30 July 2014

What to do about bankers?

The Guardian has a solution:
For years, the country's most celebrated thinkers have struggled to come up with a way to keep those pesky bankers in check. Tighter regulation? That won't work. A reduction of annual bonuses? Unlikely to change anything. A root-and-branch overhaul of the entire system, including a quantifiable focus on ethics and more punitive measures for anyone who steps out of line? Nope.
But, finally, a solution has been found. A padlocked, bulletproof, triple-checked solution that's guaranteed to stop bankers from being reckless and self-interested: oaths. That's right, according to thinktank ResPublica, bankers should have to say an oath. Out loud, too, because ResPublica is not messing about.
Of course, they're not being serious.  But a little (or a lot) of jail time might fit the bill ...


29 July 2014

Quote of the day

George Osborne is the bugle boy for the "march of the makers" and wants annual exports to double to £1tn by 2020, which now appears entirely unfeasible. The coalition is presiding over a recovery without productivity gains, a recovery without pay rises, a recovery without rising tax receipts and a recovery without export growth. It's recovery, Jim, but not as we know it.
Live long and prosper?  Probably not ...


27 July 2014

Media attention

If you care to look at the BBC World website or the Guardian equivalent, you will find - appropriately enough - any amount of articles on the Israel/Palestine crisis.  But the Syrian civil war and the Iraqi conflict appear to have dropped off the map.

Is it war fatigue concerning the apparently endless strife in the latter benighted countries?  Or are the media simply incapable of covering more than one Middle East crisis at a time?


26 July 2014

The reluctant horticulturalist

The story began when I admired the mint growing profusely in a sort of pot/window box on the terrace of the bar.  My pals noted the relish with which I crumbled a mint leaf in my hands, releasing that clean fragrance which so enhances lightly-boiled new potatoes.  A day or two later, I was presented with a little pot with a mint cutting which I duly planted in the hitherto barren window box which stretches the length of the terrace of my apartment.

I confess that tending to greenery is far from my forte; usually, I need only look sideways at a plant for it to turn up its toes in disgust.  Nevertheless, this little mint plant evoked some sort of spiritual renaissance in my gardening soul and I tended it with loving care and lots of water (but only after the sun had moved round to leave the plant in the shade).  And it has thrived!  After two weeks of TLC, it has put out little offshoots and looks happy.

Reporting this magnificent progress - with an unjustified element of pride - back to the guys in the bar, they subsequently proceeded to acquire from the local market a further half dozen herbs of various denominations.  I therefore felt obliged to buy some compost to assist their taking root in my rather stony window box.  Astonished to find that a big bag (more than was necessary) cost only 1.20 euros.

So now I am the proud owner of a herb garden, comprising parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (you can tell that we are of a certain age), as well as oregano and basil.  Somehow, a stray strawberry plant has also appeared.

So not only will my new tatties taste delightful, my ragu will be ever more flavourful.  Provided the damn things don’t die on me …

What is the world coming to? (part 35)

The Guardian reports:
Sales of Tunnock's teacakes have soared after they featured in the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, a supermarket has said. Customers have been stocking up on the sweet treat after giant dancing teacakes whirled around Celtic Park, Glasgow, on Wednesday.
Waitrose said in the 24 hours following the ceremony, sales rose by 62%. 


25 July 2014

Everything in the garden is wonderful, more or less

More confirmation that the UK economy is on the road to recovery:
The International Monetary Fund has raised its forecast for Britain's economic growth rate for the second time this year.
The Washington-based organisation said Britain would maintain its status as one of the world's fastest expanding major economies following a surge in growth to 3.2% by the end of the year.
The lender of last resort, which is headed by former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, uprated the UK's outlook for GDP growth by 0.4 percentage points this year and 0.2 percentage points to 2.7% next year in its latest world economic outlook.
(Not that the IMF is any better at economic prediction than anyone else.)  But still, taken together with the employment figures, things are looking reasonably rosy.  The only fly in the ointment is the failure of income figures to match inflation.
This being so, one might expect Slasher Osborne and his Tory confreres to be celebrating a recovery in the opinion polls.  On the contrary, however, Labour is maintaining a small but substantial lead of 3 to 4 percentage points, more than enough to deliver an overall majority in next year's election
Time is getting short.  Will the Tories start to panic?


22 July 2014

Aaargh! It's the Green Blob ...

Worth a read - here


From Today to Newsnight

His smugness on  his travels.  He'll be even more pleased with himself (if that is possible).


Quote of the day

From Tony Blair. a man who knows all about delusionary thinking (here):
 "20 years ago we were, as now, motivated by injustice, poverty, despair and deprivation. We want society to change and actively to lift up those who are down. It begins with an analysis of the world shaped by reality not ideology, not by delusionary thoughts based on how we want the world to be, but by hard-headed examination of the world as it actually is. The same applies to how we interact with people. This has to mean real people. Not the ones you find in the committee room but the ones you find at the bus stop or the bar or the cinema."
Aye, right.  When did you last see Mr Blair standing at a bus stop?


The rewards of failure

I would not go so far as to suggest that the man should not be given a modest compansation for his sacking but this seems excessive:
Tesco boss Philip Clarke was brutally ousted on Monday after failing to halt a dramatic slide in sales and profits, and replaced by a little-known executive from Unilever with no retail experience.
Despite his failure to turn the business round, Clarke could walk away with close to £10m in cash and shares, according to proxy voting service Manifest. He has also amassed a £11.5m pension pot over his long career, and will continue to be paid his £1.1m salary for a year.
Such is modern capitalism.  The boss class win, whether or not they succeed ...

17 July 2014


How many sponsors do they need?  The Mirror reports:
Manchester United have announced yet another commercial partner as Nissin join as a global sponsor.
The deposed champions may have finished outside of Champions League places for the first time in their history but it doesn't appear to have dampened their appeal.
Just days after confirming the world record £750m endorsement deal with adidas United have added another sponsorship string to their bow.
International food brand Nissin become the club's 29th official sponsor.
Nissin makes noodles.


Not playing the game

More on Lord Hill, the UK's new EU Commissioner.  The Guardian reports:
British officials say his primary function in Brussels will be to build alliances, strike deals and reach consensus with his EU peers with a view to assembling support for some of the reforms Cameron hopes to achieve if he is to fight and win a referendum in 2017 keeping Britain in the EU on new terms.
No, it won't.  EU Commissioners are not appointed to represent the views of their respective Member States.  Instead, they are expected to renounce national allegiances and adopt a communautaire status where the interests of the Commission and of Europe are foremost.  Of course, that need not prevent a little national politicking on the side but that needs to be done discreetly.

Furthermore, the idea of British officials that Lord Hill's role will be to support the UK Government's aims for the referendum will simply irritate the other EU Commissioners and the European Parliament, making it even less likely for him to achieve a desirable portfolio (or even to secure his status as a Commissioner).

About time British officials learned how the European game is played.

16 July 2014

Jobs for the boys (and girls)

Ah yes, Lord Hill, the UK's new EU Commissioner.  The New Statesman sets out the problem:
The Prime Minister is off to Brussels today in an attempt to secure a juicy job for his new man in Europe, Jonathan Hill, who was appointed European Commissioner yesterday during a big government reshuffle.
Apparently the best roles for Britain’s European Commissioner would be trade, competition, or internal market – as our brand new Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the Today programme this morning, “it would certainly help us” if Hill were to be handed one of these three briefs. “These are portfolios of interest to us, but not just for the UK… we want to see the EU get back on the right track,” Fallon continued.
There’s just one problem for Cameron. It's the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who is the person who gives roles to European Commissioners, and it was Juncker about whom the PM kicked up such a fuss before he was about to take the presidency.
Including President Juncker, there will be some 28 Commissioners, one from each of the member states.  The difficulty lies in the fact that, given the Commssion's relatively restricted range of responsibilities, there are only between ten and fifteen worthwhile portfolios for allocation.  In an ideal world, therefore, there would only be ten to fifteen Commissioners.  But we have 28 and, as all the Commissioners are regarded as equal, each must have his own bailiwick; there can be no question of having a senior and a junior Commissioner working together on the same portfolio.

The current responsibilities of Commissioners are set out here.  Some of these posts are clearly sinecures, such as Digital Agenda, Research, Health, and Consumer Policy, where the Commission simply has very few functions to fulfil.  But, as each Commissioner must have his or her own Directorate-General, the number of directorates-general expands to match the number of Commissioners.

Crazy, yes, but that's the way it is. And of course each of the member states looks to gain a plum job for its own Commissioner.   In these circumstances, never mind Cameron's three favoured portfolios - Lord Hill will be doing well just to get one of the portfolios with real content.


Headline of the day

What is it about sausages that brings out the wurst in headline writers?
German sausage cartel caught bangers to rights
Wurst-case scenario for sausage makers after anti-cartel watchdog slaps down record €338m fine for price-fixing

There are worse places than Spain for a holiday

"The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women"

Does Cameron really suppose that, just because Nicky, Liz, Tina and Esther have got their knees under the cabinet table, that all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds?

Predecessors such as Maria and Sayeeda were far from being a howling success ,,,


15 July 2014

Seven - one

Likely to be the new foreign secretary?  The Guardian reports:
Philip Hammond is regarded by the top of the Conservative party as an impressive operator, who has presided over steep budget cuts, preparations for an exit from Afghanistan and a large redundancy programme at the Ministry of Defence without attracting too many negative tabloid headlines.
His grasp of detail, some might say bordering on control freakery, may have appealed to David Cameron searching for someone with the stamina to repatriate powers from Brussels and renegotiate relations with the EU. What would attract many others in the Tory party is that he is considered a staunch Eurosceptic.
Not the most charismatic of senior Tories, the former businessman is nevertheless known as "Big Phil" at Conservative HQ.
Aye, and look what happened when the other Big Phil came up against the Germans ...    


It's not going to happen

Probably impractical, but even if it were possible to re-establish a Scottish Stock Exchange, it would probably be immediately acquired by London, American or European interests.  The Guardian reports:
As the vote on independence approaches, a report shows that a notional index of 100 Scottish companies currently listed on the London Stock Exchange would have grown by 5.7% in real terms (with dividends reinvested) since 1955.
But it would have been outperformed by stocks from the rest of the UK, which rose 6.8% over the same period. The difference is due to the predominance of financial companies in the "Scotsie 100", and in particular the near collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS in the banking crisis. Without this, it would have outperformed the UK index by a small margin.
The report, by the London Business School and consultancy Walbrook Economics, uses the location of a company's headquarters to judge whether it is Scottish or not. Apart from financial companies such as banks and investment trusts, the Scotsie index is dominated by utilities, and oil and gas companies. The largest are energy business SSE, insurer Standard Life, Royal Bank of Scotland, FTSE100 engineer Weir Group and Aggreko, the generator manufacturer.
Wot, no mention of A G Barr plc (maker of our other national drink)?  The bigger whisky companies belong to multi-nationals of course, as do most of the bigger breweries - for example Tennents is owned by the Magners company - though the Caledonian Brewery (Deuchars and Caley 80/-) remains independent.


13 July 2014

Quote of the day

Trust.  Aye. well maybe.  The Observer contemplates:
Trust me, I'm a banker. Don't think so. Trust me, I'm a doctor. Did you ever work at Mid-Staffs? Trust me, I'm from the intelligence services. And what did you have to do with rendition and torture? Trust me, I'm a police officer. How many innocent people did you shoot or stitch up to today? Trust me, I'm a bishop. Catholic or Anglican? Child abuser or investor in Wonga? Trust me, I'm a supermarket. How much horse is there in your burgers? Trust me, I'm from the newspapers. When does your trial begin? Trust me, I'm from the BBC. And what did you know about Jimmy Savile? Trust me, I'm a celebrity. How much tax are you avoiding? And were you mates with Rolf Harris?
Trust me, I'm a politician. Now, you're really having a laugh.
Sad, really.

12 July 2014

Quote of the day

The otherwise estimable Lucy has a balanced view of the considerations underlying the imminent referendum:
There are those who argue against it, of course. Scotland should stay just as it is! Independence, nivver darken our doors! Caledonian nationalism, like all nationalism, is a terrible idea spouted by the worst, most morally and psychologically incompetent people ever to have battered a Mars bar. Think of the ethno-chauvinism it will unleash: the small-mindedness, the petty sense of superiority, the alienation, bile and gracelessness that will wash over the land, poisoning e'en unto the last crystalline Highland spring, you sunless goons!
But I say, "Tish tosh!" to such dour preoccupations. I think the "ayes" have it right, and not just because it's short for "aye, have ye no' seen wha's in charge of England the noo? Jes' a wain, wi' a face lik' a bloated haggis an' a mind mair sleekit, cow'rin an tim'rous than any wee mousie ye ivver saw! They'll aw be greetin' afore he's done". This line is carved into every shovel currently being smuggled down to Hadrian's Wall, so that the digging can start on polling night, and the country rowed 4ft north by sun up on 19 September.


11 July 2014

Look after the pennies ...

Look, I suppose they need the money.  The Telegraph reports:
One Cabinet minister has claimed the cost of paying for an 11p ruler on his expenses.
Kenneth Clarke, the Cabinet Office minister, charged the taxpayer for an 11p ruler, according to the latest release of MPs’ expenses claims.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was found to have claimed 43p for scissors.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, claimed the cost of a £4.68 glue stick and 8p for a box of clips.
Latest figures for MPs expenses revealed some of Britain’s most senior politicians, are repeatedly submitting claims for trivial items.

07 July 2014

Earth has not anything to show more fair

It's the end of an era.  I don't suppose that I would ever again have travelled on a London bus but I certainly will not now.  City AM  reports:
London buses will no longer accept fares paid in cash in a move that Transport for London (TfL) says will save the capital £24m a year.
From today, passengers will only be able to pay for bus fares using an Oyster card, contactless credit or debit card or travelcard ticket.
It also means that most of the jokes in this fine rendition will be meaningless to those of tender years:

06 July 2014

Quote of the day

From Rawnsley in The Observer (here):
David Cameron once grasped that its reputation as a party of the rich was a serious impediment to the Tories. In opposition, when he was trying to give his party a detox and present himself as a different kind of Tory leader, he made several speeches challenging big business, attacking high finance and swearing that he would never be the mouthpiece for either of them.
In the wake of the financial crisis, he went so far as to deplore "markets without morality", rhetoric that could fit snugly into any of Mr Miliband's speeches arguing for a new form of more responsible capitalism.
Now Mr Cameron hosts fundraisers heaving with financial speculators. Perhaps he never really believed a word of it when he used to denounce them. Perhaps he has concluded that the public belief that the Tories are "the party of the rich" is just too indelible for him to shift. So he might as well make his cynical, if demeaning, best of it by stuffing his party's campaign war chest with cheques from Russian bankers who think a game of tennis with him is worth 160 grand.


04 July 2014

Music of the week

A reminder to men everywhere not to take their spouses lightly.

How the City gets it wrong

CityAM reports:
PUB AND brewing giant Greene King yesterday reported record annual sales and profit.
The company said its revenues were up 6.9 per cent to £1.3bn and its pre-tax profit was up 7.4 per cent to £158.2m.
The group added 48 new sites during the year as part of a five-year plan to increase its estate to 1,100.
Following the acquisitions, profit for the retail business grew 12 per cent compared to the prior year.
But the City thought it should have done better.  As a result:
Shares in FTSE 250-quoted Greene King fell 3.6 per cent yesterday to close at 816.5p.
A not atypical over-reaction.  They don't recognise a good thing when it stares them in the face.  But, as I used to enjoy a pint of Belhaven (now owned by Greene King), I have put my money where my mouth is and bought some shares,  We will see - over the next few days and weeks - if my bet is justified.

Update:  After the market has been open for 40 minutes, the shares are now priced at 830 pence, an increase of 1.65%, which is enough to give me a modest capital gain (even after allowing for stamp duty and admin fees).  Now do I take my modest profit?  Or hang on for better things?  The latter, I think, comfortable in the knowledge that the shares will in any case deliver annual dividends of over 3%.

Further update:  Share price now (9.22 am) over 840p.

This is becoming boring:


Cartoon of the day



Is there anything these guys will not do for money?  The Guardian reports:
A game of tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson has been sold off by the Conservative party for £160,000 to the banker wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin's government.
The extraordinary prize was the star lot at the Conservative party's summer fundraising ball on Wednesday at the Hurlingham Club, Fulham, west London, and was billed as giving the successful bidder the chance to play "the ultimate tennis match". The auction winner was Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, who was Russia's deputy finance minister during Putin's first term in office.
She is a banker, and according to Electoral Commission records had once been declared an "impermissible donor" in April 2012 when she attempted to give £10,000 to the party. However, since then Lubov Chernukhin – who is British – has made a further three donations worth a total of £5,500, which have all been accepted.



03 July 2014

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul"

Though TB's soul was probably lost a long time ago.  But he'd better have a long spoon handy.  The Guardian reports:
Tony Blair has agreed to advise the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in a military coup last year, as part of a programme funded by the United Arab Emirates that has promised to deliver huge "business opportunities" to those involved, the Guardian has learned.
The former prime minister, now Middle East peace envoy, who supported the coup against Egypt's elected president Mohamed Morsi, is to give Sisi advice on "economic reform" in collaboration with a UAE-financed taskforce in Cairo – a decision criticised by one former ally.
The UAE taskforce is being run by the management consultancy Strategy&, formerly Booz and Co, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers, to attract investment into Egypt's crisis-ridden economy at a forthcoming Egypt donors' conference sponsored by the oil-rich UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Blair's decision to become involved in Gulf-financed support of the Sisi regime, which is estimated to have killed more than 2,500 protesters and jailed more than 20,000 over the past year, has been attacked.

02 July 2014

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
In a gesture as eloquent as it was symbolic (or as empty as it was crass), Ukip's 24 MEPs turned their backs on the EU's flag and unofficial anthem during the opening session of the European parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. As a chamber orchestra played Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Britain's largest single contingent of Euro-parliamentarians stood solemnly facing the other way, looking defiant and ever so slightly silly.
Bunch of fruitcakes.