30 November 2017

Smoke and mirrors

The Times suggests that the Northern Irsh border question is nearing resolution:
EU leaders are preparing to offer a two-year Brexit transition deal as early as January after negotiators said that they were close to a breakthrough over the Northern Ireland border.
British officials tabled proposals this week to avoid a “hard border” in Ireland that could unblock the last remaining major obstacle to a deal, The Times understands.
In return the EU will pledge at a summit in Brussels next month to speed up approval for a transition deal that maintains Britain’s present relationship with the EU, reassuring businesses that might otherwise begin implementing plans for a hard Brexit.
Sources in Dublin said that there was “movement” on the issue and growing confidence that a deal could be reached before the summit on December 14-15.
The British proposal is understood to commit the government to work towards “avoiding regulatory divergence” in Ireland after Brexit even if the rest of the UK moves away from European rules. This would involve the government devolving a package of powers to Northern Ireland to enable customs convergence with the Irish Republic on areas such as agriculture and energy.
I'm not convinced.  If Northern Ireland develops customs arrangements which are different from those which apply to the rest of the UK, it stands to reason that there would need to be controls on the passage of goods between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland.  Otherwise, the chlorinated chicken imported from the US into Britain could leak into Northern Ireland and thence into the EU.


The future of capitalism

It's no longer selling or making things.  The Guardian reports:
Just Eat, the online takeaway company, was on Wednesday night officially promoted into the FTSE 100 list of Britain’s blue chip companies, with a valuation of £5.5bn – making it worth half a billion pounds more than the UK’s second biggest supermarket chain .
The UK’s love affair with having pizzas, curries and kebabs delivered to their door has spawned a mobile food business with no products and no outlets that is more highly valued than Sainsbury’s, which sells 90,000 products through 1,400 stores – and also owns the Argos chain. Just Eat is also worth more than Morrisons and Marks & Spencer.
Little-known Danish technology entrepreneur Bo Bendtsen is the single-biggest shareholder in Just Eat with a 13% stake in the business now worth just over £730m. But Bendtsen, who had just 88 followers on Twitter at the time of writing, did not found the company, which provides takeaways to 19 million people.
Meanwhile Babcock, the company which has built two British aircraft carriers is relegated to the FTSE250.

Financial madness ...


29 November 2017

Quote of the day

From The Times Red Box:
The performance art installation that is David Davis continues. The latest highly sophisticated production involves him having a row with MPs about the quality of impact reports that he has only had to produce because he boasted about them existing when they didn't.
And from The Guardian (here):
Over in Brussels, Michel Barnier raised a glass. As he had suspected, he really was dealing with idiots. 


28 November 2017

Will Prince Harry be allowed to bring Meghan to live in the UK?

As she is a US national, she will have to demonstrate that she and her intended have a combined income of £18,600 per year.

I understand that she has given up her job.  Not clear as to what Harry's employment status is.

Or perhaps the rules don't apply to royalty ...


26 November 2017

Three things we learned from Scotland's victory

  • Gregor Townsend’s plan is working.  Once again, after a sterling performance against New Zealand,  the Scotland XV outpaced Australia with high tempo rugby.  Yes, there were mistakes, but speed of thought, admirable awareness and constant pressure delivered an excellent result against what was in theory the third best team in the world and a team which had beaten the All-Blacks less than six weeks ago.
  • When did Scottish rugby players get so physically fit?  Admittedly, the Australians spent much of the match with only fourteen players.  But, towards the end of a match of such intensity, for the Scotland team to display such energy was almost unbelievable.  Not least after a match of comparable intensity seven days before.
  • For years, the Scotland team has been plagued by the limited pool of players on which to draw.  But suddenly we seem able to cope with the absence of such stars as Stuart Hogg and WP Nel.  And the replacements used during the match against the Australians in no way weakened the team.
Bring on the Six Nations!

25 November 2017

Music of the week

Useful to know

I was once a slave to fashion, believe it or not.  But this was never my style:

The Guardian reports:
The defining element of 2017’s party season is not a LBD or a statement earring. Instead, fashion is focusing on a slightly less glamorous place: the sock drawer.
Glitter socks, the sparkly kind popular with pop stars like Madonna in the 1980s, are back. Seen on the catwalk on Gigi Hadid at Isabel Marant and multiple models at Gucci, they are also a celebrity favourite. Kendall Jenner wore them on the red carpet earlier this year, and Beyonce, Suki Waterhouse and Rihanna are fans.
Aye, but do they keep your feet warm?


24 November 2017

Cattle class

Proof that Ryanair treats its staff as poorly as it treats its passengers.  The Guardian reports:
Ryanair cabin crew have been told they could face “disciplinary proceedings” and have their working hours forcibly changed unless they sell more perfume and scratchcards.
The Irish airline has previously denied pressuring staff to hit specific sales targets, after it emerged they were encouraged to sell products in return for bonuses.
But letters sent to crew members by recruitment firms that supply staff to Ryanair– seen by the Guardian – warn of dire consequences for those whose average sales per flight fall “below budget”.
The letters highlight 10 products, including drinks, confectionery, cosmetics and scratchcards, listing the percentage of flights in which individual cabin crew members had not sold enough.
As a frequent passenger, I do my best to help out the crew on the drinks front.


23 November 2017

Advert of the day

Because it made me smile:


The do-nothing budget

... or, at least, the do as little as possible budget.   Nothing to scare the horses.

OK, there was some cosmetic massaging of the housing crisis, but a reduction in stamp duty for first-time buyers and a modest focus on urban site development do not address the housing crisis.

Liquor and fags?  More or less as you were.  (Unless you are a white cider addict.)

Fuel duties?   Nothing to make the petrolheads lose sleep.

Income tax?  No change, other than a slightly increased personal allowance and a bit of a bonus for higher rate taxpayers.  (Why, for heaven's sake?)

Corporation tax?  Pensions tax relief ?  No change.  

Public sector pay?  Nothing except for a rather vague promise to look further at the position of nurses.

Tax avoidance?  The UK overseas tax havens will not be quaking in their boots.

Social care?  Not a dickybird - just ignored.

Altogether, rather a poor show.


22 November 2017

Never trust a man with a centre parting ...

... espacially if he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


Academic rewards

The Times  is exercised about the salaries of university vice-chancellors:
The universities minister, Jo Johnson, has called for VCs’ salaries to be pegged to that of the prime minister at £150,000. I took a cut last year from my salary of £185,000 and this year I have agreed it should come down to £150,000, the balance being paid back to the university for charitable purposes. My university is small, albeit growing quickly and first in the country for teaching quality, so my salary should be less than the others. But no vice-chancellor should be paid more than £350,000 and then only at those institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial which are at the top of the international rankings and attract leaders from across the world.
Does anybody in any profession need to be paid more than £350,000 per annum?  Indeed, is £350K not at an excessively high amount?  

And it is an essentially circular argument to suggest that, as others gain, so should I.  The whole system of executive pay has spiralled out of control and common sense.


Depressing.  The Independent reports:
MPs have voted against a Labour bid to retain EU human rights measures in UK law post-Brexit after the Government offered Conservative rebels an eleventh-hour concession.
The amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was defeated by 311 votes to 301, giving the Government a majority of just 10.
Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, defied the Government whip and voted for the motion to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, put forward by Jeremy Corbyn.
Civic organisations warned over the weekend that individual rights to privacy, equality, freedom of expression, fair working conditions, a fair trial, access to a lawyer and the protection of personal data are all in potential jeopardy if the charter is stripped from the UK state book after Brexit, in March 2019.
 Which of these individual rights does the government propose to abolish?  I think we should be told.


21 November 2017

Parallel trainspotting

It's stretching it more than a bit, but The Independent views the Brexit negotiations through a mirror, darkly:
I have always found it helpful to view the Brexit negotiations through the prism of the hotel room drug deal scene at the end of Trainspotting, and never more so than now.
It is not merely because Begbie, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy so accurately mimic the intellectual deficiency, generalised psychopathy and jaw-dropping untrustworthiness of our current political leaders – though it does all those things very well.
It is simply the utterly hopeless mismatch between the two parties, and the panicked arrival of reality, which may very well finally have happened today.
If you want to imagine the scene at Theresa May’s newly formed “Brexit War Cabinet” which met on Monday morning, you only really need to re-watch those short few minutes. When a gang of chancers who think they’ve hit the big time suddenly realise, as the professionals sweep in, how hopelessly out of their depth they really are, and how utterly non-existent any leverage they imagined they might have had.
But the similarity is not total. At least, in the end, this small gang of drop-out smack addicts are capable of grasping reality, which is where they differ from certain sections of the Conservative party.
Even as Theresa May and the rest appear braced to do what they were always going to do and double the offer to Brussels, from £20bn to £40bn (and, in the end, no doubt more), Tory voices still seem determined to stampede toward the cliff edge.


20 November 2017

Two major flies in the ointment

It's all very well that the UK Government thinks that a Brexit breakthrough is imminent.  Bloomberg reports:
The U.K. could be about to improve its financial offer to the European Union ahead of a crucial meeting of the bloc’s leaders in December.
Members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s divided cabinet will consider Britain’s divorce from the EU at a meeting Monday of the Brexit cabinet sub-committee that could be key to unlocking the most controversial matter in the negotiations -- money.
Britain is “on the brink of making some serious movement forward” and starting to break the “logjam,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday.
There are two major difficulties here.  The first is the question of the Northern Ireland border: the Irish Government will not allow negotiations to go forward unless thay have cast-iron commitments to a permeable border free of customs duties.  The second is the collapse of the negotiations to establish a German government - Frau Merkel may not be in a position to offer any binding commitments to accept any UK offer, particularly if another general election in Germany has to be called.
Update:  From The Guardian (here):
In the meantime, Merkel and her grand coalition cabinet continue to serve as caretakers. Hopes in the UK for a political deal with Berlin on Brexit were unrealistic before but have now become even less likely. The EU’s negotiation guidelines, including the need to pay a sufficient amount of money in the run-up to the December European Council, are still the basis for any deal, now more than ever. Eurozone build-out jointly with France remains a task for the next government, but conversations will remain on ice until the deadlock in Berlin has been broken. 
And that is not likrly to happen soon ...

18 November 2017

Music of the week

Not one of my favourite mistakes

Yes, I am a shareholder.  It looked a reasonable prospect at the time.  Government contracts, handsome dividends - what could go wrong?  Well, just about everything.  The Guardian reports:
Carillion, one of the construction companies working on the HS2 London to Birmingham rail line, is racing to refinance its business after issuing its third profit warning in five months and suffering a collapse in share price.
Shares in the company, which is at the heart of several major building projects in the UK, were suspended eight times on Friday after the shock update to the City that it would breach the terms on its existing lending at the end of the year.
The shares crashed 60% when the stock market opened on Friday – to their lowest ever levels – and closed down 48% at 21.5p. At this price, about 25p, the shares are barely a tenth of the 240p level seen at the start of 2017 and the value of the company is just £92.5m.
 Ach weel, you win some, you lose some.

Quote of the day

Vacuous, utterly vacuous.  The Maybot in full flow.  From The Guardian (here):
Leaving the summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, May told reporters she agreed that more needed to be done to advance the negotiations. “But we are clear and I am clear that what we need to do is move forwards together and that’s how we can ensure that we are going to get the best deal for the UK and for the EU,” the prime minister said.


This is not going to work

The consequences of Brexit for the Northern Ireland border have moved up the agenda.  The Independent reports:
Theresa May has been handed an ultimatum to guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland by December if Britain wants to move to trade talks before the spring.
The EU and Ireland made clear on Friday that the issue of the border had joined the divorce bill as one of the two main problems where “much more progress” is needed to start talking about a transition period.
Following a meeting with the Prime Minister in Gothenburg, the European Council President Donald Tusk suggested British ministers must be joking if they believed it was the EU’s turn to make concessions in talks, attributing such suggestions to an “English sense of humour”.’
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Ireland and the EU needed a promise in writing by December that there would be no hard border and suggested eurosceptics had not “thought all this through” in the years they had been pushing for the UK to leave the EU.
I do not see how this question can be resolved.  If the UK insists on leaving the single market and customs union, there would have to be some kind of controls on the Northern Irish border, a position which is now declared by the Irish Republic to be unacceptable.  If Northern Ireland were to remain by itself  in the single market, there would need to be border controls between it and the rest of the UK, a position which would be equally unacceptable to the British government (probably even if it were not dependent on the DUP for its continued survival).  The only other conceivable option would be for the Republic of Ireland to leave the EU along with the UK; and that is obviously a non-starter.

I cannot see an available fudge or compromise.  I don't know where we go from here, other than towards either a cliff-edge no-deal or the abandonment of Brexit altogether.


17 November 2017

Quote of the day

The Times ponders the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Conservative Party:
The usual conservative view is risk-averse and frightened of grands projets by their sheer complexity and by the low capacity of the state to administer them. The true conservative, who is not a reactionary in thrall to the past, is also not a radical excited by a better tomorrow. He or she instead makes a fetish of the present. Better not to risk change for fear it will be worse than what we have. The caution and the complacency can be infuriating but it is a fool who sees no wisdom in the position.
Where are these conservatives today? Can you name a single one? Who is the person who holds the quintessentially conservative view, which is that the EU is a bit of a mess for which no affection can really be mustered but who thinks that leaving is really not worth the candle? The process of leaving, thinks the historical conservative, is just too difficult, too far beyond the capacity of the civil service to deliver, just far too much bother. To attempt the most complex administrative task that the British state has undertaken since the conduct of the Second World War is just a profoundly unconservative thing to do.
Wise words.


Pots and kettles

So David Davis has warned the EU not to put politics before prosperity.

That would be the David Davis who supported the British Government when it decided to call an EU referendum for domestic political reasons (mainly to dish UKIP), utterly heedless of its leaders' (Cameron and Osborne) stated opinion that it would severely damage the UK economy.

That would be the David Davis who is part of the British Government which, for political reasons,  has yet to clarify what kind of post-Brexit deal it wants and whose leaders (May, Johnson, Gove, Fox, Hammond, etc) are far more concerned about their place in the future of the Conservative Party than the future economic health of the country.

That would be the David Davis who is part of the British Government which has consistently ignored the warnings of business organisations and trades unions about the severe economic consequences of the absence of an early settlement on transitional arrangements for Brexit.  Because to do otherwise would cause political turmoil on Tory backbenches.


16 November 2017

Quote of the day

The Cabinet appear to have the intellectual capacity of primary schoolchildren.  The Times reports:
Michael Gove faces a backlash from senior Tories who have accused him of using cabinet meetings to “audition” to be the next chancellor.
The environment secretary has angered cabinet colleagues by straying beyond his brief in what is regarded as an attempt to persuade the prime minister to give him Philip Hammond’s job.
At the most recent meeting, on Tuesday, Mr Gove again made a point of using “lots of long, economicky words”, according to two people present.
Oh my!  "Long economicky words".  Whatever next?


15 November 2017

Getting cynical in my old age.

I have no doubt that Ms Hodge's request will be granted, in that the Chancellor will indeed address the issue of tax avoidance in his budget:
The senior Labour MP Margaret Hodge has called on Philip Hammond to use his budget to deal with tax avoidance by the rich and powerful “on an industrial scale” as exposed by the Paradise Papers and other leaks from tax havens.
The former chair of the Commons public accounts watchdog said tax avoidance had become too widespread among the wealthy and called on the chancellor to legislate to force tax transparency on UK crown dependencies.
“The actions and the culture of powerful large corporations and of the wealthiest in our society as revealed in the Paradise Papers constitute a national and international disgrace,” she said. 
“What we have learned is that tax avoidance is not just a trivial irritant practised by a small number of greedy individuals and global corporations. It is the widely accepted behaviour of too many of those who are rich and influential.
After all, successive chancellors - in every budget I can remember - have claimed that they will deal with excessive tax avoidance.  The problem is that none of their efforts ever seem to bear serious fruit.  I do not expect it to be any different this time around.

Especially because this is the government that last week sought to water down EU efforts to crack down on corporate tax havens.


14 November 2017

Confused? You will be ...

David Davis has announced to Parliament that there will be a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal:
As Davis is also the kinda man who is more than capable of confusing even himself with one of his statements. Several MPs wanted clarity on just how meaningful a meaningful vote would be. Dopey David started to get a bit narked. Why were people so unwilling to take him at his word. He had said there would be a meaningful vote and there would be a meaningful vote. End of.
At this point, several Brexiteers started having palpitations. But we would still be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 regardless, they enquired breathlessly. “Oh yes,” said Dopey David. While it was the government’s principal aim to allow parliament to have a meaningful vote on the final deal, it would at worst be a “take it or leave it” vote and at best take place long after we had left the EU.
So there was nothing for the Eurosceptics to worry about. Once he had failed to reach an agreement – an inevitability given that Davis doesn’t even know what he can agree to himself – we could crash out of the EU with no deal just as they hoped. Sure parliament could have a nice chat about the wreckage afterwards, but in all probability the only meaningful vote it would be getting was a non-meaningful one.

11 November 2017

Are the Brexit negotiations making progress?

Don't count your chickens.  The Guardian reports:
It’s all starting to get a bit embarrassing. In the press conferences following the early rounds of negotiations, Michel Barnier used to make a point of making most of his remarks in English to make things easier for David Davis. But at the sixth time of asking he’s clearly decided there isn’t any language that Davis properly understands, so he might as well suit himself and speak in his native French.
Questions from the media only underlined how little progress had been made. Was it true there was no chance of the European council agreeing to move the talks on to the next stage unless Britain put a whole load more cash on the table within the next two weeks, a German reporter asked. Barnier paused. There was a time when he might have been inclined to dodge that question to give the Brits a bit of slack, but now he was right out of patience. Davis would just have to suck it up. “Je pense que oui,” he said. (“I think so.”)
Even Dopey Dave understood that. There were just two weeks to try to save Brexit. He looked around for help, before it dawned on him that he was the person on whom the country was counting. He mumbled something about being willing and able, while sounding anything but. His expression was of a man who had only just realised he was completely out of his depth. Defeat oozed out of every pore.
“We’re making progress,” Davis insisted as he was led away by his childminder. One day he would say it and it might be true. But not today. Or probably any time soon.

09 November 2017

Up in the skies

When life gives you a lemon, best ask for a gin and tonic.  The Guardian reports:
36,000 feet above Egypt on flight KQ100 to London, Priti Vacant fidgeted anxiously in her seat. She wasn’t used to being downgraded to Premium Economy and hadn’t fancied any of the inflight movies. Apocalypse Now or Falling Down somehow didn’t appeal.
Besides, it just wasn’t fair. There she had been, just minding her business in a Golan Heights water park with her family, when who should be on the next sunbed than Benjamin Netanyahu? It would have been much too rude not to talk to him and one thing had just led to another and before she knew it she was having meetings with 12 of his mates. As you do.
It had been no big deal. So she hadn’t really seen the need to tell anyone about her playdates with Bibi. Besides, it all seemed such a long time ago now and everything had become a bit of a blur. If only Bibi hadn’t brought this all up at his meeting with Theresa the week before, then no one would have been any the wiser.
Vacant asked for a gin and tonic to calm the nerves and handed over her departmental credit card to pay. “I’m afraid it appears to have been blocked,” said the steward. “Do you have any cash?”
Sic transit gloria Priti ...


08 November 2017

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."

The government is falling apart.  The Times reports:
A once dangerous force is in retreat, losing followers and no longer the threat it was. Boris Johnson came to parliament to deliver two statements: one about progress in slowly destroying Daesh and the other on the parlous state of his own career.
Last week the foreign secretary wrongly told a committee of MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British mother, may have been training journalists in Iran when she was arrested last year. The Iranian courts thought this enough to try to double her five-year sentence.
“I accept that my remarks could have been clearer,” he said carefully. Or maybe just different. Or even factually correct?
Mr Johnson had at least turned up. Earlier Priti Patel missed a question about her holiday jaunt where she just happened to bump into the Israeli PM and others without telling Theresa May. Sadly Ms Patel was jetting off again, this time to Africa (that’s what she’s told No 10) and she was “in the air”. Much like her future as a cabinet minister.
A rabble of incompetent clowns.

07 November 2017

Not up to snuff

As good as previous years?

If I had any, I would sell M&S shares.


06 November 2017

Did you think they were noble?

So Her Maj has hidden millions in offshore tax havens.  Doesn't everyone?

Just because they're royalty does not mean that they are less avaricious than than the average fatcat sleazebag billionaire.


05 November 2017

Put not your trust in smartphones

The Independent explains:
Now think about your iPhone. It knows who you are. It knows where you are. It knows how many steps you have taken that day, or any day. It knows who you have spoken with and the sites you have visited. It may know how much you paid for your lunch. True, any smartphone with the right apps knows all this and more. But the iPhone X knows something else: It knows with great precision exactly what you look like, for that is how you can unlock it.
Evil things ...

Me, I'm still getting to grips with an ordinary bog-standard mobile phone.  Basically, luddite.


04 November 2017

Sexual harassment

This is becoming has become serious.  The Times reports:
Many Tory figures fear that there could be more departures. A former senior minister described the situation as desperate, saying: “I was told this morning that there are now seven members of the cabinet considering their position.”
Wait until the Sundays get a hold of it ...


02 November 2017

The Blue Brazil don't usually make the headlines

The teuchters are unhappy

The Guardian reports:
“You’d struggle to find anyone in the Highlands who is anti-tourist,” says the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes, “but some people have been pushed to the brink.” Forbes adds succinctly: “There is perfectly legitimate nimbyism going on when someone is doing the toilet in your garden!”
Locals and politicians agree that the summer of 2017 saw the exponential growth in tourist numbers reach a tipping point. Across the Highlands, this year’s peak season brought reports of motorhome waste dumped by the roadside in the Western Isles, police advising visitors to Skye to book overnight accommodation in advance, and warnings of an increase in accidents along the newly launched North Coast 500 route as unfamiliar drivers struggled to negotiate narrow single track roads.
Ever increasing visitor numbers caused intolerable strain on parking, toilets, wifi, phone reception, public transport and wet weather facilities, according to a report from Highland council.
They complain when there are too many tourists; they complain when there are too few.  They better avoid Edinburgh, where the town is choked with tourists all year round.


The Independent thinks that the government has become distracted:
The zombies arrived a day late for Halloween. All across the front bench and beyond, the undead sat. Some had their arms folded, some let them hang by their sides, as their eyes stared lifelessly at an unfixed mark in the middle distance.
Words reverberated around their ears. Dennis Skinner jabbed his finger in their direction, but real life wasn’t troubling the world inside their skulls. There were traumas going on in there. Public shame. Online ridicule. Thermonuclear rows at home, no doubt.
Yesterday morning Mr and Ms A, B and C had been the member for X, Y and Z. Now they knew they were the “handsy” one, the “very inappropriate” one. The one who’d had “sexual relations.” The one who’d “fornicated.”
At least it takes their minds off Brexit ...


01 November 2017

Quote of the day

Garrison Keillor on Trump (here):
He is so over. Totally irrelevant, exhausted, flamed out. The sleepytime eyes and la-di-da hair and the tweet-tweet-tweet say it all. Real men don't tweet. Ask anybody. We bark, we protest, we thunder, condemn, denounce, we give 'em hell, sometimes we post. Wimps tweet. And now the perps are going to start walking and talking. And the fat lady is waiting in the wings.