Tuesday 31 March 2015

Amid the cheering GDP, the current account deficit is puzzling

GDP has been revised up to 2.8% growth for 2014. George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, is merrily tweeting about how well the economy is currently going. And well he might, after the 2008/9 crisis and then the 2011 Euro crisis it is about time the UK had a little period of growth to help its people along.

However, at the same time as the good news, there is some bad news. This is that the current account deficit has maintained its all time high at 5.5% of GDP. In the recent past, say 1992, we have had economic crises put upon us by the poor state of our current account deficit.

To some extent, this has been ignored in more recent times because of low interest rates. These mean that we can service the excess debt we are accruing adequately. Indeed, with Quantitative Easing, we are printing excess money for ourselves and yet the Sterling exchange rate remains over-weight by international standards.

Perhaps we are a few years away from a crisis when rates rise and people start to question the wisdom of the UK overspending. Certainly if George Osborne has ended up creating a consumption boom then we will live to regret the current good times.

My hunch though is there is something more complex at work. The huge influx of immigrants to the UK and the ease with which they enter the Labour market has given the UK more opportunities for growth - especially when compared with neighbours such as France. As such, capital is flowing into the UK to invest (sadly, in London property mainly!) and the new population is sucking in imports of telly's and sofa's.

So it could be a really good sign that the Current Account Deficit is at all time highs as it signals we are the growth economy of Europe; or it could signal that we are on the precipice of a Sterling crisis once more. As ever with economics, you only get a hindsight view....

Monday 30 March 2015

Is an agreement with Iran wise?

It may well be the first day of the UK election campaign today, but there will be plenty of time to consider that (notwithstanding your 3 editors here are somewhat indisposed the next two weeks so blogging may be lighter!).

A much more pressing issue for any incoming Government, should we elect one, will be what happens with Iran. It is no secret that President Obama has decided that the best way forward with the Country is to try to get it away from international pariah status to see if it can be re-integrated in a less hostile way. In this view he is aligned with the EU, Russia and China.

On the other side of the table are perhaps those who have more to lose. Israel, faced with Iranian backed militia in Lebanon and Gaza constantly firing rockets at them and brainwashing all children to believe in eradication of the Jews and Israel, is not happy to deal with Iran. Saudi Arabia too, moving swiftly to be an ally of Israel, is concerned at Shia backed militia in Yemen which it is poised to invade. Of course, the Yemeni Shia are backed by Iran.

Then there is Iraq, the Shia south is leading the resistance to ISIS in the Sunni north - an unfortunate turn of events for Saudi, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan - perhaps showing that money to back terror groups always leads to unintended consequences which they should have learned from their sponsorship of Al-Qaeda in the 1990's. But Shia Iraq needs help to defeat Isis, which surely is even more of a threat than Iran.

Then of course there is the economic issue, Iran has plenty of crude to export and even with Sanctions is a functioning state which could quickly re-integrate into the world economy, boosting itself but also applying further long-term pressure onto the oil prices.

Finally, there is the nuclear issue. Iran really wants a nuclear bomb and from time to time seems to elect leaders stupid enough to perhaps use it. Hence the clear focus on stopping it acquiring one. I am loathe to agree with neocons who say Iran already has it or sanctions won't work - their spectacular wrongness in Iraq on the effectiveness of sanctions must always be considered. Sanctions hurt, Governments will do a lot to be rid of them.

Overall then this is a very thorny issue, personally I am with Obama that the total exile of Iran pushes it further to extremism than trying to re-integrate it somewhat. If a deal can be done to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons then perhaps it is doable. The wider politics of the Shia/Sunni civil war in the Middle East will not be fixed just by the West siding with the Sunni's (who, of course gave birth to Al-Qaeda and ISIS). Getting Israel onside/reassured will be harder, but that is the bit Obama will miss given his visceral hatred of Netanyahu.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Generation Wuss: Weekend Rant

A few weekends ago I gave vent to displeasure over the state of our universities, echoed by several commenters.  In passing I made reference to the lack of concern for free speech among today's students, and linked to a chilling Speccie piece on this.  It's part of that I want to pick up on now.

The new enthusiasm for censorship goes way beyond "no platform for ..." (fill in you favourite bogeymen here: in my day it was the South Africans, anyone associated with Barclays Bank or the Shah of Iran, etc etc) - which is bad enough, but in days of yore was at least robustly conducted, with skulls cracked and plentiful beers consumed afterwards.  The pitched battle fought in St Aldates between the National Front and various leftist groupings remains fresh in the memory, in particular for the brave tactic of berseker lefty women deliberately hurling themselves under the boots of the NF phalanx in the manner of a loose forward trying to bring down a maul, to provide vivid photographic material for the next day's papers.

They don't make 'em like that any more.  These days, it's everyone's right to feel 'safe'; and anyone who takes against anything they encounter is entitled to claim to be 'traumatised'.  Naturally, no-one can be allowed to go round causing trauma.  Take this example, admittedly from the USA (Brown University), where a 'safe space' was established in case anyone was being 'damaged' by what they heard during a formal debate about campus sexual assault that was taking place at the university.  The 'space' was:
... intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. ... a rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs”
Or this, (hosted by the redoubtable prof Brian Leiter on his well-known Philosophy blog):
I'm sending this email anonymously since, nowadays, being linked to even the mild views that I wish to get your opinion on is grounds for being tossed in the dustbin of "bigotry" ... I recently read of a stranger's experience with a transsexual friend. Having no malicious intent whatsoever, this former individual casually addressed a group of friends, of which the latter person was a part, with the word "guys." His transsexual friend informed him that hearing the word "guys" "triggered" her, induced serious psychological distress, by way of a gender identity conflict that this word brought about ... the individual recounting this story was incessantly berated by victim-mongering identity politickers on Twitter, who suggested that he's an "evil bigot" with virtual unanimity
And finally, for a real belly-laugh 
A student group at Mount Holyoke College has decided to cancel its annual performance of The Vagina Monologues, saying the play excludes the experiences of transgender women who don’t have a vagina
(Let's also note that it is by no means a US-only phenomenon:  the bow-wave of this nonsense has already reached these shores.  It seems to me that once this line of thinking takes hold, there's an element of competitive effort at work to find ever more bizarre applications.)

The right to live one's life in intellectual cotton wool - as Leiter puts it, the hypersensitivity of coddled narcissists.  

Well.  We don't need to be advocates for the Rugby Club being allowed to de-bag studious types in the front quad, to find this stuff depressing, and indeed sinister.  To be "bombarded by viewpoints" is 90% of the point of going to university.  Giving a cast-iron, knock-down, drop-dead refutation of the 'reasoning' behind labelling use of the word 'guys' as bigotry shouldn't tax a Year 12 schoolkid in a General Studies exam - though I suppose these days we may have to worry about that, too.

The potential for the 'must-feel-safe, therefore must-silence-my-oppressors' formulation to be coupled with (for example) the greenies' enthusiasm for stifling debate on climate change, makes this a political issue going beyond the more laughable manifestations within the self-indulgent studentry. 

Conscription.  And compulsory Rugger on Wednesday afternoons, with cold communal baths and singing after.  That's the answer.


Thursday 26 March 2015

The cameron Miliband leaders debeates. Pax that!

It was a very quick fire set up. Paxo reeled off question after question. 7 in 15 minutes. Gave Cameron about 30 seconds to reply. Paxo interrupted constantly, as is his usual inquisitor style, which probably allowed Cameron time to think. Paxman also asked some cheeky questions, which were a little unexpected . He made them quite personal. Not really about the party but the man. Cameron looked uncomfortable, but not damagingly so. Was more a case of the quickfire Paxo and questions without easy answers that made it difficult for him

  1. Could you live on a zero-hours contract, Prime Minister?
  2. Why did you hire Andy Coulson and Stephen Green. Why did you back Clarkson?
  3.  How much have you borrowed, Prime Minister? 
  4. You twice told me to my face PM, that you wouldn't raise VAT. Yet that was the first thing you did!
  5.  Where will welfare cuts fall?
  6. Why did you say you'd cut immigration when it has massively risen?
  7. What was you worst foreign policy decision ?
  8. Why did you rule out a third term ?

Cameron did fine on them all. He was probably weakest on the foreign policy and debt questions. Tried to explain Libya, and said no one knew warlords would take over. Well..a lot of people did say just that. Iraq was a bit of a giveaway. But he said it was never going to be troops on the ground.
And on the debt, when asked how much had he borrowed since 2010, he struggled to explain how borrowing more than even the most proliferate labour government was cutting the debt. 
But overall , no new converts, but no harm done.

The Q+A with the public was at a slower pace. Cameron remembered to call them by their first name and talk directly too them. Audience were restrained. Kay Burley asked each questioner afterwards if they were happy with the response. Which few were. More like Question Time this set-up. But the clock is running and Kay pushes the debate along very briskly. If this audience reflects the public mood, then its a Miliband government. Not overtly hostile but a definite them of no cuts and more spending set of questions.

Miliband opted for second. That meant he would have seen the aggressive Paxman assault and couldn't have done his nerves any good.
But he was straight on with the audience and not Paxman. 

I think he fluffed his first question. "You always sound gloomy ..are you gloomy. Are things really that bad?" to audience laughter. he says 'no..but they could be better.'
He should have laughed along and said 'I have much to be gloomy about.." and then launched into his tales of Tory cuts and zero hours contracts and such. Instead he just launched into the prepared answer.Which was a bit shallow.
Throughout he kept saying he was a Democratic Socialist. Stressed it. Maybe the Democratic bit was to woo ex-Social Democrats?

The questions were delivered at the same fast bowling pace.Here are some

Q: I’m a higher-rate taxpayer. Labour’s messages make me feel demonised.
 Q: If you are prime minister, what will the budget deficit be at the end of the parliament?
 Q: Why won’t you give people a vote on the EU?
 Q: Wouldn’t your brother do better job? He was better qualified.

The brother one probably gave him the most difficulty, but he's used to it and looked sincere.
And he handled the audience well enough. Probably slightly edged it over Cameron.

But then came his turn vs The Pax.
Not good, not good at all. 

Q Is Britain full?
Q Climate change levy on energy bills pushing up prices.
 Q: You’ve been wrong on unemployment, inflation and wages.
Q: Labour got immigration completely wrong. Some 400,000 people came in. What else did Labour do wrong?

 Q: Jim Murphy said the mansion tax was a way of taking money out of the south of England and giving it to Scotland.
Q how is it even your own MP's think you are a liability.
Q: As for Alex Salmond’s demands, will you scrap Trident?

The audience, or the lefty bit applauded Miliband. Twice. And groaned when his brother was mentioned. Must have been a different brief for Labour supporters as the conservatives were quiet hroughout.

The Guardian called it for Cameron. Because of his confidence and better grasp of figures. And Miliband's "I'm not going to be drawn" responses.. which looked evasive. And his "i don't care..i don't care' response to why his personal ratings are poor was very Brown like.
Guardian was right

Dave 7.5
Miliband 6.5

BBC Question Time - Durr bates edition

David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Bolton. On the panel are Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan MP, Labour's leader in Scotland Jim Murphy MP, Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood AM, Ukip immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe MEP, and broadcaster and Independent on Sunday columnist Janet Street-Porter.

Only 2 to go. I shall be away next week. So this might be the final..or not.

Q1. With a number of planes crashing, through suicidal pilots,should a 3 crew cockpit be a requirement?

Q2. Mili vs Camo  Worth the fuss ? 

Q3. Charlie's letters. Constitutional crisis .. Monarchy influences parliament ! Or just an old man sounding off ?

Q4. Dave rules out 3 rd term .. so what ?

Q5. Squeezed in Clarkson had to go .. A 30 second question for the panel to discuss to tick the impartiality box.

League Table 2015

Measured - 4
Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2
 Nick Drew - 2
Dick the Prick - 2
Malcolm Tucker - 2
  Taff -2

 Budgie - 1
Blue Eyes - 1

Cityunslicker -1

 Adi -1

Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

Will you watch the Election 'Debate' tonight?

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Putin Can Play Silly-B*****s, Too

The writers and visitors of this blog have long inveighed against the juvenile neocon policy of conducting hostile operations against Russia on the cheap by stirring up the various nests of hornets on the Bear's borders.  You can certainly get a rise out of Putin by baiting him thus, but it's not clever.

Doubly so when you realise how easy it is for little Volodya to reply in kind.   And yes, he's going to arm Argentina*; and just in case we hadn't noticed, a stooge makes the connection for us.  So now we must rush around and spend money in the South Atlantic again.  Such an easy game to play.

That post-election military review had better be a thorough one, if we need to consider every potential trouble-spot near and far where a few hundred thou of Russian gold could be put to mischievous use.  We could each come up with our own list of weak-points, I'm sure, and contemplating it won't make for sweet dreams.

* The SU-24 (NATO codename Fencer) mentioned in these reports is somewhat venerable, and likewise vulnerable; but it's a nasty turn of events all the same.  A wittier Russian riposte would be to supply Argentina with TU-22s  -  NATO codename Backfire ...

Special Pleading Election Deluge - Police Neutrality

No readers will be surprised to here that as my email addy is freely accessible I get a fair few green ink emails and also plenty of media PR emails on a daily basis. It an easy move to the delete box for the vast majority.
Of late though the bombardment is reaching a crescendo, what is noticeable is that they are all of a left-wing bent, with a variety of special pleading causes and outrageous claims about the Government, which of course is Tories because the magic word is cuts. Let's take today's example from the Police Federation - my highlights where it made me raise and eyebrow:
We are now just six weeks away from the General Election. As an apolitical staff association representing 124,000 police officers from the rank of constable to chief inspector across the 43 forces in England and Wales, we are writing to all Members of Parliament.... to ensure the public get the police service they want and deserve.
But we have a duty, on behalf of those officers we represent and the public we serve, to raise our grave concern that the quality of service we are able to provide to the public is already under immense strain. We have a genuine fear that any future cuts to the police budget, or further loss of police officers, will have such a detrimental impact that the British police service, will be irreparably damaged and changed forever.
Importantly though, so too will our ability to protect and serve all our communities effectively....
The demands on policing continue to increase, as we tackle new crimes, while still trying to deal with traditional crime in the face of dwindling budgets and resources. In recent years we have seen an increase in cyber-crime, a rise in the number of reported cases of sexual offences and child protection issues. These horrific and often hidden crimes require sufficient time and resources to tackle properly. We also face a new style of international terrorism which is hugely resource intensive to monitor and police effectively to prevent attacks and keep the British public safe. In addition to dealing with crime, increasingly police officers are also providing active support to safeguard vulnerable members of society, including those who are young and old.
In the last four years the police service has lost nearly 17,000 police officers and approximately 22,000 police support staff, resulting in police officers having to backfill some of these roles. The number of police officers per head of population is lower than at any time in the last 20 years, while other European nations have increased their numbers.....
Several chief constables are now talking openly about the threat to visible neighbourhood policing teams as they juggle the emergency response demands against a limited budget and fewer police officers.....
To help you gain a better understanding of how the changes are impacting across all forces, last week we launched our 'Cuts Have Consequences' microsite....
This supports the admirable work being undertaken at a local level to highlight how budget cuts have impacted on policing. This is about bringing to your attention the very real unintended consequences of cuts to the police service. The unintended consequence to our resilience to be able to deal with the large scale disorder we saw in towns and cities only a few years ago as police numbers fall. The unintended consequence of not being able to deal with minor crimes as resources are diverted to deal with emergency response calls. The unintended consequence of neighbourhood policing teams being cut back as forces are compelled to channel limited resources to priority areas....
The apolitical nature of the call is no such thing, when the term 'cuts have consequences' is so clearly aimed at the Conservative party. Plus Senior Police officers are now apparently speaking out freely on this issue - during an election campaign. So much for neutrality.
Even better is the unintended consequences section - where fantasy scenarios are created and alleged to be unsolvable. I love the whole minor crimes piece, as if we don't know the Police have long given up on this sort of crime - if they ever did take it seriously which i cannot ever recall in my lifetime.
They did not send the email in green ink, but I thought it more appropriate to its content. Of course what I read is that there have been continuous falls in crime over the last 5 years and that huge savings have been made whilst overall crime has continued to fall significantly. Furthermore a big drain on the Police is politically inspired investigations to crimes that took place before I was born and are hard to prove at best or investigations against the media which again in many cases have proved groundless. How much did these cost us?
Anyway, I would not expect much better from a Union but this piece over-hyped, factually inaccurate, posits hypotheticals as reality and overall does a huge disservice to the Police who they claim to be representing.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Reality Rains on the SNP's Parade

Just when the SNP's tails are up and they are looking forward to dictating terms in May, along comes one of those unwelcome intrusions of cold, dull, solid reality.  The very large Longannet power station in Fife now looks set to close next year, quite a bit sooner than many anticipated and certainly much too soon for any like-for-like replacement to be built in Scotland.

A brief account of what this means in electricity supply terms.  Longannet is the biggest power plant in Scotland and it is coal-fired, meaning it can produce electricity reliably on cold, still days.  This of course is in stark contrast to the wind-power which in terms purely of theoretical capacity is what is replacing it north of the border.  There won't be much reliable power left there soon, with Peterhead's capacity (gas) much reduced and the nuclear units at Hunterston and Torness also set to close.   Despite what many imagine, there really isn't as much hydro power in Scotland as its hills and rainfall might suggest. 

The SNP's vision is a Scotland producing "100% of its electricity needs" and indeed exporting surplus to England and Wales.  They like the gullible to imagine this means self-sufficiency for Scotland, and Salmond even claims Scotland's wind power "keeps the lights on on England": but it's at best a numerical sleight of hand, at worst a downright lie.  There are times when there is indeed a surplus when the wind is cooperating, but the coal / gas / nukes have to work hard when it isn't, and indeed there will always be times when imports are required from England.  If (in the green fantasy world) Scotland went fully "renewable" (= mostly wind), there would of course be times when massive amounts of imports would be required.

This is rather like the German situation writ small; and of course it makes Scotland utterly dependent on being a fully integrated part of a much bigger and much more reliable grid.  Economically, it has an uncomfortable further implication: exports will be when the wind is blowing nicely, and will be at rock-bottom prices.  (Germany sometimes exports at negative prices, i.e. is forced to dump "must-take" wind and solar power on its neighbours.)  Imports will be when the grid is struggling and will be at top-dollar, or whatever currency Salmond imagines he'll be using.

Now although there are greens and dumb-Nats who have unthinkingly swallowed the "100%" line (lots of 'em, as a cursory reading of Scottish websites and CiF will confirm) there will be fewer of those this morning as the realities of Longannet and post-Longannet are paraded across the media.

Needless to say, the SNP have found a way to blame the wicked English for the problem - "Grid charges are set deliberately to disadvantge Scotland" which, I need hardly add, is bollocks - and Longannet's owners, the Spanish (sic) have fed them this line.  Well of course: all power generators are down at the regulator's office with their greedy hands out these days.  

The Nats will be sorely disappointing the greens in the coming days because they'll be arguing for (a) a Longannet bail-out, just as the greens are celebrating its demise, and (b) a structural bail-out for Scottish power plants in general, to encourage someone to build a big new gas-fired plant to replace the coal-munching monster.   Amusingly, the only real prospect for this is if the fiercely-opposed plans of INEOS and others for Scottish 'unconventional' gas production (i.e. fracking and coalbed methane) come to fruition.  That ain't gonna be any time soon.

We have C@W readers who can judge the mood of Scottish voters better than I.  But I can't help thinking a blunt reinforcement like this of the dependency of Scotland on being part of an integrated UK set-up is a modest dousing of cold highland water.


Monday 23 March 2015

And so it starts with Salmond at the Fore

Finally, the UK Election hoves into view as the main chapter in the Nation's life for a few weeks.

It is for yourself to decide how welcome this (I am on hols for abroad 2 weeks of it, lucky me!) for your media viewing habits....

Interestingly though this time is that the minor parties are still far up the agenda. This as we know from the last election means a hung parliament is nailed on. With coverage the minor parties have their Oxygen.

Mr Salmond has led the way with his frankly bizarre rants about holding Westminster to ransom. They are less bizarre when you remember how bitter he is to have lost the referendum and with it his job last year. Now is the time for revenge on those pesky English, the bogey men who cost him his job by not being able to vote for him in an Scotland-only referendum.

So now he remains keen to be as obstructive as possible - he is lucky that with such a and tiny vote base on a single issue, his clarity of strategy is easy. Wind up the English, make it hell for Westminster, appear lefty and populist to garner the votes of the '45%.' Simples.

Rather more of a nightmare for Milliband and Cameron. For them too is the Farage outlier, roundly attacked in the press and every slight mistake jumped upon, the role of traditional English underdog beckons for the campaign. The harder the mainstream try, the more oxygen he gets and his vote base firms up. Plus of course, he can become the English anti-Salmond - always important to be a lucky General.

Meanwhile, Cameron produced a non-budget to save excitement for the manifesto, so squandering his last big set-piece and Milliband, well the less said about him the better (literally true, as Labour is so much more popular than its leader...).

The debates finally agreed have an odd structure but this will suit the Government, with so many and such an arcane format they will likely not have the impact of 2010 - so helping the incumbent.

Still though, the Campaign will be bitter and repetitive with so many voices heard and few of reason amongst them.

Saturday 21 March 2015

History Corner: Sang Froid and Confidence in 1940

Going through my late father's papers I came across the 6 September 1940 issue of The War Illustrated magazine - the 'First Year of World's Greatest War Reviewed' edition.  So the Battle of Britain was in full swing, the Battle of France having been recently, comprehensively lost.  Neither Barbarossa nor Pearl Harbour had taken place: it was us against the Germans and Italy, with Russia in compact with the bad guys.  Although the mighty disaster of Singapore was yet to befall us, it's fair to say things were pretty bleak: grim, even.

At least, that's how you'd tend to assess the September 1940 situation nowadays.  So what did the review of year one have to say?  The editor, Sir John Hammerton, led the first page with the following opinion:
Looking back over the last twelve months, I have every reason to be confirmed in an opinion to which I have often given expression ... that small neutral states interlarded among the great states of Europe are a constant source of danger to peace ... the small peoples whose right to "self-determination" was accepted in theory at the founding of the League of nations, and didn't mean a thing at its foundering, will be no better than material for crushing between the upper and nether millstones".  
So it's all Belgium's fault?!  Not much hint of panic in that voice, anyway.

The main article is The First Year of the War Seen in Retrospect, by one Major General Sir Charles Gwynn, KCB, DSO, 'Miltary Critic' of the Telegraph.  After four pages of dense narrative, maps with arrows and of course some illustrative photos, Gen Gwynn calmly concludes:
Hitler, after a year of victories, is faced by a new strategic problem, more difficult and involving greater risks than those which confronted him when he could use the whole strength of his army for the destruction of France.  His army is halted by the sea.  To send even part of it across involves tremendous difficulties and dangers.  He must depend almost entirely on his air force to achieve the quick victory he needs ... Can Hitler's General Staff find a solution to his problem before the stranglehold of Britain's Navy and the offensive attacks of her Air Force paralyse Nazi power?
And so his retrospective ends.  A knotty one for Hitler, then.

Let's put to one side any views on whether Gwynn's assessment of the capabilities of the RN and RAF in 1940 was realistic;  it's his tone I'm interested in.  It's the insouciance, the disinterested and measured analysis.  (Was he writing from the safety of a bolt-hole in Canada?, one is half-inclined to wonder: but probably not.)  The War Illustrated was not a government publication, so not obliged to be tub-thumpingly patriotic or exhortatory: but even so, one might expect a note of stiff upper-lip resolution (as would be found in many a mass circulation newspaper editorial then as now), and/or a hint of mighty travails to yet come.  

But 'can Hitler solve his awkward problems?' is something else and, I think, an important corrective to the views we tend to form based around iconic images of St Pauls in the blitz and recordings of Churchill's speeches.  Clearly, a significant portion of intelligent Britain could manage something a lot less bombastic.

It is of a piece with two other early-war snippets that I recall.  The first is a cartoon (sadly I can't find a copy of it) published immediately after Dunkirk.  Two lazy infantryman are lounging, unconcerned, on a summer's day sentry duty overlooking the Channel.  One says: So, it's just us now?  The other replies: Yes, just the 600 million of us.  Confidence in the Empire (and the Channel and the Navy) was obviously a heartening factor - even if this was a line the cartoonist or his editor was trying to push for reason of boosting morale: and put like that, the numbers game probably seemed to favour the good guys handsomely.  (Raw numbers meant a lot to folk in those days: you find writers in early 1940 taking great heart  from the fact that the Belgium army had 22 divisions.  Which goes to show how empty raw numbers can be: but that's not the point.)

The second was a comment made by an American officer on secondment to the War Office, who reported that among the officers of the (British) General Staff, he never once heard anyone express any doubt as to the eventual British victory.  I'm guessing that was not just because it would have been treason to state any concerns; nor that these officers had privileged and compelling factual justification for their confidence; nor yet that only gung-ho maniacs were selected for the Staff.  It seems more likely that this confidence was - rightly or wrongly - fairly widely shared, just as a matter of general British opinion.

Widely enough that Gen Wynne could calmly publish commiserations with Hitler over his strategic difficulties in September 1940, and not be taken for an idiot, or a traitor - or (presumably) a satirist.  Whistling in the dark ?  No, I don't think so: just keeping calm and carrying on.  Any lessons for today?


Friday 20 March 2015

The Long-Term Doom of the Labour Party

This fascinating sequence of stories from the Grauniad suggests a bleak future for the Labour Party, the party as understood for a century and more.  That is, the 1900's socialist working-man's party which became House-trained in the 1920's, and politico-intellectual home to an awful lot of well-intentioned, thoughtful people whose main fault is an idealistic blindness to the Actual Ways of the World, human and financial.

How long are the decent people who are legitimate heirs to that honourable tradition, going to put up with this?
More than 130 new members of the Halifax Labour party have been disqualified from voting for the party’s general election candidate after suspicions were raised about their recruitment. All but seven of the disqualified members are of Asian heritage ... Earlier this week, it emerged outgoing MP Linda Riordan had complained to Labour HQ, alleging Keith Vaz was trying to interfere with the selection.
Amina Ali, a councillor in Tower Hamlets, east London, was selected at a meeting of the Bradford West Labour party on Saturday night. But within 72 hours of her selection, Ali tweeted: “I have stepped down”, saying she did not want to move to Bradford and disrupt her children’s education – an explanation greeted with incredulity among Labour members in the West Yorkshire city, who believe she was inadvertently caught up in the Pakistani clan politics which have plagued the local party for years ... amid allegations of so-called biraderi interference – a system of Asian family and tribal patronage harking back to clans in the Kashmiri villages where most of Bradford’s Pakistanis have their roots
 Amina Ali stepped back after realising she had been used as a pawn by local Kashmiri clan elders in their attempt to control Bradford. Since Ali’s surprise departure, things are getting increasingly nasty in the constituency. Naveeda Ikram says she called West Yorkshire police on Wednesday after after being made aware of “fake” racist messages circulating on social media purporting to be from her ... the user labelled as Naveeda Ikram makes disparaging remarks about Ali’s Somali background and the fact Labour’s last MP for Bradford West, Marsha Singh, was a Sikh.
And so it goes on; follow the thread for yourself and be glad it's not your party.  The Grauniad's CiF certainly doesn't invite comments after these articles, and we know why.  As a spectator my observations are:
  • this stuff will only get worse ...
  • ... in more and more constituencies (I have some interesting reports on what happens in Sadiq Khan's Tooting)
  • it could go on for another decade before crisis-point is reached, but ...
  • ... eventually it will be near-impossible to get traditional Labour folk motivated to work for, or even vote for, a party that looks like that
I don't think all the Guardian readers will all naturally migrate to UKIP.  Or LibDem.  So maybe Green?  The Greens are in fact the whitest party of all !

Tectonic plates, eh?


Foreign Aid

Foreign aid

  1.  United States – $31.55 billion
  2.  United Kingdom – $17.88 billion
  3.  Germany – $14.06 billion
  4.  Japan – $11.79 billion
  5.  France – $11.38 billion
  6.  Sweden – $5.83 billion
  7.  Norway – $5.58 billion
  8.  Netherlands – $5.44 billion
  9.  Canada – $4.91 billion
  10.  Australia – $4.85 billion
Foreign aid seems to be a topic of some debate on here. We have mentioned it a few times. I agree that the amount spent isn't that big in budgetary terms. That its probably better spent there than on an IT system that won't work.  That its really a cover for some of our business and military spending. 

I also agree with CU that its been very badly spent for years. A sum of cash that is just dished out like a Parish council with a surplus suddenly commissioning bronze statues and welcome centers.
Why half the money wasn't just given to the charities to do their thing .. and half to the arms-oil industry to do their thing.. well, couldn't do a worse job.

The problem with this foreign aid ring fencing is that it's a bad political decision. Dave's advisers will have been telling him that people see the number and react to that. $17 billion.
And they think of  any "Cut" in those terms. So the library budget of £300 million could easily be paid from foreign aid. Or a hospital. Or a school. They don't think 'we have already spent $xxx billion dollars on those very things." 

People ask why do we borrow money to give it away? Are we mad? 
They see the unringfenced budget for defence going to under 2% and say "Why not  give the foreign aid to our brave boys.?"
They don't remember the unbelievable waste in the defence budget. Or that we aren't going to commit to an Iraq sized ground war unless we can get someone else to pay our bills for us. or that we have millions of pounds of kit that we aren't going to need again and will serve on the books for years. So allowing these cuts. And that the foreign aid is helping to keep stable government in some of these countries..So hopefully preventing revolution and a war we may be dragged into.

People say "why have a % figure of GDP at all? Why not just dish out money for projects that we can gain from. Dams and wells and roads and mines and stuff ?"

The public sees the African dictators and even elected commonwealth government officials become amazingly wealthy from siphoned off foreign aid. They ask why the UK gives the largest amount of aid , after the USA. China and Russia aren't even in that top ten list. {though they do their foreign aid by other means}

All very hard to answer. 

I have always said it's a mistake to ringfence foreign aid to a % of GDP. The voters don't like it. So don't do it. Its a wagon train of ammunition for UKIP to use and the real reasons for doing it can't be admitted to. And there are better, more PR friendly ways, of  achieving what the government wants to achieve with Foreign aid anyway.

Thursday 19 March 2015

BBC Question Time : Budgety special

David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Croydon, London. Panellists include Conservative culture secretary Sajid Javid, Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams, Dia Chakravarty of the TaxPayers' Alliance and novelist Will Self.

Not bad. Shirley Williams will bring any fireworks to a halt. Will Self .. I do like him. He sneers as he surveys lesser mortals. Which is almost everyone else on the planet.

not the last QT - another after this one.

Choose your guesses wisely on this difficult newsweek.

BQ suspects

A greyish and silver Dimbletie.
1. Have the Tories rejuvenated 'oop North' and are now best friends with all those miner's kids and about to sweep the red heartland to a blue hue ? {no}

2. Online tax returns - sensible? or a gimmick? {bit of both- }

3. is the minimum wage up 20p an attack on the low paid?

4. Paedo something or other. . Cyril Smith ?

5. Maybe the one about the judges and ..there..erm...worktime ,recreational activities?

well...its after the watershed..

League Table 2015

Measured - 4
Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2
 Nick Drew - 2
Dick the Prick - 2
Malcolm Tucker - 2

  Taff -2
 Budgie - 1

Blue Eyes - 1

Cityunslicker -1

Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

The Empty Budget and No Future Election 2015

As predicted, the Budget yesterday was an all round non event.

Some 'reward' for savers, a bit of pork barrelling for Lib Dem and Tory marginal seats, another little smack for the Banks, a few other bits.

Overall, nothing was said and little was done.

The reaction in the media in the next few days will be interesting to see. Already Ed Balls has said there was nothing he would change in the Budget - surely this plays into SNP and UKIP hands, showing how little imagination the tow main parties have.

As ever with UK budgets, the hardest times are always ahead of us. In this case, the need for significant cuts in expenditure are set for next year and the year after; no coincidence that these will be the first of the electoral cycle. Sad though, that even 8 years after the Financial Crash, only 1/3rd of the real damage has been healed. There is much pain to come.

The ludicrous decisions to spend ever more on Health and Overseas Aid are going to come back to hit the Tories in the next few weeks, if it dawns on the media that many Government departments are going to whither away on the back of this decision, most importantly being defence.

With Labour also keen not to talk about the future, it will make for a bizarre election campaign.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Three Judges Jigging

So while we await the serious business of the day ... those naughty judges and their 'judicial IT equipment', eh?   Stand-up comedians will devote whole five-minute riffs on those w*****s in wigs, no doubt.

Reminds me of a funny episode from the world of work.  I was once an exec at a firm with a software division, and one of our IT lads, an Asian chap as many of them are in that line, was bang to rights on some serious business misdemeanour, bad enough for summary dismissal.  We hauled him in, had his laptop impounded while he was having his fortune read for him, gave him the black bag and showed him the door.  

He pleaded with us to be allowed to download some personal stuff from the laptop.  We decided this was fair enough, since he had to travel a lot for the firm and we all understood you have to conduct a bit of personal admin when you are away from home for days at a time.  But the downloading had to be under close supervision, with a trusty on the keyboard.

We all looked at each other, and one of the board, a very straight-shooting Asian lady, said "leave this to me".  She had a fair idea what she was going to find, and it wasn't just his personal banking ...

Anyhow, she made him suffer exquisite agonies of embarrassment in our open-plan office.  It was bloody funny.

Your stories in the comments, please.  Delicate turns of phrase if you don't mind, this is a family blog.


Tuesday 17 March 2015

Of Budget Fancies and Non Tax Grabs

Being an election year the Budget means nothing. In a normal year I can get quite interested in what may or may not happen and who the Government is looking to help or punish.

In an election year, this does not matter. We all know that a few months after the election there is an emergency budget that explains the real world. As will all new Executives in the any large company, the new appointment is the time to 'kitchen sink' all the losses and bad news when they know there is 5 years to come for people to get over it.

(Interestingly of course, the current Coalition bottled this bit in 2010 and went in for a half effort which has cost them wiggle room now on the economy).

it is interesting to spot the new political trend though, this is to accept that Government spending is what it is (i.e. too high and too fixed) and instead to order change to things that don't affect Government revenues.

In effect this is tax by other means, as companies have to pay the differences, as do employees. So for example, pensions have to be enrolled, maternity pay increased and today the minimum wage increased. None of these things affect Government revenues wildly (the minimum wage probably a bit, to be fair). The tax incidence falls on the private sector and ultimately the consumer -  perhaps this is a genius way of pushing inflation up at last. I have my doubts our current crop on either side of the Westminster benches are that bright or cunning!

Of course Ed Milliband goes the furthest with his calls of price caps on energy companies and also for forcing companies of over 50 staff to share profits; huge changes, none that affect the public finances.

Perhaps overall this shows how scared politicians are by both the scale of the deficit which they know they must control one day and also by the power of special interest groups who whine whenever their Government largesse is removed.

I look forward to the real budget in May with anticipation as I fear that will be a corker whoever wins!

Monday 16 March 2015

Putin lives

Sadly for the gaiety of the world, my musing last week that Putin was ill has turned out to be unfounded rubbish.

I have been assured that all he had was a minor outbreak of botulism brought on by over-doing it with the Botox.

Today, with said botulism and botox removed, he is back at work.

The Black Swann that never barked...

Sunday 15 March 2015

Ageing Money-loving Hippies Slug It Out

Wow, taking sides on this one is difficult.  Tempting, but difficult.

In the red-green corner is Dale Vince, "former hippy turned green energy tycoon".  If we thought Branson was a poseur ... and of course for all his "green" credentials he's as tough as nails: the bottom line shows that others pay him handsomely for the privilege of going green.  Hippy, my arse - that's a capitalist@work.

In the puce corner is Kathleen Wyatt, sometime fellow-traveller of Vince - new-age traveller, no less - and mother of his child.   New age, my arse - she's suing for £1.9 million, three decades after the fact.

Heaven alone knows what is going on in all the different courts involved - Divorce Courts, Appeals Court, Supreme Court, High Court.  For once, somone is going to make money out of Vince, though it may end up being just the lawyers involved.

One the one hand: 30 years - I mean, come on ... !  The implications are pretty far-reaching.  On the other hand though: hmmm, Dale Vince ...   (the Grauniad even manages to work up some positive sympathy for Wyatt).

Might there be a solution where both these unattractive protagonists lose?  I think there might: divorce proceedings are like that.


Friday 13 March 2015

History Corner: Chemical Weapons in Iraq, Then & Now

Source:  BBC
Film this week of ISIL setting nasty IEDs* with a bit of chlorine gas involved reminds us that chemical weapons ... are what Iraq is all about!  Yup, this time around it started with the search for WMDs, which were always anticipated to be chemical or biological: even Tony "I'll believe anything" Blair didn't think there were any nukes.

There is no mystery as to why folk thought Saddam might have chemical WMDs in the early 1990's:  (a) he definitely once had a complement of Scuds (and used them against Israel in 1991); and (b) he definitely had a CW capability, which he had used extensively against the Iranians in the 1980's, not to mention his 'own people'.  

But - and it's a big, big But - this was a tactical CW capability, not 'MD' at all.

It was in fact quite an advanced tactical capability, consistent with several competent aspects of the 1980's Iraqi military as I'll explain.  But, to round off the present-day aspect: it's no surprise to find ISIL using CW, because their mainstream fighting capability is based on a core (indeed, a corps) of fairly proficient Iraqi army officers of the Saddam era, whose combat experience is second to none on the planet.  Likewise, I am guessing there will be no shortage of Iranian soldiers who will recall Saddam's gas attacks from bitter personal experience - and may know what to do about them as well.

*  *  *  *

Back in 1982, Saddam had a problem.  He'd attacked Iran in 1980 on the assumption it would be weakened by the anti-Shah revolution: but it turned out to be a hornet's nest, and soon he was facing an invasion from the other side, human-wave assaults from berserker revolutionary guards and all.

Source:  Wiki
Among the 'solutions' deployed by the Iraqis were chemical weapons.  Nothing new there; but that part of the world is very hot, and his own troops had to be suited-up with protective clothing and gas-masks.  I don't know how many of C@W's gentle readers have ever donned a 'noddy suit', but let me tell you it is uncomfortable to the point of oppressive.  Its use is practised in rooms full of CS gas, and it is not unusual for soldiers to tear off their respirators even in the full knowledge of the pain and suffering that is a face-full of CS at close quarters.  I am very grateful that in my own time in Oman, NBC drills were never required.

Saddam's boys came up with a truly novel device.  When they were about to use chemicals, their own front-line troops foregathered in tents containing a massive slab of ice.  They would suit up and sit around the slab remaining cool - literally - until the order came to storm into the gassed Iranian position; do the business ASAP; then fall back and strip off.

(Ingeniously, the blocks of ice served another purpose.  As with the British Army on which they were modelled, Iraqi infantry units were raised geographically.  Thus, as in WW1, there was always the possibility of mass casualties being suffered amongst a cohort all hailing from the same town or district, with the distinct possibility of unrest at home if a large number of bodies were sent back all at once.   So the ice was used to get the bodies back to a depot in decent order, whence they were released to their relatives in dribs and drabs over several ensuing months.)

The ice trick is not the only example of striking innovation in Saddam's military.  I'll mention two more.
  • the Iraqi high command formed the view that the generals who were the best at, say, conducting an offensive, were not necessarily as well suited to organising a defence.   The logical development of this plausible observation was to coin the notion of commanders with recognised specialisations.  They would be deployed accordingly, and substituted when the battle moved onto a different phase.  I know of no other army that has used this doctrine (does anyone else?)
  • they were being forced to fight along a much wider front than was comfortable, and tanks were a precious commodity.  It was determind that they were to be used only at the optimal point in the battle, then swiftly withdrawn for redeployment elsewhere.   To achieve this on a strategic scale, Iraq invested in the greatest fleet of low-loaders known to man.  This is not an entirely novel doctrine: Israel reckons to be able to switch forces between its eastern and western fronts very rapidly, too.  But the distances involved are much less.   
The Iraqi army of the 1980s was a large, well-seasoned and, relative to the bitter battles it fought against Iran, competent force.  It is a measure (I like to think) of allied superiority in all dimensions that they were swept aside in 1991.  As I've written before, this deeply impressed the Russians, who had a ringside view.  It only happened because, inter alia, there was healthy attention and respect given to what George Bush Snr's mighty NATO-led coalition was up against. 


*why are they called 'improvised' EDs ?  They may have been once, back in Afghanistan in 2002, but not any more.

Miliband- kitchen sink speech

Update to the Family Guy story

Ed Milikitchen sink speech.

I care eNeff about the British people. I am not some SMEG faced politician salad spinning fancy words and waffle ironing on. 

I know about the daily coffee grinder that hardworkingfamilies face. I know the salad strainer of daily life.
That's why I want to rolling pin up my sleeves and start baking this country great again.
No more austerity. No more Bodum tax. 
Yes, we must ensure we keep the stockpots market rising like a freshly baked loaf from an Eleganto breadmaker. so there will be some cookie cutters to public services. But these will be water softener cuts than what the Tories would make.
They would take us away from the Bosch dishwasher with their Miele mouthed words; to the mangle and butcher's sink of the 1930s. That is simply a crock pot.
There is no Magimix answer. No easy-clean saucepan answer to today's tough, stubborn stains. But Labour will ensure hobs for young people. Russel Hobbs for ALL people. 
I promise to fridge-Freeze energy prices. And self-raise the minimum sage.
So I say .. go back to your your Italian fireclay kitchen sink and prepare for gourmet-ment.
Yes We Can-opener !!

Thursday 12 March 2015

Family Guy

Looks are important.

Ed Miliband, or more probably his advisers, decided its time to play the family card.
Mrs Miliband defended her husband and the mini-Milibands told the media what a great dad he was.

It was quite alright, as these things go. Mrs Miliband is mostly normal. Looks normal. behaves like a normal person. Miliband's kids were like any small children in any other household. All ..cute as buttons normal.

Which is exactly what the spinners were hoping for. 

However, the fact Ed has been reduced to using the wife card is because the election is only weeks away and Labour are either trailing-level-just ahead, in the polls. This is a bad place for an opposition party to be in. He should, by any measure, be around 6-10% ahead by now. That they are not is partly due to Labour's lack of any real narrative for governance. Partly because they are still blamed for causing much of the mess that the economy is in today. And partly because Ed Miliband looks like a slightly melted novelty condom.

The spinners set out to try and counter Miliband's dismal personal ratings by showing that contrary to all evidence, rather than just "talk Human" their Ed "is human."

Labour supporters rushed to declare their man a hero. And that old line, it doesn't matter what he looks like..its what he says was trotted out.

However,  since the Heath, Brown, Major ministries, and the post-Blair era, its perfectly clear that it DOES matter what a person looks like. And also what they act like.
Cameron, whatever else may be said about him, looks and acts like a Prime Minister. He doesn't look like he's trying to force his way into an EU leader's photo-op , like Brown did.  He isn't aloof and annoyed by the public , like Heath. He isn't a victim, like Major.
When he stands next to Mrs Cameron, they look like a normal couple going to normal function.
And I'd add that SamCam has been the best first lady since Denis.

Brown, after repeated gaffs and failures, became a national laughing stock. And the public stopped listening to him. That's part why he had to have a re-launch every week. To try and get someone to take some notice of him. And in the end, during the bunker days, Mrs Brown was wheeled out more and more often, to try and humanise the lumpen leader. Even to the point that she starred at the Labour conference.
There is a danger there for Miliband. He needs only to look at what happened to Brown.

 In trying to show what a caring and decent man Gordon was by appearing on tear jerk TV with his wife, and to show how 'human' he was on the conference stage it only served to show how much better she came across than him.
Which made people think .."she's far more normal than him!  Maybe she should be leader?"

In one of  those post-Brownian era documentaries there was the film-maker in a taxi asking expert manipulator Peter Mandelson whether it was tough having to spin Gordon.
 Peter, guarded as ever, made a satisfactory answer of support. But he did sigh, gaze out of the window, and a little wistfully express a desire that just once..just once.. when the PM emerged from his ministerial car, his tie wouldn't be flapping over his shoulder. Or his trousers weren't tucked into his socks. Or when he went to speak he'd remembered to clear his throat off stage, rather than start his speech with a phlegmy cough straight into the microphone.

Miliband has some of those qualities. Not as severe, but they are there.
The more we see of geeky Ned standing next to sensible Justine, the more we notice the contrast.
And before long we begin to wonder if ... Maybe she should be leader ?

BBc Question Time compo : Stig edition

David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Leeds. On the panel are Conservative defence minister Anna Soubry MP, { which must be a surprise to Michael Fallon..Soubry is A defence minister, not THE defence minister}former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles 'glug' Kennedy MP, Labour's shadow minister for the Cabinet Office Lucy Powell MP, Green Party leader Natalie 'brain fade' Bennett and Private Eye editor and broadcaster Ian Hislop.

Not a bad lineup at all.

BQ chooses a sympathetic meadow green dimbletie

1. Clarkson...Top Gear ..cash..Will allow BBC to explain they have to follow rules..And Hislop to have a dig.
2. Farage wants no Irish, blacks or dogs..Or so the media reported in a not entirely accurate edit.
Though why Farage brought up British jobs for British workers is anyone's guess.
3. Liberal's dodgy funding. A yawn question for Kennedy to talk to boredom.
4. Syria runaways {again} was it really the fault of the police? 
5. Mi5 read all your emails {and QT entries - so make them good}

One more for this season - looks like measured may take the gold!

League Table 2015

Measured - 3
Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2
 Nick Drew - 2
Dick the Prick - 2
Malcolm Tucker - 2

  Taff -2
 Budgie - 1

Blue Eyes - 1
Cityunslicker -1
Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.