29 September 2016

Quote of the day

No fence-sitting for Ken Clarke.  The Times reports:
Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, said that Theresa May was running a “government with no policies” in the first major Tory assault on the new regime.
Mr Clarke, who first entered government in 1988 and left in 2014, claimed that the prime minister had no plan on how to execute Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“Nobody in the government has the first idea of what they’re going to do next on the Brexit front,” he told the New Statesman.
The emperor has no clothes?


Diagram of the day

Splendid stuff from Bloomberg (here):


27 September 2016

Who won?

Bloomberg reports:
Financial markets judged the first of three American presidential debates a win for Hillary Clinton, as Mexico’s peso rallied from a record low, U.S. and European stock index futures gained and gold retreated.
The peso, a proxy for Donald Trump’s election prospects, rebounded almost 2 percent and Canada’s dollar strengthened from its weakest level since March, a sign investors see a reduced chance the Republican candidate will win the November vote. Haven assets fell out of favor with gold declining for the first time in seven days as the yen weakened and U.S. Treasuries declined. Asian shares advanced, having started the session lower.
Hey, don't ask me - I don't understand it, either ...


26 September 2016

The unity of the graveyard?

Not the best of starts re-starts.  The Guardian reports:
The kinder and gentler politics didn’t get off to the kindest and gentlest of starts on day two of Corbyn 2.0. Having spent much of the previous day calling for unity, the Labour leader went on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to give his own version of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. “Where there is hope, let me sow despair; where there is faith, doubt; where there is love, hatred.”
Corbyn ran through his checklist. First off, get back into the antisemitism row. The Jewish peer Lord Mitchell should reflect on his decision to leave Labour, he said. One box ticked. Next up was to alienate those Labour voters who were thinking of voting Tory or Ukip. Sounding less than enthusiastic about Britain’s national security should do it. That just left his party’s MPs to deal with. Telling them that most of them would not be deselected was a masterstroke. It would sound consensual while putting the wind up all of them. Bastards, the lot of them.


Ready to rumble

Will you sit up for tonight's debate?  The Independent sets the scene:
Will Trump indulge his penchant for witty epithets by addressing his opponent as “Crooked Hillary”, or will he play it chivalrous with an overdue stab at appearing presidential? Will Hillary avoid coughing fits and retain motor control at all times? Can she project the wit and warmth she reportedly shows in private, or bore viewers into the Trump camp with overly detailed, robotically delivered answers? 
Will he have taken the trouble to memorise some faintly coherent policy positions, or rely on the trademark stream of semi-consciousness that allows him to drift between rambling and often conflicting observations several times per sentence? 
Will the moderator, Lester Holt, correct Trump’s most blatant whoppers, or leave the fact-checking to Hillary? Do enough voters care about facts in this post-objective truth era for that to make a difference?
It starts at 2 am, British time; you can hear it on the World Service or watch it on the BBC News Channel.


24 September 2016

Music of the week

A word of explanation:  Back in the early 1950s, we baby boomers experienced the Welfare State via (a) cod liver oil, a spoonful of which served as a curative for all sorts of ailments, including coughs, flu, constipation and even broken bones, and (b) so-called orange juice, which came in a glass bottle with a blue top and which tasted nothing like modern orange juice (but we were none the wiser, as few of us had ever seen an orange let alone tasted one) but which was generally regarded as having health-giving properties.


Quote of the day

A bit harsh, perhaps?  From The Times (here):
... there is a terrible flatness to politics at the moment and that is because nobody has any idea who the next prime minister will be. Or even has the decency to speculate.
And it is mostly because we have been lumbered with this deathly, humourless, stooping technocrat for a leader. This twitchy, joyless crow. This Ealing Comedy headmistress with a gift for joke-telling that makes Thatcher look like Victoria Wood. Theresa May is so lustreless, so derivative, so repetitive, so wooden, so without hinterland, family, identity, sex, passion or wisdom, so bereft of anything like a mantle that might be passed on, that nobody, literally nobody, ever talks of who her successor might be. She is such a big, tall, pointless pot of low-fat yoghurt that there is no sense of her having anything worth inheriting or wrestling from her, bar her jewellery and the occasional pair of shoes.
 I guess the honeymoon is nearing the end ...


23 September 2016

Can we take BoJo seriously?

Is he speaking with all the authority of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?  Or is he simply opening his mouth and letting his belly rumble?  The BBC reports:
The UK will "probably" begin formal negotiations to leave the European Union early in 2017, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has told the BBC.
The foreign secretary said it was still "subject for discussion" but the "Article 50 letter" would be produced "probably in the early part" of 2017.
But Number 10 said the government's position had not changed and Article 50 would not be triggered in 2016.
PM Theresa May has not yet given a clear statement on when it will begin.
Asked about Mr Johnson's comments, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said the government position on when it would trigger Article 50 was "not before the end of this year".
"The decision is hers [Mrs May's] and she will do that at a time which is most likely to get the best deal for Britain," the spokeswoman added.
That would appear to set Johnson's gas at a peep ...

22 September 2016

Spies are us

Austerity?  What?  Not when it comes to the intelligence services.  The Times reports:
MI6 is recruiting almost a thousand spies to fight global terrorism and exploit the potential of the digital age.
The recruits will increase the size of the force from 2,500 intelligence officers and analysts to nearly 3,500 by the end of the decade.
Details of the recruitment drive emerged as Alex Younger, head of MI6, described the digital age as an “existential threat and a golden opportunity”. In rare public comments, he predicted that within five years the intelligence services would have to learn to combine information from data analysis, the internet and other forms of digital technology with traditional human intelligence — or face failure.
In my naivety, I had rather assumed that the services had already learned to combine information in the manner suggested.  But I suppose the internet has only been around for 20 years or so ...

20 September 2016

Undue optimism?

Maybe they will, but maybe they won't.  But the Prime Minister seems undaunted.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May has dismissed threats by EU countries to veto Brexit negotiations with the UK, as she declared: “The 27 will sign up to a deal with us.”

The prime minister said other nations would accept an agreement with Britain after the Slovakian prime minister said that four central European countries were willing to block talks unless their citizens retained their rights to work in the UK. Robert Fico said last week that Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary would be “uncompromising” during talks and ready to veto arrangements “unless we feel a guarantee that these people are equal”.

However, May rejected such warnings when asked whether it would really be possible to secure the agreement of all other member states for Brexit and trade talks. “The 27 will sign up to a deal with us,” she said. “We will be negotiating with them. And … we will be ambitious in what we want to see for the UK. A good deal for the UK can also be a good deal for the other member states because I believe in good trading relations and I have said I want the UK to be a global leader in free trade.”

Stressing that the other EU countries would have something to gain from a deal being struck, May added: “This is not just about us, it’s actually about their relationships and trading within that European arena.”
The position of the Visegrad Four is that they will veto a trading deal which fails to satisfy their requirements with regard to labour movement.  Even though the absence of a deal would put their citizens in an unprotected position with regard to residence in the UK?

Meanwhile, Mrs May continues to believe that she can secure a successful trade arrangement as well as limiting the free movement of labour.

Doesn't compute ...


19 September 2016

Has the House of Lords nothing better to do?

The Guardian reports:
When Larry the cat, chief mouser at No 10, was spotted limping shortly afterTheresa May took up residence, the new prime minister’s top team took no chances. 
A vet was swiftly summoned to examine Larry’s front-right paw as Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat, emerged as chief suspect.
It was with no little relief that a government spokesman was able to announce that the famous feline, adored by all in Downing Street – including, despite rumours to the contrary, David Cameron who declared his love in his final PMQs – “was expected to make a full recovery”.
The matter of Larry’s paw, however, is now causing consternation in the House of Lords over who should pay the vet’s undisclosed bill, according to the Telegraph. At the time, it was reported that Downing Street staff, fearful of the taxpayers’ wrath, had willingly dipped into their own pockets for a whip-round.
One peer has questioned whether May’s government is taking its responsibilities for animals such as Larry seriously enough if civil servants are forced to foot the bill.
Lord Blencathra, formerly the Tory environment minister David Maclean, has submitted a formal question to the government in the House of Lords asking if Larry’s treatment was met by staff donations, and, if so, whether the government would refund those staff who had helped to pay the vet.
Apart from the No 10 staff concerned, does anyone care?


15 September 2016

May's feet of clay

For once, Jezza scores.  The Guardian reports:
May crashed and burned on the grandest of stages. In her first PMQs earlier in the summer, Tory backbenchers had been able to delude themselves that they had got themselves a mini-Maggie. This time they got to see May Unplugged - brittle, lacking in humour and unable to think on her feet as one of her key policies was dismantled in front of her eyes. Dave had come up with some bad ideas in his time, but he was never inept enough to let Jeremy Corbyn take them apart at the dispatch box.
It wasn’t even as if the Labour leader had needed to be on top form. Competent was more than enough to get the job done. “I’d like to congratulate the prime minister on managing to unite Ofsted, the teaching unions and education secretaries on both sides of the house with her plans to introduce more grammar schools,” he began. “Can she name any experts who think this is a good idea?”
Theresa couldn’t, and tried to steer the argument on to faith schools. For once, Corbyn didn’t allow himself to be distracted and got stuck in. “So you don’t have any experts to support you,” he said. “Well let me quote a few more experts who don’t, starting with the Institute of Fiscal Studies.” By now, May was looking badly rattled. She glanced behind her for encouragement, but no Tory backbencher would catch her eye. Her grammar school proposals are almost as unpopular with her own party as they are with the opposition.
“Well, I went to grammar school and you went to grammar school so they must be a good idea, right?” she said. Tory heads went even further down. When the personal is the only defence for a public policy, the game is up.
But at least one Tory was pleased, probably:
Somewhere in a house near Witney, a slightly overweight 49-year-old man hauled himself off the sofa and punched the air. Dave takes his victories where he can find them these days. 


13 September 2016

Am I bovvered?

The Guardian reports (amidst unnecessarily extensive caterwauling):
The Great British Bake Off will switch to Channel 4 following its current series after rights negotiations between the BBC and the show’s production company collapsed amid a disagreement over price.
The BBC indicated that financial demands made by Love Productions now made the programme “unaffordable”, leaving Channel 4 to take on the most popular programme on British television in a three-series deal.
Can't say that I'm bothered; I never watched it.  Let us hope its trip into the desert (dessert?) spaces of Channel 4 is emulated by "Strictly", another program I never watch.


10 September 2016

Music of the week


Politicians in glass houses throwing stones

It is seldom a good idea for politicians to make generic attacks on whole sectors of society, as in this case:
Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, has launched an attack on Britain for “growing fat and lazy”, making it ill-prepared for the business deals that need to be done after leaving the EU.
Fox, a former GP and staunch Eurosceptic, suggested business executives would rather be playing golf on a Friday afternoon than negotiating export deals.
He made the remarks, first reported by the Times, at a Conservative Way Forward event for business leaders in parliament.
“If you want to share in the prosperity of our country, you have a duty to contribute to the prosperity of our country,” he said. “This country is not the free-trading nation that it once was. We have become too lazy, and too fat on our successes in previous generations.
This kind of criticism might have carried more weight if Dr Fox and his fellow Brexiteers (i) had undertaken some kind of pre-referendum planning about how to take Brexit forward and (ii) had not spent all summer jockeying for position rather than getting on with their respective jobs.


Scare story?

I suppose that the prognostications adumbrated in this Guardian report might come to fruition but I rather doubt it.
British citizens may have to apply online and pay to travel to Europe after the UK leaves the EU, under plans being drawn up by the bloc for a visa waiver programme similar to the US system.
The European commission is due to unveil draft legislation for the EU travel information and authorisation system (Etias) later this year as part of a broader response to calls for greater security across the continent following recent terror attacks in France and Belgium.
The scheme would cover all visitors to the passport-free 26-nation Schengen zone – of which Britain is not a member – from countries that do not need a visa to enter, EU sources confirmed.
France and Germany both back a system based on the US ESTA scheme, under which visitors from countries that do not require full visas must apply online for permission to travel, preferably 72 hours before they leave, at a cost of $14 (£10).
Bearing in mind that it would be open to the UK authorities to adopt a similar system with regard to EU visitors, I suspect that - regardless of the UK's Brexit status - exemptions all round would be the order of the day.  Nor are Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece likely to support anything which might diminish the number of British tourists seeking the Mediterranean sunshine.  Besides, think of the bureaucracy involved (on both sides) in processing millions of visa waiver forms every year.

It's not gonna happen ...


08 September 2016

Worth a smile


Quote of the day

Theresa on Brexit, according to The Guardian (here):
Most MPs had hoped May might have had a little more to show for her jaunt to China and several tried to tease out a few more details about what Brexit deals were in the offing. “I understand that you don’t want to give away any sensitive information,” said Conservative Anna Soubry. “But could you at least tell us some of the principles that will underlie the negotiations?”
Labour’s Yvette Cooper tried another tack. “Without giving away any sensitive information, could you give us an idea of the values that will inform the negotiations?”
No principles. No values. No progress. No clue.
No wonder ...


07 September 2016

Perhaps a little vulgar ...

The Times reports:
The Russian oligarch, in London with his wife, Aleksandra, 39, a former model and pop singer from Serbia, chose to moor his superyacht in the most eye-catching spot on the Thames, tying up next to HMS Belfast against the backdrop of Tower Bridge.
The bridge had to be raised to allow Motor Yacht A, a 120m boat created by the French designer Philippe Starck and worth £225 million to pass through. The craft is currently up for sale.
Mr Melnichenko, who started out in banking before diversifying into energy, mining and other industries, is estimated to be worth £8.4 billion, according to Forbes.
His boat is inspired by a submarine and boasts three swimming pools, seven cabins, a helipad and bombproof glass. It sleeps 14 and has a crew of 42.
Its masts are almost 100m tall, it has a top speed of 23 knots and is the 21st largest yacht in the world. Two speedboats are concealed within its sloping stern. Tables are encrusted with Baccarat crystals and the walls lined with white stingray skins.
There is an all-white, 230 sq m master bedroom suite with a rotating king-sized bed. There is also a bedroom with a circular bed that is located behind two glass panels and has a flat screen TV on the ceiling. Employees have dubbed it the “nookie room”.
What a show-off ...


Brexit means ... never having to say you're sorry

Things are not becoming clearer.  The Independent sums up the state of play:
Does Brexit mean leaving the single market entirely, mostly, a fair bit, or not really at all? Who can say? Does it mean ending, partially restricting or barely tinkering with freedom of movement? Not a clue. How long will it take to negotiate trade deals with the EU, the US and other nations, and how punishing might the terms be? Go figure. Will British expats retain the right of residency in EU countries? Beats me.
There are scores of other intriguing questions raised by the June vote, and to all of them the official reply may be paraphrased as follows: you might as well ask Larry, the Downing Street cat.
It is now 10 or 11 weeks since the referendum and there are not even the vaguest outlines of what the government thinks Brexit means ...


05 September 2016

Too smarmy by half

It is always the little details that add to the ridicule:
The MP is alleged to have told the men that his name was Jim, adding that he was a washing-machine salesman.


Nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out ...

Does the Prime Minister have a cunning plan?  The Guardian reports:
Asked about bringing in a points-based immigration system, May said: “A lot of people talk about points-based systems always being the answer in immigration. There is no single silver bullet that is the answer in terms of dealing with immigration.”
When pressed on whether failing to bring in such a system would not respect the reasons people voted for Brexit, May said: “People voted, I think, for control. What they wanted to see was control of the freedom of movement of the European Union countries into the United Kingdom.”
During the referendum campaign, in which she backed remain, May had appeared to be negative about the idea of a points-based system but this is her first steer on the subject since the vote.
She was also asked about whether she would hand more money to the NHS, and scrap VAT on energy bills using funds saved by leaving the EU. These were two more promises made by Vote Leave, whose senior politicians toured the country in a bus saying £350m a week sent to the EU could help fund the NHS instead. Shortly before the vote, this was refined by Vote Leave to a promise of £100m a week more for the NHS out of money saved from ending contributions.
Asked whether she would work towards these goals, May would not commit to either pledge. She also would not rule out giving any contributions to the EU budget or retaining full access to the single market, which many Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and Ukip figures would find unacceptable.
Or is she simply floundering about?


03 September 2016

Music of the week


Quote of the day

Ed Balls, hoofer and ex-senior Labour politician, in The Guardian (here):
He says Blair regarded him as insolent, a young punk babbling nonsense. “But it wasn’t nonsense. And if you don’t say what you think, what’s the point of being in the room? He told me to wash my mouth out once. It was very early on, ’96, before the ’97 election. There were the typical Gordon/Mandelson tensions going on about who was running the election campaign, there were about 12 people in the room, and Tony said: ‘I think we should make a commitment not to raise the tax burden’. I then said, in front of everybody, ‘You can’t do that’, and he said why, and I said: ‘Because then when we raise the tax burden you’ll have broken your promise.’ He said: ‘Wash your mouth out young man.’”


02 September 2016

Is Trump channelling Shakespeare?

Can a wall be beautiful?  Trump thinks so:
Donald Trump has again seized the mantle of immigration hardliner, gambling that he can win the White House with rhetoric as unyielding as the “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” wall that he has promised to build across the southern border.
Perhaps he sees himself as Pyramus addressing Wall in Midsummer Night's Dream
O grim-look'd night! O night with hue so black!;

O night, which ever art when day is not!

O night, O night! alack, alack, alack,

I fear my Thisby's promise is forgot!

And thou, O wall, O sweet, O lovely wall,

That stand'st between her father's ground and mine!

Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,

Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eyne!

Wall holds up his fingers

Thanks, courteous wall: Jove shield thee well for this!

But what see I? No Thisby do I see.

O wicked wall, through whom I see no bliss!

Cursed be thy stones for thus deceiving me!
And so, it will end in tears for all concerned ...


Hard and soft borders?

Seems clear enough, maybe?  The Guardian reports:
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has promised there will be no return to any “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic when the UK leaves the European Union.
On a visit to Belfast on Thursday, Davis vowed there will be “no return to the past” in terms of armed checkpoints and border checks along the UK’s only land frontier with an EU state.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Davis made his vow about not returning to the past in terms of armed checkpoints and border checks. He wrote: “We had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union.
“We are clear we do not want a hard border – no return to the past – and no unnecessary barriers to trade. What we will do is deliver a practical solution that will work in everyone’s interests, and I look forward to opening the conversation about how that should operate with my colleagues today.”
I look forward to Mr Davis' explanation of how he intends to prevent the free movement of East Europeans into Ireland and thence - unhindered by border checks - into the UK.

But, as Dr Pangloss might have put it, perhaps all is possible in this best of all possible brave new worlds.  Alternatively, Mr Davis has not quite thought it through ...


01 September 2016

Is the Cabinet living in fantasy land?

I'm beginning to think so.  The Guardian reports on yesterday's Chequers pow-wow:
Theresa May has agreed with her cabinet that restricting immigration will be a red line in any negotiations with the EU, in a move that experts claim will end Britain’s membership of the single market.
The prime minister and her team, who met at Chequers – the PM’s country retreat – also confirmed that MPs will not be given a vote before the government triggers article 50, beginning the two-year countdown to a British exit.
“There was a strong emphasis on pushing ahead to article 50 to lead Britain successfully out of the European Union – with no need for a parliamentary vote,” May’s spokeswoman said, before setting out how restrictions to freedom of movement would be at the centre of any Brexit deal.
“Several cabinet members made it clear that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, with a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off-the-shelf solution,” she said.
“This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services.”

When will they learn that they cannot have restrictions on immigration as well as membership of the single market?  If the EU were to accept a deal of such a nature, other EU states would claim something similar and the free movement of labour pillar would crumble away.