27 January 2018

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times puts the boot into the Prime Minister (here):
Hard Brexit has its supporters. The soft version does too. We all agree she is going to have to choose. We all suspect she’ll prove temperamentally incapable of doing so. Meanwhile the moment when our government must declare its hand in trade negotiations with Europe cannot be delayed much longer. Pure logic suggests that nothing could then stop irreconcilable internal Tory tension breaking the party. Messy experience suggests that strong leadership sometimes does reconcile the irreconcilable. All observation suggests she cannot provide it.


26 January 2018

Tory unity

Like ferrets in a sack.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May has bowed to pressure from Eurosceptic MPs and disowned remarks by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as she struggled to quell a fresh Tory revolt over Brexit that could threaten her leadership.
Hammond enraged leave MPs in his own party on Thursday by telling business leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos that the government would seek only “modest” changes in its relationship with the European Union.
“Instead of doing what we’re normally doing in the trade negotiations – taking two divergent economies with low levels of trade and trying to bring them closer together to enhance that trade, we are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them, and selectively moving them, hopefully very modestly, apart,” Hammond said.
After pro-Brexit MPs in Westminster reacted furiously, and some ministers privately made their disquiet known to Downing Street, No 10 moved to distance the prime minister from her chancellor’s remarks.
A source said: “Whilst we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes.”
The fresh cabinet rift followed Boris Johnson’s open disagreement over NHS funding earlier this week and came at a fragile moment for the prime minister’s leadership as a string of Conservative MPs told the Guardian some of their colleagues were considering another attempt at ousting her if the local elections in May go badly.

Amusing as it is to see the Conservative Party tearing itself apart, it would be preferable in the context of the Brexit negotiations to have a government which knew what it wanted to do, rather than these endless and fruitless attempts to keep happy all factions of the party.  A Prime Minister at odds with her Chancellor, a dilettante Foreign Secretary, a clueless David Davis in nominal charge of the negotiations and the backbenches in open revolt:  how long can this go on?


Theresa May goes to Davos ...

... but why is she wearing a tracksuit?


25 January 2018

A fishy business

So, just possibly, President Trump can inadvertently do some good.  The Independent reports:
More than a decade ago, President Donald Trump allegedly sat around with his mistress watching television while talking about how much he hates sharks and would not mind if they all died.
Now, those comments are coming back to bite him — in the sense that they are helping out the sharks of the world.
Donations have reportedly surged to shark conservation charities since Mr Trump’s hate of sharks were unearthed in a previously unpublished interview conducted between the magazine In Touch and adult film actress Stormy Daniels — who claims she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006, just a year after he married his current wife.
Now, we need him to say that he also hates red squirrels, bees, elephants and rhinos ...


23 January 2018

Does he care about the NHS or is he just a media attention seeker?

You might argue that, either way, it's none of his business.  The Times reports:
Boris Johnson will seize the floor at a meeting of the cabinet today and demand a £5 billion annual cash injection for the health service beginning next year.
Allies of the foreign secretary say that he has a “track record of winning” and will not relent on demands for a £100-million-a-week Brexit dividend until it is secured.
Britain is expected to keep making contributions to the EU during a two-year transition period until 2021, but Mr Johnson believes that the extra NHS cash should be spent from March next year, when Britain formally leaves the bloc. There is no indication of how the money could be counted as a “dividend” from contributions yet to return.
Some might unkindly suggest that the only thing that Boris cares about is his overweening ambition to  occupy No 10.


22 January 2018

Historically ignorant?

They should read more books.  But The Times reports:
Britain would struggle to withstand Russian forces on the battlefield and ministers must invest in defence or further erode the country’s ability to combat threats, the head of the army will say today.
General Sir Nick Carter will point to President Putin’s ability to launch long-range missiles and deploy large numbers of combat troops swiftly, as well as the threat posed by cyber-warfare, as he uses a rare speech to warn that Britain “cannot afford to sit back”.
Is there any time during the last two centuries that Britain would not have struggled to withstand Russian forces on the battlefield?  The Crimean War was not an outstanding success; and Napoleon and Hitler found that taking on the Russian Bear did not lead to triumph.


21 January 2018

Quote of the day

From The Sunday Times (here):
Nick Boles [Conservative MP] broke cover on Friday night to condemn May’s “timidity and lack of ambition”.
In a fresh attack last night, he accused her of appointing “wet ministers” and failing to support others, such as the housing secretary, Sajid Javid, who wants to launch radical reforms to build more homes.
“I’ve just had it,” Boles told The Sunday Times. “Either she has wet ministers who won’t do anything or in the case of Sajid, she has a would-be radical who is desperate to get on and do something major and proper and she just blunts everything.
“There’s a wonderful George Orwell essay about Englishness. He talks about the boiled rabbits of the left. We have a government full of boiled rabbits. She needs to give her ministers their head and she needs to tell them to be brave. She needs to tell them to follow their convictions and ideally she needs to have a few convictions herself.”
With such friends on her backbenches, the Prime Minister has no need of enemies ...


19 January 2018

Where the priorities lie

It's the same the whole world over
It's the poor what gets the blame
It's the rich what gets the pleasure
Ain't it all a bloody shame

The Times reports:
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has prosecuted eight cases of insider trading in the past five years and secured 12 convictions. By comparison, the Department for Work and Pensions prosecuted or penalised more than 10,000 benefit fraudsters last year. Yet large numbers of investors appear to be receiving and benefiting from confidential information from inside FTSE-listed companies.
This newspaper analysed share price movements on the day before every major profit warning and every merger or acquisition announcement over the past two years. On the day before a profit warning, the share price of the company that issued the warning fell in 67 per cent of cases, suggesting that a number of investors were offloading shares in advance of the bad news, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
On the day before a takeover announcement, however, the share price increased in 70 per cent of cases, suggesting that investors were buying in advance of good news.
Hardly a surprise, given the Tories' links with those and such as those ...


17 January 2018

The dubious benefits of free trade with the US

Image result for pigs

Does anybody (apart from Liam Fox of course) want a free trade deal with the USA?  The Guardian reports:
Chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and bacon produced with additives strong enough to cripple pigs have been listed by British campaigners as three of the top 10 food safety risks posed by a free-trade deal with the US.
American use of the pork additive ractopamine alongside the more publicised practices of washing chicken in chlorine and feeding cattle growth hormones are highlighted in a report by the Soil Association as chief among its concerns about a post-Brexit era.
“Some of the key differences between UK and US production – hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken – are becoming increasingly understood by British consumers,” the report says.
But there are “other areas where products imported from the US could be produced under significantly different standards to our own”, it adds.
The report was published to coincide with the second reading of the trade bill, which will provide a framework for post-Brexit trade deals.
Ractopamine, which can add three kilos of extra meat to a pig, is banned by almost every country except the US. The EU has outlawed its use since 1996.
It is fed to an estimated 60-90% of pigs in the US in the weeks before slaughter and has been found to cause disability in animals including trembling, broken bones and an inability to walk, according to the Soil Association.
I would prefer it if the contents of my bacon sandwich adhered to EU standards.


12 January 2018

Boys' toys

The Ministry of Defence sets out the stark choices on future military spending.  The Times reports:
Military chiefs have drawn up a plan to cut the armed forces by more than 14,000 and combine elite units of paratroopers and Royal Marines to save money, The Times has learnt.
The three sets of proposed cuts presented to Gavin Williamson when he took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon can be revealed today.
The proposals — described by a Whitehall source as “ugly, ugly or ugly” — include cutting the army by 11,000 soldiers and losing 2,000 Royal Marines and sailors and 1,250 airmen. The total size of the regular armed forces is about 137,000. The army has a target size of 82,000 but at present it numbers fewer than 78,000. Reducing this to 71,000 or fewer would make it the smallest since before the Napoleonic wars more than 200 years ago.
Nine Royal Navy warships are under threat, including seven Type 23 frigates. More than 100 helicopters were identified as vulnerable including an entire fleet of Wildcat aircraft and a reduction in the size of the Apache force, the gunships flown by Prince Harry in Afghanistan. In a particularly controversial cost-saving move, included in two of the three lists of options, 3 Commando Brigade, which uses Royal Marines, and 16 Air Assault Brigade, which uses the Parachute Regiment, would operate as more of a combined force. Such a merger would trigger an outcry within the military, with sources warning that it would erode their fighting capabilities. It would also reduce the capacity to deploy elite forces on a lengthy operation.
There is of course a simple answer to the problem.  The MOD could save many billions by:

1.  flogging off the two aircraft carriers, for which in any case we cannot afford to fit out with aircraft and which are white elephants (sitting ducks, if you prefer) without adequate naval shipping to protect them (which we also cannot afford); and

2.  abandoning the replacement/renewal of Trident, which we will never use, whose deterrent effect is minimal and which is vulnerable to cyber attack and underwater drone (as well as being immoral).

And if you are looking for a few extra savings, you might sack a few admirals, as the Navy has more of them than it does ships.


11 January 2018

It's not urgent, then?

How much damage will be done in the next 25 years?  Still, in a way, it's progress, even if desperately slow.  The BBC reports:
Theresa May will pledge to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
The commitment is part of a 25-year plan to improve the natural environment being launched on Thursday.
In her speech to launch the plan the prime minister will say: "I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly."
But green groups are angry the proposals will have no legal force.
They say the plans could simply be shelved if they become inconvenient and the promise to stop "avoidable" plastic waste is too vague.
Basically, pathetic.


10 January 2018

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
As the Four Pot Plants continued to wait anxiously by the phone to see if they were going to be offered a ministerial job in the reshuffle, Boris Johnson got ready for his first departmental questions of the new year. Having already established the previous day that whoever else may be in charge of the government it isn’t the prime minister, the foreign secretary was in an unusually expansive and relaxed mood. He’d told Theresa May that he would kick up rough if she tried to move him and Theresa had listened. All was well with the world.
Just as the foreign secretary was winding things up with an unconvincing defence of the importance of Donald Trump’s state visit – there are limits even to Boris’s insincerity, the junior minister Rory Stewart excused himself from the front bench and left the chamber. He had just got a message from Number 10 saying he was being reshuffled sideways from a job in which he had shown great judgment and expertise to one for which he had no qualifications whatsoever. The Four Pot Plants clutched their leaves in despair.


09 January 2018

The reshuffle re-visited

All shall have prizes.  The Times records the Main Event:
Larry the Cat refused to budge. Theresa May had wanted to move the Downing Street old-timer from his perch on the radiator beside the front door. His kill rate is below target and most of the day he just wants to sleep. It was time to bring in some fresh fur, perhaps Jacob Rees-Mogg, if only for the name. But Larry would not shift. In the battle of PM and puss, there would be only one winner.
So Larry clung on, but lest anyone think that Mrs May had spent an hour fruitlessly trying to sack a grumpy feline, she gave him a new title: minister for social mousing. Larry spent the rest of the day ordering new business cards; the Downing Street mice threw a party.

Successful reshuffle?

Apparently not:

i paper front pageGuardian front page

The Times front pageTelegraph front page


08 January 2018

Looking at the problem from the wrong end?

Holiday flights are horrid enough, but there are plans to make them more horrid.  The I-news reports:

The Home Office is planning to close a loophole that allows airports to sidestep alcohol licensing laws and open 24 hours a day.
The move comes after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported a 50 percent rise in in the numbers of passengers forcibly detained for bad behaviour.
A review by the House of Lords has recommended an end to 24-hour drinking in airports, according to The Times.
The Home Office is planning to extend the Licensing Act 2003 to cover alcohol being sold to passengers just before they board flights.
It would give councils the power to license and inspect bars, pubs and restaurants inside airports.
If the problem is drunkenness on aeroplanes, why do the airlines continue to sell alcohol on board?  As far as I am aware, there is no law which requires them to do so.

Besides, a stiff g&t before departure makes the whole process of flying marginally more tolerable.


07 January 2018


I guess that The Donald is not someone given to self-analysis.  The Independent reports:
President Donald Trump has hit out at “very weak” libel laws in the US as he branded an explosive new book detailing the inner workings of the White House as “fiction”.
Suggesting he would like to see tougher laws on speech, Mr Trump said that if libel laws “were strong... you wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes into your head” – referring to Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
Trump's tweets are of course a prime example of him saying whatever comes into his head, regardless of consequences, legal or political.


06 January 2018


Well, maybe.  But he may be alone in his estimation of his intellectual capabilities.  The Independent reports:
Donald Trump has claimed his two greatest assets are his mental stability and “being, like, really smart”.
In a series of early-morning tweets, the President hit back at questions about his capacity for office after revelations in Michael Wolff’s explosive new book renewed scrutiny of his mental health.
“The Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence,” Mr Trump wrote.
He added: “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that!”
He's a modest little flower ...


05 January 2018

Daft as a brush?

Now look, just because a man wants to eat a cheeseburger in bed at 6.30 pm while watching three televisions, does not make him a bad person. A trifle eccentric, perhaps.  (I wonder, however, about how to keep the sheets free from crumbs.)  The Guardian reports on more revelations of life in the Trumpian White House:
Trump also reportedly harangued domestic staff who would try to clear his floor of laundry, yelling: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” He would also strip his own bed, according to Wolff, when he decided his sheets needed a change.
Then Trump imposed a set of new rules, Wolff writes: “Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush.”
Trump is a self-described germophobe: by Wolff’s account he has also long been afraid of being poisoned. This, Wolff writes, is “one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s – nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely pre-made”.
Wolff also writes that Trump requested two television sets be added to his bedroom, which already had one in place. Most days, Wolff writes, Trump preferred to be in bed by 6.30pm, watching his three televisions, eating a cheeseburger and making telephone calls to friends and confidants.
Not totally surprising that Melania had a separate bedroom.


04 January 2018

Quote of the day

From Fire and Fury the new book on Trump by Michael Wolff (here):
The US first daughter poked fun at her father's alleged "scalp-reduction surgery", according to the book.
"She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate - a contained island after scalp-reduction -surgery - surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men - the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump's orange-blond hair color."

03 January 2018

Mine is bigger than yours

Trump reduces geo-politics to the level of the school playground.  The Independent reports:
Donald Trump has threatened North Korea with a nuclear strike, boasting of America’s superior capabilities. 
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
Unnecessary and childish.


02 January 2018

It's a new year

Scottish Labour looks on the optimistic side.  The Guardian reports:
Young people now see Labour as the radicals in Scotland, according to the party’s new leader, Richard Leonard.
Scottish Labour activists reported a significant change on the doorstep during their general election campaigning, in particular among younger voters who they might formerly have expected to be supporting the SNP. “Over the past few months we’ve started to win back lost Labour voters, people who voted SNP, Green in recent elections, there’s a definite shift taking place. There’s a buzz amongst young people. They are seeing the Labour party as the radical party.”
It would be nice to think so.  But I fear that it will not be so easy to dispel its reputation for promoting jumped-up, hidebound, municipal time-servers with an extremely limited capacity for radical thought.  But we can always hope ...