30 September 2017

Quote of the day

From Matthew Parris, former Tory MP (here):
This Conservative government is finished. Over. Toast. Dead meat. Broken. Sunk. Wrecked . . . all the words we use in place of a word we don’t. They can do what they like, think what they like, announce what they like, promise what they like but it’s useless now, it’s all too late.
On the morning after the last general election George Osborne called Theresa May a dead woman walking. If anything he understated. Her personal political death occurred on the pronouncement of the exit poll on election day. Reanimated the following morning, she’s now a zombie prime minister leading a zombie cabinet in a zombie party gathering in Manchester for a conference of the walking dead. Whatever these zombies’ message may sound like within the security zone, from outside we will only see mouths moving without sound or meaning. Their leader is done for and their credibility is shot.


The Guardian reports:
Ukip’s attempt to rebrand itself for the post-Brexit era experienced an early hiccup on Friday after a new party logo bearing a lion’s head prompted reports the Premier League was investigating whether it was too similar to its emblem.
The logo replaces the longstanding yellow and purple pound symbol, and was chosen by party members at Ukip’s annual conference in Torquay.
Its unveiling brought immediate comparisons with the Premier League’s logo, which also depicts a lion’s head.
The league said it had no immediate comment, but it is understood its internal legal team was aware of the issue and was looking into any potential breach of copyright.
As a logo, it would seem more appropriate for that unfortunate Welsh rugby player who tried to pat a lion on its head ...
But it provides me with an excuse for posting this:


Such a polite, sensitive, diplomatic chap

Boris puts his size 10s in it once again.  The Guardian reports:
The foreign secretary has been accused of “incredible insensitivity” after it emerged he recited part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem in front of local dignitaries while on an official visit to Myanmar in January.
Boris Johnson was inside the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in the capital Yangon, when he started uttering the opening verse to The Road to Mandalay, including the line: “The temple bells they say/ Come you back you English soldier.”
Kipling’s poem captures the nostalgia of a retired serviceman looking back on his colonial service and a Burmese girl he kissed. Britain colonised Myanmar from 1824 to 1948 and fought three wars in the 19th century, suppressing widespread resistance.
Johnson’s impromptu recital was so embarrassing that the UK ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick, was forced to stop him. The incident was captured by a film crew for Channel 4 and will form part of a documentary to be broadcast on Sunday about the fitness of the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip to become prime minister.
The previously unbroadcast footage shows the diplomat managing to halt Johnson before he could get to the line about a “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud/ Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd” – a reference to the Buddha.
Fit to be Prime Minister?  You're 'avin' a laff!


"Island surrounded by water, big water"

You couldn't make it up:

29 September 2017

Poem of the day

The Times gets lyrical over the exchanges in the Scottish Parliament:

“It was incredible yesterday, was it not?” the first minister asked, shocked to discover that the Labour leadership contest was descending into internecine warfare. Jackie Baillie, you see, had said disobliging things about Mr Leonard and Mr Leonard’s team said this was just what you’d expect from Ms Baillie.
Quoting from a press release issued by Mr Leonard’s team, the first minister observed it was “just the latest Jackie Baillie . . . ” — here the first minister broke off, choking, unable to continue — “I cannot actually say it, presiding officer.” What filth could she not say?
Readers of a nervous disposition are advised to turn the page now. I am afraid to report the offending word was the Scottish vernacular rendition of micturition. Heavens! This dirt was a word that covers, Ms Sturgeon said, “much of what Jackie Baillie says in the chamber” (and, presumably, elsewhere too).
For not the first time my thoughts drifted to Philip Larkin. With apologies to the poet, it seemed to me that Ms Sturgeon meant to say:
“Talking pish began
In twenty seventeen
(which was rather late for thee)
Before the end of the fracking ban
And Runrig’s last LP”.
You don't get this kind of intellectual badinage at Westminster.  (Probably just as well.)


28 September 2017

Happy Birthday ...

... to Brigitte Bardot,  83 today.


Between a rock and a hard place

A little sympathy for Mrs May's travails on trade in aircraft?  The Independent reports:
Theresa May is "bitterly disappointed'' by the US government's decision to impose a 219 per cent tariff on a new model of passenger jet built by one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers, Downing Street has said, despite the Prime Minister personally lobbying Donald Trump on the matter.
Unions accused Ms May of being "asleep at the wheel" and said the US Department of Commerce's decision risked thousands of jobs at Bombardier.
The Canadian multinational employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast with many more jobs in Northern Ireland are supported through the manufacturer's supply chain.
So Mrs May's buttering up of President Trump has had little effect on the hard reality of "America First".  And her chums in the DUP will be less than pleased with her fruitless efforts.  Furthermore, Defence Secretary Fallon's toothless threats are likely to wash off Boeing's back, bearing in mind that it employs some 16000 British workers.

Furthermore, if the Tory government cannot sort out a such single-issue trade dispute, what hope for the more complex Brexit trade negotiations when they eventually take place?


25 September 2017

Unjustified boasting?

The Times gets carried away:
No league in the world can say they have got the strikers of the quality that we have in the Premier League, where there is Harry Kane, Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Morata. La Liga may have Luis Suàrez and Cristiano Ronaldo, but I would argue we have four of the top ten centre forwards in the world — Alexis Sànchez too, if he played more. We are really blessed. In the past, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry were sensational, but if you can pick a top goalscorer this season out of those four, you are a pretty good judge. They are all different types of centre forward, and a case could be made for every one of them. They are predators. We are very fortunate in the Premier League.
Really?  Spain has Ronaldo,  Benzema, Bale, Messi, Suarez, Griezmann, while France has Neymar, Cavani, Mbappe, Falcao, and Germany has Lewandoski, Rodriguez, Muller, Aubameyang.

Just as good as England ...


Sturm und Drang?

The German elections are not entirely conclusive.  The Guardian reports:
The country faces weeks of drawn-out coalition talks between the parties, about who will form a government with the CDU/CSU.
A repeat of the so-called “grand coalition” between Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD would amount to 354 seats – 316 are required to form a government – but was vehemently ruled out by Schulz, who in Sunday night’s post-result TV debate called Merkel’s election tactics “scandalous” and accused her of creating the political vacuum that was filled by AfD.
A second option is a “Jamaica alliance” – so called because the parties’ colours make up the Jamaican flag – between the CDU/CSU, the resurrected Free Democratic party (FDP) and the Greens, which would have 356 seats. But the constellation has never been tried in the national parliament before and is fraught with potential difficulty, not least a clash over environmental issues between the FDP and Greens and resistance in the FDP towards eurozone changes proposed by France’s president, Emmanuelle Macron, to which Merkel has given her backing.
In such circumstances, Frau Merkel is unlikely - for the next month or two - to be in a position to make any commitments on Brexit.  So negotiations on the exit requirements (the divorce bill, the position of EU residents in the UK and the Northern Ireland border) are likely to drag on interminably, while the initiation of discussions on future trading arrangements seems further away than ever.  All of which must increase the likelihood of a cliff-edge, no deal, catastrophic Brexit.


23 September 2017

Quote of the day (2)

Parris in The Times (here):
So we’ve put it all off for another two years or more. Well two cheers for that. And I do mean two cheers, and hearty ones. As with the Arabian Nights, so long as these bedtime stories can be prolonged, the planned beheading remains only a plan. Britain’s businesses can move from a period of anxiety about where we were headed, to . . . a second period of anxiety about where we are headed. This latter she called an “implementation” period, meaning a non-implementation period. What we shall be preparing to implement remains, as it always has been, a wish list.


Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
Our relationship with the EU has become like a failed marriage where one partner wants to leave but can’t afford to do so. Mrs May’s speech was the equivalent of suggesting that we sleep in separate bedrooms and make our own meal plans. The slogan on her lectern said “shared history, shared challenges, shared future” but at some point we will need to divide the CDs and decide who is responsible for the dog.
It was a generous speech in many ways. An “it’s me, not you” explanation for the impending divorce. “The United Kingdom has never totally felt at home in the European Union,” she admitted. A bit later she added that the EU didn’t want this divorce at all.
Well, they might if they have to listen to any more of her tedious speeches.

Florence and The Machine

A long way to go for not a lot.  The Independent summarises the MayBot's oratorical intervention in the Brexit negotiations:
Transitional deal til 2021. That’s what she wants. That’s all it is. Up to the EU now to see if they’ll let her have it. 
I suppose it's progress, Jim, but not as we know it ...


21 September 2017

Quote of the day

Theresa goes to the UN:
The world can breathe easily when Mrs May is at the podium. In fact, many of those delegates in the hall seemed to be relaxed to the point of catalepsy. Her speech coincided nicely with their post-lunch nap. The timetabling for this general debate at the UN was optimistic, as ever. Technically, four hours were set aside before lunch for 19 speeches, but it was 2.40pm before Mrs May, who had drawn ticket No 18, took to the stage. As a result, the hall was rather empty. Perhaps the UN canteen shuts at 2.30pm sharp.
In the front row of the British section, Boris Johnson was looking thoroughly fed up. For all his manifest flaws, the foreign secretary gives a good speech, even if you disagree with what he says.
It must be painful for him to sit through a plodding 20 minutes from the woman who bores for Britain.
He was probably contemplating the six hours that he was going to have to spend in the boss’s company on the flight home, when he would rather order a triple scotch and watch that new film about Churchill than listen to Mrs May seek assurances about his loyalty on Brexit. He clapped when he needed to, which wasn’t often, but sluggishly, as if his arms were trapped in a giant rubber band and he found it hard to pull them apart.


Black September

After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we also have earthquakes in Mexico, off Japan, in New Zealand and in Vanuatu.

Is there something going on?  I think we should be told ...


19 September 2017

Headline of the day

From BuzzFeedNews (here):

It's Four Days Until Theresa May's Big Brexit Speech And It's All Going Really Well

Perhaps a little on the optimistic side?


18 September 2017

Holier than thou?

The Guardian reports on Cyprus' selling EU passports:
The government of Cyprus has raised more than €4bn since 2013 by providing citizenship to the super rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through this scheme last year alone.
Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.
A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes, seen by the Guardian, includes prominent businesspeople and individuals with considerable political influence.
The leak marks the first time a list of the super rich granted Cypriot citizenship has been revealed. A former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire are among the new names.
The list sheds light on the little-known but highly profitable industry and raises questions about the security checks carried out on applicants by Cyprus.
But wait a minute!  Does the UK not do much the same sort of thing?  Again from The Guardian last July (here):
Officially called a “Tier 1 investor” visa in the UK, the scheme gives individuals residency in exchange for investing £2m in UK bonds or shares through a bank, with applicants eligible for indefinite leave to remain, and even full citizenship, after five years. That is, unless they can stump up more cash: those offering £5m can settle after three years, and those with £10m after just two.
Because the original investment is returned to the applicant along with any interest accrued, the state technically makes a loss on each visa. But supporters of the scheme argue that as well as an investment in gilts – effectively a loan to the government – the country attracts people with substantial sums of money to spend on goods, hire workers or pay taxes. 
It's a dirty business all round.

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
“Do you think the foreign secretary’s intervention was helpful?” asked Marr towards the end of his interview with [Amber] Rudd on his Sunday morning BBC1 politics show. Rudd looked stoney faced. Probably because she was doing her best not to laugh. Since when had Boris done anything that might be described as helpful?
“Boris has an irrepressible enthusiasm,” she replied, choosing her words carefully. She must have felt like one of Prince Andrew’s teachers trying to find something nice to say about him in a school report. You could hardly tell the Queen that her favourite son was a bit thick, rude and badly behaved, so irrepressible enthusiasm would have to do as code.
Thus neatly hitting two birds with one stone.
And there is more:
Really, though, there is no mystery to the foreign secretary’s outburst. What defeats most politicians, in common with boxers, is time. For years, Johnson has been described as the Young Turk. Now, aged 53, he is merely part-Turkish.
It has been argued that Johnson’s long essay is low on substance and evades the gritty drudgery of deal-making. But that is the whole point. No senior British politician in living memory has believed so absolutely in the power of brio, charisma and will. He is the love child of Nietzsche and Wodehouse.

A fondness for porkies

There was once a time when a government minister accused of repeatedly telling lies by a reliable, independent and authoritative source would have had to resign.


17 September 2017

Are we making progress?

A great deal of attention has been paid to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but little has been said about the other legislative commitments taken on by the government. Yet these other bills are equally necessary to avoid chaos on Exit Day (a mere 18 months ahead), equally controversial and, in some respects, more complicated than the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Will the government be able to get them through both Houses of Parliament in time?

The commitment was set out in the Queen’s speech:
A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses. This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries.
My government will seek to maintain a deep and special partnership with European allies and to forge new trading relationships across the globe. New bills on trade and customs will help to implement an independent trade policy, and support will be given to help British businesses export to markets around the world.
On immigration, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, kicked the issue into the long grass by asking the Migration Advisory Committee to carry out a review of the matter and report back by September 2018. Are the six remaining months before Exit Day sufficient to put a bill through parliament and then get the immigration staff and systems in place to cope with whatever arrangements are needed? I rather doubt it.

Or take agriculture. The present support system is set by Brussels through the Common Agricultural Policy. As to what will replace it after Brexit, we have yet to hear a dicky bird from the government. But whatever domestic support systems are put in place, they may not differ one iota in outcomes from the CAP without endangering British agricultural exports to Europe. Does the government have any plans to address this issue? Who knows? The position is further complicated by the fact that whatever system is introduced will have to be administered by the devolved administrations.

We are equally in the dark about fisheries, about nuclear safeguards and about international sanctions. Yet we are promised bills in the next few months on each of these issues.

Perhaps it will all come right on the night. But perhaps not ...

16 September 2017

The Blacks take the Boks to the cleaners

Game of Thrones

Petty squabbles.  The Times reports:
The Queen’s most senior courtier was forced out in a power struggle between Buckingham Palace and the Prince of Wales, The Times can reveal.
Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary, left his post in July after complaints by the prince and his brother, the Duke of York, sources said. The unprecedented ousting — the first time the Queen has got rid of her private secretary — was the climax of increasing tensions between the two royal households.
It came amid differences over how to manage the transition of power between the Queen, who is 91, and her eldest son. Royal sources said that the prince’s staff were keen to “accelerate” plans to increase his involvement in key royal events by the time he reaches 70 in November next year.
And the glittering prize for this egregious coup d'etat?
The plans are referred to in some circles as “Project 70”. Prince Charles’s team is thought to want him to be more involved in occasions such as the Royal Maundy service, when the monarch distributes alms to pensioners on the day before Good Friday, and in Commonwealth events. It would, one source said, be “to show that he is the king in waiting”.
How trivial can you get?  Off with their heads!


It's an ill wind that blaws naebody any guid.

On the one hand, shares are down:

which, to quote President Trump, is SAD!

On the other hand, the pound sterling is up against the value of the euro:

which is BEAUTIFUL!

But it all rather messes up financial planning.


15 September 2017

Quote of the day

Pontification from an attention-seeker.  The Guardian reports:
Charities have reacted angrily after the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the rapid increase in food banks showed a “rather uplifting” picture of a compassionate country.
There are at least 2,000 food banks in the UK giving out emergency food parcels to people in hardship, according to a survey published in May. In 2010, just a handful existed.
Challenged by a caller to a radio phone-in about the rapid rise in food banks, Rees-Mogg argued on Thursday that they fulfilled a vital function. “I don’t think the state can do everything,” he said. “It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work.
“And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”
So, it's alright that people live in poverty, as it allows the better-off to demonstrate their charitable compassion?  The man's a plonker.

Anyway, if you wish to demonstrate your compassion you may do so here.  It is not difficult to do and any donation will be put to good use.


13 September 2017

Big deal?

Why would the government expect the public sector unions to accept what amounts to a pay cut in real terms?  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May’s government faces months of strife over public sector pay after a decision to lift the 1% annual cap on increases was met with derision from Labour and renewed threats of strikes by trade unions.
Following months of pressure over the issue, Downing Street simultaneously announced above 1% pay rises for police and prison officers in the last of the 2017-18 deals, and a wider commitment to “flexibility” for all public sector workers from next year.
But Jeremy Corbyn accused the Conservatives of trying to divide and rule workers, while unions representing prison officers and police dismissed their pay rises as insufficient, with the former threatening industrial action.
May’s spokesman said a cabinet meeting on Tuesday had approved a recommendation from the independent pay review body for prison officers that they receive an average 1.7% increase, backdated to April.
After years of austerity and with annual inflation running at 2.9%, the government's pay proposals demand that public sector workers accept a lower standard of living.

Perhaps Theresa might shake that old magic money tree once again; she found enough last time to bribe the DUP to keep her in power.


07 September 2017

Am I smug?

It's a tough old life for UK beer-drinkers.  The Guardian reports:
Surrey has overtaken London as the most expensive place in the UK to buy a pint, according to the latest Good Pub Guide.
Despite the fact that a beer in the capital costs £4.20 on average, drinkers can expect to pay 20p more in the traditionally well-off county, where house prices are twice the UK average.
It is the only time since the guide was first published in 1982 that the average price in London has not been the highest in Britain.
The guide found that the average price of a pint of beer in Britain is £3.60, up 13p (3.7%) in a year, compared with a year-on-year rise of 1p in 2016.
Yesterday, I paid €1.30 (roughly £1.15) for a pint in my local hostelry on the Costa del Sol.

06 September 2017

Compare and contrast

The Times' review of Mother!:

First-world problems and phony psychodrama form the basis of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, a self-important bum-numbing film masquerading as high-class horror. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem lead a starry, and mostly wasted, cast (including Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris), in a film that’s set in a fabulous country mansion and purports to be about the pain of creation but is really just a moody version of Risky Business or Project X or any one of those movies where the kids throw a huge party that gets wildly out of control.

The Guardian's review of Mother!:

It’s a powerful enough word at the best of times, but the exclamation mark gives it that edge of delirium and melodrama and despair – just the way Norman Bates yells it at the end of Psycho. Or maybe we’re supposed to hear a second, brutal two-syllable word immediately afterwards. Darren Aronofsky’s toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked. It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen. Mother! escalates the anxiety and ups the ante of dismay with every scene, every act, every trimester, taking us in short order from WTF to WTAF to SWTAF and beyond.

I guess I'll give it a miss ...


Five areas where the BBC World Service gets it wrong: some serious, some trivial.  But for insomniacs such as I am, who rely on the service to get us through the night, they all matter.

  • Variability of volume and tone.  BBC sound engineers used to be the best in the world, but nowadays they seem unable to ensure a consistent volume to their output, while different speakers range from admirably clear to intolerably muddy.

  • Intrusive music.  It is a mystery to me why programme-makers feel the need to interrupt their programmes with unnecessary bursts of so-called music.  Even more heinous is the playing of background music to accompany speech, thus rendering the latter barely intelligible (at least to those of a certain age whose hearing may not be all it once was).

  • Dollarisation.  Is it really necessary to translate all monetary amounts (including Neymar’s transfer fee) into US dollars?

  • Devotion to the former British Empire.  Perhaps the service should be re-titled the Africa, Middle-East and India Service because, apart from some obvious tokens, Europe and the Americas are sorely neglected.

  • Repetition.  The flagship Newshour programme begins with a statement summarising the programme’s contents; then we get 6 minutes of news; then another statement of the programme’s contents, before the programme proper gets under way.  This is interrupted at a quarter past the hour with a brief statement of the news headlines, until at 25 minutes past the hour we get a trail for some other programme, followed by yet another summary of what is to follow in the next 30 minutes, followed yet again by 3 or 4 minutes of the news, then a further summary of what is yet to come.  And so on, ad infinitum.

05 September 2017

They wiz robbed?

Scotland 2 Malta 0

Aye well, celebrations all round.  But both goals looked dodgy.  Did Berra shove the back of the Maltese defender when leaping to head in the first?  Was Griffiths offside when netting the rebound off the post?

Anyway,, Slovakia up next, then Slovenia.  (Or maybe the other way around ...)


Speak softly and carry a big stick?

Where are you, Teddy Roosevelt, when your nation needs you?

No soft speaking here:
America’s top diplomat has warned that North Korea is “begging for war” and urged the UN security council to impose the toughest sanctions possible on the isolated dictatorship.
The blunt statement by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, came as Donald Trump spoke with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and agreed that the North’s latest nuclear test was an “unprecedented” provocation.
And, although they certainly have a big stick, can they use it without bringing down the world around their ears?


01 September 2017

What are they thinking of?

The surprise is not that cash ISA investments have declined but that anyone is still prepared to make such investments.  The Guardian reports:
Cash Isa savings accounts have collapsed in popularity, with a £20bn fall in the amount invested in the space of 12 months.
A combination of changes to tax rules and continuing low interest rates have been blamed for the 33% decrease in the amounts being invested in cash Isas during the 2016-17 tax year. Revenue & Customs said the total fell to £39.2bn, down from £58.7bn the previous year.
Financial advisers Salisbury House Wealth said savers were “cottoning on to the fact that cash Isas offer very poor value”. Steve Webb, a former pensions minister and now director of policy at insurer Royal London, said the data showed that “the shine has really come off” the accounts.
The figures do not mean people are not putting money away for the future; they are just doing so in different ways. Since April 2016, the first £1,000 of interest that an individual receives from savings is now tax-free if they are a basic-rate taxpayer. For a higher-rate taxpayer the threshold is £500. This is called the personal savings allowance and means most people no longer pay tax on savings interest, a change the banking body UK Finance said recently had reduced the attraction of cash Isas.
You will be exceedingly lucky if you can get more than 0.5% interest on a cash ISA.  On the other hand, if you put the allowance (of up to £20,000) into a stocks and shares ISA, it is possible to secure an annual return of over 6%.  For example, Shell, BP, Scottish and Southern Electricity, and Centrica are each offering annual dividends of over 6%.  And yes, I have ISA investments in all four.

Of course, there is risk attached in that the value of share investments may go down and that the level of dividends may vary from year to year, but even so ...   And the value of cash ISA holdings will inevitably decline as long as inflation continues to exceed the interest rate.