Sunday, 27 November 2016

Strictly respect for Ed

I never had much time for Ed Balls as a politician, though we all ought to be eternally grateful to him for frigging Gordon Brown's 5 rules to make sure we didn't join the euro. But despite that, his ridiculous "flatlining" gesture to Cameron and Osborne in the Commons whenever they rose to speak, repeated ad infinitum and long after it became clear post 2010 that the economy was growing - and in due course at quite a lick -  was tiresome in the extreme.

So I had no great expectations for how he would move his lardy figure around the Strictly Come Dancing dancefloor. But he was a revelation. My other half and I know how difficult it is to keep time and dance the steps without plodding, but balletic arm movements and acting are another thing altogether. The judges marks were a poor reflection of his significant dance achievements. But the entertainment value, at least until his rather awful tango when he finally went out of the competition, was immense. Funny because it was good, not like John Sergeant, Ann Widdecome, Greg Wallace or Scott Mills who were just bad.

What was most impressive was how Ed was so much fun but also dignified. Not an easy combination. And he responded just as well to going out of the competition as to the enormously bigger blow of losing his parliamentary seat. So respect.

Not only that but we also saw Ed's wife, Yvette Cooper, in a new light. I always thought she seemed a rather miserable individual but the amount of joy she took from Ed's performance gladdened our hearts.

Whether Ed can realistically make a return to front line politics - even if he wants to - rather than moving on to I'm A Celebrity, seems doubtful. A Portillo-esque media career seems more likely. But Lord knows Labour need him. After all, back in the day, Dennis Healey and Roy Hattersley, both Ed Balls figures in more than one way, stuck it out to see off the hard left. Wouldn't it have been strange if they'd gone off dancing while Michael Meacher (the nearest equivalent I can think of to Jeremy Corbyn as an unlikely leader of the Labour party) had become leader of the Opposition?

We live in strange times.

Credit when due - BBC get the balance right

The BBC radio news bulletins yesterday headlined on the death of Fidel Castro.

Castro famously tried to get his country annihilated in a few nano-seconds by egging on Kruschev to go for a nuclear first strike attack against the USA from Cuba in 1962, despite Kruschev pointing out that the Cuban people would have perished.

So instead of turning Cuba to dust quickly he adopted policies that did almost the same but slowly and progressively (to use a favourite word of the left). Yes there was free education and healthcare but that is of little comfort when there is rationing and poverty all around.

The BBC chose to have Jeremy Corbyn prominent in their bulletins, eulogising Castro for his achievements. This was followed by the newsreader's deadpan delivery about the large number of Cubans killed by Castro to defend his tyrannical regime and the lack of freedom of speech.

It was brilliant radio. Perfectly balanced and extremely funny I thought. Whether that was the editor's intention one can only guess. It certainly kippered Corbyn: an easy target yes, but I hadn't noticed the BBC hitting that bulls-eye so precisely previously.

In case you haven't read or heard it, Corbyn said "For all his flaws........he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice" and praised Castro for building "a world-class health and education system". He acknowledged "there were problems and there are problems of excesses by all regimes" but "we have to look at the thing in its totality" and Mr Castro had "seen off a lot of US presidents". Former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith said the reason Mr Castro "'saw off' so many US presidents is because they're democratically elected".

I also heard Ken Livingstone making almost as much of a prize tit of himself, but that would be because he is almost as much of a prize tit as Corbyn. But though we laugh at these people - as we must - it is worth remembering that Mr Corbyn seems to think a country's leader, once in power, is entitled to remain in power until he dies. Not funny at all, really.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Stop calling my friends racists

"These second-referendum people puzzle me. If at some point you hope to persuade Leavers to defect, why call them thickos who fell for propaganda and lies? Why try to ban their newspapers, blame them collectively for Jo Cox’s death? Why tell them they are low-lifes and oldsters who hopefully will soon die? Doesn’t sound very persuasive to me."

So said Janice Turner in the Times today. The thrust of her piece was that liberal-minded folk in the UK and USA could stay in their safe spaces, no-platforming anyone who has a different point of view, pressuring businesses to try to get them to stop advertising in the "right wing press" (which unfortunately customers of said businesses read) and refusing to engage. They can stay pure, stay aloof and stay out of power for ever. Or they can listen, engage and try to understand. I imagine she feels this just might lead to a revised, coherent and appealing package of ideas and policies which could persuade and influence "our compatriots, who are the same mix of good and bad they were before June 23".

It didn't sound like she was holding her breath and neither am I. I expect the dialogue of the deaf will go on for some time yet, at least while the Remainers see the chance of thwarting Brexit by one rearguard tactic or another. And if they succeed? Well, there will be an equivalent howl of rage and dialogue of the deaf, won't there?

I can see only a divisive and divided future ahead just now. And I do resent my friends, a clear majority of whom voted Leave and none of whom regret it, being called racists when they are not.

Janice Turner, Liberal minds have snapped shut like clams:

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Christmas has come early - what will the new year bring?

In the 3 months to Sept unemployment fell by 37,000 to a ten-year low. But 95% of the new jobs went to immigrants, mainly from the EU. I imagine companies are filling roles quickly while they can. And the economy is going well - but that growth is clearly being fueled by immigrant workers. Nevertheless it is going well. Consumers are behaving as if it was Christmas already: October sales were up 7.4% on October 2015. It was the best single month in over 14 years.

So was Project Fear wrong or is it just pain delayed? Well, in terms of immediate impacts, it was clearly wrong. Inflation surprisingly took a turn down, though most commentators think it could get uglier come January, driven by the exchange rate, when price fix deals run out I suppose. But the large retailers seem to have some appetite for finding ways of keeping prices in check. The figures for business investment, due next week, are not expected to be rosy (but then neither were most of the above stats).

I warned that the Brexit transition could be messy and lengthy. I said it "weighed heavily on me" in my decision on how to vote (21 June). And that it could "easily" take 5 years (23 June, the day of the vote - did I really only say 5 years?!) I am keeping fingers crossed that the gloomsters will prove to be wrong. But, despite normally being an optimist, I am not confident. The more upbeat end of the Leave lobby who crow at every decent stat don't seem to realise that this transition hasn't even started yet!

And that transition could be very problematic. Writing in The Times, Philip Collins noted that "the Leave campaign was recklessly cavalier about how easy leaving the EU was going to be. Disentangling Britain from a series of legal treaties is not one event but many. The EU has about 50 international trade agreements from which the UK benefits, all of which will now have to be begun again. It will be a mammoth task even to replicate these arrangements, let alone improve on them. Maybe one day Liam Fox will return triumphant from Bosnia-Herzegovina with a new deal. Next stop Costa Rica, Mauritius the week after."

And he went on to say "Dr Fox cannot even start until Britain’s relationship with the EU is settled. The laws that frame the markets for financial services, employment, restructuring and insolvency, data protection and intellectual property have all been painstakingly drafted in chambers of the EU. Pension law, competition, telecommunications and media are almost as complicated. There are some bills, such as the Equalities Act, in which some provisions refer to the EU and some do not. That’s not to mention clauses whose parentage and application is a matter of legal dispute. Somebody is going to have to go through all of it and say yes or no to every clause. Every change will be the subject of well-informed corporate and charity lobbying. It is going to be fabulously complicated. If the referendum question had only been “can you really be bothered?” we would have voted to remain. This negotiation can only be done badly in two years and it probably cannot be done at all."

I think this view is amazingly negative. I can't accept the view that we can't start to negotiate with other countries until our deal with the EU is done - who could possibly stop us getting deals ready to sign? Europe might threaten sanctions against countries they have a deal with who have the temerity to talk to us - try that with Trump! Anyway, it sounds like the Europeans are setting their stall out for a take it or leave it negotiation, forcing a 'hard Brexit'. Well, that makes our decisions easier as well as there being little point in Parliamentary debates on what the deal should look like! We are in a strong position to negotiate trade deals with most countries and so the idea that they will all be different seems ridiculous: a template deal will developed by doing the first deals. And we can read and our computers can copy and paste, so all that work drafting the EU deals is available for us to vet and cherry pick.

Collins concluded "there is an inescapable sense of nobody taking back control", which does seem the case. So he argued for a transitional step, in which we leave the EU and join the EEA while further negotiations proceed. I can see the logic I that, but it would leave us in a half-way house at the next election, with myriad options for untenable positions to come out of the next General Election.

All very messy indeed. However, if we want to have control of our borders, control over what trade deals we do and not to have judges outside our system of democracy over-ruling those inside it, then there is no alternative: we have to leave. I wanted all of the things on that list but I decided I didn't want the aggravation of getting there more. But that's the job Mrs May and her government have been given: the electorate made it's choice and she accepted it - and so do I.

Though I fear it may turn out like the Stevie Winwood song for Mrs May's negotiators:

"Sometimes I feel so uninspired
Sometimes I feel like giving up
Sometimes I feel so very tired
Sometimes I feel like I've had enough....
I don't know who's losing and I don't care who's winning
Hardship and trouble are following me"
(From Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired, the last track on Traffic's 1971 album Shootout At the Fantasy Factory. Great guitar in this bluesy song - very simple but very effective. You can hear it at

Economic stats:

Philip Collins piece is at

Europe's leaders to force Britain into 'hard Brexit' in The Guardian:

Friday, 18 November 2016

The indefinite Article

What a lot of noise over Article 50 and the High Court ruling. But I doubt it makes much difference in practice unless the legal process ends with the conclusion that primary legislation is needed AND the Lords decide to block it, in principle delaying things for a year. (I probably should say the "unelected Lords" using the language that many of the politicians in what I might call the "Hard Remain" camp have used in the past, even though they would become huge short term fans of the Lords in this scenario). In which case they might get the General Election they are angling for.

Owen Smith, the former Labour leadership challenger, indicated that he would use a parliamentary vote on Brexit to push for another referendum on the terms of any deal. “Labour should amend the Article 50 bill to give people the final say on the real terms of Brexit." This poses two problems. The EU will not start negotiations until we invoke Article 50. Once we do, I thought we were definitely leaving within 2 years. So there would be no point putting the final deal to a referendum, would there, because we'd be on our way out anyway! However, I have seen it suggested that the Article 50 filing could be revoked. Clarification on this point would be welcome. I suspect it could only be revoked, or the period extended, by the other 27 countries unanimously agreeing to do so. Let's assume that's a "no" or at best a "maybe". So there would be no point in committing now to putting the terms of a final deal to a referendum if, come the day, there was only one choice on the ballot paper - out or out. I suppose people who want to stay in at any cost might say we would vote between out and begging the other 27 countries to let us stay in. Not a great choice......

More importantly for me, we would be in a very difficult place if the final deal were rejected by Parliament, the people having voted to leave. I'm sure that would lead to an election and, if it produced a government committed to leaving (which it could with less than 50% voting for leave supporting parties, which would be fraught if the Remainers then tried to claim they'd won - when they hadn't). This scenario begins to sound a bit like the hokey, out, or what?

But I think there is a yet more important question. Who says 650 MPs are more likely to come up with a better answer than the 34 million or so people who voted in the referendum? Not Matt Ridley, writing in The Times (7 November) who says "Elitists who pour scorn on the people’s views don’t appreciate how often democracy comes up with the right decision". He reminds us how often a "crowd-sourced" answer gets it right, even if hardly any single punter guessed the weight of the ox, or number of sweets in the jar. And he pours total scorn on the idea that only the more educated or intelligent are capable of understanding the issues. “It’s time for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses,” read the headline of an article by James Traub in Foreign Policy in June this year, referring to both Trump’s nomination and the Brexit referendum result. Ridley thinks Traub is just wrong: the crowd still has a wisdom that no individual can match, and the results of modern elections do not contradict this. In a new book, Against Democracy, an American political philosopher called Jason Brennan argues that democracy is the "rule of the ignorant and the irrational" and that "political participation and democratic deliberation tend to make people worse. So in it's place he recommends an "epistocracy" where you should have to earn the write to vote by demonstrating a modicum of knowledge. Sounds like a slippery slope to me...a great many decisions are taken on our behalf by such groups of the great and good - quangos are staffed, public sector organisations are given budgets etc. So Ridley argues we already have a kind of epistocracy, though one where we all get to cast our vote every so often and throw the bastards out. As Ridley says "And rightly so, because the ideal future government of a country is too complicated a question for any expert, even if, like Mr Brennan, he is the associate professor of strategy, economics, ethics and public policy at the McDonough School of Business, at Georgetown University. Besides, there is no such thing as general ignorance or general expertise. Every brilliant person I know is also astonishingly ignorant on certain matters."

Risibly, Labour MP Paul Flynn has said the result of the European referendum was illegitimate because most of the people who voted were ignorant. This takes my breath away, as have other comments which have hinted that universal suffrage should be limited on some grounds of intelligence or qualification. Try putting that to a referendum, chum! In any event, Paul, I think many MPs would prove too ignorant to be allowed to have a say on almost any issue, if they could just be tested. As for the intelligentsia, Richard Dawkins, among others, argued that he should not have had to vote on a matter he did not understand. He says that is what parliament is for: to hand such decisions to experts, who understand the details. But Ridley notes that members of parliament are not experts, let alone omniscient ones. Even brilliant people can also be astonishingly ignorant on certain matters, even Messrs Brennan and Traub.Whether Britain is right or wrong to leave the European Union is a question that nobody, however clever, can possibly know the right answer to unless they have foresight and a crystal ball.

Anyway, the MPs may get asked to agree we should trigger Article 50, even though they are in no better position to figure out the pros and cons than we all were in the campaign. If that is the correct process I don't have a problem with that. But they must vote unconditionally that we should. It's what 17+ million people voted for, in a referendum that Parliament itself approved by 6 to 1. There is no logic in debating the terms when discussing Article 50. This is because Article 50 is not about trade deals or freedom of movement; "hard" or "soft" Brexit. Vernon Bogdanor, writing in the Sunday Times (6 November) pointed out that Article 50 triggers a negotiation on the withdrawal process, involving technical but important issues such as rights of British nationals in the EU and EU nationals in Britain. It provides for negotiations to take "account of the framework" for a country's "future relationship with the Union". But that future relationship, which can take years to negotiate and evolve, requires separate processes to undertake and to ratify.

I think we need to watch these people like Flynn. They believe in democracy when it gives them what they consider to be the "right" answer. A bit like the Corbynistas who are say they believe in democracy but shout down and vilify opponents. So I reckon that means they clearly don't.

I also can't help thinking that people who want to have a detailed, open debate about what we should negotiate are actually trying to make the negotiation impossible. As Philip Collins argues in The Times (18 November) "It is not unreasonable for the prime minister to wish to keep her detailed thoughts secret. A comprehensive wishlist would be an open invitation to critics to denounce its contents and deplore what was missing. It would inevitably, thanks to the trading nature of negotiating, ensure that some of the wishes were denied. The published list would therefore have to include dummy options that the prime minister was secretly prepared to lose. Then she would be denounced, either for dishonesty or for not bringing home the bounty promised."

However, Collins goes on to say that "None of this makes silence a virtue". He is very concerned about the difficulty - nay, impossibility in 2 years - of the transition. (I may return to the difficulty of the transition but not here). He argues that the only way out of this for Mrs May is to negotiate a transitional arrangement in which the UK leaves the EU but, temporarily (or maybe not) joins the European Economic Area (EEA), which is an agreement to secure the free movement of goods, services, capital and people between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the 28 member states of the EU. This would permit us to opt out of those EU laws, such as fisheries policy, which we found burdensome. We would have bought temporary certainty on commercial and social policy. Crucially, we would also have bought time to do a proper negotiation and Mrs May would have the scope to play poker her own quiet way.

This might be a very sensible approach. Politically it could be difficult, internally in the Tory party for a start. With the UK in a kind of half way house at the next General Election, it would almost certainly leave the whole issue to be debated all over again, with stay here or go further options, though no doubt some would also want to include "try go back in, if they'll have us". But the big problem is that the EEA requires freedom of movement, which is the one red line identified by the government so far.

However, it could be a workable way forward if the EU is prepared to negotiate on this point. Several sources have claimed the Germans and others are prepared to compromise to some extent on freedom of movement. Indeed, recently there have been suggestions that the eurocrats are well advanced in developing their Brexit negotiating strategy and one part of it is to introduce a US-style ESTA visa waiver which British visitors to Europe would need to obtain, at a cost of about a fiver (pounds or euros, can't remember), though it would last for at least a year and cover multiple visits. Stephen Kinnock, who I had hitherto thought had at least some sense, said this was a "hidden cost of Brexit". There are two problems with what Kinnock said. Firstly, as I read it, the visa waiver would be needed to enter the Schengen area, so we would need to have one even if we stayed in the EU - though they may not intend that. But if they did we would have potentially got a way of limiting freedom of movement by introducing the equivalent process. Secondly, if a fiver for a year's travel to the EU is high on Kinnock's list of issues and priorities, I'm afraid he has just reinforced Matt Ridley's point much more eloquently than I have. You see, Stephen, out of your own mouth has come the proof that MPs are no more competent than the rest of us in this matter and so there is no case for you to try to "call back in" a decision made by a larger and, per Ridley's argument, more intelligent group.

It's undeniable that 34 million people have more brains than 650 and are therefore, between them, more likely to have got it right.

Matt Ridley's piece is at

Melanie Phillips article

Philip Collins piece is at

Thursday, 17 November 2016

This Bird on the Wire has flown

Leonard Cohen passed away last week and has been lauded as one of the great musical poets. I remember hearing Cohen's stuff, Suzanne in particular, from way back in the day. The gravel voiced delivery didn't appeal then, but in recent years I've started to get it. And my better half and I now realise the piece of music we've much enjoyed dancing the waltz to in recent years is a version of Cohen's "Hallelujah" - we hadn't realised where it came from, even though it's one of Cohen's best known songs. And we've seen Shrek.

It's reported that it took Cohen 2 years - or 5 depending on the source - to write Hallelujah and it was certainly a slow burner in terms of success. He originally wrote some 80 verses for the 5 verse song as he was reduced to sitting in his underwear banging his head on the floor. On release in 1984 it met with little reaction until it was covered by John Cale in 1991. This was to be the first of over 100 cover versions of the song (I suspect the version we waltz to is not counted in that number. It was recorded by our neighbour Richard Keeling in his Coppicewood Studios - actually his house in a similarly named road - in strict 3/4 time for his series of ballroom dance friendly CDs). Cale's album including Hallelujah was bought by a Brooklyn based woman for whom an unknown young musician called Jeff Buckley house sat. This led to Buckley covering it in a live performance at a bar, where a Columbia records executive heard the song and signed Buckley who recorded it for his 1994 for an album. But even then it didn't sell big until well after Buckley drowned in the Mississipi in 1997. Subsequently Cale's version was used in the film Shrek in 2001, though strangely Rufus Wainwright's version is on the soundtrack album, possibly because he was signed to Dreamworks. And then Buckley's version went big: number 1 in the States and 2 in the UK in 2008. So it took a decade and a half or more for the song to become really famous and it's now in the common consciousness.

Like my favourite musical poet, Roy Harper, Cohen deals in both high concepts and everyday life, in particular the intimate relationship between a man an a woman. For me Cohen doesn't have the range and depth of content, lyrically or musically, of Harper but then no-one does in my personal distortion of the world. Unlike Harper, who is vitriolically anti-religion, Cohen carried his Jewish beliefs through life, while also embracing Zen Buddhism, studying it for 5 years and becoming a fully ordained monk. But he seems to have a healthy degree of scepticism on religion, for example in Hallelujah:

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

And there is a playfulness in his lyrics, for example (also from Hallelujah):

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof

I read a story in the papers about Bob Dylan meeting Cohen when they both lived in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Dylan said "As far as I'm concerned, Leonard, you're number one. I'm number zero".

I'd have loved to have been there for this pronouncement of Dylan's to hear his tone of voice, because it seems to me that it could have come across as self-deprecating (you're the top and I'm a nothing) or as the opposite (your number 1 but I'm an even lower number, so of higher standing). Of course if it was said in a whimsical, Mona Lisa smile type of way, it would be rather more Delphic and open to interpretation. In which case this could actually be one of the more subtle things Dylan ever said.....

Anyway, Leonard, sorry I came to appreciate a small amount of your stuff rather late in the day, but at least I got part way there.

"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free"
From Bird On The Wire", 1969

Sources include: Why it took 15 years for Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah to get famous:

Wikipedia,, and

Lyrics are all over Google e.g. and

The Dylan story was in Josh Glancy's Sunday Times tribute on 13 Nov 2016

You can see and hear Cohen perform Hallelujah live in an official video from 2009 at

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Sir Richard Henriques agrees with me too

Further to my post of 10 November (Insufficient Evidence - my 100th post I realise) and having read a bit more about the report into the Met's Operation Midland, I can't resist pointing out that I said in an earlier post (January Man, 23 September) "The complainant (I refuse to use the term "victim" in any of these situations unless there is proof the events actually happened)..."

Sir Richard Henriques probably didn't read my blog and had probably already drafted much of his report. But his report says the senior officer concerned was wrong to call everyone who said they had been abused a "victim" and that they should be referred to as "complainants" instead. Further, the police should no longer announce that they "believe" every accusation. I should think so: innocent until proven guilty appears to live to fight another day.

However, although I have been extremely critical of the Detective Superintendent who announced that what the malicious fantasist known as "Nick" was alleging was "credible and true", it bothers me that only he and one other officer, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner who was Gold Commander for Midland and the separate investigation into Leon Brittain, are reported to be facing disciplinary action. Indeed I'm not sure Det Supt Kenny Macdonald should be facing such action at all. He should have been given "feedback in the moment" (as it was called in my last company) by his seniors that he'd said something inappropriate and a correction issued at the time.

So I don't understand why the performance of the more senior officers who escaped criticism isn't also being considered. After all, the two in the dock are middle ranking officers, almost foot soldiers in this context. The clue is in the title: "Deputy Assistant Commissioner". (As an aside, it was a standing joke in our house that my wife was the boss, I was the deputy boss, the older son assistant to the boss and the younger son the assistant to the deputy boss. Companies I worked in latterly thought that anyone called "deputy" or "assistant" wasn't doing anything necessary and needed to be given a proper job or moved on  - but to have BOTH in the title - wow, there's obviously too many layers of management!)

 Now I'm not normally one who thinks that the person at the top should know everything that's going on: that's not possible. Only Select Committees would be daft enough to think that Rupert Murdoch should have known everything that was going on in one of his newspapers in one country of a multi-national multi-modal media empire, for example.

But Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallen had overall responsibility for Operation Midland. What did she actually do other than receive briefings and, in turn, brief the Commissioner (Hogan-Howe)? I realise the Met has thousands of investigations under way at any one time and oodles of day to day pressures. But it's not credible that neither Gallen nor Hogan-Howe missed the furore about "credible and true" at the time even if they weren't briefed. To not realise that something major is going wrong in a high profile investigation - or worse realise and not act - beggars belief.

Most failures are ultimately failures of management. These failures certainly are. Unfortunately Henriques has fallen into classic blame culture and aimed both barrels at the poor isolated middle manager who was probably being pressured to get results.

My post title - referring to my suggestion that there was insufficient evidence that the justice system was operating satisfactorily in this area - was too cautious. If you make a mistake, your seniors won't point it out, they'll just let you take the rap. So there is clear evidence that the Met is dysfunctional.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Insufficient Evidence

I've redrafted this post over months rather than weeks and put it on hold several times as the subject matter is fraught. But I think there is currently insufficient evidence that the British legal system is operating satisfactorily in a controversial area. And finally it seems the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police agrees with me (see today's BBC reports).

But first a question. Who is the odd one out from Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini, Leon Brittan, Ted Heath, Lord Bramhall, Harvey Proctor, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Roy Harper, William Roache, Chris Evans, Richard Westwood, Leonard Hawkes and David Bryant?

Well, it depends how you count odd one out. They are nearly all well known people, celebrities mainly, who have been accused of historical (i.e. a long time ago*) sexual abuse of young people. Some cases have been brought to court, others were dropped, generally after a protracted delay. Common factors included the police hanging the accused individuals out to dry while they saw if more "victims" came forward after the initial publicity. This tactic isn't surprising as it helped to convict Stuart Hall by weight of evidence.

Let me nail my flag to the mast here. I think most, if not all, of the above people were treated heinously. The police and BBC did some kind of weird - and to my mind inappropriate if not illegal - deal which led to Richard's house being raided live on TV. Yes the BBC threatened to run the story so the police did the deal. But why on earth the police didn't threaten the BBC Director General with jail for obstructing a police investigation if the BBC went ahead I don't know. I would think this even if Richard had proved to be guilty. It will be interesting to see how Harry Webb's case against the BBC and police progresses. I expect they will make a settlement offer.

Richard hasn't been the only case like this. When the football manager Harry Redknapp was arrested for tax offences, which a friendly jury subsequently cleared him of, the police arrived very early in the morning (something like 5am) and newspaper reporters, who must have been tipped off, were there to observe.

Brittain, Heath, Bramhall and Proctor were all accused by the fantasist known to us as "Nick" in what became the Met's "Operation Midland" which eventually collapsed after costing us £2.5M. The Met chief, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has finally (8 November) apologised to Bramhall, Proctor and Leon Brittain's widow for the errors made in Operation Midland and for the fact that the investigation went on for much longer than necessary. "Nick", remember, seemed to think that children could have been killed by supposed paedophiles in 1980s Britain with no-one noticing they were missing. It was "Nick" whose evidence was publicly called "credible and true" by a senior police officer. How it would be called "true" without either an admission of guilt or a conviction in court (or, indeed, any bodies) one can only wonder. These were remarkable failures by the police which I contend were obvious at the time. Indeed the "credible and true" statement took my breath away at the time - why didn't Hogan-Howe intervene then? He must have realised his man had overstepped the mark. Maybe he thought it was just slack use of language (but why no reprimand or correction issued at the time?) It turns out it was indicative of faulty thinking throughout the investigation.

"Nick" finally had his evidence debunked by a retired high court judge who investigated Operation Midland for the Met. Hogan-Howe released a summary of the report but so far the Met has declined to publish the full report (see Times reference, which also suggests that the day of the US presidential election was chosen to release the summary, in an attempt to "bury" the bad news. Didn't work, featured on BBC tv news and prominently on the website).  Among the more remarkable revelations were  claims that detectives were unaware that Nick had previously used another pseudonym to make separate abuse claims in a television documentary.

But "Nick" doesn't seem to be the only fantasist amongst the people who have made allegations. One of Cliff Richard's accusers claimed the singer skated - on roller skates - into the shop he was working in, committed the crime and skated out again. Only to skate back in a while later for a repeat. Forgive me for being sceptical about these claims, but they don't seem to pass the ho-ho test. Neither, at least from what was published, did the evidence against musician Roy Harper (see post of 23 September).

And news management does seem to be part of the way the police operate. Paul Gambaccini, who said he had been targeted by an accuser because he was the "famous person in his neighbourhood", alleged that the police extended his bail 7 times, costing him £200k in lost income and legal fees, at times that correlated with developments in Operation Yewtree, such as the sentencing of Max Clifford, the conviction of Rolf Harris and the date on which Dave Lee Travis's trial was due to end. Gambaccini, being cross examined by a Commons Select Committee, agreed with the suggestion that the police were making a concerted attempt to link him with unconnected cases and that the CPS had "sat" on his case. Alison Saunders, the hard to like DPP, denied this, telling the MPs that it was "an extreme case in which a lot of issues had to be bottomed out". So extreme that, 8 months after the CPS received the papers from the police, they decided there was no evidence to proceed.

It certainly seemed that the police and CPS were ensuring they couldn't be accused of not taking allegations seriously, even if that meant they did nothing for long periods to make it seem as if they had investigated thoroughly just by elapsed time.

Is a different approach now being adopted? Westwood and Hawkes were in the Tremeloes and endured a three-year “nightmare” after being accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old in a hotel after a gig in Chester in 1968. Prosecutors eventually decided new evidence had come to light more than three years after the investigation launched. After reviewing inconsistencies in the now-adult woman’s evidence, the single count of indecent assault faced by each man was dropped when a judge ordered both men be found not guilty after the prosecutor said there was no evidence to offer. (Eh? How can that actually get to court?) However, more recently an investigation into Chris Evans's egregious blokeish behaviour was dropped much more quickly, after only 2 months.

I suppose it's understandable that, after the awful crimes of Saville, Rolf Harris and Hall were revealed, the system would over-react. And there have been other convictions - Max Clifford and DJ Chris Denning, for example (no, I don't remember him either but he was on Radio 1 at the start).

What all of this seems to show us that, while a Cyril Smith, Hall, Harris or Saville could hide in plain sight back then as allegations, if made, were dismissed or maybe even covered up, woe betide any clebrity now who is the subject of such allegations. It seems the CPS will only look at the evidence for a prosecution and not weigh the evidence against. Or maybe they feel they daren't not prosecute celebrity cases. Either way, it doesn't feel like justice.

Anyway, here's the answer to my question. David Bryant, is the real odd one out in the above list. Hall, Harris, Clifford and others were found guilty and got what they deserved. Harper's case went to court: a jury found him not guilty on most charges and the others were then dropped. Westwood and Hawkes were taken to court but no evidence offered. However, most of my list above didn't get their day in court to "prove" their innocence. The charges were dropped for "insufficient evidence", which always feels a bit like "not proven". But David Bryant's case did get to court and he was found guilty. And then acquitted 3 years later.

Bryant is the odd one out in my list because he isn't famous, although he would have been a minor local celebrity as station commander for the Fire Service in Christchurch, Dorset. Bryant's accuser, David Day, now aged 53, had gone to police in 2012 claiming he had been raped by Mr Bryant and another firefighter, who is now dead, at the fire station in Christchurch on a single unspecified date some time between 1976 and 1978. Mr Day said he was aged about 14 at the time of the alleged attack. Bryant, who the court heard was of ‘impeccable character’ and had no previous criminal record, was convicted in 2013. He was sentenced initially to six years in jail. Day, who waived his right to anonymity in a series of newspaper interviews after the conviction, was finally exposed as a liar after detective work by Mrs Bryant and a team of lawyers and private investigators, who worked on the case for free. After Mr Bryant’s conviction, Mr Day launched civil proceedings against Mr Bryant and against Dorset County Council, which ran the fire service. In the civil proceedings he claimed aggravated damages because he said the assault had ruined his chances of appearing at the Olympics in 1984.  Day had claimed to be a boxing champion with a record better than Muhammad Ali, and to have given up his place on the British boxing team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 because of the trauma of the sexual assault. This bizarre and eminently checkable claim was a complete fabrication. As, according to Dominic Lawson, was the accusation that Day had been raped on the fire station pool table. After all the fire station didn't have a pool table until a decade after the alleged assault supposedly took place.

 But get this - the CPS appealed the sentence as being too light and it was increased to eight-and-a-half years. Subsequently, "fresh material", as the judge called it, was put to the appeal court, which included information that “over a period from 2000 to 2010 the complainant in this case had to seek medical attention from his GP in relation to what can only be described as his being a chronic liar”. The "fresh" evidence - as well as other false claims - were never put to the jury at the original trial. The CPS said that "new evidence recently came to light about the credibility of a key witness which fatally undermined the prosecution case. Based on this new evidence, we did not seek to oppose the appeal.” Hmm. I hope that's right, else the CPS sat on evidence which was helpful to the defence because it weakened the prosecution case. I'm no lawyer but I thought that wasn't supposed to happen. The recent Ched Evans appeal, whatever you think of that unsavoury story, had echoes of the same issues. As for Bryant, the poor bugger (oops, that's not apposite is it?) - fancy serving over 2 years in jail and looking at eight and a half, knowing the case against you was a complete fabrication. A much clearer cut case than Evans, I'll give you.

I accept that this is a difficult area. Standards and practices of the past were clearly inadequate and we are feeling our way to a new modus operandi. One thing is clear: we are not likely to get much clarified by the train wreck Butler Sloss/Wolff/Goddard/Jay child abuse inquiry.  Even if we do it won't be soon. I don't know the answer to this, but the police and CPS starting to act professionally again would, I'm sure, be a good start.

*The reason I clarified the meaning of "historical" is that some folk use "historic" to mean old, instead of famous, important or otherwise outstanding. "Your sales data might be historical but it certainly isn't historic" a former colleague was wont to say in pointing out this common error. Saville's crimes, on the other hand, could reasonably be called both historical and historic on number alone.

Actually, having been not happy enough with this draft to publish it when the Cliff Richard case was rumbling, then again when it was dropped, the above is hardly changed from what I wrote back then. So it must be a statement of the bleeding obvious.

Errors in Met's VIP paedophile probe BBC website 8 November 2016

Police and prosecutors criticised after firefighter wrongly convicted of sex attacks solely on testimony of fantasist  Telegraph 20 July 2016

Key witness for VIP sex inquiry was unreliable

Gambaccini reference

Dominic Lawson reference: "Hero fireman jailed by a fantasist's lies" Daily Mail 25 July 2016.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Don't bank on the regulator against Philip Green

Something has been getting me ever since BhS hit the buffers and the media firestorm directed at Philip Green took hold. (I've already ditched his knighthood by the way, as I don't agree with them. A bit like the Liverpool fans and "Sir" Roger Hunt, but in reverse).

For a long time I kept saying "if there's a case against Green, why doesn't the Pension Regulator act?" Well they have now, commencing enforcement action. A City source said that, given the legislation under which the notices had been issued has never been tested, the entire case could end up being dragged through the courts for a number of years. While I understand why the BhS former employees and scheme pensioners are upset and want to see Green pay, I suspect the action is being taken only because of the political background rather than the strength of the case. A bit like the CPS with celebrities accused of historic sex cases, they daren't be seen not to take it at least as far as makes sense (and probably a bit further than makes sense, just for them to be safe).

OK, Phil Green knew BhS was getting weaker. He'd been trying to sell it for some time. Yes, he'd taken out large dividends, but many years earlier, not recently. Yes, the pension scheme had slumped into a larger deficit subsequently, but so have the schemes of just about every other company with a traditional scheme. Sarah Vine (aka Mrs Gove) suggested in her Daily Mail column that someone should be looking at those companies, making a veiled suggestion that they had all been the victims of raids by greedy bosses and shareholders. I'd look more at the Bank of England's quantitative easing, with the concomitant low interest rates and returns on gilts and bonds, which pension schemes have to hold a reasonable chunk of as they are deemed safer than equities by, yes, the pensions regulator. Safe but awful returns at the moment, locking in those big deficits.

The facts are: Green and family took out £307M in dividends between 2002 and 2006. At that time the pension fund was in surplus (well, a small deficit in 2006). A lot of big companies already had large pension deficits back then (the one I worked for certainly did). It steadily went into deficit thereafter - as did many others. This timing correlates precisely with the financial crisis, so is not particularly suspicious. Pension funds that are in deficit have to agree a recovery plan with the trustees. A report I've read (Business Insider, reference below) says that Green agreed a 23 year recovery plan, which the regulator didn't like and started investigating. 23 years is at the longer end of acceptable recovery plan timescales - the company I once worked for agreed a somewhat longer recovery plan, about 28 I think, said at the time to be the longest the regulator would contemplate. And that company (which I had left several years earlier, fortunately) went bust in 2012, with its pension fund falling into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). Not unlike BhS you might think.

The papers always lead with the figure of around £570M which is quoted as the BhS pension deficit. (It's now grown to over £700M due to currency movements, but you can't blame Green for that!) When PG sold BhS the deficit was more like £300M. It more than doubles at the instant a company goes out of business, as overnight the stream of employer and employee pension contributions dries up. BhS went bust around a year after Green bailed out.

My other half and I were surprised for several years that BhS had managed to keep going. I can recall contrasting the footfall at BhS in Reading with the nearby M&S - given the location I can place that before 2007. In later years we would go in to buy towels (quality wasn't a BhS problem) and its lighting department was good. There would be very few shoppers there, though most of them were actually buying. But one wondered, if the shops are so deserted, how can the company possibly survive?  We all knew it was on a slippery slope.

Now there are suggestions that Green knew BhS was actually "bust" when he sold it (e.g. see the article referenced below) to Retail Acquisitions, a vehicle set up by twice former bankrupt huckster Dominic Chappell and co-conspirators. Well, technically, I expect it had liabilities greater than its assets because of the pension scheme, as plenty of companies do (I thought Tata Steel was one, but I see it's deficit shrank from £700M to £50M because of currency gains -  every cloud eh?) but that doesn't prevent them being considered a going concern as long as the company can afford the ongoing employer's pension contributions. If it genuinely wasn't a going concern I'm not sure how Chappell kept it going a year. And if it really wasn't a going concern, Green would clearly have broken company law - and no-one has suggested that.

There are also suggestions that Green concealed the pensions issue from Retail Acquisitions, e.g. see the Business Insider article. Eh? Everyone knew these companies had a pension problem - after all Tesco's deficit has just doubled to £5 billion. And it's suggested that the BhS pension trustees told Chappell cash injections would be needed. Also if the Pension Regulator was "investigating" BhS then I thought they had significant powers to intervene if there is a proposal to sell the company, including requiring cash injections into the scheme. I have worked in companies where the regulator has made such stipulations, but there may have been special circumstances around privatisation and onward sale of former public sector organisations. If the regulator doesn't have that power then this is a change crying out to be made. Indeed it has recently been advocated by Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman of the Institute of Directors and a past Chairman of the PPF (see Telegraph article).

But there is another smoking gun which I haven't heard anyone refer to. The purchasers of BhS, Retail Acquisitions, always looked flaky. Green, having been trying and failing to offload BhS for some time, must have thought they'd  emerged from heaven. Green used a heavyweight team of legal and financial advisers on the disposal and he doesn't have any more than a moral obligation to find a "good buyer". And plenty of billionaires were bankrupts early in their career. I can't help wondering though - what if Green and co found some hucksters to encourage to buy the company? "It'll go bust anyway, but in the meantime you can pay yourself a lot of money in salaries" (as they certainly did). I've probably been reading too many conspiracy theories lately and, if there was anything whatsoever to suggest this you'd have thought the media would be all over it. In the absence of proof of such a link, I can't see that Green has committed any crime and any responsibility he has is at the most "moral".

In which case, Green's reported offer of £300M to "fix" the BhS pension problem is verging on being generous. It's the approximate size of the deficit when he sold the company. Even if he hadn't sold the company and it had gone bust, by definition he could never have had control of the company with a £571M deficit, as by that point the company was bust and couldn't have been his.

Green may be unsavoury but he ain't in Robert Maxwell's league. (Maxwell, remember, was actually taking money out of the Mirror Group pension scheme and in an era when there was no PPF lifeboat).

Which is why I think the regulator is acting either under political influence or because of political appearances. The shame of it all is that Green's dosh probably won't improve the lot of ordinary former BhS employees. It will go into the PPF's coffers. The only succour to be taken is that Green would have paid up and undefined other schemes in the future would be more likely to be able to benefit from bailout by the under strain PPF. Sufficiently under strain that I expect the viability of the PPF to become an issue one day.

Oh, and if Sarah Vine wants to look into large organisations with big pension deficits, she'll have to include the National Trust, Cancer Research, RNLI and Guide Dogs all of which have multi-million pound deficits. As a result, a larger proportion of our donations will be going into administration charges in the future. People used to tell me that pension deficits were a private sector problem caused by poor management and greedy shareholders. Well, the above organisations are in the private sector, but you can't blame shareholders there! Of course, it's now well acknowledged that public sector pensions are effectively just as much in "deficit", in terms of the burden of future payments, but the organisations concerned can't go bust in the same way.

Incidentally, I've seen it suggested that "obviously" companies with pension deficits shouldn't be allowed to pay dividends. But as the deficit or surplus (a smallish difference between two large numbers) depends on a large number of assumptions and can swing around violently (e.g. Tata Steel, £650M swing in a few months because of the movement in the £) I can't see that is a tenable suggestion. And who would be most hit? Aren't pension funds the largest holders of shares? D'oh! When will people allow for unintended consequences?

I could envisage that maybe there should be a clawback in the case of dividends paid out to individuals if there are big problems with a pension scheme in short order. I doubt anyone framing such regulations would go back more than 10 years, which is what it would have to for Green to have been caught by it.

We can only wonder whether Green thinks he is liable, or if he is trying to protect whatever of his reputation remains. (Well that ain't worked, Phil). Maybe he has pitched his offer at a point where it will be very difficult for the regulator to prove a case for a higher figure; in other words it's an attempt to settle. But he's got deep pockets for legal fees as well as for coughing up and, whatever people think about Green, I think the pension regulator has a tall task to prove the case for Green paying more than the deficit that existed when he last had control of the company.


Regulator begins enforcement action:

BHS pension stats from

ThisIsMoney article:

"British Steel pension shortfall shrinks..." at

Tesco deficit:

Lady Barbara Judge article:

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Baked Off

I'm not a fan of Bake Off so maybe that's why I'm not bothered by it moving to Channel 4. But I am surprised by some of the comments that have resulted.

It seems that many are aghast at the greedy independent producers, Love Productions, taking their idea to where it will get the most dough. But that's the point, it was their idea.

The BBC is a monolithic giant which dominates our media. In return for not being broken up (for example selling off Radio 2, which I like but find impossible to defend as a service funded by what is tantamount to a hypothecated tax), the BBC has to commission a minmum amount of programing from independent producers. You might have thought such producers, in return for the DG's shilling, would have had to sign away the rights to their intellectual property to the corporation if they wanted their idea to see the light of day. But fortunately that sort of corporate behaviour is now beyond the pale. Nevertheless, I'm left feeling that, because everyone loves Auntie, they would be happy to see the people who created the programme effectively being ripped off.

Still, a bonus for me is no Bake Off till 2018, though I accept that is churlish for folk like my wife who love it. Actually, she's finding it a bit stale so if, like Top Gear, people don't like it with different personnel and start to feel it had run its course, then Channel 4 will find the return on their investment will be soggy.

So maybe the system isn't working properly if the only likely winners are the owners of Love Productions. The real problem is that the BBC can't justify spending the money on programmes that command big buns in terms of money, like Bake Off clearly can, when the public still expects everything to be "free" and they feel especially cheated if it isn't on terrestial tv. We could tinker with this, or reform it. Yes, I know, no politician will risk being blamed for killing Bambi, sorry Auntie, so tinkering until demographics does the job (does anyone under 35 watch or listen to the BBC?) is what they'll do.

Oh, and I see the Beeb has put Question of Sport out to tender. S'ok, I don't watch that either!