31 December 2008

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

Oh Tommy, that it should have come to this. Down on Celebrity Big Brother with the fading pop stars and the topless models.

The Telegraph says that Ulrika is getting £175,000; I don't suppose that you will be getting as much. But no doubt every penny will be needed for the impending court case.

Reasons to be cheerful

Look on the bright side - holiday makers in euroland no longer face complicated sums when trying to work out how much they are paying for their gluhwein. Just replace the euro sign with a pound sign and there you are. That will be close enough ...

30 December 2008

28 December 2008

Kicking a man when he's down

I am not usually to be found in a position of cheerleader for Fred the Shred but this seems excessively harsh on the part of Will Hutton in The Observer:
Could there be a greater corporate disaster in British history than the humbling of the Royal Bank of Scotland? Without £20bn of taxpayer support, the bank, with assets of £1.7 trillion, more than Britain's GDP, would now be bankrupt. Its mutation from bank to de facto giant hedge fund, cheerleader for casino capitalism with a portfolio of £500bn in derivatives and £100bn of takeovers in its wake, perfectly sums up our times.
The financial wreckage it has induced explains why the wider economy is in such trouble. There were many other asinine banks, but RBS was leader of the pack. News that it had lent the hedge funds of the now disgraced American fraudster Bernie Madoff £400m with insufficient due diligence was symptomatic of the failure of every aspect of RBS's corporate strategy.
Sir Fred Goodwin, the now deposed CEO, and his team should be asked hard questions by both shareholders and the police. So should the outgoing management at sister Scottish bank HBOS, whose incompetence rivals Goodwin's. The former RBS chief has rightly been dubbed the world's worst banker by Slate magazine's Daniel Gross.
Blaming RBS for failure to perform due diligence on Madoff's ponzi scheme is perhaps unfair, as RBS inherited involvement with Madoff when it acquired ABN Amro (see here). It is the latter which failed to undertake the due diligence test.

(You may nevertheless wish to blame Sir Fred for the (arguably much greater) sin of proceeding - at the top of the market - with the acquisition of ABN Amro. But that is a different argument.)

23 December 2008

Quote of the day

Pesto from last night's Panorama on the banking crisis:
"We've got into this mess because we had too little saving, too few people saving enough. And now we're punishing those savers by cutting interest rates.
There is a lot of unfairness in a way about the measures that are being taken to get us out of this mess. A lot of people who behaved more prudently are being penalised to bail out the feckless."

The programme is worth a look if you missed it. You can catch it here.

19 December 2008

Pirates of the Gulf of Aden

It's going to make a great movie. The Times reports:
The pirates abandoned their attempt to take the ship when a multilateral force, including a warship and two helicopters, arrived after the crew locked themselves in their cabins and radioed for help.
"Seven of the nine pirates landed on our ship, all with weapons," Peng Weiyuan, the captain of Zhenhua 4, said in a telephone interview with China Central Television.
"Our crew, who had been well trained and prepared, used water cannon, self-made incendiary bombs, beer bottles and anything else that could be used to battle with them. Thirty minutes later, the pirates gestured to us for a ceasefire.
"Then the helicopter from the joint fleet came to help us."

Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, I suggest.

17 December 2008

The watchdog that didn't bite ...

... nor even bark a little. The BBC reports:
The SEC chairman said he was "gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures" of SEC staff to look into claims about Mr Madoff.
Mr Cox said: "Credible and specific allegations regarding Mr Madoff's financial wrongdoing, going back to at least 1999, were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff, but were never recommended to the commission for action."

Quote of the day

Isn't it amazing how the noble Lord Mandelson can put forward (in the same paragraph) two utterly irreconcilable propositions?

'We will fulfil our manifesto commitment to,

“a publicly owned Royal Mail fully restored to good health, providing customers with an excellent service and its employees with rewarding employment”.

Bringing in a partner through a minority stake in the Royal Mail’s postal business will help us to deliver that goal.'

Source: here


Is there not some kind of law against torturing fish? The Scotsman reports:
SCIENTISTS are to test whether sharks enjoy listening to Christmas pop songs, it was revealed yesterday.
They will also find out whether the fish prefer Slade's Merry Christmas Everyone to Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine.The songs and other festive hits will be played to the sharks and rays at Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre in Balloch, Dunbartonshire.
The tests were devised after US research showed fish could recognise melody. Chris Brown, senior marine biologist at the Loch Lomond aquarium, said seasonal chartbusters would be piped through walkthrough underwater tunnels where they can be heard by dozens of nurse sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and ray species.

16 December 2008


I know I'm a bit on the late side but today I finally got round to doing my Christmas cards. I was less than impressed by the Christmas stamps. I'm not that fussed about the lack of a religious motif but it would have been pleasant to see something traditional - trees or snow or reindeer, perhaps even Santa. Two middle-aged men dressed as women does not really appeal:

13 December 2008


No, I do not approve. How dare they take the work of the master and prostitute it in such a way. The Times reports:
And the X Factor winner is . . . Leonard Cohen. The mordant songwriter is set for a £1 million windfall after his classic song Hallelujah was chosen as the debut single by tonight’s winner.
The biblical epic, composed in 1984, has survived more than a hundred interpretations from artists including Bob Dylan, k. d. lang and Rufus Wainwright.
The ITV1 show’s three finalists have each recorded their own version of the song, which is expected to become the Christmas No 1, selling one million CDs and downloads.
Here is a version from The Man himself:

12 December 2008


If you have the time (and if you missed it on Channel 4), you might want to have a look at Professor Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money. You can catch it here.

OK, it is guilty of over-simplification and I confess that it veers a bit too far to the right for my political taste, but nevertheless it is so seldom that we see intelligent television that it is to be welcomed.

A special kind of hypocrisy?

Is this what was meant by an ethical foreign policy?
A plane deporting 49 rejected asylum seekers was forced to return to Britain when it was refused permission to land in Kurdistan.
Two passengers on the charter flight from Stansted had been removed before take-off after wounding themselves in their seats, the Guardian has learned.
The drama comes after reports that a 19-year-old deported to Kurdistan on November 27 killed himself soon after landing.

Or this:
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has warned the cabinet of a possible mass influx of Zimbabweans to the UK amid the country's cholera outbreak.
She said some people were obtaining fake passports from neighbouring countries where, unlike Zimbabwe, citizens do not need UK entry visas.

Or this:
Britain is refusing to take part in a proposed European armed intervention in eastern Congo despite a growing clamour for an EU force to help avoid a bigger humanitarian disaster.
At a summit of European leaders in Brussels last night, foreign ministers from the 27 countries discussed proposals to dispatch a force of up to 1,500 to North Kivu in eastern Congo.

But never mind. Our world-saving Prime Minister is still permitted to offer this kind of self-serving crap:
"Freedom, if it means anything, means the supremacy of human rights everywhere and we must not waver in our support for those across the world whose human rights are threatened or denied," Brown said in his speech.
Addressing the oppressed, including the "women and girls of Kivu", the prime minister said: "The world will not abandon you. We must not, and will not, turn our backs and walk away."

Pass me the sick-bag.

Quote of the day

Gordon Brown on the EU summit (here):
"Europe has agreed unanimously and in a united way to take coordinated action that is substantial. That means that Europe and America will be working together to create jobs and growth."

Except that
However, it is understood that individual countries will be able to opt out of measures, such as specific tax cuts, that they don't agree with.

Not quite so united then? And, if opt-outs are permitted, is unanimous agreement worth anything at all?

Christmas presents for the taxpayer

Not only do we, the taxpayers, own banks but we may shortly find ourselves manufacturing motor vehicles.

Where will it all end?

05 December 2008

Crime and police

It seems to have become something of a habit that, at the conclusion of a criminal trial, the senior policeman involved delivers to the waiting world his thoughts on the case, such as this. I cannot identify when this practice began but I rather wish it would cease.

Incidentally, does "pure evil" add anything to our understanding of the case? Other than revealing the medieval cast of police thought?

04 December 2008

The buck does not stop here

How to hang out to dry a member of your staff (from here):
"At 7am on Thursday, police called upon the Serjeant-at-Arms and explained the background to the case, and disclosed to the Serjeant the identity of the Member. The Serjeant-at-Arms called me, told me the Member's name and said that a search might take place of his offices in the House. I was not told that the police did not have a warrant. I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the Serjeant was not obliged to consent, or that a warrant could have been insisted upon. I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant-at-Arms, without consulting the Clerk of the House."


03 December 2008

Has it come to this?

Oh dear. The Scotsman apparently feels that there is a need to explain what a milkman was:
THE milkman – a man who delivers bottles or cartons of milk directly to the door – is a phenomenon dying out in modern Britain. Milkmen have served communities for more than 100 years, delivering morning milk by cart or, more recently, electric float. Traditionally, the milkman would also supply other dairy products, such as cream, cheese, yoghurt, butter and eggs, and sometimes soft drinks, too. Originally, milk needed to be delivered to houses daily, since poor refrigeration meant it would quickly go off. The rise in the use of home refrigerators was the first issue to hit milkmen, and then the coming of supermarkets cut the need for milk to be delivered daily.

As a lad, I used to deliver milk, carrying the bottles up stairs and collecting the tokens. In winter, the milk would freeze and, in summer, the birds would peck holes in the milk bottle tops. And the cream in the milk would rise to the top of the bottle, a minor bonus for whoever got to pour it on their corn flakes. All gone, nowadays.

01 December 2008

She's not Helen Mirren

Aye well, don't look at me:
Britney Spears hasn't given up on love. The former Mrs. Kevin Federline says she'd like another walk down the aisle.
"In five years I would like to be married and have a father figure for my kids, someone who is a provider and can be really stable," Spears says in the new issue of Glamour magazine.

I'm sorted - I've learned to iron my shirts just so; and I doubt if the lass could make mince'n'tatties to suit my standards. So, sorry, girl, you're just too young ...

Away in the clouds

Typical - they put out a press release to tell us that Nicola performed the draw for the next round of the Scottish Cup. But do they tell us who's playing whom? Not a ...

But you can get the details here.

Daytime telly

I have watched four press conferences this afternoon (all on the telly, of course).

The first (here) featured Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children and whatever. I confess that I have not been following Mr Balls' career as closely as I might have, but I had assumed that as a close confidante of the Prime Minister and a Labour Party rising star he would display a command and a confidence justified by his position. Instead, he seemed barely capable of reading his statement, stumbling over his words. Worse, it was desperately prosaic stuff. No sense that he understood the seriousness of the case of Baby P or the emotions to which it has given rise. And no sense that he was firmly committed to improving the way in which future cases are dealt with. Perhaps I am being unfair, but the man is a bureaucratic robot.

Next up, President-Elect Obama. Smooth, polished, cultured. Senator Clinton - ditto. The kind of people you would want to be in charge in a crisis. (Here)

Then the lawyer for the poor sodding civil servant who leaked the material to Mr Green. Articulate, in command, some questions he refuses to answer, clearly knows what he is doing (here).

Finally, the car crash: three Haringey councillors and the council chief executive. These are not people you would trust with the running of an inner city local authority, never mind the welfare of children. I know that it's not their fault - local government has been so stripped of its authority over the past thirty years that they no longer attract the kind of councillors they need, while the senior staff have become automatons. But even so, the chief exec is getting paid good money and one might expect better than what we got.

I will put up links when and if they become available.

The constitutional proprieties

When the entire British commentariat is fulminating over the iniquities of the police, the Home Office and the House of Commons authorities, it takes courage to express a contrary opinion. So even if this guy has got it wrong (and I'm not sure he has), well done to the professor. From yesterday's Observer here:
Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University where one of his undergraduates was David Cameron, dismissed claims from Labour backbenchers who said the Metropolitan Police had breached parliamentary privilege by raiding Green's office in the House of Commons.
Bogdanor said that parliamentary privilege extended only to what an MP said in the Commons and that the Yard had a responsibility to arrest individuals over allegations of illegality regardless of whether they were an MP or not.
'MPs are subject to criminal law as much as the rest of us,' he said. 'Their parliamentary privilege only extends to speeches in the chamber, not their offices.
'If an MP were accused of theft and keeping stolen goods in his office at the House of Commons, should he be exempt from a police investigation?'

28 November 2008

Something not quite right?

If the BBC says it is so, then it must be true:
The Iraqi parliament has voted to accept a deal on the future presence of US troops in the country.
The decision, praised by US President George Bush, means US troops will leave Iraqi streets by mid-2009 and will quit Iraq entirely by the end of 2011.

But I do wonder what the Americans will do about all those vastly expensive military bases in Iraq, such as this one:
The U.S. military base in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is rapidly becoming one of the largest American military installations on foreign soil.
About 40,000 troops, contractors and Defense Department civilian employees live there.
The base is one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.
Balad Air Base is now the headquarters for an Air Force Expeditionary Wing; billions of dollars are being spent on upgrades at the base.

Then there is the enormous US embassy in Baghdad:
A new embassy, which has been referred to as Fortress America[3], is currently under construction in the Green Zone of Baghdad. The compound will comprise 21 buildings on 104 acres (42 ha), making it the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy in the world.[4]
It is to be located along the Tigris river, west of the Arbataash Tamuz bridge, and facing Al Kindi street to the north. The embassy is to be a permanent structure, relieving the 5,500 Americans currently working from the Republican Palace and living in housing scattered across the Green Zone. The US government has kept many aspects of the project under wraps, with many details released only in a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.[5]
Apart from the 1,000 regular employees, up to 3,000 additional staff members will be hired, such as security personnel.

But who am I to question if the Americans are really leaving?

27 November 2008

That's the wonder of ...

So farewell Woolies. I bought my first record there, in the early 1960s. But I haven't seen a 45 rpm record in donkeys' years.

Nanci Griffith said that your shelves were filled with unnecessary plastic objects. This was not entirely true, as there were always sweeties. And, more recently, remaindered DVDs.

So maybe you won't be terribly missed - but there will be a hole in the high street.

26 November 2008

Music of the week

Kate & Anna (and friends):

Is this the best we could do?

Don't worry about it. Yes, I know that a day lasts for 24 hours, but sometimes a day can last a whole weekend. The press release says so:
Scotland celebrates its National Day this weekend (November 29-30) with a programme of events in cities and towns across the country.
The flagship event, The St Andrew's DO, will take place in Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens, with a range of free entertainment activities over the entire St Andrew's Day weekend.
Other events include a family ceilidh in Glasgow, a fashion show and medieval day in Dundee and a street party in Inverness.
St Andrews Day (November 30) also marks the start of Edinburgh's Winter Festival programme.
A short video has also been produced about Andrew, Scotland's patron saint. This explores the legends behind St Andrew and how he came to be associated with Scotland.

Just don't get too excited. And, no, I'm not providing a link to the video (because it's pretty shoddy).

25 November 2008

Always look on the bright side

I know that yesterday I implied that a reduction in the rate of VAT might not make a lot of difference. And that remains my view.

But don't abandon all hopes of an economic recovery next year. Petrol prices have already fallen substantially; and that will be followed by reductions in the cost of gas and electricity. Meanwhile, assuming that the Monetary Policy Committee continues to reduce interest rates, we may eventually see reductions in mortgage rates. These factors will substantially outweigh changes in the VAT rates.

So, by next year, people may have a little more money in their pockets and some of them may feel inclined to spend it, especially as prices in the shops may be relatively cheap.

24 November 2008


When you listen to the Chancellor this afternoon announcing a cut in the 17.5% rate of VAT, you might wish to bear in mind that it will have absolutely no effect on:
  • the price of a loaf of bread (or any other non-luxury food);
  • the cost of heating your house;
  • rail and bus fares; or
  • the cost of children's clothes

none of which attracts the 17.5% VAT rate.

On the other hand, the price of a Mars Bar may be reduced from 40 pence to 38 pence. Isn't that exciting?

23 November 2008

Another ambition destroyed

Don't you see? They're ruining my chances of being selected to play for the Scottish football team at right-half*.

*OK, I'm not really up to date with the latest terminology and maybe I would not be up to the level of Crerand or Baxter, but with the aid of artificial stimulants I'm sure that I could do the business for the national team.

Quote of the day (2)

Alex Johnstone MSP (Con) from The Sunday Times (here):
“School discipline is reaching crisis point and giving individual headteachers the power to decide whether or not to use capital punishment would be a good move."

I can understand the argument about re-introducing the belt (though I would strongly disapprove) but killing the wee buggers seems a little excessive.

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Kilroy, placed in a tank with snakes, spiders, cockroaches, rats and biting ants, faced down all these predators. When a snake inadvertently wriggled between his trembling thighs, the sympathy of a nation went out to the snake. And, with his face crawling with cockroaches, it was the first time that a Kilroy anywhere was observed to keep his mouth shut for a full two minutes.

Perhaps I should start watching this programme.

21 November 2008

I doubt if the turkeys thought it was fun

Watch the guy in the background -

More doom and gloom

It's not really working, is it? This bank bail-out, I mean. The mortgage options are disappearing; loans - even overdrafts - are being withdrawn or not rolled over; and bank shares remain marooned in the doldrums.

Yes, I know that nice Mr Darling is promising to force the banks to resume lending, but I rather think that we have heard such protestations before, only a couple of weeks ago.

And the banks are between a rock (sorry) and a hard place - they need to save up their pennies to buy back their shares from the government (or, in the case of Barclays, from the Middle East) or alternatively pay out the rather expensive ticket attached, in addition to which they have borrowed rather a lot from the government (some £600 billion, according to Pesto) which will also have to be paid back. Meanwhile the FSA is demanding that they boost their capital adequacy.

Where will it all end? Here, maybe.

20 November 2008

A contrarian writes ...

What is the point of having a Royal Navy - all those ships, all those admirals - if they can't deal with a few Somali pirates?

And I don't see how two dirty great aircraft carriers would help.

Rosebud and Radiance

What is the point of having codenames if those names are released to the press? Why not just call them Malia and Sasha?

17 November 2008

Am I missing something?

I have never watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing; while the very concept of I'm a Celebrity seems abhorrent. Big Brother was equally unattractive. And I'm far from fond of that wee long-haired nyaff that does Scottish history programmes.

If it were not for the occasional rugby match, I'd probably throw the telly out of the window. But then, unlike - apparently - everyone else, I have a wee square telly, rather than one of these flat screen things.

So many aspects of modern life are incomprehensible, especially those things associated with television.
Well worth a look:

15 November 2008

Oh Albert

I thought you youngsters might enjoy it - it used to make me smile:

The great Stanley Holloway.

The Rev I M Jolly

In case you missed it, here it is.

Strange how a couple of minutes of tomfoolery can make a politician go up in my estimation.

14 November 2008

Nowadays, you just can't get the staff

What is it with these BBC Scotland bloggers? Both Brian and Douglas are obsessed with single sentence paragraphs; ok, sometimes they allow themselves two sentence paragraphs, but not very often.

Do they think that they are writing for The Daily Record?

I admire them both - they write some good stuff, but it is rather offputting. Just for once, it would be nice to see a proper paragraph, instead of a string of disconnected sentences.

Entschuldigen Sie mir bitte

It has a certain truth to it:

A confession

Some young thing in The Times is getting upset about the older generation's inability to work their mobile phones:
This is what you might call a generational divide. On the older side we have the vast swaths of the population who don't really know how to work their mobile phones. On the younger we have everybody else, and they have to spend huge swaths of their lives telling the first half how to use their mobile phones, often over the medium of said mobile phones, even though they know that the other half aren't really listening, and are still going to send them a voicemail saying “hello? Are you there?” on every second day and a text message saying “HBgUO%^?” every third.

I once had a mobile phone (actually I was given it by the Office) - but I never really worked out which buttons to press. And I have to say that texting was something of a mystery. Nowadays I rely on a landline. Do I miss the mobile? Not in the least. Does that make me a silly old buffer? Probably.

What's in a photo?

OK, you're 60. Happy birthday. You now qualify for a bus pass.

But why dress up as a 19th century soldier? Do all those medals make you feel good? (I don't actually recall any active military service.)

13 November 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

It may be unremitting gloom almost everywhere but here is the good news:

Yes, the price of oil is heading for a level below $50 a barrel. Now, if only the energy companies would reduce their prices ...
Oh, and young Murray seems to be doing rather well in some tennis tournament.

11 November 2008

The gravy train continues ...

Let me see if I have got it right. Even though he resigned, he gets all the pay he would have got up until the end of his contract, some 15 months hence. This is what The Telegraph appears to suggest:
Sir Ian Blair will receive a pay-off worth up to £400,000 when he stands down as Metropolitan Police Commissioner in three weeks' time.
The additional sum is on top of the estimated £3.5million pension pot, worth £160,000 a year, which he is set to receive after 30 years' service as a policeman.
The settlement, thought to be one of the biggest ever, was agreed by four members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the independent body that governs Sir Ian's force.
Under the terms of the deal, Sir Ian is likely to get 15 months' salary worth £295,000 for agreeing to stand down on Dec 1. The cash is the amount he would have earned if he had remained in charge of the Met until February 2010 when his contract was due to expire.

I can now understand why he resigned - why go through the hassle of actually doing the job, when you can resign and get paid what you would been anyway.

When I resigned from public service in 2005, after rather more years than Sir Ian, I do not recall being offered a pay-off. So, if you like, you can attribute this post to sheer envy.

Foreign affairs

I see that The Scotsman is reporting that the Bank of China is the mystery alternative bidder for HBOS. Is this really what Alex Neil and the two banking knights want? To drive us into the hands of the Chinese?

Speaking as an HBOS account-holder, I rather think that I prefer Lloyds TSB.

10 November 2008

Music of the week

Well, maybe it's not really music, rather a tone poem. But Joni Mitchell wrote it and Leonard Cohen is doing the narration. And I like it:

If you want the original, then here it is.

09 November 2008

It's all a bit of a mystery

Oh the rugby? Well, I thought Scotland played quite well, apart of course when they were conceding tries. But then I don't understand the new rules - a bit like the TV commentators.

And who was that Gabby woman? Why was the lovely Jill relegated to pitchside?

To my deep disgust, at the end of the match, the ref announced that it was full time. When I played rugby (not at all well and many years ago), the correct phrase was 'No Side'.

Ooh those bankers - they are awful

I wonder how the Scottish newspapers managed to miss this story of unwarranted excess and unbridled hedonism, especially as it took place at the best Edinburgh hotels, including Prestonfield, the Balmoral, the Caley and the George.

08 November 2008

An impending coup?

Section 45 of the Scotland Act 1998:
(1) The First Minister shall be appointed by Her Majesty from among the members of the Parliament and shall hold office at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
(2) The First Minister may at any time tender his resignation to Her Majesty and shall do so if the Parliament resolves that the Scottish Executive no longer enjoys the confidence of the Parliament.

Up to you, Mr Gray. Has Glenrothes sufficiently emboldened you to put together a coalition with at least one of the other unionist parties and dethrone the nationalist usurper? And if not a coalition, then a minority government with the tacit support of other parties? Not impossible - all it would take is to win a vote in parliament.

OK, maybe not now. But, now that the honeymoon has ended, how long before the whispering starts?

07 November 2008

The Wire

I have previously expressed some admiration for this TV programme, which I acquired from Amazon on DVD.

I am now ploughing through the third series. It ain't easy, but it is rewarding. Bunk, Kima, Cedric and, of course, McNulty are the stars; but even the villains (not all of whom are black drug-dealers) have their moments. It is complex and multi-layered; and the political dimension is becoming increasingly apparent.

Wonderful - but they do swear an awful lot.

Yes we can

Naw, we couldnae ...

Meaningless soundbites

The Herald reports on yesterday's FMQs:
Iain Gray (Labour): "The First Minister is no Barack Obama. Indeed, the First Minister is less about the audacity of hope and more about the effrontery of hype".
Alex Salmond (SNP): "It's certainly true I'm no Barack Obama. The problem for Iain Gray is he's no Jack McConnell."

Do not seek to analyse the semantics of this exchange. It is what passes for wit in the talking shop beside Arthur's Seat.

All talk and no trousers

Despite all their protestations, do you really think that the government will actually do anything to force the banks and the building societies to pass on the benefits of the interest rate cut to the mortgage-paying public?

No, nor do I.

At this very moment, somewhere there is a Treasury flunkey, in confidence of course, assuring the bank bosses that ministers have to say these kind of things for political reasons and that there is no need to worry.

And Hazel Blears thinks bloggers are cynical?

Something of a hoot

Just when you thought that the Tories might be beginning to clean up their act, with Dave Cameron threatening a ban on outside earnings for his frontbenchers, this has to happen. The Independent reports:
But one shadow minister said yesterday: "This would be gesture politics. It wouldn't impress anyone. It is a good thing to have experience of business, especially in the current economic climate. Are we really saying that we don't want people in government who have been on a board and seen the pressures that companies are under?"
Another frontbencher described the idea as "socialist", pointing out that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, whose father co-founded the luxury wallpaper and fabrics company Osborne & Little, had wealthy backgrounds. "George has a trust fund – he doesn't need a second job," complained the frontbencher.
Other senior Tories say they could not afford to live on an MP's salary of £61,000 a year and might need a top-up from Tory funds if they were told to give up their outside jobs. Some might threaten to quit their party posts rather than lose their extra earnings. Some Tory insiders say the proposed curbs would be "unworkable" and "unfair"; that it would be impossible to clamp down on those frontbenchers who still enjoy an income such as dividends from previous work.

Don't you feel sorry for the poor dears? A mere £61 grand a year is not enough. And this from a party that opposed the minimum wage ...

05 November 2008

New morning in America

At least, some of them are not taking it too seriously:

More Obamania

And now the rush begins. Can Gordon get face-time with the Man before Vladimir or Angela or - horror of horrors - Sarko?

Pathetic or what?

Did he need to be so ingratiating? The press release shows how low the First Minister is prepared to sink:
Mr Salmond said:
"On behalf of the people of Scotland, I send you my heartfelt congratulations on a wonderful and historic election victory - it ushers in a new era of hope for the United States and its role in the world.
This was a victory for optimism over pessimism, for hope over fear. "It is time for a leader with your commitment to cooperation, and your belief that the improbable can be possible with goodwill and hard work.
"The American public have chosen another President of Scottish descent, and your message of support for the Scotland Week celebrations in the US this year was greatly appreciated by Scots at home and abroad.
"2009 is Scotland's Year of Homecoming - celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national bard and international cultural icon, Robert Burns - during which we will welcome to Scotland people from around the world with a connection to and love of our nation.
"It will be a fantastic year to come home - for Presidents and citizens alike - and I extend an invitation of warm Scottish hospitality to you during this special year."

Excuse me while I puke. Scotland - home of the cultural cringe.

This is much much better.

More of the same

I thought that this kind of nonsense was supposed to stop. The Guardian reports:
Stephen Hester, the new boss parachuted into Royal Bank of Scotland, has been hired on a salary of £1.2m and been awarded shares worth more than £6m to overhaul the bank.
Hester, who is being given 10.4m shares, yesterday hinted the beleaguered bank was on course to make its first full-year loss. The replacement for the ousted Sir Fred Goodwin is working on a new strategy that is likely to undo much of the expansion achieved by his predecessor.

and also here:
Andy Hornby, the HBOS chief executive who is leaving as a result of the Lloyds TSB rescue takeover, is to be paid £60,000 a month to remain with the combined "Bank for Britain" once the deal is completed.
Hornby will be staying for an undefined period after the takeover, scheduled to take place next year.

So Mr Hornby is all right - which will no doubt bring much comfort to the bank tellers and call centre operatives facing redundancy.

Do these guys have no sense of decency? Or of shame?

And just because it's the day of the US election, did they think that no-one would notice?

04 November 2008

Getting irritable in my old age

According to the BBC (here):
Dance act Groove Armada are to bring in the New Year as headliners of Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party.
No, sorry, never heard of them. Move along please.

This election thingy

Where were you when ...? It's a bit of a poser, n'est-ce pas?

Well it's wall to wall on the telly, with Dimblebore on BBC1 and SkyNews desperate to compete. Even ITV are throwing some cash at it, with Julie having been sent out to New York (no, I don't know why, either).

Me, I'm old-fashioned. I'll listen to it on the steam radio. No, not Naughtie on Radio 4 - he disappears up his own fundament too much. I'll switch between Rhod on Radio 5 and the World Service.

But, hey, whatever. Have a good one.

03 November 2008

A misanthrope writes ...

Of course I'm worried. Could Obama actually lose? And what would happen thereafter? OMG, the thought of Palin in the White House.

And what commitments has Miliband given in Africa? He is not seriously going to send in British troops ...

Meanwhile mythical bidders float around HBOS, like flies to a turd. While the Secretary of State for Scotland flies to Iceland of all places - does he think he can succeed in recovering Scotland's investments from the frozen north? Or is it just a game?

And Hibs and St Mirren draw nil-nil; that must have (not) been one of the more exciting matches of the season.

Looking on the bright side, I suppose it can't get any worse ...

30 October 2008

Music of the week


Ah, the kids forget so easily ...

The Guardian seems to have forgotten something rather important:
The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank announced a huge rescue package for Hungary yesterday in an attempt to save central Europe's former economic powerhouse from bankruptcy.
The $25.1bn (£15.3bn) bail-out, which was much larger than expected, aims to help restore investors' confidence in the country's financial markets and the forint, and marks the first time that an EU member state has been rescued by the IMF.

No, it doesn't. A certain country was rescued in 1976 with an IMF loan. BusinessWeek is a better guide.

The next president?

Not really tested but what did you expect? Nevertheless, worth watching:

Up, up and away

So farewell BMI. You used to be British Midland, but now you will just be part of Lufthansa.

In the days when I did a lot of flying, I was a silver member of your diamond club - although its only real virtue was to permit access to the business lounge, thus avoiding the hoi polloi. But the stewardesses on all those flights between Edinburgh and Brussels were cheerful souls and the flights were usually on time.

So thanks for the memories.

29 October 2008

Money can't buy you love

A chance to see again the Bird & Fortune duo on the start of the credit crunch:

Setting a good example?

The problem with BBC Scotland (and STV) is that they have no imagination. Why did they not seek to broadcast this stirring sporting contest? Some of us might even have paid to watch it. The Scotsman reports:
A TEAM of MSPs was last night branded "an absolute disgrace" after a football match in which they were involved was called off when tempers boiled over.
The match at Lesser Hampden in Glasgow on Sunday was stopped after about 55 minutes when the game threatened to descend into a mass brawl following a number of contentious challenges between the politicians and their opponents, a team of sports journalists. One of the flashpoints in the match saw the BBC broadcaster, Chick Young, injured in a tackle involving John Park, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, after which the MSP was sent off.

How nice to see that our politicians and sports journalists still seek to maintain the sporting traditions of fair play and broken ankles.

PS Is Mr Chick Young not a little old for this kind of endeavour?

Is Obama going grey?

Quote of the day from The Guardian:
The only certainty in all of this is that, for men, dyeing hair to hide the grey always looks worse, and if they happen to be world leaders, there is something even more desperate about it. I leave you with two words: Silvio Berlusconi.
And, alright, I have a personal interest. With me, it's a race between going grey and going bald. But, hey, worse things happen at sea ...

By the dawn's early light

OK, so Palin's a joke. And, whatever he may have been ten or twenty years ago, McCain is tired, old, irascible.

Which brings us to the Democrats. I admit it - I was a Hillary fan. It seemed to me that she had been tested in the fire, that she had the experience and the administrative ability to deliver. I was always worried that Obama would be found out; some awful secret would emerge in the heat of battle that would put paid to his chances.

In the past few weeks, I have begun to think that I was wrong. I knew that Obama was an orator of some skill, which is not that common these days. And we have learned that he keeps his cool under pressure; he thinks before he reacts. Maybe he has kowtowed a little too much before the political orthodoxies - on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on taxation. But I can forgive him for that, if we get a man in the White House who thinks.

But what has really impressed me is his organisational ability. Since when did the Democrats manage to raise more funding than the Republicans? How come the Democrats have more local offices and more local volunteers than the Republicans? How did the Democrats manage to recruit all those new voters? One of the newspapers pointed out recently that Obama has more than 1000 lawyers in Florida alone, standing by, ready to pounce on any nonsense at the polls. It didn't happen under Kerrey, it didn't happen under Gore, and - arguably - not even under Bill Clinton.

So, if Obama puts half the effort into governing America that he has put into getting himself elected, he may just be one of the great presidents.

One of the lesser adornments of the BBC

I never really saw the point of Jonathan Ross. As a film critic, he never seemed that interested in movies. As a chat show host, he never seemed that interested in his guests. And as a DJ, he never seemed interested in music. For this, the BBC (allegedly) pays him £6 million a year.

And now he is in trouble. Again.


... or how the hedgies and the short sellers got burned. I know I shouldn't, but it is hard not to feel a glow of satisfaction at this tale of how derring-do didn't. The Guardian reports:
Amid pandemonium on Frankfurt's stock exchange, VW shares experienced a rollercoaster ride before ending 82% higher on the day at €945, valuing the group at €280bn.
The panic-buying, which began on Monday, came after hedge funds were caught short by Sunday's announcement from the luxury car-maker Porsche that it had seized 74.1% of VW.
With the federal state of Lower Saxony holding a further 20.2% in VW, that left just 5.7% of the firm's shares traded freely. With global car companies in freefall as the recession bites into sales and profits, the funds [had previously] bet hugely on VW's stock falling dramatically. In market parlance, they "shorted" VW shares by "borrowing" and then selling them in the hope they could buy them back at a much reduced price.
Porsche's announcement forced them to close their positions by chasing the few shares on offer and paying ever-higher prices for them.

It's a hard world and getting harder all the time.

27 October 2008

A dog's breakfast

It may ease the passage of the legislation through parliament but it won't make local income tax any easier to administer. The Scotsman reports:
THE Scottish Government has admitted for the first time local income tax rates could be varied locally – a major concession to get the proposal through the Scottish Parliament.
Until the weekend, the SNP administration had stuck hard and fast to its proposal to replace the council tax with a fixed, centrally set 3p income tax supplement.
But yesterday John Swinney, the finance secretary, said he was willing to consider allowing councils to vary the rate up to 3p, but not above.
He also confirmed the government was investigating how to tax unearned income. "We're certainly considering that as an option, I'm very happy to confirm that," he said.

No sign that HM Revenue and Customs would be prepared to operate the system for the Scottish administration - which probably means that individual local authorities will have to take on the task of recovering the tax from employers. And employers may need to get used to making differential deductions from their employees' wage packets depending upon which local authority area they reside in. Furthermore, companies which pay dividends may have to learn how to deduct varying amounts of tax from their shareholders.

The words "administrative nightmare" come to mind.

24 October 2008

Banking woes

The price of HBOS shares is falling like a stone. It is now at 59.10 pence, down more than 18% since the market opened this morning. Lloyds TSB is at 159.30 pence.

If you were a Lloyds TSB shareholder, would you agree to swap shares on the basis that one HBOS share equals 0.605 of a Lloyds TSB share? For that is the deal on offer. As Mr Spock would say, it doesn't compute.

So then, revise the terms of the offer? Well, they've already tried that and it does not appear to have worked.

But if the merger/takeover is abandoned, what future for HBOS?

Can he be serious?

Quote of the day by Gerard Baker in The Times (here):
It's hard to make a reasoned and fair judgment about the Alaska Governor because she has been the victim of one of the nastiest, most sustained and comprehensive slime-jobs ever performed by a hyper-partisan national and global media.

Is it really that hard? When you see some of her incomprehensible interviews, notably with Katie Couric. When you hear her constant repetitions of terrorist slurs against Obama. When you read about her dismissal of those she regards as not real Americans. And that's before we get to the lies about the bridge to nowhere, about the gas pipeline and about troopergate.

Face it, Gerry, the woman is a dingbat.

23 October 2008

How utterly pointless

The Independent chooses the ten best eggcups.

Quote of the day

Matthew Norman in The Independent on George (formerly Gideon) Osborne (here):
What possessed him to pick a fight with Mandelson on terrain that overwhelmingly favoured the latter I doubt he could coherently answer himself.
But his decision to break the Code of the Bullies, by passing on confidences gleaned at billionheir Nat Rothschild's villa amounted to a form of suicide by cop. He simply begged for the bullet.
On reflection, Lord M's counterstrike deserves another point of reference. Forgive yet another boxing analogy, but here we find Mandy as Muhammad Ali to Osborne's George Foreman. For this is the most sensational act of political rope-a-dope ever witnessed.
For two weeks, he soaked up incessant haymakers from front-page headlines about his connection with the oligarch, and for all the world looked ready to drop. And then, quite suddenly, he danced off the ropes to unleash a murderous combination of his 0wn, with a little help from that tireless correspondent with the editor of The
Times, Mr Rothschild.
One particular beauty about the Rumble in the Jungle was The Punch Ali Never Threw. Knowing it would ruin the elegance of the knock-out, he stopped himself hitting Foreman again as he began his slow motion lump to the canvas. I like to think Lord M will show such restraint, graciously retiring to his corner to be mobbed by delirious hangers-on from the Labour benches. They should hail him as their new, undisputed champion because that, miraculously, is what he has become.

Georgie-Porgie - silly boy.

Building the new Jerusalem

The Guardian has an editorial on the Home Secretary's proposed database of every communication, including all phone calls, text messages and internet visits:
If you believe it is reasonable for the state to maintain a permanent database, holding details about everyone's communications; if you believe that the state has a good record of safeguarding individual databases on benefits, health and the military; and if you are confident that Britain's anti-terrorist laws will never be used for other purposes, then you will support Ms Smith's planned bill. If, on the other hand, you agree with articles four, eight and nine of the European convention on human rights, or with the US fourth amendment, or even if you simply think that Britain's creeping surveillance society has got to be reined in before it is too late, then you will respond to Sir Ken's warning and insist that, as with 42-day detention without trial, this new degradation of our freedoms is one that parliament must never allow to pass. As the prime minister so succinctly put it: which side are you on?
There is a third point of view - that of practicality. There are some 70 million mobile phones in the UK. If you assume that, on average, each is used twice a day (once for a text message, once for voice communication) then each week will add about a billion items to the database. (And that is before you add in all those websites visited on the internet, all the e-mails, or the telephone calls made from landlines.) Accordingly, after the first year, at an absolute minimum, there will be more than 50 billion separate entries. Or possibly three times as many. Do the tools exist to store, maintain or search such an enormous database?

22 October 2008

Music of the week

So it was more than 40 years ago. Dig out those old LPs.

Irony of the week

The Times reports:
With Mr Osborne having to break his holiday – to make a speech on poverty in London – it made sense for his wife to have the company of Nathaniel Rothschild and the collection of financiers and their families.

It must have been really tough for Mr Osborne to relinquish the company of Rothschilds, Murdochs and Russian oligarchs in order to deliver a speech on poverty. My sympathies for the puir (well rich actually - Daddy is a wallpaper magnate and the 17th baronet) wee lamb.

21 October 2008

There are times when I long for the Revolution

They say (whoever "they" are) that we get the politicians we deserve.

But what did we do to get the bunch of tossspots involved in this latest imbroglio, involving a floating gin palace off Corfu, owned (needless to say) by the latest Russian oligarch to emerge from the steppes?

Mandelson, Osborne, Feldman. Would that they spent a bit more time tending to their knitting and a little less sucking up to the super-rich.

20 October 2008

If I were a tennis player ...

He won the Madrid Masters, didn't he? Why shouldn't he celebrate with the, erm, ball girls?

17 October 2008

Here comes the belated backlash

I have no wish to be unkind but signing letters is not going to do the trick. The Scotsman reports:
THE tycoon Sir Tom Farmer is at the head of a growing list of senior business figures demanding a rethink of the HBOS takeover, The Scotsman can reveal.
Figures from industries including construction, retail, property and tourism are all concerned the controversial deal could be against the long-term interests of the taxpayer. They are deeply worried it could prove contrary to Scotland's future economic success and damage its corporate environment and retail banking and mortgage sectors.
Sir Tom and his contemporaries are the first to sign an open letter being sent to political leaders throughout Scotland and the UK – including Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, and Alex Salmond, the First Minister.

The obvious route is via the shareholders who will have to agree to the takeover. Is it impossible for these captains of industry to pressurise the HBOS shareholders (many of whom are institutions themselves) to resist the takeover? Meanwhile the shares are going cheap - if the big guys have a spare million or two to spend, perhaps they might become shareholders in order to vote. They would thus be putting their money where their mouths are.

16 October 2008


Never mind about Freeview - put it on the BBC's i-player. The BBC reports:
The chief executive of MG Alba will ask the BBC Trust to consider allowing the broadcast of the new Gaelic digital television channel on Freeview.
Programmes, launched a month ago, are available on Sky and Freesat, but it was not planned to show them on Freeview for another two years.

If they continue to show live Scottish club rugby as they did last Saturday, I'll watch it, even if it does have a heedorum-hodorum commentary.

Is the financial deal about to unravel?

Two reasons:

First, inter-bank lending - despite government guarantees - remains severely constipated. At least, so says the current poster-boy, Mr Peston. And, if the banks do not trust each other, the provision of further (or even existing) credit to their retail customers, both companies and individuals, is a non-starter.

Second, the banks (notably Lloyds TSB) appear to be challenging the requirement to buy back the government's preference shares before issuing dividends, a period which might last for five years. The Times appears to think The Treasury has made or will make concessions, whereas The Guardian suggests that the government is holding firm.

Meanwhile the stock market is tanking (again) ...

Check against delivery?

I suppose that it has become standard practice these days. But I still find something odd in the pre-release and pre-reporting of conference speeches. Thus the BBC website (here):
SNP leader Alex Salmond will open his party's annual conference in Perth later in a bullish mood.
The first minister will tell delegates ...
He will say that ...
Mr Salmond will tell the conference ...
..., Mr Salmond will say.
He will say that ...
Mr Salmond will encourage his party ...

What are the conference delegates supposed to do? Tick off the paragraphs as he delivers them?

If I were a delegate, now that I know what the Dear Leader is going to say, I might be tempted to skip off to the nearest pub for a quiet pint.

15 October 2008

Innumerate rubbish

I do wish that the BBC Scotland would display a little less carelessness. Look at this:

Unemployment in Scotland has risen by 4.7% in the last quarter, the latest official figures have shown.
The number of people not in work increased by 19,000 between June and August, to 124,000.
The Labour Force Survey showed there were 10,000 fewer people in work, compared with the same period in 2007.
Jobseekers Allowance claimants rose by 3,100 in one month, to 81,800. The number of people in employment within the three-month period was 2,538,000. The Scottish unemployment rate rose by 0.7% over the quarter, to 4.7%, which is below the UK average joblessness rate of 5.7%.

1. No, unemployment did not increase by 4.7% in the last quarter; it increased to 4.7%.

2. No, the Scottish unemployment rate did not rise by 0.7% over the quarter; it rose by 0.7 of a percentage point.

14 October 2008

Glenrothes betting

According to politicalbetting.com, you can still get 2/5 on the SNP (which is rather more generous than the 1/4 at the start of the race). The best for Labour is at 9/4; if you're a betting man, that would seem more attractive. 100/1 bar.

How markets work

Lifted from The Times (here):
The chief of a Native American tribe was asked in the autumn if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Being a 21st-century chief he had no idea, but said that it was going to be cold and told the people in his village to collect wood.
A few days later he rang the National Weather Service.
“Yes, it is going to be cold,” they told him, so he went back to his people and told them to collect more wood.
A week later he called again.
“Is it going be a cold winter?” he asked.
“Yes, very cold.”
So he went back and told his people to collect every bit of wood they could.
Two weeks later he called again.
“Yes,” he was told, “it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.” “How can you be so sure?” the chief asked.
The weatherman replied: “The Native Americans are collecting wood like crazy.”

13 October 2008

The magician of anglo-saxon social-liberalism

Two months ago, he was not expected to survive until Christmas. Now, the Clunking Fist becomes a European hero. Le Monde reports:
Triomphe à l'anglaise : c'est Gordon Brown, celui qui empêcha Tony Blair d'adopter l'euro, qui introduit l'Eurogroupe. C'est lui, le magicien du social-libéralisme anglo-saxon, qui donne des leçons d'interventionnisme aux continentaux. Pendant une demi-heure, il expose le plan de sauvetage britannique dont il a proposé, dès le 8 octobre, de généraliser à l'Europe une des mesures-clés : la garantie des prêts interbancaires.

The New York Times takes a similar line:

What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.
This is an unexpected turn of events. The British government is, after all, very much a junior partner when it comes to world economic affairs.
It’s true that London is one of the world’s great financial centers, but the British economy is far smaller than the U.S. economy, and the Bank of England doesn’t have anything like the influence either of the Federal Reserve or of the European Central Bank. So you don’t expect to see Britain playing a leadership role.
But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.

The damn plan better work after all this.

Music of the week

As a relief from all this financial stuff:

The incredible shrinking banks

Fascinating diagram from the BBC News website (here):

What a difference a year makes.

Is everything OK?

I see that, notwithstanding this morning's rescue announcement, HBOS shares have drifted down from over 124 pence to 97 pence, a decline of nearly 22%.

Somehow, I don't think that was in the script.

Update: HBOS now down to less than 86 pence, as at 11 am.

Bye bye

So farewell, Fred the Shred, Sir Fred Goodwin, chief executive of RBS.

You may have been the mastermind behind RBS' acquisition of NatWest and its subsequent integration, thereby converting a provincial bank into an international player (and, incidentally, making pots of money for shareholders and enhancing Edinburgh's reputation as a financial centre). You may have directed the profitable if gradual expansion of RBS into the USA and into China, again to widespread benefit for all.

But now it's all gone pear-shaped and you have been nominated to carry the can. You have therefore been shown into that room with the pearl-handled revolver and the bottle of whisky. Only history can judge whether your successes outweighed your failures.

12 October 2008


Some of you may have noticed that in the television pictures from Iceland the principal bank is described as Kaupþing, rather than Kaupthing as in the British press. What is this peculiar letter "þ"?

As a former student of Old English and Old Norse (yes really), I can advise you that it is the letter thorn, used extensively in both those languages to represent the sounds usually spelled "th" in modern English. I was pleased to see that it has survived in modern Icelandic, together with its confrere, the letter "ð", known as eth and used to represent the same sounds in those ancient languages.

However, back to our friend thorn. Thorn survived through early middle English, but when printing first arrived in the UK from Germany, there was a problem in that the printing sets did not have the letter thorn. Accordingly, the early printers substituted the letter "y" which looked vaguely similar. And this is the explanation for such phrases as "ye olde tea shoppe". Nobody ever actually pronounced it as "ye" - it was a misprinting of þe (the).

Not a lot of people know that.

With a whimper ...

So this is how it ends. By tomorrow morning, HBOS and RBS will have the government as a majority shareholder. Not just a few shares at the edge to shore up the core capital but the majority shareholder. Interesting to see if supervision of its investment will require the government to have nominees on the boards - hard to see how government can avoid it. When you are the majority shareholder, you cannot simply duck out of your responsibilities by saying that you don't want to interfere in the management of the bank.

It will no doubt be the government's intention to sell off (privatise?) its shareholdings as soon as market conditions permit. But, in the meantime, life at HBOS and RBS should be interesting.

And when HBOS demand excessive charges for my overdraft, can I complain to my MP?

Quote of the day

From a well-written piece by Tom Harris MP, sacked as a minister last week:
And sometimes, when the music stops, there just isn’t a chair for you. It can be as simple as that and you just have to accept it.

It is easy to forget that government ministers are human beings too.

I hope that he keeps on blogging.

11 October 2008

My name is Cassandra

Some conclusions from this week's financial and economic developments:

1. Prolonged recession is now unavoidable. Let us not argue about whether to call it a depression. The economies of the UK, the US and the Eurozone will contract. This will have (is already having) serious implications for the Chinese, Indian, Russian and Brazilian economies, although some of these may be able (just) to keep their growth rate above water. Oil prices will fall below $50 a barrel.

2. For the UK, the lack of credit will lead to companies going bust or downsizing; unemployment and house re-possessions will soar, leading to additional welfare spending. Foreign adventurism (in Iraq and in Afghanistan) will be taken off the agenda - we can't afford it. The same applies to new aircraft carriers and other defence equipment. Domestic capital infrastructure will also suffer - forget about new roads or rail lines. Ditto foreign aid. A Labour administration would no doubt seek to protect health and education but don't count on it.

3. All this faffing about with "re-capitalisation" of the banks and guaranteeing liquidity is not achieving anything. The banks are in a deep hole and will need to be wholly nationalised, especially RBS, HBOS and Lloyds TSB. Some of the others might survive as independents but, once those three are in the government's hands, the others will have a tough time as the spotlight is turned upon them. Given the value of bank shares, compensation for shareholders will be derisory.

4. Italy, Spain, Ireland and others will leave the Euro, as the German government and the ECB will refuse to help bail out those countries (or to allow them to weaken the euro as an aid to recovery). On the other hand, the UK might be forced by economic circumstance to join the Euro, forming an ever-closer union with Germany, Benelux and perhaps France.

5. The Labour government will be replaced by a government of national unity, including members of all three of the main UK political parties.

Don't believe it? Tick off the predictions in the months to come ...

The land of fire and ice

I can sympathise with those individuals who tucked their savings away in Icelandic bank accounts and I am glad that the government has assured them that those savings will be reimbursed one way or another.

Equally, I endorse the government's hesitation about providing similar assurances to local authorities. health trusts, universities and charities rich enough to invest millions. These bodies employ professional advisers and have access to financial advice.

There were plenty straws in the wind to indicate the shakiness of the Icelandic economy. (Even this blog drew attention last May to one such.) What were all these professional advisers doing? Not a lot, it seems.

Furthermore, we have been here before. In the early 1990s, when the BCCI went bust, a number of local authorities (including the Western Isles Council as it then was) had substantial funds on deposit. Happily, most of these funds were recovered in due course but not before various directors of finance lost their jobs. I sometimes think that the intrinsic dullness of the accountancy and other financial professions attracts people who are not very bright. After all, what kind of intelligent teenager wants to grow up to be an accountant or a banker?

In any event, remember that if a proposition looks too good to be true it probably is.

10 October 2008

How the mighty are fallen

Those HBOS shares - which were trading at over 900 pence a year ago - are now down to 122 pence, a fall of over 20% since the markets opened this morning.

Never mind the merger with Lloyds TSB, wholesale nationalisation must now be an option.

The blame game

Do you believe him? But let us keep this little extract from The Times to hand:
Bankers and financiers who take irresponsible risks should be “punished” for their actions, Gordon Brown said today.
Following yesterday’s massive Government bailout for the banks, the Prime Minister spoke of his anger at the way some in the City had behaved.
“I am angry at irresponsible behaviour,” he told GMTV. “Our economy is built around people who work hard, who show effort, who take responsible decisions, and whether there is excessive and irresponsible risk-taking, that has got to be punished.”

I'll believe in the punishment of irresponsible City operators when it happens. Meanwhile I await with interest to see the terms (including the pension pots) of those such as Sir Fred Goodwin when he eventually takes his leave of RBS.

Meanwhile, who was it who was in overall charge of the economy when all this irresponsible behaviour came to a head?

09 October 2008

Who's next?

Well, there you go - it didn't take long for the Americans to realise that the Brits maybe had the right answer. The New York Times reports:
WASHINGTON — Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.
Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks’ balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones.
The Treasury plan was still preliminary and it was unclear how the process would work, but it appeared that it would be voluntary for banks.
The proposal resembles one announced on Wednesday in Britain. Under that plan, the British government would offer banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays
and HSBC Holdings up to $87 billion to shore up their capital in exchange for preference shares. It also would provide a guarantee of about $430 billion to help banks refinance debt.

The start of something?

Mr Murphy, the new Secretary of State for Scotland, may be more astute than I had realised. An interesting article in The Times explains:
The Scottish Secretary, who took over his new role only last weekend, wrote to the First Minister offering to promote issues that Mr Salmond believes should be on the agenda for the Prime Minister's new National Economic Council.
Mr Murphy went further by suggesting to the First Minister that they meet for “a summit” next week, along with the CBI Scotland and the STUC, to discuss specific Scottish issues arising from the turmoil gripping the world economy.
Mr Murphy's “hug them close” approach to Mr Salmond and his SNP ministers is a departure from that of his predecessors, who viewed the SNP government with deep suspicion. However, it also placed Mr Salmond in the position of having to accept the new cordial spirit of the Scotland Office for fear of appearing petty and partisan if he did not.

For once, and perhaps for the first time since he became Prime Minister, it is not Mr Salmond who is setting the agenda. From Mr Murphy's point of view, even if his approach may not be entirely successful, it at least indicates that Labour may be recovering from the doldrums they have been in since losing power in the Scottish Parliament.

Why the Culture Secretary is a philistine

At the risk of being perceived as an old fuddy-duddy, I have considerable reservations about this story in The Independent:
People would be able to chat, drink coffee and watch videos in English libraries under a new government proposal, The Independent has learnt. Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, will today launch a consultation on changing the face of libraries which he believes are out of touch.
Under the proposals, libraries could install coffee franchises, book shops and film centres. Noise bans will also be reviewed. Mr Burnham will tell the Public Library Authorities conference in Liverpool that libraries must "look beyond the bookcase and not sleepwalk into the era of the e-book".

Does Mr Burnham understand what a library is for? As the name suggests, a library is primarily about books. I don't mind libraries providing internet access, or lending out cds and dvds, providing it is done quietly. (My own local library keeps its computers in a separate room.) But adding a coffee shop and lifting noise bans are surely steps too far. If you want to have a coffee and a chat, there are plenty other places to go.

08 October 2008

They all shall have prizes

Alice Miles of The Times explains why the Government finds it so hard to take decisions:
Take, first, the vast new National Economic Council (NEC). It contains 12 Cabinet ministers, two ministers-who-attend-Cabinet and three other ministers. But it is also supported by a “senior officials working group”, including the permanent secretaries of all the ministers, which is a lot of them, a secretariat of senior staff from the Cabinet Office and Treasury, “regional ministers” (eight more), and 17 “business ambassadors” (these separate from the 18 members of the Business Council who advise the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on “business issues”; there was an international one too for a while but let's keep this local). Blimey. In less-restrained times we could go the whole hog and call this a “government”.
Except that we have had a new one of those this week as well, bigger and better, yeah. The number of ministers-half-in-the-Cabinet (the full Cabinet is restricted to 23) is getting higher as the country collapses: after last week's reshuffle the total number of full and part-time Cabinet ministers rose from 28 to 33. To think that Margaret Thatcher used to manage with a paltry 20 or so. The official list of Her Majesty's Government is now so complicated that it comes with a series of footnotes: “* unpaid”; “** attends Cabinet”; “*** attends Cabinet when ministerial responsibilities are on the agenda”, etc.

Do big meetings ever achieve anything? Or are they just a means of deferring decisions and spreading blame?

Compare and contrast Mr Salmond's heavily slimmed-down cabinet of himself, 5 cabinet secretaries and Bruce Crawford as business manager.

$480 million - is that fair?

This is Congressman Henry Waxman giving a hard time to the former chief executive of Lehman:

Nice to see a fatcat getting it in the neck.

03 October 2008

The Prince of Darkness returns

Once upon a time there was a politician called Peter. He was a genius with the media - he told us he was and who can doubt it? Eventually, he became a cabinet minister but got into trouble over a loan - a big loan to buy a house; he had to resign. But his pal, Tony, soon got him back to cabinet. Unfortunately, he blotted his copybook once again, this time a confused affair over a passport for an Indian businessman. Resignation becomes a habit.

Never mind, his pal, Tony, fixed him up with a nice little number in Brussels. But now, to everyone's surprise, he is to become a lord and a cabinet minister again. The surprise is because everyone thought that he and Gordon hated each other. But, no matter, another few months, and he will undoubtedly be forced to resign once again ...

To be continued.

01 October 2008

It's a quandary

Let me try to explain this as simply as I can. The proposed deal is that HBOS shares should be swapped for Lloyds TSB shares. Each HBOS share would be worth 0.833 of a Lloyds TSB share. Lloyds TSB shares currently cost 235.25 pence each, suggesting that the value of an HBOS share would be 195.96 pence.

The problem is that HBOS shares are currently trading at 126.80 pence, well below the value placed on them by the takeover.

So, if you are a Lloyds TSB shareholder, are you going to vote in favour of buying a company at a price which is well above what 'the market' values it at? Reduce the price, I hear you say. In which case, if you are an HBOS shareholder, are you going to vote in favour of an offer which values your shares at peanuts (even if that is the current verdict of 'the market')?

All very difficult.

30 September 2008

We're all bankers now

Gee thanks, I always wanted to be a banker. The Times reports:
Dear taxpayer. Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of £50 billion of mortgages and personal loans, an unprepossessing office block in Bingley and a swish new headquarters on the outskirts of Bradford.
You are already big in the mortgage business thanks to the acquisition of Northern Rock. But in this case you will not be holding on to the branches, which are being sold to Abbey National’s owner, Santander, for about £400 million.

When do I get to participate in the jollies? The corporate hospitality, Murrayfield, Wimbledon, Henley, etc? That's what bankers do, isn't it?

29 September 2008

Further disarray? They have no idea.

People go about their ordinary lives. My mates try to arrange our monthly booze-up. My sister worries about her grandchildren. The politicians squabble about the council tax.

Meanwhile, the capitalist world goes up in smoke. The Guardian reports:
A $700bn rescue plan for the sagging US financial market was defeated in Congress today, threatening to throw the already turbulent global financial markets into further disarray.
The ambitious and risky bail-out fell short, 205-228, in the House of Representatives after an unprecedented push by both Democratic and Republican leaders to win their members' support for the deal.

Maybe the people are right. But what will happen tomorrow?

Look, it's not that simple

Here is an extract from The Treasury statement on Bradford & Bingley:
The Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 also provides for a compensation Order to be made. This order - relating to compensation for shareholders and others whose rights may have been affected by the transfer into public ownership - will be laid in due course.

The problem is this: who - in their right minds - would now be prepared to invest in shares in any financial institution?

Actions have consequences ...

Sometimes, being nice isn't enough

Why do I feel slightly disappointed? The Times reports:
Ant and Dec, the television presenters, were forced to take cover from a rocket attack while visiting Afghanistan to present a bravery award to troops. The duo, whose full names are Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly, had gone to Camp Bastion in Helmand province to present a Pride of Britain Award to the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), who rescue injured colleagues from the front line.
As they returned to Kandahar to catch a military flight back to Britain, they were forced to dive to the ground when a group of Taleban fighters fired a shell from their position in the mountains around the airport. Pictures of the incident show the television pair among a group of soldiers, flat on their stomachs to avoid any flying shrapnel.

Aye well, perhaps next time.

27 September 2008

Music of the week

That ain't right:

Quote of the day

"You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content."

One of ten blogging commandments drawn up by the Evangelical Alliance. (Yes, really.) Read about it here.

Sage advice, if not always easy to achieve.

Another ninepin is about to fall

First, it was Northern Rock. Now the Bradford & Bingley is being lined up for nationalisation. The Times reports:
Alistair Darling is close to ordering the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley as a search for a private sector buyer for the stricken lender becomes increasingly desperate.
Seven months after Northern Rock was taken over, the Chancellor has ordered officials to prepare to take a second financial institution into public ownership, although Treasury officials last night stressed no decisions had been taken.
Last ditch talks to find a buyer are set to continue through the weekend but officials did not deny that Mr Darling was considering using new powers to nationalise banks passed after the run on Northern Rock.

Who's next, I wonder? But the shape of the financial services industry is beginning to look markedly different from a year ago. And what would this do for the government's finances?

26 September 2008

It rattled my windows

Oh yes, I heard it. And it didn't sound like a plane to me. The BBC story:
Two loud booms rattled windows and shook residents of Malaga in southern Spain before officials confirmed the cause as a low-flying plane, not bombs.
"It was very loud and it sounded like a bomb but it's a false alarm," a government spokesman said.
Media initially reported two "explosions", saying people had rushed to their windows and the mobile phone network went dead.