30 June 2018

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Image result for radishes

Do radishes get excited?  The Guardian reports:
Anthony Gardiner of G’s Fresh, the UK’s biggest supplier of radishes, said sales had risen 30% in the past three months. “It’s been strong since the start of the year, and really taken off in the last six weeks with the start of the UK season at the end of April.
“It’s an exciting time for radishes,” he added. “I don’t think we’ve ever sold so many. It could be the new avocado.”
Or it could be be just another advertising puff ... 

27 June 2018

The little boys want more toys

They don't budget properly, they keep changing what they have ordered, they grossly overspend on contracts, they buy things they don't understand.  Essentially, when it comes to procurement, they are a bunch of amateurs.  But still the Ministry of Defence wants to spend more.  The Times reports:
Gavin Williamson will ask the prime minister for up to £4 billion extra a year for the armed forces at a critical meeting set for next week.
The defence secretary is to pitch for the money when he meets Theresa May to discuss funding for the future shape and size of Britain’s military. The meeting comes amid tensions between the pair with Mr Williamson accused of threatening to “break” the prime minister if she refuses to increase the defence budget.
Yesterday senior defence figures said that the government was putting at risk the country’s status as a global military power by giving the NHS priority over defence. 
If they didn't waste money on Trident, a system which will never be used (and which could not be used without the permission of the USA), or on white elephant aircraft carriers, which they cannot afford to equip with sufficient aircraft or to provide with the necessary support ships, and if they sacked half the numerous generals and admirals, they might have sufficient resources to pay the armed forces a decent wage and provide them with adequate accommodation.


Mother's ruin

Image result for gin and tonic

I'm doing my bit, though it's mostly Larios rather than Gordon's.  The Guardian reports:
Astonishing statistic of the day: of the £500m increase in spending in supermarkets in the last 12 weeks against a year ago, some £38m-worth came from extra sales of gin, says retail research firm Kantar.
The gin boom shouldn’t still be happening, according to the big spirits producers, who take the long view that consumer tastes tend to move in cycles; by now, vodka or whisky should be back in fashion.
Not that the big brands mind, of course. Local distilleries producing “craft” gins take the credit for the change in the market, but the large firms are delighted that the artisan crew have endorsed the notion that a spirit previously regarded as cheap ’n’ cheerful can be a “premium” product, to be sold at premium prices. It makes their own marketing efforts much easier and the “craft” volumes, in an overall context, are still tiny.
Their one regret is not making a knock-out bid about four years ago for Fever-Tree, the tonic firm that is the biggest winner from the gin boom. After a share price rise from 170p at the end of 2014 to £34 today, Fever-Tree is now worth a remarkable £3.8bn.
 Cheers, hic!


26 June 2018

Quote of the day

Boris burns his boats.  The Times reports:
Kabul is an awfully long way to go for a sicknote. There was not even much on the agenda, to judge by the flimsiness of the folder that Boris Johnson was seen clutching as he arrived for a hastily arranged chinwag with the Afghan deputy foreign minister. A 9,000-mile round trip and he didn’t even get to see the top chap! As they might say at Boris’s alma mater, this really puts the rot into aegrotat.
One imagines that his briefing went something like this: 1) Ask how the Taliban situation is going. 2) Talk a bit about cricket. 3) Make a joke about coming to Kabul to escape the heatwave in London. 4) Explain joke. 5) Apologise for joke. 6) Ask the Afghans to sign a chitty explaining to the British press that this was a very important meeting that couldn’t be held over Skype or on another day and not a desperate attempt to get out of honouring a promise to his constituents.
 The man was always a laughing stock but it is becoming increasingly obvious ...


25 June 2018

Clear as mud

Should England try to win their group?  The Guardian explains:
The unpredictable nature of this World Cup means it may actually be better to finish second in Group G. As things stand, finishing second means avoiding Brazil or Germany in the quarter-finals. They sit first and second in their respective groups (E and F) and will meet in the last 16 should they remain in those places after the final round of group matches. If England win their group and then win their game in the last 16, they would then face the winner of that Brazil v Germany game. If England come second in their group and then win their last-16 game, they would then face the winner of the last-16 tie between the winner of Group F and runner-up in Group E, which, as things stand would be Mexico and Switzerland.
On the other hand:
For the sake of morale, momentum and fair play it would be better to win the group. Also, it’s still possible for Brazil and Germany to finish top of their respective groups and therefore avoid each other in the last 16, which in turn would ultimately make it worthwhile for England to finish top of their own group. It’s even also possible that Brazil could come second in their group and Germany top in theirs, which would line them up to face the runners-up in England’s group. England’s group, Group G, is the last to play its final games, so both England and Belgium will know the consequences of finishing first or second by the time they kick off. 
Got that?


None so deaf as those that will not hear

Image result for jeremy hunt

It is so so inconvenient for business to complain about Brexit.  The Guardian reports:
Jeremy Hunt has called warnings from Airbus about the UK’s Brexit strategy “completely inappropriate”, saying the government should ignore “siren voices”.
In the most bullish comments from a cabinet minister since the intervention by the aerospace company’s chief executive, Hunt said businesses sounding the alarm about job losses risked undermining the government at a key moment in the negotiations.
“It was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats, for one simple reason,” the health secretary told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “We are in a critical moment in the Brexit discussions. We need to get behind Theresa May to deliver the best possible Brexit, a clean Brexit.”
Mr Hunt would no doubt prefer it if the government were allowed to plunge the country off a cliff untroubled by complaints from the pasengers.

23 June 2018

What next?

What would Sir Alf Ramsay have thought?  The Times reports:
From Taribo West’s green strands and Romania’s bleached bonces to Neymar’s courgetti cut the World Cup has long hosted absurd hairstyles.
Mercifully, England’s class of 2018 will not be adding to the tally because they have invited their favourite barber to Russia and he has vowed to ensure that none of Gareth Southgate’s squad turn out with a look they will regret.
Peter Cranfield, founder of the Cutthroatpete barber shops, was asked to fly out to give squad members, among them John Stones, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier, a pre-match trim. “Millions of people will be watching,” he said. “These lads are walking out of the tunnel with my haircut so if they are asking for something that I think won’t work for them then I will tell them. I don’t want them to look daft.”
It would not go amiss if they spent more time thinking about how they play and less about how they look.


21 June 2018

Amendable or unamendable?

Does anyone really care about whether the Tory rebels or the government emerged the better from yesterday's arcane debate on "the ability of MPs to amend a government motion on the next steps to take in the event that Mrs May cannot strike a Brexit deal with Brussels"?

The Times gets to the empty heart of the outcome, probably:
The more fundamental question is whether any of this matters. As Mr Grieve himself said, the government failing to reach a deal would usher in one of the most chaotic political crises in modern British history. In that scenario, minor aspects of parliamentary procedure would not take centre stage.
Bald men fighting over a comb.  Meanwhile, the clock ticks on in terms of the government actually deciding what it wants from a settlement with the EU.



20 June 2018

Photo of the day

The Prince of Wales has a . . . modern nickname for his daughter-in-law Meghan

Do future kings still dress like this?

Apparently so ...


Quote of the day

From Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
I went to a pub theatre to watch a friend’s new play about politics and Westminster. I loved this line from An Honourable Man, by Michael McManus: “The British attitude to Europe reminds me of my parents’ cat. It scratches the door, desperate to get out, and when you open the door it just sits there licking its balls.” A better description of our current cabinet would be hard to find.


All very strange

And so, after the first round of matches in the World Cup, the favourites - Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain - fail to win their matches against allegedly inferior opposition.

Amazingly, England - usually so stodgy and predictable in World Cup finals - show a bit of panache and flair in winning their match against Tunisia, even if it took a last minute goal to secure the victory.

More upsets to come, I reckon.

19 June 2018

Best thing since ...

Image result for white sliced bread

Oh dear, they are messing about with my staple diet.  The Times reports:
Scientists are carrying out groundbreaking research to produce healthier white bread and personalised food for people with different nutritional needs.
A team at the Quadram Institute is looking at ways of modifying starch so that it is digested more slowly. The result could be nutritious white bread that is less likely to lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. The work could lead to “personalised food” in 20 years’ time.
Richard Mithen, lead scientist at the institute in Norwich, said that wheat, a major source of starch, provided a fifth of the calories consumed in the world.
Wheat starch in white bread and potatoes is rapidly digested, causing a large sugar spike that the body struggles to cope with. Rapid digestion can result in the starch failing to reach the lower intestine, where chemical signals are released telling the body it is full.
Will they make a sausage sandwich taste better?


Boldly going

Image result for trump star trek

President Trump has been watching too much Star Trek.  Politico reports:
President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the Pentagon to establish a stand-alone Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces.
"We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal," Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council at the White House.
"It is going to be something so important."
He also asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to carry out the process of standing up the new military service.
"Our destiny beyond the earth is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security, so important for our military and people don’t talk about it," Trump said. "When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space."
Ambitious stuff from a man who has spent two years trying, and failing, to get a beautiful wall built.


18 June 2018

Brazil 1970

Jairzinho, Tostao, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino, Gerson and the peerless Pele - now that was a football team!


What did he expect?

Christopher Chope

Are we supposed to feel sorry for the old fool?  The Guardian reports:
The Conservative MP Christopher Chope has said he was scapegoated for blocking a bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence, saying he supports the bill and only objected to it for procedural reasons.
Chope, who has regularly obstructed private members’ bills in the past, has faced vehement criticism, including from other Tory MPs, for delaying the voyeurism (offences) bill on upskirting – the surreptitious taking of sexually intrusive images.
In an interview with his local newspaper, the MP for Christchurch said he was “a bit sore about being scapegoated over this”.
He told the Bournemouth Echo: “The suggestion that I am some kind of pervert is a complete travesty of the truth. It’s defamatory of my character, and it’s very depressing some of my colleagues have been perpetuating that in the past 48 hours.”
Did he not realise that, whatever else happens, he would be forever notorious as the MP who blocked the Upskirting Bill?


Quotes of the day

More on the NHS from The Independent.

She can play Lady Bountiful and the Brexit Bonanza card as she pleases, and as I said it might even work. But this is an act of manipulative opportunism primarily designed to save not the NHS, but herself.
And here:
If you starve someone for five years and then pledge to give them bread and water every day for the following five you do not get the right to pose as the soul of generosity.


The magic money tree

The end of austerity?  More like bait-and-switch.  The BBC reports:
On Sunday Mrs May promised that, by 2023, an extra £20bn a year will be available for the health service in England on top of any rises to keep up with inflation.
This year's NHS budget is £114bn.
While the spending commitment has been widely welcomed by those within the health service, Mrs May has been asked to explain how the extra spending will be paid for.
Her answer that the increase will be partly paid for by a "Brexit dividend" has already been questioned, with Labour saying the government was relying on a "hypothetical" windfall.
There has been criticism from within her own party as well. The Conservative chair of the House of Commons' Health and Social Care Committee, Sarah Wollaston, said the idea of a Brexit dividend was "tosh".
And Paul Johnson, director of economic think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), said the only way the rise could be paid for was by an increase in taxes.
He said the financial settlement with the EU, plus the UK's commitments to replace EU funding, "already uses up all of our EU contributions" for the next few years.
If either Labour or the SNP had come up with a similarly unfunded commitment, the Tories would have criticised them as financially irresponsible.

16 June 2018

Unjustified slur?

The Times sticks it to the SNP:
... the SNP has a point about Scotland and Brexit being debated on Tuesday for just 15 minutes, and that was all taken up by a minister from the border county of Buckinghamshire. But getting ejected from PMQs the next day is just more evidence of them rapidly becoming the Tom Cruise party of Westminster: small, dedicated to a strange religion, and relying on increasingly outlandish stunts to get work in front of the cameras.
When the 56 SNP MPs arrived in 2015 they seemed like a force to be reckoned with: spookily disciplined and loyal, they won admirers for proving on social media that the only thing worth eating in parliament is the chips. Since losing a third of their number in last year’s general election, they have been reduced to a bunch of cunning stunts, trying to keep the show on the road. They are Take That, soldiering on without Robbie. Or Jason.

Delusions of grandeur

Now sit up straight when you read this.  The Independent reports:
US President Donald Trump has said that he would like US citizens to "sit up in attention" when he talks, in the same way North Korea's people do when their leader Kim Jong-un speaks.
The president was speaking about his relationship with the North Korean dictator, who has been accused of numerous human rights violations by the United Nations and watchdog groups. 
"He speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same," Mr Trump quipped of Mr Kim during an interview on Fox News' 'Fox & Friends' while standing on the lawn outside of the White House. Later in the morning, Mr Trump told other news outlets he was "kidding" about the comment. 
What next?  Perhaps he would like people to bow when he enters a room.  Better to go the whole hog and give him a throne and a crown ...

13 June 2018

Defeat postponed?

What must our European partners think?  As Paul Cezanne once said, we live in a rainbow of chaos:
As a metaphor for Brexit, the debate on the Lords amendments could hardly have been bettered. A speech cut off in mid-sentence due to an arbitrary time limit set by the government, and the chief whip darting around the chamber desperately pleading with Tory rebels not to defeat the government over a meaningful vote.
The solicitor general making up government policy on the hoof while making plea bargain concessions in public to Dominic Grieve. A government that can barely negotiate with itself, let alone the EU. Hundreds of MPs milling around, unsure of what had and hadn’t been agreed. The rebels reckoned they had a deal, while a government minister briefed that they had been stitched up. A shambles. 
The session ended in chaos. Anna Soubry appeared suspicious, but Grieve reassured her they were going to get what they wanted. Almost immediately, prominent Brexiters were claiming they wouldn’t. Not for the first time May appeared to have promised different things to both sides. Indecision and ambivalence are the only things at which she excels. But something has to give. And it’s going to get messy.
And how ...


"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

You think history doesn't matter?  These guys are obsessed by it:
The government of Macedonia has struck an agreement with Greece to change the country’s name, bringing an end to a long-running dispute between the two nations.
Greece has long objected to the use of the name Macedonia because it was shared by the ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander of Macedon, and is also used by an adjacent Greek region.
As a result of Greece’s objections Macedonia was only admitted to the UN under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after it gained its independence in 1991 from the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Under the deal the country’s name would be changed to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, to reflect the existence of the Greek region of Macedonia on the other side of the border and the cultural claim Greeks see over it. The name would be used both internally by the government and externally when conducting foreign affairs.
 I rather doubt if the question has been finally resolved.


12 June 2018

Much ado about not very much

The Guardian sums it up:
A useful way to test the deal Donald Trump has reached with Kim Jong-un is to imagine what Trump himself would have said had it been Barack Obama rather than him who shook hands with the North Korean dictator. Trump and his echo chamber on Fox News and elsewhere would have poured buckets of derision on Obama for the piece of paper he signed with Kim, for the fawning praise he lavished on a brutal tyrant, and for the paltry non-concessions he got in return. He would have branded the agreement a “horrible deal” and condemned Obama as a sucker for signing it.
Difficult to see what the US gets out of the deal: no timetable nor international supervision for de-nuclearisation (which seems little more than an aspiration).  So much for Trump as the Great Negotiator ...


11 June 2018

Fatcattery (2)

Dirty deeds in high places, allegedly.  The Guardian reports:
Sir Martin Sorrell has “strenuously” denied paying for a sex worker using funds from WPP, the company he founded and developed into the world’s largest advertising group.
Sorrell, who was the longest-serving FTSE 100 chief executive until his departure, was paid £13.9m in 2017£48.1m in 2016 and £70.4m in 2015. He is set to receive further payments related to 1.6m shares in a number of award plans that will vest over the next five years. The exact value depends on the company’s performance but at WPP’s current share price the awards are worth about £19m.
With that kind of money, you would have thought that he could afford to pay for his pleasures from his own pocket ...


09 June 2018

Music of the week


Shagging for Scotland?

The i-news takes a morally doubtful line:
An independent Scotland could grow its economy by persuading its citizens to have more children, a senior SNP MP has suggested.
Kirsty Blackman, the party’s economy spokeswoman at Westminster, said growing the country’s population should be a key priority in the wake of a future Yes vote. 
She said this would be most easily achieved by increasing levels of immigration, but also said Scotland could follow the example of other nations by encouraging more reproduction.
Aye well, the spirit is willing but, at my age, the flesh is not as dependable as it once was ...


08 June 2018

Quote of the day

From The Times' Red Box:
What a difference a year doesn't make. Theresa May clings on, obviously. So too Jeremy Corbyn. Brexit means Brexit, but nobody knows what that means. David Davis might resign. Boris Johnson has been caught saying something daft. 
Nothing has changed, nothing has changed.


President Trump thinks he can wing it.  Politico reports:
President Donald Trump on Thursday said he didn’t feel a need to prepare for his historic June 12 meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, arguing that the high-stakes nuclear talks would be based more on “attitude” than advance legwork.
“I think I’m very well prepared,” Trump said with Abe by his side. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done. So this isn’t a question of preparation, it’s a question of whether or not people want it to happen, and we’ll know that very quickly.”
Hubris is usually followed by nemesis ...

07 June 2018

Who won (and who "caved") on the backstop?

Robert Peston is not quite sure who caved but believes that everyone is damaged:

She caved. According to sources close to Davis, "the backstop paper has been amended and expresses, in much more detail, the time-limited nature of our proposal".
So to be clear, there is now a termination date in May's backstop proposal.
That almost certainly means she faces a double defeat - because the EU will reject any plan that includes an end-date.
Or to put it another way, for May there is no victory, at all, in this defeat.
She'll be glad to get out of here pronto, as she is set to do on Thursday afternoon, with her trip to the G7 in Canada.
PS actually let’s see whether the end date is characterised as having legal force, or is just a hope. If just an expectation it could well be a fig leaf - to spare both sides’ blushes.
PPS few of Davis’s friends think he will stay for the long term. They see the compromise with May as no more than a sticking plaster, and say he remains alienated from her Brexit approach.
PPPS The end date, of December 2021, IS just an expectation. Even Davis’s closest friends concede he blinked. “He caved, for now” said one. So both he and May are wounded by this row. And I am not sure which of them is more damaged - but probably him.
And if the EU accepts this compromise, we can be wholly confident it is MEANINGLESS.
Not really much further forward then ...



Prime Minister's Questions used to be considered the democratic highlight of the Mother of Parliaments.  No longer.  The Guardian reports:
Prime minister’s questions is turning into a breeze for Jeremy Corbyn. Where previously he used to overthink things – admittedly not hard in his case – and tie himself up in knots with his own logic, he now just stands up and says, “how’s it going?”
As even May is just about sentient enough to realise that “badly” won’t quite cut it, she has no answer. Because she genuinely doesn’t know. There is no area of government policy over which she has a firm grasp. Least of all Brexit.
The Labour leader bounced to his feet and demanded to know if the government was going to publish the long-delayed white paper on its negotiating position before the Commons voted on the Lords amendments to the Brexit withdrawal bill next Tuesday. As it might be quite handy. If not essential to anyone hoping to make an informed decision.
May’s eyes rotated in opposite directions and her mouth opened and shut as if gasping for breath while struggling for words. “I agree that we want to publish a white paper,” she croaked eventually. The snag was that no one in the cabinet could agree on what should go in it. Or when it should be published. The white paper remained defiantly white.

06 June 2018

Dancing on the head of a pin ...

... but these are no angels.  Labour moves an inch or two:
Labour is proposing an “internal market” that would deliver a new and close relationship with the European Union but falls short of membership of the single market while maintaining many of its advantages.
The proposal was heralded by some as the party’s most significant move so far towards a soft Brexit.
But the move stops just short of calling for the full single market membership sought by a vocal group of Labour MPs, after the Lords backed a Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said: “Labour will only accept a Brexit deal that delivers the benefits of the single market and protects jobs and living standards.”
The key point is that such a Labour proposition avoids the necessity for free movement of labour, an inherent part of the single market.  As such, it will be unacceptable to Brussels.

One of these days, British politicians will learn that you cannot be half in or half out of the single market.


05 June 2018

Quote of the day

The Times indulges in political Monopoly:
Politics is a bit like playing Monopoly. Leaders start the game with a pot of political capital that is gradually eroded by power. As they go around the board dealing with events, they spend more to build up a property empire of popular support. There must be an element of risk-taking and ruthlessness, as well as responsibility. Luck is required, but also the wisdom to know that you must create your own good fortune. The winner is the person with the most capital left when the country goes to the polls, even if everyone is almost bankrupt.
Theresa May is terrible at the game. Having gambled and lost on an election she didn’t need to call, she is now stuck in Brexit jail, too frightened even to roll the dice for fear she will land on a leadership crisis. When it comes to the public services, the prime minister fritters away her reputation on the political equivalent of Whitechapel and the Old Kent Road instead of building up a portfolio of valuable long-term reforms that will pay out more in the end.
If I were she, for the present at least, I would also look to avoid landing on the railway stations.


02 June 2018

Big Brother is watching you

Is your toothbrush telling tales?  Does your telly report your viewing habits?  The Guardian thinks so:
British homes are vulnerable to “a staggering level of corporate surveillance” through common internet-enabled devices, an investigation has found.
Researchers found that a range of connected appliances – increasingly popular features of the so-called smart home – send data to their manufacturers and third-party companies, in some cases failing to keep the information secure. One Samsung smart TV connected to more than 700 distinct internet addresses in 15 minutes.
The investigation, by Which? magazine, found televisions selling viewing data to advertisers, toothbrushes with access to smartphone microphones, and security cameras that could be hacked to let others watch and listen to people in their homes.
And who knows what your smartphone gets up to behind your back ...


01 June 2018

Quote of the day

Toujours la gloire.  The Guardian reports:
France is back: vigorous, lucid, ambitious. Hurray. But who else is there to help get Europe going again? Italy is having a nervous breakdown, Spain weighed down by trouble at home, Poland throwing a massive wobbly, Britain hovering near the exit, and Germany slumped on the sofa. Talk about a dysfunctional family.
Far from a convergence towards a new Franco-German consensus at the European summit at the end of June, new divergences between Paris and Berlin have emerged. While the French president wants to give a firm, united EU response to Trump’s protectionism, Berlin is looking for compromise, in what one Macron adviser described to me as a “mercantilist” attempt to protect its own national exports. While France supports the tough line being taken by the European commission against a shocking erosion of the rule of law in Poland, Germany is again looking for a compromise.
And so the supposed Franco-German motor sputters along; twas ever thus.


"Baby, it's cold outside"

As Mr Dylan said, there's a hard rain gonna fall:
The United States and its traditional allies are on the brink of a full-scale trade war after European and Canadian leaders reacted swiftly and angrily to Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium producers.
The president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, promised immediate retaliation after the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said EU companies would face a 25% duty on steel and a 10% duty on aluminium from midnight on Thursday.
Europe, along with Canada and Mexico, had been granted a temporary reprieve from the tariffs after they were unveiled by Donald Trump two months ago.
However, Ross sent shudders through global financial markets when he said insufficient progress had been made in talks with three of the US’s traditional allies to reduce America’s trade deficit and that the waiver was being lifted.
Call me timorous if you must but, in an economic world dominated by the trading blocs of the unholy trinity of the US, China and the EU, now would not appear to be the time for little UK to be setting off on its own on the threadbare ship of Brexit into the stormy sea of international trade.