19 October 2016

Quote of the day

Boris at Parliamentary Questions (here):
Boris appeared disappointed to find so many people doubting him on both his own and the opposition benches and when Labour’s Ben Bradshaw drew attention to an American chamber of commerce report that suggested the US was planning to withhold $600bn of investment from the UK due to uncertainty over the single market, Boris had had enough. “All this bremoaning gloomadon popping is getting me down,”  Pangloss  moaned. “Let me tell you here and now that everything is going to be absolutely brilliant. Why can’t you all just cheer up a bit?” Because they’d all read the foreign secretary’s article saying it was all going to be a nightmare. That’s why.

Not getting off the pot

A Tory Prime Minister faced with a deeply divided Tory party has little option but to kick the can down the road.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May has retreated from holding a parliamentary vote on airport expansion this autumn after the government was warned that Tory MPs could resign their seats if ministers backed a third runway at Heathrow. Two Conservative sources said Downing Street had been warned by whips that May could face resignations and byelections in seats that could be lost to the Liberal Democrats in south-west London.
The prime minister appeared to prepare the way for a decision in favour of expansion at Heathrow on Tuesday, as she revealed cabinet responsibility would be suspended for longstanding opponents of airport expansion in west London. This would allow Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and Justine Greening, the education secretary, to carry on voicing dissent on behalf of their constituents.
However, May also signalled there may not be a major vote in parliament on the issue until winter 2017/18, despite the belief of senior government and opposition figures that a vote would take place this autumn.
But it merely postpones the problem; it does not resolve it.  And, meanwhile, the adverse consequences for business and the economy continue to mount ...


16 October 2016

Quote of the day

Niall Ferguson in The Times (here):
In the age of the smartphone it’s too good an analogy to pass up. Increasingly, as his presidential campaign flames out, Donald Trump is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 of US politics — a phone so hurriedly assembled that it spontaneously combusts. That would make Hillary Clinton the iPhone 7. She’s essentially the same as your current president but harder to connect to and with inferior email security.

14 October 2016

Infamy ...

... Trump is now channelling the late Kenneth Williams.  The Guardian reports the latest carry-on:
Donald Trump scrambled to dig himself out from an avalanche of fresh abuse allegations on Thursday after a series of women came forward to dispute his claim that his comments about sexual assault were only empty boasts.
The torrent of accusations, which includes claims from beauty pageant contenders who allege he burst into their dressing rooms to ogle them while they were nude, added nearly a dozen new names to the tally of women who have accused the Republican nominee of inappropriate behavior.
Many say they were galvanised into speaking by Trump’s denials during Sunday’s presidential debate, where he dismissed a recording of him bragging about groping women as “locker room talk” and insisted they were “words not action”.
But with allegations to the contrary casting an ever-growing shadow over the campaign, Trump instead sought to dismiss the accusations as a vast establishment conspiracy, orchestrated by his opponent Hillary Clinton “as part of a concerted, coordinated and vicious attack”.
"A vast establishment conspiracy"  - yes of course.  The whole world has it in for him ...


10 October 2016

In charge of the asylum

Bizarre.  The Times reports:
Doctors, nurses and other NHS staff need to be more positive at work, the new whistleblowing chief for the health service has said.
Henrietta Hughes said that low-level grumpiness could harm patients and contribute to a mistrustful “toxic environment” in which staff were reluctant to speak out. She said that “every single person” in the health service had to help to make it a happier place to work and end a culture of bullying and poor care.
The NHS needed more of the “trust and joy and love” hormone oxytocin, Dr Hughes said, citing the happy embraces of reunited families at the start of the Hugh Grant film Love Actually.
“If you think about that scene in Love Actually where everybody is meeting at the airport, that’s the oxytocin feeling. So wouldn’t it be better if oxytocin was the predominant neurotransmitter in the NHS?”
Speechless!  Underpaid nurses, overworked doctors, forget your troubles and be happy ...


06 October 2016

That speech

It's all going downhill.  The Guardian reports:
A change was gonna come. Theresa was gonna build hundreds of thousands of new homes. Huge swaths of green belt would be concreted over. She didn’t know how she was going to pay for any of her promises, but that wasn’t the point. She just had to hope that no one noticed her policies were as brittle as her performance. It would take a while for her to acquire the easy rubberiness of her predecessor. Still, she had to say something about money so she threatened to clamp down on tax-dodgers, but none of the millionaire Tory donors in the hall batted an eyelid. They knew no change was gonna come. Their cash was safe. Politicians always say they are going to tighten up tax loopholes, but they never do.
A change was gonna come. The vision Theresa wanted to leave us with was of a Britain where the Brownlees were an example to us all. One brother stopping to help the other across the finishing line. Back in hospital, a second grown man cried. George Osborne rubbed his chest. He still had the bruises from where Theresa had kicked him unconscious before taking the tape alone. Do as I say, not as I do.
A change was gonna come. The prime minister tried to convince the conference that she alone cared for the working-classes and that it was Labour who were now the nasty party. Some of the more gullible even believed it and gave her a standing ovation. She lapped it up, as well she might. A change was gonna come. It was just as well no one had bothered to enquire if the change would be for the worse.


05 October 2016

Quote of the day

The Guardian's John Crace at the Tory Party Conference (here):
Back in the main hall, Jeremy Hunt was trying to prove that he wasn’t an automaton like the rest of the cabinet by having the lectern removed and speaking to the hall from the front of the stage. It was a move that badly backfired as it just made the strings operating his arms and legs even more visible. “Let’s give a clap to all the hardworking people in our NHS,” he said, his arms being yanked together by an apparatchik up in the flies. After that, his legs repeatedly kicked the hardworking people in our NHS by telling them they could all sod off back to wherever they had come from because British people only wanted to be treated by British doctors and nurses. The audience loved that.


Twas ever thus ...

Shock, horror.  Investing in shares is gambling.  The Guardian reports:
Global central bank policymakers have turned world financial markets into a casino with their unprecedented monetary policies, the bond investor Bill Gross has warned.
Gross, who oversees the $1.5bn (£1.2bn) Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, recommended bitcoin and gold for investors who are looking for places to preserve capital.
“Our financial markets have become a Vegas/Macau/Monte Carlo casino, wagering that an unlimited supply of credit generated by central banks can successfully reflate global economies and reinvigorate nominal GDP growth to lower but acceptable norms in today’s highly levered world,” Gross said in his latest investment outlook, titled Doubling Down.
Some might argue that the financial markets have always been a glorified casino, although the odds are slightly more in favour of the investor than when playing blackjack.  At least, that has been my experience.



04 October 2016

Do the maths

Fur coats and nae knickers.  Fantasy politics again.  The Guardian reports:
Jeremy Hunt is to pledge that the NHS in England will be “self sufficient” in doctors after Britain leaves the European Union as he sets out a package of measures aimed at reducing its reliance on foreign-trained medics.
The health secretary will use his speech to the Conservative party conference on Tuesday to promise that medical schools in the UK will be allowed to offer up to 1,500 extra training places a year, and released figures that said that one in fourNHS doctors have been trained abroad.
Hunt will stress that foreign-trained doctors do a “fantastic job”, and say that “we want EU nationals who are already here to be able to stay post-Brexit” before adding: “Is it right to import doctors from poorer countries that need them while turning away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?”
He wants NHS England to reach the target in 2025. “Of course it will take a number of years before those doctors qualify, but by the end of the next parliament we will make the NHS self-sufficient in doctors,” Hunt is expected to say.
It takes six years for a doctor to become qualified.  So, assuming all those extra places are filled with effect from 2017, there might be an extra 1500 junior doctors by 2023.  But it will take another ten years before they are ready to replace the consultants who will be retiring during that period.  Self sufficiency is a target for the distant future ...


03 October 2016

Getting old

I suppose it's my own fault.  I should get with the program (sic) and download my movies from Netflix or whatever.  But no, I prefer to buy my DVDs and thus have some substance to ownership.

Nevertheless, I fail to understand why it is so difficult to extract the DVDs from their cellophane 
wrapping. Are they trying to tell me something ...


All very difficult

Brexit may or may not mean Brexit but it appears to get more and more complicated.  Look at this stuff from a so-called constitutional expert in The Guardian:

Article 50, providing for Brexit, will be triggered by the end of March next year, Theresa May has promised. Two years after it is triggered, Britain will find itself outside the European Union, unless there is unanimous agreement among the other member states to extend the time limit.
Contrary to popular perceptions, article 50 inaugurates a withdrawal process, not a trade agreement. It will involve negotiating essentially technical issues, though important ones – such as the rights of British citizens in the EU and of EU citizens in the UK – and can be achieved within the two-year limit.
Article 50 does allow for a shadow negotiation on trade matters. But, clearly, the EU cannot conclude a trade agreement with another country until that country ceases to be a member, and it is highly unlikely that a detailed trade agreement can be achieved within two years. When, in 1985, Greenland – whose population is smaller than that of Uxbridge, and whose one staple industry is fishing – withdrew, an agreement took three years to negotiate.
In any case, EU procedures for ratifying most trade agreements are far more stringent than for ratifying a withdrawal agreement, which requires merely a qualified majority in the council and a majority in the European parliament. A trade agreement would probably require unanimity in the council, a majority in the European parliament, and also ratification in national parliaments as well as in some regional parliaments – for example, those of Flanders and Wallonia. That involves 36 legislatures, each of which has a veto.
If all this proves to be the case - and I have no reason to doubt that it will - it may be many years before the detailed implications of Brexit for trade and movement of labour become apparent.  It also implies, I suspect, that some kind of interim trade arrangement needs to be in place for 2019 onwards until a full trade agreement can be negotiated and put in place.

Do you suppose that Messrs Johnson, Fox and Davis understand all this?  No, me neither ...


02 October 2016

The Great Repeal Bill

The illusion of progress.  Doing something at last.  The Times reports on the PM's big announcement:
Announcing the historic change, May said: “We will introduce, in the next Queen’s speech, a Great Repeal Bill that will remove the European Communities Act from the statute book. That was the act that took us into the European Union.
“This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.”
Under the plans, the 1972 act would be overturned in advance of Britain leaving the EU but the repeal would take legal effect the moment the UK formally pulled out. On that day domestic law decided by British judges would be supreme once more and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg would no longer be able to deliver judgments binding on the UK. All Britain’s laws would remain but the government could pass new laws to overturn EU rules in any areas it wished.
But it does not offer any clues as to the Government's plan - if they have one - for the Brexit negotiations.

Furthermore, while it may sound relatively straightforward, the repeal of the 1972 Act may be rather more complicated than it appears.  Disentangling EU and UK legislation is a far from easy task.  It  will nevertheless be a day or two before the more perspicacious pundits begin asking awkward questions.


29 September 2016

Quote of the day

No fence-sitting for Ken Clarke.  The Times reports:
Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, said that Theresa May was running a “government with no policies” in the first major Tory assault on the new regime.
Mr Clarke, who first entered government in 1988 and left in 2014, claimed that the prime minister had no plan on how to execute Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“Nobody in the government has the first idea of what they’re going to do next on the Brexit front,” he told the New Statesman.
The emperor has no clothes?


Diagram of the day

Splendid stuff from Bloomberg (here):


27 September 2016

Who won?

Bloomberg reports:
Financial markets judged the first of three American presidential debates a win for Hillary Clinton, as Mexico’s peso rallied from a record low, U.S. and European stock index futures gained and gold retreated.
The peso, a proxy for Donald Trump’s election prospects, rebounded almost 2 percent and Canada’s dollar strengthened from its weakest level since March, a sign investors see a reduced chance the Republican candidate will win the November vote. Haven assets fell out of favor with gold declining for the first time in seven days as the yen weakened and U.S. Treasuries declined. Asian shares advanced, having started the session lower.
Hey, don't ask me - I don't understand it, either ...


26 September 2016

The unity of the graveyard?

Not the best of starts re-starts.  The Guardian reports:
The kinder and gentler politics didn’t get off to the kindest and gentlest of starts on day two of Corbyn 2.0. Having spent much of the previous day calling for unity, the Labour leader went on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to give his own version of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. “Where there is hope, let me sow despair; where there is faith, doubt; where there is love, hatred.”
Corbyn ran through his checklist. First off, get back into the antisemitism row. The Jewish peer Lord Mitchell should reflect on his decision to leave Labour, he said. One box ticked. Next up was to alienate those Labour voters who were thinking of voting Tory or Ukip. Sounding less than enthusiastic about Britain’s national security should do it. That just left his party’s MPs to deal with. Telling them that most of them would not be deselected was a masterstroke. It would sound consensual while putting the wind up all of them. Bastards, the lot of them.


Ready to rumble

Will you sit up for tonight's debate?  The Independent sets the scene:
Will Trump indulge his penchant for witty epithets by addressing his opponent as “Crooked Hillary”, or will he play it chivalrous with an overdue stab at appearing presidential? Will Hillary avoid coughing fits and retain motor control at all times? Can she project the wit and warmth she reportedly shows in private, or bore viewers into the Trump camp with overly detailed, robotically delivered answers? 
Will he have taken the trouble to memorise some faintly coherent policy positions, or rely on the trademark stream of semi-consciousness that allows him to drift between rambling and often conflicting observations several times per sentence? 
Will the moderator, Lester Holt, correct Trump’s most blatant whoppers, or leave the fact-checking to Hillary? Do enough voters care about facts in this post-objective truth era for that to make a difference?
It starts at 2 am, British time; you can hear it on the World Service or watch it on the BBC News Channel.


24 September 2016

Music of the week

A word of explanation:  Back in the early 1950s, we baby boomers experienced the Welfare State via (a) cod liver oil, a spoonful of which served as a curative for all sorts of ailments, including coughs, flu, constipation and even broken bones, and (b) so-called orange juice, which came in a glass bottle with a blue top and which tasted nothing like modern orange juice (but we were none the wiser, as few of us had ever seen an orange let alone tasted one) but which was generally regarded as having health-giving properties.


Quote of the day

A bit harsh, perhaps?  From The Times (here):
... there is a terrible flatness to politics at the moment and that is because nobody has any idea who the next prime minister will be. Or even has the decency to speculate.
And it is mostly because we have been lumbered with this deathly, humourless, stooping technocrat for a leader. This twitchy, joyless crow. This Ealing Comedy headmistress with a gift for joke-telling that makes Thatcher look like Victoria Wood. Theresa May is so lustreless, so derivative, so repetitive, so wooden, so without hinterland, family, identity, sex, passion or wisdom, so bereft of anything like a mantle that might be passed on, that nobody, literally nobody, ever talks of who her successor might be. She is such a big, tall, pointless pot of low-fat yoghurt that there is no sense of her having anything worth inheriting or wrestling from her, bar her jewellery and the occasional pair of shoes.
 I guess the honeymoon is nearing the end ...


23 September 2016

Can we take BoJo seriously?

Is he speaking with all the authority of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?  Or is he simply opening his mouth and letting his belly rumble?  The BBC reports:
The UK will "probably" begin formal negotiations to leave the European Union early in 2017, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has told the BBC.
The foreign secretary said it was still "subject for discussion" but the "Article 50 letter" would be produced "probably in the early part" of 2017.
But Number 10 said the government's position had not changed and Article 50 would not be triggered in 2016.
PM Theresa May has not yet given a clear statement on when it will begin.
Asked about Mr Johnson's comments, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said the government position on when it would trigger Article 50 was "not before the end of this year".
"The decision is hers [Mrs May's] and she will do that at a time which is most likely to get the best deal for Britain," the spokeswoman added.
That would appear to set Johnson's gas at a peep ...

22 September 2016

Spies are us

Austerity?  What?  Not when it comes to the intelligence services.  The Times reports:
MI6 is recruiting almost a thousand spies to fight global terrorism and exploit the potential of the digital age.
The recruits will increase the size of the force from 2,500 intelligence officers and analysts to nearly 3,500 by the end of the decade.
Details of the recruitment drive emerged as Alex Younger, head of MI6, described the digital age as an “existential threat and a golden opportunity”. In rare public comments, he predicted that within five years the intelligence services would have to learn to combine information from data analysis, the internet and other forms of digital technology with traditional human intelligence — or face failure.
In my naivety, I had rather assumed that the services had already learned to combine information in the manner suggested.  But I suppose the internet has only been around for 20 years or so ...