27 February 2009

Quote of the day

Larry Elliott in The Guardian (here):
Public fury at Goodwin and the other failed bank chiefs is inevitable, but a diversion from the big issue: that policymakers are rapidly running out of road in their attempts to pull the global economy out of its nosedive. There is little agreement on what marks the difference between a recession and a depression, but the one put forward by Stephen Lewis of Monument Securities is as good as any. A recession is where policy works; a depression is where it doesn't.

You think policy is working? Here or anywhere else? That poiticians or bankers know what they're doing?

Thought not.

26 February 2009

Pedantry can be fun

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. At FMQs today, young Mr Gray rather blotted his copybook:
"It was him who defended short selling ..."
and then compounded his error by repeating "it was him" four times.

Is that the kind of education you get nowadays at Watson's?

Update (8.50 am, Friday):

Interesting to note that the Official Report of the parliament's proceedings has corrected Mr Gray's grammar by replacing "it was him" with "it was he" on each occasion it appears.

String him up?

A £650,000 pension every year for the rest of your life may seem a lot, but I suppose that it is not necessarily out of proportion for a man who, while working, earned £1.3 million in basic salary plus £2.7 million as bonus. One might also wonder who it was that approved this pension arrangement.

But, look, we need a villain and Sir Fred fits the bill rather neatly. So where is the nearest lamp-post?

25 February 2009

Referendum conundrum

Much talk this morning in the public prints (here in The Scotsman and here in The Times) of three question referendums.

How does that work then? If you have three options, what happens if option A attracts 37% support, option B attracts 33% and option C 30%?

I suppose that you could rank them in logical fashion. If not A, then B or C; if not B, then A or C; if not C then A or B. Alternatively, you could rank them by preference - vote 1, 2 or 3 to each option and the recast the votes of the bottom-scoring option on the basis of second preferences.

But, in terms of identifying the option commanding the whole-hearted support of the people, it all seems rather unsatisfactory ...

23 February 2009

Quote of the day

For all our sakes, let us hope that this report in The Independent is an exaggeration:
According to reports from No. 10, the atmosphere is sulphurous. There are a lot of difficult decisions to be taken. For the key civil servants, this means endless, gruelling, stamina-sapping days of hard thinking on little sleep. Even under the calmest PM, that would be a stressful business, and there is nothing calm about Mr Brown. His constant foul temper makes everything much harder than it need be. Junior officials are afraid to speak their minds. Vital stocks of nervous energy are diverted, to the task of hating the boss. Meanwhile the boss micromanages and dithers. Mr Brown lays claim to morality. During the gravest crisis in modern peacetime history, he is running his government in a profoundly immoral fashion. There is a further problem. As the risible 100 per cent mortgage pledge revealed, Mr Brown’s main priorities are not economic. They are electoral. He is determined to exploit the G20 summit in April to enhance his prestige.

22 February 2009

The bank bail-out goes on ...

... and will this bout of throwing money at the banks be any more successful than on previous occasions? The Sunday Times reports:
A further £500 billion of taxpayers’ money is to be pumped into the banks through a slew of initiatives to be announced this week.
The Bank of England will launch its so-called “quantitative-easing” plan, in which at least £100 billion will be spent on buying bonds and gilts from Britain’s banks. The final figure could climb much higher, according to economists.
The government will also launch its controversial asset-protection scheme, which is expected to protect at least £400 billion of “toxic” loans with a taxpayers’ guarantee.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister is thinking about banning 100% mortgages. Nothing like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. And, anyway, where could you get a 100% mortgage these days?

21 February 2009

The trams

We might as well face it: some things are just not meant to be. The Scotsman reports on the latest controversy to hit the trams:

FAILURE to resolve quickly this latest controversy in Edinburgh's £512 million tram project could break up the construction consortium, send costs spiralling and plunge the city council into a financial crisis.
Out-of-the-blue demands for between £50 million and £80 million from the consortium comprising German giant Bilfinger Berger, Siemens and CAF could hardly have come at a worse time – two days before final arrangements were made to close Princes Street from today. The precise reasons for the demand – and its costing – are unclear. But sources familiar with the situation say that Siemens is furious at the potential delay and could pull out if there is no early resolution.

Would a pull-out be the end of the world? If the tram project never came to fruition, would anyone be really upset? OK, oodles of money have already been spent but why throw good money after bad?

15 February 2009

Quote of the day

From The Sunday Independent (here):
"So," said Alice to the Mad Banker, "let me get this right. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which lost £28bn and is kept from bankruptcy by taxpayers' money, will pay staff £1bn in bonuses; people at the organisation that looks after government cash in bailed-out banks will get bonuses; so will staff at the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the very people charged with reining in bonus culture; and Merrill Lynch, which lost $27bn (£19bn) last year, will pay $3.6bn in bonuses and make instant millionaires of no fewer than 700 staff?" The Mad Banker puffed out his chest. "Correct," he said. "More tea?"

It's a mad, mad world out there.

13 February 2009

Probably just as well ...

Are you a wallflower? Never get invited anywhere? Then look at all those senior Whitehall civil servants with their noses in the trough. The Times reports:
Senior civil servants responsible for contracts worth billions of pounds accepted tickets to Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower Show and the opera from firms carrying out government work. It is the first time that the scale of hospitality accepted by senior officials has been revealed.
Fujitsu, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – IT, consulting and auditing firms with contracts across Whitehall – top the hospitality league. The entertainment, sanctioned under Civil Service rules, reveals the close relations between departments and the companies they employ. Defence officials accepted 221 dinners and invitations in a year, many from arms companies and subcontractors.

The full list is here.

There is, however, one Whitehall department that seems to have resisted the blandishments. I refer of course to our own dear Scotland Office. I would like to say that this reflects Scottish prudence; but it seems more likely that no-one bothered to invite them anywhere.

12 February 2009

A long-suffering fan writes ...

How long do we have to put up with this? Nobody expects the Scottish rugby team to win a grand slam every year - or even every other year. But is it unreasonable to want the lads to play with a bit of conviction, to put on a show for the long-suffering fans in their expensive Murrayfield seats?

Mr Hadden talks a lot but makes little sense. Players (such as Strokosch) are consigned to the outer darkness (for the match against Wales) and then suddenly recalled (for the match against France); after his own recall against Wales, Hogg is the latest to feel the weight of official opprobrium. Lamont, one of the few to inspire the crowd in recent years, is rejected after one game where he did not shine. Paterson, our best player (arguably) and our best place-kicker (certainly), is left on the bench. Players are played out of position (Dickinson, Hogg, White). And we have a stand-off who has yet to convince anybody that he is international material.

The proven coaches (Robinson and Lineen) seem to have been disappeared off the scene, while the new backs' coach (Townsend) has no coaching experience.

Mr Hadden has been the head bottle-washer for a number of years now. Initially, his reign benefited from comparisons with his predecessor, a mad antipodean with most peculiar ideas of coaching. But, in recent years, Mr Hadden seems to have lost it - whatever it is. He no longer seems to know what his best team is, he seems in thrall to the media pundits and he has lost any capacity to inspire the team he chooses. And the results have been mediocre.

Time for a change?

11 February 2009

On not flogging a dead horse

Is the SNP becoming sensible? Local Income Tax might be a proposition for the longer term but, in present circumstances and for all the reasons adduced here and elsewhere, it was a non-starter. So credit to the Scottish administration for abandoning a hopeless cause, at least for the next couple of years.

But I hope that they do not simply throw it in a drawer, with a view to resurrection after the next election. Everyone - from all political quarters - recognises that the present council tax system is far from perfect. On the other hand, LIT needs a lot of work before becoming acceptable.

And Labour need not relax either. Before the next election, they have to come up with some sort of credible proposals for reform of local government finance, involving rather more than fiddling about with council tax bands. The Burt Report might be a good starting point ...

10 February 2009

It's a rough old world

The First Minister's night of the sgian dubh is a reminder of the sheer brutality of political life.

It is understandable that, in circumstances of egregious error or malfeasance, a Minister may be obliged to fall on his sword. But that does not appear to be the case for today's three sackings.

Not that we will ever have a full explanation - are they carrying the can for wider difficulties? or not really up to the job? Or is it simply that their faces don't fit? And did they truly deserve such public defenestration?

So, regardless of political allegiances, my sympathies to Ms Fabiani, Ms Watt and Mr Maxwell.

The merry-go-round

Don't cry for Chelsea's Big Phil:

The Brazilian will be paid the remaining 18 months of his contract, totalling about £7.5m ...

Source: here

08 February 2009

Bankers wonder why the rest of us are annoyed

Do you feel appeased? The Sunday Telegraph spells it out:
In an attempt to appease ministers, RBS has indicated that no individual banker will receive a bonus with a cash element of more than £25,000 under its plans.
The remainder of the bonuses, to be paid next month, will be in RBS shares, with a large proportion of them deferred or not paid at all if an employee leaves RBS within an agreed period, or if their area of the bank makes significant losses in the following two years.
The bank has decided it will not pay any bonuses to employees who work in loss-making areas of the business. UKFI, which is led by John Kingman, a senior Treasury official, is considering the proposals.
About half of the bank’s “bonus pool” will consist of payments that RBS believes it is contractually obliged to pay. Much of this sum will be paid to employees of ABN Amro, the Dutch banking group for which RBS is now acknowledged to have overpaid at the height of the banking boom. The proposed remaining bonus pool, worth about £500 million, is discretionary.


President Obama decides that the remuneration of bankers helped by the US Government should be capped at $500,000 per year.

President Sarkozy decides that bankers helped by the French Government should not get bonuses.

PM Brown and Chancellor Darling decide to set up a review of bank management, including their remuneration arrangements, which will report sometime ... Which, when you come to think about it, is not really a decision at all.

07 February 2009

Mamma mia!

We all have our dirty little secrets, things we know we shouldn't do but nevertheless like to do when no-one else is watching. Some of them are more shameful than others but, provided they do no harm to other people, that is not necessarily a matter for guilt. Me, I have a passion for ... - well, if I told you, it would no longer be a secret.

Anyway, the point is that, if Vladi has a thing for Agnetha and Anni-Frid, that's OK. I quite like them too. And it's less offensive than invading Georgia.

06 February 2009

Doing religion

There is no point in getting upset. The man has form, after all. You may find it nauseating in the extreme but, let's face it, God loves him. The Independent reports:
Tony Blair gave an extraordinary speech about the global importance of religion yesterday, telling an audience which included the newly-inaugurated President, Barack Obama, that faith should be restored "to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future."
The former prime minister also said he believed the 21st century would be "poorer in spirit" and "meaner in ambition" if it was not "under the guardianship of faith in God." He had been invited by President Obama to lead the prestigious US National Prayer Breakfast, a spectacular event in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Mr Blair also managed to rain on Gordon Brown's parade, meeting the President before any European leader. He dashed ahead of the Prime Minister and other political heavyweights, including Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin, to lay on the hands and tell the President: "It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country's history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God's work and follow God's will."

Sucking up to US presidents and bleating about God - it's what Blair does.

04 February 2009

Quote of the day

President Obama, as reported by the BBC:
But in his TV interviews Mr Obama said he regretted the way he had handled the case.
"I've got to own up to my mistake which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules," he told NBC news.
"You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes."
"I think I screwed up," he told CNN. "And, you know, I take responsibility for it and we're going to make sure we fix it so it doesn't happen again."

Speedy, unequivocal, personal.

How unlike our own dear leader, who never apologises for anything, whether it's boom and bust or being best-placed to weather the economic storms.

01 February 2009

Bait and switch

Are we expected to be satisfied with this outcome? The Sunday Times reports:
PEERS who avoid tax or have criminal convictions - such as Lord Archer and Lord Black - are to be expelled from the House of Lords in the wake of the lords for hire scandal.
The reforms are being drawn up by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, in an attempt to restore the Lords’ battered reputation after last weekend’s revelations in The Sunday Times. He plans to enact the legislation necessary to expel them before the general election, which has to be held by May next year.
Peers who are “non-domiciled” or “non-resident” for tax purposes - there are thought to be at least seven - will lose their seats, as will those who have been convicted of a serious criminal offence.

All very good and not before time, some might say. But what about influence-peddling, the sin which has most recently battered the Lords' reputation? Or the contibutory habit of governments of all stripes of appointing political hacks to the upper house regardless of merit?