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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Tom Winsor - without the ostrich plumes

Keen eyed viewers of the Jubilee carriage procession may have noticed an incongruous figure on horseback following at the very tail of the procession, just in front of the police cordon as it advanced up the Mall. With a bicorne hat sprouting a fountain of white ostrich plumes, cavalry overalls, a sword on hangers and a tunic encrusted at collar and cuffs with thick silver braid and generously draped with ropes of silver aiguillette, it was definitely Victorian and extremely decorative but what was it? In fact, it was Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in full ceremonial fig.

Actually, I'm not having a go at Bernard. So far he's been an exemplary Commissioner - he's written no columns for the Guardian, has been absent from our TV screens and has generally been as quiet as a mouse, getting on with running the police rather than his predecessor's vulgar and obsessive self-publicity. And his full-fig is only encrusted in silver braid; the more obscure Commissioner of the City of London police gets gold (see left). And I'll bet he only got togged-up to have a dig at the egregious Hugh Orde, who loves uniforms so much he made up his own Ruritanian costume to wear as Comrade Secretary General of the Chief Constables Union, ACPO, complete with plastic cornflake-packet badges. You can bet Hugh was spitting teeth at the sight of Bernard's ostrich plumes.

I'm not sure what ceremonial uniform Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary is entitled to wear, but I'm pretty sure that riding lessons and tailor's fittings are not top of Tom Winsor's agenda right now. The predictable whining from the ranks of the police at a 'civilian' being nominated for this post ignores the reality of an HMI's work; look at any of the force reports on the HMI site and you'll find nothing but performance indicators, bar charts and all the panoply of a roomful of MBAs. What the police complaints mean, of course, is that Winsor is not 'one of the lads', that he hasn't been blooded by fighting drunks on a Saturday night or bonded with the lads in the canteen as they falsify their notebooks to get their stories straight. But this isn't really necessary, is it, to question why up to 20% of plods are 'off sick' at any one time, or that when the less than honest amongst them get close to being found out they're allowed to retire on full pensions on 'health' grounds?

Police practices and privileges have become as outdated as those of dockers in the 1960s or print workers in the 1980s. Winsor knows it and so do we. An HMI without the ostrich plumes is exactly what we need right now. 

Update 18.10
Uhm, not Ostrich, apparently, but Swan;

TUNIC—Dark blue cloth. Single-breasted. Collar and gauntlet
cuffs of velvet, silver oakleaf and acorn embroidery on
both. Embroidered back skirts ; eight buttons (seven, and
one flat) down front, two at hips. Shoulder cords, plaited
silver and black, as General's. Badges of rank in gold
BUTTONS.—Silver-plated, universal civil pattern.
OVERALLS AND PANTALOONS.—Dark blue doeskin to match colour
of tunic, with 2-inch silver oakleaf lace.
COCKED HAT.—Black silk, edged with black oakleaf lace, silver
bullion loops and tassels.
PLUME.—White swan feathers drooping outwards, 10 inches long,
with black feather under them. (Assistant Commissioners—
8 inches long.)
WAIST SASH.—2.1/2 inches wide, 2 black stripes 1/4 inch wide, the rest
silver ; round tassels of silver fringe, 9 inches long.
SWORD BELT AND SLINGS.—Black leather slings, 1 inch wide, with
silver oakleaf lace.
SWORD.—Mameluke hilt, ivory grip, scimitar blade. {Assistant
Commissioners—as for Infantry of the Line.)
SCABBARD.—Steel ridged with cross lockets and rings.
SWORD KNOT.—Black and silver cord, and acorn.
SPURS.—Steel or nickel, swan-necked.
AIGUILLETTE. {Commissioner only.)—Silver lace. Army pattern.
To be worn on the right shoulder.
CLOAK {no Cape).—Dark blue cloth; lined scarlet. Velvet stand
and fall collar, blue underneath. Short back strap, 1.1/2 inches
in centre and 2 inches at each end, with flexible buttons.
Turn-back cuffs, 6 inches deep, and long centre slit and
gusset at back. Seven buttons.   

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Horthy & Pilsudski

So, the Hungarians are putting up statues and plaques to honour nagybanyai Horthy Miklos. This may not be quite as significant as it seems; every other building in Budapest bears a blue plaque to a poet, playwright or statesman probably unknown beyond their own tenement, certainly unknown outside Hungary - no-one else speaks Hungarian - and the parks are full of statues to the terminally obscure. Social-democratic Europe, though, sees this as further evidence of right wing tendencies; as Der Spiegel notes
Miklós Horthy was a notorious anti-Semite and the leader of the White Terror, a wave of post World War I, anti- Communist violence which claimed many Jews as its victims. As head of state in 1944, he was responsible for the mass deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz.
Hmm. To a point, Lord Copper. 

Horthy anti-semitic? Yes. Bela Kun's Red Terror was disproportionately Jewish in membership, and Horthy maintained a lifelong mistrust of 'Jewish-Bolshevik' subversion. Leader of the White Terror? No. Although he was tardy in suppressing the organisation. Jews to Auchwitz? Well, he was nominally head of state when it happened, but had previously fought hard to exempt Hungary's Jews from the excesses of the Nazi regime - Hungary's 800,000 Jews remained largely safe until 1944, when Hitler occupied Hungary and Horthy was titular Regent only. The deportations in 1944 were organised by Eichman. Horthy was not prosecuted at Nuremberg, and lived in retirement in Portugal until his death in 1957.

So Horthy is perhaps better remembered for the balance of achievement of his regency over the period 1918 - 1944, largely nationalistic in character and largely concerned with keeping Russia and Communism at bay. I can imagine Horthy and that other old warrior of the era, Josef Pilsudski, scowling at eachother over a map under haunched eyebrows. Pilsudski's leadership of Poland from 1918 - 1935 included an attempt to form  a middle European federation, including Hungary, to combat the threat from soviet Russia.

Pilsudski's tomb under Krakow's cathedral remains a chamber of hushed reverence. Groups of Polish schoolkids, as noisy and badly behaved as any as they chuggle past Sikorski, Jan Sobieski and even the recently interred Kaczynskis, are in contrast silent and revential as they file around Pilsudski's riveted bronze casket. It is the eastern European affirmation of 1945 - 1989 as an aberration, a discontinuity, with normal history resumed on the falling of the Wall. Hungary is no different, and Horthy, like Pilsudski, is not whiter-than-white, but he's about the best they've got. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Markets won't wait

So, Europe's banks still have no access to money because they won't lend to one another. They won't lend to one another because the risk of unquantified, hidden liabilities is unknown. Unquantified, hidden liabilities include a share of the world's $500 trillion in the Russian-doll's nest of derivatives that fuelled the boom. In addition, the Open Market Value of the property against which Spanish banks have secured their loans is about half the value the banks are using. Best estimates of the UK banks' share of the residue of worthless derivatives, once all the trades have been collapsed back, is about $10 trillion. As the Mail reports today, the aggregate value of all the privately owned residential property in the UK is only $8.6 trillion; in other words, if every single penny of our own equity in our homes were assigned to the banks, they would still all be bust. 

The reaction of European governments has not been to let the banks fall, but to convert bank debt to public debt, by socialising the banks' losses. Except that many governments, being completely broke, need to borrow the money to buy the banks' debts and the markets will only lend to them at prohibitive rates of interest. In the Eurozone, the answer being proposed is to pool all government debt, allowing Germany to strengthen the weak periphery - but this requires fiscal union, which needs, erm, political union.

The timescale for this is away in 2013 and 2014 at the earliest. The timescale for a government-forced split for UK banks between retail banking and casino recklessness is even further - 2017. This is all fantasy; the markets simply won't wait. Soros gives it three months, I give it until August. However, we can get through this - if we're ruthless. We need a Bill ready to go, to pass all its stages in 24 hours, to split the banks immediately, with a mandatory penalty of whole-life imprisonment upon conviction for any banker who attempts to subvert funds away from the retail bank sector. Let the casino arms fail, and take their $10 tn of worthless derivatives with them.  

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The bursting of the bubble

In my travels around Europe in the past few years a few constants emerge. For anyone who traveled in the 70s and 80s, the most visible difference is the cars on the street. Back then, traffic was dominated by national marques, sparse ownership, old vehicles. Now, even in former Soviet bloc nations, the streets are filled with a Euro-homogeneity of  compact cars all under ten years old; the same Fiats, VWs, Fords crowding the roads everywhere from Barcelona to Budapest. If the EU means anything to voters from Europe's less prosperous periphery, it means sharing the great car dream, being part of a prosperous Europe. 

The second is a cultural invasion that offends and disturbs - the EuroMall. There's not a single city in Europe exempt from these cloned excrescences, these dread sterile behemoths of steel and glass, polished terrazzo and halogen lights. Only the prices vary with currency; the same man's H&M T-shirt is 1290HUF (£3.50) in Budapest, €4,95 in Barca and incredibly only £2.99 in London. With their identical iPods, Nautica, Helly Hansen, Converse, Adidas, Puma and H&M accoutrements the Yoof of Europe give the impression of an egalitarian cohort, but this too is a Chimera.  

The cars and the clothes, the culture, the chain multiples and the flat-pack clone architecture give the impression that there has been a wealth transfer from rich to poor, an equalisation from core to periphery, but this is no more than a bubble, and a bubble about to burst. The worst hit, those that face a real return to the 1950s when the Eurozone folds, will be Greece, Spain, the Mezzogiorno, Portugal, rural Ireland, La France Profonde and the former Soviet bloc. The UK, northern Italy, metropolitan France and Flanders, Scandinavia will perhaps only have to retreat to the 1970s, Germany to the mullet, the 118 moustache and the 1990s.  

They will go screaming and unwilling, shouting demands for German gold, but they will go. 

Spain 1958 - and 2013?