Tuesday 31 January 2012

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

There are plenty of things to worry about at the moment. This morning had the item about the Little Ice Age being triggered by a handful of volcanic eruptions, as if we did not already know.

The worse news was that the Euro might be rescued and all those Greeks putting up “Prussian Glory” on Youtube to get used to it have been wasting their time. The one that concentrates on King Frederick The Great is the best. Angela Merkel probably keeps a miniature of him in her hand bag.

One interesting item is an article by Christopher McMichael in Open Democracy, a researcher in South Africa be became interested in the militarization of major sports events in recent decades, notably the World Cup in his own country.

He points to the familiar mix of politicians, corporations, unelected international bodies and armed forces with sport as form of warfare without the noise.

Way back in 2009 this blogger was going on about the security aspect of the London Olympics and how little was being said and costed overall but now we know more, it is going to be a big deal.

Also, rather than accepting the figures suggested my deranged and daft ideas were figures for the whole Games of £25-30 billion. I mean, how insane could you get? Now it seems we are up to £24.9 billion and rising.

What nobody has yet mentioned is that similar issues relate to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games of 2014. This is another big deal and also with its own security issues which mirror those of an Olympics. Who better than a McMichael to give guidance and insight into this problem?

This is something I may return to, but The Frit Of The Day Possibly goes to this item:


Quite simply there are a vast number of critical providers of services reliant on computer systems who are wide open to attack and disruption, not just by evil organizations but any amateur hacker with the nous.

Given the interconnectedness of everything and anything at least it gives me something positive to be pessimistic about. Perhaps a job search might be better.

Glasgow are looking for managers for Recruitment and Diversity Relationships, Ceremonies and Culture Programming and Venue Overlays.

So which one needs the Main Battle Tanks the most?

Monday 30 January 2012

Britain's Biggest Boot Sale

While everyone has been getting very het up and posturing like fury over how much the bankers now presiding over the Royal Bust of Scotland deserve for sorting out the debts and liabilities another fine mess has crept in under the radar.

It appears that the Tchenquiz brothers have had the warrants of their arrests revoked on the grounds that the Serious Fraud Office did not manage the job properly.

The consequence has been that their business records have been returned to them and that they are now able to put some financial deals in hand. Legal action against the SFO for £100 million in damages is under consideration.

The reports, which may not be entirely accurate, suggest that they are still in the hole for around £2 billion of debt and wish to defray this by a large boot sale of their ownership of the freeholds of around 250,000 properties currently leased.

This is claimed to be around one per cent of the total UK leasehold sector. It may not sound much but as any financial sector can be sensitive at the margins it needs watching for the implications.

A delicate question arises about why all these freeholds are still in their possession to be sold. At one time most, if not all, were held in subsidiaries of their Consensus Business Group one way or another.

In March 2011 from within this Group a major subsidiary Peverel Group were taken into Administration by Zolfo Cooper because of a default on debt obligations. Clearly by this time these freeholds had been removed.

The chances are that they went to a brass plate company in the British Virgin Islands. This meant that the freeholder Landlords of those 250,000 UK properties had been sold on without notice to their leaseholders, who were left dealing with companies that had once held them but were now agents for transmitting funds.

By one of those happy coincidences so often to be found amongst our global traders generally, Zolfo Cooper, the Administrators, have an office in the British Virgin Islands. What is the old song? “Caviar Comes From The Virgin Sturgeon”?

According to reports the sale of the freeholds is to be dealt with by Lazards and targeted at “sovereign wealth funds”, see Wikipedia for an outline of what these are and the listing of the major ones are in the world today.

The asking price is £3 billion which should see off the immediate debts; leave a modest billion or two in hand and give a lot of creditors a close back and sides. The leaseholders will not know much about it. The taxman can go and whistle.

What it entails is that the ownership of a lot more property will be going abroad along with the major shifts in a lot of other property ownership to tax havens. Has either the government or the opposition taken on board the full implications of what is happening and the consequences, intended or unintended?

In the leasehold sector it means that the Landlords of a great deal of UK property are out of control of UK law or fiscal requirements and are likely to take little direct interest in the operation or impact of their investments.

Unluckily, the 2002 leasehold etc. reform act, largely based on long past thinking, provided for Right to Manage Companies in individual leasehold developments to be formed which both gave residents more say but also more responsibilities.

The leasehold sector of the 1980’s and just after had developed out of a history of different types of property provision and patterns of ownership. Just as the 2002 Act was passed and was being implemented the gathering storm of global finance had begun to impact and to radically change the way it operated.

The actual law and some decisions arising from it are muddled and it is not clear just where the real liabilities and vulnerability to things like compensation claims lie or in the absence of the real Landlord whether they are insurable.

Consequently, these RTM companies, instead of being a device for devolving decision and protection now may have been landed with a much greater liability for the Landlord functions for which they are not equipped or financed. They do not own the freeholds and the theoretical Landlords are gone to other jurisdictions.

Amongst the 250,000 properties is a large slice of the retirement housing provision with its own increasing issues of care in the community etc. Having this in the hands of offshore or foreign financial operators has some serious issues.

Another interesting question is why suddenly such a major operator is dumping out of UK property large scale and urgently. Of course, they are talking the sale up as good because property values are bound to increase indefinitely.

We have heard that one before. It is all very complicated and intricate and you will not hear much from the politicians about any of the questions arising. Was this one an item on the confidential agenda of the recent visits to China?

Or is it just part of “The Great Complacence”?


We may never find out.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Singing Songs

The contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1943, who died tragically young, left a legacy only of recorded music and little film for us to judge her. Nevertheless, those who do remember her in live performance were in no doubt about the quality of her voice and performance.

She has been held up as almost the quintessential English voice of the period in its tone and inflections. Always known as an ordinary girl from an ordinary family in Blackburn, Lancashire she has represented the wonderful choral tradition of that area.

However, it may not be as simple as that. One favourite song is “I have a bonnet trimmed with blue”, sung sweetly and with feeling:


The poignancy of the song is when you know that her grandmother, born Elizabeth Gorton, very much a Lancashire lass, was a bonnet maker who grew up in the hard farming life of high country Lancashire, near Accrington.

Like many farmers in such country in the 1840’s, her family had to move on to the town to find a living at whatever level was available.

Certainly, many of the strands of her family history are very much Lancashire, but there is more to it than that. Her father was a Ferrier but her mother was a Murray, both of whose male ancestors turned up in Lancashire to take their wives.

As the textile and related industries boomed in the later 19th Century there were huge inflows of people from across the Atlantic Isles to help meet the demand for basic levels of labour.

They brought with them their own music and ideas. In many parts of England where number of Scots arrived it was common to organize a pipe band, although nearly all have gone. There is one that does exist, pictured above and formed in 1885:


Quite how Scottish Kathleen’s great grandfather Murray may have been is an interesting question, the contradictory birthplaces suggest a military issue. One likely candidate is the William Murray born in Manchester to a soldier of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards, whose regimental depot then was at Dunbar.

For the Ferrier’s again there is a military connection, this time a great grandfather who was a regular soldier and whose birthplace is given as St. Florence, near Tenby in Wales. His regiment served in Ireland, so grandfather may have been born there.

So there we have it, an English Rose of Lancashire with Wales, Ireland and Scotland probably in her family background. It would be unusual if it were not so typical.

It is worse, however, her father, William Ferrier was born at Aintree by Liverpool which makes him almost a Scouser.

Blow the wind southerly.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Getting In On The Act

The travelling show of world leaders and others is becoming more and more like the days of the old vaudeville, music halls and variety theatres. Only in those days the acts were better, the scripts aimed at more perceptive and intelligent audiences and the performers knew their lines and routines.

There was also a hierarchy of halls and acts, the business of being top of the bill and all the performers had to be well aware that it was the impresario’s and the booking agents who were critical to their careers and futures.

President Obama rates a poor second to Jack Benny and Secretary Clinton to Ethel Merman. With Gringrich and Romney coming too close to Abbott and Costello for comfort, the US Gala Concert scheduled for this November looks like being one of those shows we would all prefer to forget.

In the UK our Prime Minister, David Cameron reminds me at times of Max Miller without both assurance and the class of tailoring. Osborne looks like Alastair Sim, Nick Clegg doing a Norman Wisdom and Vince Cable a Jimmy Edwards it is all less than convincing.

On the Opposition benches, Ed Miliband makes a poor copycat Frank Sinatra crooning act, while Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are very like a Les Dawson and Hylda Baker double act. Harriet Harman is certainly a Violet Carson (Ena Sharples) who can afford to shop at Harvey Nichols.

Elsewhere, Sarkozy does not work as Jacques Tati and as for the other Europeans comparisons are difficult. Alex Salmond is too often like Andy Stewart on mogadon and without the humour. Look around the world and it just gets worse.

There was a time when all this travelling was out of the question. It is possible however that this inability contributed to wars. If the crisis of 1914 had not blown up during the London Summer Season and Asquith had gone to Berlin and Paris with the King in tow it might have been very different.

The trouble at the moment is that the audiences are becoming saturated with all this activity and tired of the old routines. This is displayed in the falling figures for turnout in many places on key political issues or elections. The international acts may put on a fine show for the media but not much seems to happen.

Possibly, this is because democratic or other governments no longer govern much. They are all in thrall to the financial impresarios of world finance and have to cringe for the favours of their local booking agents in their banks and trusts.

When George Formby once thought to skip the ukulele thing and do straight comedy his handler, Beryl, the missus, was told to instruct him that without the ukulele he would not be doing Blackpool, he would be lucky to do Barnsley.

So how long will it be before the handlers of our present acts tell them to sharpen up, improve the oomph, belt it out louder and jump higher?

Will someone please invent the equivalent of a political TV service and shut this lot down?

Friday 27 January 2012

Rickets, A Return To The Past

This, unusually, is a guest post. I am only obeying orders.


In the early/mid 20th Century it was recognised that the disease Rickets was caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D. As it was known that the Vitamins A and D are soluble in animal fats and fish oils, it was clear that a diet which includes such foods would provide the necessary amounts.

Food was less plentiful then and took a large part of household incomes so it became Government policy to ensure that the population acquired these nutrients.

Margarine, as a manufactured product, was fortified with vitamins A and D. Cod Liver Oil and orange juice (Vitamin C) were sold at modest prices in Mother and Child clinics, along with baby formula mil powder.

Mothers were encouraged to give these daily and during the Second World War and beyond, when food was scarce, these measures proved successful in preventing the disease.

Also, children were encouraged to exercise and to seek fresh air and sun as far as possible. In more recent times people have been discouraged from consuming animal fats in all forms. Skimmed milks, vegetable oils, “low fat” products have all been heavily promoted.

Whole milk, eggs, butter and other animal fats have been discredited in an almost hysterical way aided by the commercial promotion and marketing of a wide range of food products playing on those fears.

Perhaps this is a very good reason why the incidence of Rickets is increasing so alarmingly.


Food for thought.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Oh Ye Of Little Faith

There has been a fine old row about the House of Lords, led by a pack of rabid Bishops, striking down the Governments proposal to limit benefits to be about the level of the alleged average earnings of someone who works for a living.

Perhaps I should stay out of this one being an RIP (retired idle parasite) getting my own share of public largesse and even the BBC free of charge. There are times when I feel I should be paid to watch it, but that is another story.

One of the many paradoxes in this business is an unelected quasi-aristocratic body representing crony government at its most blatant is being lauded by all those on the Left as being the true representatives of the workers or in the case of benefits, a lot of non-workers.

Inevitably, it has raised the question again of just who should be in the House of Lords, on what basis and with what powers. On Wednesday, 10 June 2009 in “The End of the Peerage Show” I said my piece on all this and time has moved on.

Another paradox is that an elected government, up to a point, trying to tackle the very serious problems of the extent of misuse of the benefits system and the danger of the inherent failures sending it out of control are being stymied by people who want those on benefits to be better off than most of those paying tax.

Yet those who are instrumental in this are claiming to be on the side of the poor. In fact with housing benefit they are throwing huge sums of money at the very rich, few of whom pay much tax at all.

In London and the South East you have to be well off to afford property now and really rich to have a property portfolio. If you are in this class it is probable that you will have taken the steps necessary to avoid undue taxes.

Additionally, you may well have located the ownership of the relevant property assets off shore to gain the advantages of privacy, this has become common. Michael Meacher claims that in two London boroughs alone some £80 plus billion worth of property has had its ownership located in secrecy jurisdictions.

So not only is the benefits system as it stands together with other rules and regulations helping to push up rentals to very high levels enabling the rich investors a high rate of return but the income from most of those rents is going straight out of the country doing our balance of payments no good at all.

In short the Bishops and their running dogs in the House of Lords have done all in their power to shower the richest amongst us with vast sums from the public purse.

In effect they are granting them vast subsidies from taxes largely drawn from the middling and lower paid working classes whose real incomes are less than many of those on benefits who in turn become trapped in welfare dependency.

In the old days the House of Lords existed to serve its own interests and control the House of Commons. Isn’t the Church of England a major property owner?

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Government By The Woodentops

With all the complicated debate going on about the National Health Service and the positions being taken up by the very large number of interest groups and lobbies I have been lost in the fog as far as personal thinking goes.

As someone who remembers life before the NHS and the period of transition from local/mutual/private provision into a “national” service it is not difficult to feel that more than once we have lost our way.

Patrick Dunleavy, however, has provided a longish, informed think piece on the latest round of proposed reorganisations, reshaping and refinancing. He is very pessimistic on the costs, organisation or lack of it and the potential for disaster in the future.

The NHS clearly cannot stay the same, clearly cannot be just a vehicle for those currently employed and yet has to deal each year with a large proportion of the population. Amongst the patients the patterns of disease and illness will not remain the same.


In her much quoted book "The March of Folly", the historian Barbara Tuchmann noted that:

“Wooden-headedness plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”




Given the rapidity of change, medical and technological let alone demographic, it is all too likely that in 2012, as in 1948 and 1974, we are embarking on a period of reform on the basis of ideas that already out of date.

And the money that was assumed would be available will not be and cannot be.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Free The Redknapp Two!

Are Buster and Lulu about to be put in the slammer of a Kennels and robbed of their right to live in their own home? These dogs are innocent!

They may have had incidental benefits of an expensive upbringing in a top price home and being taken for walkies on the most expensive bit of seaside real estate in the Kingdom but why should they suffer?

Their owner did nothing wrong, other than choosing a tax option that is currently being showered on all the top earners by the present government. If Vodaphone is innocent according to the Supreme Court of India then so are Buster and Lulu.

What is dismaying is how the memory of a much loved dog, Rosie, otherwise known as Leg Ripper by the neighbours, is being defiled in this spiteful attempt by the police to force egalitarianism on the most libertarian of football managers.

Harry Redknapp was being perfectly frank, honest and reasonable to quote a former Prime Minister, even giving his year of birth to the bank in Monaco to mark Rosie’s personal account.

1947, I remember it well, we froze, we nearly starved, there was no TV, only a maundering BBC radio service urging us to greater sacrifices in between comedy that was rarely funny and light entertainment as stodgy as a spotted dick pudding ruined when the gas supply failed.

Most of us only had either Hollywood films to entertain us, something that British films rarely did, or to go to the local football match.

There we watched chaps who lived up the road in cheap rented housing and who went to the same pubs that we did play for a quid or two more than you could get if you managed overtime on double pay.

It is thanks to the need to cherish and house lovely dogs like Buster and Lulu that have driven their owner to greater things. Who would argue against this?

Just as the need to have high maintenance girl friends and profitable media rights have helped footballers park their fortunes offshore with the help of their friends and others.

Yes, I know government borrowing has gone over £1 Trillion, yes I know there is a bit of a problem with the tax revenues going down faster than a footballers trousers in a lap dance club, but let us stick to British fair play.

Or I’ll set the dogs on you.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Worlds Second Biggest Economy

In the past, there have been claims in this blog to the effect that there are in essence three parts to an economy. There is the Taxable, the Alternative, which can take many forms, and the illegal.

It was suggested that the Illegal has been growing steadily and is much larger than we think and has a critical effect on both fiscal policy and government spending.

This notion occurred because in the past the way the UK economy worked and how people managed their budgets and spending was very different.

However, in Zero Hedge an article has appeared that makes my tentative ideas look far too conservative in their estimates.

These experts are saying that it is all far bigger than we think and with major consequences with some intriguing graphics:


So, is it possible that across the world the size of the illegal economies amount in total to the second biggest economy? It would not surprise me.

It is arguable that the bigger the levels of government spending the bigger the opportunities for malpractice, crime and corruption of all sorts. The current row over benefits is indicative of the various disconnects in this field.

Is tonight my night for mugging teenagers?

Sunday 22 January 2012

Parliament Is Falling Down

There are lurid reports that the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and all are slowly but surely slipping away and structural collapse could be possible.

A billion or so would put it right. Given what it has been costing us lately perhaps it would be cheaper to let it fall into the Thames, present occupants and all.

However, amending the old and loved ditty “London Bridge Is Falling Down":

Parliament is broken down,
Broken down, broken down.
Parliament is broken down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with spin and spout,
Spin and spout, spin and spout,
Build it up with spin and spout,
My fair lady.

Spin and spout will fade away,
Fade away, fade away,
Spin and spout will fade away,
My fair lady.

Build it up with laws and votes,
Laws and votes, laws and votes,
Build it up with laws and votes,
My fair lady.

Laws and votes will not stay,
Will not stay, will not stay,
Laws and votes will not stay,
My fair lady.

Build it up with debts and deals,
Debts and deals, debts and deals,
Build it up with debts and deals,
My fair lady.

Debts and deals will bust and break,
Bust and break, bust and break,
Debts and deals will bust and break,
My fair lady.

Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.

Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Stolen away, stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
My fair lady.

Set a man to make it right,
Make it right, make it right,
Set a man to make it right,
My fair lady.

Suppose the man blows the lot,
Blows the lot, blows the lot,
Suppose the man should blow the lot,
My fair lady.

Then we’ll all have gone to pot,
Gone to pot, gone to pot,
Then we’ll all have gone to pot,
My fair lady.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Food For Thought

With time being short today, just a couple of links for fun.

Those who want to find their past families, or hunt heirs, make a great deal of use of a number of web sites, a leading one being Ancestry.co.uk or Ancestry.com the world wide version.

Daily Mash has its own take on this, in gloriously bad taste:


For those with more serious and contemporary interests there is a financial one that will equip you to sound authoritative; or at least as convincing as most of our present financial commentators and politicians:



Friday 20 January 2012

Poles Apart

Diversity, or for that matter employment and equality law, has not yet reached down to the world of hand cash car washes in our area. The various teams engaged in this form of economic enterprise are rigorously segregated and some may well be from one extended family. My preference has been for the Polish one.

They are efficient, work as a team and do a very good job. There is often a small or longer queue so I am not alone in my opinions. What is striking is that they are all adult, some may well have families back in Poland and are clearly used to manual work and the disciplines involved.

Quite what their precise financial or housing arrangements are I am not sure. It is possible that the UK system of benefits and the rest may be a major incentive but they certainly know what they have to do and get on with it.

The other teams are all migrants from other places. Alas, I am unable to choose a Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh or British group, they do not exist. Perhaps the educational system is at fault.

None of the several universities in our general area have graduate courses in car valeting or post graduate studies in motor transport hygiene management. I enquired of one senior educator why this might be at a recent meeting only for her suddenly to discover urgent business elsewhere.

Meanwhile in the media there is a debate about how it is that so many migrants find work to do in the UK whilst an increasing proportion of our youngsters do not find work that matches their expectations or inclinations. Fingers at pointed at Eastern Europe, notably the Poles, as taking our jobs.

There was a time when in the Midlands town where we lived on a summer’s day there was a large group of Poles making their way up the main road to the beat of a bass drum. When the drum stopped and the band struck up the dignitaries in the grandstand rose as one and the thousands lining the road cheered the men on.

It was the Polish national anthem and the group were men from the 1st Independent Polish Airborne Brigade brought over from Grantham way (did Mr. Roberts serve them in his grocer’s shop?) who had fought at Arnhem in 1944 and this was July 1945 when they were being honoured amongst others.

I was standing on a Jeep courtesy of American’s of the 82nd Airborne Division who were cheering as loudly as anybody. Some wore the Purple Hearts they had earned on 6 June 1944 when they were dropped into Normandy or also at Arnhem.

Many of the Poles did not make it back to Poland for a variety of political and personal reasons. For some there was no family left to return to and for others the welcome might be uncertain from their former Soviet allies now installed in Poland.

The local Roman Catholic churches welcomed them. They provided a devout stiffening amongst the more lackadaisical local men and moreover, unlike those in the congregation from one part of the Atlantic Isles, did not head out of church regardless of the service five minutes before the pub’s opening time.

Most married into local families, there were more than enough widows or lost fiancés to avoid the usual resentments. They were found work in local factories. One was keen to recruit their footballers and especially the most able chess players amongst them. The works chess team became one of the best in the Kingdom.

This is all two thirds of a century away and it is likely that most of their grand children may have forgotten their Polish heritage or know little about it. It is possible that some of the loudest complainants about recent migrant Poles may well have that blood.

In any case if one looks at the patterns of male DNA in the Y Chromosome there are a good many in the UK from the long past who left behind cousins in central Europe as they moved north and west after the last Ice Age. So many Poles are closer to some of us than we think. Much the same applies to the maternal DNA.

The questions arising from recent mass migration, employment patterns, educational provision, benefits policy and housing and health provision are very complicated. In the case of the Poles the history is even more complex.

None the less there is a profound irony in large numbers of Poles coming over to do the jobs that many of our own young people do not want to do, may not in fact be capable of doing and in any case are able to refuse.

Which reminds me, the car needs a wash.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle

So there was Ian Hislop of “Private Eye”, resident in the deepest south east but being of substantial Scots descent complaining to the Leveson Inquiry in Parliament into media antics. He inveighed against the evils of the Murdoch media empire. Could this be originally a Scottish Murdoch?

He did not mention Kelvin McKenzie, oh, another Scots name, but he might well have done. Then he went on to call into question Cameron, surely not another Scot, Blair and Brown, both men with Greenock on their CV’s as well as being substantially of Scottish origin.

Also, we learn that both the Direct Line and Churchill insurance companies have had their knuckles rapped by the Financial Services Authority for tinkering with the evidence in relation to complaints about malpractice. Pause for a moment, they are both owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

RBS were taken into public ownership after it failed by a Labour government in which the Scottish Labour Party with other Scots based in England exercised great influence. This has added major burdens to the UK taxpayer and has cost them dearly. The ramifications are too much for this post.

At present there is a debate over the mechanics of conducting a referendum on the issue of Scotland in relation to England. The leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, does not agree with Cameron and Osborne (Irish Ascendancy with a leavening of Scots Irish in the ancestry) about what might be what.

Given that Cameron and Osborne are currently engaged with others in the Coalition to attempt to unscramble and rationalise RBS to raise some money from the mess their discussions with Alex could well be formed by the needs of RBS as much as anything else. The “hidden agenda” as you might say.

Because Alex is an RBS man having spent many years in senior positions. He had a great deal to do with oil companies. The bank was generous in allowing him scope in his political and public work. He has much to be grateful for and with RBS one of the major entities in the Edinburgh financial sector it was of key importance.

When Sir Fred Goodwin ruled the roost at RBS he was much sought after. The frantic fawning of Blair and Brown, hanging on his every word, possibly led to the distortions of so many of their ideas about how The City and Edinburgh worked. Alex did not need to fawn, he was already a man within.

In the high on the hog days of the heady boom of the first few years of the last decade there was the ambition to make Edinburgh the ultimate tax haven of Europe. With RBS and the HalifaxBoS amongst the powerful international anchors and the support of expatriates in other tax havens to pull in major punters all was set to make Leith a second Nassau, minus the weather and the beaches perhaps.

This idea has contracted faster and further than the Edinburgh tram project another ride to nowhere. But there are a lot of other interesting questions about RBS and all that it entails. When it succeeded in the reverse takeover of the NatWest bank there were some choice plums to be had amongst its subsidiaries.

The main one was Coutts, taken over and reorganised by NatWest to become bigger, more active in pursuing clients and more targeted in its chosen customers. I wonder who the office in Lugano is supposed to be for? This became RBS Coutts. Could Cameron be a Coutts client?

It was and may still be the private bank for much of the Royal Family. Certainly a good many recent celebrities have been drawn to it. Also others, at present the 15th Earl of Home is listed as its chairman. How many with RBS connections might have piled in when Coutts became open to them? It was not only RBS that was bailed out, it was much of the establishment.

Given the stringent privacy attached to the financial affairs of its clients, especially those whose funds are sent winging round the world then we can know little and it might be dangerous to ask. RBS Coutts has an office in the Cayman Islands, a location whose latest form of Trust provision guarantees protection against those who might want to enquire.

In the good old days before democracy took hold everyone knew who had money, where they got it from, by and large where it was held and what responsibilities were attached. Now in our free, open and non-judgemental society we have little or no idea of where our leaders and politicians money is and on what basis.

As Ian Hislop says so often in “Private Eye”, I think we should be told.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

I See No Ships

The discussion on whether to replace the Royal Yacht “Britannia” currently listing in Leith Harbour is giving rise to the usual chatter about Royalty, money and taxpayers. Many argue because such a vessel can be used for all sorts of other things this offsets the costs.

This begs a number of questions; such as if there are other things needed why not have the relevant type of ship rather than a one size fits all? The old “Britannia” did good work in the Falklands in 1982 as a hospital vessel but why was such a back up ship needed?

There was another Royal “Britannia”, built in 1893, pictured above and see Wikipedia. It was a lot smaller than the recent one but was built strictly for racing and not for comfort or long distance transport. In its time it gained a lot more attention and favourable comment at a lot less cost. It was also fun for its handlers.

One part of the debate is whether such a vessel should be state (taxpayer) funded or private funded. If it is built with private money, then who is paying? In the end this means consumers, maybe shareholders and if tax breaks or some subsidised companies are involved then certainly the taxpayer will be taking a whack.

My suggestion is that a very big, very rich and very powerful company should buy one of a couple of aircraft carriers that will be going spare in the near future. The company could use it as a base for all its private jets, transport and as a floating main frame back up facility.

This could be offset by a below decks shopping mall available to go anywhere to serve consumers with disposable incomes, credit cards and overdraft facilities as well as private health clinics and fitness clubs.

It could be hired out to major firms or high level celebrities with large entourages and a substantial media following, for example, Blair Corp. This might offset our normal security bills.

Occasionally, the Royal Family might use it for their international travels. Prince Andrew need no longer rely on his air miles to help UK trading here or there or somewhere else.

So which aircraft carrier will have the honour of being “Barclay’s Britannia”?

Monday 16 January 2012

Cameron And Osborne Kow Tow To China

Looking around the web came across a post by Automatic Earth that takes a look at the UK Economy and does not like what it sees. It is a longish item but worth looking at, if only because soon others may become very nervous.


The part which discusses the Incredible Shrinking UK Economy is of special interest. Especially, in the news put out today about the future of the City of London, put over as good tidings.

The City of London is set to be the world epicentre for trading in the Chinese yuan/renminby money and financial sector. In other words while the previous government bet the house on one set of currencies and trading this government is placing the same bet on another.

For those with the time and interest to scout the web for information on the 19th century history of the Chinese Concessions the notion that the government of China may not just have a foot in the door but may be in occupation of the main hall of the building is not good news.

I have remarked before about the potential for an Honourable West European Company of China bent on economic and trading control and this may just be the beginning.

The picture above is of a British master mariner trading in Hong Kong in 1830. Beside me I have the cash box of another like him who was there at the same time and making his money in trading.

So will the contents of this cash box now depend on China in a very different way?

Dish Of The Day

It appears that there has been a spat about where and who invented haggis. It has often appeared on the plate and at times not particular to season or date. I have also enjoyed it during Lent, if only as a gesture.

Firstly, a declaration of interest, the records of my personal family include the minutes and documents of the Incorporation of Fleshers held in Ayr and Edinburgh. They were major figures in this body for generations. One of the youngest sons of this family group had to go off and earn his living elsewhere.

In the Old Parish Records of Ayr on the facing page which records the baptism of Robert Burns is the baptism of one of the Fleshers of my family, albeit not an ancestor. My father was a butcher for a long time, boxing professionally as “Butcher Bill” and another near ancestor in another line was also a butcher.

I am fussy about my meat; it comes from the farm on special order. It costs more than the supermarket cheap stuff and but less than their premium meat. Even the sausages are made to order.

Thirty or so years ago the best haggis I could source came from mid Yorkshire, a butchers who supplied a substantial number of Scottish clients unable to find the right mix in the right quality nearer to home. I have found decent haggis in Borough Market in London.

There is more to it than that. It is my contention that not too long after the invention of fire and the various means of cooking foods over it some hominids found that stuffing an animal’s innards with assorted offal, ground meat and cereals and perhaps with added herbs made a filling and delightful meal.

Down the millennia, there have no doubt been variations on one sort or another around many civilisations according to taste, availability or religious demands. I have little doubt that my forebears in Ayr may have varied their mix from time to time according to what was available.

Quite why locally this type of dish came to be called haggis in Scotland as opposed to all the many names it must have had in many places I do not know. Perhaps it was the nickname of a housewife who made a particularly tasty version, perhaps indeed one of my own family.

For leading politicians to go ape and posture mightily over the content of a form of meal that is so ancient speaks volumes about the quality of the debate about current issues and their contempt for the electorate.

If this is the best they can do then they need stuffing.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Labour In Vain

We live in strange times. Clan Cameron has begun yet another feud. One might have thought that in the past they had already feuded with everyone worth feuding with.

Not satisfied with keeping it north of the border he has taken on the Chiltern thousands in buying Chinese technology for the HST2 with umpteen billions of Chinese money to be repaid by the taxpayers for the next century.

Europe is degraded, or down graded depending on your outlook and everyone is holding their breath as to the extent and nature of the financial fallout. This is looking bad.

To add to the interest one satellite channel showed a programme suggesting that Naples could soon be just a thick layer of ash as Vesuvius blows a big one and takes the Italian economy, or what is left of it, with it.

In the USA the needs of returning President Obama to office has just added another trillion or two to the national debt. And it ain’t over yet. Meanwhile the recession continues and the Bank of America is on the block.

Some contrarian has popped up in the oil web sites suggesting that rather then a major hiking of oil prices it is possible that between recession and the potential of fracking techniques the price could be more than halved.

This will be very bad for a lot of economies presently barely in surplus and again impact on Europe and the USA.

In the UK the deficits mount, the economy is sluggish and there do not seem to be any easy answer or any answers for that matter to the gathering problems.

Astonishingly, this knowledge has even penetrated the thinking of the Labour Party who are looking for what sound like policies to present to the people in the event of an implosion of the Coalition and an early General Election.

They are beginning to look for a new image and way of communicating with us lot who wonder what they are up to, other than supporting the latest business enterprises of Blair Corp.

Blair Corp is reported to be going into the business of massage parlours. They are actually supposed to be Health Clinics but you may be sure that the real purpose is to massage the figures to avoid both questions and tax. I suspect that somewhere the taxpayer will be finding the real money.

In all this Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman, pictured above, are hoping to present themselves as going back to a simple form of Labour accepting that what might be will be and setting sail in the barge of state to a new future.

Unluckily, it seems that Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee barge is cancelled for Health and Safety reasons.

Don’t blink, you might miss another crisis.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Save The Warhorse Of World Trade

Around the web there is talk of the present situation as a form of “trade war” that is new to us and which is not fully understood. Certainly, politicians of many nations, anxious to place the blame on other people in other places are claiming that they and their economies are under attack.

There are some basic problems with this. One is what kind of war is it? Is it one where the Barbarians are at the gate or others of that kind? Or is it a modern kind of war which involves a mix of technology, diverse powers and a ruthless approach to the elimination of the enemy.

With the film “Warhorse” on release there is the temptation for me to see it in terms of the First World War. When the play was on at the “National”, at first I wasn’t interested but was urged by others to go.

At the performance I found myself next to an old soldier who had been with the Household Cavalry and I had had my moments with one cavalry regiment or another. We both found it an absorbing and moving performance. I am hoping that someone will buy me the DVD of the film.

But to return to the current financial wars, what is clear is that many, locked in the theories and assumptions of the past do not understand what is happening and what has happened in the last decade or two in global finance.

The down grading of national debt announced this weekend with more to follow in other spheres is seen as an attack when it is a simple admission of the reality that governments have lost control of the rate of interest systems.

We have had all the palaver of one central bank or another holding interest rates “low” when in fact the real markets have rates that are very different and tell a different tales. The resulting distortions are a barrage on real business.

There is the assumption that governments allied to their central banks and the banks within their jurisdictions can control the key supply of money and its major flows. It is clear that they cannot. With all the new monetary devices and so many of the big financial banks and houses off shore this control is wholly lost.

Then there is the question of taxing and spending. With industrial scale tax avoidance taking out revenues from the rich and spending locked into social security, subsidising some things but not others and declaring big prestige projects that will never ever yield any return on capital employed then this in turn is beyond control.

Also out there on the web are those pointing out that in the EU in particular, as well as in other countries the extent and depth of regulation creates a major obstacle to controlling spending or indeed being able to reduce much those areas affected. “Hanging on the old barbed wire” so to say.

In the Western Front of the First World War you were in one set of trenches or another, or worse still stranded in the fog of No Man’s Land, pocked by deep shell holes many of which might contain lethal gas and at the mercy of what ever was going on.

What financial trade war do we have at the moment in WW1 terms? Is it a Retreat From Mons? Is it a Battle of the Somme? Is it one of the Battles of Ypres or is a Kaiserschlacht?

To me increasingly it looks like we are stuck in the No Mans Land of the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele and the war horses have long gone.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Mittelstand, German, American and British

To deal with this subject in full and in detail would take many thousands of words. This bare sketch can only be a slight introduction. The word “Mittelstand”, see Wikipedia, is German and refers to the extent of middle and small sized businesses at the heart of the economies of Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Such businesses were also at the heart of other western economies at one time and the changes that have occurred are part and parcel of the deteriorating conditions that are affecting so many of these others.

Essentially, between 1950 and 1990, Germany and Austria were no longer powers with any major military commitment or much of a role on the world stage. They were able to attend to their own affairs and concentrate on wealth creation, trade and building democratic and socially integrated nations. In this way they followed Switzerland who had kept out of wars and major foreign commitments.

In Austria the peculiar situation meant that Vienna did not exert the economic dominance over the rest of the country that occurred elsewhere. Switzerland has been a Confederation for centuries with Bern as its political capital since 1848 but with economic and other controls highly dispersed.

In West Germany the political capital was Bonn, a small town with the economic clout elsewhere, notably Frankfurt, but with extensive devolved authority to other major cities and centres of trade.

It was a Federal State and the consequence of this between politics and finance was to support and assist industry and trade across the board, large and small, creating a formidable strength and depth.

When I began to revisit Germany in the late 70’s the contrast between what was going on in the UK and the extent of the revival and capability of German economic activity came as a shock. The contrast with the Germany I had seen under Occupation with that of 25 years later was stark, almost as much as the decline I was witnessing in the UK.

The USA being very big, a Federal State and with its belief in enterprise and the creation of wealth also had an economy which was not the same as that of the German, but certainly widely dispersed, vigorous and allowed to develop without too much in the way of control. Also, middle and small companies had good access to capital and funding and were integrated politically into its democratic system.

In the USA now the events of the last decade coupled with the errors of the previous one have now triggered what could be a severe decline in this Mittelstand and maybe with the risk of collapse. Financial power has become too concentrated on Wall Street and Washington DC has become too inward looking and dominating in economic affairs.

The loss of flexibility, incentive, capital and the gross distortions of the financial markets in the USA have all conspired to seriously damage the basis and the functioning of the middle and lower and have shifted too much power, control and money to too limited a group of big business operations. This is not capitalism, it is oligarchy.

In the UK recently we have opened our doors to and showered favours and finance on the oligarchs of the world. But between 1950 and 2010 the centralisation of government, the concentration of economic decisions, the extensive and costly interference across the board have imposed intolerable burdens on the middle and lower sectors of business and trade.

Between 1945 and 1980 in order to prop up large scale declining industries and activities the political imperatives were to extract from profitable business so much as to deny it the ability to create its own capital. Central controls of capital made matters worse.

Neither the banks nor the City did much if anything for the UK Mittelstand, essentially chasing financial butterflies across the world instead, with the encouragement of one government or another, all London centric.

The result was to put areas with a strong UK Mittelstand into decline without saving the old industries. Given the extreme centralisation of the Westminster system the UK economy became more and more dependent on the City and other service activity. Our Mittelstand is now only a shadow of what it once was.

Just look at the UK political parties and their actual membership and see where their money comes from and who they work for. It is certainly not the middle and lower reaches of the economy, it is all for the big boys with deep pockets and the ability to walk in the back doors of 10 and 11 Downing Street at any time.

In Germany their prime concern about the Euro and its troubles is not just the issues for its many banks, it is for the Mittelstand at the heart of their economy. They now have the problem that Berlin may have become too powerful.

The USA is in economic cardiac arrest. In the UK the vampires have already done their worst.

How can the UK begin to rebuild its Mittelstand? Because if it cannot; then the game is well and truly up.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Work Is The Curse Of The Drinking Classes

According to a report in the Daily Mail a young graduate in museum studies is going to court to ask for a judicial review arising from her being obliged to undergo training whilst claiming benefits.

It is claimed that this is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and fundamentally questions the new regulations that mean unpaid training work for short periods can be enforced to ensure that the unemployed are gaining some form of experience and awareness of the world of work.

In fairness the claim that she was undertaking unpaid voluntary work related to her qualifications whilst seeking work is true. So another issue is whether this could be regarded as a substitute for the training recommended by the Job Centre.

The work was shelf stacking at Poundland. These are shops specialising in bargain offers. They are warm, if anything over heated, clean, provided with toilet facilities for staff and offer a wide variety of potential human contact on an everyday working basis. They are open for normal shop hours in the daytime.

It sure as hell beats unloading the Grimsby Fish train at 2 a.m. in five below with a light dusting of snow coming down. After you have finished that then you might have a short break before the Paper Train arrives at 4.30 to 5.00 a.m.

Then, you, together with a lot of other sweaty foul mouthed men from vans have between half an hour to an hour to unload all the days press and magazines for a large city and get them on the road. A stint cleaning the outside of trains at the carriage sheds by the canal was almost light relief.

But I was glad of the money, not being eligible for benefits because for two years I had been off work doing a sort of forced labour. Although “National Service” this did not count for national insurance and in any case someone going on to higher education had no chance of any benefits at all.

Back at the Job Centre they have to weigh up just what chance a person has of finding a job in the field they are qualified for. In many areas of higher education because of the numbers graduating against the jobs available there will be many who never will.

So people may have to be pointed in other directions and to work which they can do and which could provide contacts, leads and experience that would enable them to vary and widen their field of choice. Added to that is life experience, always invaluable in a difficult world.

I am sure the retail sector could benefit from entrants who have decent levels of education and the ability to progress to more demanding and senior work in time. One way of finding out if they really want work or not is to take them to see how they do in the real world of the present rather than the distant past.

But these days our graduates do not expect to start at the bottom. If the courts find that this offends their “human rights” then heaven help us all. So who will do these jobs and for what pay?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Independence, Scotland's Magical Mystery Tour

When our children were first in school the counties of Clackmannan, Radnor and Rutland all had authority and responsibility greater than the United Kingdom has at present. Even the lower tiers of urban and rural district councils might have more discretion in the exercise of many of their functions.

Even then those of a radical frame of mind pointed out that the UK was not longer “independent” by reason of its membership of NATO, the United Nations and various other international bodies as well as the requirements of its “Special Relationship” with the USA. This view was unpopular, especially as it was true.

Looking back to when I was first in school people believed in British might and authority. However, we had a number of binding treaties to conform to as well as other limiting conditions, such as the League of Nations. Again, it is arguable that even then the UK had become a prisoner of its Empire rather than its ruler.

Having been damaged by one major war The Empire became involved in a second that it could ill afford if it was to survive. The decision to fight on after Dunkirk was the last gasp of any independence. When the USA was drawn into the war at the same time as the UK’s money began to run out it bought a little time.

The rest was a polite charade when we went through the motions of independent power until that party was over and we ratted on The Empire to sign up with Europe to save our economic skins. But it was North Sea gas and oil that did that for a while and not the help of our European neighbours.

When the SNP talks of an independent Scotland offering a vision of medieval internal authority coupled with a national identity owed to the Prince Regent and Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg Gotha it is a bogus prospectus.

Even in the Middle Ages there was the Church to worry about and the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath was addressed to Pope John XXII, then resident in Avignon courtesy of the King of France. The present border was the result of a grubby marriage settlement a few years later and could well have been drawn much further to the south at some time earlier.

Indeed, Scotland may detach itself from Westminster. Given the gross incompetence of the UK Westminster government machine, courtesy of a New Labour led largely by Scottish Labour members, the vast scale of the waste involved and its real work largely a retreading of EU directives, regulations, guidance and judicial decisions it is quite sensible to attempt some sanity in their own government.

One difficulty is the way what sort of independence might be achieved and this has changed its colour and pattern down the decades. At one stage it was torn between some kind of Dominion status akin to Canada’s and the leftist preference for the East German model. Ne’er the twain shall meet.

Then under the influence of wealthy expatriates it shifted to the prospect of a second Irish Tiger or Singaporean or Hong Kong model. Edinburgh would become the ultimate tax haven and a world centre for shifty and shifting money to rival and overtake the City of London.

The implication given some of those involved was that any Scottish Currency would relate to the US dollar. This might allow a good measure of political discretion, on the lines of Delaware or California, but it would not be independence. Just look at other countries that are tied to the dollar.

The tricky question then was how this fitted in with the EU. When the Euro currency was created this posed a dilemma. If Scotland went into the EU and took the Euro shilling (sic) then it would not be independent. What may happen to the Euro now is not known, but it will be different.

If it had stashed enough international capital in the wonder banks of the RBS and BoS and their related financial bodies, allied to North Sea Oil it might have a weight and influence greater than its size. As Blair and Brown used to say, all too often, this was “punching above your weight”.

In short there are a number of things that should be known and be prominent in any debate. The key one is certainly what currency and financial structure is proposed for Scotland. Anything based on any other currency, including the pound, is not independence and cannot be

Then there are the basics of governance, The Defence of the Realm, Law and Order, the structure of local government, border controls and migration policies and what taxation systems are envisaged.

To return to money, one key area is the nature of financial regulation. Scotland, if it has its own currency will need its own Central Bank. What will be the basis of this? How will it be governed and who will be the Governor?

Step forward Sir Fred Goodwin?

Sunday 8 January 2012

London, The Dying Of The Light

Up to London yesterday and it was quite strange. Not too many people around, plenty of seats to choose from in the gardens and an air of detachment amongst many of those about. Take out the football supporters on the march and the theatre goers up for bargain price offers and there were not many others.

Because we had time in hand we decided to wander round a few streets that we hadn’t looked at in a while. A great many places had been turned into eating outlets of one sort or another and a surprising number were out of business. Also, a good many of the old specialist shops had gone as well as local suppliers.

London has changed again, but the question is whether that change is one that is part of a dynamic progress and growth or something else. It is all very well for politicians and media people to prattle on about how change must be for the better but it does not always work out like that.

In the UK I have seen a great many communities of one kind or another go through changes and there is little doubt that quite a lot are a lot worse off than they were. Many are on almost life support systems of public sector spending and benefits.

In London there has been, is and it is proposed to have spending of a vast amount of money almost across the board. Not simply in actual spending but in subsidies of one sort or another and allowing tax avoidance on a large scale by the major parts of the financial sector. The transport works already completed, in progress and planned must rival the total for those of the rest of the UK.

Additionally, many of the large scale property developments planned before the Crash are still under way and taking in a great deal of both private and public sector resources. The Thameslink work on the railways south of the river is well under way and beside them The Shard building has taken shape.

This will offer 12,000 jobs for the future it has been said of which a huge 150 are being reserved for local workers. Whether the future workers at The Shard are supposed to find housing in central London, unlikely at present prices; or commute is not known.

If they have to commute they will need good money because the season tickets to places like Sevenoaks are now hitting £3000 a year with a good couple of thousand if you need to park your car daily close to the station.

As for the situation in schools and hospitals for the most part the less said the better unless, again, you have big money available. For all the talk of diversity there is a diminishing amount of it in the London economy. Once it was a major manufacturing area but a good deal of this has gone, never to return.

Additionally, many other activities, minor, small in scale, but serving local, regional or national needs are gone or going elsewhere if not shutting down altogether. Their going is hardly noticed and does not register in the statistics and it takes someone who knew districts from the past to be aware of this form of attrition.

This could be a very long post but my feeling is that for many reasons and complex causes London is now an urban sprawl not just on the brink of decline but one that has begun already.

The real question is how fast and nasty it could be and that poses a great many other questions for the UK as a whole.

Friday 6 January 2012

The Secrets Of Wildlife

David Attenborough, the nation’s expert on wildlife, appeared on BBC4 last night in a programme about Grammar Schools only to remind me of other kinds of wild life he may prefer to forget. There was an eerie moment at the beginning when an old photograph was shown of a sports pavilion in front of which was a rugger team.

David was one of them and as the photograph is clearly one of the school team then David must have been good enough to be selected. As some of the Wyggeston School team in Leicester went on to play in the 1st XV’s of a number of decent local sides as well as The Tigers, then an invitation team, and for the county then David would need to be able to play at that level.

David’s father, Frederick, was then Principal of the Leicester University College, a respected academic establishment with high standards, on the same site as the school. It is likely that Frederick would have been hard pushed, despite his position, to pay for a public school education for his three sons and two adopted daughters.

Because Frederick had begun his career as an Elementary School Teacher and had made a good career by long personal study and application. Before then his family were of ordinary Midlands working stock. By one of those strange twists he was in teaching in Liverpool in 1911 just round the corner from Alois Hitler, the elder brother of Adolf. I wonder if Frederick was ever waited on by him in the café?

The University College was founded in 1921 by local patronage and the school was one of the many decayed old grammar schools that were revived at the end of the 19th Century. By the 1930’s new buildings had given it facilities well beyond those of many secondary schools notably the creation of a strong science department. The City had grown rapidly and needed a secondary educated class.

Many of the boys were from the City’s professional, commercial, office and business families but there was a decent intake from the Elementary Schools in the mix. Most would go on to that kind of work at 16 via part time study and only a minority would have entered the Sixth Form to go to University.

It would give David a breadth of experience, contact, variety and interest lost to those who went off to boarding schools. It was a much more adult environment and the world of work and its realities were all about him. Also, as well as working hard, they liked to play hard and Leicester was a rugger town for all classes.

And David was a rugger man as a teenager. The school was adjacent to Victoria Park, then home to several local rugby clubs with the Old Wyggestonians somewhere else. They intermingled a great deal. Some of those in the school at David’s time who stayed in Leicester later went on a memorable rugby tour of Lancashire.

A few years later, one of David’s immediate contemporaries at school, Michael Green, who was a few months younger, wrote “The Art Of Coarse Rugby” as well as a series of articles about these very teams. Looking at it now, even accepting that it told less than half the tale and all of them had been in the armed services, there was some roistering behaviour that makes the Bullingdon look like a lot of maiden aunts.

But then you had to be there, but why did David give up the game for other wildlife?

Thursday 5 January 2012

Thinking Ahead

With so many looming disasters to chose from in international affairs and finance as well as an increasingly chaotic political situation it is anybody’s guess which might be pick of the day or week.

One choice item is the appointment of a Belgian economist to the European Central Bank to head up its economic policy team. There is a joke about Belgian economists having to work out their theories in several different languages none of which can make sense of the conclusions.

It was the Daily Mail which came up with one story, the content of which was derived largely from the Wikipedia entry, on the Laacher See, a lake in Germany to the west of Koblenz apparently situated in an ancient volcanic crater. It has begun to fizz a bit and volcano experts suggest that as the last blow was 12,900 years ago and it is overdue this could be another worry.

It is potentially a big one. The last time it went up much of Northern Europe was plastered with ash and this coincided with the Younger Dryas, a very cold spell that lasted a long while. They say that whether the two are connected is speculative. Barclays probably are now pricing the risk and trying to hedge on the Asian markets.

Meanwhile Katla Volcano in Iceland, also Wikipedia has slipped out of the news but is still twitchy and the experts are keeping their cards on the table. Quite how big it might be is not known, probably enough to ground a lot of air traffic for up to a month. This would suggest a holiday season might be worth betting on.

One of my family cheerily reminded me of the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge in La Palma in the Canary Islands which has been studied closely. One theory is that if there is a major slip of territory following volcanic activity the ensuing tsunami would wipe out a great deal of the Eastern seaboard of the USA and much of Southern England. The Thames Barrier would not be a lot of help.

Historically, these things can come together. For example Ijen in Indonesia is on the move and can put up a lot stuff in the sky. This one went up in 1817 two years after the Mount Tambora one had radical effects on the world climate and this had followed an 1812 big one in South America. The onset of the Little Ice Age at the beginning of the 14th Century is suggested as the consequence of a series of events of this kind.

One thing that we have been confident about for a while it that we thought we all knew who or what we were, given a few trivial points of detail. But it seems that our past is more mixed that we ever thought:


So whilst in the past we asked where have they all gone, the question now might be how far are they still with us?

Tuesday 3 January 2012

There Is No Affordable Housing

In the USA there has been a catastrophe in the housing markets of most parts of the Union. This has been attracted little attention in either the UK or in Europe because of the various embarrassments entailed. One is the role of many major British and European financial organisations in the debacle.

The massive bungling of the US agencies and authorities may have needed little help to bring about the disaster but our own leading financial bodies did everything they could to make it worse.

The fall in price levels coupled with unemployment and other loss of income has meant millions of foreclosures. Those still in their homes are looking at serious equity loss and may be trapped. Communities have been wrecked and whole areas demolished. The trading in mortgages and titles to property mean that many do not know who owns either their mortgage or the freeholds, many have been lost.

There are an increasing number of American homes now where Grandma is in the loft and the young adult children have returned to wrangle over the title to the remote controls. Their parents who once hoped for an early and prosperous retirement may now never retire or be able to sell their house.

In the UK some of the frantic financial operations have been designed to keep the property market afloat to avoid the same happening here. This has been helped by the inflow of dodgy money with dodgy people buying into London and area as a way of either keeping some assets or laundering money.

Consequently property prices and rentals seem to defy the realities of the gathering problems. On the BBC News was an item about a small terraced house in London where the rental was £2000 a week for a family on below average income. This was funded by Housing Benefit and was said to be typical of London pricing.

If the housing benefit scheme is not just supporting but enriching many of those whose untaxed funds come from the Illegal Economy it is a fair question for ordinary taxpayers to ask quite how this has come about and why.

Also, in the news is discussion about how “Care in the Community” had meant large numbers of the very elderly with little care and stuck in homes they cannot afford to run and with nowhere to go. John Redwood has asked the awkward question of whether such care is designed to protect the inheritances of the relatively better off rather than be paid for by drawing on the capital value of the homes.

Channel Four recently had a feature on the million unoccupied homes and who they might be brought into use. They did not mention the difficult issue of how it has come about that the titles and freeholds of many of these homes seem to have gone off shore and cannot be identified. This brings us back to the financial companies and the industrial scale of tax avoidance in which they are engaged.

As for the leasehold and rental sectors there is developing chaos in both these fields. It is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult for those needing homes who are in the middle and lower incomes. There is a real squeeze here that means that few who have to rent will ever be able to afford to buy.

Again because so much “investment” has been urged on in these fields in the recent past the money flows into this market on the assumption of easy capital gains have pushed the figures too high for comfort. There have been a lot of people badly caught out and there may well be a lot more to come.

Trying to keep a full account of the scale of the mess is impossible in a short post of this kind. Because the UK property market has become so badly overblown then the scale of any collapse could be very nasty. We only have to look across the Atlantic and at Ireland to see what could happen.

In the meantime there is ranting on about the government embarking on a huge programme of building “affordable” social housing. This is music to the ears of the developers and their financial backers. The trouble is that “affordable” probably means a major increase in subsidised housing supported by housing benefit or tax breaks of one kind or another.

This is the sort of thing that got us into the mess in the first place.