Issue 26: 2015 10 29 contents

29 October 2015: Issue 26

Week in Brief            


Autumn in Derbyshire                  photo Janis Higgie






Hillary’s Hopes by J R Thomas

Bye bye to Biden?

The Snow White Message by John Watson

Keeping an eye on the essentials

The Confused Prize by Neil Tidmarsh

Is someone taking the peace?

Be wary of what you wish for by Tom Dowling

Corbyn, a leader some may want


city scape

Clear city skies                           photo Jasper Fell-Clark

Red City by J R Thomas

A gentlemanly kettling

Agincourt by Chin Chin

How technology and terror still rule the day

Vive la difference by Richard Pooley

A view from the other side



“Plain Vanilla 2”

Solution to last week’s crossword”Empires and Emperors”

Earlier EditionsA medium 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 21: 24 September 2015

Issue 22: 1 October 2015

Issue 23: 8 October 2015

Issue 24: 15 October 2015

Issue 25: 22 October 2015

Issue 25: 2015 10 22 Contents

22 October 2015: Issue 25

Week in Brief            

meal with a view photo:Jasper Fell Clark

meal with a view –  photo: Jasper Fell-Clark




Stop Press

Joe Biden hits the lawn by J.R.Thomas

Biden out of race


Sic Transit George by J R Thomas

A lesson in humility from the Romans

A rumbling of Tumbrils by John Watson

What Blairite Labour MPs must do to avoid the slaughter

Frightened now? by Neil Tidmarsh

….and you thought Halloween was scary!

Guano Politik by Don Urquhart

Too deep in to criticiseScan0018


A Pearl beyond Price by J R Thomas

Watch Bond, but read le Carrée and Price

A real “who’s your father” by Chin Chin

Genetic testing brings unwelcome surprises

Charging for museums by Lynda Goetz

A tourist turnoff or tough necessity?


Red Army (director Gabe Polsky, cert 15), reviewed by Neil Tidmarsh

A documentary? About ice hockey? About the Soviet Army ice hockey team?


“Empires and Emperors”

Solution to last week’s crossword”Heavens Above”

Earlier Editions

Issue 20: 17 September 2015A medium 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 21: 24 September 2015

Issue 22: 1 October 2015

Issue 23: 8 October 2015

Issue 24: 15 October 2015

Issue 26: Crossword – Plain Vanilla 2 – printable

29 October 2015

Crossword by Boffles

Plain Vanilla 2

SS26 grid


    1  African state affected US election (4)

    3  Washed-up monarch (4,4)

    9  Gas bag of a German count (7)

  10  Somebody who publicises information about a person against their wishes? (5)

  11  Situation where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t (2-3)

  12  High level guide (6)

  14  Many fell victim to Thomas Cromwell (6)

  16  Its waters parted, thank God (3,3)

  19  Location of a sacred river (6)

  21  Simple-minded Russian hero (5)

  24  Vast African city (5)

  25  Old-fashioned maid (7)

  26  Operatic bride was (8)

  27  Wounded one was a massacre (4)



    1  Used to gory effect in Texas (5,3)

    2  Missile comes in many colours, black, blue, red and golden (5)

    4  Location of bad payer’s cheque (2,4)

    5  Pantomime figure when maternal (5)

    6  Edible cephalopod (7)

    7  Studious individual lacking social skills (4)

    8  Did Tristram prefer lemonade or ginger beer ? (6)

  13  The French celebrate this day with much elan (8)

  15  Persuasive but deceitful talker (7)

  17  Puzzling machine (6)

  18  Bonnie cake (6)

  20  Many dream of a walk down this (5)

  22  Nordic noir writer?  Hardly (5)

  23  Word that caused a politician’s downfall (4)


Issue 26: Crossword – Plain Vanilla 2

29 October 2015

Crossword by Boffles

Plain Vanilla 2


To see a printable version of this crossword

Issue 26: 2015 10 29: Week in Brief UK

29 October 2015

Week in Brief:UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

TAX CREDITS:  The disagreement between the Government and the House of Lords over the Chancellor’s plan to cut tax credits by £4 billion per annum from next April came to a head on Tuesday with peers voting to delay the cuts until, firstly, the government has responded to an analysis of the consequences by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and, secondly, the government has come forward with full transitional protection for three years. There are now two issues. The first is constitutional. The convention that the House of Lords does not interfere with budgetary decisions has been broken. The Government will need to react to that and has appointed Lord Strathclyde to find ways of ensuring the supremacy of the Commons in financial matters The second issue goes to the substance of the change to tax credits. There has been widespread concern that their withdrawal will penalised low paid workers, possibly leaving 3 million of them short by £1,300 a year. Here the Chancellor has indicated that he will set out proposals for helping those affected in the autumn statement at the end of November.

AFGHANISTAN:  Michael Fallon, the defence secretary has said that a training detachment of some 450 UK troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of next year. In practice they will be there until the end of the US involvement which will probably be longer.

CHINESE VISIT:  One of the agreements between Britain and China made during the state visit is that neither side will support the theft of intellectual property or trade secrets from the other. The deal is similar to one reached between China and the US recently. The visit also saw an agreement that China would participate in the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, along with the French company EDF; there are also agreements on infrastructure investment, action against smuggling, research on new technology and new energy. Mr Xi has stated that China wants to see a prosperous and united EU which includes the UK.

ROYAL INSTITUTION:  The Royal Institution is to sell part of its library in order to repay debt incurred in its 2008 refurbishment, which cost a total of £22million. The book sale, which is to be held at Christie’s on 1st December, will include a sixteenth century anatomical guide and first editions of works by Darwin and Newton. Sir Andre Geim, the Nobel prize winning physicist has said that there must be better ways of raising the money and has suggested reconsideration of a plan to merge the Royal Institution with the Royal Society.

SUGAR TAX:  A report by Public Health England calls for a 20% tax on fizzy drinks and chocolate bars as well as the removal of sugar bowls from restaurant tables. The report was published despite previous opposition from the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who has promised draconian action to reduce childhood obesity. The report estimates that about 4700 lives and over £500 million per year could be saved if Britain reduced its sugar intake to recommended levels. Jamie Oliver, who is taking a leading role in the campaign for sugar tax, has already increased the price of sugary drinks in his restaurants by 10p. Other restaurants have followed his lead. Mr Oliver says that since the price increase the sale of the drinks has reduced by about 7%.

TALK TALK:  A cyber attack on the telephone company Talk Talk has resulted in customers’ details being stolen, including names, addresses, dates of birth, bank account numbers etc. Concern has been expressed at the possibility that the hacked information will be used to access customers’ bank accounts. A fifteen year old schoolboy has been arrested.

COURT FEES:  High Court judges of the Family Division have criticised the increase in court fees for divorce which will now often exceed the cost of the hearings. There is also concern at the level of high court fees generally where a claim for £90,000 could involve fees of £4,500 and claim for £300,000 could attract fees of £20,000. The Justice Minister has said that the fees are necessary to cover current deficits.

SINKHOLE:  There is concern that a new giant sinkhole may be hidden beneath the streets of St Albans and that it could be three times as large as the one which recently openedthere. Those evacuated from the area will not be allowed back until early 2016.

CYPRUS:  Cyprus has agreed to house 114 refugees who claimed asylum at the British base on the Island provided that Britain will meet the cost. The base is sovereign British territory but the Home Office has said that no one who arrives there will be given asylum in Britain.

PAEDOPHILE BISHOP:  The Church of England has paid compensation to a man abused by George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester during the war. Bishop Bell took an active role in rescuing Jews and Christians from the Nazis. He also took a stance against saturation bombing on the grounds that it was barbarous to make unarmed women and children targets. He died in 1958.

STOP AND SEARCH:  There is a dispute between the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police over the use of stop and search with Mrs May disputing, in a speech to the National Black Police Officers’ Association, that knife crime had risen as a result of the drop in the number of searches. She is also concerned at the low number of black officers. The Metropolitan Police have asked for a change in the law so that they can give preference to black candidates when recruiting.

CANCER AND SAUSAGES:  A report by the World Health Organisation says that eating bacon, burgers and sausages is as dangerous as smoking. The report identifies processed meat as being the most likely substance to cause cancer with red meat generally not far behind.

WEST LOTHIAN QUESTION:  Proposals restricting voting on issues which will only have effect in England and Wales to English and Welsh MPs have passed the House of Commons. Pete Wishart, the SNP’s leader in the Commons, has warned that the change may cause resentment in Scotland.

RUSSIAN SURVEILLANCE: Defence sources are concerned at apparent surveillance of fibre optic cables which run beneath the sea by Russian submarines and surveillance ships. Russian interest could be focused on intelligence gathering or possibly on cutting the cables at a time of international tension.

TAX ON TAMPONS:  The government has undertaken to campaign in Brussels for VAT to be removed from sanitary products. Currently the rate is 5%, the lowest rate permissible under EU law.

CENOTAPH:  A move to shorten the service at the Cenotaph by arranging for the opposition parties to lay their wreaths together has been abandoned. Party leaders will lay their wreaths separately as in previous years.

DEFECTION:  Labour stalwart Lord Grabiner, who is a barrister and also the master of Clare College Cambridge, has resigned the Labour whip because of concern about their economic policies. He will remain a member of the party and will sit on the cross benches.

AGINCOURT:  Sunday was the 600th anniversary of the battle at Agincourt, the victory over the French which is immortalised in Shakespeare’s play, Henry V.

CALAIS:  Consideration is being given to increasing the staffing of the Channel Tunnel by Border Force officers before Christmas in order to enable lorries carrying Christmas deliveries to get through.

DIESEL EMISSIONS:  Research presented on Friday indicates that diesel cars made by Vauxhall produce more pollutants than diesel cars of other makes. Last month Vauxhall admitted that it had fitted cars with devices intended to defeat pollution checks.
It has emerged that Whitehall was aware that emission tests were being manipulated as early as 2009.

CARDIFF UNIVERSITY: Students at Cardiff University have started a petition to prevent the academic Germaine Greer from giving a lecture “Women and Power: the Lessons of the Twentieth Century” on that the basis that Ms Greer is a dangerous exponent of “problematic and hateful views”. The views in question are her comments that a man who undergoes a sex change does not become a real woman. The University is keen that the lecture goes forward.

CITY PROTEST: UEFA are taking disciplinary action against Manchester City because its fans booed the Champion’s League anthem in protest against rules which limit expenditure by new benefactors. Supporters groups have questioned whether the action, if it goes ahead, would breach the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

RUGBY: New Zealand will play Australia in the final of the rugby World Cup. South Africa will play Argentina to establish third place.

CRICKET: Pakistan beat England by 178 runs in the second of three tests to take a one nil lead in the series. The match was played in Dubai due to concern about safety in Pakistan.

MOTOR RACING: Lewis Hamilton won the US Grand Prix to take his third world championship.

Issue 26:2015 10 29:Week in Brief International

29 October 2015



AFGHANISTAN:  The Taliban and the Afghan army are fighting over the city of Lashkar Gar for control of Helmand province. The army drove the Taliban back from the city of Ghazni last week, and from the city of Kunduz the week before.

ARGENTINA:  The first round of elections on 25 October offerring a choice between between the protectionism/nationalisation/welfare/stagnation of President Kirchner’s successor Daniel Scioli and the liberalisation of centre-right opponent Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenas Aires, produced no clear winner. A further poll will be held in November..

BRAZIL:  The first international indigenous games took place in the city of Palmas, with athletes from native cultures around the world competing in traditional sports.

BURMA:  A new migrant crisis of people-trafficked Bangladeshis and Rohingya people fleeing from Burma is developing now that the monsoon season is over and sea-travel is possible again.

CHINA:  The Confucius Peace Prize – founded in China in 2010 in response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo – has been awarded this year to Robert Mugabe.

FRANCE:  41 pensioners, a lorry driver and his 3 year old son were killed when a coach collided with a lorry near Bordeaux and both vehicles were engulfed in flames.

INDIA:  Two children (one nine months old, the other two years old) were burnt to death when their house was set alight in an attack which is being seen as high caste violence against low caste. It has triggered widespread protests against the police and government. A government minister, Vijay Singh, commented “If one stones a dog, how can the government be responsible for this?”

INDONESIA: Fires from illegal forest-clearing on the islands of Sumartra, Borneo and Papua are making Indonesia one of the world’s worst emitter of greenhouse gases. Airports and schools have closed, and respiratory infections are rising. Neighbouring countries are also being affected.

IRAQ:  A US special forces soldier was killed during a raid by US and Iraqi Kurdish commandos which rescued 69 hostages from Isis. More than 20 Isis fighters were killed and 6 captured, according to reports.

Canada’s new president, Justin Trudeau, has promised to withdraw Canadian forces from Iraq.

ISRAEL:  Prime minister Netanyahu was criticised for claiming that Adolf Hitler initially wanted to deport Jews and was only persuaded to exterminate them by Haj Amin al-Husseini, grand mufti of Jerusalem and future Palestinian nationalist leader. Most historians agree that Hitler was intent on ‘the final solution’ long before al-Husseini also began to call for it.

MEXICO:  Hurricane Patricia, a category five storm with winds up to 200mph, hit Mexico’s pacific coast.

POLAND:  The Conservative Law and Justice party won a convincing victory in the general election. Prime minister Ewa Kopacz admitted defeat.

RUSSIA: A five-month old baby has died in police custody in St Petersburg. He was taken off his Tajik parents when they were detained for questioning about their migrant status. The parents were released five hours later, but the baby was not returned – they were told to call back for him the next morning. The next morning they were told that he had died. They weren’t allowed the collect the body for almost a week.

Parliament passed the first reading of a bill which will allow prison wardens to use truncheons, electric shocks and guard dogs to beat and torture prisoners who have ‘violated prison discipline’.

The defence ministry announced the near-completion of another military base in the Arctic, on the island of Kotelny in the East Siberian Sea. It also announced that Russian troops will be permanently employed in the Arctic from 2018.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Protests at universities and colleges around the country culminated with at least 10,000 students marching on the government compound in Pretoria. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the students, who were protesting against a rise in tuition fees.

SWEDEN:  A sword-wielding neo-Nazi attacked teachers and pupils at a school where many pupils are from immigrant families. He stabbed two teachers and two pupils. One teacher and one pupil have died. He was shot dead by police.

SYRIA: Three Russians were reportedly killed by rebel shelling in Latakia province. Both the Kremlin and the Assad regime deny that there are Russian troops on the ground in Syria.

Russia is seeking closer ties with Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region. Representatives of the PYD (the Syrian Democratic Union party, whose YPG militia is fighting against Isis but not against Assad, whose regime recognises their autonomy) and the HPD (the Kurdish political party in Turkey) met Russians officials in Moscow to discuss opening a representative office there. Russia announced that it did not consider the PKK (the Kurdish separatist movement in violent conflict with Turkey) a terrorist organisation. These moves will worry the USA – they could be seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between them and their most effective ally in the war against Isis. It will also worry Turkey, who insists that the PKK are terrorists and are closely linked to the PYD.

President Assad visited Moscow for meetings with President Putin and Russia’s foreign and defence ministers. It was the first time Assad has left the country since the start of the war four years ago.

The US secretary of state John Kerry, the Russian secretary of state Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Turkey and the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia are meeting in Vienna to discuss the crisis in Syria.

Syrian rebels claim that they are holding the Russian-backed offensive against them, with the help of anti-tank weapons supplied by the USA.

TANZANIA:  Early results from Tanzania’s seneral election show nine goverment ministers  losing their parliamentary seats to the opposition Ukawa coalition. Results are due today.

USA:  Ben Carson has leapt to the top of the polls in the fight for the Republican nomination. Retired neurosurgeon Dr Carson is ahead at 26% followed by Donald Trump at 22% and others down at 8%. Mr Bush,now at 7%, is said to be reducing his campaign staff.

Mr Obama is coming under incressing pressure from the Pentagon to deploy troops or special forces in Syria. Ash Carter, the defence secretary, has told the senate that the US would not hesitate to support its allies with “strikes from the air or direct action on the ground”.

VATICAN:  The Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale reported that the Pope has a brain tumour. This was denied by the Vatican’s press office. Other Italian newspapers have suggested that the story is part of a conspiracy by reactionary forces in the Roman Catholic church to undermine the reformist Pope.

VENEZUELA:  President Maduro is calling for Lorenzo Mendoza, a Venezuelan businessman, to be prosecuted for treason for discussing the dire state of the Venezuelan economy and possible solutions with a Harvard economist. The private telephone conversation was tapped, recorded and broadcast on state television.

Issue 26: 2015 10 29:Week in Brief ;BUSINESS AND THE CITY

29 October 2015

NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background

SHUNNING THE FLEXIBLE FRIEND: In news that should cheer the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the latest statistics on personal borrowing show a marked slowing of the rate of take up of debt. The level of this has been seen as a structural danger throughout the recessionary years, as real wages fell and consumers let their credit cards (and personal unsecured loans) take the strain. In September the rate of repayment of credit card debt almost exactly matched the rate of new drawings on cards (ignoring interest charges). Total credit card debt at the month end stood at £41.6bn. Drawings on personal loans – which tend to be used more for buying consumer items, not for general living, did edge up, by £116m. This appears to show increased consumer confidence, in that people are prepared to take on longer term debt for consumer capital expenditure. Mortgage debt take up continues to rise quickly, partly as home buyers re-enter the housing market, but also reflecting two other factors – rising house prices, and also remortgaging – existing householders taking on new mortgage debt to release equity or to lock into lower interest rate fixed term to avoid possible interest rate hikes.

All this contrasts with lending to business, where total business debt to banks fell by £1bn in the month, to £260bn, and this in spite of increased lending to the property industry which is going through something of a boom in both property investment and development. Again, this reflects both rising values and rising activity, with property players climbing onto an up escalator moving at ever increasing speed.

But this may be a little misleading. New money raised on the bond and equity market has risen £16bn since January this year and it is also known that some of the hedge and opportunity funds have also become fairly significant funders, supplementing investors or owners; so total capital flows into both general business and property appear to be actually rising – it is just that the banks are getting a smaller share of it.

THE NEXT HOUSE ARRIVING…:  All government bodies in London have been asked to look at their land holdings to see if they can release land for development, preferably for housing to ease London’s housing shortage. Transport for London (“TfL”) who run London’s public transport network, have already been on the case and have come up with a list of 75 sites, a total of 300 acres, which they think have possibilities. TfL says that it owns 3,000 operational sites in the Greater London area, which total 5,700 acres, and it is in the early stages of examining the commercial potential of all of them. It thinks that it could raise up to £3.5bn from development, assuming the property market does not crash (quite a bold assumption in the volatile capital).

Many sites will be in the suburbs and not so valuable, so the first batch are mostly in central London – Zones 1 and 2 in TfL speak. They tend to be above Underground railway stations – such as Southwark, or entail the rebuilding of bus garages, such as Aldgate where a one million square foot office scheme, on the edge of the City of London and over the its principal bus station, was felled by the 2008 recession and remains stalled. They will not all go for residential development – some will be more suitable for offices, depending on how best value can be maximised; some will involve careful operational considerations to keep services running, a matter that might be regarded somewhat cynically by those many road users affected by the chaos caused by the construction of cycle super-highways at the moment.

TfL is determined to maximise its returns from the proposed developments – it is drawing up a shortlist of around 75 “approved” commercial developers who it will invite to tender as sites come up for development. TfL will then become a development partner, working with the commercial developer to ensure best use of the sites and to get as large a profit share as possible. At the moment the transport supremo has five employees in its development department but it intends to expand this to twenty nine with immediate effect, and then further as its new business grows. At least that should create some demand for the new offices it will be building.

DERIVING A PATTERN:  HSBC, which has long been rumoured to be considering a move of its headquarters out of the UK, perhaps back to Hong Kong but more likely to Singapore, has announced that it will move the location of its derivative trading book to Hong Kong. The traders themselves will mostly stay in the trading office in Canary Wharf in London, but the book itself will be domiciled in Hong Kong and new trades will be booked there. HSBC said that this is because of rising costs in London, not just back office salary and resources costs, but increasingly those relating to regulation and capital allocation costs for the derivatives activity

EVERY LITTLE HELPS:  Tesco, the UK’s leading food retailer, but struggling with increased competition and high fixed costs, has announced a diversification which it hopes will spread overheads across a wider range of products and bring more shoppers into its stores to counteract the appeal of the discount supermarkets. It has signed a deal with Arcadia, owned by the Green family and run by Sir Philip Green, to sell their Burton’s, Evans, and Dorothy Perkins brands. Initially this will be in just four supermarkets and will be on a trial basis but, if it works, will be rolled out across the country. If the experiment is successful it also offers a low cost opportunity for Arcadia to get more floor space at lower costs – especially on out of town retail where rents are still rising and planning restrictions make it difficult to build new outlets. Tesco have also signed similar arrangements with Claire’s Accessories, Sock Shop, and Pavers, who will take smaller concessions for their speciality fashion items. Tesco has its own fashion range, F & F, in some larger stores, but this has not been a great success; shoppers seem to prefer strong high street brands.

GOOD BANKING NEWS:  Metro Bank, probably the leader of the so-called challenger banks – the new entrants to the UK retail banking market following the banking crash seven years ago – has announced that it intends to obtain a quote on the London Stock Exchange. The bank was founded in 2010 and has a strong web presence but has also taken large branches – which it calls “stores” – in key locations, mainly in London and the South East, with the intention of building a national network . It says it now has over 600,000 accounts and that deposits nearly doubled last year. Also well up is lending – 116% up in the last year says the bank. It is focussed on the wealthier echelon of private customers, but not on those who expect a traditional super high quality but expensive private banking service. Like its Swedish rival, Handelbanken, it has been able to expand by cherry picking locations and offering focused service – but has concentrated on private accounts, whilst Handelsbanken has derived a lot of its growth from small business, an area recently neglected by the large UK clearers. The bank is rumoured to be looking to raise £300m in new capital, to add to the £600m so far provided by its private shareholders.

KEY MARKET INDICES:  (at 27th October 2015; comments refer to change on week; $ is US$)
Interest Rates:
UK£ Base rate: 0.5%, unchanged: 3 month 0.57% (steady); 5 year 1.27% (steady).
Euro€: 1 mth -0.13% (steady); 3 mth -0.09% (steady); 5 year 0.14% (steady)
US$: 1 mth 0.30 (falling); 3 mth 0.43% (steady); 5 year 1.37% (rising)
Currency Exchanges:
£/Euro: 1.38, £ steady
£/$: 1.54, £ steady
Euro/$: 1.10, € falling
Gold, oz: $1166, falling
Aluminium, tonne: £956 falling
Copper, tonne: £3407, rising
Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $47.54, fall
Wheat, tonne: £115, rising
London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 6,400 (rise). FTSE 350: 3,556 (rise)
Briefly: The markets continue relatively steady with the FTSE indices trading in their new raised patterns. Interest rates even up to five years remain low and steady, though the three month dollar bought and sold rates are an extraordinary 33bps apart. Commodities generally continue weak though copper has held some of its gains.. Oil is again showing a steady downward drift.

Issue 26: 2015 10 29 The Snow White Message

29 October 2015

The Snow White Message

Focusing on the essentials

by John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” So the Queen asked in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and her emphasis on the importance of self-examination has also been reflected by philosophers of less weight. According to the Greek travel writer Pausanias, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription “γνῶθι σεαυτόν” or “know thyself”. Similarly from the Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” It would be folly to stand out against this weight of authority so perhaps, before looking at the lavish hospitality afforded by the British government to the Chinese Premier Mr Xi Jinping, it is worth asking ourselves who we, the British, actually are.

Marketing men will tell you that a single concept should run through all the operations of an organisation. That might take the form of a long and blathering mission statement of the type written over the front desk of many a commercial concern. The trouble with that is that the longer it is the more people will want to add their favourite bits so it easily loses focus. Much better, then, to have a single word, like. “Integrity”, “competence” or “imagination” and let it run through all aspects of the business. Pushing the concept of “imagination” could result in imaginative designs, imaginative production, imaginative staff relations, imaginative delivery systems and imaginative accounts, an exciting business rather than an investment for widows and orphans. If the theme was “integrity” the result might be less exciting but rather more stable.

The single word chosen to describe the British would, of course, depend upon who chose it. If we chose it ourselves, it might be something like “polite”, “rational”,” entrepreneurial”. If you asked the French to identify the word, the list could be rather different with “perfidious” and “godless” coming somewhere near the top. Clearly there are different views so, as we are unlikely to agree on adjectives, let’s try nouns. Are there any which have been applied to us and have the right resonance? “Pirates”? not bad but perhaps a little too 17th Century. “Academics”? Certainly not, that’s the Germans. What about “shopkeepers” then? That has the advantage of coming from the great Napoleon but is a little narrow. What about “trader” as being an extension of the same idea?

Actually that seems to catch it rather well. As a country we are dependent on our trade; we could not feed ourselves on what we produce. The Royal Navy was built to protect trade. The Empire was expanded by traders founding great companies to protect and operate trading concessions, the Hudson Bay Company, the East India Company, the River Plate Company, and many others besides. Their names ring through English history and the fact that in the end their assets usually ended up with the Crown in no way takes away from their role in expanding the Empire. Yes, a nation of traders seems to describe us quite well.

The visit of Xi Jinping squares nicely with this description. There is little doubt that it was really about trade and that, in return for giving China an open window on the West, the government hoped to secure China as a business partner. The many politenesses is in both directions were those of traders seeking to work to mutual profit. It is in that context that one needs to read the statement by Mr Xi to the effect that he had not come to talk about human rights.

There are many things about the way in which China is run which we do not like, the use of the death penalty, the constraints on political freedom, the persecution of religious minorities. Still that goes for much of the rest of the world too and unless we wish to restrict our trading to the EU and North America, we have to deal with, and sometimes flatter, countries of whose practices we disapprove. That means setting our disapproval to one side when we talk to them in much the way that Mr Xi suggested. It does not mean that we cannot have finer feelings. Simply that they must not become a block to relationships which go to the nation’s lifeblood.

Of course there are limits to this. The government’s withdrawal from the deal under which it was to help train the Saudi prison service is perhaps one of them. We do not approve of the way that the Saudis apply their criminal law and so we do not want to be seen to be propping up that part of their system. That will not stop us co-operating them with them in other areas, however, although the distinction is not an easy one as they can be expected to link the two. In the end, the extent to which principles should be allowed to restrict trade must depend both on the value of that trade and the importance to us of the principles. It is an area of negotiation and a grey one, not an area of clean lines.

It isn’t just in international affairs that it is necessary to isolate issues of disagreement in the context of a broader relationship. Only this week the students’ union of the University of Cardiff protested at Germaine Greer being allowed to give a lecture on “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century”. Their reason? Her view that a man who has had a sex change operation was not in fact a woman.

No doubt that is a fascinating philological question, but it has precious little to do with the topic on which Ms Greer was to speak. Perhaps then it should be adopted as a general litmus test of respectability and those lecturing on political questions should be asked the question in advance. “Have you ever expressed the view that a man who has had a sex change operation is not a woman?” The trouble is that there must be questions of equal importance on many other similar topics so only those who agreed with the exact views of the students’ union would be invited to lecture at the University. That would certainly thin out the ranks of possible lecturers, in a way a good thing – after all would you really want to hear a lecture from someone who had spent hours agonising about this sort of subject? Unfortunately, however, it would rather take away the point of the University as somewhere where different views are heard and which is capable of producing a synthesis between them. If everyone has to agree before there is any sort of political debate, well, the debate could be on the dull side.

Looked at in this way the Cardiff students have made an error. They have failed to look at the mirror on the wall to see what their University is for. More to the point, however, they have overlooked the point made by Mr Xi. If you’re going to get on with other people, and some element of getting on with others is surely necessary, you have to overlook the fact that you do not agree with them in areas which are not central to your relationship. That applies whether the relationship is one of trade with China or whether it is the relationship between a university and a visiting lecturer.

Issue 26 : 2015 10 29 Agincourt

29 October 2015


How technology and terror still rule the day

by Chin Chin

Image of 4 longbowmen firing beside sharpened stakes upended at an angle to form a defence

Longbowmen, courtesy of the Daily Mail

You’d think we were in Monmouth, the Welsh town in which Henry V was born. It was as Henry of Monmouth that he was known and they certainly don’t let you forget it. The names Harry and Agincourt dominate the streets and attach themselves to everything from burger bars to hairdressers. “Would Sir like a Harry burger from the Agincourt Cafe?”, “Would Sir like venison? Shot by a local archer with a longbow.”, “Will that be a Brazilian, Madam, or our Henry V wax?”, “What about a plastic suit of armour to go on the mantelpiece?”

And now the madness has spread to south-east England. Put up the Times’s Agincourt poster to impress your French friends.  Read an account of the battle written by a judge of the Supreme Court (yes, I kid you not).  No one was allowed to forget that Sunday was St Crispin’s day, the feast of Crispin and Crispinian, twins martyred in about 286 who, if Saints care about how many people remember their day, must have been gratified in having it chosen both for Agincourt and for the Charge of the Light Brigade.

But behind the supplements, with their diagrams and pictures of weapons, and behind the tabloids, keen to celebrate a thrashing for the French, there is a serious question. How did Henry’s exhausted and outnumbered English army win by quite so big a margin? The losses say it all, somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 on the French side: under 500 for the English. Now there was plenty wrong with the French command structure and the way in which they drew up their forces, but the scale of the victory points to something else, a difference in the technology employed by the two armies. In this case it was the decisive effect of the English longbows wielded by archers trained from birth to fire arrows at a much higher rate than could be achieved by continental crossbows.

If you look at the successful commanders of history, two features stand out. The first is technical superiority, either in armaments or in the way in which they were employed. The use of the long bow at Agincourt is an example of superior weaponry but Marlborough and Wellington based their success on new tactics. For example, Wellington’s innovation of meeting the French columns with a long line of troops, all of whom could fire, gave his men a huge advantage in firepower over the column where only those on the edge could use their guns. Or look at Guderian, whose revolutionary “Blitzkrieg” used tanks in an entirely new way and swept the allies back at the start of the 2nd World War. There are certainly no prizes for being behind technically.

The second feature is ruthlessness.  Beneath the image of the chivalrous warrior king painted by Shakespeare, there lies another picture of Henry, that of the man who ordered the prisoners to be killed at Agincourt, that of the man who refused to allow the useless mouths of Rouen through the British lines so that they perished beneath the walls, that of a man who exacted retribution on enemies who stood out against him. What lay behind this is difficult to judge and Henry, clearly much loved by his subjects and a pious man too, certainly has his apologists. Perhaps the prisoners were seen as a threat. Perhaps his ruthless approach to those who opposed him saved lives through early surrenders. Still Henry seems to be a man who understood the use of terror as an instrument of war.

From this point of view little has changed since the early fifteenth century and technology and terrorism are still key instruments for the strategist. What is perhaps different is that, rather than being used in combination, they often form a counterbalance. Take the current war with ISIS as an example. On the one side you have a campaign run by religious zealots, terrifying civilians and using fear to unman the forces ranged against it. On the other you have the great technical superiority of the West whose waging of war is constrained by a public opinion that will not tolerate terrorist tactics. Then there are those who make use of both in varying degrees, Syria, Russia, and Turkey. It remains to be seen exactly how this will play out but there is one message that we can take away. It is easy to read of drone attacks and cruise missiles and come to the conclusion that things are unfairly slanted towards the West. That is true if you look purely in terms of armaments but put into the balance the fact that Isis can and does use terrorist tactics which would be quite unacceptable if employed by Britain and the US, and you see that the playing field is a little more level than might at first appear.

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