Sunday, 31 July 2016


All you fans of music trivia out there will already know that Patti Boyd, who was married to George Harrison and then Eric Clapton, had three of the world's most famous love songs (of the pop/rock era anyway) written about her: The Beatles' Something and Clapton's Layla (performed by Derek - who was Eric - and the Dominoes) and Wonderful Tonight. But there was lots of other stuff about Patti and her relationships I didn't know. Such as:
  • as a 19 year old model dressed as a schoolgirl, she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night. Harrison made sure he sat next to her at lunch and his first words to her were "Will You Marry Me?" followed by "Well, if you won't marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?"
  • it was Patti, who an interest in meditation and yoga, who turned Harrison and the other Beatles on to the Maharishi which led to them visiting India in 1968. Ironically the India jaunt marked the beginning of the end of her relationship with Harrison as, presumably inspired by the Maharishi who was a notorious womaniser*, he returned more into Krishna and less into monogamy, starting a string of affairs (* the initial version of Beatles song Sexy Sadie written, as much of the White Album was, in India had the working lyric "Maharishi, you made a fool of everyone" when Lennon realised what the yogi was up to)
  • Harrison's friend Clapton wrote her lovesick notes and then, in 1970, invited her to his flat and played his new song, Layla, for her. She thought it sounded "powerful and desperate". Layla was Clapton's pet name for her, after the ancient Persian story of Layla and Majnun, about a poet driven mad by his love for a girl who was promised to another
  • However, Boyd didn't split with Harrison until 1974, the final straw being Harrisons's fling with Ringo Starr's wife, Maureen (though by then she'd had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Faces and later the Rolling Stones).
  • Having swapped George, who Boyd said used cocaine excessively, for Clapton, who preferred heroin and alcohol, she married Clapton in 1979. Clapton started cheating on her a week after they married. But two months after they married, they held a reception at which Harrison, McCartney and Starr took part in a jam session with Mick Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie. Might have been worth seeing - although they were probably all smashed.
  • By 1989 the marriage to Clapton was over and Boyd had to get used to life outside the rock n roll bubble, finding out how to use public transport and pay electricity bills (no big divorce settlements in those days)
  • Boyd was also the inspiration for the Clapton song Bell Bottom Blues.

Patti Boyd was interviewed by Sarfraz Manzoor in the Sunday Times Magazine, 24 July 2016. But I thought the most striking thing was the photos of Patti from back in the day, which showed how much things have changed in 50 years. Apologies here feministas, but it was the huge gap between her two front teeth, which no model would appear with now, which caught my eye:

And here she is with George (and toothy gap):

And with Eric (and toothy gap):

But in the up to date photo of Patti with her 3rd husband, a property developer, not surprisingly she looks like she's got a string of shiny, evenly spaced gnashers.:

(Some additional information here is from Wikipedia and recollections of what I've read elsewhere)

Friday, 29 July 2016

Will the golfers go to Florida?

I don't think Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy did themselves or golf any favours in pulling out of the Olympics. Rory especially with his rather churlish comments, reeking of entitlement. I thought he'd grown up a bit more than that. But today's news of a zika virus outbreak in Florida, the first cases apparently transmitted by mosquitos in the USA, makes me wonder, as they all blamed zika for their no-show, whether the world's top 4 golfers will boycott PGA Tour events in Florida next year. After all, if the Florida cases, affecting people who haven't travelled or had contact with people who have brought the virus back to the USA from other countries are confirmed then similar travel advice is likely to apply to Florida as Brazil. This advice relates mainly to pregnant women, a category to which the world's top four golfers presumably assigned themselves.

There aren't any PGA events in Florida in the rest of 2016. But 2017's calendar includes The Honda Classic (at Palm Beach Gardens, 20 Feb), the Valspar Championship (at Palm Harbor, 6 March), the Arnold Palmer Invitational (at Orlando, 13 March) and The Player's Championship (at Sawgrass, 8 May).

I think we know the answer already. Money talks and these guys probably don't know what a hypocrite is. I expect they will find that there haven't been any zika carrying mosquitos within some safe distance of these golf courses (the flying radius of the mosquitos is only 150 yards). Which is probably also true of where the Olympic event is being held, but there you go.

Mind, the golfers ignored risk assessment advice for Rio, which concluded that the risk was low in the Brazilian winter (mosquito season there ends in March). As evidence, Dengue fever is another mosquito borne infection and, during the 2014 World Cup, only 3 out of the one million tourists who went to Brazil for the tournament contracted it. Indeed gastro-intestinal infections and flu are considered higher risks (and probably mugging). Flu is a much more dangerous disease than zika, killing 30,000 Americans annually. The total number of Americans who have died from zika so far? Zero. But flu doesn't have the dread factor of birth defects. Meanwhile in Brazil, as Peter Dawson (former Chief Executive of the R&A) pointedly noted "I take great heart from the fact we haven’t lost a greenkeeper yet."

It's not clear to me whether zika has been contracted near the Olympic golf venue, but there are two manmade ponds on the course. Special mosquito repellant might be distributed to fans, and officials plan to create movement in the ponds to eliminate standing water.

Anyway, don't let it put you off your game at Baltusrol, chaps. (Oops, Dustin's and Rory's game went to pot in the first round anyway....) I fully expect to see you all teeing it up at Sawgrass on the TV in May.

Some of the above information comes from:
1. the American science and health website Vox (
2. the American news site UPI (

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Austerity - what austerity?

It's a given that the heartless Tories have imposed, with their LibDem running dogs, years of austerity on a suffering nation. Isn't it?

"We have a wider gap between the haves and have-nots in this country than any of us have known" says Owen Smith (Labour leader candidate if you haven't heard of him, which most of us hadn't till the other day) as he set out his stall for what will be a very left wing Labour party, whoever wins.

But actually inequality was higher under Labour. The Gini index of income inequality was 34.7 in 2006-07, before the economic crisis. It is now 32 -  a lower figure means greater equality.

As for austerity, government spending last year was 40.1% of GDP - higher than under Labour for 11 of the 13 years it was in power.

These figures were published in the Sunday Times at the weekend but they aren't new or, to me anyway, the slightest surprise.

It's why it really gets my goat when opposition politicians bang on about austerity. Ms Sturgeon irritates me the most but she's far from the only one.

Just this weekend, also in the Sunday Times, Tristram Hunt referred to the "pain of austerity being unfairly targeted".  (As an aside Hunt, even though he's much less dangerous than the Corbyn/McConnell axis which I think I'll start calling "New Militant", irritates me as much as any of them....perhaps because he's such a wimp). Of course, it's legitimate to question spending priorities and very much the role of the opposition. Trident v health or education, for example. Or overseas aid v health or education. (As an aside I only realised this week that overseas aid is 0.7% of gross national income, not 0.7% of spend. At £12.2bn it's more like 1.6% of spending this budget year). But don't blame any pain on a mythical austerity chum, it's about the choices that have to be made.

The problem these people have is that they have no suitable pejorative term for spending a bit less than other people once, totally unrealistically, planned to spend. As I said in an earlier post, that's a strange kind of austerity.

The problem I have is that government spending continues to run way above the long run 37% of GDP that is regarded as sustainable*. So it is adding to the burden that our children and grandchildren will face. You could argue this is the worst kind of taxation without representation. We are literally spending their money; money they will have to pay because we spent too much on services for ourselves. And the future world will no doubt be even more challenging for the club of cosseted nations of the West plus Japan.

There's been a lot of stuff about generational inequality lately. The biggest problem we are bequeathing them is massive public sector debt.

I know there is an argument about accounting for public investment, e.g. in infrastructure. I've got no problem with accounting for that sensibly. But it's necessary to recognise that most infrastructure projects have hugely long payback periods and many never realistically pay back the original investment. (This would be true from the original canals -very few of which made money for their investors through to the Channel Tunnel, where the original investors lost their shirts). Companies account for investment, but they often have to take painful write offs and I don't believe it would be prudent to account for all public sector investment fully on a depreciation basis. And the cash still has to be found to fund the investment up front, so there are still interest charges.
Also this week we read that real terms pay in the UK went down more than 10% since 2007, according to the TUC, more than anywhere in Europe bar Greece. The Guardian gleefully said "UK joins Greece at bottom of growth league", quoting the TUC General Secretary who said that "wages went off the cliff" after the financial crisis.  Owen Smith (who's he again?) had a lot to say about it in his speech on 27 July. Angry was a word he used a lot. The Treasury made the point that living standards, which also depend on tax and benefit levels, had increased to their highest ever levels, wages had continued to rise faster than prices and that employment increased substantially in that time. There's something odd about these figures and I suspect it's with the TUC interpretation. I seriously doubt that more than a small number of people have had anything like a 10% pay cut in real terms. Some 2 million jobs have been added in that time. Many may well be at low wages, diluting the overall average. But even if they were all at minimum wage, I estimate that would only dilute average wages by around 3%. I'm hoping someone I can trust publishes an analysis that explains this apparent contradiction.

But if Citizen Smith ever has his way, I won't need to worry about it. Indeed none of us will, as he wants equality of outcome, not opportunity. So everyone will be average, whether they work hard or not, so why bother? There's no official antonym for "meritocracy", though one website suggests "mediocracy", but maybe we should just say "Soviet".

Incidentally, for younger readers the blog title harps back to PM James Callaghan, returning to our shores in the 1978/9 winter of discontent. Anecdotally he said "crisis - what crisis?" when challenged about the state of the country, in particular industrial unrest. Though he didn't actually say those words. The lasting images from the time are of rubbish in the streets and reports of bodies lying unburied in mortuaries. As all this was just starting to escalate, the prime minister had gone to an economic conference in Guadeloupe in the West Indies. Looking tanned, Mr Callaghan returned to be asked how he was going to deal with the problem. "I don't think other people in the world would share the view [that] there is mounting chaos," was what he actually said. (I am indebted to the BBC website for this information). "PM plays down problems" might have been a more accurate headline, but The Sun headline was "Crisis? What crisis?" It suited the mood of the nation and has since become part of political folklore - and helped to bring Mrs Thatcher to power.

Politics feels quite like the 70s and 80s at the moment.

*Since 1997 government revenues have fluctuated between 35 and 38% of GDP. They were over 40% in the 1960s and for a while in the 1980s but it doesn't seem to me to be a sound planning basis to assume anything over 39% and more knowledgeable commentators than me have said 37%. See

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Over 2000 and counting

I started this blogging lark as much to let off steam and archive my thoughts, having attempted to turn them into some kind of coherence. (Well, at least coherent to me). But it is gratifying to see from the software that some of my various buddies, colleagues, acquaintances and family must read the stuff, as I now have over 2000 page viewings. (And no, it doesn't count me looking myself!)

Of course, I might have picked up some robot page readers or MI6 (me, paranoid? Not when I know they're out to get me!) along the way. But whoever is reading, I had a look at my most viewed  posts - because they do vary quite a bit. In the spirit of the blog title, here are the top 7:

Why is the BBC so irritating? (29 May - by some distance the most viewed. If you haven't viewed it take a look - it needs one more to get to 50 viewings)
Leave means Leave (14 July)
Masters 2016 shows golf isn't ALL about putting (14 April)
Out of Europe (27 June -on football)
We are indeed all in it together now ( 25 June -on the referendum result)
One of those days in England (and Wales) (14 April)
Timothy Leary Lives (another early one, 12 April)

The topics covered in just these 7 posts include politics, sport, nature, music and psychotropic drugs. Well I have been accused of lack of focus on occasion, so the wide range is in character.

My titles are sometimes wilfully tangential - More on 1916 is mainly about music for example. So hopefully readers sometimes pick up on something unexpected. But potentially irritating also.

Anyway, I am encouraged to continue. After all, if you couldn't be arsed reading my posts, you wouldn't have viewed this one, I guess. But feedback or comments are always welcome. And you can leave them pseudonymously (which means make a name up, not that you're a pseud). Though you might need to give your email address to the great vampire squid Google (I know that was a Rolling Stone description of Goldman Sachs, but it arguably fits Google better). But if you're as paranoid as me, you'll create one without your real name in it for the purpose....

Toodle pip

PS Yippee, 51 viewings now for Why is the BBC so irritating?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

What on earth did Theresa promise Nicola?

Nicola Sturgeon has suggested she has a veto over when Britain leaves the European Union. Scotland’s First Minister suggested that she can dictate the timing of a British exit from the EU in an interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday (17 July). Asked if she had a “veto in her back pocket” about when Britain leaves the EU, she replied: “I think we are in a very strong position. That is a position that I am going to use as well as I can.”

Speaking in Edinburgh, Mrs May had said: "I have already said that I won't be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations."

What on earth would make Nicola think that seeking to agree "a UK approach" to Brexit gave her a veto? I expect she was being offered a chance to make an input into what the Brexit negotiations should try to achieve. But Theresa, preoccupied with the Trident vote presumably, hasn't responded. I expect she would gladly nuke Ms Sturgeon. But she's got bigger fish to fry (ouch, sorry about that lame pun!) with her tour of European capitals.

No doubt it will become clear in due course if Nicola does indeed have a veto!


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The ice age may not be coming

Further to my "London Calling" post of 4 July, the IMF has yet again revised what it thinks will happen to the UK economy.

After warning in May that "Brexit is going to be bad to very, very bad" and in June that "the reaction is expected to be negative and could be severe", it now says that the reaction to the Leave vote has been over-egged. Actually it said "Financial markets have proven resilient in the weeks after the referendum. The reaction has been orderly and contained".

It has revised its estimate of UK growth to 1.7% for this year (down from the earlier prediction of 1.9% but they had warned of Brexit causing a recession) and 1.3%  next. This latter figure is down significantly from 2.2%.  However, their new projection for this year would put UK growth behind only the USA of the G7 nations and the third fastest behind USA and Canada in the next year. So we would still be growing faster than Germany or France over the next two years.

I suspect all this is very premature, but one is reminded of the old Mark Twain quote "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated".

Mind, it's an ill wind. Without examining the data too closely, I suspect that what they've done is reflect the "chilling effect" on the world economy Brexit by reducing all the G7 countries' growth figures. So we're dragging them down with us!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

More on 1916

I don't often buy CDs at gigs. But only once have I gone to the table at the back of the room and bought the album because I have to have the song the band is playing right now, right now. The band was Stray, the gig was at the Flowerpot in Derby in 2010 or so and the song was Harry Farr.

As Del Bromham had introduced the song, about a young soldier, one of 300 executed in 1916 for desertion when they were almost certainly suffering from shell shock, I thought "what an unpromising subject for a rock song". How wrong can you be?

"September dawn, 1916
He stood before his executioners
With head held high, refusing a blindfold
Face the guns? A coward? No not I!
Harry Farr prepared to say goodbye
Harry Farr looked them in the eye"

All played over churning guitar and a rip roaring break.

Over 300 soldiers who were executed for military offences in WW1, including Private Farr, were pardoned by the Government in 2006. The cases had been reconsidered in 1998, but it was decided then that a blanket pardon was not appropriate as it was not possible to distinguish between those who deliberately let down their country and those who were not guilty of desertion. But in 2006, Defence Secretary Des Browne said that, while the evidence to assess individual cases did not exist and he didn't want to be in the position of second guessing commanders in the field, injustices were clearly done. But Harry Farr was the only executed soldier to request not to be blindfolded, so he could look his executioners in the eye. There was a Channel 4 programme about Farr broadcast in 2007.

"Freedom came at last
Many years had passed
A pardon for the man
Freedom came too late
Oh such a waste
Has justice been done?"

I heard Stray's eponymously titled first album at a teenage party in 1970 and quite liked it, especially the outstanding first track, All In Your Mind. But not enough to go out and buy it with limited resources and a lot of bands to follow, including Floyd, Crimso and Deep Purple. It was around 40 years later that I caught up with them at the Flowerpot, a smashing pub venue, albeit a bit of a dive. We had to leave early but not before I'd bought the CD "Valhalla". A year later they were back and watching Bromham hang his guitar from a hook in the ceiling and give it a spin at the end of set closer All In Your Mind, walking off stage leaving it wailing feedback, rivalled seeing Richie Blackmore trash his guitar at the Liverpool Philharmonic about 40 years earlier. I realised I'd been missing out on a great band.

As my son said when he came with us to that second gig, there are bands filling stadia who aren't a patch on Stray. After a string of reasonably successful albums Stray's profile slipped with the advent of punk and new wave. But Bromham is a very good guitarist, as witnessed by this quote from The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1989): "The first wave of guitar idols were usually considered to be Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. [I assume they were talking British guitarists here, Hendrix fans]. Bromham's past work should be reappraised as he clearly slipped through the net." This reappraisal started with Iron Maiden covering All In Your Mind in 1990 and finally came with the release of their 2009 album Valhalla, which includes Harry Farr and which was declared album of the year by Get Ready To Rock magazine. In 2012 Bromham received a lifetime achievement in music award at the Newark Blues Festival along with Andy Rogers of Free and Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs.

You can hear Harry Farr (album version with some relevant still pictures) on youtube at and see a live version from the Flowerpot no less (in 2014 - not one of the gigs I saw) at; this was posted by current Stray bassist Stuart Uren.

Many other tracks come up via Google or youtube, but I'd recommend:
All In Your Mind (full 9 minute original 1970 studio version):
and Jimijam, Del's super 1997 tribute to Jimi Hendrix, at which I saw him play live in 2012. See if you can pick up all the references in this one!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Mamma Mia, here we go again

What's the Italian for "non-performing loan", the dry British phrase for a debt that is unlikely to be repaid in full? I can tell you it's "le sofferenze", which means "the suffering". Well, the Eurozone is going to go through some more suffering by the sound of it, as the Italians have lots of suffering debts.

We'll hear more in due course about Monte Dei Paschi di Siena which, founded in 1472, is the world's oldest bank.  Monte dei Peschi and its rivals are sitting on about €360 billion of dodgy loans. More than 18% of the loans are "le sofferenze" and lenders have set aside funds to cover only half of that. An initial €40 billion of recapitalisation is needed to stabilise the Italian banking system.

The UK, Ireland and Spain bit the bullet and bailed out their banks post credit crunch, but the Italians? Well they did what the Italians do: nothing much. Partly because there are many small, private bond holders for Italian bank debt and it would have been unpopular to give them what the financial markets call a "haircut" (i.e. the bond holders lose a proportion of their money). The problem now is that EU rules prohibit Italy from doing what the above nations (and the USA) did after Lehman Brothers went bust, i.e. using public money to save the banks, even though it was dressed up as the government taking an equity stake. Those bondholders would have to take a hit, which is politically unacceptable in Italy.

They could try to convert some of the bonds to shares, which wouldn't be worth much until a recovery. (The bank's shares are down 95% since 2008). But even if they do the problem isn't going to go away.

Even if the can is kicked down the road, some rules will change in 2019, when the banks won't be able to count deferred tax assets on their balance sheets, which will wipe out a few percent of their equity. ("We learnt that lesson with RBS, not to count those assets" said Mark Carney).

None of this is too much of a surprise. The Vote Leave campaign warned about further problems in the Eurozone (though our economy would take a hit either way). And, ironically, this is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy as the problems for Italy have been made worse by Brexit, with the Italian stock market down significantly after our referendum, as I noted on 4 July, though it has recovered somewhat.  But the main reason it's not a surprise is that, after the Greeks, the European country I would expect to have the dodgiest set of numbers would be the Italians.

But some commentators say that wiping out private investors' stakes in the Italian banks would lead to a shock wave running through Italian depositors and a full blown banking crisis there. But not just there: French banks' exposure to Italian bank debt is more than 10% of GDP, so the risk of contagion is clear.

And there is also a law of unintended consequences at play. If bond holders have to take a severe haircut, guess what happens when banks try to sell more bonds? Yup, investors won't buy them. This has already happened some months ago when a small bank in Portugal was bailed out under EU rules, with bond holders taking a hit. It lead to Deutsche Bank (yes, the German based bank) being unable to raise as much as it expected in a bond sale. A perfectly logical market reaction, but don't expect the ECB to anticipate a logical market reaction. Mind DB has it's own problems anyway judging by some of the recent web headlines about it I've just browsed:

  • "Deutsche Bank collapse may trigger global financial tragedy" from today, quoting the more soberly worded assessment of the Wall St Journal, "In late-June, the IMF stated that Deutsche Bank is the most important net contributor to systemic risks among the global systemically important banks"
  • "I'm in awe about how fast Deutsche Bank is coming unglued" (on a site called Wolf Street)
  • "If Deutsche Bank goes under it will be Lehman times five" (from an American site called silverdoctors which, to be fair, is trying to sell precious metals).
In February the Spectator noted that, if Deutsche Bank went down, it would be very difficult for the euro to survive. But even without this kind of hype, by the end of this month the European Banking Authority will have published new figures showing the banks’ weak capital positions, a stress test that may well cause stress. As they say, watch this space.


The Sunday Times, "High Noon for Italy's banks sparks fears of Eurozone crisis", 10 July and
The Telegraph website (16 May),, plus other sites as noted.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Open Sky - no Beef from me

What a fantastic Open at Troon. The course was wonderfully set up yielding as many birdies and bogeys as pars, meaning that the proverbial "2 shot swing" between the leaders could happen at any time (and did quite often). It made for a hugely entertaining event.

I won't forget the drama of Mickelson's putt for a 62 on the first day. (I had forgotten how close Rory came at St Andrews in 2010, though admittedly his putt that lipped out was on 17 and a bit of a tiddler, but that's McIlroy's problem, isn't it?). The duel between Stenson and Mickelson was the best final round I've seen, perhaps because it was one of the best ever period, probably since the Nicklaus/Watson "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry in 1976, which I can remember seeing some of even though I didn't follow golf then. The "Duel in the Wind" Wayne Riley called it on Sky.

The tone was set in the first 6 holes, with only 4 pars between the two golfers.

Mickelson is sometimes known as "Phoney Phil". I don't think it was just Tiger Woods who felt Mickelson was a phony. But when it comes to the incomparable golfer of his generation, and a strong candidate as the best of all time, i.e. Tiger, against outstanding golfer Mickelson who seems also to be a fully paid up member of the human race, I know which guy I'd rather meet. Even if some of his tour colleagues nicknamed him FIGJAM. Which apparently stands for "**** I'm Good, Just Ask Me".

However good he is he couldn't have counted on carding a final round of 65 and still losing. But Stenson equalled that all time best round in a Major of 63 in his final round. In the circumstances, truly outstanding .

Also there was the emergence of Andrew "Beeeeef!" Johnston, who gave us all such wonderful entertainment. (I know he won at Valderrama but most folk wouldn't have heard of him). Let's hope he can train on from here. It could be entertaining to see him at the Ryder Cup.

As for the TV coverage, the Daily Mail TV correspondent (not the golf correspondent I notice) had a good old whinge about Sky compared with the coverage on the BBC, especially the adverts. But I really enjoyed the coverage on Sky.

Firstly, just knowing that, whenever there was play, I could turn on and watch some golf without having to wonder whether coverage had started as on BBC.

Secondly, better commentators. The Mail dude "yearned for the luxuriant tones of Peter Alliss", an affliction I never suffered, unless perhaps I wanted to fall asleep. I know he was much loved by golf aficionados, but I only started watching seriously a dozen years ago or so and I suspect he was already losing his marbles by then. I've always preferred listening to Butch Harmon. When Brandt Snedeker hit a poor shot I chuckled at Harmon asking "who teaches this guy?" (he does) then, after Snedeker hit another poor shot at the next hole, saying "I don't want to take his call tonight. I don't want to answer those questions".

And finally, the Sky adverts are wonderful: they give you chance to catch up on the cricket score without missing anything. (This argument won't apply next year when the Lord's Test and The Open don't clash).

Post Script: 63 has been shot in a Major now nearly 30 times, but Stenson's was the first in a final round. And experience really does help on a links course: 4 of the last 6 Open winners have been over 40. Two-thirds compares with only 6 winners over 40 since 1990 in the other 3 Majors combined, around 12%, some five times less frequent. Buoyed by this fact and much older than Stenson (though admittedly far less experienced) I will go and do battle with a links course this afternoon. There will only be one winner....

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Leave means Leave

I've just been listening to David Lammy and Frank Field (both Labour MPs) debating the implications of 4 million people signing the petition for a second referendum. (It was on The Daily Politics via the BBC website).

Lammy relied on the tired argument that the turnout meant that 67% of the electorate didn't vote Leave. On that basis no government has ever had much of a mandate. He even argued stay aways presumably were happy with the status quo. Eh? They didn't care enough to have an opinion, chum, so you can't count them!

He also ran the now almost equally tired argument that there wasn't/isn't a plan. There probably couldn't be a plan, but people still voted Leave, knowing that. So hard cheese there as well.

He also said that there should be a second referendum or it should come back to Parliament when there is a plan, after the negotiation. A second, post negotiation, referendum isn't going to work, as it could fatally undermine the negotiation with the EU: there could be game playing to try to keep us in. I assume any deal will have to be put to Parliament to be ratified but watch out MPs: on this one you are mandated.

Field sensibly noted that things have moved on; Mrs May has made appointments specifically to expedite Brexit and the referendum result was clear. In other words, even if you think there are bridges, they are about to be burned.

I think I've had enough of this debate. Let's be clear here and now. I voted Remain but, if there's a second referendum I will have to vote Leave.

You cannot give the people this kind of vote and then try to say they didn't mean it, they were misinformed, or they couldn't see through the lies and obfuscation. You could say that about any General Election, after all.

And I say that accepting the description of the Leave campaign by the Sunday Times Deputy Business Editor, Simon Duke, as "mendacious". It was that and internally incoherent as well. But it won the day against arguably equally mendacious Project Fear.

The people have spoken and, to their credit, the government (Cameron led and now May led) has heard, listened and taken it on  board. Time for the sore losers to accept it too.

It won't surprise you that I don't often read the Guardian. However, clicking on a news link soon after the referendum, I read a remarkable article by Zoe Williams suggesting six "practical" ways to fix the brexit mess (at, 29 June). The first point was to stop calling for a second referendum. (To be fair this was because she argued the Leave case would fall apart. Well maybe it already did, but it's still going to happen by the look of things). She predicted the Tories would take 6 months to resolve their leadership and she called for a snap General Election, which I covered yesterday.She concluded by urging people to turn up at marches and events against Brexit. Ah, right. We know an anti-democrat when we see one. Lose the vote so to the barricades.

Remain or Leave was a simple question. It got answered. Just imagine what these people would be saying if the result had been 52-48 for Remain and UKIP were marching and calling for a re-run. They would be beside themselves with moral indignation. Just look at yourselves, will you?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Should there be a General Election?

Theresa May's appointment as PM today is bringing the usual noise that there should be a General Election as she has no personal mandate. Just as folk like George Osborne said when Gordon Brown took over. So should there be an immediate General Election?

I'm going to cut to the chase on this one and say, simply, "no". For a lot of reasons.

1. We don't vote for a prime minister - the PM isn't a President. We don't have an American presidential system, even though most of the attention is on party leaders. The parties pick their leaders and, if there's a vacancy, they pick a new one. If we don't like how they get on, we get a chance to kick them out before too long. Actually, even in America's presidential system, if there's a vacancy mid-term the deputy takes over. Why don't we do that? Because here the Deputy PM title, when it's been used, has been a consolation prize for someone you really wouldn't want as PM - John Prescott, anyone?

2. Historical precedent. Taking over as PM without a General Election is actually how it happens more often than not: on 13 of the 22 times since 1900 when a different PM has taken over. The list includes Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill, Macmillan, Callaghan, Major and Brown. The word "different" in that sentence is because Stanley Baldwin assumed the role this way on two separate occasions.

3. An election right now wouldn't help reduce uncertainty. A lot of the folks arguing for an election have also been complaining about there not being a plan for Brexit. Ultimately this "plan" will have to emerge from the negotiation with the EU. We could have a "plan" - we could even vote on different plans put forward by different parties - but we wouldn't know if any of them were deliverable in practice before they were put to the test. You can't keep going back to the people because you've found, for example, that access to the single market would require A and B rather than the C and D you told people before (£ and what restrictions on free movement, if any, for example). At least you can't if you are serious that you want to remove uncertainty, which is what many of these people are also saying (and does need to be done). An election now would increase and extend uncertainty.

4. The people arguing for an election are only doing it because they think they would win, or at least improve their position. All the opposition parties know that the Tories would have great difficulty producing a coherent position on Brexit for a General Election now their formula for sticking together, a referendum, has been implemented and passions are running strong everywhere. So, not surprisingly, all the Opposition want an election, now. Actually, I'm not sure Labour want one now, though some of them are saying they do - but the they do seem to be on a suicide mission.

5. An election now could produce a bizarrely undemocratic result. I can't remember if any government has ever commanded more than 50% of the votes, but not for a long time and they certainly wouldn't this time. So any government elected on a platform of Remain would have lower support than Leave had in the referendum. Yes, the total vote for all parties arguing Remain might be more than for those arguing Leave (actually as the Tories and Labour - in their hearts - face both ways I don't know how you would know). The Tories and UKIP had 49.5% of the votes in the last election. They could conceivably have over 50% but still not be part of a new government committed to Remaining. What a fine mess that would be.

We can now see why many people have argued that referenda are a bad idea. And I was listening to some chap on the radio yesterday arguing for the practice to be extended to anything that enough people demanded be put to a referendum. A recipe for incoherent chaos.

A closing thought. There are people arguing that, in an elective democracy, the MPs should vote with their conscience against Brexit when it comes to a Commons vote. As the majority of MPs are Remainers that would block Brexit, at least until a General Election. Norman Baker, former LibDem coalition minister, is one making this argument. I find this suggestion staggering. While I am not in favour of referenda on random lists of items, the EU referendum was on a exceptional basis: do we want our elected representatives to have real power, or are we content for them to be subject to a supra-national authority? The rules were passed and the vote was held.

As far as I'm concerned (and I voted Remain) we have a legitimately elected government under a new PM with a mandate for Brexit.

But some folk seem to want to adopt a "pick and mix" approach to the operation of democracy.
As someone once sang "We're Not Gonna Take It". (Who exactly? Oh, The Who, exactly!)

Monday, 11 July 2016

Has politics become a joke?

Well you can be forgiven for saying "it's not funny" but the recent amazing sequence of events since June 23 has certainly made it interesting, with more keeling over than in an Agatha Christie novel and the body count still rising. As I said in my post of 27 June, the situation is very fluid and the fluid is blood! But it's spawned some good wisecracks:

According to the Daily Mail, 4 Tory MPs were overheard discussing their leadership contest. One said "Jeremy Hunt should have gone for it. He would be brilliant a negotiating Brexit with Brussels. He did such a good job with the junior doctors".

Also in the Mail, after the widespread ridicule of several exaggerations on Angela Leadsom's CV (doesn't she watch The Apprentice and see how they always get found out for that?)  one of her "allies" quipped "she didn't have to put up with this nonsense when she was an astronaut".

Those Tories really are going round stabbing each other in the chest, aren't they? Always a sign that they are confused!

And Rod Liddle noted that many consider Angela not to be the brighter of the Eagle twins, but it wouldn't be like Labour to go for the less suitable sibling in a leadership contest, would it?

As if that wasn't enough, there was the unintentional (presumably) irony of Union boss Len McCluskey calling Jeremy Corbyn a "man of steel", which was what Stalin's name meant (he was born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili). You really couldn't make it up. With friends like that....

Meanwhile the Germans call their Chancellor, Angela Merkel, "Mutti", which means "mummy". And now we'll have Mother Theresa. So things are likely to get less funny as Mrs May has been described by a Tory MP as "icily professional - like Mrs Thatcher without the sense of humour". Eh?

Though not entirely lacking in humour as she responded to Ken Clarke's jibe that, like Thatcher, she was a "bloody difficult woman" by saying "I am a bloody difficult woman. The next man to find that out will be Jean Claude Junker".

And all this in the last few days. It's certainly funnier than any sitcom I've seen in ages!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

The biggest risks to the UK economy

The Telegraph website (6 July) proclaims the 5 biggest risks to the UK economy are:
1. household indebtedness. Although down from its pre-crisis peak of 150% of disposable income to around 132%, the Bank of England has warned that the ratio is still high by historical standards. Good job interest rates ain't going anywhere then, as I can't see the Bank putting up rates to defend sterling while there is a risk of recession. The fear is increasing unemployment. And apparently, in response to a target that no more than 15% of mortgages are at more than 4.5 times annual salary, guess what? Yup, loads are being granted at just under 4.5 times. It's supposed to be a limit, not a target!
2. Commercial property. The FPC warned that trends in this market could hit activity in the real economy because many companies use commercial real estate as collateral to access finance. The Bank noted that in tougher times “companies may be unable either to refinance existing debt or to borrow to invest in new productive opportunities”.
3.The Current Account deficit. I've already mentioned this one but, at 6.9% of GDP, it's close to record levels. The size of the deficit means its financing relies on “continuing material inflows” of foreign direct investment. According to the Bank, overseas companies account for roughly half of UK commercial real estate transactions since 2013, making this sector “particularly vulnerable to a change in investor preferences”.
4.The Global Economy. The Bank is concerned that a stronger dollar will cause trouble in emerging markets. It noted that non-financial corporates in emerging economies had close to $1 trillion of outstanding dollar-denominated debt securities.
5. Fragile markets. The FPC said a “sustained” period of illiquidity could result in “a loss of confidence in financial markets’ ability to support funding to the real economy or facilitate the transfer of risks”, making it tougher for UK companies to borrow.

Not much to lose sleep about there then! Some Remainers argued that they would really like to leave but the world economy was still too fragile post credit crunch. Basically the "make me righteous but not yet" argument. While I was (and am) concrned about the impact of transition, I tended to think this particular argument was a cop out. But it could be a bumpy ride.

The full article is at

Friday, 8 July 2016

We'd better be good

One of the silver linings in Brexit is that the government will be preoccupied with the  exit negotiations and then all the ensuing domestic changes in legislation. With any luck this means business can get on with doing the business without interference. If you are, or were, in business and doubt this, remember the dread you felt when you heard someone say "I'm from corporate headquarters and I'm here to help".

But we'll have to work hard and we'll have to be good. Exporting is hard work. I read recently that the paperwork for exporting to Europe while we are in the EU is "ridiculously simple". I have a feeling that many companies haven't tried to hard to export elsewhere - why would you if it's so much easier to stay with what you know?

If we can build on the best of our capabilities to innovate world class products and services we can do really well. But in a world where it will become as hard to sell to Europe as the rest of the world we'll have to be smart, determined and streetwise. In a country where the headline "British businessman arrested..." in some God forsaken country tends not to attract an iota of sympathy, indeed "businessman" can be a pejorative term just short of "banker", people seem to forget all too easily that we need successful businesses to pay our way in the world and raise the revenues to pay for our hard pressed nurses/teachers/police/fire service or whatever. I am a long way from confident that we have a strong enough entrepreneurial culture to be successful.

I am reminded of the story about Alan Ball showing his new all white football boots, which became his trademark in the late 60s, to his father. Remember all boots were primarily dark colours then. His father said "You'd better be good if you're going to wear them". Ball was good - world class. Britain has chosen to stand out - to wear the white boots, if you  like. But can we be as dynamic, skilful and sassy as Alan Ball? Can Britain be world class? I hope so.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


Suddenly the Brits have got good at marking historical events. The display of poppies at the Tower of London in 2014 was a tremendous piece of art. Then there was the re-burial of Richard III, widely credited with helping Leicester City win the Premier League. And now the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The "live art" piece with the silent soldiers was eerie and striking; intentionally like ghosts, I understand.

Even now, historians disagree on the analysis of the Battle of the Somme: what the purpose, objectives and strategy were and whether the outcome represented any degree of success. But we do know the cost: 420,000 British casualties with similar German losses. 57,470 British casualties on the first day, of which 19,240 were killed. The Newfoundland Regiment went over the top with 780 men: only 68 appeared at roll call the next morning.

"At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them" wrote Laurence Binyon in his famous contemporaneous poem.

Except that, fascinatingly, the poem was written in September 1914, when very few indeed of the fallen had actually fell. The poet was anticipating events and the act of memorial.

Roy Harper used Binyon's words in his 1990 track "Berliners" on the album "Once". The song title stems from the First World War Tommies sometimes being called Berliners, because that's where they were trying to get to. Harper was commemorating their sacrifice, his grandfather having fought in France in WWI. Many of the combatants were very young adults and Harper bridged to the role of young people in the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

It's not one of my favourite Harper songs but the lyric is powerful:
"The world you died for, was all but a pack of lies
It had to fall down, and keep on falling
You gave us the world they promised you
And in the morning
We are the flowering
We are the flowering youth

You can hear the track, along with some relevant still pictures, at Be patient: the song does take half a minute to get going, starting with a memorial service excerpt.

But even more poignant is the inscription on a wooden cross at a cemetery near Mansell Copse on the Somme, where 161 members of the Devonshire Regiment were laid to rest by their colleagues, 3 days after the battle began: "The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still"

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Whatever happened to English Hart?

It's often held that, without Champions League experience, players can't thrive at the top level. Well, Wales and Iceland have just blown that argument out of the water. Admittedly, Bale and Ramsey have loads of it and their team has been together at international level for some time. But they've got many honest triers at Premier League - and Championship - level.

So why are England so perennially poor? Blame the manager? Tempting, but they haven't played as a team at a major tournament since 1996. Were all those managers (Hoddle, Keegan, Eriksson, McLaren, Capello and Hodgson, excluding interims) poor? Maybe.

Blame the weight of expectation? And a catalogue of individual errors from experienced players. Taking just goalkeepers, from David Seaman being done by Ronaldinho to Joe Hart developing weak wrist syndrome in France. Poor, overpaid ninnies.

And weren't they boring to watch? Aimless, passionless, turgid. I read a statistic that horrified me. 58.5%. I thought it might be our possession stat. But it was our successful tackle percentage. The lowest of any nation in France 2016.

How shocking is that? Claudio Ranieri said Leicester won the Premier League with Italian tactics and English heart. OK they had Morgan, Vardy, Drinkwater, Albrighton and Simpson, but a lot of that "English" heart came from Kante, Mahrez, Huth, Fuchs, Okazaki et al.

The one thing an England team don't seem to be able to do anymore is play with English "heart": run, tackle, get a head on it, make a challenge.

And most of the Premier League coaches seem to turn their noses up at these concepts.

I don't think England will get anywhere until we reconnect with our traditional strengths. I doubt this starts with the appointment of a new England manager, when we've stopped producing goalkeepers and the likes of Tery Butcher and John Terry.

Monday, 4 July 2016

A nuclear error - the ice age is coming?

You all know that I am worried about the transitional impact of the Brexit vote, that being my main reason for voting Remain. News media reacted to the initial currency and stock market reactions with phrases like "falling off a cliff" and "meltdown". And the New Yorker had a wonderful cartoon of John Cleese doing his silly walk over the cliffs of Dover. So, how's it going?

The short answer is that, as usual, there was a large degree of exaggeration.

Having had a personal pension invested for several years I have long since got used to the idea that paying too much attention to day to day movements in the markets, unless that's your job, is a good way to go rapidly mad. After all, unless you are a hedge fund or speculator, it's all about the long term. So I decided to wait all of a week before checking!

The pound certainly took a hit, particularly against the dollar. At the close of the market on June 23 (Referendum Day - how could you forget so quickly?) the sterling rate was 1.50$. It fell off the cliff overnight to 1.33 and, after a slight recovery followed by a dip to 1.315, settled down at around 1.33, which is where it was on 30 June (and still is, see the currency charts at where you can choose to look over a day, week, month, year and up to 10 years). Sterling had rallied in the run up to the referendum on anticipation of a Remain vote, so 1.5 was artificially high. It had been as low as 1.39 in February, but was typically in the 1.39-1.46 range. I'll call that 1.425, so a rate of 1.33 represents a fall of nearly 7%. A pretty small cliff, then, for those of us who have seen the rate close to 1 and over 2 from time to time, without going back to Harold Wilson's devaluation, which was from 2.8 to 2.4 back in the autumn which followed the 1967 summer of love, when some of us wore flowers in our hair.

On 23 June the FTSE 100 share index closed at 6338. At the close a week later it was up 2.6% at 6504. The last time the index was over 6500 was in August last year. So it fell up a cliff then. The "British" companies that make up the 100 share index include many large multi-nationals. The reason I believe the index is up is because these big companies earn a lot of revenues in other currencies, particularly dollars, so the pound's fall will increase their sterling revenues, holding out the expectation of higher profits and dividends.

It's often said that the FTSE 250 index is a better bellwether* for the British economy. That was 17333 on 30 June and 16271 a week later, some 6% down. The all share index, which you rarely hear quoted, was 3481 on 30 June and 3515 a week later, 1% up. So not much of a meltdown there.

*I always thought this had an "a" in it. You learn something every day...

I thought the euro would suffer more than the £ if we voted to leave. But the £ is down about 6% against the euro, which itself is down against the dollar, but only 2%. But the German, Spanish and Italian stock exchanges all fell in the 2 working days after the vote, by 10, 14 and 16% respectively. Although they have bounced back a bit, this is at least as big a cliff as we have fallen off.

But not very big cliffs so far. Mind, conventional wisdom has it that the markets react to the conditions they expect over the next 12 -18 months. This makes sense as that's the period over which the next tranche of dividends will be earned. In that time we will still be in the EU and the single market, so you wouldn't expect the markets to do much more than react to the sterling devaluation. So early days, then.

It's not just about markets of course. George Osborne has abandoned his target to achieve a budget surplus by 2020, as he wouldn't have been able to get that past the OBR anyway, at least not without spending cuts and/or tax rises. There is no doubt that the outlook for our public finances has just deteriorated, if only due to the uncertainty. And our credit rating was downgraded, because we are running a huge current account deficit (imports minus exports) as well as a still substantial budget deficit. Those who think "austerity" has been overdone may struggle with this because they clearly think we could spend more, but the downgrade shows where that path would take us. (The reason for the inverted commas is, of course, that we have increased spending at a lower rate than previously planned rather than cut it, which is a strange kind of austerity, at the risk of opening up a different debate).

I think so far I am most concerned about the likely reaction of big companies with headquarters or major offices in London, in particular in the finance sector. Now you can moan about "bankers" as much as you like, but we are world leaders in the financial sector and it accounts for 12% of economic output, 2.2 million jobs nationwide and a huge £66 billion of taxes annually. I am sure most of these companies are preparing contingency plans to move at least some staff to locations in the EU. (The stats above come from a Sunday Times article about bankers overheard on the morning after the referendum saying that they will be applying for Irish passports). Since the top 3,000 earners pay more than 4% of total income tax receipts (or at least they did in 2014 - see and the top 1% (about 300,000 high rollers) pay around a third of all income tax we would miss their contribution to the exchequer quite badly.

So the sun is still shining, but there are gathering clouds. I am reminded of the joke about the chap who jumped off the Empire State Building. Half way down he's asked how it's going and he says "so far, so good!"

I may return to how the markets are doing periodically. It could overtake my interest in Dustin Johnson's putting stats.

The lyric, which you all recognised of course, is from The Clash's "London Calling":

"The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin.....
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

(Sources disagree whether Joe sings "error" or "era", but it sounds like error to me. Bet they are American websites that have "error" as "era"!)