31 March 2011

Quote of the day

Sailing close to the wind. From The Daily Mail (here):

"Let us imagine the chief executive of a vast and profitable company that spirals hopelessly into debt and has to be rescued by the Government at enormous expense to the taxpayer.

The man, who happens to be married, leaves his job in disgrace. Later it is learnt that while his enterprise was slowly imploding he was carrying on an affair with a female member of his staff. A newspaper wants to publish this information, but is forbidden to do so by a judge.

The judge interprets Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention (which upholds the right to privacy) in favour of the former chief executive. Some might think it is significant that the businessman was involved in an extra-marital relationship when his company was going pear-shaped, but the judge sees no public interest in publication.

Not only that. He imposes a so-called ‘superinjunction’ which means that no media organisation is allowed to say an order has been granted by the judge or applied for by the ex-mogul."

Please note that any comments making guesses will be deleted.

29 March 2011

Oh, the indignity of it ...

Psst! Wanna buy an aircraft carrier? Only one previous owner. You can get it here:


Light Aircraft Carrier
Completed: 1981
Current Displacement: 19,000 tonnes
Estimated Metal Weight: 10,000 tonnes, 95% steel
Length: 210m, Draught: 5.8m, Beam: 36m
Location: HM Naval Base Portsmouth

Date and time for viewings:
8am Tuesday 3rd May
8am Wednesday 4th May

And yes, the website offers you the options of adding it to your electronic wishlist or dumping it in your electronic shopping cart ...

28 March 2011

Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow

Poor old Liam. He's not a member of the ruling clique. They won't allow him to join in their games; they won't talk to him; and they snigger behind his back. And he'll be sacked at the first opportunity. But Liam will go down fighting. The Independent reports:

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, hit back yesterday at reports that he had been "frozen out" of talks in Whitehall over the military onslaught against Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

He also strongly denied accusations of tension in his working relationship with General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

He broke off from negotiations in Brussels over the full transfer of command to Nato for the military action in Libya to dismiss the claims. The minister rejected charges he was playing only a peripheral role in planning the action as "tittle-tattle", insisting he was working very closely with David Cameron.

Translation: I'm important, me, I matter.

Childish, isn't it?

25 March 2011

Down and down we go

It is really not that difficult. Even the Americans can understand it. Krugman explains:
Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.

But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.

Cameron and Osborne pursue the masochism tango, while the country sinks into a slough of despond.

Low down and dirty economics

I have just about had it up to here with the continued appeals from the media to retain interest rates at the current level. The Independent is at it again this morning:
If higher borrowing costs are neither immediately necessary nor likely to bring inflation down, we should consider the effects they might produce: most notably a further decline in consumer confidence, with all the dangers that poses. Mr Dale [Bank of England economist] himself concedes he is worried about the strength of the recovery. Why risk weakening it further unless we really have to?
I am fed up getting sweeties in terms of interest on my, erm, hard- earned savings. And low interest rates do nothing to encourage the pound sterling to stay at reasonable levels. (Last night the pound was down to 1.138 euros.)

You guys who have mortgages have done pretty well over the past two years; now it's time for you to take up some of the shared pain.

So pull the finger out, Mervyn, and stick them up!

24 March 2011

Slowly, the details emerge ...

Here's something else that Slasher Osborne forgot to mention. The Telegraph reports:

The Treasury has confirmed that the over-60s will lose additional payments, which were introduced in 2008 and designed to help them heat their homes while domestic fuel bills are rising.

The payments have been renewed in every Budget since, in the face of high oil prices. The elderly have been able to claim £250 towards winter fuel bills, while those aged 80 or over could claim £400. This year the payments will be reduced to £200 and £300 per household.

He is not a nice man ...

Hammering the drinker

Just in case you didn't get the message, The Independent spells it out:
No changes were made to alcohol duty – but a pint of beer is set to rise by up to 10p, because of changes already announced. This is because in the last Budget the Chancellor announced a tax escalator that automatically increases tax on alcohol by 2 per cent above inflation every year. So this year there will be a 7.2 per cent increase on wines, spirits and beers.

Beer tax has now increased by more than a third since 2008, taking the average price of a pint of real ale to £2.84, and £3.02 for a pint of lager.

Consumers will pay 15p more for a bottle of wine and 54p more for a bottle of spirits from Monday.

Humph - £2.84 may be the average price of a pint in the UK as a whole, but you'll be hard pushed to find a pint in central Edinburgh at less than £3.20.

So farewell Liz

A woman whose beauty was dazzling, luminous, imperious, ravishing and any other adjectives you can think of. See Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Cleopatra. Way beyond comparison with today's washed-out, simpering, film celebrities.

She was a star ...

23 March 2011

It takes all the fun out of it

There was a time when no-one would have dreamed of learning what was in the Budget before it was announced to parliament. Indeed, in 1947, Chancellor Hugh Dalton was obliged to resign after revealing budget secrets to a reporter after revealing Budget secrets to a reporter on his way to the Commons chamber to deliver it.

But nowadays any suspense is gone. We all know that Slasher Osborne will do a little to moderate the expected increase in petrol prices (too little, too late), that he will set up a green bank with a little more seed corn than originally expected, that he will increase personal allowances by £600 from April 2012, that he will introduce a new tax on private aeroplane passengers and that he will whack up the duty on fags and on strong beer and spirits (possibly with some leniency for weaker beers). For the longer term, he will set up a committee to look at the merger of income tax and national insurance. Otherwise, it will be steady as she goes.

As ever, I think I preferred it the way it used to be.

22 March 2011

See banks ...

Mmm... Those irritating young ladies in the Halifax adverts. I could cheerfully wring their necks (metaphorically at least).

My bank sent me a letter this morning. Apparently the reward period on my ISA direct reward account comes to an end next month, whereupon the scarcely princely 2.5% rate of interest will revert to 0.5%. They advise me, however, that if I open a new ISA direct reward account and transfer my ISA pennies to it I will receive (at least for twelve months) the marginally more princely 3.0% rate of interest.

I mean, what is the point? This is just stupid. Have they nothing better to do than bugger about switching my money from one account to another? Why not establish a decent interest rate ISA account and stick with it?

19 March 2011

Star astronomer

Nice to see a young scientist getting on:
Local societies of amateur astronomers are reporting a flood of interest in the quiet and patient art of watching the night sky after a series of high-profile television programmes about the visual wonders of the planets, stars and wider universe, fronted by Professor Brian Cox.
Although he does seem to swear an awful lot:

Quote of the day

David Cameron on the Libyan imbroglio (here):
"The central purpose of all this is clear: to end the violence, protect civilians and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality inflicted by the Gaddafi regime," he told the Scottish Conservative conference in Perth.
Sounds to me like an objective of regime change. I would have thought that Iraq and Afghanistan might have taught us that democracy cannot be imposed by the barrel of a gun ...

Questions, questions ...

It's all very well for Lucy in The Guardian:

... now I am facing the census form, and for one thing it's not a form, it's a book; and for another there is an emotional or existential crisis on every page.

The first few pages starkly reveal the utterly pedestrian nature of my life. Born in Britain, raised in Britain, no, I haven't left Britain in the past year. Cut me and I bleed soggy sprouts. I have a husband, not a same-sex civil partner, and a terrace house and no step-anythings.

But I prefer these to the guilt-inducements. Do I look after, or give any help or support to, family members, friends or neighbours, or do anything at all that would demonstrate that I give a mouse-sized shit about anyone outside the address on the front of this form? No, I do not.
Some of us are still waiting for the arrival of the form. Does the Royal Mail not know that I am a citizen? And should I be pleased about it?

17 March 2011

Some special pleading

Rational? Sensible? Even logical? But ...

The Independent reports:

Income tax and national insurance could be merged as part of a drive to simplify the tax system by the Coalition Government.

The move is expected to be signalled by George Osborne in his Budget next Wednesday. Although such a huge change would take years to implement, the Chancellor is determined to be seen as a reformer and not just as the axeman who cleared the budget deficit he inherited from Labour.

The idea has been under discussion for years, but politicians have shied away from implementing it. Such an upheaval would be bound to create winners and losers, and the effective abolition of national insurance – currently at 11 per cent for employees, rising to 12 per cent next month – could be portrayed as a tax hike, taking the basic rate from 20p to 32p and top rate from 40p to 52p in the pound.

The fly in the ointment? There are certain sources of income which are subject to income tax but not to national insurance contributions, notably occupational pensions and interest on savings. Is the Chancellor suddenly going to whack an additional 10 or 11% on the incomes of pensioners? For personal reasons, I devoutly hope not.

16 March 2011

An ethical foreign policy?

Look, it's simple. There are good pro-democracy supporters, such as those in Libya, who are seeking to establish basic human rights in the face of an autocratic ruler prepared to do anything - including bringing in foreign soldiers - to maintain his authoritarian regime. And there are not so good pro-democracy supporters, such as those in Bahrein, who are seeking to establish basic human rights in the face of an autocratic ruler prepared to do anything - including bringing in foreign soldiers - to maintain his authoritarian regime.

That's why David Cameron bangs on endlessly about the former while keeping his mouth firmly shut about the latter.

(It may also have something to do with the fact that Bahrein has close links with the US navy; and, after all, the Saudis are our friends, aren't they?)

15 March 2011

And you wonder why I'm depressed?

I despair when I see that Scottish Labour is taking the path of least resistance by opting for a council tax freeze and abandoning any plans to reform the council tax. They have even ruled out a revaluation of the property database, so that the council tax bands will continue to be based on the property values of the early 1990s. (Not that the SNP is any better: what happened to the proposed local income tax?)

I despair when I see that Scottish Labour (again like the SNP) has opted to continue with an unsustainable policy of wilfully denying the need for student fees (or graduate contributions).

I despair when I see that Scottish Labour is descending into an imagined populism of resurrecting ASBOs - despite their abject failure last time round.

If Scottish political parties are not prepared to address the real problems facing our country, is there any point to a Scottish Parliament?

13 March 2011

Playing the market

Some slightly dodgy financial advice from The Independent:
It can be argued that the current UK rate of inflation of 4 per cent is hardly disastrous. The rates of inflation in countries such as India and Argentina are much worse – 9.3 per cent and 10.6 per cent, respectively. But even at our modest rate of shrinkage, £100 would only be worth £45 in 20 years. Consequently, it is more important than ever to protect the spending power of our money by investing in growth assets such as shares. Using historic growth rates of around 8.3 per cent, the same £100 could grow to £492 over the same period.
Sure, sure, with historic growth rates, everything would look wonderful. But we're not starting at the bottom. With the Footsie 100 at 5829, just past its peak, the betting is that it's on the way down. So don't put your pennies into shares unless you know what you're doing.

And yes, I admit to a small portfolio of carefully selected shares and, if I have made a bob or two over the past 9 months, I don't expect similar results over the next 9 months.

12 March 2011

You know it makes rugby sense

In the modern game, before the opposing forwards meet in a scrum, the referee issues a series of instructions: "Crouch, touch, pause, engage". This innovation of a few years back would not appear to cleaned up the scrums, in that more and more are having to be re-set. May I suggest an explanation?

Three of the four instructions are performative, in that they require the front rows to undertake a specific action (crouching, touching and, finally, engaging). The odd one out is "pause"; this would only require the front rows to stop doing something. As they are not at that stage actually doing anything, it is entirely otiose. Furthermore, it disrupts the rhythm of the responses to the referee's other three instructions.

My guess is that the game's legislators, when drawing up the new rules, suggested that referees should be required to say "crouch", "touch", then pause and then say "engage". But when the rules went to the printers, someone got the wrong end of the stick by suggesting that referees should also say "pause", even though it is totally illogical. Of course once the rules had been printed and translated, it was too late to rectify matters. And so they waste up to 15 minutes in each match re-setting scrums.

Stranger things have happened ...

Btw, congratulations to Italy.

The Brussels Pangloss writes:

All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds? The FT reports:
The heads of the eurozone’s 17 governments came to an unexpected deal on short-term measures to lower borrowing costs of struggling peripheral economies, agreeing to give more financial backing to the bloc’s €440bn rescue fund and lowering the interest rates on Greece’s bail-out loans.

The leaders also backed a plan to buy sovereign bonds of struggling governments when they are initially auctioned, a measure that could allow countries with high borrowing costs to raise cash at much lower yields.

Aye, well. Don't get over-excited. EU Summit deals have a habit of unravelling fairly quickly.

Quote of the day ...

(and any excuse to put up a photo of Kate Moss).

From The Telegraph (here):
Cigarettes are cool, sexy, naughty, anti-social, dangerous to health, filthy and loudly condemned by all right-thinking grown-ups. Now they're going to be in plain wrappers and slipped out from under the counter into a customer's hand. Try and make them even more attractive to young wannabes, why don't you?

A political metaphor

It's all to do with the stride angle. David Cameron is just totally, like, inefficient (again).


Here is a useful corrective to a lot of the guff that's been published on public sector pensions:
On page 23 of this week's 200-page Hutton report there is a projection of how much public sector pensions will cost as a percentage of GDP in future years. I've reproduced it below. Even taking into account different assumptions for life expectancy and workforce growth, the cost of public sector pensions has peaked, and between now and 2060 will fall year in, year out.

Even in the worst-case cost scenario, where we all live longer and workers survive Osborne's axe, in 2060 public sector pensions will cost around 1.5% of the GDP, compared with 1.9% today.

The truth is that public sector pensions have, over the past decade, been trimmed back again and again, so the potential future burden has already reduced. Many schemes have increased the age at which members can take their pension. Higher contribution rates from 2012, likely to average 3%, have already been announced and will save around £2.8bn from the public purse. The biggest cut (or fiddle, many would argue) has been the switch from using RPI to CPI for cost-of-living increases once the worker has retired.
So why cut further? The Guardian posits a complicated argument about fairness with the private sector. Me, I think that Lord Hutton and his Tory chums just want to put the boot in to public sector workers.

11 March 2011


A strange oddity from the House of Commons yesterday:
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): In a secret hearing, Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him from being identified as a banker. Will the Government hold a debate, or make a statement, on freedom of speech, and whether there is one law for the rich, such as Fred Goodwin, and another for the poor ...
Is being described as a banker so offensive? Or is there something else involved? I doubt if we'll ever know ...

09 March 2011

Nearly holiday time again

No need to get excited. The Spanish airport staff will not be going on strike until 20 April. By then I will be firmly tucked up in my hidey-hole on the Costa Del Sol.

As for coming back, well, who cares?

Cool water

I suppose it's mildly amusing and Ms Aniston is indeed a pretty lady:

But glugging out of the bottle is rather vulgar ...


Not sure how this is going to work. The Independent reports:

The Government is today expected to unveil proposals that will force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain, unbranded packaging.

Under the guidelines, packets will lose their logos, graphics and distinctive colours, leaving health warnings as the most noticeable marking.

The move, which is designed to drive down smoking rates, will make England the first country in Europe to have plain packaging.

If they are unbranded, how can we tell our Rothmans from our Bensons? And if it only applies to England, where does that leave the rest of the UK? Will the ciggie companies maintain the attractive (?) packaging for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

08 March 2011

Quote of the day

Simon Hoggart (here) on that Libyan misadventure:

Andy McNab it wasn't. I wondered how the chronicler of the SAS's triumphs would handle the capture of a crack army unit by North African farmers. "The first rays of the sun were rising in the east. Suddenly we saw them. They were advancing towards us.

"'Sarge!' I whispered. 'They're armed! Look, they've got pitchforks, hoes, bags of mulch. This lot mean business!'

"'All, right, leave it to me, lad,' said the Sergeant. 'I've faced a few hairy situations in my time. What we're going to do is put in a call to a British diplomat and get him to make a whingeing request to release us. That'll teach those bastards a lesson they won't forget in a hurry!'

"Moments later, we were seized and forced to eat the nourishing breakfast they had provided. Cereal bungling is what the politicians will call that … "

Don't blame me!

What Mr Hague said:
"When our staff go into a potentially dangerous situation, then the level of protection is provided for them based on professional and military advice. I authorised such a mission to be made, to put a diplomatic team into eastern Libya, as I explained, with protection.

"Of course the timing and details of that are operational matters decided by the professionals but ministers must have confidence in their judgments, as I do, and must take full ministerial responsibility for all their actions and judgments and, of course, I do.

"Of course, the prime minister and colleagues were aware that we would attempt to put a diplomatic team into eastern Libya."
What he meant:
I'm not carrying the can for this fiasco. I may be technically responsible but it was those in operational charge that botched it up. And anyway it was No 10 who insisted that the stupid plan go ahead. Of course.

07 March 2011

Music of the week

A sad, sad song from the great Fiona Apple:

No, not 'baby' any more
If I need you, I'll just use your simple name
Only kisses on the cheek from now on
And in a little while we'll only have to wave

The good life

What did they expect? That Randy Andy, the prince of air-miles, would turn over a new leaf? Never seemed likely, did it?

Even so, hard to blame him for getting into bed (metaphorically) with all sorts of shady characters, provided they had a bob or two. That's what HM Government wanted, after all. Don't you tell me it wasn't - get real!

'Twas ever thus ...

You can tell if the CBI is on the side of the common man. The Guardian reports:
... the CBI warned chancellor George Osborne to give a deadline for scrapping the 50p tax rate or risk losing talented business people and growing companies to cheaper locations abroad.

Director general John Cridland said wealthy business people needed to play their part in cutting the deficit but warned that top rate taxpayers would be tempted to quit the country if the 50p rate became a permanent feature.

Yes, the principal concern of the CBI is of the 300,000 or so not-so-common men who earn more than £150,000 per year, the level at which the 50% rate kicks in. Never mind those whose pay cannot keep up with inflation or who have lost their jobs in recent months, the CBI has to look after those who earn £3,000 plus per week.

And, incidentally, we seem to have heard before (on numerous occasions) that taradiddle about the rich leaving the country; never seems to amount to much though ...