30 July 2015

Quote of the day

The Guardian sums up the problem of Calais:
Cross-Channel viewpoints differ strikingly. From the traffic jams of Kent, the local conservative MP says France isn’t doing enough to police the tunnel and ports. But to a French aid worker building emergency latrines for thousands of refugees in a huge diarrhoea-ridden open-air squat in Calais it seems that Britain is exporting its asylum problems, asking Paris to do its dirty work along a British border that has conveniently shifted from Dover to the northern French coast.
There are no easy answers. Least of all those that involve sending in the army.


28 July 2015

Easy come, easy go

The Times reports:
Britain’s blue-chip stocks have lost all the ground made this year after a five-day rout capped by a catastrophic collapse in Chinese shares yesterday.
The FTSE 100 has slumped almost 10 per cent from its record high in April of 7,103.98 and is now 1 per cent below where it opened the year. The slide gathered speed in the past week, with a fall of almost 5 per cent in a five-day stretch that marked its longest losing streak this year.
A collapse in Chinese equities overnight set the tone as markets across the world turned red. The Shanghai Composite tumbled 8.5 per cent, its steepest daily decline since February 2007, despite Beijing’s support measures. The CSI300 index of top shares in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell by 8.6 per cent.
And Chinese stocks continued their decline overnight.  And the prospects for the FTSE today are less than promising.

That'll teach me - gambling is a sin ...


Ah didnae ken. Weel, ye ken noo ...

Ignorance is no defence.  The Guardian reports:

Boris Johnson has apologised for giving his wife a ‘backie’ on a bicycle, claiming he was unaware he was breaking the law.
The mayor of London was criticised by the national cycling charity CTC for pedalling his barrister wife Marina Wheeler through the city late on Thursday night on a bicycle designed for one person. The charity said he should have known better.
But Johnson’s official spokesman said the mayor was “unaware that he was apparently in contravention of the Road and Traffic Act”.

27 July 2015

Taking Corbyn seriously

It is not as straightforward as you think.  The Guardian reports:
Even if Corbyn loses, he will remain a force in his party – and beyond. Those Tories who want to see Britain remain in the EU do not like one bit his hints that he is open to taking on a senior role in the out campaign. And in a broader sense, the sort of Conservatives who think intelligently and strategically – and there are more of them than you think – fret that a bearded 66-year-old socialist has ignited political debate in a way that absolutely nobody in the mainstream predicted. He has stormed through the crash barriers of contemporary politics as if they weren’t there, presenting the ideals of the left as if they were brand new and absolutely tailored to the needs of our age. He has shown that party modernisation of the sort that Blair championed for 13 years is as brittle as balsa. What message does that have for Cameron, whose modernisation strategy has been much less consistent and committed than Blair’s?
The general election result suggests that the conventional rules of politics have not changed: on which basis Labour would – if Corbyn became leader – split, lose, and perhaps do both. The Tories would be the conspicuous beneficiaries.
But what if the rules have changed? What if Corbyn’s moment in the sun is more than an anomaly, a quirk, an exception that proves the rule? The smart politician allows for such possibilities. Which is why smart Tories, far from gloating, are asking themselves if this is the start of something; and if so, of what?

26 July 2015

Like a deep-fried Mars bar

Headline of the day (here):
Pluto is crunchy with a soft centre


Fantasy politics

Are the Labour centrists worried that they will lose to Corbyn?  It might explain scare stories such as this nonsense in The Sunday Times:
HARRIET HARMAN has been urged to suspend the Labour leadership race after evidence emerged that hard left infiltration is fuelling a huge surge in party membership.
More than 140,000 new activists are projected to have joined by the deadline for registration to vote, a rise of more than two thirds since the election, with many signing up to back the hard left candidate Jeremy Corbyn.
The Communist party of Great Britain has called on supporters to join and back Corbyn as part of its revolutionary “strategy” while Green party activists have also been discussing how to vote for him.
Labour MPs say their local parties have been flooded with new members, most of them supporting Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, who polls have suggested is the frontrunner in the leadership race.
Some of the new members have previously stood as candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an electoral alliance including the Socialist Workers’ party, founded by Bob Crow, the late hard left leader of the RMT rail union.
As if the Communist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition could magic up 140,000 activists prepared to join the Labour Party, just like that!


They just don't get it

Andrew Rawnsley of The Observer. perhaps one of the ultimate insiders in the Westminster bubble, fails to understand the surge in Corbynism:
Is Labour merely a protest march or does it still understand that your principles are of limited value if you never have the power to put them into practice? Does Labour want to simply denounce the Tories or has it some interest in beating them? Is it at all bothered about being competitive at the next election?
At the moment, much of the party is behaving as if it isn’t even vaguely interested in becoming a government again.

I would refer Mr Rawnsley to the bible, specifically Mark 8:36:

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

Corbyn seems to believe in socialism, unlike the others in the Labour race whose predilection in moving towards the centre appears to embrace a willingness to sacrifice any principle on the altar of power worship.  But, if Labour does not exist to improve the lot of the poorest in society, then what is it for?

25 July 2015

Music of the week

Over 50 years ago - and it seems like yesterday:

Quote of the day

What happens when a trendy metropolitan Guardian journo visits Stonehaven to assess a Scottish culinary delight?
Some things are so obvious that no description would be complete without them, and yet they must surely have been observed before: the problem with deep frying a Mars bar isn’t the fat or the salt or the sugar, but the colour. It looks like a turd in batter; so much so that there’s some kind of evolutionary wisdom urging you not to eat it. 
But when you’ve gone all the way there and, at 41, are ready to experiment, you can ignore that wisdom for the first bite, and, it turns out, these are delicious; much better than a regular Mars bar, since the neutral, savoury flour breaks into the sugary flatness, the batter mixes up the texture and, of course, the salt and the caramel meet, in an elegant and self-contained precursor to this decade’s salted caramel obsession. 
Utter tosh, of course.  How long before the English wake up to the fact that they're having their leg pulled?


23 July 2015

The ghost rattles his chains

Blair is back.  The Guardian reports:

The familiar tics of “By the way” and “Let me just say this” that used to make listeners fall into his eyes now felt mechanical and dated. The narrative that there was no intrinsic tradeoff to be made between principle and the pragmatics of re-election no longer felt quite so easy or convincing. The longer Blair carried on talking, the harder it became not to hear the voice of a rather ropey management consultant whose speciality was platitudes.
“What the party needs to do is root and branch thinking,” he said, giving few pointers to what that might entail. “The world is a fascinating place and we need to be engaged with it. We need to remember how to connect with people.” The pathos in Blair not realising this was an ability he had long since lost escaped only him. If these are the kinds of leadership insights corporations are paying £200,000 an hour to hear, then brain death awaits us all.
Let him crawl back to whatever richly-appointed hole he emerged from.

22 July 2015

You gotta bend a little ...

The Times reports:
More than 60 million people outside the UK have been exploiting internet loopholes to watch BBC iPlayer free of charge, according to research, suggesting that the corporation could make millions by charging overseas viewers in countries such as China.
The BBC’s online catch-up service is funded from the licence fee and so is “geo-restricted”, making it accessible only to viewers within the UK.
GlobalWebIndex, the research company, conducted interviews with more than 47,000 people around the world and estimated from their responses that 65 million people outside Britain use proxy servers or virtual private networks, known as VPNs, which can hide their location and allow them access to the iPlayer.
What?  Me?  I'm a licence payer ...

Why does anyone have 11 watches?

The Guardian reports:
The former Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb has provided 11 luxury watches to secure the $10m (£6.4m) bond that enabled his release from custody, along with his wife’s wedding ring, three opulent cars and 10 properties.
Webb, who was also president of Concacaf, football’s governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, was one of seven officials extradited from Switzerland in May for corruption.
He has also been charged by authorities in his homeland, the Cayman Islands, with two counts of conspiracy to defraud and one charge of breach of trust, as well as “conspiracy to convert criminal property”.
According to an order filed on Monday setting the conditions for release, Webb secured the bond with five Rolex watches plus a Cartier Roadster, Hublot, Breitling, Panerai, Royal Oak Offshore and Luminor Marina. The government noted the Hublot has not yet been turned over to the FBI and must be provided by 2 August.
Webb’s bond is also secured by a 2015 Ferrari and 2014 Range Rover, a 2003 Mercedes-Benz and a $401,000 account in his wife’s name. His wife’s diamond wedding ring is also included as security.
As my own watch cost me the vast sum of 4.50 euros, it is just as well that I am not a football bigwig.


They are still at it ,,,

The Guardian reports:
A Tory minister who claimed 9p on expenses for a 352-yard car journey has defended the cost, but admitted such small claims may look “odd”.
Rob Wilson, the MP for Reading East, has made a number of claims for short journeys, with many coming in under £1, but said over the course of a year the mileage “does add up”.
During the financial year 2013-14, the minister for civil society claimed expenses for a 528-yard car journey to a business meeting, at a cost of 13p, and another to a Google business event in his constituency which cost him 68p.
The 9p journey was made on 29 March last year and labelled a “constituency engagement”. Wilson also claimed 60p for a journey he made in November last year on his bicycle between his constituency office, a railway station and his home.
Look after the pennies ...?


18 July 2015

Music of the week

"The smell of hospitals in winter - and the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters with no pearls.."

17 July 2015

Wot, no deep-fried Mars bars?

The Times reports on the spread of Scottish culinary treats:
Tennent’s lager and Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Biscuits have become unlikely best-sellers at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida. Irn Bru is even rumoured to be on sale.
The Caledonian staples were introduced as a tribute to the multi-millionaire author’s Scottish roots and the fact that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry — where the bespectacled hero learned to cast spells — is meant to be situated in the Highlands.
It means the Scottish favourites are now rivalling traditional all-American theme park treats such as candy floss, burgers and Budweiser.
See Americans - nae taste ...

16 July 2015

Boris and his toys

Image result for boris johnson

The Times revels in the humiliation of the London Mayor:
Theresa May, as dry as burnt toast, had come to the Commons to tell us her decision on water cannon. She explained that it was classified as a “less lethal system”, the same as Tasers and baton rounds. Behind her, slumped in a corner, sat the dishevelled garden gnome that is Boris Johnson.
Theresa explained in a voice as dessicated as coconut that in June 2014 the mayor of London had approved the purchase of “three Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon” from Germany.
Did I see Boris flinch? Theresa spoke the words “Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000” as if each was an illegal alien who had arrived in her mouth without papers. The Wasserwerfer had cost £218,000. The Wasserwerfer had 67 “outstanding issues”. The Wasser was werfer a wobbly. She’d consulted every expert in die Welt and had decided Boris was ein Dummkopf. (I paraphrase, but I think you will find my translation is sound.)
Those who play with water get wet.

15 July 2015

Speech of the week

Mhairi Black's maiden speech - well done and worth listening to:

14 July 2015


So the SNP are to vote against the relaxation of the hunting ban in England.  Their Westminster leader has sought to justify this intervention in English affairs:
Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, said it was “right and proper” to assert the Scottish interest on foxhunting given that there are moves in Holyrood to toughen up Scotland’s law on the issue.
“We totally oppose foxhunting and, when there are moves in the Scottish parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales for Holyrood to consider,” he said.
Not terribly convincing, given the SNP's previous adherence to a policy of non-intervention in matters English.  They have complained often enough about the imposition of English MPs in Scottish affairs.

Not that I think hunting foxes with dogs is anything other than disgusting.


13 July 2015

There you go

At last (maybe):
Eurozone leaders have reached a "unanimous" agreement after marathon talks over a third bailout for Greece, EU President Donald Tusk has said.
He tweeted that a bailout programme was "all ready to go" for Greece, "with serious reforms and financial support".
Details of the agreement were not immediately clear. Eurozone leaders have been meeting in Brussels for more than 16 hours.

After 16 hours of negotiation, I would be surprised if they knew what they had signed up to ...

How long before it unravels?  Or am I being excessively cynical?


This is a coup

Looks like it.  The Guardian reports:
Under the terms set before Tsipras on Sunday night, the Greek parliament has to endorse the entire package on Monday and then pass several pieces of legislation by Wednesday, including on pensions reform and a new VAT regime, before the eurozone will agree to negotiate a new three-year rescue package.
The terms are much stiffer than those imposed by the creditors over the past five years. This, said the senior official, was payback for the emphatic no to the creditors’ terms delivered by the snap referendum that Tsipras staged a week ago.
“He was warned a yes vote would get better terms, that a no vote would be much harder,” said the senior official.
The Eurogroup document said experts from the troika of creditors – the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank– would be on the ground in Athens to monitor the proposed bailout programme. The trio would also have a say in all relevant Greek draft legislation before it is presented to parliament. Furthermore, the Greeks will have to amend all legislation already passed by the Syriza government this year that had not been agreed with the creditors.
Difficult to see how an independent democracy could tolerate such humiliating arrangements.


12 July 2015

Suiting up

This story gives rise to additional questions:
A member of a Scottish boy band is "lucky to be alive" after collapsing with heat exhaustion on board a flight.
The 19-year-old, from Cumbernauld, had intended to take a suitcase and a small rucksack on board, but the airline only permits passengers to have one piece of hand luggage.
After being told he would be charged an additional fee to take the extra bag on board, he emptied the rucksack and wore the contents.
[He] was wearing four jumpers, six T-shirts, three pairs of jeans, two pairs of jogging bottoms, two jackets and two hats when he collapsed.
How did he manage to get all those clothes into what is described as "a small rucksack"?  And if all that stuff was in his rucksack, what did he have in his suitcase?  Just wondering ...

11 July 2015

Music of the week

Extract from the Chancellor's diary

From here:
Iain Duncan Smith catches up with me and Dave after Cabinet, and says he really needs to talk about low pay.
“No,” says Dave. “If you can’t cope on your parliamentary creditcard, you’ll just have to get your own. These are the rules.”
IDS says he doesn’t mean that. He means the budget, and the minimum wage. He’s hoping it’ll go up.
“No spoilers,” I say. “But look. I’ll just say this. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Yeah!” says IDS. “RAAAAAGH!”
Then he clenches his fists, punches the sky a few times, and headbutts a wall. Then he leaves.
“He’s f***ing terrifying,” says Dave.
You better believe it ...

10 July 2015

Dividends and taxes

Here is the best explanation I have seen so far on the Chancellor's changes to the dividends tax regime:
Currently, those receiving dividends benefit from a 10% tax credit. So for basic rate taxpayers, for example, the 10% tax credit means the 10% tax levied on dividend payments is reduced to zero. It is a notional credit: basic rate taxpayers don't pay the 10% tax and then receive a refund, they just don't pay tax.
This notional credit mean the current tax rates on dividends are effectively:
  • zero for those paying the 20% basic rate of income tax;
  • 25% for those paying the 40% higher rate of income tax and
  • 30.6% for those paying the additional 45% rate.
Under the new system, all those who receive dividends won't pay tax on the first £5,000. After that, they will be taxed at the following rates:
  • 7.5% for basic rate taxpayers;
  • 32.5% for higher rate taxpayers;
  • 38.1% for additional rate taxpayers.
It's worth noting that all these tax rates – both before and after the changes – relate to dividends received outside of ISAs and pensions. Dividends in ISAs and pensions are tax-free.

As Lola said, it's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world

The wheel turns:
After a frantic scramble involving complex political negotiations that could bring down Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, Greece last night submitted proposals for a third, three-year bailout programme to prevent “Grexit”.
There was hope as the Greek government appeared to accept that austerity measures were inevitable in return for loans to save the country from bankruptcy and expulsion from the euro.
Greek opposition politicians, the conservative New Democracy and liberal The River parties, held secret talks yesterday in Brussels as the Greek government prepared to pass controversial legislation on pension cuts and tax increases. Diplomatic sources told The Times that Mr Tsipras appeared ready to pass measures without the support of his government coalition partners, the nationalist Independent Greeks, or left-wingers in his own Syriza party.
Let me see if I have this right.  After months of prevarication, during which the Greek government steadfastly refused to bow to demands of austerity, it held a referendum urging the Greek people to reject the creditors' demands and won by a comfortable majority.  A week later, and contrary to the referendum result, the same Greek government offers to accept austerity.

All this to secure additional loans which it will use to repay previous loans from its creditors, with a possible promise of debt re-structuring sometime in the future.

It makes my head spin ...


09 July 2015

Quote of the day (2)

From here:
This is what you are not allowed to say in China: the stock market is an equity disaster and the authorities have failed to rescue the market. The phrases “equity disaster” and “rescue the market”, you see, have been banned from market reports.
For official consumption, the Chinese Communist party is merely adopting sensible measures to address a temporary outbreak of irrationality among investors; calm will return any day now.
Yeah, right. Big shareholders have been banned from selling for six months, and trading in almost half the stocks on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchangeshas been suspended, an attempt to air-brush the fact that the real prices would be substantially lower.
"Temporary irrationality"?  Inscrutable ...

Quote of the day

From here:
“The chancellor said today that ‘Britain deserves a pay rise and Britain is getting a pay rise’. Unless, of course, you’re a public servant.”
Or unless you are under 25.


08 July 2015

On and on and on

This is becoming tedious: deadline after deadline after deadline.  But nothing is ever decided; The Guardian reports the latest final ultimatum:
Greece has 48 hours to strike a new bailout deal with its eurozone creditors or face a banking collapse, a humanitarian emergency, and the start of an exit from the single currency, European leaders decided on Tuesday evening.
Unless Athens presents convincing details entailing more austerity as the basis for its third bailout in five years, all 28 national EU leaders, not just those of the eurozone, are to gather in Brussels on Sunday in emergency session to discuss how to contain the fallout from Greece’s financial collapse.
“We have a Grexit scenario prepared in detail,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission.
Nor does this sort of thing help:
In the run-up to Tuesday evening’s summit called as a result of the Sunday referendum, eurozone leaders demanded that Tsipras present specific proposals. Tsakalotos instead turned up at a meeting of finance ministers with speaking points jotted in pencil from a Brussels hotel notepad. The Greeks then promised a more formal submission by Wednesday.
“[With] the Greek government it is every time ‘mañana’,” said Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, one of the Greek government’s harshest critics. “It can always be ‘mañana’ every day.”

06 July 2015

Oh dear ...

Within 5 minutes of opening, the FTSE 100 is down by more than 1%.

There is some consolation: De La Rue (which makes banknotes) is up a couple of points.


So farewell Yanis

Did you really resign? Or were you pushed?  No matter, really.

But you brought a little colour to international finance.

And I liked your parting shot - that you will "wear the creditors' loathing with pride".


Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
... any nation that can arrange a referendum at a week’s notice, conduct it competently, and produce a result before midnight, possesses a degree of civic organisation that many would envy. In the manner of the vote, as much as the result, there has to be hope for Greece.


04 July 2015

Extract from the Greek finance minister's diary

From here:
“Yanis, my friend,” says our Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. “How do you think we are handling this crisis?”
“Heroically!” I say.
Alexis agrees. Definitely. Only it doesn’t feel ideal, he adds, that our offices are now dark, and have no air conditioning, and we’re sitting on the floor sharing a packed lunch of stale olives out of Tupperware.
“But the crowds!” I say, gesturing out the window. “See how they cheer us!”
Alexis says they seem a bit angry.
“With the Germans,” I agree.
Alexis says it might actually just be a queue for an ATM.
“Comrade,” I say. “Don’t panic now! Was this not your plan?”
“My plan?” says Alexis. “Hang on. Aren’t you the plan guy?”
“God, no,” I say. “I’ve just been winging it.”
“Well this is embarrassing,” says Alexis.


03 July 2015

Music of the week

Is nothing sacred?

The Times reports:
It is a notoriously potent brew which has become synonymous with neds and drunken disorder rather than discernment, but Buckfast is getting an upmarket makeover.
Buckie, as the caffeinated tonic wine — which is hugely popular in west central Scotland — is known, has been denounced by senior police officers and politicians.
It is known to its most ardent devotees as “commotion lotion” and “wreck the hoose juice”, and police say it is mentioned in serious crime reports more than any other drink or drug. Now it is to be relaunched as a sophisticated and aspirational tipple.
As part of an ambitious advertising campaign, the fortified wine, which is made by Benedictine monks, will be marketed as a base for cocktails.
The drink’s distributors have also hired a Michelin-starred chef to promote it as the perfect addition to a range of gourmet dishes.
It will never catch on ...



The Times reports:
It has a curiously therapeutic effect on millions, but the satisfaction of popping Bubble Wrap is under threat after the makers of the packaging launched a type with bubbles that do not burst.
The new version is laid out in columns of connected air pockets, so that when it is squeezed the air gets pushed into neighbouring bubbles.
Miserable sods.

02 July 2015

Isis, Isil or Daesh?

What's in a name?  The politicians seem vexed about it.  The Spectator sets out the position, for the record:
‘Isis’ is an acronym of Islamic State in Syria. ‘Isil’ – an acronym of Islamic State in the Levant. Isil is the better translation of the group’s Arabic name al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – where ‘Sham’ represents greater Syria or ‘the Levant’ as we would say in English.
As for ‘Daesh’, it has the small propaganda advantage of reminding Arabic speakers of Daes (‘one who crushes something underfoot’) and Dahes (‘one who sows discord’). But beyond that childish word association it is no help at all, for ‘Daesh’ is just the Arabic abbreviation of al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.