Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Leading To Leave





It is not looking good, if it ever has been in the last few years.  Those of the doom and gloom schools of thought have more than enough news and information for them to ply their trades.  In the USA a good dump of snow in New Hampshire should confuse a few issues at the Primary elections.

Zero Hedge along with Secular Investor suggest that Deutsche Bank is in trouble and could trigger a great many adverse financial effects.  One relatively minor matter in the great scheme of things is that the bank has a lien on the freeholds of a great many UK leasehold properties.  This could get ugly if as in the USA title to them disappears down the financial computer plugholes.

But it is the EU debate that has had a great deal more coverage.  One serious concern is the lack of clear leadership and direction in the Leave campaign.  Despite the views of many voters it is feared that the initiative could be lost to the big hitters of the In groups who have the leaders of both the Government and Opposition in their pockets.

Despite their obvious interest and own position in the Europe matter we cannot expect The Royals to mix it and to attempt to lead the Out's.  But where I ask is our aristocracy, in particular the Dukes?  They are nowhere to be seen or heard.

The idea of inherited status, wealth and title is out of fashion in these democratic days when we worship celebrities and sportsmen but they are still entitled to have a view and speak their opinions and in something that is extra-Parliamentary to lead if others will follow.

Here are four lists of Dukes, Marquesses, Earls and Viscounts, not complete but just picked out, not quite at random, in a swift look at the titles.  Of the Earls many are left out.  There could be errors in that the present holders are not able to lead but there ought to be some who might.

There are names among them that shout out from our history, the descendants of men who did not and would not surrender.

Dukes:

Beaufort, Wellington, Marlborough, Northumberland, Hamilton, Argyll, Gordon, Fife, Westminster, Sutherland, Manchester, Devonshire, Buccleugh, Bedford, St. Albans, Grafton, Rutland.

Marquesses:

Anglesey, Zetland,  Bristol, Ailesbury, Bute, Bath, Salisbury, Huntley, Hertford.

Earls:

Nelson, Jellicoe, Alexander, Effingham, Grey, Vane, Kimberley, Leicester, Jermyn, Cawdor, Lichfield, Strafford, Wharncliffe, Attlee, Lytton, Selborne, Liverpool, Rosebery, Balfour, Peel.

Viscounts:

Montgomery, Alanbrooke, Slim, Trenchard, Hood, St. Vincent, Falmouth, Falkland, Hereford, Bolingbroke, Knollys, Gough, Long.

Where are they when you need them, especially as the Europe vote could be a damned close run thing.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Peace At Any Price





The reaction in the media to Prime Minister Cameron's deal or no deal Euro caper has been interesting.  Yet again we have a PM who is looking like a gone man.  But if after being elected you then say I'm off in three years and leaving it to George you are asking for trouble especially when seeking favours.

One common theme is that his return from Europe evokes the memory of  Neville Chamberlain who between 1937 and 1940 was PM.  In his personal handling of foreign affairs he failed to prevent war with Germany.  The picture that we all know is of him at Heston Airport in 1938 displaying a piece of paper and claiming "peace in our time".

But the picture shows a remarkable event.  In his late 60's he had taken to the sky to go to Hitler to attempt to prevent war in Europe.  This was astonishing given the etiquette and conventions of diplomacy in that age and especially when flying was a far riskier business.  Cameron's efforts are more like those of a charity chugger in the street on a cold wet day.   

Chamberlain did not enter Parliament until he was 49 years of age, the same age as Cameron is now.  Until the First World War he had been concerned with business, local affairs and family and had a reputation for probity and hard work.  Despite a late start he soon was given major responsibilities in government.

To what degree his ideas and policies in the 1920's and 30's until becoming Prime Minister are right or wrong is for debate.  But in 1937 he followed Stanley Baldwin into office having had a full and respected career in senior positions.

He was a safe pair of hands at the time.  Churchill was too wild, distrusted and heavily in debt, Eden too young but Chamberlain had the edge on Oliver Stanley and Duff Cooper, two "might have been" men lost to history.

This was a period when Britain wanted peace and it was clear that a large part of the electorate had that opinion.  There were troubles enough around the Empire and in Ireland and at home and the First World War was a vivid memory of the risks of Europe.  For many Hitler was a joke German with a vicious streak.  Those who did see him as a liar and a serious danger were a minority.

Chamberlain's problem and the source of his misreading Hitler was that he was a businessman cum politician who had been good at doing deals and fixing things.  He could usually find a way round.  Hitler did not do deals.  He might make promises but he would not honour them and Ribbentrop had told him Britain would not fight.

Chamberlain tried and failed to do what he had been used to doing.  He compounded this by a hesitancy in declaring war.  Given that the British armed forces were both unready and not equipped for any major European conflict, a situation he had inherited and begun to correct, it is not surprising.
                                                              
But this together with how badly things went in the first year and the shock of modern war and the effect on everyone and then the aftermath have meant that he is remembered as a failure.  So we forget his profound sense of duty and application and service to a greater cause.

Cameron is another kind of failure. Essentially,  a media spinner who had risen without trace as a special adviser he managed to swing the vote for Conservative leadership in 2005 on the basis of his image.  He had never held senior office and it shows.  He hopes to scoot off to became a travelling celebrity doing PR for the finance trades.

The coalition situation meant that fudge and nudge was the only way to work.  Now as Prime Minister he has little idea of how to run anything and his deal making skills are far too limited.  You need to know the detail and do the homework.  Cameron doesn't.

If those who study the markets are right and real problems arise, let along all the other issues in Europe and the world we may well find how little he can really to do and will pay the price.  Cameron has not really fixed anything or done any serious deal for our benefit.  And there is no record of achievement in government whatsoever.

He is not in the same league as Neville Chamberlain and never will be.  Chamberlain died in Heckfield in 1940 and there is a memorial to him in St. Michael's Church.  Across the aisle are other memorials of people connected in various ways to the Earl's of Home, the Duke of Wellington, Charles James Fox and the Grey's of Howick.

He is in good company.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Diversity By Numbers





In the Huffington Post David Miliband is quoted as saying that if we take in a lot more refugees it only amounts to 40 a year in each constituency, a political map rather than an administrative one.

In August 1972 when Idi Amin expelled the Ugandan Asians it was one family per parish to give it the imprimatur of faith. It did not work out like that.  One city that took in more than most was Leicester, now one of the UK urban areas said now to have people defined as white British to be in a minority.

This tale from The Mail on Thursday says that a high street there is an example of how extensive diversity is.  This is not a town centre street it is one of several in the inner ring of housing on a busy route out of town, the road to Coventry.

Then today Friday the story is expanded to show location and give some reference to the past.  As it happens this was a patch that I knew personally between 1940 and 1970 and indeed lived for a time on one of the side streets depicted.

It was the ground floor of a late Victorian or Edwardian building at £3 per week.  Zoopla now estimates the rental at £1820 a month for the house as student housing.  Probably the demand for student housing is as substantial here as in many towns arising from the huge expansion of higher education.

The inference in the articles and indeed by academics that what has happened represents "diversity" and before this came to be the local population was a strongly homogeneous group of like minded nationalist people all of one ethnic type.

But it wasn't like that at all. "Diversity" may, in our modern world, be assumed and purported to be solely ethnic with very limited criteria but in the past there were many and various serious divisions in the way people regarded each other.

There was a complex of pecking orders and distinctions that you knew and lived by.  A basic one was religion.  The Anglicans and the Dissenters were not the same and each sector was divided in itself.  High and Low on the one hand and among the Dissenters a rich variety of Congregations all firm in their beliefs.

There was a minority of Roman Catholics who tended to be apart and a very small Jewish community, largely in the medical profession.  When the Dominican's arrived to build a Priory with a large Church near the town centre there were strong protests and fears of the Inquisition.

But the landlady at their nearest pub' "The Daniel Lambert", a small discreet back street one, was of the view that when some of them visited; they called it "the other confessional", they were much to be preferred to the local licensing committee, then in the grip of the Methodists.

This kind of thing was only the beginning.  There were pecking orders of class, inevitably, manifested by housing location and any status conferred by position in one club or society or association or another.  There was a strong sector of Working Men Club's, born out of the Mechanics Institutes etc. which had its own structure.

Not only was there ordering by employment status and work but in the different firms and economic sectors.  There was a pecking order of engineering firms.  David Attenborough has moaned about his short period working at a button factory.  I knew the owner well, a good and decent man, David was lucky to be admitted there.

As for the origins of the then population there had been the usual coming and going.  The families of a good many in town had arrived from broadly the area of The Midlands but with others from further afield in Britain and Ireland.  There were a few Italians in the food trades and ice cream makers and others arriving from the war years, including quite a number of refugee Poles.

Many had come because the town had become very prosperous with a thriving, expanding versatile diversified industry and commerce.  It was a key town in the British "Mittelstand" of the early 20th Century.  It was badly damaged by post war high spending centralised government planning and controls and policies which leached the prosperity and prevented real growth of middle and small firm businesses.

The first of the migrants in numbers from Asia and Africa arrived when this was in train.  The radical changes in the local economy and their extent over the next few years was a very difficult business made much harder by the impact on housing and public services.  Another complex layer of diversity was being imposed on an existing one which became displaced.  The older one was affected because of the mid 20th Century secular trends and the economic and structural changes of those decades.

The academics and media of the present with their extreme, narrow and limited view of the past have obliterated the diverse reality of the ways of life in our communities as they were and had been before.  Then was bad and now is good in the Orwellian sense of political thought.

It is a pity that the LSE team did not nip across town to another part where there is a community of Algerians with interesting ideas on diversity and identity.

They might have tried "Molly O'Grady's" by the Market Place for a sample of traditional Leicester beer.  It used to be called "The Saracen's Head".

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Cartoon Characters





The US Presidential is beginning to warm up and could be fun, at least for the peoples in other countries.  With ongoing situational chaos in the markets, flocks of Black Swans and any number of intended consequences of this and that anything can and will happen.

One interesting perspective on all this can be found not in the reams of learned discussion and passionate political outpourings in the media at large but in the Dilbert cartoon feature and Scott Adam's blog that goes with it.

He has been running a set of ideas centred on the theory that in The West the old politics are dead and decaying and what we have now in the bright new world of the 21st Century is rule by people who are Master Persuaders, that is best at working the media and pulling the public relations strings.

Today he has come up with something that seems outlandish but does say something about who might think what and to what purpose.  This is about the difficult issue of Islam in The West and what might happen and an opinion of Senator Ted Cruz.

As we all know Mr. Donald Trump has ideas that have excited some comment.  His latest, according to a report seen, is that Brussels is a hell hole because of the recent inflow from the East.

In the past my visits there led me to believe it was boring more than anything, but that was before the EU became the imperial city that it is now.

When Prime Minister Cameron, the so-called leader of one of the lesser territories  returns from yet another of his supplicant visits and dusts off the knees of his trousers he tells us of its wonders and delights.

If Ted or Donald do become President then when Goofy Cameron goes to DC to beg for help next year it will be an interesting occasion, Walt Disney meets the Ealing comedies.

I am wondering about a side bet that during the second term of the Cruz or Trump Presidency Scotland will become a State of the Union along with Syria.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Thinking Caps





The National Hurricane Center has advised me that the season begins on 1st June and I should be prepared.  Meanwhile the debate goes on about weather, climate, the wind and rain and most of all where to book for the summer holiday, if any.

Also, there have been the reminders that 2016 is two hundred years after The Year Without Summer (Wikipedia).  This is something I knew long before Wiki' was but a fantasy idea in the minds of nerds with nothing better to do.

It arose from the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia that ejected so much ash and particle content into the sky that across the world weather conditions suffered radical change and extreme events occurred.

The scale of the human and economic damage in a world where agriculture was all was huge and the various consequences really did change nations, societies, thinking and ideas about government and who should rule and how.

At the moment it is evident that across the world most rulers are conducting business on a hand to mouth basis and in those with corruption endemic, hand to hand.  Short term thinking dominates and those who do want to think ahead are either ignored or got rid of.

A "big one" does not have to be a volcano or even a geo-physical event.  We humans have a talent for causing disasters when there is no need and no real purpose to it.  Also, we are told there are other things more important.

For example in the row about in or out of Europe, a major issue is said to be the employment rules affecting footballers.   Forget finance, trade, economics, the whole range of social issues, what matters is whether Doncaster Rovers can deal with player contracts.

It was thought that a post on the major challenges of our time might be useful, but the list was getting long and very complicated, so it was decided to skip it, after all there is football on the box.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Who Rules The World?





Looking at global wealth, trade and work raises the question of who actually rules the world and are progenitors of, or party or crucial to the real decisions that are made and how they are implemented and by whom?

We are aware that our Parliament and Civil Service is now at best a bit player in the great scheme of things.  There is the EU but this as is the UK subject to a range of international bodies.  When the chips are down in the great poker games of power it is the world big boys who deal the cards.

Douglas Carswell says re Cameron and Europe "But what about the businesses that want Britain to stay? That's true: there's Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Bank of  America - the bankers who brought us the last financial crisis, and are now trying to buy the referendum. There's the super-rich elites David Cameron was trying so hard to impress at Davos  Are these really people who have Britain's best interests at heart?"

Who are the key players at this level?  It is not as though they are a secret cabal, it is that our main stream media does not give them much if any attention.  It notices some of our leading figures and the celebrities, the footballers, the headline grabbers and the exhibitionists but not the people who really matter.

One such person is Peter Sutherland and there is a full Wikipedia article on him making clear the extent of his interests and it is not difficult to understand his involvement and influence.  Ask Tony and Cherie Blair for example.  For more about two aspects of his current work there are links:



I recall that at the LSE there was once an Environmental group concerned with the impact of population and the implications of the degradation of many of the Earth's resources.  Whether or not it was a coincidence the group disbanded not long after his arrival.  Moreover, the LSE seems to have narrowed its perspectives in a number of ways that fit in with the Sutherland thinking.

There is his role at the top of Goldman Sachs.  Looking at his time there, who else was dealing with it at the time, what it was involved in etc. would take a very long post to cover.  So what exactly is he?

He is one of the Arch Priests of Globalisation, for him it is the inevitable future, it is necessary and resistance is useless.  As an example migration means open doors, mass movements and the means to bring to an end the narrow nationalisms of the past and the structures, cultures and ways of life of recent centuries that impede global transformation.

He attended a school run by the Society of Jesus in Dublin, one of the intellectual cutting edges of Catholicism. How far he retains that faith is not known, but I recall being told that once a Jesuit, always a Jesuit in the mental structure and thinking.

I avoided the Jesuits as a youngster, but did know the Dominicans.  There are differences between the Orders and debates in the past between them have sometimes been fiery, in the literal sense.  I have no doubt that in past centuries I would have been toast.

He went onto University College, Dublin, a decent place according to family members.  Then he made a career in politics and business and moved quickly up the ladder into an international career.

What of the Sutherland name?  Long before I knew of him I had been looking for Sutherlands of the past, the family of a forebear in the early 19th Century in Glasgow then Greenock but from Lybster, up in Caithness.

Chasing names at the Public Records Office prior to the National Archive, I studied the Highland Fencible Corps, see Wikipedia, of the late 1790's.

A number of these regiments were raised at a time of war to replace the regular army at home for internal security and to deal with the added conflict in Ireland.  Some of them were sent to Ireland to put down rebellion and had Caithness recruits.

Among the Fencibles were Catholics so Scottish Catholics were putting down rebellion in Ireland to serve their King and Country.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if by wild chance Peter's forebear was one of these; some of the Fencibles did not go home, it is not something on his CV.

Similarly, if the James Sutherland of Caithness who served on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was one of his that might not quite match his personal sense of identity.

But to return to globalisation and Goldman Sachs, if you wonder why some of the intractable problems and massive changes taking place arise, you need to look no further than Peter and his friends and allies.

But it is no good praying for help.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A Trillion Here Or There





The BBC1 programme on The Trillion Pound Island about the Grand Cayman, still on I Player, if interested, was one that was very irritating.

Noisy, an severe attack of "presenteritis", a yapping posh bloke, meeting very important people who said little, flirting with sting rays who might have helped by stinging him, and condescending to the viewer and the lower orders, missed all the real targets.

It managed to make the business of tax avoidance glamorous and desirable while leaving us to think that all we have to do is abolish them to get the money to stave off austerity and avoid all the very difficult issues and decisions that need to be made for our futures.

One minor clip may me wince, heroically going up to the window of a large office block in the middle of town he fled crying "there is a big room full of desks, they are all empty" giving us the impression that the Kraken had been in town.

Doh, the building is full of new computing systems and the one time clerks etc. are all gone and part of the lost middle classes.

A large intelligent security man who had my every sympathy asked him what he was doing but did not get much sense.  Instead of talking to high up's like the Governor, a British Government stooge, and the Prime Minister, and mostly very rich people he might have asked others such as those in Britain affected by all this and the actual menial low wage people on the island.

Tesco was mentioned, so what about one of its suppliers who have been unable to extract payments?  Barclays, also, how about one of the many business borrowers who have been ruined?  Manchester United, so here am I, after a life time antipathy, feeling for their fans who can no longer afford to go to games.  But who were not mentioned?

HSBC, does the B now stand for "Bent"?  Deutsche Bank, forecast to cause the next big crash and owner of a huge number of UK freeholds of leasehold properties and stinging them rotten?  UBS, well I never.  Last but far from least Goldman Sachs, the Vampire Squid itself, allegedly.

The tax haven history, inevitably, is a long and complicated story.  You need to know about Lord Cameron Cobbold and Sir George Bolton of the Bank of England in the 50's and 60's.  This was a high tax age and in foreign affairs the American's were in charge and the Caribbean was in their back yard.

These were people who regarded themselves as New Age "Merchant Adventurers" destined to restore British leadership in world trade and finance and most of all prestige and the primacy of the City of London in economic and financial affairs.

Well, we know what happened next.  Another matter is what is the "now" exactly?  Both The City and the world of finance and banking is very different from what is was and is still changing and not just because of events in the last decade.  Looking at Switzerland, for example, once home to a network of private banks, they are now down to a handful in number with recent failures.

The programme did mention that Grand Cayman was still marked by the legacy of Hurricane Ivan of 2004 when it was one of the hardest hit places, low lying it was swamped by high seas.  The hurricane seasons have been quieter recently, but there is always that risk.  The Islands are close to the Grand Cayman Trench, with its several dormant/extinct (?) volcanoes.

But it will not need a major geophysical event to cause big trouble.  The real problems lie in the whirring high powered computers in the office blocks that dominate the landscape.

And not even the polite security man can do anything about it.