31 July 2017

Like ferrets in a sack - again

It would have been nice, to put it mildly, if they had sorted this out before the negotiations began. The Guardian reports:
Senior Conservative MPs are urging members of Theresa May’s cabinet to stop publicly setting out their demands for a transitional deal on Brexit, saying the move could make negotiations with the European Union more difficult.
The warnings from senior leave campaigners and allies of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, come as ministers prepare to clash over issues of immigration and trade in a series of key meetings this autumn.
Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Damian Green, David Gauke and Greg Clark are among those likely to push the prime minister to accept that while free movement will officially end, there should be no immediate move to reduce immigration.
But the divisions in the cabinet were laid bare as Liam Fox said in an interview that there was no cabinet-wide agreement on what a post-Brexit implementation period should look like, and warned that “control of our own borders” was a key driver of the leave vote.
One Whitehall source who is close to Davis said it would be helpful if other ministers let him get on with the job of negotiating with the EU, stressing that the final deal would determine what any implementation period would look like.he Guardian reports:
And, anyway, why are they all so sure that the EU27 will grant them a transitional arrangement?


Spreading it around

The banking flight from London intensifies.  The Independent reports:
Japan’s biggest bank is reportedly set to move its European investment operations from London to Amsterdam because of the uncertainty posed by Brexit.

MUFG could move hundreds of its 2,100 London employees to the Dutch capital, sources told the Financial Times.
The proposed move separates MUFG from other large Japanese banks based in London, which are eyeing moves to Frankfurt, the German financial capital.
Frankfurt was also the choice of Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered for their post-Brexit locations.

HSBC chose Paris and the Bank of America and Barclays opted for Dublin.
It could be worse.  London is likely to remain the pre-eminent financial centre, even if it loses some of its European investment operations.  Because the banking institutions will be geographically dispersed in Europe, none of the cities is likely to benefit to the same extent from the cluster effect that has kept London at the top for so long; and none of them will have the heft to make a convincing challenge.  But the financial diaspora, and the consequent loss of jobs and tax revenue, is nevertheless yet another unhappy consequence of Brexit.


28 July 2017

Whistling in the dark

Yeah, well, it's difficult.  The Times' Red Box illustrates the problem:
Why can't everyone understand Labour's position on Brexit? It is perfectly clear to anyone who is not a Tory stooge desperate to twist the facts.
As Jeremy Corbyn made quite clear on Sunday, leaving the EU means leaving the single market. Except John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, then said actually he wasn't ruling anything out, and Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, agreed.
Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, took rather a lot off the table, ruling out single market membership and warning it also would be a "disaster" to stay in the customs union. ("What Barry did wasn't a shift in policy," says a Labour source, "it was an egomaniac going completely off piste.")
Don't worry, here comes Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, on last night's Newsnight to clear it up: "The Labour Party made it very clear in its manifesto that it wants a Brexit that puts jobs and the economy first and we are not at this stage taking any options off the table." Oh.
Almost (but not quite) as shambolic as the Tory Cabinet.


Not a nice chap

A trifle intemperate, perhaps.  The Guardian reports:
Donald Trump’s new communications director has launched an extraordinary, foul-mouthed tirade against two senior colleagues, raising the prospect of all-out civil war at the White House.
Anthony Scaramucci told an interviewer that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” who will be asked to resign, and that Scaramucci is not like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, because “I’m not trying to suck my own cock”.
The profane language was shocking even by the standards of the Trump era and suggested that a major staff shake-up is imminent.
If he describes his colleagues in such terms, what will he be like with his enemies?


22 July 2017

Music of the week

Proving my point

See yesterday.  The Guardian explains:
The prosperous countryside of east Dorset is home to Britain’s longest living residents, with the average male at birth expected to survive 82.9 years. Maybe it won’t make too much difference to their financial futures that the government said this week that it would raise the state pension age to 68 sooner than planned. They will still be collecting their state pension for nearly 15 years after retiring, picking up around £124,000 assuming the new state pension stays at £159.95 a week. They are certainly getting good value from their national insurance payments when they were working. Along the way they will also enjoy a £3,000 winter fuel bonus and once they reach 75, as they nearly all will, the TV licence is free, saving £147 a year.
Now compare that with the deal for someone born in Glasgow. It has Britain’s worst longevity figures, with the average male expected to live just 72.6 years. The new retirement age of 68 means our typical Glaswegian male will pick up a state pension for only four to five years, pocketing just £38,000 in total. That winter fuel payment, more needed in Glasgow than Dorset, will be more like £800, while on average they cannot expect to ever get the free TV licence.

21 July 2017

Work it out

This young lady has got it all wrong:
If I were granted one wish for old age, it would be to avoid the horror that is early retirement. Please God, anything but that. Anything but waking up in the morning with no particularly urgent place to go, and no particularly obvious thing to be. Channel 4’s new series How to Retire at 40 – which largely seems to involve two decades of fanatical self-denial, all in the name of spending the next decades worrying about running out of the money saved – looks to me like the worst sort of dream.
What are these people going to do for the next 40 years? Won’t couples simply run out of things to say to each other when they’re spending two-thirds of their marriage under each other’s feet day and night? For every one in retirement smelling the roses there is surely another grieving for the loss of an identity and a purpose, sinking into depression as the walls close in. Barring dementia, or getting too arthritic to use a keyboard, all I want is to die typing.
But you can’t bar those things. And that’s why the government’s decision to raise the state pension age to 68 (phased in from 2037 onwards rather than from 2044) is frankly scary even for the lucky few in adored jobs that can be done sitting down, let alone for those who hate their jobs, are frankly knackered or dying to stop. It fuels the fear that something will make us give up work before we can afford to do so. No wonder the announcement was slipped out while the nation was busy arguing about whether the BBC’s Huw Edwards should be paid more to read the news than Laura Kuenssberg gets to find it out in the first place.
I retired early at the age of 54, some 13 years ago, and have never regretted it for a moment.  There is nothing more delightful than "waking up in the morning with no particularly urgent place to go, and no particularly obvious thing to be".  Read a book, engage in day trading. watch the Tour de France on the telly, even blog a little.  Especially if you have few financial worries.

The real objection to the raising of the state pension age is that it discriminates against the poor as they have a lesser life expectancy (for all sorts of reasons), particularly in the post-industrial areas.  Whereas the wealthier home counties set are more likely to be less reliant on the state pension even although their longer lifespan means that they will derive more pension benefit than those in less fortunate circumstances.  Time for regional variations in state pension age?


Onwards and upwards

It has only taken some 13 months but, at last, some common sense appears to be breaking out.  The Guardian reports:
The British cabinet has accepted that free movement of people for up to four years after Britain leaves the EU will be part of a Brexit transition deal, according to a senior source.
As the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, underlined the need for clarity on the British side at the end of the latest round of exit negotiations, soft Brexiters in the cabinet are now confident they have achieved a consensus about an “off the shelf” transition deal.
The claim that a collective view has been reached comes after weeks of a brutal briefing war over competing visions of Brexit since the general election wiped out Theresa May’s majority, culminating in the prime minister’s admonition this week that there is “no such thing as an unsackable minister”, and sowing confusion in Brussels about the reliability of the British negotiating position.
But as David Davis concluded Brexit talks in Brussels on Thursday, the senior cabinet source told the Guardian that the mood has shifted significantly and that ministers now hoped to agree a deal as soon as possible to give certainty to British business.
Admittedly, this is only one aspect of the negotiations.  But still, even modest progress is to be welcomed.

Provided, of course,  that this clown is kept well away from the negotiations:
Liam Fox has said a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history”, but insisted that the UK could survive without one.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, the international trade secretary said: “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.


20 July 2017

Money for old rope

It’s showbusiness, innit? Just because Chris Evans (£2.2m pa) is a DJ who has never shown any particular interest in music or because Gary Lineker (£1.75m) has prostituted himself for potato crisps, that should not mean that they should be prevented from maximising the financial returns from their meagre talents. You may think that Jeremy Vine (£700k) is an attention-seeking creep, that  Alan Shearer (£450K) is a less than articulate football pundit with the tactical acuity of a barn door and that John Humphrys (£600K) is a sexist boor well past his sell-by date, but it seems inevitable that they should nevertheless be entitled to screw the BBC for as much as they can get.

It’s not rocket science, is it?


19 July 2017

A cheer for the ladies

Good luck to the Scottish women's football team who opem their campaign in the Euros today against the auld enemy.

At least the women qualified for the finals, unlike their male counterparts.

Update:  It's on channel 4 live at 7.45 pm.



While I admire the Pro12's ambition and while it will be interesting to see South African teams playing regularly in Scotland, I am far from sure about this agreement.  The BBC website reports:
A deal to expand the Pro12 to 14 teams from next season has been agreed, BBC Scotland understands.
The South African sides Cheetahs and Southern Kings will join the league after losing their Super Rugby status.
The six-year deal is likely to benefit the league to the tune of an extra £6m per season from the South African Rugby Union and additional television income.
All elements of the deal have been agreed and, once legally ratified, could be formally announced next week.
The new Pro14 league will kick-off in the first week of September and will comprise two conferences of seven teams. Each conference will have one Scottish side, one South African side, one Italian side and two each from Wales and Ireland.
But it's an awful long way from Edinburgh to Johannesburg - a 12 hour flight, requiring substantially more recovery time than, say. Glasgow to Dublin.

Furthermore, although the BBC suggests that each Scottish team will benefit from an additional £500,000 in income, it will cost a pretty penny to send a squad of 23 players plus assorted officials to South Africa by business class once or twice a year.

But I assume that the SRU have done the sums ...


18 July 2017

Theresa and her playlist

From The Times (here):
I need a summer playlist.
The thing is, prime minister, that’s just not going to work.
What? Justin Trudeau has just released his one on Spotify. Barack Obama had two. The British public need a Theresa May summer playlist, surely?
Well, it’s just that Barack and Justin, they’re kind of . . . cool. Trudeau includes REM’s Everybody Hurts in his list, and everyone just thinks he had his heart broken in the 1990s. With you they’d make Brexit jokes. Trudeau puts Mad World on his list and bearded men around the world listen in respect, doing that little fake nodding that music nerds do. With you they’d make Brexit jokes. Trudeau puts Now We Are Free on his, with you they would make . . .
I haven’t even told you what I listen to. Brass band medleys spliced with the inspirational proverbs you get on tea towels in the gift shops of British cathedrals . . .
I don’t need to hear it. See, prime minister, there’s something else. Yes, women become world leaders, but equality can only go so far. Women don’t make mix tapes. It’s a guy thing. Nothing we can do to change it. It’s the law. Sorry.

Quote of the day

Alex Massie in The Times (here):
... at the weekend ... Kezia Dugdale, the Labour leader, and Jenny Gilruth, the SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, announced they were in a relationship together. This really is a new Scotland. Not because there is anything unusual in couples differing politically, but because the news was met with nothing more than an oh-that’s-nice rumble of niceness.
Admittedly, there is something unusual in love across the aisle when both parties are serving politicians in the same legislature. You do wonder, too, if this will have a subtle but discernible effect on how Ms Dugdale, in particular, talks about the SNP. It might be more difficult for her to castigate SNP failings in quite so sharply personal terms as she has, of late, been wont to do. Still, there is something refreshing about this too; a necessary reminder that politics is only politics, that there’s more to life than bloody politics, and that politics should know its place.
[my emphasis]

And a damn good thing too.


17 July 2017

Quote of the day

Burning his boats.  HuffPost reports:
Brexit Secretary David Davis is “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad”, according to the brains behind the Vote Leave campaign.

Dominic Cummings launched the astonishing attack on the Brexit Secretary just hours after Davis returned from crucial talks in Brussels.

Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave, also claimed Theresa May “does not understand” the Brexit Bill unveiled last week, and it has a clause allowing the Government to drop everything in it if the EU demands it.

The comments are the latest rant from Cummings, who in recent weeks has admitted leaving the EU could be “an error” and said quitting Euratom is “unacceptable bullshit”.
I wonder if he was sober ...


16 July 2017

Out of touch

They never fail to amaze.  The Sunday Times reports:
Philip Hammond has declared that public-sector workers are “overpaid”, as a bitter cabinet war erupted over austerity.
At a heated cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the chancellor refused to lift the 1% cap on wages for public-sector workers on the grounds that they earn more than those in the private sector, along with generous taxpayer-funded pensions.
But Hammond left his colleagues thunderstruck at the language he used. “Public-sector workers are overpaid when you take into account pensions,” he declared. The chancellor then described train drivers as “ludicrously overpaid”.
Tell that to the nurses, to the firefighters, to the prison officers, to the junior civil servants who man the desks at social security offices.

Note:  According to Wikipedia, Hammond's personal wealth amounts to a mere £9 million.

It's a bit of a mess

We do not appear to be making much progress on Brexit.  The Observer reports:
When the EU’s suave chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that he could hear the clock ticking down on Britain’s time to secure a comprehensive trade deal, his deliberately anxiety-inducing imagery played into a fear growing in the minds of many in Whitehall, the government and Brussels.
The concern gripping some involved in the saga of Britain’s extrication from the bloc is that a mixture of political indecision, a lack of leadership and a Whitehall machine struggling with the size of the task, will lead to the UK stumbling out of the club on bad terms, almost by accident.
After a week of posturing on both sides, Monday will see the second round of talks between Barnier and David Davis. Yet more than a year since Britain voted to leave, ministerial, official and Brussels sources told the Observer that the UK urgently needs to produce clarity on its demands in order to dodge a Brexit calamity.
The current timetable envisages that Brexit will happen at 12 midnight on 29-30 March 2019, a mere 20 months ahead.

The UK government is in a state of utter unpreparedness. Its leading ministers are unable to agree on what terms they should be seeking, so there is no plan for the negotiations with the EU. Even if they knew what they wanted, they might not be able to secure parliamentary approval for any such plan. And even that pre-supposes that the EU might be prepared to accept whatever our government proposed.

As for the negotiations with the EU beginning again on Monday, it is hard to see any progress being made on the three initial issues under consideration - the rights of EU residents in the UK, the divorce bill and the Northern Ireland border.

So what happens next. Well, nothing actually. Parliament goes into recess after this week and will not resume until 5 September.   Ministers and MPs will be off on holiday and, when they come back, their minds will be focused on party conferences.

Yes, it's a bit of a mess alright.


14 July 2017

Wall games

At first, it was going to be a big beautiful wall.  Now, it's going to be a shorter transparent wall.  Soon there will be no wall there at all.


13 July 2017


Corbyn gives Barnier an Arsenal football shirt.

For those with nothing better to do

If you are really keen (or a legislative nerd), you can study the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill here, together with the associated Explanatory Notes and Delegated Powers Memorandum.

It is, to say the least, heavy going.


Headline of the day

From The Times (here):
Three Tory MPs a week get death threats and vile abuse
Only three?


12 July 2017

Quote of the day

The son is the father of the man.  Politico reports:
Donald J. Trump Jr. tied an implicating email chain around his throat this morning and jumped off the deep end of the pier. He’s not dead yet. Nor has a suicide note been found. But his demise is certain.
Junior’s leap came after several failed attempts to deceive the New York Times about the nature of his meeting with Kremlin-associated attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. First, Junior said the session’s topic was primarily Russian adoption. Then, he allowed that Veselnitskaya had dangled political information about Russian funding of the Democratic National Committee. Finally, on Tuesday, when he learned that the New York Times was about to publish the emails that organized the meeting, Junior preempted the paper by publishing them on Twitter “in order to be totally transparent,” as he put it.
Oh what a tangled web we weave / when first we practise to deceive.

As The Independent explains:
... this is clearly an important moment in the investigation. Why? Above all because it reveals that senior members of the Trump campaign, including Trump Jr, knew very well that Russia was attempting to corrupt the electoral process and damage the Democratic candidate as long ago as June of last year and that every time they said otherwise when questioned by the media or others they were lying.


11 July 2017

How we value education

What they say about the teachers'  1% pay award:
Announcing the award, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise and value the hard work of teachers, which is why we have accepted the pay deal proposed by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body, in line with the 1% public sector pay policy. This will ensure we continue to strike the balance between being fair to public sector workers and fair to taxpayers.”
What they mean:

We don't give a toss about the hard work of teachers.  Which is why, once again, we are cutting their pay in real terms.  We don't care how it impacts on teacher retention and recruitment nor about its effect on children's education.  Our own kids are in private schools and they will be all right.


10 July 2017

Graph of the day

From Bloomberg (here):

(Olive oil and strawberry jam in a fry-up - I don't think so ...)


08 July 2017

New balls please ...

Quote of the day - from The Times (here):
This never looked like being a good year for Wimbledon. The best players are all heading towards 40, nobody young is coming through, and it promised to be another hoedown involving the stumpy Spanish guy with the rat eyes and the jamon iberico for a left arm, the ostrich-necked Serbian robot, the metronomic Swiss watch salesman and the Scottish guy who spends his whole life shouting angrily at his own fist (put a policeman glove-puppet on that hand, Andy, and you’ve got a whole second career).


Music of the week

06 July 2017

Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
People Mike Ashley isn’t. “I’m not Father Christmas, I’m not saying I’ll make the world wonderful” (up before MPs in July last year). And now, in court for the Jeff Blue case: “I’m not Obi-Wan Kenobi in charge of the Death Star.” So who does the Sports Direct founder think he is? Apart, of course, from the bloke who pukes in the pub fireplace.


And another British company falls to overseas ownership ...

The BBC reports:
US payment processing giant Vantiv has agreed to merge with its British rival Worldpay in a deal valuing the company at about £9.1bn.
Vantiv has offered to pay 385p a share for Worldpay, or £7.7bn, plus £1.4bn to cover debts.
In a joint statement, the two companies said that both boards of directors had reached an "agreement in principle" on the deal.
It may be described as a merger but you can bet the decisions will be taken in Cincinnati rather than in the UK.

I suppose that this signals that the government's plans to intervene in foreign takeovers are little more than hot air ...


04 July 2017

Photo of the day

It's not the socks that the Canadian PM is wearing.  It is the brown shoes with a blue suit to which I object.

No taste.


03 July 2017


The Guardian reveals the contradictions in Trump's assessments of Putin:

Donald Trump has spoken, sometimes gushingly, about Vladimir Putin on more than 80 occasions in the past few years. Putin has been far more tight-lipped with just a few references to Trump
“Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?” June 2013
“I do have a relationship with him” November 2013
“When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe pageant, [Putin] contacted me and was so nice” February 2014
“He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong” April 2014
“I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success” May 2014
“Putin is a nicer person than I am” September 2015
“I will tell you that I think in terms of leadership [Putin] is getting an A, and our president is not doing so well” September 2015
“Yes [we met], a long time ago. We got along great, by the way” October 2015
“I think the biggest thing we have is that we were on 60 Minutes together and we had fantastic ratings. One of your best-rated shows in a long time … So we were stablemates” October 2015
“I have no relationship with him other than he called me a genius” February 2016
“I never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said thank you very much to the newspaper and that was the end of it. I never met Putin” July 2016
“There are a lot of killers … Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?” February 2017
“And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election” February 2017


Off his head

President Trump is losing the place:
Donald Trump was on Sunday accused of encouraging his supporters to attack journalists, after he tweeted a video of himself at a pro-wrestling event throwing to the floor a man with a CNN logo for a head.
The video, sent as CNN broadcast its Sunday talk show State of the Union, came the morning after an appearance from Trump at an event in Washington honouring veterans, in which he used his speech to further his attacks on the press and broadcasters. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president, and they’re not,” he said.