Sunday 31 May 2009

The Firebird - A Modern Take On An Old Fairy Tale From the Stravinsky Ballet

Once upon a time a Firebird lived in the depths of a dark, dank, dismal forest ruled by The Immortal Sorcerer Kashchei, aka Kostchei, (a banker), which was once The City of the land. The Tsar’s heir, Ivan, out hunting on his own, as heirs to the throne do in fairy tales, sees the Firebird. He thinks about shooting her (a hostile takeover) but ends up agreeing to a mutual trade (cartel), and she gives him a magic feather (derivative package). She flies off into the night, and then come along a Beautiful Tsarevna Princess (a desirable property) and her train of twelve enchanted Princesses (international subsidiaries). Ivan makes an approach (initial offer) and gives her a token (futures option) of his intent (subject to due diligence).

She and the other Princesses disappear, and a big hedge bars Ivan’s way (hedge funds have this effect), so he tries to get into the Castle that just happens to be there. Out come gangs of active predators and consultants who put him under administration, followed by Kashchei, who makes it clear he has a majority holding in all this. Ivan spits on the Sorcerer, causing Kashchei and his minions to go into a whirl of market activity each with a piece of the action in Ivan. Then Ivan remembers the feather, and waves it in the air.

The Firebird returns, the white knights having been enslaved by the Sorcerer, puts all of Kashchei’s subjects into a frenzied dance that results in them all falling asleep (light regulatory touch) along with the Princesses who have watched wondering what this will do their long term business plans. Ivan wanders back in, disbelieving and needing a new mission statement badly, so the Firebird points him to the source of Kashchei’s power in a box (offshore holdings).

Ivan opens the box, remember this is a ballet, not a TV show, and finds a large nest egg (private pension fund) that is at the bottom of the trouble. Clearly he has to do something (financial initiatives). So Ivan sends the nest egg as high as it can go, and when it drops and hits the floor it is smashed to pieces and Kashchei’s rule is ended.

There is a pause and then a glorious ending, with a magnificent glissando in the orchestra. Ivan and the Beautiful Tsarevna are brought together, and the Princesses are matched to Knights, now in Ivan’s service. All of Kashchei’s servants, before then oligarchs of The City are given back their former high status. The City is restored in full splendour, and there is a great parade of public sector employees giving tribute to the happy couple and joy is unbounded as Ivan has assumed control of all financial activity guaranteeing them their former wealth and more for time immemorial, or until the next performance.

If you like this story, then go to the UK No.10 gov website that is the Prime Minister’s, where you will find lots of other fairy tales to make you feel happy.

As for those who wish to see the ballet at the Westminster Comedy Warehouse, because of unforeseen circumstances the price of seats has risen rapidly, as will other costs, and will continue to do so until further notice. The touring company has met with a great acclaim in Washington DC.

Friday 29 May 2009

The Big Four Or Perhaps Three

Robert Murphy, 0n has just posted to the effect that one or other of The Big Four may be on the ropes, and about to go the the Bailout Office. It this is possible then there are all sorts of implications, none of them nice.

Hyperinflation & The Hypermarket

It is alleged that the increase in spending of the Federal Government of the USA has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of borrowing it has to do to fund it, especially as tax revenues are decreasing. Inevitably, this has led to the bond yield curve in the markets rising to match the consequences. All this is very boring and technical stuff, much less fun than all the other media obsessions of the day, so I will not go into the rest of it, just to say we in the UK may have the same problem.

So I must remember to add to my shopping list a good stock of cartridges for my printer, as well as boxes of high quality paper. Because when I go shopping at some time in the foreseeable future, I may need to carry a great deal of paper with me, and my debit and credit cards will be no use at all. Perhaps it might be sensible to buy a couple of back up printers as well.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Cameron And Power To The People

In 1980 David Cameron was a callow teenager hanging around with the guys at Eton, softly singing to himself “The Winner Takes It All”, the Abba hit of the year. Doubtless, as teenagers fixated on celebrities are, he would have been affected by the tragic death of John Lennon. John, a lower middle class and grammar school boy grew up in a nice home on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool, a large comfortable semi-detached property. At least it was in comparison with the accommodation available to the great majority of working class people at the time. Its inhabitants were said to be a snobby lot who had special toilet paper and not the ripped up Daily Mirrors and Sunday Pictorials we used. Life in Menlove Avenue was both warmer and better equipped than at Eton I suspect.

Inevitably, marketing considerations required The Beatles to create the myth of worker solidarity to help them become very rich and buy properties in tax havens. John famously said that “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg”, referring to his life changing experiences in the Red Light district of that town, where so many British Soldiers had surrendered to one or other Reeperbahn Rash in the years after the war. Hamburg originally had surrendered to a water truck driven by a Lance Corporal in 1945, but the next day repeated it to a coterie of more camera friendly troops with tanks and stuff. But Hamburg had its revenge, because in the next decade or so the ladies of the Reeperbahn inflicted an over ninety percent casualty rate on the British troops. This information probably is still classified, so you read it here first.

When both David and John were born, a generation apart, there was still a structure and form of government system in the United Kingdom which could be understood by the general population, and a legal system that had relative clarity and purpose. There was also coverage in national and the then extensive local press.

It began to go bad in the early 1970’s with the badly botched Heath reforms of local government and the health service. The disruption to management and the finance of services played a part in the severe inflation of the period and inevitably led to the decades of tinkering, shuffling, and fiddle. The commitment to the EU added to the mess, as did the creation of a raft of extra government bodies, and the never ending reorganisation of central government departments in the search for media coverage and to keep John Prescott out of mischief.

Mrs. Thatcher made an attempt to prune the Quango’s, but like vines and roses only to create the extensive growth of the last fifteen years. We all know what Blair and Brown have done. So we have a huge mess. After sixty years of interest and study on government and politics, I now have no working knowledge of either the law or just who administers what to what effect, or why. The documents I read are verbal sludge, and the intellectual structures on which law is based and decisions are made are roughly at the level of the playground of the old All Age Elementary Schools.

So David, my advice is, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here. The trouble is that if you do wish to give power to the people, they must have information, a media that is balanced, and an immediacy of access. This is not the way the media works at present and restoring local control will be harder to achieve than you imagine. The organisational challenge is immense, and you are not going to have either spare cash, or real growth to provide it. Worse still, you might have a rate of inflation that has to be firmly controlled to avoid a 1970’s problem or greater. As for the public relations, as things get difficult it may be nasty.

The pop and celebrity culture might suddenly see a market in pretending to be just very ordinary, especially if the tax man catches up with some of them and the screens will be filled with middle and lower middle class media poseurs waving their arms about demanding the return of Harriet, Jacqui, Hazel, Yvette and Caroline. The men will not be available. They will all be in Brussels, or Moscow, or with any luck in Walton Gaol.

Monday 25 May 2009

Fiscal Policy And Old Mother Riley

As I have often used the term “Old Mother Riley Economics” it is time to explain what I mean. The heading might suggest that this blog has taken a turn for the deeply politically incorrect, but you need to know your Old Mother Riley from your Clark Gable to understand that it is not the case. The famous, and much loved, music hall turn of Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane made fifteen films in their time and could pack the local variety halls at the peak of their career. Arthur was Old Mother Riley, a cross dressing role where he played a difficult and unpredictable elderly washer woman who more or less always triumphed against men and her social superiors, and Kitty, who played the daughter, was the straight part.

Arthur and Kitty were married in real life and she ruled him with a rod of iron. I saw them live on stage a time or two, and part of the act was to relate to difficulties and hazards of the ordinary people, with the lack of money at the end of the week being a constant theme. This sketch I recall from the late 1940’s offered many people the most rational explanation of the economic policy of Sir Stafford Cripps at the time, and perhaps made more sense. They were concerned with the economics of reality but this sketch did not make it into any film, for obvious reasons given the period and the grip of the film censors.

OMR and Kitty are in their kitchen.

K - Mother, we haven’t any money and its only Tuesday.
OMR – I don’t know where it all goes.
K – You’ve been buying rum again.
OMR - I haven’t had a drop since Mafeking Night.
K – When was that?
OMR – Yesterday, oops, a long time ago.

K – How can we get some money for food, the light and the rent?
OMR – There is some washing to do.
K – Mother, its our own washing, how can we get paid to do that?
OMR – The man next door will give to me.
K – Why would he want to do that?
OMR (looking coy) – Well I make his tea for him when his wife’s out.
K – What does she think about that?
OMR advances down stage, flaps her skirts, leers at the audience, and says – She says it saves her all the trouble!
K – Oh mother, mother, exits.
OMR pours herself a cup of tea, takes a rum bottle from behind the sink, shakes her head and puts it back.

Knock on door, OMR says “Come in”, a small man with a large hat, which he removes to show he is bald, and carrying a notebook and satchel enters. He is the rent man, and everyone knows it. He tells OMR she is behind on the rent, and there is then a long diatribe of nonsense, at the end of which he demands the rent again. Another knock, another man, carrying a bucket, obviously the window cleaner, he wants his money, another comedy routine.

Another knock, another man, now the milkman, also wanting payment. OMR flaps about fussing, and while the men begin to argue with each other dips her hand into the satchel to take out some money. She then tells the men to line up, and goes to the milkman, puts money in his right hand, tells him to transfer it to his left, and pass it on to the window cleaner, who then passes it onto the rent man, who puts it into his satchel.

OMR now tells them they have all been paid and to get out. The rent man looks in his satchel and realises he has been conned. An arm waving loud argument starts that degenerates into a bout of major slapstick that wrecks the kitchen. When OMR finally sits on the rent man he pulls out a police whistle and blows. In those days rent men always carried police whistles, and the policeman was usually nearby. A Police Officer rushes in, OMR claims she has been attacked for her money, picking up the satchel, and the men have tarnished her virtue, feigning a dramatic swoon. The men are arrested and marched out. OMR pours another cup of tea, and sits down.

Kitty returns and sees the ruined kitchen.

K- Mother, mother, what have you done?
OMR – I’ve just tidied up dear.

OMR drains her cup takes money from the satchel and gives it to Kitty, telling her to go and get some groceries. Kitty leaves, OMR goes to the sink, gets out the rum, fills the cup, and then goes forward to toast the audience.


Imagine playing that sketch today, who would play which part? Personally, I think that if Hazel Blears could be persuaded to shave her head, she would be perfect for the rent man. Answers please to HM Treasury marked “Urgent For Chancellor”.

Saturday 23 May 2009

A Night At The Opera

A few weeks ago I thought I saw someone from the past, but it was impossible. Herman The German died fifty years ago. So it must have been a ghost. Herman was not German, but one of those unfortunates born before Kaiser Wilhelm II had a tiff with his family, who, as younger sons, attracted names from fashion or German culture. Think of Siegfried Farnon in “All Creatures Great And Small”. When Herman volunteered for The London Regiment in 1912 to get some paid for fresh air as a Territorial, he did not expect to go to France for four years in 1914, but the Army knew him as Henry, and his friends as Harry. Those who continued to call him Herman The German did not do so to his face. As a regular Covent Garden Market porter he expected and received the ordinary courtesies of life. He might have fought at Light Middleweight, but even the biggest Heavyweight needed to be careful, he could throw a mean hook, left or right, and you would not see it coming.

When I encountered Herman, I was wary of him, noticing the way he moved on the balls of his feet. He was wary of me, a student moonlighting for the rent money on a long night shift in The Garden. But when I met the challenge of moving a ton of spuds in a decent time, that was enough, so long as I did not intrude on his privacy and observed the ordinary courtesies. Although three times my age, he could still shift a ton or two a lot quicker than I could. Like many of his generation he shaved only once a week, bathed less often, had the language skills any modern comedian would pay a fortune for, and was as hard as nails. Apparently brought up by a Grandfather, he had been reared to believe that the British Empire was a bankers ramp, that socialists only wanted to live off other peoples money, that newspapers, and later the BBC and the film industry, were paid liars with posh accents. We young better educated men regarded his views as quaint and eccentric.

So it was not surprising that it was in the Floral Hall at Covent Garden where I saw the ghost rush past a few weeks ago. I was stone cold sober, waiting to go in to the auditorium and it was going to be a long stand amongst the huddle of the paupers at the back. The Hall is now part of the new Royal Opera House, housing a champagne bar and eating places costing a months old wages a bottle or a plate, and not a glass shed for flowers and vegetables. The tea costs near three pounds, a weeks rent over fifty years ago, when round the corner it used to cost tuppence a pint mug, or nothing if you had a full breakfast. I preferred it when Herman and his fellow porters were in and out with the barrows and bantering with the flower girls of all ages.

On Friday for the want of anything better to do I put on BBC4 to see if the “Acis and Galatea” from Covent Garden a few weeks ago worked on screen. There was the face of Herman staring from the screen. The same scruffy jacket, crumpled dirty open neck shirt, several days growth of grizzled beard, spiky unkempt hair, the hunted half crazed look in the eyes set in a reddened face, and the aggressive verbal thrust of a man who has been into the ring too often. But it was not Herman. It was Charles Hazlewood, the middle aged music man doing his manic youth presenter act.

The groan that escaped my lips was greater than when the monster Polyphemus did for Acis with a large rock. Ever since TV was visited on the masses the BBC has had presenters mostly in the style of Adjutants or Sergeant-Majors. There are the odd handwringing intellectuals but normally from sports to documentaries to politics we are hectored, loudly ordered to believe, told to be convinced by waving arms and thrusting fingers, and with the recent technology to make sure we notice are given thumping sound effects that leap up to fifteen decibels in volume without warning, I have checked with a meter. The flickering jump cutting may be great for a car chase film, but useless in a programme designed to convey information, or complex thinking, never mind disorienting for anyone with vision problems.

None of this does my temper nor my willingness to watch any good. So when we have classical music on the TV why does it so often have to be cheeky chappie Charles Hazlewood? He was the wrong man for the William Byrd documentary, and he is the wrong man for other things. I wish him well in his general career, he is a fine musician, but can he give the TV and all of us a rest?

If he really wants to look and behave like Herman The German, he needs to be able to shift a ton or more of vegetables from the church at one end of The Garden to the Floral Hall at the other without stopping and using only a two wheeled barrow.

Herman did not smoke, he chewed his baccy, being careful when expelling it, except if a dog was near to offer a target. I wonder, does Charles, surely not, but …………….

Thursday 21 May 2009

Money Playing Footsie

The other boot has just dropped. Whilst many of us have enjoyed the thrill of the chase in the last few days, someone just shot the fox. The problems of the last year were the first boot to drop, and those of us with an inclination to pessimism and the expectation of disaster have been waiting for the second. Standard and Poors have now obliged with their down grading of the UK sovereign debt.

As some have said this is based only on the visible debt that the government admits to. On top of this are lurking all sorts of other liabilities, all those unfunded pensions to meet as the baby boomers retire, and all those shifts and devices to keep debt off the books. The IMF do not like it, the markets when they have stopped trying to find excuses to massage the indexes upward will not like it, others do not like it. I like it even less than they do, because I am going to have pay for some of it.

In the USA the states of the Union are each chasing their budget deficits without too much success and the commercial property market is following the domestic market down. In Germany and Japan the exports are down and have further to go. Around the Mediterranean are a number of broken economies, which could damage the Euro. In one of them, Spain, are over a million UK citizens and pensioners, most badly hit in the pocket. What would happen even if only a quarter decided to pack up and come back to Blighty?

In the meantime the UK Government bodges, fudges and tries to move things by throwing money around. Quite where it is going is not certain. A good deal is borrowed back by the Government which will do no good at all. A lot is going off shore to reduce the losses of the London magnates who profited so much in the past. Inevitably, a good deal is following a lot of past government expenditure into the various rackets that have added to all the troubles, notably the housing benefit scheme, invaluable to the rented property sector owned by money launderers and those living on a purely cash basis for various reasons. Unless someone gets a grip it is all going to be very difficult. Just what is going to be cut and by how much? In the 1960’s Harold Wilson had to declare that the UK could no longer afford to be a power East of Suez. Someone may have to revive that policy very soon. In fact we may not be able to afford to be a power East of Great Yarmouth.

So the hounding of Sir Peter Viggers, MP for Gosport in Hampshire, who installed a Duck House in his lake paid for by the members allowances is almost quaint in comparison. What puzzles me is why he should have provided his ducks with their own detached property with taxpayers money, as no housing benefit was available. Perhaps he was genuinely trying to provide a market opportunity for all the growers of watercress in his constituency. But if the economy goes the way it might do, and the UK debt ratings go down for good, there may be only one option for him.

He will have to eat the ducks, of course after the watercress soup.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Elections - Back To Eatanswill

The cry is on for a General Election. One has to be held in the next year in any event, unless there is a coup. So the campaign has now begun. It is going to be a long, wearing, ugly business. And it will not deliver us a democratic government because in the UK the fundamentals we need for this have been surrendered. All we will get is a job lot of people who no longer have a real function in Government. My mother was one of the first women to be able to vote in her early 20's. That was in 1929, so that is how long we have had full adult suffrage and a fully representative system.
We may still have the right to vote, but for what? A Government that cannot legislate for us in a wide range of matters, one that is hog tied by so many commitments and obligations it is often unable to make any effective decisions, let along administer them. One that can no longer defend the realm, or maybe sustain the poorest at a decent standard of living. All it will be there for will be to run a months sports event in 2012, in the hope that someone from the UK will win a medal to justisfy the billions of expenditure. According to the sun worshippers something really nasty will happen later in 2012. I am beginning to hope so, because at the present rate it is around then when I and millions of others will be unable to pay our bills.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

London Pride & Tamworth Pigs

The problem with the UK is London, and it has always been London. If there has been anything nasty, damaging, and destructive in the Atlantic Isles and the reach of its activities, more often than not it has had its roots in London one way or another. Although London has now lost most of its industrial base, it has remained the central location (black hole?) for Government, Parliament, Finance both national and international, Media and Press, Sport, Arts, Culture, and a good many other things. Crime has always had a much more local base, but the money has often gone to London, and while everyone knows about the Kray Twins, little is heard of their provincial equivalents.

In recent years a number of commentators have warned about the creation of a class of professional politicians and associates too closely enmeshed with the web of greed and deceit so easily created and sustained in a small geographical area that is also the centre of communications. The vultures have not just come home to roost, they have been based in London for a very long time.

They have now given us a system of government were the legislative powers have been largely offshored to their remittance men in Brussels, the money has been offshored to tax havens, the executive does its strategic planning day by day with its eye on the headlines, the civil service is in a state of collapse. As for the economy, well The London Mediocracy has been taking in its own financial washing for some decades now, and has comprehensively wrecked the basic structure to the cost of every man, woman and child in future generations.

The quickest and best way to administer a radical cure would be to move Parliament and Government out as soon as possible. Some time in the 1960’s a journal, was it “The Economist”, did a think piece about moving it all up to a new town to be built on the North York Moors called Elizabetha. Perhaps, but it would be a pity to disturb the insect life there with a lesser form of species.

Before London, there were other capitals in England. One was Winchester, where King Alfred the Great held court, probably the option that would most appeal to the inhabitants of the Westminster Village. To the north there might be York, the old Viking City, which has excellent communications, or Pontefract, seat of the Dukes of Lancaster. Further north, there is Bamburgh, now a small village, once the seat of the Kings of Northumbria. My favourite would be Tamworth however, the seat of the Kings of Mercia, now a modest late industrial Midlands town. It is famous for its two stations one on top of the other, Low Level on the old LNWR West Coast Main Line, the High Level on the old Midland Railway main line from Bristol to York through Birmingham, Sheffield, and Pontefract. Also, it was one of the seats of the Stanley family whose decision to ride for King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth helped to put the Tudors on the throne.

There is a better reason for choosing Tamworth however. It is the name of an endangered species, the Tamworth Pig, one of the ancient breeds of England. So our new government could dispense with the lions etc. that are so part of the imperial past now ended as symbols of authority. It could install the Tamworth Pig as the symbol of the new age of government. So when the new Speaker is led to his Chair, the House will rise and cry Oink, Oink, as a mark of respect.

Friday 15 May 2009

A Dance To The Music Of Time

Now that The Telegraph has named Yvette Cooper (and her husband) about property flipping in the Great Expenses Scandal, there is a sense of completeness about the whole mess. Yvette is MP for Pontefract and Castleford, and the former was the base of the famous architect (the RIBA were not too sure about that) and financier, John Poulson, who went spectacularly broke at the end of the 1960’s taking quite a few political reputations with him as it unravelled in the early 1970’s. The Wikipedia entry on him gives the picture fairly well. It does not give the full ramifications of his activities, but does enough.

He built a splendid state of the art house, “Manasseh”, which won design awards at the end of the 1950’s. The cost figure given in the entry is £60,000 to which should be added the free work done as favours by contractors. When it went to auction in the 1970’s it sold for £32,000, despite property prices having doubled in the period.

Yvette in her political work has presided over a major property crash of her own. There are other delightful nuances however. During the 1960’s governments were on a house building spree, and Poulson came up with a design for prefabricated housing. Probably, the concept was good and the demonstration houses were well built, but in Great British style when applied in practice, bad work in the factory allied to slapdash building on site, meant estates of leaky, cold, and creaking houses that later were impossible to sell. One was in Cudworth, famously the birthplace of Michael Parkinson, as he has never failed to remind us on every possible occasion.

Another project was a primary school built for the West Riding County Council, a major client, in Worsbrough. How a new school was built in an area of declining numbers is a mystery. At least it gave Arthur Scargill’s children less distance to walk, and somewhere with indoor lavatories. The problem was that when an outside door was opened all the warm air left the building, so it used quite enormous amounts of coal to keep it functioning.

There was a hospital somewhere where the lifts not only were at the wrong end of the building, but the same size as those in shops, precluding patients on trolleys or beds from being moved. The Leeds International Pool was too short for international swimming. Last but not least was the old Department of Education and Science by Waterloo Station. The lifts often got stuck between floors. In the time of Sir Keith Joseph at the DES it was said that when he was caught in this way the senior officials were inclined to leave him in the lift as he did less damage.

What finally pushed Poulson over the brink was probably his association with Reggie Maudling, the ineffable Chancellor of the Exchequer under Heath. Mrs. Maudling had a huge and costly ambition to make East Grinstead the capital of the ballet world, and Poulson was roped in to pay the price, and it all ended in tears, like most ballets.

When the scale of the corruption and political malpractice across the nation became known there were a lot of people involved and it was said that to prosecute them all would be too costly, too disruptive of the various agencies of government involved, and would seriously damage public confidence. Important names were whispered. But poor Poulson and a handful of soft targets took the rap and did time in gaol. Old and ill he never recovered, and his biography was pulped.

Yet in many ways, in terms of management, finance, and performance, John Poulson is the intellectual progenitor of New Labour, a man whose vision of government has finally triumphed.
Perhaps Yvette should do some work on Local History, she might learn something.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Did Magna Carta Die In Vain?

The video is Anthony Hancock and lasts 24 seconds only.

As history is for ever having its course changed and being rewritten, let us remind ourselves of our ancient freedoms. When Good King John was made an offer he could not refuse at Runnymede in 1215, just who were the brave freedom fighters winning our ancient rights? They were the major property magnates of the day, who did not like the deal that the King offered, in particular the liability for paying taxes and obeying a system of unified law. This kind of thing was only for the little people. These magnates continued to hound the crown and later organised another bid for authority in the shape of a Parliament. In its original form the House of Lords meant those at the top of the rich list of the day, and the House of Commons, a collection of cheer leading groups selected from amongst their side kicks and connections. This remained more or less the case until the early 20th Century. Then, an urbanised population, global trading, the rise of money merchants, and the severe depression in British agriculture displaced most of the old upper class replacing them with new money and more complicated ideas about how to handle it, basically the rich kept the lot without obligations.

The problem was that in creating urban living with new communications meant that the little people wanted a say, and worse, a decent share of the loot. So whilst they had to be given votes with the attendant risks of them getting organised, something had to be done to keep them in their place. So was born the Ponzi scheme of the welfare state (if you think this is an idea I have pinched, not so, I was flogging this one years ago), consumerism, easy credit, the modern media and marketing, and dear Zeus (oops, that’s my DNA out) the unlovely and stomach churning celebrity culture, of which our present politics is just a branch.

Now our new elite, The London Mediocracy, are paying off the great magnates who have just wrecked the system they created with money from taxes we will be paying for years. They are frantically trying to avoid either paying fair taxes, or having to obey the laws that the rest of us do, and to prop us a system that is crashing down around our ears. This is the context in which the wicked comedy of the expenses racket is being played out. In the meantime the little people do not like it and they still have votes. The trouble is that they have little or no idea of how to use them effectively, and the options they have before them offer little respite from the past.

Given 21st century conditions in our representative assembly we do not need well over 600 people elected on the basis of a voting system that has inflicted serious damage on the nation now for too long. We need only half as many, if that. As for the Second Chamber, the present arrangements are worse than the previous. If we can work out what it might do, and there is a need for counterbalance then the way it is elected should reflect that. As for the head of state, given some of the political grotesques we could be saddled with, Her Majesty etc. look the least worst option. There is talk of Cromwell in the air. He’s the wrong man. Perhaps Jack Cade, maybe John Lilburne, but not John Wilkes, more Edmund Burke, or Henry Hunt. A personal favourite would be William Lovett, but the idea of Moral Force with Temperance and Kindness would be difficult to sell against the commercial interest.

So it might come to the Eastern Association after all, and who would I ride with?

Tuesday 12 May 2009

2012 Olympic Security Costs


The economic gloom and confused politics of 2009 mean that the Government will be promoting the 2012 Olympic Games to an even greater extent. But there are key issues that are little discussed in public. One is the security arrangements and the probable real costs. Their will be a reluctance on the part of the Games organisers to say much about these questions. The security requirements for the G20 Meeting of Heads of State and the watch on terrorism have been minor efforts in comparison to the policing and security needed in 2012.

In the modern Olympic Games there have been only a minority where heavy security and military presence has been necessary. The Beijing Games of 2008 was one and represents the benchmark for 2012, but how many were counting the total security manpower? Others were the Berlin Games of 1936 and the following Games in 1948 in London that drew on the lessons of its predecessor in that the substantial military involvement was necessary for their organisation and management. The 1980 Moscow Games relied heavily on the military for the running and support facilities and political control. In all of these the relevant Olympic hosts had substantial military forces, other facilities, and overall powers of action that will not be available to London in 2012.

What Security Risks in 2012?

London, because of its central position in Britain’s Imperial history, and the epicentre of the UK modern government, financial, and media systems has a role unlike that of many Olympic hosts of the recent past. In recent years large scale migration from across the world has had the consequence that London has become host to all the world’s sorrows and conflicts. Groups from almost anywhere in the world who have enmities or hatreds are present in London, whether peaceful, involved in conflict abroad, or potentially beyond the law or violent in the UK. The state of current law in the UK allows considerable opportunities for recruitment, indoctrination, training, planning, and logistical requirements of violent dissident groups. It is unlikely that the total number and scope of their activities will be reduced by 2012. They are likely to increase given the spreading economic disruptions in all the world’s polities and economies. These events will spill increasingly discontented and complicated elements into London, the South East, and other urban areas.

Policing at present is in little evidence in some parts of London, spawning gangs and groups of feral youngsters, both increasingly lethal in their outlook. There is the worse prospect of some of these becoming enmeshed with the hatreds, disputes, and armed confrontations of embittered groups. It is not simply a powder keg; it is a large warehouse full of big nasty fireworks, any or all of which could go off in 2012.

In the summer of 2012 the requirements will be more than a few smiling policemen directing the traffic and telling the time with a crew of blazer clad volunteers running about with millboards trying to be useful, although some of these will be needed for media and publicity purposes; nor regular staff on overtime to cope with the extra numbers on public transport. It will mean an army of trained, expert, and effectively commanded people across the south east of England and at points elsewhere, rather more capable, better organised and co-ordinated than the present forces.

What Will The 2012 Security Demands Be?

The entry points to the UK by air, sea, and land will need additional controls and safeguards with substantially more efficient communications, support and co-ordination facilities.
Existing sensitive security, research, military and related locations will need augmented protection during and up to the period of the Games. We do not want one Liberation Front or another raiding certain research facilities.
An outer screen of security forces (the M25 Net) will need to be in place to cover the approaches to London in the event of emergencies on a response basis. This will need its own communication system.
Within London there will need to be high security response teams available to cover all sensitive locations, e.g. foreign embassies, on an area basis.
The surface transport networks will require added staffing beyond the needs of ordinary passenger movement and assistance. This should cover stations and trains on a comprehensive basis.
There is the security and monitoring within the Games venues, apart from the event control and management staff.
Security and monitoring at the approaches, in the immediate vicinity of the venues, and at the road and transport links.
The same two facilities at all the accommodation facilities for the athletes, the organisers, the support staff, and the VIP elements.
Also, along the transport networks for these categories and for spectators and other associated groups.
For those either taking part in the Games or who are closely involved with them on one basis or another, particular security and monitoring will need to be in place for groups or individuals who might be chosen as prime targets by any dissident or terrorist group.

How Much Does Security Cost?

It will depend how you do the costing, the assumptions you make, and what will be entailed in the deployment of large numbers of people operating on a basis of both established provision and special facilities. Inevitably, to keep the apparent costs down it is likely that this will be hidden and that will kept off the balance sheet to reduce the admitted cost. The reality will be much greater.

Assuming that the UK government, unlike in 1948, will not have the option of using forced labour in the shape of conscripted troops, and assuming that it will not seek to use cheap labour from abroad as the basis for its internal security, then who might be available from within the UK labour force? At present we do not have the numbers, the structure, the support organisation, the computer systems and the communications systems, to allow us to calculate the figures.

It is not a question of thinking of a figure of people, assuming an average wage, and then booking a figure for the month at that price, hiving off other costs as within the existing structures, or covered by some sort of “legacy”. Nor should there be any off balance sheet contrivances through shifting loans or loading onto other accounts, for example, local council finances rolled into the Games provision. Moreover for each person engaged in the security the real cost will include all the backup, support and management systems necessary to sustain a comprehensive coverage.

What does this mean?

For the personnel involved the work will begin, not days or weeks, but months in advance in terms of the deployment, training, and preparation for the Games. They will all have to know exactly what they are doing, why, how the operation is being managed, where they will be, and when they will be there. If they do not then the consequences could be chaotic with the risks attached. Mayor Boris Johnson’s vision of 10,000 volunteer policemen is inadequate and dangerously over confident. Such a group may ornament the approaches to events, and dress the photo-opportunities for the politicians and celebrities, but who will they be, where from, and now trained?

The implications for this are serious. The military will need to be withdrawn from existing duties and redeployed from the Autumn of 2011. The police forces will need to be progressively released from other duties from early in 2012. The security forces inputs and detachment from earlier tasks; necessarily will be from before that time, and increasing through 2012 until the end of the Games. Other groups and staff taken from existing services will be transferring their work again from early 2012 in increasing numbers. Even if it is assumed that many of the staff on the ground will be only temporary, a substantial proportion will need to be in place and in training rather before the Games begin. Any security forces borrowed from Europe will need time and to be made aware of British sensitivities in the handling of demonstrations and crowd situations.

There are other implications. The number available from the British military will be far smaller than the military capability for the Beijing Olympics, even if the whole of the British Armed Forces were to be deployed. For the police to approach the numbers deployed in Beijing might entail effectively the withdrawal of the police services from large areas of the United Kingdom for several months. Either there will have to be significant recruitment of extra police from this year onwards or the government will have to face other options for policing communities beyond the M25.

A back of the envelope figure for the real numbers for security of 250,000 people at a typical real head cost of £25,000 each, yields a total in the order of £7.5 billion. This does not include hardware costs, such as IT, software development, transport facilities, and kit. The figures for government and local authority IT development in recent years would suggest more billions, but this is only speculation. If a table is devised to set on the one hand the numbers to be employed against the real cost of each then the running costs for personnel and management, less hardware, could escalate well beyond £15 billion.

In short, the real total security bill may well exceed all other costs.

What is necessary now is a clear statement of the intentions of the Government and the implications for the budgets of central and local government of the security plans. With this should be clear statements concerning the impact on local and other services, not just during the month of the Games, but during the whole period when staff and others will be occupied with them as either their sole or first priority.

Monday 11 May 2009

Alice In Blunderland

On Sunday night BBC2 started a series on where humanity came from and how. Although fronted by the intelligent and able Alice Roberts, she was given a script of utter banality. The programme was cluttered with the usual clever clogs camera tricks and the nasty ten plus decibel bursts of sound that can damage the ears of the unwary. It took an hour to tell us what we might have learned in ten minutes and spared us the detailed information, hey guys, who needs facts?

Alice took us to the Kalahari and the Bushmen to illustrate the basics of the hunter gather lifestyle. As they trotted along in the fierce heat of the desert she measured their body temperature to see how they coped. It remained remarkably stable in spite of hours of effort, helped no doubt by their physical fitness and lack of fat. But the thesis was that the sweat glands enabled body cooling that made the humans far more efficient predators in severe conditions than all those fur clad cats and others. I sweat therefore I am. What Alice did not mention was the importance of the sense of smell in the wild and that the sweat may have had an effect on the females. As this is a polite blog, up to a point, I shall draw a veil, save to say it all helped to create the next generation.

When watching the football earlier, which of course features other sweaty men, one advertisement had a man, (a banker?) living a busy modern life, kept happy only by squirting large amounts of petro-chemical to stop the sweat glands working, and containing powdered heavy metals to block the pores. As the content of this stuff overcomes and may destroy the sense of smell it keeps the suckers buying. Also it may contain substances that do strange things to the parts of the body that exercise the reproductive function, so the chaps may be able to perform, but without much useful results. So it looks as though modern urban man, often carrying a good deal of fat, could be overheated to no great purpose and useless out of doors.

Alice did not mention in relation to the Bushmen that recently the government of their country have tried to push them into small reservations with concrete huts to allow mining companies a free run at all the mineral resources in their home lands. Like many other cultures deprived of their base, it may well have led to the end of the Bushmen of the Kalahari as a human group, and the end of the last of the hunter gatherers. In the meantime, some of the minerals from their land would have been ground up very fine, and put in cans with stuff to block the pores and stop the sweat of men in the developed world, all in the name of progress and growth.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

We Will Fight Them On The Beaches

It has been suggested to me that my vision of the Marines (US or UK) hitting the beaches of tax havens are the wild ravings of a proto King Lear, or more likely the result of too many margaritas. Not so. The British Marines have arrived without invitation at a remarkable number of beaches around the world in their history; it would be too long a job to list them.

But the Americans have their share, when they sing “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” it is not Tripoli in Bremer County, Iowa, they are on about, it is the one in North Africa, and that was as long ago as 1805. Then there was Cuba in 1898 with the future president, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, galloping around telling his troops how wonderful it was to die for their country. In 1961 President Kennedy authorised another visit to Cuba, but we will not talk about that issue. Nor about "Operation Urgent Fury" on 25 October, 1983 when the USA invaded Grenada, and forgot to tell the Brit's. 25 October is Agincourt Day.

More seriously, there was Normandy in June 1944, where heavy losses occurred in the bid to build the bridgehead for the invasion to succeed. The date for this is given as 6th June, but both US and UK marines were already there the day before. I knew one of them. The Normandy beaches had been vacation locations for some time and the Channel Island tax havens just a short distance away.

Little known is the second set of landings in the south of France on 16th August 1944, picture above. This is the Pampelonne Beach by St. Tropez; that will surprise many. It is better known for pictures of Brigitte Bardot, and many other lovelies. It was where a major landing took place, allowing US forces to cut the main coast road along the littoral of the south; with the French Resistance taking the rail lines inland.

Thirty years later some of the US Vet’s with a few young Marines visited the beach to commemorate the events of that day. They found a group of Brit’s playing cricket using matting on the base of part of the old roadway in the picture. The local French attempting to sunbathe close by were not happy, but there was a breathless hush in the close that afternoon. When the American’s tried to intervene they were asked either to field at deep square leg or do something not usually done on beaches, even French ones. When a young Marine plaintively claimed that the USA had not freed Europe just so the Brit’s could play cricket anywhere they liked, he was told firmly that it was the Brit’s who did the liberating. We call it the “Special Relationship”.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Now For Some Really Bad News

What do we pay these people for? It is reported that the EU Agricultural Commission have decided that the definition of Rosé Wine should include not simply that made from the careful traditional process but any mixture of surplus red and white that a maker can come up with. It is the EU giving in to the big producers at a loss of what to do with the rotgut reds, and weak and unwilling whites that are in permanent surplus. It ignores all those small producers making a wine of choice that is appreciated by many for its particular qualities. Apparently, after protests they have deferred a decision for a few weeks but the prospects are not hopeful.

So what next? Take any sherry that is surplus, add surplus country brain death Romanian vodka with a fix of ethanol, and market it as whisky? Or take some surplus grain whisky, let it down with cabbage water, add corn syrup and a few things and sell it as Highland Sherry? This might supplant the Buckfast Tonic Wine favoured by Glaswegian gourmets, and go down a wow with the clubbers. It would have at least as much logic and maybe more.

It is said that when the Desert Rats in North Africa got their hands on medicinal alcohol, they would put it into water drained from the radiators of their vehicles, and stiffen the mix with some of the tarry stuff seeping from underground. They called it Benghazi Brandy. They were men before their time, although they were fighting against another vision of European Union.

Monday 4 May 2009

Stanley Baldwin - A Man For Our Times

Stanley Baldwin, 1867-1947, see Wikipedia, probably does not feature in the school history books these days. If there are mentions they are likely to repeat the conventional fictions of Winston Churchill, on the one hand, showing the Mr. Nasty side of his character and lifetime media operator, and those of the Left, in that he too won a strike against the miners, and was Prime Minister at that point in British Imperial History when it was at the beginning of the end. Britain had become badly overstretched, with too many problems to deal with, and very few right answers. Baldwin did what he could to make the best of a bad job. As an ironmaster he knew something about the realities of industry, and of agriculture. More honest than most, he had a basic decency, and was willing to admit errors, something that Churchill reviled him for. We could do a lot worse that having another Baldwin, the trouble is that there is nobody like him in sight.

I quote "The fruits of a free spirit of men do not grow in the garden of tyranny. It’s been well said that slavery is a weed that grows in every soil. As long as we have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, men will turn their faces towards us and draw their breath more freely. The association of the peoples of the Empire is rooted and their fellowship is rooted in this doctrine of the essential dignity of the individual human soul: that is the English secret, however feebly and faintly we have, at times and places, embraced and obeyed it." Not bad for a 70 year old in 1937.

Saturday 2 May 2009

The Next Step...........

So what next for Gordon? There is only one way to go now. A total makeover, then a total takeover, and then to impose his authority on a recalcitrant party and nation, if the world is now a different place, then we need a different regime.

So here is how I see it, it is a long item, ten minutes, and the music begins quietly, with just the curtain there for a minute. Then it begins, with Boris emerging after five minutes. The sub titles are sparse but entirely relevant.

There are a lot of takes on The Fuhrer in the bunker clip, and some are very good, but for me this one says it all. And we have seen it done on stage, standing, head on with the full view and full blast of the voices and music. See "Boris Gudunov" in Wikipedia.

It’s all that is left for Gordon, to become Boris Gordonunov, happy May Day Holiday.

Friday 1 May 2009

More Taxing Problems

On Wednesday 25 March I posted an item on “A Taxing Problem” referring to The Bahamas, which was a revised version of my letter in the FT in February 2000, long ago when I could afford to buy printed newspapers instead of blinking at a blinking screen, and naïve enough to believe that writing to the papers had some sort of logic. It suggested that dealing with the Tax Havens might not be a simple business.

The Tax Justice blog of the Tax Justice Network had this item on Thursday 30th April:

“Tax Haven Seeks Taxpayer Compliance”

From The Nassau Guardian yesterday (29th April 200)

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the revenue shortfall experienced this fiscal year is so drastic that collecting "every dollar" that it is owed to the government will not be enough to remedy the situation."The hard reality of revenue shortfalls is hitting this Caribbean tax haven hard, and it's having to borrow $200m from a consortium of banks:"If you are not making the money, how else do you recoup it? By taxing you more? How else [do we] do it other than taxing you more?"
Ingraham asked. "There are only (so many) ways to do it: Cut back on services, which means you cut back on people and the delivery of services; increase taxes; or borrow; or a combination of all three."He might take a moment to consider the revenue costs that offshore centres like the Bahamas force on other developing countries. Then the newspaper reported this:"According to the 2007 Auditor General Report tabled in Parliament earlier this year, the government is owed nearly $400 million in outstanding real property taxes, an amount which should be sufficient to compensate for revenue lost in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The report revealed that in total $563,261,853.75 in various taxes were owed to the government, an amount it labeled "exorbitant" . . . "We recommend that immediate measures be implemented, whereby delinquent taxpayers are made to settle their debts in an expeditious manner." With a probably unintended twist of offshore irony, the newspaper also reported:"However, the report did acknowledge that money might be hard to recoup.
"A contributor to the Tax Justice Network site added this:"Wondering if some of those delinquent debtors to the Bahamian Treasury on their real property taxes include wealthy individuals who have bought their luxurious behind-locked-gates residences to acquire economic residency, in order to avoid paying taxes due to their original home state? Are there individuals double-dipping on the cheating? And what about the foreign owned banks and trust companies whose very existence there is to provide tax-cheat services? ... Do they have an obligation to pay taxes and are any delinquent?"

Just above this blog on the same date, 30 April was a post “Grimy Panama – New Report” and on 27 April was a blog “Climate Of Fear In A British Tax Haven” from a matter raised in Parliament.

None of this makes comfortable reading, especially as in some places the “Haven” has a rich mobile elite owning property in fortified and heavily guarded settlements serviced by cheap, often migrant, labour and luxury commodities supplied from abroad. The great majority of the people live in real poverty, and also lose out because much of the tax base is regressive sales taxes and other charges. It could all become highly unstable.

If the government of the Tax Havens collapse because they cannot fund themselves, then who is going to bail them out? There is a ticklish problem here, because whilst the ordinary people will need all the help they can get, simply to hand over funds entails giving huge indirect financial support to mega rich celebrities, show biz, billionaire financiers, sundry Ponzi scheme operators, and of course all those lovely people engaged in free market medication, narcotics to you and me.

If it all gets very bad and the problems are spilling over into nearby territories and migrants are fleeing the worst, then who’s Marines will be sent in? Will it be those singing “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” disembarked from the most modern equipment fully equipped and inspired by noble purpose. Or will it be something too obscene to be mentioned sung by a motley crew of scruffs, flown in on an unused tourist charter plane with little equipment, because they are expected to pay for their own baggage, followed by accountants bearing PFI schemes?