Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It's No Joke

Down the decades a lot of politicians have come and gone, few in glory, most gently or not so gently fading out into the mist and others who have departed as a result of one sensation or another.

Looking at the men on offer at the Conservative Conference has given the odd kick to the memory of persons of the past who might be claimed to be the intellectual heirs and embodiment of the most prominent individuals so far.

Boris Johnson had them rolling in aisles with his wit and wisdom, or perhaps lack of it.  Waving a brick about he urged the audience on to a future of riches and happiness by building anywhere and everywhere.  His sponsors must have been very happy men.

But the memory that came to mind was that of Max Miller one of the great stand up comedians of the past.  Semi-literate at best, he made up for life's hard start by an aggressive and relentless attack on conventional thinking.

I saw him live only once around 1950 but once seen never forgotten.  But I would not have put him in charge of anything that required serious thought or effort.

It was George Osborne, who has lost two stone by adopting a more austere personal regime, that was more severe.  The person he reminded me of was Dr. Edith Clara Summerskill the leading Labour feminist from the 1930's to the 1960's.

She was a formidable lady of high intellect but the time I saw her in 1959 came over as dull, dogmatic and determined in her views.  She did not seem open to other ideas and did not like critical questioning.

Earlier in 1958 I had attended a talk given by  John Stonehouse.  He was introduced to the audience by Ralph Miliband, father of the present Ed and David, as a coming man in the Labour Party and an exemplar to the young and ambitious.

My companions and I looked at each other as he told his tale and shared the view that he was a shyster and best avoided.  Quite why he ever rose as he did and was regarded so highly I was never able to fathom.

Having already come across a few wrong 'uns, bells were ringing. What is worrying is that looking at Cameron, his way with words and his personal presentation, suddenly I was looking at Stonehouse again.

But then Ed Balls reminds me of Bessie Braddock another I recall.  What is forgotten about Jack, her husband Labour boss of Liverpool and Bessie, was that they ripped up one of the best tramway systems in Europe and replaced them by smaller and less frequent buses.

One of the curious features of that bit of business was that all involved in making the decision suddenly possessed splendid new Rover cars after it was made.

Not much changes.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Pass The Bucket

While the world enters into another unstable phase with its many dangers and risks, here in Britain we continue to study our own navel intently.  The Conservative Party Conference was intended to began well and hopefully avoid the descent into farce.

Instead it has begun with the farce and as it goes on we may stop laughing.  Cameron is taking his party into an election where his own failures have stacked the odds against his party with the real risk of a Labour led mixed coalition being in power.

The event is taking place at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra which has built up a reputation for music making of the highest standard.

Given the current quality of leadership in the government and the decision making and administrative skills they have displayed, perhaps a musical item might be chosen to illustrate their performance in office.

This nine minutes of Youtube you may well know.  If you do not it tells it own story simply and effectively.  It is the Disney film take on the Sorcerer's Apprentice composed by Dukas from around seventy years ago.  It has not lost its impact.

Many of our current politicians, it is said, like to claim they are fans of Wet Wet Wet.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Singing For More Than Supper

One of the repeats on this page is the claim about how much has changed in the last decade or so and how much more is possible.  These bear on selling, buying, creating and a whole raft of activity.  All affect jobs, companies, economic structures and a great deal else.

Here is a choice example in Quartz dot com from the world of popular music.  This has been part of all our lives whether we like it or not.  For the very many who do it is about choice.  For the many who did not because of all the knock on and media effects it will still have an impact on what it out there.

The story has made some of the main media, but only on the basis of interest in the performer aspect and how they link to their fans and the wider public.  But not long ago in our town centre there were many music shops, now all gone.

With them has gone the best part of a major retailing and production sector that once offered jobs at all levels and was among the leading choices for school and college leavers.  In the few visits to the town centre the decline in other things is all too apparent.

In the remaining shop for TV and audio equipment I spent a little time looking at the latest products on offer.  They were a world away from the recent past.  The big question it raised for me was why bother any longer to attend live performances costing all that time and money to do so?

We are told there is a squeeze on middle incomes and that the future for many of the young is grim.  When will the full effect of change impact not just on recorded performance, but most of the live ones as well?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Time To Watch The Wallet

Two hundred plus days to go before the General Election and battle is joined.  In go the bombers hitting the terrorists with million pound bombs released by £33,000 an hour aircraft (see Richard North) funded by quantitative easing.  It makes for better headlines than repairing potholes.

We have long been started on the Health debate.  Labour are bitterly complaining that the Tories have not cleared up the many and various disasters they left behind in 2010.  Also, in other political shopping places the picking of pockets is well under way.

One especially rewarding lift is property which is certain to get the shoppers worried and moving, if only in all the wrong directions.  When I first took out a mortgage well over fifty years ago, taxation of property was a dreadful mess and it has not got any better.

At each and every party conference then and since, the speakers from the platforms have repeated every promise made since the late 19th Century on the subject and are adding a few more made possible by modern technology.

Ed Miliband has been accused of dropping certain issues from his speeches, or forgetting them, make your choice.  These are the difficult issues which are complicated and unluckily mean that there will have to be some losers.

During an election campaign the likely losers have got to be made to think they might be winners in spite of all the evidence.  On the other hand those who are destined to win have to be persuaded that if the other lot get in then they will lose.

At one time in the regular media, if not TV, it was possible for voters to find out more and make informed judgments.  This is no longer the case.  It is possible by careful use of the net.  But many do not have the time for this luxury, a good many are not on the net and for most, notably the young, there are more interesting things to look at.

I spend time looking at Disused Railway Stations rather than in depth analyses of major issues.  At least it tells me that building railways is often a good way to lose vast amounts of money and go broke, or to saddle the taxpayer with new major burdens.

Oh, a break for tea and something new.  Mark Reckless, Conservative M.P. for Rochester and Strood, has turned up at the Doncaster Races to declare his money is on UKIP, having their conference there this week.  He has abandoned the Conservatives which will cause a terrible fuss.

Perhaps he could not face a week in Birmingham at the Tory conference, more likely he has been counting his local votes.  Many years ago I recall a conference at the same venue in Doncaster when Shirley Williams was the star turn.

I ran a book on how often she would either repeat herself or muddle her metaphors and cleaned up.  It was a much better bet than the horses usually found there.  These days her sort of wide eyed, if contrived, innocence is not to be found.

At the moment all bets are off for May 2015, there is too much going on, too little sense and no clear direction from any of them.  This is looking grim if another coalition in prospect and perhaps crippled by failures to decide or understand.

Then it will 2020 and time to check your pockets again.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Thirst Aid

With all the bad news around there are still a few scraps of good news to gladden the heart and giddy the head.

Belgium beats the traffic in order to improve the supply of beer to the public.

Surely the next step is to pipe it into homes instead of water?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Calling The Doctor

The piece below, over 1300 words, was written in the year 2000, it is intriguing in the context of the chance that the 2015 Election will centre on the NHS.


Two years ago Local Authorities were chartering commercial freezer facilities to cope with the backlog of the deceased awaiting burial or cremation.  Part of the problem was the extra long holiday imposed for the Millennium, the more serious was the increased number of deaths arising from a widespread epidemic of influenza.  There has been a campaign this year to persuade the old and vulnerable to have their flu’ jabs in good time to reduce the risk, and this has had a measure of success.

But what if there is a particularly nasty or unexpected influenza virus about later this winter, and occurs at the same time as a longer than usual cold spell of weather?  The increase in the illness and casualty rate and the numbers needing urgent treatment may mean that in the hospitals there could be corpses in the corridors, and bed blocking on an unprecedented scale.

Along with this will be care establishments in trouble, and people dying in their beds at home waiting for the doctor or the ambulance, or a caring agency that never comes.  The spin will be probably that the casualties were old and demographics meant that an upward shift in the mortality rates was predictable statistically and only to be expected.  There may be an enquiry, but don’t bet on it.

One of the roots of the problem is the naivety of the British public in believing what they are told.  The engaging persuasiveness of the Ministry of Information propaganda films of the late 1940’s on behalf of the Attlee government on the one hand; and the bullying neurotic tantrums of Nye Bevan on the other; resulted in too many hopes being placed on a National Health Service created on the basis of a fundamental error.  A local clinic arrangement that had suited a valley in South Wales, Tredegar, which was Bevan’s own patch, was made the template of a single structure service for the whole nation, irrespective of the variety of practice, organisation, and the complex needs of the rest of the country.

As a flexible, responsive, developing service the NHS was doomed from day one.  It began as a static model from the pre-antibiotic age, when a fester could be fatal.  It was not designed to cope with the pace of research, the new drugs, new surgical techniques, methods, radical changes in the rate of survival of serious cases, and the ageing of the population.  General Practitioners in the early 1950’s complained that they were conceived of as a kind of shunter, despatching patients to what tracks were available in the local hospital.

For them the practice of medicine was organised like the railway marshalling yard, but much worse, and in ignorance of the destinations of the trains.  The rush to impose the Tredegar Model also meant the creation of unwieldy and impenetrable bureaucracies from the outset, the characteristic feature of a Labour reform or reorganisation of any kind.  It was the professionalism of the nurses and doctors, and the dedication of so many other staff and voluntary workers, that kept the show on the road.

The belief that the NHS was the best in the world, like our athletes and football teams, made us reluctant to enquire too deeply about what we were getting for our money for too long. A good deal of the governments finance available went on other things.  When you see Concorde up in the sky, tell yourself that is where the money for NHS hospitals went in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Concorde was a prestige project designed for the personal benefit of the elite; NHS hospitals were for the peasants, that telling word heard from the lips of our political and commercial masters in private so often during that age.

Governments of many hues and people came and went, only to add to the misery.  It is difficult to decide which of the many reshuffles have been the worst.  Possibly the one induced by Heath The Horrible in 1973-1974 takes the prize, inspired by the ideas on hospital organisation of John Garlick Llewellyn Poulson; but Puffer Clarke, the man who chucked it all in the air, runs him a close second.

There is awareness that all is not right in the hospitals, and the NHS is bracing itself for another upheaval.  One of the key problems is the bottlenecks in, out, and within, and this is directly related to the elimination of effective spare capacity under narrowly conceived costing procedures.  The shambles of the Accident and Emergency arrangements and the admission systems of so many hospitals is the direct consequence of pretty paper exercises and massaging the figures to fit the sums laid down at the centre that have taken no account of the realities.

We hear about the problem of many people being sent home before their time, but there is another.  Once in, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get out.  You have to wait for the system to function, and because of the strain on the hospitals it rarely does.  How many bed-days are lost because people are sitting around waiting for a doctor to tap them on the head as they walk past to say go, or the bit of paper needed cannot be found or has not been signed by the duty wizard or whoever?

If the basic model, and the essential constitution of the NHS has been badly flawed from the beginning how do we begin again?  Can any government inspired review ever bring round a system that cannot work?  Is it any longer possible for Britain to have health provision that matches its needs soon, and is able to keep pace with change?  Will the present NHS ever create enough operational capacity and flexibility to manage the ups and downs of demand during each day, never mind each year?

Beyond the hospitals, there is little appreciation of the disaster enfolding in the provision for the very old and sick.  New laws and regulations, uncoordinated, and brought in without thought for the long-term effects have severely reduced the provision in Residential and Nursing Homes at a time when the population in this category is rising.  This is impacting into Care in the Community now to a level when many services are at breakdown point.

A welter of restrictions arising from Health and Safety and other limitations has had all sorts of side effects.  When old Mrs. Smith falls over, wherever it is, if there is no one trained or qualified to hand to pick her up then she has to stay there until an ambulance crew arrives.  If she had a bit of a bump all too often this means that to cover themselves, the crew haul her off to the local A & E Department to help fill up the trolleys.

The assumption made in the calculations of the government that one way or another there would be enough local carers, voluntary or paid, was badly wrong, and the strains in the system are all too evident on the ground.

The extended family has long gone, the new aged had few children, and many of those are now old themselves or have been though divorce or difficulty that limit the numbers able to support their parents.  The dumping of the majority of the over fifties from the labour market has seriously impacted on the ability of most of that age group to help fund the support and provision for their parents.  It is a dreadful mess, and in one of the coming winters we will all find out just how bad it is going to be.

There will be no laws or regulations, and no public authority capable of dealing with the magnitude of the crisis.  The NHS will not be able to, because it is now at the point when it cannot help itself.  So what will Mr. Blair do?  Call in the Army to build the pyres again?


For Blair read Miliband?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Unchanging Times

On the day when the news is full of air strikes on Syria and other crises in the Middle East, tucked away in the Obituaries of The Telegraph was a poignant reminder of the past and how little has changed in over half a century of dispute and conflict.

Palestine in the 1940's was where the subject of the article was.  Probably, had not his son been a leading journalist his life story may not have made it to the national press.  But the period in Palestine after World War 2 typifies what many British troops had to endure.

One irony that he was in The Rifles and when the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was entered in Northern Germany in 1945 it was a battalion of Rifles that were first involved in attempting to rescue those who had been left there.

Between 1939 and 1960 very many men were conscripted into the Armed Forces.  Some had a relatively easy time and fun.  Many did not and regarded the places they served as hell holes.  Palestine was high on the list of these and Middle East postings were the least desirable for the ordinary squaddie.

Why they were there was because of the long established ambitions of at first European and then other governments such as the USA to rule or at least have the major influence over resources and the internal lives of their citizens.

These are states that either have oil or are deeply involved with the states that do.  It is oil that has largely powered their economies and has delivered the air, sea and road transport of today.  It is oil and related gas that is at the root of everything.

One result is to enable the populations of almost all the Middle Eastern states to increase rapidly whereas at the same time technology and such has removed the need for vast numbers of manual labourers.  Similarly, production in many areas and other work has little need for mass labour.  Inevitably, there are now millions of spare men with few, if any prospects.

Together with this has been the urbanisation of many areas of the world into which these surpluses have been drawn.  Urban societies are very different from those rural or pastoral ones of even the recent past.

Notably, the belief systems, social organisation and nature of them is another world.  One which many of the recent and even earlier incomers reject, attempting to continue the old with its myths into the new.  Inevitably, this means conflict and violence.

The cheap and easy posturing of the upper and political classes and their vague and limited notions of what might be done to how to deal with it are inadequate and failing.

If anyone thinks that chucking some advanced weaponry at the current hot spots will end the problem then they are going to have to think again.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pssst Guv' Want A Nice Plan?

From the tenements of Glasgow to the stews of London the peoples of wherever rejoiced.  The Great Leader of Labour has spoken; at last.  Ed Miliband, cherished by all has a Ten Year Plan, of sorts.  Well, the paragraph headings but all will revealed on the new responsible Page 3 of "The Sun" in due course.

It will overturn all the doings and don'ts of the tyrannous Tories who destroyed the Ten Year Plan of 2005 of Blair and Brown.  They had abolished bust to leave a never ending boom and was on course to deliver everything that any voter wanted until fickle voters let in the capitalists by the back door.

The Tories do not usually have plans, no, they have visions or similar.  John Major had a vision in 1995 of us all having rose covered cottages filled with goodies.  He lost the election of 1997 and not long after we had the internet bust.

In 1985 Margaret Thatcher had visions, all she had to do was leave it to the wise men of The City.  That did not turn out well.  For Labour Michael Foot did have Plans but nobody believed him.

This was because in 1975 Callaghan and Healey had some wonderful plans to restore the damage done by tyrannous Tories (what again?).  Sadly, the money ran out, the IMF came in and that ended in a lot of trouble and a lost election.

In 1965 there was endless talk of plans in the Labour Government of the time.  You could not move in Whitehall for plans and if you did not have a plan you did not exist.  A couple of years later we devaluation of the pound, withdrawal from East of Suez (for a time) and a bonfire of plans.

!955 was a year when everyone talked about plans.  Attlee lost an election because his were not good enough and did not make people happy.  Even the Tories had plans.  But sadly Prime Minister Eden had a vision of the UK becoming a Great Power again.  This drowned in the Suez Canal in 1956 leaving us stuck with a lot of half baked plans that did not take account of economic changes under way.

1945 was a year when Labour won a landslide election and determined that everything possible would be planned down to the last detail.  Unluckily almost all their clever men and Whitehall were not much good at it, especially at statistics.

1935 was a year when we had men of vision, Stanley Baldwin, on the one hand thinking we could work our way out of depression with antiquated industry and Churchill relying on his vision of Empire as a back bencher.

The same two were in office in 1925 and this time there was little talk of plans but a lot of vision.  Classical economics ruled and would put all to rights for Baldwin while Churchill, as Chancellor. plumped for the gold bullion standard devised by Montague Norman, Governor of the Bank of England who was very good at making his case but not at statistics again.  We had the Crash of 1929 to remind them of the frailties of men.

1915 was a year for military plans which culminated in the Battle of the Somme.  In 1905 we dumped Splendid Isolation and cosied up to the French which got us into the War of 1914.

It is possible to go on, but enough is enough.  I am planning to have a cup of tea.  This one might actually work.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Dining Out

Now in a phase of politics fatigue and looking for one or other eternal truth, it is possible we have been here before.  To be not quite precise, the Late Cretaceous period.

This was the way it was  alleges an item in E Science.  It says that way back then, even long before The Beatles, the world was dominated by a species described as toothless dragons.

Looking at the present world leaders; in particular those of the West, it could be that we are back where we started.

Although in those happier eat or be eaten days the key ancestors to the humans were probably tasteless blobby creatures who survived by being spat out.

Perhaps not a lot has changed on the whole.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Now For The London Referendum

You wait years for a devolution then two come along at once.  This favourite saying about London buses has led to a suggested cure for the ailments of UK economic and internal policy.

Self Rule for London is proposed on the LSE web site by Tim Oliver, who has an interesting CV.  A long but clearly written article seeks to make the case for London going it more or less alone.

Some think that this has been the case for London for over three decades while the rest of us have been dragged along behind and made to pay for it.  In the late 19th and early 20th Century there was a time with more balance, now lost.

Around and adjacent to Europe there many districts that are now asking for more autonomy at least, some for major devolution and others separatist.  We have been here before and many times.

The two maps above are around 1200 years apart and between those dates, 117 and 1300, there were many other changes in the detail of the boundaries and borders and in the structures and governance of states.

Seven hundred years on from 1300 the same can be said again.  It is claimed to be due to elites, money, power and might.  Old and established ones begin to fail or lose sight of reality or fail to contain the endless striving of those with and seeking prime authority.

New men and groups seek to carve out their own patches.  However, economic historians have other ideas and so do the weather and climate people about root causes.

If I win a big one on the Euromillion Lottery and can interest enough willing partners, Independence For The Isle of Wight will not be far behind.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Meanwhile Back At The Ranch

No sooner than the recent fuss has diminished than a worse media fate awaits us.  Yes it is the Party Conference Season, usually a time to go to the cartoon channels for some sense and serious political philosophy.

But all is not well and the Telegraph today gives a ten point summary of some of the main things that the doomsters are worried about.  Each of them is a problem.  Add to that the Baltic Dry Index and it is not looking good.

We have our leaders dealing with the fallout from the Scottish vote, the conferences, the election strategies, the Middle Eastern issues and some EU matters.  Yet there are problems ahead that could affect everything.

Where are the special committees, groups of experts, action plans and the rest with whom they should be involved that are monitoring the markets and institutions to keep up to date and to work out the best means of dealing with what might unfold?

Is it all being left to George Osborne, Vince Cable and sundry passing traders, banksters and oligarchs in the night?  With maybe some input from the money pages of the Murdoch press or hot tips for personal Trusts by friends in the know?

As well as these matters there are a few other things going on that are being quietly disposed of while attention is elsewhere.  We do not know and can only rely on the likes of "Private Eye" and a handful of reliable internet sources for the scraps they can pick up.

Look for what is not there and for what is in the spaces.

Friday, 19 September 2014

We Are All the Losers

And now it all begins.  Dave Dimwit and Nick Nitwit having botched every major area of policy they have touched got away with it, but only just.  Had the SNP been more measured and displayed old Scots common sense and morality instead of taking their cue from the aggressive drunks and beggars all too often seen in London they could have won it.

Democracy it wasn't according to Richard North's look at the figures in his EU Referendum blog.  He, with others, have moved on to other ideas about what we have and that which we should have.  Essentially, it is a bad situation, worsening by the year and we are headed for real trouble come what may.

The UK is not independent and neither is it a major force in world affairs.  The economy is more and more dependent on highly volatile sectors of activity.   The major elements in its government and management do not fit the future and do not have much idea of what the future might entail.

The constitution, once a serviceable and flexible set of rules and arrangements has become an incoherent mess where our laws are increasingly set by individuals and bodies who are answerable to nobody and whose agendas oppose most of our real needs.

We have a House of Lords, not elected, that is on course to be twice the size of the elected Commons and no idea of what a second chamber is for.  We have a Commons where the Liberal Democrats (democrats?) blocked routine changes to equalise representation and keep grossly unequal electorates.

We have a government machinery that takes little notice of the Commons or other representative bodies and is in the hands of lobbyists, cronies, oligarchs and media bosses.  It spews out more regulations and laws each year than did the Roman Empire in centuries.

We are weeks away from a General Election that bids to elect another minority government with a confused platform and consisting largely of old style pork barrel politicians.  In the meantime our hapless pair remain in charge to make promises to win re-election that they can never fulfil.

We are not going to be able to carry on as before because the world is changing fast and key areas which we need to control are not being controlled nor will be in the present system.

Worse, the recent debate has given respectability to the extremist and least democratic elements.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Serious Item On Oil

The question of oil is one of the central issues at the heart of the Referendum debate and the case made by the N56 body of Aberdeen that the prospects are optimistic is at the centre of the Yes campaign.

Euan Mearns of the former Oil Drum site and an oil man has taken a hard look at this in the context of what is involved in drilling and taking oil and does not agree.

This item suggest that the figures simply do not stack up in reality and we are talking in trillions of pounds.  It is an intricate read and it would be as well to look down the comments where a number of experts do add to the debate.

As someone with a long memory, I can recall major sectors of the economy in the past now gone where optimistic politicians and government advisers foretold futures that did not happen.

The common feature was that there came a time when issues, some predictable, many not, led to contraction and losses and with it decline or the need for costly state support or worse.

Referendum Money Matters

Later today Cameron will reveal his grand plan for a new HST line to be built from Stranraer to Stornoway, with extensions to Skibbereen, Mount Snowdon and as an afterthought, Spennymoor.  The SNP will counter with a proposal to extend the Edinburgh tramline to Tobermory.

The SNP will cap this with a demand that all algorithm driven high frequency trading in Scottish funds will only allow gains for Scotland.  All losses will be borne by England.  After five minutes with his media adviser Cameron will agree.

Clegg will beat this with a promise that no Scot will suffer any losses from dealing in stocks or shares, property deals or related financial affairs and payday loans.  These will be borne by England.  The SNP will counter this by demanding that no Scot should suffer losses in gambling with English betting firms.

Cameron will spend another five minutes considering the media impact and will then agree. Miliband will promise that a Labour government will extend this to Scottish firms, internet and others and no Scot will suffer any losses at all for any reason.

The SNP will claim that this is bullying the financial services sector in Scotland to accept English domination and control.  The answer will be total nationalisation of the financial sector with the Bank of England, founded by a Scot, accepting responsibility for any and all deficits.

Perhaps not, but it makes more sense than what has been going on.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Jihads For All

To those of us, unlike our political masters, whose memories go back longer than last week and have thumbed our way through the odd history book during the more boring football on TV, Jihads are nothing new.  They were a regular feature of Empire and British activity in the relevant parts of the world.                                                
The means adopted for control were not a matter of proclaiming our later ideas of human rights or tolerance or trying to appeal to better natures.  Generally, it meant meeting fire with fire, prompt vigorous response, determination and a willingness to use force and weaponry.

One way of dealing with them is shown vividly from this brief clip of the film "Khartoum", and Wikipedia has a useful article on the film and another on the subject of the film Major General Charles George Gordon, who lost his life as a result of messy politics and bad logistics.  The film does stray from history in places.

This was in Egypt and The Sudan where Britain's expansion in the 1880's led to wars and conflicts.  In the Sub Continent of British India it was a continuing hazard for internal security and peace given the many and various differences of faith, loyalty and tribe.

Our present problems are twofold.  One is our dependence on oil from the Middle East in terms of the world economy and our own trade.  The other is that in importing numbers of people from both this area and the Sub Continent necessarily they bring with them all their diverse ideas and beliefs.

The notion that all that needed to be done would be to pass laws about rights and such and talk endlessly about community and living happily together ever after was always a nonsense given the histories, extended families and beliefs of some.

Conflict was not something from the distant history of the Crusades.  The TV series "Jewel In The Crown" did have the troubles of the 1940's as a theme in its relating the collapse of Raj in India, again as something past and limited.

It has always been there, always will be and is an important and continuing part of those societies, although a small minority.  To date we have bought off the worst by making concessions, not asking questions or interfering.  This was never going to last.

Now the time has arrived and not only do we not know what to do, but the old ways cannot be used and we have blocked many preventative options that would help.

Something will have to give.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Black Swans For Sale

Recently there has been a lot of hopping about from one leg to the other among the financial and economic parts of the net.  Many are worried, but the ways things are there are always worries.

There is talk of Black Swans and systemic shocks and areas of unpredictability that could deliver downturns, major upturns in interest rates, liquidity going haywire and out of control and other creatures from the deep.

A typical piece on the lines of "it's me nerves, doc" is from Zero Hedge which has some interesting takes on pessimism and lack of trust in governments and central banks.   Anything could happen anywhere.

With the awareness in recent years of just how complex and intricate all the parts are in the global trading and money systems there has been a relentless search for potential trigger events.

The result has been a long list any of which can pop at any time and as most, if not all, are linked quite how the mechanics of will go becomes less possible to estimate as the crisis ripples out and affects more and more.

The great thing for those of us who rejoice in financial crashes because it makes life more interesting is that you do not know that a Black Swan event has occurred until it is too late.

And the markets have gone into a flap.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Thinking Inside The Box

During the Referendum as the date came closer it was intriguing to see not what was being said but what seemed to be absent from discussions.  In the land of the lairds who own vast lands they went strangely missing.  Why the almost deathly quiet on their part?

One reason may be the instinct for self preservation which has served them well down the generations.  This may be that during all the upheavals of the past they have mastered the art of staying on top when things mattered.

Another may be that the wealth they command is mostly located in Trusts and Tax Havens and has been for some time.  During the age of high taxation in the mid 20th Century the UK developed a network of tax havens linked to The City of London and the elites, especially the lairds, others and celebrities were quick to take advantage.

So when there is talk of the finance sector being a major feature of the new economy, what kind of finance is this and who is at the centre of it?  Who has been talking to and advised by persons from the RBS as it was in its heyday?

Another financial matter is the "Black Holes" in the many and various pension funds, notably of public sector employees.  There was a period in the mid late 20th Century when teachers, academic and some other salaries in Scotland were rather higher than in England and Wales and in final salary systems.

There are a lot of those pensioners around still and the UK governments of recent decades have allowed the liabilities to seriously out run the payments in for both funded and unfunded schemes.  There is a problem here which could turn ugly.

Another issue where almost little has been said except vague comments is immigration.  Possibly for tactical reasons related to voters at the margins it was felt wiser to say little or nothing to avoid annoying groups of recent migrants.  But it will be a major issue come Independence.

At present the SNP avow that they want Open Borders.  If this is assumed to be anyone from anywhere then how many will come and from what cultures can only be guessed.  What will bear on this is how active Scotland will be in bringing people in.  But we do not know what the thrust of this will be.

South of the Border it has become clear that there is an issue.  With London no longer being English and many urban areas having large migrant populations the political parties are having to deal with increasing resistance from many groups who are the ones directly affected and are resentful.  What the common factor is in all these and other issues is the structure of society you finish up with as a consequence.

Looking around the world at the oil states, the finance havens, the places with high inward migration etc. what you have is small wealthy elites above the law, a relatively privileged possibly corrupt and supine middle class, much in the public sector, a small entrepreneurial class avoiding tax as far as possible and a mass of poverty in which social breakdown and criminality are rife.

Welcome to the future of the Atlantic Isles, if it is not already here.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

It It Moves Nationalise It

The debate over the realities of Scotland's economic future has turned nasty.  The SNP now threatens a "day of reckoning" for firms having doubts about aspects of business.  This seems to entail sending in the State Police to take action against dissent.  For BP there is the threat of nationalisation.

All of which tells me of the depth of ignorance and lack of insight of all the politicians engaged in the debate about money, trade, investment and the rest in the second decade of the 21st Century.  The SNP seems to be locked into a Bolshevik mind set from the era of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and others of that ilk.

In my formative years the State was all controlling and pervasive and we were subject to never ending and often silly propaganda to justify and explain it.  So when The War ended people voted for the political party which thought it right and proper to nationalise what were regarded as the basic industries.

Those left "private" were subject to extensive laws, controls and regulations, notably in the raising and using of capital and in the distribution of what profits remained after taxes and charges.  The bread we ate, the food on our plate, the clothes we wore and much else was State determined and controlled.

In 1945 during the previous 31 years we had ten years of total war, around ten other years of major economic problems and a goodly number of small wars of Empire and foreign conflicts.  We had gone from being the world's banker and creditor to being a major debtor with an ageing damaged economy.

The "people" wanted peace, security and were told that all the basic needs would be cared for and managed by the State in their name and along with this many of the major employment sectors of the economy would be nationalised with the Trade Unions having a major say in decisions.

But the economy had to change and also radical reform and reorganisation was necessary in all of those sectors.  For over thirty years the inherent contradictions and conflicts arising in a State which needed real growth, new industries and major changes across the whole field were at the heart of politics.

During this time the major nationalised industries went from engines of growth and surpluses enabling income and profit for the State to becoming quasi-workhouses existing on subsidies and major support the burdens of which penalised and dragged down the sectors needing opportunity, scope, capital and freedom to grow.

There were different types of industry and activity.  One which was limited to Britain, for example the railways.  Another were those largely British in activity but affected by world matters.  Then there those that had to face up to world competition.

The trouble was politicians and unions who thought they could control all of them in detail when it was all too apparent that they could not and as time wore on and trade and money became more global the damage worsened.

BP is a world company with complex ownership and activity.  It has had a key role in the North Sea but that is conditioned by the market price of oil, world finance, costs, the risks and nature of drilling and the rest.  It could very easily go into the red and who would then subsidise it?

Currently it is in trouble with the USA and facing billions in damages from one bad event in the Gulf of Mexico with a lot more to come.

And this is the key source for all that oil money that Scotland will need for all its futures.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Doctoring The Voters

Our political system is coming more and more to resemble the Mad Hatter's Tea Party of "Alice In Wonderland".  Perhaps if we go to a production it will be more of a retreat to reality rather than enjoying a bit of fantasy.

It is not just Scotland, UKIP, ISIS and the EU that Cameron has to think about.  Although there is a common thread.  That is the National Health Service and all those who sink in it.

In the furthest flung part of England, well almost, in Kent, there is a threat to one of his present Ministers being challenged in what should be a safe seat on the specific issue of the NHS.

Helen Grant is opposed by a local doctor, recently retired, who does not like what has happened in his area and is a member of the National Health Action Party which hopes to field a dozen candidates in the coming General Election.

Here is part of what he has to say:                                                

"The effects of commercialisation and the corporate mentality on our local NHS in recent years have been depressing . Tragically we have seen deaths from Clostridium Difficile when past management tried to run down Maidstone Hospital to pay for the new hospital at Tunbridge Wells.

We lost the fight for our maternity unit despite 95% GPs (and the public) being opposed to its closure; totally inconsistent with the Government lies of giving GPs and patients power.

We’ve endured a South African firm running Maidstone’s new Treatment Centre, which was a financial disaster and they haven’t been seen for dust, an audiology outsourcing where the company disappeared overnight, and a psychology privatisation that consisted of patients being telephoned and told to buy a book from Waterstones.

There are many more examples and this will be the future unless this damaging and dangerous policy is changed and those who are accelerating it forward, often for personal gain, are removed from driving our NHS to the cliff edge and over.”


Also, involved with these issues is the major problem of the PFI bill for a new hospital built recently.  This private finance under government policy has loaded mega million liabilities way into the future.  Many other areas have the same problems.

So there is a prospect in some Tory areas of them losing to Lib Dem's, others to UKIP, others to marginal Labour all because of spoiler candidates, such as these Health protestors as well as a loss of their traditional voters.

We could end up with another coalition of sorts unable to agree about much and decide even less on urgent and crucial matters.

And be stuck with it for a five year spell when the economy is going into tail spin.

In the middle of Maidstone is a pub restaurant called "The White Rabbit", perhaps Helen Grant might like to lunch there on occasion.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Voice From The Past

The back to the 1970's post on Monday, "Memories Are Made Of This" told of the troubled times in that period arising from upheavals in local government and central government problems.  Then on Tuesday in The Telegraph there was the obituary of a key player in that period.

Sir Jasper Hollom was the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England then.  This was a time when the BoE Quarterly Bulletin was part of my evening relaxed reading telling me stories of strange lives in faraway place of which we knew or understood little.

This was because not much of it was talked about publicly in order to avoid frightening people and causing them to doubt the infinite wisdom of their masters in Whitehall.  Having met some of these their lack of insight into basic statistics never mind monetary economics never failed to astonish.

Which is why the BoE kept its cards close to its chest and ensured there were only a few trusted people in whom it could confide what was really happening and why. Sir Jasper and his colleagues had to be left with it because they were the only kids on the block who knew how to play the game.

But having saved the UK from self inflicted mutual destruction he retired in 1980, although playing a major role for a little time after.  This period was important to the formative thinking of Mrs. Thatcher as to how to deal with The City.  This was conditioned by husband's role as a major figure in the oil industry.  The two did not fit together.

Again, I point out that Mrs. Thatcher was not just a shop keeper's daughter with pretensions to lower middle class status the reality of her family was in the shoe trade as workers and shoemakers.  So when she achieved the status of Token Woman in the Conservative government she was known variously as "That woman over the river" to the more accepting of her colleagues and "That bxxxxy woman" by both Heath and his cronies and the aristo's who had to deal with her.

Her being voted Leader when Heath left because the men could not organise themselves and too many of them had been too involved one way or another in the financial disasters at the time was thought to be a stop gap, but she had other ideas.

It is possible that in the early part of her time as Prime Minister she was inclined to listen to men like Hollom and take notice, but as time wore on she came under the influence of too many of her husband's friends and their City associates in Parliament and the media.

But when she did become PM in 1979 the changes under way in the British economy and the restructuring entailed was well advanced almost wherever you look.  What was not seen was all the chances and opportunities we had missed in new and growing fields of activity in the years before.

While the Tory media message was progress, in effect she was managing a difficult retreat across most fronts in the economy that somehow had to be covered and patched up.  The trouble was that many of the power bases were of the declining past.

Now in 2014 going on into 2015 there are still people prattling on about Mrs. Thatcher who left office a generation ago in a very different world.  It is rather like blaming Herbert Hoover for the USA's disasters in Vietnam or Clement Attlee's 1950's defeat on Ramsay Macdonald.

The obituary of Sir Jasper Hollom is a welcome reminder of what was going on of which little was known then and less now.