Monday, 29 August 2016

It was 50 years ago today

And yes, of course, that is a deliberate reference to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as the Beatles played their last live gig in San Francisco on 29 August 1966.

To mark the occasion we've been listening to the two albums of the period, Rubber Soul and Revolver. The latter album, with its futuristic track Tomorrow Never Knows, heavily influenced by LSD (see post of 12 April) came out 3 weeks before the gig. The 11 song set included Harrisons's If I Needed Someone and Lennon's Nowhere Man from Rubber Soul and nothing from Revolver (Tomorrow Never Knows might have been difficult!) the rest being earlier era songs.

My other half is oblivious (appropriately in terms of The Void) to the merits of Tomorrow Never Knows. "Disjointed" and "cacophony" were among her comments along with "physically sick", though I did have the vinyl deck on very loud at that point. We agreed, though, that Lennon's Girl, with its lascivious sucking in of breath, is a classic and McCartney's Here, There and Everywhere is not just his best love song but one of the best by anybody, anytime. Lennon's In My Life was a very mature, reflective song, on the first of what I call the "middle term" Beatles albums (just these two in that category for me). There are many other great tracks here, as well as a few fillers. After all, Paul Weller ripped off Harrison's Taxman for his number one hit Start! (I say this as a big Weller fan). You've got the sweet sadness of Eleanor Rigby (a genuine McCartney and Lennon combination) and For No One, some gorgeous Harrison guitar runs on Nowhere Man and And Your Bird Can Sing and the whimsical twist in Lennon's lyrics on Norwegian Wood.

When Oasis and Blur were vying to be kings of the Brit pop era, I said to my then teenage sons "come back if they've had 12 hit albums and over 20 hit singles after 7 years".  This produced a yawn as they knew who I was referring to, but I patiently explained that The Beatles were the first ever mega boy band, normal shelf life 3 years, except they turned into the coolest and one of the most creative ever bands, having played the world's first stadium gig (Shea Stadium, 1965) on the way.

What a ride. Glad I was there at the time to have a ticket for the experience.

Candlestick Park 1966 set list:
Shea Stadium:

P.S. I should, of course, have said the Beatles last ever gig for which you could buy a ticket, the last gig arguably being the concert on the roof of the Apple building in January 1969. That would of course have nothing to do with the Steve Jobs electronics company Apple Inc which got its knickers in a huge twist because Apple Corps owned the rights to the name Apple in connection with sale of physical music (CDs, cassettes etc) under a 1991 agreement when they first settled their tiff over the name. The two companies eventually kissed and made up in 2007, leading to the Beatles music being available on iTunes.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

You won't beat him - the fastest in the Premiership

I saw Everton play West Ham in the last match of the 1985/86 season. The game was effectively a 2nd place play off. Everton won and so finished runners up behind Liverpool. For younger readers, this was during Manchester United's 26 year run without a league title. Manchester City weren't quite half way through their 44 year drought and Chelsea were nearly 20 years away from ending their 50 year (yes, 50) run without winning the league. Even Arsenal hadn't won the league for 15 years and would have to wait another couple of seasons to become champions.

Indeed, this was in the middle of a 7 season spell when no team other than Liverpool or Everton won the league. And part of a run of 13 seasons when only 2 teams other than Liverpool and Everton won it (Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest - remember?)

Anyway, I was watching with my father-in-law, then a youthful 65 year old.  West Ham had a good team, featuring Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee up front. McAvennie was quick and West Ham tried quite a few balls in behind the Everton back four to exploit his pace. It looked like a standard tactic and it had worked big time for them that season. Except that at the time Everton had their most successful ever captain, Kevin Ratcliffe, at centre back. Every time McAvennie set off down the channels a chap sitting near us said "you won't beat him for pace, mate". And every time he was right. At his peak, Ratcliffe had pace to burn and good positional sense too.

I am reminded of Ratcliffe's pace by seeing posts on the Talksport website about the fastest players in the Premiership. So who is the quickest top flight player now? Well Talksport told us in June that the fastest sprints all season had been recorded by Anthony Martial and Jamie Vardy, at 35.44 kph. No surprise there. The Top 20 also included Jeffrey Schlupp and, slightly more surprisingly, Wes Morgan of Leicester. There are quite a few defenders in the list - you run faster without the ball, after all.

Now forgive me as the next bit is hardly topical, but it was new to me and it's the reason I was reminded of Ratcliffe. Who was the fastest player in the Premier League in the previous season, 2014/15? It was Phil Jagielka, the current Everton successor to Ratcliffe as centre back and captain, though unfortunately not as successful at lifting trophies. Talksport noted that he had recorded the fastest speed, at 35.99kph, of any player. (Probably in a sprint against Vardy!). So Jags' quickest sprint was faster than Raheem Sterling. And faster than Vardy or Alexis Sanchez. And it was quicker than Martial and Vardy recorded in the next season.

It's well known that Jagielka is multi-talented - after all he played in goal for his previous club, Sheffield United. He was so handy in goal that the manager, Neil Warnock, preferred to have no goalie on the bench, giving him an extra outfield substitute option. In a famous game against Arsenal, Jagielka played in goal for most of the second half after Paddy Kenny got injured. Jags put in a man of the match performance and, with a superb late save, kept the sheet clean for the Blades to beat the Gunners 1-0. But I didn't know that, as a youngster, Jags was originally a winger. So he was always fast, even if he didn't make it playing in that position.

Jagielka was first at Everton's academy, then Stoke and Manchester City before being signed by the Blades. Everton signed him for £4M in 2007: not as expensive as Man United bringing back Paul Pogba. David Moyes used him initially as a utility man and I saw one of his early games, filling in as a holding midfielder, but he looked a bit uncomfortable and I told my son he was really a centre back. The next game we went to, a European tie against Brann I think, Jagielka was given a run in that position. His first touch in the game wasn't a good one and some chap behind us kept saying things like "I don't fancy this guy there" and "ooh he makes me nervous" every time the ball came near Jags. I remember saying to my son, probably deliberately loudly, "I don't know what he's on, the guy is sound". Jags went on to get the man of the match and, of course, make the position his own.

So, Phil Jagielka, a worthy successor to Kevin Ratcliffe? It's not Jags' fault that he hasn't got Southall behind him and Reid, Sheedy, Steven, Sharp and Gray in front of him. And it's not his fault he hasn't (yet) got to lift a trophy.

Phil Jagielka has been a really good player for Everton. Respect.

Jagielka quickest in 2014/15 at
2015/16 fastest at

Friday, 26 August 2016

Are pensioners getting richer? Or is it apples and pears?

I've seen it suggested in quite a few places that pensioners are getting richer. And, apparently, that is what the data shows. Most recently I saw Andy Haldane of the Bank of England, writing in the Sunday Times, use this fact as an argument for why he wasn't too worried about pensioners getting low interest rates on their savings in comparison with the needs of the economy as a whole.

Fuel for the inter-generational wealth debate, I suppose. A debate that includes the difficulty of getting on the housing ladder, for example. Personally, I think that one is about basic supply and demand. We don't build enough houses, so it's getting harder to buy. Funny how people seem to forget economic basics. So while I feel sympathy for young folk trying to get on the housing ladder, I also remember us paying an interest rate of typically 11% (and sometimes up to 15%) on a mortgage that was a whacking great proportion of our 1970s take home pay. And not being able to afford to buy a washing machine (no credit cards then, kids!). It certainly felt hard then, guys!

But to return to pensioners. How can they be getting richer? Well, some are asset rich and the value of their houses and other assets could be going up. But not many have large investments in the kind of assets for which the value has been pumped up by the Bank of England's quantitative easing. While that QE and low interest rates has kept interest rates on cash savings (which is what most pensioners will have I guess) at long term record lows. Something doesn't feel right here.

And it isn't. Think about what this comparison means for a moment. You can't compare the same group of pensioners after 5 and 10 years for the obvious reason that a proportion of them will have pegged it. And in the meantime a new group has retired. So if you take "pensioners" as a group over an extended timescale a bunch of folk mainly in their 80s will have been replaced by a younger cohort. Who are:
1. more likely to be wealthier anyway as people born in the 1950s are, on average, wealthier than people born in the 1930s
2. much more likely to have an occupational pension, so will have a higher income than the older group, many of whom rely entirely on the state old age pension.

So guess what? Pensioners as a group get richer.

Are individual pensioners getting richer? Yes they have benefited from the "triple lock", which I find hard to justify when wealthy pensioners get showered with non-means tested benefits (winter fuel, bus passes, TV licences for over 75s). But in broad terms, my guess would be not many are getting richer and not by much where they are. Obviously the few very wealthy people have the opportunity to get even wealthier and the Bank's policies probably help them. But that has nothing to do with age and, unless you are a class warrior - and they do seem to be re-emerging like wooly mammoths from the ice don't they? - that group has little relevance to policy making, apart from making sure that they stay here and pay their taxes. And as a group they do, and a very large amount it is.

So "pensioners getting richer" is yet another misleading statistic. True for the group, but it isn't the same group over time. Another case of comparing apples and pears. And getting a banana.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

It's not an honour

Will it be Sir Jason Kenny after his marvellous exploits in Rio, equalling Sir Chris Hoy with 6 golds medals to his name? After all, it's Sir Bradley Wiggo and Sir Steve Redgrave (great man, but I wouldn't have him near at TV studio myself), both with 5 golds and then Sir Ben Ainslie and Sir Matthew Pinsent with 4. So presumably it will be Dame Laura Trott (also now with 4 golds). And Sir Mo Farah now he also has 4 golds. The Sun is demanding gongs for them all.

The performances have been outstanding , but I hope they don't hand out a mountain of honours for achievements at Rio. I've always thought it strange to give big gongs to sportsmen who haven't retired, so you get "Sir" whoever competing against his peers. A bit like them writing their memoirs while still competing, it doesn't feel right to me.

Actually, I think we should stop this whole nonsense now. Honouring sports people and other celebrities is not appropriate. They get the appropriate  recognition and medals from their sport. Honours  produce all sorts of strange oddities, like Nick Faldo conspicuously being belatedly knighted when he had been Britain's greatest golfer of the modern era and absolutely world class. Making us wonder why no knighthood. Though apparently golfer David Howell famously had a golf locker room in tucks of laughter when he said to Faldo that he knew why he hadn't been knighted (as of 2007). "Why?" "Because Her Majesty thinks you're a c**t."

Perhaps the biggest nonsense when it comes to gongs for sports people was the lack of a major honour for Bob Paisley (6 Championships, 3 League Cups, 4 European Cups - counting 1 UEFA Cup), who had to make do with an OBE when it was Sir Matt Busby (5 championships, 2 FA Cups, 1 European Cup) and later Sir Alex Ferguson (13 championships, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 4 European Cups - counting 2 UEFA Cup Winners Cups). And what about Brian Clough OBE (2 championships, 2 League Cups, 2 European Cups)? It's possible Mrs Thatcher thought Brian Clough, whose Nottingham Forest team won their European Cups in 1979 and 1980, was a c**t, though I expect more likely it was to do with her views on football and hooliganism. Presumably she wouldn't wear more than an OBE for a football manager. But Paisley had already won twice as many European Cups as Busby before Thatcher became PM, so that "tariff" was set by Labour.

Er, don't tell me there isn't a tariff for a "K" or whatever, because it sure seems to exist for political donors. Indeed, the honours system gets more and more discredited with each PM's resignation honours. It's been flaky since at least the days of Harold Wilson's "Lavender List". Cameron's egregious list is just the latest.

I can only think of one good reason to continue the honours system - to reward worthy service by unheralded people across the country, who don't get medals or gongs for their service. And only one reason for including celebrities - so that the worthies might get to meet a Lewis Hamilton (or Jason Kenny) at their inauguration and garden party (though the celebs could be invited anyway and might come to meet the Queen).

I don't personally think those are good enough reasons.

I'm with John Lennon, who returned his MBE and David Bowie, who declined a CBE in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003. Letters before or after their name wouldn't add anything to the quality of their achievements.

Arguably these sort of people are given honours so politicians can bask in reflected glory. So, rather than trying to modify it, let's scrap this whole ludicrous system now.

For the Howell/Faldo story see

Monday, 15 August 2016

My Dad and Monty Don

Or: In praise of the humble begonia (with pictures).

Monty, the well known celebrity gardener, made a crass remark during a broadcast of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a while back on BBC Two, which was covered widely in the press. "I hate a plant because it is repulsively ugly and that’s the begonia.” He added: “Don’t tell me that anybody likes begonias.” Well, Monty, I love them and so did my dad.

I find the modern, politically correct take on gardening a bit strange. You know, "a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place" while at the same time decrying beautiful plants like dahlias as common. I once grew dahlias from a 10 pence pack of seed and then overwintered the tubers for many years, attracting lots of compliments - and some questions as to what the plants were. "Ah, you see, they are deeply unpopular, so not many folk grow them now" I would say.

I love the fibrous rooted annual begonias because they have thick leaves and so, like geraniums, they don't suffer as much as some bedding plants if the soil dries out. They flower pretty well continuously till the frosts come. They will survive through mild winters and, if fed, will flower all over again the next year. Here some are flowering in a trough. As you can see there are two different leaf colours:

My Dad introduced me to the corm type begonias. Well actually he gave me some. He'd been given a few corms by a friend who said he wanted them back in a couple of years, by which time Dad should have at least four of his own. This is because you can divide them after lifting them for the winter. Dad's friend didn't actually want any corms back as by then he had more than he needed. And within a few years so did Dad. So he gave me some. And over 25 years later here are just a few of my begonias flowering yet again this year:

I don't divide them every year else I'd have hundreds. As my sons now they have their own gardens I've given them some corms and here are some flowering in older lad's garden this year:

Now you can buy begonia corms from garden centres. They are often showier, with complex flowers but, in my experience, they are only good for one season. I don't know why. And they don't flower continuously for months on end.

I'm very attached to my begonias, though I'll grumble in November when I have to lift and dry them all for the winter and again in April when I'm planting them out. But then my buggeronias (as I'm wont to call them when I should have planted them out several weeks ago) will flower from July (earlier if you start them in a greenhouse) till the first frost, usually in November. And they don't complain much over a lack of TLC. What an amazing bounty of flowers, all for free, for decades and indeed across generations. Dad's gone but his begonias go on.

Begonias are wonderful and not just because they remind me of my Dad.  So Monty, do you like sex and travel? Well go and do one, then.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Right Mickey Takers

393 - the number of Rail, Maritime and Transport members at the rail company Southern who voted to strike in a ballot in April.
120,000 - the number of commuters affected by the strikes.
£2 billion - the cost of the new trains which Southern has ready to roll and which have been mothballed as a result of the dispute.

What's it all about? Southern want to change the role of conductors, making it the driver's responsibility to open and close the doors. As it has been on London Underground for a long time now.

The RMT have two objections. Firstly, they say conductors would be "devalued" (though Southern have promised no pay or job cuts). Secondly, and just as spuriously as the junior doctors, they say it's about safety. Even though the Rail Accident Investigation Branch say there is no evidence to suggest driver-only operated trains are less safe. The RMT also say, in an open letter to commuters, that Southern is actually introducing the change so that conductors can concentrate on revenue collection, but only from passengers who are prepared to pay since, working solo, the conductors cannot confront aggressive passengers. For me, none of these arguments cut much ice.

I know some of the senior management at Southern and its parent GoVia. In my experience it's a well run company, though not entirely free of being traditional railway. (None of them are). But management seems to have taken most of the flak, at least until recently. This was partly because of unofficial action taken by conductors, which led to many cancellations and a reduced service. The RMT "emphatically and categorically" denied this was the case, but the average number of conductors calling in sick each day nearly doubled, from 23 to 40 (and peaking on a daily basis at over 50) after the first one day strike in April. The commuters anger seemed definitely to be directed at management, at least early in the dispute.

The new London mayor has weighed in by claiming that Southern is a "failing company" and that, if Transport for London took over operation of the franchise, it could deliver a better service by "immediately assigning an experienced team to fix the service". Well, anyone could fix the short term service issue by caving in to the unions, couldn't they?

But there's no need to cave in. When I first worked in the rail sector, I was fond of pointing out to colleagues that, apart from the poor commuters into London, not many people would notice an all out rail strike. After all, about 90% of goods and people movements are by road.

I note in passing that pay in the rail industry is notoriously high, with significant perks including a traditional, public sector final salary pension and travel perks. Senior conductors earn more than the UK average salary (before perks) for a job which I personally wouldn't class as anything like more demanding than average.

The two sides are now talking at ACAS but don't hold your breath for anything more than a fudge. The rail industry has not been prepared to drive much change through in the last 20 years and there are still many out of date practices, despite privatisation. It's not a coincidence that new technology and working practices are hardest to introduce in the public sector and former public sector organisations that still, essentially, have the same culture.

Especially so in Network Rail, which isn't really private, though they liked to think they were before the government brought them officially back into the public sector. If you are in any doubt as to whether Network Rail is deeply dysfunctional, just ponder for a moment the remarkable fact that it lost over £1bn on financial derivatives, essentially currency swaps.  Why on earth a UK taxpayer funded company was gambling (they would say hedging) currency when essentially all of its costs and revenues are in sterling, you might reasonably ask. It was because they had been allowed to borrow money in the markets and chose to borrow in a range of currencies. Even when I worked in the industry I didn't realise this was happening, but the old Tory stager John Redwood has pointed it out many times.

Railways are generally regarded as a good thing. But they cost the taxpayer nearly £5 billion a year (£4.8bn in 2014-15, £3.8 bn of it paid to Network Rail). The subsidy has gone down a bit: it was over £6bn in 2007, but it was a lot lower in the 1980s and 1990s. It's a bit puzzling that the railway is carrying record numbers of passengers, who are paying all time high amounts in terms of the fare box (£8.2 billion in 2013-14), but the subsidy has only come down marginally in absolute terms. (It was about 50% of total costs a few years ago, whereas now it's more like 35%).

Intercity and busy commuter routes make money and the subsidy is needed mainly for rural routes though surprisingly (to me anyway) the highest subsidy per passenger kilometre is for Merseyrail, at 12.4p nearly half as much again as First ScotRail (8.6p) and Arriva Trains Wales (8.5p), followed by Northern, with its plethora of cross country routes (4.9p). If the regional railways didn't exist (say,  because we did a super Beeching type cull) comparatively small numbers of people would be hugely inconvenienced, though it would probably be cheaper to pay for them all to go by taxi. And better environmentally: an industry big cheese once said to me "you see, Phil, a full train is an environmental miracle but an empty train is an environmental catastrophe". And, of course, regional trains make many journeys practically empty.

Before I worked in rail I used to tease colleagues who did that it would be better to tear up the tracks, tarmac over the permanent way and use it to run convoys of lorries and buses. The reason they didn't like this jest is that it isn't totally daft.....  A right mickey take but not half as much as the RMT.

I'd leave the heritage railways of course, as working examples of industrial archeology.

There's a good summary of the issues involved in the Southern dispute at 
The London Mayor's comments are at
Statistics on rail costs are at
For John Redwood on Network Rail and currency swaps see
As ever, the opinionated parts of this post are all mine.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Something about drumming - and plastic puke

Further to my post on Patti Boyd (Layla, 31 July) one of the famous love songs written about her was George Harrison's Something, which Frank Sinatra described as the greatest love song of the past 50 years. Well not in your hands, chum, as personally  I never thought Sinatra could sing anyway (an opinion which has got me into a few arguments...) As Ian MacDonald noted in his splendid Beatles book Revolution In The Head, an old crooner like Sinatra singing Something didn't really work as the expressions belong to a gauche young man rather than someone by then middle aged.

I do think Something is a very good song. MacDonald called it "the acme of  Harrison's achievement as a writer" with a "key structure of classical grace and panoramic effect". Lennon thought it the best song on Abbey Road and McCartney said it was Harrison's best song. Ringo thought it on a par with "anything John and Paul or anyone of that time" wrote. Paul Simon described it as a masterpiece  and Elton John, "probably one of the best love songs ever, ever written... much better than's, like, the song I've been chasing for the last 35 years".

As ever with Harrison, his guitar runs fit the song perfectly. (I once read a critic who argued convincingly that you couldn't imagine any  guitarist could improve on Harrison's work on a Beatles song or John Frusciante's on a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, hence they were two of the best ever guitarists).  But the thing I always listen for on the Beatles version is Ringo's drumming, which is the icing on this particular cake for me. The bit I love is the high hat flourish that kicks in with the lyric "You're asking me will my love grow...", which I think musically is called a bridge section (well it ain't a conventional chorus, anyway).

The website Popdose lists "Gimme Five: songs where Ringo Starr doesn't, you know, suck". In the "also considered" section it refers to the drumming in Something as a "subtle delight", and from the same album, in Come Together, they say "Starr deftly blends his drums with both the vocals (“shoo” …) and McCartney’s bass". It is indeed a wonderful bit of drumming right at the start of Abbey Road. And they note, as I always thought, that Lennon's oft quoted jibe (when asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world) that Ringo wasn't the best drummer in the Beatles is thoroughly laid to rest when you listen to McCartney drumming on Back in the USSR and The Ballad of John and Yoko.

Something isn't the only song in which I get fixated on the drumming. Other notable songs include Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon, in which Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are tighter than a mortice and tenon joint. No wonder they were such an admired rhythm section, even in the era of Nile Rogers. I particularly like the way Fleetwood sticks to the rhythm and avoids the temptation to extemporise in between the vocal sections. I love the drumming so much that, although I'm a lyrics man, I couldn't tell you a single word from this song other than the much repeated title. I had thought for several years (and listening mainly on MP3) that Fleetwood was doing a dextrous double hit on the snare drum throughout the song - and in the era before sampling meant you had to keep playing it. But, listening on the hifi, I concluded that it's actually one long sound. I've only just discovered what makes the unusual snare drum sound on this song (and indeed the whole 1975 album Fleetwood Mac). Strangely, the answer is plastic puke.

There's a reference to plastic puke on the section of Mick Fleetwood's Wikipedia page covering this album, which describes how the bass drums was real skin, not a plastic head, but the snare was "plastic puke". This didn't make much sense to me, though some research revealed that plastic puke is practical joke material, like fake dog poo. Eh? The answer is given in a Q&A with the album producer, Keith Olsen, on a website called Fleetwood met Olsen essentially by chance in 1974. He introduced Fleetwood to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and got himself hired as their producer. In the Q&A he is asked "how did you achieve that crisp drum sound on the Fleetwood Mac album? it sounds really great":
Plastic Puke..... no really...... We taped that soft plastic puke on the snare as a "mechanical" gate.... whenever Mick would hit the snare the "soft plastic" would lift up and the drum would ring like crazy.... (top end) then as the plastic would lie down, the ring and snare rattle would diminish.... kind of linear level drop.... it was cool.
So my ears were right. It's one long sound not a double hit, but nothing like a normal snare drum sound.

Another song in which the drums seize almost all of my attention is Free's My Brother Jake. Simon Kirke's rhythmically hypnotic bass drum, with plenty of tidy rolls and cymbal crashes somehow distract me from the rest of the song going on, for me, in the background.

Which all goes to show that drumming doesn't need to be complicated to hit the spot and sometimes steal the show.

Ian MacDonald - Revolution in the Head, Publisher Fourth Estate, 1994
and stuff in my head

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Greece was sacrificed to save the euro

I must admit I thought that Greece probably got what was coming, having cooked the books to get into the euro, spent profligately and, notoriously, failed miserably to collect taxes. However, it may not be entirely like that - at least according to the International Monetary Fund, whose top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments over Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory in the eurozone debt crisis. Who says so? The IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) watchdog. It describes a “culture of complacency”, prone to “superficial and mechanistic” analysis,  and traces a shocking breakdown in the governance of the IMF, leaving it unclear who is ultimately in charge of this extremely powerful organisation.

The report said the whole approach to the eurozone was characterised by “groupthink”. They had no fall-back plans on how to tackle a systemic crisis in the eurozone – or how to deal with the politics of a multinational currency union – because they had ruled out any possibility that it could happen. Before the launch of the euro, the IMF’s public statements tended to emphasize the advantages of the common currency. Some staff members warned that the design of the euro was fundamentally flawed but they were overruled.This pro-EMU bias continued to corrupt their thinking for years. “The IMF remained upbeat about the soundness of the European banking system and the quality of banking supervision in euro area countries until after the start of the global financial crisis in mid-2007. This lapse was largely due to the IMF’s readiness to take the reassurances of national and euro area authorities at face value,” it said. The IMF persistently played down the risks posed by ballooning current account deficits and the flood of capital pouring into the eurozone periphery, and neglected the danger of a sudden stop in capital flows.

"The possibility of a balance of payments crisis in a monetary union was thought to be all but non-existent,” it said. As late as mid-2007, the IMF still thought that “in view of Greece’s EMU membership, the availability of external financing is not a concern". At root was a failure to grasp the elemental point that currency unions with no treasury or political union to back them up are inherently vulnerable to debt crises. Now this is something that made me adamant we shouldn't join the euro, against the general tide of opinion, in the early years of the new millenium. Mind, I'd been reading David Smith, of course. And I wasn't the only one - Gordon Brown was also against it - one of the few things I agreed with him on. Though I always thought Brown was against the euro only because Blair was for it.

Returning to the IMF report, they note that states facing a shock no longer have sovereign tools to defend themselves. Devaluation risk is switched into bankruptcy risk. “In a monetary union, the basics of debt dynamics change as countries forgo monetary policy and exchange rate adjustment tools,” said the report. This would be amplified by a “vicious feedback between banks and sovereigns”, each taking the other down. That the IMF failed to anticipate any of this was a serious scientific and professional failure.

As the eurozone wasn't prepared and couldn't get an act together - which was the real root cause of the problems - I think the IMF is being a bit hard on itself here. It had to act and was in an invidious position when it was first drawn into the Greek crisis.  The Lehman crisis was still fresh. “There were concerns that such a credit event could spread to other members of the euro area, and more widely to a fragile global economy,” said the report. The eurozone had no firewall against contagion, and its banks were tottering. The European Central Bank had not yet stepped up to the plate as lender of last resort. It was deemed too dangerous to push for a debt restructuring in Greece.

While the Fund’s actions were understandable in the white heat of the crisis, the harsh truth is that the bail-out sacrificed Greece in a “holding action” to save the euro and north European banks. Greece endured the traditional IMF shock of austerity, without the offsetting IMF cure of debt relief and devaluation to restore viability. A sub-report on the Greek saga said the country was forced to go through a staggering squeeze, equal to 11pc of GDP over the first three years. This set off a self-feeding downward spiral. The worse it became, the more Greece was forced cut. Ex Greek Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (you remember him - the dude who wore a long leather jacket and his shirt out of his trousers when he met Osborne at No 11 - real rebel, huh?) called it "fiscal water-boarding". Well he might have looked a prat, but it turns out he was right (very rare for an ultra leftie in my experience, but there you go).

The attempt to force through an "internal devaluation" of 20pc to 30pc by means of deflationary wage cuts was self-defeating since it necessarily shrank the economic base and sent the debt trajectory spiralling upwards. “A fundamental problem was the inconsistency between attempting to regain price competitiveness and simultaneously trying to reduce the debt to nominal GDP ratio”. The IMF thought the fiscal multiplier was 0.5 when it may in reality have been five times as high, given the fragility of the Greek system. The result is that nominal GDP ended 25pc lower than the IMF’s projections, and unemployment soared to 25pc instead of 15pc as expected. “The magnitude of Greece’s growth forecast errors looks extraordinary,” it said.

The injustice of all this is that the cost of the bail-outs was switched to ordinary Greek citizens  – the least able to support the burden  – and it was never acknowledged that the true motive of EU-IMF Troika policy was to protect monetary union. Indeed, the Greeks were repeatedly blamed for failures that stemmed from the policy itself. This unfairness – the root of so much bitterness in Greece – is finally recognised in the report.  “If preventing international contagion was an essential concern, the cost of its prevention should at have been borne – at least in part – by the international community as the prime beneficiary,” it said.

Never trust the Greeks, hey? Or the Germans either, methinks, as they seemed to drive the Greece agenda. And what about the Italians - I'm still waiting with some anxiety for that report on the banks..... (see post of 18 July)

A lot of this came from a good newsfeed on msn (see but the gratuitous comments are all mine