30 June 2012

How Tony Blair becomes PM in 2015

It could never happen, could it?  The Independent evokes a nightmare; it may not frighten little children, but it is far from pleasant dreaming.
Having done better than expected in holding their seats, the Lib Dems came close to breaking into separate parties as one side flatly refused to go back into coalition with a depleted Conservative Party and the other was equally determined not to allow Ed Miliband and Ed Balls into Downing Street. The world's oldest parliamentary democracy was in danger of becoming the joke of the Western world as days dragged with no sign that anyone was capable of forming a stable government. It was somehow inevitable that as this crisis point, up popped Lord Mandelson, on the Andrew Marr programme, wringing his hands theatrically as he described how "friends" were "begging" Tony Blair to take up the burdens of prime ministerial office but he seemed "reluctant". No one who knew the spin master's mode of operating believed that he was doing anything but testing the water on Blair's behalf, but the performance convinced the public. Within 24 hours the "national conversation" about whether the nation should send for Tony Blair was in full throat. Radio phone-ins were heavily in favour, and one opinion poll showed an outright majority answering "yes" to the question "Would you support a coalition government led by Tony Blair?" None of the other names on offer scored above 20 per cent.
Finally, rather than allow the Cameron government to limp on until a new election in the autumn, Ed Miliband talked to reporters hanging around his house, knowing that they would ask him if he would accept office in a Blair Cabinet, and having made up his mind to answer "yes". The very next day, the man who had led Labour through three election victories was summoned to the Palace.


29 June 2012

Don't hold your breath

Problem sorted?  Eurozone on the path to stability?  Maybe ...  The BBC reports:
EU leaders have agreed to use the eurozone's bailout fund to support struggling banks directly, without adding to government debt.
Speaking after 13 hours of talks in Brussels, EU chief Herman van Rompuy also said a eurozone-wide supervisory body for banks would be created.
Officials said the plans could be finalised during July.
Analysts say Germany appears to have given ground after pressure from Spain and Italy to provide more support. 
Not sure if there is enough in the kitty (either the EFSF or the ESM or both).  After all, the Spanish banks may need 100 billion euros; what cost for the Italians, Greeks, Portugese and Cypriots?  And, if the details have yet to be finalised, there is more than sufficient room for the agreement to fall apart.

Update:  I see the FTSE 100 has climbed by 1.59% this morning; the French and German equivalents have gained 2.78% and 2.52% respectively.  Will they never learn?


28 June 2012

Would you trust your pennies with this crew?

When I was a lad of about fourteen (some 50 years ago), I managed to secure a Saturday job (in J&R's if you must know).  Accordingly, my father took me to the local bank branch to open a savings account.  He introduced me to Mr Wilson, the branch manager, a man of the utmost probity with the respect of the entire community.  Dad always used to say that Mr Wilson knew more about our family finances than we did, but he said it in a way which suggested trust and admiration rather than concern.

Nowadays, we have a bank which has been fined the sum of £290,000,000 for wrongdoing.  It is run by Diamond Bob and his henchmen, Chris Lucas, Jerry del Missier and Rich Ricci. (Those are apparently their real names.)  Does that sound like a respectable bank to you?  No, me neither.

27 June 2012

"Do you ever think you're incompetent?"

Last night Jeremy Paxman was utterly beastly to a poor young Treasury Minister:

For Ms Ephron

In memory of a great scriptwriter who died yesterday, I am reproducing below a post of mine dating from 2005.  It was entitled "Betrayal".
A great article by Nora Ephron in the New York Times:
"I broke up with Bill a long time ago. It's always hard to remember love - years pass and you say to yourself, was I really in love or was I just kidding myself? Was I really in love or was I just pretending he was the man of my dreams? Was I really in love or was I just desperate? But when it came to Bill, I'm pretty sure it was the real deal. I loved the guy.
As for Bill, I have to be honest: he did not love me. In fact, I never even crossed his mind. Not once. But in the beginning that didn't stop me. I loved him, I believed in him, and I didn't even think he was a liar. Of course, I knew he'd lied about his thing with Gennifer, but at the time I believed that lies of that sort didn't count. How stupid was that?
By the time Bill got involved with Monica, you'd have thought I was past being hurt by him. You'd have thought I'd have shrugged and said, I told you so, you can't trust the guy as far as you can spit. But much to my surprise, Bill broke my heart all over again. I couldn't believe how betrayed I felt. He'd had it all, he'd had everything, and he'd thrown it away, and here's the thing: it wasn't his to throw away. It was ours. We'd given it to him, and he'd squandered it.
I bring all this up because I bumped into Bill the other day. I was watching the Sunday news programs, and there he was. I have to say, he looked good. And he was succinct, none of that wordy blah-blah thing that used to drive me nuts. He'd invited a whole bunch of people to a conference in New York and they'd spent the week talking about global warming, and poverty, and all sorts of obscure places he knows a huge amount about. When Bill described the
conference, it was riveting. I could see how much he cared; and of course, I could see how smart he was. It was so refreshing. It was practically moving. To my amazement, I could even see why I'd loved the guy in the first place. It made me sadder than I can say. It's much easier to get over someone if you can delude yourself into thinking you never really cared that much.
Then, later in the week, I was reading about Bill's conference, and I came upon something that made me think, for just a moment, that Bill might even want me back. "I've reached an age now where it doesn't matter whatever happens to me," he said. "I just don't want anyone to die before their time any more." It almost really got to me. But then I came to my senses. And instead I just wanted to pick up the phone and call him and say, if you genuinely believe that, you hypocrite, why don't you stand up and take a position against this war?
But I'm not calling. I haven't called in years and I'm not starting now. "

But at least we did once fall in love with Clinton. Nobody is ever - ever - going to write like this about Jack McConnell.


Chickens, roost, home

It happened in South-East London; but it could also happen in Edinburgh.  The Independent reports on the healthcare trust that has effectively gone bust:
The Princess Royal hospital was one of the first hospitals to be born from the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) – the wheeze invented by John Major's government to refurbish Britain's dilapidated hospitals and schools while keeping the outlay off the Treasury's current account in return for phased repayments to private investors over a period of several decades.
After the tender was put out in 1995 it was awarded by Tony Blair's first government, which embraced PFI with gusto, in 1998. The winner was a consortium trading under the name of United Healthcare (Farnborough Hospital Ltd) consisting of Barclays Private Equity, developer Taylor Woodrow and Innisfree, a City investment fund with about 20 staff which has quietly become one of the country's largest PFI players by backing projects to build 269 schools and 28 hospitals costing a total of £6.4bn.
In return for their initial £118m outlay and the provision of services ranging from power to medical equipment, the consortia will receive payments of £1.2bn over 35 years. According the National Audit Office, the rate of return for the contractors is a handsome 70.6 per cent.
The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was financed with a similar deal.

26 June 2012

Quote of the day

Lord Trefgarne on Radio 4's World at One, justifying his position as a hereditary peer in the House of Lords:
"The Almighty decided that I was to have a certain duty imposed upon me."


The generation game

The Tories seem to hate the young; or at least they want the young to hate them.  Hiking university fees, abolishing the educational maintenance allowance, and now depriving under-25s of housing benefit.

By contrast, we old folks are treated with velvet gloves.  The Independent reports:
Benefits for the elderly account for £110bn of the total welfare bill – more than half the £207bn total. The growing gulf between pensioners and the working population has led some in Government to question whether pensioners are getting an unfair deal.
Both Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith have privately questioned whether some benefits for the elderly should be means tested. But yesterday Mr Cameron explicitly ruled out any change of policy, saying he wanted to do the "right thing by those who have done the right thing all their lives".
I do wish politicians would avoid such fatuous remarks.  There is no reason to suppose that the elderly "have done the right thing all their lives" to any greater extent than any other section of the community.  So if Mr Cameron wishes to inflict pain, it would be fairer to spread it around.


25 June 2012

Music of the week


I have some sympathy with these troubadours.  (Oh, and it is true that he keeps killing off both goodies and baddies.)

At the moment, I'm half way through book 4 (which is actually the fifth book, as book 3 is in two parts, if you see what I mean).

What's in a name?

Quite a lot actually.  It is no coincidence that the two missed penalties incurred by the English football team were attributable to players called Ashley.

It is obviously not their fault that they were so named.  But it is hardly a fitting moniker for the rough and tough world of international football.  What were their mothers thinking about?

The most famous Ashley is the honourable but indecisive and ineffective Ashley Wilkes, the plantation owner in Gone with the Wind.  If only Messrs Cole and Young had been called a manly name like Rhett ... 

21 June 2012

Time to go home

Yes, it's that time again.  The sun is getting just too hot, so tonight the less than lovely Ryanair will transport me back to Edinburgh, where I will stay for a while, drinking in the wonderful coolth of the rainy city.

Looking forward to a pint of Caley 80/-.


Tipping point?

It would be nice to think that Jimmy Carr's more or less abject apology, allied with Mr Cameron's confusion about which aspects of tax avoidance to condemn (comedians - bad, popsingers - don't know, Tory donors - a matter between them and the HMRC) represented a sea-change in public attitudes to tax avoidance.  Will the tax dodgers rush to clean up their act?  Somehow, I doubt it.

But at least it's a move in the right direction ...

20 June 2012

Can the Germans afford it?

The Independent provides a useful corrective to the caterwauling of the G20 urging Frau Merkel to save the euro:

Contrary to the popular narrative, Germany may not have the financial resources and strength to rescue the peripheral nations of the eurozone. Germany is indirectly exposed through its support of various official institutions such as the European Union, European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and specially bailout funds. The exposure of the ECB to Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy is €918bn (£740bn) as of this April.
Germany's guarantees supporting the European Financial Stability Fund are €211bn and will increase if Spain and Italy require assistance and cannot act as a guarantor.
The European Stability Mechanism, the replacement to the EFSF which is planned to commence next month, will require a capital contribution from Germany which will push its budget deficit from €26bn to €35bn. If the ESM lends its full commitment of €500bn and the recipients default, Germany's liability could be as high as €280bn.
The largest single direct German exposure is the Bundesbank's more than €700bn current exposure under the Target2 (Trans-European automated real-time gross settlement express transfer system) to other central banks in the eurozone.

It is in this light that we need to consider the on-off latest proposition that the ESFC and the ESM should be allowed to fritter away their resources on acquiring Spanish and Italian bonds.

How did we get into this mess?  Well that's another story ...

19 June 2012

What's the world coming to (part 67)?

£150 for a pair of wellies, even if they are favoured by the Duchess?  Some people have more money than sense.


17 June 2012

Because she's worth it, well maybe ...

Oh Lena, how could you?  You've upset The Herald, and all for a paltry £55,000 a year:

Sir Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government, gets £180,000. Senior judges, senators of the College of Justice, are on £173,000. By those standards £200,000 annually, with a contractual right to a bonus thrown in, counts as not bad at all.
You wouldn't sniff publicly at the pay slip, at any rate. When average earnings in Scotland are hovering at around £21,000, you wouldn't want to give the wrong impression. You certainly wouldn't want it to get around that you had allowed yourself to be put forwa rd for a part-time job paying – this is not a typographical error – £4583 a day. It looks bad.
It looks much worse if you are meanwhile being paid taxpayers' money to run a "sponsored non-departmental public body" dedicated to the common good called Scottish Enterprise (SE). That counts – and this is not a matter of opinion – as a full-time job, a big job, an all-consuming £200,000 a year job. Common sense would tell you to be sensitive to the fact.
Then again, common sense would also tell you that accepting £55,000 for 12 days work a year in the private sector in London while publicly-funded colleagues cover for your absence back home is a very bad idea indeed. An inability to grasp why this would anger people just compounds the problem. It causes your judgement to be called into question.
Dr Lena Wilson, chief executive of SE, is widely regarded as a paragon. There's no reason to doubt it. She has risen high and fast in the economic-development game while maintaining a range of interests in education, the arts, sport and voluntary organisations. No glass ceiling, it is always worth observing, has contained her. So while going through "seven or eight" interviews for that £55,000 non-exec job with the Intertek Group, didn't she once wonder: "How will this look?"

I remember in the early 1990s when you were a junior executive at Forth Valley Enterprise.  You were a nice person in those days.  Since then, it's all gone wrong.

Breakfast at No 10

From The Telegraph (here):

“We shall not stand powerless against the storm,” declaimed Dave, gesturing heroically. “We have a plan. Better than that, we have a strategy. We are ready to do everything that is needed to come through this emergency unscathed.”
“That’s great, darling,” said Sam, over the breakfast table. “So what exactly is this plan of yours?”
“Mostly, to hide my head in the sand, and hope it goes away. And to offer some heartfelt apologies, plus a limited form of statutory regulation.”
“Statutory regulation?” said Sam. “How’s that going to solve the euro crisis?”
“I’m not talking about the euro crisis,” said Dave. “I’m leaving that to George. No, I’m talking about Leveson. I think it’s time to tackle this head-on. Get ahead of the story. Make my case to the British people. Give it a bit of the old 'Yes We Cam’…”
Sam winced. “Must you use that phrase, dear? It’s a little bit… Chipping Norton.”


16 June 2012

Onwards and upwards

Not altogether another glorious victory, but 37-25 over Fiji is not to be sneezed at, especially as the weather looked extremely hot.

Anyway, four tries for Scotland (Visser 2, Laidlaw and a penalty try; 4 conversions and three penalties for Laidlaw).

The match was transmitted by an ESPN subsidiary with a singular commentator who not only thought that Richie Gray was Alasdair Kellock but suggested that he played for Glasgow Rangers.

And, yes, I would have been awake anyway, well probably ...

15 June 2012

Country suppers

You know how a budget that is greeted with high praise on the day of its announcement invariably turns out to be a disaster several days later.  I am beginning to suspect that Cameron's outing at Leveson may follow a similar path.

Friends of Cameron (political friends, that is, rather than his country set) have concluded that he did not leave any smoking gun or silver bullet in his wake.  Maybe so, but he does appear to have forgotten an awful lot of crucial details (see here, for examples); one might have thought that, with time to prepare and every expectation of what was likely to be asked, Cameron would have racked his brains rather more diligently in order to come up with answers.

Secondly, I doubt if he has done himself any favours by his association with his Chipping Norton chums. Are Rebekah and the Murdochs the kind of people he should be having suppers with, let alone borrowing horses from?  Rather infra dig, don't you think?  And if, by the time of the next general election, the general public remember anything at all of the Leveson shebang, it is likely to be Cameron's dalliance with Rebekah.



14 June 2012

Quote of the day

Rebekah's text to Cameron:
I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as proud friend but because professional we're definitely in this together!
Pass the sick bag, Alice ...

13 June 2012

Music of the week

Ah yes.  In those days, beat combos (even rebellious ones) were expected to wear ties and suits.

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Gordon Brown certainly hasn't changed. His session with Robert Jay QC revealed that he remains the most incompetent dissembler in Britain, which is one of the less unendearing things about him. Most top-rank politicians master the art of lying imperceptibly, as the glib fluency of George Osborne's testimony suggested. As for another recent witness, a certain Mr Tony Blair would beat the polygraph every time with the knickerless insouciance of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Gordon might well send the needle off the scale and you wouldn't even need the electrodes. The old brute telegraphs his renditions of the facts with such clunking blatancy that they feel less like wilful attempts to deceive than an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A tragedy, really.  Seldom has a man been so well prepared, with all the intellectual equipment required for the highest office.  And yet, to be brought down by his own personality contradictions and replaced by the political pygmies of the coalition.  Even so, history may be kinder.

Less than helpful

Look George, we recognise that you don't want to be constructive, but chucking hand grenades from the sidelines is only going to make things worse:
George Osborne has floated the possibility that Greece might need to be sacrificed to save the euro after a fresh day of jitters on the world's financial markets saw Spain's long-term borrowing costs hit their highest level since the launch of the single currency.
In a highly unusual step, the chancellor suggested that Greece may have to leave the eurozone so Germany could convince voters that it was worth pouring more money into the troubled currency. Speaking at a summit of chief executives organised by the Times newspaper, Osborne said: "I ultimately don't know whether Greece needs to leave the euro in order for the eurozone to do the things necessary to make their currency survive.
"I just don't know whether the German government requires Greek exit to explain to their public why they need to do certain things like a banking union, eurobonds and things in common with that.
"I would suspect that if you had a eurozone finance minister here, they wouldn't really know the answer to that."

To hell in a handbasket

Ingenious, I'm sure.  Fewer casualties for soldiers (at least for those who have access).  The Guardian reports:
The US military has issued soldiers in Afghanistan with a new class of lightweight unmanned drone known as the Switchblade, which can be carried in a backpack and used on the battlefield in place of an air strike.
The Switchblade, manufactured by the AeroVironment Corporation in Monrovia, California, weighs just under six pounds (2.7kg) and can be rapidly launched and sent over the nearest ridge to circle above the battlefield before being sent to zero in on the enemy – usually the chest or head of an enemy combatant.
While drone strikes from fixed-wing aircraft have a chain of command that stretches from Afghanistan to the United States, with multiple steps to avoid civilian casualties or friendly fire casualties, these ultra-light, portable drones bring the decision to kill down to the level of platoon commander or even individual soldier.
But what happens when terrorists get a hold of them?

11 June 2012



No need to get over-excited.  It’s the Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring.

Should it not be FOBR?

In Spanish, it comes out as FROB.

Oh, it’s Spanish is it?

Indeed so.  It is the mechanism through which the ESM (or perhaps the EFSF or perhaps both) will provide funds to support the Spanish banks who have lent far too many euros to property developers.

What’s this going to cost?

100 billion euros, or approximately 2,200 euros for every man, woman and child in Spain.  But don’t worry, the Germans will pay.

Do say:  The solidarity of the Eurozone will resist the iniquitous depredations of the markets.

Don’t say:  Por favor, can I have an overdraft?

Easy done

What a lot of fuss!  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron left his eight-year-old daughter in the pub following a Sunday lunch, after a mix-up with his wife Samantha.
The couple's daughter Nancy wandered off to the toilets while they were arranging lifts and they only realised she was not with them when they got home, The Sun said.
The prime minister rushed back to the Plough Inn in Cadsden, Buckinghamshire, where he found his daughter with staff.
These things happen.  Sometimes to the best of parents.  So little point in seeking to have Mr Cameron hung, drawn and quartered.  At least not for this ...

Quote of the day

From City AM (here):
Nobody has learnt any lessons from the failed bailout culture of the past four years. No bank is being allowed to go bust. Bad debt is not being written off, it is being transferred from the private sector to the public sector. This is madness: eventually, even the stronger European countries could be overwhelmed. The recession and falling house prices mean that there will be hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of bad loans across the EU in the coming years, especially when assets begin to be priced more realistically – if all of this ends up on governments’ books, some sovereigns will go bankrupt.
The old old story.  We learn nothing; we forget nothing.  What is the point of guaranteeing the funds of depositors if banks always have to be saved?  Meanwhile, the poor bloody taxpayer gets in the neck once again.

10 June 2012

Can you hear the drums Fernando?

So he blew a couple of chances.  I blame the alice band.  The really classy centre forwards - like Joe Baker or Willie Bauld - would never stoop so low.

Lurching along

So, at last, we come to the Spanish bail-out:

After months of speculation, denials, and hoping for something – anything – to turn up, Spain has formally requested a bailout, by far the largest economy to do so. After an emergency telephone conference of eurozone finance ministers yesterday, an official statement was issued saying that the sum involved could be as large as €100bn.
Spain, whose banks are struggling with toxic property loans and assets, becomes the fourth member of the 17-nation eurozone to get a bailout since the continent's debt crisis erupted two years ago. In announcing the request, Luis de Guindos, economy minister, said the final figure was still in question and would remain so pending results of two independent audits of the banking sector, due by 21 June. But he insisted it would fully cover the needs of the country's banks, and not be followed by a request for further funds.

If I were a European finance minister, I rather think that - before signing up to a bail-out - I would want to know precisely how much it would cost and what were the terms and conditions attached.  But euro ministers don't seem to think like that.  We are therefore left with an open-ended unspecified commitment to be resolved (maybe) at some point in the future.

08 June 2012

My quinquennial dip

I gather it's precipitating a bit in the UK - what bliss!  I trust that you are enjoying the gentle rain from heaven ...

Here in Spain, the weather has turned brutal.  The sun beats down, the temparature ascends into the 90s.  So much so that, after doing the messages this morning, I felt obliged to slip into our swimming pool.  This is not something I do as regularly as I should.  But it was v pleasant, with not a child in sight.  In fact, I had the entire pool to myself and thus wallowed in sybaritic splendour.

Then down to the bar where I forced myself to consume Sharon's excellent fish and chips, washed down by a couple of pints of Andalucia's finest.

It's tough, you know, being a lotus-eater.  And now I need a brief siesta, before focusing my attention on the evening's football.


07 June 2012

A muddle or a guddle?

The Guardian's Martin Kettle ties himself in knots:

For the past three years, the European Union has muddled through the eurozone crisis. It gets few plaudits for doing so, especially from its enemies. Muddling through is not cool. No politician runs for office by saying, "If elected I will try to muddle through," though in practice that is what they often do. Commentators, paid to pretend that the world is simpler than it really is, naturally abhor muddling. So far, however, muddling through has worked, after a fashion, as it often does. Things are bad, but in most European countries not disastrously so.
But ... there may still be mileage in muddling through. Do not underestimate this possibility. Muddling is nothing if not flexible, and in the last month the EU has broadened its repertoire of muddling by accepting that some form of growth strategy, as demanded by France and Italy (and indeed Britain), must now have greater priority in the European toolbox. Other adaptations will surely be made too. Many believe Germany will relax its hostility to eurobonds before the G20 convenes.

All of which may or may not be true, but carefully avoids the competitiveness issue.  Mr Kettle goes on:
It needs repeating that crises of this kind are inherently difficult stuff, fraught with uncertainty. There are no maps, no pain-free fixes, no battle-ready alternative strategies with instant credibility. If anything, the reverse. No columnist or politician who pretends the solution is obvious – leave the euro, defend the euro, destroy the EU, federalise the euro, throw out this government, elect a different one – should be trusted. They don't know what will work. The bankers don't know what they are doing either. Apocalyptic depictions of the crisis and its possible outcomes make exciting copy but are almost a political cop-out. The question of what to do remains unanswered.
Yes, well, I think we already knew that.  But it doesn't take us much further, does it?

06 June 2012

Music of the week

Clever presentation - and the music's not bad either.

Venus in speeded-up transit

Just in case you missed it:

The Bully from Brussels

Did you know I was once a Brussels bureaucrat?  Yes, I was an administrative pedant for the cause of European unity, insisting that those claiming structural funds dotted every i and crossed every t before they received the moolah.  Accordingly, it was with little surprise that I came across this sad little story on The Economist website:
"God gives you but he is never stuffing it into your bag," is an old Romanian saying suggesting that everything one achieves in life should come with an effort. Most Romanians seem to have forgotten the proverb under the Communist regime which gave citizens a house and a job regardless of their efforts. They are now finding it difficult to get their funds from the European Union (EU), which involves making an effort. 
The second poorest country in the EU, Romania continues to fail with the absorption of EU funds. At around 7.4% it is the state with the lowest absorption rate in the European Union. Absorption capacity is the extent to which a state is able to spend financial help from the EU in an effective and efficient way. 
Romania’s very low degree of EU funds absorption has become an obsessive problem for the government in Bucharest. The government has repeatedly said the European funds represent the main priority for the country this year. 
What are the main reasons for the failure to absorb the EU’s so-called structural funds?  Analysts point to corruption, a lack of motivation and information, inadequate administrative capacity and major gaps in understanding how EU institutions work. 
Inevitable really.  Add Romania to the list of those who failed to take the full benefit of the funds, including Bulgaria, Greece and the Mezzogiorno.  And it is not only their own failings which are to blame.  The European Commission is essentially a bully, in that it is free to punish the less influential areas. It likes to throw its weight around in those areas where it can.  It would not (and did not) dare behave in such a manner towards France, Germany or the UK.


It was bad enough having to watch three matches in one day during the Five Nations, but here is the schedule for Saturday coming:

Saturday, 9 June 2012
New Zealand v Ireland, 08:35
Australia v Wales, 11:05
South Africa v England, 16:00
Argentina v Italy, 19:40

And then we also have the Euros footie and the third day of the Test Match.  No wonder I'm becoming square-eyed ...

And it gets worse the following Saturday:

Fiji v Scotland, 03:00
New Zealand v Ireland, 08:35
Australia v Wales, 11:05
South Africa v England, 16:00
Argentina v France, 22:10


Savings stamps

When I was a boy in the 1950s, I was inculcated into the habit of saving by buying savings stamps from the Post Office.  These could be bought at a relatively low price and stuck on a card, to be redeemed later when the card was filled up.

(I always thought it slightly unfair that Prince Charles was valued rather more highly than Princess Anne, but then I never really understood the virtues of primogeniture.)

Anyway, the point of this digression into the glories of the 1950s is that Slasher Osborne wants to revive national savings:

George Osborne is drawing up plans to use Britain's army of small savers to boost the country's growth prospects.
The Chancellor has told Treasury officials to find ways to persuade savers to transfer billions of pounds held in bank accounts, building societies and investment funds to new government "growth bonds".The money would be invested in infrastructure projects such as toll roads, green energy and housebuilding.
Savers could be offered tax breaks, similar to those available in Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs).

The question you will need to ask yourself is this:  Would you trust the Slasher with your pennies?

05 June 2012

Nine - six

Ordinarily, I might have said "Stuff it, it's too hot to sit inside a bar".  But the sky was full of cloud and the temperature was nothing more than equable.  I lit a cigarette as I walked down the road, knowing that I would not get another until half-time.

It was raining heavily in Australia and the wind was blowing a gale.  Scotland played with the wind (and the rain) in the first half.  The boys worked hard but there was little fluent rugby on either side.  A Scottish lead of six-three at half-time did not seem enough.  I ordered a fry-up to console myself and prepared myself for an inevitable deluge of Australian penalties in the second half.  And sure enough it was soon six-six.

But then something unexpected happened.  The Scottish forwards and backs scythed down the Australian attackers and, even if play rarely left the Scottish half, the defence became increasingly magnificent.  Guts, commitment, effort, discipline, a refusal to concede.  As the clock ticked on, I began to think that Scotland might - just possibly - hold out for a draw.  But then in the 78th minute, a misplaced Australian up and under bounced over the Scottish dead ball line.  Scrum back, in the Aussie half, the first time Scotland had broken out of their own half for a long long time.

By now, the blue-clad pack were putting the squeeze on the Australian front row and, although the 80 minute hooter had sounded, Scotland were awarded a penalty 40 metres out.  Laidlaw duly converted to give Scotland their first win for ages.

As I left the bar, the sun had come out ...

The sooner the better

Is Slasher Osborne for turning?  Blanchflower in The Independent thinks so:
The question is not if but when and in what way Mr Osborne will have to put more stimulus into the economy as the pressure builds to reverse course. There is a question regarding who he will blame for the U-turn, which he will claim isn't one and was planned all along, even though it wasn't. The euro area is the top candidate, or maybe the Governor of the Bank of England who endorsed this policy. Infrastructure spending seems to be at the top of the agenda but that is unlikely to have much effect for a couple of years at least. Cuts to VAT and National Insurance seem the most likely candidates. Ed Balls is going to have a field day, saying he told everyone how this would work out, which he did.
I am not so sanguine.  We may have to wait for the autumn statement (in November).  Meanwhile, the economy is going to the dogs.

The Jubilee

Thank goodness that it's over.  I am tired of the BBC working itself up into a frenzy of royalist arse-licking.  We should leave the poor old souls some peace and quiet in their declining years.

What?  You mean it's not finished?  There's more today?  Aaaargh ...

02 June 2012

Quote of the day

From The Independent Diary (here):
According to yesterday's Daily Star, a tenth of the population believe that David Cameron is an alien. Yes, they really think the Government that has brought us six major U-turns in one week is run by a member of a species intelligent enough to do space travel.


01 June 2012

Putting the cart before the horse

Calm down everybody.  No point in getting excited about this:

Alex Salmond told MSPs that there would be “nothing unusual” about a separate Scotland sitting on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which meets monthly to set the rate.
But it emerged that he had not contacted or checked with the bank, prompting Labour to accuse him of making “meaningless assertion after meaningless assertion” about independence.
The Treasury intervened by confirming that a separate Scotland would lose all say over the Bank of England’s monetary policy, which would be decided with reference only to the economic conditions in the remainder of the UK.
As if, at present, the Monetary Policy Committee paid the slightest bit of attention to the economic conditions in Scotland, or indeed anywhere outside the Square Mile of the City of London.  So nothing lost then.

Quote of the day

It gets worse.  From The Telegraph (here):

Interesting, isn’t it, this insistence by Jeremy Hunt that he was able to “put to one side” his support of News Corp when he was deciding whether News Corp should be allowed to take over BSkyB. Imagine if a football referee made a similar claim.
“Yes, I freely admit that I support Manchester United. However, I’m happy to assure you that I put that support to one side when I refereed United’s recent 17-0 defeat of Liverpool.
“I’m aware that some Liverpool fans have in particular called into question the 12th of the penalty kicks I awarded to United, but in fact I judged it with scrupulous fairness. The same goes for all six of Liverpool’s red cards.
“None the less, I appreciate that a perception of bias has been created. As a result, one of the ball boys has honourably agreed to resign.”
Following the initial assessment that Hunt had survived the interrogation, the skies appear to be blackening ...

Recipe of the week

These guys are a lot more entertaining than most tv chefs:

Incompetent or too tricky by half?

Oh Jeremy, what a mess.  The Guardian explains:

Here was a secretary of state, no less, telling the inquiry that he did not know in 2010 what the term "quasi-judicial" meant, and asserting that when he was given responsibility for News Corporation's BSkyB bid he did not realise that meetings should be minuted by officials.
Here was a witness who professed not to see that his own "broad sympathy" with News Corp might, as a matter of probity, disqualify him from responsibility for the bid in just the way that Vince Cable's "acute bias" had done – even when he was reminded that his "sympathy" extended to reckless behind-the-scenes lobbying of the prime minister.
He also had no idea, he insisted, that phone hacking was "a volcano that was about to erupt", yet if he had read the 2010 report on hacking by his parliamentary colleagues on the Commons media select committee he would have found more than enough evidence of a corporate cover-up to worry a scrupulous minister.
The inquiry also heard that Hunt's special adviser, Adam Smith, was so perfect, conscientious and in tune with the minister's thinking that he might have qualified as his second brain, yet Hunt was unaware of the intensive, indiscreet two-way traffic of information between Smith and News Corp.

Now, in the words of Mr Wogan, he is barely clinging to the wreckage.