeon can hope for is three gains and no losses, a relatively modest return which would do little to increase the SNP's influence at Westminster.  On the other hand, even one or two losses would be portrayed by unionists as a roll-back of the SNP tide.  And would an increased overall majority for the Tories increase the prospects of an IndyRef2 in the short to medium term?



18 April 2017

It's a point of view ...

... on the imminent general election.  From The New Statesman:
The universe has existed for around 13bn years. The earth for 4bn, complex life for 500m, modern humans for 200,000 years. The average human lifespan is around 80.
Who gives a crap who wins this thing? In cosmic terms we’ll all be dead in a blink of an eye anyway.
Anyway. Is it still too early to start drinking?

Jusqu'au bout

It becomes de plus en plus interessant.  Bloomberg reports:
France’s presidential race enters its final stretch with no clear winner in sight as the main contenders scrap for votes in a flurry of campaign rallies.
According to Elabe’s latest poll, released Monday, support for Macron stands at 24 percent, while Le Pen is at 23 percent. Fillon holds 21 percent, followed by Melenchon at 18 percent. Le Pen has threatened to take France out of the EU, while Melenchon wants to renegotiate the bloc’s treaties, including the one that keeps the country in the euro. Macron would defeat any of his rivals in the runoff, the survey showed, so long as he can get there.

Only 5 days until the first round.


14 April 2017

Sounds good, but ...

There's always a "but".  Earlier this week, The Guardian reported:
Early investors in “punk” beer firm BrewDog will be able to bank a hefty profit this week. An injection of cash from a private equity house valued the company at £1bn, 10 years after it began life in its co-founder’s mother’s garage.
San Francisco-based TSG Consumer Partners agreed to buy 22% of BrewDog, whose idiosyncratic beers and international network of bars have won it a cult following, in a deal worth £213m.
Some £100m will be invested in the business while TSG, which also owns US brewer Pabst, also spent £113m buying shares from existing investors, according to the Sunday Times.
Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie are understood to have made £100m between them as a result of the deal, a decade after they used a £20,000 bank loan to start brewing in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.
BrewDog’s army of nearly 50,000 “Equity Punks”, its name for investors in four previous rounds of crowdfunding, will be able to sell up to 15% of their shares from this week, the company said.
Watt told investors that they stand make a return of 2,800% if they were among those who bought in at the first opportunity in 2010.
I am one of those early investors and was looking forward to that 2800% return.  My initial investment of £3250 would now be worth over £90,000.  Whoopee!  The sale of 15% of my shares would return over £12,000.

I have now received Brewdog's offer to buy 15% of my shares.  Alas, the price they are offering is a mere £13.18 per share, limited to a maximum sale of 40 shares.  That delivers a paltry £527.20.

So, while Messrs Watt and Dickie are laughing all the way to the bank with their £100 million, it would appear that whatever largesse is available is not being fairly shared with the ordinary shareholders.

That will teach me to invest in start-ups.  And, no, I have not sold my forty shares.  Maybe at some point in the future, a proper market for BrewDog shares will be established.


08 April 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
... what next? You’d have to be exceptionally sanguine to feel any confidence that President Trump has given sustained attention to this question. But a choice faces him. Is there now a new US policy of regime change in Syria? Or (as Mr Trump’s earlier campaign messaging suggested) is there not?
Translate those alternatives into real terms. Is Thursday night’s strike a message to Bashar al-Assad that it is curtains for his presidency? Or a message that if he wants to be left alone he had better stick to barrel-bombing and mass executions and steer clear of evident chemical attacks? The US secretary of state’s hints earlier on Thursday that there is now “no place” for Assad in Syria do not grow less opaque under close textual analysis and my guess is that Rex Tillerson hasn’t the least idea which way Washington should jump. My guess would also be that at this stage the president himself hasn’t the least idea.
A case of not looking before leaping?


07 April 2017


The Times reports:
The United States launched a missile strike on a Syrian airfield last night in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians.
On President Trump’s orders, US warships fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airfield in western Syria. Officials said the base was used to stage a gas attack which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, in a rebel-held town in Idlib province on Tuesday.
Mr Trump said it was vital that America deter the use of chemical weapons and urged “all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria”.
The way to end slaughter and bloodshed is by firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airfield?  Just asking ...



A cheap night out?

The BBC reports:
Former US president Barack Obama is to make his first visit to Scotland when he addresses business leaders in the capital next month.
He will also answer questions from the audience at the event, which is being held to raise money for charity.
The dinner in Edinburgh on 26 May is thought to be one of his first major addresses since his term as president came to an end.
The event at the EICC is being organised by The Hunter Foundation.
The charity was set up by leading businessman and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter.Tickets for a table of 10 at the dinner are expected to go on sale for approximately £5,000.
£500 a head?  They could quadruple that and the EICC would still be packed to the gunwales.

05 April 2017

Getting down and dirty

By their friends shall ye know them.  The Guardian reports:
Liam Fox’s declaration of “shared values” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines leader whose war on drugs has killed 7,000 people, has prompted dismay about the government’s approach to human rights as it seeks post-Brexit trade deals.
The international trade secretary, who will also visit Malaysia and Indonesia on his trip, said in an article published in local media that he wanted Britain to build a stronger relationship with the Philippines based on “a foundation of shared values and shared interests”.
As Fox visited the Philippines, Theresa May was in Saudi Arabia as part of a wider government effort to shore up the UK’s trading position after Brexit. Speaking to the BBC, she refused to criticise the government’s bombardment of Yemen, which is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people.
And so, by pandering to corrupt dictators, the UK sinks into an amoral morass of cynicism ...


31 March 2017

Not sure how this is going to work ...

As The Independent puts it, the Great Repeal Bill "will see every piece of EU law affecting the UK brought onto the UK statute book on the day of Brexit, with ministers then given the powers to adjust parts to make them workable in the UK and potentially ditch parts they do not like".

Now I am not a lawyer but I used to have a working knowledge of the EU regulations governing EU Structural Funds.  These funds, administered by the EU Commission, provide grants for economic and social development, particularly for regions whose GDP is well below the EU average.  This is beneficial for areas in the UK such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Northern Ireland.

The EU regulations provide - among other things - that the grants are awarded by the Member State and reclaimed from the EU Commission.  The individual projects supported in this way are required to conform with the Commission's priorities as set out in the regulations; they also have to form part of an overall programme for the area concerned which has to be submitted by the Member State for prior approval by the Commission.  The Member State seeks reimbursement on a prescribed schedule from the Commission of the grants it has paid out, as well as making periodic reports to the Commission in a prescribed form, detailing progress against the targets set out in the original area programme.  All very bureaucratic.

Back to the Great Repeal Bill.  Given the central position of the Commission in the processes, it makes no real sense to simply cut and paste the various EU regulations on Structural Funds into the UK Statute Book.  If the Structural Funds policy is to continue, the rules will need to be completely re-written.  And who knows if the policy will continue after Brexit?

Some further complications:

1.  The current Structural Funds programmes run until 2020, beyond Brexit, and the Commission reimbursement will (in theory at least) continue into 2021, while the EU auditing process is scheduled to continue thereafter.

2.  The role of the Member State in the above processes is devolved - where geographically appropriate - to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.  And they therefore have a considerable interest in what will happen.

All very difficult. And this is only one relatively minor policy field among the myriad that needs to be sorted.  I am glad that I am retired.



29 March 2017

Below the bottom

It may be sexist nonsense, but at least The Guardian is paying some attention to the Scottish Parliament:
A pair of legs stood up and the body attached to them prepared to speak. There were so many things Nicola Sturgeon’s shapely shanks would have liked to say. About how the Daily Mail had said how much more attractive they were than Theresa May’s famously long extremities. About how the prime minister had been so intimated – or was that seduced? – by her luscious legs that she had immediately gone on the back foot. About how if all the Little Laydeez of Scotland were to vote for independence, then they too could have pins like her.
Six days ago the debate on the second Scottish referendum had been suspended after the attack on Westminster. Sturgeon began by adopting a more conciliatory note than she had when opening the debate the previous week, emphasising shared values, democracy and differences of opinion that were sincerely held.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” muttered Nicola’s legs. “What’s any of this got to do with us?”
“Just shut up and keep yourselves to yourselves,” replied Sturgeon.
Nicola’s legs tried to unsheathe themselves by poking out from behind her lectern, but the first minister managed to rein them back in. Trust Sturgeon’s head and torso to spoil the fun, thought the legs.

How do male politicians compete?

25 March 2017

Music of the week

Not waving but drowning

Far from draining the swamp, President Trump seems to be floundering in it:
Donald Trump's flagship healthcare bill has been killed off after failing to secure enough support from Republicans, in a major embarrassment for the US President during his first attempt at passing legislation through the House.
The decision, made just minutes before the vote was due to take place, will be viewed as a significant set back for Mr Trump, who has promised to repeal and replace Obamacare.
He is learning that governing is more difficult than it may appear..

24 March 2017

Happy birthday ...

... to Archie Gemmell, 70 years old today.  Was it really nearly 40 years ago?


The parliamentary sketchwriters rise to the occasion

From The Times (here):
Tobias Ellwood, the Bournemouth MP who had tried to save the life of the fallen policeman, stood by the door, his arms folded. As tributes were paid to his heroism, he looked at his feet and seemed to swallow hard.
When Matthew Offord (C, Hendon) suggested his colleague deserved an honour, Mr Ellwood shook his head. He did not want to be the story. “The honourable and gallant member”, a formula that only Mr Robertson correctly gave to this former soldier, seemed especially apt. Several MPs and one doorkeeper came over to shake Mr Ellwood’s hand or to pat him on the shoulder.

From The Guardian (here):
Conservative MP James Cleverly made the most moving contribution. He had known PC Palmer from when they were both in the army together and he was in tears as he remembered his old friend. Cleverly called for Palmer to be recognised with a posthumous award. May insisted Palmer would not be forgotten.
All the while, Ellwood stood at the back of the chamber, his arms crossed, holding his feelings in, as colleagues praised his actions.
He looked in pain, as if he would much rather be anywhere else but knew he couldn’t not be there.
As MPs drifted away, many, including Corbyn, stopped to touch his arm and thank him for what he had done. Ellwood half-smiled, but gave little away. Whatever he was thinking and feeling was for him and him alone. 


23 March 2017

Science of the day

The Guardian reports:
The most radical shakeup of the dinosaur family tree in a century has led scientists to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.
I guess I always knew that some of my compatriots were dinosaurs ...


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.