21 February 2018

"This means nothing to me, oh Vienna ..."

Image result for david davis

David Davis, the Don Quixote de nos jours, goes to Vienna.  The Guardian is slightly confused:
Davis was determined to start in an upbeat fashion. British and European business was working so well that, even as he was speaking, his jointly made Swedish and British driverless lawnmower was running amok, deadheading the daffodil shoots in his back garden in Yorkshire before they had even flowered. That was the kind of future he wanted. One where lawnmowers were free to go wherever they chose without facing customs checks from the French beans.
Brexit wasn’t going to be some Mad Max dystopian future, he continued. Though it might be like something out of the Hunger Games if we couldn’t persuade EU workers to come over to Britain to pick our fruit and veg. Not for the first time, people began to wonder if Davis had actually read his speech before delivering it. Never mind that less than two years previously, he had insisted the Brexit negotiations would be the easiest in history and that the UK was heading for a land of milk and honey. Now all he was promising was that Britain wasn’t going to end up as a desert with gangs of marauding psychopathic petrol heads competing for supremacy. In driverless lawnmowers.

 

20 February 2018

Cosmopolitan?

Interested to see that the Chelsea team facing Barcelona this evening contains not one British player.

Here is the team:

13. Thibaut Courtois (G)
03. Marcos Alonso 
28. Cesar Azpilicueta 
27. Andreas Christensen 
02. Antonio Rudiger 
07. N\'Golo Kante 
22. Willian 
15. Victor Moses 
10. Eden Hazard 
11. Pedro Rodriguez 
04. Cesc Fabregas 

Not that it's done them any good.  0-0 at half-time.

Compare and contrast Celtic's European Cup-winning team of 1967 where the entire team was born and bred within 25 miles of Parkhead.

   

Quote of the day


From The Times (here):
The prime minister set out her vision for post-school education yesterday in a speech that sounded urgent but contained little detail. “We must act now to deliver a system that works for everyone,” she said. “Now is the time to take action,” she added, before announcing the creation of a panel that will mull this over and produce a report in a year. No one knows how to kick a can like Hoofer May.
It's entropy - everything she touches disintegrates ...

   

16 February 2018

Once you start ...

...  where will it end?  The Aussies are about to find out.  The Guardian reports:
Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will move to ban sexual relationships between ministers and their staff, in response to a scandal which has engulfed the deputy prime minister and leader of the National party, Barnaby Joyce.
...
Turnbull said when it came to serving in public life, “values should be lived”.
He said he intended to add “a very clear and unequivocal provision” to the ministerial code of conduct: “Ministers, regardless of whether they are married or single, must not engage in sexual relations with staff.”
Does that mean that it is ok to have an affair with a person on someone else's staff?  Or for Ministers to have affairs with each other?  If not, what a gloomy (and frustrated) place the Canberra parliament will be ...

 
 
   

15 February 2018

You're not in Kansas anymore ...

The Foreign Secretary's speech gets the treatment it deserves in The Independent:
The Foreign Secretary’s speech on “the road to Brexit” was reminiscent of the Yellow Brick Road. Boris Johnson set out to persuade the Remainers, the (in his universe) cowardly, the stupid and the tin-eared to join him and his little Highland terrier (Toto Gove) on his exciting journey to somewhere over the rainbow. He wanted to tell them how much he understood their feelings, and why there was reason enough to allay them. Fears of loss of GDP and jobs would melt away like lemon drops: Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue. 
...
From Moses to Konrad Adenauer, from Estonia to Thailand and from Toblerone to cabbage, Mr Johnson’s vision of the emerald city of post-Brexit Britain was, superficially, all-encompassing. Except that, under the slightest scrutiny, it was also all too apparent that it was quite devoid of meaning. The audience may have had their vocabulary expanded a little, and enjoyed some risqué jokes, but they would be left none the wiser on the unmentioned subjects of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens and, crucially, how the British will enjoy some sort of EU free trade deal and continue our economic relationship with Europe at the same time as chasing the “exciting opportunities” presented by Brexit, which do not become any more real no matter how many times the Brexiteers repeat the phrase. 
And here:
It was supposed to be the Valentine’s Day speech in which Boris Johnson used his famed linguistic gift to win over the 48 per cent to the Government’s Brexit cause. It was going to be – we were led to believe – a unifying message of optimism, hope, and even, brace yourselves, love.
But this Valentine offering from the Foreign Secretary turned out to be the political equivalent of a fading bunch of polythene-wrapped carnations bought for a fiver from the petrol station forecourt – rushed, with very little thought, and leaving us wondering why he bothered at all.

 

14 February 2018

Which will of the people?

Image result for boris johnson

The Independent reports:
Boris Johnson will say he fears people are becoming “even more determined” in their efforts to stop Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), as he sets out in a major speech what allies claim is a liberal vision of Brexit.
The Foreign Secretary’s Valentine’s Day address – entitled the Road to Brexit – will be the first in a series of set pieces from Cabinet ministers and preludes Theresa May’s address in Germany this weekend.
At a central London location, Mr Johnson will say he fears that some are becoming “even more determined” to stop Brexit and “frustrate the will of the people”.
Would that be the will of the people expressed in the 2016 referendum?  Or the will of the people expressed in the 1975 Europe Referendum where the British people decided by a substantial majority to remain in Europe?  That is the difficulty in determining the will of the people: it changes from time to time.

 And, if history could be re-written and Remain had won the 2016 referendum, does anyone seriously consider that the Brexiteers would have accepted such a decision, packed their tents and slunk away?  No, they would have repeatedly agitated that the result was unfair and needed to be re-run (as they did after the 1975 referendum).

 

09 February 2018

What would you call it?

There is something degrading about this:
It was the strongest endorsement of her premiership yet. Unfortunately for Theresa May, however, it did not come from any of the cabinet ministers at the Conservatives’ Black and White ball fundraiser on Tuesday night, but from a party donor who paid £55,000 to spend the day with her.
It proved the most attractive lot at the event’s silent auction, held in the Natural History Museum’s central hall, which was floodlit in Tory blue for the occasion.
How does one describe a woman willing to spend time with a rich businessman in return for money?

 

Hypocrisy?

On the one hand, the BBC reports:
The government has ramped up efforts to "stamp out illegal unpaid internships".
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has written to more than 500 firms over the last three months reminding them that interns classed as workers must be paid the minimum wage.
The government also says it will ask HMRC to focus minimum wage enforcement work on firms using unpaid interns.
The details were contained in the government's response to a review of working practices.
The Taylor Review into working practices, published last year, concentrated particularly on the so-called gig economy of part time and flexible workers.
However, it also highlighted the issue of unpaid internships.
It said the government should ensure that "exploitative unpaid internships which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out".
On the other hand, The Guardian reports:
A prominent Conservative minister advertised an unpaid internship to support his constituency work just hours before the government published its plan to tackle unfair working practices, the Guardian can reveal.
The housing minister Dominic Raab, who has been regularly touted as a future Tory leader, advertised the position on the W4MP website, which has a jobs board for roles with politicians. It is the only position advertised by a sitting MP that is unpaid.
The ad says the role would be based in Westminster and would “ideally suit a gap-year student or recent school leaver” to help with research and casework from Raab’s Esher and Walton constituency.

     

07 February 2018

Likely to cause serious offence?

Maybe, maybe not?  A marginal decision.  The BBC reports:

Advert showing a teacake underneath a tennis player's skirt
An advert featuring a female tennis player holding a Tunnock's Tea Cake at the top of her thigh has been banned.
The Tea Cake, in place of a tennis ball, was visible with the player's skirt raised at the hip along with the text "Where do you keep yours?" and "Serve up a treat".
One person complained that the ad was sexist and objectified women.
The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaint because of its likelihood to cause serious offence.

 

06 February 2018

Wipeout

StockMarketWire reports:
The FTSE 100 is expected to open around 250 points lower, according to financial spread betting firms, after the Dow registered the largest one day fall in over six years.
The Dow fell 1,175 points, or 4.6%, to end the session at 24,345.75 as inflation concerns continued to impact sentiment.
The S&P 500 fell 113.19 points, or 4.1%, to close at 2,684.94 and NASDAQ finished the day 273.42 points weaker at 6,967.53.
The global sell-off continued into Asia this morning, with the Nikkei 225 shedding 1,124.99 points, or 4.96%, at 21,557.09 heading into the close.
The Hang Seng was down 1,298.1 points at 30,947.12 and the Shanghai Composite by 95.83 points at 3,391.67.
 If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then chances are that they know something you don't.

  

Clarification

Let us be clear about the customs union.  The Guardian explains:
In the last week alone, some bits of Britain – no one was clear exactly which – were first going to stay in the customs union, then they were going to stay in a customs union and finally they were going to be in a customs arrangement that would be in some unspecified way different to either the or a customs union, which we would be definitely be leaving while retaining whatever rights of being in a customs union we thought we might want.
No wonder Michel Barnier appeared totally bewildered by David Davis’s assertion that the UK position was “totally clear” during their televised interview after their working lunch at No 10.
Glad to have cleared this up ...

 

Quote of the day



Is the Prime Minister telling it like it isn't?  The Independent goes all literary:
They say that when you feel sorry for a politician, then they are doomed. But May is fortunate in this regard, in that there is something about her that congenitally repels sympathy. It might simply be that she is the leader of the most toxic organisation in Britain. But it might also be her freakish ability to say nothing at all (thus pleasing no one) while saying it in that patronising, irritated, hectoring, categorical way (thus allowing everyone to locate their own particular note of displeasure). It’s quantum doublespeak. She is the political embodiment of Samuel Beckett’s famous remark about art: “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”
 

05 February 2018

It's the Hokey-Cokey!

In?  Out?  Shaking it all about?  No 10 shows a bit of leg.  The Guardian reports:
Downing Street has ruled out involvement in a customs union with the European Union amid confusion over government policy as Theresa May prepares for a crucial week of talks.
After the exposure of divisions between ministers over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, an official source said: “It is not our policy to be in the customs union. It is not our policy to be in a customs union.” The statement went further than May who, on Friday, refused to rule out involvement in a customs union when questioned during her visit to China.
The development will anger remainers who have clung to hope that Britain will strike a deal with the EU that allows a close relationship with the EU after Brexit. But it will soothe the fears of Conservative Brexiters who have been threatening a leadership challenge if May moves towards an agreement with the EU that restricts the trade deals the UK can seek with third parties.
The clarification came on the eve of a visit to Downing Street by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and as officials in Brussels prepared to begin talks on the transitional arrangements. Key cabinet colleagues will meet on Wednesday and Thursday to decide the details of the government’s policy regarding a customs union.
The Downing Street source claimed that a customs union was entirely different from a customs arrangement, which would allow the government to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU. The source also claimed that there had been no change in policy, saying the statement was a reiteration of policy outlined in a paper published in August.
There is an essential mismatch between the UK's desire to make third party trade deals and its putative customs "arrangement" with the EU.  The two options are incompatible.  You cannot allow goods to flow freely across borders with the EU and, at the same time, allow similar arrangements with third countries.

 

04 February 2018

Rugby commentators getting bored

From the France-Ireland match:

Eddie Butler:  "The rain is still falling."

Brian Moore:  "Does it ever do anything else?"

 

It's not a dream; it's a nightmare ...


The Sunday Times invents a horror story:
Theresa May will face a coup that would install a “dream team” of “three Brexiteers” if she persists with plans to keep Britain in a customs union with the European Union, Tory MPs warned last night.
Eurosceptics contacted Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, on Friday and urged him to agree a pact that would see Michael Gove, the environment secretary, become his deputy prime minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg — the shop steward of the backbench Brexiteers — appointed chancellor if the prime minister is forced out.
Even the Tories would not instal that trio in power.  Would they?

   

27 January 2018

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times puts the boot into the Prime Minister (here):
Hard Brexit has its supporters. The soft version does too. We all agree she is going to have to choose. We all suspect she’ll prove temperamentally incapable of doing so. Meanwhile the moment when our government must declare its hand in trade negotiations with Europe cannot be delayed much longer. Pure logic suggests that nothing could then stop irreconcilable internal Tory tension breaking the party. Messy experience suggests that strong leadership sometimes does reconcile the irreconcilable. All observation suggests she cannot provide it.

   

26 January 2018

Tory unity

Like ferrets in a sack.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May has bowed to pressure from Eurosceptic MPs and disowned remarks by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as she struggled to quell a fresh Tory revolt over Brexit that could threaten her leadership.
Hammond enraged leave MPs in his own party on Thursday by telling business leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos that the government would seek only “modest” changes in its relationship with the European Union.
“Instead of doing what we’re normally doing in the trade negotiations – taking two divergent economies with low levels of trade and trying to bring them closer together to enhance that trade, we are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them, and selectively moving them, hopefully very modestly, apart,” Hammond said.
After pro-Brexit MPs in Westminster reacted furiously, and some ministers privately made their disquiet known to Downing Street, No 10 moved to distance the prime minister from her chancellor’s remarks.
A source said: “Whilst we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes.”
The fresh cabinet rift followed Boris Johnson’s open disagreement over NHS funding earlier this week and came at a fragile moment for the prime minister’s leadership as a string of Conservative MPs told the Guardian some of their colleagues were considering another attempt at ousting her if the local elections in May go badly.

Amusing as it is to see the Conservative Party tearing itself apart, it would be preferable in the context of the Brexit negotiations to have a government which knew what it wanted to do, rather than these endless and fruitless attempts to keep happy all factions of the party.  A Prime Minister at odds with her Chancellor, a dilettante Foreign Secretary, a clueless David Davis in nominal charge of the negotiations and the backbenches in open revolt:  how long can this go on?

 


Theresa May goes to Davos ...

... but why is she wearing a tracksuit?


     

25 January 2018

A fishy business


So, just possibly, President Trump can inadvertently do some good.  The Independent reports:
More than a decade ago, President Donald Trump allegedly sat around with his mistress watching television while talking about how much he hates sharks and would not mind if they all died.
Now, those comments are coming back to bite him — in the sense that they are helping out the sharks of the world.
Donations have reportedly surged to shark conservation charities since Mr Trump’s hate of sharks were unearthed in a previously unpublished interview conducted between the magazine In Touch and adult film actress Stormy Daniels — who claims she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006, just a year after he married his current wife.
Now, we need him to say that he also hates red squirrels, bees, elephants and rhinos ...

 

23 January 2018

Does he care about the NHS or is he just a media attention seeker?



You might argue that, either way, it's none of his business.  The Times reports:
Boris Johnson will seize the floor at a meeting of the cabinet today and demand a £5 billion annual cash injection for the health service beginning next year.
Allies of the foreign secretary say that he has a “track record of winning” and will not relent on demands for a £100-million-a-week Brexit dividend until it is secured.
Britain is expected to keep making contributions to the EU during a two-year transition period until 2021, but Mr Johnson believes that the extra NHS cash should be spent from March next year, when Britain formally leaves the bloc. There is no indication of how the money could be counted as a “dividend” from contributions yet to return.
Some might unkindly suggest that the only thing that Boris cares about is his overweening ambition to  occupy No 10.


 

22 January 2018

Historically ignorant?

They should read more books.  But The Times reports:
Britain would struggle to withstand Russian forces on the battlefield and ministers must invest in defence or further erode the country’s ability to combat threats, the head of the army will say today.
General Sir Nick Carter will point to President Putin’s ability to launch long-range missiles and deploy large numbers of combat troops swiftly, as well as the threat posed by cyber-warfare, as he uses a rare speech to warn that Britain “cannot afford to sit back”.
Is there any time during the last two centuries that Britain would not have struggled to withstand Russian forces on the battlefield?  The Crimean War was not an outstanding success; and Napoleon and Hitler found that taking on the Russian Bear did not lead to triumph.

   
 

21 January 2018

Quote of the day

From The Sunday Times (here):
Nick Boles [Conservative MP] broke cover on Friday night to condemn May’s “timidity and lack of ambition”.
In a fresh attack last night, he accused her of appointing “wet ministers” and failing to support others, such as the housing secretary, Sajid Javid, who wants to launch radical reforms to build more homes.
“I’ve just had it,” Boles told The Sunday Times. “Either she has wet ministers who won’t do anything or in the case of Sajid, she has a would-be radical who is desperate to get on and do something major and proper and she just blunts everything.
“There’s a wonderful George Orwell essay about Englishness. He talks about the boiled rabbits of the left. We have a government full of boiled rabbits. She needs to give her ministers their head and she needs to tell them to be brave. She needs to tell them to follow their convictions and ideally she needs to have a few convictions herself.”
With such friends on her backbenches, the Prime Minister has no need of enemies ...

   

19 January 2018

Where the priorities lie

It's the same the whole world over
It's the poor what gets the blame
It's the rich what gets the pleasure
Ain't it all a bloody shame

The Times reports:
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has prosecuted eight cases of insider trading in the past five years and secured 12 convictions. By comparison, the Department for Work and Pensions prosecuted or penalised more than 10,000 benefit fraudsters last year. Yet large numbers of investors appear to be receiving and benefiting from confidential information from inside FTSE-listed companies.
This newspaper analysed share price movements on the day before every major profit warning and every merger or acquisition announcement over the past two years. On the day before a profit warning, the share price of the company that issued the warning fell in 67 per cent of cases, suggesting that a number of investors were offloading shares in advance of the bad news, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
On the day before a takeover announcement, however, the share price increased in 70 per cent of cases, suggesting that investors were buying in advance of good news.
Hardly a surprise, given the Tories' links with those and such as those ...

   

17 January 2018

The dubious benefits of free trade with the US

Image result for pigs

Does anybody (apart from Liam Fox of course) want a free trade deal with the USA?  The Guardian reports:
Chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and bacon produced with additives strong enough to cripple pigs have been listed by British campaigners as three of the top 10 food safety risks posed by a free-trade deal with the US.
American use of the pork additive ractopamine alongside the more publicised practices of washing chicken in chlorine and feeding cattle growth hormones are highlighted in a report by the Soil Association as chief among its concerns about a post-Brexit era.
“Some of the key differences between UK and US production – hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken – are becoming increasingly understood by British consumers,” the report says.
But there are “other areas where products imported from the US could be produced under significantly different standards to our own”, it adds.
The report was published to coincide with the second reading of the trade bill, which will provide a framework for post-Brexit trade deals.
Ractopamine, which can add three kilos of extra meat to a pig, is banned by almost every country except the US. The EU has outlawed its use since 1996.
It is fed to an estimated 60-90% of pigs in the US in the weeks before slaughter and has been found to cause disability in animals including trembling, broken bones and an inability to walk, according to the Soil Association.
I would prefer it if the contents of my bacon sandwich adhered to EU standards.

   

12 January 2018

Boys' toys

The Ministry of Defence sets out the stark choices on future military spending.  The Times reports:
Military chiefs have drawn up a plan to cut the armed forces by more than 14,000 and combine elite units of paratroopers and Royal Marines to save money, The Times has learnt.
The three sets of proposed cuts presented to Gavin Williamson when he took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon can be revealed today.
The proposals — described by a Whitehall source as “ugly, ugly or ugly” — include cutting the army by 11,000 soldiers and losing 2,000 Royal Marines and sailors and 1,250 airmen. The total size of the regular armed forces is about 137,000. The army has a target size of 82,000 but at present it numbers fewer than 78,000. Reducing this to 71,000 or fewer would make it the smallest since before the Napoleonic wars more than 200 years ago.
Nine Royal Navy warships are under threat, including seven Type 23 frigates. More than 100 helicopters were identified as vulnerable including an entire fleet of Wildcat aircraft and a reduction in the size of the Apache force, the gunships flown by Prince Harry in Afghanistan. In a particularly controversial cost-saving move, included in two of the three lists of options, 3 Commando Brigade, which uses Royal Marines, and 16 Air Assault Brigade, which uses the Parachute Regiment, would operate as more of a combined force. Such a merger would trigger an outcry within the military, with sources warning that it would erode their fighting capabilities. It would also reduce the capacity to deploy elite forces on a lengthy operation.
There is of course a simple answer to the problem.  The MOD could save many billions by:

1.  flogging off the two aircraft carriers, for which in any case we cannot afford to fit out with aircraft and which are white elephants (sitting ducks, if you prefer) without adequate naval shipping to protect them (which we also cannot afford); and

2.  abandoning the replacement/renewal of Trident, which we will never use, whose deterrent effect is minimal and which is vulnerable to cyber attack and underwater drone (as well as being immoral).

And if you are looking for a few extra savings, you might sack a few admirals, as the Navy has more of them than it does ships.

 

11 January 2018

It's not urgent, then?

How much damage will be done in the next 25 years?  Still, in a way, it's progress, even if desperately slow.  The BBC reports:
Theresa May will pledge to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
The commitment is part of a 25-year plan to improve the natural environment being launched on Thursday.
In her speech to launch the plan the prime minister will say: "I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly."
But green groups are angry the proposals will have no legal force.
They say the plans could simply be shelved if they become inconvenient and the promise to stop "avoidable" plastic waste is too vague.
Basically, pathetic.