18 December 2014

Queen to abdicate?

Have the bookies got it wrong?  CityAM  has the skinny:
Bookmakers Coral has suspended betting on whether the Queen will announce her abdication in her Christmas Day broadcast after a number of “unusual” bets were placed today.  A spokesman told City A.M a handful of different bets had been made within half an hour of each other – prompting the team to question whether there had been a leak from Buckingham Palace. 
Intriguing ...

17 December 2014

OAPs laughing all the way to the bank

There goes inflation:
INFLATION in the UK has dropped to its lowest figure for over a decade and economists believe it will decline further still.
Inflation fell to one per cent in November as measured by annual growth in the consumer price index, according to figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It marks a drop from 1.3 per cent inflation in October.
The annual rate of inflation was last one per cent in September 2002.
That makes pensioner bonds, due to launch in January, even more attractive.  A 2.8% return on a one year investment is not to be sneezed at.  The 4% return on three year bonds is less attractive, as the interest payment is only made after the full three years have elapsed (at least according to the BBC's money box).

Update:  More here.  

It's all too difficult

EVEL dissolves in Scotch mist:
Mr Hague’s proposals are in practice a set of options, none of which binds the government. His approach has been spurned by the Liberal Democrats, who have their own federalist agenda, and snubbed by Labour, who want to see such matters referred to a constitutional convention – whatever that exactly means.
As a result, Tuesday’s plans are dead in the water until after the general election. They are important only as a piece of political positioning by the Conservatives, who are determined not to allow Ukip to cast themselves as the English party.
And, after the election, will there be any impetus for divisive debate on further constitutional upheaval?  Apart - of course - from delivering on devolution plus for Scotland?


 

Christmas shopping


Where will you go to buy your turkey this Christmas?  The Guardian suggests a further shift in allegiance:
The German discount chains are set to “win Christmas” for the second year running, with a quarter of British grocery shoppers saying they are more likely to head to Aldi or Lidl than they were last year.
The survey results are a blow to the hopes of the struggling big four – Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – which have banked on price cuts and a blizzard of discount vouchers to win back shoppers.
One in 10 of those surveyed by Marketing Sciences for the Guardian said they planned to do their main Christmas food shop at either Aldi or Lidl.
Traditionally, shoppers have shied away from cut-price stores as they prepare to treat their families at Christmas, instead heading to the big four or to upmarket grocers such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

Here in Spain, the supermmarkets go less crazy about the festive season; the supermercados are not so loaded up with dirty great turkeys and brussels sprouts.  The only exception is to be found in the ubiquitous British-owned bars which make a fetish of offering Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, albeit at a very reasonable price.

But the atmosphere of enforced jollity is not for me.  I will have a quiet day, much like any other:  a couple of pints with the lads at lunchtime, then home, probably with a nice bit of silverside from the Irish butcher and some roast potatoes, and a dvd to watch in the evening.  Just a perfect day.

Quote of the day

Does the presence of methane indicate that there is life on Mars?  Get your head around this assessment:
“That we detect methane in the atmosphere on Mars is not an argument that we have found evidence of life on Mars, but it’s one of the few hypotheses that we can propose that we must consider,” John Grotzinger, a scientist on the Curiosity team, told the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. “Large organic molecules present in ancient rocks on Mars is also not an argument that there was once life on ancient Mars, but it is the kind of material you’d look for if life had ever originated on Mars.”
This man should be a politician.

 

15 December 2014

Soap opera

Confused?  Bewildered?  Having difficulty keeping up?

The latest development:
A Ukip candidate has resigned for describing gay people as “fucking disgusting old poofters” and referring to a woman with a Chinese name as a “chinky”, just hours after Ukip defended him saying he had been on sedatives at the time.
Kerry Smith, who was recently reinstated as Ukip’s candidate for South Basildon and East Thurrock in Essex, initially apologised unreservedly for his remarks, before later deciding to resign.
The previous story:
In October, Smith was deselected as the candidate for the Essex seat without explanation and a new contest was ordered, which was due to include Neil Hamilton, the former Tory minister, and Natasha Bolter, a former Labour supporter.
The contest descended into chaos as questions were raised by Ukip about Hamilton’s expenses and Bolter became involved in a controversy about whether the party’s general secretary, Roger Bird, had made inappropriate sexual advances towards her. She accused Bird of harassment but, after the party suspended him, he hit back with text messages suggesting they had been in a consensual romantic relationship.
After Hamilton and Bolter withdrew, Smith won back his position as candidate.
What a happy band of brothers ...

   

 

14 December 2014

Red faces all round

According to The Observer, the Tories have been balancing the electoral scales in their favour:
David Cameron has been accused of an unjustifiable bid to “buy the general election” as it emerged that ministers have quietly slipped through an unprecedented hike in the amount that parties can spend during the campaign.
...
The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate, was made despite a direct warning by the commission against such “excessive spending to prevent the perception of undue influence over the outcome of the election”.
...
The Observer has learned that ministers changed the law through a statutory instrument, the terms of which were not debated in the Commons, and which is more usually a vehicle for consensual changes in the law. A Labour source said that the move had not been spotted by them at the time and so they missed the chance to force a vote in the Commons.
Leaving aside the iniquitous behaviour of the government, why did Labour not spot it at the time?

The statutory instyrument would have been subject to negative resolution procedure, which means that, after being laid before the House (and published on the order paper), it automatically becomes law after a certain period, unless it is prayed against (i.e.an MP formally objects), in which case the instrument has to be debated.  So, was no-one in the Labour Party (or in other opposition parties) designated to keep an eye on the flow of statutory instruments coming before the House?  If not, why not?

   

13 December 2014

What happened to the Santa Rally?

The Guardian reports:
Global stock markets continued to tumble on Friday, pushing the FTSE 100 to its worst weekly fall in more than three years. Since Monday,£112bn has been wiped off the value of Britain’s leading companies.
Investors headed for the exits amid growing fears about the Chinese economy, the tumbling price of oil, and the prospect of another eurozone crisis prompted by political uncertainty in Greece.
The FTSE 100 finished at 6300.63 on Friday, its lowest level since 20 October. The index was down 161 points on the day and 442 points, or 6.6%, on the week.
It was the biggest weekly decline in percentage terms since August 2011, when recession fears and worries about America’s debts stalked the markets.
Fingers well and truly burned.  But I suppose that it's a buying opportunity ...

 

12 December 2014

Music of the week

More weasel words

Miliband - aspirationally vague:
Miliband mentioned the words sensible, fair, tough and credible several times but stopped short of saying what cuts he would make or when he would achieve them. It would be wrong to make promises on spending before he had his hands on the keys to No 10, he declared, staring down anyone thinking of contradicting him.
“The right thing to do is to set a clear objective with a realistic destination – balancing the books and the debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament – and this is what we have done,” he said.
Unlikely to set the heather on fire ...
 

Weasel words

Were the UK security services complicit in the CIA's alleged torture activities?  No 10 comes out with a load of absolute flannel:
References to Britain’s intelligence agencies were deleted at their request from the damning US report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, it has emerged.
...
... on Thursday, the prime minister’s deputy official spokesman said: “My understanding is that no redactions were sought to remove any suggestion that there was UK involvement in any alleged torture or rendition. But I think there was a conversation with the agencies and their US counterparts on the executive summary. Any redactions sought there would have been on national security grounds in the way we might have done with any other report.”
"National security grounds"?  National embarrassment grounds, more like.

   

11 December 2014

Every picture tells a story

Ronaldo and Messi (and partners):


Wot, no cummerbunds?

 

Deeper into the mire

Is Jean-Claude's jacket on a shoogly peg?  The revelations continue:
Pressure is mounting on Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, after fresh allegations emerged outlining the tactics he used when he was prime minister of Luxembourg to promote the country as the destination for multinational corporations.
Bob Comfort, the former head of tax for Amazon, claimed Juncker had fiercely courted the online giant, behaving as a “business partner” and “helping solve problems”. Months after arriving in Luxembourg in 2003, Amazon secured a confidential deal from the local tax office. Two months ago that deal became the subject of a formal investigation by the European commission.
On the other hand:
For the moment at least, Juncker looks tarnished by the disclosures, but not really in fear for his job. Although he is free to resign, he cannot be removed as an individual. The entire European commission would have to go, felled by a vote of no confidence in the European parliament. This is a remote prospect at the moment. And for this to happen, national leaders, chief among them Merkel, would have to signal that Juncker’s time is up and then press their allies in the parliament into organising the commission’s collapse. No one in Brussels at present is talking in such terms.
Which explains why so many become so frustrated with the Brussels machine.  Meanwhile, the European Commission will limp along with a president widely regarded as damaged - which probably suits the European Parliament as well as the Member States of the European Council. 


    

06 December 2014

Yankee displeasure

Buck House wants to impose a dress code on the American press corps.  From a New York website (here):
It's the year 2014, yet Buckingham Palace has issued a proclamation to its colonies in the New World, which is awaiting a visit from Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton.
"Journalists wishing to cover Royal engagements, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, should comply with the dress code on formal occasions out of respect for the guests of The Queen, or any other member of the Royal Family," said an order aimed at reporters planning to write about Will and Kate's December trip. "Smart attire for men includes the wearing of a jacket and tie, and for women a trouser or skirt suit. Those wearing jeans or trainers will not be admitted and casually dressed members of the media will be turned away. This also applies to technicians."
First of all, what are "trainers" or, for that matter, "technicians"? And second, why should the United States' press corps — who barely bother to brush the muffin crumbs off their polo shirts before lobbing questions at the president of the United States — schlep extra pieces of clothing to work just so they can make small talk with a (perfectly nice-seeming) British air ambulance pilot-in-training and a former chain-store accessories buyer?
God forbid that the future king of England should have to answer questions from a reporter dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  Respect, bro, I think?

 

05 December 2014

The appliance of science

It is many many years since I played rugby.  Playing for the Fifths Extra B XV was a relatively straightforward affair.  Nowadays, rugby is more complicated:
Until fairly recently the lineout was divided into two groups – the jumping trio, and the hooker and the rest. Now it’s divided into groups of two, three and three and each of those three groups has different jobs at the first, second and third breakdowns after the lineout is completed.
At the first, the first to the breakdown will be seven and eight; at the second it will be the two non-jumping forwards and the hooker; finally at the third it’ll be the jumper and the two lifters. Simple so far? Well, that is the formula if the throw is to the back of the line out, and it further changes as the game moves on beyond the three areas nominated by the attacking side for where they want the breakdowns to be. And, of course, it changes again for defensive lineouts.
Simply, anyone playing in the back row has to understand those protocols and how they change on the hoof, something which is difficult enough for guys who have been around the block a few times. But it’s when the game becomes more fluid, the ball manipulating defence, that things get complicated and when instinct has to take over.
As group after group deal with the series of breakdowns, so the others go “round the corner” keeping the move going before a good back-row senses it’s time to reap the reward for all the hard work. They have to present themselves as an attacking option. Done instinctively – watch Kieran Read or Richie McCaw – and there is a chance; delay and you’re buried because the opposition is mirroring your actions and will be only a sniff away.
Wow ...

George is not a rhetorician

Hyperbole: exaggeration for effect, not to be taken literally.

The BBC reports:
Asked about spending cuts to come in the next parliament, Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I would have thought the BBC had learnt from the last four years that its totally hyperbolic coverage of spending cuts has not been matched by what's actually happened in our country."
The BBC's concern about the seriousness of the forthcoming cuts is far from hyperbolic, as is shown by the subsequent comments of the IFS:
The Institute for Fiscal Studies' Paul Johnson said the cuts would be "on a colossal scale", would mean a "fundamental reimagining of the role of the state" 

   

04 December 2014

Making policy on the back of a fag packet

Oh yes, the google tax.  What the Chancellor actually said:
Today, I am introducing a 25% tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country; that is not fair to other British firms and it is not fair to the British people either—today, we are putting a stop to it. My message is consistent and clear: low taxes; but low taxes that will be paid. Britain has led the world on this agenda and we do so again today. This new diverted profits tax will raise more than £1 billion over the next five years.
 More than a bit sketchy.  How will HMRC assess the amount of profits that are diverted, ie artificially shifted out of the UK?  The Guardian illustrates the point:
Google paid just £20m tax in the UK last year. But its actual British revenues were £5.6bn. The group as a whole has a profit margin of 20%, suggesting the company’s real profits in the UK could have been as high as £1.2bn. Taxed at the proposed 25% rate, this would deliver £280m a year in revenues for the Treasury from just one company. But the government expects to collect no more than £360m a year from the diverted profits tax.
Essentially, profits are what is left after deducting cost from revenues; traditionally these costs would include those of production and administration; more controversially, they might include the cost of intra-company loans and rights payments, some of which may be legitimate and some of which less so.  Where does Osborne draw the line?  And how will it impact on international double taxation agreements between governments?

Have Osborne and the Treasury thought it through?

   

03 December 2014

Silly me

I didn't know that the lovely Samantha was imaginary ...

   

George is not a bogyman?

Really?  Rather counter-intuitively, The Guardian looks for the better side of the Chancellor:
It is said, for example, that when the government is in difficulty and MPs are called in for pep talks, Osborne impresses them with knowledge of their constituency issues and policy hobby horses. He asks what he can do for them; the prime minister reminds them of what they are expected to do for him. George procures loyalty, Dave demands it. (Theseasoning of marginal seats with new roads ahead of the autumn statement is proof that it pays to have the chancellor’s ear.)
But there is more to Osborne’s attentiveness than vote-buying. He has an intellectual curiosity and a strategic interest in the future of conservatism that is often camouflaged by a predilection for tactical gimmickry. He understands that the Tory “modernisation” project he and Cameron started in opposition failed because it came to be associated with niche liberal preoccupations: the environment, gay rights, overseas aid. That allowed traditionalists to cast the leadership as champions of snooty metropolitan elitism – a charge that fertilised the growth of Ukip.
The chancellor is indeed an urban liberal. He is a native Londoner and a believer in globalised capitalism as a wellspring of freedom and opportunity, not a scourge from which people need protection. He is also a pragmatic pro-European, arguing behind closed doors for a model of British membership of the EU as the lead player of an outer tier of countries spared the federalising momentum of the single currency.
Moderate Tories see Osborne as a bulwark against the drift towards full-bore anti-Brussels mania. “George is capable of showing some leg to the sceptics, but he doesn’t really have any truck with the anti-immigration rhetoric,” says one Osbornite MP.
I remain to be convinced.  But perhaps I am blinded by Osborne's obsession with tactical ploys and his indulgence towards hard right economics.

 

28 November 2014

I can think of a worse epitaph

Ruth Rendell on PD James (here):
She will always live through her books. But for me she will be also be remembered for being such a nice woman.

   

27 November 2014

Taxing

Well, it's a start:
The Scottish parliament is to be handed direct control over billions of pounds of income tax and welfare benefits after an £11bn cross-party deal which will lead to the biggest shakeup to Britain’s taxation system in the modern era.
The historic move, which had been resisted by the Labour leadership in London, means powers to set income tax rates and bands are to be wholly devolved to Holyrood as the pro-UK parties move to outflank the Scottish National party, which has surged in popularity since the referendum on Scottish independence.
But not all the way;
But Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, who are expected to offer broad support for the commission while saying the details will need to be studied with care, have decided to bite the bullet to avoid a further slide in Labour support in Scotland.
It is understood that Balls won two important concessions that will give comfort to the Labour leadership in London. The personal tax allowance – the amount of income people can earn before they pay tax – will remain a UK matter that will continue to be decided by the chancellor of exchequer and voted on by MPs at Westminster.
This will make it impossible for a Scottish finance secretary to do what chancellors have done in the past – announce an income tax cut and pay for it by changing the personal allowance.
In the second key concession, it is understood that the commission will say that there is still a UK income tax system.
It may well be the case that "there is still a UK income tax system" but that unitary system will potentially have to cope with making differential tax deductions from employees according to their country of residence.  I do not know enough about the technicalities, but I imagine that will amount to a massive change in payroll systems for those companies which have employees in both Scotland and England, as well as for the Inland Revenue tax coding systems.

But let us await the details to be announced later this morning.

   

24 November 2014

Quote of the day


Lily Allen (here):
Lily Allen has become the latest artist to criticise the Band Aid single in aid of the Ebola crisis, revealing that she refused to appear on it because she considered it smug and preferred to donate “actual money”.
...
The outspoken Allen has previously described Band Aid’s co-founder, Bob Geldof, as a “sanctimonious prat”, but she still received a request to appear on the latest incarnation of the single, released 30 years after the original.
“It’s difficult to give an explanation why I didn’t do it without sounding like a complete cunt,” she told the Mail on Sunday.

Good for her.

   

21 November 2014

Vote Tory, get UKIP?

Interesting times:
Cameron would prefer not to share power with Ukip. What matters is the price at which he could bring himself to do it in an emergency. Does he distance himself from Farage out of rhetorical expediency or because he finds the man and his party fundamentally objectionable? Is there a line of anti-European, anti-immigrant rhetoric he won’t cross?
The answer to those questions – and how a majority of Tory MPs might answer them – will tell undecided voters a lot about the character of the party and its leader. And the question will get harder to avoid. The Tories have been eager to argue that supporting Ukip could accidentally ease Miliband’s path to power, in the belief that such a prospect will send dissident Conservative voters scurrying home to Cameron’s camp. But the proposition can just as easily be reversed as a warning to anyone who thinks Ukip rhetoric is beyond the pale but is tempted to back the Tories. Vote Cameron, Get Farage? The prime minister used to rule it out. It is revealing that he no longer can.

    

20 November 2014

Turning back the clock

Charlie won't shut up:
Prince Charles is ready to reshape the monarch’s role when he becomes king and make “heartfelt interventions” in national life in contrast to the Queen’s taciturn discretion on public affairs, his allies have said.
In signs of an emerging strategy that could risk carrying over the controversy about his alleged meddling in politics into his kingship, sources close to the heir say he is set to continue to express concerns and ask questions about issues that matter to him, such as the future of farming and the environment, partly because he believes he has a duty to relay public opinion to those in power.
“He will be true to his beliefs and contributions,” said a well-placed source who has known him for many years. “Rather than a complete reinvention to become a monarch in the mould of his mother, the strategy will be to try and continue with his heartfelt interventions, albeit checking each for tone and content to ensure it does not damage the monarchy. Speeches will have to pass the following test: would it seem odd because the Queen wouldn’t have said it or would it seem dangerous?”




17 November 2014

Vladi No-mates

I doubt if the modern day Ebenezer Scrooge enjoyed his pre-Christmas holiday in Australia:
Vladimir Putin quit the G20 summit in Brisbane early saying he needed to get back to work in Moscow on Monday after enduring hours of browbeating by a succession of Western leaders urging him to drop his support for secessionists in eastern Ukraine.
What we need now is for the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future to visit the Kremlin ...