Friday 31 March 2017

Gibraltar: Voted overwhelmingly for both in and out.

The Spanish have seized the opportunity presented by the UK's withdraw from the EU to attempt to gain some or maybe even all, control of the Rock. Long a dispute between Spain and the UK, Gibraltar itself, much like the Falkland Islands, which are also British Overseas Territories, have always, always, always voted to remain dependent upon the UK.

Gibraltar is tiny. 6.7km. Population 30,000. If it was in the UK it would be the same size as Windsor. or Pontypridd or Motherwell. Gibraltar was captured in 1704 from the Spanish when that dying superpower empire's efforts to peacefully pass control of its global empire to various factions failed.
Gibraltar was formally transferred to British control in the peace treaties that ended the wars of Spanish Succession in 1713. And there it has remained, seriously annoying the Spanish, ever since.

During WW2 Gibraltar, guarding the 8 mile gap between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, was the most important 2.5 miles in the world. The significant Italian navy couldn't get out. The less significant, but still powerful German navy couldn't get in. And whether the Vichy French navy [the Toulon navy alone was the size of the German navy] was sunk or switched sides to the axis, was far less of an issue if it couldn't get free from its lake. The Allied bottle of Alexandria and Port Said had its cork at Gib. 
A huge fortress naval base. Unlike Singapore properly defended. But like Singapore only really vulnerable to an attack from land. The 1940 fascist Spanish leader general Franco was promised Gibraltar if he allowed and assisted a German led attack on the base. He declined.

Gibraltar's referendum decision to reject Spanish influence in 1967 led to the permanent closure of the border. Something that could easily occur again now. It was only reopened through pressure from the EU and UK when Spain wanted to join the EU. The border was reopened in 1985 on Spain's accession.

Gibraltar has voted overwhelmingly for both UK sovereignty and EU membership.
It may not be able to have both.

The UK will almost certainly ignore any Spanish claims on Gibraltar. Reject any sort of borders or controls that will not apply to the UK as a whole and transfer no powers to Spain. or to the EU, the UN or any other made up seemingly benevolent but ultimately malevolent transitional European body that is conjured into being. 

The EU knows this. Which is why its happy to encourage the Spanish to kick off. It can use the issue to extract a concession or two and then sop the Spaniards with some UK fishing waters or something later on.
Its a tough one for the UK. It has to be a red line for May. And I'm sure it is.

BUT .. Is there another way to solve the problem?

Too tiny for a country. Even Andorra is double the population. Too reliant on Spain's border to ignore them. Gibraltar needs a backer. And it could get one in the shape of the EU itself.

Monaco is a principality. It is not a formal EU member. But it does share in the customs union and border controls and is a user of the Euro. But it is definitely NOT in the EU. As anyone who experiences its zero percent internal corporation tax will appreciate.

{unrelated Corbynism : Monaco's low tax, low wage, edge of Europe status gives its citizens the highest standard of living in Europe.}

Monaco is administered by France in much the same way that Gibraltar is by Britain. In that it really isn't and they can do what they like on the understanding that the home nation can make use of the convenient backdoor loopholes for its own ends as and when it wants.

Liechtenstein. San Marino. Andorra. Vatican City and Monaco are all micro states with some EU involvement. All are completely sovereign but are all dependent on another major power for their defence. And this is a problem for nobody at all. 

Gibraltar could demand microstate status, like the others. Agree to taking the Euro and enjoying same agreements those anachronistic nations have with the rest of the EU. 

Worth a shot?

Waiting For Sturgeon's Letter. The Suspense!

As Continental Europe hyperventilates over whether May's Letter contains veiled threats (hint: yes, it does - and see part (2) here), we all wait for Nicola Sturgeon to complete her homework in her best loopy joined-up girl-writing.  As luck would have it, a photographer just happened to be in her lounge.  And she was wearing her Interview Suit!

This letter had better be worth it.


Thursday 30 March 2017

Just Remind Me ...

Back in October, one of our anons asked how the EC had 'crossed the line'.  I am sure we all have our own answers to this, but at the end of my diatribe in response, I said:
final straw: (6) energy policy (my special subject) was the last bastion of national control. So in 2015 the EC invented the 'Energy Union' - a Common Energy Policy to mirror the CAP etc
Since then it's got worse.  The EC released its 'winter package' of energy market measures, including the introduction of Regional Operating Centres for governing electricity grids.
"Transmission system operators (TSO) would have to cooperate with neighbouring TSOs and the new Regional Operating Centre."
Cooperate?  A classic EUphemism for a classic EC acqui-grab - a power-play in every sense.  An ROC would cover more than one EU member, and would 'optimise' their electricity flows, haha - i.e. decide what they will be, overriding national control.   'Cooperation' will explicitly be mandatory.

I think we may guess in whose interest this will work out.  Exhibit A:  Germany, whose ridiculous 'energy policy' only works by variously dumping wind and solar electricity surpluses on their unsuspecting neighbours, and making good wind and solar deficiencies by importing large quantities over the heads of their neighbours.  The neighbours (esp. Poland and Czechia) needless to say, are heartily sick of this (even when being paid to take away the said surpluses) and have been talking about disconnecting from Germany.  How handy that a trans-national ROC will take charge.

Exhibit B:  France, which mostly wants to export its nuclear surpluses but, when this creaking atomic edifice lets them down (in hot weather, e.g., or when the regulator has made them shut down for tests) ...

Now I'm as much in favour of free trade as anyone you know, willing buyer / willing seller.  Surpluses & shortfalls are there to be traded out, it's what makes the world go round.  But not at the say-so of an unaccountable 'regional operating centre', thanks.

If this is what the 27 want - the interests of Germany and France dictating their futures - well good luck to 'em.  Missing us already?  I'll bet you are, Tusk.


Wednesday 29 March 2017

"...Deep and Special Partnership..." - Open Thread

So - the Text is there for interpretation. What do we all think? 

I quite like the Grauniad's parsing of it, e.g.
"We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats … We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union."
Graun says this =

Though the language remains constructive, this is a much more controversial veiled threat. In eliding** Britain’s security responsibilities with its desire for economic gain so explicitly, May will be accused of holding a fearful continent to ransom: give us your markets, or we will leave you at the mercy of terrorists and Russians.
"Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats."
= I can help you deal with Donald Trump.
"Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war."
= … but you also need me to keep Vladimir Putin at bay.


** shame none of the highly educated liberals at the Graun knows what 'elide' means.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Geo-Engineering: the Cat Shortly Among the Pigeons

Here's an entertaining prospect.  Geo-engineering, a topic that surfaces from time to time - and unfailingly causes apoplexy - may be coming to a Trump administration near you.  So: soon it may be getting mainstream airtime.  Let the outrage commence!  And the sulphates, and the algae, the CO2 pumps, the cloud-seeding, marine-cloud brightening, solar sunshades etc etc. 

At the best of times, Greenies are prone to (a) crazy & illogical argumentation;  (b) hyperventilation & tears.  But in my experience geo-engineering seems to bring out the worst in them, they spontaneously detonate.  Advocates of this baleful practice are evidently several degrees worse than mere CAGW-deniers.

To the extent Greenies muster arguments at all on the subject, these fall into four categories (I confess I haven't yet trawled the latest CiF tsunami for any new ones):
  • political - it's all Jolly Undemocratic
  • unintended consequences - there will be Lots
  • continued hydrocarbon burning - under cover of the geo-programme
  • maintenance of the geo-programme - it can't be relied upon, and then what?
If reasoning had anything to do with it - and of course it doesn't - these arguments can be countered with ease, mostly one must stop laughing for just a minute and point out the exact same arguments apply equally to their own favoured "solutions".  Examples from the real world can be given aplenty.

The fourth 'argument' always amuses me.  Woe upon us, what would happen if we relied on (e.g.) pumping reflective particles into the sky to keep the world from warming up - And Then There Was A War?!   And no-one would be maintaining the particles!   

Well.  In a world where everyone also relies on, oh, what shall we mention?  - electricity grids / the internet / health services / clean water systems / complex food supply chains / telephone networks / satellite communications & GPS / credit cards - what's one new techno-dependency between friends?  A new one comes along every generation.  FFS.

Anyhow I am looking forward to the show.  Better they are wetting themselves over this than several other more proximate causes that might bring them out onto the streets.


Sunday 26 March 2017

The Children Are Getting a Bit Shrill

I don't know if the remoaners feel that by screaming very loudly and going blue in the face, they will somehow stay Mrs May's hand on the fateful pen this week.  But they really are getting a bit shrill.
Like sheep, the British people, regardless of whether they support Brexit, are being herded off a cliff, duped and misled by the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory**
Michael Heseltine: Germany will 'win the peace' because of Brexit ... Tory peer says it is ‘quite unacceptable’ for Germany to be in dominant position in Europe, having lost second world war 
Nick Clegg told the crowd in Parliament Square that “sadness” about the outcome of last June’s referendum had given way to “a perpetual sense of anger about the choices that Theresa May and her government have taken since”
Ah well.  Perhaps after the letter is sent everything will subside a bit.  I am a great believer in the idea that when the chips are down the Grown-Ups just repair to the study to get on with things behind closed doors, the mewling children left kicking and blubbing in the rumpus-room. 

Much the most likely concrete near-term development is suggested in the report we heard earlier in the week, that several preliminary agreements have already been struck and will be announced fairly soon.  That bullshit from Juncker last summer about "no negotiations until Art 50 has been triggered" was a typical children's saying.  Try and stop them if you will: but diplomats, negotiators and grown-ups in general, always pick up the 'phone at a very early stage in any proceedings.  Like speaks unto like.  

And I feel there have been signs M. Barnier is a grown-up, too.


**UPDATE: someone else liked this Observer editorial for its batty qualities:
"This week’s leader column of that great old newspaper The Observer is quite simply one of the maddest things ever published in a serious newspaper"

Saturday 25 March 2017

SS-GB: The occupation of the UK. Mainly by HBO.

Having last written about the difficulty of finding a shared entertainment experience, even about something such as Game of Thrones, the most watched TV show in the world, I want to look at something that maybe no one else saw. So this may be doomed from the outset.

BBC1 recently concluded its 5 part Sunday night drama SS-GB. Based on the superb book by Len Deighton. Its the tale of Britain losing the second world war after Dunkirk. The Nazis invasion of 1940 succeeds and they occupy most of the UK. 

The adapters for the BBC decided to use a very large chunk of the original dialogue. Good move. It has some superb lines. They stuck very closely to the original plot which revolves around a murder. The Atomic bomb and a plot to free the King from the huns and fly him to Canada.

The acting was good. The sexy scenes sexy enough. The violence gory enough. Len Deighton often wrote his books in the Shakespearean fashion of having the action of stage. So a good fit for a TV series. All in all, and bearing in mind this is one of my top ten desert island books being translated to TV, I thought it a decent 7/10 affair.

However, as someone who recently got Netflix and baby Sky {Now TV} something was quickly apparent. The BBC don't have the budget for big drama anymore. They have well and truly been eclipsed by the others. 

Bearing in mind this was a showpiece, it clearly suffered from cash limitations. See those props of anti-tank obstacles above? They were in almost every outside scene. Along with more substantial concrete blocks. Those 'Czech hedgehogs' were for stopping tanks from making a breakthrough and blocking streets. Despite being cheap to manufacture from any old metal, they weren't the just plopped around any old how. The picture above is of a POW camp. Why would that have anti-tank obstacles? Who has tanks in occupied Britain to threaten the Germans? But enough of the history nerd. The point is they kept appearing and I guess that was because that was what they had bought to look Nazified.

The interiors were great. Usual top notch BBC period. But almost every time someone looked out of a window, they would describe what they saw. There was no view for us. No money to film what was being seen. all the curtains were closed. Occupied Britain would have had a curfew.  But the blackout would have been over. Yet the streets were dark. Again, the limitations of budget requiring close in narrow focus shots. And the closed curtain interiors.

In one chilling scene in the book the SS arrest all the teachers and elder boys at a school. They are loaded into army trucks and driven away. This was in the TV show too. But only the inside scene where the SS officer orders their arrest for questioning. No exterior of old men, women and children being loaded up for God knows what fate. This wouldn't matter too much. If The Others weren't piling in with extravagance. result for SS commander Huth's centre of operations. result for house of cards inauguration

The Crown, top left, is THE most expensive TV show ever made. I've only seen one episode but it is classy. Just look at that scene. The whole show is like that. Underneath is game of Thrones. Just a still from nothing very much. Its not a CGI. Not a centerpiece battle episode. Its just some castle they film at with extras. But its still impressive.  It looks as it should. GOT costs around $10 million an episode for the last season. HBO's other big block buster, Westworld, had a similar budget.
Doctor Who, the flagship BBC drama, costs around $800,000 an episode.

Bottom right is the inauguration scene from House of cards. Maybe a fairer comparison as that is largely an internally shot political drama. This is not when Spacey becomes Prez. The other chump does. his inauguration is full on. Could be taken straight from the Trump one. 
And there is SS-GB. This IS the main scene. Highgate cemetery and USSR-Nazi friendship ceremony. 

Its not a bad scene at all. And there are many more people and soldiers and such in other shots. But this is fairly representative. The actor in the centre is the Gestapo chief of the UK. He has no aides. No guards. There is one sentry. A Nazi flag and that's it.
This is supposed to be the returning of Karl Marx to the Germans current allies, the USSR. Just imagine what a propaganda spectacle that would have been. From both regimes.
in the scene where Heinrich Himmler turns up, he's walking around in a warehouse. Then he leaves by car. 
Himmler wasn't Heydrich. He traveled in his own train. With a Presidential convoy amount of SS trucks and cars following him around wherever he went.

Viewers complained about the sound. The mumbling. The Eastenders style of breathy, menacing acting. 'Leaf it art!" 
 I just thought it lacked the budget to make it convincing in the way the BBC's competitors now routinely do. One scene where  the main cop needs a film secretly developed is handled entirely through dialogue and requires a second scene to explain itself. Better to have had him visit the developer's studio. It would have been obvious what he was doing then. But ... Budget ?

The skill of Downton Abbey was, regardless whether it actually was or not, it looked exactly as authentic as you imagined the period would look. 
As did Boardwalk Empire. And the Rome series. And the Tudors. 

Wolf Hall,  the 2015 great BBC hope looked really good. It had a strong cast and loads of actors and used plenty of the UK's numerous Tudor buildings to good effect. A huge critical success. Not so much an audience one as it slumped in the ratings pretty quickly. It was dark to the point of blackness when shot in candle light. And as mumbly as ever.  It can't just look good. It has to be good too. 
Can't help thinking the Beeb are using these 'authentic issues', candle lit rooms and sleepy voices, not actor projection oratory, to try and disguise a lack of money. Realism over Hollywood excess.

So, how can the BBC compete with the big budget, big ratings shows from other broadcasters? Should it even bother? Should it just buy them in? The BBC aired the Tudors which was a Canadian venture. It didn't commission it. Call the Midwife is a hit for the BBC and its global sales. Should it stick to that sort of easy period drama? The guts of it coming from the period charm mix with social realism 
{I had to pinch that from the Guardian. I've never seen it!}

Personally I thought SS-GB a perfect fit for the BBc's budget limitations. 

Its set in the UK. It requires period British actors. It's WW2, which is relatively easy to do. It doesn't need much CGI. There aren't many really expensive scenes to make. The rivalry between SS, SD, Gestapo and Army of occupation is great for intrigue. The Americans have a main role. Perfect for selling the show overseas and attracting US money. And its a police, crime, spy, love story. Ticks so many boxes for Sunday TV.

But I feel it needed quite a bit more cash and a bit more thought into making London look like we imagine occupied London would look would have made it great.
Instead of just good enough.

Friday 24 March 2017

London attack not a terror attack?

As much as many people want to, I can't see the terrorism really in the London attack this week.

I found myself not too far away at all at the time (I have a long, dull anecdote about how many times I have been at the scene of terrorism, which in précis, means don't be friends with me).

But thinking about this idiot who committed this atrocity, I can't see the real radicalisation here that is terror related.

This looks more, sadly, like the American school massacres. A certain kind of drop-out of society wants to make a name for themselves and off they go on a death-spree.

We don't label the American school attacks terrorism (or Dunblane, here). They are acts of individual madmen, they are copy-cat ways of committing suicide by harming others.

Because of ISIS there is a section of muslim society motivated to commit atrocities, but without ISIS would they be doing equally as crazy things - after all in this case, as with many before, there does not seem to be much planning or any kind of political statement made.

With no political statement, it is not a political act- and therefore not really terrorism.

Of course, if it were me, I would be closing Wahabi mosques down in the Country as they enable this kind of atrocity - but the Government is too weak for this. Preferring to hope the security forces are up to it rather than making difficult political choices.

What do you think Terrorism or not?

Tuesday 21 March 2017

So: Farewell Martin McGuinness

In his fighting prime Martin McGuinness was a seriously professional urban guerilla - and ruthless with it, not least in the business of enforcing discipline within his own ranks.  Many a Brit had reason to view him as the personification of the foe.

But the great genius of the British people is to be pragmatic to the point of magnanimity.  In the aftermath of the brutally-fought Boer Wars Britain's prompt practical and financial support for reconstruction in South Africa led to that new nation being a material contributor to our efforts in both World Wars.  Not for us the old, ahem, Irish game of bitterly nurturing grudges down the centuries.  Settle up and move on.

So when McGuinness converted to the cause of the Peace Process (and peace, too, after a fashion) he was welcomed on board as a constructive actor.  Doubtless it served his political purposes - which is fine: it was a settlement, and politics is generally better than fighting.  

We won't find out what position he'd have taken in the forthcoming argy-bargy arising from the implications of Brexit on British-Irish dealings (although Gerry Adams is clearly much enthused by the opportunities it presents).  What we can say - from across the water - is that he seems to have played the power-sharing game in a fair spirit, right to the end.

So, one way and another: fair play to Martin McGuinness, serious opponent and notable representative of Irish nationalism.


Monday 20 March 2017

SNP - Get yor act together at once and stop being such scaredy cats

Here we were last week, all* cheering on St Nicola and her handbagging of the evil Thatcher Prime Minister May. Everything was so good, it was even sunny and spring like in London.

What do we get just a few days later?

A wretched, confused and frankly useless diatribe at the SNP conference where no effort was made to guild the lily at all. Apparently there will be no challenge to a Second Project Fear and Scotland, if ever granted a second referendum will go straight into a terminal economic decline. Plus there will be no security or army and there will also be no currency - or at least none that can be guaranteed.

It is almost as if the SNP don't really want there to be a second referendum - as if instead this was some kind of Machiavellian attempt to wage an endless war of grievance on England.

No, I say, No -

1) Look to Brexit - PROJECT FEAR FAILED - there won't be an economic crash. The more one is confidently predicted, the less chance of this occurring.

2) Currency - pah - just use the Pound, it is not like you have any control of the Bank of England anyway. This is all deflection as the reality is no change.

3) Don't forget to threaten to welch on the debt, I recall they did actually scare the establishment last time.

4) Keep reminding Scots they have a Tory Government, it is a surefire winner in the long-run.

There is no chance of the SNP losing the next referendum, I just hope they can keep the courage of their convictions to push for one in 2021. Scotland declaring independence to rejoin the EU would surely be the cherry on the rather delicious cake of Brexit.

*(OK, this maybe a minority view)

Sunday 19 March 2017

Some Weekend Reading

(... as a distraction from the subdued performance by England in Dublin yesterday.)  This interesting essay from the LRB is broadly about the Trumpy thing, in wide-ranging aspects.  Some extracts:
"In Leviathan Hobbes said that what we call the ‘deliberation’ of the will is nothing but ‘the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to’ an action. Whatever the general truth of the analysis, Trump’s process of thought works like that. If Obama often seemed an image of deliberation without appetite, Trump has always been the reverse. For him, there is no time to linger: from the first thought to the first motion is a matter of seconds; the last aversion or appetite triggers the jump to the deed. And if along the way he speaks false words? Well, words are of limited consequence. What people want is a spectacle; they will attend to what you do, not what you say; and to the extent that words themselves are a spectacle, they add to the show. The great thing about words, Trump believes, is that they are disposable...
"Post-election, the liberal argument veered away from Trump and turned to the important question of whom to blame. The initial target was the director of the FBI ... A more popular and reliable target was Vladimir Putin ... It is possible that Trump’s defiance of this multifarious establishment actually helped his popularity with non-political voters. Damage more telling than any emanation from the FBI or Russia probably came from Hillary Clinton’s remark that half of Trump’s supporters were ‘a basket of deplorables’ – an unforced error that was rightly read as an expression of contempt.
"The national security state that Obama inherited and broadened, and has now passed on to Trump, is so thoroughly protected by secrecy that on most occasions concealment will be an available alternative to lying. Components of the Obama legacy that Trump will draw on include the curtailment of the habeas corpus rights of prisoners in the War on Terror; the creation of a legal category of permanent detainees who are judged at once impossible to put on trial and too dangerous to release; the expanded use of the state secrets privilege to deny legal process to abused prisoners; the denial of legal standing to American citizens who contest warrantless searches and seizures; the allocation of billions of dollars by the Department of Homeland Security to supply state and local police with helicopters, heavy artillery, state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and armoured vehicles; precedent for the violent overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress; precedent for the subsidy, training and provision of arms to foreign rebel forces to procure the overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress; the prosecution of domestic whistleblowers as enemy agents under the Foreign Espionage Act of 1917; the use of executive authority to order the assassination of persons – including US citizens – who by secret process have been determined to pose an imminent threat to American interests at home or abroad; the executive approval given to a nuclear modernisation programme, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion, to streamline, adapt and miniaturise nuclear weapons for up to date practical use; the increased availability – when requested of the NSA by any of the other 16 US intelligence agencies – of private internet and phone data on foreign persons or US citizens under suspicion... Obama’s awareness of this frightening legacy accounts for the unpredictable urgency with which he campaigned for Hillary Clinton – an almost unseemly display of partisan energy by a sitting president.
"How did America pass so quickly from Obama to Trump?  The glib left-wing answer, that the country is deeply racist, is half-true but explains too much and too little. This racist country voted for Obama twice. A fairer explanation might go back to the financial collapse of 2008 when Americans had a general fear and were shocked by what the banks and financial firms had done to us. ‘In an atmosphere primed for a populist backlash’, as John Judis wrote, Obama ‘allowed the right to define the terms’. The revolt of 2008-9 was against the financial community and anyone in cahoots with them, but the new president declined to name a villain: when he invited 13 CEOs to the White House in April 2009, he began by saying he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks, and ended by reassuring them that they would all work together. No culprit would be named and no sacrifice called for. Trump emerged early as an impresario of the anger, a plutocrat leading the people’s revolt against plutocracy.


Friday 17 March 2017

Discussion thread: Impact of immigration on UK wages

Interesting comments yesterday sparked by BE, so more on the topic for today is in order.

Economics is hard and open to interpretation. However, since 2010 there have been around1.5 million new UK jobs created. At around 250,000 a year, more than the EU combined, albeit less than Germany and but Spain and Greece have seen big declines to the net is greater in the UK. Osborne's boast was technically true.

During that time the population has increased by just over 2.4 million (crazy eh!).

A proportion of the population 'growth' is really due to ageing of the population over pure immigration.

According to ONS date, net migration has been just over 1.25 million during this time. Which is why overall the UK unemployment rate has fallen - as job growth has been stronger than immigration (some immigration is for students too rather than pure job-seeking immigration, then again, official stats do not account for the black economy, which probably invalidates much of the data!)

Of course, immigrants doing jobs adds to GDP, so more jobs will beget more jobs to some extent. Economists calculations around this concept though are a severe overstretch of credibility however and they arrive a wildly varying conclusions, unsurprisingly aligned on the starting political viewpoint.

As ever though, nobody accounts for the fact that new jobs are increasingly lower paying than previously - this is the car washer effect. At the bottom of the wage stack, study after study shows wages being held down, even when the gaurdianistas are trying to prove otherwise.

Still too nobody has worked out how to account for the impact on the welfare state. As a proxy I can see the NHS spending is going up over 8% and yet the whole service is in crisis and the social welfare bill goes up even as the Tories are accused of hideous bedroom taxes etc.

Additionally, the tax income for the Government has grown at a far slower rate than the economic expansion would expect (i.e. below the expected net increase in GDP).

All this circumstantially points to the conclusion that overly open borders promote low-wage immigration which on balance detracts more than benefits the country as a whole; this is before we get to any social cohesion aspects.

Where the balance is, is hard to know and worse, because we can only ever look at historical data, we will never be able to get it right, Brexit or no Brexit.

What do you think?

Thursday 16 March 2017

Unemployment down, GDP Up, Toyota investing more....#Despite Brexit

What a topsy-turvy world we live in.

Everywhere I see the media the reporting is upside down.

May and Hammond are finished - but lead 18% in the polls.

Corbyn is a useless dead man walking - he has only won convincingly two leadership elections in two years.

The Dutch far right are defeated - even though they won extra seats and the ruling governing party lost huge ground, with the left dropping from 22% to 6% in the latest election.

Britain is facing Brexit disaster - yet Foreign Direct Investment continues to be the highest in Europe and Toyota, alleged to quite if we voted to leave the EU, is investing more in its UK plants (Exchange rate upside bigger than tariffs is the calculation- in case you wondered).

The Main Stream Media is upset at the rise of fake news and alt-facts - but they can't face reporting the world as it is;
but only as they would wish it were.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Guardian Hyperventilation and the Fitzroy Maclean Cure

... aside from not opening its overheated pages, that is.   But when you do - here's the Opinion spread this morning.

Yes, Comment is indeed Free; and opinions cheap.   May dragging the UK under ... Brexit to cost Britain dear ... Britain is in chaos ... Tories may destroy the Union ... the Brexit fanatics are at the helm ... time for Wales to start talking about Independence ... May must not trigger Article 50 ...  (leavened with a little squeak of ... I feel ill at the thought of another referendum in Scotland).

Wow.  Enough to make any of us feel ill.

Well.  I've been travelling a bit recently, and took the opportunity to re-read Fitzroy Maclean's fabulous memoir of his legendary exploits in WW2 (special forces ops in the western desert and Yugoslavia) and the years preceding it, Eastern Approaches.  And not just his own stirring deeds.  Have a read of this and put the Scotty fish-woman out of your mind.  This is what Britain is made of.
No account of events on Vis [an island off Yugoslavia] would be complete without some mention of Admiral Sir Walter Cowan [who] had, after a long and distinguished career, retired from the Navy in 1931, at the age of sixty. In 1939, the outbreak of war, he had managed to get himself re-employed, and not wishing to stay at home, he had himself sent out to the Middle East which, he felt, offered more scope to a man of his tastes. He had always enjoyed fighting on shore, preferably hand to hand, as much or more than fighting at sea, and had won his D.S.O. in the Sudan serving under Lord Kitchener in the 'nineties.
Accordingly, at the age of seventy, he attached himself to an Indian Cavalry Regiment serving in the Western Desert, with the rank of Commander R.N. and in the somewhat ill-defined position of Naval Liaison Officer. In this capacity he took part in a number of Commando raids, startling all concerned by his complete disregard of danger. But in those days things were not going as well as they might in the desert and one day the party he was with had the misfortune to be completely overrun by a strong force of German tanks. Admiral Cowan was last seen advancing sternly on one of the enemy's tanks, discharging his pistol at it from point-blank range.
Last seen, that is, until, having escaped from his prison camp, he appeared a year or two later in Italy and immediately attached himself to Tom Churchill's Commando Brigade. Those of us who had known him in the desert were delighted to see him reappear on Vis, as frail-looking, as dashing and as friendly as ever. There he was to end the war, adding, at the age of seventy-three, by his gallantry on a raid, a bar to the D.S.O. which he had won half a century before.
What a man!  What men they were indeed.  


Monday 13 March 2017

Oh Lord...yet another referendum!

Could it be true?

So far thanks to Brexit the UK has done really rather well, exports have grown, jobs increased, GDP grown, new friendship found with the US President, the Labour party destroyed and Cameron and Osborne de-throned in the nick of time.

Against this are some downside possibilities in the future, but the full furore of Remain side in the campaign has looked very poor.

However today, Nicola Sturgeon has, as entirely expected, pressed the button on a new independence referendum for Scotland to be held in 2018 or 2019. It will be hard for a Westminster government to refuse this given the mandate from the Scottish Parliament that will come down.

So, we really could end up getting rid of Scotland. Here was me thinking that hope had gone after 2014, but no, the fruit of Brexit is ripe and plentiful. The Scots can vote themselves independence in the EU and enjoy the bounteous Euro, unlimited Romanian immigration and other splendid and wonderful things that the EU brings to its member.

The Scots will vote to leave the UK just as their economy topples down from its petro-based fuel to something all the less interesting. It may even do us a favour as Banks could potentially passport into the Euro area via their already existing Scottish branches, without the need to go to Luxembourg (though they will go for the tax-free status in all likelihood).

The only downside is that these referendums are very consuming of media time and popular angst. First Minister Sturgeon has also not noticed that the side expected to win has not had much luck of late....

Sunday 12 March 2017

Reflections on a Piece of Bullshit PR

The National Grid, upon whom we all depend, glories in a comfortable statutory monopoly with its more-or-less guaranted rate of return and a very cosy relationship with government and regulators alike.  Still, it feels the need to boast.

OK, they posed the question and, given the monopoly thing, it's a very important question.  Intuitively the answer of course is - well, your being a monopoly and all, we confidently expect you are inefficient - it's just a question of scale.  As it happens, a lot of the old CEGB inefficiency (which was grotesque, BTW) was kicked out of the system in the decade or so following privatisation.  But it's been creeping back, courtesy of the renewables upsurge.  The aforesaid authorities rely totally upon the Grid to facilitate their manic policies, and don't feel inclined to question them particularly closely on how they go about it.** ++

Anyhow: having posed the fateful question, the Grid declines to answer it, relying on the usual PR sleight of hand.  Are we efficient?  Well, it's all very difficult as we hope you understand.

And - boy, oh boy - are we effective!!  99.9999% reliable!!  Six nines!!  Go Grid !!

This raises some interesting issues.
  1. Effectiveness has minimal bearing on efficiency, even if the first 3 letters are the same.  I assume, however, that loads of suckers are focus-group proven not to notice the difference.
  2. The whole matter is one of Gold Plating - the old CEGB disease.  We know you can be staggeringly effective if you throw money at it.  Our money.
  3. WTF does six nines mean in this context anyway?  One hour's unreliability in 120 years?  The Grid hasn't been around that long.  One second in 12 days?  (Incidentally, 'grid reliability' isn't what most people would associate with continuity in supply of their electricity.  Blackouts happen all the time, of course: but almost all of them occur at the distribution level - storm damage, pneumatic drill through cable etc - for which National Grid is not responsible.  'Grid reliability' is more to do with 'quality of electricity'.)
  4. Most weightily:  what is the optimum degree of reliability?  Thoughtful people realise that the cost of going from, say, five nines to six nines is many times greater than going from four to five.  Who needs six?  There may be an answer to that question: it will probably be the manufacturers of ultra-high-tech electrical components.  But they typically modulate their power supplies themselves, so as to be even more sure.
Yup, this is a big question, and one the politicians leave to the Grid to decide for themselves.  But there are potentially massive efficiencies to be had from a true optimisation of reliability.  Suppose hypothetically it was noticed that no-one drank tap water, but bought their own in plastic bottles.  What, then, would be the point in treating all mains water to be potable, as at present?  It's obvious that for some overwhemingly vast percentage of all usage of mains-water, its costly potable quality goes to waste.  It's the same with grid reliability: who really needs six nines?  Maybe they should get what they need in a different way.  Maybe the Grid should even pay for the cost of their doing so ...

Not something we can solve on a Sunday morning.  One more observation on the Grid, though.  Just a very few years ago they told us we needed a capacity margin (i.e. excess of power generating capacity over peak demand) of 20%.  Funnily enough, now that it's negative, they tell us that we only need 6% (and they procure the top-up in various costly ways). 

Yeah, funny that.  Efficient?  Effective?  Eff ....  Lay off the bullshit PR, eh, boys?

** although one-time Energy Secretary Amber Rudd - remember her? - announced this was going to change ...  We can but hope.

++ UPDATE: now here's a thing, from today's DTel.
National Grid’s ‘unnecessary’ power reserve cost £180m - and wasn’t used. In the winter of 2014/15 National Grid paid £23.5m to form a reserve bench of 10 power plants which could be used if cold, dark weather caused demand for power to surge higher than the UK’s power market could meet. The payment later spiralled because the rate per unit of generation capacity doubled, the report found. In the first winter of the scheme the rate averaged £15.57 per kW but by the third winter of the scheme National Grid was paying £34.21 per kW. 
(Of course, the Grid makes the obvious point about insurance payments ...)

Friday 10 March 2017

Bring me Sunshine

The children pay almost no attention to mainstream TV. I'm not entirely sure they ever use the remote's TV guide. My teenager watches what little TV she does on catch up. On ever smaller screens. My 8 year old watches Netflix/Sky. Kids TV whatever, whenever.

Both do consume an awful lot of Youtube.

For me YouTube is a DIY godsend. I was lucky enough to find a video of 'how to drain and fix your dishwasher' that featured my own, exact make and model. Piece of cake. And when I needed a pump to get the water out there was another video showing how to use your fish tank filter as a makeshift pump! And another video showing how to repair the fish tank filter and crack in the fish tank glass you have just made by incorrectly removing the filter.

I watch the documentaries. The hard to find and largely forgotten old films I like. I have a few youtube music videos saved. Old TV comedies. Bits of news. Sport clips.
It can be annoying that sometimes its a recording from an old TV. Or its all in Russian. Or off frame or whatever. That prevents me watching more.

But the children don't much care.

The content on YouTube has become all consuming. Its the greatest free resource outside of the actual internet. They watch every nonsense thing on it. Concerts clips. Music videos. Film reviews. Comedy clips. Cartoon segments. Mad stuff. Mentals. The terminally self-centred.
Huge following Youtube bloggers. Make-up shows. Toy commercials. Toy reviewers. Sport. And always, always, someone parodying the whole lot.
The fact they watch the Tonight Show in mini segments doesn't bother them. They didn't want to watch the boring bits anyway. Its per-edited TV.

Ms Quango showed me that film comedy review YouTube channel above that has 6 million subscribers. Her and her friends watch YouTubes while on their phones to each other - Are you watching this? I'll send you the link- its awesome!
They appear to have much narrower focus than we did. Much narrow and more finely defined tastes. Not a certain genre of music - new wave, heavy metal. More, just a playlist. Here's all my favs. Pick yours out of it.

The comedian Stewart Lee made the observation that 20 years ago when he referenced the Morecambe and Wise 'Singing in the rain' sketch, he could rely on 90% of the audience knowing who they were to understand the cultural reference and maybe 75% having seen the sketch. And of those a very high percentage would have seen it all at the same time. At the original TV showing on Christmas day 1976. 18-25 million Britons watched it.

Lee observed that back then we pretty much had to watch the Morcambe and Wise Christmas show.
There were only three TV channels. And one of them was showing only the test card.
No Videos. Dvds. Phones. Video games. Consoles. Social media. The shops were shut and the pubs were closed. It was M&W, monopoly or a 33'' Val Doonican.

By contrast today, the most watched television series in the USA for 2016, Game of Thrones, gets 24 million on its live USA TV showing. Which is epic in modern TV parlance. Bearing in mind its a cable station. Smash hit, Downton Abbey, managed 10 million US viewers on a freeview. But its still only the same as number as the number of people that watched Morcambe and Wise, just in the UK, all those years ago.
The decline of print media is another loss to comedy. Jasper Carrot made a career out of  'Sun Readers'. Daily paper readership has given way to social media. Which is often provided by a much, much larger number, of much much smaller providers.

So, Lee said, its hard to do shared experience. A Game of Thrones joke, the most popular TV show in the world, remember,  might be understood by just 15% of the audience.
Something I can appreciate just from here. Where Cersi Sturgeon, King of the North Miliband, The ice wall, White walker, You know nothing Jon Snow C4 news,  mentions during the Scottish independence referendum were met with bafflement by most. .. Well, I can't help you. Winter is coming. Deal with it.

However. We do, recently, have a new shared experience that we can all relate too. Young or old. Rich or Poor.

And that is Brexit and Trump. 

These may not exactly be shared experiences, but are at least polarising moments for our age. People chose a side and engaged in a way that they haven't for decades. 

Like the Christmas day light entertainment, its not all consuming for most of us. Its just something that we can all share because we all witnessed it together and were aware of the significance.

I'm not saying that a much loved comedy duo performing a song is as important as a world shaping political event. But that, for probably the first time for us in the UK, since 9/11 we can all have a strong opinion of a shared event.

Education wanted re NIC & self-employment

OK - So I get the furore in the newspapers about this 'awful' Tory budget. A big part of me thinks the papers just see budget now and go looking for disaster, after the omnishambles budget of 2012

But genuinely, some of the readers here must be self-employed. How much is this hit going to actually cost you? I just can't see the hit outside of taking away egregious tax benefits.

How big is this storm - a teacup or a hurricane.

As pointed out yesterday, the issue is we cannot trust the press as they are made of many people who are affected by this change directly to the sense of proportionality is lost in a way that say a change on capital allowances would go totally unnoticed.

For example, Business Rates has been a big theme running pre-Budget - but as soon as journalists income is potentially hit, out this goes an in comes RAGE (as written by Sarah Vine).

Personally, many people I know earn a living through self-employment. They try optimize their earnings to around £40k per year. Between expenses and dividends, make their wives/husbands directors etc, contributing to pensions etc, they manage to pay no tax at all, bar NIC's which they need for their state pension entitlements. Their is no contribution at all to the state in real terms.

In a PAYE job to net £40k you would need to earn £63k. This gap at a base level is c.57%.

5 weeks holiday (which the company pays for, not the Government) is worth 10% of wages, so that would take the PAYE earnings needed down , plus pensions contribution from employer perhaps another 5% and other bits add can on another 1 or 2%. So being generous let us say it is worth 20% overall to be employed.

That still leaves a huge gap and also, not unimportantly, a big hole in revenues for the Government. We have not even considered employers NIC here. No wonder employers are keen to get everyone onto consultancy and zero-hours contracts. Self-employment, even up to a mid-level of income is a huge issue for the Government. As the gig economy kicks-in I can quite see why the Government is going to make a stand on this issue.

If only MP's would think of the numbers rather than the headlines.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Media budget reaction shows why paradigm has shifted to an unstable political scene

I went to buy a newspaper today, probably because like most people I wanted to read about how Barcelona had done it!

In fact, what struck me was the horror show of a reaction to the budget. I watched the budget yesterday, nothing was said. The Government was talking about small £16 million improvements to roads and such like. No mention of £55 billion on HS2. It was a non-budget.

The one small thing was  1% change in NIC's for the self-employed - this would only impact to the tune of around £160 a year to a relatively small number of people. This is not 2p on income tax for all.

Yet the papers behave (because they are stuffed full of "personal service company types") as if the world has ended. Not only that but Labour rail constantly against the current do-nothing Government as if they are literally murdering babies and are the most evil Government of all time.

Truly, we live in a time of mass hysteria - there must be good reasons as to why, but perhaps that will take longer to figure out than a blog post.

In this environment though I see clearly why Trump and Farage are successful. Firstly they play the exaggeration game which helps fill the medias' need for sensationalism, then they top it off with very radical change.

Given the reaction to a non-budget, I can see why there is a need to go for radical change; minor steady-as-she-goes policy is shouted down as if it is a declaration of war. So, instead, you may as well go the whole hog on immigration bans or whatever floats your boat. The mass hysteria generated can only reach a pitch of 100% - so go for it, do crazy things, it can't get any worse.

I am not yet convinced that this will improve matters in the country as a whole, as it may result in much more extreme governments going forward. Perhaps this is a reaction to all Governments being  more or less the same in most areas during my adult life; it could come with a high price if we end up with McIRA as Prime Minister!

Wednesday 8 March 2017

2017 Budget - a comedic pause

Well, as predicted, that was not very exciting. It is amazing that in a near £2,000,000,000 economy the Chancellor finds time to talk about £16 million here and £7 million there.

Perhaps there are some nasties lurking unsaid in the Red book that will be unearthed later.

However, much more interesting was that Philip Hammond made some funny jokes, I mean, that really is entirely unexpected. Who would have thought....

"there is a reason it is called the last labour Government" and more!

Then in response to this entirely unexpected bout of bonhomie, Jeremy Corbyn stood up and did a fankly epic live re-enactment of a Citizen Smith sketch.

All very puzzling, this outbreak of comedy and humour in of all things a budget statement. George Osborne must be turning in his grave!

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Fracking Across The Globe

Been a bit busy of late but a couple of Grauniad headlines still caught the attention over the weekend, starting with the latest update from the increasingly active northern shale gas drilling scene:
Shale gas firm Cuadrilla brands anti-fracking activists 'irresponsible'  -  CEO Francis Egan complains about protesters ‘harassing’ contractors supplying Preston New Road site in Lancashire
Yes, after a very long hiatus the North of England Shale Show is back on the road!  Or being hindered by a roadblock, as it would seem, because there's plenty of pesky opposition - the usual combination of genuinely local nimbys, misinformed 'ordinary people' with too much time on their hands, and itinerant swampies now trading as Reclaim The Power.  (You'd imagine the hyperventilating hoards of Momentum wouldn't be far behind, except that they are fully occupied with fratricide just now.  And I'm guessing t'unions may have told Corbyn to keep out of it, based on how they made him support nuclear in Copeland.)   An enjoyable line in outdoor relief for all concerned (plus overtime for Old Bill) - except for the local contractors.

But shale in the UK never looked to be a near-term phenomenon (we've discussed this all before).  Even if the reserves are as big as Cuadrilla believe, in broad-spectrum practical terms they just ain't particularly accessible.  A far cry from the USA, where the recent OPEC-driven rise in oil price is, though rather modest by the standards of 2010-2014 prices, more than enough to re-ignite the mighty shale-drilling activity there, oil and gas.  This comes as a big shock to legions of idiots who consoled themselves with the thought that shale needed a price of $100 - or was it $80? - or $60? - to be viable.  Sorry, but technology doesn't work like that: it gets better and better, cheaper and cheaper, and always surprises idiots.  If in doubt, go short - because there's always more stuff out there than anyone thinks. 

This leads to another mighty quandry for all the antis who thought they could put moral / financial pressure on big companies and pension funds etc, to effect some kind of investment boycott of the fossil fuel industries, and force the authorities to mark down oil company oil reserves as stranded and worthless.  Why, the Grauniad itself even tried to run a campaign along these lines. Which brings us to the second headline:
Environmentalists urge French bank not to finance Texas fracking project Activist points to ‘hypocrisy’ in BNP Paribas’s involvement in south Texas export terminal, given bank’s claimed commitment to the environment
Well, sorry guys but shale in the USA is 100% mainstream now and you won't actually find a major bank or indeed any other financial institution that isn't already 'in'.  Because, as we know, shale is going to make the USA self-sufficient in energy as far forward as anyone can see, with momentous geo-political implications.  And that's before Venezuela lets rip, because they have more accessible shale oil reserves than Saudi has 'conventional' oil.  And (when they need the extra reserves) Russia has more gas than the world will ever need.

And the IEA - which is seriously schizophrenic on this issue, BTW - thinks we need much, much more oil ... (well, that's what it thinks this month).

Anyhow, Swampy and Cuadrilla will no doubt continue to slug it out in Lancashire.  But they are a sideshow of such small proportions, it'll make Paul Mason's head explode one day.


No Election budget

It is budget day tomorrow and as with all budgets since 2008, there are only likely to be thin pickings to be had.

Governments make a big deal of £500 million of spending on schools or whatever is their fancy for the year. Then they re-announce big already budgeted infrastructure spend and also re-announce normal spending commitments made over years as if they are new.

All not very exciting. Worse is that invariably the tax take goes up and up forever. That NHS keeps needing spending and the low wage subsidy economy is a very expensive thing to run.

So it seems taxes can never go down and all budgets are declared 'AUSTERITY' budgets by the left as spending can only ever be increased.

Personally, I find this depressing. The NHS is very important but clearly a machine that sucks in so much money needs looking at. The huge government spend on pensions sticks out even more to me though. These commitments need to be vastly reduced if future generations are to survive or even draw their pensions.

But as every Chancellor knows, problems more than 3 years out are someone else's problems....

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Remainer Lords try to create new constitutional crisis...sigh

I feel sorry for Theresa May. Stuck with a job at the worst time to get it in fifty years, she nonetheless has to just plow on.

Brexit this, Brexit that, NHS crisis here there and everywhere. Better her than me.

On top of all of this is the fifth column of remainers in every area of the liberal elite determined to wreck any attempt to get a good Brexit.

Today it is the turn of the Lords with the most mind-numbingly stupid proposal yet. Basically, they are saying let all EU people stay as that is a nice thing to do. Give away any bargaining chip we have with countries we know are going to take a hard line like Poland.

Doing this will ensure we have a crap Brexit negotiation. So back the Commons the amendment will go and it will be voted down. The Lords know this is a stupid and puerile game- but it is a cosy piece of virtue-signalling by the remainers.

If they stick at it, then there will have to be a Royal Commission into the role of the unelected Lords. Which is necessary but could be left to the next decade after we have sorted out Brexit and re-conquered Scotland in the next civil war. Sometime in the mid-2020's. Of course, this is their game as such a distraction is exactly what they want as they try to stop Brexit altogether.