27 December 2013

Too much Christmas pudding?

Some people might be surprised that Chloe Smith MP thinks she has the answer to political disengagement:
Responding to fears about disengagement by young people from politics, the Tory MP Chloe Smith, a former minister at 31, told the Guardian there was a danger of a political disconnect between young and old, with "generations far apart and not talking to each other". One of her ministerial briefs included improving voter engagement.
"I think there is an existential problem coming for traditional forms of British democracy, which it is in everyone's interests, all of us as democrats, to respond to," she said. "We have to demonstrate what politics is for, why a young person's individual action in voting matters."
But it gives me the opportunity to show again her famous Newsnight interview in which she demonstrates her personal commitment to openness and transparency:

26 December 2013

It's not swings and roundabouts

It's going to happen sooner or later.  The Independent reports:

More people believe they would be helped than harmed by a rise in interest rates, according to a new survey.
A leading pollster said the finding suggested that a pre-election rate hike could actually improve David Cameron's chances of staying in Downing Street, rather than damaging them, as is widely thought.
Some 31 per cent of those questioned by YouGov for The Times said that a rise in interest rates would leave them personally better-off, against 23 per cent who said they would be better off with lower rates and 32 per cent who thought it would make little difference either way.
A rise in interest rates would hit mortgage-holders, making it more difficult for home-owners to pay back loans. But it would be good for savers, particularly pensioners who have suffered from poor rates of return on their nest-eggs over the period since the crash of 2008.

I can readily believe that the banks would hike mortgage rates in an instant.  I am a lot more sanguine, however, about the proposition that interest rates for savers would go up as quickly  

22 December 2013

The Ebenezer Scrooge de nos jours

According to Wikipedia, Scrooge is 'a cold-hearted, tight-fisted and greedy man, who despises Christmas. Dickens describes him thus: "The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice ..."'.  He is 'a coldhearted miser with nothing but contempt for the poor, and who despises Christmas as a "humbug"'.

In this season of goodwill to all men, there is one politician who appears to be making a deliberate attempt to adopt Scrooge's mantle.  The Observer reports:
Iain Duncan Smith, the embattled work and pensions secretary, is refusing to meet leaders of the rapidly expanding Christian charity that has set up more than 400 food banks across the UK, claiming it is "scaremongering" and has a clear political agenda.
Duncan Smith began his reply by criticising the "political messaging of your organisation", which "despite claiming to be nonpartisan" had "repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform". He said his department's record in processing benefit claims had improved and should do so further with the introduction of universal credit.
He rejected any suggestion that the government was to blame. "I strongly refute this claim and would politely ask you to stop scaremongering in this way. I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."
The standoff will further anger church leaders who were incensed by reports last week that the government had turned down a potential pot of £22m of EU funding for food banks, on the grounds that the UK did not want to be told by Brussels how to spend money for European structural funds.
In Dickens' novel, Scrooge eventually sees the error of his ways, persuaded by the three Ghosts of Christmas.  I regret to say that Duncan Smith is unlikely to be amenable to ghostly intervention.


21 December 2013

Some you win, some you lose

It's just that I always seem to lose more than I win:
Top 5 FTSE 100 performing shares 2013
Intl Consolidated AI +106.439%
EasyJet plc +96.21%
Hargreaves Lansdown +90.495%
Sports Direct International +86.417%
ITV plc +79.761%
Nope.   Didn't pick any of them.
Bottom 5 FTSE 100 performing shares 2013
Fresnillo plc -60.030%
Antofagasta plc -37.643%
Randgold Resources -33.92%
Tullow Oil -33.902%
Anglo American plc -32.682%
Yes, I spent money on three of them.

That'll teach me some humility.


18 December 2013

What was all that about?

Procrastination.  Prevarication.  Why make a decision today when you can leave it until tomorrow?  If it's that important, it can wait.
There are still three possible sites for new London airport runways: at Heathrow, Gatwick or the Thames estuary. The news is at least a quarter of a century old. Connoisseurs of British indecision will greet Sir Howard Davies's announcement on Tuesday as an all-time, blue-chip, 24-carat masterpiece of the genre. We are back where we started.
Half a century of inquiry has sought new runways for London, while Birmingham, Manchester and other airports have quietly expanded. Each new outburst of London airport hysteria sends politicians running for the hills of indecision. After Tuesday, those hills are more crowded than ever.
As Phil Ochs put it:
Oh, the shadows of doubt are in many a mind
Lookin' for an answer they're never gonna find
But they'd better decide 'cause they're runnin' out of time
For these are the days of decision
Or not, as the case may be.

Panicked xenophobia

A bit late, perhaps?  And would it not be illegal to impose separate rules discriminating against EU migrants, compared with domestic claimants?  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron is rushing through a block on European Union migrants' access to benefits from 1 January, the politically fraught date when the remaining work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians will be lifted in the UK.
From New Year's Day all jobseekers from the EU will have to wait for three months from their arrival in the UK before they can apply to claim any out of work benefits, Downing Street announced.
The scrambled clampdown betrays the extreme nervousness in Downing Street at the possible reaction of potential Tory voters – and increasingly restive Tory backbenchers – if the public decide ministers have failed to take every measure possible to prevent Romanians and Bulgarians travelling to Britain en masse.
David Cameron said he believed the restrictions would "make the UK a less attractive place for EU migrants who want to come here and try to live off the state".The prime minister added that he wanted to "send the clear message that whilst Britain is very much open for business, we will not welcome people who don't want to contribute".
Is there any evidence that Bulgarians and Romanians will come to the UK in order to claim benefits?

16 December 2013

This lady deserves whatever success comes her way

The Guardian reports:
Celebrity chefs are off the menu for a supermarket which has chosen one of the faces of austerity Britain as its new advertising star.
Jack Monroe, a 25-year-old single mother whose stories of struggling to feed her son for £10 a week while on benefits have propelled her to national fame, will front Sainsbury's new campaign from next month.
Her splendid blog is here.


12 December 2013

It's a flea-bite

The Guardian reports:
Lloyds Banking Group has been fined £28m for putting branch staff under such pressure to sell products in order to claim bonuses or avoid being demoted that they may have mis-sold them to customers.
£28 million may sound like a lot of money, but it is peanuts to Lloyds.  With annual revenues of over £34 billion and a net loss of £1.43 billion, the odd £28 million is neither here nor there.  Even with the additional bill for compensation, Lloyds admits the effect will not be material.
Lloyds says it expects to spend up to £200m settling the fine and other issues involved. It says this won't have a "material impact on the group", but it is likely to hit the bank's profitability and as part owners that means taxpayers will take a hit.
Hummph.  As the taxpayers have yet to see any dividend returns on their investment, any "hit" that they suffer is entirely notional.  In any case, as part owners of the bank, they or their representatives (are you listening Treasury?) should have been aware of what was going on, and put a stop to it.

So will the fine deter them from repeating their alleged crimes?  Do pigs fly?


11 December 2013

The Scottish health police would be appalled

I went down to the tobacco shop yesterday to buy stamps.  In Spain, cigarettes and stamps are sold, more or less exclusively, in special shops, rather than in supermarkets or post offices.

It is my habit to visit the local tobacco shop once a month where I buy three cartons of ciggies (at a price considerably below that in the UK).  The cigarette packets are much the same as in the UK, although the admonitions (Fumar Mata) are of course in Spanish.

For most of this year, my preferred brand has been on special offer, which means that - as the prices are set by central government - my three cartons comes with a half-bottle of Smirnoff vodka at no extra charge.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), vodka is not one of my favourite tipples,  So my drinks cabinet now sits proudly in the corner, displaying eight half-bottles of vodka.  Now I need only find someone to whom I can give them away.

I suppose the authorities in Scotland would look askance at any proposals to give away free booze with ciggies.  Shame really ...


Quote of the day

Samantha Cameron, allegedly (here):
"Well RIP Mr Madeeber which is what Dave and me have always called President Mandela since we became bffs, it is hard to put into words for people who never met him but Melanie Brown summed it up, he was sooo amazing, also like Naomi says, incredibly kind to models & do not even get Alexa started on his loincloths #inspirational #styleicon? Plus the way he was so uber-forgiving, eg if you accidentally asked him what Mary Seacole was like he would be like, happens all the time :) & basically this total wound-healing role model? Dave is right, anyone who says Madeeber did not totes forgive him for that fact-finding tour everyone keeps going on about needs to go seriously high on the shit list, I know, why would you expect Labourites to understand that major South African lolz = the path to reconciliation but basically there are limits, as in if anyone says another WORD about our Christmas card *shakes fist* I will literally explode?"

10 December 2013

There's austerity and austerity

Does your heart not bleed for the poor lamb?

Princess Michael of Kent has explained how she and her husband have been hit by austerity; meaning they can no longer dine out as it's "too extravagant".
The Princess, who is an interior designer and author, told The Times in an interview to promote her debut novel: "I am in very austere economic times too, thank you very much!"
"We’ve cut back dramatically. I mean we never go out to dinner unless we go to somebody’s house. We never go to restaurants. That’s too extravagant."
The Princess, who lives with her husband at Kensington Palace, added: "We invite people here [Kensington Palace]. I cook. Well, if I’m giving a dinner party I get in help."
She also told the interviewer of her love for budget carrier easyJet saying: "it’s the only direct route to Biarritz."
"We always fly tourist-class anyway in Europe. For long-haul we go club,” she added

Nice anecdote

From The Independent (here):
Gordon Brown, whose famously rare visits to the Commons make it easy to forget his power to hold the chamber when he is on form, eloquently declared the former South African President as true to Churchill’s mantra that courage is the greatest virtue of all. He quoted the passage Mandela had marked from Julius Caesar in the complete works of Shakespeare so treasured on Robben Island: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant taste of death but once.”
And on Mandela’s fight against Aids he had been “an activist who became a President and a President who became an activist”. But Brown also got laughs across the House for describing how, when Prime Minister, he had been told by Mandela that he wanted the Queen to invite an African rain princess from his tribe to a reception at Buckingham Palace and had got nowhere via the diplomatic channels. “So he decided to telephone her personally,” said Brown. “The story goes that the conversation – words that only Mandela could use, began: ‘Hello, Elizabeth. How’s the Duke?’ And while the official minutes say that the Queen was non-committal, he got his way.”


Wig and gown

Does this remind you of King Canute seeking to hold back the waves?  Or do lawyers just want to keep modern reality out of their rule-driven little world?  The Guardian reports:
Jurors should face up to two years in prison if they search the internet for information about cases beyond the facts revealed in court, the Law Commission has recommended.
Judges should also be given powers to remove jurors' mobile phones, and all internet-enabled devices must be confiscated during jury room deliberations, according to the commission's proposals for reforming contempt of court regulations.
The report suggests that the attorney general ought to take on responsibility for ordering the media to remove previously published stories from websites if they are deemed to jeopardise a fair trial.
Responding to the recommendations, the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said: "Juror contempt is a serious risk to justice but people are often not aware of the consequences."The Law Commission's proposal to make it an offence for jurors to search for information about their case on the internet or by other means would make the position absolutely clear and would, I hope, reduce the need for future prosecutions.
"[The law Commission has] attempted to strike a very careful balance between freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial. I will now need to discuss the recommendations carefully with my government colleagues before we respond formally."
I can see the problem, but I rather doubt that it would be desirable to restrict a citizen's access to information which is in the public domain.  Furthermore, judges - especially those sitting unassisted by juries - will be under no such restrictions, presumably on the basis that they are sensible enough to judge cases on the basis of the evidence heard in court,  Would it be impossible to ask juries to do the same, regardless of what they might have found out on the internet?


09 December 2013

How to back yourself into a corner?

First, you establish an independent authority to determine the level of your pay and expenses and you make sure that it is truly independent, to the extent that you are unable to reject its recommendations.  But when it comes up with recommendations of which you do not approve, you are stuck with the options of either accepting those recommendations (and being utterly condemned by the public as greedy grasping bloodsuckers on the public purse) or abolishing the independent authority which you set up in the first place.

Perhaps you might have thought more carefully about what you were doing before you did it?


Mixed messages ...

... from The Guardian.

If the unionists cannot articulate a new sense of British values and purpose, with which all the people of these islands can identify, the Scots may well vote for their auld country back again. It may be small. But it will be Scottish, and probably rather civilised and successful.
Chris Huhne displays an unexpected sympathy.

And here:
Scotland would immediately be ejected from the European Union were it to vote for independence in the forthcoming referendum, according to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, in comments clearly directed at Catalan nationalists who want the right to hold their own vote on secession from Spain."This is a fact, it's neither a value judgment nor an opinion, it's simply a fact. If part of a country integrated into the European Union leaves that country, then logically it would be outside the European Union, not because I say so, but because that's what the treaties say," said Rajoy, in an interview with theGuardian and partner newspapers from Spain, Germany, Italy and France.
Not unexpected, given Madrid's difficulties with Catalonia.  But what is alleged to be a simple fact is far from it.  The Treaties do not in fact specify what Rajoy says they do.  That is not to say the Treaties necessarily allow for an independent Scotland to remain part of the EU, but they do not obviously exclude the possibility.