Friday, 30 October 2009

Defence - At The Going Down Of The Sun

In 2003 when Bush and Blair launched the invasion of Iraq, I wrote a letter to a journal stating my doubts about the viability of the UK involvement. It was printed. The words I used have come back to haunt me, in that I wrote that “just in time” supply and management ideas applied to armed forces in action were a dangerous and damaging nonsense and liable to result in setbacks, risk defeat and lead to many unnecessary casualties.

My reason for writing was that I had looked at the figures, of men, material and support, and had concluded that not only were our troops in action overstretched, but that the supporting elements were far too few and too dependent on long distance logistics to maintain any campaign of substance or length.

Long ago I was one of a handful who had the job of keeping the log on the operational capability of the formation in which we served. Our job was to know where every tank was, every tank transporter, and their capability, with other information, so that they could take the field at one hours notice with all the supporting elements. In the field the situation had to be monitored continually.

It was clear that the UK Iraq project was being done without the necessary forces and support, and that everything depended on the Yanks being able to knock out the Iraqi’s within days rather than weeks.

It has been stated now that in the late 1990’s, notably under Brown’s control of spending, and Blair’s cut and shuffle politics of defence, applying concepts of business management based on the supply of frozen peas, detergents and DVD players to the waging of a bitter war was the reality. Engaging in military operations is inherently unpredictable, subject to daily major uncertainties, means losses that are incalculable, and requires large scale storage of essentials and the ability to move them at any distance at any time.

It applied to the situation that created the recent disaster of the Nimrod Aircraft. In relation to our ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Armies, Air Forces, and Navies fighting in the East are not operated like supermarkets in Dunfermline or Sedgefield. Fighting enemies are not campaigns to gain marketing share, however much the bonus rich bankers and commercial executives in comfy offices peddling poisonous products would like to think. But these are the people that our politicians listen to. Having wrecked our economy and our health, they have been allowed to wreck our military capability.

As the Forces have too often learned in the past, supply and provisioning is critical to success or failure. In 1833, the government of the day, against Wellington’s advice, disposed of the supply Land Trains established in Napoleonic Wars. One result was the fiasco in the Crimean War when soldiers starved, froze and died of dysentery and worse. It does not apply only to the UK, Google “Napoleon-Moscow-1812” or “1941 Barbarossa”.

We have been very fortunate in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Yanks are there to plug the gaps and avoid the worst of the consequences without much in the way of complaint or sending the bills. Little has been seen about this. Left to Blair to organise, Brown to fund and the smarmy back scratching crew of hopeless inadequate political greasers at the Ministry of Defence to manage it would have been a great deal worse. As it is too many good men have been sacrificed, we are now almost helpless to defend ourselves at home or abroad, and all the government can do is to run to Brussels and Europe to hand over the responsibility.

Blair, Brown, and their cabals may be War Criminals, but let us not forget that above all they are traitors.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Parliament - How To Deal With Members Expenses

One of the more constructive suggestions for dealing with the expenses of Members of Parliament has come from Man In A Shed, which is to accommodate them in the Tower of London, with its private admission facility at Traitors Gate. The Tower is large enough; it once housed a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and for a short time before their desertion the Kray brothers were there. For those Honourable Members who have been most imaginative with their expenses claims in the past, perhaps there could be a dedicated Kray Wing with extra features, racks, thrumbscrews, iron maidens etc, with its Mad Frankie dental surgery.

This would not be new, Sir Nicholas Carew, above, was a Member of the House of Commons in the late 1520’s and 1530’s, as a Knight of the Shire for Surrey, before he was taken to the Tower of London to be beheaded on 8th March 1539 for treason, on the basis of very dodgy evidence. He was granted the mercy of beheading because he was a Knight of the Garter, and not simply closely connected to King Henry VIII, but related to the King and all his wives, Anne Boleyn was the nearest cousin. Moreover, the King owed his claim to the throne on the basis of Beaufort ancestry, those descended from John of Gaunt’s relationship with Katharine Swinford before his marriage to her who were retrospectively legitimised rather later. Carew’s descent from the Plantagenet’s was entirely legitimate, albeit involving female ancestors, but critically including the Welles, Mowbray’s and the De Clare’s.

Carew was an Esquire to the King, Master of the Horse, and sometime Ambassador to France, where had become close to King Francis, and had earned the confidence of The Pope. He was also a “quangocrat” of his time, who amassed offices of profit, lands and properties. He was a first class tournament contestant, who knew everyone, and who had begun to build a formidable client list. His attendance at the House of Commons seems to have been very patchy, but in many ways he was a man ahead of his time.

When King Henry had lost his strength, but gained paranoia and a legion of enemies, Carew might have been the one to mount a coup, and one of the very few capable of carrying it through to a successful conclusion. If the legitimisation of the Beaufort’s had been reversed, a great deal of our history would be very different. So Sir Nicholas Carew lost his head, but had the last laugh in heaven. King Henry VIII's children left no legitimate descendants, and the Tudor line failed, but Carew’s descendants are all over Burke’s Peerage.

To return to M.P.’s expenses, the interesting question if they were lodged in the Tower of London is whether they should be paid per capita or sine capita?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Election 2010 - Is Barnsley For The Chop?

My comments in the post on Elections, Elections, Elections, of 11 October are coming truer by the day. Another six months of stunt politics will be wearing and damaging, and could have the effect of turning off even more of the electorate, with another, greater, reduction in turnout.

With regard to the latest kerfuffle, involving Nick Griffin of the BNP (British National Party), he is just another perishing Oxbridge law graduate peddling his personal take on national socialist extremism, so what do you expect? To realise why Labour is in such a panic, remember that the BNP party has shifted its balance from London and district to the old industrial areas of the North and Midlands, critical to Labour in England. Then look at some of the figures, and recall a little history.

There is Barnsley Central for example, in the late 1970’s Labour came close to losing Barnsley Council, but not to the Tories, or Liberals, but to a ramshackle group of malcontents called The Ratepayer Party. Even Roy Mason began to feel the heat at one stage. Eventually they dissolved into a disputatious bunch and Labour regained ground, but at one stage it was a close call.

Barnsley Town Hall, above, was opened by HRH Edward, Prince of Wales in 1933, a reduced version of the Stormont Government building in Belfast opened by the Prince a year earlier, he must have done a double take when he arrived in Barnsley. Edward later did not last long as King, perhaps the Barnsley Chop he was given for lunch fatally impaired his sense of judgement.

George Orwell in his book “The Road To Wigan Pier” roundly denounced the new Barnsley Town Hall as a gross waste of public money on a prestige project benefiting only the local elite, as did other socialists, given the lack of decent housing in the area and the severe local problems at the time. Like so many people since, he may have had problems finding the toilets there.

In the council chamber the friezes were in ancient Greek styling, and it was possible to discern the shape of the swastika in the decoration. Within a year or two this became a continuing embarrassment. The committee rooms also doubled as civil marriage places, something that could lead to confusion amongst councillors straying after too good a lunch in the Members Room. Polygamy was frowned on then, even in Barnsley.

In 2010 what could happen in this constituency, at present held by Eric Illsley? No prizes for guessing his academic background, yes, law again, although at least he is local in background and schooling with his degree from Leeds, then an industrial city. He will remember that period, and knows it could happen again. That may not be enough to save him if the figures go bad on him, but what do they look like?

In 2005 less than 50% of the electorate of 60,768 turned out, only 28,643. Of those Eric garnered 17,478 of the vote, less than a third of the total electorate in a Labour stronghold. The Lib Dem was 4746, the Conservative 3813, and the BNP 1403, plus some others. There might be a Green next time round, but despite the attention to “green” issues there is very little reference to the party and its members in the major media, so it is difficult to see them making much headway there.

Assume that the turnout declines further, say to 25,000, allow that up to two thousand old Old Labour have died off or gone away, and that the Labour vote collapses. If the Conservatives and Lib Dem’s gain a little ground, say getting 9-10,000 between them, that is increasing their combined share, with the Greens and others picking up about 1500, this leaves say, 13,000 to 14,000 to be shared between the BNP and Labour. If the BNP poll 7500 then Eric and Labour are sunk.

Yes, indeed, out of an electorate of 60,000 or so, the BNP could take the Barnsley Central seat with only 7500 votes. This is what you would call the democratic deficit arising from first past the post electoral systems, when democracy can go badly wrong. Given that Labour has for twenty years managed to manipulate the Boundary Commission recommendations to load the system in their favour, because of the doziness of Conservative Central Office, it is a grim reminder of how this kind of politicking can backfire.

As for figures, if you look at Blackburn, and apply similar calculations to the electoral situation there, it could be goodbye to Jack Straw. With such a prospect the YouGov poll suggesting that one in five might consider voting BNP makes sense to even the most rational analyst. So this election is going to be one of the nastiest on record. Are you sitting comfortably? To ask Lenin’s favourite question about Barnsley, “What is to be done?” Expect a large chunk of government spending to be hurled at the area, already heavily dependent on the public sector.

Perhaps Eric, Rob Ainsworth and others will suddenly rediscover the heroism of the 12th and 13th Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment (The Barnsley Pals) at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and in later battles. Also the 49th West Riding Infantry Division that went into Normandy in early June 1944 to endure some of the worst of the fighting in the Cotentin, and who in the course of distinguished service later liberated Arnhem. Perhaps The Light Dragoons will once again march through the town with fixed bayonets as they did in the shape of the 13th/18th Hussars, one of their merged cavalry regiments, who landed in Normandy on June 7th 1944 with 8th Armoured Brigade amongst the first of the battle tanks.

As the town football team struggle in the Championship, will some referees be receiving “advice” on their mobiles? Will the local council at last be able to disentangle fact from fiction in its accounts? Will a large bronze be erected of Arthur Scargill downing a pint or ten with Michael Parkinson and Dickie Bird in the “Tom Treddlehoyle”? Will the BBC suddenly change its mind about Parkinson being an interesting subject for the family history programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” and go big on mining and farm labouring?

At one time the Elmhirst’s of Dartington, the centre for much in modern arts and music were the very same as those of Worsbrough, by Barnsley and holding seats and influence on the Council as the only Socialist intellectuals in the area. But one thing I am fairly sure is that there will not be a Sir Harrison Birtwhistle festival compelling attendance from local politicians, although Eric may demand that his music become central to the National Curriculum.

Like much else in history there is a bleak irony involved in all this. The Divisional Insignia of the 49th West Riding Division was a polar bear. This arose from the posting of the Division to Iceland between 1940 and 1942 to secure it from Nazi invasion. Near seventy years later it is Iceland that is involved with so many of the Labour Governments recent disasters, and a national socialist may win the Barnsley Central seat.

Will Labour send in The Dragoons? Will the band be playing the “Garryowen”?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Slavery In The UK - A Labour Legacy

It may have seemed to some that one of the madder and more extreme notions I have been peddling is that in the UK the Labour Government has gifted us the return of slavery, largely in the interests of themselves, their financial and media affiliates and the sundry criminal elements usually to be found attaching themselves to the centres of power. In short, directly and indirectly, the London Mediocracy with its outstations in the larger urban areas.

At and in some of the press there is coverage of a proposed new law tabled in the House of Lords today, 26 October 2009 to attempt to deal with the various forms of slavery now present in the UK that appear to be both spreading and becoming established. Perhaps I am not quite as mad as I seem. The government, which has been fully responsible for overseeing this issue, is taking the line that present laws are sufficient.

If they are, then why are they not being applied, and indeed vigorously pursued? If I own a brown bottle and by error put it in the white bottle recycling bin, I can expect to be arrested, charged, and be given a criminal record. On the other hand if I am a politician or celebrity or leading financier or media figure, and I employ an illegal immigrant on terms well outside employment laws, bully and maltreat them under threat of denunciation, then I will have my expenses paid, either by the taxpayer or via the limited company or Trust in a tax haven through which most of my financial matters are channelled with the consent of the Inland Revenue.

Throughout history the willingness of men to kill each other has only been exceeded by the urge to control and enslave others. Usually, those groups with higher grade military technology and the ability to apply it have created what were societies in which the majority of the population had slave or serf status in various forms.

There has been agricultural slavery, industrial, domestic, sex trafficking, and the often ignored debt slavery of one form or another. The world has never been rid of it. The UK managed to remove itself from the African Slave Trade only to go on to an Imperial role where “contract”, “indentured”, or rather forced labour and debt slavery were rampant. At home it took until the middle of the 19th Century to end the child slavery endemic in industry and agriculture, but the sex slavery continued unabated until the early 20th Century. Probably it was only during the 20th Century that we were mostly free of it, particularly after the collapse of Empire.

But now it has come back, and we knew it was coming back. It wasn’t long after Labour returned to power, around 2000, when I was in a meeting where the Anti Slavery International speaker alleged that they were concerned at trends in London and the South that the use of what was effectively slave labour was on the rise. The audience took little notice and shrugged its collective shoulders; they were mostly of the Left and London Mediocracy apparatchiks or sympathisers. After all the Anti Slavery people were only peddling their own wares, and if there were some marginal difficulties related to the way the economy was being run by New Labour it would work itself out. Necessary casualties and all that.

Quite what will happen as a result of the debate in the House of Lords is difficult to say. There is a problem, it is a real one, it is growing, and it threatens all of us. You can work out many of the implications. But I don’t see much interest in the media, perhaps too challenging for their delicate sensitivities, and certainly the Government will do all in its power to distract attention and to claim the problem does not really exist.

What was the title of Friedrich von Hayek’s book? “The Road To Serfdom”?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Energy, Physics, Economics, & Start Worrying


The quote below is taken from “The Oil Drum” web site. In other places I have seen it argued that the Age of Capitalism and one or two other mass production “isms” of the last 150 years coincide with the age of cheap energy, notably oil, with the implication that if the sources of energy increase substantially in price and cost then it will impact on all our present economic and social systems.


The New York Times published an article yesterday about a conference that we advertised on The Oil Drum, and several staff attended, called the 2nd Annual Biophysical Economics Conference. The financial crisis and subsequent global recession have led to much soul-searching among economists, the vast majority of whom never saw it coming. But were their assumptions and models wrong only because of minor errors or because today's dominant economic thinking violates the laws of physics?

A small but growing group of academics believe the latter is true, and they are out to prove it. These thinkers say that the neoclassical mantra of constant economic growth is ignoring the world's diminishing supply of energy at humanity's peril, failing to take account of the principle of net energy return on investment. They hope that a set of theories they call "biophysical economics" will improve upon neoclassical theory, or even replace it altogether.

There were about 50 in attendance at the conference at State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The NYT reports:
The new field shares features with ecological economics, a much more established discipline with conferences boasting hundreds of attendees, but the relatively smaller number of practitioners of biophysical economics believe theirs is a much more fundamental and truer form of economic reasoning.

"Real economics is the study of how people transform nature to meet their needs," said Charles Hall, professor of systems ecology at SUNY-ESF and organizer of both gatherings in Syracuse. "Neoclassical economics is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics."

Central to their argument is an understanding that the survival of all living creatures is limited by the concept of energy return on investment (EROI): that any living thing or living societies can survive only so long as they are capable of getting more net energy from any activity than they expend during the performance of that activity.

The article notes that biophysical economists readily accept the peak oil hypothesis, and differ in that way from many other economists, such as the "Chicago School". Nate is quoted as saying:

"The main problem with neoclassical economics is that it treats energy as the same as any other commodity input into the production function," Hagens said. "They parse it into dollar terms and treat it the same as they would mittens or earmuffs or eggs ... but without energy, you can't have any of that other stuff."

Regarding the prospects for oil production, Charlie Hall is quoted as saying: "It isn't that there's no technology," Hall said. "The question is, technology is in a race with depletion, and that's a whole different concept. And we think that we can show empirically that depletion is winning, because the energy return on investment keeps dropping for gas and oil."


Allied to physics and biosystems there are several other theories and as Charles Mackay wrote 150 years ago “Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness of Crowds”. Gillian Tett of the FT has suggested that many problems relate to the principles of anthropology and the human condition of the herd instinct.

Perhaps you don’t have to be mad to be an economist, but it helps.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Economics - Multipliers And Money

You will all be aware of the difference of opinion between those who argue for the Government, Bank of England, and others to increase spending and money flowing into the system and those who take the view that balanced finance and careful control of spending is the only safe way forward. At the root of this is the concept of the Multiplier, that spending will circulate in such a way as to encourage economic activity and recovery from the recession/depression. Those for deficit finance, that is borrowing to spend, argue that this is essential to kick in the Multiplier. Those opposed argue that as excess borrowing was the root of all the trouble, spending should be carefully targeted, and debt restricted to that sustainable in the long term.

Much of the debate revolves around the validity or not of applying the theories of John Maynard Keynes to the current situation. To reduce it to its barest level, it is said that he was in favour of deficit financing in times of economic recession to stimulate the economy. Unluckily, when the world changed after 1939, whilst he was heavily involved in the war effort and in rescuing the world economy in 1945, he died in 1946 and never had time to write up and publish in full how his thinking had developed since the early 1930’s. His ideas were taken up by Nicholas Kaldor (1908-1986) and Joan Robinson in what was known as the “Cambridge School”, which were highly influential in the UK in the period 1950 to 1980. Their influence on the one hand, and the Marxist-Leninists on the other, more or less wiped out the middle ground and other schools of thinking in the period.

Putting complex ideas, however, in the hands and minds of politicians is even more dangerous than allowing them to determine their own expenses, or to run a scheme of agricultural or other subsidies. The concept of the Multiplier is such an idea, to a politician and their special advisers facing a bad downturn in the economy it is a powerful psychedelic hallucinogen. Briefly, the idea is that when economic activity slows or turns down to avoid the risk of a major decline, there should be monetary and other “pump priming” injections into the economy. Because this money will them go from one activity to another, if the circulation takes place as expected the total economic effect as it goes through the system will multiply the several sectors involved to the total health of the economy as expressed in the Gross National Product. This will generate added tax revenues etc. and balance can be restored.

Necessarily there are a number of assumptions embedded in Keynes ideas. One is that there is a moral ethic involved in policy decisions and expenditures. This may have been the case in the 1930’s, when morality was a touchstone of much of public and welfare policy, but in recent years has been overtaken by other ideas, that of serving particular interests represented by lobbyists where it is access and power that matter. Another is that as far as possible the statistics and data used for the process of decisions should be as reliable as possible and honestly derived. As the figures given out by government, and the indexes and basic data are now more often works of political fiction, and sometimes fantasy, there are real problems.

Other assumptions in Keynes were that essentially, all the more prosperous in the population would pay taxes, all the companies and other economic entities in the UK would pay UK taxes, all the financial sector would be included in the tax base would be taxable, there would not be a major criminal element in economic affairs, and the public sector would be the minor spender as opposed to the real economy. Also a government would not stoke up a boom by grossly inflating any market of significance. In recent years this has been the property market, and the huge bonuses being tolerated, even in reality encouraged, in broken nationalised banks at present are designed to try to rack the London market back up as fast as possible if only for the sake of the politicians own property portfolios and their trusts and special accounts offshore in tax havens. If you attempt to factor all this into Keynes ideas, then you have very serious problems.

Which brings me back to the Multiplier, and the high point of Keynes ideas on the subject, the 1960’s and 1970’s. These involve painful memories of the anger and resentment I caused when I asked questions like “What if does not work?” or “Is the money being spent on the right things.” Or “Are you sure that you can control and hold inflation to a level of only 3% if the pound declines or the trade unions persistently win pay deals at higher levels.” Had burning at the stake been permitted, I would have been one of the first up, a John Rogers of modern age.

In the 1960’s the UK and the world was a very different place. Where did my money go at the time? The house I was in was built by local builders, from UK materials. My current property was built by a firm with offshore financing and the service charges and freehold payments go to people with offshore private trusts. My power suppliers were British gas and electricity boards, but now is French. The railway was British Railways, now it is owned by the French. My food came from small local shops, with most of the supplies, seasonal, from within the region. For most people now it is a local supermarket now, and you have to look for the British produce. My clothing and footwear were always British made, now it takes time and effort to find a British product, most people do not bother. My insurances, once British, are now in the hands of an offshore based Private Equity Company. And so on and so on.

The upshot of all this is as with Lord Mandelson’s cash for cars programme a large proportion of the money going in as “quantatitive easing” or “pump priming” is not circulating in the UK economy, it is going somewhere else in the world. In short to produce an effect in the UK similar to that of the 1960’s or 1930’s, a proportionately vastly greater amount of money has to be spent, and therefore borrowed because of the nature and extent of the leakages abroad at all levels. Additionally the UK financial system is entirely different from the times of either Keynes or Kaldor. It is geared to operate extensively outside the UK on a far greater scale and much of it under foreign ownership, albeit using the City of London as its base. So much of the money going into that system will not appear in UK pockets.

A largish chunk of the money that does remain goes into the pockets of money men at multiples comparative to ordinary people hugely greater than those of the past, and certainly of my own, my parents, and my grandparents time. As I suggest one modern multiplier effect is to sustain property prices, and therefore to help keep most of our politicians and their associates personal wealth at high levels.

The idea of Keynes Multiplier was to benefit us all. The multiplier of today will only impoverish the great majority of us, and further enrich the few.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Global Warming - The Prime Minister Takes Action

The Prime Ministers pronouncement that the world is about to end, unless we all follow his advice makes me wonder if he isn’t spending too much time watching the many Armageddon web sites. They are a lot of fun to read and make me realise that the travails of my old team in the present season are not the most important matter in the Great Scheme of Things, I think. The October 19 post in the site survivalblog dot com “Twenty Two Reasons Why This Recession Is Different And Will It Will Endure” although about the USA could easily apply to the UK.

What is certain for the next few weeks is that the Government intends to make us forget the economic fuss, because it is all about Global Warming. Given the amount of hot air that will be expelled on the subject it may happen and carbon capture will not be enough. The political heat will be turned up, exterminating a thousand species, but hoping to catch the Opposition and others out in the race to convince the public that our futures will be safe only in the Government’s hands. Already arranged in the weeks before the Copenhagen sessions are a series of appearances and speeches.

These will be kicked off by a major presentation by Ed Miliband at the London School of Economics on Thursday 19th November. His dad, Ralph of the Marx Brothers (check that one?) used to work there, altogether now, aaahhhh…. So he will know his way up to the Senior Common Room when it is time for drinkies. However, he ought to go up one floor to the Shaw Library, a big room full of dusty books on dead or lost theories, there are a great many of them.

In very recent decades we have learned an astonishing amount about the past that was never known, in part not even suspected, and a good deal of it is to do about what happens when climate changes, or weather patterns shift, or other alterations occur in the geophysical make up of our planet. The one thing that is certain is that it does not remain the same for long, and that major shifts can happen fast. It has warmed up in the past, and it has gone colder. Outer space has played a part, as has the sun, and within the shifting magnetism and the flows of the atmosphere, the troposphere, tectonic plates, and the seas.

The crucial difference between now and even the recent past, is that there are a lot more humans around, creatures of unpredictable, and sometimes uncontrollable behaviour. So any sudden adverse event must affect far more immediately and afterwards. In a world that is “globalised” and where the interdependence of so many entities gives the risk of systemic failures in series across continents and the world. At present in the UK we seem to be blithely unaware of the implications of the droughts and water shortages occurring already.

One immediate question is that in the UK it has been a long time since we had a hard winter. This year there have been early snows already in the northern USA. The UK has had a handful of spasms of bad weather in the recent past, but not many. Now the Prime Minister and the Government are in full flow on the subject of warming, it can mean only one thing; that this could be a very hard winter indeed with the potential for chaos and widespread misery. I remember the 1940’s.

So go to survivalblog for advice, get in the extra blankets, candles, tinned food, and the rest, and keep cheerful. The upside of power cuts is that they reduce the household power and heating bills, and you will be hoping for Global Warming as quickly as possible.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Nero Returns - All Hail or Oh Hell?

According to recent Archaeology, it is possible that in the recently conquered Londonium of the the 1st Century AD the Romans erected a major building in tribute to the the Emperor Nero. In my last post I mentioned Lord Myners, the representative of The City close to the Prime Minister, if only to suggest that he was a major influence in the affairs of Government.
Seeing the picture of him, above, in Old Rightie's blog, it brought instantly to mind the portrayal of Nero in the series "I Claudius" of the 1970's. Guess which picture is which, a clue is which one has dropped a small wrinkled gherkin down his underpants.
Nero famously was a man who sang for his supper, and composed songs for others to sing. He was an actor who played to audience who were forced to watch and applaud, or else. He took part in an Olmpics to be awarded the prizes for events he did not win. His personal life was complicated in the extreme, and he seemed to have a general availability. He was widely distrusted, persecuted Christians, and enoyed roasting people alive. In the end he provoked a revolution, and left a chaotic legacy for his successors.
Quite different from Lord Myners, well, up to point, Lord Copper.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Isle Of Man - Has Anyone Here Seen Darling?

One of the sadder Youtube items recently is the elderly lady wearing a party hat for effect singing quietly straight to camera. She has lost all her savings, with them the bulk of her income, and faces a future of penury and possibly homelessness. The song she sings is “Don’t put your money in the Isle of Man”. Advised by some hot shot investment broker to protect her income and future she put her money into an Icelandic originated caper, this one located on the Isle. There is no protection and no compensation, she, and very many others, have lost the lot.

Emerging from the dust of all this it seems that one consequence of all the money coming and going, too hideously complex to begin to explain, is that in effect the Government of the Isle of Man somehow or other has had the benefit of £250 million pounds or so a year from the UK Government. It has a population of nearly 80,000, so around £3,125 each, whilst its financial services industry generates billions of money rushing through its computers.

In the meantime, the UK now has direct control over the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Cayman Islands (trillions of toxic debt there) is a liability, The Bahamas is on the rocks, or rather sand bars, and now it seems that Jersey, Guernsey and others could be running into very serious fiscal problems of government.

In the good old days the UK would simply have rounded up all the populations, put them on coffin ships, and then dumped them in some of the more blighted and uninviting parts of the world, for example America and Australia without accepting any liability. In the 21st Century, indeed through the rest of it, the UK taxpayer is likely to have to keep these Dependencies, and notably their financial sectors, in the style to which they have been accustomed.

In May and June 1940, the UK invaded Iceland, to protect its interests, and in 1942 the USA who took majority control until 1946. This time round the need for military intervention was less, and in any case we have too much on our plate elsewhere. But it has cost us rather more money than sending 15,000 troops, and major naval forces, and maintaining them. A lot of the bail out money for Iceland has come from us, partly via our commitment to the Royal Bank of Scotland and others.

It has not helped West Ham United much, once an Icelandic colony, but others have certainly been rescued despite being technically insolvent. The RBS has companies that have huge liabilities that cannot be covered. These are run by financiers with close connections to members of our government and they are all hyper active in the property markets. On the basis of what appears to an astonishing lack of interest in the matter by the media, it is my purely personal opinion that certain of these have taken out super injunctions from friendly judges to prevent any disclosure or discussion of what is going on.

As those concerned are, and have been, engaged in ripping off the savings and incomes of as many pensioners as they can get there hands on, it is likely that the sad lady with money in the Isle of Man will not be only one to lose everything. Only you don’t need to go to the Isle of Man, you can just stay at home and let Alastair, Peter, Lord Myners and all their friends carry on with business as usual.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

One of the major eating houses of the Midlands of England is the Pizza Hut at Stratford-upon-Avon on the corner of Ely Street and the High Street. It is one of the few surviving ancient buildings following the many fires of the 17th Century that destroyed much of the old town. There is no evidence that William Shakespeare ever ate in this building, although it was unlikely to be a pizza eaterie or take-away at the time. As he was an inveterate freeloader, it is possible that he had a free lunch there at another person’s expense.

There are echoes of the past, from the unhealthy diet and the way the remains of meals are strewn about the neighbourhood. They relate to the ancient beliefs of making oblations to their ancestors and the local gods. The archaeologists of the distant future will look on these remains and wonder in awe at the peoples who lived lives of such intensity and complexity.
The term "hut" an Anglo-Saxon corruption derived from Germanic sources, more recently known as an anthem to St. Elvis of Memphis, the hermit who lived in a dwelling so small he could never stand up in it, "The Little Hut". But "Pizza" has an ancient British meaning. In the Pre-Roman days the sub-tribes of Dubrovni of the Midlands, the Tin Oss, the Moreis, the Arm Strong, the Jags, Root, etc, were feared for the speed and aggressive way of handling of the chariot on the field of battle. Even today outsiders venture into the motorway ring roads around Birmingham or Coventry with fear and trepidation.

The particular technique of these warriors was to ride straight at and over the enemy reducing him to a mangled heap of pulp, at which the victorious charioteer would cry "Pyggeroffal” in the local dialect, a nasal one confusing to those not familiar with its intricacies. In linguistic terms little has changed amongst the peasantry in the last two millennia.
After a battle the victors would eat such remains as part of their celebrations.When the Roman Legions (the merger and acquisition dealers of their day) encountered these tribes, they eventually triumphed by reason of their ability to stay sober for more than an hour and willingness to communicate with each other rather than engaging in a fierce debate when any decision had to be made. They still sustained serious losses.

As the basic Roman diet at that time consisted of a hardened pancake of unleavened bread with a thick fish sauce (garum) coloured and made palatable by strong spices, it closely resembled the mangled pulp to which many of their comrades had been reduced. Consequently their basic food became a "Pyggeroff" . The Romans absorbed local cultures from most of their domains.
This word was taken back to Italy as a description for the food. Down the centuries the meal sadly has been debased into a flat white bread soft circle onto which anything can be tipped and usually coloured with a cheap tomato sauce; hardly the stuff of the warrior classes. The word also has been corrupted under the influence of changing speech patters into the easier and sloppier "Pizza" with the decline in the vigour of modern generations.

Whenever you have a take-away "Pizza", and contemplate the past, it can be a totally new experience, although the rumbling you will hear and the pains in your abdomen will have nothing to do with chariots or the heat of battle. There will soon be a new type of Pizza on the market, when the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified.

It will be called “Berlusconi – The Treat of Rome” and will consist of a lump of very ripe fat cheese between two tasty bits of young rump lying on a bed of oily salad, above a subsidised GM bread base and surrounded by capers and wine soaked cherries. It goes very well with a strong country Sicilian wine.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Economies & Earthquakes - Did The Earth Move For Youi?

While we are all being carried away by the excitements of our little isle, other things are happening in other places. The Australian tectonic plate is said to have been moving a little more than expected, and the consequence has been a series of large and persistent earthquakes around the Pacific Region and into the Atlantic Ocean. There are reports that seismologists and geophysicists claim that they have seen nothing on this scale before.

Which raised the question again, are big earthquakes in differing locations simply coincidences or can one trigger another very long distances away? The conventional view has been that it is unlikely, on the basis of theories on how stresses move along fault lines. The contrarian view that it is possible and can happen is back on the agenda. In December 2004 the major event off Sumatra that had Tsunami effects across the Indian Ocean seemed to have come from nowhere. But around four days before there had been a big one down in the Macquarie Islands south of Australia. I did wonder where that one might go, but guessed if anywhere not far away in the South Pacific.

Again a few days before the recent swarm of large ones there was a big one down in the Macquarie’s, so again was that a precursor? As it happens whilst there has been loss of life and some serious damage, the toll has not matched 2004 in any way. But what next could happen? The Ring of Fire, as it is known in the Pacific is a lot of volcanoes, some very big, and a handful of mega chambers. So it was particularly worrying to see some hefty ground movement going on around Vanuatu. We know in the past that eruptions in this region have produced world wide climate effects, and could do so again.

In our modern world it would not just be a group of subsistence existing tribes or local populations that could be affected. Vanuatu, amongst other things, is one of the tax havens where a lot of computers move money around, as does Nauru, an atoll in the Pacific. Over in the Caribbean, a handful of dormant volcanoes are down in the Cayman Trench. The chances of a major centre of population getting the hit, Hollywood style, may be small, but who knows? The Northern Anatolian Fault is predicted to twitch any time now near Istanbul.

Prediction is extremely difficult and very unreliable, as the experts know all too well, which explains their reluctance say much other than to run the figures amongst themselves. As the citizens of New Orleans found out in August 2005, politicians do not like people who predict problems and prefer to ignore them. However, in the wilder shores of thought processing, there are a few who think things are more complicated than humanity has yet to accept, especially when there is a god, or gods, or “other” beings who can be blamed for catastrophes.

But ideas about chaos, collapse, uncertainty, catastrophe, and the rest can give insights. At present in attempting to predict volcanic eruptions, not only is analysis of gases a guide, but in seismology, the intricate skill of identifying long wave resonance has become a tool in seeking to avoid the consequences of an eruption.

Just how much do these ideas apply in relation to financial markets? Probably not much, although the shapes are interesting. The seismology of public finances has been bad enough recently, see the diagrams above. What worries me if somewhere in the figures there is a long wave resonance developing that the experts cannot see.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Elections, Elections, Elections.

For those pathologically unable to avoid looking at the info-entertainment items called news on TV and their derivatives, increasingly modelled on talent (in the loosest possible sense) and the Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer shows, it is going to be a grim seven months. Perhaps we should tune in to the Sumo wrestling instead? What is in prospect?

The Parliamentarians Expenses Scandal. This one is out of the traps fast for an early lead and will continue to be a strong runner. It has already accounted for a number of also-rans from both sides. It will generate an uncommon amount of dust, dirt, and noise, although the effects are unpredictable. My suggestion for a simple tariff of punishment depending on the seriousness has not been welcomed. If ten, twenty five or fifty lashes at the wheel were administered, with concession tickets for OAP’s, unemployed and the disabled, it would have settled matters to the satisfaction of most people. We know almost all of them are involved, just make them pay up and tell them to stop squealing.

Digging the dirt. Expect anything and everything of anybody, regardless of truth or reason. Max Clifford will be installing a personal telephone exchange, certain newspapers will be on 24 hour “exclusives” watch, and the GMB will be negotiating higher rates for its Collective of Sex Workers Affiliate. Anyone who can be proved to have thrown their toys out of the pram at their nannies will get the full shock horror treatment. It will be worse than The Yorkshireman’s Sketch from “Monty Python”. Most of it will be entirely predictable and like watching endless repeats on satellite.

Dirty Tricks. Labour are much too prone to this, hiring as they do some strange creatures to do their spinning, media operations, and advising. In the age of the web and given the alertness of so many commentators all too often they finish up looking more like Dastardly and Muttley. The Tories ought to be less prone, but some of their more self regarding people can be very silly. Nowadays, the chances of getting caught at it are much higher, but some idiots will be trying it.

Manufactured Crises. There will be any number of “crises” created, most of supreme unimportance, but only done to try to put the story over that you are the only ones who can be “trusted” or are “capable” of dealing with it properly. There will be a few of these, some of them more convincing than others. Routine problems will be puffed up into big items, “potholes in the roads cause cancer” and so on. Worse of all will be the number of real personal tragedies turned into media circuses. As a consequence of all these some impending crises that are difficult to address will be ignored or played down, or those developing will be forgotten until they happen. Just like the credit crunch.

The Madness of Prime Minister George. This one will rumble away, the “blindness” once suggested by someone as an after effect of heavy medication turns out to be a routine eye problem associated with ageing. As for the other stuff, I am sticking to my blog of 7 September that there is a raft of things that require particular dietary requirements, all quite usual and common to many people, especially those getting older and under stress. Errare humanum est and all men are mortal. I am flawed, Gordon is flawed, you are flawed, so let us just get on with it. The issue is just what is his record and could you trust him and his side kicks enough to vote Labour?

The Snootiness of David and the Bullingdon. One of my bad personal jokes is the claim that I went to public school because the council all age elementary school I attended had pubs on either side that were architecturally very similar, which caused some confusion amongst the drinking classes. My teenage and immediately later years were strewn with things that are best forgotten and which make you wince in retrospect. The Bullingdon may be a high ticket item, but frankly they look like a soft lot who would have been a pushover had they come up against any serious bunch. But appearances can be deceptive, the languid, effete aristo’s who preened and drank in the cavalry messes of old were the same men as the officers who led from the front in the worst of the battle. Much as most of the awkward squad and least disciplined of the ranks were amongst the first into the enemy trenches. My standard question is who would I prefer on my right and left when the whistle went to go over the top. Try it yourself with the front benchers of either side.

The Unending Parade. The media will be scrambling round for stories, any stories, of any kind, that will push a line or prove that a lie is a fact. Every mad exhibitionist and celebrities in need of cheap publicity will be grabbing for attention. The camera crews will be everywhere looking for the personal interest angle, and someone who some how comes over on screen. There is a serious risk that this could be the first freak show election.

Out There On The Net. The campaigns are already under way, and the political masters know that there will be much that goes on around the net. We are aware already that many newspapers and other journals have become increasingly dependent on content from the web, so it will be difficult to work out which is which. The trouble is that many of the bloggers are just as suspect as the old media, and more out of control. In some cases they can be a valuable source of reliable source material and alternative perspectives, they also have the potential for causing and promoting confusion and increasing the nastiness element that is going to be a feature of this election. At the moment it is looking bad, but on the net there are always other choices. The interesting question is will the net have the slightest effect on the way people will vote?

The Lobbyists And The London Mediocracy. If the rest of it is going to be nasty and wearing, this will be as of nothing compared to the frantic efforts being put in by all the interest groups and connections with our governing system. A real regime change coupled with immediate needs to actively attack some major problems will cause substantial upheavals over many areas of interest. The boom years created a lot of winners, we are now going to need a lot of losers.

And Lastly. There are matters about this election which are serious and could be worrying if it begins to go very wrong. Because the state of the nation and the problems we face require a government that can concentrate on the job to be done and the last thing we need is a continuation of this kind of circus. I can remember those periods in the last sixty years when matters were not clearly resolved by an election and the damage that was done in consequence. This time around it would be a great deal worse.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Employment, Pensions, And Prospects

In order to have an occupational pension, first you must have a job, and then either a pension plan or sufficient income to allow you to save enough to provide for the future. In this context the musings of academics over how many jobs are can be moved “off shore” from a nation are interesting. The site Voxeu dot org is composed of items of serious content on a range of current economic and social issues. On 9 October they listed an article on “On the measurability of offshorability” relating to the USA, where the subject is becoming an increasingly sensitive issue. As a song title it will never be a hit, but as a political issue it could go to the top of the charts.

Their estimates go from 2% to 75%, and anything remotely near the latter figure, even as an academic hypothesis, could give the political world a severe attack of the jitters. But as it is theory, then the suggestion is that the reality could lie in between, say 25% that is the potential, with the actual rather lower, depending on this, that, and may be. The trouble is the jobs that are most vulnerable. One group suggested is the remaining industrial capacity of the USA, and the other group the higher skilled in various sectors. More or less, just the kind of job to have if you are looking to save for a pension.

This applies to studies in the USA, so what would the UK figures be like? Well, our finance sector is proportionately much larger than that of the USA. A good deal of it is based in the South East, and already employs a good many people from abroad. Moreover, there are a lot of choices open to them and many urban centres that would like to attract them, for example, Singapore. We could lose a lot of them, and very quickly, which explains the protective attitudes of Mandy & Boris (what a good comic turn those two would make) and the reluctance of both the Government and Opposition to raise the stakes on regulation.

What is less understood is how vulnerable much of our provincial economic activity is especially in the smaller scale practical trades. Spending quality time on the Disused Stations web site I noticed in an old photograph of one town a factory building familiar from the past, and then spent time scratching around the web to see if it still existed in one form or another. It is, but is now one of a long list of the industrial and business entities in that town that are foreign owned. They may have been generating work and incomes locally, but the profits are going elsewhere, and from a look at them, many of the jobs that were being done in their premises could be off shored, whether to Europe or other countries. Looking around my own town, and a few others, there are a surprising number in a similar situation.

A little while ago on Wednesday 22 April, on “Counting them etc.” I commented on the number of foreign trucks on our local motorway in comparison with UK ones. We have seen in recent months anxiety amongst UK workers about jobs going abroad. Just what is the situation going to be like in the next few years? How many UK jobs and sectors of employment could be off shored? In my time I have seen a good many industries and activities go elsewhere, and the working landscapes of major cities and towns transformed, so it is nothing new.

There is no easy answer to this as it is the product of a complex of different issues. Also, trying to estimate how many and what jobs could go is far from easy. It requires making assumptions about the decisions and strategies of many different operators across the globe. There are also implications. We are sending increasing numbers to universities to acquire skills to secure their future employment according to our employment structure of the recent past. Yet it may well be exactly these jobs that will be disappearing.

They are the kind of jobs that would carry the prospect of a pension one way or another and the prospect of a long term career. It isn’t looking good.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Mr. Warren & Mr. Jones - A Tale Of Two Scousers

There was a strange symmetry in the Daily Mail today in two stories concerning sons of that once great city, Liverpool. One concerned a Mr. James Larkin Jones, better known as Jack Jones, boss of the TGWU the Transport and General Workers Union in its heyday of power, who has now been identified as being in the pay of the Soviet KGB, and a source of information and advice to it. The other is a Mr. Curtis Aloysius Warren, who has been convicted in Jersey of alleged sundry crimes, and will spend some more time in prison. Jack tried to corner the market in political influence over government, Curtis (aka “Cocky”) tried to corner the cannabis market in Jersey to take advantage of the relatively high prices there. Both were and are men of their time, from whom we have much to learn.

It has always puzzled me why the KGB and the Soviets failed to realise that most of their informers did not actually need paying, and in fact a golden marketing opportunity was lost. If like many Arts and similar organisations they had set up a “Friends” or “Patrons” membership, many of the furthest Left of Britain would have formed an orderly queue to join. For example had there been a “Friends of the Lubyanka” there might have been Premium Friends, entitled to personal tours of the detention facilities, and invited to vodka binges with the chiefs, Senior Friends, given courses in interrogation techniques to sharpen up their committee skills, and basic Friends, who would get newsletters, the occasional cut price tickets for this and that, and priority bookings for open days. As so many of the potential members are still alive, I will refrain from naming names, but you can have fun making your own guesses.

Jack Jones life was in parallel with my family in my father’s generation, and it was their view, all fellow Scousers, many in ordinary jobs, including dock work, that so far as the working class and the docks were concerned he was a disaster. During a period of major and rapid change in the 1960’s and later, with the containerisation of shipping, developments in communications, and the rapid rise of competition in Europe and beyond, he led his union in entirely the wrong direction. In association with Hugh Scanlon of the AEW, Amalgamated Engineering Union, who also resolutely impeded progress and investment in much of the engineering industry, they did immense damage.

Their Soviet inspired ideas of mega planning of state controlled large industrial units, contributed much to the distortions and obstacles to development of most of the industry and commerce which had the potential for the future. It was they as much as anyone who ensured that a large proportion of the investment money in the private sector that was available went into financial and property speculation. Whilst Jones and Scanlon, with others held the reins over government and private investment in industry and transport, there was no point in investing in the British “Mittelstand”. Hugh Scanlon later accepted a peerage. Jack Jones on the other hand refused both a knighthood and a peerage, but I wonder if he ever ranked as a Colonel in the KGB?

Mr Warren, on the other hand, is an entrepreneur of the modern age. He has been engaged in globalised trade, has been active in offshore locations, and no doubt has invested his profits in a way that has legitimately minimised tax and other liabilities with the help of advisers. The difficulty is that his trading has been in products that are illegal in some places, but not in others. In the mid 19th Century some of Britain’s great commercial personages did exactly that, and ended up with peerages, great estates, and often titles. Mr. Warren seems to have erred over the detail. He has certainly more than done his bit for Britain in the Great Property Boom, although probably not so much for the GDP figures. Perhaps he should have thought of political contributions. His application of force has differed little from some of those magnates of the past, and indeed some of Mr. Jone’s or Mr. Scanlon’s more fervent followers, who were not shy of physical threats and action, indeed for some it was almost routine.

In essence Mr. Jones and Mr. Warren are both Scousers of their time, on the make one way or another, and to hell with the critics. After all it takes one to know one. Now who else is a Scouser fascinated with money and power?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The UK, Unloved And Unwanted

Meanwhile, out there in the real world beyond Manchester, it is becoming difficult for the UK, and not in ways that are immediately apparent. On 25 September, in a spin off from the G20 Pittsburgh deliberations, in the Wilson Centre in Washington DC, the Prime Minister of Lichtenstein, HE Klaus Tschutscher assisted by two senior advisers met with a number of interested parties to mend fences and discuss the way forward for the Duchy. For the uninitiated, Lichtenstein is a small independent Duchy adjacent to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and financial services amount to 30% of its economy. It is hardly offshore, but it is a major tax haven, and one that has attracted some unwelcome publicity in recent years.

What was clear from his talk was that the Duchy was signing up with the EU and is attempting to satisfy them that its dealings are above board, and that its clients declare their affairs properly to their own jurisdictions. Of course, they are in the hands of their clients, and given the layering and complexity of it all, cannot offer guarantees. Even where it suspects criminality, this can only be pursued in the home country of the criminal. If the criminal is Head of State or Minister for Justice there, this suggests problems. However, if the EU with the urging of Germany and France does manage to get a handle on these tax issues with the havens in Europe, which affects several such states, this is bad news for the City and all the other locations connected to the UK.

Whilst the Tax Justice Network representative bowled the Prime Minister a googly that he did not read, causing some foot shuffling, an interesting question came from the US State Department representative. This meeting had no media present, but webcast, so there was no grandstanding going on. But it left little doubt about the stance of the State Department and their current thinking. They want to come down hard on tax losses from the USA. No wonder Gordon Brown had problems getting to President Obama, or that David Cameron might do no better. If my analysis is correct the State Department could believe that the UK was not only culpable in the recent crash, but a major cause, and that the activities of all the UK tax havens played the key part in the disaster.

On Monday 5 October, the item “States of Disbelief” in the blog The Automatic Earth the writer Ilargi has a very long post dealing with the developing situations across many of the States of the Union, a rolling tide of severe problems, job losses, and significant contraction in public services. In particular, California is contracting now in population terms, never mind its economy. See my post on Friday 17 April, on “California Here We Come”. This mirrors a goodly number of assessments of the internal situation in the USA. Whatever may be happening around some of the money merchants which disguises the reality, because the figures are largely financial numbers, out there is increasing hardship and the end of the American Dream for a high proportion of the population. So the new administration has begun to set its sights on attempting to mitigate the damage and protect its citizens.

The complication has been the Afghanistan venture, now in deep trouble, where the UK has been more supportive to the US effort and its troops have earned respect. But patience is running out now with the evident incompetence and indecision of the UK government, and their increasing reliance on the USA for basic support. If the Pentagon came to the view, as they might, that the UK Forces are a busted flush, and the USA will have to turn to the EU, then it is all up for the UK. More concern must be if the CIA and other agencies have come to regard Londonistan as a key world centre and clearing house for terrorist and criminal organisation and money laundering, assisted by sundry foreign oligarchs with big yachts.

Consequently, it is the end of any special relationship, the USA could well become hostile economically, and will align itself with others. The EU, so far as financial regulation and a few other things go, are not our friends and want to clamp down on the wilder shores of UK and subject territories finance and other things. We are about to experience the full effects of the economic contraction in our local services, and other sectors, much of our economy is owned by others, and nobody loves us. In fact, many power blocks will hugely enjoy giving us a good kicking. If the Lisbon Treaty does take full effect in the near future we will not be able to do much about anything.

Manchester may once have prided itself on the being one of the major cities of the world, but like the Mersey Canal, it is now a backwater of the past. And if Irish Tony, Citizen Of The World, does become President of Europe, he will have another agenda.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Tory Party Conference - Will It Hit The Buffers?

Nearly forty years ago, I was instructed to attend a conference in Manchester, mercifully only for the day. It was at a place called the Free Trade Hall, now long forgotten and was about education. I was there to find out where cuts were likely to fall. The star attraction was the Secretary of State, a lady called Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the statutory woman in the Cabinet, who was alleged to have opinions on the subject.

It was a bad speech, poorly organised, platitudinous (she was up against an audience lacking in sympathy for her politics), and evasive. Moreover, whoever wrote the speech had put in jokes concerning the handicapped that were in rank bad taste. This was well before the media men had put her right on a number of things. I came away with the opinion that she had been over promoted. “Forty years on when afar and asunder”, but that is the Harrow song, not an Eton one.

Over this weekend we have been given a “walkies” shot of Eric Pickles, the Man of the People, and David Cameron in the city going past the Conference Centre. Had David been shorter and Eric been taller, it would have come dangerously close to being a Laurel and Hardy tribute team, but without the laughs and tears. As it is the significance of the location seems to have escaped the entire media.

The centre is the former Manchester Central Railway Station, and the picture above is from when first I knew it at the end of the 1930’s. It was nothing to do with the Great Central Railway; that ran from London Road. Nor was it originally really central in Manchester, Victoria and Exchange were that. For the history etc. go to Disused Stations Dot Org Dot UK for a good summary. I travelled through it enough times to come to regard as less than a haven, more a tiresome delay in a long journey from and to the East Midlands.

It ended its life as a station in 1969, and lay unloved and unused for many years before becoming an exhibition centre, and now something else. More a mirror of our times; once a busy communications, transit, and goods entity, its closure marked the beginning of the end for industrial England. It was derelict during the 1970’s and then became a showplace for whatever. It is now a talking shop for public sector managers who have risen via consultancy, lobbying, and politics. Whether the Tory conference will mark the beginning of a new age, or the disastrous culmination of one just ending, who will know?

It is not likely I will watch much of the proceedings, if any. These conferences are not fun and you learn very little. There will be some things in common with the past of Manchester Central Station. A great deal over heated air will be expelled. Smells you cannot quite detect. Fires will be stoked to get things moving. Large numbers of men will be in search of the nearest alcoholic refreshment. There will be possible meetings of impossible minds and some passionate groping for attention. Slippery wheels, squealing motion, shrill whistling, clunking signals, and a lot of baggage getting in the way.

But in my mind I would hear the clatter of the past, the swish of steam and smoke, and old voices crying information and instructions, all with effective purpose and intent. People who knew where they were going, why they were going there, where real things happened, and those at work knew what they were doing.

Quite unlike any Party Political Conference.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Libel Laws, Financial Losses, Life & Liberty

Do you wonder why in the UK we rarely hear much about business and related issues that are questionable and those responsible? Especially when public debate of this kind is commonplace in many other democratic countries? It is because of the way that English libel law is used by people who do not want questions asked, or certain matters to be discussed in public.

The important issues are not the unwise personal habits or relationships of celebrities, media and sporting people, or the parade of sorry exhibitionists that are the mainstays of our media. They are corporations and individuals engaged in financial dealings who do not want either their activities or their accounts to be subject to normal scrutiny. “Private Eye” this week has headlined the subject on the lead page under the title “Legal News” but has referred to it in previous issues.

It is very easy. If I am in possession of information that I would like to make public about a company, and they become aware of this, they can simply ask their lawyers to telephone the Duty Judge and secure a restraining injunction with immediate effect to prevent publication on grounds of alleged libel. More, in the last few years these have now been extended to prevent any mention that such a ruling has been made, who was involved, and any reference or implication relating to the issue or the fact that such a ruling has been made.

Now we have no idea how many of these restraining orders have been made, who are involved or why. These Super-Injunctions throw a blanket of secrecy over not merely the matter but anyone and everyone involved without any questions asked. Worse still, there are many people and companies who do not live in England or have much to do with it, who hire lawyers in England to obtain these Super-Injunctions here to try to prevent comment or question anywhere in the world by threats of legal action in England against anyone publishing comment on or information. You can imagine the implications for the freedom of speech and debate, and the costs.

Purely as an academic and theoretical exercise let us imagine that there could be a major UK financial issue in progress inflicting serious damage on many innocent people and that it is a part of the financial havoc in the UK. We then suppose that as the result of such an injunction there would be barely any comment or reporting on the subject. It is possible that some brave souls might give the odd hints here and there that things are not as they should be, but the full story would not be told.

We could then assume on this basis that there would be a deathly hush in the media. The yellow press that would normally rampage happily with all the personal interest stories involved must be silent. Famous people would become absent from the news. Were banks to be involved, as they might if we imagine it, the cry would be make the bankers pay. But our assumptions would be that those involved might be people to whom the bankers lent lots of money which they will never see again, and will never be repaid.

Letting our fantasies run free we would allow those in debt to be taking as much as they could from their remaining income streams and leaving banks and through them the taxpayers, with billions of toxic financial rubbish. Perhaps I have had too many high energy drinks and the caffeine is out of control.

Then I could wonder whether or not such a particular financial debacle might in certain hypothetical circumstances be the subject of such a Super Injunction. But I can only wonder in the most general terms. Any attempts to be clever with names or hints would be a bad idea. It is easy to make a mistake. What I might suppose about the state of the regulatory agencies knowledge concerning who they could be and where they might live, what they might or might not do would be of course the subject of any injunction and nobody would know.

As for any parts of the media knowing who they are and what is going on, I would have to revert to picking the petals off daisies. It would be great fun to speculate which senior politicians might know and who their best friends are, but I would have to assume that all connected would be covered by a secrecy fiat as severe as the highest security levels of the Cold War.

Should I in this flight of fantasy allow that certain companies are in essence trading in the UK when insolvent with government knowledge and tacit permission? Then I might speculate on the implications. This would raise once again The Big Question which relates to where all the money might or might not be going if any assumption can work in this particular mind game. Like in a major computer game the mind can fly the universe. This would mean tax havens.

High play of this kind would demand complex and intricate arrangements within tax havens of the imagination in other galaxies or universes. Within such tax havens there would be impenetrable mysteries, it would be impossible to determine who exactly owns what. The game and fantasy would have substantial financial entities taking money out of the UK and sending it by warp drive to unregulated locations and keeping what comes in whilst not paying their dues to their bankers or anyone else to win the game.

The wild card to keep the game going I would call “quantatitive easing” as a device to keep the game in play as long as possible. The “oiks”, the helots of the dominant factions would be made to pay out more and more to keep this going because the imagined masters of this special universe; maybe politicians of a kind each with their personal finance war chest would be subject to the operation of privacy, inextricable within the mathematical imponderables of financial operations. Let us end the game here, because as in any fantasy game, the computer always crashes.

In the party political conferences we are getting all the blarney about ring fencing vital services, curbing the bankers, firm and fair government, cuts with responsibility and this and that. This will continue right through the many months of the election campaign, whilst the financial situation becomes progressively worse.

What they are not telling you, what the press cannot publish, and what is legally impossible to say, is just how much some things will cost those who are being forced to pay, who by, and how they are doing it. Additionally we will not know how much will fall to the lot of each and every taxpayer and dependant. Nor will we know the people, politicians, lobbyists, lawyers and judges who are integral and necessary to the continuance of this situation.

It was in England where John Milton wrote the “Areopagitica”, just Google it.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Lenin, Hitler, Liverpool, London & Rorke's Drift

An item has been for sale online, said to be an etching made in 1910 of Lenin and Hitler playing chess together in a room in Vienna in the house of a mutual friend. Perhaps, the bit that worries me is the etching. This is skilled, expensive, and takes time and trouble. Anyone recording this event would have been more likely to make a quick sketch of one sort or another. Also, there must have been many more interesting people in Vienna playing chess or talking together at the time. Hitler was an unsuccessful artist, turned 20, and going nowhere. Lenin was just another middle aged political thinker and activist on the run from Tsarist Russia, ageing and seemingly with no real future.

The other tale about the travels of Adolf that had attention in the past is the one about his supposed visit to Liverpool between November 1912 and April 1913. Based on a suspect memoir by his sister-in-law, Bridget (born Dowling), whose husband Alois Hitler; step brother of The Fuhrer, was working as a waiter in Liverpool at the time, it became the plot of an imaginative and readable novel by Beryl Bainbridge that was turned into an interesting TV item. As ever the myth overtook the truth. Detailed research in Vienna suggests that such a visit was never made, and that Bridget was making up an Irish whimsy later in life to help sell the copies of her life story. It is a great pity, in 1913 both my parents and their hordes of families were roaming the streets in which Alois and Bridget Hitler lived and worked. I could have come up with all sorts of wild fantasies.

A much better prospect for men who might have met and talked is a pairing that many would feel very unlikely. It is Lenin and Hook, one of the 13 men who won the Victoria Cross at Rorke’s Drift in 1879 when just over 100 men held off and defeated a Zulu Impi with a force of up to 4,500. They were certainly in the same place at the same time and for a year, and with interests in common.

In April 1902 Lenin, born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was in London under the name of Jacob Richter, to avoid the attentions of the Paris agents of the Okhrana, the Tsarist Secret Police of Imperial Russia, and he stayed until May 1903. At the British Museum he was issued with ticket number A72453 to give him access to the Library with its vast resources of books, and he spent a great deal of time there researching and writing. One minor speculation is where he preferred to sit, perhaps seats G7, H9, R7, R8, but the favourite is L13 because of its nearness to the reference shelves. Of the many attendants around, one would have stood out.

Alfred Henry Hook, who had dropped the Alfred early in life, known as Harry, was by then around 50, and perhaps already affected by the TB that was to end his life in 1905. He had been employed there since the 1880’s. After earning his VC in 1879, and with permanent injuries he had bought out, and in 1881 was working as a groom to a General Practitioner in Monmouth named George Willis. Not long after he was employed at the British Museum as an attendant, and signed up additionally with the Royal Fusiliers, The London Regiment, 1st Volunteer Battalion as an instructor, rising to be Sergeant. The Volunteers were the predecessors of the Territorial Army, and often functioned as feeder units to the regular Army.

There are reasons for Lenin to check Hook out. One was that as a figure of authority he was more likely than most to be asked his opinion about this “Mr. Richter” if the Special Branch had been alerted by the Okhrana and were seeking information. The logic would have been to test the possibility. Intellectually, however, would anyone with such an enquiring mind and intelligence of Lenin, miss the opportunity to have an occasional conversation with a man of this experience? It would not have been difficult, because Hook was temperance, and as busy men both may well have used one of the cheap tea rooms in the vicinity before going on to meetings, as Lenin would, or the Drill Hall, as Hook would. Even fifty years later, it was surprising who you could just bump into when going into a Bloomsbury tearoom for a quick cuppa and a sandwich.

Imagine, a foreigner with little income, but with a trained legal mind, high academic qualifications, and a great breadth of knowledge, asking plain reasonable questions to an older man to help him towards an understanding of this or that in the news in Britain. The end of the war in South Africa, a new Prime Minister, the crowning of the new King, the British in Somaliland and West Africa, the troubles of agriculture in the Atlantic Isles and more. Hook was a countryman by birth, one of the many who joined the Army for employment and training. As for Empire, Hook had experienced the full reality of it at the end of his bayonet, and had been involved with many men since who had seen its further shores. He would have been able to make informed and incisive comments about the South African War of 1899-1902 and the business in Nigeria.

It is speculation, and no more, but what might Lenin have learned from Hook? Lenin at the time was interested in agrarian issues, colonisation, political structures, and the extent of financial interests. In military terms, it would have been organisation, discipline, tactics, the ability of a small well trained group with the motivation and leadership to withstand and overcome what was in theory a vastly superior force. In 1914 the Old Contemptibles, the small regular British army, stopped the might of the German Kaiser’s Imperial Army by its rifle skills, discipline, and bayonets.

To understand Hook you need to forget the film “Zulu” and totally clear it from your mind. It is “Hollywood History”, not as bad or idiotic as most, but certainly with many adjustments to the facts and in particular the portrayal of personalities. Hook of the film is a travesty, as are other characters, notably Dalton, but to a lesser extent Chard and Bromhead, both highly professional soldiers who at the end of the battle shared a bottle of beer found in a burned out wagon. Hook was a sober, capable man, probably with a West Country accent, literate and able to communicate well enough. He would have been a good man to talk to. I believe he always remained a country man, because he returned to his home village, Churcham in Gloucestershire, to die. There is no statue to him anywhere; he has only a simple grave in a country churchyard.

If they did meet and talk a time or two, it might have been this quality and a direct sense of purpose that may have impressed Lenin most of all.