Friday 31 August 2018

Frank Field - an odd fish but perhaps a great one?

So, whilst I can be thankful that Mr Field has resigned from Labour and kept the anti-Semitism stories in the papers, it does not stop him being a strange man indeed.

There is a common thing in the House of Parliament that anyone who has served a long-time is judged to be an elder statesman, no matter what there record. Even Dennis Skinner and Bill Cash get treated as living saints - god forbid even Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Field has had as his cause for many a year the welfare state and needs of those who use it. It is truly an honourable endeavour - one that he shares with Iain Duncan-Smith.

Yet Mr Field, for a Labour politician has some odd views indeed. he is anti-immigration and pro-brexit. He admitted to admiring Margaret Thatcher. In this way he is perhaps a glorious, champion of the real working class - which is why he stands out so badly now in the Islington middle-classs communist phase that Labour is going through.

Even more interesting for Mr Field, is that Blair challenged him to think the unthinkable. So unthinkable were his recommendations on welfare that Blair fired him with no intention of listening to him anymore. David Cameron, in his Blair copying ways, hired Field to show he was inclusive. With the same result, his ideas got him fired by Cameron too.

So whilst Field will be celebrated as this great thinker, the truth is he is a man unable to persuade the Government to enact his reforms - so perhaps a failure. But here are his main 5 ideas:

- Scrap means testing for benefits as it does not stack up on a cost/benefit analysis
- Use non-state Friendly societies to get people to work together to improve their lot and reduce the role of the state
- Reduce non-contributory benefits that encourage idleness
- Use different measures to assess life chances to channel funding support to the most underprivileged families
- Increase sure start centre support to help the worst of families bring up their kids

When you look at that, no wonder Brown hated him as Brown wanted everyone on the teat of the state to generate the welfare vote and Cameron was non-plused with ideas about increasing spending during the austerity years.

However, all of those ideas are good ones and better that what we have now - damn shame his career will be remembered only for it ineffectiveness and for the fact he himself nominated Jeremy Corbyn!

Wednesday 29 August 2018

What will replace Corbyn?

I can't claim any political soothsaying baubles, especially in the 21st Century where politics has been cast, across the world, into a dark abyss since the Financial Crisis and growing global demographic crisis.

However, I can opine that Jeremy Corbyn will not be Prime Minister of the UK - except in the unlikely event of some emergency election foisted by Parliament in the next few months. Given what happened to the Tories just last year, there is zero chance of this coming to pass.

His toxicity of views has alienated far too many people for Labour to gain position as the largest party. Worryingly, it seems for many in what is becoming a cult following, his peaceful grandpa exterior is enough cover for his enablement of hard politics - race and class hatred have exploded under his 'peaceful' leadership. But I can't see more than 40% of people really falling for this and putting and X in the box for such extremism. He has done well, when UKIP followed a similar path they topped out at far less support, albeit they did not have the Labour machine to buttress them.

But what will come next? Firstly, he is elderly so the excuse of age is ready made for him to step aside. The obvious next leader is John McDonell, but he too shares the same baggage which has done for Corbyn, so there is no point to that. Then the challenge is the rest of the left wingers, your Clive Lewis' of this world, are very crap indeed and would be exposed very quickly. Even worse than the Tory opponents, my to my incredulity.

In the middle of the Party there are some more likely, albeit odd, candidates such as Emily Thornberry - but I can't see them at the moment seizing the crown from the ultra-lefties. It would be seen as too much of a betrayl when the beloved Grandpa is already exiting the stage - if anything, Momentum will be trying to find a more shouty and righteous voice for the far left. So it is as of now almost impossible to see what we will have post-Corbyn. The left need a person who cold actually be Prime Minister, not another Neil Kinnock.

One huge downside of all this is that the Tories are mucking about too, faffing with May whilst struggling to identify the next generation who she skilfully does not promote - perhaps Javid or Hunt will be the next in charge. At least the Tories have people of experience and substance, the left are fetishing those who are oppressed and have done nothing but complain - neither of which will allow them to win an election let alone achice much once in power.

Is this correct, or is it yet more wishful thinking on my part?

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Wonga on the edge - about bloody time

Now here is a tale of real disgrace for New Labour and then Tory ambivalence only late turning into action. I won't shirk when it has been so wrong for so long.

Wonga is about to go under, announcing another huge loss is coming and three years of huge losses on such a small lending book with the regulatory environment against it - it's curtains. Wonga will be a thing of history soon.

Way back in 2007, when Gordon Brown (who was much worse  than May, let's not forget this - she is inactively terrible, he was actively malign), surveyed all, Wonga was set-up. The premise was, in this time of ultra cheap credit, that some people could not get any. Not Wonga obviously, they got a nice cheap credit line, but there game was usurious lending to the desperately poor. To me, this is like betting on the increase in food prices - just morally wrong.

But in those heady days, anything went and the Regulator was happy to approve the business. Soon enough it grew large on the often over 1000% APR returns it managed to create. However, built on immorality from the start, the business soon festered. To chase clients, they pretended to send letters from law firms to chase for money back.

By 2012 Wonga had become a target for everyone. Even the new FCA could see it and finally steamed into action, capping its insane interest rates and allowing customers to claim back the usurious monies extracted from them. Quickly the business started to fall, unfortunately driven too by a rise in competition  - at least though this restricts interest to a mere 300% per year.

So here we are in 2018, struggling under the weight of its past, Wonga will die.

But really, how on earth was this business ever allowed to exist. Desperate people need money and it can be very hard to get. Yes, there are back street lenders and criminals who purvey this sort of thing - but they are no legal, they have no claim other than threatening physical violence. To allow to pass into law and common practice such usury is a terrible stain on the Labour Government - THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT! Not helped by the incoming Tory administration who at least have overseen a regulation of this business - but, to me crazily, still allowed it to exist.

It is a sorry story and one which really shows how distant politicians are from both the people they serve and the basic principles of economics that they would ever allow this carry on.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Imperium, Cicero and the Rule of Law

Some view Cicero, lawyer and statesman, as the first authentic voice of western civilisation; and he left quite enough writings and transcripts for us to form an opinion.  Robert Harris, that great student of flamboyant power-playing individuals across the ages (Caesar, Stalin, Blair ...), eventually completed his great Ciceronian trilogy a couple of years ago, and it has relatively quickly been brought to the stage.  I'm reviewing it now at BQ's recent suggestion, having just yesterday seen the second helping of the two-part, seven hour epic which is based on two-and-a-bit of the three books.  (A bit late, I know, because it comes to the end of its London run early next month.)

Two-and-a-bit?  Well, the first volume, Imperium, gets just a five-minute summary by way of a flashback in Part 1.  The play starts, as does the second novel Lustrum, just before Cicero's accession to the consulate.  Even with seven hours available, compression is inevitable; indeed significant chunks (the downfalls of Clodius, Pompey and Crassus) of Dictator, the third volume, get summarised in a brief narrative passage.  This still leaves no shortage of epic material with which to develop three main themes: the equivocal character of Cicero, decidedly slippery for a man of integrity; the Rule of Law - his ostensible passion, though he plays fast and loose when he needs to;  and that what endures is what gets written down.

As with the film of 2001: A Space Odyssey, another broad and epic story rendered down impressionistically for the viewing audience, I'm wondering what anyone would make of it if they haven't read the books beforehand.  However, there is one aspect over which there isn't much doubt about how the audience takes things, because frequent outbreaks of laughter give it clean away.  As with many (most?) writers, Harris of course very deliberately selects and treats his subject matter in order to comment, inter alia, on our own times; and it is striking how often the audience immediately sees present-day connections - in particular, with Brexit.  In part, the stage production has annoyingly tweaked the original for this effect - a slightly modified phrase here, a wink at the audience there - but the assassination of Caesar is one example where no such deliberate pitching is required.  As in the novel, Cicero berates the conspirators for having set out on a fateful course of action with no serious thought as to what happens next, and the audience recognises an allusion immediately.  Given that the book easily predates the referendum, we may safely credit Harris with doing what he obviously intended: showing that the lessons of history are timeless.

(Another episode where the audience feel they recognise a deliberate allusion is when Pompey first struts bombastically onto the stage, complete with prominent Trumpian quiff and tan.  But that is exactly how he is described in the book, and indeed as he was played by Kenneth Cranham in the BBC/HBO Rome back in 2005 - again, greatly predating the presidential rise of the Donald.)

If I have any other complaints against the production, the biggie is how the books' narrator Tiro, Cicero's brilliant amenuensis, is played for laughs - rather like the Common Man in A Man For All Seasons (stage version, not the film).  That doesn't do him justice.  And Harris does a lot better with the characters of Mark Anthony and his wife Fulvia than does the stage play.

But these gripes are to be set alongside the bravura spectacle and excellent set-pieces, particularly at the end.  The seven hours went a lot quicker than some turgid offerings that are two-thirds shorter.  I was left with one abiding impression, and it very much centres on the Rule of Law which Cicero pontificated upon so frequently.  

Rule of law was clearly a major article of public faith in Cicero's time.  It was in Tudor times too - another era of life-and-death personality politics** - even Henry VIII had to suffer abject humiliation in the courts when he wanted to divorce Anne of Cleves.  We like to think we can rely upon it today.  How - in the teeth of ferocious and unscrupulous politicians - is to be upheld?  Is it proof against the excesses of a Trump in the USA, or a Selmayr in the EU?  Will it be proof against Corbyn/McDonnell?  We may be fascinated by watching the fall of the Roman Republic or the House of York: but we may not feel so comfortable living in such times ourselves.


Postscript:  after the performance, who should hurl himself panting onto our No.38 bus from the theatre but the actor Richard McCabe - Cicero himself, featuring in almost every single scene across the two plays.  (A tour de force - has anyone ever learned more lines?)  I can report he is a most personable chap!  Oh - and he could play Alex Salmond to complete and utter perfection (he's even a Scot): an idea for someone there ...

** Something else.  When re-reading the Harris books, I was very struck by how similar is the tenor of the Wolf Hall would-be trilogy:  a clever, diligent, ambitious lawyer of non-aristocratic origins, with a hand-picked, tight-knit and hardworking team around him, makes massive strides in public life during lethally tumultous times - and comes to a sticky end. And Wolf Hall has also been staged by the same playwright who brings us Imperium.  Note: Harris got there first.  Oh - and Harris actually completed that final volume ... get on with it, Hilary Mantel!

Friday 24 August 2018

Alex Salmond Rails Against 'Process' ... Natural Justice is the Serious Issue at Stake

For obvious reasons, I won't say it's all a bit fishy ... but it is interesting.

On Sunday, at BQ's BTL suggestion I'll be reviewing the stage version of Imperium, Robert Harris' masterly retelling of the story of Cicero, 'father of the Roman nation'.   In them days, it was absolutely routine for politicians, serving and retired, to be prosecuted for something.  Bribery and corruption loomed large, of course, but almost anything could be dredged up - or made up.  Most of them seemed to be guilty of so much, the need for outright fabrication wasn't too great; just a little embroidery, perhaps.  How unlike our own chaste times ...

Anyhow, to Alex Salmond.  Upon the accusations against him being made public, his actions and carefully-worded interviews suggest he reckons his best course lies in attacking the 'process' to which he's being subjected.  It flies in the face of 'every law of natural justice', he says.

Actually, there are only two laws of natural justice: nemo iudex in causa sua, and audi alteram partem (and they go back to Cicero's day, too).  Personally I'm very keen on them, as should anyone be who values freedom and rule of law.  But they are under attack.

Why do I say this?  Because the other day I chanced to look up what Wiki says on the subject, to find this:
While the term natural justice is often retained as a general concept, it has largely been replaced and extended by the general "duty to act fairly"
The point is this.  When the 'intersectionality' and transgender headbangers let rip, their primary thesis is that their self-identified status and self-narrated 'lived experience' cannot be gainsaid.  But of of course our two loyal friends the LoNJ blow this clean out of the water.  We can justly scrutinise, challenge, and if appropriate deny, their self-identified anything; and they are not themselves the final arbiter of the matter.

But if we fall back to a general duty to act fairly, they will play the "oppression" card and claim it trumps everything else.

And so, notwithstanding I despise the old charlatan, I wish Salmond well with his procedural challenge.  Let's see where proper due process gets him.


Wednesday 22 August 2018

Post Austerity - what are the priorities?

Borrowing graphic

So, great news, the UK public borrowing has finally reached the point where, though still in deficit, public borrowing is growing at less than the rate of inflation times GDP growth - i.e. the share of debt is finally falling. As an aside, it is so good to see that much of this benefit is from big jumps in corporate tax, paying far more as rates have been reduced in a real life laffer curve example.

So, building on Mr. Drew's post of yesterday, what should the Government increase spending on? The NHS, already eating a huge amount of government spending, has already been promised more money. There will be a contingency for Brexit too no doubt, given the Chancellor is a complete eyeore on the subject.

But, for the few pennies left over what is in most urgent need of more central funding. If Labour come to power, the splashing of loot all over the place will mean no priorities at all and the rather pleasing graph above will head back northwards once more. But, for the next 4 years, what should the focus be?

Home Office - crime fighting, law and immigration
Education - more schools and teachers or early learning (even to restore the EMA), student loan reductions
Trade and Industry - an industrial policy, or space
Infrastructure - renewal or roads and large water/power projects or social housing projects
Local Government - starved of revenues the most due to austerity
Defence - especially against cyber and counter-terrorism

So many choices and so little extra money, it needs to be spent wisely and with a view to helping those who may choose to vote Tory at some point. To me this means perhaps something on student loans and also law and order. Student loans have proved fatal for the Lib Dems and if the Tories ignore it perhaps they will catch a cold too. Law and Order is crucial to an advanced civilisation, failure to both control crime, administer justice and control the borders is on a par with failing to have an army to defend the realm. For me these would be the most propitious, but what do I know - far more interested in what you think in the comments

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Polly Toynbee is (Sometimes) Right

... about once a decade, I suppose.  She's an odd mix.  On the one hand she has a dreadful propensity to write up in the ever-gullible Grauniad whatever rubbish she's been told over a congenial lunch one-to-one with someone she's girlishly in awe of.  Her cavalier attitude towards easily-checked facts once spawned a small industry under the banner of Fact-Checking Pollyanna.  

On the other, she is capable of painstaking (if not actually painful) feats of empirical research, e.g. taking on menial jobs for months at a time to find out what's really happening somewhere, in order to write a book with some serious underpinnings.  She's an interesting contradiction; and the psychology of all this is a real puzzle.

Anyhow: she's had one of those once-a-decade moments (as usual, in the Graun). 
Squalid prisons are just the start. The entire justice system is in meltdown ... From the police to legal aid to the courts, savage cuts mean a nightmare is unfolding largely out of public view 
You scarcely need to read the article.  She's right, of course.  My own vantage-point on this is a friend in the CPS, whose stories from the front are frequently quite appalling.  Plus, of course, we all have the reports of our own eyes. 

And we know who's at least partly to blame: yes, the woman who was Home Secretary for six long years.  It's plain that (in her manifest cowardice, by now so transparent she is the laughing stock of Europe) she bowed all too readily to the budget constraints demanded by Osborne, and concluded the only priorities to be maintained were (a) counter-terrorism and (b) various crazy social policies inflicted upon the police.  Both she and Osborne richly deserve to languish in one of our choice prisons, doing some Toynbee-style first-hand research for themselves.

Recall the 2011 riots:  does anyone imagine they could be handled again today?  Even then it was wholly unsatisfactory for the first few days: but at least, on Cameron's insistence, a mighty and unrelenting effort was mounted to run to ground as many of the miscreants as possible over the following months.  Today?  Well, we may find out.  As one of our perceptive BTL commenters wrote in 2011, on that occasion there was no officer-class of motivated malcontents in evidence to coordinate the street-scum: but what if there was?   

Seven years later and it's not just in existence, it has a positive virtual Sandhurst of its own.  We may be grateful its titular leader is the utter plonker he is; that his No.2 holds no popular attraction whatever for the voters at large; and that Diane Abbbottt is a national joke.  That said, imagine her as Home Secretary ...  well, we may find out.


Monday 20 August 2018

The Twists of Sadiq Khan Point the Way

Readers will know I have long considered Sadiq Khan to be an excellent indicator of what's to be expected from the left, and often more generally.  Last week there was a distinct sighting of Khan on maneouvres, and here's how I read it.

He was on the box in the wake of the latest Westminster *terror attack* (soon to be forgotten, I think, such is the numbing force of repetition), bigging up the Police as well he might, seeing as how they may come in very useful for him one day.  "While we've got you", intoned the questioner, "I have to ask your view on the Labour antisemitism thing ..."

Well of course citizen Khan said it had to be rooted out, but then something interesting happened from his lips.  He proceded to say that Corbyn was exactly the man to do it, and went on to say how closely he'd worked with him over many years and what an excellent chap his is, and that the main thing was to get a Labour governent under Corbyn that would pass new anti-racism laws.

Words like that are not uttered without significance.  This is positively Mandelsonian in its disingenuity and careful preparation - indeed, we may guess he had arranged to be asked the follow-up question -  and at very least we may assume that Khan now reckons there is a significant probability of a Corbyn government really quite soon.  (I think we can read even more into it, but that's enough for now.)  He certainly hasn't always seen things that way: the really avid Khremlin watcher could readily come up with Khan-quotes along the lines that Corbyn is useless and that he only proposed JC for leader in order to stir things up a bit, but certainly had no time for him whatsoever, oh dear me no, dreadful no-hoper.

Now you may well be saying: everyone in the country reckons there is a significant probability of a Corbyn government really quite soon!  OK: but not so many prominent people actually say it - mostly Tory backbenchers trying to scare other Tories into whichever fold they think their colleagues ought to be in.  And most senior Labour people are either (a) guarded and coy, for fear of seeming complacent / premature / frightening the horses (on the left), or (b) saying we shoud be miles ahead in the polls with the Tories in the state they're in & it all proves Corbyn is useless (from the right).

No: Khan's pitch is clearly to be well onside in case it happens, at what he judges to be a fairly critical moment.  (I also think he's proferring a highly self-interested strategy for Corbyn to extricate himself from the antisemitism thing - but that's another matter.)  Take note and watch.


Thursday 16 August 2018

August always a bit of a worry...

FTSE weekly chart, RST pattern

As long time readers of this blog will know, August is always troubling in the markets. Everyone is away but events go onward in the meantime. In 2007 the weeks leading up to September were very rocky and a prelude to the deluge.

With Trump pushing the US economy on, high employment, low inflation and UK government debt under control, it does not at a macro level feel like things are set for a tough autumn...but there are a few signs:

As above, the FTSE looks like it is making lower highs and that could see a big drop over the autumn IF the trading patterns stick. Interesting too to see Copper falling very rapidly, in world where we need copper for everything and mining it is getting harder, not easier, it remains a leading indicator of trouble ahead.

One reason the US is currently doing well too is the big shitty stick Trump has been using in world trade. This, for example Turkey this week, is causing a flight of capital from Emerging markets including Iran and Russia (really bad there, rouble well off).

For the UK, the other week I posted on how record personal debt has been accrued and how sensitive people will be to interest rate rises - but also, given where the debt is levered against, house prices and share prices.

So many contra-indicators make for a situation that must be impossible to call, except to say I don't think I will be pouring more savings into the FTSE much before the pre-Xmas rush.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

So is high executive pay good or bad?

I can't say I really follow what the mainstream media are on about these days, so consumed by identity politics and virtue-signalling, that they will run contrary stories, often in the same article.

It leaves one with a sense that they do not know what they are doing...

Take today. As ever the High Pay Centre, which claims to be neutral but is well stocked with lefties anyway, declares that CEO and Executive pay in the FTSE100 is out of control. For what its worth, this seems uncontroversial to me, the FTSE100 companies have fast been aping their American cousins in pushing up pay at the top - they corresponding feature of shorter tenure is more than compensated by this, meaning we have some very rich managers of businesses, at a time when stock market growth is flat.

However, it is also a travesty today, that women in these companies only receive 3.5% of the total pay and 7% of the roles. This is of course prima facie discrimination. Only Emma Walmsley of GSK makes it into the serious high pay bracket, which is apparently a disgrace and further proof of discrimination.

So well done Laura you are not fighting the good fight of women everywhere by taking home pay that is far to high and a disgrace too our corporate culture in the UK.

None of this makes any sense, scan google for yourself as this is the content of the report and every article. By constantly trying to shoehorn every type of victim-hood and anti-capitalist messaging into the articles written, all that is left is a riddled mess.

Monday 13 August 2018

Is reduced labour supply a bad thing?

I have read a lot of late, some hidden, some more obvious like this, about the sharp drop of immigrants applying for job in the last year or so.

Up to 100,000 people fewer have come to the UK over the past year. This is undoubtedly having an effect at the very bottom of the work pyramid, but also higher up. At the bottom, it means agricultural workers, shop assitants and amazon packers are all able to see a small upturn in the wages they can demand.

Meanwhile, even as the BBC said, applications are a mere 20 per position rather than 25. To me this does not show much of a crisis. I have also been more aware of late of the situation in the USA. There, unemployment is at 3% and there is a starting to be a real war for talent rather than the high falutin' discussions about such a thing that are present in the Harvard Business Review.

Higher wages, means higher costs of production which could lead to higher prices overall and inflation. How a little bit of inflation is bad when the entire private and public economy is in a huge debt position escapes me a little - but you do have to be careful with the inflation genie.

For me the main issue will be how time plays out on the situation. Take the housing market, a big constraint is lack of supply, but the construction industry is at full tilt and is hurting the most from lack of supply and higher labour costs. So a labour shortage here will also reduce the supply of houses in the short and medium term. But reducing 100,000 people a year coming to the UK also lowers demand for housing in the long-term. It could balance out over time, but it could also mean a price squeeze on housing and rents in the short-term and balance in the longer term. Impossible really to predict.

Still, whoever voted Brexit for higher wages already has their reward.

Friday 10 August 2018

Silly season in full swing

So this week, in review....

Labour - WE ARE NOT ANTI-SEMITES, we just like to reserve the right to call Israeli's Nazi's and make comparisons to the Holocaust every now and again. Really, what's the harm in that?

Boris - Hold my Beer

Boris - I defend the right of muslim women to dress like letterboxes, even though this is a bit of a dog-whistle because its boring on the back benches. Bit of japes, sure nothing will come of it.

Labour - Quick, call all Tories Islamaphobes, maybe people will finally forget about our anti-Semitism! (Handily, this doubles down on our identity politics voter segregation - hooray!)

Theresa May - Fuck I hate Boris, quick, pile in an call him an Islamaphobe, link it to Hard Brexit, conduct an investigation, remind everyone how all leavers are racist.

So the theme for this year's silly season is the competitive identity politics Olympics. Pick on some groups, laud others, accuse everyone else of being discriminatory whilst sitting on your own moral mound surrounded by fawning acolytes. When in fact as shown this week, there is zero morality involved and the entire confecture is created for personal mud-slinging. The lowest of low politics

Don't know about the readership, but this is a truly terrible look. I can't see how a move to pure focus on identity politics can be good for the Western Democracies in the long-term....

After all this is what Hitler did....oh, bugger.....

Thursday 9 August 2018

Estate Agents Rise to the Challenge

Now here's a tricky one.  The house (a pair of semis) in the google earth pic below is a mile from Schloss Drew, and just about as awkwardly situated as it is possible to be whilst still only 10 miles from Charing Cross.  It has no access road, just a steep stony track; and is completely surrounded, 360 degrees, by dense woodland - think Sleeping Beauty's palace after 100 years of brambles.  Romantic?  Maybe.  Security?  A nightmare.  Mains drainage?  You're joking!

So - how to sell this delightful property?  They didn't assign this one to the trainee.
Charming Home in Very Secluded Location.  Extremely Leafy Outlooks.  There are but a few locations where you feel detached from the modern world but can reach central London in under an hour, and this property is one of them!  The only way this stunning home can be fully appreciated is by seeing it for yourself.  Great for those who love to be surrounded by nature, with the peace and quiet disturbed only by the sound of birdsong ... Accessed on foot ... 
Actually, on a bad Saturday night there may be one or two other sounds disturbing the quiet, as the court pages of the local newspaper attest.

Extremely Leafy Outlooks:  I shall savour that one for quite a while.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
UPDATE:  Jan asked about parking.  See comments below - this, again from google earth, is the nearest answer.  (That vehicle access is rougher than it looks in this shot)

Tuesday 7 August 2018

President Xi -1: Winnie the Pooh - 0

At it again, I'm afraid.  Well, it's the holidays - and the provocations keep coming ... (with apologies to AA Milne this time)

"China bans Winnie the Pooh film after comparisons to President Xi:
Memes likening Xi to the portly Pooh have become a vehicle in China to mock the country’s leader"

A man, however hard he tries
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Paramount Leader’s rather fat
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By toiling at his masterplan
Which, though important work for him
Leaves little time to use the gym
Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And our man Xi is most distressed
To think he’s mocked in jibe and jest.
He thought: “if I put out the word
(and what I say is always heard)
I’ll put a stop to all that stuff -
The world will see I’m really tough!”
The censors jumped at his command;
Tigger and Pooh were swiftly banned.
And Eeyore too: all swept away –
We cannot have lèse majesté.
And all the world can see at length
That banning thing’s a sign of strength!

ND                                                                                             © 2018  

Monday 6 August 2018

Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un populiste pour encourager les autres

I liked ND's humorous post of Saturday, so it got me thinking, what was discussed, what happened?

And here it is interesting a swift search reveals hundreds of articles about the meeting happening. Plenty speculating what will happen, how nice the French President's place is in the South of France and all sorts of other 5p per word guff.

But nothing, nothing on what actually transpired at all, post the event.

So why is this? Most obviously it is because neither Macron or May have issued any kind of statement or press release.

But why have the media not insisted on one? Perhaps they have, only ineffectively.

I can see that the chances of progress were near zero. Macron has an easy view of Brexit, stay in the single market and betray the populists. Or a Hard Brexit to teach the populists across Europe a lesson...perhaps there is a modern re-working of an old quote that may sum this up.

So May's recent position of a kind of half-in half-out model will be lost on Macron who if anything thinks the Michel Barnier is a bit wimpy in the negotiations.

With a lack of meeting of minds, maybe it should not surprise us that the meeting has quietly been forgotten already.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Macron to May: "Be My Guest !"

So Mrs May has ventured into Château Macron.  I think we know what she walked into ... (with apologies to Disney)

*   *   *   *   *

Ma chère Thérèse, it is with the greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now we invite you to sit up straight, listen carefully, just have a little look at this document you’re going to sign … as the federasts proudly present – your stuffing!

Be my guest, Manu’s guest 
Put our *friendship* to the test 
Tie this noose around your neck, cherie, and dance at our behest 
40 billion? Not enough! 
Why, we only live to stuff 
Read clause 20, it’s a stonker 
Don't believe me? Ask old Juncker!
Market access? - not a chance 
After all, Miss, this is France 
And it’s preordained you’ll come off second best 
Go on - unfold your menu 
Just take a glance and then you'll 
Be depressed – suicidally depressed
On the floor, as you kneel, 
Start to beg, start to squeal 
We'll prepare and serve with flair 
An horrific exit deal 
You're alone, and you're scared 
But your fate is all prepared 
That is Selmayr you hear laughing 
As he contemplates your shafting
We tell jokes, slap our thighs 
We can scarce believe our eyes 
As we watch you in your Whitehall vipers’ nest 
You will have to bend right over 
If we’re not to blockade Dover - 
Just do what Olly tells you, he knows best!
We all guessed your request 
Would leave Europe unimpressed 
From Madrid to Rome and Paris, 
From Berlin to Budapest -
“She’ll want trade, she’ll want terms 
But it’s just a can of worms” 
While we’re giving her a shoeing 
Back in Britain trouble’s brewing
Getting warm, getting hot 
Heaven's sakes! She’s in a spot - 
Much more, she’ll have a cardiac arrest!
We've still got a lot to do,
In the coming day or two 
She’s hard-pressed, she’s distressed
Her red lines are just a jest -
She’s my guest, she's my guest, she's my guest!
Be my guest, be my guest! 
Were you hoping for beau geste? 
When you meekly signed the Hinkley deal 
You’d clearly failed the test 
You’d no cool, you’d no verve 
You had plainly lost your nerve 
Martin’s really just a sweetie - 
Let him help you with this treaty
Clause by clause, one by one 
'Til you shout, “Enough, I'm done” 
But there’ll be no ducking out, or break for rest 
Only after you’ve been beat up 
Will we let you put your feet up 
Don’t protest - be my guest, be my guest!

ND                                                                                        ©  2018

Friday 3 August 2018

What happens next ?

 Image result for car off cliff

The Cliff Edge.

Politicians continue to grapple with Brexit, Very many, including the government itself, continue to promote false choices and false data to reinterpret what was a binary choice into something else. Business and vested interests, from academics to banks to media, shriek the UK must avoid the looming cliff edge, and some other thing than what was agreed, must be done.
They have all missed a rather obvious recent historical fact. If they don't implement what they all promised, then..

The cliff edge is for them.

Right across Europe, and America, governments and institutions that have resisted demanded changes and ignored their own voters have disappeared. Some, possibly, forever.

In France Macron, though an in all but name a traditional French left centrist party, actually heads a brand new political party. One that did not exist just a few years ago. To win he faced a run off with the Le Pen, very right wing. Where were the usual ruling French socialists and conservatives?
They were gone. Not polling enough votes to contest the final two in the election run off.

The mighty Merkel, Queen of all she has surveyed with her very powerful Zeiss binoculars, for  the last fifteen years, is power sharing with the German UKIP. The Afd.  The German social democrats, the usual coalition partners of the orderly parliament for business as usual, suffered its worst defeat since WW2. Just 20% of the votes were cast for them.

In Italy, the ruling Renzi party lost 50% of their seats. They were taken by a mix of parties. None of whom could be considered 'mainstream' in any way. Five Star made the biggest gains to become power sharers in the complex Italian parliaments.

And you can look at almost any country in Europe, and see a similar shift away from the long established parties to newer ones.

In Scotland, in the 2010 election, Labour kept all of its fiefdom's seats and despite a shocker elsewhere, had 41 MPs returned. The Libs managed to keep all 11 of theirs too. The SNP had just six.
A fringe of a fringe. A mere irritant to labour ruling Scotland however they so wished. Alex Salmond had to resign for the failure to gain any traction at all.

In 2015, the fringe, looney, radical, unelectable, one drum to bang,  SNP won an incredible 56 seats. Taking sole power in a system designed to prevent that from happening. Ed Miliband's Labour managed to retain just 1 seat in their Vassal state. Which put them in good company as the Tories and Libs also only managed one apiece.

The SNP won based as much on perceived injustices, and the determination of the establishment {liblabcon} to smash any independence, as on their manifesto. The ELITE had gone too far.
Labour campaigning with the Tories? To shackle the Scots to England forever? The might of England outspending and project fearmongering the people to accept their place?
The backlash, from people who didn't even care about nationalism, was unprecedented. For their dabbling in the Scottish referendum, the ruling parties of old ended up holding just 3 seats of the 59, between them.

UK politicians of the two giant parties of UK politics, who have held office between them for a hundred years like to think this is because of the proportional vote elections in Europe.
It couldn't happen here because of that. It can ONLY be Tory or Labour, with perhaps a little help from the Liberals. Or the DUP. After UKIP had 15% of the total vote. And no directly elected MPs. bother!

This is nonsense.

A population who feel they have been lied to will take revenge. And all the tales of doom and destruction if they should so dare to punish their elected and entitled leaders, by not voting for them,won't have any effect.

To imagine that this populism is only a problem for non-first past the post democracies is fantasy. FPtP won't save them if the tide is strong enough.

The Liberal Democrats, before their humongous and deliberate whopper over tuition fees,had 57 MPs. 57 MPs in mostly FPTP seats. They actually, amazingly, despite the 'I agree with Nick' election, lost 5 seats that night.
But after the student lie was exposed by 2015, they lost 49 seats.
Just let that sink in for a second. The Liberal Democrats, a decent sized third party force for 100 years, lost 87% of their seats in a single night. The entire country, collectively issued a 'shove off mush' and they were gone. Some of their majorities were in the realm of 10,000. An impossible amount to overcome. But overturned they were.

And they still haven't returned to anything more than a pitiful protest party even now.
Despite the political climate of being a Pro-EU, pro Green, centre left, anti-Austerity-Not the Korbyn antisemitic party of communists, being as favourable to LibDems as it is possible to get.

And if another example is needed, then Donald Trump can give it.
The USA is a First Past The Post system. Just with some bigger posts than others. But it is still 'winner takes all' for each state, no matter how many votes cast for the loser.

Trump won.
Trump won because Hillary lost.

She lost because she could not imagine the resentment and anger that was building up from people who felt they had not had a voice for a long time. That their concerns were irrelevant to the ruling power which she represented. That they were just stupid, ill educated, uncultured, hillbillies, and best ignored.
So they voted the most unlikely of candidates into office. And caused a shock wave to the world's political class that they have yet to come to terms with.

America. Home of democracy. Has Donald Trump as President.
And such is the ongoing shock, same as Brexit, and denial of the reality and causes of the reality, same as Brexit, that trump is about evens to win if he stands again.
And all the plotting and investigations and impeachment threats and Hillary really won arguments have not changed people's minds.

Same as Brexit.

People made a decision. and if the current crop of MPs can't accept that, then they need to get out the way before being swept away on a tide of anger and frustration and resentment and hope for something better.
UKIP may be a busted flush. A dead party that has allowed, particularly, but not exclusively, Tory politicians to imagine the threat to their right has gone. But it only takes one charismatic leader, with some cash, and the vote will be split so small among everywhere, that they could become the ruling government.

Why MPs, denying the referendum on one hand. Thwarting it on the other. Putting forward the meekest possible leaving proposal imagine they will be immune from what has happened elsewhere in very recent history, is bewildering. We aren't talking ancient history here. All this has happened in the last 5 years.

Sweden Democrats, who are nothing of the sort, being a nationalist anti-immigration party, are poised to do very well, if not win, Sweden's election in September.
In Sweden? The Sweden that is the home to the ultra-PC, ultra liberal, everyone is super, progressive dream house, may have a powerful right wing nationalist force to contend with.
And for every seat it takes, an established party must lose one.
If it can happen in Sweden, why do most of the current batch of MPs not seem to see it can happen here?

In fact, it already has.

Yet for some reason, members of parliament haven't really noticed that the labour party isn't the Labour party. It is the Jeremy Corbyn party. He may just be the Ho Chi Minh figurehead for the radical left to rally to, but the party of labour today is a million miles from the party of 2010 and 2015. And it is close to power in a coalition. It doesn't take much for that to occur.
Soubry and Morgan and Hammond and Miliband and Umunna and Cable are not paying the slightest attention to the what happens next. Not on a political level. I presume they imagine they can defy the voters and everything will go back to how it was before.

I sincerely doubt that can happen.
Even with the shield of First Past the Post.

Interst rate

OK - so this post is very counter-intuitive for me, having long argued we need to raise rates on this blog to normalise the economy. But as it happens there are many signs in the economy of the top being reached and an uncertain global economy - a few facts to consider:

- Chinese stock markets down 20% Year to date

- Copper price, a real bell-weather for all industrial production and the general economy, is also down markedly on the year
6 Month Copper Prices - Copper Price Chart

- As BQ oft reports, the high street is beyond on its knees and into catastrophic meltdown after 10 years of hard bashing by government policy and digital transformation, major brand names like House of Fraser are finished

- UK private debt is at record highs with a negative savings rate:

All the above point to a notable inflection in the economy. The boom has been going for nearly ten years since the crash, it may yet last another year or two, but housing is toppy. The UK Government is still in debt and still is running a deficit, even as private sector debt grows. The corporate sector debt is the one area where there is room for expansion, but the doom-laden atmosphere around Brexit is really lowering investment by corporates.

In this environment, basically until Brexit is sorted out satisfactorily, it seems weird to raise rates right now when there is no evidential inflation pressure. Of course, Remainiacs at the Bank of England may want to slow the economy as a tool for helping the Government renege on Brexit. Historically, the BOE always get things wrong of course so this interest rates rise may well be a sell signal!

Thursday 2 August 2018

Interest Rate Up, Sterling Down

Open thread.

Right at this minute (13:10), Sterling is lower against both USD and EUR.  Discuss!


[Personal interest:  I am long both Sterling and USD.  And, of course, heavily exposed to the UK economy in general.]

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Wheeling in the Chinese Trojan Horse Through ... Duisburg!

Ah, Duisburg. I lived there for a while during the Cold War, when taking the Queen's shilling.  Our barracks were a former Luftwaffe Flak-Kaserne: the Officers' Mess was a wonderful building** of a design approved personally by Goering - the minstrels gallery over the dining room was a giveaway, he always insisted on that - that is now a listed building (housing the local chamber of commerce). We were the only British unit stationed in the city, which meant we were treated royally, and often, by the locals.  There were three mayors, I recall, and we got a lot of invitations.  The local Tierpark was fine, though the shopping less so (for a town of 500,000) and one tended to go to Düsseldorf on the tram. 

We were on the outskirts, but the centre was very gritty and urban indeed.  You would hear gunfire every Saturday night; the local students included some very hard left radicals.  The local Stadtwerke used to advertise that the water was safe to drink (always a bad sign) - "contains no organisms whatsoever".  Well of course not - the cadmium content finished them all off!

It's Big: World's Largest Inland Port    pic, Guardian 

Because, yes, as well as being a mighty steel town in those days Duisburg was, and remains, the world's largest inland port.  And now, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Peoples Republic, it seems - the western end of the great new Silk Road.  “We are Germany’s China city,” says Sören Link, Duisburg’s Social Democrat mayor. “Rail freight between Chongqing and Duisburg is almost twice as expensive as shipping, but takes 12 days instead of 45. Air freight is at least twice as expensive as rail freight, but takes on average five days. If we can reduce lead times even further, below 10 days on average, then that opens up a lot more potential.” 

Could that be done?  This is a good bit:
The reasons journey times from China are still far too long ... lie mainly with the heavily unionised rail companies in Europe rather than their counterparts in Asia: trains take on average six days to travel the 1,300km from the Polish-Belarusian border to Duisburg, while the 10,000km from Chongqing to Belarus is often completed in five-and-a-half days.  “The Chinese and the Kazakhs drive thousands of kilometres a day, they really work hard. It’s ridiculous, really. Of course we are trying to work out why this is happening. You know how many train drivers’ unions we have, and the Poles are not much better”.
Haha!  The Chinese could probably make some suggestions ...

** that link is to an old C@W post - almost exactly a decade old - on which the formatting has gone a bit haywire: but you'll get the drift.  For more on this fabulous old site with some interesting history (including a famous murder and an IRA bombing), google Glamorgan Barracks.