31 October 2013

Quote of the day

Their flabber was utterly gasted (here):
The government's agreement to underwrite the £16bn Hinkley Point nuclear power station could prove to be "economically insane" and hugely costly to consumers, City analysts have warned.
Analysts at stockbroker Liberum Capital said the tie-up with France's EDF will make Hinkley Point the most expensive power station in the world.
"Having considered the known terms of the deal, we are flabbergasted that the UK government has committed future generations of consumers to the costs that will flow from this deal," the analysts said.


PC or not pc

Who would be a royalist if you have tolerate this sort of flummery?  The Guardian reports (to the brief extent possible) on the deliberations (hah!) of Her Maj's Privy Council:
Accompanied by Richard Tilbrook, clerk of the council, the four counsellors – according to ancient, immutable and, as so often with the privy council, unwritten convention, there are always four – filed into the room, joining the Queen and Geidt.
The 1844 Room, the customary venue for council meetings at Buckingham Palace, is so called because it was decorated for a state visit that year by Tsar Nicholas I. It contains a number of ornate if spectacularly uncomfortable Regency armchairs and sofas on which no one sat: councils have been held standing ever since the day in 1861 when Queen Victoria discovered it helped get them over with sooner.
Clutching his sheaf of Orders, Clegg took up his position to the Queen's right, the other privy counsellors lining up opposite. As lord president, fourth of the great officers of state, Clegg is a fixture; the rest are not.
Each, we now know (but only since 1998, before when it was a crime to reveal it), has sworn a solemn oath "to be true and faithful servants unto the Queen's Majesty" as one of her privy council. Also, naturally, "to keep secret all Matters ... treated of secretly in Council". And – rather touchingly – to "assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-Eminences and Authorities granted to Her Majesty against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States or Potentates". For this, they get to be Rt Hons, and to assemble once every half-century or so when the reigning sovereign announces his or her engagement (which last happened in 1839), or dies.
Transparency?  Accountability?  Democracy?  Should this anachronistic nonsense have any place in a modern system of government?

28 October 2013

Choo-choos a-gogo

Do you believe them?  The Independent reports:
Scrapping the proposed High Speed 2 rail line and building a cheaper alternative would condemn passengers to 14 years of “hellish delays”, the Government will argue this week as it launches a fresh attempt to make the case for the troubled scheme.
Ministers will try to get back on the front foot amid growing cross-party criticism of the £50bn project to connect London and Birmingham by 2026, with links to the North of England seven years later. The Coalition is braced for a Conservative rebellion against the scheme in a Commons vote on Thursday, while Labour hostility is hardening.
The Opposition is considering cheaper options for a new north-south connection, including boosting capacity on existing lines or even reopening a route closed nearly 50 years ago.
But a Government report, due to be published tomorrow, will claim that work to upgrade existing lines would lead to 14 years of weekend closures on the East Coast, West Coast and Midland Mainlines, crippling all three routes between London and the North. It will also say that the disruption could virtually double the time it takes to travel from London to Leeds at the weekend to four and a half hours.
Some might argue that the upgrading of existing lines would have to go ahead anyway, regardless of what happens with HS2.  Nor is it necessarily the case that weekend rail travel in recent years has been free of extensive delays.


25 October 2013

The elevation of The Fink

The Guardian celebrates, somewhat waspishly, the newly acquired nobility of Danny Finkelstein, Tory speechwriter and chum of those that matter:
The London suburb of Pinner has been a hamlet since at least 1231, even longer than chancellor Osborne's Irish baronetcy, whereas Daniel William Finkelstein Esquire OBE was just a smart jobbing hack (politics and football) until Thursday, albeit one with form as a party apparatchik and speech-writer. Danny to the rough trade, a Tory columnist on the oligarch-owned Times, appeared in a red, ermine-trimmed cloak. Magic! No longer bald and slightly podgy, he was transformed into a cross between Sir Gawain and Ron Weasley.
A soberly-dressed official called the Silver Cocktail Olive in Waiting (I made that one up) preceded Baron Weasley. As one of his sponsors, Lord Seb Coe, brought up the rear along with the Garter King of Arms (I didn't make that up), dressed in a quartered gold coat which would have looked wonderful emerging from a pop tent at Glastonbury. Silver Cocktail Twizzler did most of the talking.
It seems that some of Baron Danny's football columns (surely not the ones which were hyper-loyal to the party?) impressed the Queen because she called him "right trusty and well-beloved" before offering him a berth in the best care home in Europe and, a novel twist on the Dilnot Report on social care, up to £300 a day just for turning up, no questions asked by Atos.
What's more Silver went on to promise Dan "all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages" which go with becoming Baron Dan. These are not what they were when Pinner was young and free beer and cudgels, plus the pick of the local peasant girls, were standard practice, but they are still worth signing on for. In a firm and ringing Pinner-ish voice the new Lord Finko duly swore, just in case Cocktail Olive changed his mind.
Alas, where to find the Danton and Robespierre de nos jours ...

24 October 2013

Conversation of the week

The reason I admire these extracts is that they frequently and neatly encapsulate what I perceive to be the underlying truth about political developments.  For example:
Osborne: I am pleased to announce that a new nuclear power station will be built, and bring enormous economic benefits to …
China: Us.
France: And us. We can't believe you've agreed to subsidise such a high price for our electricity. Contents jours!
Cameron: This deal will guarantee that no old people will die of hypothermia and malnutrition, so long as they wear those nice sweaters that Sarah Lund had and don't mind eating limbs that drop off with frostbite.
John Major: I don't say this to undermine the PM, but a windfall tax on energy companies might be an idea.
Cameron: Bastard.
Major: That was my line.


23 October 2013

Heat and kitchens

It is not a television programme I watch (too much sex and violence), but it seems to arouse strong passions. Here is Ms Ruby Tandoh, demonstrating that - as well as being a dab hand with the oven - she can also write:
Ten weeks of frenzied baking culminated in a great pastel-coloured explosion of flour, bunting and puns. Within the confines of our little picket-fenced tent, we threw ourselves into the challenges of picnic pies and pretzels, shaking, terrified, dosed up on adrenaline and Rescue Remedy.
Of course it is the hyperbolic silliness – the make-or-break trifle sponge, custard thefts, and prolonged ruminations over "The Crumb" – that makes The Great British Bake Off so lovable. It is your nan's biscuit tin, a village fete and picnic in the park. It converts banality – the efforts of a gaggle of amateur bakers in a tent in Somerset – into a national spectacle.
That's why I am surprised at just how much nastiness was generated from the show. Despite the saccharin sweetness of the Bake Off, an extraordinary amount of bitterness and bile has spewed forth every week from angry commentators, both on social media and in the press. Many took to Twitter decrying the demise of the show, voicing their hatred for certain bakers, and asserting (week after week!) that they would "never watch it again" if X or Y got through that episode. Online hordes massed, brandishing rolling pins and placards, ready to tear down the bunting and upturn the ovens. How did a programme about cake become so divisive?


21 October 2013

Time passes

Less said about losing hair, the better. I may be on the downward slope but wasting away is not on the agenda. Sixty-four - the new middle age!

18 October 2013

Let them eat cake

Nice to know that the Prime Minister cares enough about us petty mortals to offer advice on what to do when faced with big increases in energy bills:
British Gas is to increase prices for domestic customers, with a dual-fuel bill going up by 9.2% from 23 November.
The increase, which will affect nearly eight million households in the UK, includes an 8.4% rise in gas prices and a 10.4% increase in electricity prices.
The company said it "understands the frustration" of prices rising faster than incomes. The average annual household bill will go up by £123.
PM David Cameron has urged consumers to switch suppliers for the best deal.
Not being troubled by such mundane matters as gas bills, Mr Cameron cannot be expected to understand that the energy providers are all in it together: when one of them puts up its charges, the others follow suit.

14 October 2013

Come on, you red devils!

Belgium must be doing something right.  Despite its population of a mere 11 million, the Red Devils have just qualified for the World Cup finals (and from Scofland's group).  It's not surprising really, when they can call upon players of the quality of Mignolet (Liverpool), Vertonghen (Spurs), Vermaelen (Arsenal), De Bruyne (Chelsea), Fellaini (Man Utd), Hazard (Chelsea), Dembele (Spurs), Lukaku (Everton), Benteke (Villa), plus of course Man Utd's new wunderkind, Januzaj.  What wouldn't Scotland give for two or three such players?

13 October 2013

Explanation of the week

From The Observer (here):
How privatisation works
Britain used to have lots of state-owned companies that were inefficient and wasted taxpayers' money while delivering rubbish service. Now we have privatised companies that are inefficient and rip off customers, while delivering rubbish service. This is a great transformation because privatised companies are more likely to make a profit and that is a great comfort to their shareholders.
Privatised companies are still allowed to receive state subsidies as long as the money isn't used to cut prices for consumers. This way, they can be a drain on taxpayers, rip off consumers, deliver rubbish service and make a profit all at the same time. This is called a mixed economy.


11 October 2013

What we have learned so far

I told you three weeks ago that they were flogging off Royal Mail on the cheap. Given the levels of over-subscription to buy the shares, both on the part of the retail investor and on the part of the institutional investor, that now seems obvious.  So the taxpayer will have been seriously short-changed.  We will find out later this morning by just how much, but it is likely to be well over 20%.  Will anyone resign?  Will any of the financial advisers be denied their fees?

Why was so much (70%, now reduced to 67%) reserved for institutional investors?  How can the government possibly defend itself from accusations that they were filling the pockets of their chums in the City?  And at the expense of, first, the taxpayer and, second, the retail investor who sees his allocation cut to less than £750 or in some cases eliminated altogether.

What an utter shambles.

Disclosure: I applied for £3000 of shares and will receive shares at a cost of £749.10.


10 October 2013

Quote of the day

On the government being accused of moving the goalposts in relation to the shambles of the badger cull (here):
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who argues the cull is an essential part of stemming the rise of tuberculosis in cattle, said: "I am not moving anything – the badgers are moving the goalposts. You are dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of weather, disease and breeding patterns."
So there you go - it's all the fault of the badgers.  The damn animals simply won't sit still while waiting to be slaughtered.


08 October 2013

What is the world coming to? (part 358)

Not sure that I'd feel comfortable with one of these in the house.  Bloomberg reports:
Lego fans no longer need to fret about the cat or dog knocking over their constructions. When bothersome housepets or other pests come too close, they can ward off the intruder with one of their plastic-brick creations.
The R3PTAR, a robotic snake from Lego A/S, can be programmed from a smartphone app to attack felines, canines, and siblings -- or simply scuttle along the floor and give them something to chase. Equipped with a snapping mechanical jaw and fangs, the serpent might just send even courageous hounds, pusses and pesky kid brothers packing.
The R3PTAR is part of a 601-piece set introduced last month that includes a programmable brick, sensors, software and motors. Known as EV3, the $350 set is the third incarnation of the Mindstorms series, introduced in 1998. It includes plans for five walking, talking and thinking robots including the snake, the scorpion-like SPIK3R and the Mohawk-sporting EV3RSTORM.
“These robots have attitude,” said product designer Lars Joe Hyldig, who spent about three years developing them. “They can surprise you” by taking on a mind of their own.

04 October 2013

The uncivil servant

Vulgarity is everywhere.  The Guardian reports:
Hundreds of thousands of families losing child benefit payments this year need to "get off their backsides" and fill in extra forms to avoid being fined by the taxman, the head of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has said.
Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC, said more than 200,000 families still needed to register for the self-assessment tax forms as part of the government's plans to take away child benefit for higher earners.
...Homer told BBC Radio Five on Friday that many families due to lose their benefit were simply being "inactive".
"We think there are still 200,000 people who still need to get off their backsides," she said. "If anyone's in doubt about whether they are in this category, if they go to our website, they'll find a calculator, they can put in details and it will give them a very clear indication of whether they are caught or not.
Ms Homer's hitherto stellar career appears to have overcome all obstacles, despite her successive failures as a returning officer, as the chief executive of the Border Agency and as the head of the Department of Transport.  She might nevertheless wish to bear in mind that many of those she is now urging to get off their backsides might be Tory voters.

03 October 2013

Whatever happened to the Big Society?

You remember, Dave Cameron's Big Society, centrepiece of the Tories' political strategy for so long, but unmentioned yesterday in the PM's conference speech.

Fraser Nelson, Spectator editor, knows what happened.  . "It lies in a shallow grave somewhere," says Nelson, "but I rather liked it."


01 October 2013

Cameron in the kitchen

So, he owns a breadmaker.  Regardless of his protestations, it probably sits in a cupboard, neglected, like all the other breadmakers, no doubt bought with the best intentions.