30 November 2011

Music of the week

Something of a special treat:


It's a bit lame.  The Scotsman reports:

Finance Secretary John Swinney said today that it was his duty to cross a picket line and lead a Holyrood debate on public sector pensions.
Mr Swinney will be at the Scottish Parliament, despite calls from Labour and the Green Party for politicians to take to the streets with striking public sector employees.
The SNP administration refused to clear the parliamentary timetable and will debate what Mr Swinney called a UK Government “cash-grab” on pensions.
While Labour and the Greens will steer clear, Tory and Liberal Democrat MSPs are expected to take part in the debate.
Some might argue that it was his duty to abstain from crossing a picket line.  Well, at least we now know where the SNP stands - and it's not on the side of the workers.

Not the muppets, apparently

You have to understand that the leading politicians in the coalition are not very sophisticated.  The Guardian takes them to task:

Memo to the coalition front bench: JLS called, and they want their colour-coded look back.
From their early days on The X Factor, the boyband developed a formula whereby each member wore a similar outfit in different colours. This worked brilliantly on a TV talent show, lending them coherence and individuality. But is it too much to expect a little more sophistication at the House of Commons than one does when watching a Saturday night talent show? Apparently so.
The quartet of block-coloured ties modelled by Osborne, Cameron, Alexander and Clegg for the autumn statement was an eyesore. Cobalt blue, purple, pink and blush: frankly, the Muppets use a more nuanced palette.
What?  Me?  Since I retired, I don't wear ties, except at funerals (black) and weddings (light grey). And no, I've no idea who JLS might be ...

Quote of the day

Just a thought from The Independent (here):
... one can't help but notice that the £975m cost of next year's fuel duty concessions is, according to the Treasury's balance sheet, identical to the gains being made from cancelling child tax credit increases. The poorest families are, in other words, subsidising all drivers.
Think about that the next time you fill your tank.

29 November 2011

Fiddling while the country burns

I appreciate that you are hanging on for my pearls of wisdom anent the Autumn Statement.  Notwithstanding the above assessment, I will ponder overnight and let you know if anything emerges by morning.

Meanwhile the eurozone ministers have begun their meeting, anxious as ever to avoid committing themselves to a decision, which may have more significance for the UK economy than Boy George's witterings ...

27 November 2011

Are we supposed to be impressed?

Some advance notice on Tuesday's announcement (here):
New Year price rises for motorists and train passengers are to be curbed by George Osborne this week as the Chancellor strains to avoid Britain reversing into recession. Tuesday's Autumn Statement will include high-profile pledges to limit rail fare increases to about 6 per cent instead of 8 per cent, while the planned 3p rise in fuel duty will also be delayed, possibly until April.
Big deal!  It may be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  But not much better.

Quote of the day

Ed "Crybaby" Balls, in The Independent (here):

Mr Balls, who will face the Chancellor for a Budget-related statement in the Commons for the first time, said: "This isn't about trade union leaders – this is about dinner ladies and teaching assistants and people in local government who feel as though they've worked hard for 30 years and suddenly are being stung at a late stage in their career – predominantly low-paid women. I have huge sympathy with them.
"The unions still need to give some ground, but I think what the Government is trying to impose is both unfair and very risky.
"I don't think anybody wants a strike next Wednesday... But, despite the best efforts of civil servants and negotiators and maybe some ministers, it's pretty clear that, at the most senior level, the Government's been determined to have a confrontation."
Maybe he's not such a bad guy after all ...

24 November 2011

Evidence-based policy-making?

Why are they doing this?  There is no evidence that it will contribute to increased employment or to the growth agenda.  The Independent reports:

It is the most radical shake-up of employment law for decades – but even the Business Secretary admits there is no evidence it will boost the economy. The controversial Downing Street plan to allow employers to fire three million workers "at will" was kept alive by Vince Cable yesterday, albeit with no ringing endorsement from the Liberal Democrat cabinet minister.
Is it just to keep the Tory cronies in the City happy?  Victorian values indeed ...


Leonard is back

First new Cohen song since 2004:

23 November 2011

Music of the week

Poor old Silvio

Hey, I know you guys get a bit bored with all this stuff about Euroland, but it's important (I think).

If you want to keep up with the details, you can read about it here.   But things are not going well.  Even the mighty German economy may not be doing as well as Frau Merkel und Freunden think, if the result of their sale of bonds this morning is a sign.  And the yields on bonds for the Club Med are still much higher than comfortable.  (I can't really explain why bond yields are so important these days; when I was a lad, it was the balance of payments that we worried about.  Fashion, I suppose.)

Meanwhile President Barroso's plans for "stability bonds" (nice name, Jose!) appear to be still-born, as Angie has delivered the black spot.  Oh, and Hungary is in deep financial doo-doo, even though it's not in the eurozone.

That apart, everybody is happy (well more or less), with the exception of Signor Bunga Bunga who may be regretting his relationship with Ruby Heart-Stealer ...

22 November 2011

Quote of the day

The CBI big cheese (from The Independent here):

The president of the CBI has warned that Britons need to shed their "sense of entitlement" if the economy is to recover. Speaking at the employer body's annual conference in London, Sir Roger Carr argued that people in the UK are experiencing a "cultural cold shower" thanks to rising global competition.

"Most of us... have grown up in the West with a sense of entitlement – to jobs, opportunity, wealth," he said. "What's happening all around us is a cultural cold shower, a move from entitlement, a recognition that things have changed, nothing is by right: we have to earn our place in a vigorously competitive world as individuals and as nations."
"Sense of entitlement" is it?  I'll give him "sense of entitlement".  This is the man who was chairman of Cadbury up until it was sold to Kraft.  But he found himself an even softer billet as chairman of Centrica (formerly British Gas), the company which thinks it is "entitled" to hike up fuel bills as often and as stonkingly as it chooses.  And he is the chief of the CBI fatcats, whose "sense of entitlement" enables them to pay themselves so well regardless of the performance of their companies.

And this guy thinks he can preach to the rest of us about a sense of entitlement?

21 November 2011

Making the same mistakes

Is this not where we went wrong last time around?  The Independent reports:

Under plans to be unveiled by David Cameron and Nick Clegg today, the Government will underwrite a proportion of mortgages for newly built homes – the first time any such scheme has been attempted in the UK.
By taking on some of the risk of lending, the Government hopes to bring down deposits of up to 20 per cent for first-time buyers to as little as 5 per cent, and to kick-start demand for homes.
 There's more:

The Government will underwrite a small percentage of each loan on newly built property. Banks are typically demanding a deposit of 20 per cent on loans to first-time buyers and, by guaranteeing a portion of the loan, the Government will in effect be shifting that "loan-to-value" ratio so that the borrower needs a smaller deposit – possibly as little as 5 per cent. That, it hopes, will lead to more demand and provide a boost to the construction industry in terms of sales and employment.
The state would not be first in line in the event of a default. Instead, homeowners would still lose their deposits before the Government suffered losses, which would be shared with the lender.
Don't get me wrong; I'm all in favour of helping first-time buyers.  But the value of this scheme seems doubtful.  Why persuade such buyers to take on a debt which is so close to the market value of the associated debt?  What happens when the mortgage interest rate rises and/or the value of the house declines?

Does anyone in government ever look at past history?  It is not so long ago that negative equity made its appearance ...

The wrong kind of weather

When in doubt, blame the weather.  The Guardian reports:
Retailers knew they were in trouble when a swallow was spotted this month at the RSPB bird reserve at Saltholme on Teesside.
This freak harbinger of spring was bad news for store bosses whose shops are packed to the gunnels with faux fur coats, cashmere jumpers and fake snow. On Sunday the topsy-turvy weather was being blamed for a sharp fall in visitors to UK shopping centres and high streets over the last three months; places such as the West Midlands and Scotland recorded declines of 10.4% and 9%, respectively.
And when the cold snap eventually arrives, that will no doubt also put off potential shoppers.  What we need is more of that Goldilocks weather, not too warm and not too cold.  (Unfortunately, British weather - like the British economy - is not what one might describe as reliable.)

18 November 2011

It's not going to keep you warm

Would you pay £5,000 for this outfit?  Well, somebody did.  The Independent reports:

Kylie Minogue's underwear has sold for £5,000 at auction.
The red silk La Perla lingerie set - comprising of a bustier with lace trim and silk and tulle body - quickly surpassed the predicted £2,000 to £4,000 bid when it went under the hammer at Christie's auction house in London on Tuesday (15.11.11) along with a signed copy of the Kylie 2012 Official Calendar. 

I suppose that it would have been washed and ironed.  (Or does that reduce the attraction?)

Northern Rocky

Would you really trust this guy with your savings?  Thought not; nor would I ...

(Interesting to note that Virgin Money is offering a paltry 0.1% interest on its cash ISA.)

16 November 2011

Deep thought

While I'm on the subject of defence, I note that we are running short of attack submarines.  PA reports:

The Royal Navy faces a shortage of attack submarines as a result of decisions taken in the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office said delays to the new Astute class would leave the Navy without sufficient submarines for operations over part of the next decade while adding £200 million to the cost of the programme.
 Now, call me a simpleton if you must, but the last time I can recall a submarine doing anything useful was during the Falklands conflict, almost thirty years ago.  In the present day, I wonder which country are our attack submarines intended to attack?  From whom are they defending us?  (France is not the correct answer.)  Oh, and our subs do seem to keep bumping into things.

I appreciate that we have to give the Royal Navy toys to play with, and I accept that they might possibly come in useful some day.  But the government should perhaps think about its priorities for public spending ...

Who's in charge of the asylum?

What do the US Marines know that we don't?  The Guardian reports:

Britain's entire fleet of Harrier jump jets, the veteran plane scrapped in last year's defence review, has been saved - by the American military.
All 74 of the planes are to fly again for the US marines in a deal that is expected to be closed within a week.
The Ministry of Defence said last night that negotiations were in their final stages. Reports in the US suggested the Marines were already preparing for their arrival.

Is it just that the Ministry of Defence is supremely incompetent?  As they say, tell it to the marines.


If I tell you that I am a suave, sophisticated, handsome and intelligent chap, you might think I was telling fibs.  But I'm not; it's just that this is 'management information', a newly discovered nice-sounding euphemism deployed in government circles.  The Independent explains all:
Home Office ministers faced a fresh crisis last night after being rebuked for manipulating drug-seizure figures in an apparent attempt to generate good publicity for the embattled Border Agency. Sir Michael Scholar, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, condemned the department for a "highly selective" briefing to journalists which claimed that the amount of heroin and cocaine detected at ports and airports had soared – just days before properly audited figures showed seizures had fallen.
A  [UKBA]spokesman said: "The figures used to highlight the UK Border Agency's work in tackling the harm caused to communities by cocaine and heroin were clearly labelled management information.
That makes it all right, you see.  Only a simpleton would believe that management information had to be true or correct.

15 November 2011

Music of the week

More gas-oven rock, I'm afraid.  Why?  Because we're not a happy blogger - generically, I mean, rather than at this precise instant.  Anyway, the music is cool.

More Snow-white


14 November 2011

If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it

Well they have, at least for Greece and Italy.

Ms Ashley sets out the scenario:

David Cameron and George Osborne have resigned. They did their best, but were unable to carry support, even in the Tory party, for the devastating attacks on pensions and living standards the markets demand. To prevent a British default, Reginald Pinstripe-Grey, formerly chief economist of Megabank in New York, is to be installed in the Lords as acting prime minister, leading a Government of Unity and Patriotism.
In London, representatives from the EU and German "advisers" will sit alongside the truncated cabinet. British MPs have been warned that any attempt to resist the extreme austerity measures by parliamentary vote will result in the final collapse of the British economy, and anarchy. No elections will be held in the meantime.

Impossible?  Absurd?  Not if you're Greek or Italian.  So is technocratic dictatorship an answer, even in the short term?

We'll see ...

Snow-white and the seven dwarves

Oh yeah, I drew your attention to them here.

But now, because of this magnificent flight of fancy, I will never again be able to take them seriously ...


12 November 2011

Oops! He did it again ...

For those of you who can't be bothered to look it up:

All mouth and no trousers

Think he'll actually do anything?  No, nor do I.  But let us record what he said, according to The Independent:

Reports that RBS is planning to hand out as much as half a billion pounds, despite falling profits, have sparked widespread anger, following the £950 million the bank paid in bonuses last year.
The bank's pay pool, from which salaries and bonuses are paid, is understood to stand at £1.99 billion - only marginally lower than the £2.14 billion figure from 2010 and enough to provide bonuses of around £500 million.
But Mr Cameron today told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show: "Let's be clear, that is not the agreed figure.
"The British Government is a major shareholder in RBS. That is a proposal I have read about in the newspapers, that's not agreed.
"We have a very big influence over it. We can stop the £500 million, absolutely."

Oh yeah?  Prove it "absolutely"!

St Theresa messes up

I'm not usually one for jokes, but here is the Theresa May joke of the week:
Knock, knock

Come in.

The estimable Lucy in The Guardian explains:

Is there anything more heartwarming than two state apparatchiks engaged in a giant game of he-said-she-said? Home secretary Theresa May says that she said Brodie Clark, head of the UK Border Control Agency, could run a pilot scheme to try letting in a few more people, just some nice ones that he liked the look of, just when it was really busy an' that, but that then he just started letting, like, LOADS of people in without even TELLING her and how was that her fault, Mr Cameron, sir? But Brodie says he, like, totally didn't do that and now he's, like, all in her face saying she shouldn't have said it and that she shouldn't have suspended him when he didn't do nothing. And now he's, like, jacked the job in and Yvette Cooper's all "T'resa was only saying let them in because she wouldn't pay for enough people to stop them anyway AND she knows it! She's such a liar, Mr Miliband, isn't she?!"
I foresee tears before bedtime, I do. Ours, of course. Not theirs. Never theirs.

09 November 2011

The gnomes of Brussels

Ah yes, there is a secret cabal in charge.  The Guardian reports:
 Here's how things work. The real decisions in Europe are now taken by the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made of up eight people: Lagarde; Merkel; Sarkozy; Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB; José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission; Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup; Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe's economic and monetary affairs commissioner.
This group, which is accountable to no one, calls the shots in Europe. The cabal decides whether Greece should be allowed to hold a referendum and if and when Athens should get the next tranche of its bailout cash. What matters to this group is what the financial markets think not what voters might want. To the extent that governments had any power, it has been removed and placed in the hands of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

This would more worrying, were it not for the fact of the Group's manifest incompetence.  At every stage in the euro crisis they have been reacting to events, mostly unsuccessfully.  Last week's G20 (and the preceding EU summit) simply confirmed that the Group bungle everything they touch.

04 November 2011

Under the thumb?

Brussels hegemony extends its tentacles.  According to Reuters:
Italy, under fierce pressure from financial markets and European peers, has agreed to have the IMF and the EU monitor its progress with long delayed reforms of pensions, labor markets and privatization, senior EU sources said on Friday.  Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his government close to collapse after more loyalists defected on Thursday, agreed to the step in late-night talks with euro zone leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Cannes, France.
Thus do the gauleiters of the Commission impose their will on a once independent nation.  Where will it stop?

A minor miracle of modern technology

Apparently (though I'm not sure I believe it), you may now access this blog via one of those fancy mobile phones.

As I don't possess even a simple mobile phone (spawn of the devil, y'know), I am unable to verify this.

If anyone out there has the means and the inclination to find out, do let me know in the comments section.


Bottom of the barrel

The Independent reports:
Andy Murray's quest to win a fourth successive title ended in disappointment yesterday when he withdrew with an injury shortly before his scheduled first-round match against Robin Haase in Basle. Having strained his right gluteal muscle, the 24-year-old Scot must now try to regain fitness in time for the Paris Masters, which begins on Monday.
It's a pain in the arse!

(Sorry, couldn't resist it)

Whistling in the dark

I am striving, somewhat half-heartedly, to keep up with the soap operas taking place in Cannes and Athens. But this statement (quoted in The Independent) has to be the most fatuous of the day:
In London, Mark Hoban, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, referred to the single currency "breaking up" – and told MPs that the Government had contingency plans in place to deal with the potential collapse of the euro.
He said: "This Government is well prepared for any eventuality."
And the band played believe it if you like ...


03 November 2011

Broccoli's not for me

They're at it again.  The Independent reports:

If the Scots, Irish and Welsh ate like the English it would save 4,000 lives a year.
Researchers made the calculation after studying the average diets in each country and the death rates from cancer, heart disease and stroke. They call for a fat tax, combined with subsidies for fruit and vegetables, to change eating habits and reduce deaths in the UK.
"We believe that taxes on salt and saturated fat, coupled with subsidies for fruit and vegetables, should be considered," Dr Scarborough said.

No thanks.  If I have to prolong my life, thus adding to the burden of the NHS, I'd prefer not to bother if it means forgoing the occasional chocolate eclair or avoiding salt on my fish supper.

Not really helping

Imagine the reaction of the Scottish electorate if Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband began laying down the law about how we should vote in the referendum on Scottish independence and promising dire consequences if we failed to do their bidding.

Then think of the Greeks and how they are likely to react to this interference in their political future:

GREECE was given an ultimatum last night: vote for austerity or leave the euro.
The country will now go to the polls in a referendum on 4 December, but it is not yet clear whether it will vote on its latest €100bn bailout package and the attached conditions, or on membership of the euro itself. 
Last night, it was clear that Germany and France would prefer a vote on the latter.In a decisive shift in tone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Greece must make its own decision on membership, but that her priority is now to defend the single currency “with or without Greece”.

(From City AM)

02 November 2011

Music of the week

A wee story for you.  Back in 2003, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the lead singer of a Texas country and western group, the Dixie Chicks, had a moment of political controversy at a concert in London.  Miss Maines stated: "we don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas".  So far, so commendable, you might think. I do.  But the wingnuts of the American Right went bananas.  There followed public destruction of their CDs, banning from various country radio stations and even death threats.  This song is the girls' eventual response.  I think it's a good pop song - see what you think:

Not good enough

I can sympathise when an employee is overworking and gets a bit tired.  The Guardian explains:

Lloyds Banking Group has been thrown into chaos by the sudden illness of new chief executive António Horta-Osório.
The bailed out bank recruited the Portuguese-born banker with much fanfare at the start of the year but he has asked the board for a temporary leave of absence.
The 47-year-old is thought to be suffering from fatigue due to overwork. He is expected back before the end of the year.

On the other hand, this guy received a rather nice signing on fee:

Taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group is expected to face tough questions at its annual meeting today over a multimillion-pound pay deal for its new chief executive.
Shareholder groups the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Pirc have both raised concerns about António Horta-Osório's signing-on deal, worth up to £13.4m, to their members.

As a taxpayer, a shareholder and an account-holder, I think that I am entitled to ask why the bank hired - at vast expense - a guy who can't hack it?


The money shot

When the euro-nag is lying prostrate on the ground, snorting its last breaths in agony, there comes a time to stop flogging it.  But the Germans and the French appear to believe that, if the Mediterranean passengers in the back of the cart would only tidy themselves up a bit, the poor bloody horse will prick up its ears and resume its place in the traces.  Well, it's not going to happen.

The fact that last week's grand deal is rapidly disintegrating is neither here nor there.  More pertinent is the absence of any idea how to approach the differing levels of economic performance within euroland, other than continued bouts of austerity for our southern cousins.  And each time, austerity reduces their capacity to grow.  Greece is in a vicious spiral where each new round of public expenditure cuts makes it ever more difficult to repay its debts; and Spain, Portugal and Italy are being prescribed the same medecine.  There is no sensible future in this course.

So now is the time to let those weary passengers jump off the cart and revert to their original currencies.  To be sure, it would be a painful process.  The European banks would take a severe pounding, to the extent that some of them would have to be nationalised.  The inevitable devaluation of the drachma, the peseta and so on would result in a significant blip in inflation for those countries concerned.  But as their exports became cheaper and their tourism industries revived, they would at least have a chance of restoring their economies to some form of equilibrium.

So let them go.  Locking them into an economic straitjacket designed for and dominated by Germany will only come to grief.

01 November 2011

Money for old rope

I don't know why there should be such a fuss about Mr Hansen's weekly pay packet of 40,000 smackers.

I admit that his bons mots may be occasionally lacking in insight, but he wears nice shirts and is slightly more articulate than his colleague Mr Shearer.  Not that that necessarily counts for much, given the banality of the latter's contributions.


Putting the cat among the pigeons

Well, that's torn it!  The Telegraph puts it politely:
Eurozone policymakers will view with horror George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the Greek bailout package. Less than a week after agreeing a "comprehensive" deal to resolve Europe's sovereign debt crisis, the whole thing already seems to be coming apart at the seams. The Greek prime minister's commitment to a plebiscite introduces a further element of extreme uncertainty.
Merkel and Sarkozy must be jumping up and down with rage.  Even if the Greeks approve the deal (which seems unlikely), Mr Papandreou can say goodbye to any future favours from the EU.  So don't come back looking for any more bail-outs.  Indeed, the Greeks might well be expelled from the Eurozone, regardless of the result of the referendum.