Thursday 30 June 2011

Question Time - Strikes special edition.

David Dimbleby is joined in Birmingham by Philip Hammond MP, John Denham MP, Christine Blower, Sir Richard Lambert and Polly Toynbee.

Miss CD says -
1. Teacher's pensions
2. Public sector strikes, and Ed Miliband's refusal to join in.
3. Greek bailout and riots
4. Gaddafi and war crimes trial
Only four today. Will be very long winded on strikes/pensions.

Leaderboard Update

Measured - 22.5

Mark Wadsworth -19.5

Botogol -19.5
Dick the Prick -16.5

Appointmetotheboard - 16

Nick Drew -15.5

GSD - 15

Bill Quango MP -15

Miss S-J - 15

Malcolm Tucker -14.5
Hatfield Girl -13.5
Miss CD -12

Timbo614 - 12

City Unslicker -10.5

Philipa -9

Budgie -8

Andrew - 6.5

Hopper -2.5

Amy -2.5
Blue Eyes -2.5

Lilith - 2.5

Hovis -2

Busy at Work

No time to blog today, hard at it, the firm needs to get lots done and we are only at the end of the first quarter of our new financial year. The trains were busy and I didn't get a seat and could not get a taxi earlier either. Glad London is this busy when you see the likes of Greece and the endless strikes and trouble that lead to nowhere....

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Greece vote yes to can kicking!

On the one hand, that is great for the markets, which have been through a very rough patch and needed something to cling to. On the other hand Greece won't be able to make the tax rises and privatisations stick so is still going to end up in big trouble.

I bet they are drinking Champagne at the ECB tonight; they could easily end up insolvent as a result of this debacle.

So now we can start the guessing game all over again...when is Greece going to default...not 2011..2012 or 2013? In the long-term the short-term relief of getting past this issue may actually prolong the European debt crisis.

If Merkel and Sarkozy can force their banks to re-capitalise then it will be time well spent; if not.....

Germany 10 UK 1

Much was made of the David Cameron's signing of $1.6 billion worth of contracts with China during President Jiabao's visit this week. Only I wonder how many headlines will be written about his subsequent visit to Germany.

In Germany he has signed $15 billion worth of deals. Germany is of course China's largest partner - Germany supplies car and manufacturing components for which there is great demand.

The parallel is not lost though in terms of seeing why Germany is growing at 3% and the UK at 0% currently; the UK desperately needs to adapt its economy to serve the world markets. Our financial and professional expertise is not enough and with bust banks the growth in this area will be sluggish for years to come.

This does not mean we only need to improve manufacturing, but it may help. Yesterday's blog discussion was on the demise of our poorer retail performers and in some ways this could be a good catalyst. If we can move resources from selling poor goods to creating new goods and services the country will be improved - less consumption and greater export.

The lesson for today though is to see how far we are behind our main rivals and this is a gap that needs closing fast; a hard challenge as it has cultural, economic and political dimensions and no magic bullets to answer any of the challenges - but it does remind me of the ever hopeful Leonard Bernstein quote:

'To achieve great things, two things are needed, a plan and not quite enough time.'

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Retail updates

Lots of retailers in the news. None with good news.
The recent scale of administrations is similar to the worst levels of the 2008 recession.

Habitat, Focus DIY, Moben/Dolphin, Jane Norman, have all recently folded up. Comet's owners are rumoured to be looking for a buyer.Clinton card's are trying to delist to avoid the media glare as it tries to find a solution to its problems. Mothercare/Game/HMV are downsizing, or moving out of town. Waterstone's saved only by a generous oligarch...

This is the reality behind all 2009/10's hot air about a double-dip. A double-dip is only a measurement. The reality is many chains got through the recession but took a battering and growth has been poor. Those who just survived can only hang on with lower profits, smaller margins for so long. Rates and wages have increased since the recession and cost prices have risen dramatically. Vat pushed up prices, took another slice and further damages profits.

There are many, many more companies, teetering that need a result, and soon, or they will just eventually be unable to continue. Its not just loans that are due. Its the annual maintenance bill, vehicle replacement, packaging replacement costs and a hundred other things. If profits are razor thin, then no reserve can be built up. Eventually, the money just runs out.
The next round of minimum wage increases will push another few over. And minimum wage increases, though a pain, aren't normally too onerous on companies as the increases are inflation-ish amounts.

The climate is actually incredibly benign for a recession, which helps. Rents are falling. Interest rates are minimal. And these recent collapses have probably ensured that they will stay low, whatever inflation does.

Monday 27 June 2011

What is worse: Greek Default or EU management?

The markets are very jittery this week already. Notwithstanding China's support yesterday for the eurozone, all eyes are still on Greece.

The choice facing the Greeks is a default on its debts or the bitter medicine of accepting a European Bailout of e100 billion, with some horribly stringent requirements.

However, as bad as these are (massive sell off of virtually all state owned assets, tax rises and social benefits reduced), we should consider the default scenario.

Argentina is the best comparator, as it came of its dollar peg - but even Argentina did not have to print an emergency currency overnight as Greece would have to do. Nor did it in the end default on a large amount of its debt. Yet over the next 3 years the Argentinian peso lost 80% of its real value. That is quite a haircut - Greece, if falling our of the euro altogether, could do worse.

As bas the the Eu bailout is, those on the streets of Athens saying 'let's default' have perhaps not thought through its costs. Imagine the price of a computer going from £400 to £1600 in a short period - too much for many businesses to cope with.

Argentina had at least a decent export market of grains and soft commodities to help bring in foreign cash - Greece has some but nothing like so much.

Instead, my vision of a bankrupt Greece is that state assets get sold anyway, only now the wealthy shipping owners, money safely in dollars in London banks, come back to their home country as 'saviours'; picking it up for a few drachma along the way.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Enter The Dragon: The Chinese Right On Cue

"There will come a moment - who knows when, but China plays a long game - when some ghastly, Europe-threatening crisis arises (Iran? Turkey? or another financial meltdown?) and Europe is confronted squarely with its own flabby uselessness. Couldn't face down Libya unaided: & certainly can't face this putative future challenge, without contemplating some seriously bloody bayonet-work (and/or precipitous standard-of-living reduction). No stomach for that - and the US has decided it's had enough.

And then ... and then China or India has a quiet word in Brussels. Leave it to us, they say: and all we want in return is ..."

C@W, 12 June 2011

"The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, has thrown the eurozone a vital lifeline and pledged to buy billions of euros of European debt to keep the single currency project alive. The move, which will be a relief to struggling eurozone countries, was announced as Mr Wen continues his four-day trip to Europe ... He added: 'China is ready to work with Europe to share opportunities, cope with challenges and achieve common development and to make unremitting efforts for stable development of the world economy and an in-depth development of China-Europe ties.' "

Telegraph, 26 June 2011


Friday 24 June 2011

Energy Update: Pulling The Oily Levers

There is a lot happening in energy just now, not least in the UK where Ofgem is vainly lashing out in all directions: but the policy contradictions are beginning to become so evident that something will have to give.

And the sooner the better: the 'Big 6' suppliers who make such convenient punchbags for politicians are being squeezed from all directions and their patience is thinning by the month. There is no way they can be leaned on for £200 billion of capex for 'decarbonisation', and yet be beaten up on every occasion. As we've said many times before, the official way of squaring this circle - increase electricity prices so much that everyone can be bought off with subsidies - falls at the twin hurdles of (a) industrial companies packing up and emigrating, and (b) the general inflationary impact.

But today we must focus on the great opening of the oil floodgates announced by the IEA. What do we make of this ?

Well firstly, note that Brent is still in 3 figures: and if that's how OPEC likes it, believe me OPEC can keep it there. The Saudis may have been increasing production a little of late, but here we have a nation that is investing in solar and nuclear as fast as anyone will sell them the kit, which kinda tells us something ...

Secondly, it is not hard to detect the increasingly confident, if not competent Hand of Obama in this. Perhaps, as some have suggested, this is the opening salvo of QE3-in-disguise. Personally, I think the oil measure alone would not have the longer-term effect he's hoping for, but we shall see because it does at least remind us that the Big Boys have several Big Levers they can pull.

And pull them they will, because things are looking truly awful at the moment, are they not ?

Which brings me to an uncomfortable conclusion. Back here in Blighty, I look at Cameron and Osborne and I don't see men who know how to pull the levers. They don't seem to have the creativity for it, or the vision. I'm not even sure they know where the levers are. Mandelson, and even Balls - they know how these things are done. Cameron just stands blinking at the cameras, saying that the nice Mrs Merkel has promised him no-one will be asking us for any Greek bail-out money. (Does he have a piece of paper from her, I wonder ...) Pathetic.

When the incoming Conservative government took Sterling off the gold standard in 1931, a former Labour cabinet minister (history is divided as to which one) said: they never told us we could do that !

The hour needs to call forth the man. He seems to be hiding his light under a bushel just now.


Thursday 23 June 2011

Question Time

David Dimbleby is joined in Huddersfield by Norman Baker,{odd ball {even by Lib Dem standards} MP. FOI excessive. Writer of the book on Dr Kelly's suicide/murder, and , perhaps more relevant tonight, Minister for transport.} Rachel Reeves,QT don't put MP anymore do they?{ Labour business shadow. The new face of the newer face of old, new labour. Quite convincing and informed.}
John Redwood,{still called 'Spock'. Anti-EU old school Tory, with a very readable blog.}
Fern Britton {soufflé broadcaster and interviewer. A nation's favourite for reasons that I've never been able to fathom.} and
David Mitchell {comedian /actor. Despite his recent over exposure he is very funny. Peep Show, on about its 10th series now, is still good value.}

BQ thinks:
1. Troop withdrawls, Iraq, and the Libyan mission extension.
2. High speed rail link. What's the cost again? £32 billion.{couldn't we just give 1 million commuters commuters a car each?}
3. Greece and the Euro bailout part2 {of a five part series}
4. Bank shares for all.
5.Should be N. Ireland but QT are always very fussy about that. So will go with Pensions and summer of discontent.

But hang on...they need something for Fern to do.. Glastonbury mud and top tips for fashion wellies? Or smoking ban in all cars..? How many cats is too many?

Leaderboard Update

Measured - 20

Mark Wadsworth -15.5

Botogol -14.5
GSD - 14.5

Appointmetotheboard - 14.5

Dick the Prick -14.5

Bill Quango MP -13.5

Nick Drew -12.5

Miss S-J - 12.5
Malcolm Tucker -12.5
Hatfield Girl -12
Miss CD -9.5

Philipa -9

Timbo614 - 10.5

City Unslicker -8.5

Budgie -8

Andrew - 4

Amy -2.5
Blue Eyes -2.5

Lilith - 2.5

Hovis -2

RBS/Lloyds privatisation

Interesting for Nick Clegg to raise this idea again. Firstly, we have discussed before here, when this idea was first floated by Policy Exchange and the Limp Dims.

In need of an electoral boost they are no doubt pushing this. Interestingly George Osborne floated this idea a long time ago when in opposition too - so with the top three in the Government in favour this is likely now to get a good hearing.

However, having thought about this more since I last posted here are the pitfalls:

1. Who Qualifies - how about those who don;t pay any income tax, is this fair ( I guess they pay VAT etc?)
2. How to administer - 40 odd million people to be contacted, the 2011 UK census cost £500 million so that is a comparator to the kind of costs of contacting everyone and sending them something.
3. The Government needs to be paid off first,so only profits go to the proles - is this likely? This in itself adds another level of complexity
4. ISA really need to be set up for this to make it fair and kick start saving in the UK - but that will be too much to do at the same time no doubt?
5. The deficit is big enough and needs to come down, this is a tax cut...would it not be simpler to sell the banks to Sovereign Wealth funds, pocket the money and reduce taxes by the difference  - this would achieve much the same thing and be alot cheaper.

On the plus side, encouraging share ownership and an interest in companies I am all in favour of as a Capitalist - but the cost of doing this probably outweighs the benefits in this case.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

History Corner: Forced Political Union

At the start of the 18th Century, the Scots were in trouble. A run of bad harvests was bad enough, but it was perhaps the ill- fated Darien scheme that really brought Scotland face to face with its inability to hack it on the world stage. They'd tried to play with the big boys; convinced them- selves they were worthy of a place in the sun ... but it wasn't ever really on. The country was up a gumtree and, individually, the cream of Scottish society had lost huge amounts in the Darien venture.

The stage was set for a bail-out by England, which came at a price, of course. Large sums of cash were forthcoming from south of the border (some of which went straight into the pockets of Scottish negotiators), facilitating the Act of Union and, incidentally, binding Scotland into underwriting a chunk of England's national debt. The Scottish Pound was fixed in relation to the English currency (at the
demeaning rate of 1:20). A single monarchy capped the deal. Political and financial union was thereby completed in return for a short-term infusion of urgently needed £££. The Edinburgh mob rioted, but to no avail: and as Robbie Burns was later to bewail of his countrymen -

"we're bought and sold for English Gold - such a parcel of rogues in a Nation!"

Yes folks, this is how independence is bought and sold. Coming to a Mediterranean nation near you soon; and perhaps to all of us, if we don't tread carefully.

Still, some say the Act of Union was the making of Scotland ... eh, Alex ?


Contrarian Trading Signal

This article in the Financial Times really got me thinking today; markets wise I have been most depressed of late, my portfolio doing worse than 2008 and no light at the end of the tunnel.

Clearly, many people think the same. All the hedge fund managers in the article are blowing it too, some quite spectacularly. No one can see any good news, all the macro news looking forward is bad with poor US growth and Euro crisis (delayed a week by the positive Greek vote last night, hooray).

In fact, they say they are moving into cash, so much are the markets now linked by the algorithmic trading that everything is correlated and there is nowhere to go ( I wonder why they are not taking big short positions though?)

Often, though not always, articles like these can be a bottom of the market bear signal. Everyone thinks the future is doomed, there is no upside. Therefore any good news is not priced in - allowing markets to improve?

The very mention in the article of summer 2008 has a big flashing red signal to my mind - are we really due another financial storm already just 3 years later? It may of course turn out that way.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

A Greek Tradegy?


So the world awaits the decision of the Greek parliament today. I have no insight as to which way it is going to go as either way the Greeks are screwed so it must be pretty hard to make such a decision (a real do I lose a leg or an arm movement?)

Global markets are very nervous - But what is puzzling me is the attachment of so much to Greece. One remembers the battle of Thermopylae and its significance to the Persian Wars - but today really is not like that is it? yet today does feel like the day when the US Congress was discussing the TARP during in 2008. That in itself if bizarre, a wealthy private investor could probably bail Greece out on their own, it is simply not the scale of the US; which just goes to demonstrate how much markets are driven by psychology and not rationality

Monday 20 June 2011

No way to run a currency

After all weekend talks to try and resolve the Greek situation, the net result is nothing today. Instead we will have a week or two delay whilst he Greek Government tries to hold together and agree some sort of acceptable plan.

All this demonstrates the fundamental weakness of the Euro when in a crisis situation. Politics is now the driver and politics takes days and week; but markets are open daily.

A sub-plot being worked out here is that I perceive that the Western banks in the City and elsewhere are liquidating their PIGS and European assets as quickly as they can; they know the end game is a default and probably exit from the Euro for Greece. If I was being conspiratorial I would suggest that the European leaders have left this gap open just long enough for the banks to try and save themselves (not that convinced by that line though, it has been obvious this was going to happen for 18 months).

When there is a crisis you need strong leadership and decisive action; the Euro currency leaders provide the diametric opposite. Weak and confused leadership and a variety of not quite satisfactory solutions to any problem.

Indeed, it will be a wonder if the Euro survives the next few years of Sovereign insolvency crises.

Friday 17 June 2011

Friday Humour: Greek Crisis

"Apparently it is quiet on the streets of Athens this evening. The protesters are on strike. When the police went on strike last year, crime rates dropped!"

You gotta laugh when the Greek stock market looks like this:

Sadly I note the Greek stock market has a chart that looks identical to my own portfolio for the year!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Question Time

David Dimbleby is joined in Aberdeen by Alex Salmond, {First minister, super canny operator and Shrek double.}
Michael Moore{ Super-liberal film maker &..Oh no..its the other one. Long faced,lib Dem minister for Scotland.}
Diane Abbott { Hopeless Labour politician with a very limited grasp of anything. Strangely likeable though..}
Lord Forsyth{ Finally ennobled, venerable, BBC dancing show, entertainer &
oh no..its the other one. Tory Scots lord. Anti devolution man. Might be a clue.}
Sir Tom Hunter{ Scots businessman billionaire. Started selling from a market stall. That always makes me wonder. Did he really sell a billion shoes in Albert square whilst 'midin' the caff for a bit?'}

BQ guesses..
1. Should independence for scotland be resisted by the English..or similar
2. Aid for Africa. Was Cameron right to insist on giving foreign aid.
3. Public sector pensions. teacher's strike.
4. Red Ed's wobbly week. It was all over the Sunday's but the knifing Blair might get an outing.
5. Alex Salmond spat with the Scottish legal system.

{I don't fancy NHS reform this week. It's Scotland.}

Leaderboard Update

Measured - 16.5

Botogol -13
GSD - 12.5

Mark Wadsworth -12.5

Appointmetotheboard - 11.5

Dick the Prick -11

Bill Quango MP -10.5

Nick Drew -9.5

Miss S-J - 10
Malcolm Tucker -10
Hatfield Girl -9.5
Miss CD -9.5

Philipa -9

Timbo614 - 8.5

City Unslicker -6

Budgie -5

Amy -2.5
Blue Eyes -2.5

Lilith - 2.5

Hovis -2

Andrew - 2

Northern Rock loss exposure remains with Taxpayer

Back in 2008 we Capitalists were aghast at the idea of a bail out for Northern Wreck. The company had a poor business model and should have gone under. Instead, a reckless bail-out of a non-critical bank occurred. Guarantees of over £100 billion were made to support the bank by the UK Government.

Last night the Chancellor said that the auction for sale of the 'Good Bank' could now go ahead. Media reports suggest he hopes to raise £1 billion or so from this. Sadly, this part of the bank was re-capitalised last year for £1.4 billion - so taxpayers are looking at £400 million loss. Oh dear.

Worse though is the disguise of the bad bank. now know as NRAM to hide itself as much as possible from public glare and to try and save the Wreck brand. This entity owes the UK Government a cool £21.7 billion. However it paid back £1.1 billion of that last year and still made a small profit. However, as it runs down its 850,000 mortgage customers there are a lot of complexities to be overcome, repaying the securitsation bond holders of Granite, managing costs and the fact that the housing market is still falling on those 125% Loan to Value mortgages it has. At the rate it is going, it will be over a decade before the vehicle is run-off. It is very unlikely to ever make a profit and indeed, avoiding a huge taxpayer loss will be hard.

In 2008, we predicted that Northern Rock nationalisation would occur and that we would not get out money back, it was not a hard thing to do. This is still likely to be the case (interest on the loans of £21.7 billion over ten years is £7.5 billion (at 3.5% which is optimistic for Gilts alone - hopefully Wreck will be able to help with some of that at least!). In fact, it seems quite conservative.

Tell me again why we did this. Of course, worse is that we have Bradford and Bingley and Dumfernline in the same bucket too now. Bugger.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Tomorrow's question time today

David Dimbleby is joined in Aberdeen by Alex Salmond, Michael Moore., Diane Abbott, Lord Forsyth and Sir Tom Hunter.

Another regional one. Alex McLeish? Those dismal Scottish recruitment figures? {Harman's idiotic intervention on Part Time worker equality legislation coming home to roost.} That £1bn squid new rail line?
Or just support for mass strikes amongst the public sectors?

Separate note. GAME says not expecting growth after seeing next 6 months line up of new games, which are nothing special.
This technology led revival in consumer spending still seems a way off.

Osborne's Bank Farce

Well, at last tonight we are to hear what Osborne has been agitating for so long - a real change of terms for the UK clearing banks.

With a proposed split into subsidiarised retail and non-retail businesses. The devil is in the detail thougth and it will be interesting to see where SME loans etc get parked - at the moment it seems all Non-Retail business is fair game. This makes sense to barclays where for a while now barclays Capital has been absorbing the UK Corporate bank. After all, you may as well make all the non retail banking high risk if you have to split the company anyway.

There are three downsides to the proposed model:

1 - it is not an international agreement, and it needs to be. The UK is no doubt hoping others will follow in its footsteps, but maybe HSBC etc will tire of the Regulatory change and upsticks. Even trying for an international agreement was beyond the wit of our politicians
2 - By saying 'Casino or Non Casino' you push the banks into taking more risks on the Casino side to make up for lost profits on the retail side. Great, we have a higher risk system and likely it will be more leveraged to with the removal of customer deposits. Worse for some of the banks, the capital needed to be held will be so much higher that they will be forced to take high risk loans on to try and generate some returns.
3 - Retail banking was not that profitable anyway, so now these banks will have to do something to help offset the extra capital requirements and regulatory burdens - there is only one sucker who is going to pay for this.

Overall, we will have a safer banking sector, but it will come with both more (albeit non-systemic) risks and higher costs. As ever, a great example of Government in action.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Descent and Ascent

Tying to invest in shares can be a frustrating business.

Take the case of Ascent Resources, an AIM tiddler that has been promising good things out of Eastern Europe for a long time - long enough for everyone to get bored and give up hope of anything actually happening.

A number of exploration projects did not work out last year and the company's shareprice hit a low of 3p last summer. Then they raised some money via a placing later in the year and again this year to help with a new set of drilling in Petisovski, Slovenia. Hey presto, they seem to have finally found a large resource of onshore gas to exploit, as announced yesterday.

Now, no word yet on whether it is definitively commercial, but with a large amount of gas in place and the current wells being tested in several zones, some of which are producing gas already and others that will need fraccing, the company is in  much better place than it has been for years. The placing at 5p recently shows the faith (or gullibility) of institutional investors in the Company.

So this news of success, was met with a big jump in the share price yesterday - but being AIM in 2011 - a nice big fall today too. I guess the RNS on actual commercial rates is awaited and that may be another few weeks in coming.

The share price today sits at 3.4p and a market cap of about £30 million - given opportunities this seems a harsh reflection on the Company's prospects. I rarely average down (in here with an average of 5.5p), but this may become an exception. The shareprice is only just above it annual low at a time when there is considerable developments afoot and a much better prospect of success than in its recent past. The 20p price target some brokers have looks a way away from here, but 9p - the high for resistance historically, is potentially within reach this year if Petovski proves commercial

Monday 13 June 2011

Bank of England tracks Google - what will they find?

Loved this story in the FT today - apparently the Bank of England - known for their terrible modelling over the last 3 years where they have been wrong about inflation consistently, have upped their methodological game.

Interestingly, they have decided they need to use google and Internet search algorithms to try and understand more about the state of the UK economy. How sweet, it seems that it you type in 'Cityunslicker, Bank of England' you get plenty of information to work with, perhaps they can start here?

More importantly, they point being made by the Bank is that they are struggling to get accurate information on the UK economy which is up to date. This is what happens when you print a few hundred billion pounds and reduce interest rates to zero - having previously had to bail out your broken financial system. After all that, there now appear distortions that make predictions hard - how unpredictable!

Sunday 12 June 2011

NATO: This Is How The World Ends

The US defence secretary Robert Gates has delivered himself of a blistering and long overdue broadside against Germany and the other sleeping member of NATO. (It's mostly Germany since the UK, Canada, France and Italy are generally onside at the moment when it comes to actual fighting, if sometimes variously deficient in the contributions they make. But we all fall short in some way or other.)

In a blinding instant of shock-and-awe clarity we can see how the cosy western world comes to an end. There will come a moment - who knows when, but China plays a long game - when some ghastly, Europe-threatening crisis arises (Iran ? Turkey ? or another financial meltdown ?) and Europe is confronted squarely with its own flabby uselessness. Couldn't face down Libya unaided, as Gates has gently pointed out: & certainly can't face this putative future challenge, without contemplating some seriously bloody bayonet-work (and/or precipitous standard-of-living reduction). No stomach for that - and the US has decided it's had enough.

And then ... and then China or India has a quiet word in Brussels. Leave it to us, they say: and all we want in return is ... look, we've written it on a piece of paper for you. Territory. Technology. Resources. Disarmament.
Debt. 'Environmental' transfer payments. Work permits. Migration rights ...

You think not ? Consider how patiently the US pursued its anti British Empire strategy. But they saw us off in the end - and we were friends !

Germany's extra-EU foreign policy today consists in one simple imperative: keep Russia onside because that's where the gas comes from. In itself, that's not entirely wrong: but it is pathetically limited in its vision. For the rest, they are just looking to achieve some intra-EU deckchair re-arrangements.

Not good enough. Every one of Europe's Big 5 needs to step up to the plate. The world ain't getting any more tranquil or civilisation-friendly that I can see.


More New Labour Revelations

The Stab Four.

The Depleates were the most popular and influential political party of the 20th century. They reached fabulous highs, and deep, deep lows. In this series of BEHIND THE RHETORIC we investigate. The New Labour years.

{early photo at the Milbank Club. Original drummer Pete Blunkett before his sacking.}

“The Depleatles”

The Depleatles: Tony, John, Alistair & Gordon

Formed in a Glasgow basement in early 1994 the band achieved almost instant fame doing hand outs in working class areas. The early line up was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on lead and rhythm guitars and vox pops. Alistair Campbell dictating the newsbeat from the drums and there were two Johns.

Prescott on thumping bass and Smith, originally the lead singer.. The boys travelled to Europe where their fresh fusion of statist-autocracy & unfunded private partnership provision found a willing audience amongst the EU youth. Original member John Smith died of a brain haemorrhage on an integration tour in Germany. Or possibly he was pushed down a stairwell by Gordon. Nothing was ever proved.

It was on return to the UK that the writing partnership of Blair&Brown really began to bear fruit.

"They was sensational," said Alice Chumbley, a checkout clerk in Liverpool in 1995. " Coz, like before, there was only just grey politicians, like Thatcher and Major and that ginger git one. But now, like, they wuz all sharp suits and carefully combed huur. And Tony had these incredibly tight, tight denim jeans. It looks funny now, but at the time it was gear."

The boys caused a storm amongst easily impressed students and people sick of Tories.

"We wuz all sick of sleezbag shaggin' Tories. Of course back then we didn't know about peerages and Prezza banging his tarty secretary an' that. At the time it was like a breath of fresh gum."

The influential BBC invited the band onto its prime time Newsnight show where their easy charm and Alistair, Tony and Peter's maverick humour {not so much Gordon} won over many worried parents.

Barry Bowden was a builder in 1997

"When me kids first started talking about them an' playin' their speeches I taught it was just another load of long haired loony lefties, youknow. I taught they were all about shaking money at scroungers and puttin' up taxes. But once I'd heard Tony on the Today program, and his awfully posh voice, I felt they were a sort of more acceptable face of left wing pop politics... I mean previously the left had gone in for very folk type bands with crazy lyrics about trees and CND an’ that. But these guys were talkin’ about modernising the state and a minimum wage. It was all very exciting.”

Manager Peter Mandlestein crafted a look for the band that became their early trademark.

The four were quickly characterised as

Tony – The Cool one

Gordon – The Moody one

Alistair – The Manic one

John – The Stupid one

In an interview with Rolling Stone’s Nick Robinson in 2001 he said,

“Well..actually...I just told them to take their ties off. It was pretty simple really. Wear casual shoes. Roll your sleeves up. Put your hands in your pockets. Lean on a desk instead of sitting behind it. And of course never, ever, actually say anything about politics or policies at all. It worked remarkably well. The Guardian lapped it up! And the Murdoch press. Gordon was a problem. Insisted on wearing black wingtips with shorts. And he rolled the sleeves of his dinner jacket up at formal receptions. But I used to put him at the back of all the photo-ops. Until about 2004 no-one really even noticed he was in the band.”

And the famous half shadow Red Rose on the cover of ‘A Hard First Term's Restraint?’ That was you?”

“Hmm..yes..pretty much. Cherie took the actual photos with a Kodak snappy-snap she found in her handbag. We shot it in my bedroom on the window sill.

Alistair wanted some sort of unicorn design instead, I think. Tony didn’t much care. John & Gordon teamed up on me there. They were adamant that a steel fist punching a home-owner against a hammer and sickle would be more appropriate. It was an early sign of some of the band’s artistic differences. I won them round in the end. Gave them the old charm..”

“Did the band often split on those lines? Tony & Alistair – Gordon & John?”

“Hmm..well..Not always. I mean it was always Tony vs Gordon. Always that...Alistair tried to do what he thought was best for the band. John was just a bit thick and enjoyed a fight, so he egged Gordon on sometimes. You know, to relieve the monotony. It’s very boring being on tour for ten years. And unlike the others John didn't have anything to actually do.. People do odd things don't they? I mean ..Just look at Tessa Jowell?

On next weeks BEYOND THE RHETORIC we look beyond the early success to the bands involvement with drugs {MMR} the new 'Peace' movement that so influenced Tony. Against it.

And amidst the backdrop of war and experimental taxation some of the most creative accounting to appear from the New labour years.

"I mean..we know..had our...our...our...differences know..on the Sgt Leper's album, Gordon's 'Fixing a black hole' and "Loosening the PFI with Bob Diamond" are still considered world class tricks." T.Blair -2009 Heat Magazine


Please Vote for Me {1997}

With the Depleatles {1998}

A Hard First Term's Restraint {2000}

Peerages For Sale {2001 & re-released 2005 /7}

Help ! {Gordon’s trying to kill me!} {2002}

Rubber Cheque {2004}

Devolver {1999}

Tragical Military War {2003}

Sgt. Leper's Volvo Car Club Brand {2005}

The Depleatles (a.k.a. The Shite Album) {2006}

Yellow Benzinine {2007}

Stabbey Road {2008}

Let him Go {2010}

Friday 10 June 2011

Friday Fun

The time of year for 'what do we do in the summer?' approaches the City. As ever, budgets get reviewed, strategy gets decided and some places do appraisals too - anything to while away the hours until September.

'360' appraisals are now in vogue as they waste even more peoples' time and can provide excuses to sack managers who are normally hard and expensive to get rid of. I wonder if Gordon Brown ever had 360 appraisals when he was Prime Minister from the No 10 staff?

So to kick off - some classic appraisal feedback below, ever had any of it?

"Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom and has started to dig."

"His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity."

"I would not allow this employee to breed."

"This associate is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definitely won't be."

"Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap."

"When she opens her mouth, it seems that this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there."

"He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle."

"This young lady has delusions of adequacy."

"He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them."

"This employee should go far - and the sooner he starts, the better."

"This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot."

Thursday 9 June 2011

Question Time

BQ goes with Bearded cleric denounces elections as undemocratic Apache gunships; mission creep or just an idea to scare the pants of Mummar IMF says yes to plan A. Should there be a plan B anyway? U-turn of the week...This week it's the turn of the justice bill and the rape alarm Ken caused. Islamic extremism. Is it as bad as all that?

Leaderboard Update

Measured - 14.5
GSD - 11.5

Mark Wadsworth -10.5

Appointmetotheboard - 10
Botogol -9.5
Bill Quango MP -9.5

Dick the Prick -9

Nick Drew -8.5

Miss S-J - 8
Malcolm Tucker -8
Hatfield Girl -7.5
Timbo614 - 7

Miss CD -6.5
Philipa -6

Budgie -5

City Unslicker -4.5

Amy -2.5
Blue Eyes -2.5

Lilith - 2.5

Hovis -2

Andrew - 2

Bank of England do nothing on UK interest rates

That time of month again, the time they gather at Threadneedle Street to drink tea and do nothing. Transfixed in the headlights they are too mesmerised by the oncoming lights:

- The light of the end of US QE which will knock US inidices by at least 10%.
- The light of UK recovery number suggesting the 'recovery' has subsided.
- The light of the Euro debt crisis from which we are just a smidgen away from being embroiled in.
- The light of the boss of State owned Lloyds noting that his bank is still borked and needs continued life support.

There are no easy answers to any of this, but current policy of doing nothing has seen a retrenchment in UK prospects in 2011 - raising rates or more QE maybe the answer - doing nothing is fiddling whilst Rome burns.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

For those who want to guess the Question Time Game early.

Another NHS cuts special? hope not.

David Dimbleby is joined in Norwich by Andrew Mitchell, Charles Clarke, Jo Swinson, Germaine Greer and Peter Hitchens.

* yes, you can change your choices if you like.

What's your excuse?

Half of UK employers reported that they check up on employees who call in sick according to a survey from Nearly 10% of respondents claimed to have gone as far as to drive by their employees’ home to check if they are faking sickness.

That's nothing! Lightweights!
In a firm I worked for I followed up on people claiming

1. Testicular cancer treatment
2. Territorial army call up
3. Broken ankle
4. Flights back from holiday cancelled and unable to return to work
5. Damaged spine which prevented person from flying back to UK. With supporting medical documents
6. Drug overdose; spiked drink in a nightclub.
7. Court appearance
8. Held up in police checkpoint and arrested when the mini cab driver turned out to have a gun.
9. Hypnotised and forgot where they worked.
10. Waiting in for a coffin delivery.

All of the above were proved to be false.

And BQ was no where near obtaining the hunting down of idiots record. A colleague was informed of a worker's, grannie's death. The suspicious manager was furnished with details of times/dates, church, names, cemetery, service etc. But he was sure this was the third dead gran and even though the details checked out by telephone he drove, in his best mourning black, 250miles to the funeral where he discovered there was indeed a service taking place but no sign of the absentee. He went round to that worker's house and found him sitting in his jog pants, eating muesli and watching TV. He took a photo through the window and another of the surprised man's face as he opened the door

Hint* If you phone up with 'flu' you'll mostly be left alone.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Barclays Protium: Banksters@Work

The Barclays Protium story is utterly reprehensible: a major financial institution held to ransom by a handful of employees threatening to bugger off with the keys to the toxic waste cupboard unless paid an outrageous sum. "All that's wrong in the City", indeed.

One might say that such things happen on a smaller scale quite often, in many walks of life: but being merely egregious by its scale doesn't make it any the less shocking: a dramatic proof that people - be they bankers, trade unions or parliamentarians - will behave atrociously if not regulated properly.

But now a thing of the past ? No, rather a microcosm of how banks are playing their political and regulatory masters as a whole - see this story on their attempts to thwart Basel III.

This isn't really news, of course. But it's worth thinking through how one would conduct affairs at the corporate level to prevent a re-run of Protium - and then thinking how the same principles might be brought to bear at the macro level. We know about too big to fail. Are we to accept too big to be regulated ? Because if we are, let's not imagine this weakness will not be exploited ruthlessly.

A capitalist writes ... no rules, no game. And it's a good game - worth enforcing the rules for.