24 September 2018

Pie in the sky?

I am not unsympathetic to Labour's idea of allowing workers to participate in company profits but I wonder about the practicalities in the hatest proposals.  The Guardian reports:
Employee ownership schemes in large companies could result in almost 11 million workers being given up to £500 a year each, in plans to be expanded upon by the shadow chancellor on Monday.
Under Labour’s plans, legislation would require private sector companies with 250 or more employees to transfer at least 1% of their ownership into an IOF [inclusive ownership fund] each year, up to a maximum of 10%. Smaller companies would be able to set up an IOF on a voluntary basis.
Labour calculates that 10.7 million people – or 40% of the private sector workforce – will initially be covered by the scheme. Dividend payouts will be made at a flat rate to all employees. The funds will be held and managed collectively and their shares cannot be sold or traded. Workers’ fund representatives will have voting rights in companies’ decision-making processes in the same way as other shareholders.
It is perhaps worth noting that companies do not in themselves normally own shares - shareholders do.  How then is it possible for companies to transfer 1% of their ownership into a separate fund?  Would companies forcibly divest each of their shareholders of 1% of their shareholdings?  Or would they buy back 1% of their shares on the open market?  Or would they create an additional 1% of their shares?  Each of these options has technical and political difficulties - the stock exchange has a myriad of rules on such matters.  I pity the parliamentary draftsmen who would have to prepare the legislation.

Eleven million workers being given £500 per year each in dividends amounts to an annual total of  £5.5 billion.  Given that this would amount to only 1% of the total dividends, that would imply total annual dividends of  £550 billion from  the companies involved.  Is that a realistic expectation, given that full year prediction for UK company dividends in 2018 amount to less than £100 billion?

Perhaps we willl learn more when Mr McDonnell delivers his speech ...


22 September 2018

Quote of the day

The Guardian on Theresa May's cri de coeur (here):
The Salzburg summit hadn’t gone very well, she began. Nothing like a statement of the obvious to get things rolling. But now she wanted to make some things very clear to the EU. Cue her best death stare. The one she usually reserves for Boris Johnson. What she was clear about was that the Chequers plan – rubbished by many Tories, dismissed by the EU leaders and without a prayer of getting through parliament – was still the plan she intended to get through parliament and get the EU to accept.
As a denial of reality it was already a bravura performance, but within minutes things had lurched into another space-time continuum. One that even Stephen Hawking could never have imagined. Everything was basically the EU’s fault. It was the EU that had forced the UK into leaving the EU. It was the EU that was making the UK confront the possibility of a hard Irish border because the UK had voted to leave. She had fallen over backwards to come up with a sensible solution and the EU had come up with none of their own. Other than, of course, to make it clear right from the start that the Canada and Norway models were the only options available and there could be no cherrypicking. Madness.


It's all gone a bit pear-shaped

So we can't have the Chequers agreement because cherry-picking the single market for goods only  would undermine the EU single market for goods and services and, not unreasonably, the EU would object to its customs duties being collected by a non-member state.  (Would the UK allow another country to collect its customs duties?)

We can't have a Canada-style agreement because that would inevitably mean a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

We can't have a Norway-style agreement because that would leave the UK as rule-takers, as well as paying handsomely for the privilege.

A "no-deal" agreement would be utterly disastrous for the economy and much else, especially because preparations have been totally inadequate.

Another referendum would subvert the democratic decision of the people last time around and, anyway, might produce much the same result.  Nor is it necessarily the case that a general election would resolve matters; even if Labour were elected (a big if), what would be their negotiating position.

And time is passing.  Tick-tock, tick-tock ...


20 September 2018

Mushrooms, Stormy and all that

Hadley tells it like it is:
Much has been written about Daniels’s refusal to be shamed. But what is really remarkable about her is how she’s turned the whole narrative around. Not only will she not be humiliated – she will humiliate him. And why not, damn it? She wasn’t the married one. She is not the one with the power to ruin women’s lives by banning global abortion funding and defunding Planned Parenthood while having bragged in the past how, when you’re a star, you can grab women “by the pussy”. He is. While we may well live in a post-shame era, Daniels knows how to hurt Trump. And given how much Trump is hurting women, I think this is one instance in which we can indulge in some guiltless body-shaming. Go get him, Stormy.
Amen to that.


How to spoil a nice dinner

The BBC reports:
Theresa May has urged EU leaders to focus their minds on getting a Brexit deal in the next two months, saying negotiations will not be extended.
At a dinner in Salzburg, she told her 27 counterparts her priorities are maintaining economic ties and ensuring promises to Northern Ireland are kept.
There are suggestions the UK will put forward new ideas for regulatory checks to address the current Irish deadlock.
It comes as the PM insisted the EU must also rethink its stance on the border.
If your future economic life depended on it (and it probably does), is Theresa May the person you would want to represent you on such an occasion?  Think back to last year's disastous conference speech, to her lacklustre performance during the last general election, to her robotic demeanour during parliamentary questions.

Perhaps that is why the EU leaders decided to restrict her to ten minutes?

18 September 2018

The Cassandra of the IMF

We're all doomed, as my compatriot Private Frazer was wont to say.  The Guardian  reports:
The UK economy would rapidly start to contract in the event of a disruptive exit from the EU next spring, according to a stark International Monetary Fund report that highlights the recession risks of a no-deal Brexit.
Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, added that there would be costs to the UK under any outcome that involves leaving the EU.
Expressing the IMF’s growing concern at the possibility of an acrimonious divorce next March, Lagarde said: “If that happened there would be dire consequences. It would inevitably have consequences in terms of reduced growth, an increase in the [budget] deficit and a depreciation of the currency.
“In relatively short order it would mean a reduction in the size of the economy.”
Cassandra's problem was not that her prophecies were untrue; it was that nobody believed them.


Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
The prime minister is pursuing a policy she seems to fear will make the country poorer and less safe. Asked by the BBC’s Nick Robinson whether she truly believed in Brexit, Theresa May, a former Remainer, could answer only with the vague platitude: “I believe our best days are ahead.” If she appears tortured by the leadership of her party it may be because she feels she has a democratic duty to implement a change that she worries is a dangerous mistake.
From that flows all the tactical trickery. It’s simply not true that MPs must choose between the Chequers plan and crashing out of the EU with no deal, as Mrs May suggests. There are multiple alternative routes to leaving and many other options — including a second referendum or a general election — if parliament is deadlocked over the terms of Brexit. The prime minister will also have to make further compromises if she wants to get an agreement in Brussels. Her ultimatum is the false bravura of a woman who is parroting lines rather than speaking with genuine conviction.
In order to speak with conviction, you need to have some.


17 September 2018

Headline of the day

From Bloomberg (here):
The Airport of the Future is Here. And It Doesn’t Need Humans
Oh yes it does!  It needs human beings to explain to idiots like me that, at Edinburgh Airport, you need to have the bar code on your boarding card facing up when checking in luggage and facing down when going through security.


15 September 2018

A resurrected calumny

The Times re-visits one of the many fantasies concocted by MI6 in the bad old days:
MI6 believed that Michael Foot had been a paid informant of the Soviet Union and was prepared to warn the Queen of his “KGB history” when he stood to become prime minister, its officers have revealed in a new book.
The British intelligence apparatus concluded that the evidence presented by a Soviet defector about the Labour leader’s links with the KGB was strong enough to warrant the unprecedented constitutional action.
They have to admit, however:
The revelations come 23 years after Foot successfully sued The Sunday Timeswhen it published Gordievsky’s claims that the KGB held an extensive file on the former Labour leader, whom it had named Agent Boot.
Foot, who died in 2010 aged 96, had described the allegations as a “big lie” and said that as far as he knew he had never met or seen a KGB agent in his life. He and his supporters dismissed the allegations as MI5 smears.
I had the privilege of meeting Michael Foot in the early 1970s when he was Leader of the House of Commons.  A nice man, a genuine democrat.  The least likely guy to be a KGB agent.


14 September 2018

Headline of the day

From Bloomberg (here):
Humans Having Fewer Babies Is a Big Economic Problem
That's as may be, but it's not at the top of my to-do list ...


13 September 2018

How goes it with the European Research Group?

Not so good.  The weird mixture of Tory MPs who are either Canada++++ advocates or ne plus ultra WTO headbangers is in crisis.  The Guardian explains:
After the complete Dadaist clusterfuck of their economic Brexit plan the previous day and an evening meeting when the Provo lunatics momentarily took over the asylum, the European Research Group has had a reality check. Boris, their leader in waiting, has been exposed as a hollow man whose commitment even to himself is wavering, and they just don’t have the clout to bring down the prime minister and impose their Brexit vision.
No wonder, then, that their event to explain their solution to the Irish border had the feel of the morning after the night before. The Day of the Living Dead. Theresa Villiers, Owen Paterson, Maria Caulfield, David Trimble and David Davis sat behind a table with the expression of people who had only just realised they had volunteered to appear in their own hostage video.
No one had much to say. “There’s nothing new here,” said Paterson, a man more used to being outwitted by badgers. “It’s all really boring.” For once he was telling the truth. The ERG had come up with not much more than ideas for an exciting development in international borders that existed nowhere else in the world and had already been rejected by both the EU and the UK.
It was Davis who looked the most depressed. Normally he can manage a smile even in extremis. Now he was just crushed. There was a time when he had been a contender. Out of his depth, maybe, but still a contender. Now he was just out of the loop. He had given up a career to throw in his lot with a bunch of losers and psychos who didn’t have a prayer. The numbers just didn’t stack up. If only he had been better at maths.
Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of losers and psychos ...


09 September 2018

Quote of the day

The Sunday Times goes to town on Bonking Boris:
Another close ally said: “At least you know what you are getting. People talk about politicians with skeletons in their closets. All Boris’s skeletons have skin and big tits and are walking around the West End.”


05 September 2018

Is there a problem? Yes, but there's also an answer ...

The rail system in the UK is collapsing.  Something needs to be done.  The Guardian spells out the government's response:
The government is considering a full review of how Britain’s railways are run, after a succession of crises in the industry and growing commuter discontent.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has pushed for an overarching inquiry after the collapse of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise and the recent rail timetabling chaos concerning Northern Rail, Southern and Thameslink services.
According to a report in the Financial Times, Downing Street now backs Grayling’s view.
When in doubt, set up a review.  It is a fine way of kicking the can into the long grass, while conveying the illusion of action.  By the time the review reports, the Ministers concerned will have moved on to other posts and it will be somebody else's problem.


Brexit update (if you are not yet bored to tears by the whole matter)

The Guardian reports on the Brexit Miniater's announcement of the lack of any real progress:
There were still a few problems, mind. Northern Ireland was still proving a bit tricky but he was sure it would get resolved one way or another without war breaking out. There again, maybe not. On the bright side, a no-deal wouldn’t be as bad as all that. We would be keeping a six-week stockpile of medicines, so there was a fair chance that no one would die unnecessarily immediately. And if everyone put aside a few cans of baked beans, then no one should starve while the government tried to come up with a better plan.
“There are some risks to a no-deal scenario,” Raab generously conceded. But, one way or another, the UK would be ready for Brexit next March. His voice rather tailed off as he added that last bit, as he realised the fundamental absurdity of what he was saying. The UK is going to be ready for nothing. The only Brexit we are going to get is the one the government manages to smuggle past both the EU and parliament. And right now it doesn’t have a clue what that might be.
 Never mind - look on the bright side: the Scotland women's football team has qualified for the World Cup finals.



Can doctors write in clear English?  The Guardian reports:
Hospital doctors are being told to write letters directly to patients, and in plain English, in a move the profession’s leaders hope will sweep away the use of baffling medical terminology.
The initiative by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges aims to make medics use clear language to describe medical conditions instead of Latin words, acronyms and complex jargon.
All very well, but scientific language (jargon, if you like) is frequently used for the sake of greater accuracy.  Plain English is seldom as plain as its adherents think it is.  It seems to me that there is just as much scope for misinterpreting a letter written in plain English about a complex medical condition as there is in respect of a more scientific approach.

31 August 2018

No great loss

Wonga UK advert

For once, government policy has succeeded.  The Guardian reports:
Wonga, the payday lender that became notorious for its extortionate interest rates and was a toxic symbol of Britain’s household debt crisis, has collapsed into administration after it was brought down by a welter of compensation claims.
Wonga, known for controversial adverts featuring puppet grandparents, has been condemned over the years by campaigners for “legal loan sharking” and targeting vulnerable borrowers with small loans which quickly spiralled out of control. At one point customers faced interest rates as high as 5,853%, before they were capped by ministers in 2015 and now stand at about 1,500%.
They will not be mourned.


29 August 2018

Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
If you managed to watch the news yesterday without screaming, “No, make it stop,” then you are hardier than me. That footage of Theresa May dancing with schoolchildren in Cape Town with all the rhythm of a mechanical wheelie bin did not make for easy or forgettable viewing.
Why do politicians put themselves through this? Why do May’s advisers let it happen when they know she’ll wear that smiling-through-the-pain expression of a constipated giraffe and the result will be instant ridicule? It’s cruel.

Update:  The Guardian's take:
It’s that thing where public figures – politicians mostly, sometimes the royals – have to dance. In public.
Oh God. That is worse. It’s worse even than that. This time it was Theresa May.
Oh, that poor woman. I know. A group of Cape Town schoolchildren welcomed her on the first day of her trade trip to Africa and …
Oh, that poor woman. Yes. She found it incumbent upon her to – well, I was going to say move to the rhythm, but she didn’t, so I can’t.
Bust out some moves? It was more like … do an impression of a wobbly fridge.
In front of the world’s press? Yeah.


27 August 2018

Complacency rules, OK?

So why are the people not revolting over that state of the Brexit negotiations?  The Guardian suggests:
Before heading off for his summer break Mark Carney said the risks of a no-deal Brexit were uncomfortably high. Last week Philip Hammond warned the Treasury would take an £80bn hit if negotiations between Britain and the EU failed completely.
There is a risk to this latest manifestation of Project Fear. If the public really thinks that in eight months’ time Britain is going to be plunged into the economic equivalent of a nuclear winter, the economy will take a serious hit.
So far, though, people seem relatively relaxed and haven’t spent the bank holiday weekend stripping supermarket shelves of baked beans and bottled water. While opinion polls show that voters think – rightly – that the government is making a pig’s ear of the Brexit negotiations, the state of the economy suggests they are taking what Carney and Hammond say with a pinch of salt.
If the people seem relaxed, it is more than likely because of the sheer complexity of the issues associated with Brexit.   Even nerds like me find it hard enough to keep up with the state of play.  I suspect that, for most, the question has become a complete turn-off.

The one thing of which I am certain is that - whatever the outcome - it will end in tears ...


25 August 2018

Marital relations

From Trump's diary (here):
In one of the corridors of the West Wing, I bump into my wife. Who is hotter than your wife. I mean, I haven’t seen your wife, but I’m guessing. She’s definitely the hottest wife I’ve had so far.
“Oh hey!” I say. “I haven’t seen you in ages. Where do you even sleep?”
“Ferry busy,” says Melania, sullenly. “Was launching campaign against nasty cyberbullying on social media. Did see?”
I tell her I did, and it was amazing, and how does she even think of that stuff? And she rolls her eyes.
“Husband,” she says. “Is true you haff paid glamorous women money to go away forever?”
“Honey,” I say. “Would I?”
Melania shrugs.“Am hoping,” she says.


21 August 2018

Lies and consequences

Measles is back to haunt us.  The Guardian reports:
A huge surge in measles cases across Europe has been reported by the World Health Organisation, which says low MMR vaccination rates are to blame.
More than 41,000 cases of measles have been reported in the European region between January and June. Last year there were nearly 24,000 for the whole 12 months, which was the highest count in any year of the last decade.
In seven countries (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine) more than 1,000 children and adults have been infected in the first half of 2018 and at least 37 people have died. The biggest toll was in the Ukraine, which had 23,000 cases – half the European total. There were measles-related deaths in all seven countries. Serbia, with 14, had the most.
Two countries that had eliminated measles had outbreaks that continued for 12 months. The measles status of Germany and Russia has been reclassified by the WHO to endemic as a result. The outbreak in Germany began in Duisburg in early 2017 and spread to other cities.
This could have been avoided.  But for this guy:
Confidence in the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab slumped after the gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield at the Royal Free hospital in London published a paper in the Lancet in 1998 wrongly alleging a link between the vaccine and autism. The paper was retracted and Wakefield, who had not declared he was taking money from solicitors hoping to pursue vaccine damage cases, was struck off the medical register for dishonesty and irresponsibility.

20 August 2018

Be glad you don't live in Venezuela

The Times reports:
Venezuela is experiencing runaway inflation in an economy where the government, which insists inflation is “induced” by its enemies, still believes that it can control prices. In most cases it fails; the majority of products are sold at market rates, which is one reason why most Venezuelans say they have lost weight over the past 12 months. But there are a few prices that the government does successfully control, and that creates ludicrous distortions. The most notorious is petrol: one litre now costs a fraction of a British penny. Domestic airline prices are regulated but taxi fares are not, so a 40-minute ride to the airport costs three times more than an air ticket to any city in Venezuela (about £1.50). However, because airlines have to sell their tickets at such unrealistic prices, yet still have to buy spare parts in dollars, only 20 planes out of the national fleet of 100 are flying. So Venezuela can boast the world’s cheapest air tickets — but there are hardly any available.
The minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation. Despite four rises this year alone, it has slipped in real terms to the equivalent of £1 a month. An egg costs more than one day’s wage, prompting Venezuelans, whose sardonic humour is helping many to endure this catastrophe, to observe that a hen earns more than a teacher.

19 August 2018

Is he for real?

Warm congrats to The Bay Chippie.  The Observer reports:
Stonehaven, the newly crowned home of the world’s finest fish supper experience, is also a globally acclaimed hothouse of gastronomic innovation.
The Bay fish and chip shop, overlooking a handsome little North Sea inlet, appears at the top of the UK’s entries in the Lonely Planet’s new collection of the world’s best food experiences.
Only the queue, 20-strong and beginning at the door, hints that you have entered the tabernacle of fish suppers; the Buckingham Palace of battered comestibles. For £7.30 a pop for its standard cod and chips, much is expected, and the Bay’s battered repast doesn’t disappoint. You will not encounter a better souper de poisson than the Bay’s.
Cod?  For a reporter who likes to dwell on his Scottish couthiness, it is upsetting to hear that he favours cod.  Like any other good Scot, haddock is the only fish I could possibly buy in a chippie.

Image result for cod

Image result for haddock

Life will go on, maybe


11 August 2018

Music of the week

And what it means:


Amazon tax

So the Chancellor wants to impose an Amazon tax on online sales.

Far from sure why I should have to pay extra when ordering goods from Amazon
(i)  in order to ensure the survival of a bunch of outdated department stores which lost touch with their customers years ago; and
(ii)  because the system of business rates has been manifestly broken for years and successive governments have refused to do anything about it.