22 April 2017

Music of the week

If you have never heard of Zizi Jeanmaire or Sacha Distel, this is probably not for you ...

21 April 2017

More wishful thinking?

It is surely not as bad as The Times intimates:
A charismatic leader with a competent team running on a left-wing programme would lose an election to Theresa May. Labour is insulting the electorate by putting up a man of no charisma and little intellect who, on small matters like Britain and the EU, has nothing to say. It is a recipe for catastrophe and the only question is how bad it gets. Spare yourself the inevitable “oh, but Trump”, “oh, but Brexit”, “oh, but Le Pen” nonsense. Labour is putting a cast-iron solid dud in front of the British people and they are going to deliver the message to Mr Corbyn that his own party has struggled to articulate.
Or is it?

   

Wishful thinking?

Could Corbyn do the business after all?  The Independent indulges itself:
Corbyn is a natural and life-long campaigner. Some of those at his London rally noted that he seemed more cheerful and at ease than he had for months. Leadership, in the sense of management, may not be his forte, but he has no problem commanding a platform. Remember, too, that Labour membership in the country at large is at a record level, and includes many young voters. At these new grassroots, it is, of course, a different Labour from the New Labour that won three elections. But it is a Labour that reflects the experience of three failed wars and the banking crisis and the failure to bring those responsible for any of these national catastrophes to account. Corbyn’s talk about the system being “rigged” has resonance.  
As the surprise showing of the leftist candidate in France has shown, and that of Bernie Sanders in the US before him, there is a new following for what looks rather like old, ideological, socialism – Corbyn’s socialism, as it happens. Whether he can hijack the electoral agenda away from Theresa May’s brand of patriotic Brexit and towards the policies he was starting to formulate, predicated on old ideas of social justice, is a question. But the battle between the two could be what this election comes to be about.
And if, just if, the polls were wrong (it does happen), and the Prime Minister failed to increase her majority or even suffered defeat, what then? Would that bring Brexit back into play? How does the will of the people as expressed in a referendum stack up against the will of the people as expressed in a parliamentary vote? Could the referendum be rerun? Dream on, you will say. But this is a general election – another – and the campaign is yet young.
Dream on is about right.

 

19 April 2017

Quote of the day

The Guardian  explains why Mrs May decided to call an election:
The problem was the opposition. They were doing the wrong thing by opposing her. Never mind that they weren’t being very effective, the problem was that they existed at all. They were a nuisance. Come to think of it, President Erdo─čan had a point in clamping down on any dissent. “At this moment of national significance, there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division,” May said. She had changed her mind over Brexit when she had spotted the opportunity to become prime minister and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why other people couldn’t be so flexible with their principles.
“The country is coming together,” she continued, waving away the inconvenient truth that no one could remember a time when it had been more split. “But Westminster is not.” Labour MPs had said they might vote against a deal with the EU if they thought it wasn’t good enough. How very dare they!
The Lib Dems – all nine of them – had threatened to grind government business to a standstill. The SNP had promised to be the SNP. Life had become just impossible for her. Her opponents had tried to take advantage of her small majority, so now she was going to punish them by wiping them out completely.

   

A hiding to nothing?

The Independent thinks that an early general election will favour the SNP:
Nicola Sturgeon must be rubbing her hands with glee at this moment.
In the aftermath of Theresa May’s announcement to hold a snap election, Sturgeon knows how most Scots will receive the news: badly.
Provided May is allowed to hold the election by Parliament, it will most likely lead to a Conservative victory and further degradation of the opposition – one poll predicts the Conservatives will end up with a 100-seat lead in Parliament. So long 2020: May could stay in power until 2022.
Sturgeon’s tweet after the news hit the nail on the head: “The Tories see a chance to move the UK to the right, force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper cuts. Let's stand up for Scotland. #GE17,” she said.
Me, I'm not so sure.  The SNP already holds 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.  The best that Sturgeon can hope for is three gains and no losses, a relatively modest return which would do little to increase the SNP's influence at Westminster.  On the other hand, even one or two losses would be portrayed by unionists as a roll-back of the SNP tide.  And would an increased overall majority for the Tories increase the prospects of an IndyRef2 in the short to medium term?

   

 

18 April 2017

It's a point of view ...

... on the imminent general election.  From The New Statesman:
The universe has existed for around 13bn years. The earth for 4bn, complex life for 500m, modern humans for 200,000 years. The average human lifespan is around 80.
Who gives a crap who wins this thing? In cosmic terms we’ll all be dead in a blink of an eye anyway.
Anyway. Is it still too early to start drinking?
 

Jusqu'au bout

It becomes de plus en plus interessant.  Bloomberg reports:
France’s presidential race enters its final stretch with no clear winner in sight as the main contenders scrap for votes in a flurry of campaign rallies.
...
According to Elabe’s latest poll, released Monday, support for Macron stands at 24 percent, while Le Pen is at 23 percent. Fillon holds 21 percent, followed by Melenchon at 18 percent. Le Pen has threatened to take France out of the EU, while Melenchon wants to renegotiate the bloc’s treaties, including the one that keeps the country in the euro. Macron would defeat any of his rivals in the runoff, the survey showed, so long as he can get there.

Only 5 days until the first round.

 

14 April 2017

Sounds good, but ...

There's always a "but".  Earlier this week, The Guardian reported:
Early investors in “punk” beer firm BrewDog will be able to bank a hefty profit this week. An injection of cash from a private equity house valued the company at £1bn, 10 years after it began life in its co-founder’s mother’s garage.
San Francisco-based TSG Consumer Partners agreed to buy 22% of BrewDog, whose idiosyncratic beers and international network of bars have won it a cult following, in a deal worth £213m.
Some £100m will be invested in the business while TSG, which also owns US brewer Pabst, also spent £113m buying shares from existing investors, according to the Sunday Times.
Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie are understood to have made £100m between them as a result of the deal, a decade after they used a £20,000 bank loan to start brewing in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.
BrewDog’s army of nearly 50,000 “Equity Punks”, its name for investors in four previous rounds of crowdfunding, will be able to sell up to 15% of their shares from this week, the company said.
Watt told investors that they stand make a return of 2,800% if they were among those who bought in at the first opportunity in 2010.
I am one of those early investors and was looking forward to that 2800% return.  My initial investment of £3250 would now be worth over £90,000.  Whoopee!  The sale of 15% of my shares would return over £12,000.

I have now received Brewdog's offer to buy 15% of my shares.  Alas, the price they are offering is a mere £13.18 per share, limited to a maximum sale of 40 shares.  That delivers a paltry £527.20.

So, while Messrs Watt and Dickie are laughing all the way to the bank with their £100 million, it would appear that whatever largesse is available is not being fairly shared with the ordinary shareholders.

That will teach me to invest in start-ups.  And, no, I have not sold my forty shares.  Maybe at some point in the future, a proper market for BrewDog shares will be established.

 

08 April 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
... what next? You’d have to be exceptionally sanguine to feel any confidence that President Trump has given sustained attention to this question. But a choice faces him. Is there now a new US policy of regime change in Syria? Or (as Mr Trump’s earlier campaign messaging suggested) is there not?
Translate those alternatives into real terms. Is Thursday night’s strike a message to Bashar al-Assad that it is curtains for his presidency? Or a message that if he wants to be left alone he had better stick to barrel-bombing and mass executions and steer clear of evident chemical attacks? The US secretary of state’s hints earlier on Thursday that there is now “no place” for Assad in Syria do not grow less opaque under close textual analysis and my guess is that Rex Tillerson hasn’t the least idea which way Washington should jump. My guess would also be that at this stage the president himself hasn’t the least idea.
A case of not looking before leaping?

   

07 April 2017

Deterrence?

The Times reports:
The United States launched a missile strike on a Syrian airfield last night in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians.
On President Trump’s orders, US warships fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airfield in western Syria. Officials said the base was used to stage a gas attack which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, in a rebel-held town in Idlib province on Tuesday.
Mr Trump said it was vital that America deter the use of chemical weapons and urged “all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria”.
The way to end slaughter and bloodshed is by firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airfield?  Just asking ...

 

Phenomenal!

A cheap night out?

The BBC reports:
Former US president Barack Obama is to make his first visit to Scotland when he addresses business leaders in the capital next month.
He will also answer questions from the audience at the event, which is being held to raise money for charity.
The dinner in Edinburgh on 26 May is thought to be one of his first major addresses since his term as president came to an end.
The event at the EICC is being organised by The Hunter Foundation.
The charity was set up by leading businessman and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter.Tickets for a table of 10 at the dinner are expected to go on sale for approximately £5,000.
£500 a head?  They could quadruple that and the EICC would still be packed to the gunwales.

05 April 2017

Getting down and dirty

By their friends shall ye know them.  The Guardian reports:
Liam Fox’s declaration of “shared values” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines leader whose war on drugs has killed 7,000 people, has prompted dismay about the government’s approach to human rights as it seeks post-Brexit trade deals.
The international trade secretary, who will also visit Malaysia and Indonesia on his trip, said in an article published in local media that he wanted Britain to build a stronger relationship with the Philippines based on “a foundation of shared values and shared interests”.
As Fox visited the Philippines, Theresa May was in Saudi Arabia as part of a wider government effort to shore up the UK’s trading position after Brexit. Speaking to the BBC, she refused to criticise the government’s bombardment of Yemen, which is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people.
And so, by pandering to corrupt dictators, the UK sinks into an amoral morass of cynicism ...

 

31 March 2017

Not sure how this is going to work ...

As The Independent puts it, the Great Repeal Bill "will see every piece of EU law affecting the UK brought onto the UK statute book on the day of Brexit, with ministers then given the powers to adjust parts to make them workable in the UK and potentially ditch parts they do not like".

Now I am not a lawyer but I used to have a working knowledge of the EU regulations governing EU Structural Funds.  These funds, administered by the EU Commission, provide grants for economic and social development, particularly for regions whose GDP is well below the EU average.  This is beneficial for areas in the UK such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Northern Ireland.

The EU regulations provide - among other things - that the grants are awarded by the Member State and reclaimed from the EU Commission.  The individual projects supported in this way are required to conform with the Commission's priorities as set out in the regulations; they also have to form part of an overall programme for the area concerned which has to be submitted by the Member State for prior approval by the Commission.  The Member State seeks reimbursement on a prescribed schedule from the Commission of the grants it has paid out, as well as making periodic reports to the Commission in a prescribed form, detailing progress against the targets set out in the original area programme.  All very bureaucratic.

Back to the Great Repeal Bill.  Given the central position of the Commission in the processes, it makes no real sense to simply cut and paste the various EU regulations on Structural Funds into the UK Statute Book.  If the Structural Funds policy is to continue, the rules will need to be completely re-written.  And who knows if the policy will continue after Brexit?

Some further complications:

1.  The current Structural Funds programmes run until 2020, beyond Brexit, and the Commission reimbursement will (in theory at least) continue into 2021, while the EU auditing process is scheduled to continue thereafter.

2.  The role of the Member State in the above processes is devolved - where geographically appropriate - to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.  And they therefore have a considerable interest in what will happen.

All very difficult. And this is only one relatively minor policy field among the myriad that needs to be sorted.  I am glad that I am retired.

   

   

29 March 2017

Below the bottom


It may be sexist nonsense, but at least The Guardian is paying some attention to the Scottish Parliament:
A pair of legs stood up and the body attached to them prepared to speak. There were so many things Nicola Sturgeon’s shapely shanks would have liked to say. About how the Daily Mail had said how much more attractive they were than Theresa May’s famously long extremities. About how the prime minister had been so intimated – or was that seduced? – by her luscious legs that she had immediately gone on the back foot. About how if all the Little Laydeez of Scotland were to vote for independence, then they too could have pins like her.
Six days ago the debate on the second Scottish referendum had been suspended after the attack on Westminster. Sturgeon began by adopting a more conciliatory note than she had when opening the debate the previous week, emphasising shared values, democracy and differences of opinion that were sincerely held.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” muttered Nicola’s legs. “What’s any of this got to do with us?”
“Just shut up and keep yourselves to yourselves,” replied Sturgeon.
Nicola’s legs tried to unsheathe themselves by poking out from behind her lectern, but the first minister managed to rein them back in. Trust Sturgeon’s head and torso to spoil the fun, thought the legs.

How do male politicians compete?

25 March 2017

Music of the week

Not waving but drowning

Far from draining the swamp, President Trump seems to be floundering in it:
Donald Trump's flagship healthcare bill has been killed off after failing to secure enough support from Republicans, in a major embarrassment for the US President during his first attempt at passing legislation through the House.
The decision, made just minutes before the vote was due to take place, will be viewed as a significant set back for Mr Trump, who has promised to repeal and replace Obamacare.
He is learning that governing is more difficult than it may appear..

24 March 2017

Happy birthday ...

... to Archie Gemmell, 70 years old today.  Was it really nearly 40 years ago?




 

The parliamentary sketchwriters rise to the occasion

From The Times (here):
Tobias Ellwood, the Bournemouth MP who had tried to save the life of the fallen policeman, stood by the door, his arms folded. As tributes were paid to his heroism, he looked at his feet and seemed to swallow hard.
When Matthew Offord (C, Hendon) suggested his colleague deserved an honour, Mr Ellwood shook his head. He did not want to be the story. “The honourable and gallant member”, a formula that only Mr Robertson correctly gave to this former soldier, seemed especially apt. Several MPs and one doorkeeper came over to shake Mr Ellwood’s hand or to pat him on the shoulder.

From The Guardian (here):
Conservative MP James Cleverly made the most moving contribution. He had known PC Palmer from when they were both in the army together and he was in tears as he remembered his old friend. Cleverly called for Palmer to be recognised with a posthumous award. May insisted Palmer would not be forgotten.
All the while, Ellwood stood at the back of the chamber, his arms crossed, holding his feelings in, as colleagues praised his actions.
He looked in pain, as if he would much rather be anywhere else but knew he couldn’t not be there.
As MPs drifted away, many, including Corbyn, stopped to touch his arm and thank him for what he had done. Ellwood half-smiled, but gave little away. Whatever he was thinking and feeling was for him and him alone. 

 

23 March 2017

Science of the day


The Guardian reports:
The most radical shakeup of the dinosaur family tree in a century has led scientists to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.
I guess I always knew that some of my compatriots were dinosaurs ...

   

22 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Days before Article 50 is triggered, with Britain wobbling halfway over the cliff edge like the van at the end of The Italian Job, Labour speaks only to itself. Or, more accurately, bits of itself scream at other bits like a loft full of mad aunts and uncles.
On one side of the attic, a leaked tape suggests a planned Momentum-Unite alliance to ensure the far left retains power in perpetuity. On the other, surviving Blairites stagger lividly about beneath the pulverising weight of their sense of entitlement denied. Wandering morosely about in the middle are the undead, whose craving to be rid of Jeremy Corbyn is outmatched only by fear of strengthening him with another laughable leadership challenge.
Meanwhile, Tom Watson, the Glastonbury tent bopper who moonlights as deputy leader, pours petrol on the fire by exaggerating any pact between Jon Lansman of Momentum and Unite’s Len McCluskey into an existential threat.
It's not as bad as that?  In the immortal words of Mr Dalgleish, "mibbes aye, mibbes naw"

   

21 March 2017

All over the shop

So, 29 March is the big day for the invocation of Article 50, thus initiating the negotiations for Brexit.

Do you suppose that the Government have made sensible use of the nine months that have elapsed since the referendum last June?  That they now have a clear idea of what they want from the negotiations and that they have identified their red lines?  That they have been in touch with friendly sources in the rest of the EU to determine what is and is not possible?  That they have identified the key ministers and officials to lead in the negotiations?  In short, that they have a viable plan?

No?  Me neither ...

 

19 March 2017

Am I bovvered?

So, BA is cutting back on the first class perks:
A tasty amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers — all free. These were the little touches that first-class customers with British Airways had come to expect.
Insiders at the airline, however, claim that BA is now cutting back on some of its first-class and business-class perks as it races to cut costs.
My usual mode of airline travel is cattle class on Ryanair where luxuries are non-existent.

   

18 March 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

From George Osborne's diary (here):
Friday
So. It’s been announced. There’s quite the uproar. At lunchtime I visit the paper and tell the staff how excited I am to be becoming a top journalist. Then I call Theresa May, to let her know I’m a newspaper editor now, because, well, why not, and how hard can it be?
“I’m surprised you have the time,” she says.
“Stop it,” I say. “It’s only editing a newspaper! It’s like people have forgotten I combined being an MP with running Britain’s economy for six whole years!”
“And how did that go?” says Theresa.
“That’s irrelevant,” I say.

 

17 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
First minister’s questions in Scotland is an altogether more enlightening affair than prime minister’s questions down south. Not least because serious questions get asked. And answered. It helps that the two main adversaries, Sturgeon and Conservative Ruth Davidson, are rather sharper than their UK counterparts – not difficult for Davidson as Jeremy Corbyn hit a new low at PMQs the day before by even forgetting to ask a couple of questions. It’s also a major plus that the rest of the chamber manages to listen without sounding like a Bash Street Kids school reunion. When each speaker has finished talking, there is a round of applause. Or silence. It’s disconcertingly polite.

   

Has Theresa May been lured into a trap?


If I were Nicola Sturgeon (which, thank the Lord, I'm not sir), I would not - inwardly - be excessively displeased by the turn of events:
Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of sealing the fate of the United Kingdom after the prime minister rejected her demand for a second Scottish independence referendum before the Brexit talks conclude.
The first minister said May’s stance was “completely outrageous and unacceptable”, hours after the prime minister had insisted that “now is not the time” for the referendum that the SNP had hoped to stage between autumn 2019 and spring 2019.
Sturgeon said on Thursday: “It’s an argument for independence, really, in a nutshell, that Westminster thinks it has got the right to block the democratically elected mandate of the Scottish government and the majority in the Scottish parliament. History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the union was sealed.”
She insisted she would press on with plans for a vote at the Scottish parliament next week seeking its approval to request the legal power from Westminster to stage the referendum on Holyrood’s terms – a vote she is expected to narrowly win with Scottish Green party support.
I am far from sure that the Blessed Nicola actually wanted IndyRef2 at this time (or at least within the next two years) but felt obliged to go along with the bulk of opinion in the SNP, even if the omens for an early referendum were less than propitious (oil, currency, economy and all that).  So now she may be quietly relieved that Theresa has produced the kibosh.  Nicola can once again point to perfidious Westminster, thus keeping the party activists happy while metaphorically girding her loins for a more realistic prospect of a successful IndyRef2 in the early 2020s when Brexit will have been proved to be a catastrophe but the Tories remain likely to be in power for ever and ever.

Well, maybe ...

16 March 2017

Double quote of the day

From The Guardian (here).

First:
The phone call had come through just after eight in the morning while Phil “The Undertaker” Hammond was eating breakfast. It was the prime minister ordering him to bury Class 4 NICs. He had tried telling her that doing a U-turn on your only real budget measure less than a week after it had been announced made him and the government look hopelessly incompetent, but Theresa wasn’t having any of it. The Tory backbenchers were on her back. The Daily Mail was on her back. And now she was on his back.
Six hours later The Undertaker rather sheepishly arrived in the Commons to try to explain how it was that, though he still absolutely stood by his budget because it was his budget that was his, he now wanted to fundamentally change it because although he hadn’t broken any promises in the Conservative party manifesto, as that’s not the sort of thing he would ever dream of doing, he had in fact broken the promises he had made in the Conservative party manifesto.

It had been absolutely right to raise NICs and that’s why he wasn’t doing it. And no, before anyone asked, he hadn’t worked out how to fill the £2bn black hole that had just opened up in the country’s finances. Give him another six months. Maybe changing to one budget a year wasn’t such a good plan after all.

Second:
The Treasury select committee chair, Hilary Benn, warmed up with a bit of free association. Did no deal mean WTO tariff barriers? “Yes,” said Davis. Would there be border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland? “Yes.” Would the EU/US open skies agreement be dead in the water? “Yes.” Would we lose passporting rights of financial services? “Yes.” Did this mean that the foreign secretary was idiotic to say that dropping out of the EU on WTO terms would be fine? “Yes.” Whoops. He had just landed Boris in it. Still, Boris wouldn’t have thought twice about knifing him.
Benn then went for the throat. Had Davis made any calculation of the exact costs of leaving the EU on WTO terms? “God no,” said Davis breezily. “I know how it’s going to work out. I just haven’t quantified it.” Every member of the committee – even the leavers – stared into the abyss. Davis had just admitted the government was saying no deal would be better than a bad deal when it didn’t even know the cost of no deal. A parish council wouldn’t get away with that level of unaccountability. Davis shrugged. There was something liberating about telling the truth. Why not let the country know that the chancellor hadn’t a clue about the economy and Brexit was heading for the rocks? It wasn’t as if there was an effective opposition to stop them.
   

15 March 2017

An unlikely champion?

The Independent comes to the aid of the First Minister:
... May should ... focus on the central reason for Monday’s coup de theatre. Sturgeon has always believed independence offers her country its best future. With Scotland a backseat passenger in a vehicle careering towards the cliff’s edge, she probably believes it more passionately than ever.
Now, you can agree or disagree with her there. For what incalculably little it’s worth, I agree. Were I Scottish, I would be mad for independence. I’d say sod the crude oil price, sod the Barnett formula and sod the pernicious English meme that poor wee Scotland hasn’t a prayer of making it across the road without Nanny May holding her hand.
I’d also say sod the uncertainties. With Brexit, how much more uncertain can it possibly get? And I’d certainly say sod the buffoons of Brexit – Gove, Boris, Fox, and the rest – who argued last summer that liberation from a union which restricted self-determination justified any risks, but will now counsel the Scots to keep a hold of nurse for fear of something even worse. How transparently hypocritical do these people need to get before a residue of self-respect automatically shuts their mouths?
I can sympathise with the sentiment.  But we Scots need a more dispassionate approach; we cannot let our hearts rule our heads.  If we opt for independence, it needs to be based on a rational assessment of the costs and benefits.

 


14 March 2017

It's a paradox

So both Theresa and Nicola want to retain one union intact but leave another.  Different unions of course but still ...   What's a poor voter to do?

It will end in tears all round.

 


09 March 2017

Smugness personified


Nice work if you can get it.  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne has declared a salary of £650,000 a year for working just four days a month at BlackRock, the world’s biggest fund management firm, as well as almost £800,000 for speeches to financiers.
The former chancellor’s earnings were revealed in the latest register of MPs’ interests, which shows that he will make more than eight times his salary as a backbencher as an adviser to the Wall Street firm.
No need to call on the foodbank, then.

 

08 March 2017

Believe it if you like

If you are asked about your sex life, will you answer truly?  The Guardian reports:
Adults are having sex less often than they were 20 years ago, according a US study based on a survey of almost 27,000 individuals.
Researchers have found that adults, on average, were having sex seven fewer times annually in the early 2010s compared to the early 1990s, and nine fewer times compared to the late 1990s.
The study follows research published by the same team last year which found that the percentage of adults aged between 20 and 24 who had had no sexual partner after the age of 18 had more than doubled between those born in the 1960s and the 1990s, rising from 6% to 15%.
Taken together it would seem that millennials are having less sex, but the finding is not necessary bleak. “It is very possible that for young people this is a conscious life choice,” said Ryne Sherman, co-author of the study from Florida Atlantic University, pointing out that millennials might be choosing to spend their time in other pursuits or could simply be more empowered in their sex lives.
Alternatively, respondents are being more or less truthful, then or now...

 

02 March 2017

Wishful thinking, perhaps ...

... but hope for UK expats in Spain (of which I am a sort of country member).  Bloomberg reports:

... at an EU summit in Malta earlier in February, May and Rajoy were said to have struck an understanding.
The pair agreed they wanted to reach an early agreement on reciprocal residency rights for their citizens, according to British officials. May’s team in London believe Rajoy could also make a powerful ally during complex trade negotiations that will form part of Brexit talks, one official said.
Almost 18 million Britons, a number equivalent to almost a third of the U.K. population, visited Spain last year. Spanish companies also export far more to the U.K. than the other way around.
 But there's a fly in the ointment:  Gibraltar.  Rajoy will seek joint sovereignty and May will inevitably resist.

 



Oh dear


Kinda defeats the point.  The BBC reports:
AG Barr is to halve the amount of sugar in its leading Irn Bru brand, ahead of a government crackdown on the fizzy drinks industry.
The Cumbernauld-based firm, which also makes Rubicon and Tizer, said it would cut Irn Bru's sugar content from about 10g per 100ml to just below 5g.
It will reduce the calorie count per can from just under 140 to about 66.
AG Barr said the move was part of a "long-standing sugar reduction programme".
I will have to find some other way of getting my calories in future ...


28 February 2017

Quote of the day

England rugby XV flummoxed.  From The Guardian (here):
It was not simply the prolonged failure to find a way around the Azzurri’s cute diversionary ruck tactics – odd as that appeared in an era when coaches can get messages on to the field almost instantly. More glaring still was the lack of mental flexibility, the bafflement and the sheer confusion when the anticipated masterplan – a 60-point romp in this instance – unravelled. At times it was like watching 15 Daleks stuck at the bottom of an unexpected staircase.
  

  

25 February 2017

Well done!

Victory, at last:
Scotland Women bounced back at Broadwood to close out a tough match against Wales to claim a one-point win – their first victory in the Six Nations since 2010.
It was two tries a piece with Edinburgh University backs Lisa Thomson and Rhona Lloyd each scoring for Scotland, with Sarah Law sealing the 15-14 win with a penalty kick on the 77th minute.
Wales’ captain Carys Phillips crossed the whitewash for her side followed by a penalty try in to take a 7-point lead into the break.
But it was Scotland’s ambition and belief up until the final whistle that saw them through to defeat Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2005.
It's no fun losing all the time.   But the women finally did it.  Congrats.

 

24 February 2017

Don't feel too gut-wrenchingly sad ...

So farewell Claudio.  The Independent reports:
Gary Lineker has condemned Leicester City’s decision to sack Claudio Ranieri as “inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad”.
Ranieri, who led the relegation-tipped club to a remarkable Premier League title victory last season just nine months ago, was relieved of his duties on Thursday night.
The Italian’s departure was confirmed in a statement on the club’s official website, which claimed that “a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club’s greatest interest.”
But there's always a but:
Ranieri, who was named FIFA’s Coach of the Year just last month, signed a new four-year contract with Leicester last August.
So he will probably be entitled to a massive pay-off, likely to be in the millions,  and should have little difficulty finding another lucrative post.

 

22 February 2017

Shades of the poll tax ...

Rates revaluations cause trouble.  It was the threat of a rates revaluation in Scotland (with the losers screaming blue murder and the winners sitting tight) that led to the introduction back in the 1980s of the poll tax to replace domestic rates.  And we all know how that resulted.

So now we have another revaluation, this time for the purposes of  business rates.  And it is looking ominous.  The Guardian reports:
It’s a bit rich for the chancellor, now reportedly in “listening mode” on business rates, to signal that he is aware of the challenges the digital economy presents to a property-based tax. That fundamental problem has been voiced for more than a decade and has simply been ignored by government. Amazon and the other big online retailers are no longer modern creations.
Philip Hammond, one suspects, will end up inventing various reliefs to try to quell the anger of those small businesses in London facing increases of up to 400%. But something more than a sticking-plaster is required. If not, this toxic row will return every time potential rents – the basis for establishing rateable values – are recalculated.
Aye, but what is the answer - nobody seems to know.

(Incidentally, the valuation bands for council tax bands in Scotland are still based on property valuations made in the 1990s.  This inevitably embeds unfairness in the system as the increase in property values varies according to location.  But successive Scottish governments have done nothing, preferring to let sleeping dogs lie.  Sooner or later, those dogs will come back to bite them.)


21 February 2017

Corn beef


I have long since abandoned any attempt to hear dialogue on television and rely heavily on subtitles.   Apparently, other viewers are still coming to grips with the BBC's alleged inadequacies:

First, it was the BBC’s costume drama Jamaica Inn, which attracted thousands of complaints in 2014, then last year’s Happy Valley. Now, the alternative history miniseries SS-GB has become the latest primetime BBC programme to draw criticism about characters mumbling their lines.

Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
But the first episode of SS-GB – which had already faced some scathing reviews from TV critics for its first episode on Sunday night – has been criticised by viewers who said they had struggled to hear what was going on.
The broadcaster has promised to promised to examine the sound levels before the next episode is broadcast after dozens of viewers complained.
I'm not really bothered by the sound quality.  But I rather doubt that in the 1940s our hero would be wearing a natty dark blue shirt and tie to the office.  It would also add to the verisimilitude if the actors had learned how to smoke a cigarette without looking as if they had never done so before.

Oh, and don't get me started on actors giving each other so-called meaningful looks ...

 


17 February 2017

Whom to believe ...

On the one hand:
NPR's National Security Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said she had spoken to a White House official on Wednesday, who succinctly described a scene of chaos. "I just reached somebody inside the White House today and asked them to describe, what's the mood like in there? What's going on in the halls?" " Kelly told the NPR Politics Podcast. "And this official said, it is an absolute effing trainwreck"
Ms Kelly also described "a lot of empty desks in the basement of the West Wing," which is where senior members of the National Security Council usually reside, after many abandoned their roles after clashing with the Trump administration.
Citing her sources, Ms Kelly said nobody was sure who was “steering the ship” anymore, and added the White House was, “to put it charitably, in upheaval”.
But on the other hand, President Trump says:
"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved."
You pays your money and you takes your choice ...

   

14 February 2017

It's not getting better ...

The Independent reports on conditions inside the US National Security Council:
Every day new leaks emerge from the White House about a state of fear and loathing at the National Security Council, which Mr Flynn at least nominally heads. The latest, published by the New York Times, suggested things were so chaotic that members of staff were waking in the morning, reading Mr Trump’s latest Twitter posts, and then struggling “to make policy to fit them”.
The same report said that others have begun using encrypted communications to talk with each other, after hearing that Mr Trump’s top advisers were considering an “insider threat” programme that could result in the monitoring of phones and emails.
Meanwhile, efforts to get Mr Trump to focus on complicated issues are not straightforward. In short, Mr Trump is not a details man. NSC staff members have been told keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. “The president likes maps,” one official told the newspaper. 
So policy recommendations and position papers have to be in picture-book form for the presidential child-man ...


 

10 February 2017

Amateur hour

Worrying.  The Independent reports:
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps US and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two US officials and one former US official with knowledge of the call.
When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.
Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favoured Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
...
Typically, before a telephone call with a foreign leader, a president receives a written in-depth briefing paper drafted by National Security Council staff after consultations with the relevant agencies, including the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, two former senior officials said.
Just before the call, the president also usually receives an oral "pre-briefing" from his national security adviser and top subject-matter aide, they said.
Trump did not receive a briefing from Russia experts with the NSC and intelligence agencies before the Putin call, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine if Trump received a briefing from his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Even Putin must be wondering if it was a good idea to have elected Trump ...

   

31 January 2017

It has a certain simplicity ...


   

Instant hero


Bloomberg reports:
President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates as conflict escalated over his executive order banning entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.
Yates, an Obama administration holdover, was ousted Monday just hours after she told Justice Department staff not to defend the ban in court because she didn’t think it was legal. A White House statement said she was removed for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” 
Good for her!  She'll not be unemployed for long.


30 January 2017

The not so grand old USA


“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


28 January 2017

Music of the week

Ugh!

Put his hand away Theresa, you don't know where it's been ...


Quote from The Guardian:
"As the two leaders finally shook hands, the bust of Churchill covered its eyes and begged to be sent back to Britain. Their hands remained uneasily entwined as they walked down the colonnade towards the Palm Room. When Trump started to creepily stroke her hand, Theresa almost retched. She quickly pulled herself together and reminded herself to just think of England. Sometimes you had to take one for the team." 

27 January 2017

"It's the same the whole world over ..."

Special treatment for the fatcats.  The Times reports:
Revenue & Customs collected £1 billion less tax from the 6,500 richest people in Britain six years after they gave them their own “customer relationship managers”, a critical report reveals.
Parliament’s spending watchdog said that HMRC could not explain why tax revenues from individuals worth more than £20 million had fallen by 20 per cent since 2009 while tax paid by everyone else had risen by 9 per cent over the same period.
The public accounts committee added that Revenue’s approach to the very wealthy suggested that they were getting “help with their tax affairs that is not available to other taxpayers”.
Stockholm syndrome, perhaps?   Ot HMRC simply seduced by wealth and power?

 

Bring on the tequila and the guacamole?

Bloomberg resurrects a somewhat fanciful idea:
In 1998, the Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black, then owner of the Daily Telegraph, a conservative British newspaper, gave a keynote speech at the Centre for Policy Studies, a free-market think tank in London, entitled "Britain's Final Choice: Europe or America?" 
"None of the continental European countries has a particular affinity with the United States and Canada or anything slightly comparable to Britain's dramatic modern intimacy with North America," he said.
Black's argument was that the U.K. should leave the EU and join the North American Free Trade Agreement:
Such an expanding Nafta would have every commercial advantage over the EU. It is based on the Anglo-American free-market model of relatively restrained taxation and social spending, which is the principal reason the United States and Canada together have created net, an average of two million more new jobs per year than the European Union for the last 15 years. Nafta, as its name implies, is a free trade area only. The United States will not make any significant concessions of sovereignty and does not expect other countries to do so either.
Given Trump's current propensity to tear down NAFTA, I cannot really see this as a runner.  But with Trump, who knows?

 

26 January 2017

Easier said than done



So you wanna build a wall?  1900 miles long and several metres high?

Well, you can't just go and slap a few bricks on top of one another.  Your kind of wall requires planning.  It needs to be properly designed and engineered.  It also needs to take account of local soil, rock and climatic conditions.  So you are going to have to undertake a considerable amount of surveying before you start.  You will need to appoint consulting engineers and architects (probably by a process of competitive tendering - as you are the Federal US government).

You will also need to consult the state authorities of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California to ensure that your plans are compatible with local regulation and planning laws.  And you will need to acquire - or at least lease - the land next to the border from whoever owns it - you may not build a wall on someone else's property.

A contract to build such a wall would be massive - too big for any single contractor.  So you need to consider how to divide up the contract into manageable chunks.  Then again, you will need to put the contracts out to competitive tender.  And the winning contractors will need to gather their resources - labour, equipment and machinery, concrete - and move it to the areas concerned.

At each stage of the above proceedings, you will have to consult the Big Man in the White House. You know what a fusspot he can be about all the details.

And all this before the first concrete is poured.  I reckon that, if you are lucky, you might be in a position to start work in 2019.  Maybe ...

   

23 January 2017

Welcome to the post-truth era

When I say that I am as handsome as George Clooney and as intelligent as Einstein, I am not telling lies; I am merely offering "alternative facts".

A White House aide explains the dispute over the size of the inauguration crowd:




 For what it's worth, this may or may not be evidence:

Trump on left; Obama on right

   

19 January 2017

Pure nostalgia ...

... but worth watching:




 

It doesn't happen often!


Today, snow in the mountains above Benalmadena!


h/t Jeanie

   

Inspired marketing?



Yes, actually, there really is an outfit calling itself  CheapOairlines.  Its website is here.

You may not have much confidence that they will get you to your destination.  But at least they don't have any pretentions.