20 March 2018

That "agreement"

The Times reports:
The most serious stumbling blocks to an orderly Brexit may in fact be those the negotiating teams are already struggling with. Britain’s insistence on leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ in its entirety has left unanswered the question of what is to replace it when London and Brussels disagree on matters of mutual commercial interest. The European Commission says it awaits a British proposal. On the Irish border, Brussels’ language on full regulatory alignment for Northern Ireland and the Republic remains in the transition deal as a “backstop” even though Mrs May has called it a scenario to which no British prime minister could agree. Even so, her negotiators are engaging in this vital debate on the EU’s terms. Amid justified optimism, two big cans have been kicked down the road. If they are not clanging loudly, it is because they are still full of fudge.
Throw in the fact that there is no provision for any possible extension of the transition period and I am far from sure that any optimism is justified.

16 March 2018

Quote of the day

From Jeremy Corbyn (here):
 "When I go home every night, I put my tracksuit on. I feel very comfortable in it. You can do anything in a track suit. You can go out. It's great! Although people round here make me stop going out in it. They say, 'If you are the leader of the Labour party, you can't go out in your trackie'!"
If it's good enough for Jeremy, it's good enough for me.



    Private Pike addresses the nation

    Image result for gavin williamson

    From The Guardian (here):
    The nation – no, the world – wanted to hear Britain’s defence minister make his first formal statement at a time of national crisis. “The Russians should go away and shut up,” he said. So yah, boo, sucks. Your mum. That was telling them. International diplomacy reduced to a catch-phrase on a 70s TV game show. Jim Bowen would be turning in his grave at not having come up with that one.
    Inside the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin was thrown into a state of profound confusion. No one had ever talked to him like that before. At least, not since nursery school. Should he go away and then shut up? Or shut up first and then go away? Or both at the same time, getting steadily quieter as he went away? Decisions, decisions.
    Stupid boy  ...

    10 March 2018

    Walking back?

    Will the meeting ever happen?  Has Trump jumped the gun with his urge to make an announcement?  The Guardian reports:
    Donald Trump will take a hardline position at his planned summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the White House said on Friday, as US officials scrambled to keep pace with the president after his sudden acceptance of Kim’s offer to talk.
    In briefings after the surprise announcement – which would be the first ever meeting of leaders of the two countries – US officials made no mention of possible concessions that Trump might offer, other than saying that severe sanctions would stay in place until North Korea took verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.
    At the daily White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders even cast doubt on Trump’s acceptance of the offer of a summit, suggesting it was dependent on preconditions.
    “Let’s be very clear. The United States has made zero concessions but North Korea has made some promises. This meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.”
    Sanders did not specify what actions the US required Pyongyang to take, and whether the demands amounted to more than the requirement of a pause in missile and nuclear testing, which Pyongyang appears to have already agreed to.
    The White House later appeared to minimise the impact of Sanders’ remarks, with one official telling the Wall Street Journal: “The invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands.”
    Later, on Friday evening, Trump added to the confusion with a tweet about the meeting in which he added a qualifying phrase: “if completed”.
    As ever, the White House appears to be making it up as it goes along.  Considered policy-making is a stranger to the current US administration.



    07 March 2018

    Map of the day

    The Mezzogiorno votes one way, the industrial north votes another.  Dove andiamo!


    The richest man in the world

    Jess Bezos with his wife MacKenzie. The Amazon founder is worth $112 billion, according to Forbes magazine

    If Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, he could afford to buy a dinner jacket that fits.  And has he never heard of a cummerbund?


    06 March 2018

    Quote of the day

    A cri de coeur from a New Statesman contributor:
    I don’t care that 52 per cent of the British electorate voted for Brexit. I don’t care that there were more of them than there are of us. They’re wrong. Leaving the European Union is a bloody stupid idea. It’ll reduce our trade, weaken our economy, hurt the depressed parts of the country most, severely damage relations with our neighbours, put the entire existence of the union at risk, reduce our ability to shape our own destiny, make it harder for us to travel in Europe, and make our mobile phone bills higher when we do. A government that implements Brexit, knowing full well that it will make us all poorer and less secure, as Theresa May clearly does, is a government that is going to get a Chamberlain-level rating in the history books.
    I don’t care that it was the will of the people. That is not a meaningful statement. The will of the people can change. The will of the people can be wrong. The will of the people is fucking stupid.


    04 March 2018

    Not difficult to guess

    The Observer summarises the choice:
    Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit gives Theresa May a chance to show backbone on human rights. Or she could sell more weapons.
    I think we can predict that the latter will take precedence over the former.


    In praise of Edinburgh bus-drivers ...

    ... especially female ones:


    01 March 2018

    Billy no-mates

    Official Portrait of President Donald Trump.jpg

    I doubt that many will feel any sympathy.  Politico explains:
    Even Richard Nixon had Bebe Rebozo.
    And by the end, he was still pacing the halls, talking to the paintings.
    Donald Trump is close to having no one.
    He’s got his literal family—though his son-in-law is reeling from the controversy over his security clearance, there have been enough off moments in public to feed speculation about the state of his relationship with the first lady, and Donald Trump Jr. said in India last week that given all the president is dealing with, he feels “it’s almost trite to call him just to say hello.”
    With Hope Hicks leaving the White House, longtime body man Keith Schiller long gone, there is no metaphorical family, no core group of aides who’ve been through the ringer together, come out beaten but bound forever, trusting each other, trusting the president and having him trust them.
    Every president gets lonely. It’s a lonely job. But the president who spent his life desperately seeking attention and getting all of it anyone could ever want might be the loneliest one ever.
    He’s about to get lonelier.
    I leave you to guess at who is to blame for his loneliness ...

    27 February 2018

    In his imagination ...

    I suppose that we all like to think of ourselves as heroes.  President Trump is no different.  The Independent reports:
    Donald Trump – a man not famed for his modesty or lack of bravado – has claimed he would have run in to the Florida school assaulted by a gunman, even if he was not armed.
    As students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prepare to return to lessons this week after an attack that left 17 pupils and teachers dead, the President told a meeting of the nation’s governors: “You don’t know until you test it, but I really believe I’d have run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.”
    He added: “And I think most of the people in this room would have done that too, because I know most of you. But the way [the first armed police] performed was a disgrace.”
    He was unfortunate, therefore, that he was unable to serve when his country called on him to do so.  The New York Times explains:
    Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J. Trump seemed the picture of health.
    He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10.
    But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.
    The diagnosis resulted in a coveted 1-Y medical deferment that fall, exempting him from military service as the United States was undertaking huge troop deployments to Southeast Asia, inducting about 300,000 men into the military that year.

    26 February 2018

    Quote of the day

    From The New Statesman (here):
    In the 20 months since the referendum, EU citizens [resident in the UK] have been used as bargaining chips by the UK government; been verbally and sometimes physically abused, been wrongly sent deportation letters, told they may have to leave the country after Brexit, that they would be listed by their employers, fingerprinted, have applied to the UK's permanent residency scheme only to be told it would be void after Brexit, been discriminated against in the job and housing markets, been told again and again by the government that the UK wants them to stay without being provided with any tangible evidence that their lives would not change. They have seen amendments protecting their rights being defeated in parliament and read headlines calling them and the people who dared supporting their cause “citizens of nowhere”, “enemies of the people”, “Remoaners” and worse. While all of this was happening, they have been told countless times, sometimes even by you, not to worry because “it's not youYou will be fine.” They are your nurses and doctors and waiters and uni professors and cleaners and barmen and co-workers and neighbours and partners and friends and they are not fine.
    So it is no wonder that more and more of them are leaving the UK.


    23 February 2018

    Did they reach a decision?

    Possibly, but doubtless with caveats.  We will no doubt learn the outcome of the Chequers Summit in due course.  Meanwhile, The Independent sets the scene:

    Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit, Canada plus plus plus, Norway minus with a double front pike somersault: all these options require discussion, and none offer what one suspects Theresa May ultimately wants, which is an escape route from the chaotic inferno of hate which Brexit has heaped upon the land.
    The Chancellor wants soft Brexit. The Foreign Secretary wants hard Brexit. The Brexit Secretary thinks he wants a hard Brexit but hasn’t yet got round to finding out what one is.
    The Northern Ireland Secretary is trying really hard to care about what sort of Brexit she wants but can’t fully escape this nagging worry about Northern Ireland still being without a government and her being in Chequers listening to people howl about the single market and the customs union.
    The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, doesn’t mind what Brexit he gets as long as he gets to have his picture taken shaking hands with it for the local papers. Although, if pushed, he would most like a Brexit which can be used against others.

    22 February 2018

    Quote of the day

    Image result for jeremy corbyn

    Even The Times cannot take seriously the notion that Jeremy Corbyn is an agent of a foreign power:
    Agent Corn-on-the-Cob shook off the virtual snow from his boots, handed his ushanka to an aide and went up to the doorkeeper. “In Moscow, April is a cold month,” he whispered. “Yer wot?” the custodian replied. “My lighter needs more fuel,” the arrival tried. “Eh?” came the response. The agent sighed. “I’m here for PMQs.”
    “Oh, go right in, Mr Corbyn,” the Commons official said. Then, as the leader of the opposition headed to the chamber, the doorkeeper muttered: “Every bloody week . . .”
    The idea that Jeremy Corbyn was the Kim Philby of the 1980s is slightly absurd. If he belongs in a John le Carré novel it would be The Constant Gardener, though he doesn’t spend as much time on the allotment as he would like. Spectre — the Special Executive for Courgettes, Tomatoes, Radishes and Endives — is having to manage without him. He is the spy who came in from the cold frame.

    21 February 2018

    It is perhaps a little more complicated ...

    Freestyle skiing ski cross

    .. but not much more.  Matthew Parris in The Times skewers the Winter Olympics:
    What’s all this nonsense about the Winter Olympics? Do you watch it? I tried for a few minutes yesterday but all you can see is lots of snow and people attempting a range of implausible activities in it, most of which (being in snow) involve sliding around. Sometimes contestants have planks on both feet, sometimes both feet on one plank, sometimes they crouch, sometimes they stand, sometimes they prostrate themselves on little slidy container-things and go snaking down channels.
    But what’s the point? We could have Mud Olympics where people slither through mud, dive into it, sledge across it; or Mattress Olympics in which everyone bounces on a mattress. Would you bother?
    Let’s face it, skiing is sliding downhill for rich people. Then they get towed back up to the top and slide down again. I’ve watched baboons on a rock in Africa doing something similar, sitting on dead branches. But skiing costs more, much more. Therefore it becomes exclusive; and all the rest is prancing around with other rich people. Fine. Awesome. But why should we taxpayers pay millions for “Team GB” to do it in Korea? Beats me.
    And skiers get to wear fancy and expensive clothes.

    "This means nothing to me, oh Vienna ..."

    Image result for david davis

    David Davis, the Don Quixote de nos jours, goes to Vienna.  The Guardian is slightly confused:
    Davis was determined to start in an upbeat fashion. British and European business was working so well that, even as he was speaking, his jointly made Swedish and British driverless lawnmower was running amok, deadheading the daffodil shoots in his back garden in Yorkshire before they had even flowered. That was the kind of future he wanted. One where lawnmowers were free to go wherever they chose without facing customs checks from the French beans.
    Brexit wasn’t going to be some Mad Max dystopian future, he continued. Though it might be like something out of the Hunger Games if we couldn’t persuade EU workers to come over to Britain to pick our fruit and veg. Not for the first time, people began to wonder if Davis had actually read his speech before delivering it. Never mind that less than two years previously, he had insisted the Brexit negotiations would be the easiest in history and that the UK was heading for a land of milk and honey. Now all he was promising was that Britain wasn’t going to end up as a desert with gangs of marauding psychopathic petrol heads competing for supremacy. In driverless lawnmowers.


    20 February 2018


    Interested to see that the Chelsea team facing Barcelona this evening contains not one British player.

    Here is the team:

    13. Thibaut Courtois (G)
    03. Marcos Alonso 
    28. Cesar Azpilicueta 
    27. Andreas Christensen 
    02. Antonio Rudiger 
    07. N\'Golo Kante 
    22. Willian 
    15. Victor Moses 
    10. Eden Hazard 
    11. Pedro Rodriguez 
    04. Cesc Fabregas 

    Not that it's done them any good.  0-0 at half-time.

    Compare and contrast Celtic's European Cup-winning team of 1967 where the entire team was born and bred within 25 miles of Parkhead.


    Quote of the day

    From The Times (here):
    The prime minister set out her vision for post-school education yesterday in a speech that sounded urgent but contained little detail. “We must act now to deliver a system that works for everyone,” she said. “Now is the time to take action,” she added, before announcing the creation of a panel that will mull this over and produce a report in a year. No one knows how to kick a can like Hoofer May.
    It's entropy - everything she touches disintegrates ...


    16 February 2018

    Once you start ...

    ...  where will it end?  The Aussies are about to find out.  The Guardian reports:
    Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will move to ban sexual relationships between ministers and their staff, in response to a scandal which has engulfed the deputy prime minister and leader of the National party, Barnaby Joyce.
    Turnbull said when it came to serving in public life, “values should be lived”.
    He said he intended to add “a very clear and unequivocal provision” to the ministerial code of conduct: “Ministers, regardless of whether they are married or single, must not engage in sexual relations with staff.”
    Does that mean that it is ok to have an affair with a person on someone else's staff?  Or for Ministers to have affairs with each other?  If not, what a gloomy (and frustrated) place the Canberra parliament will be ...


    15 February 2018

    You're not in Kansas anymore ...

    The Foreign Secretary's speech gets the treatment it deserves in The Independent:
    The Foreign Secretary’s speech on “the road to Brexit” was reminiscent of the Yellow Brick Road. Boris Johnson set out to persuade the Remainers, the (in his universe) cowardly, the stupid and the tin-eared to join him and his little Highland terrier (Toto Gove) on his exciting journey to somewhere over the rainbow. He wanted to tell them how much he understood their feelings, and why there was reason enough to allay them. Fears of loss of GDP and jobs would melt away like lemon drops: Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue. 
    From Moses to Konrad Adenauer, from Estonia to Thailand and from Toblerone to cabbage, Mr Johnson’s vision of the emerald city of post-Brexit Britain was, superficially, all-encompassing. Except that, under the slightest scrutiny, it was also all too apparent that it was quite devoid of meaning. The audience may have had their vocabulary expanded a little, and enjoyed some risqué jokes, but they would be left none the wiser on the unmentioned subjects of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens and, crucially, how the British will enjoy some sort of EU free trade deal and continue our economic relationship with Europe at the same time as chasing the “exciting opportunities” presented by Brexit, which do not become any more real no matter how many times the Brexiteers repeat the phrase. 
    And here:
    It was supposed to be the Valentine’s Day speech in which Boris Johnson used his famed linguistic gift to win over the 48 per cent to the Government’s Brexit cause. It was going to be – we were led to believe – a unifying message of optimism, hope, and even, brace yourselves, love.
    But this Valentine offering from the Foreign Secretary turned out to be the political equivalent of a fading bunch of polythene-wrapped carnations bought for a fiver from the petrol station forecourt – rushed, with very little thought, and leaving us wondering why he bothered at all.


    14 February 2018

    Which will of the people?

    Image result for boris johnson

    The Independent reports:
    Boris Johnson will say he fears people are becoming “even more determined” in their efforts to stop Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), as he sets out in a major speech what allies claim is a liberal vision of Brexit.
    The Foreign Secretary’s Valentine’s Day address – entitled the Road to Brexit – will be the first in a series of set pieces from Cabinet ministers and preludes Theresa May’s address in Germany this weekend.
    At a central London location, Mr Johnson will say he fears that some are becoming “even more determined” to stop Brexit and “frustrate the will of the people”.
    Would that be the will of the people expressed in the 2016 referendum?  Or the will of the people expressed in the 1975 Europe Referendum where the British people decided by a substantial majority to remain in Europe?  That is the difficulty in determining the will of the people: it changes from time to time.

     And, if history could be re-written and Remain had won the 2016 referendum, does anyone seriously consider that the Brexiteers would have accepted such a decision, packed their tents and slunk away?  No, they would have repeatedly agitated that the result was unfair and needed to be re-run (as they did after the 1975 referendum).


    09 February 2018

    What would you call it?

    There is something degrading about this:
    It was the strongest endorsement of her premiership yet. Unfortunately for Theresa May, however, it did not come from any of the cabinet ministers at the Conservatives’ Black and White ball fundraiser on Tuesday night, but from a party donor who paid £55,000 to spend the day with her.
    It proved the most attractive lot at the event’s silent auction, held in the Natural History Museum’s central hall, which was floodlit in Tory blue for the occasion.
    How does one describe a woman willing to spend time with a rich businessman in return for money?



    On the one hand, the BBC reports:
    The government has ramped up efforts to "stamp out illegal unpaid internships".
    HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has written to more than 500 firms over the last three months reminding them that interns classed as workers must be paid the minimum wage.
    The government also says it will ask HMRC to focus minimum wage enforcement work on firms using unpaid interns.
    The details were contained in the government's response to a review of working practices.
    The Taylor Review into working practices, published last year, concentrated particularly on the so-called gig economy of part time and flexible workers.
    However, it also highlighted the issue of unpaid internships.
    It said the government should ensure that "exploitative unpaid internships which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out".
    On the other hand, The Guardian reports:
    A prominent Conservative minister advertised an unpaid internship to support his constituency work just hours before the government published its plan to tackle unfair working practices, the Guardian can reveal.
    The housing minister Dominic Raab, who has been regularly touted as a future Tory leader, advertised the position on the W4MP website, which has a jobs board for roles with politicians. It is the only position advertised by a sitting MP that is unpaid.
    The ad says the role would be based in Westminster and would “ideally suit a gap-year student or recent school leaver” to help with research and casework from Raab’s Esher and Walton constituency.


    07 February 2018

    Likely to cause serious offence?

    Maybe, maybe not?  A marginal decision.  The BBC reports:

    Advert showing a teacake underneath a tennis player's skirt
    An advert featuring a female tennis player holding a Tunnock's Tea Cake at the top of her thigh has been banned.
    The Tea Cake, in place of a tennis ball, was visible with the player's skirt raised at the hip along with the text "Where do you keep yours?" and "Serve up a treat".
    One person complained that the ad was sexist and objectified women.
    The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaint because of its likelihood to cause serious offence.


    06 February 2018


    StockMarketWire reports:
    The FTSE 100 is expected to open around 250 points lower, according to financial spread betting firms, after the Dow registered the largest one day fall in over six years.
    The Dow fell 1,175 points, or 4.6%, to end the session at 24,345.75 as inflation concerns continued to impact sentiment.
    The S&P 500 fell 113.19 points, or 4.1%, to close at 2,684.94 and NASDAQ finished the day 273.42 points weaker at 6,967.53.
    The global sell-off continued into Asia this morning, with the Nikkei 225 shedding 1,124.99 points, or 4.96%, at 21,557.09 heading into the close.
    The Hang Seng was down 1,298.1 points at 30,947.12 and the Shanghai Composite by 95.83 points at 3,391.67.
     If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then chances are that they know something you don't.



    Let us be clear about the customs union.  The Guardian explains:
    In the last week alone, some bits of Britain – no one was clear exactly which – were first going to stay in the customs union, then they were going to stay in a customs union and finally they were going to be in a customs arrangement that would be in some unspecified way different to either the or a customs union, which we would be definitely be leaving while retaining whatever rights of being in a customs union we thought we might want.
    No wonder Michel Barnier appeared totally bewildered by David Davis’s assertion that the UK position was “totally clear” during their televised interview after their working lunch at No 10.
    Glad to have cleared this up ...


    Quote of the day

    Is the Prime Minister telling it like it isn't?  The Independent goes all literary:
    They say that when you feel sorry for a politician, then they are doomed. But May is fortunate in this regard, in that there is something about her that congenitally repels sympathy. It might simply be that she is the leader of the most toxic organisation in Britain. But it might also be her freakish ability to say nothing at all (thus pleasing no one) while saying it in that patronising, irritated, hectoring, categorical way (thus allowing everyone to locate their own particular note of displeasure). It’s quantum doublespeak. She is the political embodiment of Samuel Beckett’s famous remark about art: “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”