29 July 2011
Are there that many parents in Edinburgh that can afford to send their kids to fee-paying schools?
Above is a graph of the price of shares in Lloyds Bank Group over the last 12 months. As a taxpayer, I am appalled; the original Government stake was valued at over 70 pence per share; if those shares were sold today they would be worth less than 44 pence per share.
Worse. Foolish virgin that I am, I bought Lloyds' shares last October when they had declined to 70 pence. It could only get better, I thought. Doh ...
Of course, they could go up again? But when and by how much?
Betting is a mug's game. (And, this time, guess who is the mug ...)
28 July 2011
(I should record that I was not a complete novice at the typing, having typed all my university essays. But the idea that an admnistrator, even a trainee, would do his own typing was far beyond the pale.)
Of course there were occasions when material had to be produced in multiple copies, for example, in servicing committees. In the absence of photocopiers, special arrangements had to be made. The typist had to type what was known as a stencil, whereby the letters would be punched through a special kind of cloth paper; this would be fed through a machine which - essentially - sprayed ink through the holes in the stencil onto normal paper. You could run off multiple copies at a rate of three or four per minute. Again this set a premium on the accuracy of the typist. And due to the chemicals involved it was a smelly business.
The boss class of course had their own typists, called secretaries. Yes, I know they had other duties to do, but their main task in life was to be a typist. (I should know - I married one.) The boss’s secretary was a key member of the division; in an emergency, if you had kept on her right side, she might just be persuaded to type that urgent memo. If you upset her, then you would be told that she had more urgent stuff than your petty considerations. And, as she oversaw the written material going into her boss, she knew who was competent and who was not. Who knew what she told the boss?
There was of course a means of making the priority clear to the typing pool: you could attach a red ‘Immediate’ tag or a (useless) green ‘Urgent’ tag, a rather pointless square inch of paper, which you pinned to the folder in which you sent your manuscript to the pool. That meant it took two days to come back rather than three. In order to ensure a speedier turn around, you had to wheedle the pool supervisor, a task which could be more pleasant or less, depending on the lady concerned.
It amazes me that we ever got anything done on time, given that just about everything had to be inscribed on paper. But somehow we managed, and I rather doubt that we were less efficient than today’s service with all its computers and e-mail. Some day, I’ll tell you about the introduction of photocopiers, and why the annual fisheries statistics were produced four weeks earlier in the 1890s than they are today …
26 July 2011
... a third Greek bailout looks like only a matter of time. Get ready for more bitter rows over how the pain should be distributed between holders of Greek bonds and the taxpayers of other eurozone countries. That is no way to encourage companies to invest or consumers to spend – but it is the way to try the patience of German taxpayers.
The second problem is the design of the European financial stability facility – the rescue fund that is to be the first line of defence against speculative attacks. But how would Italy and Spain be defended in practice? The EFSF has been handed powers to intervene but no new cash. A fighting fund would have to be raised by passing the hat round member states – a challenge that looks a tall order today.
Eurozone leaders, one assumes, believed they were buying themselves some space to address this defect. To judge by yesterday's bond prices, they have less time than they thought.
I do wish they would get it right.
Here is the BBC:
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 0.2% in the second quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics.And The Telegraph:
So the economists were right – GDP grew just 0.2pc in the second quarter of this year.And The Guardian:
The UK economy grew by 0.2% in the last quarter.And The Independent is even worse:
Britain's economy slowed between April and June after new figures today showed the UK grew by 0.2% in the quarter.What has actually happened is that GDP for the second quarter is 0.2% up on GDP for the first quarter, which is not the same thing at all.
24 July 2011
Many years ago, I had occasion to visit the Western Isles regularly, on official business, and I developed a taste for it. Freezes beautifully and you can buy it online here.
This is an entirely gratuitous recommendation, for which - alas - I will receive no recompense in either cash or kind. My only consolation is that it really is the food of the gods.
23 July 2011
The paper's chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck ... had called on Mr Taylor inquiring whether he was having an extra-marital affair with his legal adviser Jo Armstrong. He was not.
The mistake arose because Ms Armstrong had left Mr Taylor a message thanking him for the previous day. The sleazy NOTW hacks thought that Ms Armstrong was thanking him for bedding her; she was actually thanking him for speaking at her father's funeral.
And so the filthy minds of those at the News of the Screws not only led them ultimately into a pay-off of over £600,000 but also failed to provide them with a story they could publish in their comic. There's a certain justice in that.
22 July 2011
So that went well. A month ago tomorrow, President Obama surprised world markets by persuading the International Energy Agency to release some of its oil reserves for only the third time in its 37-year history. The oil price immediately slipped back from about $113 a barrel to about $103.Hey, things could be worse. (But not much worse.) Meanwhile don't expect a reduction in the price of petrol.
Job done? Well, not really – we were back to $118 or so yesterday, when the IEA announced it would not extend the initiative, which was initially slated to last a month. If the aim of the US-led release was to bring down oil prices, it was successful for all of a fortnight.
Thus the Murdochs after their parliamentary appearance: all questions answered, more or less satisfactorily. Time to move on, they must have thought. Then it emerges that young James - allegedly - did not get one of the answers quite right. Two of those said not to have done something now claim that they had indeed done that something. Then there is the mysterious computer left in the car-park; where exactly are the police going with that?
Similarly, after his parliamentary tour de force, Cameron must have breathed a sigh of relief. Matter dealt with, at least for the couple of months of the parliamentary recess. But new questions keep emerging; he is now under pressure on the issue of Coulson’s security vetting.
Then we have the entirely different issue of the EU’s apparent agreement on what to do about Greece and the wider problems of sovereign debt. A complicated issue and a complicated response. But how long before it starts to unravel (like all the previous agreements on this matter)?
We should not be surprised: entropy is an entirely natural process. Those afflicted with scandal simply need to keep on keeping on, in the hope that eventually we will grow tired of the story and all its ramifications. But in the case of phone-hacking, as in the case of the Eurozone sovereign debt problem, there is a long way to go before the stories get put to bed.
21 July 2011
... it was a decent thing to accept Coulson's word – which has not yet been disproved – and to give him what Cameron called a second chance. But, as one of my senior colleagues in the Lords observed: "He's the prime minister, not a bloody probation officer."
Did Cameron discuss the News International bid to acquire BSkyB with News International bosses? Cameron answered that he had never had any “inappropriate conversation” with News International people. This of course leaves open the possibility that he might have had appropriate conversations. And the definition of “inappropriate conversation”? Well, that would have been a conversation which might have influenced the government’s decision on the bid. And as Cameron had ruled himself out of the government’s consideration of the bid, any conversation he did have could be deemed “appropriate”.
Another example. An MP claims that senior figures at Buckingham Palace warned Cameron about the appointment of Coulson. Buck House responds that “On no occasion did any officials from Buckingham Palace raise concerns to Downing Street”. This leaves open the possibility that the warning came from one of the royals themselves (or indeed that the warning came from royal officials based in one of the other royal households).
20 July 2011
And our MPs didn’t let us down, although only Mr Watson seemed to have a firm grip of what was going on. (Thankfully, we were spared the potential embarrassment of a contribution from Cathy Jamieson.) As for Keith Vaz, one can only marvel at his sheer sleekitness.
Freedland in The Guardian summed it up quite well:
Most dramatists would be happy with a plot that unmasked skulduggery inside the world's most powerful media organisation. That would be plenty. But this one has taken in the Metropolitan police, felling the commissioner and one of his most senior lieutenants, and seems to be getting ever closer to Downing Street. Resignations that, if they had come singly would have dominated the news for a week, have come in clusters, with three of the biggest last weekend. The pace has been dizzying.And what are we to make of the e-mail from Cameron’s chief of staff and Etonian pal, Ed Llewellyn (yet another Ed in the saga), to Yates of the Yard, in which he said:
"On the other matters that have caught your attention this week, assuming we are thinking of the same thing, I am sure you will understand that we will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject.Too damn clever for his own good, that lad.
"So I don't think it would really be appropriate for the PM, or anyone else at No 10, to discuss this issue with you, and would be grateful if it were not raised, please.
Then we have all these policemen resigning with their intact integrities, even though like modern-day Macavities, they were never quite at the scene of the crimes. I wonder what DI Regan would have made of it.
Today the focus will move on to the House of Commons, where the beleaguered Mr Cameron will attempt to repel boarders once again. But who knows what twists and turns lie in wait?
19 July 2011
They will no doubt be broadcast live on the parliamentary and news channels.
18 July 2011
Yates, I'm told, has no intention of resigning and would only do so if his judgement is found wanting by the official inquiry led by Judge Leveson (sic).Nick Robinson at 2.36 pm this afternoon:
John Yates' defiance didn't last long.
He has resigned, I am told, after being informed that he would be suspended pending an inquiry into his relationship with Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World.
Where will it all end?
All right, I'm a punk. (Tell us something we didn't know - Ed)
No, I'm a brewdog punk, having invested in the company first time round and having now added to my shareholding. (Moi, a capitalist?)
The story is explained in The Scotsman.
There is still time to buy shares, if you are so inclined. Go here, but remember shares can go down as well as up.
17 July 2011
And just because the Commissioner's chum, the Wolfman, was also associated with the administration of the resort should not be taken as an indication of anything untoward, even if the latter has now been arrested in connection with the hacking investigation.
It is possible that the Commissioner has perhaps been slightly careless in his choice of dining and drinking companions, but hey it's a high pressure job being the UK's top rozzer and he should be permitted to relax from time to time in company of his own choosing.
I am utterly confident (well almost) that Sir Paul will be able to explain things to everyone's satisfaction and that he will be able to continue running the Met as effectively and efficiently as he has heretofore.
I’m not helped by the air of panic around the place. The atmosphere in Downing Street has been getting steadily worse over the past fortnight. For example, on Monday I was sitting quietly with the Boss, minding my own business, as we cats are wont to do, when Sam suddenly went off the deep end. She told the Boss that she’d had enough of “that bloody woman”; it was bad enough that being forced to socialise with the bitch had ruined Christmas, but now the Boss’s refusal to dump her was making him a laughing stock. Did he not realise that she was just another social-climbing parvenue? And, as for that little creep, James … Worried that she might start throwing things, I took myself off and found a convenient bolt-hole under Hilts’ desk. He’s usually a laid-back character (bare feet and jeans, unlike the other flunkies) and, surprisingly, he’s been particularly cheerful this week.
A day later, I heard the Boss on the phone: “Look Beks, it’s only temporary. In time, we’ll be able to get back together ... I’m sorry you feel like that about it ... No, it’s not the end of the world … Honest, babes, there’s nothing else I can do … Beks, Beks, try to understand …” The phone call ended abruptly.
I ask you, how is a cat supposed to concentrate with all this foolishness going on? Anyway, to get back to my problem. I’ve got to find a way to get into Osborne’s office and deal with his newly acquired budgie. I’m a conservative cat, after all - it is my role in life to destroy the lower orders.
16 July 2011
This is an obsession. Maybe it explains why government has frequently appeared to blunder along, not thinking things through then u-turning when trouble arose.
The document [produced by No 10] reveals that since May 2011 [I think they mean May 2010] Mr Cameron had 15 private meetings with News International executives and editors.
In addition he attended three parties held by News International in the past 14 months and attended five events organised by the company. In contrast he met executives from Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail, only four times, Guardian Newspapers twice, and The Independent and Standard three times. One of those meetings was with the proprietor of The Independent, Evgeny Lebedev.After News International, the most meetings took place with the Telegraph group, who met Mr Cameron seven times since May.
15 July 2011
So farewell flame-haired Rebekah, friend of prime ministers (albeit only one at a time) and daughter presumptive of the Dirty Digger (not quite family though when it came down to brass tacks).
You came far from humble beginnings but perhaps you pushed the envelope a little too far. What the hell, I imagine that we will read about you again.
14 July 2011
Well they would object, wouldn't they. They prefer the present regime, where the government (and the taxpayer) is obliged to step in and bail them out when they get into trouble. Casino banking might not be as much fun if the casino banks had to face the consequences of their gambling.
Britain's banks have lined up to oppose reforms proposed by the Government's Independent Commission on Banking (ICB).
In submissions to the ICB, the "big four" banks – Barclays, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – raised objections or tried to buy time on the ICB's proposals.
The key bone of contention is the ICB's call for ring-fencing of retail and investment banking to protect economically vital functions from trading and other volatile activities.
13 July 2011
But the House of Representatives remains focused on the important issue of light bulbs. The Guardian reports:
A Republican campaign to defend America against a sweeping assault on personal freedoms – or energy-saving lightbulbs as they are more commonly known – went down in defeat on Tuesday night.
The result is a rejection of one of the great causes of the conservative Tea Party movement: the repeal of a 2007 law promoting environmentally efficient lighting.
And they wonder why there is a darkness across the land ...
11 July 2011
Oh dear ...
"The government ceased to exist months ago," wrote Massimo Giannini in La Repubblica.
"What other country would allow itself the suicidal luxury of offering cynical markets such a spectacle of political disintegration and institutional decay at a time when Europe is destabilized by Greece's sovereign debt and haunted by contagion? We have a band of poltroons dancing under the volcano, and the volcano is about to erupt."
It was also reported today that victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York could also be among those targeted by phone hackers from the News of the World. The Daily Mirror cites an unnamed source claiming that a former police officer, working as a private investigator, was asked by News of the World journalists to retrieve the private phone records of those killed in the attack.The American people, Congress, media will not be pleased. And if the FBI begins to investigate, then who knows where it might lead ...
10 July 2011
Rupert Murdoch has thrown his weight behind his beleaguered management team as he prepared to fly to Britain to deal with the crisis engulfing News International (NI). Expressing his "total" support for NI's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, he said: "I'm not throwing innocent people under the bus."Unless of course those innocent people are the hapless employees of the News of the World, in which case under the bus is precisely where they'll go ...
09 July 2011
"He’s a real nowhere manDavid Cameron. No more glad morning. Not any more.
Living in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans
Forced by political expediency to get rid of his chum, Coulson. And worse, to assign him the black spot. Now worrying about what Coulson will tell the police or worse the media; what has Coulson to lose, after all?
Forced to deny his dining companion, Rebekah. Fun while it lasted, but she’ll never forgive him his betrayal.
Who can he turn to? His cabinet? He’s hung too many out on the line to expect loyalty. Clarke, Hague, Hunt, Fox, Lansley - they don’t owe him anything. Osborne? His eyes are on the succession.
His media pals? Even The Telegraph and The Daily Mail are putting the boot in. And he can no longer expect favours from Murdoch.
He meant to do well. He tried, oh so hard, to be the leader people could respect, even admire.
They say that all political careers end in failure. Cameron is no exception …
British Gas has stunned households across the UK by announcing a rise in gas and electricity prices of 18% and 16%, just eight months after it raised its prices by 7%.British Gas is part of Centrica. According to its annual accounts for 2010, Centrica made a profit of £1,942 million, up from £856 million in 2009.
08 July 2011
As Tom Watson said, the chairman of the board, James Murdoch, personally authorised payments to cover up criminal behaviour – possibly committed by the police. So the police kick down his door and try to arrest Murdoch – but he resists and tries a citizen's arrest on the police, for the same thing they were arresting him for. They careen down the road to the Old Bailey, and all end up in the same cells. Hopelessly romantic, I agree.
07 July 2011
So ta ta to the News of the Screws. I can't say that the toxic mixture of prurience and dubious morality ever appealed to me.
Some have suggested that this comic simply died of shame. Seems improbable: a sense of shame implies having a conscience, not a feeling with which the NotW is usually associated.
Others have suggested that News International hoped to clear the way for the Murdochs' takeover of BSkyB. If so, it has failed, at least for now - the Government is using the excuse of the multitude of representations to defer the decision until autumn.
Or perhaps the NotW has been sacrificed in order to protect the flame-haired Rebekah, whose continued presence helpfully prevents the searchlight being focused upon the Murdoch family.
Of course, it may simply be a ploy, whereby the NotW will be replaced by the Sun-on-Sunday and everything will settle back to normal.
Maybe a combination of all of these? Watch this space. The story has legs ...
06 July 2011
Moody's downgraded Portugal's long-term bonds to junk status Ba2 from Baa1, on grounds that the eurozone bailout in May was unlikely to succeed, that Lisbon would not be fit to return to the markets to fund itself by 2013, and would need a second bailout then, that it was unlikely to meet the austerity targets of the current bailout, and that private creditors would be under pressure from eurozone governments to take a "haircut" or substantial losses on their investments.
Moody's analysis replicated for Portugal almost exactly what has happened in Greece over the past six weeks, suggesting that without decisive action from the big European players, of which there is scant sign, the euro's woes were multiplying.
Case proved? Or at least strengthened? (Ireland is likely to be next ...unless the whole shooting match goes up in flames.)
05 July 2011
Rebekah Brooks has confirmed she is not stepping down as chief executive of News International.Does a competent newspaper editor have no idea of what her reporters are up to? Does she not ask about the source of the stories that appear in her newspaper? Is it "inconceivable" that she knew what was going on?
In a statement to News International staff she said: "I am sickened that these events are alleged to have happened. Not just because I was Editor of the News of the World at the time, but if the accusations are true, the devastating effect on Milly Dowlers family is unforgivable."
"If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour.
"I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations."
And, anyway, where does the buck stop?
David Cameron said it was a "truly dreadful act" ...Mmm... Not so dreadful, it would appear, that Mr Cameron would block Rupert Murdoch's bid to gain full control of BSkyB.
The Independent has a "best of" feature in which it identifies the 10 (or the 50) best examples of a particular product, such as cameras, fish and chip shops, fountain pens, handbags and so on.
This morning, it has surpassed itself. The topic of this morning's "best of" is - believe it or not - men's washbags. How unexciting can you get?
And some poor sod of a journo has had to trail through the internet selecting appropriate examples. What a glamorous occupation!
03 July 2011
Havana, many years ago. I checked into the Ambos Mundos Hotel (yeah, yeah, Hemingway and all that). Dumped my gear in the room and went down to the bar on the ground floor and ordered a mojito. About 7 pm, early for Cuban nightlife. Relaxed for the first time that day and admired the classy decor of the bar and the high windows. A slim, elegant, Cuban beauty - dark hair, dark eyes, honey-coloured skin - was playing the piano, a mixture of jazz and modern classics. I motioned the bartender to provide the lady with a drink, inevitably a mojito. She offered me a shy smile, a smile I will remember until I die.
She was not playing this kind of music, but it nevertheless brings back the memories of Cuba. They say you can never recapture the good times and Cuba will change, and not necessarily for the better. But I will always be grateful for the privilege of visiting a wonderful country which if far from perfect had much to admire, not least the Cuban people.
(Jeez, what a poseur ! - Ed)
02 July 2011
01 July 2011
Cameron: I despair of this country, sometimes, I really do. People seem to have this misconception that we're trying to divide the country. It seems self-evidently fair that if hardworking mums and dads in the private sector have had their pensions buggered by financial mismanagement, then it's only right to screw the public sector pensions even if they are affordable.
Osborne: Not ours, I hope, Cams.
Cameron: Good Lord, no, Ozzy. We can't go around U-turning on everything . . .
Clegg: We've got to stop all this confrontation. I need to explain to the public sector why it's in their interest to die poor. People trust me, so they will listen. I promise.
Cameron: Did the Cleggster speak?
Osborne: I don't think so.
Milidee: We in the Labour party also want to make it clear that we really hate striking trade unionists and anyone who doesn't read the Daily Mail.
Wen Jiabao: You British politicians all look the same to me.
Britain: They do to us, too.