Thursday, 28 July 2022

Best musicians I've seen - guitarists: time to get off the fence

 I shortlisted four guitarists as the best I've ever seen - David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp and John Frusciante (22 March) while prevaricating about whether this was even a sensible question.  I can explain this by recalling a music journalist's review of a Traffic gig. He noted that he'd never thought Stevie Winwood to be that good a guitarist (and he isn't, though a great musician and songsmith). However, at the gig in question Winwood's solo in Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired dripped with emotion and made the journo's hair stand on end. So it's not just about pure technique. And Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 greatest guitarists clearly allows for innovation and influence as well as playing ability.

Nevertheless, even if it's a daft question, which of my shortlist do I pick?

Of the four the guitarists the one I listen to the most now (and probably over time as well) is Frusciante, whose work consistently impresses while not detracting from the songs. If you wanted a guitarist to produce the perfect fills for your song, Page would be the conventional pick because of his long stint as a session musician before joing The Yardbirds and forming Led Zeppelin. (Or at least he would before he got a bit drug addled). But Frusciante would probably be the most reliable at nailing it for you and quite possibly more adept at turning out a guitar break that sounds a bit like, oh, Hendrix, Clapton, Page, whoever you'd like it to sound like. He has a significant body of solo work which I'm not very familiar with. It is mainly less commercial, some of it verging on avant garde with oddly fewer flashes of the crisp guitar playing we know him for.

If I had to pick a song for the Desert Island featuring one of my four guitarists it wouldn't be Frusciante, though. It would be Page's Dazed and Confused from Led Zep I or Ramble On from Led Zep II with it's brilliant, jagged electric riff smashing over the lyrical acoustic backdrop to the song. (I still don't understand how this works, but golly it does). Or Gilmour playing Astronomy Domine on the live album Ummagumma, a perennial favourite of mine. (Though I read an interesting blog by music producer/tour director/equipment specialist Mark Thompson which noted that the recording bears little resemblance to the gig he actually attended, with rather a lot of overdubs, apparently typical of many "live" albums. But never mind, I love it).

Which of the guitarists would I want to see again if I could be transported back to a gig in their prime? That would be Gilmour, though probably because I haven't seen him play live since the early 70s. A Pink Floyd gig later in that decade or the 80s would be just the ticket.

Although I'm a great admirer of Robert Fripp this means I'm down to three (though I have seen him the most of them and also most recently).

Regardless of how "good" I thought they were, which of the four did I actually most enjoy seeing play? That would be Jimmy Page, who I saw pretty much at his peak with Led Zeppelin in 1971, with more of a catalogue to showcase than when I first saw Gilmour in 1969.  And there was a huge tingle of excitement when Page joined Roy Harper at his 70th birthday gig at the Festival Hall in 2011 for their glorious extended acoustic duet in Roy's The Same Old Rock.*

Which guitarist was I most excited about seeing for the first time? None of the above, actually: Mick Jones of The Clash. I know, punk guitarist, three chords and all that but I've just been listening to the guitar runs on Complete Control from the eponymous first Clash album and I can understand exactly why watching Jonesy gave me such a buzz. I may return to that thought with an account of the 1981 gig some time. I'd claim Jones was a great musician but no way was he one of the world's best guitarists.

My 'favourite' guitarist? That might actually be Mick Jones or Del Bromham. And of course, had I seen Hendrix the question probably wouldn't need any debate with myself.

So, where does that leave me? Against my original question, the most competent technician on his instrument, I'd go with Frusciante. But hang on, which guitarist impressed me most when I saw him play? That would be Page, followed by Fripp. Frusciante sounded faultless but in the end you can't separate the playing technique from the performance and your involvement with what they are playing (well, I can't anyway).

So while Frusciante is the guitarist I enjoy listening to most on my hifi or in the car, the guitarist who impressed me most when I saw him was Page. So I'm going with Jimmy. 

So it's Page joining my supergroup on guitar with Keith Emerson on keyboards, Jon Hiseman on drums and Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax. Now I need a bass player and a singer...


* You can see a passable if wobbly recording of this performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2bdLAVHbQU though the subtlety of Page's playing come across better in the original studio recording, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwdamD86t8M

Friday, 22 July 2022

Are the Tories still the cake party?

I hadn't been paying much attention to the Tory leadership election. After all, selecting a new Conservative party leader is a matter for the party, so why should I waste time even thinking about it? I wasn't even sure why the TV debates were aired on mainstream channels. Why not spare us by having those debates in front of the MPs whose job it is to produce the two candidates to put forward to party members? And then put that stage on a stream accessible only to members? But I got suckered in by the newspaper coverage and snippets of the debates on the news. Which revealed that I should have been paying attention and the Tories have some big problems.

Firstly, the Tory party seems to have lost its sense of what it exists for (besides winning elections, at which it has traditionally been very successful). I've been saying for some time that the current government, if you set aside Brexit and a few dog-whistle policies such as sending small numbers of immigrants off cross channel dinghies to Rwanda, has been the least right wing Conservative government since Ted Heath's. The Johnson government was strong on rhetoric more than anything else. I suppose some would argue the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which came into force in June,  is an extreme right wing measure designed to restrict the ability to protest. It was used within a day of enactment to silence the irritating "Stop Brexit" guy outside the Houses of Parliament. But it still leaves plenty of scope for legitimate protest and as it was designed to crack down on disruptive guerrilla protests of the kind used by climate change activists it's fine with me. Those who disagree are presumably perfectly happy to see ambulances held up. The candidates tried to sound a bit more like Tories but with no particular coherence.

Secondly, it seems that, despite having got rid of Boris Johnson, the Tories has not moved on an iota from his policy on cake, i.e. to be pro having it and pro eating it. I hadn't thought "cakeism" was a real word but  the Cambridge dictionary defines it as the wish to have or to do two good things at the same time when this is impossible. So most of the candidates, with the exception of Rishi Sunak, indicated they would implement tax cuts without saying whether they would cut spending or how they would make up the shortfall. The sort of promise that the Tories have rightly castigated over many decades.

Indeed, some of the candidates have revealed a startling lack of economic marbles. Promising unfunded tax cuts is bad enough for a Tory but Mordaunt spoke about having a monetary policy, seemingly unaware that this was delegated to the Bank of England 25 years ago.Truss talked of paying back the covid debt over a longer period when we aren't actually paying anything back at the moment, as the debt is continuing to grow.

I'm not particularly bothered that it was described as a "dirty" race by David Davies, a Penny Mordaunt supporter (indeed, one of the few prominent "PM4PM" supporters). If MPs are so determined that a candidate should not be their leader then that seems to me to be significant. No cabinet members supported her bid, but it was more notable that none of her colleagues at Trade supported her either.

I had been well disposed to Mordaunt before the race started. I suspect this was mainly out of sympathy for her brutal sacking from her dream job as SoS for Defence after only 85 days when Johnson took charge. But I read some devastating critiques of her, particularly by Dominic Lawson and I was relieved when she didn't make the final two. It seems she can't take a decision, is a good presenter but has no grasp of policy and prioritises her personal aims over ministerial duties. When she gets things wrong (which she seems to do quite a lot) it isn't that she's a liar, just "awesomely ignorant".*

So the debate changed my mind about the Tory leadership election being open to public scrutiny, even though the nature of that scrutiny has been poor. The questions posed in the "debates" were weak. We didn't find out much or anything on important issues like foreign policy (China? Where's that?), energy strategy and supplies, how to fix social care and unblock hospitals, how to tame inflation or what to do about public sector pay. The fact that there might not be very good answers to any of these questions is perhaps something that we will all have to acknowledge, not just the candidates.

The debate allowed Tom Tugendhat to increase his profile and probably earn a cabinet post in the future. But please not defence, he needs to have something else to talk about. It also brought Kemi Badenoch to our attention. She has earned a promotion to a more significant role so she can be tested and we can see more of what she could do.

However, the main reason I think it is a good idea for the debate to be open to the public is that we have steadily moved to a more and more presidential status for the PM without the checks and balances constitutions of countries with presidents, such as the USA, provide. This process is not new - it's certainly been developing since the time of Thatcher - but Johnson put a twist on it with his reluctance to quit even when he had lost the support of his MPs. We need to know about these people so we can make it clear whether they are suitable. The public might not choose new party leaders but the people who do are influenced by whether the candidates are acceptable to the electorate. After all, it was arguably public opinion that eventually persuaded Tory MPs to ditch Johnson so they could clear the decks well before the next general election.

There are lessons for democracy in the rise and fall of Boris Johnson. Daniel Finklestein argued in the Times that leaving party members to make the final choice must be changed as it delivered us Corbyn and Johnson. But Johnson was perhaps the only candidate who could have pushed through Brexit. Remainers might think this was a bad thing but it implemented the will of the people and cleared a log jam. 

In the USA the selection of presidential candidates is influenced by a much wider electoral base, though that does not seem to have produced better quality candidates of late. Worse though is the fact that the American system cannot deliver sensible gun controls even though a majority of the electorate would be in favour and ditto has not acted to protect abortion rights, leaving a flaky precedent to be overturned by the Supreme Court, when the politcians should have enacted legislation and had plenty of opportunity to do it.

I've always thought that the party leaders should be chosen by the people who know them best and see them at close quarters - the MPs. The Tory MPs have produced the short list of two and we will now see whether Sunak sticks to his sound money stance and, if so, whether the Tory members vote for that or for tax cuts off the back of an envelope, the sort of promise Tories would previously have condemned out of hand.

However, some polls of Tory members, many of them still Johnson loyalists, indicate that tax isn't necessarily the crucial issue in the ballot. Sunak is viewed as disloyal so they will go for Truss. It's often been said that, in the Tory party, he who wields the knife shall not wear the crown - Michael Heseltine is an example. The general population may feel that Sunak did the right thing in precipitating Johnson's fall (though he only twitched after Javid jumped) but Truss may be rewarded for sitting on her hands. And the Tories will still be the cake party, leaving those of us who support sound money with no party to vote for. Ho hum. Maybe, just maybe, the Tory members will vote for jam tomorrow instead of cake.

* Dominic Lawson's Sunday Times column on 17 July noted that a colleague of hers during her brief stint as SoS Defence told him that, of several defence secretaries he had worked with, Mordaunt was the worst: "couldn't take a decision". Another she worked with in a ministerial role said she performed well at the despatch box but on anything to do with policy she was "all over the place, absent" gaining her the nickname "Penny Dormant". Lord Frost said that, when Mordaunt was his deputy in the Brexit talks, she didn't master the detail, wasn't accountable and wasn't always visible: "Sometimes I didn't even know where she was". Her colleagues at Trade wondered the same when she didn't fly abroad to sign a trade deal. One official, asked where she was, said "I have no f***ing idea". (She was on a promotional tour for her book).  She advocated NHS funding for homeopathy, despite no evidence for its effectiveness. She wrote that the Queen stuck by the country, no matter that at one stage it meant working with a government that wanted to abolish the monarchy (no such UK government ever existed). During the 2016 referendum campaign she erroneously told a disbelieving Andrew Marr twice that Britain would not be able to veto the accession of Turkey to the EU. Hence "awesomely ignorant", though Lawson noted that, when challenged on this some years later, she came up with a "shifty" account of why she hadn't really been wrong.  She claimed that when she said to the Commons, with furious emphasis "trans men are men; trans women are women" she didn't really mean all of them, just that "in law, some are". Lawson branded her the continuity candidate: little grip on policy, a tendency to go AWOL, a rich line in fantasy and an inability to admit error. "But Boris Johnson had the intellectual capacity, if not the character, for the job of prime minister. Penny Mordaunt has neither". Ouch. I'm glad we found out more about her. Though if she'd got to the last two maybe Sunak could have prevailed.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

By spinning it out so long, has Johnson done the Tories a favour?

The long drawn out, slow motion train wreck of Boris Johnson's resignation has been a farce beyond parody. Like Monty Python's Black Knight, Johnson suffered from unchecked confidence and a staunch refusal to ever give up. The Black Night declared "tis but a scratch" as his limbs were progressively severed by King Arthur, just as Johnson appeared to try to carry on after so many slings and arrows, a vote of confidence so narrow that previous Tory leaders would all have resigned and then an unprecedented flood of ministerial resignations which made it seem impossible for there to be enough supportive Tory MPs for him to form a functioning government. Perhaps he thought he could do it all himself.

There have been many bizarre twists but newly appointed chancellor Nadhim Zahawi telling Johnson within 48 hours that he should resign and there being three education secretaries in three days were perhaps the strangest. Not that different from the end of the Python sketch where King Arthur tells the limbless but still aggressively screaming knight "you're a loony".

Since Partygate unfolded it's not been clear how this would end, other than badly. I could sympathise with the arguments on both sides of the Partygate issue. It was egregious and a total failure of leadership for there to be parties in number 10, even if some of them didn't really merit being called a party, while people were forbidden to visit dying relatives. On the other hand the most serious events involved civil servants who didn't report to the PM and he isn't their keeper. Of course he should have set an example by turfing people out of his office, or telling them to disperse, rather than toasting them with a rather pathetic can of coke while standing in front of some miserable pre-wrapped sandwiches. But no, he's not a criminal: a fixed penalty doesn't attract a criminal record and very few people would expect a PM to resign for "breaking the law" by getting a parking ticket. Some of you would say that's not the same, even though strictly speaking it is. A lot of people felt very strongly about Partygate one way or the other. I didn't, though I felt it was crass and, had I been a Tory backbencher, I'd have voted to eject Johnson once there was a ballot.

What was more significant for me was the drip, drip, drip of evasion and, at best, half-truths. I agree with Matthew Syed that this was corrosive to our faith in standards in public life in the UK and his argument that, as has been shown by studying the case history of southern Italy, once that is lacking in society there is a permanent hit on economic performance, as no-one trusts anyone about pretty much anything. Together with the government's increasingly miserable performance in competent delivery I had felt that, while Labour seem bereft of much in the way of ideas, simple decency might be enough for them to win the the next election. It felt to me like the 1990s, when the electorate decided in late 1992, only 6 months after they had won a general election, that the Tories had lost their reputation for economic confidence and then, when they become embroiled in sleaze, that they would take the next chance to turf them out. With the hindsight of decades the sleaze of David Mellor purportedly making love to his mistress wearing a Chelsea shirt seems faintly ridiculous (he says he wasn't but really, who cares?) and the corruption of cash in brown envelopes to ask a question in parliament seems small beer compared with billions for PPE contracts. But the public had decided, so even though Major's government rediscovered its economic mojo they were out, handing over a burgeoning economy to Blair and Brown. 

Partygate and then steady flow of further problems felt much like the 90s and so the electorate would surely, in due course, turf the Tories out. But the saga of Johnson's departure may yet give them an opportunity to regroup. 

"Nothing in his life became him, like the leaving it," Malcolm says after death of the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth. What he meant was the Thane died with great dignity. He had lived badly, but he bravely confessed to his crimes. He confessed his treason, repented, and asked for King Duncan's pardon right before he is executed. The only good thing Cawdor did in his whole evil life was to repent for his villainous behavior and die with a clear, forthright, and honest conscience.

Johnson's exit was the opposite of great dignity. His refusal to see that his own behaviour had caused and was continuing to cause so much disruption means the Tories could run an argument on the following lines:

Boris did well on delivering Brexit when it looked as if there was no way through even though people had voted for it. The pandemic was well handled overall in comparison to similar countries and the vaccine development and deployment saved thousands of lives and jobs. Partygate wasn't great but he had credit in the bank; we're a loyal party and don't give up on good people because they make a mistake. However, his behaviour became increasingly erratic and he completely lost the plot: he went full tonto*, threatening to stay on even though confidence in him had been lost. The party can now get back to what it stands for rather than being run by a maverick, etc etc.

This wouldn't have worked against an opposition as competent and fresh as Blair and Brown looked in 1997. Against Starmer who can readily be portrayed as Mr Boring and Dull it might. I see no chance that the Tories will win the next election by anything like their current 80 seat majority. But I could imagine it being close.

Further twists could yet be to come, especially if Durham police serve Keir Starmer with a fixed penalty notice and he falls on his sword, as he has said he would. From what we know I can see very little difference indeed between Starmer's beer and curry event in Durham and the 'ambushed by birthday cake' do for which Johnson got his fixed penalty. Starmer has done well to rehabilitate Labour quickly after Corbyn, anti-semitism etc. But he is rather colourless and appears to be a sanctimonious prig. I wasn't impressed by a former DPP seeming to attempt to pressurise the police by his dare to quit if given a ticket. Even if he's not given a ticket some mud will stick; the episode will be brought up repeatedly whether or not he is penalised.

The Tories will have a lot of candidates for leader; I'm not sure if any seem terribly convincing at this stage. Liz Truss is the favourite of the Tory membership but her colleagues may conspire/vote tactically to keep her off the ballot. I have some concern that she could be as crazy as Johnson, though my bigger concern is that I don't know what her views on, or understanding of, the economy are. 

Labour may or may not have many candidates if they suddenly need to elect another leader; I can't think of a single convincing candidate. If it's still Starmer, or if both parties play safe in their choice of new leader, at the next general election we could find a situation where it's more about the policies than the personalities, in a kind of charisma free zone inhabitated by leaders who make Ed Davey and Mark Drakeford look interesting. Wouldn't that be weird? 

The Tories will feel they have two years to pick a leader, hope for an easing of headwinds in the world economy and produce some worthwhile achievements to show for their term in office besides getting Brexit done - sort of, but maybe not really in Ireland.

P.S. I expect we'll hear the usual nonsense from people saying there should be a general election and why should members of the Tory party pick the next prime minister. Er, who else should pick the leader of the Tory party? That would be as bizarre as Everton fans having a say in picking Liverpool's next manager (hmm, maybe a good idea....)  Since I've been old enough to pay attention more PMs have come to office between rather than at general elections (Home, Callaghan, Major, Brown, May and Johnson v Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron).

* Tonto in this context isn't a reference to the Lone Ranger's sidekick and has nothing to do with Native Americans. In Spanish it means stupid or foolish, though it's widely used to mean someone has gone crazy 

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

A history lesson for a golfer

 I noted in my post "Safe for Now" (25 May) that a young Liverpool fan had said with a smirk "you lot were celebrating just because you didn't get chucked out" a few days after Everton's crucial come from behind 3-2 win against Crystal Palace. But that wasn't the only conversation I had with a Liverpool fan at golf last month and the other one almost left me speechless (but being me, not quite).

That chat happened in a match with another club. One of our opponents was an ex-professional footballer who had played for Brentford, amongst other clubs. This was few days after Everton had lost at home to Brentford in a match that could have ensured safety had they won, so naturally we chatted quite a bit about football. His colleague was from the Wirral and so inevitably, after we'd played a few holes, I asked "are you a red or a blue?" As usual these days the answer was "red". But this was followed by "to be honest, I've never understood why anyone would support Everton or Manchester City. Why would you support the smaller club in your area?"

I thought I was the master of the ignorant, ridiculous and thoughtlessly hurtful statement but, wow, this took the biscuit!

I didn't respond while we prepared for our next shots (indeed I didn't know how to respond initially) but after we'd hit in a similar direction along the fairway with a fairly long walk to come I gently asked "how old are you, Jeff?" I had guessed the answer would be a very similar age to me and he was indeed just one year older, paving the way for a short history lesson.

Which went broadly as follows. "So we're the same age and were at school in the 50s and 60s. When I started supporting Everton aged 7 or 8, Liverpool were in the old second division, what is now the Championship. And they were there for a few more years before getting promoted*. At the time Everton were considered the bigger club, known as the Merseyside Millionaires, setting a British transfer record buying Alan Ball in 1966. They had the best football ground outside Wembley and hosted the world cup semi final at Goodison, also in 1966. Everton and Liverpool both won the league twice and the FA Cup once while I was at school. Indeed that was the first time in Liverpool's history they had ever won the FA Cup. So the idea that Liverpool are the bigger club came much later".

His reply actually did leave me speechless: "I don't suppose I followed it that closely at the time".

Now I know a lot of passionate and knowledgeable reds but, golly, Liverpool have more than their share of dilettante** supporters. I bit my tongue rather than mutter "typical Liverpool supporter" and we returned to playing golf.

But equally I could have just said what's wrong with supporting one of your local clubs, be it Everton or Tranmere? Tranmere would actually have been his local football league club, but his family were all reds and that's fine too of course.

We all know that some people pick a club to support based on their success at the time, but that isn't the reason most dedicated fans support their team. A lot of City fans have appeared out of the woodwork in recent years but I don't doubt that most of them are long term supporters, most of whom are relishing their current success after many fallow years and in expectation that it won't last forever, as one of them said to me last night.

Though in the modern game it's hard to see anyone gate crashing the big time without colossal financial backing, Leicester's unlikely Premier League win notwithstanding. So City are only likely to be eclipsed by another team from the current elite, until or unless Saudi money propels Newcastle United into contention. That wasn't always the way: the ball is round and it was meant to go round, as George Best once said. And it did.

Continuing on the theme of how things were in the 60s, let's go back to 1963, when I started grammar school. There was of course only the old first division and the FA Cup in those days. Playing in Europe was a novelty and didn't affect a team's status. Everton had just won the league, but had last done so in 1939. (Typical of Everton's fate to have a good team when war broke out...) Liverpool had done well in their first season back in the top division in nine seasons and would go on to win it the following season for the first time since 1947. The glamour team was Spurs, who had done the League/F A Cup double three years earlier. This was a huge novelty: while it's been done seven times in the last 30 years, before that it had only been done 5 times and the previous club to do it before Spurs in 1961 was Aston Villa in 1897.

The other teams that commanded a lot of attention were Manchester United, partly on account of the Busby Babes and the Munich air tragedy, which happened when I was too young to appreciate it. Indeed its significance only dawned gradually on me as Bobby Charlton became a World and European Cup winner later in the 60s. But even with that historic team United only won the league twice and the cup once in the 60s - exactly the same as Everton and Liverpool. In that time the much vaunted Leeds team won one league and one F A Cup. 

Teams could dominate for short period. Wolves were fading by 1963 but they had won the league three times in the 50s and the FA Cup as recently as 1960.

Any schoolboy looking up which team had won the most trophies would find it was Aston Villa, who hadn't won a thing in donkey's years at that point. Arsenal had won the league the most times (7, but not in the previous ten years). Along with Everton on 6 were Villa, who hadn't won it since 1910 and Sunderland, who hadn't won it since 1936. It was absolutely normal for a team to go three decades between winning trophies, but to still have a chance of doing so***.  For the benefit of folks like Jeff, this was the tally of English trophies in 1963, when he would have been 12 years old:

The Football Trophy Table in 1963

 

League

FA Cup

Total

Comments

Aston Villa

6

7

13

11 of the trophies before 1920

Arsenal

7

3

10

5 of the league wins in the 1930s

Everton

6

2

8

 

Manchester United

5

3

8

 

Wolves

3

4

7

4 trophies in the 1950s

Sunderland

6

0

6

Last trophy in 1936

Spurs

2

4

6

 

Liverpool

5

0

5

 

Oh Manchester City? 1 league and 3 cup wins. Chelsea? One solitary league title win, in 1955.

What this shows is that it was quite normal for teams to have a brief run of success and then go a long time before winning again. The trophies were shared around: ten different winners of the league in the thirteen seasons from 1959-60 to 1971-72 for example and eleven different FA Cup winners in the same period. Of course there was an elite, but it was very broad and open to be joined. Fans of a dozen or more clubs would go into any season with realistic hopes of contending for a trophy. In that period Ipswich Town, Burnley and Derby County all won the league once.

Now I didn't choose to support Everton because of what they'd won, or their history. They were one of the two most local Football League teams (the most local to where I lived, actually, more than half a mile nearer than Liverpool) and I was influenced by a friend whose family supported Everton. 

But, whatever you do, don't try to tell me that Liverpool were always the bigger club, especially when you "weren't following it that closely"!

* Liverpool were promoted in 1962 but, according to the website City Explorer Liverpool, they got promoted in 1964, when they actually won the league title. Liverpool fans really don't get facts or history! https://lfccityexplorer.co.uk/liverpool-fc-history/

** I was pleased with this choice of word (people who cultivate an area of interest without real commitment or knowledge). My first choice was "knobhead"

*** Indeed even in the modern "premier league" era Liverpool went thirty years from 1990 to 2020 without winning the league; not that you'd think so to listen to the "big club" brigade. They've only won the Premier League once, Jeff!

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Holden's Law

I've been waiting in vain to see much holistic thinking when it comes to how we progress towards net zero. For example, the UK's headlong rush to announce the end of new fossil fuelled vehicles and gas boilers in new houses without appearing to have much of a roadmap on how to make it work in practice is striking. Somebody in what Keith Waterhouse used to call the Ministry of Guesswork has presumably projected how many vehicle charging points we need and had a look at the impact on electricity demand. But ministers seem to have accepted hand waving arguments about future energy production demand management - at least until the PM announced lots of new nukes. Without appearing to recognise the timescale mismatches, given the lead time for such projects.

In the meantime we have all but given up on fracking (which could potentially have usefully bridged some gaps) and, at least until the Russians invaded Ukraine, have implicity continued the line on energy strategy which has flowed through since Mrs Thatcher's days - we can just buy it in. I know fracking is controversial but I find it hypocritical to be dogmatically anti-fracking while consuming gas which has been transported around the world, in some cases from countries the anti-frackers would not want us to trade with. Thinking we can click our fingers and stop consuming oil and gas, like the Just Stop Oil protesters, is  wishful thinking. We need a robust and affordable plan.

However, my bigger problem is that I've become very gloomy about the prospect of protecting environment in the round.  What if, in some perverse Parkinson's law of unintended consequences, whatever we do we always end up doing some harm? This of course is redolent of the second law of thermodynamics, which says the entropy of a system must always increase. I've seen this law, which I found almost beautiful as an engineering student, described as the only definitively true scientific law*. What if, whatever we do to protect the environment, the best we can ever do is to theoretically break even on environmental damage - but in practice we won't do that. Entropy always increases and every human activity probably has some environmental disbenefit.

Take wind turbines. Yes they can produce electricity without burning fossil fuel, though only once they are made by mining and making the raw materials and fabricating the turbines using green energy. And finding a way of disposing of them at end of life which I understand is not available yet. And covering for them with no fossil sources when the wind doesn't blow, or blows too strongly. But even then there are impacts on wild life - unless Boris Johnson's question "can't the birds learn to fly higher?" is less daft than it sounds. I suspect there may always be some small environmental disbenefit from wind turbines however smartly they can be made.

Or take electric motor cars: their batteries need cobalt. 70% of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Which is, according to Christina Lamb "one of the most violent and corrupt places on earth", where child labour is common and working conditions appalling. Safety standards are non-existent as many of the mines are so-called "artisan" mines, operated by private individuals. Fatal accidents are covered up for fear that mines (if you can call holes and shallow tunnels in the ground mines) could be closed. Exposure to cobalt can cause long term health problems. It is ironic that the place we need to help clean up the planet is one of the most polluted in the world. "Without DR Congo there is no electric car industry and no green revolution" says the head of a UK based campaign group.

Most of the cobalt is sent to China, where 80% of the world's cobalt supply is refined. Not all of the mines are operated by the artisans. China itself operates many of the Congolese mines - in some cases, allegedly, after paying minimal compensation and using aggressive tactics to buy the land. Once processed there is no way of  telling how the cobalt was sourced. It is sold to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, who supply corporations such as Apple who, after and Amnesty report in 2016 now track the supply sources to check child labour or unsafe conditions are not involved. However, according to Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, "some of the richest companies in the world are still making excuses for not investigating their supply chains". Think of that when you hold your smartphone.

And reflect also on the fact that the UK's target of phasing out fossil-fuelled vehicles in the next 20 years requires the number of electric vehicles on our roads to increase by a factor of 40. (Er, only 40?) Extrapolate that across the world and one wonders about the viability of electric vehicles as a large scale transport solution. Meanwhile Bill Gates is putting money into finding new sources of cobalt in the earth's crust.

Or maybe we can make better batteries that don't need cobalt. Or go the hydrogen fuel cell route, as often advocated by Jeremy Clarkson. I'm a great believer in the utility of the idea generating method where you ask "what if we could....?" Sure, clever people working on battery development will be thinking about how we do it without cobalt. But the next step in that process is to stay "what you do is..." and come up with a plan. One that works. I believe we don't yet have those plans to get us to net zero. We have a target but not what the financiers would call a "bridge": a clear route to deliver the strategy which can be planned in detail and against which progress can be monitored.

Meanwhile we are bombarded by contradictory information about what we as individuals should be doing. For example, the canard that driving to the shops uses less energy than walking, as some have claimed. This is because the energy cost of producing the extra calories you need to eat exceeds the energy cost of the drive. (I've seen the calculation). It's nonsense of course as it ignores the fact that we need exercise for our health - and we don't necessarily eat fewer calories sitting on the couch. So it's more than a bit theoretical, but it shows how some of these "decisions" aren't as obvious as they seem.
 
The author Michael Schellenburger is more specifically downbeat on some things than I am, while arguing that the environmental apocalypse is a myth. He says most forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power are impracticable for large scale use in much of the world as they require huge amounts of land and damage wildlife and that becoming a vegetarian reduces one's emissions by less than 4%. However, he also claims man made climate change is not causing mass extinction, as only 0.001% of the planet's species go extinct annually and carbon emissions are declining in most countries (though maybe not fast enough). 

However, I also read that 40% of the invertebrate life on the planet is under threat. That sounds ominously serious for food chains and our ability to feed ourselves.

In an interview in the Irish press in March 2019 Roy Harper said there are just too many of us. The need for population control was much debated when I was a schoolboy but it's not fashionable to say it these days. Indeed one runs the risk of being called an advocate of eugenics. But it's true. There are too many of us and there will be a lot more yet. When there were fewer of us and we didn't do as much harm the earth could compensate and recover. If Holden's gloomy Law of the Environment is right and we inevitably end up doing some damage then we can minimise that damage but there will always be some. Multiplied by a lot of people, who have come to totally dominate the natural world.

Entropy always increases and maybe the modern human lifestyle always does some environmental harm.

This need not be a definitively gloomy prognosis if we find ways of making the harm so small that the planet remains sustainable in the long term.  After all one day the sun will become a red giant and Earth will be incinerated. I just don't see the route map to sustainability in the meantime at the moment.

* To be more specific, Carlo Rovelli argues in his fascinating book The Order of Time, that the second law is the only basic law of physics that implies the existence of time. None of the other basic laws (Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electricity and magnetism, Einstein's relativity, the Schrodinger/Heisenberg/Dirac quantum mechanics or the laws of elementary particle physics) distinguish the past from the future. The book is intended for a lay audience and I highly recommend it, though I would accept it is somewhat challenging for non-physicists, like me.

**Congo's miners dying to feed world's hunger for electric cars, Christina Lamb, Sunday Times 10 March 2019

The argument that walking to the shops does more harm than driving dates back a long time, for example The Times, 4 August 2007 (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/walking-to-the-shops-damages-planet-more-than-going-by-car-vfbwcgpj3bp) credited the argument to a Green party candidate and author, Chris Goodall, who wrote a book called How To Live A Low Carbon Life, though the story has been repeatedly picked up since

Shellenburger's book "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All", is summarised in "On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologise For The Climate Scare", in Forbes magazine. However some reviews say the book is full of "bad science" e.g. see https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/review-bad-science-and-bad-arguments-abound-in-apocalypse-never/


Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Safe - for now

 


Everton avoided relegation after their remarkable win over Crystal Palace, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 just as they did on the last day of the season in 1994 against Wimbledon (although this time without being awarded a dodgy penalty).

When I spotted an LFC crest on one of my golf club's juniors yesterday I said to the young lad, who is about 10 years old, "I didn't know you were a Liverpool fan". "Who do you support?" he asked. When I whispered "Everton" in his ear a slightly disainful smile spread across his face and he responded "you lot were celebrating just because you didn't get chucked out".

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and all that but he wasn't the only one to point it out. I've been at Goodison on the day we have won the league title and on another occasion in a different season when we clinched it away from home but were presented with the trophy. I've been present when they have won and lost F.A. Cup finals. I've experienced us winning a European trophy. There is a great feeling of satisfaction at winning a trophy and a feeling of emptiness when a final is lost. I haven't experienced relegation as it last happened to Everton in 1951, before I was born. But relegation from the top flight must be far worse than losing a cup final. (OK, some Burnley fans I know have taken it phlegmatically, but they are a yo yo team). So yes were were celebrating, with huge relief, about not getting chucked out.

There was also a feeling of optimism and many comments on the lines of "we mustn't let this happen again". Just like in 1994. Everton did trend upwards then, winning the F.A. Cup two years later. Though only after being bottom of the table the following October and changing the manager. And then experiencing another last day survival in 1998 before the relative stability of the Walter Smith years and the comparative success of the David Moyes era (when we were just about as successful as you can be without actually winning a trophy. A bit like Tottenham now).

So what awaits Everton now? Well I say "safe - for now" for two reasons. The first is the threat of legal action by Burnley over whether Everton's immense losses have breached the Premier League's financial fair play rules. Everton's latest accounts published in March showed a loss of £120 million bringing the total over three years to £381 million against an FFP limit of £105 million for "adjusted losses". There are two significant get outs, sorry adjstments: covid related losses and investment in facilities and academies are to be excluded from this number.  Everton only had £200k of gate receipts in the financial year, though broadcasting revenue was up. The Guardian reported that "independent calculations" showed that the pandemic had affected Everton to the tune of £103 million in the most recent 12 month reporting period and £170 million since the start of the outbreak, potentially increasing to £220 million. 

These figures raised some eyebrows at other clubs: Arsenal reported covid related losses of £85 million but have a bigger stadium. It's worth remembering that Everton got a lot of praise during the lockdowns for continuing to pay all their casual employees (stewards, etc) as if the matches were proceeding normally, while Arsenal got a lot of criticism for cutting back non-playing staff and sacking the chap who dressed up as the mascot. Mind I don't imagine the mascot got paid all that much! Everton also have the biggest community programme of any British club and decided that the pandemic was not the time to cut it back.

But even if £220 million is allowable against covid that still leaves an adjusted loss of £160 million. There has been spend of tens of millions on the new stadium - work on the ground only started this year but there will have been large costs for design, planning and possibly advance ordering of materials in order to fix prices. But in the most recent two years of the three in question Everton's recently published accounts show spend of only £20 million. I've gone back to the 2019 accounts and, over the relevant three years, the total spend on the stadium project is about £27 million, with a further £11 million spent in the previous financial year, ending in July 2018. There will be other costs which can be offset, for example on the existing ground and the academy, but even so it seems a feat of smoke and mirrors to come up to the numbers Everton are claiming.

Nevertheless, Everton are confident they are clean: they say they have worked with the league over two years to ensure rules have been followed, including consulting with the league’s lawyers over their January transfer business. I would note that the transfer business in the current season, certainly in the January window, while arguably relevant to the club avoiding relegation, falls after the three year period in question, the most recent set of published accounts running to July 2021, though Burnley would make the case that Everton should have been subject to a transfer ban and unable to do any business this season. I also note that the Premier League, not surprisingly, have stayed silent on the matter.

What chance do Burnley have of overturning their relegation by getting a points deduction enforced on Everton before the new season starts? Remote I would say. I expect covid will be a get out of jail card for Everton (clearly not get out of jail "free" though). A precedent was set by Sheffield United's action against West Ham over the Carlos Tevez third party rights affair in 2007. It took two years to resolve before West Ham paid an out of court settlement to the Blades after Lord Griffiths, overseeing the independent tribunal that had been established, made negative comments about West Ham's conduct. The wheels of justice will grind too slowly to save Burnley I'm sure. Similarly the cases Middlesbrough and Wycombe have taken which have delayed Derby's change of ownership have gone on and on. In these cases the the Leagues (Premier or EFL) have stayed pretty much out of it, very unhelpfully as far as Derby are concerned. Martin Samuel has written about how the Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Wycombe cases are all tenuous and without sporting merit if you look at the likely impact on the results of matches. I expect that would also be true of Everton. Yes they have spent profligately for it but got so little in return! 

It is notable that Burnley are not suing Everton but the Premier League for not enforcing its own rules. The case, such as it is, is driven by Burnley's own precarious financal arrangements after its own change of ownership and I feel it is more about money than points.

But there is a second reason why I say safe for now: clubs that flirt with relegation in one season often do so over several seasons. They were there for a reason. Lampard tried to get Everton playing more football but pretty quickly turned to direct play to drag Everton out of the mire. There was an improvement. Their 38 game season can be broken into three periods. In the first 7 matches they gained a creditable 14 points, after which they had a truly awful run of 23 games for only 11 points. This run covered the termination of the hapless Rafa Benitez and the frst 5 games of Lampard's reign. In their last 8 matches they got a creditable return of 14 points, with critical wins over Manchester United, Chelsea, a precious away win at Leicester and the decisive victory over Palace. Which of these runs of form is the "true" current Everton?

They were lacking Dominic Calvert-Lewin for a large part of the season. But even so I am struggling to see more than half a dozen teams that Everton are likely to finish ahead of next year: the promoted three; Brentford (who I expect to struggle in their second premier season); Southampton, who have some good players but go on some very poor runs; and Leeds, about whom all the same comments apply as Everton. On the bright side Everton's issues might mainly be discerned by noting that they performed relatively well against the top sides, getting four points off both United and Chelsea and only losing narrowly to Manchester City at home. Indeed if referee Paul Tierney had given the obvious penalty for handball against Rodri it could have been better. Everton fell to a lot of soft defeats in games they could have at least drawn. An improvement in morale and determination could work wonders.

But not if they sell their best players, as one news report advocated, claiming Lampard could rebuild his squad by selling DCL, Jordan Pickford and Richarlison. It would not be a shock if Richarlison wanted to move on but unless he can land a very good move there would seem little point. His goals and attitude were critical in Everton's survival.  Personally I wouldn't take a risk on buying DCL until he proves his fitness. Pickford's performances were crtitcal in the run in. Sell those three and, with Everton's recent track record of signing players, they are dead

But for now I can remember the amazing scenes at Goodison last week. The dye from a smoke canister let off behind me is still visible in my hair (it takes several washes apparently). And of course DCL leaping like a salmon (or an Andy Gray) to score the winning goal (picture from Sky Sports below)


Everton lose more than £100 million for third successive year but avoid sanctions. The Guardian, 29 March 2022 

Crisis deepens for Everton as they face biggest finacial loss in football. The Times 14 March 2022

Everton insist they have followed financial fair play rules but Burnley and Leeds threaten legal action. inews 23 May 2022

Sheffield United and West Ham agree £20 million compensation over Carlos Tevez affair. The Guardian, 16 March 2009.

Everton's published accounts are available on the club website. Good luck in trying to reconcile them to some of the figures quoted in the newspapers!

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Rat, Hammers fans and One Man Went To Mow

@Mikey47's comment on my last blog (My First Match) reminded me of his first match (a 4-0 win over West Ham for an Everton team containing Peter Beardsley, who scored on the day). A match that didn't stop him becoming a Liverpool fan. Oh well.

But it got me thinking about other Everton - West Ham matches I've seen. I've had a lot of time for West Ham since watching the heroics of Billy Bonds on the ITV highlights programme back in the Gerald Sinstadt day. But I have mixed memories of West Ham fans. Here’s the bad and the good.

I blogged a long while back about watching Everton play West Ham in the match that decided 2nd place in the 1985/86 season. Yes, the "Lineker" season Everton when should have won the double – and looked nailed on to do it at Easter – but Liverpool did it, reeling off a 10 game winning streak in the League and overturning a 1-0 deficit in the cup final. Me, bitter?

The Everton captain in the 1986 game was Kevin Ratcliffe nicknamed, unsurprisingly, The Rat. The Rat was Everton’s most successful ever captain, lifting two league championships, one FA Cup and the club’s only European trophy, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, long since amalgamated with the UEFA Cup in what is now the Europa League. In my previous blog I referred to the Hammers knocking channel balls for their two strikers, Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee. A chap in the crowd behind me kept saying “you’re not faster than him” as The Rat beat them to the ball every time. McAvennie in particular was lightning quick, but The Rat was very quick too and read the game very well.

I was with my father-in-law, but 65 year at the time, which I remember thinking was quite old! Even then his knee wasn't that great, albeit it got a lot worse. So, at the end of the match we stayed in our seats in the top balcony, towards the Park End, waiting for the crowd to disperse. Well, actually, until the police came and moved asked us to leave as we had unwittingly become targets for coin throwing Hammers fans, cooped up behind the Park End goal until the police would let them out. We hadn’t noticed but indeed there were pinging noises as the coins hit the steel work above our heads. Sadly his was football in the 1980s.

 A better recollection of the Hammers fans at Goodison was in the premier league era, in May 1999. A fond memory as Everton won 6-0, “super” Kevin Campbell bagging a hat-trick. But what I remember most is the entertainment the away supporters gave us. It didn’t seem like that at first, as the Hammers fans set to singing “One Man Went To Mow”. On and on and on. I had always found that song intensely irritating. But eventually it got past boring and began to get funny. Meanwhile the Everton goals were steadily going in. Quite late in the match, with the score at 5 or 6 nil, the Hammers fans finally went quiet for a while. Then they let out a crescendo of noise. And then went quiet again. After half a minute or so, another crescendo of noise and then quiet again. There were puzzled looks around the home fans as a third crescendo built up. It dawned on us that the away supporters were watching a fantasy version of the match, in which their team were scoring goals and getting back in the game. When the final and loudest crescendo, noting that West Ham were now in the imaginary lead, died down, the home fans gave the West Ham fans an enormous round of applause. Everyone around me was smiling. The West Ham fans that day contributed to a memorable match on a sunny day and, despite a heavy defeat, they had a ball.


Didn't realise till grabbing the image that they have "London" on their badge.....