Monday, 31 March 2014

Love Thy Neighbour

The picture above is of neighbours who lived next door to each other for a few years.  At the time one was a well known, highly respected person with a national and international reputation.  His work was admired and in demand by people of all classes and for many gave joy and hope to their lives.

The other is Karl Marx and his wife, Jenny, a lady who was well thought of by those close to her.  He was less well thought of, especially by tradesmen.   Karl had a following among a number of extremists in certain small political factions and the more obscure areas of political philosophy.

One of the great "what if's" of history is what might have happened if Karl had realised that in the new world of the railways and steamships, together with the telegraph and the enabling by education of the lower orders to read with cheap newsprint.

Had he gone around his street and the Hampstead district knocking on doors he might have raised enough capital to start a new daily paper aimed at the masses.  There would be interesting stories about famed music hall artistes and careless royals and aristocrats. 

The crime pages would be full of horrors.  Above all there would be sports; not just racing and field sports but the new ones being introduced for the people to enjoy with spicy stories about the leading names. 

Politics would have been given the edge of sensation and scandal, and if the famed Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 2nd Baronet of Brayton, had been recruited as a leading columnist he could have regaled them with the inside stories of dodgy political deals and policies, notably in wasteful imperialist ventures.

Had Karl had made his fortune he would have had politicians at his beck and call.  By splashing out on popular causes, the right charities and such like Karl could have become a Press Baron and influential man of affairs in the House of Lords.

He would soon have found his way around.  Because on the other side from the neighbour pictured above was Henry Goddard a doorman, probably quite senior, at the House of Lords, still working at 80 in 1881, and a beacon of example to our work force of the present.

The status of the neighbour who is pictured above is illustrated by an event at the end of March in 1871 when there was a state occasion to mark the official opening of the not quite ready yet Royal Albert Hall and one of the press reports is quite revealing. 

It begins with high praise of the huge organ he was involved in building and only further down deals with the eight carriages packed with British and European royalty.

Of the concert itself there is no mention of other performers nor does it say what was performed.  Other text  refers to the cost of the building, the price of the boxes etc. but fails to mention it was put up by the Royal Engineers. 

The pictures of the interior from the time create the impression that the Hall is a vast space centred on the magnificent organ and indeed this does dominate the auditorium. The man above was one of the brothers whose company built and installed the organ. 

He is Edwin Willis, younger brother of Henry Willis, the famed builders of the biggest and best organs in the business.  At the time when there was the great flowering of British music in the second half of the 19th Century and into the early part of the 20th, the Willis brothers organ building firm were leading the way.  The firm are still in business and their web site gives some of the company history.

We  have forgotten or these days prefer to omit the central part played in our culture and society by the chapels, churches, cathedrals, music societies and clubs both as a force for community and for social and intellectual progress.

In the 21st Century we have surrendered to a foreign entertainment industry, a predatory media run by and for oligarchs and a pack of jobbing hired hand politicians willing to sell out our society and culture for short term personal gain.  It is the ideas of Marx and his kind who give them the excuses.

We would have been better off keeping to the world and work of the Willis family and their ilk.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Don't Forget The Cough Drops

One of the phrases that crop up in documentaries and history programmes is "changed the course of history".  When this is said which is very often we greet it with a cheer.  No such programme should be without it.

In the Mail today was an article about The Black Death and how it was spread.  Experts now think that it was not just a matter of rats and fleas but from human to human as a result of lack of hygiene and airborne as well.

In the 19th Century when scientists were searching for the causes of diseases and especially epidemics with high fatality rates there was a fierce debate about how the bugs spread and what kind of bugs they were.

It became fashionable among some to deride the idea of airborne transmission for many complaints and the Victorian desire to prevent outside air to enter in many homes. 

It took a long time and major technological and scientific developments to refine and identity the many ways that the bugs could get you.

Those of a certain age will recall the frantic propaganda Ministry of Information films threatening the nation with doom and disaster unless we followed the Health advice and behaved in the way we should.

There was a point to it all and not just economic.  Before the new discoveries of drugs, notably antibiotics etc. a good many people died too soon and others were damaged for life.

In the meantime we have staved off, probably only temporarily, some of the potential bugs that have the potential to drastically reduce population levels.

But how long for?

Friday, 28 March 2014

I Told You So

If you can have a referendum then so can we is what some people in the Shetlands, the Orkneys and the Western Isles are saying
to the Scots and others in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

You were given the game play in this blog on Tuesday 20 March 2012 under the heading "Torf Einaar Rules OK".

The link is here to make it easy and there is little to add.

What might be the SNP answer?  "No man is an island"?

Next up the Isle of Thanet?  The Isle of Wight? Lundy?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Lib Dem's Dance The Goosestep

If in the days of old I went into a pub' and saw Nigel Farage of UKIP in the Smoke Room, I would head for either the Public Bar or the Lounge if the lady was with me. 

On the other hand if Nick (Nack) Clegg, our Deputy PM and Lib Dem Leader, was in the pub' I would be off to another one.

This prejudice, alas, kept me from listening to or watching their political debate, a form of low entertainment I prefer to avoid in any case. 

If some kind of personal contest is required to satisfy the media people and entertain voters, for my money a game of Knur and Spell (or trap ball) on some blasted heath would be much better.

From a superficial look at the morning press the word seems to be that the metropolitan experts and political pundits thought Clegg was right on with the garbage but the plebs, lacking their peculiar insights, felt that Farage's almost amateur approach was preferred.

In order to reclaim ground the metro' elements and Europhiles are shrieking now about Farage's apparent sympathy with President Putin and Russia in The Ukraine Question.  Perhaps they should pause for thought and consider with whom they are aligning.

Wikipedia has a long and sobering item about matters in World War Two dealing with the 14th Waffen SS Division.  In Brussels Herman van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton are siding with this part of history and tradition.  They have provoked a crisis with Russia.

If the Lib Dem's are fervent and determined in their support for Europe and all its works then Farage would seem to on the side of the angels, sinner and smoker that he is.

It is a strange world we are in.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

How Clever Were We In The Past?

This blog at times lurches into or draws from history.  This comes in many forms and the joy of the web is the amount of digital information becoming available.

This allows us to go to the real history and comment of periods of the past and to judge for ourselves what may be what and measure the realities of then matched against what is thought or what we are told by intervening writers.

Today a choice example dropped into the mail inbox from family with a link to an article in a current publication.  The link is about the 1869 period proposed subway below The Thames but within it is another link marked "here" to an 1869 original article in The Engineer.

Going back to the original 1869 image will involve time but if you have it is quite rewarding in a number of ways.  What is fascinating is the range of subject matter in what you would think to be a technical journal of a defined range of academic field. 

There is a basic assumption that engineers will have necessary and vital interests in a good many other matters of study at the time across a wide range of academic fields.  The Royal Albert Hall, above, was being built in 1869 and stands among a number of varied academic establishments from that time.

What is striking about the language is the ability of all the writers to convey information and discussion, matched with clarity, freedom from jargon or confusion and the confidence in the prose.

It is said that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.  In the mid Victorian age, were there more giants around than in the present day?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Tickets To Ride

As a retired drill corporal, sometime scrum half on many rugger pitches, spectator at many soccer and rugby grounds and noisy veteran of drinking holes in many places, the Arts may not seem to fit my marketing segment or target consumer sector.

But being born at a time before these forms of social division were invented, TV watching was something done in the dark by people with a lot of money to spare and you just went along to whatever performance was going on without bothering much so a liking for what is defined as arty and elitist just happened.

The elite thing is a nonsense.  The real elite are the performers and that is why the audience is there.  Having done a lot of arty stuff in recent decades the great majority of those in the seats and especially those standing are far from being from the political, landed or the economic elites.

Sometimes people clearly elite are present.  Once I was in the Royal Box at the old Wembley for a football match along with Princess Anne who clearly would have preferred the players to have been mounted. 

At other times and watching the football on TV now it seems almost compulsory for our political and media elite to join the wealthy owners in the prime seats.
Doing the head count at various venues and looking at who is where watching what my experience is that there are many more of our real elites at sports events than the occasional stray ones at Arts productions.

What this means is that the monies given to the Arts in the past may well have allowed persons in the middling orders mostly and others in the lower to access more arts than might have been the case. 

Critically, it may have allowed some forms to exist that might not have done and to be available in some areas that might not have had much at all, if any.

Opinions will vary on this and there are issues of taste.  But the pressure of modern government finances and the neo-liberal on one hand, with the ultra Left and certain religious groups on the other will want to reduce drastically or even eliminate a great deal of the musical world that we have at present.

Where Turkey goes will Europe and especially the UK follow?  Jessica Duchen draws attention to what is going on there now with the State dumping out of the Arts and leaving it to the markets or to charity.

Strangely, the BBC now tells us that after decades of running down its arts coverage and even then skewing it towards its political agenda, it now intends to do more and to go back to a time when it regarded itself as in the forefront.

Certainly in recent years a good deal of what it did do was often hapless and disorganised.  Its coverage of its own Proms on TV has been limited, quirky and difficult to follow despite it being one of the world's major musical festivals. 

Recently, Sky, first with Artsworld and now Sky Arts has moved way ahead.  In the last few months they have put on more from Covent Garden than the BBC has done in years and that as just a part of other coverage.

What everyone ought to watch out for is all the major parties looking to move government out of the Arts and leave it to the markets or sponsored activities.  

Could we be on the brink of the collapse of the Western Arts in the UK?

A dance to the music of time.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Day Of The Jackal

It was in the late 70's and we were taking a long straight D Road up to the ports in northern France with a large trailer bouncing around behind full of kit.  Suddenly a couple of motor cycle police appeared and ordered us to pull over. 

Wondering what gestures exactly the young ones had been making as we passed through the previous town I felt it best to get out and start apologising first.  They were quite apologetic in return, having noticed my old divisional symbol on the rear, and asked me to wait.

Then I realised why when a cavalcade of other police motor cyclists, black Citroen DS cars and sleek vans came past.  It was President Giscard D'Estaing on his way north.  As they moved off the police beckoned me to follow.

So not far behind we belted along roads that had been cleared.  I realised that my heap and swinging trailer made a good road block to prevent anything else passing. Eventually we swung off at our turn getting a cheery wave from one of the police.

Watching the film "The Day Of The Jackal" last night brought back many memories of time and places.  The border point at Ventimiglia was as bad on film as in real life.  How was it that when we were supposed to be so much poorer so many people looked a lot smarter and healthier?

The film is now not just an example of how good film making could be especially when free of the compulsory clatter, banging, crashing, in your face, blindingly obvious and posturing of so many productions both on film and on stage. 

In some ways it is a piece of history.  It was a story and it was fiction but the film has the feel of some reality and ordinary life of the time and deals with it straight and without exaggeration.  It really was a different world and inhabited by different people in shape of basic behaviour, reactions and what they did and why.

The parts that did jerk the memory was the banging away on typewriters and communications.  It looks almost primitive and closer to the Middle Ages compared to what is available now.

Of course, if our leaders get their energy and some other policies wrong in the next decade, then the film may be more like an advanced civilisation that has peaked.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lamborghini's For Sale, Going Expensive

When the major political parties appear to agree about something it is the time for the ordinary citizen to start worrying. 

As the worlds of pensioners and pensions move into uncharted and uncertain territory it could be that few know where they are now and fewer know in which direction they are going.

The complexity is beyond most people especially those in the media and related trades.  Because of the mind world they work in explaining something long term and complicated has to be reduced to the now and simple explanations, whether they bear much relationship to reality or not.

For some time now, the figures on pensions in almost all the sectors have not added up and have been worsening.  Politically, real discussion was avoided as well as admitting the steady deterioration in future prospects. 

Those who do understand often chase get rich quick wheezes such as property, the latest speculative fashions and for a very lucky few high paid jobs with fat pay offs and pension pots in either major financial enterprises or public sector bodies.   

Decisions and adjustments that might have been made were not so what has been going on recently has been an admission that some changes are made, however cosmetic or ill thought out whose effects will be felt in later decades.

The Lamborghini cars joke, give pensioners control of their pension pots and savings so they can spend them as they will, is illustrative of some misconceptions. 

Checking the prices of their models reveals that they are more expensive than the savings or funds in the pensions funds of many people, the annual insurance is greater than many actual pensions and the petrol costs more than match the household fuel bills.

The reality is that for very many, what they might have is a continuing gradual attrition of the funds for ordinary reasons, often matters beyond their control.  The disabling conditions that can come with age and add to livings costs is one.

At the same time there is a squeeze beginning in many ranges of income generally which may curtail savings for those people for the future.  In any case changes in the social structure etc. may well lead to much less saving and then smaller pension pots.

It is possible that this squeezing may worsen at the same time as the retired population increases significantly.  At the same time as we are fiddling with the pensions we are told that there are more centenarians than ever and the numbers of those in great age will rise and rise.

At one time there were not many men who made it much beyond the age of 65 and that at a time when the old were a much smaller part of the population.  One way the change is already having an effect is because the "cuts" in some areas match the deficits in pension schemes.

The figure still do not add up and if either the economy or the financing runs into greater problems then the whole situation will be worsened by the needs of the unfunded pension schemes, very many in the public sector.

The figures might begin to fit if the pension age was raised to 85 for state pensions and public sector pension schemes.

Friday, 21 March 2014

New Economics For Beginners

There is so much going on and at such speed it is difficult to know where to begin or end.  My thesis that the old economics is as dust and gone with the computer age now seems to have the agreement of the Bank of England.

The Automatic Earth points to the documents on money creation in the economy issued by the Bank recently which supports my complaints that Interest may have gone but is not forgotten.  It is a longish piece but tells us we are living in a new economic world.

Whether this will be any good to us will depend on where we are and where we are going.  Live Science has a little diagram which points out the options and is featured below. 

Take your pick.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ukraine? You Are Kidding?

There are anniversaries which are celebrated, just remembered and others either forgotten or avoided.  If President Vladimir Putin would care to give his famous sense of humour an airing in negotiations with Hague and Kerry he might remind them of one they would prefer to forget at present.

In August 2014 it is the anniversary, the bicentenary, of the famous victory of the Battle of Bladensburg when the American's made a disorderly retreat leaving Washington DC to the mercy of the Brit's.

This, one of the more foolish and not needed wars of history, began in 1812 over trade and seagoing matters during the British War against Napoleon. 

With Britain committed in the Peninsula some in America thought it a good time to take Canada by force, to reinstate the slave trade in the Caribbean and to assert their support and admiration for the dictatorship and tyranny of Napoleon and the French.

The British expedition to The Chesapeake was the result, a small strike force to punish and pull the Americans back from the border with Canada.  Other matters were less clear. 

One of these was what to do with escaped slaves.  The guidance from the Army's Headquarters, The Horseguards, to the commanders was not helpful.

After torching many of the public buildings, the British moved on to Baltimore where it became unstuck as fatigue, dysentery, lack of artillery and the failure of the Royal Navy to get up river led to embarkation for home. 

The Commander, Major General Robert Ross was killed and his deputy, Colonel Arthur Brooke was in charge of the withdrawal.  Both were Ulstermen who had otherwise distinguished service.  Brooke was of the same family as the later Field Marshall Alan Brooke of World War 2 fame.

Later in 1815, another British force landed by New Orleans in one of the most misguided invasions in British military history.  Trapped in a land of swamp and bogs were defeated by a more organised and equipped American force.

If President Putin does decide to comment on the comings and goings of this untidy and questionable episode in history he will at least remind Hague and Kerry that both the British and the Americans have plenty of form in invading, interfering and attempting to disrupt existing political entities.

One of the buildings burned in 1814 at Washington was the Library of Congress.  Thomas Jefferson was by this time down on his uppers.  One reason was his obsession with books and the immense and very expensive library he had built up.

So he managed to sell it to Congress as the basis for a restored Library of Congress and was able to continue living on his estate at Monticello.

Books do furnish a room. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Learning Difficulties

The news that large numbers of talented graduates are not able to find jobs either related to their studies or of graduate status comes as no surprise.  The figures for those pushed into higher education and the jobs that would be there never did add up.

The 1100 word piece below dates back to 2007 and is about the University of Speenhamland (put this word into search re 1795) and its prospectus.



The University was opened on 1 April 2007 in record time, due to The Ultimate Project brought about by the Blair-Brown Accord on Higher Education of January 2006 following consultation in depth with David Beckham, Charlotte Church, and Cherie’s very distant cousin who used to be a teacher before she took up Yoga. 

The first Vice Chancellor, appointed in February 2007, Lord Sven Goran Ericsson, fortunately, was immediately available to promote this new place of learning into the Premiership category of Universities.


Admission is on the basis of age alone, not less than 15, on the presentation of an ID Card, that may be obtained either from HM Department of Homeland Security (formerly the Department for Education and the Home Office), or the Byelorussia Documentation Services representative who operates out of the boot of his recently liberated Mercedes, and may be found at the back of your local strip and lap-dancing club (formerly the police station).

Students may enter the faculty of their choice and no academic or other qualifications will be required, except for DNA clearance for wanted persons, who will be referred to the Archer Recidivist College for pre-qualification preparation.  All subjects are available in all known languages and dialects, thanks to the All Purpose Multilingual Programme operated by Capita. 

As the work on this was outsourced to the Baghdad subsidiary of this company, students will need to be familiar with the Cuneiform script of the ancient Sumerian language to access the facility. For local security reasons this was encrypted.  The keying in system is available from the Bursar’s office for a fee of £10,000.  We regret the system does not accept credit cards. 

The only languages not available to students are Latin, Ancient Greek, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Scouse.  The first two because they are not considered to be academically valid, the next two because of persistent difficulties arising from parties of UK tourists from these language groups, and Scouse, because an existing facility exists in the Macartney-Lennon Love In University in Liverpool, in the former premises of HMP Walton and the adjacent West Derby Union Workhouse. 

The University has a new Fast Track programme to the Postgraduate Academy of Alternative Business now located at the local Social Security Benefits Agency, and scholarships for the MBA may be obtained for holders of a Chelsea FC Season Ticket and/or a BBC contract.

Graduates of the University Of Speenhamland may obtain a Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford, purely on application as Founders Kin, in that the European Court Of Justice has struck out the ending of this Human Right in 1854 as unlawful, and if anyone is not descended from the family of the founder, Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury, then it is not their fault.

Programme of Studies

The practice of most Universities of pre-selecting and imposing restrictive and limiting fields of study has been abandoned.  Whilst Faculties exist, with internal structures to allow for the full complement of academic politics, spite, and obstruction of learning, they are essentially means of creating employment to meet Government targets for staffing ratios and to provide salaries and inflation-proofed pensions for the relatives and friends of politicians.  Students will not be troubled by the staff nor obliged to have any learning or social contact, these elitist and out-dated practices have been discarded.

The student will inform the Academic Registrar of the web-sites that will occupy their time, will determine the full extent and level of study, conduct their own projects, theses, dissertations, and examinations, and advise the University Administration of the class and type of degree to be awarded at any time that might be convenient, other than weekends, the 49 weeks set aside for staff meetings and career promotion, and weekdays when political action is listed as the Priority Of The Day. 

Students will need to be aware that in relation to the Priority of Politics the first call on the academic staff is by Politicians needing help, advice, catheter changes, or directions to the toilets and/or communal massage parlours.


No fees are payable, or other costs, all materials will be provided free, as will food, lodging and accommodation.  But an element of Community Service will be required of students, and this is organised by the University sponsors and financial guarantors.  Information is available from your local MacDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Starbucks, and Sutcliffe’s Sewage and Refuse Services and other providers. 

The Government sees this as integral to the University Experience in Social Engagement and Interaction, and necessary to the future graduate work force.  It has been agreed with the European Union that this is free from the impositions of labour laws, because of its essential part in the process of learning. 

Consequently, Community Service has an upper limit of 168 hours a week, for details see the Web-site “Our Great Leaders Major Works of 2005” between Catastrophe in The Middle East and Death Rates Soar.

Careers Advice

This has been out-sourced to the Fat Chance Employment Agency.

Special Services

The Hospice and Chapel are located on Level 22, at the top of the Pro Chancellor Mandelson Tower, Third Age Studies on Level 21, the Disabled Aid Centre on Level 20, and the Prosthetics Office on Level 19.  Lifts are available to Level 3, Staff Rooms and Bars.

Jobs At The University

Due to restructuring, and the introduction of an early retirement programme of staff of all ages following the recent Court of Appeal decision in favour of the case brought by the Adolescent Professorial Action Group, to avoid age discrimination, recruitment is at present in abeyance.


These are not available, planning permission is still being sought for the location of road signs, the Public Inquiry is scheduled for 2017, and negotiations are still proceeding with the local rail provider with agreement being awaited from all the twenty seven regulatory agencies whose involvement is enshrined in statute.

The regional Bus provider is unable to publish timetables or gives advice on fares on the grounds of complaints of breach of privacy by existing passengers.  Urgent information may be obtained from Nellie the Bag Lady who is resident at one or other of the M4 Service Stations, terms being negotiable.

Information and Advice

The servers obtained at second hand from the Inland Revenue when functioning at present are able only to send out demands for payment.  As these are calculated on the basis that persons have never paid tax on any of their lifetime earnings the figures may cause alarm to those of a nervous disposition. 

For anyone in difficulty an address is available in Bermuda, and for a fee of £500 an abatement of all tax liabilities now and at any time in the future may be obtained


It is not going to get any better.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Addled Thinking And Adlestrop

The announcement by George Osborne, our Chancellor that Ebbsfleet in Kent has been chosen, yet again, to be a major urban area, this time a Garden City, has both the media and the blogosphere in a tizzy at the sheer daftness of the idea.

Scorn is being poured along with some astonishment.  The area is almost swamp land in some respects and one of the least lovely parts of the Kingdom.  It is also slap in the middle of one of the most congested areas of road networks in Europe.

But it does have an HST railway station, a stop on the Dover to St. Pancras International line.  Simon Jenkins in The Guardian has said that on his journeys he has yet to see people getting on or off. On the occasions we have used the line it does seem very quiet.

Rather than do a long piece, here is a poem below about a station, long ago, on the Great Western Railway between Oxford and Worcester, not far from Chipping Norton.  Another time and another world. 

Had George promised to return Westminster to primeval swamp it would have been a better idea.

And a lot more popular.


(Edward Thomas)

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly.  It was late June.

The steam hissed.  Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform.  What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willow, willow-herb, and grass.
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry.
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pipers, Pipe Dreams And Property

For reasons known only to the more malign deities of the heavens and hellholes the UK has allowed our property markets, note the plural, and landholding arrangements to become central to the economy and its governance.

It would take the equivalent of one of those huge Victorian or earlier three volume sagas to begin to explain all the many and various complications that face us, one way or another, in the basic business of where we live, why and what we do.

One theory about The Fall Of The Roman Empire is that they spent so much time arguing about land holding, the monetary implications and the religions entwined in this that they ignored the enemy at the gates and the defence of the realm.

There are now lobby groups determined to block any intrusions into the market or taxation by governments or politicians trying to deal with some of difficulties.  Especially, when the dreaded word "tax"  is mentioned or changes mooted.

Boris Johnson, our Mayor of London, especially where property is concerned and the connected finance and votes is taking the lead to attack any added taxes. 

One key reason he gives that as it has been 23 years since the last revaluation any changes in England and Scotland (Wales 2003), especially on properties with high value, as in London, will have more impact than in for example, East Ayrshire, where the values are much lower.

The present system of Council Tax is based on an eight bands which often work in mysterious ways.  1993 was the year it came in replacing the unpopular Community Charge, essentially local tax by head count (Poll Tax) of 1989.

Before then we had the Rating System that had lasted a long time subject to much meddling and tinkering.  This had become a shambles and in left wing Local Authorities had been a factor in the severe damage done to small firms and traders.

However, the 1991 valuation date for assessments of Council Tax cut off at the top at £320,001, which means for the top value expensive homes it did not become a Property Tax in the full sense of the term. 

Even when it was paid, because one of the banes of the Council Tax is the extent of evasion and especially by many in the high value properties.  How does Coketown Council deal with owners registered in secret accounts in the Cayman Islands?

Another difficulty is that because of the shifts and changes of balance of values here and there the fine tuning in the middle and lower bands of 1991 means that where many properties were wrongly valued at the outset the position has worsened.

Parallel to this we have the debates about other forms of taxation.  How much VAT and other taxes can the consumer market stand?  Just what levels should the Income Tax be levied at, especially as for some, notably those living in high value properties, it is avoidable?  

If we try to tax imports this impacts on notions of Free Trade, let alone retaliation against our exports. Inheritance Taxes are paid only by the unwary, the unlucky and the unwise.  Alcohol, tobacco and sugar taxes may appeal to the health buffs but will not begin to pay for all our demands.

For the whole of my adult life local taxation has always been unsatisfactory and damaging one way or another as have the compromises and shifts of trying to tax property.  

This has had its effects on other sectors of taxation.  As the weight of central government spending and the greater duties imposed on local councils increase there is no improvement in sight.

The fearsome thought is that it may not be possible and we are trapped in a mire without any exit.  What could happen is that eventually the markets begin to self correct.  If so it could turn very nasty.

Anyone for levels of negative equity equal to or greater than life times earnings, never mind the interest?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Written History Is What Is Written

The week has seen the going of two prominent figures of The Left.  One of the present, Bob Crow of the RMT trade union, and one from the past, Tony Benn, a former Minister and member of Labour Cabinets.

Quite how history will see them is for the future.  What paper trail and records Robert Crow will leave are likely to be scattered and may be difficult to find.  His history may well be only that to be found in the media and a few files which may not tell the whole story.

Benn, once a leading figure in the Labour Party kept and collected a major archive.  Also he scribbled frantically in his diary, books, articles in journals and well as conducting extensive correspondence. 

Few platforms of the hard Marxist Left were without a speech from him, often many speeches.  There is also a large film record.  The effort will ensure that written and other histories of the future of the politics of his time will make extensive use of them.

To put it one way, when those in the future attempt to travel to the past, Crow will be just a stop on the line, Benn will be a major travel hub.  The former was limited by his trade and calling, the latter was given all the scope he needed.

Crow was a proud Plebian, Benn was all too Patrician, a Red Prince who was at the beginning of the takeover of the Labour Party by the intellectuals and the disaffected of the upper classes.

What they did have in common was the element of mysticism and devotion to dogma that characterised the strong Marxist part of the Left.  Crow as a youngster was persuaded that the Soviet way was the future, Benn was one of those, claiming to be of a philosophic mind, who persuaded him.

My view of Benn in the past was that he was a "horse and cart" socialist, combining a sentimental view of past work with a pretense that the form could still be kept despite all the new ways that were replacing them.

The paternalism endemic in the intellectual Left has led to so much of the muddle and confusion of the present as well as the unwillingness to accept and tackle what is needed now and in the immediate future.

The hatred of what they saw as capitalism went along with the spending of massive state capital outlays in ways that would never allow earnings on that investment. 

At the end of it where there were revenues you would be lucky to cover them, let alone earn much on revenue costs.  Our rail systems are one of those, heavily subsidised and with little or no respite from the costs.

In 1851, Benn's forebear, John Williams Benn, was in Hyde by Stockport, born just a few months earlier.  His father, listed as a school master would move to the East End of London a little later to do good works in Education.

At the same time in Hammersmith there was a Robert Crow, just one month old, one of a number of Crow families in London.  This one would grow up to be a grocer.  Did our Robert Crow have grocer's in his family like that of Margaret Thatcher?

One of the other quirks of history is that the local public house where Marx first lived in England  and where he discussed his ideas with others was run by a man called George Osborne.

I wonder what Benn in his diaries has made of our present George Osborne?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Bigger, Better or Bust?

Evan Davis, in his two part BBC2 study, "Mind The Gap, London v The Rest", available on I Player, reminded us of how London has become the dominant economic region of the UK and is becoming ever more powerful.

London is described as a Mega City, that is an urban area that has grown and taken in a good many close communities as well as making demands on the rest of the nation. 
This is excused because of the claims that a Mega City gives back in many ways.  He did not mention that if the Mega City has tax evasion, avoidance and large scale corruption and crime within its structure, not so much is given back.

Looking at the Atlantic Isles, he suggested that what might balance the situation better might be to hark back to the 19th Century when large provincial centres provided counter weights.  Although they did not rival London.

The location he felt might work was a Mega City of the North of England made up of Manchester and Leeds with all the towns between included, albeit with a lot of the green in the middle remaining to offset the intensity of the urban spread. 

Already Salford, across the bridge from Manchester, has complained about the possible loss of identity.  His fancy for Hebden Bridge to be the epicentre of this major upheaval may not go down well, they are a very individual group of people there.

One option would be to allow Cambridge to carry on growing, but this might connect it to London which defeats the object.  Another is the area of Tyne and Wear, in effect a new Northumbria.  But what would the people do there apart from fighting each other?

For the very few who look hard at the small print of the Scottish Independence question and think about the implications the SNP's real intentions assume that population growth through open migration will mean a Mega City in central Scotland.

The basis of this would be the twin pillars of oil and financial services resting on a client population dependent on social benefits, centralised control and a planned economy.  The difficulty here it a real Mega City is said to need ten million or more of population.

Smaller ones do not really happen or work but can just be junior partners to another Mega City.  The SNP will need to more than double Scotland's population in a short period to achieve viability as a Mega City.  It could be done by offering refugee status to all and sundry but it would hardly be Scotland for the Scots.

In the meantime anything can happen.  Recent historical findings suggest that a long period of arid weather systems in Central Asia a thousand years ago suddenly changed to a sustained period of mild and wet. 

The result was vast areas of grassland and that means forage and huge herds of horses and that meant Genghis Khan who ravaged territories to the south and west. While modern experts debate what weather systems are next Earth may have its own ideas.

It may be academic.  According to some the Earth's resources are finite and we are about to find out the hard way.  Along with these who wonder about whether Mega Cities generate impossible economic challenges.

Others, notably Elizabeth Kolbert in her new book "The Sixth Extinction; An Unnatural History" wonder if man may make a cataclysm of his very own by exterminating many of the species on which the critical ecology depends by destruction of habitats.

Evan Davis, along with others, was peddling the line that the Mega Cities were good, desired and necessary to our economic futures.  The trouble is that the figures do not add up and most important it ignores the question of forage and food.

Especially if twitches in weather systems change the whole basis of supply of those two critical elements.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Telling Old Tales

It has been a day for dentist so it means a raid on the archive.  This one, allegedly a bed time story, below comes from near three decades ago when International Banking was one of those mysteries that few discussed and fewer liked.

"Tracey’s father, Clark Gable Trotter, was conceived on the back row of the local Odeon Cinema during one of the more boring parts of "Gone With The Wind". 

He became fed up with his job as an accounts clerk at the Tiddledon Brewery, so he decided to do something about it. 

As the wearing of sheepskin jackets, tight jeans, and flowered shirts did not do much he decided to follow the example of The Beatles. Well, it was the 1970’s.

Unluckily he could not afford to go to India, so he bought a cheap day return to London and visited a mystic who had set up shop in Norbury and had advertised on Page 3 of The Sun newspaper to attract attention.

The Maharajah Olivetti Bangup was graciously moved to receive him and he was ushered into the scented presence with cries of joy in a foreign tongue. 

They sounded to Mr. Trotter, a little like “Eh up, ‘ere’s another punter, this one's a five quid job.”, but he put this down to his ignorance of Eastern languages.

He poured out his heart and his quest for rediscovery to Olivetti (call me Olly), who thought for what seemed like an age to Trotter, probably because two heavily made up females, redundant ballet dancers, were wandering about thumping tambourines close to his ears. 

Olly put up a hand, and the women fell to the floor.  Trotter tried to do the same, but his back had locked again as he was trying to sit in a squatting position.  Olly did not seem to mind.

“I give you therapy” chanted Olly, “From my readings of the great seer and thinker, Vindaloo Hot Madras.  Then you shall go, and the truth will be revealed.”

Olly began, “Look squire, your are over forty, fat, half bald, and knackered.  If you were a horse they would have shot you.”  Trotter marvelled at Olly’s grasp of English. 

Olly went on, “There’s no bloody chance of rediscovery, what’s done is done, like last years Derby.  If you are pissed off, then you start again.  And the way Tiddledon Ales Ltd. shares are going, you will have to any way.” 

Olly then waved, and the women, whose mysterious scent reminded Trotter vaguely of something called Gilbey’s ushered him out into the strange world of Norbury.

When Trotter returned home he learned that the Brewery had been taken over and closed, his wife had left him for the double glazing salesman to whose firm he owed several thousand pounds, taking the family bed, and the drains had collapsed. 

The salesman had left a copy of the Financial Times, it fell open at the jobs pages.  There seemed to be lots of opportunities in international banking.  This had always seemed to him to be a soft job, and the most interesting was at an address in Norbury. 

Trotter found the old pad of Basildon Bond paper, and began to write.

Now it's bed time."

But first, clean the teeth.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

If Music Be The Food

Composer Of The Week on Radio 3 this week has Donald Macleod featuring Felix Mendelssohn.

See the anguished letter below from the Morning Chronicle of 11 September 1837.

There are music critics and music critics and music critics as the composer found out when at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Perhaps the Verger preferred "The Old Hundredth".

Monday, 10 March 2014

Should Auld Acquaintance

On 7 March, John Van Reenen had an interesting article about the industrial legacy of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher in relation to issues about "balancing the economy".  This was in the LSE web site dealing with British Politics And Policy.

Whether an economy can ever be "balanced" in the sense that there is continuing change, sometimes large in scope at others incremental at least is a question.

Similarly, if there are large scale political interventions for reasons claimed to be economic but with causes and effects that have little to do with economics then "balance" is unlikely if not impossible.

From my point of view looking at the rapidity and scale of new developments across most of human activity to be discussing modern economics and the futures in terms of Mrs. Thatcher is quaint, if not irrelevant.

It is rather as if during the 1959 Election the consuming arguments had been about Lloyd George, Asquith and Sir Edward Grey.  They were not.  They were about the here and now.

The trouble is that because after 1979 the Lady had personal impact and won some things, we assume that she was in some sort of "total" control.  She never was. 

In The Falklands she was in the hands of the Paratroopers, Marines and Gurkhas.  In the money markets she was in the hands of the money men.  Elsewhere in the economy it was the same.  She did not defeat the miners, their leaders lost it out of stupidity and greed.

As for the balance of the economy and the rise of finance to be such a large part of our national economy that happened because manufacturing had been suffering already for too long.  My comment on the article was as below:


When MT became PM in ’79 the die was already cast. What she was doing was presiding over the funeral of the UK as a major manufacturing power.

I was working in the 50′s onwards. WW2 had wreaked a lot of damage across the board. But the later state aid went to limited fields of activity.

Centralised planning, political capital controls and other policies notably tax, hammered what might have been the UK “Mittelstand”.

In particular this hit badly many sectors with middle sized and small firms at their centre. It hit new firms and a range of developing activities a great deal harder.

From 1945 they were increasingly on the defensive in a hostile political and media atmosphere. “Small firm” bosses etc. were typically portrayed as comic turns.

By the mid 1970′s very many which had had potential and might have been at the centre in some fields of growth had gone never to be replaced.

Blaming MT is a little like blaming the undertaker for the death of the patient.


We have now a set of "leaders" who are locked into the past, cannot admit that in reality they have little or no control and only fiddling and meddling with the parts of government they have retained.