Friday 30 May 2014

Time to put a pillow over the Lib Dem voice

Nick Clegg is always saying he wants to get the Liberal voice heard.

It doesn't change anything. In fact, if the liberal voices have achieved anything at all in 30 years it is keeping the parties they dislike in power. The Liberals, since the sensible section of the socialists split from Militant Labour have been giving their enemies an easy ride.

In 1983, the high water mark of the SDP they polled almost as many votes as Labour. 25% -28%. But splitting the left wing vote gave the Conservative government a 144 majority and ushered in full blown Thatcherism. Privatisation, tax cuts, EU resistance and council house sales.
Not something that the Liberal voice ad been yelling for.

Then they did it again in 1987 getting 23% and bugger all seats ensuring that the Tories still had a 100+ majority, even after 8 years in power and record unemployment and strike days.

The SDP decidedt they had become too right wing under David Owen, so {after two years of dithering , numerous debates and conference motions over what to call themselves} they became Liberal Democrats.
 And there they allowed in the Major government and continued the Conservatives second decade in power. By the time their big break came in 1997, hoping to coalition with Blair, the public were so sick of the tired  Tories, that they voted in Labour in such numbers that the Liberals were not required.

Their next big chance was the Iraq war. Defections cost Labour votes, but by not adding to the Tories, they allowed the 45 minutes to invasion party to carry on as if nothing had happened. And this continued on until the last election where the Liberals were finally needed to form a coalition. - But a coalition with their ideological opposites.

What use is this Liberal voice? It keeps in power those Liberals want out by offering a false alternative. 
Liberals know they can't form a government. Not ever. They prevented Labour gaining hardly any ground in the south east or especially the south west where they should have much more representation.
They prevented the conservatives gaining real ground in the mid '00's and kept the war party in government.

If there were no 'protest' party then people would have had to make a real choice from what was actually on offer and not a false choice of some conscience cleansing, to-good-to-be-true, fantasy party.

The real achievement of the Liberal Democrats has been in keeping in being the Liberal Democrats.
They lost AV and so lost the chance for permanent seats in government. Fluffed the Lords reforms too. 

And now they've even lost the ability to be just the pointless party of protest.

Time to put a sock in the Lib Dem voice.

Thursday 29 May 2014

BBC: Question Time Predictions - Liberal meltdown edition

David Dimbleby presents topical debate from the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport. On the panel are Conservative universities and science minister David Willetts MP, Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran MP, newly elected Ukip MEP Louise Bours, journalist and television presenter Piers Morgan and footballer Joey Barton

Its not another C@W parody.
BBC QT really is coming from an airport with  Piers Morgan and Joey Barton on the panel. What are they on?

Usual rules - guess the questions - win big prizes.. or possibly not.

BQ predicts -
Yellow and green dimbletie

1. In light of his most recent disloyalty should 'i've never heard of lord Oakshott' Cable be sacked?
Bumbles into a question on Clegg being removed.
2. UKIP victory. Why do so many people associate freely with bigots, fruitcakes and loons?
3. We are all racists. Or at least we are all as racist as we have ever been. Waaassccciiisttt!
4. Has to be a runway question - otherwise why are they here? Third runway protests
5. Hmm - World cup I suppose. Will England get out of the group?

Winners of 2014

Hopper -2

Measured - 1
Malcolm Tucker - 2

charity shield winner - DJK 

Unlucky Hannam picked as scapegoat

Insider trading in the City has long been a dark force. A few years ago the then FSA was boasting that it had managed to reduce 'suspicious' trades pre M&A announcements from 33% of all trades down to 25%.

It is an achievement, but from a pretty low base. Clearly, people in the know in the City were doing well.

Then since have some a raft of cases for insider trading. Often against relatively minor people and also for people making a few tens of thousands or maybe a £100k. That sounds like a lot of money but as we know, bankers are not motivated to ruin careers for money that would not cover one years bonus.

Today though the court has upheld a charge against Ian Hannam, a very well known and respected banker. For in 2008 he emailed discussions to a Kurdistani politician about a potential merger between Genel and Heritage Oil. Hannam maintains, that as a regulator and politician, he would have known this was sensitive information.

The judgement of the Court suggests that Hannam had not followed the law and informed the recipient that this was sensitive information. I have to wonder, having a little knowledge of how corrupt Kurdistan is, whether this would really make much difference. Reading between the lines' this is clearly Hannam's view.

But still, an example has been made of a senior Banker. In the US there have been three large cases of late of a more clear cut nature - Steve Cohen's SAC has not recovered from the scandal of its behaviour which has exposed a more egregious nature than Hannam's - far more pervasive.

Overall, I am glad the FCA continues to push the insider trading cases forward. Fairer markets are a must, especially as High Frequency trading further erodes the chances of retail investors getting any returns. Hannam is still a scapegoat example though, not that it seems to have damaged his business as Strand Partners is a success.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

SNP trash the Treasury

It's come to a pretty pass when the Treasury is releasing statistics to assist the referendum debate and they are trashed by their own author within a few minutes.

But it did happen today, and I feel conspiracy at work here. At last the Government is coming to terms with the Yes vote improving and deciding that it likes what it sees - which would be the end of Labour as a Government in England, especially with a surging UKIP to challenge them.

With this in mind, the effort to persuade Scottish voters to stay in the Union is half-hearted. I would rather hope this was the case in any event, rather than believe the Treasury is utterly incompetent.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Even Blair helps Farage, the lucky general

Tony Blair meets last week with the committed democrats and
socialist comrades of the House of Saud
There are few people less popular in the UK than the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is to my own recollection the only person I refused to go to a meeting with a couple of years ago, as I could not trust myself to lose it with the man who so betrayed and ruined our Country during his ten years as Prime Minister.

His post-premiership period has been a sordid money grab from the rich and powerful and his esteem is highest these days with those whose love of democracy and markets is lowest. For someone who governed in name of Keir Hardie and Eric Barnes, its hypocrisy of the first order.

Luckily, the UK populace is not as stupid and venal as he has proved to be and Blair is universally disliked both on the left and right.

So when he steps into make a comment on UKIP success in the recent elections and hangs his arguments on the same tired lines of them be 'nasty and unpleasant' and 'wanting the world to stop and let me get off' then he can only be bolstering their support.

Nigel Farage, he really is a lucky politician. I note too in life the success of lucky people - as Napoleon said "I want lucky generals, not good ones." it is a good sign for UKIP that the establishment politicians still are fighting the wrong war against him, luck is needed for UKIP to progress further a party.

Monday 26 May 2014

EU elections - UK results

Final voting shares for the UK -Euro area elections

UKIP -  27.5%
Labour - 25.4%
Conservatives - 23.9%
Green 7.8%
Liberal democrat - 6.8%

What can we say?

The fascist party of fruit-cakes and loons turns out to just represent the views of the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom with regard to Europe. The newspapers calling it an earthquake may be being  rather hypocritical, but they are correct. It is an earthquake.

Labour did pretty poorly for a party that needs to be bounding ahead if it wants to be in power next year. If London is removed from the results then Labour did very badly.

Tories. Better than expected. Kept some seats that they might have lost. If their actual polling in UK elections had been better then they might even have been feeling optimistic.

Greens - The new protest party for people who really have no idea about politics but just like trees.
7.8% sounds quite good. But in the 1970s the National Front, an openly racist and violent party, used to manage 10%

Which really does put the Liberal Democrats 6.8% to shame. The party of in, is out.

The real messages of the night.
 - UK wants a referendum on membership of the EU
- UK does not want to continue on exactly as we are, with no changes, to our membership of the EU.

Couldn't be clearer.

Malcolm Tucker was closeest and so winds a point for the QT leaderboard.
UKIP - 28%
Labour - 26%
Conservatives - 24%
Libs - 6%
Greenies - 5%

BQ was way off - having labour 1st and UKIP on 25%

Saturday 24 May 2014

The State of British Industry: Weekend Wail

I am a non-exec at a small software co which licences specialist apps (as we must now call them - it used to be 'solutions'), almost exclusively to large UK industrials.  The stories the sales people bring back from the front-line are generally of the "you can't believe how disorganised they are" type, but regrettably I can, having seen the inside of many a massive software installation cock-up.  (Anyone who imagines these are the preserve of government departments is quite wrong, as we've discussed before.)

Anyhow, this week I learned of one that really adds to my general gloom on this wet holday weekend.

Company (household name firm, identities concealed to protect the *ahem* innocent) approaches us 4 months ago: "we are operating very inefficiently in one of our biggest cost centres & are worked off our feet using utterly hopeless old spreadsheets that no-one really knows how to maintain.  We think your app could save us a lot of time and errors".  "Correct.  And our app will work on all your existing PCs and most smart-phones; it will replace your grotesque, clunking spreadsheets with something you can audit; we will set you up in half a day; no systems integrators are required; the training is 2 hours for a basic user, one day for in-depth knowledge for sysad; we maintain it remotely." (it is SaaS)   "Great: can we buy a 3-month full trial licence?"

Last week, two months in, we call to find out how they are getting on & invite them to roll over into a permanent licence.  "Oh, we've been too busy to use it.  We haven't really looked at it since your guys left our office.  Can we just pay for the final month and uninstall, please?"

What's the betting they have however mysteriously found time in that period for at least one departmental away-day in a nice hotel somewhere?  If they get wiped out by some far-eastern competitor that actually knows what it is doing, I shan't be remotely surprised.  Tough shit guys, but you have it coming.


Friday 23 May 2014

Now is the time to change the Westminster voting system

Interesting night in the biggest elections in the UK this year. Until the Euro result on Sunday it will be hard to say what the real facts are, but one thing that is already clear is that the results are very mixed.

Labour winning in Hammersmith, but losing in Thurrock. The Lib Dems being hammered, but holding onto councils where they have MP's. UKIP broadly successful but not doing well in Eastleigh, one of their top target seats. The Tories too, losing overall in some funny places but gaining in Wigan.

All of this is explained by the First-Past-the-Post voting system. it is a great system for a 2 party election as it ensures solid government, even without majority voting from the people. However, now that UKIP are establishing themselves alongside the Lib Dems as the protest vote party, it causes some very odd results.

After all in 4 way split FPTP votes you can be elected with 26% of the vote - no doubt this is actually happening somewhere in the Country. UKIP, for whom I voted, are really splitting the opposition votes and picking up votes from all the other parties. Overall this is a good thing, as the Great Recession showed us that the two main parties have broadly the same policies which can lead us to disaster. Greater choice should be a good thing.

However, the voting system of FPTP falls apart. Next year we could see Ed Milliband and Labour elected with a majority government with about 34% of the vote, if UKIP performs strongly, maybe even 33%. Given turnout will be around 60% that could mean a Labour Government for whom just 1-in-5 voted for. With that level of democratic deficit, the Government could claim little real mandate to rule and govern.

In 2011 I was against the AV referendum, on the basis we had more important worries then, in 2014, the situation has changed as many of these have been finally addressed. the UK is already facing radical change with the Scottish referendum vote - the next few years it seems will be all about the politics of governance.

Thursday 22 May 2014

BBC Question Time: Awful 'N' Word edition: Nigel

 View image on Twitter

No QT quiz tonight.
 It is the election special which only gives us the politicians claiming either a real, a moral or an imaginary victory...followed by a quick Lee Rigby question.

So instead..
What do you think the 1st, 2nd, 3rd places will be for the Euro elections. And the vote share percentage.

Current polling has UKIP or Labour as the leader, on around 26-27%, with Tories third on 22-23% and Liberals/Greens nowhere of note.

So your guesses into the comments plus, optional, how did you vote ?

BQ  has 

LABOUR - 28%
UKIP - 25%

And of course I voted loyally with the party.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

30% discount? The Russia/China gas deal

I have it on good authority that when President Putin first approached China in March the Chinese were quite cool on the idea of a huge deal with Gazprom. They did though agree to a timetable to negotiate and set May as a timet o meet to sign a deal

After all, the Ukraine from whence problems came, is a big customer of Gazprom so the fact that Russia is so willing to use it as a tool of state power when it needs to is not lost on the Chinese.

Russia is only in China because it is so dependent on Germany and the West as customers which is now at odds with Putin's foreign policy.

So, the Chinese, being ever keen on a negotiation suggested that a long-term discount of half of the market price should be in order.

Moscow was shocked, I note, has not yet invaded Ukraine despite all the activity that would suggest it was strongly considered - or still maybe.

Then yesterday Putin was finally in China to conclude the deal. A mega deal it is too However, it was signed quite quickly which suggests to me the Chinese were able to get the deal they were looking for. My guesstimate is that the price to benchmarks will be around the 30% mark. It will be hard to ever know as Chian will make up front payments using its huge cash reserves, which clearly has a big impact on the overall long-term real price calculation.

This is much worse than Russia could do in Western Europe, even if the deal is better, Russian gas is sold for not too far off market price in Europe ( ND, can you enlighten further here in the comments?).

So politics has triumphed over business for Putin, a rare occurrence indeed. This deal won't do too much for Russia's long-term budget that currently needs hydrocarbons at above world prices to balance.

Prince Charles Knows His History, But ...

He may have poor control of his tongue and a shaky grasp of his constitutional position: but the heir to the throne certainly knows what he's talking about when comparing Russian actions in Ukraine with the pre-war behaviour of Germany.  In his many cross-border adventures, Adolph always liked to make sure there was a pretext - ideally a staged "border incident" of some kind - which would justify steaming in after a bit of Lebensraum.

But ...

... in letting fly with his A-level history to complete strangers, Price Charles is so far out of line it's not even worth asking the US Coastguard to find him.  If anything will see off the British Monarchy it's not Salmond or some Ozzie republican, it's the next monarch himself.  What does it take to shut him up ?

Our constitution is a grand, quirky thing.  Read this depressing essay to remind yourself what you get with a strutting politician as head of state.  But everyone needs to stick to the rules !


Tuesday 20 May 2014

New NHS Shock: Man Waits 5,000 Years For Scan

A man finally recieved a CT scan today after waiting in bandages for 5,000 years.  A member of his family complained:  "they said we were going to be treated like royalty - but we are the ones that have been doing the waiting.  The same thing happened to my Mummy".

In Denial

Responding, a spokesman for the Luxor NHS Trust said: "the fact that we are funded by one of Gordon Brown's complicated PFI arrangements has nothing to do with this regrettable delay.  It's not a pyramid scheme, you know."

Dodgy Giza

He went on: "the family claim he caught MRSA, but we say it was his lifestyle that did for him.  He was on 40 Camels a day."

US uses muscle to shakedown the world

The US has fined Credit Suisse for helping clients to avoid US taxes. I find the US approach to tax raising very scary and I am very glad I am not a US citizen.

The new(ish) FATCA regulations make all US citizens pay US taxes anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not money is earned in the US. As a result, thousands of US citizens are giving up their citizenship per year, as compared to a trickle of a few just before the new rules came out.

What is bad is where the US go, others will follow with extra-territoriality rules - chasing you wherever you go. Sadly, a downside to the rise of technology is the increasing capability of Governments to monitor every move of its populace.

The US Government under Obama has gone to a whole new level though, Credit Suisse is not the first bank to be shaken down, HSBC and JP Morgan have been here before as have many others. There was no legal backing for the demands of $20 billion from BP - except threats of losing all US licences to operate. The same threat made to Credit Suisse (which we should not forget, is really 50% a US bank, First Boston). BNP Pariabs is under threat for breaking sanctions by lending to Iran even though there are no France/Iran financial sanctions in place.

Basically, the US Government feels able to threaten any MNC it likes with threats of closing the US market and increasingly is targeting its own citizens via this route and its own empowered IRS.

It is a sad state of affairs that the Country has fallen into, reduced to bullying and stick-up's to find money for the Government.

Don't forget, this is the real story behind Pfizer and others looking to leave US domicile when they can - the laws of America mean little to its President or Executive.

Monday 19 May 2014

AstraZeneca bid knocked back

One of the worst things about being a politician is that people vote for you to be in control,  but as with life as a whole, your not.

Much hot air has been expended, mainly by Labour politicians, on the pure evil that is Pfizer and American business and how the whole thing is a tax dodge etc. Little such attention is paid to Glaxo, another large UK company, being accused of massive corruption in China. How one-eyed politicians are.

Yet with one swift missive it can all be over. Pfizer have said, after coming back with an offer at $55 a share overnight, that this is a final bid. The Board of Astrazeneca have rejected this so, to all intents and purposes that it likely to be that.

Capitalism, eh? More efficient than politics everytime.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Busking It

If we liked the unusual playing styles of the four musical German ladies, how about this Australian chap?  He busks in Leicester Square, and also on the rather more C21st youtube thing.

Can't quite decide whether this is really good or just a bit unusual.  Perhaps our guitar correspondent Kev will tell us.


Saturday 17 May 2014

Great British Films - and one not so great.

Royal Mail released a set of stamps celebrating Great British Films.
Go Britain! Our record is somewhat patchy on films. The golden age was a long time ago. More recently we do the technical design, special effects and sound for movies. But we do still make a fair number of films.
However let's see what RM chose from the last 70 years of British Cinema to make the top 6.

1. A Matter of Life and Death - 1946. David Niven is superb in this wartime/US-UK relationship-love death and the afterlife film. It still regulary features on Film 4 so you can catch it on freeview. It holds up very very well for its age and is a film critics fav as well as being a good entertaining film. Spooky music too. 8.1* rating on Imdb.

2.Lawrence of Arabia -1962.  Brilliant- epic- powerful and ..erm..long. Still a masterpiece. Great acting and great panoramas. Can make a case for a top 6 place. Masterful desert sound track. 8.4* rating

3. 2001-A Space Odyssey. - 1968. Not a favourite of mine. Except for the ape start. But it is a compelling and innovative movie- Iconic. Deserves its place in the top 6. And the music? Brilliant. 8.3* rating

4. Chariots of Fire - 1981; pretty much the film that revived the British Film Industry from the 'Confessions of a ' and 'Carry on' era. I like the start with Gielgud. A film about Edwardian's running. still a great movie and fantastic soundtrack. 7.3*

5. Secrets and Lies.- 1996 Not really my cup of tea. But the quality of the acting and direction is evident. And a very British style, Mike Leigh, production. 8* rating.

6  And .. Bend it like Beckham 2002...Bend it like Beckham ? You What! A feel good sportsromcom ? This isn't in the same league as the other movies. Its just a .. very ordinary film. Not classic at all. Ok, it made a lot of money. It was a very successful film, especially overseas. made some $100,000,000 which is terrific. But its still a nothing film. 6.7* rating

Looks suspiciously like the PC police had a say.

I can think of 10 British films more deserving than this. 20 even - Without looking up on lists.- Great British actor Michael Caine himself has 6 or 7 that are better than this. 
Sleuth {8.1*}. Ipcress file{7.4*}. Zulu {7.8*}. Educating Rita{7.2*}. Italian job{7.4*}. Get Carter {7.6*}..

And as the list is 1946-2002 then there are plenty of better candidates. Long Good Friday.{7.7*} East is East {6.9*}. the Third man {8.4*}. Shallow Grave {7.4*} ..

And your choices of British Cinema in the comments.

Friday 16 May 2014

Miliband is a sitting duck.

As CU noted earlier in the week the good news just keeps coming. Increases in the growth rate. decreases in unemployment. Its not great news. Not war winning 'H-Bomb delivery' news. But the word from the troops is Labour forces are being pushed back on all fronts and are going to have to dig and defend what they have won, instead of continuing the offensive.

 Ed Miliband has made a big mistake. A huge mistake! A '10p tax scrap ' mistake.
Its potentially going to cost him the election.

By developing single theme policies and expounding ideas only feeding the meme Ed has left himself very vulnerable to a surprise attack. Very vulnerable.

Labour felt quite safe with their most recent, and most successful, strategy the Cost-of-Living.
Ever since Ed Miliband stumbled upon the cost of energy bills as a focus for the public anger at their shrunken take home pay, he has been pointing out anything he can find that might have gone up in price, and adding it to his Cost-of-Things list. At any opportunity the 'cost-of-something crisis' is used to describe coalition failures.  The Costa-Crisis will be the foundation on which Labour's election is built.
Labour can't forget their storm trooper  years and easy blitzkriegs of the late 90's. 
 Education, Education Education... Whiter than White... and Things Can Only Get Better. New Labour's marching songs.  

These days though, the old tactics mean labour tread a very predictable path. They seem unable to inspire the rank and file without a simple catchphrase to hang their ideals. {Even though the day and night sloganeering of the Brown years did nothing for them in the 2010 war. A future fair for all? Who remembers that? }

Already newer slogans, like ONENASHIONLABOUR have retreated. Older ones like Triple-dip, they just don't get it, and Too Far, Too Fast, have been overrun. Hardworkingfamilies, used unconvincingly on the poster below, is so obsolete it generates groans when deployed.

But the Costa-Crisis is so treasured that it has been given an extra plate of armour with the return of the old Lib Dem VAT BOMB posters for the Euro election. 
These posters avoided any mention of Europe at all. Instead there was an attack aimed at the Liberals and at prices. A key poster claiming a bogus £450 extra VAT on a shopping.

And this is the mistake.

Because if George Osborne were to announce a V.A.T cut in the last budget before the election, Labour's entire strategy would be defeated. All the prepared leaflets and strategies on the Cost-Of-Stuff  would blown to smithereens.
 The coalition retort to any Labour MPs mumblings about prices and fairness is instantly.."But we have CUT Vat? We Have REDUCED the shopping basket by £450."

Osborne's armour piercing VAT bomb goes through the weak Miliband deck and explodes in the magazine. Coming late in the campaign, Labour would be in chaos. They have no real fall back positions to retreat upon. 

They would have to fight on a sinking cost-of -living crisis platform, hit by the Vat bomb from above and torpedoed from below by the previously raised personal taxation thresholds.  They would flail around with ineffective 'fairness' and 'equality' issues while their burning election wreck capsises and sinks into the mud of the shallow policy waters they they thought sufficient anchorage for a 35% strategy win.

And that isn't even the end of the torment. Its possible the chancellor might even cut VAT below the 17.5% level that he inherited. Maybe to 17%. Maybe to 15% ?

That would be cruel. Akin to machine gunning the oil coated, drowning labour MPs as they scrabble for the few life rafts that aren't actually on fire.

Osborne has form. He's done similar before.
Dive Bomber Osborne may yet win a spectacular victory.


*Would he /could he really do it?

Well. Why not? Its such an effective attack. 
The VAT increase was expected to raise £3.5 Bn a year. So its a huge sum to find. Not impossible, but not easy. He'd have to increase a tax elsewhere. Banker bonuses ? Google/Amazon tax? Or, going forward, end child benefit over 2 kids. Plenty of options. Some that would even gain him even more support. Like taking the money from the Foreign aid budget or HS2. An easy sell.."I have decided to restrict aid to only the deserving and to use the saving to reduce our own burdens here at home."

Or, he could just claim the cut will encourage sales, so increasing VAT and paying for itself.  

Whatever... It will signal the end of Labour's {!} recession and a return to proper economics, tax cuts and wealth generation. 
Its a tax cut. An overdue Tory core vote winner to help return the lost UKIP voter.

15% is the minimum that the EU VAT harmonisation rules allow. Which is why 14.5% might be an ever bolder move. Add taking back VAT control from the EU to the list of topics for the 2017 EU renegotiation. Helps cement the Labour/Libs don't want to help you, UKIP can't help you theme.  
 He doesn't have to do it straight away. Just announce it. In fact, far better the cut comes after the election. In the next parliament. Labour will have to commit to it, so scuttling their own cost-of -living battleship, or reject it, so exposing themselves to merciless Vat bomb attacks .. Its a win- win - win.

And what do the Tories have to lose? They are still 8%+ points of polling away from a majority. 
Even if half the lost UKippers come back and most of the lemons stay lemon, Miliband will be PM in a liberal coalition. Something radical needs to happen.

As Gordon Brown discovered, when you are facing defeat, out of control spending is the answer. At the very least it allows the post 2015 Tories to use the 2010 Labour trick of claiming "We had the economy growing at 'x'{unsustainable} percent before your cutbacks ruined it."

And, as Hitler noted before the 1933 election when Goebbels and Goering told him the money had run out and borrowing was already way beyond any ability of the Nazi party to repay it ..

"Keep spending. Because if we win, we win Germany and then it won't matter.. And if we lose .... then it won't matter."

Thursday 15 May 2014

BBC Question Time : Take That Tax Bill edition

David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Coventry. On the panel are Conservative employment minister Esther McVey, Labour's shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint MP, former Liberal Democrats leader Lord Ashdown, SNP external affairs minister in the Scottish government Humza Yousaf MSP and Daily Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley.

After last weeks dismal outing can Dimbleby do better? The C@W commenting class rightly had the sharp and effective Andrew Neil as the replacement for Old man Dimb. So that is never going to happen.
BBC are bound to be looking at an all women short-list.So Jack Dromey in with a chance.


This week..quite tough. No standout news.

Jolly Green Giant green

Q1. Gary Barlow.Whatever he said, whatever he did, He didn't mean it.He just wants to give tax back for good....
Q2. Black faces in boardrooms. Quotas. Patronising or a sensible idea?{ANY discrimination is illegal BTW.Both UK and EU laws.}
Q3. Labour's vegetable poster and the subsequent disaster polling
Q4. UKIPs Asian youth defection on racism grounds.
Q5. Probably Pfizer again. Hope not.

Winners of 2014

Hopper -2

Measured - 1

charity shield winner - DJK 

Quite Beyond The Pale, by Proko Harum

This 'charismatc' fellow is claiming he has converted the Nigerian schoolgirls.  Who are Proko Harum anyway, leading schoolgirls astray?  They've certainly made a few hits, most famously Quite Beyond The Pale ... but theirs is not necessarily a progressive sound

He said “I have my reasons 
And my troops are plain to see 
So I stole in through their playing-fields 
And would not let them be 
Just 200 happy schoolgirls 
Who were living as they chose 
And although their minds were open 
They might just as well be closed” 

And so it was that later 
As the Mullah told his tale 
That their fate at first just ghastly 
Turned to quite beyond the pale

Wednesday 14 May 2014

UK jobless at 5 year low

Some interesting thoughts though in reaction to this news:

- There are still heaps of part-time workers who cannot find full time work or don't want to.
- The massive rise in self-employment continues unabated

Both of these two measures may well herald a permanent shift in the jobs markets. People are feeling from full-time PAYE work in order to work less but potentially earn more post-tax. Self-employment certainly is more likely to result in lower taxes than PAYE, even if it also correlates with lower income.

- Overall joblessness is has dropped quite a lot in the year, about 250,000

 Surely this is very bad for Labour and their constant attacks on the economy, cost of living etc?

Finally, years and years ago I wrote that all studies show it take 7 years to get over a financial crisis and here we are , just 2 months of the seven year anniversary of Northern Wreck going under!

Tuesday 13 May 2014

They can't stop Pfizer...nor should they try.

It's very boring when Politicians start grand-standing and one of the worst committees in recent years has been the appearance before various non-entity parliamentary committees. These self-appointed committee's achieve little in public life but serve to further the names of the back-bench MP's keen to show the world they do something other than draw expenses and flip houses.

They have no regulatory or statutory powers - surely a sign that the Government as a whole knows better in the long-term than to trust real power to populist fools.

The latest example today, of the CEO of Pfizer appearing before the skills committee is just the latest example. Politicians who know nothing of the pharma industry are able to opine as to the CEO's position to make a pitch for Astrazeneca. He will make promises about jobs and commitment to the UK. The politicians will be unsatisfied.

There is no regulatory power to prevent a take-over of the company which is barely British anyway - created out of a series of 1990's mergers with UK, Swedish and other European countries.

Moreover, shareholders bought the shares in the company, they are their property and they have the right to decide to sell or not to sell. That really is the end of it. I find it hard for once to disagree with the IOD's statement on the matter:

"We do not believe that there is any case for extending the existing public interest test for takeovers. However, this is not to say that government has no part to play in establishing a world class environment for life sciences in the UK.

“It has a crucial role in ensuring that the UK’s university sector remains at the leading edge of scientific research and training. It should renew its efforts to promote and nurture the financing and support of entrepreneurial and start-up activity in the sector. And it will remain instrumental in determining the fiscal and regulatory environment that will attract high value added research and development activities.

“But attempting to second guess the industrial logic of takeover decisions is not one of government’s strengths, as was demonstrated throughout the 1970s at British Leyland and elsewhere. Recent proposals from Lord Heseltine and Chuka Umunna to extend the public interest test would put at risk the UK’s hard won reputation as a compelling destination for inward investment from around the world.

“Over time, excessive government intervention in the market would cost far more jobs than might be saved by efforts to politicise this particular deal.”

Grandstanding is futile and worse would be interference. Better would be acknowledgement that Big Pharma can do what it likes, the money and the research is often in the smaller start-u['s that we luckily excel in producing. Let's celebrate the desire of Big Pharma to move to the UK rather than hand-wring about management issues which may or may not come to pass.

Imagine too where we would be had blocked foreign owners take-over our car industry in the 1980's and 1990's

Monday 12 May 2014

Excessive Powers for the Revenue

For evidence that being in power goes straight to politicians' heads, look no further than plans to give the Revenue the right to seize 'unpaid taxes' direct from bank accounts.  Oh, they protest, we are only after a minority of people - and There Will Be Safeguards!

Seeveral years ago I sold up from a company of which I was part-owner.  It was a complicated transaction, and I found myself in disagreement with the Revenue over the tax I owed - the disputed amount was a six-figure sum.  The matter took nearly 2 years to settle, but it was handled professionally enough (though not expeditiously), resulting in my side of the argument prevailing.  Even then, I didn't much enjoy the accountant's bill for the effort involved.  What, do we suppose, would have been the situation if HMRC had wielded the power to grab first and *discuss* later ?

I think we can guess accurately enough: we know these people of old - the ones who use anti-terrorist legislation to enforce litter laws; the council officials who can say: "We make no apology for using all the powers Parliament has given us".

There is estimated to be between £5-10 billion at stake in disputes with HMRC over just the simpler personal 'tax-avoidance schemes', never mind the more complex and corporate ones.   Perhaps there isn't much sympathy with Jimmy Carr et al in such matters: but the additional amounts under the general heading of 'money the Revenue would like to get its hands on' must dwarf this amount.  An initial gravy-train for accountant and lawyers, no doubt (compensation for cutting the Legal Aid budget?) - but shortly thereafter it will reduce the UK to a cash economy, and the boom will be in offshore accounts and capacious mattresses.  VAT revenues will plummet and the domestic banking sector will implode.  No foreigner will go anywhere near a UK-based bank.

Think carefully, Genius George.


Saturday 10 May 2014

Weekend Essay: Women in the Front Line

There are several legitimate issues to ponder in the odd business of wanting to allow women into front-line combat psoitions, and a couple of lamentable ones we can quickly dismiss.

The pressure to conform to Euro equality strictures need not detain us.  What does the EU know about soldiering?  Likewise, citing shortage of recruits is a silly gambit at a time when seasoned infantrymen are being axed in large numbers.  As we will conclude below, the numbers of women who will ultimately qualify for infantry will be fingers-of-one-hand per intake cohort, and irrelevant for serious numerical purposes. 

The two questions that matter are: can women do the job?  and what is the effect on the men and units in which they would serve?

Can women be individually effective in front-line jobs?

We are talking about combat here: I don't know of many who would dispute the perfectly adequate success women have had in non-combat roles for many years.  At one end of the spectrum, we can start with the simple empirical expedient of setting high standards in selection and testing and see what falls out - or rather, who drops out.  Nowadays we learn that women are allowed to be fighter-pilots, and good luck to them: the pass-rate for male fast-jet pilot applicants is very low indeed, and since no-one (I trust) is about to let these exacting standards drop for doctrinaire reasons in this part of the military empire, I would give a fully-qualified female fighter pilot the benefit of the doubt without a second's thought.  They same reasoning applies to (e.g.) the SAS: if a women qualified in that exalted company, I'd assume she was chosen for specialist duties (as many in the special forces are) and think no more of it.

To address the question: yes, but even when fully trained, are they aggressive enough, could they fight and kill? - I have seen men go to pieces under 'ordinary' operational pressure, including cases which surprised everybody.  (One day I will recount the story of the CSM who cracked.)  No one really knows ahead of time.  There are plenty of aggressive and competitive women on the planet, and historically no shortage of killers amongst their ranks.

The real issue is line infantry.  The simple fact is, good infantry soldiers are hard to raise in large numbers, and always have been.  A major strand of miltary history has been how technology and organisation have been used to overcome this difficulty.  The crossbow was deployed against the vastly superior longbow because it was easier to train men in its use: and likewise the firearm in its turn.  When, from the 19th century onwards, nations needed to recruit by the million, they inevitably had to lower their standards from the already-rough raw material of old, and devise ways of turning puny clerks into fighting men.  Often, they failed, certainly at the level of individuals (see Spike Milligan passim) and sometimes en masse.  Still, more-or-less serviceable armies have been put in the field on this basis.

It could be argued that pressing women into service is the logical conclusion of this 'progress': ever-weaker people can be bolstered by technology, training and organisation to fill the front-line ranks in a broadly satisfactory manner.

There is an obvious counter.  No longer do we seek to field an army measured even in divisions, let alone millions.  For decades we have wanted a high-calibre, volunteer-only service: and as many a perfectly healthy 17-year-old schoolboy will attest, the standards of strength and fitness achieved on the sportsfield, in the gym, and scrapping in the street are by no means sufficient for a volunteer infantryman in a professional line regiment:  we have no need or desire to accommodate the weakling clerk.

Or the woman?  In my army days I knew two women (out of many, all trying hard) who were 'gym-fit' for soldiering: they were never caught out for fitness on exercise - which, in my day, was as far as they were allowed.  (One was crap at map-reading, but there is no shortage of men in that category.)   And - they were a rarity:  so far out in front of their sisters in uniform as to be numerically not significant.  The rest were passengers, directed to other duties when the going got heavy.

I conclude that provided standards are maintained, the 'can-they-do-the-job' issue is the same as for fire-fighters, bin-men and rugby-players.  The answer will be: a tiny number can.  But should they?

Even if they can, what effect does it have?

There are so many non combat units with extensive experience of mixed-sex deployment, we should assume the basic issues are known and have been catered for.  The old WRAC culture was *very strange*, if I may put it that way, and full integration works better (which begs the question, of course, but we're beyond that point now).  As such, even if someone could make a case that having women around has degraded effectiveness in some subtle way, the pass has already been well and truly sold.  Of course, absolutely anyone in uniform has to ride a torrent of merciless banter at all times, but if you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined, as they say: and the right type of woman can.  (Even the Grauniad's Decca Aitkenhead got this one - see the 12th paragraph in this interview.)

The day-to-day atmosphere in a line infantry regiment in peacetime, during the training cycle, is not uniquely different to that in many other teeth-arm units where women have been fully integrated for years.  (I can't speak for ships or submarines.)   The specifics of actual infantry combat (which, incidentally, I have never experienced) are such that my guess would be, if you had 2% fully-capable women in the ranks - which is probably about the most you'd ever get if you set the same physical standards for all - you have no materially different a situation as when you have 2% gays, or 2% who start gibbering when the bullets start to fly, or 2% who are love-sick, or 2% who are worried about their families, or 2% who were rat-arsed the night before ... in other words, it will be just one among many complex real-life dynamics and potential sources of 'friction' (in the military-theoretical sense), and by no means as problematic as the gibbering.

So why not?

I see four cogent arguments against:  (a) it's a cost and potential risk we can do without;  (b) unless we drop our standards - which would be literally a fatal blunder (like, errr, the Snatch Land-Rover and inadequate body armour ... ) - it will make no meaningful difference to numbers; (c) who is pushing for it anyway?  and (d) the probable follow-on developments.

Finding out the answer to (c) could be very revealing.  I really can't imagine there are any serious rumblings within the ranks of currently serving female soldiers to be allowed to serve in a line-infantry platoon: there are so many worthwhile openings for them already, I just can't see the current restrictions as a career-blighting, soul-destroying barrier.   Purely a guess, but I suspect we are in gay-marriage territory here: an "issue" that's in no party's manifesto; has no great lobby behind it; but seems to Someone like a great piece of gesture politics ...

And should be roundly booed off the stage accordingly?  If we could be certain standards won't be lowered, it would be hard to work up much of a head of steam on it. 

But we know how these things go.  After a few years, someone will demand to know why only 2% of front-line infantry are women.  Then there will be targets; then quotas ... and eventually, the standards will be dropped.  (It is interesting that the whole matter only gets raised at the point where politicians have lost their enthusiasm for combat anyway, we are retreating to barracks at a rate of knots, and no one is expecting to see their pointless experiment put to the test.)

So I'm agin.  I served alongside excellent female colleagues in uniform, who did a fine job of work.  Very few of them could jog eight miles with a rifle and a 25-lb pack. It didn't matter.  Leave it at that.


Friday 9 May 2014

Top 5 most annoying corporate buzzwords of the moment

This week has seen a huge media interest in the potential takeover of Astrazeneca by Pfizer which has involved many non-financial media commentators having their say, even worse, serial linguistic offenders such as Chuka Umana have been getting on the airwaves non-stop.

For the most part the gibberish they speak is muzak at best. Few seem to understand the basics of say the Enterprise Act or European law on take-overs - but hey, only losers loves detail.

However, key buzzwords really get my goat and given it is Friday here is this week's list of contenders of current buzzwords in the corporate world:

1. Public Interest - who is this public? why are they interested? the public is not an amorphous mass with a single hive-mind. When anyone ever says 'the Public Interest' they ALWAYS actually mean my job and my voter base. As ever, the total opposite of the true meaning.

2. Simplification - This is how Antony Jenkin's described 19,000 job cuts at Barclays. It is even more opaque than downsizing or right-sizing which are it 2008 vintage predecessors. Simplification sounds like a good idea, but stopping dong things that lose you money is not simplification is it?

3. Transformational Change - Also on the job cuts theme..what is this, change is means to transform things. Transformation means to change things, so better would be transformational or change, but not both, or perhaps the next step is transformational transformation?

4. Social Business - Really, as if we had not had enough of social media, now comes Social Business - what it really means is digital communication, but hey that does not sound cool or lefty enough.

5. Competency Framework - Or, um, skills as they used to be known. Skills you need to do your job, perhaps even or tasks you need to be able to complete effectiely. It's not hard, there is no need for a framework and competency is used in the negative meaning solely - i.e. it measures what you can't do. HR people have a lot to answer for as I could get acres from the garbage they make up to help bolster their numbers.

There must be many more - welcome them in the comments....

BBc Question Time: End of an era

Sadly, the great Dimbleby is past it. It was all too obvious last night that the once incisive and stiletto questioning chairman had lost his touch.

It has been happening for a good few years now. The once sharp host has been slowly descending into a dreamy and casual arbitration. Instead of gripping proceedings and driving politicians to answer tough questions, he has been content to take little part in proceedings. Allowing guests to interrupt and talk over one another he remains silent.. possibly not even paying attention. Doodling tattoo designs on his pad? Reading the best #BBCQT Retweets?  
Like an Alzheimer's sufferer he still has good days and bad days, and on his good days can still shepherd a political guest back to the question with polite skill. But more increasingly there are more bad days than good.

Last night Mr Dimbleby allowed the first question to ramble on like a dodgy dossier story for over 45 minutes. And it wasn't even a very insightful question. Just the usual "Are there too many Immigrants" that is a compulsory deployment for Question Time whenever Nigel Farage is on the panel. No light was shed.
David looked very surprised when he looked at his watch and exclaimed that they must push on as time was short. The only person who had been prodded to speed up had been Caroline Lucas who brought a Weekly shop list of wonders that the EU has granted the UK and proceeded to read them all out until the big D awoke long enough to tell her to stop.

The final question about company takeovers was also an embarrassment. Farage wanted to say that EU rules prevent UK government from intervening. The other 4 panelists all jeered that "its all the fault of the EU" "UKIP blaming Europe again" etc..Farage could not get his point across and became quite annoyed as is often the case with. But Dimbleby had been unable to calm the panel and allow answers to be heard. It was farce.

Twice during the show a question from the audience was a plant. One so pro UKIP, that they could only have been an activist. And another, a man who read out a statement that foretold a return to the Napoleonic wars If UKIP won any MEPs. 
This is also something that has increased in recent years. A paid up political activist has got on to the show and made a totally partisan speech.  Its not so much Question Time as party political campaign slogan time. Generally a tweet with them holding their party badge/union card/ appears ten minutes later and their identity is revealed. This calls into question the whole format of the show and how, why ,when and by whom questions are chosen.

Its probably time to axe the show altogether and come up with newer fresher ideas for a politics program that in broadcasting years was designed in the Neolithic era. 

But, as that is unlikely, C@W suggest a change at the top. 

A new chair for Question Time.
Who could this be?
Who has the gravitas, impartiality, journalistic knowledge, political awareness and ability to pose tricky questions with a cheeky smile. A distinguished and recognisable person with a hint of sex appeal?
Who ticks all those boxes? Apart from Russel Brand.

Andrew Neil 
Paxman ?
Nick Ferrari ?
John Snow?
Cathy Newman ?
Graham Norton?
Stephen Fry ?
Faisal Islam ?
Miranda Hart ?
Clarkson ?

1st and 2nd choices into the comments please.

Thursday 8 May 2014

BBC Question Time : Open Prison edition.

David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Southampton, with Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps MP, Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna MP and Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams. Thrilling!

Very busy so only a quick guess.
Dimbletie - Sympathy yellow.

Q1 - Skullcrusher and open prisons merging into Lib Dem super wetness on knife crime.
Q2 - Rent Controls. Hugo Milibavez reclaims the land.
Q3. Nigeria and kidnapping and why are we getting involved? Is it just media guilt for not mentioning this 3 week old story before?
Q4. Halal Pizzas. If you are against you must say why.
Q5. - Pfizer Astrazenaca. is it time to get French with our businesses and not trust foreigners?

Winners of 2014

Measured - 1
Hopper -1 

charity shield winner - DJK 

Patten: Goodbye and Good Riddance

I used to have a fair regard for Chris Patten.  In the '80s, when I was quite active in politics, he seemed a very necessary antibody in the Conservative physiognomy, a brave and intelligent voice at the court of the increasingly irrational post-1987 Thatcher.  In the 90's as 'Fatty Pang', he conducted the withdrawal from Hong Kong (an operation which I know something about) in a sensible and subtle manner, playing a weak hand very cleverly with - so far as can be judged today - lasting all-round benefits.

But for a good few years now, I have become utterly sick of the man.  On a trivial (but telling) level his pompous, arch conduct of the Oxford Chancellorship, replete with smug, sophistic speeches and complacency, (and endless, shameless book-promotions) make him a very worthy successor to the equally stomach-turning Roy Jenkins.  I never really followed his career at the EC, but no doubt someone will enlighten us; and intuitively it seems unlikely he covered himself with any glory there either.

But it is his conduct at the head of the BBC that makes this more than a matter of personal taste.  How someone of any judgement or rectitude whatever can have allowed that bunch of wasters to award themselves hundreds of meaningless jobs at surreal salaries, whilst outrageously pursuing an illegitimate, self-appointed, partisan political mission, is beyond me.  

Manifestly, as more and more evidence piles up of misconduct of many kinds at the BBC, the man at the top should have been busying himself with a purposeful cleansing of the grotesquely luxurious stables.    But none of that: he has instead taken every opportunity to defend these baleful and monstrous developments in his repulsive, arrogant, bullying manner across the committee table, not even scrupling to issue softly-spoken threats to his inquisitors.

I wish heart by-pass surgery on no-one.  At the same time, I could wish he hadn't taken the triple judgement by-pass a decade or more ago.


Wednesday 7 May 2014

Ukraine & the Price of Oil

A glance at the chart below is a vision of a dog that hasn't barked.  There's World War 3 brewing in Ukraine, and yet Brent has been even more tightly range-bound than the $100-120 we'd become accustomed to. 

What to say ?  Obviously no-one imagines Russia is about to stop selling oil, either to punish the West or as the result of an embargo.  Has the Invisible Hand decided that in the great scheme of things it is all just posturing on both sides, and that the annexation of Crimea is just small beer ?

We've noted several times on the QT compo how the BBC has resolutely downplayed the whole crisis.  Perhaps they take their lead from the Brent market when it come to foreign affairs.  Missing airliners, missing schoolgirls, and lurid murder trials seem to be what counts for top-headline foreign news coverage.

It's an interesting thought that Russia re-ordering the FSU might be a sideshow.  What's the main event, then - are we just all sitting around waiting for the Chinese economy to pop ?  Maybe Brent would be forced to notice that.


Tuesday 6 May 2014

The end of investment Banking in London?

In the 'Great Harrumph' that our politicians so enjoy about Banking - with the the Left wing ones desperate to blame banks rather than its own governance for the 2008 crisis, a story is being missed.

The City was a great centre for Investment banking, bigger than New York and far above the weight of any other European city.

Of course, we had our key supporting areas such as law, currency trading and accountancy which provided a good net to support the industry, but nonetheless the rise was large from the 1980's - US Bulge Bracket banks has often bigger offices in London than in New York.

Arguably, the height came in 2009, when Barclays bought the investment banking unit of Lehman Brothers in New York.

How the tables have turned, not just on the British banks, but on Investment Banking in general and particularly in London. Barclays is in a mess, today it announced more disappointing profits at its investment bank. The US CEo, Skip McGee has left and there is talk of a culture war within the Bank. I don't pretend to understand the details, but as an outside it would seem sensible to sell the unit rather than close it down, with all the associated costs, piecemeal.

This after all, is what RBS has done, slowly closing its investment bank. It would have been better to sell it for a £1  a few year ago.

Lloyds Bank has long ago relieved itself of any Equity Capital Market business.

Only HSBC remains in the market of the UK banks. Even in the City, the news is worse. Credit Suisse and UBS have both massively scaled down their Investment banking to focus on their Private Client business.

The US banks too, mindful of the London Whale scandal and also US Regulation, have scaled down in the UK.

So, in effect I would guesstimate that something approaching 50% of frontline roles are no more. many have been replaced with people in compliance or legal, but in terms of generating business this is not the same thing at all.

Of course, many people will just assume this is a good thing - less 'Casino' Banking. They are wrong for the most part. The Casino lives, in Bermuda funds, in direct advice to foreign sovereign entities, in boutiques. The sad news is that this is fine for the generation of bankers who have the contacts already. There is no ladder for the next generation.

Instead the next generation will be in Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and maybe London too.

This, over time, will have a big knock on to the professional services business and other UK businesses. We may have a better balanced economy, but sub-prime was not an issue for UK lending really was it? We have killed the goose that laid the eggs. It will be sometime yet before this is apparent but we have done so nonetheless.

I am not saying we will not find a new goose, but at the moment that seems to be a property bubble, as it has been many times in the past and we all know this leads to a cyclical boom and bust that does little good in the long-run and much ill.

Friday 2 May 2014

Top Gear is UKIP TV

I am in a minority. I am one of the few men on earth who don't watch Top Gear. 
Its not that I dislike it. It's just that I don't get it. I don't understand the show at all.

"What's to understand?" you say. "Three aging, macho, petrol-heads drive a Prius, a Segway and a Milk float from Marrakesh to the Pyramids!  Its brill!.."

"But..I don't follow..Why would they want to do that? What does taking a recycling truck round Brand's Hatch, or dropping a Trabant off a shopping centre, prove?"

"It doesn't prove anything - its entertainment!"

"But...but then anything could be entertainment..Firing a catapult loaded with fish at Piers Morgan's house would be entertainment..?"

"Now you're getting it! In fact..that's not a bad idea!

"Yes it is..Its ..just..silly!"

"Exactly !! "

So, I just pretend to like it and catch a few minutes on Dave every now and then. Maybe when the kids start watching it might appeal...I have read Jezza's books..But I can't watch Top Gear.

ANYWAY .. Jeremy Clarkson is in trouble for saying the horribly air quoted  "N" word. He says he didn't, but he probably did as it was in a famous settlement rhyme that I clearly remember from my childhood.

Before ACAS and Citizens Advice and the European Court of Human Rights we used "eenee-meene-minie-moe.." as the ultimate arbitration service. All irresolvable disputes could eventually be settled by Eenee-meene.  And, if you are my age, of forty something, you'll recall the person whose toe was held was an 'N' word.
If you are a baby, like CU, and Thirty Something, then the caught by the toe will be a Teacher, or a Tickle, or an Eskimo or some other harmless word.   
So Clarkson possibly did, inadvertently, offend the world. He assures his 3 million odd twitter followers that he did not. The Guardian is not so sure.

Except he couldn't really have offended anyone as the BBC cut the clip from the show and it was not aired.
It was the Daily Mirror who published the clip on its website to suggest that Clarkson is a racist.

So poor Jeremy is accused of possibly saying something he denies, that is not going to be aired publicly anyway;  that even if he did say what he says he didn't, is undoubtedly a leftover from his 1970's childhood and cultural upbringing and unlikely to make him a racist anyway.

The real question isn't "Is Top Gear presenter a secret racist?"
 No. it is why do the media like to attack him in the first place? 

His anti-political correctness is legendary. He was recently in trouble for naming his new dog Didier Dogba after a former Chelsea striker & Ivory Coast team captain and who is black. The dog is a black dog. The player is black. So the 'joke' must be racist. 
I don't believe Stephen Fry's tweets are examined in the same way. People looking to make an issue of his thoughts all the time. The Guardian are running a poll "Should Clarkson be sacked from the BBC ? "
{JC is winning this one with 59% saying NO.}

I do wonder though if attacking right wing, smoking, drinking ,anti-liberal, pro British, anti-green, couldn't give a monkey's, Clarkson has been a secret code for attacking UKIP?  
One man, embodying everything the fractious left can unite against to hate? A bit like Nigel and the protests that greet him wherever he appears.
If that's a mad theory it can't be anymore bizarre than thinking a man is a racist because he named his dog,  Dogba

Think it through Guardianistas.

If he really was a racist he would not have a black dog at all !