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Monday, 25 May 2020

Blue tick meltdown as anti-Boris coup fails

To understand yesterday's extraordinary events, one needs to realise that it was not about Covid, but about Brexit. I warned last week that the period until the end of June would be the last-ditch battle of the Remainian forces; the decision that no trade deal is achievable, and that the UK must transition on Australian terms, or WTO terms, will be taken in five weeks. On the one side we have Boris, Dominic Cummings, David Frost and their close supporters and Leave voters and on the other around 40% of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, the entire establishment, the Civil Service, the press and media and the CBI wing of business, the global corporates.

It has been clear for a few weeks that a power grab attempt has been building inside the Tory party. You need to understand, as any member of the party who meets other members of the party understands, that there are essentially two kinds of Conservative. The first sees the party and political power as an opportunity to gain a personal advantage, to use contacts, curry favour, get on the inside track and make money, gain personal power and influence, make business alliances and so on. Then there are the genuinely selfless, who want to make the world, and Britain, a better place for all her citizens, who rail against corruption, injustice and authoritarianism. There is often an uncomfortable match between the two species, which came to a head in our party over Brexit. The CBI wing and their dreary leadership candidate were trounced by the altruistic populists - but they haven't given up, and in the past weeks have been spotlighting candidates to replace Boris. Sadly, their offerings to public and media exposure have also been dreary beyond measure; uninspiring mediocrities, soporific nonentities lacking even a spark of charisma.

The events of the past few days offered a perfect opportunity to mount their coup. Those for whom no trade deal with the EU is unacceptable - the CBI wing - could use the opportunity to dis Boris by targeting Cummings. And a prominent handful did so. They are supported by the dark establishment, the grey men, who have vowed never to allow a no deal Brexit that would hurt the global corporates, and the media, who are defending not just supranationalism but their capture of the State, now under dire threat from the populists.

Yesterday's blue-tick meltdown on Twitter was a joy to behold. They became completely unhinged, and exposed themselves. We now know who our enemies are in the party, and the public know, despite their previous abject denials, where the interests of the prominent media hysterics lie. Poor Boulton was re-tweeting anti-Boris bile at such a frenetic rate that he surely must have dropped a stone overnight.

The Press are in the gutter as far as public opinion goes - never have they been held in such utter contempt by the British people. And like Peston, they have no self-awareness - they simply don't realise that their opinion doesn't matter. We're not interested in their opinions. We have our own.

But more egregious by far was the unrestrained reaction from one of those who have captured the establishment. This is far more serious than anyone is letting on, and though it was deleted within 11 minutes, it will live for decades -

 Hang on tight. The next few weeks will get rough - not Covid, but Brexit.

Footnote
======
Steve Baker is the exception that proves the rule. Steve was a valuable member of ERG during May's demented bungling, but he's really not up to a ministerial job. He believes he deserves one, however, I think, and this frustration boiled over yesterday. Thus proving he really is a bit of a plank.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The death of the HR department

Back in 2017 Nicola Thorp turned up for a temp assignment at Price Waterhouse Cooper staffing the reception desk. She was sent home for wearing flat shoes; the company dress code clearly stated that women employees must wear 2 - 4 inch heels. And despite the press reactions - photos of shapely calves in stilettos from the Sun, outrage from the Guardian - it quickly blew over. Dress codes were and are a quite legal and enforceable power of company HR departments. And it doesn't end with what employees can wear to the office. In the past twenty years they have ended the City's lunchtime drinking culture. The pubs heaving with suited traders getting a couple of pints down their gullets are a thing of the past - the HR departments decreed that, on Health and Safety grounds, the company had a new no-alcohol policy. Any employee with alcohol in their bloodstream was deemed to be an unacceptable risk in the workplace.

Of course it extended even further. Not only must employees not smoke in the workplace, they must not smoke in the vicinity of the workplace or when they can be identified as employees of the company, whether during their paid hours or otherwise. When your DHL driver finishes his shift, he can still be disciplined for having a fag in his liveried overalls in a Tesco car park.

And then there's social media. The reason I started blogging under a pseudonym was counsel's opinion that had been circulated to us confirming that contractors, IR35ers and employees could all be compelled to desist from expressing any form of personal public opinion that could be linked to the company. There's no point in Joe Potato going on Twitter with the bio "Structural Engineer with Thames Water - opinions are my own". They're not. His opinions belong to his employer. Of course, Momentum activists working in the NHS don't have this problem, as the employer doesn't mind being linked with them, but an NHS worker openly declaring membership of the Brexit Party on Twitter will certainly face disciplinary action - not for the membership, but they'll dig into past posts to find one that violates company policy. Offence archaeology. This last pernicious smothering of personal political opinion by corporate HR departments has surely been the most distasteful use of commercial power.

HR litigation has been a rich seam of earnings for law firms, so much so that the workplace has become an incredibly high-risk legal environment. In the past decade cases have even sought to establish that normal human contacts in the workplace can be a cause for action; don't even think about smiling reassuringly at the new girl or joking about the Transport Manager's weight.

And Covid-19 might just have driven a tank through the whole bloody edifice of corporate HR control.

Are female employees of PwC working from home still expected to wear 4" heels when Zooming from their sofa? Can you swig from a can of cold lager in the garden on a steaming hot day while engaged on a work voice call? Can you smoke whilst constructing complex company spreadsheets on the kitchen table, or if you develop lung cancer can you sue the company for secondary smoke from your wife's fag in the workplace? Can you playfully jiggle your spouse's breasts on company time?

And as work itself changes away from permanent employment in a workplace, as will be inevitable, will the legal relationships between employee / contractor and employer become more equal? Will employees cease to be a 'resource' like iron ore or petroleum feed stock or power or produce and start to become sovereign partners, if unequal in financial size?

I started work having an office, a desk with an ashtray and a culture of the three-pint lunch, of Christmas parties that provided opportunity for Bacchanalian fornication. The job of the personnel department was to write the salary cheques. Most people met their partners at work, and their longest lasting friends, bonded over beer and fags and Christmas lunches. It's now the turn of the Puritan zealots from the HR departments who ruined it all to go. They won't be missed.

Update 9.53
=========
I neglected to mention the effects of Covid on liability insurance premiums - general liability insurance, Directors & Officers insurance and Worker's Compensation insurance. In the end it won't be government legislation on distancing that kills the office workplace, but the unaffordability of the risk.

Friday, 22 May 2020

On the bright side ...

Climate activists will no doubt be contemplating a new series of disruptive protests at the news. The sunshine and good weather, it seems,  is down to dramatically lower levels of atmospheric pollution across the world. It surely cannot be long before the increased levels of UV trigger a new fear campaign. "Unless we stop this lack of pollution that protects us from harmful UV rays, the whole country will start tanning and producing more vitamin D!"

Seriously, what has surprised many is the speed with which the earth has bounced back from a pause in human activity. The force of life in nature is tremendously strong and an entire city will return to jungle if we abandon it, if we stop the daily fight to keep nature at bay, halt the weeding, the mowing, the cultivating, the taming of all that incessant growth.

It's mating time for both house spiders and salamanders here. The first are no problem - but little webs I've not previously noticed are suddenly holding a pair of spiders. Leave them be until they've done their spider stuff. The salamanders though are as daft as bricks. They've been crawling slowly up the old stream bed each year for a thousand years or more to mate, and the fact that a cart track has become a little road with two or three vehicles an hour at peak times doesn't phase them. But it does me. So as I spot them, I become a salamander lollipop man, sometime picking them up and carrying them across if they're moving too slowly. They seem to give me a look of withering contempt - "We'll still be doing this long after you've gone, human".

It's the trees I feel sorry for. We've just reduced their lush diet of CO2. It won't be long before the Gretas start blaming us for that too - the year of Covid will be recorded for posterity by a thin, emaciated growth ring. All our fault. And the bloody things are probably getting sunburnt, to boot.



Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Michael Gove runs a tight ship

More of a placemark than a post this morning; I'm sure we will all need to find these documents quickly over the next few weeks as the activities of the Brexit saboteurs rises to a crescendo.

The focus, clarity and process of the talks is a tribute both to Michael Gove and David Frost. What a change from dreary May's demented bungling, and the idiocy displayed by Oliver Robbins.

David Frost's letter to M. Barnier (.pdf)

Draft agreement on Fisheries (.pdf)

Draft Trade agreement (.pdf)

Frost's letter is a model of reasonableness, and recognises that poor M. Barnier has been given an impossible brief by his principals. It also sets out the UK's position to the rest of the world and makes it very difficult for the EU to deploy their usual threat and pressure tactics of smear and confected outrage. It is a well-constructed attempt for the UK to take the moral high ground, and to my mind succeeds admirably.

We will all have learned that all successful negotiations always allow both sides to claim some gains, and I suspect that for the EU these will be tariffs. France, the biggest global consumer of Scotch whisky, may pressure the EU to penalise her own drinkers in a fit of pique. But I'm sure we'll get over it - too much and we boycott EU goods in the UK, which is the last thing that German carmakers want.

Over to you, M. Barnier.

Update
======
M. Barnier responds to Frost - "I don't like your tone, my man" - but no rebuttal of UK's fisheries position other than "consequences - we will punish you". Twitter comments include "Lord North all over". Judge for yourselves

Barnier response to UK

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Superspreaders

Evidence continues to emerge about the way in which the Wuhan virus spreads. There's good news and bad news. The good news is that instead of 60% of us having to be infected to achieve herd immunity, we could do it with 10% - 20% in combination with behaviour modification. The bad news is that the behaviour modification could knock the arse out of our lives. 

The key is that not all of us are infected equally, and those who are infectious are not all equally infectious. It's nothing to do with individual physiology and everything to do with location and positioning, as the Telegraph reports today -
By applying a mathematical model to reported outbreaks of the disease outside China, they estimated that 80 per cent of all secondary transmissions were caused by a small fraction of infected individuals - around 10 percent.
The risk is in strenuous or energetic activities with more rapid, deeper breathing in crowded closed or indoor situations. A mosh pit is very high risk, the Bodleian library much less so. Groundworkers, brickies and scaffolders (provided they don't crowd into the mess rooms) are safe on site, second fix joiners, sparkies and painters less so. And if you want to get around London, I'd suggest the upper deck of one of those open-top tourist buses.

But for most of us, it's our most common and uniting experience that may never be the same again - the pub. They've re-opened here, but table service only, not more than four to a table and bookings are needed. The whole point about going to the pub is (a) it's spontaneous and (b) the opportunity to meet new people, expose yourself to social interaction and to strengthen bonds of identity and community. We have to pin our hopes on a vaccine to get back to anything like normal. 

Post-Wuhan gasthaus

Monday, 18 May 2020

The final round of EU trade talks - sham ECJ crippled.

I have long claimed here that the ECJ was named in the same way as Orwell's Ministry of Truth. It is the EU's political court, and has taken on the mantle of bending the law to facilitate ever closer union, to achieve a federal European state. It has as little to do with pursuing justice, equity, right or fair play as Orwell's fictional bureaucracy has with championing veracity. AEP's latest column for the Telegraph does a magnificent job in underlining the institution's failures -
The ECJ merely asserts primacy. The doctrine was invented out of whole cloth in the landmark Costa/ Enel case in 1964. This bootstrap jurisprudence - in essence a bluff - has been indulged and tolerated by member states. Until now.

There is no Treaty basis for EU legal supremacy. Judicial expansionists in the EU legal services unit tried to slip it into the Lisbon Treaty but all they got was a thin Declaration in the annex stating that the “settled law of the Court” has primacy over national law.

The German judges have repeatedly objected to judicial activism by the ECJ, thunderously denouncing its misuse of the Charter to extend its power. Their finger has been on the trigger. Finally they pulled it. The implicit has suddenly become explicit.
AEP, who has successfully predicted twelve of the last three recessions, is not sanguine about the effects of this bust up. We are wrong to believe it will be bodged over with the usual Eurofudge, wrong to imagine that the ECB can just carry on with its QE programme. He strongly believes that this time it's a binary choice between Germany's continued membership of the EU and the Euro.

Their mistake was to trust in a popular misunderstanding. For years we have been lectured that 'EU law is superior to national law and supercedes domestic legislation' - true. It was easy for everyone to assume or be led to believe that if EU law was superior to national law, then the EU's court must be superior to national courts - not true. 

Meanwhile, as the penultimate round of talks on an EU trade deal before the June deadline collapsed, with Boris holding firm against the EU didactic stubbornness, we are reminded that there are just six weeks remaining in which an extension can be agreed. Even though the government has made plain that no extension will be sought or accepted, this won't stop the entire forces of Remain and #FBPE idiocy from going flat out.

As the final round of pre-deadline talks start in June, expect hysteria from all the usual quarters, eager for the UK to handicap itself or shackle our laws to their sham-court, just so cruelly exposed as such by the German judges. 

Expect Blair back on the Today programme explaining why an extension is essential, and the MSM to dig-up the crazed fools who were kicked out of the party; Grieve, Soubry, Rory Stewart et al. Oh, and of course Major will rise from his sepulchre to do the same. Plus the gerontocrats from the Lords will croak their protests over inadequate phone lines and PTSD Adonis and 'Howler' Grayling will melt down. Also expect the BBC to put out a Panorama explaining how not extending will cost more lives than the Wuhan virus, and Sky to interview no-one except closet Momentum members. Hey ho. 

Saturday, 16 May 2020

How far will London house values fall?

London has seen some of the most bullish house price inflation in the country as the nation's ceremonial centre has been in the process of going from a national capital to a world megacity. Everyone expects domestic property values to fall as a result of the Wuhan virus, but by how much? There at several factors at play, I think. One is the fall in values that mirrors a fall in GDP; we saw this in 2008, when a small drop in GDP saw a much larger fall in house values, which fell between 15% - 20%. Add to that in 2020 the increased biohazard risk driving a flight to the country. All those shabby, noisy, flimsy multistorey blocks thrown up in the past fifteen years that have been so profitable for the volume builders have just become about as desirable as Rio favela-shacks made of crinkly tin. My own guess is there's a long way to fall. Property in the counties and towns with gardens and fields within walking distance will fare far better.

A counter argument may be that London is ahead of the rest of the country in acquiring immunity - and recent research suggests that rather than 60% of the population having been infected, it could take as few as 10% - 20% to provide herd immunity, provided the right people, i.e. those most liable to infect others, have been infected. London's economy could therefore bounce back far more quickly than the rest of the country, and dampen a drop in values. I don't understand why crowded, rammed, jostling London should be better off than the post-industrial NE, but there it is.

I've constructed the chart below from the Land Registry HPI for London, taking the flats values, and the ONS quarterly GDP data series, both rebased to 1995 = 100. Interesting. And that verse by Louis MacNeice from 1934 always comes back to me -
Splayed outwards through the suburbs houses, houses for rest
Seducingly rigged by the builder, half-timbered houses with lips pressed
So tightly and eyes staring at the traffic through bleary haws
And only a six-inch grip of the racing earth in their concrete claws;
In these houses men as in a dream pursue the Platonic Forms
With wireless and cairn terriers and gadgets approximating to the fickle norms
And endeavour to find God and score one over the neighbour
By climbing tentatively upward on jerry-built beauty and sweated labour.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Wands and Lycra louts

As a teenager I was a fearsome cyclist. I had, I recall, three bikes; a heavy chugger, a utility bike and a whiplike racer, for naked speed is fun, all built or re-built by me. The chugger was a heavy old steel machine with Sturmey-Archer gears and wired-in lights powered both by batteries and a dynamo and despite its age was superbly comfortable for long, low speed rides. It was also very sturdy - I once carried a No.19 radio set including power unit and variometer, which must have weighed 30kg, for about 25 miles. All in all, I cycled many thousands, even tens of thousands, of miles. The object wasn't health or exercise but either exploring or visiting mates, who were scattergunned across half the county. I was already smoking, and never quite managed to overcome the uneven burn on a fag when smoking whilst riding, though at 14 I bought a pipe in an experimental effort to do so. So I should be well disposed towards cycling, which I am. But not so well disposed towards the arrogance and violence displayed by many cyclists in London.

Londoners may have failed to notice the little plastic bendy rods springing up in long snakes along their roads; it's what the councils have been doing during lockdown. These wands designate new road space for cyclists. So rapidly have these been deployed, so assured the position of the new routes, one can only imagine that instead of stockpiling PPE the London authorities were stockpiling plastic traffic wands, ready for a crisis such as the Wuhan virus to roll them out overnight. London's incredibly low rate of new infections at just twenty-four a day may mean that drivers venturing out from lockdown will encounter these for the first time, and find that their own roadspace has just been reduced by a third or more.

What I'd like to see are these new spaces colonised by families on bikes, including the wobbly learners, by slow pleasure riders of all ages with wicker baskets or panniers, by cycles with babies and infants strapped into carriers, all cheerily smiling and nodding and behaving gracefully. What I fear we'll get is the lycra louts, with an enormous sense of entitlement, who will with great aggression assume their right to dominate these new spaces, and feel nothing but vindication for their past boorish, uncouth thuggery. They will assume the lane expansion is a reward for their previous loutish and utterly selfish posession of cycle space. And until it becomes legal to kick the buggers off their bikes, I'm not sure what can be done about it.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Borders borders borders

As Europe stumbles in a spread field into phase II of the Wuhan virus response, crossing borders becomes the issue of debate. Although Brits have been warned that they won't be let out for Summer, much of tourist Europe isn't so sanguine. Austria has been trying to re-open the border with Germany, to allow in the floods of German tourists, but so far Germany has refused - and with a second wave of infections coming to Germany, is unlikely to do so.

There's no move from Austria to re-open the border with Italy - they're quite happy with having it closed - but the two nations announced yesterday that cowherds tending herds on the alm, the high alpine summer pastures that frequently straddle the borders, could cross at will. These almhutte high in the mountains are often popular with girl students spending a Summer away together, a group of five or six doing the daily milking and making cheese from May until September. Often connected only by steep cattle tracks, with no vehicular access, where everything has to be carried up and down, it's regarded as quality time away. When it's time to bring the cows back down to the valleys in Autumn, they the girls will go back to university. Or not. There are reputed to be almhutte that actually sit on the border, with the bedroom in Italy and the kitchen in Austria, rather like the Irish border.

The UK has announced that no quarantine will be needed for those crossing from France, only to earn a rebuke from the technocrats from their bunker beneath the Berlaymont. It turns out we can do it under their EU laws, but only if we say 'no quarantine for residents of France' rather than 'no quarantine for anyone entering from France'. Go figure. I suppose we must therefore bang-up Polish truck drivers for a fortnight if we pay any attention to the dreary officials in Brussels. Which I hope we won't.

Whilst the Germans won't be able to come to Austria, the Austrians won't be able to visit their own  favourite destinations in Spain. I'm not sure where the Spanish won't be able to go - except Portugal, of course, which will also be missing the English. Meanwhile Croatia is planning an air-corridor to fly in their preferred Summer guests, the Czechs. Greece, like Austria a heavy-smoking nation with a low rate of infection, is ambivalent about losing her crucial Summer trade. Perhaps she should open only to Europe's smokers - each visitor having to drag deeply on a Capstan full strength at the airport on arrival to validate their status.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already opened their mutual borders, but with about a third of the population still working in the UK as bar-staff (now furloughed) there will be barely enough natives left to fill the foreign tourist restaurant tables. "What's the local speciality?" "Liver dumplings." "Oh that's strange. That's our speciality back home as well".

But remarkably, Europeans are reverting to a national border mindset more swiftly than I would ever have imagined possible after the Shengen experience. And that may be the biggest worry for Brussels.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Legal jackals, vultures and carrion eaters gather ...

Pity the employer trying to get their staff back to work, particularly in London and in densely populated urban areas. Lawyers are gathering like vultures on a branch anticipating litigating Employment Rights actions. As a silk from Cloisters Chambers advises already -
By s.44(1)(d) and s.100(1)(d) ERA, employees have the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act by their employer and the right not to be dismissed on the ground that "in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work". Similarly, s.44(1)(e) and s.100(1)(e) provide some protection for employees where, "in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger."
Even asking staff to travel to work could raise in their hearts a "reasonable belief" that they would be exposed to "serious and imminent danger" - which would allow them to stay at home, and make unlawful their dismissal for not coming in. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Matthew Lynn continues the theme in the Telegraph this morning
There is a problem, however, and one that is going to become increasingly urgent as we lift lockdown. We have created a lawyer-dominated health and safety obsessed culture that may turn into our biggest enemy as we recover from Covid-19. Just think about some of the problems.

What if a restaurant hasn’t put the tables far enough apart to stop the disease spreading? Are they going to get a writ from anyone who gets ill? What if staff desks are not arranged the right way to protect people from infectious sneezes? Will the employer get hauled before a tribunal? What about those masks you finally managed to order, with great difficulty, and at huge expense? Do they really work, and are you liable if not? What if you ship a product to a customer, and then it turns out it contained traces of the virus? Is that your liability? The list could go on and on.
In fact the very last person I'd want to be right now is a City of London financial services provider with an office and trading terminals and staff. Staff who can't drive because there's nowhere to park, can't walk because they all live more than four miles away and can't even cycle because there's nowhere to put all the bloody bikes and a hot summer with a floor full of beefy traders sweating cobs in their lycra would probably also constitute some sort of H&S infringement. With only six people allowed in each tube carriage it would likely be 11.30 before they struggle in by public transport, anxious at having been breathed on by a Big Issue vendor.

Well there's a short term and a long term solution. The short term solution may be something like the one Matthew suggests in his Telegraph piece
We could fix that. Here’s how. First, we could ring-fence liability. If a worker or customer is diagnosed with Covid-19, a company should not be held liable for that unless it has been completely reckless (and even then, liability should be capped at £10,000 or 1pc of turnover, whichever is the lower).

Next, how about we ban no-win no-fee lawyers from trying to drum up business by exploiting Covid-19 cases. Law firms shouldn’t be allowed to tout for coronavirus business, and they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to start organising (potentially lucrative) class actions.
However, getting such legislation through Parliament will be painful, and you can be sure that Starmer will use every lawyerly and slithering trick to obstruct and sabotage it. He'll be in his element as a human rights lawyer.

The long term solution is to stop employing people, or stop employing so many of them anyway in dense city-centre urban environments. The third tier of AI may come a decade early, and PwC are already predicting high rates of replacement of financial services jobs such as asset managers, as AI will allow not only replacement of existing jobs but will, for example, "have made it possible to develop customised investment solutions for mass market consumers in ways that would, until recently, only have been available to high net worth (HNW) clients." says PwC. And presuming that anyone has anything left to invest at all after this, or that there is anything left worth investing in.

And then there are all those offices in the City and Isle of Dogs. I wouldn't like to own the freehold on a Canary Wharf tower right now; the longer term solution may involve mass redundancies and human flight from our packed cities, as workers become more aware of the risks of biohazards. The SARS-CoV-2 virule may be a relatively harmless little bugger, but the entire world is now rethinking bio risk in a packed and mobile world.

Muzzling the lawyers won't work. It will just be a short-term fix. And the internet and AI will play an unprecedented role in a quantum change in the way we live and work. This is going to be fascinating. 

Monday, 11 May 2020

Earthquake hits the EU - but wait for the aftershock

The brawl between Germany and the EU over the ECB's QE will be one of the most spectacular fallouts since Maastricht. Get the popcorn out, and draw up a seat. 

Germany's Constitutional Court released a judgement on 5th May which essentially had two legs; that the Federal Government and the Bundestag were at fault in failing to challenge the ECB's PSPP (Public Sector Purchase Programme), and that the ECB had exceeded its authority by delivering the programme. Prior to forming a judgement, the court had referrred the question of the ECB's actions to the ECJ, which of course found that the central bank was not at any fault. The Constitutional court then ripped apart the ratio decidendi of the EU's political court in three tightly argued paragraphs and concluded -
In light of the aforementioned considerations, the Federal Constitutional Court is not bound by the CJEU’s decision but must conduct its own review to determine whether the Eurosystem’s decisions on the adoption and implementation of the PSPP remain within the competences conferred upon it under EU primary law. As these decisions lack sufficient proportionality considerations, they amount to an exceeding of the ECB’s competences.
Well, you can imagine the outrage in Brussels. The EU's political court is quite openly constituted to act to further the political aims of the EU - they don't even try to pretend it's not. The German Constitutional Court is concerned with the most fundamental basis upon which Germany was permitted to function as a nation after the period 1933 - 1945, the Grundgesetz, which set in concrete rules that would prevent the German people ever again repeating the actions of those years. Germany's membership of the EU is explicitly on the basis that the EU cannot legislate anything in contravention of the Grundgesetz - it is inviolable

Wolfgang Münchau writes in Marxist daily The Financial Times -
The ECB is, of course, not subject to German law. As an EU institution it answers to the European Court of Justice. But this ruling is binding on the Bundesbank. I doubt that Jens Weidmann, its president, will want to fob off the German judges with a superficial response. The ruling only allows the Germans to take part in the asset purchase programme for another three months unless they find a way to comply. Theoretically, the ECB could proceed without Germany. But I would strongly advise against it because that could precipitate a eurozone break-up.
The EU's political court was also not slow to assert its authority, and released a statement -
In order to ensure that EU law is applied uniformly, the Court of Justice (ECJ) alone ... has jurisdiction to rule that an act of an EU institution is contrary to EU law. Divergences between courts of the member states as to the validity of such acts would indeed be liable to place in jeopardy the unity of the EU legal order and to detract from legal certainty. Like other authorities of the member states, national courts are required to ensure that EU law takes full effect. That is the only way of ensuring the equality of member states in the Union they created.
In other words, the EU is telling Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank that he should do as the ECJ says, not as his own Constitutional Court instructs him.

This is going to be massive.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Transition extension - translation

As Irish Deputy Teasack Coveney's statement was issued to the press, we provide a translation from the gaelic.
COVENEY
Covid-19 has made what is already a very, very difficult timeline to get agreement virtually impossible. Given the added complications of Covid-19 it surely makes sense to seek a bit more time to navigate our way through these very difficult waters in the months ahead so that we can get a good outcome for the UK and EU. I think anybody looking at this from the outside could only conclude it makes sense to look for more time but the British Government has decided that's not what they want and they have made that very clear both publicly and privately. I wouldn't be raising expectations around the British Government agreeing to seeking more time. If we're going to have any chance of persuading them to take more time then we need to be careful about how we do that because demanding it from them ... almost as a concession to the EU, is certainly not the way to do it.
TRANSLATION
We're buggered. Our demands for their fishing waters, subservience of British law to the ECJ and a ball and chain on their trade options are just unrealistic - they won't accept them. Even our effort to weaponise the Northern Irish border by demanding an office for the EU Gauleiter in Belfast has been rejected. We're not going to get an EU-weighted deal.

Anyone looking from the outside can see we're on the back foot and Germany will force through a trade deal anyway because her industrial sector demands it. And we need the City of London's services now more than ever - whatever Covid recesssion financial deal the ECB and Brussels stitch up, we will depend on London to be able to carry it out.

Begging the British government to give us a one or two year extension really isn't a good look. And they wouldn't even think about it - right now they can hide whatever minor economic ding will be caused by a third-country trade deal in December by the Covid fall-out, which will be ten times worse.

The Teasack needs to get ready to bite the pillow and ask the UK for a bail-out at the end of the year.

Friday, 8 May 2020

With all our hearts - VE Day

At 3pm on 8th May 1945 Churchill spoke to the nation to proclaim an end to the war in Europe. Twenty years later I watched live on our small monochrome TV set as his coffin moved up the Thames, the cranes bowed in grief. I can't add to the words and emotions being expressed everywhere in Britain, but this cartoon by Low pretty well sums it up for me.

Today is not the day, but we need to be wary of post-hoc re-interpretation of what VE day meant. In Austria, which has done a very good job post-1945 of re-inventing its own history since 1938, 8th May is commemorated as the victory of the Austrian freedom fighters against the Nazi occupiers. Yes, there were a few, maybe a few score, and undoubtedly they risked much. But it would be nice to see a mention of the British army, which raced to occupy southern Austria on 8th May before the Russians did, and who turned back a Jugoslav land-grab. But that's for another day. So long as you remember that no-one in Austria ever supported Hitler, you'll be fine.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to the generation that made our todays possible. 

Keir Starmer claps himself

Keir Starmer emerged from his house yesterday evening in a pre-arranged publicity event with the press. After posing for the cameras for a few seconds, Starmer is heard to ask "Have you got what you need?" before returning inside.

While Starmer was acting out his publicity stunt the Prime Minister, who perhaps loves the NHS too genuinely, too deeply and too unconditionally for the comfort of many of his party's members, joined the nation without affectation, falsehood or pretence in the weekly clap.

More lefty bashing -  Rod Liddle in the Speccie
==================================
"Meanwhile, Owen Jones weighed in with his usual mixture of sanctimony and adolescent hysteria. (Someone needs to look after that boy before he implodes like a primitive nuclear fusion device, the neutrons of confected outrage piling upon one another until criticality is reached and nothing is left of Owen, just a blackened crater and some poisonous isotopes with a half life of 0.0001 nanoseconds.)"

That's all.


Thursday, 7 May 2020

The 'National Mask Stockpile' and other NHS farces

The Central NHS procurement farce rolls on. It now turns out that the four boxes of gowns bought by NHS central procurement and flown from Turkey by the RAF, tying-up an aircraft and crew for a week, were condemned as sub-standard and impounded on arrival by other officials, the Telegraph reports. And just when you thought it couldn't get worse -
Last week, the NHS banned trusts from sourcing their own PPE because they were seen to be competing for the same vital gear. But procurement chiefs have complained that they have since been sent Chinese-made masks from the national stockpile that do not effectively repel fluid.
I'm almost beyond words. If you gave these numpties the job of designing the internet they'd pick a single hub and spoke layout - with the hub in Whitehall and every computer in the land connecting through it.

The NHS has some 4,000 staff engaged in procurement. They used to be called buyers in the old days, just as human resource directors used to be called personnel managers. Both branches have been captured by (H/T Discovered Joys) the clerisy, as HSJ describes -
The new game in town is called the “procurement target operating model”, and is being run by NHS Improvement with the help of Deloitte and a small selection of NHS procurement staff.....
By far the most important take-away from the blueprint is the vision that national teams will lead on creating strategies for each of the categories covered by the model.

This appears to be a similar tack to the recent changes to NHS Supply Chain, where specialist procurement organisations are tasked with buying products on behalf of the NHS across 11 categories.

The document states “integrated category and market management teams” will be the “driving force for procurement activity across the NHS. They will own and develop a single approach to each spend category to leverage economies of scale and drive market innovation”.

It appears the actual procurement will be done by “consolidated operational procurement delivery teams”, which will “implement the central category strategy at the local level, manage operational buying and undertake low-value sourcing initiatives/reactive buying”.
What it actually means is that even more of the spend by NHS trusts will be managed and directed by central NHS procurement actors - not even employed by the NHS, necessarily, but specialist organisations like, erm, Deloitte. They will extend their grasp into areas such as agency staffing, facilities management, patient transport and clinical waste to add to the 'NHS supply change national supply category' which they already own.

So what's the problem? Well, it's this. What big national procurement teams want to do is to let big high value national contracts for which only big global firms can bid, crowding out SMEs, local businesses and domestic suppliers. It really, really doesn't 'create value'. It just appears to do so, when the contracts are first signed.

And as events of the past weeks have shown, these jargon-choked central procurement teams may talk a good game, but when it comes to getting on the phones and buying essential kit at short notice, being agile, effective, and pragmatic and able to act with alacrity - critical procurement skills in a crisis - they're utterly crap. Like those Turkish gowns they bought, they're not fit for purpose.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Whitehall's lethal incompetence

I have no confidence at all that the tracing app being developed by Whitehall will work. If it's up to the abysmal standards of error, malfunction, delay and inadequacy that have characterised the rest of the actions of the Department of Health, it will collapse half an hour after release, the first week''s central data will be hacked, warning SMS messages will be sent to everyone by mistake and the bluetooth errors will destroy thousands of phones.

It follows close on the heels of the PPE procurement disaster. A disastrous central procurement model that left NHS workers short of PPE whilst firms holding vast stocks of kit that met the standards struggled against official deafness to offer it for sale; they were ignored, officials placed themselves beyond contact and hid behind websites and an RAF transport aircraft spent a week flying in a few boxes of gowns from Turkey.

And let's not even mention the central testing fiasco, or the manifest failures of Public Health England that left us so poorly prepared against the most basic and fundamental of risks. All of it, every disgraceful failure, every shaming bungle, stems from Whitehall's toxic grasp on central power at the cost of effectiveness. The command and control mindset that insists on trying to micromanage the entire nation's health response from Richmond House has been lethal.

The fall yesterday evening of Neil Ferguson can only improve the quality of the government's response. Like the departed Scottish CMO Catherine Calderwood, Ferguson thought the rules were only for little people. I'm sure these incidents aren't isolated; I'll bet that senior civil servants across the country are happily breaching the rules to visit their yachts, second homes, lovers or to receive hookers and rent boys at their lockdown dossholes, smug in their inviolability just so long as the press doesn't find them out. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

The one lesson we must take from both the Brexit fiasco and the Covid farce is that we must clear out this dross from Whitehall. We must localise and decentralise, we must trust regions, counties and lower tiers of government to be competent. We must increase democratic control, local scrutiny and accountability. If this nonsense has taught us anything, it's that we normal people can act responsibly, even if Whitehall can't.

We've had it with entitled and privileged technocrats

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

AI's first target - driverless trains

The dockers created their own downfall. From the late 1960s several factors came together that allowed Britain to correct the imbalance of an over-powerful unionised workforce that extracted a punishing toll from the country's commerce. Heavy duty motor transport - the artic - and a motorway network in construction meant that ports needed no longer be sited in the heart of cities; ships were getting bigger and deeper draughts meant deeper water berths were needed at ports, and the world was starting to standardise on a re-usable shipping container. It not only protected goods in transit from accidental damage from handling, but from theft by tribes of rapacious dockworkers.

The final showdown came in the summer of 1970. Another national dock strike had brought the nation to a standstill, and the effects were so serious that the government proclaimed a national State of Emergency, using legislation from 1920. The army were ready to move into the docks. Reggie Maudling was the Home Secretary, at war with the TGWU's Jack Jones. As meat prices soared in the shops, a generation in whose minds wartime rationing was still fresh had no sympathy with the cushioned stevedores. Few mourned the closure of the docks at the time.

Train and tube drivers are following the same path of industrial self-destruction as did the dockers. Londoners have noticed that driverless DLR formations are not reduced due to drivers seeking ever greater rents from the travelling public. HM Treasury is keen to make lasting large-scale capital investments in the national infrastructure, AI is advanced to a high degree and advances in autonomous vehicle technology are already putting driverless road vehicles on the streets. You'd think that if ever there was a time for train and tube drivers to keep quiet and buckle down, this would be it. But it seems this sector of the workforce has all the instincts of a family of lemmings.

AI is far better at driving trains and controlling track possession than humans. Driverless trains can run faster and much closer together, meaning cheaper and better quality transport services for the public. And this post-Covid truculence and blackmail is just the thing to precipitate change.

No, the dockworkers didn't really think that greenfield ports such as Felixstowe and Tilbury could ever eclipse the ports of London and Liverpool either. But they were wrong.

Dockers voting in 1970 for their own destruction

Update - Excess deaths
=================
Looks like excess deaths all causes this week figs are E&W 11,539, Scotland 743 and NI 186 - 12,468 total. The pattern so far looks like 6 - 17 - 13 - 12. 

Monday, 4 May 2020

Sword beach to Bremen - journey's end


For the past eleven months I've been following my late father's slow walk through NW Europe, from Sword beach at dawn on 6th June 1944 to Germany's final capitulation, which saw the battalion resting outside Bremen after a final action taking the bridge at Kattenturm on 24th/25th April. He bore shrapnel wounds from taking an SS-defended orchard at Cambes but was otherwise intact.

As a kid I used to model the Tamiya 1/35th series, becoming an expert with a 3/0 brush and Humbrol paints. After modelling a Wehrmacht Heer mortar crew I showed the result to my dad and remarked something like "They were really smart in those uniforms, weren't they?" to which he replied laconically "Not the ones I saw". He had seen the German army not in its peacock pride but crumpled, dirty, lousy and abject in defeat. Or dead.

By that stage of the war a British infantry brigade in Germany worked like a proverbial well-oiled machine, in close co-operation with gunners, sappers and armour, in a continuous series of textbook small actions, company actions, taking villages, bridges, strongpoints. The battalion's final action is a good illustration -
"A" Company took some 40 prisoners, and besides this, killed and wounded an appreciable number. Booty included the 88 mm gun, three lighter flak guns, and a host of small arms. As against this, their own casualties were one officer and 24 wounded, and most of these were fortunately not serious. "A" Company has much cause to be proud of this achievement.

Meanwhile "C" Company's bridgehead was now the scene of furious activity. Vehicles, anti-tank guns, and men poured out of the Buffaloes and were directed onwards by Capt. Gray who, as Battalion Landing Officer, had come in with "C" Company to search out a landing ground and routes forward for vehicles.

"D" Company had pressed on, simultaneously with "A" Company, but the German defences were without depth, and apart from a few snipers which were cleared without much trouble, "D" Company's advance was unopposed.

Tactical Battalion Headquarters moved up close behind "D" Company and established itself at the Eastern end of the village for the duration of the attack.

"B" Company had landed without incident, and as soon as "D" Company reported their objectives gained, "B" Company was slipped through towards the greatest prize of all, the Kattenturm bridge.

Almost at once they came under fire from the road and a large house to the left. The leading section, under Cpl. Holt, rushed the position and eliminated it, whilst another section dealt swiftly with the house, and soon the advance was resumed.

Lt McCrainor, the leading platoon commander, had been given orders by Major Cummins to push on as fast as he could towards the bridge and to bypass any opposition which was not sufficiently serious to detain him.

At the cross-roads near the bridge they encountered opposition, and were able to do this; and by slipping round the enemy, they seized the bridge before it could be blown, quickly establishing themselves on both sides of it.

Subsequently the enemy on the cross-roads and along the bund, where it went towards the bridge, were liquidated at leisure.

Altogether 4 Officers and 20 or 30 other ranks and one camp follower were discovered in the Company locality; so that had the position been assaulted frontally, serious opposition might have been met. As it was the Sapper reconnaissance party, following close up behind the leading platoon, quickly rendered innocuous the two bombs which were found sunk into the side of the road as a demolition charge; and soon a bulldozer arrived to assist in the clearance of a formidable road block which the retreating Germans had left behind on the bridge.
They temporarily occupied a sector including Delmenhorst, Mettingen near Osnabrück (familiar to generations of BAOR) and at Gelsenkirchen, but while his comrades enjoyed a spell on occupation duties in Austria, the old man, as a professional soldier, was given little rest. He was posted to Palestine and subsequently to Korea before enjoying a furlough walking and climbing, then on to help mould the new cold-war army of the 1960s.

Apologies for this deeply personal post, but this 75th anniversary of the achievements of those who attained that epochal victory may be the last we will officially remember. To my father, and to the countless others who made that victory, my heartfelt thanks.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Will the Shengen area ever return?

The establishment of the border-free Shengen area was one of the proudest accomplishments of the EU. It was also genuinely popular - perhaps the only benefit of EU membership that enjoyed wide traction across Europe. Combined with Europe's generally low rail fares (with the exception of the non-Shengen UK) it has formed the free-movement mindset of a whole generation of young Europeans who until recent years had never known anything else. Every resident of the Shengen area owned keenly their right to borderless travel within the zone. 

All that ended long before the Wuhan virus. By the end of 2016 Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France Germany and Sweden had already reintroduced border checks because of the migrant crisis. By April 2020 the borders were more closed than they had been in the 1960s. And closed borders have seen the re-emergence of tensions that have not been visible for decades, as Politico EU reports -
In the tiny western region of Saarland, which borders France and Luxembourg, local media have in recent days reported clashes dating back to late March, including cars with French license plates being scratched or pelted with eggs, and Germans yelling: "Fucking Frenchmen, go back to your fucking corona country!"
It's all a long way from a hauntingly evocative exhibition of photographs I saw at Amsterdam's Stedelijk in about '91 - of Europe's deserted border posts, with broken or boarded windows, graffiti on the walls and blowsy weeds growing everywhere through the cracks.

The restoration of the free travel area must be high on the EU's agenda, but can it ever go back to its heady millennial heyday? The problem of course is though it serves well the good and just burgers of the Shengen area nations, it serves equally well both illegal migrants and smugglers of contraband. I suspect EU governments would be willing to bear a small amount of leakage for the overwhelming economic benefits it brings, but Germany's open-armed extension to the world's migrants in 2015 blew it. The good burgers of the EU made clear at the ballot box that they were willing to add friction to their free travel if it halted the flood of Iraqis, Afghans, north Africans and migrants from the 'stans turning up with outstretched hands.

And post-Covid air travel looks likely to be so unbearably onerous that it will be shunned by all but the poor benighted commercial gents who will be forced by circumstances to endure a 4-hour check -in for a 90 minute flight, gagged with a face mask the whole time and no trolleys at all. For these stoics, a half-hour queue on arrival to clear immigration will add little pain; like having to walk home in the rain after falling in the river. Two weeks' quarantine for a two hour sales meeting may even kill commercial air travel completely.

Like so many things, the Wuhan virus may end free movement altogether. Yes, I enjoyed it and yes I'll miss mainland Europe without it. It was one of mankind's occasional optimistic forays into practical idealism, those little bubbles of hope that seem inevitably doomed to fail.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Crap Chinese tests and OCD

Just two observations this morning - one critically important, the other of minor interest. The first of course is the news that the WHO has been talking bollocks, as they say. Even after their early failings, their palpable negligence, their misdirection to the world at the behest of their Chinese masters, one still paid some regard to the warnings and advice of the WHO. The most frightening of their warnings a week or so ago was that mankind might not develop immunity to the Wuhan virus. This was based on a number of cases in which those who had recovered from Chinese flu were subsequently tested positive for a second time. As the speccie reports, it turns out this was due to faulty and inaccurate testing. "Ah sorry lads" says the WHO "as you were. Turns out these crap Chinese test kits are all duff haha". This just reinforces a resolution on my part to deal with anything that comes out of the WHO in future as I do a K-Tel advert. Their claims may be true, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The second is one of those tiny nuggets that sometimes manage to penetrate the woke blather that the World Service has become, in this case the testimony of an American OCD sufferer who has been wholly vindicated by the Wuhan virus. For years he's been disinfecting door handles touched by others, maintaining infection-free distances and cleaning, bleaching, disinfecting, wiping and mopping from dawn to dusk to keep the microbes at bay. There was a touch of validated pride in his voice as he proclaimed that he was right all along, and the entire world is just catching up with him. More poignantly and realistically, he said that we now all know the anxiety he's suffered all his life, at people breaching social distance, at being forced into microbial risk situations, at people coughing. Every cloud, as they say. The world's OCD sufferers can now behave as their instinct drives them, masked, gowned and gloved, armed with Isopropyl alcohol sprayers and boxes of tissues, wholly unselfconsciously and free of public ridicule. Even the bloody virus can do some people a good turn.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Snake oil and miracle drugs

Science is galloping along at a healthy pace, thanks to the Wuhan virus. All over the world, medical and pharma researchers and practitioners are working with unprecedented focus on drugs to alleviate the symptoms of the virus or for a vaccine. The internet has enabled them to put their findings out in public instantly, many without peer review, and wholly by-passing the filtering and partiality of the medical establishment and the gatekeepers of the learned journals. I expect like me you will delve into the Pubmed site maybe once a week to see how they're all getting on, even if, also like me, a lot of the science is over our heads. And doctors themselves have established unofficial, unsanctioned 'Whatsapp' groups - at no cost whatever to the NHS, and not a single NHS £100k manager to administer them - to share clinical information.

Overnight, this eager and industrious research has overturned the shibboleths of the medical establishment; ventilators, it appears, are a very bad thing. Even if you're unlucky enough to be ill enough to be taken to hospital, where you have a 90% chance of surviving, it falls to 50% if they put you on a ventilator. And if you smoke, keep smoking. As more and more research and data is shared freely online, so the world will learn how best to care for those who fall seriously ill from the Wuhan virus, the most effective prophylactics and the best drugs to alleviate symptoms.

We're also learning in incredible detail the character of the Sars-CoV-2 package. A propensity to antigenic drift and/or shift may mean a vaccine is seeking a moving target - and the Wuhan virus may become an annual visitor, and just as we take a quad-vaccine flu shot each season betting on the four strains most likely to emerge in any year, we will have annual Wuhan shots with two or three likely variations included. However, unless something miraculous happens, no vaccine will be here before next year. And that means we must take a hit before then. And in the worst case, there may be no acquired immunity and no vaccine at all.

That's the bottom line for every nation. Lift lockdowns now to allow the Wuhan bug to climb to an R0 of say R1.05, just enough to be able to pinch it off once maximum NHS capacity is reached, and allow the economy to live. And if there's no acquired immunity, then the Wuhan virus will become a deadly variation of the common cold, one that carries-off an additional 100,000 UK citizens a year, and it will change forever the way we live.

Right now the energy, ingenuity and application of the chaotic anarchy of scientific research and scholarly internet publication is coming each day closer to letting us know the score. They're quite capable of filtering-out the snake oil, and we should be cautious of any pharma company claiming to have a miracle drug. If I clap anyone today, it will be those internet research heroes, the doctors and scientists delivering data and research hot on our screens each day.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Licence plate lockdown

Unlike UK licence plates, which belong to a particular car, Austrian plates are issued to an insured driver by the insurance companies on behalf of the government. They are yours, and can be used on up to three cars - you only pay an insurance premium for the most expensive. They clip and unclip from their mountings quite easily. But because they belong to the insured person, it is possible for each registration number to carry a residence-specific code portion, along with the wappen or arms of your Bundesland . If you move to a different Bezirk (think of it as about equivalent to a district council) you need to get a new licence plate.

A plate belonging to someone from Klagenfurt, in the state of Kärnten

If such a scheme were run in the UK, the first two letters of the licence plate would indicate your place of residence. For London, it would be a London shield symbol plus a borough code - say LA for Lambeth, WE for Westminster, BR for Bromley and so on. Any 'county lines' drug dealers here have a very hard time - but that's not all.

Country areas are naturally suspicious of outsiders even in good times, and the Wuhan virus has magnified mistrust of any vehicle with a 'foreign' licence plate - and by foreign, I mean a vehicle from a neighbouring district, never mind out-of-state vehicles or the Satanic chariots carrying the evil W for Vienna. Believe me, after a while non-local vehicles stick out like a sore thumb in the supermarket car park - and you can be sure if a car with plates bearing the shield of Tyrol and LA code that includes Ishgl, the seat of Austria's après-ski contagion, were spotted there the store doors would have been locked shut. 

I'm fascinated to learn how the locals will cope with the end-of-lockdown dilemna. They will be riven between mistrust of the outsider and the welcoming of the critical summer tourist Euros. It will be fun to watch. 

And second-homers in the UK can be very grateful for the anonymity of UK licence plates.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Deaths - all causes stats

The deaths - all causes stats are the ones to watch today. Looking at the shape of pandemic death curves, those that include all excess deaths at a time of pandemic, they seem to have a longer tail. Thus when the first 6k figure was released, I speculated a rough path would be a 6 - 15 - 8 - 4 shape, giving some 33k excess deaths for the first wave of the Wuhan virus. So far we've had 6 - 18. If my initial guess at the shape was right, we could be on a 6 - 18 - 10 - 5 trajectory.

The shape of the first wave is important as it can give us a clue as to the likely outcome of a second, enhanced wave. It seems we're going to have to take the hit, whatever happens. Neither the economy nor public order will survive an indefinite total lockdown, and people are voting with their feet.

The first wave of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic caused a fatality peak in mid-July, the second a fatality peak in mid-November, some four months later. The second peak was much bigger in 1918 - if 18k is the Wuhan first peak, the second would be 90k in the highest week if un-modified. That, of course, is what the government is desperate to avoid.

I think we'll need to keep those empty Nightingale hospitals open for the foreseeable future, in any event. 

Update
======
Last week's excess deaths for all UK wasn't 18k but 17k. This week's (week 16) gives 11,854 excess deaths in E&W above 5 year average, 844 in Scotland and 134 in NI. 12,832 in total. So the pattern so far is 6 - 17 - 13, as far as I can see. 

Monday, 27 April 2020

A damning indictment of Whitehall's public health failure

The smug complacency of the Whitehall establishment prior to the impact of the Wuhan virus was sickening. They were - and are - convinced that gross centralisation is the answer to everything, but C19 has proven the fallaciousness of this delusion.

This country has had a long history of response to threats to public health, from Snow's cholera-infected Soho pump in 1854 onwards. We had local boards of health, and medical officers of health, one for each local government area. They ensured that adequate provision was made for burials, clean water, sewers and other public health infrastructure - but above all they were the nation's first line of defence against epidemics. Cholera, Typhoid, TB, Diphtheria. Being 'modern' is no defence against zoonotic or parasitic epidemics - as this paper, describing the challenges to public health post-1945 in Germany, describes -
... the following years were characterized by deficiencies of hygiene which had not occurred previously in Middle Europe during the 20th century. There were focuses of typhus, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and meningitis. Insufficiencies in the removal of faeces caused high incidences of shigellosis, hepatitis A, and ascariasis. As a result of insufficient body care, many people were infested with fleas, lice and scabies. The migration of large proportions of the population resulted in an increasing prevalence of syphilis an gonorrhea.
Our experiences in liberated Europe renewed our commitment to local public health, and a generation of Medical Corps officers who dealt with these conditions at first hand moved into environmental and public health positions in local government. For many years we benefited from their experience. The Guardian takes up the story from this point;
The system of local communicable disease control was established in the 19th century. After the NHS was set up in 1948, it was supported in England and Wales by national, regional and more than 40 local public health laboratories. But since local medical officers of health were abolished in 1974 – replaced by community physicians at different levels of the NHS – the system has been gradually but relentlessly eroded, fragmented and centralised.

Communicable disease control was centralised in the Health Protection Agency in 2003, and local public health laboratories transferred to NHS hospitals. Public health was then carved out of the NHS in England in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which abolished local area health bodies, created Public Health England to fulfil the government’s duty to protect the public from disease and charged local authorities with improving public health – but with limited proactive scope for infectious disease control and woefully inadequate resources.
The woeful failures of Public Health England, which we have catalogued, are not the only consequences of woke centralisation. PHE effectively abandoned their responsibilities for epidemic control, implemented an unworkable and ineffective central system and concentrated their resources on the faddish obsessions of the middle-class woke well - smoking, alcohol and sugar. As the authors of that Guardian piece also point out, the concentration on NHS 111 - telephone helplines that simply collapsed under the weight of hundreds of thousands of anxious callers - left local GPs with direct local knowledge completely unused.

The utter abandonment of their key responsibilities has not been the only negligent direction that PHE has taken. As John Ashton reported to the Telegraph, PHE officials have run up 5.1 million air miles over the past 3 years on 'the global health security agenda'. It's easy to see what's happened. They've utterly neglected their fundamental local public health responsibilities in favour of quasi-academic junkets to Florida or Singapore, business class travel and international hotels on the public purse, when they should have had their heads down sewer-covers in Birmingham. As Ashton, a former Director of Public Health, comments carefully "PHE's time would have been better spent ensuring testing facilities were up to scratch throughout the country" he said. "It's been inadequate and they have failed to catch up with themselves even when it was shown to be inadequate," he told The Telegraph.

We must keep pushing the absolute necessity for localisation and decentralisation. We must keep exposing the manifold failures of the central Whitehall machine. They are costing lives.

Levels of TB in London greater than Iraq, Ethiopia or Afghanistan are a damning public health indictment

Sunday, 26 April 2020

West moves to Phase II of Wuhan virus response

At slightly different speeds and in slightly different ways, the nations of the Western world are now moving together into Phase II of their response to the Wuhan virus. How hard lockdowns are being lifted will vary according to local conditions, but we now have confidence that the toll from the bug can be controlled if necessary. Now we know the brakes work, it's time to take our foot from the brake pedal.

It will change our behaviour for ever, just as AIDS did in the early '80s. Even if the Wuhan virus proves a great deal less lethal and much less transmissible - it's native R0 of ~2.3 is around half that of ~4.6 for AIDS - its character may mean that we must protect the old and vulnerable whilst the rest of us carry on as normal, polarising society. Grandparents would be separated from their grandchildren, the morbidly obese would need either to lose weight or adopt leper lifestyles and the immunocompromised remain behind closed doors.

Pressure will now be intense on the world's indigenous peoples to stop eating bats and monkeys - too many novel diseases have sprung from this practice, distasteful to Western tastes, since jet travel and increased prosperity enabled enhanced transmission. And China must stop sending her diplomats to lie and evade responsibility for the Wuhan virus; listen if you will to Friday's World at One interview with Chen Wen, China's deputy ambassador to the UK (from about 11:06 to 28:30). It's a stunning display of authoritarian delusion. No wonder the government have now removed the China line from the daily Covid-TV graphs - it's pure fiction. She also denied that China had any 'wet' markets at all that sold bats, beavers, badgers and other wild animals, dead and alive - not so she said. China had farmers' markets, which sold fresh meat and vegetables. Well, I've been to Blackheath farmers' market a few times and have never found live eating-snakes and Pangolin chops on the stalls there. Tom Tugendhat is actually right about China - I just wish he was a little more articulate and animated about it. And it's not just China. Africans must either close down their bushmeat markets or their visitors must face a month's quarantine before those wealthy corrupt ministers' wives, fat as butter, can spend their stolen cash in Bond Street.

Phase II will also introduce enhanced national security measures not unrelated to our having left the EU. Our waters and the fish that dwell in them have now become a national security asset in a way they weren't in December. There is zero chance that we'll now trade away even a scintilla of control. The new quarantine requirements for visitors will become a permanent feature - at least the requirement for visitors to register an address, for track-and-traceability. No great novelty there for anyone who knows Europe and has completed a fiche or meldezettel at a hotel or rented villa.

As for forecasts that Phase II will see the demise of cash - I'm not convinced. Oh for sure, our steel and nickel coins and plastic and paper notes are filthy, but that hasn't always been the case. Both silver and copper have strong antiviral properties, and I'm sure it is not beyond the wit of man to incorporate silver or copper ions in banknote 'paper'. Till-draw cavities could also be internally flooded in UV to allow constant viral destruction. Cash expresses our freedom from absolute State control, and we'd be foolish to allow it to be taken from us even at this time.

The debates, the research, the policy trials and errors will continue into Phase II. We don't yet have the answers, but we approach the next stage with greater confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Let's just ensure the world on the other side is a better one, albeit a different one, to that in 2019. 

Friday, 24 April 2020

Feel their pain

Spare a moment this morning, if you will, to feel the pain of the EUphiles. The Wuhan virus has targeted the old, and has targeted BAME persons but let us not forget it has also impacted supranationalists far more than internationalists. As nations and peoples re-assert themselves, the rediscovery of internationalism, of voluntary co-operation, of domestic priorities, is rapidly putting the world back in order. Everywhere, Globalism is in retreat. But you'd need a heart of stone not to cast a grain of pity for those who, having been floored by Brexit, are now being felled for a second time. Der Spiegel's cry is almost pitiable;
The fact that in the Alsace region, critically ill patients were transported to distant – French – hospitals despite the fact that beds in nearby – German – intensive care units were available is a function of the bad habits developed in an old world whose disappearance would be anything but detrimental. It is shameful that Germany, the most powerful country in Europe, has again neglected to take any steps towards strengthening the union. It has once again become apparent that EU headquarters in Brussels has no power and that, in the opinion of EU member states, shouldn't get any. 
Old, nation-state attitudes have deep roots.These attitudes are reflected in small things, such as the fact, for example, that political maps are consistently used to depict the expansion of this virus – as though it were a national problem. The colorings used on the maps are meant to show how each country is doing in the fight against the illness, while diagrams are used to identify model pupils (South Korea) and problem children (the United States). Each country's supply of face masks is carefully enumerated while national stockpiles of medical equipment are compared. It may sound cynical, but the daily tables showing the number of infections and deaths look almost like the medal counts from some macabre Olympics.
Stay safe.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Well fancy that ..

Following a previous post in which I outlined the early and sketchy evidence from China that suggested that smokers had some immunity to Covid-19, the phenomenon has gone European. Austria of course is the chain-smoker of Europe, and smoking in bars and cafes was only banned at the beginning of this year, greatly to the annoyance of the regulars at my local gasthaus.

Fags here are just over £4 a packet - unlike the UK, smuggled cigarettes from eastern Europe cannot easily be stopped, and though the health fascists would dearly love to tax at UK levels, they know that not only would it not reduce smoking but the government would lose tax.

As the Guardian reports, a study at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris revealed that only 4% - 5% of Covid-19 patients were smokers, when 25% - 30% of the general population smoke. So compelling were the findings that nicotine patches are now to be issued to patients and frontline health workers.

There is no confirmation that nicotine is the prophylactic agent, and the science is still out, but it's just possible that the nicotine fascists whose campaign against smoking (justified) has been extended to a 'war on tobacco' (no justification other than joyless bansturbation) will have nicotine vape blown in their faces. If, and it's an outside chance, some other component of burning cured tobacco leaf is responsible, the race will be on to produce it commercially. BAT, Imperial, Philip Morris and Altria will be happy.

Quinine and caffeine are also alkaloids. There's some evidence that the former has a prophylactic effect, but no suggestion as yet as to the latter. 

Update
======
Christopher Snowdon in Spiked on this is well worth reading - and a savage condemnation of Public Health England and their fellow lying zealots whose lies will have cost lives. These fools must be indicted.  

Once again, Libertarianism wins out over authoritarian stupidity.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Our over-central State isn't doing so well

In the inevitable post-Covid inquiry, if it is conducted honestly, it will be found that we lost lives in part because of our over-centralised, ineffective, power-grasping State, obstructive and bureaucratised procurement practises and a refusal by Whitehall to localise, decentralise and delegate. We don't have to look far for the villains.

Public Health England, the woke body whose greatest achievement to date has been to ban smoking in hospital grounds and whose main policy thrust was a campaign against alcohol and sugar, has comprehensively cocked-up Wuhan virus testing, as reported in the Telegraph. With a fantasy aspiration to create a single national testing centre, a fantasy that killed health workers, they have now instructed everyone to switch to commercial tests.

And although the press are giving the government a hard time over shortages of PPE, it really isn't the Health Secretary's job to buy nitrile gloves. Each local health trust, hospitals, the NHS, have their own vast procurement departments - I've seen a figure of over 100,000 buying staff quoted. OK, we should have better maintained a national emergency buffer stock of pandemic gear, but as soon as the virus became apparent in January, these buyers should have been placing orders. And it may emerge that our statist jobsworths delayed buying PPE because of EU public procurement directives that require them to advertise across the EU for 30 days before issuing tender documents then another 30 days to allow tenderers to prepare bids, then a compulsory 'standstill' period, then give themselves another 30 days to evaluate the tenders ... an EU-compliant purchase order can take four or five months between starting the procurement and getting the first delivery. If any dickhead anywhere in our vast health infrastructure has insisted on sticking to EU rules they should be shot.

Everywhere are stories of an innovative, agile and responsive private sector banging on the doors of the State to offer testing, help, assistance, contacts, contracts, gear and lifesaving expertise. And everywhere are stories of official doors being slammed in their faces, of bureaucrats 'hiding behind websites', of unanswered calls, of uncontactable procurement departments, of senior civil servants deaf to advice.

It is clear already that we have been grossly failed by an over-central State. Whitehall is not the model we need. We need deep change in the shape of our government.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

That's the thing about capitalism

Christian Wolmar writes knowledgeably about the madcap race for railways in the nineteenth century; fortunes were won and lost, risks were high but rewards could be higher. Investors willingly put their money into these uncertain ventures in the full knowledge that it could either all be lost or they would become wealthy beyond desire. That's the thing about capitalism. If you don't want risk put your money into gilts or premium savings bonds. It's a matter of choice.

Tax avoidance is also a matter of choice. It's quite legal and proper - though not of course compulsory. Richard Branson, who is seeking taxpayer help in both Australia and the UK to keep Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia afloat, has been a tax resident in the British Virgin Islands now for many years, and has not paid tax in either the UK or Australia since 2006. He's done well - though his £3.5bn fortune is largely in the share-value of his holdings rather than cash.

It's quite legal to pare-down the assets of a struggling company. It's quite legal to lease nearly all your aircraft and even to mortgage your LHR landing slots to bondholders. Nothing illegal there at all.

That's the thing about capitalism. If those Virgin airlines go bust, the aircraft will still be there, the pilots, air and ground crews will still be there and passengers, even in reduced numbers, will still be there when we start flying again. The public won't lose out. The brand was quite cool in the '80s but then so were shoulder pads and Walkmans.

I can't think of a single reason, therefore, why UK taxpayers should pay £500m to preserve Richard Branson's wealth. Why should we? I don't begrudge Branson his fortune, but won't shed a tear if he loses it all. That's the thing about capitalism.

Deaths all-causes stats 
The figures should be out today. After last week's 6k excess deaths, I predicted, if we're on the climb of the curve, that today could see 15k above the long-run average. I really do pray I'm wrong.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Peston on antigenic shift and antigenic drift

The sewer press must move on. Murdoch has done his globalist best to throw shit at Boris, after it became clear that having already left the EU we would not extend the transition period. Only the dawning of 1st January 2021 will convince the globalists and remainers that we've really left. The remainer dags on BBC, ITV and C4 - Peston, Kuenssberg, Bolton, Beth Rigby, Newman, Burley and the rest - must now crawl into even more latrine pits to find material with which to attack the government. I predict Peston, having demonstrated before millions that he doesn't know the difference between an antigen and an antibody, will instantly now become an expert on the difference between antigenic shift and antigenic drift as talk moves on to vaccine development.

Meanwhile there will always be those who look to the make the best of a crisis. Amongst them are those seeking to drive a wedge between China and the states of Africa. Africans, it appears, have had first hand experience of their Chinese overseers already and it has not been positive. Now it's emerging that the Wuhan virus is racist, killing people of colour to a disproportionate extent, the wedge-drivers are using social media to squeeze out videos of black people being abused and victimised by the Chinese and even one alleging to show a mob of Nigerians torching a Chinese factory. Whether these come from the CIA, FSB or just opportunistic sources, the effect is the same - they help to undo the billions spent by China in Africa as part of the belt and road drive. 

And finally of course Boris's illness also seems to have provoked hope in the hearts of ambitious Tories. As Boris came close to death, our MPs asked desperately who could possibly replace him, and for at least one Tory MP the answer it seems was 'Me!'

So here's your quiz question for the week. Which Tory MP whom you've probably hardly noticed in the past has been all over social media and the less-demanding broadcast media this week? Also with an article in the Sundays. A couple of clues. He's an obedient soft remainer and is possibly the most tedious and soporific writer and speaker in the parliamentary party. The man is living Ritalin. He could put an entire remedial class of ADD delinquents to peaceful sleep.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

I want to be the 'Bells on Sunday' man

For the past two or three weeks the BBC has run out of contemporary recordings of change ringing for the 2-minute 'Bells on Sunday' slot on Radio 4. We've had old recordings instead. So what? many of you will be asking. Some of those bells were cast in the 1500s - they've sounded the same for over 500 years. Why does a few weeks make a difference? Yet in a strange way it does make a difference. You see, I have a strong mental image of that tiny department at the BBC.

It starts with the 'Bells on Sunday' man. He's provided with a BBC technician's van in Brunswick Green livery and each week makes his way to one or two small English or Welsh villages, booking into a small local 3* hotel before an English breakfast and a 10am meeting with the ringers and vicar.

"Righto - I'll use three mics. An external gun mike oriented to the tower louvres, one in the nave and the other on the ringing floor."

"Okay let's go for levels please - ring away"

Then, even if the first take of 'Campion quad bob minor' is perfect "Okeydokey let's go for one more take ..." because with two or three takes everyone feels they're getting their money's worth.

Then onto an agreeable solitary lunch in an ancient pub at least a village away before the next appointment. I reckon the BoS man does two recordings a week, probably by Wednesday, allowing Thursday and Friday for the programme editor, the BBC Controller of Bells, first, second and assistant sound engineers, offline and online editors, archive and rights manager and HR director, all on the payroll of the 2-minute BoS slot, to undertake executive meetings and decide which of the two or three takes from each church recording is to be broadcast. The head office team doesn't waste the time from Monday to Wednesday, you can be sure. On Monday there's the wash-up meeting following the Sunday broadcast -

"I thought the continuity was a little rushed, Jeremy. Schedule a meeting, will you, with the Head of Continuity, the Scripts Editor and the Facts and History Controller, say next week?"

On Tuesday the team meets in plenary session to agree the locations for forthcoming recordings, each with a fat file of photocopied letters from tower captains across the land extolling the qualities of their ring of eight tuned to E

And of course Wednesdays are for the clearance of the equalities statements with the BBC Equalities and Diversity teams. Wednesdays are the worst day of the week.

"I see you've got the next eleven rings planned. All villages. Cheshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire. All hideously white, from the demographics. And despite my previous memoranda, not a single recording of change ringing from a Moslem church"

"Uhm, Controller, there's a problem there. You see mosques don't have ..."

"With respect, I'm not looking for excuses. Just action. I want to hear bells from Moslem, Hindu and Jewish churches in the next three months. Clear?"

"Well of course we'll try. I Expect this is a bit of a change for you from the BBC Climate Change department?"

But most of all I want to be the BoS man in the little Brunswick Green van, never entering Broadcasting House from one year to the next, going home each week to a little pink cottage in a tiny hamlet in the Suffolk brecklands, a comfortable wife and a loving dog. 


Friday, 17 April 2020

Big State, small State, middling State

The Wuhan virus will not only change the world, it is set to provide evidence for scholars of social and economic theories for the next century. How many times have you heard economists say in the past "Haha yes it's only theoretical - we can't know for sure unless we experiment on an entire national economy"? Well, now we can. One of the glories of the diversity of national responses across the world is that they range across the entire spectrum.

At one end we have the big State authoritarianism of China and North Korea - curfew breakers shot, an iron fist of State control, people walled up in their dwellings, total command of the economy and no role for private enterprise in solving the crisis. At the other end we have the US, a nation whose collective mistrust of the State and federal structure together with a loosely regulated economy and patchy coverage of the healthcare system has meant a massive and immediate economic impact - and to Trump's chagrin, he doesn't have the power to control the Covid measures. Under the US constitution, public health measures are the responsibility of state governors. The federal government has issued 'guidelines' but they're not compulsory. Then we have Sweden, now far less certain about its laissez-faire approach to the virus as the bodies pile up. And between the extremes we have the mass of middling-State nations, including most of Europe.

Comparisons are not just body counts, of course. Economies will have various degrees of resilience, flexibility, responsiveness, survivability and agility, different patterns of trade, different mixes of manufacturing and services, differing resource supply patterns and the impact of the recession and recovery from it will also depend on the same social and economic systems.

And then of course there's demography. Young nations with educated, mobile, deployable workforces and low proportions of unproductive olders to be cared for as fragile and vulnerable porcelain, against those with less capable workforces, older populations, lower educational and trade knowledge infrastructures.

So which nations will win out? Which countries are the future? Where will the young be best placed to create a stable, secure and prosperous future for themselves and their families? Will it be authoritarian China or chaotic America?