28 July 2016

The plot thickens

So my old boss from my time in Brussels, Michel Barnier, has been appointed as the European Commission's Brexit negotiator.  The Guardian reports:
A veteran French politician and experienced Brussels insider who has repeatedly clashed with the City of London over financial services reforms is to lead talks on Britain’s exit from the EU.
The president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he had wanted an experienced politician for an “important and challenging job” as he announced the appointment of Michel Barnier, a former EU commissioner. Barnier would “help us develop a new partnership with the UK”, he said.
A member of France’s centre-right Les RĂ©publicains (formerly UMP) party, Barnier, a former French cabinet minister, will take up his post on 1 October. He said in a tweet he was “honoured to be entrusted” with such a demanding task. The appointment will be viewed with some apprehension in London.
All very well, but a quick glance at Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty suggests that it is the European Council, rather than the European Commission, which is mainly responsible for the negotiations.  Possibility of a turf war between Tusk and Juncker?


27 July 2016

Go figure ...

The FTSE 100 has risen by 20 points to 6744, a level last seen in August 2015.
Now over 6761.


And the Fairy Queen offered three options to Prime Minister May ...

Option 1

Go for a hard Brexit, securing controls on immigration but abandoning hopes of access to the single market.

The likes of Liam Fox, Andre Leadsom and Priti Patel would cheer but the business lobby (and the bulk of Tory donors) would disapprove, not to mention London, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  And there might be nasty economic repercussions.  Would it command the support of the Commons?

Option 2

Go for a soft Brexit, securing access to  the single market but at the expense of free movement of labour (perhaps with minimal concessions) and payments into the EU, some kind of arrangement not dissimilar to Norway or Switzerland

The Tory right wing would scream betrayal, endangering the already slim Tory majority. And the people might ask what was the point of the whole exercise.

Option 3

Keep on delaying the invocation of Article 50 in the hope that something - a general election? the collapse of the euro?  Jean-Claude Juncker falling under a bus? - turns up.  In other words, kicking the can down the road.

Nobody would be happy, particularly in the light of the continuing uncertainty, but they might be less unhappy than would otherwise be the case.

No easy answers then.  But sooner rather than later, Mrs May will have to choose.


26 July 2016

See bankers!

The customer is a sponge that you keep on squeezing.  The Guardian reports:
A major high street bank has paved the way for the introduction of negative interest rates for the first time in Britain by warning customers it may have to charge them to accept deposits.
The warning by NatWest was made in a letter changing the terms and conditions for the bank’s 850,000 business customers, which range from self-employed traders, charities and clubs to big corporations.
It could mean that an account holder with £1,000 in a NatWest account could see that shrink to £999 or less the following year as the bank charges a negative rate of interest.
Well, it's obvious.  They are not making enough from the charges associated with overdrafts and mortgages (no chance of those interest rates falling anywhere near zero).  Nor from their gouging on exchange rates for foreign currency.  Besides, they have to keep paying exorbitant remuneration to their top executives.


23 July 2016

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Humility squared.  From  The Times (here):

Donald Trump is now the official Republican candidate for the presidency. Even when he is trying to be modest he has to outdo everyone else. Interviewed by CBS at the party convention, Trump disagreed with the suggestion that he is smug. “I think I am humble,” he said. “I’m much more humble than you would understand.”


Smoking and France

From time to time, I  have indulged in a French ciggie or two.  The romance, the Left Bank chic, the je ne sais quoi, they have all seduced me into endangering my health.  But now the health fascists are going to  put a stop to it, by banning those brands seen as cool.

The Guardian bewails these developments:
Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte, Brigitte Bardot, Django Reinhardt, Albert CamusAlain BashungJean Paul SartreCatherine DeneuveBĂ©atrice Dalle.
All are a bit sullen. All are a bit broken – all a bit twisted, a bit nihilistic, a bit dark. All have been known for their chain-smoking. You light a cancer stick, and you get to meditate on your own life going up in smoke. It may be appalling, but this aesthetic – just in case you’ve never seen our arthouse movies – feels very French.
To make matters worse, it also neatly embodies the rejection of a broader society constantly promoting self-betterment – which, judging by the output of “life coaches” and other charlatans everywhere, has never been conducive to good art, let alone a jovial debate between friends at a terrace with a pastis and a few smokes. And – did I mention? – French people don’t like to be told what to do.
Moi, non plus, even if I received clearance yesterday that, following a CT scan, my lungs were OK.  So from time to time I may buy a pack of Gauloises (sans filtre obviously) ...



18 July 2016

A week is a long time in politics

11 July: Theresa May says that the government will block takeovers of key UK companies.

18 July: Government Ministers welcome takeover of Arm, one of the UK's most important technology companies


15 July 2016

Smile of the day



Culling the deadbeats

She's enjoying herself:
Theresa May bounced into her Westminster office. She could have just sacked the dead wood over the phone like most prime ministers have done, but why deny herself the pleasure of doing it in person? First in the queue outside her door was Michael Gove.
“Hello, you treacherous little shit,” she said, evenly. “I’ve never liked you. Let alone trusted you. You’re fired.”
“Please don’t,” Mikey whimpered. “Sarah will kill me if I come back with nothing. I’ll do anything. Junior minister in transport...”
Next was Nicky Morgan. “Can you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t get rid of you?” Theresa snapped. Nicky’s mouth opened and closed without saying anything. Same as it always did.
In came Oliver Letwin. “You’re sacked.”
“Really? I didn’t even know I had a job.” Oliver had never been the most worldly of politicians.


14 July 2016

A ticking timebomb

The point about a timebomb is that it is set to go off at a specific time.  Boris, on the other hand, teeters along the high wire, likely to fall off at any moment.

A foreign secretary with a lust for self-destruction?  I doubt if he will last until Christmas.


13 July 2016

Just a thought

   h/t George

Smile of the day



Quote of the day

From Ruth Davidson (here):

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, made fun of former party leadership hopefuls Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson during a lighthearted speech to journalists in Westminster.
Drawing on the turbulent politics of recent weeks, Davidson, who is hugely popular in her party, told reporters that she was glad to be still standing as everyone in politics was either “resigning, getting knifed, bottling it, withdrawing, failing, declaring, or falling on their sword”.
“I think the mad thing in all of the last few weeks is that the last man standing is Jeremy Corbyn,” she said, joking that Labour was now putting forward a “unity candidate” to take on their original “unity candidate”.
“Thats the difference between our two parties: Labour is still fumbling with its flies while the Tories are enjoying their post-coital cigarette. After withdrawing our massive Johnson,” she added, making the room full of reporters, politicians and advisers, burst out laughing.



Some people are getting very upset about the failure to exclude Jeremy Corbyn from leadership election.  The Independent reports:
A former special advisor to Tony Blair says a decision to allow Jeremy Corbyn the automatic right to defend his leadership will be the death of the Labour party.
John McTernan is a long-time critic of Mr Corbyn and said if the leader "had any shame" he would have walked away some time ago.
He told BBC News in the wake of the NEC's secret ballot decision: "Today was the day the Labour party was stabbed in the heart and killed by the Labour National Executive Committee.
"Jeremy Corbyn may have won this vote, but he has destroyed the Labour party," he said. 
I disagree.  If Corbyn had been excluded, a large proportion of the Labour Party would have regarded it as a stitch-up and would never have forgiven those responsible.  This way, there is at least a chance that the party can be re-united, either under a new leader or under Corbyn.  Not a very big chance, but a chance nonetheless.


12 July 2016

Quotes of the day

Just another manic Monday:
Only the Conservatives can combine the brutality of a Stalinist purge with the low comedy of a Carry On film. It had trusted the country to reach the right decision in the referendum campaign and it wasn’t going to make the same mistake again by giving the untamed fringes of the Tory party a say.
Then there is Andrea:
“It has only just come to my attention I have the support of just 25% of Conservative MPs,” she continued, forcing the words through the fixed smile, “and that, in these uncertain times, the country doesn’t need a nine-week leadership campaign.
“I’ve also taken a look at the people around me and decided most of them are an electoral liability. So I have decided to withdraw my name from the contest and let Theresa May be prime minister. Sorry to have made such a nuisance of myself. I’m now going to lie down in a dark room for several years. Thank you for coming.”
Oh, and David:
Back at No 10, David Cameron was on the phone to his therapist trying to deal with his self-destructive issues when he heard that Theresa was going to be moving in a great deal earlier than anticipated. “Bugger it,” he yelled. It just wasn’t fair. Now he wouldn’t get to fly in his brand-new Dave Force One plane to Africa. Now he’d miss his last G20. Now he’d have to find somewhere to rent as he’d given his tenants notice to leave in September. The way the day was going, George would forget to bring back a suitcase full of dollars from New York.


11 July 2016

Conspiracy? Blackmail?

One way or another.  You can't take on the Establishment and win:
Andrea Leadsom has withdrawn from the race to be leader of the Conservative party, leaving Theresa May apparently uncontested for the job of next prime minister.
The dramatic development came in a statement issued by Leadsom, the energy minister, shortly after midday. She admitted that she has been left “shattered” by the contest in which she has faced an outpouring of anger following her comments about motherhood.In a statement read out in London, Leadsom said she did not believe she had sufficient support to form a strong and stable government after coming in second place behind the home secretary in the ballot of Conservative MPs.
She added “I wish Theresa May the greatest success”, and promised the only remaining candidate her full support.



OK, so he gets to do some travelling before he gets the bullet, but is there any valid objective?  The Independent reports:
George Osborne will travel to New York for talks with major investors in an effort to strengthen US-UK trade links after the vote to leave the European Union.
The Chancellor said improving ties with the US is now a "top priority" and he will urge leaders from some of America's biggest investors to stick with the UK after the Brexit referendum result.
Mr Osborne said: "While Britain's decision to leave the EU clearly presents economic challenges, we now have to do everything we can to make the UK the most attractive place in the world to do business.
"Britain and the US have been at the forefront of open trade in the last 200 years and pursuing a stronger relationship with our biggest trading partners is now a top priority.
"That's why I am travelling to the US, China and Singapore in the coming weeks and why my message to the world is that Britain may be leaving the EU, but we are not quitting the world.
And the first question he will be asked is whether the UK will retain access to the single market.  He does not know the answer.


09 July 2016

Music of the week

Nice story

From The Guardian (here):

It has no buffet car, the waiting room is a garden shed and only one of its three hand-built carriages is fully glazed. But for one week only, the train from Leadhills to Glengonnar Halt has become an essential addition to the UK’s rail network.
In a rare, perhaps unique, moment in British railway history, a replacement train service has been put on to make up for a closed road. It is normally the other way round. And this service is run by amateurs.
Launched 30 years ago by a small group of single-minded rail enthusiasts high on the barren, rocky moors of south-west Scotland, the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway (L&WR) is ordinarily a weekends-only summertime attraction for tourists.
Then South Lanarkshire council decided to resurface the only road connecting the two villages that vie for the title as Scotland’s highest.
So for five days this week, while road builders re-laid and repainted the B797, the L&WR has run a full weekday timetable for the first time in its history. With ticket prices cut from £4 to £1, it has put on 18 services a day between its two stations, with seven trains timed carefully to meet buses in Leadhills running north east to and from Lanark, and its scheduled rail connections to Glasgow.
Its workhorse locomotive, a stubby, blue-painted diesel-powered engine called Clyde, rattles and judders over the single narrow-gauge track at a stately five miles an hour; it hits 8mph on its downhill run back to Leadhills.

There is still goodness in this world.



Dog whistle time

Maybe she really  is disgusted.  Maybe not.  The BBC reports:
Andrea Leadsom says she is "disgusted" by a newspaper article saying she suggested being a mother gave her an advantage over Conservative leadership rival Theresa May.
The Times quoted Mrs Leadsom as saying having children gives "a very real stake in the future of our country".
But the mother of three tweeted that the way the interview was reported was "the exact opposite of what I said".
Earlier Mrs May, who has no children, called for a "clean campaign" pledge.
The paper headlined its front-page lead story "Being a mother gives me edge on May - Leadsom."
But the story is on the front pages, whether by accident or design ...


07 July 2016

Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle) even mocked what should be regarded as one of Mr Blair’s achievements. “This is not a day for soundbites,” he said, echoing Mr Blair’s comment at the Good Friday agreement. “But does the prime minister not agree that the hand of history should be feeling someone’s collar?”
Almost a century ago, contemplating the senseless waste of human life, lions led by donkeys, Kipling wrote in his Epitaphs of the War: “If any question why we died/ Tell them: because our fathers lied.”
What will be Mr Blair’s epitaph? Perhaps six words that he wrote in July 2002 to George W Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.” It was Mr Bush’s 70th birthday yesterday. No one asked Mr Blair what he had given his friend as a present but the answer was clear: his reputation.


03 July 2016


I wonder if this is somebody who could be a Prime Minister.  The Observer reports:
Today the Observer reveals that Corbyn’s private office is reluctant to allow the leader to speak to the Labour party’s democratically elected deputy, Tom Watson, on his own.
A senior source close to Corbyn explained: “They want Watson to be on his own with him so that he can jab his finger at him. We are not letting that happen. We have a duty of care here. He’s a 70-year-old man [sic]. This is not a one-off. There is a culture of bullying, maybe it’s a Blairite/Brownite thing. But while they see two old men [Corbyn and McDonnell], they don’t see the 250,000 people behind them.”
If Corbyn's staff cannot trust their man not to be bullied by the Deputy Leader, then the Labour Party is in considerable trouble.

For the record, Corbyn is 67.


01 July 2016

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
.. the final reveal still had the power to shock. For a politician who made his name as the court jester, only to strive for the crown, Boris teed himself with a fitting phrase. After setting out what would have been his manifesto for leadership, he said: “That is the agenda for the next Prime Minister of this country.
“But I have to tell you my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that having consulted colleagues and in lieu of the circumstances in Parliament I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
The clown of Westminster had delivered his final punchline. As he departed the stage, behind him lay the wreckage of his party’s unity, his country’s economy and the hopes and dreams of the architects of the European Union. Like a restaurant after a visit by the Bullingdon boys: a mess for someone else to tidy up.
And what a mess ...