Friday, 27 February 2015

EU "Energy Union": A Real Monster

The blockbuster Energy Union Package hatched this week by the new Commission has been a while in the creation, signalled by Master Mandelson last year.  Obviously one's first reaction is that this would be an appalling extension of the Acquis, with massive potential for corruption of all kinds, to be resisted at all costs.

But there are a very large number of components in this monstrosity, making it it worthy of more detailed consideration, which I propose to give it in the coming days.  Here are a few initial observations, in no particular order.
  • some of its proponents are very critical of  the 'ever closer union'-supporting countries whom one might imagine a priori would be most in favour of another acqui-grab: critical of France, and particularly of Germany.  That's because a major strand of this is about Eastern Europe looking for the help of the Big Brothers in their hitherto one-sided dealings with Gazprom, in which they feel they've been hung out to dry
  • there is a strong strand of anti-Russian 'energy revanchism' in play here - if only as a smokescreen (security of supply being the last refuge of a scoundrel) - and one cannot but note the timing relative to recent setbacks suffered by the EU expansionistas in their Ukrainian policy 
  • France has always wanted the rest of us to pay its astronomical nuclear decommissioning bill, so a 'CEP' was always going to be on the table to join the CAP at some stage
  • the UK has worked wonders behind the scenes, over more than a decade, to drive the open energy market agenda across the EU - with considerable success, given the entrenched opposition from France and Germany.  The Package contains a lot of commendable open-market rhetoric - again, maybe as a smokescreen
  • the politics of all this will be epic.  Why would Germany give up its direct gas links with Russia?  Why would France give more power to anti-nuclear forces within Europe?  Why would the fervent anti-nukes allow France the opportunity to enshrine the nuclear option in an EU charter? (as they surely will - an absolute red line for them). Why would the UK accept such a blatant extension of centralisation from Brussels, enough perhaps to make us quit altogether?  (well OK, we know Mili would love it)
  • the greens will be wetting themselves at the whole prospect, seeing it as the perfect instrument for implementing their wildest fantasies
And so it goes on.  More than can be addressed in a single post, that's for sure.

ND

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Rolling Barrage





Nick Drew used the term Rolling Barrage to describe the latest political moves.
Its a quality metaphor.

Politics is only the continuation of war by other means. 

Our UK politics is still very much fought in the way of wars of old. Not so much the modern battlefield's high tech kit. Powerful communications. Great flexibly in multi-role operations. Cost effective units..High tech, low manpower..highly trained professionals.

No. Our politics is a titanic struggle of Might and Money. Mobilisation and National Will. Depots and railheads and fixed timetable battle-plans during the campaign season.
 Citizen volunteers led by a mix of old regulars. Fresh faced amateurs. Public Schoolboys and keen as mustard university students.  Each side containing far greater numbers of journeymen generals than first class leaders. Each with more incompetent or raw officers than veteran field commanders.
Each side proclaiming a great victory for every mile of useless mud gained. Each refusing to accept a defeat. Instead calling it a "rearwards advance" or a "change of base."

Two huge, opposing, power blocks. Separated only by a very narrow ideological strip of no-man's land.  Yet fighting to the death to control that thin marginal seat ground.
Our political leaders scour the battlefield. They send out Political Spad XIII scouts to search out the moral high ground, from where the Heavy Artillery Politicians can dominate the battlefield.    Bellowing out their thunder day and night. New fangled 'Fokkos Gruppen" report on the movements behind the enemies lines.  Seeking out concentrations of troops and the buildup of supplies. Also attempting to find what weakness the enemy has camouflaged under those rear area nets.

Certain sections of the trench line may be very weakly defended. Salients ripe for lopping off.
Other sections are so heavily entrenched, like the NHS, ring-fenced with miles and miles of barbed wire, and well sited union bunkers, that to assault it head on would invite ruin.

Some trench sections led by unflappable Liberal Democrat Captains, have the potential to stand fast,  even though the lines either side of them are wiped out. 

And the thump of a shell sploshing into the mud. Followed by a dreaded hiss as it releases its toxic topic of "Immigration..Immigration" can have even first line troops of the major parties fleeing to the rear in panic.

Certain sections may be in a safe zone. Weakly defended with second line troops. These could suddenly fall victim to new allies joining the war. The Scots nation and The UKIP opening up like the Turkish and Italian fronts.

The basic battle plan remains the same for both sides.
Find either a strength on your side or a weakness on theirs. Mass forces. Set up a timetable. Brief everyone concerned, making sure their is no deviation from the plan, whatever happens. Then set up a tremendous barrage. Days and days of relentless prattling. Followed by a creeping barrage of sudden explosions and a mixture of Statistics Piercing Shells. Highly Explosive Revelations..Tons of smoke-shells to disguise own mistakes..And the never ending chatter of machine tweets, as the poor bloody infantry try and get their flyers read before they hit the recycling bin.
Once the offensive begins its too late for fine tactics. Simply hammer the opponent and hope to break his front line, so allowing penetrations and flank attacks and try and force him back to his second or third lines.

The chances of a knockout blow are slim to say the least. More often its just attritional, positional warfare , where each side attempts to overwhelm the other with sheer numbers.
Costs are not considered. The war chest has already been amassed and there is no point saving any for the next battle. So every gun that can is brought to bear. And the winner is often the one that made the fewest mistakes.

Our politicians are very old fashioned. They are impressed by something as ancient as a database that might or might not show them where their supporters are. This startling lack of hard reconnaissance means they fire off millions of leaflets, carpet bombing rather than strategic strikes. 
They know the marginals are the key to victory. So they bombard them the hardest. But again, just using weight of shells to try and counter battery their opponent into silence.

Communications,  the key to the modern era, is not quick enough. MPs rely on a pre-mission briefings and what appears to be field telephone. So they sometimes go over the top into a hail of fire that could easily have been avoided by being forewarned.

Can't help feeling that the first party to master  the Westminster equivalent of radio-telephone. Coded messages. Combined arms. Close air support. Mechanised transportation and self-propelled artillery is going to waltz through the political landscape and cause an almighty upset.

I think that's taken that metaphor as far as it could possibly travel. 
But for the historians amongst us..


The Entente

The British Empire - Conservatives 
Ill prepared. Too parsimonious and too active on too many fronts prolonged the conflict and prevented gathering of forces for a decisive campaign. The Empire takes a long, long time to become effective.

The French Empire - Democratic Unionist Party 
Always up for an offensive. But after sustaining terrible casualties their morale declines. Prefer to remain on the defensive within their own sphere.

Czarist Russian Empire - Liberal Democrats
The least prepared, financed and equipped of the great powers. Poor leadership causes severe losses, Even being propped up by the British Tory Empire can't prevent capitulation then revolution.

Serbia - UKIP
Impossibly small. Friend of neither  the Allied nor Central Powers. Somehow, despite attacks from all sides, remain in play. And even mounting offensives.

Central Powers

Imperial Germany - Labour
Once the dominant power. But the war machine was no longer the power force of the 1870s. Outspent by the Entente and lacking allies and with weak leadership, they struggle to find a way to win.

Austro-Hungary - SNP
Allied by virtue of a common ideology to Imperial Labour. But wish to rule as a nation in their own right. They lose almost every battle, yet remain a powerful player in the war to the very end.

Ottoman Empire - Plaid Cmyru/ Respect 
Dragged into the conflict through economic dependency on Imperial Labour. Proved ill prepared and ill financed. Charismatic Caliphate leader keeps them going much longer than expected. But eventually defeated and destroyed.

The Kingdom of Bulgaria - The Greens
Originally both the central and allied powers wanted the Green agenda on their side. Eventually the Central Socialist powers proved more able to deliver Green desires. After limited initial success the Kingdom failed in its offensives.. Poor health of troops and lack of money and supplies led to catastrophe. The blame was placed on the idiocy of their leader, who abdicated.


BBC Question Time - 2 jobs edition





Question Time quiz.

Again..I am out.
But may be back in time for the watching.
So hopefully scores this time.

David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Telford in Shropshire. The panel includes Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps MP, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves MP, Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt MP, UKIP's Mark Reckless MP and the Sunday Times journalist and critic Camilla Long.

A lot of news this week. I will guess

Dimbletie - Butterfly motif.
1. Cash for access. Milibandwagon's second jobs for MP's. Public will be well up for a ban on second jobs. But the exemptions list would run to several hundred pages. 
2. Green party. loony party leader can'rt explain loony party policies. Who knew?
3. Three English girls. All very Enid Blyton. Three get into a fix in Aleppo. Since the story broke been looking for someone to blame...Luckily..
4. Jihadi John turns out to be a kind, friendly, cheerful, pacifist. But the security forces turned him into a Jihadi. So we know who to blame. All this terrorism is caused by MI5 investigating terrorism.
So I suppose if the Human Rights people are right, if we just stop looking for terrorists that will prevent terrorism.
5. Has to be those disastrous Net Immigration figures and Cameron's silly pledge.
{The spin I get from CHQ is - The economy is doing so well..every foreigner wants to come here.!}
If you think I'm trying that suicide line on the doorstep, think again Lynton.



League Table 2015

Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2
Measured - 2

Dick the Prick - 1
Blue Eyes - 1
Taff -1
Nick Drew - 1
Cityunslicker -1
Malcolm Tucker - 1
Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

Devo-Manc: Another Serious Power-Play

One of my perennial themes here has been: 
  • governments have their hands on the biggest levers 
  • a government strategist with a bit of creativity can always drive the agenda
Regrettably it is usually people like Mandelson who actually understand this.  Brown sort-of understood it, except he deployed it negatively in his 2009-2010 scorched-earth campaign, analysed by C@W at the time.  Anyhow, Osborne understands it too (and of course Crosby).

So now we see another serious power play, and it's well up in the creativity stakes (relative to the usual nonsense) - Devo-Manc and, in particular, the NHS-devo aspect dropped onto the unsuspecting Labour Party yesterday by Osborne.  Yes, he couldn't resist dropping this bombshell himself.

And yes, Labour has been comprehensively wrong-footed.  Oh how they hate devolution!  So now they must spend a week (out of the ten weeks remaining) cobbling together a response, which won't be easy because the Mancs (almost entirely Labour) are in favour.  (Hell, Andy Burnham - panicky and instinctively against it - is a north-west MP.)  And Tessa Jowell likes the sound of it for London.  And every regional newspaper will be majoring on it for weeks to come - even if the Gruaniad relegated what the New Statesman called the biggest story of the day to a sub-page on its labyrinthine website (oh how the lefties hate devolution).

We may confidently assume this initiative is part of a rolling barrage.  It wouldn't be difficult to bundle Mili off the field with the devo-bombardment alone, for which there is plenty more ammunition still to be fired: but I'm guessing that another flank will be opened up soon, to reinforce his lethal disequilibrium.

This is gearing up to be one of the great election campaigns.  It's not before time and I'm loving every minute.  There's no such thing as an election to lose.

ND

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

GKP puts itself up for sale

It's been a while since GKP left the AIM stock market for the main market. Sadly for the company thought, which had a fantastic run in 2009-2011, events have really caught up with it.

Drilling in Kurdistan was always risky but who knew ISIS would be threatening and the whole area would turn into a warzone. Worse, the Kurdish Government has never been able to come to a political settlement with the main Government of Iraq concerning oil funds; so there has been precious little money to pay the Oil companies whom they gave licences too in Kurdistan.

With the large debts built up from exploration, GKP has a hard time paying its debts. As such today the company has put itself up for sale. Moving the shareprice up 50% at time of writing, but still at fraction of where the shares once traded.

Afren, a fellow oil company in Kurdistan with huge problems. also struggling to sell its assets, it maybe a firesale of sorts - it is not like the Global market for Oil M&A is very hot right now.

I have been invested on an off in the company for a long time - it amazes me how much global politics and events have ended up defining one small oil play in end.


Wars, Rumours of Wars, and the FTSE 100

What colourful times we live in, eh?  A single day's headlines include:
  • Russians limbering up for the expected assault on Mariupol  
  • Cameron commits military 'advisers' to Ukraine*
  • Ms Green the greenie publicly melts down into a puddle of green goo
  • the FTSE 100 reaches a record high!
Wow.  The next several months are going to be astonishing.

Seriously for a moment, I take all these items as grist to Crosby's mill.  We know that there will be all manner of happenstance making the minnow-parties look stupid - only the SNP are moderately proof against this.  Of course, Mili will take succour from any further green meltdown, but Cameron will take still more from the combination of war abroad and UKIP looking flaky at home.   I think he's mad to engage in Ukraine: power-mad, that is.  Proof of serious intent at a no-holds-barred elelction strategy.  This is William Pitt stuff: you gotta admire a pure power-play.

ND

* truth be told, UK military 'advisers' have been in Ukraine, on and off, for a number of years, much good it has done

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rifkind and Straw - guilty perhaps, but not for Cash for Access sting

As regular readers will know, we hold little candle for Politicians here. They are in general venal, usually corrupt in both morals and financial accument as well as viewing their career as one long ego trip. But there we are, only the type of person desiring of the above lifestyle would put up with the mendacious hassle of being a politician in the UK.

So to the latest 'scandal' around Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind. Mr Straw has has a poor career as a politician, thought holding high office he never did so with any aplomb and as a man of weak character has bowed to his masters' wishes, be their political or electoral, at every turn. As such his policy making was a mess and his best lines were saved for justifying whatever iniquitous decision was that he had just made. Malcolm Rifkind would come out better, but for his stewardship of the complete collapse of the Tory party in Scotland, including his own seat, which has then led to a chicken run to the safety of Kensington and Chelsea.

And finally, it is noticeable that heir progeny both seem to have benefited nicely from the nepotistic opportunities provided to them by their father relative fame.

All in all, so typical and formulaic of many a politico.

Yet, I watched this 'Dispatches' programme last night which was supposed to indict such men so badly. Both were keen to stress the rules about how they could help this Chinese company, both were also prone to over-playing what effect their small efforts might make - whilst making clear their demands for filthy lucre were substantial. What is there to see here? Nothing. Neither offered to actually make a real difference, a few introductions here and there is hardly the stuff of which conspiracy is made. Also, to what end those introductions, it was hardly offering to suggest changes to direct legislation.

As an election approaches both men will be hung out to dry for fear of further pushing the anti-Politics message of UKIP to the detriment of both Labour and Tory parties. But in truth this is a poor sting attempt and the Telegraph/Channel 4 should be ashamed that this is the best they could do - clearly showing the programme and over-doing its findings in the newspaper for effect rather than legal reality.

Of course, neither man deserves peerages or guarantees of nice future earnings due to their poor performance in office, so perhaps hubris has found its own winding way in the end.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Euro strangle hold continues for Greece

I very much doubt, whatever they thought previously, that the new Finance Minister and Prime Minister of Greece knew what they were getting into.

After a week of 'negotiations' with their European paymasters, they are now scrabbling around trying to find a way of remaining in the Euro and indeed, remaining in the bailout programme that they were elected to leave.

This is not a happy situation for Syriza and you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the uselessness of the polemic negotiation style which ended up cutting no ice with the Germans.

So now, very desperately, they are reduced to trying to find ways of re-naming the 'Troika' to try and pretend it is something else - typical left-wring approach, same as we have here in the UK with numerous elements of political correctness, where language alteration is used as cover for power and control.

The sad element is that really, the Greeks have more power than they realise. The future of a happy Greek people lies outside of the Euro. Even Germany has really acknowledged this by making it clear Greece can leave. Not an easy decision for the Euro's foundation stone member, but for last week to have happened and to have had such an effect on Syriza, the conversations were clearly very blunt.

The worst outcome will be for a muddle-through solution that allows Greece to remain in the Euro whilst it continues to be consumed by its outlandish and growing debts. These communists, never quite a strong as they like to pretend they are. Real leaders in Greece would walk away from the German terms.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Weekend Edification(2) - Understanding ISIS

Which is quite important, n'est-ce pas?

Here's a great essay, the thesis of which has the ring of well-researched and long overdue truth about it.  What ISIS really wants.   And the answer seems to be: to live up to the rather demanding caliphatic responsibilities placed on it by its own interpretation of the Koran and associated fundamental doctrines.

Both illuminating and, notwithstanding the horror and the menace, in its own way rather encouraging (seeds of its own destruction-style).  To understand is not to forgive, it's to forewarn.  Hopefully in places where policy is maturely made.

ND

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Weekend Edification(1) - John Singer Sargent

Eugenia Errazuriz (detail)
I must heartily recommend the current National Portrait Galley exhibition, Sargent - Portraits of Artists and Friends.  

Sargent is right up there at the very highest point in portraiture.  The quality of his work is invariably top notch - I can think of none more consistent in any age - unlike (say) the comparable and broadly contemporary Whistler, Atkinson Grimshaw and Manet, the latter of whom could produce some really dreadful stuff on a bad day.

Well worth the time: and if you've any left over well, I chose the The Real Tudors, even if a bit Wolf-Hall derivative.  Just couldn't face the Grayson Perry, Who Are You? - whatever his merits on a different day, today I decided I didn't want to find out.



ND                                 pic credit: http://www.johnsingersargent.org/

Thursday, 19 February 2015

100 days. UKIP's Waterloo







On my bookshelf sits a thick, old paperback. Its somehow managed to escape the house moving purges or the Amazon shelf clearances.
This rumpled and paperback has been unread by myself, and probably anyone else too for that matter,  for at least 25 and maybe closer to 35 years. Nick's post below reminded me of it.

General Sir John Hackett's Third World War.

Written at the height of the Red Menace, when the USSR had a war machine equal in size, if not ability to all of Europe and USA, the book is about what would happen if the soviets unleashed their forces and made the grab for Western Europe.

Apart from being, IIRC, a great read, nicely paced, it was also considered a pretty likely scenario of what might actually occur. Warsaw Pact doctrine and Nato responses and counterattacks all pulled from the manuals of the day. Sir John spent a while researching what Nato would do would in the event of a shooting war. What the Russkies would do in response to Nato moves. And some other events after that.
Would the children be evacuated? The panic food buying and the refugees from Germany and France blocking the roads.
It was well received by the public. Though thought alarmist by the politicians and joint chiefs. Hackett wasn't a neutral. He was arguing for a much larger amount of GDP to be spent on conventional forces. That the nuclear defence was either a fig leaf or an end of world defence..but could not be both. I expect politicians were quite frightened, as I was, to read of a nuclear bomb detonating on Birmingham. And then Minsk.
Tom Clancy was in his heyday too. Red Storm Rising, a more dramatic fiction, but no less readable account of the same thing. USSR invasion. Red Storm and Red October sold millions of copies.

But events moved on. So Sir John, a genuine WW2 hero, and his book, were left behind by world events. The USSR collapsed, only able to have its centrally planned economy make guns or butter, not both. And the soviets and communism went into the history dumpster.

***
100 days: The UKIP story.
That annoyed me. Annoyed me as an avid historical reader and consumer of all manner of historical and political works.
100 days is the Waterloo campaign. Something we shall all be hearing about in this anniversary year of that battle. Don't mess about with Waterloo.

As for the actual C4 program.. UKIP is of only mild interest to me, so I watched about 15 minutes.
And to see how the writers tackled the issue of making a future historical program seem realistic and plausible.

Sadly, they managed that aspect by ignoring it. There was no attempt to tackle the program in a way that something like 'a very British coup, or even House of Cards, did.
In both of those dramas the public mood was a part of the setting. Francis Urquhart ruled as an evil Tory, against a feeble opposition, because, as the series made quite clear, he appealed to two thirds of the voters and so was able to ignore completely, the other third.
When the ultra-left wing trades union workers party, led by a deliberately Lech Walesa look alike, Harry Perkins, take control in A Very British Coup, their cabinet battle the establishment at all levels. Not the populace,who support them.

Because, as UKIP the TV show, utterly failed to comprehend, if the people had not voted for those ideas, then those leaders have no part in the story. If the majority of the public had not voted Tory, Francis Urquhart is just the chief whip of the opposition.

The makers of the UKIP program had a UKIP parliament, enacting legislation from their manifesto, that had the voters rioting in the streets.

Now why would they do that?

They started the program saying "in these unprecedented scenes, we see the new Prime Minister, Nigel Farage, who has come from nowhere, to sweep seat after seat, and now leads a government with a small majority."

So the makers were aware how much of a popular swing that would have to be, to make that possible. UKIP would have to have 50% of the popular vote to make those kinds of inroads into the first past the post British politics.

So why would the voters be angry with them? Its utter nonsense.

Only in Ken Livingstone's bedroom is the idea that vast swathes of the electorate were against council house sell offs. It was the most popular piece of legislation of the 1980s.
Only in Michael Howard's shed does the idea that millions of people voted in Tony Blair  in error have any traction. Tony Blair won landslides.

Channel 4 took the 'current' UKIP minority protest party, and made a program that assumed UKIP would still be a minority protest party. Counterfactual history at its most idiotic.
Airbus leaves the UK, almost immediately. I didn't realise international organisations had such spare capacity that they could switch manufacturing, and replace all their skilled workers overnight,without any impact on current or future orders or contracts.

Others complained the program was, absurd, biased, sneering, made by bedwetting liberals out of touch with public opinion..etc.

My complaint was that it was just bad. Really bad. Made with a fixed idea that fell foul of its central premise within minutes.

Next time, do some research. Have a quiet think before leaping in hoping your viewers are shallow X-factor fools.

Sir John's ancient WW3 novel sits on my shelf still.
Labour MP, Chris Mullin's , A very British Coup, is also on that dusty shelf. In a kind of gone, but not forgotten graveyard of old books. Michael Dobbs' House of cards is there too.

If UKIP, the first 100 days was a book, it would have been in the bin already.
With the rest of the trash.



Question Time : Dodgier donors edition

No time .. Off to see Tommy Tiernan, despite my best efforts to avoid him.
Irish humour.
David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Stockton-on-Tees. The panel includes former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Labour's shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint MP and star of Dragons' Den Duncan Bannatyne.
So 

Usual rules
BQ thinks, off the top of my head.

1. Who has the dodgiest donors? Why did Miliband even get into this fight? No one cares but him. He knew he wasn't squeaky clean when he started pointing fingers. Has no one told him about glass houses?
2. Chelsea racist fans. Unlikely,but i shall punt it as its had a lot more coverage than expected. This sort of incident happens all the time on the tube. Not usually racially motivated. Usually a full train. I've pushed someone off myself when the doors couldn't be closed. The Chelsea one does seem a deliberate case though.
3. Obesity and cutting just a  media story and can't happen.
4. "God is with us!" In the Labour parties case, that is true.  More Marxists in the church than the Labour party. But best of friends again.
5. UKIP the movie. generated enough complaints to be an issue. But were they justified?

League Table 2015

Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2
Measured - 2

Blue Eyes - 1
Taff -1
Nick Drew - 1
Cityunslicker -1
Malcolm Tucker - 1
Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

What is NATO For?

When I was a boy, world was better spot
What was so was so, what was not was not
Now I am a man, world has changed a lot
... 'tis a puzzlement!

When I was a boy ... a couple of the great pillars of existence were the Conservative Party and NATO.  Everyone knew what they were for and, revealingly, their raisons d'ĂȘtre were negatively defined.  In the case of the Party this was explicit in its rulebook: "Membership of the Conservative & Unionist Party is open to all who oppose Socialism and Communism".  NATO managed to avoid name-calling in its concise founding treaty of 1949, but no-one was in any doubt it existed to be in opposition to Soviet Russia.

Well, the world has certainly changed a lot.  NATO command structures were seriously deployed in a shooting war for the first time in the first Gulf War 1990-91, in the service of George Bush Senior's grand coalition force.  (The Russians were mightly impressed with the salutory technical success this represented: they'd believed the sheer volume of air traffic implied by the Air-Land Battle doctrine was infeasible.  It also became clear that France's long period of refusal to commit troops to the NATO frontline in Germany hadn't dimished her operational ability to fit in nicely when it mattered.)  NATO qua NATO actually went into action in Bosnia / Herzegovina in 1995, and errr, Afghanistan, following the first-ever invoking of Article 5 (who attacks one, attacks all) in respect of 9/11.

Additionally, for some while now NATO has had an 'enlargement' policy:
NATO membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”
And of course it has followed through with this, accommodating most of the former Warsaw Pact states notwithstanding the 'verbal agreement' given to Gorbachev that NATO would not push eastward.  Well, Turkey has long been a member, so perhaps Bulgaria isn't such a provocative inclusion after all.  And Poland, Hungary & the Baltics are EU and historically fairly 'European'...

But now we find NATO - and its playground pal the EU - playing silly-buggers, so that its website offers translation into French, Arabic, Russian and yes, Ukranian, even though Ukraine explicitly doesn't qualify for membership (though incidentally, neither did Croatia and Slovenia, having an active border dispute between them).   Russia, of course, has finally taken the bait and decided (albeit when oil was still at $115) there's nothing in practical terms to prevent them re-drawing the borders of the 1991 dispensation if they choose.  Plus or minus some financial sanctions, annexation of Crimea and the latest events in Ukraine lend credence to Putin's judgement on this.

So what are we to make of Mr Fallon and the rather bellicose Jens Stoltenberg warning us that the Baltics might be next ?  C@W commenters have suggested this is just a ploy to boost defence spending, which is plausible enough but not, I think, the whole story.  Just as the neocons have decided the cheapest strategy against Russia is to bait it along its borders, so Putin will have noticed that two can play this game.   Sending subs into the North Sea and Tupolevs to Cornwall (sic) is flamboyant and fairly cheap, too: but in the Baltics there's the prospect of real turmoil. 

Obviously the correct answer is for both sides to row back from this childish provocation, and get on with trade and other important things we all have in common.

But, pace Hatfield Girl, I'm no advocate of a 'Russia-in-Christendom' policy: I've lived there, their culture is different and they're capable of crazy things.  Also, if my theory is correct, that the USSR held back from a first strike partly because their Marxism told them they were going to win anyway, well that particular restraint obviously no longer applies.  So NATO it is, but without the mission-creep.  Being negatively defined is just fine.  'Attack is the best form of defence' may be a maxim worth considering for a general in the field, but not for statesmen in countries of such wealth (and strength) as the USA.  What was wrong with 'speak softly, and carry a big stick' ?  It saw off the USSR handily enough.

ND 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Nick Drew right about Russia, again



Ukrainian troops withdrawing from, err, Ukraine


As usual, ND has it right. Last week predicting that the Russians will interested in closing off a pocket in the line that they have cleared in rebel areas.

Predictably, the ceasefire agreed last week has been 'in place' everywhere except here. Now the Ukrainian troops are withdrawing having lost control of the vital railway station. Now of course, the ceasefire can be honoured!

I still cannot explain rationally what Merkel and Hollande thought they were doing. Clearly Putin told Merkel to get on with a plan for separation lest the war be expanded and also that Germany had its gas cut-off*. Unsurprisingly, these same calls with Cameron and Obama did not meet with a desire to travel the world working out a Russian appeasement strategy. Quite why Cameron is getting a bad press from not engaging in this charade is beyond me - but then again, the press has lots of left-wing Quislings who perhaps have not noticed Russia's fast move from Communism to Fascism.

The only real question left is does Russia want a bigger client state and a new land border with Crimea or is the current chunk enough to satisfy the demand currently?

One valuable lesson of the 1930's is that land grabs are addictive for successful leaders and don't stop until a serious war effort is made to halt them.


*I may have been informed of this by a rather reliable source.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Doom, Gloom - and Reasons to be Cheerful

The news from overseas is pretty awful:  but round my way the sun shining this morning, I'm feeling bouyant for a number of reasons - and the Tories are ahead in the polls!  Cue the inevitable CiF thread, further adding to the jollity.

What's more, the same poll has 'NHS' as the most important single issue by a mile, having previously contested the #1 slot with other issues.  If Mili, howling 'dodgy Tories' at the top of his nasal voice, can't hang on to his earlier poll lead against that backdrop, ...

I shan't rub it in for all you 'kippers out there.

Having always been in the camp of everything to play for / Crosby knows the score / no such thing as 'this is an election to lose' - well, I still am.  Couldn't claim to have anticipated the SNP thing, in fact quite the reverse, I kinda thought the referendum result would put them back in their box.  No matter.

There must now be the strong possibility of a huge negative feedback loop for Labour.  Balls was already lining up Mili for both barrels.  Tax avoidance isn't a great platform for the Mili-family to campaign on, so that line won't serve for much longer.  The meeja have unanimously decided the Pink BatBus is hilarious.  Oh yes, the sun is shining.

Greece, Ukraine, Libya, Italy, Denmark ... that's for tomorrow.

ND       


Monday, 16 February 2015

Why do Doctors want to kill the UK?

I have never been a big fan of the medical profession, I remember way back at University being concerned that the medical students I knew were getting by with pass rates of about 60% - so not knowing a good 40% of what they needed too! How was theat going to work out in the future....

More relevantly perhaps is that in recent years the Doctors of the UK have started to make plays which affect and potentially destabilise the whole country.

The first battle was around pay and working conditions. The EU had implemented the working time directive and this made the lives of junior doctors impossible - they had been asked to work crazy 90 hour plus weeks. Also Labour wanted to implement some reforms of the NHS which the BMA was against.

So Labour happily drew up new contracts, which managed to have both shorter hours and extensive 'overtime' for GP's. Doctors were now earning 20% more for doing the same of less work. This at a time when the UK was just beginning to spend more on the NHS but was also starting to run a deficit during the high point of the economic boom.

The second major battle has been around immigration. Not just of actual doctors, which is a separate topic, but of treating immigrants. Doctors have long claimed under the spurious 'hippocratic oath', that they be allowed to treat anyone who appears before them (less than 50% of British Medical Students 'take' this oath anyway). As immigration soared after 1997, so the costs of treating health tourists did too. Doctors want nothing to do with controlling this, but at the same time demanded more money and are always keen to stick the knife into 'hospital administrators.' This classic tactic plays well with Labour who always rant on about how many more nurses and doctors they can have. However, for everyone else, what does it matter if we have more supply of doctors and nurses (and indeed treatments and facilities) if demand grows exponentially.

Then finally today, another example raises its head. David Cameron and the Government are keen to reduce benefits of those who are able to help themselves but choose not to. So targeting Obese people and drug addicts who are in receipt of long-term benefits for their condition. This is not an article about the rights and wrongs of the policy. Here is to show Tory MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston is against this policy as it is not for Doctor's to implement Government policy and not for them to withdraw or prescribe treatments to patients without their consent.

To me this position is untenable, the Government pays the salaries of the public sector and the Government has to balance the books and make hard choices - it is why all Governments are always unpopular after all.

The above three cases show that Doctors consider themselves above the rule of Government despite working for it. The Health budget is 15%+ of Government spending and increasing out of control. Yet it is not for the Doctors to do anything at all to help, except to say 'its not my problem.' For the finances and long-term stability of the UK this is a huge imposition and not one that anyone can do anything about via the ballot box - it is a calissic case of producer caputre.

The Doctors in many areas are hold the future of the Country literally in their hands. This is a huge problem for the Country as they have the power of life and death and are vested with such moral authority - it is a great argument for privatising more of the NHS so as to remove the leaden hand of the Doctors from Government policy.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Sober Look at Ukraine

Source:  Beeb
The map of the current Ukrainan situation tells an interesting story.  Why a 2-day delay before the ceasefire comes into effect ?  That salient at Debaltseve looks awfully vulnerable: if the eyes of the world weren't quite so fixed on the area, Russia would bite that off in an afternoon and they may yet do so anyway.  Retention at least of Mariupol will be a boon for Ukraine, in the circumstances.

What has Russia gained?  In material terms, I'm not sure.  Raedwald suggests "the industry and the wealth producing bits, whilst Kiev has the beet fields and the pensioners" and if that's true, it's more than just a bit of swagger and nose-thumbing on Putin's part.  But I've also read that the Crimea and these eastern parts are going to cost him a lot of hard currency to keep them happy.  So it's a rather costly macho gesture ?  Or (as some say) a price well worth paying to fend off an existential threat ? - at least, as perceived in the Kremlin. 

The latter seems an extreme assessment.  All in all, I'm inclined to think it's a rather unusual (for the 21st C) example of best-form-of-defence-is-attack.  The lazy neocon strategy of baiting Russia along its borders, not to mention the expansionism of the EU (and NATO), provides plenty of motive for Putin to flex his BM 21s.  He has followed Soviet doctrine pretty much to the letter (albeit on pinprick scale), as I confidently predicted here.  There's also an element of making the best of a bad job, as the Ukrainian separatists are probably not 100% under control - or at least, they weren't when this whole thing seriosuly kicked off. A bit like China and N.Korea (again, on a tiny scale): why do the Chinese indulge the childish bastards ? - well, they are their childish bastards, so piss off the rest of you.  Maybe now Putin can get back to the serious business of managing an economy around $50 oil, which he very much needs to do.

There is one good aspect to this.  It will be ten times harder for Russia to play its 'little green men' trick again in (say) the Baltic - tactically, that is, not logistically - because we've seen it now.  And perhaps the Typhoons weren't such a bad investment after all; so long as we keep up the NATO spending now.  But with the Greek thing simmering away, that might be another story.

ND

Thursday, 12 February 2015

BBC Question Time guessathon - Girly pink edition - to attract the ladies



David Dimbleby presents the topical debate from Norwich.
On the panel are Liberal Democrat energy secretary, and mortal enemy of Portal Master Nick Drew, Ed Davey MP, Labour's shadow culture minister, pantomime villain ..boo hiss.. Chris Bryant MP, Conservative chair of the health select committee Sarah 'tough nuts' Wollaston MP, UKIP deputy chairman 'Brassy' Suzanne Evans and the satirist, and consistently entertaining for over 30 years, Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It and co-creator of Alan Partridge.



BQ suspects:
1. Pink van ma'am. I can imagine Armando having written  a sketch about a pink limo for his Veep series.. and it being rejected by the producers as "just too Goddamn implausible, 'Mundo."

2. Veto on an EU referendum by the ultra minority parties. Plaid Cmyru seem to think politics is like a family boardgame. Where the youngest member gets to have special rules.

3. HSBC and tax avoidance and lots of 1% talk.

4. NHS Whistleblowing. Private Eye have been calling for this for about 20 years now. It never seems to attract mainstream media attention. If I was of a conspiracy type tinfoil mindset..??

5.Paternity leave from Ned Miliband. What a sap that man is.

Dimbletie - Purple with stars


League Table 2015 

Kilgore Trout - 2
Hopper -2

Blue Eyes - 1
Taff -1
Measured - 1
Nick Drew - 1
Cityunslicker -1
Malcolm Tucker - 1 
Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

The Perfect definition of Passive- Aggressive behaviour

Firstly, 'good' news from twitter the German foreign office announces an agreement in the Ukraine-Russia peace talks.


Meanwhile in today's Independent -

"Meanwhile, reports have emerged this morning that Russian has launched military exercises in 12 regions, involving more than 30 missile regiments, according to a Russian defence ministry official."

Just in case the message was not received loud and clear to let the rebels keep their gains, perchance?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

I'm a Barbie girl, in a barbie world .. its fantastic



Have you ever been sat in a really boring meeting in a warm room? And the chair is droning on about something that you have no interest in and only peripheral responsibility for? 
You see colleagues with glazed eyes reflected in the PowerPoint. Some staring at the ceiling. Some sneaking a look at their phone. ..And so you drift off and stop paying any attention at all.

You start pen nib dotting onto a piece of paper. Just irregular ink points onto the pad. Then some random doodling  A few strokes up and back as the monotonous voice rambles on. 
 And you suddenly notice that that doodle has a shape! Its actually pretty good

 "..Hey!" you think. "A puppy in a water sprinkler .. cool.."

So you draw some more. Add a kennel and some trees and something that could be a postbox..or R2D2 .. or an old milk churn?...
 Then your concentration is disturbed and you vaguely hear the sound of someone saying ..

"What do you think of this idea, Quango ?"

And you realise that the meeting has moved onto your area but you have no idea how long ago or what has been being discussed. 

So you say .. "I think its great!"

And around the room they look a bit puzzled and the chair says 

"Really ? You're sure ?..any details you want to go over?"

And your only clue is the PowerPoint on the last slide. Something about,

 "Women-in-touch-with Women."

 Could be an NHS gynecology health clinic proposal? Or a lesbian vote initiative? Or single mums parents and teachers associations...It could be bloody anything its so vacuous. ..

So you just stick with your first response and say

"No..I really think its totally fine as it is."


That must be how this bus idea got signed off.

Labour's idea of painting a van clitoral pink and sending it around the country packed full of their  single issue feminist politicians is astonishing. Its such a poor idea on so many levels.

Harriett Harman, deputy Labour party leader,  says she will be visiting constituencies to engage with women voters and find out what it is they want from a Labour government. She doesn't say why Labour have only just now, 1000 days AFTER they decided to write a new manifesto for a new party, decided to ask women voters what they want.

She does say the van is painted pink , because it will 'Stand out'. 
She doesn't add 'Like an Ann Summers Rabbit in carry on luggage"

She doesn't mention how Labour square this when they campaigned for gender neutral toys only a few weeks ago. Specifically saying 'no to pink!"

Its unclear why Labour want their team of top women driving around 70 constituencies , which will take perhaps three weeks? A month? out of the remaining 85 days of the election cycle.

Its uncertain why even though the policy wonks at Labour HQ reported focus group data that women are naturally more socialist than men, but are less likely to vote; that no one thought this particular idea of patronising, identity politics a terrible idea.

Or why anyone at HQ thought that in the digital age, driving around in a pink minibus like Molly Maids or Sheila's Wheels, was somehow going to gain favourable media coverage and engage the target audience better than using Facebook.

The only plausible explanation is the one at the start.

Unless that minivan is actually  Labour's B-Ark and it is really a cunning plan to send their useless third of ultra feminist cabinet  lefties off on a pointless mission to get rid of them until May.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Greece; Decline and Fall


This picture in no way looks to me as if the Greeks will shortly be accessing Russian funds

It was all looking so optimistic last week, Greece's new unsuited finance minister came to London and the European Capitals with a plan to reduce Greece's payments and also to get back some money from the ECB which it had made buying Greek bonds.

All sounded so good until he went to Germany. The German Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, was not happy at the idea of further Greek reduction and an end to the Troika policy. He was open to relaxing some of the terms and coming to a deal, but only with the ECB/IMF remaining in charge or Greek finance.

However, it has all deteriorated quite rapidly in the past few days. The ECB has restricted funding to Greek Banks and the Prime Minister in Greece, Alex Tsipras has gone on record to end austerity and co-operation with the Troika agreement.

This, in the colloquial, is squeaky bum time.

It is going to be interesting to see what happens from here. My hunch has been that the QE from the ECB was a quid pro quo deal to allow Germany to force Greece out of the Eurozone. This is a big deal for the EU though as it make the Euro an exclusive rather than inclusive club- completely against the political grain of the EU.

The markets won't like it either and it will do nothing for the Eurozone's weak growth but in the long-term it is the right way forward for all parties.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Not Looking Good for Supporters of Nukes

The whole 'EDF nukes in Britain' saga is an ever-deepening farce.  To re-cap: prior to 2008 EDF was one of the smaller 'Big 6' players with a substantial net short energy position.  With Gordon Brown's brother as EDF's head of PR, and Tony Blair having come out of the nuclear closet as soon as the 2005 election was done and dusted, time was ripe in the mid '00s for EDF to make a strategic move on us.

Specifically, the UK looked like fertile territory for offloading some more of the goldplated French 'EPR' design of nuclear power plant, by then already running into early troubles in Finland and France.  We've covered this blow-by-blow from before EDF's acquisition of British Energy, under the 'EDF' tag here.

It's easy to summarise.  The existing European EPR installations have run deeper and deeper into the mire of cost over-runs and delay (and lawsuits etc etc).  EPR builders Areva are in serious financial trouble, as well they might be based on their track record.  Successive UK governments - yes, even notionally anti-nuke LibDem ministers - have been suckered into promising ever more subsidy and support towards at least 2 new nukes from these incompetents (4 were promised by EDF back in 2008).  The EC has given the thumbs-up to this blatant nonsense.  But EDF still prevaricates. 

Now the Times has this:
The project to build Britain’s first nuclear reactor in a generation has been delayed until months after the general election because its Chinese backers have demanded that the French government protect them if it goes bust. The fallout threatens to delay the £16 billion Hinkley Point scheme’s start date of 2023 and further undermines confidence in Britain’s faltering nuclear rennaissance. EDF ... originally promised to give the go-ahead by July last year, but is now expected to wait until this September or October.
(July last year?  In 2011 I myself sat in a room hearing EDF swear to the then energy minister the go-ahead would be given before that year was out: it's been the same every year since they started the pantomime in 2008.)

In short. much as predicted on C@W exactly one month ago.

There are supporters of nukes amongst the ranks of C@W readers and it would be interesting to hear their views.  Surely, commitment to a price of  £92.50 per MWh, indexed-linked, paid to Johhny Foreigner over 35 years, in a world of $50 oil, is utterly ludicrous.  There are many better ways of achieving post-2023 security of supply than that - and some of them are nuclear!

ND

Friday, 6 February 2015

Some Actual Good Sense on North Sea Oil & Gas

Here's an article on an aspect of the UK's offshore oil & gas industries - from the Grauiad, no less -  that actually makes some sense.  Probably because the writer is from Shell. 
UK can become a world-class hub for decommissioning oil platforms: Decommissioning Brent oil and gas platform in the North Sea gives British companies a unique opportunity to develop specialist skills and expertise in safe removal and recycling of oil platforms and pipelines ... Over the next 30 years, almost all the 470 offshore installations in the North Sea’s UK Continental Shelf, such as platforms, will need to be decommissioned ... That means expenditure of between £35bn and £50bn, at least as much as the UK government plans to spend on our railway network over the next five years. 
Brent - ah, I remember the Brent complex, there are old oilman's Brent stories as interesting as for North West Hutton (and I may swing the red lamp & tell them some day).   The beauty of this decommissioning binge, is that it is mostly pre-financed: companies are obliged to make provisions for decommissioning.  So - a big wave of industrial expenditure, much of it to be given to UK yards (we are quite good at this type of thing, although so are the Dutch), coming at just the time when spending on new platforms is significantly under the cosh from the low oil price.

I say 'pre-financed':  liquidating a reserve can of course be a challenge for the corporate treasury, but that's just a treasury challenge, and the banks are up for that sort of thing.

An upbeat note for the weekend.  Good luck to the Red Rose boys in Cardiff !

ND

Thursday, 5 February 2015

BBC Question Time : Kill Bill edition


David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Finchley in north London. The panel includes Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan MP, Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt MP, Respect MP George Galloway, Cristina Odone of the Legatum Institute think tank and the Guardian's executive editor and columnist Jonathan Freedland

Another winning lineup zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Luckily its parents evening for me. Diner afterwards.. so might well miss The Gallowglass blaming Tony Blair for that pilot's violent death.

Bill Quango suspects - 
1. Can't see the obvious NHS question this week.  So I shall punt for why does Boots think the Labour party are loonies ? Bill Somebody {no relation} thinks Labour are cool.
2. Something about burning pilots. Is the UK's commitment of 3 people to the ISIS saga too few? We all said we didn't want to get involved. Can't change our minds now.
3. Scots Labour. What has gone on up there? What have Labour done to annoy so many people. Did they introduce a poll tax or something?
4. Chilcot. £7,000 a week. He's even slower than Mertesacker and on a better contract ??
5. Rotherham council ? BBc doesn't like this one much. Galloway would like it even less. But i think  its an outside popup.

Dimbletie - Mud Brown with slugs

   Scoring
1 or 2 points for each correct question asked. Depending on how close to the actual wording.
5 points for guessing the colour/design of  the Dimbleby tie.

 2 points for nearest match if no outright winner
1 point for each witty comment/excessive punning/ lampoon/mock/clever theme  that you put into the comments
1 point for the first entrant each week 
1 point for random other reasons




League Table 2015 

Hopper -2
Blue Eyes - 1
Taff -1
Kilgore Trout - 1
Measured - 1
Charity Shield winner - Malcolm Tucker.

Who asked the ECB to kill Greece?

Why is the world so dominated by Central Banks?

It is a strange phenomenen that we live in the West in 'deomcracies' but virtually every country has a central bank. The key for all central banks is that they are private- they are not state owned nor even state managed. This is a legacy from their establishment by the Rothschilds and other wealthy families a couple of centuries ago when money was desperately needed to fight wars (these families never founded the banks, but they rather helpfully at the ime put up all the money!).

Countries with independent central banks are generally held to be more stable in the international political economy. The Banks act as a buffer against populist or crazed politicians.

However, this means they can also do things that are themselves risky and there is little oversight. The Federal Reserve in the US decided to expand its balance sheet by $5 trillion during the 2008/9 crisis - five times what Congress approved on the 'bailout' which was the main political discussion at the time.

Just today we can see the effects of central bank. Greece has been making conciliatory noises for the past week about debt restructuring and playing nicely with the EU and Germans, despite Syriza sweeping to power.

In London the new finance minister got a good reception, less good in Germany but they did hear him out. Yet today he has met with Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank. Things have not gone well, straight after the meeting the ECB has withdrawn the right to use Greek bonds as collateral for Greek Banks which has meant a 300% increase in their borrowing costs.

Clearly, Draghi is sending a message that the Greeks need to negotiate in good faith with the ECB and EU.

But who elected Draghi? Why should the ECB be allowed to take actions that are not sanctioned by the Euro nations?

Central banks, although independent are situated in a Country. It is hard to imagine the Bank of England really acting against the best interests of the UK economy - of course, we know it makes makes mistakes the whole time, but there is no intent here, just incompetence.

The ECB is a more dangerous institution, it is not beholden to anyone or anything and yet is the most powerful institution in the EU. How powerful and monomaniacal we will find out in the next few months as the new Greek debt crisis unfolds.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

An Eye-opening Factoid on Economic Migrants

Here at C@W towers we get sent all manner of press releases and very very few of them make it beyond the inbox.  But here are some data from www.emolument.com which get onto the blog-page forthwith.  According to their survey of front-office staff in the City, (that's the City of London), of the top 20 universities providing graduates for these jobs, 7 are French !  (and all the others UK). 

The top French school for sending its alumni onto our trading desks, coming in at no.6 (providing 4% of total sample), is EDHEC Business School.  Top 5 (all UK) are LSE (by a head, 9%), Cambridge 5%, Oxford 5%, LBS 5% and Imperial 4%.

Over to you, M. Hollande (currently riding unaccustomedly high in the polls following the dreadful affaire Charlie Hebdo).  What's happening to your brightest and best, eh?  Fact is, for all the socialist indoctrination, they know where le pain really meets le beurre.

I have just returned from Paris where the phrase 'crawling with police' scarcely does justice to the situation.  And troops, tens of thousands of 'em.  They won't be able to keep up that degree of patrolling for long.

ND

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

That Ed Balls leadership bid video

The background on the video is on the post below.
ND beat me to it.



And if you don't know the original soundtrack its from a classic Robert Redford movie about politics, government and betrayal.

An Awful Lot of Balls

Ed Balls is putting himself about, as a cursory glance at the interweb will confirm.  Lots of different topics, lots of different themes.  Health service, education, infrastructure, Tory election tactics, Britain in Europe, devolution, Gary Barlow (sic) ... and that's just the last couple of days.  Well, it's election year and a shadow chancellor is expected to bestir himself, I'm sure.

And the magisterial tone.  "Ed Balls cannot guarantee that Labour will protect university funding" - so Tristram Hunt better not get ahead of himself, eh?  Which then forces "Ed Miliband to delay tuition fee policy".   Hmm, I wonder who's calling the shots there, eh?

We can readily identify when this frenzy of briefing commenced: 17th January 2015.
"Harman and Balls win fight to sit at Labour’s election top table: Ed Miliband’s election team relocate from the House of Commons to the party’s HQ to prepare for May poll.  Harriet Harman and Ed Balls have forced themselves on to Labour’s general election 'top table', after a ferocious power struggle within the party’s high command."
But somehow, Hattie hasn't been quite so busy.  Still, you can't object to a hyperactive shadow chancellor in election year, still less slap him down ...

Is this a leadership bid ?  Does Mr Balls, onetime dean of the Gordon Brown Academy of Political Strategy, see the prospect of a vacancy later in the year ?    Might this all become a self-fulfilling prophesy ?  Oh yes, I think so.

ND

Monday, 2 February 2015

Ryan Air caught by hedging madness, Labour next?

Not often that a canny, if awful, company like Ryan Air get caught. However, in its annual results today Ryan Air has had to announce that the coming year will be a tough one. This is because it has bought the whole of 2015 and, er 2016, ahead of time in terms of fuel cost at a price of $95 per barrel. see below

"Hedging:
We have taken advantage of recent dips in oil prices to further extend our fuel hedges into FY17. We are 90% hedged for FY15 at $95 pbl and FY16 at $92 pbl and are 35% hedged in FY17 at approx. $68 pbl. Our US$ op-ex is 90% hedged at $1.33 in FY16, and 60% hedged at $1.21 in FY17. If current rates continue this would deliver an indicative reduction in our fuel cost per passenger of approx. 8% in FY16 and approx. 16% in FY17. Our capex programme is fully hedged to September 2017 at a rate of $1.35, which locks in significantly lower cost aircraft deliveries over the next 2 years."


So in effect, they have managed to miss the price drop entirely. Given 12 month contracts are the norm in the industry they must have signed a really good deal for 2 years just before prices started falling in the middle of last year. This would equate to say a 10% discount to the prices at the time, which sounds about right for such a large order. Why they quote the Brent price is a bit mystifying when they are buying jet fuel (where the price has fallen from around $115 to $80 in the same period).

Anyway, they won't be flying cheaply for long against any companies that have not hedged to such a crazy degree. Hedging at its core is a sensible risk management strategy, all Ryan Air have done is been caught out like most of the world by the rapid price collapse in commodities.

Which makes it even weirder that the Labour Party are about to campaign in an election period in 'freezing' energy prices that supply domestic households in the UK. Just at a time when the prices should be falling substantially. Now the companies have hedged the other way, to make sure they can be profitable for the future in a price frozen world. This is now locked in, whether Labour win the election or not, the Big Six energy companies will be unable to track the market in a more meaningful way. So Labour have achieved one aim, there will be no price rises for some time - unfortunately they have managed to lock in the highest prices we are likely to see for the next 3 or 4 years.

Remember when Labour thought they were so clever selling Gold at the bottom of the market - well, here we are, they have done it again and they are not even in Government this time!

Taking Pot-shots at Putin

Oh dear, even close neighbours Finland don't mind mocking Mr Putin.


I'm told this is hilarious in Finnish - you need to know that the two suited eejits are easily recognised as the prime minister and president; and the Putin lookalike speaks for himself.  Or twitches his muscles, anyway.

The Finns, of course, have a hard-won reputation of standing up to Russia: in just a few months the Winter War of 1939-40 saw the Red Army suffer half as many casualties at the hands of Mannerheim's brave army as were suffered by the UK military during the whole of WW2.   Maybe they are laughing at themselves as well in this skit. 

It's a bit too early to call the bottom on the oil market, but if the UK gas market precedent is a guide, we may be there.  Can Putin hold his breath for four or five years at $50?  Russia is also famed for its ability to take it on the chin: but the casulaties could once again be disproportionate.  As the Ukrainian situation takes a(nother) turn for the worse, and the end of winter hoves into view with European and LNG gas stocks comfortably high, we may shortly find out what the shirtless Volodya is prepared - or forced - to do.

ND