Thursday, 30 June 2016

The hand that wields the knife

...shall never wear the crown.

I said this to my Mrs when Cameron resigned. I thought it was a mangled bit of Shakespeare, though I remembered it had been used in the context of Mrs Thatcher's downfall about Michael Heseltine, who indeed did not wear the crown. According to various internet sources, it was actually said by the BBC journalist, Gavin Esler, about Heseltine. So not Shakespeare at all.

But in today's Shakespearean tragi-comedy events it became clear that Boris will not wear the crown either.

I'd also noted when Cameron quit that, while Johnson would have presumably won the vote with Tory party members, it wasn't clear he'd get into the final two with Tory MPs and get on the ballot paper. Which is presumably what he concluded.

Isn't it strange that the two politicians who command the most grassroots support in their parties, Johnson and Corbyn, are so unpopular with their MP colleagues? Colleagues who, of course, know them well and are in a better position than most of us to judge their personality, competence and suitability to wear said crown.

So the Tories fight amongst themselves to elect their new leader. But it looks like arm wrestling compared with the scrap inside Labour.

The Labour rules require 20% of the party's MPs to nominate a candidate. Corbyn only got that last time because some MPs thought a leftie should be on the paper even though they didn't support him. One of the MPs who later said they regretted it was the late Jo Cox (see So presumably Corbyn would not pass this threshold. But apparently it is not 100% clear whether a sitting Labour leader needs to be nominated. According to the Guardian, the party has received conflicting legal advice on this point (see So Corbyn might be on the ballot paper anyway, as he has said he would stand again.

If there is a contest and Corbyn were on the ballot paper, then presumably all the £3 "registered supporters" associates would vote him back in. Whereupon the same Momentum groupies would then try to select alternative Parliamentary candidates to the current, anti-Corbyn MPs when the time comes.

This could be a fight to the death for the soul of the Labour party, every bit as much as the fight against Militant and the splintering off of the SDP.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A weed by any other name

I'm not bad on the proper names of garden flowers and shrubs, but I've never had much idea what weeds are called. After all, you just pull them up, don't you?

However, I've been looking up what two weeds, currently in rampant profusion on the bank behind our house, are called. They are known to me and my wife as "sticky weed" and "stinky weed" because, well, they are respectively sticky and stinky.

Galium Aparine - aka Sticky Weed
Sticky weed turns out to a herbaceous annual member of the "plant" family rubiaceae, gallium aparine. Wikipedia tells me it's commonly known as goosegrass, catchweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, velcro weed (that can't date back many generations...) and grip grass. Or, as we had independently christened it ourselves, stickyweed. Kew say the species is widespread and often considered a weed (you don't say!). And that the whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty; it is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties. It scrambles over other low growing plants and has a weak stem, so when you pull it no roots come up.

We've had sticky weed in every garden we've owned, which is quite a few now. But we've never had stinky weed before.

Geranium Robertianum aka stinky weed
It turns out Stinky weed is Geranium Robertianum, or Herb Robert, named after a monk who lived 1000 years ago. A website called says "Herb Robert is a ubiquitous sprawling plant well-known for its unpleasant smell and its vibrant bright pink flowers" and " Fresh leaves can be eaten or tossed into a mug to make a tea. The flower and leaves can be dried and stored so that it can be used throughout the winter months as a tea or tossed into salads as a nutrient booster." YUK!  Rubbing fresh leaves on the skin is said to repel mosquitoes and the entire plant repels rabbits and deer (which I'm not surprised to hear).

It has bright red stems which grow out star shaped from a node above the ground, with a very weak stem which snaps leaving all the root behind, an evolutionary necessity I suppose.

Just don't sniff your hands after pulling it up. Let me know if you want any for your salad - we've got tons of it!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Out of Europe

The Euros crisis eh?

What a bunch of clueless prima donnas, transparently incapable of performing for the England shirt.

It shouldn't have been a surprise - England were trying to record their first knock out win in a European Championship held outside of England.

Iceland had a game plan and executed it well. Their 2nd goal was well worked and well taken, even if Head and Shoulders should probably have saved it. Not the first time he's gone limp wristed and failed to get enough on a shot.

I smirked at Glenn Hoddle saying words to the effect that Iceland were playing like a 1980s team and, because our players hadn't got experience of that from the Premier League, they didn't know how to defend against it. You know, things like defending long throw ins, winning 2nd ball, that sort of stuff. C'mon, basically schoolboy stuff! It's not as if they didn't know what was coming.

Martin Samuel made the point a few months ago that all the Premier League teams now play the same way. They all think they can be Barcelona, or at least Arsenal. And so it's boring. If you put them in plain shirts you wouldn't be able to tell which team was which.

And there's been some remarkably snobby comments about the way Iceland play. It's a perfectly legitimate way of playing and, for me, they were better to watch than England tonight. Desire, determination, commitment, some tremendous challenges especially in the air, calm under pressure, working for each other. A team playing a team game.

The gloom over much of England has just deepened. Still it might cheer the Scots up. And maybe Wales can continue to perform and get through against Belgium.

Maybe Dave can offer Roy Hodgson a resignation speech writer.

Oh, he's on now - it seems like he had one ready written!

The Eve of Destruction - but for who?

Which political party will come off worst from the referendum fallout?

Obviously the Tories are in turmoil. They have been for some weeks - you can tell they're confused when they go round stabbing each other in the chest. The situation is now fluid - and the fluid is blood!

And it's no surprise that Labour is also in turmoil - while their divisions on Europe don't run quite as deep, they are there but the real problem for Labour is having a Tory party in trouble when your leader has just shown how lacklustre he would be in a General Election campaign. So no surprise that the Labour moderates are restless and lining up to be Brutus.

The LibDems are either keeping their heads down in despair or no-one notices them anymore - I'm not sure which.

The SNP are full of put on righteous indignation, scenting the chance of another referendum (but not too soon, please, they seem to be signalling; at least not before an oil price recovery).

And UKIP are delirious. I suspect they shouldn't be, as their whole reason d'etre is about to evaporate. They might make hay for a while on the immigration issue - inevitably, even out of Europe, it will be too high for many of their supporters, unless the economy goes down the pan big time, in which case they'll have to find someone else to blame. But in the longer run it's UKIP that have the greatest need for a strategic rethink. After all, as effectively a single issue party, their issue has just been nailed. And they've never shown the slightest sign of being able to build a coherent set of values and programme, other than a plague on the EU, so it's not clear that will be possible.

Do you think this is what David Cameron meant by shooting UKIP's fox with an in/out referendum? Probably not, be I think time will show he has taken them down with him.

Having said that, historians will look back in amazement at how a party that (to date but maybe forever) has only won one seat in Parliament was able to hijack the political discourse in England and put the country, for better or worse, on a very different track. Because, without UKIP hounding him, I'm sure the Tory eurosceptics on their own would not have wrung a referendum out of David Cameron.

In the famous 60s protest song "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire sang "Handful of senators don't pass legislation". No, but somehow a party with one MP has changed our political landscape fundamentally and permanently.

P.S. Of course, if the establishment mount a rearguard action to keep Britain in Europe against the expressed will of the people (I'm watching you Lib so called Dems amongst others!) then UKIP will get a huge second wind

Sunday, 26 June 2016


A number of post referendum thoughts.

Firstly, the much maligned (by me) BBC showed they can be balanced. Even if Dimbleby looked as if he'd been slapped across the face with a wet fish as he announced the result. Maybe he was aiming for gravitas in a momentous soundbite. To be fair, I think they always are meticulously even-handed in campaigns like the referendum and general elections (though they can't ever seem to get a balanced Question Time audience, can they?). It's their everyday coverage that betrays their metropolitan groupthink. And, digressing briefly, hasn't the Glastonbury coverage been fabulous. It's been getting better by the year. Wasn't Adele's set super? Her final song, inevitably the wonderful "Someone Like You",  was something very special. I loved "Rolling In The Deep" with her - metaphorically, via the TV screen, you understand.

Secondly, print media isn't dead yet. Older people swung the referendum, with the proportion voting to leave increasing steadily from 27% in the 18-24 age group to 60% in 65+. As another aside, it's thought the turnout was probably much lower in younger age groups, just as in the General Election, when the turnout of 18-24s was a worryingly appalling 43%, against 78% for over 65s. "Stay-at-home young cost victory" said the Sunday Times today, a thought I had as BBC radio spoke to appalled Glastonbury-goers on Friday. "But how many of you voted?" I thought: "put up or shut up". Returning to my point, older people still read newspapers, which I believe were significantly towards "Leave". Not just the rabid Mail, Express and Sun but the Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) and Sunday Times also. Interestingly, the Mail and Times groups pointed different ways between their weekday and Sunday editions, showing how much the editor's opinion matters. The website Huffington Post estimated that the reach of the Vote Leave press was 4.8 million to 3 million for Remain, though they noted that the University of Loughborough, looking at the tone of the EU coverage in the papers, gave Leave a remarkable 82-18 advantage, weighted by circulation. Older people read the papers and vote, hence my feeling that newspapers were critical to the outcome.

But finally, the news story that brought a smirk to my furrowed brow on Friday morning was on the front page of the Daily Star. According to Natalie Rowe, a dominatrix who was on Big Brother (so a thoroughly reliable witness then), Chancellor George Osborne likes to be spanked on all fours until he howls like a dog. She's had things to say about George before, making claims in her 2013 book "Chief Whip - Memoirs of a Dominatrix" about George and cocaine in the 1990s. Somehow I think this is not the thing that points to the end of George's political career, as he tries to salvage what he can from the wreckage of the Cameron-Osborne project. A project which Niall Ferguson, writing in today's Sunday Times, says promised to represent our most effective government in 25 years.

David Cameron warned about "buyer's regret", of which we are hearing quite a bit. It's very hard to feel sympathy for anyone saying they didn't realise the implications of a leave vote: Project Fear arguably got the pitch and tone wrong (and was culpably short on optimism for the future) but surely any sentient being was capable of hearing the message.

It's not George but Dave who was barking in calling the referendum.

Friday, 24 June 2016

We are indeed In It Together now

I admit I didn't see that coming. The pundits, with their in built bias to the status quo theory, are now as discredited as the pollsters.

Having felt bad about my vote (Remain) for the first time ever in a polling station, I am feeling nervous this morning. We'll see whether David Smith and all those in the consensus about the transitional shock are right.

So far this morning the FTSE fell from 6338 to 5806 before rallying to about 6000. So about 5% down. Not quite seismic, but early days.

We truly are all "in it together" now.

We have said "Non". But the sun rose, the tides will ebb and flow and I will go and use a stick to try to hit a small ball a long way around a seaside field.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

EU referendum: an apology to younger generations

Time to decide. But should I be able to vote?

Earlier in the referendum campaign it was argued by some that people over a certain age should not have a vote as they wouldn't have to live with the consequences. Well, not for as long, anyway. At that stage, polls were showing a strong majority of the younger voters saying remain and an equally strong majority of older voters saying leave. Subsequent polls showed older voters softening their stance and the inter-generational heat seemed to subside. But a YouGov poll at the end of May had 18-24 year olds at 78% Remain and those 65+ at 68% Leave.

Writing in the Sunday Times (5 June) Niall Ferguson chunked this up to a bigger argument, noting that younger generations around the world are more socialist leaning, as instanced by support for Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. I'm not sure this is really new, mind, but there is more inter-generational tension than there used to be.

Jeremy Clarkson has come out strongly for Remain. One of his arguments was that he feels more at home in European cities than he does in American ones. I must say, I feel the opposite. I enjoy visiting continental cities and Italy in particular is one of my favourite places. However, going to the continent always reinforces for me how different we are. And I've never wanted to live there. In contrast, I've felt at total ease in many American and Canadian cities and I regret I didn't get to live and work in Boston, as once looked very likely. I just don't feel European. Having worked closely with Germans, French, Chinese and Americans, I'm sure we are culturally much closer to the Americans.

However, my summary of the Reasons to Believe (or Remain), weigh heavily with me, especially the transitional shock to the economy that would almost certainly follow a vote to Leave. That transition could easily last 5 years. A non-trivial chunk of my remaining life expectancy.

If I was younger I know I would take a bolder, more optimistic view. But, reliant on a personal pension, I'm taking the short term view. What else do you expect an old fogey to do? If we leave, I expect everything would work out fine in the long run. But that could be decades. By then I could be in my 80s and, if I get there, I might not care or know too much about it.

So I've taken all the emotion out of the decision (including all the Project Fear hyperbole) and I'm going with a hard head and the less risky option.

Prince Feisal, in Lawrence of Arabia, when fretting about placing his troops under European command says "And I must do it because the Turks have European guns. But I fear to do it. Upon my soul I do."

Hopefully we won't be putting our troops under European command anytime soon. But upon my soul I hate myself for voting remain. Chicken? You bet. So apologies to the youngsters who won't have the freedoms generations of Brits have taken for granted. We had our chance to seize those freedoms back. And I helped to blow it, out of selfish, short term concerns.

Of course I could salve my conscience by voting Leave, safe in the expectation that, if the polls are close, Remain will probably win anyway. (53-47 has been my prediction since the start. Looked a bit daft in the early days...). Then I can continue to rail at Brussels, knowing it's not my fault.


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Should we choose the open sea?

It's been claimed that Churchill said:

“We have our own dream and our own task.  We are with Europe, but not of it.  We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.  If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”

Indeed some sources put a date on it: 11 May 1953 in the Commons.

I have seen much of this quote repeated in the newspapers this very week.

Well, Churchill did say all these sentences. But not at the same time and in very different contexts.

A journalist, Jon Danzig, has researched this. The first 4 sentences date from 1930. As for the final sentence, Churchill shouted this remark to the French leader, General Charles de Gaulle, in a  raging row  on the eve of the Normandy landings in 1944.

So this is a stitch up, in the sense that his quotes have been stitched together.

On 11 May 1953, he actually said

"Where do we stand? We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a Federal European system. We feel we have a special relation to both. This can be expressed by prepositions, by the preposition "with" but not "of"—we are with them, but not of them.  We have our own Commonwealth and Empire."

Sounds Eurosceptic enough, so why not use that quote?

Who knows, but a few years earlier, Churchill in his opening speech to the Congress of Europe in May 1948, proclaimed:
“We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.”
As Britain's Empire withered Churchill's views shifted and by August 1961, he said:

 “I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community...”

I suppose we all make misquotes - it's not unusual for Shakespeare quotes to be mangled, for example. But political campaigners making claims ought to be more careful.

So don't vote Leave on account of Churchill then.

Danzig's article can be seen at

Reason to Leave - a shorter post!

So what are the reasons to vote leave?

I think they are mainly emotional: freedom, control and democracy.

Do we want to be a free country, or one where, for example, third parties can tell us we have to give votes to prisoners, even if our Parliament is overwhelmingly against? (I'm not commenting here on whether prisoners should have the vote, it's an example of our supposedly sovereign body's lack of authority).

One where our courts can be over-ruled by foreign bodies which seem often not to share our values? After all, why would they?

One where we ultimately have to follow the stipulations which emerge from an overweening bureaucracy made up of careerist politicians and civil "servants" (sic) who share a passion for a "project" which we feel we never signed up to and want no part of?

One where we are subjects of three "Presidents", none of whom we can vote against in an election if we don't want them?

What happened to the proud independence of a country which hasn't been invaded in nearly a thousand years?

Do we want to live in a country that can genuinely decide its own destiny? Or do we think that true independence is now illusory and it's just not possible to have full control of your destiny in the modern world, even if it ever really was in the past.

And, of course, if we vote to stay, the Eurocrats will ignore us more than ever - and they didn't pay us much attention anyway, did they?

In addition to these powerful qualitative reasons, there is one economic argument that can be made: being in the EU increases our exposure to the risk of a Eurozone crash and bailouts. I don't think this can be accurately quantified, though I'm sure the Eurozone is not out of the wood by a long way. However, as we want to remain a strong trading partner of the EU, we cannot avoid this exposure entirely by leaving. Agreed there is zero risk of being drawn into bailouts if we are out, but even in it seems to me that any bailout exposure is 2nd order after David Cameron's rather limited (polite words for pathetic) renegotiation. Cameron did get useful concessions on this point, which the Telegraph called a "significant win". (see So I discount this eurozone risk argument and we'll just have to cross our fingers on this because, in or out, we would catch more than a cold if the market that accounts for nearly half our exports hits the buffers.

In addition to the all of the above there are Ozzy Osbourne's famous "medical reasons", i.e. we're heartily sick of the EU. This may sound a juvenile reason to vote against, but some folks know I'm very fond of Ozzy's saying and would not be surprised if it swayed my feelings.

However, just because you are sick of colleagues doesn't mean you never want to work closely with them again, so I'll try to put this one out of my mind.

Nevertheless, on an emotional level, I feel compelled to vote Leave. As the Animals sang:

"We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
'cause girl, there's a better life for me and you

You can see there's not a lot of logical argument in this post compared with my last one. I think this really is a heart and head decision.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Reason To Believe

I almost wish we didn't have the choice of a vote in a referendum. I'd prefer the EU itself to be significantly reformed and much more democratic than to have the black and white in/out choice. But, as I've already said, that's not the choice on offer and, despite Boris's "2 referenda strategy", which I was very surprised the Sunday Times thought credible, indeed attractive, in its most recent editorial, it is not likely to be the choice on offer at any foreseeable stage. After all, if we were to vote to leave, can you imagine the brouhaha if our leaders, whoever they might then be, seek another negotiation? There would surely be a lot of folk saying "what part of leave don't you get?"

But, putting that aside, what are the reasons for us to believe this deeply flawed EU project is good for us? I can only see four reasons of any substance. But two of them at least have significant weight.

1. The single market.

This is a biggie. My economics guru, David Smith (aka Sunday Times Economics Editor) has written twice this month about its benefits: "Leave the single market and risk a world of pain" (5 June) and "Britain succeeds in the EU: we'd be daft to leave it" (12 June). Smith points out that the single market, which remember was a Thatcher policy, the EU traditionally being protectionist, has been a huge success for Britain. Since it began in 1993 our GDP has grown by 62% in real terms, compared with 42% for France, 35% for Germany and 15% for Italy. Switzerland, outside the EU, has grown by 48%. This is OECD data. On our own Office of National Statistics data we have grown 69%, similar to USA (71%) and several times more than Japan (19%). So much for Boris Johnson's jibe that Europe is the only continent growing slower than Antarctica, which is no doubt not a lie - true, but totally irrelevant. Of course the mature economy of Europe is growing more slowly than less advanced economies in Africa and Asia, but feel the volume and remember the old trade union tenet "2% of f***all is f***all": 2% growth in our economy is a lot more moolah than 10% of a much lower number.

Smith points out that our growth record is not just due to the single market, Thatcher's 1980s reforms and Brown's independence for the Bank of England have also been important. Nevertheless, our special position in the single market but outside the Eurozone has meant we have attracted a disproportionate share of inward investment over the last decade: consistently the most of any EU country, including Germany (though Germany is catching up), nearly twice as much as France (and gaining ground on them) and four times as much as Spain.

And things should get better, as the single market doesn't fully extend to services yet. Even so, our services exports to the EU have trebled in the last 15 years. On the other side of the coin, if we leave we would lose the benefit of the "passporting" regime which is important to our financial services sector. I don't doubt that Smith is right when he says that if we leave, activity and employment would be relocated inside the single market. I read elsewhere that London is home to LCH.Clearnet. No, I hadn't heard of it either, but it handles trades on the London Stock Exchange and also many euro-based derivatives. It has become one of the biggest clearing houses in the world. There is currently more trading denominated in euros in London than in the whole of the rest of the EU, which is an amazing stat. That would surely not be allowed to persist if we leave. Frankfurt and Paris would be bound to find a way to bring a lot of it onshore. Indeed they've already tried. The ECB argued that it would be easier to maintain financial stability if the clearing houses were based in areas where it, rather than the Bank of England, was the chief regulator. Britain sued the ECB and last year the General Court, the second highest in Europe's judicial framework, ruled in our favour. I don't remember the case being publicised, perhaps because it went again the received wisdom that we always lose. But earlier this year a former Bank of France governor said Britain's euro-trading position "can be acceptable only if, and as long as, The UK is a member of the EU, and accepts the involvement of, and co-operation with, European regulatory agencies."

And these aren't just jobs for slickers in the City of London. J.P. Morgan is thought to be Dorset's largest private sector employer: 5,000 of its 19,000 employees are based in Bournemouth. The Guardian reported in January that J.P. Morgan might quit the UK if we leave the EU. The bank’s chief executive said: “Britain’s been a great home for financial companies and [EU membership] has benefited London quite a bit. We’d like to stay there, but if we can’t, we can’t."

The health of the City is a big deal for us. London controls about 40% of global foreign exchange trading, a third of European share trades and half the buying and selling of interest rate derivatives. This wouldn't disappear overnight, but respected commentators expect that trading and back office jobs would follow the money and go elsewhere over a period of time.

There is an argument that we don't have to be in the single market to sell to Europe. Indeed Steve Hilton, Cameron's erstwhile guru, said "last time I checked, General Motors had no problem selling cars there". This argument is bollocks on a grand scale. GM exports very few cars from the USA to Europe, it builds them there in the Vauxhall and Opel operations in Britain, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Poland and Austria.

There is also an argument that we should be concentrating on selling into higher growth areas. Yes, but for the most part being in the single market doesn't inhibit that. I suspect it's just easier for our companies to sell into Europe. It's hard work building exports into new countries, after all. But we need to do it, whether we stay or go.

So the single market is a big deal and leaving it is a big risk.

2. The transition.

This is also a biggie and has been my major concern since the referendum was called. Whether or not we would be better off to the tune of £4,300 "GDP per household" (i.e. NOT household income) by 2030, as George Osborne says - and I've always felt years 3-5 of the business plan were for the birds let alone year 14 - I am certain that the uncertainty attached to the exit negotiation, potentially compounded by the Scots kicking off again, would cause a short to medium term hit to the economy. Smith notes that the Treasury, OECD, IMF, LSE, IFS and others have all put forward convincing evidence for a short term economic shock and long term damage. He notes that Vote Leave's "laughable" response is to brand all of the above as creatures of the European Commission. Noting that he is not EU funded, he reminds us that the Treasury was instrumental in keeping us out of the euro. George Osborne made a similar point, when Leave campaigners pointed to the organisations making forecasts now and claimed they all said we should join the euro. The Treasury didn't and, while there might well have been a majority in favour of joining the euro then, there was no grand consensus. There is on the EU economic issue now. "Laughable" is strong stuff for Smith, who I don't remember calling a major economic issue incorrectly in the 25 years I've been reading him.

Markets hate uncertainty and we'd have 2-5 years of it. I take it for granted that this would hit the value of shares and so pensions and savings. Our low interest regime would have to be continued indefinitely, compounding these problems.

The Brexiteers have argued that the markets haven't been wobbly since the referendum was called, so why would there be such a big transitional effect? One of my golf buddies says his Standard Life shares are down around 20% since January. But I checked the Stock Exchange official data (at and the FTSE 100 is pretty well where it was at the start of the year. However, there was a 6% fall between 8 and 14 June which may well have corresponded with Leave going ahead in some polls. That drop was nearly all regained between 16 and 20 June as Remain surged back. The £/$ graph shows a very similar trajectory (see So for me, there have been some wobbles when a Leave vote looked more likely.

Anyway, I'm sure, whatever the long run position, we'd all be worse off in the short term. And, as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead. He didn't mean we should ignore the long run but that we should weigh short run impacts more heavily.

The transition weighs heavily on me.

3. International Affairs.

David Cameron seemed to suggest that us leaving the EU would precipitate internecine warfare across the current EU in the manner of the two world wars. I think this is tripe. However, I do think us leaving is what Putin would want, which doesn't feel good. Some have suggested this isn't what Putin wants, but it seems likely to me. We could do without destabilising the eastern frontier to the point where Russia is encouraged to march into the Baltic States, a thought I'm sure has occurred to them and which would present the most dangerous situation the world has seen since Cuba and 1962, if not since 1945. Unlikely? But scary.

4. Immigration

A surprising inclusion? I think this argument can be run either way. I tend to think greater control equals greater security. But we might be in a worse position if we leave. Hidebound by our own new bureaucracy of a points system we wouldn't have the people we'd like to have, at least not in any timely way. I see a risk to the NHS here in terms of longer waiting lists, etc. And it's not clear to me why, if we've taken our ball away, the EU countries wouldn't just wave migrants through all the way to Calais and into the tunnel, leaving us to grapple with our own failing systems in trying to send them back to whence they came. They might not do this deliberately, but they could do as much harm by turning a blind eye.

5. In the current uncertain world it's better to stick together than fragment. Feels plausible but unverifiable.

So two powerful and three debateable reasons to believe. Which, of course, is a reference to Tim Hardin's song Reason To Believe, covered by Rod Stewart. And which has some apposite lyrics:

If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

Maybe we have been told lies. But these are some powerful reasons to believe, not leave.

Next up, reasons to leave. And then it's time to decide (at last).

Monday, 20 June 2016

Well done Dustin

Dustin Johnson did remarkably well to close out his first major win at the US Open. After his travails with near misses at Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay in recent years he didn't really need the USGA prevaricating for a third of his final round over whether to penalise him a shot under one of the arcane rules of golf which often seem to say it doesn't matter whether it was anything to do with what the player actually did. (For me he was blameless, but it doesn't really matter, it wasn't well handled either way).

Perhaps fortunately for Johnson, the situation seemed to spook his main rival, Shane Lowry, just as much. And also fortunately for him, no-one else posted a really challenging score.

But I thought he dealt with the situation really well. I've posted before about how flaky Johnson can be, especially with his putting on the last day of a tournament. He played very solidly over the last 3 holes. Remarkably, he hadn't checked the leader board until he asked his brother, also his caddy "where do we stand?" after he'd hit his fantastic approach shot to the last green. (The story is told at Not sure that's sensible, mind, as he had at least a 3 shot lead as he stood on the last tee, even if penalised, but there you go. The Sky commentator had by then already branded him "not the brightest bulb in the floodlight" (or something similar). Even Butch Harmon, his swing coach hadn't disagreed with that assessment! He couldn't really have played the final hole better. Indeed the final few holes.

I've always admired Dustin's swing. He's always had the ability to be one of the world's top players. Maybe now he'll go on to achieve that and I won't need to post about his round on round stats through tournaments.

"Party boy won it did he?" said my other half. Actually she used another phrase which is our shorthand for Dustin which I won't repeat here, though apparently it was binge drinking rather than drugs that caused him to take his time out (see

Good on him. But he has cost me a sleeve of 3 golf balls. I'm still in credit though, Dan!

Referendum - another song for Europe, honest

It strikes me that we often think there are problems with the EU. There aren't, really. Most of the EU member states and their electorates are perfectly happy with the vast majority of what Brussels does, nearly all of the time. (Maybe bar Greece). The problem is that we have a problem with the EU: many of us just don't feel we really belong and I don't think we ever will. We'll always be on the edge, wanting to be enthusiastic members of a club that isn't quite the one on offer.

This, of course, hasn't changed much since we joined.

And, don't kid yourself, the two times we've been offered a say it's only been because the ruling party has been unable to resolve their contradictions and have gone there as the only way out for them. In other words, the problems are our own and of our political parties, Labour in the 70s and the Tories now. Wilson had the problem then, Cameron does now.

My favourite musician/poet Roy Harper wrote a song about the 1975 referendum. It's called, er, Referendum. I've been listening to it a lot lately - it's a cracker of a track. Because of the similar circumstances outlined above, the song works just as well in 2016:

Roy’s 1970s lyric
And how it plays in 2016
There was a man from Muddlebro’
Cameron is certainly muddled
Whose problems he lay down
Exactly – his problem, with is party, laid at the doors of others
Upon another’s doorstep, in a distant strangers’ town
The negotiations were done in Europe
But forgetting what he’d come for and in patronising tones
Cameron seemed to totally forget his promise to us that he would “sort” the immigration problem and “not take no for an answer”
He gave them all his clothes and bread
To stop their moans and groans
He gave away his negotiating position to keep them quiet (one can imagine the moans and groans from the others)
 (Guitar break)

“It’s not your fault where you were born”
He said, all condescending
“We cannot all be made like me with lots of true blue blending”
I don’t know about Wilson’s negotiators in 1975, but Cameron is a toff, after all
“But never mind, we’ll pass the hat around our gracious nation”
The strangers held their laughter back
Remembering their station
One can imagine a lot of eye rolling from the other parties in the negotiation
 (Guitar break)

Back home in the Heads of State
The people’s memory woke
This is a wordplay – the country literally resides in the heads of its people, not the Heads of State doing the negotiations
And yet the yapping didn’t stop
Whoever rose and spoke
Well, there’s a lot of yapping, isn’t there?
But in the fields potatoes flowered
And gulls came with high tides
And men came back from cutting wood
And gathered by firesides
But life will go on regardless

Roy was playing with a band at the time and the song is one of his rockiest. Of course you can listen to the song online. There are some live recordings which are good but the studio version, featuring two blistering guitar breaks by Chris Spedding (of Motor bikin' fame) can be heard at (though I've no idea what the guy who posted the video was on....)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

David Cameron is reckless but Boris Johnson is a liar

I've never been one to call politicians liars. They dissemble and quote selectively, of course. But I tend to think that they mean what they promise, even if they turn out to be things that can't necessarily be achieved. And circumstances change. So yes, they fail to do what they have said they would, but I don't count that as lying. As an extreme example, David Cameron is in the uncomfortable position of having promised net migration would be in the "tens of thousands". I accept I may be being charitable in thinking this was not a lie but a reckless statement made when, at best, badly misinformed about what was going to be possible.

Worse than that, Cameron told the 2014 Tory conference "Numbers have increased faster than we in this country wanted, at a level that was too much for our communities, for our labour markets. All of this has to change - and it will be at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe. Britain, I know you want this sorted. So I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and, when it comes to freedom of movement, I will get what Britain needs". Wow. What a broken promise. He didn't even ask for what he said he would! As soon as Merkel reminded him what John Major signed up to at Maastricht, he forgot what he came for (watch out for another post on just that).

I don't count even that degree of reckless promise followed by spineless collapse as a lie, unless it can be shown Cameron knew his promise was going to prove to be 100% impossible.

But Boris Johnson does lie, in the sense of deliberately saying things he knows cannot happen. Unless he's Alice in Wonderland and can believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Under pressure, Boris stuck to the figure of £350M a week for the cost to us of EU membership in last week's ITV debate. This number has been thoroughly discredited weeks ago as it excludes our rebate (see 2 June post). It was a rare moment for me to be in agreement with Nicola Sturgeon as she called Boris's statement a "whopper", although watching her and Amber Rudd gang up on Johnson was not particularly edifying. Even Nigel Farage thought better of defending the number on TV and settled for suggesting we talk about the net figure, which is significantly lower.

That's bad enough, but when Boris was subsequently pressed on Welsh TV about the monies Wales gets from EU sources, he said that there was no reason the UK government would not continue with this funding. This is a reasonable position to take, but not when you have said that "up to" £350M a week would be freed up for the NHS.

The Leave campaign has said that the money would be spent much more "effectively" and so there would be "more than enough money" to make this promise to Wales. I find that deeply unconvincing. This is a story we've heard many times before. While I expect that large efficiencies could be made in almost every area of public spending, the savings achieved rarely reach the levels claimed in advance.

Boris isn't stupid. I suspect he would be in the upper echelons of MPs ranked by intelligence. Indeed, by saying "up to" he has tried to dissemble and blur the fact that these positions are wholly incompatible.

I realise he was reflecting the official position of the Vote Leave campaign, which has understandably been branded as "snake oil" over this kind of thing. But Boris is the man who stood there and said it.

I was a reluctant admirer of Boris Johnson. Reluctant only because I wondered whether the substance matched the charisma. No longer. There are plenty of politicians who I have felt were well intentioned but totally and absolutely wrong in almost everything they said, as their solutions would not produce the outcomes they were wanting. But Boris Johnson is perhaps the first British politician who I have ever felt is a deliberate, bare faced, liar in the sense of holding to a position which he knows has been conclusively shown to be false.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Will Dustin Johnson do it this time?

Dustin Johnson is near the top of the leaderboard after the first round of a  major - again. I've commented on Dustin's putting previously (post of 6 April). At that point he ranked 7th on tour for putts per round, but it was his pattern for this stat over tournaments that caught my eye:

Round 1: ranked 3rd on the tour. Round 2: 46th. Round 3: 51st. Round 4: 142nd.

No wonder the poor chap hasn't closed a big one out yet. But what's happened since April?

Dustin's putts per round ranking has fallen to 22nd - still pretty good. The round by round pattern has shifted a bit:

Round 1 ranked 1st on tour. Round 2: 67th. Round 3: 96th. Round 4: 87th

So his performance relative to his peers isn't still steadily deteriorating through the 4 rounds, well not quite. Jordan Spieth's and Jason Day's stats don't look anything like Dustin's, e.g. see

Still, I've got a bet on (for a sleeve of 3 golf balls) which I'll certainly lose if Dustin wins. We'll see.

A Song for Europe

Since I saw that Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, had said - in a remarkable outburst of hyperbole - that a British vote for Brexit "could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilisation in its entirety", I've had that REM song going continuously through my head:

"It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine"

Actually, Donald, the thing that worries me is that the EU has 3 presidents, which possibly tells you all you need to know. I hadn't heard of Tusk until recently. There is also the president of the European Parliament (Martin Shulz - no, me neither), and the president of the European Commission (the one we have heard of, Jean-Claude Junker). But the real problem is we can't get rid of any of them through the ballot box.

Shulz is an elected politician, rather than an appointee. But not elected by all of Europe, he's an MEP chosen by his fellow MEPs. Which quite possibly means he's off a proportional representation list and we know what that gets you: the risible and egregious English Neil Hamilton as leader of the UKIP group in the Welsh Assembly. I'd quite like to see the end of this particular world.

I've seen other musical references in the referendum debate. The Eagles Hotel California lyric "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" has been quoted in terms of the single market, the context being that we might negotiate to remain in it, still being subject to making budget contributions and freedom of movement, so it wouldn't really be like leaving.

But the one that really got my attention was in a column by Andrew Mitchell in the Sunday Times - yes him, the chief whip who lost it with the Downing Street rozzers because they wouldn't let him cycle through the gates. To my surprise he quoted the Clash's number one hit (on the back of the Levi jeans ad):

"Should I Stay or Should I Go now?
If I stay there will be trouble,
And if I go it will be double"

Hmm. I was beginning to think that's a pretty good summary, actually. But - d'oh - the idiot has misquoted Mick Jones, who actually sings: "If I GO there will be trouble / and if I STAY it will be double".

He got it the wrong way round! I should have realised that he wasn't really a punk fan. You really can't trust what anyone says in this campaign, can you?

PS No lack of respect for MP Jo Cox intended after the awful events of yesterday. But I don't regard this flimflam as campaigning. And anyway, I still don't know for sure which side I'm backing.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Broken Stones

Further to my earlier posts on Danny Baker's autobiography Going to Sea in a Sieve and The Jam's That's Entertainment, a few years ago my better half and I saw Paul Weller at the Nottingham Arena. After some close things timing-wise for previous gigs (like the time we got half way there and asked each other "have you got the tickets?"), we were early. Scanning the slowly filling seats, she said "He's not going to fill this place is he?" (The capacity is 10,000). "Yes, he will, he's The Modfather" I said. Indeed he did. And a good gig too.

In Baker's book  he recounts seeing the Jam play in Hamburg to an audience a thousand times smaller - exactly 10 people, he and bass player Bruce Foxton counted them. Afterwards Weller gave Baker an impromptu exclusive interview, saying "Start your tape, Danny, I've got loads to say". He spoke about his frustration with the Jam's musical style and direction and mooted calling it a day.  When Baker got back to the NME offices, all he could hear on the tape was the club PA and some muffled conversation. He wrote the article from memory, realising it didn't do the interview any justice and it didn't make a big splash. When they next met Weller asked him what all the rubbish was Baker had quoted him as saying and Baker explained what had happened. Weller said it was just as well, as he'd had second thoughts and the Jam would continue. Which of course it might not have done if the interview had been published as given. The Jam to that point had scored lots of hits, but none in the top 10. Shortly afterwards, their run of huge hits started with Eton Rifles followed by many more including four number ones: Going Underground, Start, A Town Called Malice and Beat Surrender. So history wasn't altered, though before long Weller did break up The Jam and went on to have further success with a wide range of musical styles (pun intended). I particularly like his Marvin Gaye tribute Broken Stones which also has a great lyric: "Like pebbles on a beach, kicked around, displaced by feet...".  Displaced is another word I can't remember hearing in another lyric.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

THe EU and Immigration

As Sky's Faisal Islam put it to the PM, promising control of immigration while being part of the EU's freedom of movement zone is oxymoronic - though some might say lose the "oxy". Good knock about stuff but, to the discomfort of the Remain camp, immigration has become perhaps the key issue in the campaign. The media seems to have gone into meltdown on the topic over the last few days, with "Leave" taking the lead in many polls, though I expect the margin for error is greater than in a General Election (and they weren't that good at that, last time!)

There are two main concerns on immigration. Firstly, setting aside political correctness and using the word David Cameron got into hot water for, whether we are getting "swamped", with associated concerns about the impacts on our culture and infrastructure, such as the NHS and schools. The occasional tabloid story, which I don't doubt is true, about schools where dozens of languages are spoken and no child has English as a native tongue fuel these concerns. And secondly, security. The debate here has focussed on whether we are more or less secure as members of the EU. Clearly, we would have more control if we exit which would probably, though not necessarily, make us more secure.

On the swamped theme, what is the trend? Migration Watch, the most reliable forecaster in recent years, predicts our 64M population will grow to nearly 77M by 2035. This is their "cautious estimate". And the UK is already the 3rd most densely populated major EU country (i.e. excluding places like Malta). But Scotland and parts of North England and Wales are lightly populated: if England were counted as a country it would have the 2nd highest population density, after the Netherlands, at 410 people per sq km. Germany's density is 229 and France's 121 (see This must feel a real issue, if not threat, in the south east of England.

Personally I am more worried about security than immigration per se. I'm sure many people are worried about whether we are keeping out the bad folks. And booting them out when they do get in: it's frustrating to read about our failure to expel criminals, even though there is a European agreement in place to send them home, meaning we don't pick up the bill for their detention. The Home Affairs Select Committee says 13,000 foreign criminals are in Britain currently, either in jail or having completed their sentence, some of the latter having resisted deportation. While 13,000 is a small number compared with the total of our home grown criminals, it's not a small number in absolute terms. Of the 9,895 in jail, 42% are from EU countries, costing us £150M a year to house.

Teresa May says that last year we removed a record number of foreign national offenders: 5,602. But not many were from from EU countries. In total only 402 EU prisoners have been sent home since 2007, a tiny proportion of those jailed. Not surprisingly, the Home Affairs Select Committee said that the Government has consistently failed on the shambolic system for expelling foreign criminals, to the point where the committee said it cast doubt on "the point of the UK remaining a member of the EU".

The Daily Mail jumped on this bandwagon with a full page of examples of egregious criminals who we can't appear to get rid of, including the Italian who stabbed headmaster Philip Lawrence to death in 1995. Having served his sentence, the High Court decided he did not meet the criteria for deportation, as he did not present a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society". Hmm, nothing in their about being an arsehole, then. The infamous Human Rights Act Article 8, the right to a family life, was also a consideration.

Now human rights legislation is not directly related to our membership of the EU, though hearsay has it that the European Court tends to tell us off for not meeting our supposed obligations. I don't know if we ever got to the bottom of whether we could substantially change our treaty obligations and remain in the EU, even if we wanted to. Another issue Cameron's government bottled.

Running it's own version of Project Fear, Vote Leave has majored on the implications of extending membership of the EU, particularly to Turkey. Mind this version of fear works for me as it seems axiomatic that admitting Turkey, with its borders to Syria, Iraq and Iran, poses a security threat when coupled with freedom of movement.

Cameron said Turkey was unlikely to join the EU until the year 3000. I doubt Mrs Merkel will be happy with this quote at a time when her agreement with Turkey stemming migration across the Aegean is at risk of collapse.

Being served by 2 perfectly pleasant and efficient shop assistants who I took to be immigrants (ooh, careful...)  at B&Q and the Co-op last week, one probably from the Phillipines and Kacper, who I took to be from eastern Europe, just reinforced how the country would grind to a halt without immigration. The problem for Cameron is he promised to achieve the impossible. And, from Osborne's point of view, a target that I'm sure he doesn't think at all sensible or appropriate for our economy.

The problem for us is a Remain camp who are in one form of denial, pretending there can be control when there can't and only just getting round to trying to defend any immigration as beneficial; and a Leave camp who are in a different form of denial, in which they tend to default to branding all immigration as harmful, when it is clearly needed to keep the economy (and the NHS) going.

No-one seems to be taking the middle ground and saying how we can make the most of the situation, whether we are in or out. By that I mean using every mechanism available to use to keep the bad folks out and send them home if we stay in, changing our own laws where we need to because of our apparently recalcitrant judges and their seemingly outrageously liberal interpretation of human rights. And if we stay out, saying how we will keep our economy moving by getting the people we ideally need and want. Yes, the Leave campaign talk about using an Aussie type points system to control the numbers coming in while securing the skills we need, but they've been totally silent on what form of bureaucracy would be deployed to decide that. Companies would be advised not to expect to get people to any manageable timescale. I'd bet many would give up; not good for growth or jobs - remember, when companies struggle and can't get key skills, existing workers suffer too.

At the moment I'm scoring this one as a scrappy, unsatisfying, low scoring win for Leave. Few really telling blows landed by either campaign, though Vote Leave's control of our borders theme plays strongly in the debate . There's time yet, but I suspect we'll get more heat than light, despite this being potentially the decisive issue.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The customer is always....

Harry Selfridge is credited with coining the phrase "the customer is always right".  Selfridge had a store in Chicago, which he sold and bought the site in Oxford Street. Selfridges was the first to have a hairdresser and cosmetics displayed at the front of the shop. By 1939 he owed the company and the Revenue vast sums and died penniless in 1947.

In my experience, the customer is not always right but, as my former colleague and buddy Graham says, the customer is always the customer. A fact I am often inclined to remind the other party in a frustrating transaction, when they are doing their best to make sure you won't be the customer again.

The Big Project takes another step today and, due to culpable inefficiency, access to broadband will be limited for a while, but I'm sure you won't mind some sporadic brief periods of silence on my part.

Monday, 6 June 2016

That's Entertainment

Democracy Man, in an apposite comment on my "Why is the BBC so irritating" post, said "Remember, it's got to be entertainment, ya dummy". Actually he was more polite than that, but yes, indeed it is, or we wouldn't turn on at all.

However, it reminded me, as these things do, of one of my favourite songs, That's Entertainment. No, not the one from the 1952 MGM musical film The Band Wagon, the one  by The Jam. And it's not just me that likes it. The song wasn't released as a single when the album came out in 1980, but charted as an import. It remains the 2nd biggest selling import single ever, the biggest being another Jam song. Not sure if that statement has any meaning in the era of downloads, but there you are. It consistently makes similar British lists of all-time great songs, such as BBC Radio 2's Sold on Song 2004 Top 100, at No.43. Despite the very English lyric, it also slowly penetrated American consciousness, figuring at No.306 on the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time released by Rolling Stone in 2004.

I love the feel of the song,  which uses an almost entirely acoustic arrangement. The lyrics, which are mainly working class urban dystopian in flavour, are superb. For example:

"A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped-up phone booth
Paint-splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat
Lights going out and a kick in the balls

I say that's entertainment
That's entertainment
La la la la la, ah
La la la la la, ah

Days of speed and slow-time Mondays
Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday
Watching the news and not eating your tea
A freezing cold flat with damp on the walls

I say that's entertainment
That's entertainment...."

But amongst all this grit there is one of the most remarkable lines I've ever heard in a song:

"Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude"

I can't think of any other pop or rock song I know with either "tranquility" or "solitude" in the lyric, let alone both words in the same phrase.

Presciently, the long-defunct music paper Sounds ran a story about Weller titled "This is the modern poet", alluding to the Jam song "The Modern World" a good couple of years or so before "That's Entertainment" was released and before Weller's poetic style had fully emerged, though all the signs were there in Down In The Tube Station at Midnight, on 1978's All Mod Cons (good word play on Mod and Cons there by the way) which includes the line:

"The glazed, dirty steps repeat my own and reflect my thoughts".

Weller, of course, is one of the few musicians known widely just by his sobriquet - The Modfather. Excluding adopted names, like Joe Strummer, I'm struggling to think of many others who are widely recognised by their moniker, besides Bowie (The Thin White Duke) and Springsteen (The Boss). Oh, I suppose there's Louis Armstrong (Satchmo' - which I only learned comparatively recently is an abbreviation of 'satchel mouth'. Not sure that would run these days- unless he was a rapper!). If you can think of others, please remind me by leaving a comment below.

The thing I've only just fully realised about That's Entertainment is that there are several different recorded versions on release. The initially released version, recorded for the album Sound Affects has an electric guitar part played backwards a la Beatles over one of the verses, a hallmark of psychedelia and very evocative of 1960s British pop.

I'm sure I read, back in the day, that Weller wasn't entirely happy with that version, so for their compilation album Snap! he went back to his original demo, with his engineer adding some drums. A later box set version had the Jam bassist Foxton and drummer Buckler in their normal roles. But for his Hit Parade compilation album of Jam, Style Council and solo material (great CD by the way) he reverted to the Snap!  version with the bass and drums removed. This nearly raw demo is the version I'm most fond of, as it sounds as if he's sat in the corner of your room, just strumming and singing along unplugged, performing just for you.

The song was apparently written in 15 minutes when Weller got back from the pub one evening and, perhaps as a result, has a wonderful freshness and immediacy, especially in the demo versions.

Of course you can hear That's Entertainment on youtube, with a super video, at This is the originally released version, with the electric guitar part. The demo version is probably on there as well, but you'll have to find it yourself in the 17,000 items that come up on the search, or do yourself a favour and buy Hit Parade.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Going To Sea In A Sieve

Well, I was planning to follow up my Brexit posts with one on immigration and this might appear to be a sensible title for it. However, it's on a lighter topic altogether.

I don't give myself much chance to read books these days and, when I do, they are usually autobiographies. It's several years since I read a novel, Dan Brown proving enough to put me off for life so far when I read my wife's copy of Angels and Demons, having run out of reading material on holiday one year, as she tried to take it back off me from a third of the way through as I harrumphed, muttered and groaned repeatedly.

This year I read 3 good autobiographies on the beach,  Danny Baker's "Going to Sea in a Sieve", Tom Cox's tale of his year trying to make it as a golf pro, "Bring Me The Head of Sergio Garcia" and Bernard Sumner's "Chapter and Verse". (Sorry, I know you don't need it, but Sumner was in one of my all time favourite bands, Joy Division which morphed into the long lived New Order, making the huge hit "Blue Monday" and the no 1 selling 1990 England World Cup Squad song, "World In Motion". Not the journey I'd have predicted when "Unknown Pleasures" was released or, indeed, when I saw Joy Division on Tony Wilson's early evening Granada TV programme "What's On", doing "She's Lost Control" in July 1979. A vivid memory. Lots of cool breaking stuff was featured by Wilson, there really is nothing like it now. It's all on youtube, I guess, like a clip of the Granada appearance at

As you might expect from a raconteur with the gift of the gab, Baker's book rattles along with page turning gossip and yarns about his life as a schoolboy and the first part of his career, until he gets established in TV. As his early broadcasting career was with London channels I didn't know who on earth he was when I first heard him on Radio 5's 606 football phone in. While I was into punk rock, I never saw a copy of the famous ground breaking fanzine, Sniffin Glue, which was dreamt up by a school buddy of Baker's and which he contributed to before landing a job at the NME. I was a Sounds man myself, the NME always struck me as far too cynical, holier-than-thou and a bit like reading the Guardian, so I never saw his byline there. And John Peel wrote for Sounds, as well as Gary Bushell, whose career then took him on to the Sun and now the Daily Star. Bushell and co were writing about punk before the NME, which seems to be overlooked now.

Baker's whole career seems to have been a series of happenstance opportunities which, to be fair, you have to have the talent to exploit. He tells of his first meetings with Elton John, Marc Bolan, Queen and other well known artists as he worked at the super trendy One Stop Records, where they all went to pick up the latest American imports (remember them?). Then, after his well connected boss went to the USA and started Sire Records, that contact led to an American based record executive coming to England to take Baker's advice on signing acts for a new record label. That executive was Miles Copeland so, not surprisingly, an early signing was Miles' brother Stuart's band - The Police. Baker's most successful recommendation was The Fall, who he had seen playing to a tiny audience in Huddersfield.

Then, with the NME, he went on the road with the likes of The Clash and Ian Dury and the Blockheads, though the best fun was with mainstream act Darts. He ended up in Derby jail with the band. NME sent him to LA to interview the Jacksons, just as Thriller was coming out and Michael was relegating his siblings to has beens. It was the last published interview with Jackson for 15 years and revealed how dysfunctional the Jackson family was and that Michael was unlikely ever to grow up. Like Peter Pan in some ways, but Peter was the leader of a group of lost boys, whereas Michael was just lost, albeit hugely talented. The half dozen pages on Michael Jackson are absolutely fascinating.

But many of the best yarns are about Baker's experience of growing up. Anyway, I can't recommend the book highly enough, especially if you like reading about the 60s and 70s and music. But I can't figure out for the life of me why it's called "Going to Sea in a Sieve" as Baker never looked like sinking.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Would Brexit cut red tape?

Further to the lies, damn lies and statistics post, which might be summarised by saying you can't trust them because they use some credible numbers but associate them with the wrong words, one of the Leave camp's arguments is that exiting the EU would allow a bonfire of red tape which would free up British business, making us more competitive.

Michael Gove estimated the cost at £600M a week, though Full Fact poured cold water on that figure (see But whatever the figure is, would that bonfire really happen?

According to my economics guru, David Smith, the answer is not at all. Writing in the Sunday Times on 22 May he said that red tape is an important issue, which goes beyond irritation for many firms. But he blew the argument out of the water.

There is a common feeling (which I for one shared) that Britain obeys and even gold plates the rules, while other EU countries ignore them. And Michael Gove has also told of the high proportion of British rules and regulations which emanate from Brussels, saying that they added nothing.

Some rules are important, e.g. for genuine health and safety reasons. And much red tape is home grown - apparently we initiate many of the EU rules. I don't know if Gove would agree that the flow of EU regulations stem in part from Britain, but would he have recognised or wanted to account for that? In any case, our government agrees with nearly all of it, whatever Gove says. According to In Facts, a group seeking to promote accuracy in the Brexit debate (good luck there), of nearly 2,600 EU votes since 1999, Britain has voted against only 56 times and abstained 70 times. So on more than 95% of occasions we have been happy with what was being proposed. Not the received wisdom.

But the key point is this - however bad it may seem, Britain is LESS regulated than nearly all our main competitors, whether they are in the EU or not. For product market regulation, Britain is the 2nd least regulated of 34 OECD countries. Only the Netherlands ranks lower. We are marginally less regulated than the USA and significantly less regulated than Germany, France and Japan, for example. For employment legislation, Britain is the 4th least regulated OECD country.

This shouldn't be that surprising. The UK ranks 6th out of 189 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business rankings and 10th out of 140 in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness index. Which is why Britain does well for inward investment

There are many reasons why Britain is not more competitive - shortcomings in education and skills, low productivity, lack of innovation in some sectors and a failure to invest enough, particularly in infrastructure. Blaming it on the EU doesn't wash, as we are less regulated than the vast majority of our competitors. Smith says when we look for failings we should look in the mirror.

And that leads on to a key conclusion. If we exit, would there be a bonfire of regulations?

Open Europe estimates the cost of EU red tape to be £33bn a year. But there is a parallel estimate of £59bn a year of BENEFITS from EU regulations. How can there be benefits? The Treasury cites things like cost reduction from a single testing regime for cosmetics and "gains to both operators and consumers in the transport sector". I presume this latter example refers to interoperability requirements, which leads to more competition in procurement. If so, it's theoretical in my experience, but one can see that in principle there would be benefits like this.

Open Europe also estimates that a politically feasible maximum reduction in the £33bn cost of EU red tape would be £13bn, mostly from scrapping labour market and environmental regulation and easier regulation of financial services. Smith thinks that likely to be an over-estimate. Thinking of the problems the government had over the zero hours contracts debate, could it face out the inevitable row over workers rights if we tried to roll back EU requirements? And EU environmental regulations on diesel emissions are being criticised for being too lax, not too tight.

Smith contends that a post Brexit Tory government with a small majority would face significant opposition from its own side as well as from Labour and the Nats if it attempted to push through a programme of scrapping workers' rights, reducing environmental regulation and adopting a softer-touch regulatory regime for the City. I would add that, in some cases, it would be impossible if we want to sell into Europe. Smith concludes the idea of such a programme is entirely unrealistic.

So there is very unlikely to be any significant bonfire of red tape we leave the EU. Smith concludes that, given this has been a significant plank in the case for leaving the EU, it is a big flaw in that case.

I'm sure the answer to "Would Brexit cut red tape for business?" is a resounding "No".

This was a question that I didn't think would have a clear cut answer, but it does.

And not only that, my preconceptions about EU red tape have been significantly changed. Like many, I thought that it was the EU who stopped us buying incandescent light bulbs and made us use what Jeremy Clarkson referred to as ceramic dog turds for light bulbs. I've been known to get incandescent myself at the dim glow from a low energy bulb, slowly cranking itself up to what is supposed to be full blast, which still doesn't cast enough light for my ageing eyes. (Like lots of things, lighting is designed by young folk who seem to forget that old fogeys eyes don't work as well). All for no material saving if the light is one that is used occasionally and briefly. But guess what - it wasn't the EU what done it, it was Hilary Benn, Labour environment secretary in 2007, when he said "Britain was leading the way". And probably not a bad thing, once industry responded by making better bulbs that don't take so long to reach full intensity at almost affordable prices. So this is an example of the EU following the UK leading to regulations coming through that Gove sees as coming from Brussels.

Like Smith, I've come to the view that the EU is a convenient target for the default finger of blame for politicians and the media. I'm not sure about not guilty, but definitely not proven.

Wharever, red tape is not a valid reason to vote "Leave".

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Lies, damn lies and statistics in the referendum campaign

The referendum campaign has so far reinforced the lies, damn lies and statistics view of life.

We've learned that we can't trust Boris Johnson with numbers, as the Leave campaign got pulled up for claiming that it costs us £350M a week to be members of the EU. This figure excludes our rebate and other monies returned directly to our public sector, so is wrong. So the Leave campaign switched to the sort of accurate but deliberately misleading statement that we "send £50M a day" to Brussels, ignoring what we get back. I think we "send" the amount net of the rebate so it's still wrong as well as misleading. Odd Boris should deliberately marginalise Maggie's famous rebate, but tosh either way. So what is the number? My economics guru, David Smith, the Sunday Times economics editor,  allowing for both the rebate and other flows from the EU to our public sector, says the actual net contribution averaged £135M a week over the last 5 years. In 2014 it averaged £110M a week, less than a third of the figure  claimed by the Leave campaign. No wonder Smith said, in his column on 1 May, we should ignore any politician who uses the £350M figure and expunge it from our minds. Smith's numbers come from Sir Andrew Dilnott, head of the Statistics Commission, who said the £350M figure is "potentially misleading ". Clearly, the Leave campaign are not to be trusted on numbers.

You might say that £100M a week is still a big number, but it's less than 1% of government spending. And, in a Brexit scenario, we would still have to pay in to enjoy the benefits of the single market. Even if we didn't, the OECD notes that the transfers to the EU are small and any saving would be offset by the (even I accept) more likely than not result that our growth would be slower, at least for a number of years. Smith notes that Oxford Economics, with no axe to grind in the referendum debate, say that even the most benign Brexit outcome would produce a negligible "dividend" for our public finances. Smith concludes that Brexiteers should stop pretending that leaving the EU would free up money for other spending (Johnson has suggested the £350M a week would be spent on the NHS). He says there is "no money tree... it is an insult to voters intelligence to suggest there is".

Smith said all this a month ago but the £350M a week/£50M a day figure is still being used.

Perhaps more disturbingly, we can't trust chancellor George Osborne to use numbers properly, either. He was one of many claiming the EU benefits us to the tune of £3,000 per family per year, a figure that Full Fact says dates from a 2011 Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills report which concluded that the EU "may be responsible for income gains between 2% and 6%, that is between £1100 and £3500 per British household".  Naturally the Remain camp seized on the higher figure and it was quoted extensively by ex M&S man Sir Stuart Rose before he seemingly got decommissioned as the politicians  got involved. But the figure was widely condemned as misleading. Then Osborne got the Treasury bean counters to sharpen their pencils and he bigged up their conclusion that the economy might be 6% smaller by 2030 if we leave the EU, which represents £4,300 per household. Many sources have branded this statement as misleading, as it invites people to confuse the GDP per household statistic with household income, a completely different parameter. Even the Guardian, in its EU referendum realuty check series, said "Would each household lose £4,300? No."

The common thread here is that the numbers are right but the statements are, well, bollocks, basically.

It seems to me that the politicians are playing much faster and looser with numbers in the referendum campaign than in a general election, maybe because they feel there is less personal accountability.

It's made me conclude that I can't trust anything either campaign says about numbers or statistics. They quote numbers from reputable sources but wilfully use them in the wrong context, or invite us to draw an inappropriate conclusion from them.

Numbers are important to the debate and matter to me and my views on these matters. I often feel that an argument that isn't quantified, isn't capable of satisfactory resolution. I've always been wary of people who reach decisions because they "feel it in their waters", or some similar guff.

But I'm coming to the conclusion that the in or out decision comes down to whether one feels we should or should not be part of the EU on an emotional level.

That said, my next post will be on one aspect of the debate where unexpected clarity has appeared on the numbers: whether we could cut red tape for business if we quit the EU and left its dead hand behind us.