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Saturday, 18 October 2008

Darling promises to print money to deflate debt

Formally announcing that he is abandoning the country's savers, Darling is reported in an interview to appear in tomorrow's Telegraph to committing Zanu Labour to spend its way out of the recession by printing money.

As Brown's financial advisor, Mr Robert Mugabe, has found, this will result in inflation. Good news for the improvident with large debts but the value of savings will be destroyed. And as happened thirty odd years ago, the binge will be followed by the arrival of the IMF and the misery of the late '70s. It was Jim Callaghan who mused ruefully "you can't spend your way out of a recession". It seems Brown's pig-stupid incompetence is immune even to the wisdom of an ex Labour PM.

Oh well. I really need to get that wheelbarrow wheel fixed for a trip to the cash machine for the £0.5m for a sliced loaf and a four-pack.

Time for Cameron to raise his game

Parris has it half-right in the Times this morning when he comments:

This autumn the Labour Party has embarked upon a strategic blunder. The strategy is driven by Gordon Brown's personal instinct: an impulse, an idea, so devilishly clever that even Peter Mandelson must be impressed by the cunning. Reader, get a load of this...

Labour has decided to unmask the Conservative Party... as a conservative party; to expose the Tories as secret Tories.
But he forgets the distaff side of Labour's message strategy; whilst one minister condemns the nastiness of the Tories, another claims the Tories' policies as their own. Today it is Woolas' turn to play the back end of this pantomime horse, as he states on record for the Times that:
"If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny . . . It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder"

" .. if you've got skills shortages you should, as a government, attempt to fill those skills shortages with your indigenous population."

"the perception that immigrants jump the housing queue is very strong, even though the reality is very different. We must cut back on the few cases of abuse so people see that the system is fair"

"If you're here legally you should have access to the NHS. If you are here illegally, or - what's the word we use? - clandestinely, you shouldn't. It's a national health service - it's not an international health service."

"An amnesty... starts with a discussion among politicians and ends with dead bodies in the back of a truck in Calais."

"We have allowed people in here and not helped them to help themselves. Translation [of official documents into other languages] ghettoises people"

"People wear veils for different reasons: some out of religious conviction. some because they're forced to. It should be up to them, but at school you shouldn't wear one. It's harder to get a good education if you wear a veil as you're more cut off."

"Anyone who knows my community knows there are higher proportions of physical disability amongst the children of first-cousin marriages"
Well, crikey. The readership of the Daily Mail must be lying on their backs and purring with delight.

But Cameron must realise that two can play that game. A little bit of planning yesterday could have had Iain Duncan-Smith in the Mirror underlining the social compassion of the Conservatives, the party's commitment to the NHS, its determination to create an education system that allowed every child a decent school and so on, while Dave excoriated Labour's economic and policy incompetence.

C'mon guys. You need to raise your game.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Osborne sounds like a sixth-former

George Osborne has overtaken Brown in the Macavity stakes; after hiding for the past week he's just popped up in the death-slot on R4's today programme, between Thought For The Day and the weather forecast. And he sounds dreadfully pubescent. There's no conviction in his voice whatsoever; he sounds as though he can't wait to get it over with so he can swap iPod tunes with his mates. And he's just been savaged by Sarah Montague, his voice rising a whole octave and reduced to confused stuttering as she probed him gently. What a pathetic excuse of a shadow Chancellor.

Let's hope Call-me-Dave's much flagged savaging of Brown later today is more effective.

Paedo Jihadists

The Times reports that tens of thousands of paedo images are regularly found on the computers of Jihadists, and it reports police speculation that images are being used to carry hidden terrorist messages.

Nonsense. If they wanted to swap images to carry messages they'd use innocuous family snaps rather than images that attract the attention of every police force in the West. The simple answer is that they're evil perverts. You have to be a pervert to contemplate causing the deaths of a planeload of innocents by definition, so it's hardly surprising that they pretend to revere Mohammed whilst gloating over their kiddie porn collections as well. And don't forget that Mohammed himself took a nine-year old child as his bride, thus perhaps kicking off the whole paedo thing.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Another no-brainer

Two headlines:

'Unemployment to hit 2m'
'Food rots in fields as pickers desert UK'

As the Sunday Herald reported back in September:

Seasonal migrant pickers do unglamorous, often poorly paid, temporary jobs that the locals won't or can't do. Most native job seekers are looking for permanent positions, and our indigenous unemployed, who might be incentivised into seasonal picking work, currently lose their state benefits if they take up this work.

Horticulture suffers from an image problem too. Culturally, we make the mistake of seeing work on the land as backward and low status. We need to get back to thinking of it as we did in the second world war, when our food supply was being choked off by German U-boats and farmers and growers were seen as vital pillars of society, keeping the population from starvation.

Time for a little Frank Field type thinking at the DWP, I think. And time for an Ansel Adams, too:

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A good week to bury government cockups

First there was the end of 42 days. Then the end of Smith's proposals for secret courts. 'Jerky' Balls then tried to slip the abolition of SATS past the Commons with a smokescreen of prolix Statespeak. Then the Olympics farce got an extra £95m but we can't mention this because it's Boris' baby. And that fraudulent old manpussy Mandelson got to play dressing-up with his venal chums.

Any other week and the rage of the nation would have been apparent, but Brown's halo effect is casting its baleful protection over his corrupt and bankrupt administration.

I repeat. The LSE bounceback and the reduction of the libor by a fiftieth of one percent - yes, by 0.02% - is a breathing space, not a reprieve. We relax at our peril. There's still far too much debt to be deflated in the system for lending to get back to 2007 levels and all the other underlying weaknesses in our national infrastructure are still there.

Argentina could walk into Stanley tomorrow and there's not a damn thing we could do about it because Brown has pissed away £80bn a year on non-pension Welfare payments and only invested £20bn a year in our armed forces. We can't even send a minesweeper to deal with a bunch of ragged-arsed Somali pirates any more, even if the Navy was allowed to act by a government terrified of infringing the pirates' 'human rights'. Our food and goods now have to make the journey around the coast of Africa instead of cutting through Suez.

The government's record is one of abject failure in every single area of public policy. It's Cameron's job to point this out. I wish he'd do it.

A transparent con?

It would be nice to spend more time sea fishing instead of working. It would be nicer to do it on a really top-class boat, say a £400k Lochin. It would be brilliant if the State picked up the fuel, maintenance and moorings bill as well, and say £60k a year for me. Fantasy? It seems not. What I should be doing is making a funding case to my local government 'regeneration' body. The downside is that I'd have to take half a dozen jobless obese teenagers out once a week and teach them about the benefits of eating fish and the importance of marine stewardship. Apart from say £0.5m capital costs, I'd touch you all for only about £180k a year for the next 10 years. Then I'd retire. I may even make an offer for the boat - after all, it will have been maintained 'with no expense spared' as the brokers blurb will claim.

Damn. It seems some beggar in Hull has already thought of this.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

E-Cigarette - quick review

Bigger and a lot heavier than a real ciggie, the e-fag has three parts; the 'tobacco tube' is a rechargable battery, the 'filter' holds the nicotine charge and between them is an electronic atomiser. A red LED in the tip lights when you suck at the thing. So how well does it work?

Pretty well. I used it to good effect during two lengthy phone calls in the office yesterday of a kind that demanded a nicotine boost, on the train and yesterday evening in a test-smoke in two pubs and a bar on the way home. I also used it frequently on short walks between buildings and whenever I fancied a couple of drags. The first cartridge is still working (each cartridge is supposed to be about equivalent to a packet of 20) and I reckon I've smoked at least 20 fewer real ciggies than I would otherwise have done.

I did ask before I used it in the pubs and bar, but in each case they were quite OK about it. This is the most brilliant thing about it; sitting back inside and being able to smoke again. Bliss. The 'smoke' has a slightly odd taste and of course none of the complexity of flavour of the real stuff, but delivers an authentic throat-feel and a decent shot of nicotine.

The cartridges are actually around 37p each - and given that a single normal ciggie bought in the UK costs in excess of 20p, this represents the greatest attraction of the thing. Unless the government outlaws these or taxes the cartridges in the near future, I can see UK tobacco excise duties halving in the next year.

It won't replace the first Gauloises of the day with the first cafetiere of coffee of the day - that pleasure is too intense and too important - but I reckon as a supplement for daily use outside of home it will be indispensable.

As more manufacturers get in on the game and the price of the e-cigs (about £20 for the hardware) is competed down, and more importantly as the manufacturers agree on a common cartridge (as far as I can make out, the three most available e-cigs all have unique cartridges) these will become ubiquitous during the coming recession. Now all it needs is for some enterprising bod to substitute THC for nicotine (not for me - my spliffy days are long gone) and a whole new market will open up.

Monday, 13 October 2008

MEMO From RBS Director of Equalities

From: Sam Duggs, Director of Equalities, RBS
To: All staff

Good morning all and welcome to the State sector!

I have been appointed to the board as one of the government's new Executive Directors, to help bring a new direction to RBS as a forward facing institution providing fair and accessible financial services to citizens. To achieve this, we need to remind ourselves of our new core values, our social mission statement and our equalities and diversity agenda.

1. Lap dancing clubs are no longer a suitable venue for corporate entertainment. Departmental managers have been allocated block-passes to the new Museum of Menstruation which is currently running an exciting exhibition on the Glory of Hormones, and bank staff will be expected to undertake entertainment duties either at this or similar virtuous and educational venues.

2. The drinking of alcohol leads to personal degradation and is no part of the duties of the bank's staff. All alcohol consumption during working hours is henceforth banned.

3. Lunch on expenses may extend to a modest cold refreshment for each person; up to two sandwiches, a bag of crisps and a small bottle of mineral water per person will be considered the norm.

4. Work-life balance is critical for personal well being. Staff are discouraged from working in excess of thirty hours per week.

5. Female staff will no longer be required to sexualise themselves. High heels, hemlines above the patella, exposed cleavage and breast-enhancing brassieres are therefore no longer considered acceptable work dress. Jewellery should be plain and confined to a ring and a pair of earrings, and makeup is discouraged.

6. Departmental managers have been given details of a number of social awareness workshops that staff must attend over the next few months. We have arranged an exciting series of guest speakers including Sylvia Clit from the Haringay Collective who manages debt counselling services to the Herbert Morrison Estate.

7. Stress management sessions have been organised for lunchtime well-being. Aromatherapy, Crystal Healing, Reiki and Nepalese Chanting will be available. A free snack of beansprouts and a nettle 'smoothie' is included.

8. Management consultants with wide experience in the NHS will conduct an immediate remuneration review to ensure that any gender bias in the bank's rewards structures is eliminated. The previous bonus structure has been dismantled.

9. In the interests of gender equality, ties are henceforth banned from the office. Male staff are reminded that in place of expensive Jermyn Street shirts, the bank's own range of Freetrade polyester shirts made by an amputees' co-operative in Mogadishu will be available from the new Freetrade Kiosk in the main building atrium.

I am sure you will find the transition into the State sector far less painful than you imagined. For those at risk of transition stress, counselling sessions will be available until next March. I will write again shortly with details of the exciting Winterval of Diversity we have planned.

Yours empathetically,

Sam Duggs

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Banking as it used to be

When I was a young stripling (yes, before big bang and city deregulation) there existed a very different financial world. The High Street banks catered for personal and business banking; you received your salary in the form of a cheque, which you had to queue to pay in at your branch. When you wanted cash, you made a cheque out and presented it at the same branch. Overdrafts (which were short term loans rather than a permanent facility) were negotiated by interview with the branch manager, in person. The branches, if I remember correctly, were open from 9.30 until 3.30 Monday to Friday. It was all very tedious, time consuming, inconvenient and wasteful. However, we were customers rather than consumers and it was unthinkable that your money wasn't safe in the bank.

We had building society accounts as well. No chequebook, but a passbook in which deposits and withdrawals were entered neatly in ink pen, with a double underlining made with pen and ruler at the bottom of the thick rag-paper page. Building societies were still mutuals in those days, often with a single large branch in their home town. Your savings were quite literally as safe as houses. We were members, not customers or consumers.

In London, in the City, there was another type of bank, and one we knew only by repute out in the wilds of Suffolk. The merchant banks were an ancient and discreet part of the city, with names that seemed to stretch back to the Medicis and the caste of merchant princes. Merchant bankers were very distinguished gentlemen who supped with ministers and captains of industry; a discreet comment at high table would topple a minor dictator on the other side of the world, fund a new mine in Africa or squeeze an uppity entrepreneur back into his place. Sometimes horrible things would happen to a merchant bank, but the whispers barely reached beyond the old city walls as the others rallied around and mended the tear. Merchant banks had clients.

There were a few private banks as well; high street banks for the internationally wealthy and the monarch, with offices in Mayfair and St James and liveried doormen, or parade-polished members of the Corps of Commissionaires sporting a double row of medal ribbons, guarding the washed marble steps.

Between the 70s and 90s this all changed. Saturday morning opening, cheque guarantee cards, the novelty of an ATM, direct debits, BACS, and the blurring of all the old distinctions in a maelstrom of takeovers and demutualisations. All the old relationships were trashed and suddenly we were all just consumers; consumers of financial products in the same way as we consumed food or clothing or motor cars.

Of course we lapped it up. Everything just became so easy. Money was fun. All that careful budgeting to ensure you wouldn't go overdrawn when a quarterly bill came in was so much ancient history. It had a downside, though; those without access to direct debits and monthly accounts were non-persons. And then the branch staff all went and the branches closed and sold off. There was no-one to talk to; credit scoring was done by computer. Bombay call centres replaced familiar English regional accents on the phone with a comic singsong babbling.

And now of course they're all worthless. Even the private banks became enmeshed in the endless multiplication of money in which 'real' credit was multiplied fifty times or more creating a vast tsunami of credit and no worthwhile assets on which to spend it. Of course it was all doomed to end in tears.

In the US they've already decided it was the bankers' fault and the torches have been lit and the hempen ropes slung over handy tree branches just awaiting the fair trials. Well, no-one is going to cry too much over a few scapegoat bankers.

But when the retribution is done, wherever it falls here, let's really hope banking doesn't go back to the 70s. Because it was crap.

The 2008 Christmas must-have?

I was hoping to be able to review the e-cigarette this weekend, but mine is waiting in the local sorting office until tomorrow morning. I'll try it in the office tomorrow and report back.

Yes, I did say I'll try it in the office. And on the train. And in the restaurant and a few bars. For those of you who haven't heard of this gadget yet, it's a smokeless nicotine inhaler that's supposed to mimic a real cigarette; the nicotine is delivered in a vapour that's supposed to feel like real smoke. But which is entirely legal to 'smoke' in places where burning tobacco has been banned. The little capsules come in various strengths that equate to real ciggies.

The great attraction is cost. Each cartridge costs about 56p including postage and is equivalent to 15 - 20 normal ciggies. No excise duty, see. Yet. And you can even get a little USB charger to recharge the batteries in the office.

Time to suspend the insanity of the EU

The pernicious effects of the EU are not the trivia of straight bananas or removing the crown mark from pint pots, irritating those these are. They are far more fundamental and are causing deep damage to the UK;

1. The disastrous effects of financial reporting requirements that are at least partly responsible for the severity of the crisis; EU Referendum catalogues the whole sorry mess.

2. The insanity of banning the UK from running or building coal fired power stations at a time when our power supplies are on a knife edge and we risk black-outs and shortages

3. The lunacy of the landfill policy, costing us billions in additional council tax for something that has no justification whatsoever

4. £12bn a year in direct contributions and a further £28bn a year in regulatory and compliance costs at a time when the State coffers ring hollow as a bell.

A truly bold government at this time would move to suspend our membership of this bankrupt destructive cabal immediately, pending fundamental renegotiation of our membership. Just freedom from the four crushing burdens above would bring incalculable immediate benefits to our nation and economy. But Brown is not the man to do it, nor I fear is Cameron. I fear that only a catastrophic crash will free us of this lunacy.

That was the week ...

I started on Monday by asking if it was going to be the week we live blogged the Crash - and it nearly was. Two weeks ago I highlighted the high risk of a global financial meltdown, and yesterday the chairman of the IMF did the same. Back in the monsoon days of August I warned my bank I was converting equities to Krugerrands and that 'Your bank is at risk if you fail to maintain deposit repayments from it'. His bank is now effectively worth less than nothing. Last week was like watching a car crash in slow motion, knowing the driver had done too little too late and the collision was inevitable.

We will all watch the markets with bated breath tomorrow morning.