30 April 2016

Music of the week

... featuring a dazzling guitar solo from Prince

Hola Pedro!

Immigration is something terrible.  The Times reports:
They arrive from Europe, evading border controls and slithering silently into suburbia.
They outcompete, outperform and outbreed the local population, forcing them into ever-shrinking ghettos. They have sex with the natives and corrupt their Anglo-Saxon line.
And now, they are coming for your roses.
Voracious migrant Spanish slugs are spreading here and scientists say that for the first time there may be strong evidence that they are hybridising with British species.
I blame the EU (probably) ...



No doubt about next Thursday's winner.  Figures from the BBC:
Polling average
PartyConstituency voteRegional list vote
Scottish Labour20%19%
Scottish Conservatives17%18%
Scottish Lib Dems6%6%
Scottish Greens-9%
  • Source: Average of polls conducted between 1 April and 25 April by BMG, Ipsos MORI, Panelbase, Survation, TNS BMRB and YouGov.


28 April 2016

Village person

Quote of the day

Trumpian diplomacy?  The candidate veers towards the oxymoronic:
Calling current US foreign policy a “complete and total disaster,” Mr Trump said his global doctrine will include “randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.” 
Peaceful chaos or chaotic peace?  You'll know it when you see it ...

26 April 2016

Britannia rules the waves?

I suppose it says something that UK shipyards were not even in the hunt.  Bloomberg reports:
Australia awarded a A$50 billion ($39 billion) contract to construct 12 submarines to France’s DCNS Group, beating bids from Germany and Japan.
DCNS will build the fleet in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday. Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., and Thyssenkrupp AG of Germany had also submitted bids.
“The French offer represented the capabilities best able to meet Australia’s unique needs,” Turnbull said. “The project will see Australian workers building Australian submarines with Australian steel.”
France pulled out all the stops to win the contract, with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spending nearly a week in February touring Australia and President Francois Hollande set to host a state dinner for the nation’s governor-general Tuesday night. Defense is one of France’s biggest industries, providing about 165,000 jobs.
And so another huge contract goes begging.

Aye, and so much for the Brexiteers' claims that the UK would be better off with the Anglosphere.


Whose side are you on?

On the one hand, there are the junior doctors.  As The Independent points out:
Junior doctors have possibly one of the hardest jobs in the country. They carry on their young shoulders life and death responsibilities that most of us never even come close to. Throw into the mix long hours, unpredictable working patterns, high personal expense for examinations, and a training structure that means upping sticks across the country for your next job at a time of life when most others are trying to put down roots, and you can see how they might have hoped to be cut some slack.
On the other hand, there is Jeremy Hunt, the health minister seeking to introduce a seven-day health service without paying for it, thus driving doctors to despair and emigration.

Of course, I am biased.  I have relied on junior doctors (and their senior colleagues) to identify and treat my cancer.  So I owe them more than I can say.  But so many of us are in a similar position. 

Which is why - even if the government vanquishes the doctors - the Tories do not deserve to be forgiven.


How to make a million or several

Sir Philip's yacht "Lionheart"

This is a rather sad story, illustrating the state of modern capitalism:
When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in May 2000, he insisted it would not be rocket science to revive the ailing high street retailer. After paying £200m, he was convinced he had the skills to secure its future and make it the foundation of a sprawling retail empire.
But last year, after failing in his mission, Green sold BHS for £1 to a little known group of investors who have steered it into collapse in just over 12 months. His dreams for the chain may have come to nothing, but Green’s family have still been big winners from BHS, taking out more than £580m in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans to help fund a lavish lifestyle.

As the pensions regulator considers whether to pursue Green for between £200m and £300m – to help fill the black hole in BHS’s pension schemes that had developed since 2000 – he is awaiting delivery of his latest toy: a $150m (£100m) superyacht named Lionheart. The 90-metre vessel will join Green’s two other yachts, speedboat, helicopter and Gulfstream jet, which comes in handy for his weekly trips to and from Monaco to visit his family.
Green and his wife Tina were listed as the UK’s 29th richest family in last weekend’s Sunday Times rich list, which estimated their worth as £3.22bn. That total excludes the £280m which researchers suggested Greens might have to hand over to the pensions regulator.
Tina, who since 2004 has been the legal owner of BHS – and the Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins – is based in Monaco. The handover of BHS to Green’s wife was completed just before the family paid themselves £1.2bn in dividends from Arcadia in 2005, the biggest pay cheque in British corporate history, equivalent to four times the group’s then profits.
But, of course, he has done nothing illegal.  Try telling that to the BHS employees.


Quote of the day

It's all the fault of the damn badgers.  The Guardian opines:
It had not been the greatest of weekends, what with Barack Obama committing the UK to the back of any queue and Boris Johnson going out of his way to embarrass himself. The leave campaign could do with a lift. Something to give them a reason to believe.
“The EU will turn us into a colony,” declared Owen Paterson, the former environment minister, to a handful of supporters at the British Academy. “The prime minister will have no more power than a Roman governor.” Cometh the hour, cometh Opaterix the Gaul.
Basically the problem was this: the Brussels bureaucrats were just like the badgers. No sooner had you got one lined up in your sights than they moved the bloody goalposts. Opaterix may have been defeated by the badgers, but he wasn’t in the mood to let history repeat itself. The EU was a monster that needed to be culled. If not on 23 June, then some time in the future.
And so the Brexiteers perambulate towards the wider shores of fantasy ...


25 April 2016

Map of the day

CityAM elaborates:
Researchers from the University of Bristol have found that at one extreme there are local authorities where support for leaving the EU is very low.
In fact, these local authorities are almost all in London, as well as most of Scotland.
Contrast that with England's east coast, as well as some older industrial areas - notably, Yorkshire and the West Midlands - and pockets on the south coast, where support for Brexit is far higher.
In case of Brexit, London, Scotland and Wales unite to jettison the rest of the UK?


23 April 2016

Music of the week

What were the Secret Service thinking of?

Prince Philip is 95 years old.  Should he be driving at all, let alone being entrusted with the lives of Barry and Michelle, not to mention Her Maj?


Silly man

Is Boris losing the place?  The Independent thinks so:
Boris Johnson has come out with some pretty outlandish crap lately. You can’t even mention Europe without the guy instinctively regurgitating a load of tosh about draconian EU balloon regulations that don’t actually exist. You just sort of learn to drown it out, really.
But this week, BoJo has utterly redefined paranoia by insinuating that Barack Obama wants to see Britain leaving the EU because of his Kenyan heritage. Where do you even begin to unravel the craziness?
According to Boris, the British people should completely ignore anything and everything President Obama has to say about June’s impending EU referendum because he’s part-Kenyan and thus maintains an “ancestral dislike” of the British Empire. 
If asked to choose between Barack and BoJo as to who was talking sense - well, the answer is obvious.


20 April 2016

A bit of a lad

Well, you expect the Secretary of State for Culture etc to have some fun.  But, then again, perhaps not quite as much fun as he seems to be enjoying.  The Times reports:
John Whittingdale faced further questions about his conduct last night after saying that he did not declare hospitality from two lapdancing clubs.
The disclosure comes as the parliamentary standards watchdog is considering a complaint that the culture secretary did not disclose a trip to the 2013 MTV Europe awards in Amsterdam, paid for by the broadcaster, which he attended with a woman he later discovered worked as a dominatrix.
The minister, who is divorced, has been the subject of a stream of allegations about his private life over the past week. He admitted dating the dominatrix after meeting her through an internet dating site but said that he ended the relationship when he realised what her occupation was.
Another former girlfriend, Stephanie Hudson, the former page 3 model, claimed at the weekend that Mr Whittingdale had shown her sensitive cabinet papers and breached procedures by sending her a picture of ministers gathered at Chequers. Mr Whittingdale dismissed her claims as “tittle tattle”.
A case for the Government Whip?


Quote of the day

The Guardian channels Michael Gove's fantasy Brexit:
“I want to take you on a happy journey,” he said, his voice quaking with the power of revelation. “A journey where we will be in control. The remain campaign have said that a Goveland is a land of despair ruled by mad king Boris, a land where potatoes lie rotting in the fields, a land without electricity, a land where the City of London crumbles to dust and we are left to expire unmourned.
“But I saith unto you that this is a lie. Goveland is a land of freedom, a land of hope and glory. A land other nations shall admire from afar. A land that will be just about perfect because we can choose which foreigners we want and which ones we don’t. A land a bit like Australia, only not quite so hot. Or large. Or so far away. A land a bit like Switzerland, only not quite so cold. Or mountainous. Or in the middle of Europe. A land unlike any other land. A land which even the Scots would get round to loving eventually. An island paradise.”

It would be appreciated if our politicians could return to reality.

18 April 2016

Pushing the envelope

It is difficult enough to predict with any certainty how the economy will behave over the next three months.  But the Treasury has a crystal ball to foresee the future over the next thirteen years.  The BBC reports:
Britain's national income could be 6% smaller by 2030 if the UK leaves the European Union, a major report by the Treasury will say.
The report says the size of the cut in gross domestic product would be the equivalent of about £4,300 a year for every household.
The major impact of leaving, the report argues, will be because trade barriers will be higher, which will hit exports.
And investment will be lower both within the UK and from abroad, it says.
And the notion that you can measure the annual cut in GDP per household at "about £4,300" is surely a case of spurious accuracy.

This kind of nonsense does no favours for the Remain case.

15 April 2016

Scope for improvement

Is Osborne cracking the whip?  The Public Accounts Committee is less than impressed, according to The Times:
Only 35 wealthy British tax dodgers are investigated by Revenue & Customs each year despite tax fraud costing the country an annual £16 billion, according to a committee of MPs.
HMRC was not even able to say how many high-net-worth individuals it successfully prosecutes for tax evasion, the Commons public accounts committee said in a report. Failure to prosecute wealthy evaders had “created the impression that the rich can get away with tax fraud”, it said.
The MPs said that HMRC was “not doing enough” to tackle tax fraud and had made only “limited progress” over the past five years. They criticised its “unclear” strategy to combat evasion, the hidden economy and criminal activities such as smuggling, but reserved particular criticism for inspectors’ failure to prosecute wealthy individuals.

If only they put in the same kind of effort as goes into prosecuting benefit fraud.

I don't suppose it is entirely the fault of HMRC, given the staff reductions they have faced in recent years.   You might even think that the Tories were discouraging HMRC from going after their wealthy chums ...


14 April 2016


Dodgy Dave evades the questions.  The Guardian reports:
An early sign that Dave was not quite himself came when Jeremy Corbyn upstaged him by paying tribute to the playwright Arnold Wesker who had died earlier that day. Dave is normally well abreast of any celebrity deaths and seldom misses an opportunity to praise “Danny the Police Dog who slightly injured his front paw in the line of duty” but this time he was completely stumped. Arnold who? “Let me make myself absolutely clear,” said Muddy Dave, “I’d also like to pay tribute to... um, er, this playwrighty chappy whoever he was.”
As homage to the angry young man, Corbyn did his best to present himself as an angry old man. If the government was so determined to clean up the tax system, he asked, could the PM explain why Conservative MEPs had voted against measures to close tax loopholes and keep a register of those who were benefiting from such schemes?
“Let me make myself absolutely clear,” said Muddy Dave before completely ignoring the question and answering one of his own: “No government has done more to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion than this one.” That’s because the only way his government could have done less is by doing absolutely nothing; Labour’s own record in office doesn’t bear too much close scrutiny.
 Muddy Dave tried making a gag about Corbyn’s late tax return, a mis-step that backfired when the Labour leader drily observed that he had paid more tax than companies owned by people the prime minister knew well. Muddy Dave turned a nasty shade of purple as he tried to work out whether Corbyn had been talking about his late father’s company or the chancellor’s soft-furnishings family business – wallpapers also available in puce. Both probably.

Rugby Park pies

Pleased to see that the BBC Scotland website is focused on weighty matters:
Kilmarnock FC are facing a legal battle with a local bakers over the naming rights for the famous "Killie Pie".
Brownings Bakery, who make the delicacy and provide match-day catering, have applied to trademark the name.
The club claim the "Killie" trademark belongs to them and have ended their partnership with Brownings from 31 May.
Brownings managing director John Gall said the Kilmarnock bakery owned the name and the club would be asked to stop using it.
The Killie Pie, which has a steak and gravy filling and a puff pastry lid, was voted the best pie in the SPFL last year.

13 April 2016

So farewell Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Not his night:
Rabiot wrestled his way past two City players and was dragged down. Zlatan composed himself with the familiar grimaces and pouts, hair swept back into a matadorial take on what is occasionally known as the Croydon Facelift. The free-kick was punted in with such murderous theatre you half expected Joe Hart to be at the very least fatally wounded, Mercifully, he was able to tip it over the bar.
Otherwise Ibrahimovic was muzzled. And finally he was taunted, with an increasing sense of confidence, by City’s fans. Of all the many things these cussed first-timers will now bring to the semi-finals of this competition, the chant “You’re just a shit Andy Carroll” might need a little explaining.


12 April 2016

Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
Among the tax revelations from MPs yesterday was news that Boris Johnson got £266,667 last year for a weekly Telegraph column. He claims in the MPs’ register that he spends ten hours a month on it. That’s barely £2,200 an hour.


In defence of wealth

Oh yes, Sir Alan Duncan, man of the people.  The Independent reports:
It would be easy to suggest Mr Duncan, with his everyman experiences of private school, Oxford and advising on Yemeni oil deals for £600 an hour, may himself know nothing of the outside world as familiar to 99.9999 per cent of its seven billion inhabitants, but Duncan is no snob. “I talk to my postman every day,” he once told a television interviewer, looking only momentarily horrified when the follow-up question was “What is his name?” (“Errr, I just call him postie,” he said, the blood sprinting from his face as if chased down the drive by an angry rottweiler.)


10 April 2016

Problem sorted?

Whatever the problem, the answer is always a task force (or an inquiry or a commission).  The Observer reports:
On Monday, Cameron will announce the establishment of a taskforce, led by HM Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency, to examine the legality of the financial affairs of companies mentioned in the Panama Papers, where documents relating to his father’s offshore fund were discovered by the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The taskforce will draw on investigators, compliance specialists and analysts from HMRC, the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority. There will be new money provided of up to £10m.
Can such a task force do anything more than a competent HMRC could do?  And if the HMRC is less than competent, will a task force be any better?  Or is it the case that - once again - Cameron is confusing an announcement with an achievement?


08 April 2016

Special pleading?

Ah yes, that letter.  The Guardian has the story:
...  the letter we now know Cameron wrote to the president of the European council in November 2013, warning him against transparency moves on offshore trusts, its neat fit with the Cameron family’s complicated finances, and the extent to which, as he now confesses, the prime minister himself benefited. Only weeks before his message to Brussels, Cameron had given a speech to the Conservative conference assuring anyone listening that “this party is on the side of working people”, and rather condescendingly identifying the latter as those who set store by “never giving up, working those extra hours, coping with those necessary cuts”.
 “We build a land of opportunity,” he insisted. But in the letter, he specifically suggested to Herman Van Rompuy that offshore vehicles used for what high-end financial advisers call “inheritance planning” might best be left alone. Cameron and Osborne’s supposedly exacting approach to public finances obviously had its limits. And the prime minister clearly had a keen sense of his core constituency. As one wag put it on Twitter this week, “How fortunate for people with money in offshore trusts that the prime minister went out to bat for them.” Quite so.


Coming clean(er)

It took him a while.  The BBC website reports:
What Cameron said when:
  • Then in an interview on the same day, Mr Cameron said: " I have no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that. And, so that, I think, is a very clear description"
  • Downing Street issued a statement on Wednesday: "To be clear, the prime minister, his wife and their children do not benefit from any offshore funds. The prime minister owns no shares. As has been previously reported, Mrs Cameron owns a small number of shares connected to her father's land, which she declares on her tax return"
Now if he had admitted his involvement with Blairmore on Monday, we might have accepted it.  But, in the light of the prevarication over four days, we are bound to ask if there is anything else that he is not telling us.


For the record, I have investments in stocks and shares.  These are held in accounts at the distinctly unexotic Bank of Scotland and SAGA.  With the exception of an investment ISA (which is tax-free), these accounts are subject to tax in the usual way, but I have never earned enough to exceed the tax-free allowances of £11,100 per year in capital gains and £5,000 per year in dividends.  I have never had anything to do with offshore accounts, trusts or funds in any way.

06 April 2016

Photo of the day

Sarah Palin and dead friend:



Well not entirely.

At first sight, it seems a straightforward denial.  The Independent reports:
Directly addressing for the first time the revelation that his late father ran an offshore fund that never paid UK tax, Mr Cameron said he personally had “no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that”.
Facing further questions, Downing Street later issued a statement clarifying that neither the Prime Minister, his wife, nor his children benefitted from offshore funds.
But then there are qualifications:
The statements, which came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on ministers to publish their tax returns in the wake of the leaks, will leave Mr Cameron open to further questions on whether he has benefitted from his father’s investments in the past, or stands to in the future. 
And what about the rest of the cabinet, including George Osborne?


05 April 2016

Been here before, haven't we?

The Independent focuses on the British connection:
Don’t let all the talk of tropical islands, foreign dictators and plutocrats distract you from this one fact: the Panama Papers document a very British scandal.
And it’s not just the Prime Minister’s late father in the frame.
Time after time, the names and addresses on the documents of shell companies set up through Mossack Fonseca are of businessmen based in Britain, luxury properties based in London and banks operating out of the City or, in Coutts’ case, the Strand.
The leaks show UK “intermediaries” – that’s largely bankers, accountants and lawyers – commissioned more offshore shell companies from the firm than any other country bar Hong Kong, that favoured secrecy route for cash to be funnelled out of Asia. A mindboggling 2,000 British firms instructed Mossack to create companies for their clients – more than Switzerland and Luxembourg combined. A total of 32,000 shells were created for British clients.
And you can also throw in the fact that many of the tax havens are British Overseas Territories or Dependencies.

Apart from talking tough, do you suppose that Osborne will actually do anything to address the problem?  No, nor do I ...


02 April 2016

A love story

I'm a sucker for a happy ending.  From The Guardian (here):

He was in love but she was promised to another and it was driving him mad. It was the spring of 1970 and Eric Clapton was besotted with former model Pattie Boyd but she was married to George Harrison. The former Beatle and the guitarist were close friends but Clapton found he could not stop thinking about Boyd. It was during this time that a friend, Ian Dallas, who had converted to Islam and taken the name Shaykh Abdalqadir, gave Clapton a book by the Persian writer Nizami which told an ancient story about a poet who falls in mad love with a beautiful girl whom he is forbidden to marry. The poet is so consumed by desire that he is dubbed “Majnun” – the madman. Clapton read the story, saw in it an echo of his own romantic predicament, and was inspired to write a song for Boyd that explained how he felt. “Let’s make the best of the situation before I finally go insane,” he sings, “please don’t say we’ll never find a way and tell me all my love’s in vain.” One afternoon Clapton took Boyd to a flat in South Kensington and told her he wanted her listen to the song he had written. He switched on the tape machine and played what she would later describe as “the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard”. It was named after the girl in the story by Nizami, the girl who had driven the poet mad, the pet name Clapton would give Boyd: Layla.

When Boyd heard Clapton’s recording of “Layla” she said: “The song got the better of me. With the realisation that I had inspired such passion and such creativity. I could resist no longer.” Boyd would later marry Clapton. They were able to carve out a happy ending.

Music of the week

Quote of the day

From The Times (here);
Sometimes you just can’t make it up. The British steel industry is collapsing around his ears, so where do you find George Osborne? Well, let him tell you via Twitter: “Great to visit King Canute exhibition at Knutsford Heritage Centre today, marking 1,000th anniversary of coronation of town’s namesake.”
How could he miss that yesterday? Not when you can have a nice historical debate over what Canute was really up to: proving the heights of his delusion or the limits of his powers? You decide. Either way, the chancellor has brought us an apt image for those waves of Chinese steel dumping that even he’s been powerless to stop.
Except it’s not as apt as it seems. Mr Osborne did have powers to at least defend Port Talbot against the tide. It’s just that he chose not to use them. First, he rejected big industry’s pleas to bring UK energy costs into line with Europe’s and to stop penalising them for investing in plant and machinery with higher business rates. And second, Mr Osborne blocked the lifting of the EU’s so-called “lesser duty rule”, so stopping Europe slap higher tariffs on Chinese steel imports.

Going down under

From Sajid Javid's diary (he's a cabinet minister who takes the blame when things go wrong - a sort of Osbornian lightning rod):

I’m skyping David Cameron and George Osborne. Dave is on a beach in the Canary Islands, with his eyes closed, with his iPhone balanced on a tanning mirror he’s holding under his chin. George is in London, sitting in the dark. I tell them I’m about to get on a flight to Sydney, so I’ll be out of contact for 24 hours.
“Big deal,” murmurs Dave. “You’re only business secretary.”
I don’t say anything.
“Isn’t he?” says Dave, opening his eyes.
“Definitely,” says George. “And it’s a very important position! Which is why we gave it to Vince Cable!”
They both snigger.
“Guys?” I say.
“Mate,” says Dave. “Joshing. You do a great job. Dealing with all that vital China stuff.”
“That’s mine,” says George.
“The Northern Powerhouse stuff,” Dave corrects himself.
“Also mine,” says George.
“Anyway,” I say. “I’ll be back in about a week. Thought I might stretch it out into a holiday. I’m taking my daughter.”
“Don’t leave her there,” says Dave, closing his eyes again.


01 April 2016


Ravenscraig Steel Works, Motherwell, closed in 1992

OK, it was never going to be easy to save Britain's remaining steel industry.  But the government have questions to answer.  The Guardian reports:
Government sources stressed Javid’s visit on Friday is his second to the area, and that he recently chaired a steel summit in Whitehall. But critics say the government has failed to support the industry. Labour pointed out that Tory MEPs voted against EU proposals to take tougher action on Chinese dumping.
In a scathing attack the head of the European Steel Association, Axel Eggert, accused Britain of being a “ringleader” in attempts to block stronger defences for EU countries against cheap Chinese imports.
Britain blocked attempts to strengthen EU trade defences against imports of cheap Chinese steel that have devastated Tata’s operations in the UK, according to senior European officials. The Financial Times reported that French and Italian officials also said Britain had led the opposition to an overhaul of anti-dumping rules.
Ministers stand accused of having “rolled the red carpet out” to China – with Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who represents the constituency containing Port Talbot, arguing that Britain’s industrial strategy was being drawn up in Beijing. He told the Guardian that Osborne had pushed for China to be granted market economy status – a move that Tata executive Tim Morris recently told MPs was like “sleepwalking” into an even deeper crisis.