Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The great EU delusion.

"We don't want a referendum, just a return of power". So writes George Eustice, Tory Eurosceptic MP for Camborne and Redruth in the Financial Times of 10th December. But even my teenage grandchildren understand that 'power' rests with 'the markets' and 'ratings agencies' and 'multinationals'. They are not sure what these are & not much bothered, having what they believe to be better things to do with their time (they may well be right) but they know that they are not the 'Government' or the 'EU'.I find it amazing that people who are otherwise highly intelligent are so obsessed with the EU and seem to believe that if we could only build the equivalent of the Berlin Wall down the English Channel we would enter a sunlit upland undreamed of in our imagination. The organisations to whose tune we all have to dance are elected by nobody & accountable to nobody. Cameron's 'puppet on a string' dance to the tune of his Eurosceptics is, according to many within the City itself, unlikely to provide whatever protection he thought he was achieving. It has perfectly complied with the 'divide & rule' strategy that satisfies the interests of 'international money'. Only when the last tree has died, and the last river poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money (Cree Indian Chief Wolf Robe 1909) Happy Christmas

Monday, 19 December 2011

How can women vote Tory?

In the spring of this year a 'You Gov' poll found that only 13% of the public felt that Cameron's Conservatives was closest to women whilst 79% felt they were closest to the rich. More recently the equality campaign group, The Fawcett Society, published a report 'A life raft for women's equality' which identified a 23 yr high in female unemployment. Just to kick them harder there have been cuts to child benefit; maternity grant for low income families; reduced housing benefit and so on. It is estimated that £11bn of the £16bn sliced from the welfare budget affects women and about 3million are worse off. Never mind. The Tories want more women in Boardrooms.That will make a hell of a difference. Theresa May has responded by setting up a scheme to recruit mentors to help women start businesses. Where are these female entrepreneurs going to get start up funds from? One of my daughters has identified an employment opportunity. Divorced mother, one child (age 10) still at home. The training costs over £2000. Supposing she didn't have a dad with a few quid. No chance. Still Cameron does have his heart in the right place with respect to women. The rules of Royal succession are to be changed to allow the eldest child male or female to succeed to the throne. Wow.
The sad thing is that the LibDems will get tainted by this. There is a limit to what 57MPs compared to over 300 can do to restrain the Tories. Compassionate Conservatism, Big Society - sure. The Government has allocated about £500m to help community groups whilst charities are expecting to lose £4.5bn as a result of spending cuts. If we could bottle & sell hypocrisy we wouldn't have a debt crisis. Happy Christmas.

If you can afford the booze you can afford to pay for treatment

"I've been spat on,punched,kicked,slapped-- I gave a tissue to a crying girl and she bit my hand" so is quoted paramedic Antonia Gissing in the Observer of 11th December. These people are not poor and underprivileged. They include trainee lawyers and other so called middle class professionals. It is estimated that it costs the NHS a minimum of £220 per drunk. Why should these people not pay at least this amount as an automatic levy? This is not what the NHS was set up to do & why should the taxpayer meet the cost and why should the paramedics have to endure the abuse.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Only ordinary folk pay taxes

Liberal Democrats calculate that some £750million is being lost every year in taxes when house purchases are hidden behind offshore companies.

One Hyde Park is arguably the most expensive,exclusive apartment block in the world. A penthouse sold for £136million. A one bedroom flat costs over £3.5m. Planning permission was granted for 86 apartments - now reduced a bit as some smaller ones have been put together. Some 60 have been sold. Not surprisingly it is hard to find the details. A significant number have been sold to overseas companies registered in Tax Havens. For example 25 apparently in the British Virgin Islands. Anyone remember Osborne's claim to be going after Tax Havens? What he has actually done in that regard us another story. Returning to One Hyde Park, only 9 are paying Council Tax. Westminster City Council is trying to find out who owns the rest. The developers say they are not responsible for registering people for council tax. It seems the only way is for council officials to do a door to door survey - if they can get past the 'Security' at the entrance to the block.

So what is the huge burden of Council Tax that these poor rich people are not paying?

This story gets even more sick. Council Tax valuations in Westminster ( and Blackpool) are as at 1991 prices when Band H (the highest) is more than £320000. Currently In Westminster about 96.5% of properties for sale are in G & H. The Council Tax which is being avoided on One Hyde Park is just £ 1375.24 per annum. In Blackpool, (which has the lowest average wage in England of just over £15000 p.a.), only about 10% of properties for sale are in G & H and the Council Tax charge on such properties is £ 3032 p.a.. Only those people in Blackpool living in a Band A,B,C, property pay what the Westminster millionaires pay i.e. £1375. One Nation? All in it together? Only in Tory fantasy land.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Don't tackle the real problem

Buried in the Review Section of The Observer of 30th October under the section 'Lab Notes: Dispatches from the World of Science' (hardly likely to hit you in the face is it?) is a report of a study from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.  According to the Observer "This study identified an elite core of 147 transnational corporations, (TNCs), mainly financial institutions, that together control 40% of the wealth in the entire network of 43060 TNCs worldwide despite representing less than 1% of the whole. This level of interconectedness raises serious concerns about financial stability"

It is probably worse than that. One might reasonably deduce that the 43060 TNCs control more wealth than virtually any national sovereign government. They are equally almost certainly totally not accountable to any electorate. Nevermind. All UKIP, the right wing of the Tory Party, and other organs like the Daily Express can do is bang on about the wicked (allegedly unelected) EU. Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned comes to mind.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A house is a home not an 'investment'

It is a shame that it is those who don't deserve to that are usually those that suffer. The housing market is a case in point. Those who got onto the housing ladder in 2006/7 when the housing market peaked are now in grief because prices are down some 20%. Others see their chance of owning a home receding. It is the word 'home' that matters. For decades ones 'home' was also seen as a safe route to ever increasing wealth. This delusion was fueled by oceans of credit. I sold a house in 1985 which was sold again in 2005 for eight times what I got for it. Meanwhile the average income had slightly more than doubled. That madness was bound to stop sometime and it has.Transactions are down some 50% from a peak of 1.25million and likewise the number of estate agents has halved. To get some sort of balance back prices need to fall further. Predictions are 3% this year, 5% next year & 5% in 2013. Cruel luck -except of course for those who can afford a property costing millions where the market is still buoyant.

So called 'balance' can promote bias

It is basic that if you belong to an extremist group of any kind your biggest enemies are those who belong to your tribe, religion, party or whatever but who do not subscribe, may even detest, your extremism. So what do you do? Well today you come up with a demonstration against remembrance, and get yourself banned. Our witless media gives you airtime during which you get the chance to say that the poppy is a figleaf to cover the crimes of the Government. With luck this will create a backlash which you can exploit by playing the victim of oppression and hoping that those of your tribe, religion, party or whatever become pushed away from their moderate position into giving you support. Sometimes so called 'balance' in the media is anything but.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

To print or not to print

This was sent to the Observer a few days after the date referred to. No surprise that they didn't publish it.

Dear Sir, Below is a letter that I would appreciate being considered for
publication. If unable to publish but are able to forward it to Mr Brian
Hughes [Letters 16th October] I would be most grateful.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - --
Dear Sir,

Brian Hughes [Letters 16th October] bemoans the "traditional role of party
conferences as a showcase for leaders" and pleads for political parties to
"transform [Conferences] into explorations and explanations of political

That is what Liberal Democrat conferences do, and have done, for decades.
They are the only major party that actually decides the direction, & sometimes
the detail, of policy at conference.

Yours faithfully,

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A message to my grandchildren

On the 11th November 1918, at 11 o'clock in the morning what was then known as 'The Great War' came to an end. It was only 'Great' in scale and death. To give the numbers of those killed some meaning of the twenty two members of schoolboy cricket teams that played each other before the war started sixteen were dead when it ended. In 1921 the Royal British Legion was started to help soldiers sailors and airmen who needed help and to make sure that people that came after them like you and me never forgot the horror of this war and the wars that were to come after it.

On Friday this week for the first time we will be remembering the end of this war at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year. It will not happen again for 100yrs. Main services to remember the dead of all war will be on the nearest Sunday - the 13th.

All war is bad but not all are wrong. Some, like the war between 1939 and 1945, when I was a boy, are necessary because of a great evil. We wear a poppy to show that we care about those who put their lives and their future at risk to go and fight and often die or are very badly hurt.

My family, and so your family were lucky. My grandfather fought in South Africa and the Sudan over 100 years ago. He died in 1913 of an illness. He was 34 yrs old. I had two uncles who survived the Great War. My father was just too old and unfit for 1939 - 1945 & he was a fireman during the bombing of London. He survived. I had another uncle who was left behind to repair aircraft. The ship he should have been on was sunk and 1400 men died.

I hope on Sunday at 11 o'clock you will just be quiet for a few moments and if you see people, especially older people, you will treat them with kindness and respect. I'm sure you will.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Complicated voting?

Taken from Highland UA Council website

"The seven-cornered by-election for Inverness South (Ward 20) on The Highland Council has resulted in a victory for Mrs Carolyn Caddick, Scottish Liberal Democrats. The turn out was 26.8% and the total number of valid votes cast was 2,607. The by-election was held following the resignation of John Holden (Labour).
The count was held at Inverness Town Hall.
David McGrath (Independent), was eliminated at the end of stage one, with 94votes.   
His votes were then redistributed and Donald Boyd (Scottish Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”) was eliminated at the end of stage 2 with 130 votes.
Gale Falconer (Scottish Green Party) was eliminated at stage 3 with 189 votes.
David Bonsor  (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)  was eliminated at the end of stage 4 with 339 votes.
Katherine Mackenzie (Scottish Labour Party) was eliminated at the end of stage 5 with 379 votes.
At the final stage, there was a re-count of votes. At the end, Mrs Caddick had 1,091 votes, and Ken Gowans (SNP) had 1,084 votes".

And the NO2AV campaign managed to sell the idea that AV was complicated ! ! What a fabulous con trick they managed to pull off.

Monday, 31 October 2011

We are NOT all in it together

"We are all in it together" is the most cynical sick joke of this decade. A report in the Scotsman says: The effective tax rate paid by Britain's biggest companies has dropped by almost a third over the last two years, but many are still considering moving their headquarters abroad. In 2009, FTSE 100 companies on average paid tax equivalent to 35.8% of their annual profits. But new research by UHY Hacker Young, a national group of accounting firms, shows that figure has fallen to just 26% in 2011, even though profits are higher. For Aileen Scott, tax partner at Campbell Dallas, the only Scottish member of the UHY Hacker Young group, "While the government has made efforts to make the UK tax regime more attractive, will it be enough to stymie the tide of British companies still thinking about the exit?". On top of some of the FTSE top executives giving themselves up to 50% pay rises this really stinks. Still as long as we pull out of the EU and relentlessly hunt down benefit cheats it will all come right. Like hell it will.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The uselessness of Trident

Trying to work out how many nuclear weapons needed to destroy the UK is a bit of a 'how long is a piece of string' question but here goes anyway. I'm assuming the data uses American Tons of 2000lbs or 907kg. It doesn't matter that much in terms of the discussion.Worldwide there are approx. 30,000 warheads with a total capacity of about 5thousand million ton of TNT [5000megatons]. So that gives each warhead about 170,000 ton or roughly eight times the 22000 tonnes of the bomb used on Nagasaki. [The biggest ever detonated was 50megaton & 100MT is believed to be enough to cause a Nuclear Winter].

The Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombs each devastated about 5sq miles. The area of London is about 620 sq miles & Birmingham about 100 sq miles. Again without defining what is included & what is not these data are very approximate. However we might say, without getting too tied up in irrelevant accuracy, that 10 average bombs on London, two on Birmingham, 3 on Manchester would effectively render those cities completely disfunctional. It doesn't take us long to realise that maybe 30 would effectively wipe out the UK.

Doesn't really matter whether the answer is 20 or 50. In this ball park an enemy like the ex Soviet Union could reduce us to nothing with only our Trident Submarines still functioning. So we could hit back. Yippee. Big Deal. But the Soviet Union isn't there any more. Only the USA has this capacity in terms of warheads & delivery system. Is Liam Fox seriously considering a need to deter an attack from the USA?

Would a terrorist or a rogue state with the warheads & capacity to deliver two or three bombs on the UK [only Israel can do this right now] be deterred by our Tridents? That number of bombs would still leave us functional & deterrence/retaliation could very effectively be from Cruise missiles.

Liam Fox made some good points in his speech to the Tory Party conference but his affirmation of a replacement for Trident, as a sop to the Tory 'Right', is what should truly differentiate the LibDems from the Tories on Defence. Trident is a completely indefensible waste of money. On every possible argument, & there are many besides the one I have just made here, it has no value whatsoever.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Promises Promises

Bro Ed Miliband was keen on the subject of broken promises in his conference speech taking care to bash the LibDems on this matter & saying he would never make a promise he wouldn't/couldn't keep & the going onto make a fair few such promises. We might also recall David Cameron pledging to make Britain the most "family friendly in Europe" and of course Duncan-Smith "making work pay" - which is why 58% of children in poverty are in families where at least one parent works. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK households have experienced the biggest fall in disposable income for 30yrs. The LibDem problem is that people expect the Conservatives & Labour to dump their promises at the first excuse - they've been doing it for decades. People thought the LibDems were different without realising the impossibility of remaining so pure when you are a minority party in government. If voters, & particularly disillusioned supporters really want the LibDems to pull out of coalition & preserve the purity of their soul then recognise that the Tories would call a General Election which they would win. Well done the LibDem bashers. Enjoy.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Labour mystery

My IT skills are very very limited. In advance of the events I could go to the LibDem & Conservative Party websites & readily find the content of their forthcoming Conferences. Not so Labour. Even now that their Conference has started I can't find out the timetable from the main Labour Party website. I can see an advert for a free app for a choice of devices non of which I have. So recent is this that when you click on it it says "This app is to complement the Labour Party Conference. It will be made available very soon. Check again after 5th September". It is now the 25th & this text has not been updated. I did click on ipad (even though I don't have one) & lo & behold there was the 'Timetable'. Obviously I couldn't check if it was real or just illustrative. And Labour thinks it is fit to go on governing & should have won the last election? I'm not convinced they could tell the time & get it right.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Banking reform is a LibDem priority

According to Bank of England statistics [FT 17 Sep 11] lending from UK Banks to private sector businesses has dropped by £64bn since Sept 2008. SMEs have been particularly hard hit. Governments are rightly criticised for trying to micro manage but what can they do when a British based entrepreneur, who has won a contract to provide hydroelectric power to Windsor Castle, cannot find a bank willing to lend the money to get the turbines built in Britain? He's had to get them from Holland.[Observer 11 Sep 2011]

Meanwhile the Federation of Small Businesses has launched a campaign setting out six steps to help real life entrepreneurs. Vince Cable's Department has responded: " The Government is committed to creating the long term environment to help people start & grow a business. We announced measures in March 2011 to transform the enterprise experience of schoolchildren and students and we are transforming business support ". Labour's Ed Balls, leading as usual firmly from the rear, calls for [Blackpool Gazette 23 Sept 2011] children to be given compulsory lessons in finance. Some Primary schools have been doing that for years. Even the normally LibDem bashing Nick Cohen [Observer 9th September 2011] comments that 'Ball's inability to learn from the past has left the Liberal Democrats as the only political party campaigning for banking reform'.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Ask a silly Question

Do news presenters,commentators and other general pundits ask George Osborne & other senior Tories if they now agree it was wrong to support Cecil Parkinson's deregulation of financial services? Of course not. Do they ask Ed Balls if he thinks it was a mistake for Gordon Brown to sell large chunks of our gold reserves at a price one sixth of its present price? Of course not. So why do they go on asking Nick Clegg whether he is glad the LibDems failed in their policy of joining the Euro? Is it just trying to discredit the LibDems by any means available? It is a silly question anyway. In reality no one knows what the present state of the Euro would have been if the UK had adopted it and worked as hard to make it a success as we have in carping & undermining the EU on every possible occasion.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The House of Peers

Mark Pack speaking at the LibDem Conference today urged Liberal Democrats to lobby any members of the House of Lords known to them to encourage such Peers to support a fully elected upper house. Mark pointed out that we were the Liberal DEMOCRATIC Party. Well I'm sorry Mark. I can see nothing relentlessly democratic in electing a replica of the Commons. Whatever form of proportional voting is used - and the experience of AV is still a raw wound - one might expect a re-run of the tribal voting that has characterised our so called democracy for decades. It was pure fluke that just this time the General Election result led to the Coalition. Also my limited exposure to Hereditary Peers is that a significant number have much more empathy with the ordinary people than many career politicians, ex-politicians, business men & such like. I would like to see a house of Lords - call it a Senate or whatever - with a maximum number of 600, (like the revised Commons) made up of 20% Hereditaries elected, as now, by themselves; 20% nominated for their expertise and/or service to the Community by a majority of the Upper House - NOT the Government; 60% elected as proposed by the Bill. I do agree that there should be no place as of right for religious leaders - some might of course qualify as nominated members based on what they've done - not their rank in whatever religion they might espouse. In my opinion such a mix would lead to an Upper House that knew what it was talking about and could mount a real challenge to the Commons in the situation that prevailed until May 2010, & is likely to prevail again, i.e an elected dictatorship.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Taking on the culprits

Alan Beattie writing in the FT on 3rd September 2011 discussing the Italian state finances says: " Mr Berlusconi's plans rely heavily on better tax collection, a wearyingly familiar magic pony traditionally brought out when more substantive fiscal measures have been discarded.". In the USA the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is preparing to sue some of the biggest US & European Banks over their role in the 'securitised mortgages' disaster. The FT Editorial (3rd Sep) sees this as welcome. They state " The perception that Banks have walked away from their pre-crisis incompetence ( to use a generous word) in loan origination and bundling is justified. Moral hazard helped cause the meltdown. Institutions must be held accountable for errors & malpractice". Strong stuff from such a source.

What is the response? According to Mark Kleinman writing in the same edition of the FT individuals such as the Chairmen of BP; Rio Tinto; Unilever; Bob Diamond CEO of Barclays Bank; the CEO's of Lloyds & Santander ( and no doubt others) have been having assorted meetings with Cameron & Osborne warning of the dire consequences of implementing what is believed to be in the Independent Commission (IBC) report. Kleinman doesn't specifically use the word 'threats' but you don't have to be a genius to suspect the drift.

Meanwhile in the fine print of 'Project Merlin' which was the deal that the Banks struck with the Government about, amongst other things, lending to small business. there is the loophole that the reported lending to business - which is on target, ignores the money which the Banks claw back from businesses that are repaying their debts. If you take that into account the amount the Banks are lending to stimulate the economy is way below what it should be. Banks claim that is because there is little demand from business. That has to go down as one of the most untruthful statements of the century so far. From personal experience of a world leading small business the business claim that the banks are setting onerous conditions for lending and seeking to charge exorbitant interest and fees is absolutely true.

Thank goodness for Vince Cable who is still doggedly chasing after ways of increasing transparency of executive pay and is expected to unveil proposals later this month. Earlier Vince used the phrase 'spivs & gamblers' which earned him many detractors. A fairly sure barometer of the fact that he was right.

Even Kleinman says: " The ludicrous complexity of many executive pay schemes has been fuelled by an army of remuneration consultants interested mainly in self-enrichment"

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Issues of fairness

Writing in the Financial Times on 20th August 2011 Christopher Caldwell, who is against raising taxes for the rich, notes that Warren Buffet [who is mega rich & believes he should pay more tax], paid just under $7m in US Federal Taxes last year or about 17% of his taxable income. His 'back office' employees pay about 36%.

The top 400 US 'earners' [some of us question the validity of the word 'earned' in this debate]:
In 1992 made $19.9bn and paid 29.2% in taxes
In 2010 made $90.9bn and paid 21.5% in taxes

Elsewhere the same paper publishes two graphs. They show that in 1970 the top half percent of UK earners paid 40% - everyone poorer than this paid less and that was true also in about 2005.
But in 1970 the top tenth of a percent of earners paid 90% tax whereas by 2005 they still only paid 40% Moreover in 2005 the lower earners hit the 30% rate earlier.

These two sets of data are used to support the thesis that low taxes create wealth, or conversely that higher taxes inhibit wealth creation & in any case so few 'earners' are affected the amount of money raised is trivial. But surely this misses the point. The former 'Minister for Murdoch' and still Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, in the same FT said "This is about people who have completely lost their moral compass and exploited technology to create massive public disorder".

He was talking about rioters but his words can surely apply equally to those whose business ethics brought about the financial crisis? They have largely escaped retribution. Some have even been rewarded. It's hard to get an exact figure but by contrast it seems as though over 50000 ordinary mortals jobs have been lost in the UK Banking sector since 2008.

In the USA, since Obama came to power, 393000 illegal immigrants have been rounded up & zero bankers. [Observer 14 Aug 2011]. And it gets worse. The State of Alabama's law on illegal immigration and the punishment for employment of illegals has a clause which exempts domestic servants. The filthy rich who use and exploit illegals as maids etc are not defined as 'employers' so they're all right then. Remember the storm in Britain when the LibDems proposed an amnesty for illegals who'd been here a long time, obeyed the law, integrated & paid taxes? Of course if you have the money to buy a football club or a £140m mansion or whatever we'll not enquire too closely into your background.

The Prime Minister, Chancellor & Mayor of London at least have an insight into the mind of a hooligan. As former members of the Bullingdon Club they surely understand the excitement of trashing places even if they didn't actually take part. Naturally the damage was paid for & nothing more was said. The great majority of those MPs who made flawed expenses claims & paid the money back have escaped further retribution. These commonsense responses are not, of course, extended to, mostly young, people with unblemished records who were involved in vandalism & looting & who confessed in shame & returned their stolen goods. Now this is not to condone rioting or other bad behaviour it just points out an inconsistency.

Nor is all this stuff the politics of envy - as some will no doubt try & portray it. Throughout history the Law has been written by the rich & powerful for the preservation of the vested interests of the rich & powerful, natural justice is not usually relevant in that process, and by and large the rest of us accept it & get on with our lives. But the chasm between the tiny percent of 'definitely haves' and the rest of us is huge & getting bigger. When it takes the right wing of the Tory Party to point this out [Observer21st August] the LibDems & Labour are in deep trouble.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Red Arrows must fly again

It is right that the RAF has grounded all its Hawk aircraft until the cause of the tragic accident to a Red Arrow is established. However this must not be used as an excuse for the cost cutters and safety obsessives to disband the Red Arrows altogether. One Australia day c. 1995 my wife & I had the privilege of watching the Red Arrows perform over Sydney Harbour. Hundreds of thousands (well over half a million flank Sydney Harbour on that day & it's vast enough not to feel crowded!!) of God knows how many Nationalities were cheering & clapping them. We had tears rolling down our faces. Just for once one was so proud to be British and looking at sheer excellence for its own sake. We saw them again only recently over Blackpool & felt just the same.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

When is thief not a thief?

Last week during 'Newsnight' former editor of 'The Sun' Kelvin Mackenzie [ so we know what his views are don't we !!] rounded on a fellow panellist with the words " There is nothing to understand about this. They are thieves by any name and you can get thieves in any part of society". Well he got the last bit of that comment right. The trouble is that it is primarily only the thieves at the bottom that get caught & punished. Those at the top get rewarded. The Financial Times [not renowned for being left wing] had a fabulous cartoon on Saturday 13th showing an individual clutching big box of money called MPs expenses, followed by another with an even bigger box of money called bankers bonus, followed by a hoodie carrying an Adidas box, all emerging from a broken window painted as the Union Flag. The caption was Broken Britain. Back in April I published a post pointing out that Goldman Sachs had been fined what,in terms of most people's income,was 5p.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Who the hell are Standard & Poors?

Anyone with a pension, any kind of property or savings will be hit by the sharply increased turmoil in the 'markets' this week. Sensible folk find it hard to get their heads round this. The business that has suddenly seen its share price dive is exactly the same business that last week was seeing a steady share price rise. It seems that this increased turmoil is largely caused by the opinions of a private company called Standard & Poors. As Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman notes "It's hard to think of anyone less qualified to pass judgment than the agencies [S&P & others] who [highly] rated sub-prime securities". If anyone knows & can explain in simple lay terms why markets pay any attention to them please do so.

Don't link riots to sentencing reform

One of the more fatuous comments on the recent riots came in Parliament today from Jack Straw who invited the Government to move even further away from Ken Clarke's proposals than they have already. Put rioting to one side for the moment & realise that the re-offending rate for 18 to 25yrolds of over 70% within two years of release versus the cost of imprisonment represents failure on a heroic scale. There has to be a better way. When one also realises that a huge number of prisoners have mental health & other problems it is clear that other ways exist. When it comes to punishing young people, if my numerous teenage grandchildren & their friends are any guide, what would REALLY punish them is to deprive them, for a period, of access to mobile phones, iPods, MP3 and all the other electronic gizmos without which their lives are apparently unsustainable. One should also look to the success of Kids Company & other initiatives where the success is measurable & substantial.

All this is long(ish) term and should not be blown off course by the immediate need to give the rioters & looters a seriously swift & sharp lesson. Moreover such little evidence as there is suggests that there will always be 10% or so who will simply spit efforts to help them back in your face. That's more than enough to produce a rioting mob. We should recognise the existence of this minority & indeed treat them severely and stop devoting disproportionate resources in a one size fits all determination to redeem everybody.

We wish.

Doncaster born Jeremy Clarkson waxed eloquent in his Sunday Times column about the awfulness of Greater Manchester &, in particular, the BBCs move to Salford. He said " If the BBC said I had to move back up North I'd resign in a heartbeat". Don't be a tease Jeremy. For some of us that would be wonderful news but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Congratulations to sporting India

Just had to post my massive congratulations to the India Cricket Captain & team over the Bell run out incident. It is so rare for true sportsmanship to triumph over the compulsion to win at all costs & the pressure brought on that compulsion by too much money sloshing around. India shine like a beacon & restore ones faith in sport.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The poor overtaxed rich

Lord Lamont, Chancellor when Britain came out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992, is reported to be campaigning for the 50% tax rate to be scrapped. The old argument about inhibiting growth & stifling initiative is being trotted out as an unchallengeable truth. But it is NOT true. Quite the reverse. I have met hundreds of businessmen running small start ups over the last ten yrs or so and not one has cited income tax as a disincentive simply because very few actually get anywhere near the £150000 a year needed for the 50% to kick in. To quote just one example two founder directors of a manufacturing company that is successful and created some ten jobs took a cut in salary of at least 50% each in order to follow the dream. The current MD doesn't even get half of the £150k. If he went back from whence he came - into finance - then he would be paying 50p in the pound. Far from cutting the tax there should be another level of 85% on all income, however defined, ( I won't call it earnings because in a lot of cases it is not actually earned - especially in financial services) in excess of half a million a year. The second false claim is that such a move would drive out talent. What talent? The talent for wrecking the economy? The talent for smart financial manipulation that causes massive grief for elderly, infirm, learning difficulty people? We can surely do without such talent.

Fighting back the tears

Yesterdays Financial Times [30th July] ran a big feature about private luxury yachts. Some of these can cost up to one billion USDollars and indeed provide highly skilled work for people. But some folk are never content. According to the article one such yacht remains anchored in Cap d'Antibes with just a skipper on board because, due to the price of fuel, it would cost some £300000 to fill it up with diesel. My eyes welled up with tears at the thought of the deprivation suffered by the poor owner.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Time to repay Cameron for his AV referendum stance

It is all very well and praiseworthy for the LibDems to support the Prime Minister when the issue is one of policy to which we have agreed,(more or less & probably reluctantly). However when the issue is his personal competence, judgment & style, typified by the Andy Coulson affair, the LibDems - even the Deputy Prime Minister - OWE CAMERON ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. He completely, unashamedly & ruthlessly shafted us over the AV vote. The NewsCorp scandal, & Camerons closeness to those in charge, should be payback time & LibDems should be going for him hammer & tongs & not let Miliband steal the show & the credit

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Crocodile tears?

Those of us who are old enough to remember Rupert buying the News of the World and have noted the comparison between the way his media treated his own divorce in contrast to the way it treated the matrimonial problems of other celebrities (and not such celebrities), and watched the ruthlessness with which his media has exposed wrongdoing (even though some of those exposed were innocent - tough on them) and have witnessed the virulence of Fox News anchormen,and much much else besides, watched the outpourings of sorry, regret etc etc from the 'clan' yesterday with a certain cynicism. You might think that what they are REALLY sorry about is being found out - I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Blundering or devious

The arrest of Rebekah Brooks has seriously hampered the ability of MPs to question her. Was it 'blundering incompetence' on the part of the Police, as Geoffrey Robinson QC has suggested just a few minutes ago on the News? Or could it possibly have actually been a rather clever move?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Money & Media equals power.Why bother with elections 2

The 38degrees Group conducted a survey in which 78.8% of respondents pushed for the banks to pay their fair share of taxes & clamp down on bonuses. Week after week even papers like the Financial Times warn repeatedly of the dangers of failure to effectively reform the system. So what do we get? Sir John Vickers has issued an initial report which talks about 'ringfencing' retail from investment banking. George Osborne has indicated he can accept this although the banks are howling with rage about it. But even Nigel Lawson thinks that that proposal doesn't go far enough to deal with the situaton. There's something for the Tory right wing to ponder. According to the Observer [Demand to curb casino banking threatens split in coalition 3rd July 2011] at long last the LibDems have realised that patching up Tory policies in the National Interest is electorally disastrous because the voters, correctly, do not necessarily see the said National Interest being properly served by such patches. By contrast the voters are deeply upset because everyone is suffering pain EXCEPT the very people who created the meltdown. The government seems to be living in terror of the financial market. Parliament should be there to protect the people from the abuse of such power.That's why it was created several centuries ago. Otherwise why bother with it.

Money & Media equals power. Why bother with elections 1

On 15th April this year I wrote about the Murdoch press & how the 'phone tapping scandal was, it was being argued by senior politicians, no reason to deny the expansion of his empire. Now the scandal has got infinitely worse but I don't suppose it will make much difference. The Telegraph is upset about it. Boo hoo. What a pity it didn't think about this when it allowed its visceral hatred of the LibDems to overcome its judgment & destroy the one member of the Government who was not in Murdoch's pocket. Still we can draw comfort from the fact that another organ of the great British print media, the Daily Express, re-assures us that all Britain's problems are the fault of the EU. How fatuous can you get. The EU is as impotent as our government when confronted by the overwhelming power of money & media.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Hotel rooms -be careful what you believe in an advert.

On 14th June I found myself looking for a hotel in Oxford. A receptionist at one hotel that was full kindly called a Travelodge. They had a room but I was staggered to be quoted a cost that was so outrageous I've forgotten exactly what it was - something like £130. The Travelodge receptionist kindly said that I might get a better rate if I 'phoned central reservations & gave me a number. I expect you can guess what happened - several minutes of PR claptrap at a premium rate before I am invited to press a number to speak to reservations & - you got it- more minutes of PR claptrap before my phone ran out of credit. I eventually got a four star hotel dinner bed & breakfast deal at less than Travelodge quoted for a bare room. On the way home I checked at a Travelodge reception and was told that for 'walk in' bookings there are 'flexible charges'.I tried to verify this when I got home but could find nothing on the Travelodge website - not even a central reservations number. So if any Travelodge executive reads this could they please use the comment option to correct me if I have anything wrong and set out exactly how their system works when one cannot use the online service.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Links, statistics & lies

A few years ago we were told that gas prices followed crude oil prices as crude powered to $145 a barrel in July 2008 & gas followed. At that time the price of diesel was 129pp/l. By December 2008 the oil price had collapsed to $33 p/b and diesel was 95pp/l but gas had not moved down much. A few weeks ago crude was about $140p/b & diesel was 141pp/l. NOTICE THAT THIS FUEL COST IS 12pp/l HIGHER THAN THE PREVIOUS PEAK. Crude has now fallen back to $98p/b & diesel dropped by 4pp/l. SCOTTISH POWER ANNOUNCES A 19% PRICE HIKE IN GAS. Is someone being economical with the truth when they talk about wholesale & retail commodity price relationships?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Back me or sack me says Cameron over NHS

According to the Independent newspaper Cameron is going to make a back me or sack me speech about the NHS in which he is expected to repeat the old message that 'no change is not an option'. Clegg comes out with the same type of remark. But what does the phrase actually mean? In truth not a lot. Any organisation (except apparently the House of Commons given the dreadful NO2AV campaign) that takes the view that no change is necessary is in serious trouble. What actually matters is what change,by whom,how & when. I have not seen any persuasive case to support the need for the sort of wholesale shake up that the Government is proposing. The instances of NHS failure so lovingly & extensively paraded by the right wing Tories & their print media are failures of detail management not wholesale structural inadequacy. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that shareholder owned, commercial businesses are any better at such detail management of a large & diverse business. Look at the mess BP got itself into to say nothing of the Banks. Indeed as my previous recent blogs have shown 'private' companies in the health sector can easily be worse than the NHS. So any NHS Bill however mutilated [right wing words] or improved [left wing words] which is based on the previous proposals just needs to be totally abandoned and the issue re-visited much more carefully and hopefully with all party support. Dream on.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Another ? over private involvement in the NHS

Yet more evidence that the private sector is maybe no better at doing the job, either in terms of clinical excellence or financial management, than the NHS. The 'Observer' reports [5th June 2011] that Circle Health, the first private Company selected last November to run an NHS hospital reported losses of over £27m in its accounts filed last year - before the NHS Hospital deal. They did have NHS contracts during this period of loss. Circle Health has a large number of clinicians in its ownership but it is just one company in a complex corporate structure involving the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. Its financial backers include generous donors to the Tories. The Observer quotes a City health analyst as saying:"I can't get my head round the model and how it will make any real money. It seems to require more revenue to cover operating costs". Nothing illegal or improper but surely worth thinking about a bit more deeply before piling headlong into private sector involvement in the NHS.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The NHS and Private Health Care

Silly me, I thought it was only Nick Clegg who broke election promises. Cameron stood for election promising 'no more top down re-organisations of the NHS'.

Let us be clear. The NHS so called 'reform' debate has nothing to do with private hospitals or other care provision provided via private health insurance or by individuals.

The issue is whether taxpayers money should be spent in those businesses. All the evidence shouts a resounding NO. Tory MP Nick de Bois is pushing for a YES. He has done nothing wrong but does not advertise that he is heavily involved with a company that stands to greatly benefit if the current Lansley proposals go through.

The Financial Times [not famous for being a left wing publication] on 4th June carried a front page headline; SOUTHERN CROSS CHIEFS NETTED £35m. Five Directors sold their shareholdings in Dec 2007 for 550p a share. The current share price is 6.3p, the Company is in deep trouble and some 31000 elderly & vulnerable people may well have their lives disrupted. Again there is nothing illegal about any of this but it cannot be right that the services that Southern Cross provide can be treated like any other business to be just bought & sold like a bar of chocolate. An FT investigation published on 31st May found that one in seven care homes run by private sector companies were rated 'poor' or 'adequate'. Old people deserve 'excellence' - not stock dealing profit making.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Winterbourne View - private 'care' a misnomer?

The Winterbourne View exposure demonstrates that the private sector MUST NOT be allowed to penetrate the NHS and indeed if the NHS is to be "reformed" those private sector habits that have already been introduced over the years must be subject to intense scrutiny & change.

After the shocking Panorama programme relating to abuse at Castlebeck's home the company made a comprehensive & welcome statement of contrition saying " As soon as senior Management were made aware of these allegations 12th May 2011 we etc etc". They went on to say " two managers have separately been suspended" and add that senior professional staff had no knowledge etc. WELL WHY ON EARTH DIDN'T THEY? Did anyone from Head Office in Darlington ever visit unannounced? Did any of the senior professional staff turn up unannounced? If they had they could hardly have missed what was going on. No good just blaming failures of the Regulator. When you run ANY business you should make it a priority to know what is going on, not just relying on reports. In my industrial career the production director would turn up at 3 in the morning and so forth & walk round the factory & see if the manager was asleep etc.

Do not get the idea that the failings at Winterbourne are unique. Extreme maybe but far from unique. I have qualified children who work in the sector. The norm is to employ the minimum number of qualified staff and use 'support staff' paid not a penny more than the minimum wage. In one home belonging to a major company in the sector the manager had no medical qualifications & her role was simply & exclusively to cut as many corners as possible to squeeze costs.
Complaints fell on deaf ears. It was so bad that my daughter & some colleagues got legal advice but, of course, were advised against doing anything. The imbalance of legal resources was too great. She doesn't work there any more. The Civil Law & Justice have no contact with each other but that's another story.

HgCapital invested in Castlebeck in 2002 valuing the enterprise at £50million [see website]. It identified potential to improve margins through: operational leverage and efficiency gains and improved occupancy management. No mention of patient care improvement!!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Struggling to hold back the tears

Saturdays Financial Times had a harrowing story of hardship that had one battling the tears. United States residents are having to look at their lifestyle choices because petrol has hit the equivalent of £2.40 a gallon.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Guilty of serious crime - fined 5p

What a wonderful thing it is to be in Financial Services. After being charged with securities fraud by the US Securities & Exchange Commission Goldman Sachs settled by paying a penalty of $550m. About as big a penalty as an ordinary mortal being fined 5p. They are not alone in pulling off this kind of 'punishment'. Nice work if you can get it.

Murdoch Magic

The unelected President of the World is doing it again. Senior Lib Dems, Tories & Labour are all lining up to say that the News of The World scandal has no bearing on News Corp getting the rest of BSkyB. Some millions are to be paid, a few minions hung out to dry and all is well. Vince Cable stupidly spoke out against Murdoch & was thus 'unobjective' and had to have the decision taken away from him. Jeremy Hunt, who has spoken in favour of Murdoch, is given the decision. Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary take note. There is a new definition of 'impartial'.Meanwhile UKIP continues to delude itself that it is the EU that controls British Politics.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

No fly over Libya - a potentially embarrassing precedent

I suppose we should not be surprised at the USA being opposed to a 'No-Fly' zone over Libya in the absence of a highly improbable UN Resolution. After all when the Israel Air Force was bombing & shooting up civilians in GAZA there was a minimal amount of ritual hand wringing by the US but nothing effective, let alone a 'no fly' zone, was ever proposed. Suppose Israel wants to do it again with impunity - a fairly probable scenario? A 'no fly' sanction on their Libyan copyist would be deeply embarrassing.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

To offend or not to offend

On BBC Breakfast this morning [6th March] there was a piece about an advertisement from the British Humanist Association in relation to the forthcoming Census.Then there was the story of the ice cream made from breast milk that has bee banned from sale.Some people might be offended. These, and other things might be in poor taste, but I'm offended by the extent to which we must apparently pander to every hypersensitive soul of any race,colour,creed or opinion who gets offended instead of getting a life.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Objective reporting

"Don't write us off pleads Clegg". No, not a plead. Just a statement. "Liberal Democrats worst ever humiliation". No it wasn't - see Hamilton 1999. " [Clegg] looks set to lose his flagship referendum on AV". Well of course the Daily Express from where these quotes come would fervently wish this were true. " A downcast Mr Clegg --". Realistic & resiliant are alternative & more accurate words. I won't go on. My wife buys this "newspaper" on a Sat because of the puzzles not for its reporting.

More grief thanks to the Good Citizens of Barnsley

This weekend is UKIPs spring conference and we now have to put up with Nigel Farage crowing like a demented cockerel all over the TV. Asked on the news whether the economy was the biggest problem facing Britain he oh so predictably replied that it was not. Who governs Britain was the issue. What breathtaking originality. News Corporation; the President of the United States; and our beloved Banks - to say nothing of the fact that we have flogged off most of the Country's assets to those domiciled outside Europe - have much more influence over our daily lives than the EU. As a passionate pro-European I sometimes wish we would pullout of the EU. The rest of Europe would be so much better off without us & it would shut Mr Farage up.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Barnsley Central tragedy

No, not the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. It is the fact that whereas Libyans are being killed because they want the right to elect their politicians approximately two thirds of the good people of Barnsley couldn't be bothered to get off their backsides and go to the poll. They should hang their heads in shame.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Politics before people

Bad financial management is not confined to the Public Sector. Some years ago a major company in financial difficulties 'economised' by doing away with the ladies who toured their offices with a tea trolly! The number of Directors remained unaltered. What on earth justifies a Council Chief Executive being paid more than the Prime Minister? At the risk of being accused of assorted phobias and discrimination one has to ask if a Council REALLY needs THREE separate Officers, costing upwards of £30k each to deal with Gay Men's; Lesbian and Ethnic issues? During the week there have been a number of declarations from local councils about how they are going to organise their budgets to meet reduced income. This is so varied that getting a general picture is near impossible. But there are some trends. A number of Labour controlled Councils have decided to make front line cuts for their publicity value to doubtless make a political point. A number of Councils of all persuasions have striven, not always successfully, to protect front line jobs & services. Some Councils have looked at Lollipop Ladies [and men] and Meals on Wheels as an option. What should happen is a serious cull of senior management & posts which are 'political', like a 'Nuclear free coordinator' disguised as a 'service'.

The Merlin Agreement

The 'Merlin' is a bird of prey and it certainly seems that the Banks have successfully preyed on the Government. The Banks did agree to extend more credit to particularly small & medium sized businesses but there is no sanction if they fail and nothing about the simplicity and competitiveness of the loans (or lack of it) that they can impose on the borrowers. Also in the small print this is based on 'gross lending' so that banks can call in existing loans as quickly as they make new ones so it's not really an 'extension' at all. Nothing significant about bonuses – like they should only be a reward for success. It still seems that a top banker's salary is just for turning up at the office. Everything else is 'extra'. The 'Observer' [Editorial 13th Feb 2011] says: “ The goal [of Merlin] should have been a long term settlement that changes the culture of the City so that it honours its debts. The British Taxpayer saved the banking sector and in return got unemployment, tax rises, and deep cuts to public services. It was the swindle of the century”

Monday, 14 February 2011

Undeserved bonuses

Five years ago Rolls Royce had a share price of £4.5 which fell to £ 2.4 but it is now back to £6.60. It has consistently paid a dividend of between 2% & 4%.. By contrast RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland] five years ago had a share price of £6 which during the crash fell to 10p & is now 44p. It hasn't paid a dividend since 2007 & doesn't expect to until 2012. Even HSBC, which avoided the debacle of RBS, had a share price five years ago of £8 which fell to £3 & is now only back to £7 with a dividend of 3%. Which Chief Executive, past and present is worth a seven figure salary plus an obscene bonus? Certainly not the Banks. On the measure of shareholder value so often trotted out as the the principal objective of a business the banks are a miserable failure deserving of nothing.

Friday, 4 February 2011

What is the point of parliament?

Vince Cable is caught expressing his view that the Rupert Murdoch empire is more than big enough & he, Vince, is prepared to take it on. He is immediately stripped of the task of deciding if that Empire can be allowed to get bigger. The decision is given to Jeremy Hunt who had already expressed the view that allowing Murdoch to have the rest of BSkyB would not make a substantial difference to the plurality of the British Media. So disagree with Murdoch & be relieved of your duties. Agree and be given them. How impartial, especially when David Cameron & James Murdoch were apparently guests of Rebekah Brooks - Murdochs right hand woman - at Christmas. And the Government allows the Banks to carry on unpunished whilst the rest of us pay for the greed & stupidity of people who think that their 'talent' deserves obscene reward & we should stop bashing them [Davos]. Why don't we just shut down parliament & recognise that we will continue to be dumped on by the rich & powerful & save ourselves the expense of politicians.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

To quit or not to quit, that is the question

Peter Hitchens on the Andrew Marr show today [23rd Jan] made a passing remark about Andy Coulson where I think he said there was a growing tendency for top people to quit before they had been proved guilty of any wrongdoing. If I heard him correctly then how indeed things have changed. When I became an adult in the 1950's I feel sure I remember top people just accepting responsibility for what went on in the organisations for which they were responsible and just resigned as the right & proper thing to do. Nowadays, apparently, if you don't hang on & hope that you won't be forced out you are a silly billy. If Coulson didn't know what was going on he was incompetent. If he did know then he is guilty. Either way when he resigned from the News of the World he should have stayed away from media jobs. Ed Milliband said it calls into question Camerons judgment. Brilliantly original Ed. Did you come up with it all by yourself or did Alistair Campbell help you?

Friday, 21 January 2011

Safety engineering for banks

The Financial Times magazine on Saturday 15th January ran a fascinating feature discussing how the disciplines of safety engineering for nuclear power stations could and should be applied to the kind of financial engineering that provoked the financial meltdown. It was a persuasive thesis. But there is a a fundamental difference. If you are in charge of a nuclear reactor that goes haywire, then, guilty or not, you are likely to suffer serious personal consequences - even death. If you are in charge of a failed bank - even if you are guilty as hell, you will emerge richly rewarded.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Lifted from the 'Stop the War Coalition' supporters Email is "SATURDAY MARCH 12TH: CONFRONTING ANTI MUSLIM HATRED, A CONFERENCE WITH SPEAKERS FROM BRITAIN, EUROPE AND THE US. Speakers include Tariq Ramadam, Robert Lambert, Mehdi Hassan, Salma Yaqoob, Peter Oborne, Lindsey German and leading Muslim and anti racist activists from France, Germany, Scandinavia and the USA.10 –5pm March 12th, London Muslim Centre, 92 Whitechapel Road, E1 1JX. As a supporter of this organisation I'm all for this initiative but it MUST go hand in hand with an initiative - led by the vast majority of those in the UK Muslim community - which unequivocally also condemns the hatred of fanatical Muslims for Christians and anyone else with whom they disagree. If traditional British tolerance is to be sustained to the widest number of cultures and faiths it is not acceptable for 'leaders' to make excuses for transgressors of basic civilised behaviour on the basis of religion & culture. No exceptions.