Monday, 30 July 2012

Harriet's Little Secret

In all the clatter of criticism on the one side and favourable comment on the other about Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Opposition there has been passing mention of the fact that she is a niece of the late Lord Longford.

But this is by marriage and not by blood.  Whether it has been more of a hindrance than a help in her political career is a question for the chatterati and not a very important one.

So let’s a have a look at the genes.  What I have never seen mentioned is that she is a descendant of the Birmingham family, before then London and Camberwell, the Chamberlains.  This may be known in Birmingham and Bermondsey circles but not much seems to have been said.

Harriet’s great grandfather, Arthur Chamberlain was brother to the famous Joseph Chamberlain, 1837-1914, above, the Birmingham local and national major politician (see Wikipedia) and uncle to his sons, Neville Chamberlain, who became Prime Minister and Austen Chamberlain, who many people thought should have had the job.

Joseph Chamberlain was another might have been for the post of Prime Minister whose role in the political turmoil of the 1880’s and 1890’s lost him the chance.  Often described as a “self made” man this is not quite the case.  Certainly, he did not attend either Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

But this did not mean that he was lacking in education or reading.  The Chamberlains were prosperous and active iron masters and their education lay in their trades, their religions and their connections.  Joseph built on the business success to become the leader of Birmingham, workshop to the world, and then a national politician.

Joseph and Arthur were close enough by birth and more so by marriage.  Arthur married Louisa Kenrick in 1870.  Joseph married first, Harriet Kenrick, her cousin who died tragically in childbirth, and then secondly Florence Kenrick, Louisa’s sister.  All worshipped in the Unitarian Church.

So if Ed Miliband stumbles in his quest to become Prime Minister and Harriet claims “Peace in our time” as with Neville Chamberlain, will she want to become Prime Minister to outdo those of her family who did not?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Running Ragged To Beat The Drop

Around the world we hear of many governments and other bodies struggling with their finances and needing mutual help.  The general idea seems to be that if they all generate enough fiat or debt money to either bail out or to lend to each other then somehow it will all end well.

The snag is these are the only ones we hear about.  But it is apparent in many states it is not only the government that is in trouble, it is the local or regional authorities, the state owned or supported major activities and much of welfare provision.

Each of these is more or less dependent on their government although many have become enmeshed in the global financial system to add to the complications.  There are reports of many US states, city, county and the rest individually being in trouble with apparently no way out.

Effectively they are bust and the same is the case in Greece and Spain and other places.  In the UK we have had one health authority, South London, go into administration and the odds are that there could be many more either on the brink or in reality insolvent.

In all the countries that have had major pension schemes running for many decades a great many authorities and organisations are prisoners of their pension fund commitments.  Their actual services have become legacy activities being run for the benefit of their managements and past and future employees.

In Europe, Germany is being held up as the potential great saviour of the Euro being theoretically the richest and solvent.  Look around the regions and townships etc. as well as local banks and this is far from being the case.  Should Germany experience some stresses a good many could be in real trouble.

I am sure that my own local health authority is broke having done a great deal of building recently using the fancy Private Finance Initiative method of funding it all.  The county authority is also struggling and the town seems to be operating on a wing and prayer for much the dame reasons.

In the meantime all the managements prattle on with the business lingo, claiming to have strategies, visions, missions, game plans and the whole bang shoot of MBA techniques for spending more and borrowing more thinking that dressing up the accounts with purple prose will do the trick.

This lot could all just crash very easily just as too many racing cars going into a narrow chicane can crash.  The only rational description for the way we are all behaving seems to be Chapter 3 of “Alice In Wonderland”, “A Caucus Race And A Long Tale”.  It is there on the web.

In the case of world finance it could be less of a long tale than a short sharp shock.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Sound Of Music

So I met this classy dame and was anxious to make the right impression.  My track record for saying the wrong thing, or worse, telling the wrong joke was legendary.  She seemed to have some interest in music and could actually play it.  My only performing talent was in hitting beer trays with rugby boots.

We talked some and it seemed there was not a lot to disagree about.  In fact we had both seen and enjoyed some of the same kind of stuff.  In those days people were not segmented for marketing purposes into absolute categories of purchasing intentions. 

Musically, it meant that a lot of us simply did not bother about the boundaries.  What was on in the local theatres or halls or at the local cinema is what we went to whatever it might be.  In those post war days any entertainment could pull in a wide audience.

The youngsters of the time got to see the film musicals of the period to enjoy the scores, the voices and the orchestration.  You name it we liked it. Some of it, such as “Kismet” was pure tosh but the music was great.  It was a long time before I discovered the “lifts” from Borodin. 

But whatever the inspiration or the genius there was a whole lot of music of there to be enjoyed, not simply on film, but in stage shows and concerts of all kinds.  This would range through classical, popular classics, light music, jazz, trad and modern and a variety of dance and popular music.

This could take in an appreciation of Dave Brubeck live, “Calamity Jane” with the long take by Doris Day on “Just Blew In From The Windy City”, “Kiss Me Kate”, inevitably, “MFL” and later Sondheim and a host of others.  Some of this would turn up in the “hits” of the period.

Now, it seems that some music researchers at Barcelona have been putting old popular music through the mincer of the analytical computer systems to work out what was going on and has compared it to the structure and content of present day popular music. 

It appears that modern pop is relatively restricted in structure and form, uses fewer chord sequences and the like and inevitably much louder.  In short you are getting more “sound” but rather less content. 

The classy dame agrees, you see, dear reader, I married her.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Taxing Questions On Morality

“A politician preaching morality is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs.  It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”  Slightly amended, the original quote would be regarded now as incorrect, Dr. Johnson’s saying applies to many of the statements made recently by our leaders.

The latest by David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to The Treasury and gossip columnist of the Berkhamsted and Tring Gazette, is to suggest that paying cash to tradesmen and workmen is a form of tax evasion and immoral.  This depends, of course, where he or she has his or her business registered.

One local jobbing builder has his private limited company registered in Guernsey.  So he is simply avoiding tax, not the same at all.  For advice go and talk to a corporate tax lawyer.  One of the best in the business is said to be the spouse of David Gauke.

He and his generation and those following see money as figures you do with cards and mechanical means of payments, interchange and the rest.  Cash is that dirty, smelly stuff needed for small time things, inconvenient and which you often forget to take out with you.

Also, in dealing with tradesmen and workmen you want them to send (or mail) you the bill which you will then pay at your leisure.  Some of you like to have long leisure times and only pay when the bills come in with red on them.  Then you find things to complain or argue about to avoid paying.

When I was young cash was king.  This was not because all transactions were cash.  Far from it.  Among the lower orders there were extensive barter and similar trading arrangements that represented a fair proportion of the real economy of our lives.  This was because cash was hard to come by and credit highly restricted.

Try working out the economics of exchange with one large tin of jam, liberated from the US Army, eggs available because the hens were laying well and knock off cigarette lighters made in the local engineering factory when the foreman was not looking or on his tea break.

A few shillings in the pocket would work wonders to your advantage and if you were in the money with actual pound or ten shilling notes you were onto a winner.  No wonder I grew up with the idea that someone with cash in hand and a polite manner could get what they wanted, almost.

It still works today.  But not at the local supermarket, card and computer driven many other high street shops and the rest.  But turn up at the farmer’s market, farm shops, boot sales and you are welcome.  Moreover in London when transport goes badly wrong holding up a fist full of tenners (not fifties, they are suspect) in front of a taxi driver will get you where you want to go.

As for local workmen or tradesmen the card and computer culture is all very well but this entails costs to them.  Bankers and card companies cream them as well as the rest of us.  Then there is the cost in time checking the accounts and if corrections are needed the endless trouble with the “help” lines.

So when a job is to be done and the person who does the whatever has a call from me then they know that he or she will have the option of cash or cheque and both will be there on the nail when the job is finished.  It is easier for both of us.

The tax issue of whoever I give cash to is their problem, not mine.  The government’s problem is that on the one hand they have made the tax system so complicated and expensive to manage that a good many people avoid it for that issue alone. 

On the other if the little people see the big people getting away with huge deals and tax breaks they will wonder why they should be penalised for honesty.  Also, if they ask themselves how come some of these government geezers get so much money so quickly they will wonder how they are getting round the tax implications.

Cash may be for the little people, but many of us happen to like because it is about the only way we can have real control over the getting and spending.  As we know the very idea that people might have control over their own lives is beyond the understanding of our governments.

The cartoon above is from the “Telegraph” and Matt The Great.

A penny for the Gauke?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bow Down Ye Lower Middle Classes

As the sequel series to the popular TV drama “Downton Abbey” follow on from one to another it might be interesting to see how far they go towards the present day.  Will they be daring and have a young Earl of Grantham living it up in 1960’s London?

A clue to where the series might be in the first years of the 21st Century was when following a truck off our local motorway.  It was being handled well enough, but the driver, like any not familiar to this neck of the motorways could not make sense of the road signing and needed to switch lanes several times.

The company it belongs to was written in large letters on the rear and sides.  It was Downton Real Distribution Solutions.  It makes a change from Logistics.  Perhaps it might be no bad thing if the umpteenth fictional Earl of Grantham was portrayed as a white van driver forever at the margins of financial survival.

It would not be too far from the reality of some of the old aristocracy or the scions of peers of more recent creation.  This year the 14th Earl of Loudon died and was succeeded by his son the 15th.  The family are now ordinary Australians living and working in the same way as their suburban neighbours.

In the fictional past we now tend to think in terms or our preconceptions of the aristocracy and others of the landed classes of the past.  But I like to think of Patrick Rackrent, Jorrocks, Tristram Shandy and Mr. Hardcastle.  Also, they were not as permanent as we like to think.

A look down an index of peerages and landed gentry will yield many names and families that have declined or gone or simply been absorbed into the other classes and occupations.  This has been for many reasons.

Some were unlucky in being hit for inheritance taxes too often in too short a period.  Some were dragged down by a range of family and other financial obligations that ran ahead of incomes and inherited wealth.  Some blew it on being in society or on the horses. 

Very many with their wealth in land were slowly ruined by the Great Agricultural Depression and its effects on the succeeding generations.  Whilst the Empire and growth of government offered opportunities one way they found themselves with serious competition on their hands.

A few made their way in business and managed to survive although not at the same level.  Additionally, and this may be no bad thing for them, they no longer command the highest reaches of celebrity interest or the gossip columns.  Money does that and they no longer have the money.

What might make a fun comedy series in the right hands with writers with both a wry humour and a sense of history might be if the white van driver found himself a major multi-millionaire on the Euromillions lottery.

Who then bought Downton Abbey to turn it into an extreme type of theme park.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Game Theory

We watched some of the Tour de France this year and were happy with the result.  It was an interesting race, lovely scenery and plenty of possibilities.  The Tour began as a commercial stunt a century ago, the French sporting newspaper, L’Equipe needing to boost summer sales and finding itself with a ready market.

Down the decades commercialism has always been integral to the event.  Not only for the cycle industry but other associated products and then any company wanting marketing and promotion opportunities.

Sales, marketing and the rest have never been far away and sometimes necessary to a variety of sports.  Cricket and football were soon featured as modern style adjuncts to shopping and consumer items.  Racing has a longer history.  Motor Sport has always been commercial.

The Olympic Games were devised to appeal to what was imagined to be a classical ideal of sport and competition to enable international contact and mutual respect in a sporting context.  Because of the 1890’s times the modern form emerged it was set up in terms of the type of nation state of the period.

The Berlin games of 1936 are claimed to be the first of the “modern” games, but in reality the Paris events of 1924 were not far short of this.  The Brit’s may have been trying to be amateur and international but this did not seem to the case with some of the others.  Rampant nationalism was already there.

From then on most, if not almost all of the games became essentially a propaganda and status matter.  The IOC then attempted to move it around but as time went on and more and more events were added the costs and organisational skills began to limit the number of places that could cope.

By the 1980’s it had become clear that expense was a major issue and with many large corporations wanting a slice of the publicity and coverage on a supra national basis then the games were going to become more commercial and the athletes more professional in consequence.

So the London Games of 2012 are just the latest manifestation of what has become a mix of political, corporate and propaganda interests merging to present a series of events, now not necessarily sporting but on a wider basis. 

Either you like or don’t like or don’t really care much what is going on.  But it is not a lot different, in fact much the same, as other “sports”.  Major soccer clubs present business and investment opportunities and valuable marketing assets etc.

In some ways we are back to the religious manias of the Middle Ages.  The UK torch relay is a case in point, almost an ancient pilgrimage around the shrines.  Look!  The sick rise up and walk!  Wonder at the saintly beings showering blessings as they process!  Marvel at the miracles of Macdonalds and the Confessions of Coca-Cola!

With the man who steered the early marketing of the Games now suggesting that it is all going too far and international events organisers wondering at the amateurism of the people controlling it all could Iconoclasm be far behind?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Some Don't Like It Hot

The weather forecasters have been happy hyping it up with the big smiles and telling us “isn’t it all going to be so wonderful?”  Apparently it is about to become very hot.

It might be OK if you could sit out somewhere shady taking it easy with cold drinks and with not much to do, or on holiday in a place you enjoy.

It is not much fun if you have to be rushing about, up against tight deadlines, in a building that does not do air conditioning and any of the rest.

It is even less fun if you have to use the deep London Underground and the services have become erratic or are stalled.  Or stuck in a train where the power system has failed and you are gently roasting in your own fat.

Or worse find yourself with nowhere to go in one of the usual traffic jams anywhere in the motorway system or on the busier roads.

Personally, I burn easily and after the needle hits near or above eighty just have to close down and stay out of the sun.  There are many others, notably amongst the elderly.

In urban surroundings if the heat means little or no wind then the air quality soon deteriorates.  My brain does not like it and my temper suffers.

If I was much younger, perhaps fed up, short of money and on top of this souped up with the wrong kind of liquids I might just go out and start a riot.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Travelling In Hope

Long ago when young and attending football matches of one sort or another and other events a wise uncle told me that it was not the going, it was the coming back that I should think about.  Quite how much time, effort and bother he has saved me, and later my family, is incalculable.

At events in the towns where I lived this did not need a great deal of thought or planning.  What did need this were events in other locations, especially those which had large attendances.  A little time taken to work out from maps, timetables and later potential parking places could make huge differences.

After one match at Twickenham, I was having a pub meal just north of Grantham when someone else I knew was still struggling to make progress within sight of the ground and another had just made it back to Waterloo on the local train service.  Things may have improved since then, but I doubt it.

We have had a great deal of comment on many aspects of the arrangements for The Games but I have yet to see much on what happens when you are coming away.  This is likely to have had a low priority. 

We shall see what might happen on Friday 27th July when a full house is expected with a large number of others who brought in or who have come from locations away from the Stadium, most of whom will be travelling either by public transport or by vehicle.

Quite why the Opening Ceremony is scheduled to begin at 9.00 in the evening and finish at midnight is not clear.  The programme has been brought back already from half past midnight but a 1971 Spanish peso says it will run over, possibly for longer than expected.

As a long time traveller by rail, underground and car around London the timings, routing and distances are almost engraved on the mind.  The absolute rule is that it always takes longer than you want and often expect. 

The rapid movement out of up to 90,000 people heading out of the exits for the stations that are open or their cars probably means some holdups and dislocations.

Should their be any shunts on the roads, delays arising from confused motorists or junctions that cannot carry the weight of traffic then this could be like the old Wembley at its worst.  That was always bad, very bad.

As for public transport, one complication is that the closest station, Hackney Wick has been closed for the Games.  This has infuriated local shopkeepers robbed of a great deal of their normal passing trade in the locality.  But it is probably sensible, neither the station nor the franchisee, I suspect, could shift the potential numbers.

There are a number of late services available generally, but they may not be enough and there is a real risk of those heading for say Victoria or Paddington could be in trouble even if there are minor delays.

For the sake of those who might be involved I hope difficulties do not arise and it will go reasonably smoothly.  But there is a risk that many could find themselves looking for the early morning trains instead of the late night ones.  Worse still, this might invalidate their tickets.

There are two further complications.  One is the recurrent signalling problems on many rail and Underground lines, these are not going away.  Also, Friday night is boozers’ night on public transport as I know with bitter experience of too many trains stuck whilst the police deal with an “incident”.

Our problem is which DVD we will be watching that evening.  Perhaps the original 1955 “The Ladykillers” or even the 1952 “The Titfield Thunderbolt” might be appropriate to the occasion.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Return Of Butch And Sundance

In the past this blog has referred to “Shanghai Lil’s” as a satirical take on the local branch of HSBC.  Like other banks they are not as they used to be decades ago when banking was taken seriously and deposits were twenty per cent of assets held.

It hinted that compared to the past there was a slightly raffish, almost personal way they tried to flog you their financial products.  The charming young ladies and jolly young men are very different from the rather older, often grumpy and distant male clerks of the past.

One of my acquaintances however has other opinions about HSBC.  Once it took him three weeks to move his money from one account of his own to another as hurdle after hurdle was put in his way.  The assistants sighed sadly when they told him that this was necessary to avoid money laundering and other frauds.

What made matters worse was that the savings account he had held for a long while was earning a derisory 0.5%.  In the Marks and Spencer shop along the street he picked up a leaflet offering 3.5% for a similar savings scheme.  The small print told him that the account was based on HSBC.  The word “fraud” leapt to his mind.

It was not as though he was one of the flirts or easily bored of their customers, moving from bank to bank on a whim of a marginal rate of interest.  He had banked with HSBC and its predecessor Midland for over fifty years.  When a man like this looks askance at the service he gets it tells you a lot.

The trouble is looking for another.  Barclays?  Oh dear.  RBS? Oh dear oh dear.  LloydsHBOS?  Oh dear oh dear oh dear.  And so it goes on.  If he had a bit of money then perhaps Coutts, the posh end of RBS?  Not so fast on the trigger, Butch, this is a frame up.  Coutts is now effectively based in the Caymans catering for a certain class of people.

Amongst them may well be the famous financier once at the centre of Labour’s financial policy, Fred Goodwin.  A vintage ten bob note, now out of circulation, suggests that a certain very high placed Scottish person who is acutely sensitive about issues relating to his personal finances is another.

There are more distinguished persons associated with Coutts, quite a few celebrities and others with a longer connection.  Does one really want to have people like this standing in the same queue at the branch in The Strand?  HSBC have a presence in The Caymans, hence the picture of the Cayman Crocodile above.

HSBC, as we know, have fallen foul of American investigators.  They are the sort of person who likes to go into detail, wants to hear the explanations and wants another notch on the butt of successful prosecutions.  The particular question is large scale money laundering, notably from Mexico where the trade is associated with large scale homicide.

So what has been going on in London, accused of being the money laundering centre of the world, clearing house for a network of tax havens moving bad money from account to account at the speed of light, if not Higgs Boson?  We shall never know.  Too many are too close both to the government as well as the opposition.

Long ago, I was in the gallery at the Bow Street Stipendiary Magistrates Court where several of my acquaintances were due in the dock to be asked why they had trashed a number of clip joints in Soho.  This had caused distress to their owners and senior police officers on their payrolls. 

They did not appear as one of the punters who had been debagged was a Cabinet Minister and the charges were hastily dropped.  But one poor hapless soul, called up from the cells had been seen by a police officer to take tuppence (two old pennies) from a telephone box.  He was handed down a month in prison.

Perhaps he should have gone into banking instead.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Annie The Agony Aunt Answers

Dear Annie,

Usually, at the end of July a close neighbour holds a big family party and likes to send lots of balloons high into the sky.  As we are in the No Fly Olympic Zone will this mean we will have missiles and drones aimed in our direction?

Yours ever,

DC, Notting Hill.


Probably, yes, whilst these are normally very accurate and should only destroy your neighbours there could be collateral blast damage for at least one kilometre around.  If there are a lot of separate balloons, however, this could trigger missile or drone strikes in series which will wipe out about twenty five square kilometres.  Your home insurance will not cover this because it is an “Act of God”.

Dear Annie,

We live in a leafy close with a lot of green spaces.  A few days ago a number of families with caravans and horses arrived claiming to be the Ruritanian Wallet Lifting Team who will be competing against others at the Olympic Stadium. 

A neighbour who complained to them about the midden they had created in his front garden was stoned to death along with his family.  The police say as his complaint was discriminatory there was nothing they could do.  What can we do?

EM, Hampstead.


My legal adviser tells me to say nothing but to refer you to Make Your Community Happy Ones report from the Department of the Environment.  The police action was fully justified in terms of the recent 373,000 page law on interaction between persons during Olympics year 2012. 

I am informed that the complainant’s mortgage has been foreclosed and there should be no further problem.  You are not covered for your home or life insurance.

Dear Annie,

In my retirement development along with others nearby we have all been told that we are to have a cruise of a lifetime with full facilities whilst our flats are used by persons engaged in Olympics security.  These are all dressed in American First Nation clothing which looks like the Mescalero Apache warrior type. 

However, some have been seen in service uniform with a double A insignia and shouting “Remember Ste. Mere Eglise” and “Arnhem Here We Come”.  In the pub one whose was a bit over the top claimed to be going to invade Belgium to take over Brussels to win the election for Obama.  The cruise ship looks to be very like the large aircraft carrier, USS “Benedict Arnold”.  Can you help?

KC, Kensington.


This is the opportunity of a lifetime.  As it is a “mystery” cruise you could find yourselves enjoying a visit to Tehran or Islamabad or Cape Fear for the shark feeding and mating season.  You will not need travel insurance because it is an “all in” package but there is no guarantee of a return journey.  Your life insurance or funeral insurance will be deemed void.

Dear Annie.

I find myself increasing at a loose end in my job and being given tasks that cannot be done because of interference.  Nobody seems to want to listen to me.  The latest thing I have been asked to do is reform the railways, or in short “go and play with the trains” during The Olympics.  Should I think of changing my job and seeking employment with a competing firm?

NC. Brixton.


You should be so lucky.  According to my sources your existing job may not exist for much longer so you would do well to be out of it.  It is possible you are too trusting.  Your personal liability insurance will not cover any decision you make.


Annie will be taking extended leave to compete in the equestrian hacking trials during the time that the Olympics are in progress.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Where Are My Legions?

It is said that the Labour Party think that it has lost five million voters since 1997 and wonders where they have gone.  The general idea seems to be to reclaim them for the party and have them back in the voting booths.  Or at least doing multiple postal votes where they can get away with it.

This could be difficult in that, amongst other things, it involves a mass resurrection, perhaps on the lines of Stanley Spencer’s famous painting.  Because many of those born before 1950 have now shuffled off the mortal coil either to be up there voting for the Celebrity Saint of the Year or down there voting for Footballer of the Year,

They have been replaced by others born after, say, 1980.  These would have been infants in the 1980’s and whilst some might have been brought up to believe that Margaret Thatcher was wrong and others that she was right, I suspect that the great majority would have been fed an intellectual diet of pop and media claptrap.

Also, they would have been reared in a world where debt and consumption was good.  When politics and public events did impinge on their passing consciousness from the mid 1990’s onward they would have been aware of continuing sleaze, deceit, confusion and a world where morals came a long way behind making the money.

On the other hand their pre 1950 elders are more likely to have regarded debt as bad, savings as necessary and straight dealing required of public and financial services.  They grew up in a different world of food supply and costs, before antibiotics and where the patterns of family and local loyalties were quite different.

In the past it may have been conventional for many to attach themselves to a political party as part of the pattern of loyalties expected of them but over the decades this has gone along with other past loyalties.  Also the right to vote is now taken for granted whereas before it had been won only recently by many.

As in the UK we are now well removed from Empire, traditional industry and work habits have radically changed and we are bombarded with marketing that tells us that brands and particular celebrities are the crucial things.  Politics for many of the youngest seems almost a tawdry side show outside the big tent of the circus of our lives.

Voting may now be seen in terms of just another consumer option and not the most important one.  After all if Westminster is no longer the centre of our economic and political world, never mind the “real” world of our media and communications, then why bother too much, if at all?

But the world is changing and in ways that few understand.  What an electorate is faced with now is groups of people who not only do not really govern but do not know how to.  So if more do not vote, do not attach themselves to major parties and take little interest in what actually goes on, then what happens to democracy.

Ancient Rome rid itself of the Kings to become a republic.  When that dissolved into chaos they found themselves with an Emperor, Augustus.  He soon found the limits to Imperial Power when Publius Quinctilius Varus marched into Germany who lost the 17th, 18th and 19th Legions in the Teutoberg.

For the remainder of his days many times he would cry out “Where are my legions?”  Our political parties may find themselves in the same situation.  Suddenly, we may have an electorate that is neither interested in politics nor indeed voting.

Then what?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Stan And Ollympics

Following the extensive reports in the press recently on security issues for the London Olympics (copyright or a visit to Execution Dock) and other matters all I can say is that you saw it here first on Tuesday 12 May 2009.

The document had been written at the end of 2008 but did not raise any interest so shortly after I began blogging it was made use of.

Could someone kindly explain to me how come a single grumpy ancient, who had been around the block a time or two, could see it when all those highly paid people did not?

At least you could laugh at Laurel and Hardy, now one can only weep.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Age Shall Not Weary

According to The Times, I am now a “financial time bomb” and unless defused will cause the economy to flatline.  Whether this means that it should become policy to cause persons of my age profile to flatline before that happens is not certain.

In the last week or so there has been more attention paid to matters arising from dealing with the elderly who need support.  Inevitably, much of this has centred on human interest stories. 

Less mention has been made of the Equality and Human Rights Commission recent report called “Close To Home, An Enquiry Into Older People And Human Rights In Home Care”. 

The report attempts to bring together the Commission’s view for its future policy and guidance about Equality, Disability, Diversity, Care management and Human Rights for the elderly in need and who are disabled. 

Yes it is very expensive with many and various implications that entail costs, duties and obligations.  The question of who pays and how is left to others to worry about. 

Necessarily battle has been joined over whether the aged with assets should be given free or limited cost care allowing their wealth to be passed on to family or others or whether those assets should be used to fund the care requirements.

One of the oddities that goes unremarked is that amongst the aged are many whose periods in education were much shorter and who worked for much longer than those of later generations are likely to.  But to discuss this would simply confuse the key issues.

Historically, we have never been here before, which makes a change for this blog.  In the past with the expectation of life being much lower and few people being able to appreciate assets in the way we have done the numbers of aged needing care were far smaller and the few who did have assets were expected to use them.

From my extensive scratching around Census Returns of the past looking for this and that the common practise was for the aged to be with their families, normally used on light household duties.  Some of the poorest did finish up in the Workhouse. 

Some continued in work, one of mine seemed to be still employed into his nineties, perhaps urged on by his much younger third wife.  Well it was Leith which might explain it.  There were a few with assets often listed as “annuitants” which meant that the wealth lasted only as long as they did.

But the better off then could hire servants and the less they could do then the more servants and nurses they employed.  If they were renting, as was common at the time then the notion of property as assets was tempered.  Also the property market in those days was radically different.

At present in the district where I live there is a stark contrast.  There are hardly any aged who are Brit’s living with their families.  But amongst recent migrants there has been a striking increase in the number of families who have brought in their aged parents to be amongst their UK kin.

Which raises an awkward and interesting question.  If all care for the aged is to be borne by the taxpayer then many migrant communities will be paying for old Brit’s to be supported by their taxes whilst they themselves take care of their own.  Did anybody see that one coming?

Another difficult question is who are the carers?  At present the care for most either in residential facilities or their own homes appears to be done by part timers or agency workers earning very modest incomes, having had limited training and given very tight schedules.

Moreover, they are becoming in short supply relative to need.  So not only may the money not be there to fund all this, there isn’t the man (or rather woman) power there to do the job effectively.  The resources locked up in all this are alleged to be so much as to damage the working economy.

As in so many things, there are no “right answers” to any of it.  All we have is a number of options all with “downsides” that are both problematical and in some cases impossible to resolve to the satisfaction of all parties.

This one is going to get rough because the pre-conditions are in place for a social, economic and political disaster.  See you in the Job Centre.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What Do You Think About This?

Having had the serious part of yesterday seeing what happened in The Tour de France time trial it was time to wind down.  A Jessye Norman reference in the TV guide looked like an interesting musical item. 

Wrong again it turned out to be Jesse Norman, male, at the Hay Festival talking to Daniel Kahneman (see Wikipedia).  He is a Nobel Prize winner for his work in applying behavioural psychology to economics. 

He did a spell as a conscript in the Israeli army which would have been useful to him in his later work.  In an army there is a reason for everything which determines how you are expected to behave.  This is always irrational.

His work is extensive and complicated and arising from a basis in another discipline suggests that many essential assumptions in economics and amongst economists are untenable in practice and unworkable as any basis for policies. 

When I was told fifty odd years ago that econometrics, mathematics based economics was the certain future, I had doubts.  It is a pity that too few others did.
After that relaxing hour a programme on another channel caught the eye.  It was on the PBS channel from America, one of a series covering the financial meltdown of 2008.  It concentrated on the collapse of Bear Stearns, the failure of Lehmann and the bail out of AIG. 

It was entertaining to see so many of the best and brightest in Wall Street and Washington DC getting it so badly wrong.  They gave London a good run for the money in the quest for turning shambles into disasters.  Underlying the coverage was the constant question, why did they do this?

Whilst Kahneman’s work would not give the precise answers his thinking about how individuals make economic decisions, the imperatives which drive people and the force of group think offered many insights.

Now it is becoming increasing clear that the idea that the figures have been constantly fiddled big time and people led to or dragooned into believing them is not just the cynicism of the few but the reality of what has been happening.

So not only did all the governments and related authorities know little in terms of having the technical expertise of working experience in the areas of finance that went wrong, but most of the data on which they claimed to be making rational decisions was hopelessly flawed or faked.

In any case their brains were not set up for rational thinking in the first place.

Monday, 9 July 2012

London's Sticking Point

On Saturday, there was another trip up to London, but it will be three months with nothing in the book for any more.  Whether there is a sense of relief at not having to make the journey or that something is being lost is not clear.  But it does mean avoiding any of the implications of the events in the coming weeks.

In the media generally there has been a kind of Cavalier versus Roundhead debate about London and The City.  Some mourn the progressive loss of the distinctive London skyline and visual character. 

Meanwhile Boris Johnson and others proclaim the Shard building as the marking the rise of the new Imperial London, albeit one largely owned by foreigners of foreigners and for foreigners. 

The Cavaliers claim that the “new” London is far better than the old ones and confers prosperity on all who live there and for that matter the whole of the Atlantic Isles.  So making London bigger has to be good and therefore huge public monies should be directed into huge projects that will confer added rents to all who benefit.

Whether they entirely agree with that in Dublin at present, or in Wales where the weather is inflicting damage on tourism, or in Edinburgh when all they have to offer against all the major infrastructure projects in London is a tramline that is going nowhere in particular at vast cost.

There was a proud statement that of the expected 12,000 plus persons that would be employed at The Shard a whole 150 plus jobs would be reserved for the locals of Bermondsey, largely in cleaning and maintenance work.

One major reason for the surge of money coming into London is “capital flight” whereby wealthy persons living in other jurisdictions in financial trouble try to move their money to somewhere, anywhere, where the value might be retained during the upheavals.

What the Roundheads argue is that large scale inflows of money can be disruptive and damaging in very many ways.  If the receiving country has a finite amount of land or assets they will inflate in value.  If it does not produce the consumables that the extra money requires then the balances of trade will be affected.

Then when or if the dust settles this money moves on, action breeds reaction; thesis, antithesis and synthesis and all that; or just straightforward chaos.  These days it can go out as fast as it came in, notably if there are plenty of rival financial centres to choose from.

Also, the Roundheads point to the impact on the businesses and other key services that are useful, profitable to both the UK and world trade.  This is where there is real and valuable work done in the City, substantially disregarded by the financial game players and their political fan clubs. 

All I know at the moment is that my “investment” in London is sharply down on the past and will not revive.  It is the same for many other people.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Confidence Trick Or Treats

The BBC ran a three part series, “The Strange Case Of The Law”, on how the Law of England developed since the age of the Anglo Saxons and how so many of its features were exported to the wider world.  Harry Potter was the presenter, this one being a barrister engaged in Criminal Law.

It is a long and complicated history but the series did manage to distil the essence of it.  On the whole it used to be regarded as a “good thing” which made trials fairer, the law better and its management understood by both the experts involved and in general by the great majority of the population.

But in the final few minutes of the series came the bad news.  One of the most senior and able judges more or less said that with recent legislation our noble and learned judiciary have difficulty in understanding it and even more trouble trying to apply it to the cases that come before the courts.

There are three key problems.  One now is the sheer length and extent of new Acts of Parliament.  Another is the complexity of the many sections, schedules and clauses etc. 

The third is that the structure and language use do not clearly set out what the law is.  They are often descriptive and allusive and assume that philosophical ideas can somehow become enforceable and explainable law.

So if our Parliament no longer enacts workable laws, which it is paid to do and that it why it is there, why is that happening and what are the effects?  Major reasons why it is happening is that an out of control Civil Service is churning the stuff out wholesale rather than retail. 

Another is the tidal wave of regulation and directives from Brussels, very long on words and very short on clarity.

In a way I was glad to see an eminent judge admitting that when faced an Act consisting of hundreds of pages, thousands of parts and an untold number of words he is often defeated by the struggle.  If he cannot cope then nor can I nor almost all of the population that is educated or managing things or both.

In other words the legislative diarrhoea that we have had now for most of the last two decades may well have begun to destroy the real basis of the legal system and worse any confidence that the electorate may have in it or its practitioners.  As well as that those that run things then those who are the doers are all at a loss.

Without confidence in the law itself, little in the government, less in Parliament and almost zero in all the other agencies engaged in governing then the loss will become all pervasive.  When we then also lose confidence in our financial system and our public utilities then we lose any vision of community or nationality.

It is then that the unscrupulous power brokers and political and financial confidence tricksters take over.  If they take over our media as well then it is certainly goodbye to any coherent and effective body of law.

If history is any guide it tells us that our political systems cannot last and it is goodbye to any real form of democracy as well.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Land Of The Fee

Today is the 4th July, Independence Day for the USA, possibly one of the last few it will have left that has any meaning for most of its population.

There is an election campaign going on that will hand a four year term to whoever wins it in November, take over day in January.

There are now two leading candidates who are likely to contest it.  One is President Obama for the Democrats and the other Mitt Romney for the Republicans.

Some argue that as President Obama was not born in the USA this should disqualify him.  But does the actual location of birth matter that much if he lived his life there and enough voters want to have him continue as President?

In the case of Mitt Romney, however, former Governor of Massachusetts there is a more interesting question.  It asks where is the money?  Is he paying anything like the tax he might be?  Has he extracted rather more than he has put in?

In Vanity Fair there is a major article going into all this and taking a long hard look at what can be found.  It is a substantial article that takes careful reading and a little time.  It might give the Washington DC Internal Revenue Service, pictured above, something to think about

This is the way the world goes and where the power might go.  So does the USA want more of this or less?  Much the same kind of thing happens across the world and in most states many leading figures will be engaged in similar financial operations.

If only Nicholas Shaxson and others could tell us more about just what our own UK politicians have been doing with their money and how.  We would learn a lot about the UK and much more about the way we seem to be going.

With the UK tax agencies being run as a back office of the major accountancy firms this does not seem likely.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Learning Curves

Over at Tax Research and Richard Murphy he comments on the appointment of Ian Barlow, a KPMG man, to head the HMRC, our office for the income tax, revenues and the rest.  He points to some interesting features of KPMG during Ian’s time there and wonders what kind of fit this is in being the UK tax boss.

KPMG are located in any tax haven worthy of the name and are one for the leaders in the field of arranging tax avoidance packages and other funny money deals.  But he may be a poacher turned gamekeeper or a latter day Paul of Tarsus falling off his horse whilst riding round Chipping Norton.

If this one happens, then you would certainly have heard it here first.  Is Bob Diamond, formerly of Barclays, now a shoe-in to be the next Governor of the Bank of England in succession to Sir Mervyn King?  Expect the announcement on the day of the 100 metre finals at the Olympics.

The Bank of England could certainly do with repositioning as we call it in the public bar.  Making it a major profit centre for The Treasury with a brief to keep the UK at the forefront of trading invented stock and adjusting interest rates to suit would do wonders for the economy, one way or another.

It may be time for some imaginative initiatives for the City of London because there are those who think the future may not look too bright.  If you have two minutes and twenty three seconds try this link from Jack Crooks in Money and Markets:

The question then is what to do with Sir Merv’?  Obviously put him in charge of something big, hopelessly disjointed, failing, pushing families into debt and spending vast amounts of the taxpayers money.  Yes, make him Tsar of Education! 

Well, maybe not a Tsar in view of what happened, perhaps Viceroy might be a nice title to pluck from the past.  One area badly in need of vigorous reform is that of the teaching of mathematics.

In line with modernist educational practise, we could encourage our youngsters to go in for Creative Mathematics and hope we might nurture a generation of creative accountants that would help to maintain the City of London and the UK at the centre of the global financial system.

Taking the picture from Zero Hedge, the government could call it the Mary Poppins Policy.