Wednesday 29 November 2017

UK armed forces. How big is big enough?

Image result for uk armed forces

The UK army isn't very old. A standing army from the 1700s only.
And it was tiny by European standards. Outside of the Napoleonic and world wars the Empire had always had a minuscule military presence.
Even the large commitment unsuccessful fighting in the Americas was boosted by 30,000 mercenaries. Accounting for a third of the troops at the height of the war.

The Empire slumped back to its 30-40,000 army personnel size until Napoleon. That was a global war. As bloody, costly and world changing as the later ones. The British Army rose to 250,000.
That's why we have the income tax.

After the Napoleonic wars there was the usual economic mass unemployment and slump. The Army fell to 90,000 ten years after the end of the wars. In spite of having obtained more possessions and responsibilities worldwide. The Navy was huge at this time. And would continue to be. Gaining at the expense of the army, as has always been the English way.

The British army did not rise to Napoleonic heights again until the turn of the century and the Boer war. Not even with the Crimean War or Indian wars. Or the endless colonial wars. Some of very significant size such as the Sudan and Natal wars. 
The Boer war was an empire highlight. A modern war that asked just how many troops would be required to fight an insurgency and subdue an entire country.
 350,000 was the answer.

10 years later and outbreak of WW1 there were 250,000 in the British Army worldwide.
4.2 million in all forces by 1917. Only ever surpassed by the 1944, 4.5 million under arms.

The UK took a very, very long time to wind down the military post war. The Marshall money was squandered on keeping the armed forces at war footing levels. Someone had to do it.
And there was only us and the Americans left.
1,000,000 under arms 1951
500,000 1961
300,000 1991

Then the cold war ended and the UK moved into the  modern defence era.
The government liked to have around 90,000 troops ready for anything in the 1990s. Falling in the 2000s to 82,000.
And they needed them. Being permanently at war somewhere. And with two huge, ongoing commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not a single person that I know in the armed forces hasn't served in Afghanistan. That includes pay clerks, intelligence and human resources officers. Most had to go at least twice.
And as about half of those people I knew were in the Royal Navy, that shows how desperately stretched the army was for those conflicts.

Theresa May is looking to cut even more from the defence budget. 
Some say, including the defence minister, that would be impossible and irresponsible.
But if ever there was a time to cut army numbers, it is now.

All three services have had a ton of new equipment. A period of no expense won't be as damaging today as it was in the 1980s when equipment generally was obsolete going into the cutting period.

The UK has no intention of getting involved in any conflict, anywhere, for any reason. It would take a global event to force us to join up. And although there are plenty of possibles, Tubby Kim and Vlad the Bad among them, they aren't that likely to spill over into a ground war.
 And both won't just be us, or us and Europe alone.

The military, again due to the Iraq wars, never really settled on a post Soviet role.
What is the purpose of the military? How big is big enough ? 
Should our soldiers have more of an anti-terror police role? 
That is what they have been asked to do for many years now. 

Why is 50,000 troops too few?

The UK has NEVER, ever been fully prepared for a conflict. From the starving long-bowmen at Agincourt. To the unarmoured Snatch Landrover police vehicles in Kandahar,  the UK  has always come from behind to catch up once war breaks out.

This isn't a virtue. Its a terrible thing to have persistently wasted the most able, most veteran, most highly trained of our military in the opening battles. So damaging to the long term build up of the citizen armies that followed and won the wars.
 The horrendous casualties at Mons helped ensure failure on the Somme. The loss of the air strike force in France in 1940 delayed the successful army-air tactical co-operation until Alamein.

But it is how the UK has always fought. 

Image result for uk armed forces
Small, professional, highly skilled peace time army. Capable of police actions alone. Or bigger conflicts as part of an allied army. 

So why should we have 80,000 troops on the books? Who are we fighting today? No one. 
So why is our strength the same as if we were still policing Afghanistan and Iraq? 

Who are our enemies?
Iran? North Korea? Russia? ... France ? 
We aren't going to get into it a ground war with any of them.

Won't 40,000 or 50,000 with a decent paid reserve do the job just as well ? 
Wouldn't we be better having a very small, but very capable multi-role, elite force?
 With all the support aircraft, ships, artillery, tanks, helicopters, drones, surveillance and transport to allow a really mobile rapid reaction force to successfully pop up anywhere?

So, how many is enough?

[ May 2016 -  196,840  "UK Service Personnel" 
4% are 'other' and just shy of 18% are the reserves. 
Former UK military personnel are liable for immediate call up in case of hostilities . The regular reserve. On wiki this gives an additional 45,000 available at very short notice. The UK is committed to defence spending of 2% for NATO. One of the very few EU countries that has always taken this commitment seriously. But modern treasury thinking is to try to make the definition of  military expenditure as wide as possible to allow the use of the defence budget for other areas.]

Tuesday 28 November 2017

UK Industrial Strategy - Productivity the non-problem

I have finally read some of the UK Government's much heralded industrial strategy. Which is interesting in that there is not much about Industry in it nor does it amount to much of a strategy.

There is much clamour in the Media and from Left-Wing politicians for a strategy, but this long and well-researched report just goes to show how little the Government can really do - it certainly can't pick winners. Just look at the results of hundreds of millions spent on Graphene over 10 years plus - patchy would be to over-state things and now China as ever has stepped up to the plate.

It is not that the Government cannot pave the way with seed money, it is that Government cannot oversee the development of private industry - this has been proven again and again.

So, as the Government sort of recognises this, the main thrust of the strategy is to improve education and infrastructure to enable growth by the Private sector, together with tax breaks to increase R&D.

This is more sensible and harder to disagree with, but it does mean that the Industrial Strategy has 1/3rd of its budget of £3 billion allocated to house-building. Which feels a bit odd overall even if that is a reasonable logical conclusion.

However, the big elephant in the room for me is productivity and its relationship to immigration. I have never agreed with this as a measure since I studied economics at post-graduate level. France is more productive than the UK because people officially work less hours and unemployment is higher. If we fired 5% of people from their UK jobs then our productivity would match that of France! It is a crazy and out of date measure which takes no account of technology impacts nor modern working patterns (such as longer-hours of unpaid work). It is an OK measure when most people work in factories in fixed settings with fixed inputs and hours spent at work, in a post-industrial society it has little meaning.

It is a bizarre thing to measure input times output divided by GDP and I note in the whole document the Government who use the word liberally, don't find space for a definition of productivity. A much superior measurement would be company revenues per employee over the quarter and years - company revenues vs employee numbers give a much better reflection of improvements made. Worrying about the capital investment or hours worked is too detailed to be captured properly and leads to a meaningless figure. The company I work for employs around 10% more people than 10 years ago and yet has revenues 50% higher which is what matters overall - the fact we all work longer hours without overtime is irrelevant to the economy as a whole.

For the UK the currently defined productivity measure is doubly bad for two main reasons - firstly immigration really skews the stats as first generation immigrants lacking language and social skills (for their new market) take-up low wage jobs and encourage their creation (e.g. hand car washes). Secondly, the vast public sector has no revenue increase incentive, as such productivity gains are not only hard to make but rarely even tried given there is no incentive with their cash accounting system; or if they tried are often involve huge, unwieldy IT systems upgrades. As such, UK productivity is always going to be weak whilst immigration is high and the state owns a high GDP share of the economy. Much better to not be seduced by this economist's enigma.

Monday 27 November 2017

When the Big 6 becomes Big 5

Over the years we've often suggested that the way government and regulators cheerfully beat up on the big 6 energy suppliers isn't terribly clever.  It's very handy for them to have big corporates to do their daft bidding in energy and climate-change policy; but simultaneously allowing them to be popular whipping-boys, and loading them up with onerous social and policy-delivery obligations, is inviting them ultimately to jack their hands in and step away from the table altogether.

It has also been clear that not all of the Big 6 necessarily have the financial stamina for the long haul, never mind the stomach for it.  Margins in the residential sector are lousy, and the risks are great.  Hanging on in there as a 'last-man-standing' strategy isn't a work of commercial genius.  (Though, since most of the suppliers are still engineer-heavy at the top, and with truly dreadful track-records on both customer service and, perhaps counterintuitively, IT - trust me on that latter, I've dealt with all of them - commercial genius isn't necessarily to be expected.)

Three years ago we noted that RWE / NPower / Innogy (pick you prefered brand-name) was occupying the bed closest to the door, and so it has proved.  They and SSE have had enough, and intend to merge their portfolios of residential energy customers and float them off.

Having reduced the competition at the big end of the sector by one sixth, will the government be inclined to think again, and cut them some slack?  I doubt it.  May seems determined on some kind of price cap.  Ofgem is ecstatic abut how many tiny new entrants there are in the residential sector, notwithstanding their very patchy performance, inherent financal weakness, and parasitic dependence on the Big 6 keeping the main show on the road.  (One of the canniest decisions Sadiq Khan has made was stepping back from a manifesto promise to set up a publicly-owned, fully-fledged London energy supplier.)

In all this mess, then, it's little surprise to see NPower and SSE look for an exit strategy.  Of the rest:  Centrica is, after all these years, still a remarkable survivor as a UK inde.  It had shrewd and genuinely commercial management from the day it de-merged from the old BG 20 years ago.  We've had issues with them over the years (check the Centrica thread from the tags below) but they're OK.  EDF's continuing to play the game is of course 100% strategic for the French based on making sure nothing prejudices Hinkley.   Right up until they decide that game's not worth the candle, either.  On paper, EDF is bust already if you factor in all their nuclear liabilities.  But the French government won't let them go under.  (Check the EDF tag too, for various C@W stories over the years - starting with this pivotal one from 10 years ago which explains plenty.)

That leaves E.on and Iberdrola (Scottish Power).  Neither are as strong corporately as they were when the turned up in the UK; and I can't see the UK being strategic for the Spanish.  E.on are corporately sharp, mostly clear-sighted, and can be quite decisive when it comes to restructuring.   But, EDF's special circumstances apart, they are the strongest of the lot.

Newby tiddlers notwithstanding, the landscape hasn't changed much for a decade, i.e. since EDF came to town in a big way.  I couldn't begin to guess what it will look like in 5 years.  But I can tell you electricity prices will be higher.


Friday 24 November 2017

Friday Fun - Assessing Global Leadership in 2017

How the world is led in 2017
Hand-Wringing Leftie Wetwipes Inneffective Iechnocrats Corrupt Dictators Divisive Populists
Trudeau - Canada May - UK Xi - China Trump - US
Macron - France Merkel - German Putin - Russia Netanyahu - Israel
Varadkar - Ireland Gentiloni - Italy King Salman - Saudi  Erdogan - Turkey
Rutte - Netherlands Turnbull - Australia Zuma - South Africa Modi - India
Michel -Belgium Temer - Brazil Kim - N Korea Abe - Japan
Solberg - Norway Jae-in Moon - S  Korea Poroshenko- Ukraine Rajoy - Spain
  Maduro - Venezuela Tsiparas Greece
      Orban - Hungary

So here is my rough guide to the world as it stands. Sadly, I could not think of a category for good governance nor a list of people who could fit in it!

What do you all think, comments in the comments

Thursday 23 November 2017

Budget: Raising a Thin Smile

Yes, you guessed, my smile is at the expense of the greens - and of course the rapacious subsidy-farmers who use sincere greens as human shields.

Hammond has taken the very logical step of curtailing the largesse on offer (via our electricity bills) to new green projects. "In order to protect consumers, the government will not introduce new low carbon electricity levies until the burden of [energy] costs are falling. On the basis of the current forecast, this means there will be no new low carbon electricity levies until 2025."  In doing so, he's taking the greenies at their word that renewables are now the cheapest form of new power generation - which isn't true, of course, notwithstanding some major cost-reductions recently in solar and wind technologies; but with boasting like that in the air, Hammod's ruling is an appropriate piece of policy ju-jitsu.  When you've declared that renewables don't need subsidies anymore, complaints about what he's done are just that little bit more difficult ...
The Renewable Energy Association said it welcomes the move to a subsidy-free future, but the industry needs urgent clarity on how the government is planning to bring new projects forward, especially for less developed technologies like tidal and advanced waste-to-energy. The group also called for clarity around carbon pricing after the government offered little detail on the future of the country's tax on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. 
Ah yes, "clarity", and "bringing forward".  We should open a scrapbook on all the different euphemisms these disingenuous gits use for "public subsidy".  We can translate "less developed", too - it means "grotesquely uneconomic".  It is earnestly to be hoped that the answer to their question about plans to "bring forward" the wretched Swansea Tidal Lagoon is - no such plan

To round out the picture, it must be noted that Hammond has disappointingly fallen for the Electric Vehicle nonsense.  This article (from a green-supporting perspective) gives rather more detail on the mish-mash of Budget announcements, if you can navigate some even-more-subtle euphemisms and sophistry (I particularly like the idea of "subsidy-free CfDs", which needs careful unpicking).  It gives a good summary of the EV aspects: 
... this budget provided serious support for electric vehicles - £400m more for EV charging networks, £100m for sales incentives, more tax breaks for corporate uses, and more money for R&D. This is a big deal. EVs have an outsized role to play in the low carbon economy. They are a powerful symbol of the cleaner, more attractive infrastructure we have to build. They are extremely popular with the public and can help generate buzz for the wider decarbonisation project. They deliver multiple emission reduction, air quality, and jobs benefits. And they sit at the heart of the smart grids that will enable power sector decarbonisation. Hammond is to be praised for recognising this opportunity and pursuing it. 
For my money (and it is, after all, our money), Hammond has no business putting that kind of cash behind a "powerful symbol [that] can help generate buzz".  And all those supposed benefits can be strongly disputed.

Still, if he's killed the lagoon ...


Tuesday 21 November 2017

UK Budgets - dull since 2003

Ever since Gordon Brown was Chancellor, now some 20 years ago (!!) Budgets have become a real tedious non-event.

Successive Chancellors have had seemingly little wiggle room since April 2003 when the introduction of tax credits totally gummed up the system. In 2015 the spending on tax credits reached £30 billion - a budget far more than almost any other Government department. Tax and Benefits (mainly pensions) rose to £125 billion.

Then, since the recession, the national debt has climbed and along with it our debt repayments up to a whopping £46 billion a year now - even with record low interest rates (the true next spend is around £33 billion, because the Bank of England owns a lot of the bonds and the interest the Govt owns therefore really goes to itself!).

These two spending items are what economists like to call structural spending. Whether the Government wants to or not, this spending will come out of the coffers. Many bits are tied to agreed laws and cannot really be altered, in the case of Government debt, we have to pay or else default.

This huge take of money from the budget, something like 6%, has come from nowhere. All the cuts made do not even finance it, hence we still have a 4% budget deficit and a big chunk of that is structural deficit which is why it is so hard to close.

Due to the above, successive Chancellors have been faced with the task of raising taxes to try to increase revenues to close the structural deficit or cut spending in other areas to allow room for these items to grow.

This is why we had the 10p tax budget, the pasty tax fiasco and the IR35 nonsense last year. All Chancellors are hamstrung by needing to further raise taxes, more if they want to reduce corporate tax etc.

Which is why all the spending in the budgets is so piddly, a billion on a road or ten billion over 20 years on a railway etc. There is no capacity for anything; unless your are Labour in which case you can add 10% to the national debt and spend away - but there is no evidence that ever works. If you look at USA and UK since the recession, we did austerity and they did Obama splurge. Both economies have grown about the same, but the US now has a much larger national debt - it was not worth it.

Interestingly Ireland and Iceland actually did full on cuts and real austerity for all and have recovered better overall now with economies in much better shape. As we said at the time, we would suffer long-term for the lack of political will to do the necessary back then.

So tomorrow we will get another spend nothing, gimmicky and fiddly budget - there is no alternative as long as the consensus to payout tax credits and increase the national debt remains in place for our political leaders.  Personally, I don't get why we do tax credits at all, subsidizing the low pay economy is the worst policy we have at the moment, amongst a bad lot - as it only seeks to further accelerate our transformation into a low wage economy.

Monday 20 November 2017

Irish sense their moment to strike re Brexit

This is a frankly excellent article on the new Irish position re Brexit.

It delivers a few key truth bullets that are very insightful when it comes to understanding where the Irish are and just how much the border issue is going to be the decisive one.

As BQ wrote on the previous post over the weekend, the money situation is quite easy. We pay them vaguely what they want, we owe them £60 billion in payments anyway for the next 5 years, so really the argument is over a few billion here or there on a Government budget of £800 billion per annum. it is a rounding error and in return we get a Free Trade Deal likely worth £50 billion a year plus in benefits.

The EU citizens rights piece appears to have made great progress with the UK caving in a little re the ECJ and the EU retreating from demanding extra-territorial rights for its UK citizens, plus with the end of free movement but allowance for a Common Travel Area, a deal is in sight.

When you read the article, this has made the Irish nervous, they are the last piece of the jigsaw and fear the EU riding-roughshod over them (if only there were a solution to that.....). Their new super Pro-EU PM has also sensed, rightly, that now is the time for a battle. After December and a deal is agreed, the real Brexit tension will be off.

Also, more genuinely, a land border with the EU is a much harder deal to both sell to the Irish (note in the UK the hard border with France even today, versus the no border in the six counties) than anywhere else. The Good Friday Agreement is not just a stick to beat the English with, there are some substantive points that the UK has not really addressed. As such the Irish have gone in strong and demanded Northern Ireland effectively stay in the Single Market and Customs Union.

Although aggressive, this is the neatest bureaucratic solution, politically it is very tough to sell to the DUP who are the co-partners in the UK Government. British Ministers seem reticent to engage, from the Republics view, likely because they see the three issues as one and are doing horse-trading scenarios with the EU. The Republic is understandably not very keen on this, but equally has peeved EU negotiators by upping the ante when things are already fraught.

One thing unacknowledged by the article though is how credible the threat is, after all, if the Irish veto a deal, the default no-deal results in a much worse outcome for the Republic than any other Brexit situation. The danger with brinskmanship for both sides is that one might actually cause the breakdown that both fear so much.

Saturday 18 November 2017

How much is worth paying

Image result for divorce

So, how much should we pay?
What is the price of the Danegeld ?

Theresa May is edging towards her final figure of £30bn over 5 years. £6bn a year until exit and, some £1-2bn for whatever deal the Uk has ongoing.
Mr Barnier is edging towards £50b. £10bn a year for 5 years

Does either really matter? The cost of bailing out the UK banks in 2008 was £850bn.
HS2 is currently set for £56bn. And will cost much more than that by the time its done.
Just putting in smart motorway signs at J3 of the M4 cost £1 billion.

Its small beer. Really, it is. 

Like an unhinged spouse whatever we pay in the end will be worth it just to be rid of them.

So although the EU is deliberately trying to make the UK  appear weak and defeated. That it is encouraging, even ordering, its Irish member to kick off inconveniently and blaming the UK for the EU's failings to move talks along like grown ups.
Whatever we pay is worth it isn't it?

Because the alternative is to go down the same irrational, destructive, bitter route that the EU wants to pursue. Today they are threatening to withhold our £5bn rebate. 
We could match, like for like. And then go Bunny Boiler loco as well.

Threaten to -

- Cease all EU payments immediately
- Lower corporation tax to 2%
- Reduce VAT to 10% 
- Consider our position in Nato
- Say that the divorce bill is a nonsense and our payments are zero
- Take EU citizens rights off the table. Say this will be the very last, not the first item on any agenda.
- Explain that the Irish border will be a yellow line on the road. If the EU want anything more, they can build it all, and impose it all, on their side.
- Refuse to attend any Brexit meetings until the Irish question is settled to our satisfaction.
- Explain we are heading for WTO. And will do nothing except possibly examine any proposals the EU has for something different. But every day will be a day towards WTO and our own economic survival.
And so on.

 £50 bn to avoid all the grief?
Worth it?

Or, how much would you be prepared to pay them to escape?

Friday 17 November 2017

What is an "anti-corruption" drive?

In looking a little wider whilst we wait, comatose, for the next round of Brexit talks. It is certainly an interesting world in 2017.

First up, the Government revolution in Saudi Arabia. The new young prince has certainly decided to shake-things up. The most ironic thing I have read in years is his detainment of various cousins and wealthy Sheikhs in Saudi Arabia on an 'anti-corruption drive'.... Ha, well, I guess he would know about it from his past.

This is a pet peeve of mine recently, why do the media always repeat these Government lines. Every time a non-democratic Government arrests the opposition or tries to get its own mafia in power, they label it an anti-corruption drive. What they really mean is a pro-corruption drive in their favour.

Only this week in Zimbabwe we can see this in action again. Afraid that Mugabe will gift all his wealth and power to his missus, the army have stepped in to get rid of her....and install their own puppet. There is no chance of an election or real democracy or hope that the people will get a look in. No, the deal is to bring back an exile who will turns the taps on their way.

China is perhaps the most important victim of this kind of approach too. There are seven mafia groups in China within the Communist party who operate broadly on family lines. President Xi has not only made his the most prominent, but has set about dismantling tow of these groups totally and reducing the influence of the others. Where once upon a time after him another group would get its turn, now instead the idea is his team stays in power. All the while, for years now, the media in the West faithfully reports this as an anti-corruption drive.

The list goes on and on, perhaps only Brazil of late had a real anti-corruption drive that was labelled accurately as such.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Scots Booze and, errr, Frictionless Borders

This is Gretna Green.  Once there was a toll ... but now, the border is marked by those flowers on the right.  I believe this type of crossing is called "frictionless".

Pic:  google

Shouldn't laugh, I know - but what do we imagine the consequence will be of the scotties hiking the price of three litres of antifreeze industrial-strength cider from £3.59 to £11.25?  There's quite a few quid's worth of cross-border abritrage in that spread.   

You could call it a dry run for for the post-Brexit Irish.  (Dry run ... geddit?)


Tuesday 14 November 2017

Not Long now...stressful times as EU deadline approaches

Calm the F*ck Down Tea

For all the endless talk of deadlines and deals re the Brexit negotiations, the finishing line is finally in sight. In a little over 3 weeks we will know what is to happen in 2018.

To me, this underlines quite why we are seeing so much made of grope-gate and Boris-gate and anything else the Remain team in the media and Parliament can use. They know they really need to distract and discredit the Government, just as Michel Barnier knows now is the time to make the most outrageous demands. Sadly for the UK, the EU has indeed maintained a solid front and ignored the calls of business for any kind of compromise, at least for now. So the pressure is being piled on in the hope of a collapse in the Leave government.

So, instead we are still at the point of the EU effectively demanding £60 billion (not Euros, natch!), the effective incorporation of Northern Ireland into the EU customs union and better rights for EU citizens in the UK than UK citizens.

Hopefully, this is the prelude to them screwing a great deal out of the UK and then magnanimously
offering a transition and free trade deal. It might not be, but that is my hunch.

This would be the best outcome, a no-deal really would be bad.  Remainers will go into overdrive, businesses might panic and real harm could be done. At least the pound would fall which will massively mitigate any decisions to re-locate staff and business. Worse though will be the pure chaos of Government that the Country would suffer for years. If the Tories survived they would very likely lose to Corbyn and the Labour left who would proceed to further destroy our society.

So, here's hoping for a deal, I don't care whether it costs £20 billion or £80 billion, that is nothing as compared to a long-term Corbyn Government!

Monday 13 November 2017

Murdoch on Maneouvres - Again

Since our subversive old friend Guido Fawkes became a wholly-owned subsidiary of NewsCorp (or whichever it is of Murdoch's vehicles), Order-Order has become a reliable one-stop shop for picking up on whatever is Rupe's latest diktat to all his organs.  Fawkes, you see, is nothing if not loyal to his masters overseas (yes, the parallels with 1605 are all there), and so there are compliant links to Times, Sun and Sky etc whenever a new 'line-to-take' is being promulgated by the proprietor.
And Rupert is nothing if not the owner of a fan of Michael Gove.   Right now it's pretty clear the word has gone out: Gove for PM !   Even Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun, who clearly resents being given these instructions, is dutifully puffing Rupe's man, for pity's sake.  Still, if the alternative is Amber Rudd (who has apparently raised a veritable war-chest and instructed Lynton Crosby to manage her own leadership campaign) we aren't exactly spoiled for Aussie-promoted choice.  Why is it always Australians - whose own domestic politics are such an utter shambles - who come over here sticking their fingers in everything?

Flashback 2011 (for fans of the doggerel) - to a time when Rupe was dodging serious controversy, seeking once again to restructure his empire, and furiously wooing the Chinese ... (the usual apologies, this time to Cole Porter)

Who wants to spend a year in gaol ? 
Who wants their bid for Sky to fail ? 
Who wants the bother of a big public fuss ? 
A big public fuss is no good for us ! 
Who wants bad headlines ev’ry day ? 
When Chinese markets are in play ? 
Who wants shame and opprobrium too ? 
And I don’t, cos all I want is Hu 

Who wants the wretched BBC ? 
Who wants his stuff online for free ? 
Who wants to burden Fox with neutrality ? 
What, neutrality ? that’s no use to me ! 
Who wants to bother with the facts ? 
Who wants to pay out any tax ? 
Who cares for human rights, or for Liu ? 
And I don’t, cos all I want is Hu


Friday 10 November 2017

Gary Lineker!

Well, well, well - who'd have guessed, eh?

Nice to see the Beeb chewing up its own.  Wonder who else has done *nothing illegal* ...


Thursday 9 November 2017


It is boring writing that these days.

But still, just today we have:

- Priti Patel resigning for a failure to understand the difference between work, fundraising and holidays.

- The EU making the usual threatening noises, now purely focused on saying the UK is not offering enough money. Really, these are a nasty bunch to negotiate with and we are well shot of them in due course.

- A railway strike over literally nothing at all. No real safety issues, no staff issues and only really a silly attempt to get more pay.

- More 'scandal' over the supposed sexual mores of politicians over the past 30 years.

It is amazing how quickly a Country can fall into a such a mess when leadership is so weak. However, there is no time for a change of PM at the moment.

It is hard to know what to do, perhaps a massive re-shuffle is on order after the budget? There seem to be a few people to promote and the current cabinet are not cutting it so best maybe to go for a big change. I guess the 'sex' scandal is making it hard to know who to pick at the moment....

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Blast from the Past: Polly Toynbee vs Gordon Brown

Toynbee vs Brown, round 12!  Both in the Red corner.   What a love-hate relationship, eh?

This time she's having a go at his new book.  "The sadness is that even 10 years later Brown’s old flaws and resentments remain perfectly intact.  Couldn’t he have restrained himself from expressing his loathing for Blair?"   She's a fine one to talk! - never tires of slagging off Blair, as a cursory search will establish.   

But back to the main theme: her bitter disappointment, firstly when Brown supported the war in Iraq, and again when she discovered paradise had not returned to earth in 2007.  "The real test surely came with his arrival in No 10.  I was among many hoping for a radical shift that never came. Those around him expecting a new blueprint found there was none."

Well, her grasp on facts was never great; but she got that one right.  And if we're dusting all this old stuff down again ... with apologies to Mad Carew:

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

There’s a one-eyed yellow Scotsman of a dour and sullen hue
There’s a stench of pious bullshit all around
There’s a broken-hearted woman dreams of socialism true
And the yellow Scot forever lets her down

He was known as Red McBroon, and he made the Party swoon
Though his cowardice had long begun to smell
But for all he was a wanker he was feted by the bankers
And Polly Toynbee smiled on him as well

He’d been stringing her along with his socialism strong
She’d swallowed all he put into her head
When she judged Blair’s time was short, she said Broon had her support
Provided he would prove himself True Red

He wrote to ask what promise she would like from Red McBroon
They met for lunch as many times before
And fervently she told him then that nothing else would do
But his vote against Blair’s mad Iraqi war

On the night of the debate, Red McBroon was in a state,
His followers could bring mad Tony down
But he’d never in his life had the balls to wield the knife
For he knew the wielder never wears the crown

When it came to the division, courage gave way to ambition
And his scruples failed as surely as his balls
When she heard them read the vote, fury welled up in her throat
And ‘betrayal!’ was her cry around the halls

Now Hell it hath no fury like a jilted Polly Toynbee
First Blair and now McBroon had sold his soul
As she stomped off in the night, for her op-ed piece to write
She vowed vengeance on the yellow Scots arsehole

There’s a one-eyed yellow Scotsman of a dour and sullen hue
There’s a stench of pious bullshit all around
There’s a broken-hearted woman dreams of socialism true
And the yellow Scot forever lets her down.

Nick Drew 2007

Tuesday 7 November 2017

The Heat is Affecting Their Brains

It's been a few days of revealing argumentation on the green-left, with a new sighting of impossibilist nonsense and a couple of much more interesting, nay, even profound observations from the same befuddled quarter.

First, the nutters: it's the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. They've decided that use of natural gas must be phased out by 2035.
there is “categorically no role” for new gas production ... "Considering both carbon dioxide and methane emissions, an urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is an imperative of any scientifically informed and equity-based policies designed to deliver on the Paris agreement” 
They note with horror that:
Far from phasing out natural gas ventures, the EU appears to be accelerating them in a new “projects of common interest” list for gas infrastructure. After 77 gas projects were approved in the last PCI round, the latest slate could potentially approve more than 100 gas ventures for public funding and fast-tracked planning approval, according to analysis by Friends of the Earth Europe ... Antoine Simon, an FoEE spokesman said: “It is intolerable to see the European commission and its members giving support to an increasing number of gas projects that will lock us in to decades of fossil fuel addiction"
Intolerable, eh?  Well sorry, Antoine, but the rest of us want to stay warm in winter etc etc, so you are banging your head against a well-constructed brick wall there.  If there's a real point, it is that methane leakage should be actively minimised - obviously (because it's a waste of energy!) - and it is certainly true that the gas networks particularly of eastern Europe and Russia (not to mention some states of the USA) still leave a huge amount to be desired in that regard.  Incidentally, you can get EU and World Bank money for sorting this out, it's a well-known issue.  So let's crack on.

Because much more enlightening is this scathing and long-overdue critique from the green-left itself - one Jonathan Franzen, who appears to have retained some brain cells.
The left, having excoriated the right for its intellectual dishonesty and turned climate denialism into a political rallying cry, was now in an impossible position. It had to keep insisting on the truth of climate science while persisting in the fiction that collective world action could stave off the worst of it: that universal acceptance of the facts, which really might have changed everything in 1995, could still change everything ... Denying the dark reality, pretending that the Paris accord could avert catastrophe, was understandable as a tactic to keep people motivated to reduce emissions; to keep hope alive. As a strategy, though, it did more harm than good. It ceded the ethical high ground, insulted the intelligence of unpersuaded voters (“Really? We still have 10 years?”), and precluded frank discussion of how the global community should prepare for drastic changes
Yes, some of them are slowly waking up to the consequences of refusing to discuss the necessary measures for adaptation to climate change (including, IMHO, geo-egineering) in favour atavistic anti-industrialism.  This latter stance has done them no good because, of course (a) in the industrialised world we have grown quite fond of electricity & want to remain warm in winter etc etc; and (b) the rest of the world wants to join us as fast as it can.  There's another piece on the unpicking of their lunacy here, embedded in some of the more traditional waffle if you can bear to wade through it. 
Adaptation was long a dirty word at climate change conferences. Civil society groups feared that espousing, and devoting money to, the means of staving off the worst effects of warming – walls against sea level rises, dykes and floating houses, changes to agriculture to grow heat-adapted crops – would distract attention from the urgent business of reducing emissions
Let's see what COP23 brings.  There's scope for plenty more nonsense yet.


Monday 6 November 2017

Paradise lost...

More revelations!

The Queen invested in an offshore company  - who would have guessed given she is ruler over most of the Caribbean  - how dare she invest (not that she ever has, its all the work of the Privy Purse in any event.

Worse still, there is news that the majority owner of Belize, Michael Ashcroft, may have kept businesses in the country where he has over £1 billion in interests.

So much, so meh.

However, all this breathless news is broken once again, in a shallow echo of the Panama papers, by the Guardian and BBC etc al.

This I suppose is a sort of step up from MP's alleging each other have been up to the gropies for their own career enhancement.

I thought I was tired of talking about Brexit, but people who become international celebs and businessmen using international ways of lowering their taxes really does nothing for me at all. It is a classic leftist "look, rich people - the bastards - lets rob them and feel good about it." The only solace is that plenty of right-on lefties get caught too, as would anyone who has made some money who wants to find a way of keeping more than 45% of it, legally (these accountants and lawyers don't tell you the things are dodgy, they ask you for money and make sure you sign and indemnity for them).

Anyhow, onwards with what we will call RIGHTEOUS WEEK - the not stop exposing (ummm) of HRH and dodgy men and their very dodgy offshore shenanigans.

I wonder if in the long-term though the wealthy elites will tire of democracy if the whole thing is going to be geared against them. I wonder what country will be chosen for the "Benevolent Dictator" experiment.

Friday 3 November 2017

Robert Peston - WTF,204,203,200_.jpg

Our former friend and plugger, ITV's Robert Peston has a new book out. It is, somewhat predictably for a Remainer, about how terrible  voting for Brexit and Trump could be for the world economies.

What isn't predictable is that Robert now believes that the people were absolubtely right to vote for both Brexit and Trump. 

He states that the political elite, of which he expressly includes himself, had, and have, a huge disconnect between what they think and feel and what millions of ordinary people think and feel.
 He gives plenty of economic arguments for why that is so
.And also has recognised that for very many who were told  'if you vote to leave, things will become really bad for you,'  believed things were already pretty bad. And were unlikely to ever improve unless they voted for change.

Here is the rest of Peston being interviewed by Iain Dale about his new book. 

Not a word from the leading Remainer that I disagree with.
Repentant Sinner. Take your place back at our table.

CU might even give him a link him again.

Do Bonuses Work?

The sort of question that gets posed all the time on a couple of the blogs on our blogroll (e.g. Chris Dillow's and Tom Powdrill's).  And a very fair poser for C@W.

Anyhow, an organisation that somehow once got hold of my email address is Emolument ("crowd-sourced intelligence" - meaning endless surveys) which publishes heaps of stuff on salaries etc as well as firing off emails to all and sundry.  This week's offering is: Does employee performance affect pay? and their survey-based answer is:
"most think their pay is not a reflection of the quality of their work. We also note that bonuses have a limited impact perception of pay. Not a single industry shows a majority who think their performance has a direct impact on their paycheck. Only 8% of those who work in the sports, culture & recreation industry believe the quality of their work will affect their salary ... What about finance? Finance firms often argue that their controversially high bonuses are the key to excellence. With only 30% of financial services employees thinking their pay is linked to their performance, it is an argument which does not convince ... If employees do not believe performance drives pay, what do they think does? Is it longevity, politics, being in the right place at the right time? Whatever it is, the belief that performance has little or no impact on remuneration is disheartening and cannot possibly encourage productivity or a thriving corporate culture."
So - there's the challenge. 

Writing as a capitalist, I have never been in doubt that the sales-force needs to be on a (carefully structured) commission, at the very least.  If you've ever been in an environment where there is reasonable visibility of the sales pipeline and a strong connection between sales in this time-period and the immediate fortunes of the company - in terms of jobs, prospects, opportunties and, if relevant, global bonus pay-outs - you'll find even junior staff caught up in hoping the sales-force brings home the bacon, and not resenting the fact they are on commission.

I've also seen some truly dysfunctional bonus schemes.  But I've worked on some pretty good ones, which certainly needed careful design (and endless tweaking to eliminate unforseen consequences) but were, IMHO, evidence that reward can be made to work in the interests of the firm.

What do we reckon?  Are you fired into productive action by the prospects of bonus, or do you launch into office politics in order to position yourself for the dosh?  Or simply assume it's all in the lap of the Gods?


Thursday 2 November 2017

Everything is inappropriate, but what is illegal?

What other conclusion can be drawn from the current maelstrom that passes for a 24 news cycle? Taking offence has reached a new, unexpectedly stratospheric level.

I am really baffled as to what the real agenda is, I can't be bothered with it all being a put-up job from the media etc, it is just a self-feeding mess. Perhaps it is just shits and giggles as the expense of the so-called powerful.

A really weird aspect too is that as the Country become more imprurient, the juniors in my office are of the Tinder generation who frequently disappear to total strangers houses for an hour or two on the strength of a squizz at a facebook profile, the media world has decided that it is Victorian values all the way (hmm, not sure women had the vote etc back then etc, but anyways...) at Westminster and more widely.

Worse of course, for those of you in work, will know the 100% verboten discussion of basically anything at work bar say football or fashion. God forbid, a politics or discussion about grand changes in the country or the world; let alone actual hanky panky! Any discussion is likely to cause offence to be taken by someone and result in a swift visit from the Diversity and Human Remains harradinati.

Perhaps, Westminster is now just undergoing the cultural revolution that has already overtaken our workplaces and being in the media spotlight, this will be an unpleasant experience for all involved.

For me though, the issue must be one of law. Where people act unlawfully they deserve their punishment, however flirting and adultery are not legal offences. However, tax avoidance is not an offence either but try telling that to the Guardianista on the Clapham Omnibus. So, law seems to have only a partial role to play in the court of public opinion.

More widely, the UK broadly invented the modern rule of law. The Monarchy submitting to Parliament and in turn they to the Judiciary. To abandon this will actually do great harm to our standing in the world - the UK is rightly renowned as a safe, ordered and light touch place to live ones life. To be abandoned to trial by twitter is a retrograde step and one that could damage our long-term business prospects. A legal underpinning is critical to all of our rights as subjects of Her Majesty, without it, the State towers over us all instead of serving us.

Finally too, for all the need to stop the abuse of power by sleazy men or women (good luck with this by the way Common Purpose, I suggest you may read some Thames Hobbes), surely no one of any character will be stupid enough to stand for Parliament in future. Many of our great leaders also had great personal moral failures, but we won't be getting any of them in the future. The future is middle-management straight as a die types. We will have to see how that works out in due course.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock

Prosecutors@Work:  those Americans know how to write an indictment.   Take a look at the Manafort / Gates document, as they throw the book at these two gentlemen in no uncertain fashion.

Central to the case is that "in furtherance of the scheme [i.e. disbursing the millions he is supposed to have made working for pro-Russian Ukrainian players] Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes".  Oh yes, this being America naturally the bulk of the material relates to alleged tax offences, always a nice place to start.  (Often, "wire fraud" is thrown into the pot because almost everyone has made an interstate telephone call at some stage in the proceedings - but I didn't notice it this time.)   In another standard American ploy, they are also accused of misleading the people who prepared their tax returns for them, doubtless so as to render their professional advisers guiltless  -  and, errr, co-operative?   Same thing happened in a lot of the Enron indictments. 

We should of course note that Messrs M and G deny everything.  That said, check out the details given of Mr M's "lavish lifestyle".  Quite a bit is alleged to have been spent on houses, home improvements and the like (oh, and four Range Rovers - three in 2012 alone - how many do you need?).  But the real winner is $934,350 paid to "Vendor C - Antique Rugstore in Alexandria, Virginia".  As a nice detail, that can surely be bettered only by the famous list of Tuco's crimes, read out before one of his many hangings, in The Good The Bad & The Ugly.  Amongst all the rape, pillage and murder, Tuco is accused of impersonating a Mexican general ...    

Anyhow, in America they do actually sometimes lock people up, often for many years.  A propos of which, who's this shuffling into view with a new book to promote?  It's Gordon Brown!   And what does he wish to tell us?  He thinks some of the wicked bankers should have been locked up after 2008!!   And who was PM 2007-2010 ..?   FFS.  

I recall we aired similar views ourselves - but that was actually at the time.  What a plonker.  Altogether now:

The warden threw a party in the county jail ...