Issue 8: 2015 06 25: crossword solution

25 June 3015

Solution to issue 7 crossword

 

Generally Marine

 

Across

1 Schooner

6 Ankara

8 Bargee

9 Locker

10 Matelot

12 Oregano

13 Sinking

15 Hawkins

16 Inland

18 Addles

20 Stoker

21 Tientsin

 

Down

1 Sub

2 Horatio Nelson

3 Openly

4 Rail

5 Falkland Isles

7 Airlocks

10 Midships

11 Tough

14 Sweden

17 Dart

19 Sun

Issue 8: 2015 06 25: contents

 25 June 2015: Issue 8

Week in Brief

UK

International

Financial

Comment

The threat from outside the bubble by John Watson

How public opinion is beginning to rock the consensus on which Europe is built

Who was Ioannis Kapodistrias? by Neil Tidmarsh

A look at the historic link between Greece and Russia

End Austerity now! by J.R.Thomas

There may be a case for more spending but austerity benefits everyone.

Features

Trouble in the Glens by J.R. Thomas

Land reform in Scotland will increase the cost of the large estates but will probably not challenge their viability

 Brits in Brive by Robert Rhodes

One couple’s experience of a move to France

Anniversaries as dates by Chin Chin

Learning dates can open up a whole new world

Crossword

“Conflict”

Solution to last week’s crossword

Earlier Editions

Issue 4: 28 May 2015

Issue 5: 4 June 2015

Issue 6:11 June 2015

Issue 7 :18 June 2015

Issue 8: Crossword – Conflict

25 June 2015

Crossword by Boffles

Conflict

To see a printable version of this crossword

Issue 8: Crossword – Conflict

25 June 2015

Crossword by Boffles

Conflict

 

SS4

Across

    7  Italian geographical feature Hannibal encountered (4,9)

    8  Glorious Sussex racecourse, slightly less glorious WW2 military operation (8)

    9  Tet Offensive battle (3)

  10  Borders are often treated thus after a war (7)

  12  Mission the scene of a famous last stand (5)

  14  It was the bow that won it (5)

  16  Napoleonic marshall faced by Wellington’s Lines of Torres Vedras (7)

  19  Famous sub-machine gun (4)

  20  Most castles have these defensive walls (8)

  22  Another Italian geographical feature which was bitterly contested (5,7)

 

Down

    1  Treaty organisation whose objetive is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members (4)

    2  Town where French troops suffered appalling casualties (6)

    3  In battle, you need soldiers with his qualities (7)

    4  Sporting conflicts can have five or seven players like this (1,4)

    5  A major battle in India and the turning point of the Japanese offensive (6)

    6  Crimean engagement (8)

  11  Ancient battle inspiring a run (8)

  13  Life saver if there is a phosgene attack (3,4)

  15  Unsuccessfully fought the waves (6)

  17  Decisive WW2 battle took place in his city (6)

  18  Scottish Robert who gave the English a beating (5)

  21  Scene of long struggle featured in poems by two pre-eminent classical authors

Issue 8: 2015 06 25: The Threat From Outside the Bubble

25 June 2015

The threat from outside the Bubble

by John Watson

In my next life I think I would like to work at the EU Commission. That is not because I love Brussels, although to be fair the chocolate there is excellent. Nor is it the stimulating company; I am sure there are lots of jolly people but the fact that they are continually supplemented by those who are regarded as a nuisance at home must have a dilutive effect. No, it isn’t the gravy train either; nor is it the undoubted pulling power of the Commissioner’s uniform. No, it is none of these prosaic attractions, great as they may be. Rather it is the wish to live in a bubble where everyone has a common world view, a world where differences can be settled in a civilised way because disagreements are as to method rather than as to final destination, a constructive world where difficulties can be smoothed over with allocations of cash – a sort of FIFA without the football, I suppose.

The EU’s bubble is built around a common faith in the project. There are differences as to the degree of union which will ultimately be achieved but a general acceptance, for the time being anyway, that the EU is ratcheting towards a system of closer co-operation rather than the other way. The sense is at its strongest in those countries which have adopted the euro and that is why, until very recently, no real consideration was given to how one of them might leave the currency union. Bubble-think said that the euro would bring prosperity to all its members; because that was the consensus view, the ultimate triumph of the euro was assured.

In times of prosperity that worked well. One or two recidivists apart, there was a general enthusiasm to join up, nowhere stronger than among the poorer nations in Europe who saw euro membership as a way of accessing the prosperity they could see elsewhere. It wasn’t surprising, then, that the Greeks decided to join and, bubble-think being what it was, that the tests were fudged to allow them to do so. The prosperity which flowed from the great euro project would paper over any cracks.

Austerity, of course, has change perceptions. It is one thing to belong to the euro when it brings a prospect of unlimited wealth. It is another to obey its rules when they involve making cuts in your citizens’ standard of living. That hasn’t changed the mindset in the bubble, of course. There, a country leaving the euro is still regarded as a disaster to be avoided at all cost. What it has done is to change the game at a different level. It is now the European electorates who are questioning whether they are prepared to pay the price.

Syriza’s triumph in the Greek polls was a symptom of this. It won its victory on an anti-austerity platform and its leaders must have reckoned that the other EU members would live with its program because, as members of the bubble, they could not contemplate an exit. Time will tell whether that approach was right but the resistance to it has been far higher than they must have expected. That is because other governments, and particularly those whose citizens have already taken the pain of austerity, are having to worry about their own electoral prospects and the way in which their publics will react if Greece is seen to be treated too generously. UKIP may have had a hard time in the British general election but the Spanish government will have to beat off a left-wing anti-austerity challenger within the next year and there are a number of right-wing parties hoping to make hay out of the EU’s uncertain response to migration across its southern border.

The inevitable result of all must be to break up the consensus on which the EU has traditionally operated. The strains of austerity and immigration are going to mean that voters will take far more interest in the mechanisms of the EU than they have in the past and governments will have to meet their concerns rather than just getting swept along with the tide. What would do in an age of plenty will not do as Europe comes under pressure, so EU institutions will now be tested to see if they can continue in their current form. Then we will find out whether the group-think of the past has led to them being built on unsure foundations, on the shifting sands of everlasting prosperity. It certainly promises to get rough.

No, on reflection, I think I would rather come back as a rock star.

 

Issue 8: 2015 06 25: Anniversaries as Dates

25 June 2015

Anniversaries as Dates

by Chin Chin

As anniversary years go, 2015 is something of a vintage. We have just had Magna Carta and Waterloo, both duly celebrated by solemn ceremonies and supplements in the press. In September there is the 700th anniversary of Agincourt. No doubt that will be celebrated too – probably by an outbreak of archery competitions.

Each of those anniversaries represents two quite different things. First, there is the event itself. In the case of Magna Carta, that was a curtailment of royal power. In the case of Agincourt and Waterloo, there were serious kickings for the French and, if you feel that we shouldn’t celebrate the defeat of a country which is now an ally, go to Versailles and see how the French portray their own victories. Your sympathy will soon dry up.

The second thing is simply a date, a reference point in the passing of time. If history is a record of events, then to make sense of that record we need a way to order them in our minds and to identify when they occurred. That means learning dates. They can be the dates of battles, the dates of the English kings and queens or the dates on which new fashions in hosiery were introduced to the market. It doesn’t much matter which, although royal dates have the advantage that they occur fairly regularly. The key is to have a framework to rely on for context; a framework will also jog the memory because that is how the human memory works.

It is hard to persuade the younger generation that there was life before Facebook, let alone life before computers or even televisions had been invented. Yes, they will grudgingly admit that there must have been some sort of existence, the educational system has done that much for them, but to call it “life”? After all, what on earth happened in the evenings?

The answer to that, of course, is parlour games. No, not just the naughty sort like “sardines in swimwear,” which we all remember with such affection, but good healthy character-forming  games like “I spy” and “I packed in my trunk”. The latter was a memory game where each participant round the table had to recite a list of items already mentioned by the others and then add another one at the end. A novice at the game might find a list of twelve or so quite challenging but for the serious professional (say someone playing for large amounts of money which he owed to a ruthless Chinese syndicate because of an unwise bet on a hopscotch match) there were sophisticated techniques which enabled a much longer list to be recalled. One of them was to associate each item on the list with the person who had added it. The trouble with that was that it became hard to keep a straight face. Just try associating a bikini with someone who looks like Boris Johnson. Then try linking a pair of working boots with just about anyone from Hampstead. Then try associating a spiky dog collar with a buxom young lady…… no, on second thoughts don’t try that. It’s all right, editor, I’ll take a sip from my medicine bottle and move on.

The second technique is to have by rote a standard list of 100 or so anodyne objects against which each item in the game could be matched. When your turn came you simply went down the list but always gave the name of the associated object rather than the one on the list itself. Much the same technique is used in the best “improve your memory” courses, although how it enables you to find the car keys you have mislaid I am not quite sure.

Anyway this is where the list of dates comes in. Have a list of dates at about thirty-year intervals at your fingertips and try to associate events with a place in the sequence. You will be surprised at how successful it can be. Imagine that an art dealer, a reliable one who drops his aitches and wears a flat cap, is trying to sell you a painting. It is of Robin Hood and his merry men in the Greenwood eating a beef and potato salad. Okay, not a salad exactly, they are far too macho for that, say beef and potato wrapped in stinging nettles. Anyway the dealer swears that it is a work contemporary with its subject and asks the high price you would expect for a rare piece of mediaeval art.

Now you know that Robin Hood was around in the days of good King Richard and one of your dates is his accession in 1189. You also know that the potato came to Britain with Walter Raleigh, who was around when good Queen Bess died in 1603. Bingo, the painting cannot be contemporary. The potato dates it as surely as radiocarbon. It must have been painted in Sir Walter’s day – perhaps from an earlier photograph.

In practice most things are dated by the reigns of the kings and queens. A nice piece of George II furniture? It must be between 1727 and 1760. A nice Regency house? That must be about 1815 – we know that was Regency because it was the Prince Regent who received the French eagles after Waterloo. And so on. A list of dates puts a whole indexing system at your command and a language too. It is one thing to know that a particular form of foot indicates that a chest of drawers is William and Mary but that doesn’t tell you much unless you know when William and Mary actually reigned.

If we want our children to understand and appreciate what is around them we have to give them the power to see it for what it is and to put it in some sort of context. Off on a long haul flight to Florida? Need something for the family to do? You could do worse than start with William the Conqueror and work your way through.

 

Issue 8:2015 06 25; overseas news

25 JUNE 2015

Week in Brief:OVERSEAS NEWS

 

GREECE: An emergency meeting in Brussels between Greece and the European Council and the European Central Bank to discuss compromise Greek proposals on pension cuts and VAT increases was postponed in chaos and confusion because Alexis Tsipras failed to submit the proposals in time. Nevertheless, news of the Greek proposals was enough to trigger a rally in European markets. 

A deal between Greece and its creditors is needed by the end of this month (when the current bailout expires) if a new bailout loan of 7.2 billion euros is to be released. Without it, Greece will not be able to pay the 1.5 billion euros debt instalment due to the IMF next week or pay this month’s state pensions and wages.

 Greek banks are on the verge of collapse, having lost 5 billion euros through money leaving the country. Germany has urged Greece to impose capital controls to prevent further capital flight, as a banking collapse could trigger a Greek exit irrespective of any deal over the country’s debt and economic reform. The banks are dependent on 86 billion euros in emergency aid from the ECB, which could be withdrawn if no deal is reached. 

See also under RUSSIA below. 

DENMARK: The Social Democrat government of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the country’s first female prime minister, was defeated in elections. 

FRANCE: Two hundred policemen raided the headquarters of the Twelve Tribes, a fundamentalist Christian sect, arrested four adults and took four children into care. The international sect, founded in 1972 in the US, has been accused of racism and violent abuse in several countries. 

WikiLeaks has published documents indicating that America’s NSA spied on the French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.

 ITALY: The EU has launched a military mission against the trafficking of migrants from north Africa, with its HQ in Rome and an “intelligence fusion cell” in Sicily. HMS Enterprise will replace HMS Bulwark in a fleet of eight vessels lead by the Italian carrier Cavour and accompanied by two submarines, three surveillance aircraft, two drones and two helicopters. The mission will engage in intelligence gathering until the EU secures a UN mandate for military action in Libya. 

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign ministers renewed sanctions against Russia for another six months in protest against “Russia’s destabilising role in eastern Ukraine.” The restrictions on energy, arms and finance deals were imposed last July.  

SWITZERLAND: The Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, said that the police are investigating 104 financial transactions and that investigators are examining 53 cases of suspected money-laundering in connection with FIFA’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

HUNGARY: The prime minister, Victor Orban, has announced plans to build a fence along Hungary’s 109 mile border with Serbia to keep out migrants. At least 54,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have entered Hungary this year. Hungary has also suspended the EU’s Dublin regulations which require a country to take back illegal migrants who enter the EU through that country. 

GEORGIA: One man was killed and another injured by a rare white tiger which had escaped from Tbilisi’s flood-damaged zoo. The tiger was shot dead by policemen. 

UKRAINE: The Kiev government has forcibly disbanded the infamous Tornado militia and arrested its commander and six other members on charges of abduction, torture, rape and murder during the struggle against pro-Moscow rebels. The militia is one of several pro-Kiev rogue volunteer forces which the US is encouraging Ukraine to bring under control, and which have prompted Russia to claim that the government has links to fascist groups. 

RUSSIA: The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras met President Putin at the St Petersburg Economic Forum. He was the only European leader present. They discussed investment and trade projects. Mr Tsipras was openly critical of Europe and the EU in his public speeches. The Greek energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, signed a deal to build a Greek extension of the planned Russian gas pipeline through southern Europe.

The Greek defence minister, Panos Kammenos, met the Russian delegation at the Paris air show, to prepare for discussions about Greek/Russian military technology co-operation in Moscow next month.

 EGYPT: The army is digging a trench along the frontier with Gaza to stop smugglers tunnelling under the border. The trench will be 20 metres deep. However, the Egyptian authorities will be opening the border for three days at Rafah for the second time this month.

YEMEN: Five bombs exploded in the capital Sanaa, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more. The targets were four Shia mosques and the home of a Houthi official. 

A fist-fight broke out in Geneva where UN-led peace talks are taking place between conflicting Yemeni factions, when the rebel Houthi force gave a press conference. 

SYRIA: Government airstrikes killed 20 children at a mosque in Ghariya. A government rocket attack killed 24 people (including 5 children and fourteen women) in Douma. Rebel bombing killed and wounded dozens of people in government-held Aleppo. 

Kurdish forces (YPG) consolidated their hold on the eastern half of Turkey’s border with Syria, by taking area around the town of Giri Sor, and the town and military base of Ein Issa which is only 30 miles from the Isis capital Raqqa. Isis are digging in around Raqqa, preparing for a Kurdish advance. However, a YPG spokesman said that the Kurdish priority is to secure Kurdish territory rather than conquest. 

Isis has blown up two historic mausoleums built over the graves of early Islamic figures in the ancient city of Palmyra. They have also planted explosives around the Temple of Bel, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the local Palmyra News Updates. Syrian forces are poised to counter-attack against the modern city, and it is feared that Isis might blow up the historic city when they do. 

The war in Syria is the single largest cause of refugees in the world, according to a UN report published this week. The report says there are nearly 60 million displaced people around the world.

IRAN: Iran’s parliament voted to ban foreign inspectors from “military, security, and sensitive non-nuclear sites, as well as documents and scientists.” America is hoping to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran by the end of this month, offering to lift western sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities. Such a deal would have to involve access to military bases for foreign inspectors.  

Two hundred women with specially-issued tickets were barred from a men’s volleyball match between Iran and the US, according to the Iranian volleyball federation. 

AFGHANISTAN: Seven Taliban bombers and gunmen attacked the parliament building in Kabul. They were all killed by Afghan soldiers. A woman and a child also died, and 31 people were injured. The Taliban are renewing their attacks on the country after last year’s withdrawal of Western troops. More than 2,300 Afghan soldiers and policemen have been killed this year. 

LIBYA: There was a popular uprising against Isis in the town of Derna, which Libya’s army is poised to retake. 

CHAD: Two suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in the capital N’Jadema. The prime minister Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet banned burkas to prevent terrorists from using them for concealment and disguise. 

NIGERIA: Two girl suicide bombers killed about 30 people during morning prayers at a mosque in northeast Nigeria. 

INDIA: On the first International Yoga Day, the prime minister Narendra Modi joined nearly 40,000 others in Delhi to break the world record for the largest ever yoga session. India’s Muslims criticised him for politicising yoga, originally a Hindu activity. 

PAKISTAN: A medical state of emergency has been announced, after nearly 700 people died in a three-day heatwave. 

NORTH KOREA: The state news agency admitted that the worst drought in 100 years has resulted in widespread crop-failure. 

HONG KONG: The legislative council debated China’s new rules for the election of Hong Kong’s leaders, which propose that Hong Kong can vote for a leader but Beijing will select the candidates. There were protests for and against. Ten people were arrested under suspicion of preparing a bomb. The MPs eventually voted to reject China’s proposals, calling them “fake democracy”. 

THAILAND: A 75 year old man from Oman who flew to Bangkok for treatment for a heart problem has gone down with MERS (camel flu). The deadly airborne viral illness originated in Saudi Arabia and has killed 23 people in South Korea in the last month.  

USA: A shortage of trained pilots is forcing the US air force to reduce drone combat patrols from 65 to 60 a day. About 240 pilots a year resign due to long hours and stress; the air force can train only 180 annually. Drone pilots work six days in a row, 13 or 14 hours a day. 

Nine people were murdered during bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The victims were all black and their church, a historical and spiritual centre for the black community and the civil rights movement, has the longest-standing African-American congregation in the south. A 21 year old white supremacist, Dylann Roof, has been arrested. His use of the Confederate flag, the banner of the slave-owning Southern states in the civil war, has prompted calls for its withdrawal from the public sphere. 

Ash Carter, the defence secretary, began a tour of Europe to promote a resolute front among NATO allies facing an increase in Russian military activity.  

Taylor Swift persuaded Apple to pay royalties to recording artists for the three-month trial period which Apple is offering free to customers who sign up to its new streaming service Music. Apple was insisting that artists should let it give their work away for the first three months of each customer’s subscription. 

MEXICO: Ten people were shot dead when a gang of thieves attacked a beer hall in the city of Monterrey. 

THE MOON: The director general of the European Space Agency, Professor Johann-Dietrich Worner, hopes that European governments will fund the building of a village on the Moon, to replace the International Space Station when it is decommissioned in 2024.

 

 

 

Issue 8:2015 06 25:Who Was Ioannis Kapodistrias?

25 June 2015

Who was Ioannis Kapodistrias?

by Neil Tidmarsh 

The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras flew to Russia this week to meet with President Putin at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum. But his first engagement on arrival was to lay a wreath at the monument to Ioannis Kapodistrias in Saint Petersburg’s Grecheskaya Ploshchad (Greek Square) and to address Russians of Greek descent there. 

Who was Ioannis Kapodistrias? This is a good question to consider while the relationships between Greece and the Euro, Greece and Europe, Greece and Russia and indeed Europe and Russia hang in the balance. 

The University of Athens is named ‘Kapodistrion’ after him; his face appears on the 20 lepta Greek Euro coin; there are statues of him in Switzerland and Slovenia as well as Russia. But the name is not well known in the West. Not many people here would be able to hazard an answer to the question “Who was the first head of state of modern Greece on its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1827, and what was its currency?” Those few who could would probably say “King Otto I, and the modern Drachma.” They’d be wrong on both counts. 

Ioannis Kapodistrias was born in 1776, in Corfu, of aristocratic stock. He became a doctor, and when Russia occupied Corfu and the other Ionian Islands in 1799 during the French Revolutionary Wars he came under Russian influence; he was appointed director of the military hospital and became a minister of the new Ionian Islands state. In 1809 he entered the Russian diplomatic service. He became Russian ambassador to Switzerland. In 1815 he was sent to the Congress of Vienna as the Russian minister. Eventually Tsar Alexander I made him Foreign Minister of Russia. 

In 1827 the Treaty of London was signed by Britain, France and Russia to support Greece in its struggle for independence against the Ottoman Turks. The three great powers defeated the Ottoman fleet in the naval battle of Navarino later that year; Greece was declared independent and its National Assembly elected Ioannis Kapodistrias as its first head of state, with the title Governor. Yes, the founding father of modern Greece was a Russian politician. 

He found a chaotic, backward and impoverished country still fighting the Ottoman Empire and riven with conflicts between different factions which more or less amounted to civil war. He began an energetic programme to modernise and reform the country’s economy, military and politics. He founded a new currency, the Phoenix, for the reborn and newly-risen Greece – with a loan of 1.5 million roubles from Russia. 

Greece and Russia shared a religion – Eastern Orthodox Christianity – and many geopolitical interests. At either end of the Ottoman Empire, they had a common cause in its decline. Russia was eager to seize territory from it, and Greece was still at war with it. Throughout the nineteenth century, Russia fought wars against Turkey in support of and supported by Greece: the war of 1828-29 which forced the Ottoman government to recognise Greek autonomy; the Crimean War of 1854-55, with Greece invading Thessaly and Epirus and causing the Epirus revolt and uprisings in Crete; and the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, with Greece gaining Thessaly and small parts of Epirus as part of the Treaty of Berlin. 

Russia, unlike Britain and France, was willing to help Kapodistrias force recalcitrant Greek factions to bow to his will. He called in Russian troops to restore order when a dispute between the governor of Laconia province and commanders of freedom-fighters broke out in armed conflict. In 1831, a revolutionary attempt to seize the Greek navy was put down by a Russian admiral and Russian forces. 

But reforming and modernising Greece was just too tough a job. By 1831, less than four years into the job, Kapodistrias was widely hated. He had refused to call the National Assembly and was reigning as a despot. Many blamed his autocratic measures on the Russian ideas and influences he had embraced. On October 9 he was assassinated on the steps of the church of Saint Spyridon in his capital Nafplion by the brother and son of a rebellious subject he had tried to arrest. 

His brother Augustinos succeded him as governor but his rule was brief, ending after six months of deepening chaos. In 1832 Otto I, the son of King Ludwig of Bavaria, became the first king of the new Kingdom of Greece, bringing with him German influences and ideas which his regents tried to impose on Greece and which quickly became very unpopular…

And the Phoenix, the Russian-backed and Russian-financed attempt at a new currency? It was a failure. As few as 12,000 coins were struck as Greece lacked precious metals. Only 300,000 paper notes were printed, but, as the country had no underlying assets to back them up, foreign currencies such as the French franc or the British pound or even the Turkish kurus were widely used instead. With the founding of the Greek monarchy, the modern Drachma was established. Subject to runaway inflation, it went through three incarnations – first modern drachma of 1832, second modern drachma of 1944, third modern drachma of 1953 – until it was superseded by the Euro on January 1, 2001. But that’s another story altogether…

Or is it? Perhaps Tsipras found himself muttering “Same old story” as he stood in Grecheskaya Ploshchad contemplating Ioannis Kapodistrias’s life and works. Reforming and modernising Greece is just too tough a job. A currency conjured up out of thin air can just as easily disappear back into thin air. Greeks don’t take to Germanic ideas of efficiency and discipline. Lessons from the past, repeating themselves in the present. And in the future? Tsipras would do well to remind himself that the Greeks took to Kapodistria’s Russian-style autocrasy no better than they took to Otto’s German-style discipline and efficiency. That even those millions of roubles couldn’t make the Phoenix fly for a newly-independent Greece. That Russian soldiers ended up on Greek soil coercing Greek citizens.

And something for President Putin to ask himself as he prepared his offers to Tsipras: that 1.5 million rouble loan to Greece in 1828 – did Greece ever pay it back?

 

Issue 8: 2015 06 25: UK News

25 June 2015

Week in Brief: UK NEWS

WAGES: According to figures published by the Office of National Statistics, the rate of increase in wages has now climbed to 2.7% per annum, the highest level since 2007. Private sector wages are rising at 3.3% and wages in the public sector are rising at 0.3%. Although unemployment is steady, employment has dropped slightly.

CHILCOTT ENQUIRY: It now appears that the conclusions of the Chilcott enquiry into the Iraq war will be delayed by a further year. Currently there is no publication date, something which makes it difficult to assess the achievements or otherwise of those involved in the conflict.

CHILD POVERTY ACT: The government is proposing to revise or repeal provisions of the Child Poverty Act which commit it to ensuring that by 2020 not more than 10% of children live in relative poverty, i.e. in a home whose income is below 60% of the average. The nature of the existing definition means that any increase in pensions moves more children into relative poverty.

TROOP CARRIER CRASH: A collision between troop carriers on Salisbury Plain has left two soldiers critically injured among other casualties.

ED BALLS: Mr Balls will take up a fellowship at Harvard where he was previously a postgraduate student. It is understood that his work will focus on “financial stability”.

MOTHER ATTACKED: A pregnant woman was attacked in south London, the assault having been intended to kill, and having the effect of killing, her unborn child. It is not thought to have been a random attack.

TOP GEAR: Chris Evans is to be the new host of top gear. Neither Mr May nor Mr Hammond will appear on the show.

MATHS TEACHING: Trials run by Cambridge University and University College London indicate that the use of Asian teaching methods, which include a variety of approaches to the same concepts, materially improve children’s maths performance.

REFURBISHMENT OF PARLIAMENT: A report prepared by Deloittes sets out a range of options for refurbishing the Palace of Westminster. The most expensive option is for a rolling refurbishment program with MPs and peers continuing to work in the building. This is estimated to take thirty-two years and cost £5.7 billion. In contrast, if the building was empty, a radical overhaul could be carried out in six years at a cost of £3.9 billion.

SELECT COMMITTEES: The chairmen and chairwomen of the twenty-seven Commons select committees have now been appointed. They include Jesse Norman (culture media and sport), Frank Field (work and pensions), Keith Vaz (home affairs), and Meg Hilier (public accounts committee).

WATERLOO: Thursday 18 June was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Among various re-enactments and celebrations, a service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral at which the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were present. There was a reading by Count Blucher von Wahlstatt, a direct descendant of the Prussian general.

RAIL STRIKE: members of ASLEF, the railway union, will strike on Wednesday, July 8 in a dispute over pay.

SIR TIM HUNT: There has been widespread criticism of University College London for forcing Sir Tim Hunt to resign because of a joke he made about women in the laboratory. A number of Nobel prize winners have come to Sir Tim’s defence and a leaked document written by a European Commission Official casts doubts on original reports of what Sir Tim actually said.

CANCER: Analysis by Norwegian scientists has revealed a high level of fraud or error in published papers concerning cancer.

New guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence are expected to increase the patients referred for cancer tests to near 2 million in the next year. Currently Britain has more cancer deaths per head of population than other European countries and it is thought that this may be a consequence of poor diagnosis.

RSPCA: Peter Watson-Smith, who compares the slaughter of animals to the Holocaust and believes that the public should follow a wholly plant-based diet, has been elected to the ruling council of the RSPCA. Also appointed is Mr Lyons who believes that pet owners should have to sit exams.

BARRISTER ARRESTED: Mohammed Khan, who is alleged to have advised his client to feign illness, has been arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. Mr Khan, who denies the allegations, has been released on bail.

MANSLAUGHTER CONVICTION: The manager of a farm owned by the Earl of Selbourne has been convicted of manslaughter following the death of two workers who entered a low-oxygen cooler to choose perfect apples to exhibit at a fruit show.

STRAND BUILDINGS SAVED: King’s College London has withdrawn the application for planning permission which would have involved the demolition of a historic row of Georgian buildings in the Strand. A revised plan will be submitted in due course.

STOP AND SEARCH: An increase of 23% in the number of London stabbings in the year to May is being linked to the reduction in Stop and Search undertaken last year and may result in a targeted increase in its use.

BBC: Mr Mosey, now Master of Selwyn College Cambridge, has published memoirs, serialised in “The Times”, describing his career in the BBC, including as editorial director and as editor of the Today program. The memoirs – which deal with political bias, the Jiimmy Savile affair, remuneration policies and disjointed management – may be unhelpful to the BBC when its charter comes up for renewal next year

GOVE’S GRAMMAR: Mr Gove, newly appointed Lord Chancellor, has circulated “Ministerial Correspondence Preferences” setting standards for grammar to be used in his letters and briefing papers. This is normal practice for a new minister but some of his requirements, such as his insistence that the noun “impact” should not be used as a verb, have given rise to controversy amongst grammarians.

NURSING SHORTFALL: The Royal College of Nursing is concerned that new rules, under which people from outside the European Economic Area must earn £35,000 per annum if they are to stay in the UK beyond six years, will force many nurses recruited by the NHS from overseas to leave. Replacing the nurses would involve considerable additional expenditure on hiring and training.

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: New guidance is being drawn up to help teachers to deal with disruptive behaviour in the classroom. OFSTED believes that schools can lose up to 1 hour a day to disruptive behaviour.

RED DEVILS: Corporal Wayne Shorthouse of the Red Devils parachute team rescued a colleague, whose chute was not fully open, by holding on to it until the two men landed in Whitehaven harbour in Cumbria.

EXAM CHEATING: A study conducted by The Student Room indicates that one in ten candidates cheated in the last round of public and university examinations.

TENNIS: Andy Murray won the Aegon Championship at Queen’s, beating Kevin Anderson 6-3,6-4.

CRICKET: England beat New Zealand by three wickets in the last of the 5 one-day internationals to win the series 3:2.

 

Issue 8: 2015 06 25: Financial news

25 June 2015

Week in Brief: BUSINESS AND THE CITY 

WORKING HARDER: Or, at least, more efficiently. The Bank of England has several times in recent years expressed serious concerns over UK productivity – lack of, that is, compared with the USA and most of Europe – blaming factors from difficult commuting conditions to the banks propping up poorly managed businesses in the aftermath of the recession. Whatever the reason, output for every hour worked is estimated to be nearly 15% down post recession compared with output levels before. The Bank’s economists were especially concerned that with wage levels rising, a failure to match this in upturns in productivity would create inflationary pressures and limit tax yields.

However, over the last six months rises in remuneration seem to be matched by increases in hourly output. The man in the street, or woman in the office, might not be surprised that paying people more encourages them to work harder, but economists like to see proof of such theories and this is one that seems to be working out. Output is rising and the Bank is expecting this trend to continue.

The Bank also called this week for measures to further control bankers’ bonuses and to lengthen the clawback period on them to ten years. If this goes through,  economists will doubtless be measuring the output of bankers to see what it does to their productivity.

EVERYTHING GOING: The government is well under way with its asset disposal programme following Mr Osborne’s return to the Treasury in May. Latest is another tranche of the residential mortgages which were bought from failing mortgage providers – principally Northern Rock – and housed in UK Asset Resolution, the government agency created to hold such items, and also the government shareholdings in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group. This is a good time to be selling the mortgages – all secured on individual dwellings but sold in wholesale tranches to banks and finance companies. House prices are rising, and defaults on mortgages have fallen fast, helped by continuing low interest rates. As employment and real wages rise, things should get better still, and there is plenty of demand among bankers and their kin to hold long-term, diverse, but reliable financial instruments. UK Asset Resolution had around £100bn of mortgages at the peak; the latest sale – at a premium to book value, thus showing a useful profit for the Treasury coffers, brings the total sold to £50bn. The rest are likely to go over the next 18 months.

OIL PRICE SPECULATION: The oil price has been hovering around the US$65 per barrel mark for many months now, after diving to US$50 late last autumn but quickly bouncing back to current levels. These levels are not high enough to sustain many high cost operations, such as those in geographically hostile areas and at sea, and the number of operating wells has been declining (quite quickly in the USA, also due to low cost shale extraction). At the same time many national economies are picking up and use of oil based products is expanding.

Now the possible consequences of those two graph lines are being pondered by oil industry analysts, and speculation on the next significant oil price adjustment is being ventilated in the market. Several hedge funds are believed to be starting to put their money where their analyst’s pencils are landing – which is for a significant increase in the price this autumn and further upward movement next year – to a new equilibrium somewhere between US$80 and US$90. This, should it happen, will of course not be good news for most consumers, the price of almost everything being driven by the black barrels. On the other hand it will come as a relief to oil companies committed to expensive extraction programmes. And to billionaire oligarchs all over the world who will find their fortunes piling up that much faster. The next area of cerebration for the hedge fund analysts will be to work out where those capital flows might be going – and get in first.

SWEET NEWS FOR AMBASSADORS: Ferrero, the Italian chocolate maker best known for Ferrero Rocher (allegedly a staple of ambassadorial cocktail parties) but also producers of Nutella and Kinder, has announced a £112m agreed takeover deal for Thornton’s, the UK based public company which makes a range of mid-market specialist chocolate, much of it sold through its own chain of shops. Thornton’s has struggled with its retail operations for many years and has increasingly focussed on forming a premium confectionary offer for supermarkets. On the face of it, the two companies should be a good fit, giving Ferrero a UK retail presence and a line of premium products which complements its own.

Ferrero though is family owned, tightly managed, and strong on cost control. It has already announced a major strategic review of the Thornton’s business which will no doubt focus on finding economies and improving returns. Whilst it is likely to increase the products offered through the 242 Thornton’s shops to try to improve profitability there, the new owners may cut Thornton’s head office staffing and in the longer term relocate its production facilities (currently mostly in Derbyshire) elsewhere. But at least that embassy party should be offering a wider range of choccies in the future.

ALL BETS ON: More merger news – this time in the gaming and betting industry. Two of the industry giants, Ladbrokes and Gala Coral have announced that they are in preliminary talks regarding a merger. Gala Coral, itself the product of a merger between the two eponymous firms, is owned by a group of private equity houses who were believed to be intending to float the business on the UK Stock Exchange this year or next. Half year earnings prior to tax and depreciation were £135m for the last half year on turnover of £684m, giving a possible flotation value of £1.5bn to £2bn. Ladbrokes is about the same size and a merger would offer a cheaper and easier route out of their investment for the owners of Gala Coral. For Ladbrokes it gives economies of scale and a greater presence in the market, but some duplication of retail units. This is one of the issues faced by both these businesses – betting and gambling is increasingly online and highly automated. The day of the slightly raggy shop with odds boards, multiple copies of the Racing Post, and TV screens showing horseraces from all points of the Kingdom and beyond is vanishing fast. Both parties need to reinvigorate and update their businesses and this would be a sensible way to begin.

The deal is far from the finishing line yet – detailed terms have to be hammered out, and the last attempt between the same parties (in 1998) was rejected on quasi monopoly grounds. It seems unlikely that either party will offer odds on the outcome of the negotiations.

 

KEY MARKET INDICES: (at 23 June 2015; comments refer to change on week; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.5%, unchanged: 3 month 0.56% (steady); 5 year 1.62% (rising).

Europe€: 1 mth -0.09% (steady); 3 mth -0.4% (steady); 5 year 0.45% (steady)

US$: 1 mth 0.21% (steady); 3 mth 0.45% (steady); 5 year 1.77% (easing)

The Euro has steadied after recent volatility. The situation in Greece may yet cause further movement. Sterling longer term rates are slowly moving up as the market reflects on how the Bank of England may start to manage current growth patterns.

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.41, £ slightly stronger

£/$: 1.57, £ slightly stronger

Euro/$: 1.13, steady

Gold oz: $1185, slight rise

Oil, Brent Crude: $63.34, falling slightly, but within recent patterns

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 6,831. FTSE 350: 3,784

Key indicators continue recent stable patterns. The stock market has seen a slight movement upward over the last week, but not statistically significant. The bond market continues to be more volatile as several major funds continue to try to exit their holdings, fearing rising returns will push bond prices down further.

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