Issue 59: 2016 06 23: Contents

 23 June 2016: Issue 59

Week in Brief

referendum cartoonUK




Nightmare On Pennsylvania Avenue by J.R.Thomas

Sweaty nights for the Republicans.

The Shaw Sheet Party by the Shaw Sheet team

Where we are going.

A Sportsman’s Sketches by Neil Tidmarsh

With apologies to Ivan Turgenev.

The Shaw Sheet Party

The Shaw Sheet Party

Referendum Run Up 

A Jolly Voting Day by John Watson

Quiet, too damned quiet.

Time For a Change by Lynda Goetz

Whether we stay or leave change is inevitable.

Anatomy of a Debate by Don Urquhart

A different way of keeping the score.


 Could cash be king? by Frank O’Nomics

Who needs SatNav - see Chin Chiny

Who needs SatNav – see Chin Chin

Where should we look for returns?

Double Yellow by J.R.Thomas

The glories of the National Garden Scheme.

Following The Map by Chin Chin

Satnav would not have taken us to Naseby.


“In the City”

Solution to the last crossword “Plain Vanilla 9”

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 55: 26 May 2016

Issue 56: 02 June 2016

Issue 57: 09 June 2016

Issue 58: 16 June 2016

Issue 60: 2016 06 30: DNA Or The Rabbit Skin Coat Test? (Chin Chin)

30 June 2016

DNA or The Rabbit Skin Coat Test?

Harsh truths for the nobility.

By Chin Chin


A proper Pringle?

Damn and blast it all. I was born just a little too early. A few years later and I’m sure it would have been a coronet; not a princely one, of course, but one of the rather nice ones that lords get.  You know the sort of thing.  You see them in films. They are usually round (square heads being comparatively rare among the nobility) and have little bobble things on top.

You see, your correspondent has a very common English name (it is not, in fact, Chin Chin, which is a nom de plume designed to put Chinese readers at their ease) and that name is also borne by a well-known aristocratic family whose marquessate has long  been extinct for lack of an heir. Throw into the pot the fact that in a moment of Victorian optimism we had started using their crest and, hey presto, we can all guess who the true marquess must be.  We made contact with them in the late 70s.

If it had been a matter of trade, it could have been sorted. They seemed to be missing a marquess and we would have rather liked to own an eleventh century castle together with “lands and appurtenances”. Deal, you might have thought – with a possible commission to the College of Arms to cover “disbursements”. Unfortunately, however, Heralds are an old-fashioned bunch and rather like some evidence before they will accept a claim to the peerage. We didn’t have any of that – or not the sort of thing that they would have called evidence anyway. Apparently the fact that you get a warm feeling from putting your grandmother’s rabbit skin coat round your shoulders and addressing yourself as “my lord marquess” in the mirror just isn’t quite enough. Actually it was worse than that. We had a look at their family tree and there just weren’t any black sheep from whom we could have been descended. So much for the famously degenerate Regency period!

It was while I was reading the judgement of the judicial committee of the Privy Counsel in the Pringle baronetcy case that I realised how we had been cheated by time. Pringle of Stichill is a Scottish baronetcy created by Charles II and flows down the male line. At least that is what should have happened but there have always been doubts as to the legitimacy of the ninth Baronet.  Still, originally they were no more than doubts. Then the tenth baronet provided his DNA in a project to establish the chieftainship of the Pringle clan (apparently a different matter from the question of who should be Baronet) and, whoops, out came the bad news that the ninth Baronet had not been the son of the eighth baronet after all.

Now there is nothing new about illegitimacy among the upper classes. William the Conqueror himself was famously a bastard, and those grand families whose surname begins with “Fitz” generally began in the same way. So, in order to prevent society being destabilised by continuous claims from junior branches of great families, the courts in England and Scotland introduced “presumptions of paternity” under which a child born to a married woman is regarded as legitimate unless the contrary is proved, beyond reasonable doubt in Scotland and to a slightly lower standard in England.

Historically, evidence on such matters was hard to come by, so the presumptions decided the matter (save in the most extreme cases).  DNA evidence has changed all that because the results of testing are now certain enough to meet the burden of proof necessary to upset the relevant presumption. Since, in the Pringle case, the DNA evidence could not be disqualified under any of the highly technical arguments put to the Judicial Committee (which comprised no less than 7 supreme court judges), the Pringle baronetcy has now passed to a more junior branch of the family.

Well, imagine what would have happened if DNA evidence had been available back in the 1970s. A quick test, the results coming back in a gilded envelope, perhaps on a cushion, and me swapping the moth-eaten rabbit fur coat for a marquess’s cape. In fact, having started down this road, it would have been tempting to go further and I could have had my DNA compared on a speculative basis with the descendants of one or two others whose title and estates I would rather like to have inherited. Charlemagne, say, or possibly Louis XIV. I have always been particularly discriminating in the matter of French cheeses and I believe that Louis was too.

It would have been a high risk strategy though. What would have happened if it had all gone wrong? What if the tests didn’t even show a sprinkling of John of Gaunt or the Romanovs, leave alone a claim to the peerage?  Suppose they just demonstrated descent from mediaeval peasants.   No marquessate then, no throne of the Franks or France.  Then the rabbit fur coat would have had to go to charity and I would have to stop giving my occupation as “pretender”.  I would even have to give up that slightly stiff nod with which I acknowledge good service in a restaurant.

No, I don’t think I could have borne that. The truth is that really top drawer DNA is sufficient in itself – no need to have it tested. One just knows. Anyway, in these modern times it would be rather vulgar to be seen chasing “titles of honour”. Still, one must maintain a certain noblesse oblige so, if I hear one or two of our junior writers referring to me as “the lord marquis” behind my back, I will not hold it against them.


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Issue 60: 2016 06 30: Week in Brief: UK

30 June 2016

Week in Brief : UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

EU Referendum

RESULTS: The votes recorded on Thursday’s referendum were as follows:

Turnout                               Leave                                                   Remain

England                                                  73%                                    53.4%                                                   46.6%

Northern Ireland                                   62.9%                                44.2%                                                   55.8%

Scotland                                                67.2%                                38.0%                                                   62.0%

Wales                                                     71.7%                                52.5%                                                   47.5%

Overall                                                   72.2%                                51.9%                                                   48.1%

The results showed discrepancies between ages and classes. 60% of over 65s voted for Brexit while 73% aged 18 to 24 voted Remain. Although 57% of social grades A and B voted Remain, 64% of social grades D and E voted Brexit.

PROCESS: The Referendum has no constitutional significance either locally or in terms of our relationship with the EU.  Withdrawal negotiations will not begin until the government serves notice in accordance with section 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.  That notice starts a two year timetable to Brexit and all negotiations have to be completed within that period.  It is understood that notice will not be served until a new Prime Minister is in place.

FALLOUT: Immediately following the poll:

  1. Nicola Sturgeon said that the referendum result made a second independence referendum for Scotland highly likely. The Scottish Parliament has been seeking separate negotiations with the EU;
  2. European leaders were divided on the approach to take to Britain’s prospective departure with Jean-Claude Juncker pushing for Britain to be given a swift and painful exit and Angela Merkel taking a much more relaxed view. She indicated that Britain should take time for reflection before serving notice;
  3. the Spanish foreign minister has said that Brexit has reinforced Spain’s claims to Gibraltar which should, in his view, after a transitional power sharing phase, become Spanish;
  4. Oliver Letwin, a minister from the Cabinet Office, has been put in charge of the team of civil servants which will make recommendations to the new Prime Minister on negotiating options. The team will also advise on transitional arrangements and bilateral trade arrangements with other countries. It will not, however, make any decisions itself;
  5. both the pound and the stock market fell dramatically. Although both seem to have stabilised, at least briefly, the sterling:dollar rate is at a thirty year low (see News in Brief Financial);
  6. George Osborne has indicated that, although there will be no immediate budget, he expects rises in taxes and further cuts to public services.

Party Political

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP: David Cameron has said that he will step down as prime minister, leaving it to his successor to make the decisions on when to serve notice under section 50 of the Lisbon treaty and how to approach the negotiations with the EU.  It is understood that the process of choosing a new leader should be completed by 9thSeptember. There are two steps. The first is that the parliamentary party selects two candidates to recommend to the membership.  There is then a ballot in which the 150,000 or so party members each have a vote.

There are a number of leadership contenders, the most prominent of whom are Teresa May, who voted Remain but was not heavily involved in the campaign, and Boris Johnson who led the Leave campaign with Michael Gove.  George Osborne has said that he will not stand.  Although a poll in April showed Mr Johnson to be preferred as a future leader by party members, with 36% of votes against 14% for Mrs May, a recent You Gov poll indicated that this had reversed with Mrs May at 31% and Mr Johnson at 24%.  A poll by Conservative Home gives Mrs May a much smaller lead with 29% of the vote against 28%.  Mrs May is also believed to be very slightly preferred by the general public.

LABOUR LEADERSHIP:  Most of the Shadow Cabinet have resigned following furious rows within the Parliamentary Labour Party, largely about the lukewarm support Mr Corbyn gave to the Remain campaign.  Among those who have left the shadow cabinet are Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn, Heidi Alexander and Lord Falconer.

In a secret ballot Labour MPs carried a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn by 172 votes to 40 votes.  It may trigger a leadership contest. Angela Eagle and Tom Watson have each been identified as possible candidates to stand against Mr Corbyn.  Any party leadership election would be determined by the votes of the members, where Mr Corbyn has traditionally been strong. Whether or not he manages to repel any challenge will depend upon the extent to which he has retained their confidence.


NURSES: The Nursing and Midwifery Council is making the tests which foreign nurses have to pass in reading, writing, speaking and listening slightly easier.  Instead of having a single exam in which they have to pass each module, they will be allowed to take the exam twice and each module must be passed once.  The reason for the change is a shortage of nurses.

E CIGARETTES: The British Medical Association has called for a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in places where children might see them. The recommendation conflicts with the advice given by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, both of whom say that the greater use of e-cigarette saves lives.

TOXIC SHELLFISH: The European Food Safety Authority says that shellfish such as mussels and oysters contain large numbers of plastic particles which could damage those who eat them. The agency said that further research is needed.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: A new therapy called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration appears to have had success in the treatment and reversing of Alzheimer’s disease. The therapy centres on changes in lifestyle supported by drugs and supplements. Tests so far have focused on individuals in their 50s. They need to be repeated with larger numbers in different age groups.

STATINS: Professor Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation has criticised the British Medical Journal for publishing papers questioning the widespread use of statins and exaggerating their side effects.  It is suggested that this has dented confidence in the drug which is generally regarded as beneficial, to the detriment of public health.

TEACHERS’ STRIKE: The National Union of Teachers has called a strike for July 5 in protest at government plans to force more schools to become academies.  Less than 25% of eligible members took part in the ballot which was called before the commencement date of the Trade Union Act.


ROLLERCOASTER: Ten people were injured in an accident on the Tsunami ride at M&D’s theme park near Glasgow when five carriages left the rail and fell 20 feet to the ground.  The Health and Safety Inspectorate has begun enquiries.

POPULATION: Figures produced by the Office of National Statistics indicate that the population of Britain exceeded 65 million for the first time last year, a rise of more than 500,000. About two thirds of this is down to the net migration. The median age is now forty, having risen by 2 years in the last 5.

GLASTONBURY: The Glastonbury Festival was adversely affected by severe weather conditions which turned the site to mud and paralysed transport locally. Severe rain also caused flooding across the south-east of England.

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: British band Led Zeppelin has been cleared by a California jury of stealing the introduction of the song “Stairway to Heaven”.  The suit was brought by the estate of Randy Wolfe, an American guitarist.

FOOTBALL: England have been eliminated from the Euro 2016 competition, being defeated 2-1 by Iceland. The manager, Roy Hodgson, has resigned.

OLYMPICS: The golfer Rory McIlroy has decided not to represent the Republic of Ireland at the Brazil Olympics because of the risk of infection by the Zita virus. He is hoping to start a family shortly.


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Issue60:2016 06 30: Week in Brief Financial

30 June 2016


NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background

STIMULATING THE ECONOMY:  There may be a need for strong stimulants over the next few months as Britain’s economy enters a brave new world (or sinks into a declining old one, if that is your take).  If you find yourself seeking “something to go” from Costa Coffee, Costa is also seeking something to go – something to make the business go with a bit more verve.  Whitbread, the erstwhile brewer who migrated to less alcoholic offerings, buying and expanding Costa to be Britain’s largest chain of coffee houses, (outlets in every high street, shopping centre, even in motorway service areas and sports stadiums), is struggling to get more turnover and profit out of what is essentially a mature business, under attack from several other chains and from a torrent of smaller independent operators.  Growth was low in 2015, but new Whitbread Group CEO, Alison Brittain, has begun offering a wider range of drinks and finer coffees, and bought a half share in Pure, an up market London salad and snack chain.  She is also cutting costs – not easy with extra lines on sale – and is expanding overseas, with plans, for instance, for 700 new stores in China.  So far, so good – sales were up 2.5% in the first quarter 2016, compared with 0.5% for the same period in 2015.

Whitbread’s other main business is Premier Inn, the budget hotel chain, in which it has invested heavily in recent years to give a quality, but money conscious, offer. It appeals particularly to one night stayers, such as families travelling and budget business travellers. Its reputation has risen, but unfortunately not revenues, which saw occupancy rates down 1.5% for the year 2015, though still at a respectable 79% overall.  By cost control and clever pricing technology, the group has invested heavily in systems which predict occupation levels and adjust pricing, the business showed a 2% plus increase in revenues.  Premier is still increasing room numbers in the UK – and if we are in for a period of austerity that may turn out to be a clever strategy indeed.

POWERING THE WORLD:  Whitbread have gone from beer to coffee; Nestle have gone from coffee to wind power.  Nestle has entered into a long term lease agreement to buy electricity from Community Windpower, which is a major UK supplier of wind turbine power.  In this instance the wind farm is on-shore, in the Scottish border country, where wind is reliably present.  Also helping reliability – on the financing side – is that this farm is being built with renewable energy subsidies, now been phased out for on-shore wind turbines after protests from countryside campaigners and concerns over the efficiency of turbines in many locations.  Nestle says this contract will supply about half its electricity needs for its thirteen factories in the UK.  Nor is there a danger of the KitKat production line coming to a halt on still evenings.  Nestle will continue to take their supply from the National Grid, whilst Community Windpower feed in when the turbines can operate efficiently.  The power lease is for 15 years, longer than generally seen, but Nestle says it prefers to commit for this period to assure supplies and costs, and it helps the farm operator secure long term (cheap) finance.

BREXIT HEADLINES:  Three tales of Brexit vote effects:

A Winner?: The British Hospitality Association, which promotes tourism in the UK, was quick off the mark to praise the fall in the value of the pound. They pointed out that this should encourage more foreign visitors to come to the UK seeking great value for money – but also should discourage Brits from holidaying in foreign parts because of the extra costs involved. They got support from one tourism promotor – Donald Trump, in Scotland to open his upgraded Turnberry golf course, also called for the pound to go down “so more people will come to Turnberry”.  Tourism has been a strong growth business for some time.  But however low the pound sinks – can it overcome the summer we are having so far this year?

A Loser?: If the tourists come, EasyJet will be hoping they come on their economy orange planes.  EasyJet has been having a tricky time recently; bad weather across Europe, French air traffic control strikes, and problems at Gatwick with lack of runway capacity and docking stands have meant cancellations and customer dissatisfaction.  A weakening pound at the UK end of the business has not been compensated for by extra earnings from Euro travellers, making for a grim first half of the year.  The quarter just ending looks worse – fuel costs going back up will not help – and the airline says profits could be £28m down.  Now the Brexit vote adds yet more trouble – less flights, more discounting, bad weather (cuts the tourist business and causes delays), and possibly EasyJet being ejected from the EU aviation area – which allows European domiciled airlines to operate freely within European airspace.  The airline is Europe’s second largest budget airline so extra bureaucracy and costs in trying to maintain the network in an ever more competitive market would not be welcome.  Not surprisingly, the share price dropped 20% in Monday’s market.

A Likely Excuse?: On Monday Foxton’s, the hip upper end London estate agent, announced that profits would be down significantly following the EU vote.  It said it had been expecting sales to pick up in the second half of the year but that this was unlikely to happen now. The market read this as confirming anecdotal evidence that sales were significantly down in the first half, with discounting of prices at the top end of the market, and marked the shares down 23% in early trading. Some analysts are now suggesting profits could be reduced by half, year on year, though as Nic Budden, chief executive, was at some trouble to say, Foxtons has a substantial letting and management business which should be helpful in maintaining revenues in a recession.  As Foxtons pays part of remuneration by sales related bonuses, it also should be able to rein costs in fairly sharpish.

VROOMING INVESTMENTS:  If conventional investments are all too worrying or too gloomy to contemplate, maybe you should put the family savings into a classic car.  That market has been in a rapid growth mode for ten years or so, especially at the top, and recent auction evidence seems to confirm it is still powering away.  The best financial performers, says the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, are Ferraris and Porsches.  Over the last five years, the KF classic car index has risen 161%, compared to average hedge funds at 4.75%.  And if all else goes wrong, you can drive to the beach and watch the sun go down.  You can’t do that with a hedge fund.

KEY MARKET INDICES:  (as at 28th June 2016; comments refer to changes on the week; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.5%, unchanged: 3 month 0.65% (rising); 5 year 0.51% (falling).

Euro€: 1 mth -0.30% (falling); 3 mth -0.27% (falling); 5 year -0.24% (falling)

US$: 1 mth 0.47% (steady); 3 mth 0.60% (falling); 5 year 0.96% (rising)

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.20, £ weakening

£/$: 1.35, £ weakening significantly

Euro/$: 1.11, € weakening

Gold, oz: $1,331, rising

Aluminium, tonne: $1,591, falling

Copper, tonne: $4,691, rising

Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $45.65, falling

Wheat, tonne: £109, rising

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 5,982 (steep fall). FTSE Allshare: 3,238 (falling)

Briefly: Since last Friday morning the markets have responded to the pro-Brexit vote through widespread volatility. The main loser has been sterling against the dollar; the stock market has fallen, though not by as much (at the time of writing) as the headlines might make you believe. Oil, almost unnoticed, fell 8% on the week; gold continued its steady rise.  Not many expected this result and the markets are still working out how to react to it.

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Issue 60:2016 06 30:The Reaction in Europe (Neil Tidmarsh)

30 June 2016

The Reaction In Europe

Not all hard-line.

by Neil Tidmarsh

party 2The immediate reaction from Brussels was the insistence that the UK must get on with it, and get on with it quickly.  European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and president of the European parliament Martin Schultz led the way, and the leaders of France, Belgium, Spain and Italy, and members of Germany’s Social Democrats, were right behind them: there were to be no concessions made to the domestic political challenges facing the UK; Britain must be taught a lesson, and a punishing exit was to be the beginning of it.

It was predictable and understandable.  Britain must suffer in order to discourage other referendums in other EU countries and prevent further disintegration. Populist Eurosceptic parties are calling for referendums in more than one member state.  France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic – any one of them could be next.  Making an example of Britain is one way to disarm them.

Another is to tighten the bonds holding everything together and to push on with the project of political union.  Last weekend, the French and German foreign ministers put together a ten-page paper mapping out “a strong Europe in an uncertain world”.  Their proposals include a European security council, a military headquarters and a European prosecutor.  The co-authors say “Our two countries form the basis for an ever closer union of our peoples. We will therefore take further steps towards a political union in Europe and we invite the other European member states to join us in the endeavour”.

And yet this hard-line reaction was not the only one.

German chancellor Angela Merkel resisted the calls of her Social Democrat partners and pursued a more conciliatory path.  “Our goal should be to shape the future relationship of Great Britain to the EU to be close and co-operative” was one of her first statements.  With Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, she is suggesting a more relaxed approach to Britain’s triggering of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, in order to give the UK government time and space to address the UK’s domestic political crises.  She is also suggesting the possibility of protracted rather than hurried exit negotiations.  German and Dutch diplomats persuaded Brussels to follow her lead, and at the summit dinner on Tuesday night the pressure was off Mr Cameron to start withdrawal talks then and there.

Angela Merkel is aware that German industry is a counter-pressure to the German hard-liners of the Social Democrat party who are demanding a swift and punitive exit for the UK.  Britain is a crucial market for German goods, and German industry doesn’t want to lose it.  “Everything must be done to allow the free movement of goods and services between Britain and the other European Union countries in the future” said Matthias Wissmann, president of the association of the German automotive industry.  “It will be in nobody’s interest to make the international flow of goods more expensive by erecting customs barriers between Britain and the European continent.”

Another counter-pressure to the Brussels hard-liners emerged when US secretary of state John Kerry advised EU leaders to stay calm and rational.  “I think it is absolutely essential that we stay focused on how in this transitional period no one loses their head, nobody goes off half-cocked, people don’t start ginning up scatterbrained or revengeful premises” he said after a meeting with Juncker and the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Monday.

Elsewhere in Europe, voices were raised against the kind of reactionary plans for deeper integration proposed by the foreign ministers of Germany and France in their paper calling for deeper political union.  Even before the paper emerged, other European leaders were urging reform.  Greece’s Alexis Tsipras called for more democracy.  “The British referendum will either serve as a wake-up call for the sleep-walker heading towards the void or it will be the beginning of a very dangerous and slippery course for our peoples” he said.

And when foreign ministers from the EU’s six core member states (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy) met in Berlin earlier this week to discuss the EU’s future and how to deter other protest votes, Poland called a rival meeting of Eastern European member states in Warsaw.  Austria and Spain joined the meeting, at which Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia expressed their fury at the way Brussels is handling the UK crisis and its plans for deeper integration, and announced that they would be drawing up a roadmap for a less centralised EU.  Even the six core members meeting at Berlin weren’t unanimous about using the UK exit as a spur for greater Eurozone integration; supported by France and Italy, the idea is nevertheless being resisted by Germany and the Netherlands.  Denmark and Sweden are also wary of it, to say the least.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s hard-line reaction was criticised, and even his position came under attack. The Czech foreign minister Lubomar Zaoralek said on television that Junker wasn’t the right man for the job, and the Czech government has demanded Juncker’s resignation, saying that he “bears responsibility for the people of the UK voting to leave the EU”.  Toomas Ilves, president of Estonia (which uses the euro) described Juncker’s behaviour as “abominable”. Juncker’s willingness to play the SNP against Mr Cameron has particularly alarmed EU diplomatic circles.  Central and eastern European states are calling for him to step down.  Even the chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, Norbert Rottgen, told him “not to push the British” and warned him against “emotional and impulsive” behaviour.

Perhaps Jean-Claude Juncker himself might be the first victim of his own hard-line punitive reaction.


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Issue 60:2016 06 30: Up the Revolution (J.R.Thomas)

30 June 2016

Up the Revolution

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue MaleRevolutions, like so many things, are creatures of fashion and come in batches.  Although the years after 1917 saw revolutions across the world, starting with the main event in Russia, and the late 1940’s saw the revolutionary red blanket fall across much of eastern Europe, it is 1848 that is remembered as the Year of Revolutions.

In France, King Louis Phillipe – the product of a revolution himself – was shoved out in favour of a Republic, with a Bonaparte president who promoted himself to Emperor, as Napoleon III, only four years later.  In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ruling Hapsburg stepped down with a sigh of relief, with his mild and apparently reformist 18 year old nephew taking the throne. That reforming nephew, so acclaimed by the liberal middle classes of Vienna, was still gracing the Imperial Throne in 1916, by then the most unbendingly conservative ruler in Europe.  In Denmark, a new King accepted a liberal constitution that endures to this day; in Hungary, a parliament was established; even in Switzerland a civil war broke out which led to the establishment of the present federal system. There were few countries that did not see some sort of uprising and, whilst not all achieved their objectives, they spun the threads that were to lead to democracy and liberalisation across European states for the rest of the century, if only to be cruelly extinguished, for a while, by two world wars.

So are we in the middle of a new Year of Revolutions in 2016, albeit peaceful (so far and hopefully so remaining) and taking place at the ballot box? In the USA, the Republican Party has effectively been grabbed by Donald Trump, a political novice and outsider who nevertheless has secured the greatest number of votes in a Republican primary contest ever (and also the greatest number against – he certainly got Republicans out to vote, if nothing else).  Hillary Clinton came perilously close to losing the Democratic nomination to an outsider who this time last year was not even a member of the Democrat party, and proclaims himself (though recently sotto voce) a socialist. A left wing coup seized the Labour leadership in Britain last year and, although the rumblings in the parliamentary party stemming from the sacking of Hilary Benn suggest a counter revolution, a vote in the wider party would almost certainly confirm Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

Now comes the possibility of a Tory revolution.  In fact most sectors of the Tory Party seem to be in revolt against each other as this is written, so it is rather hard for a humble commentator to work out who is manning the barricades and who is trying to overturn them.  But one thing seems very clear – the Conservative Party in the country has voted for Leaving whilst the Conservative Party in Westminster is overwhelmingly for Remaining.  That sounds like fertile territory for revolt and discord.

In France the National Front (“FN”) party led by Marine Le Pen has become the largest single party (by expressed voter preference) in French politics.  Mme Le Pen has turned the FN into much more of a right wing coalition than the extremist nationalist version led by her father for so many years, but even so the FN is still a protest party, taking support from both right wing and left wing voters and weakening the major parties.  It does not seem impossible that Mme Le Pen could win the next Presidential election, especially if both left and right leadership contests remain split amongst quarrelling leaders – even more so if the chosen Presidential candidates turn out to be Messrs Hollande and Sarkozy.

France being a country very lavishly equipped with well-funded sociologists and political scientists, much work has been done on identifying those who support the FN and the nature of their support.  Not surprisingly they tend to be those who have become, or at least perceive themselves to have become, outsiders to the political process and economic losers in the struggling French economy. They tend to be white, older, from what was traditionally regarded as the lower middle class or the skilled employed working class.  This is indeed a group which can be clearly identified across the western economies as being at the forefront of protest movements, albeit protests that so far are being funnelled through the existing political system.

The same thing is to be seen in Austria, where the far right in the person of Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria came within a whisker of winning the presidential election.  In the general sighing of relief that this did not happen, most commentators seem to have overlooked the fact that the Presidency was won by a protest driven outsider anyway – Alexander van der Bellen, a member of, but not officially endorsed by, the Green Party.  Extraordinary events indeed – both the main party candidates were knocked out in the first round with eleven per cent of the vote each, and third place with nineteen per cent was taken by Irmgard Griss, a former judge who had previously offered her services as candidate to both the Freedom Party and the Greens.

We will spare our readers a bus tour of European protest movements – though pointing through the window to the fading icon of Angela Merkel, whose right/centrist coalition support is being rapidly eroded by anti-immigration parties.  Across western democracies protest and protest movements are the bull stocks.  Not just in Europe, either.  In South America the protests have spilled out of the polling booths to the streets.  There are stirrings in the countries of south East Asia and in China.  Only in Russia and in the Middle Eastern states (remember the Arab Spring?) do things seem calm and content (and no doubt coincidentally, the police come well equipped with tear gas and weighted batons).

In 1848 the protests were against many and various things, differing from country to country and from social group to social group.  In Austria the aristocracy rose against a monarchy seen as reactionary and dull.  In Hungary it was middle class nationalists that wanted to port power to a Hungarian national assembly.  In Ireland Home Rule;  in France a further reassertion of middle class Parisian democrats, in Switzerland a struggle between federalism and regionalism.

This time the causes have common roots – as befits a globalising world.  Immigration is perhaps top of the list of many protestors, though it is immigration with a sharp economic edge.  Immigrants from wherever they come are seen as contributing to a cheap labour pool, thus lowering wages and employment rewards. Increasingly we live in a world of migration – even the UK has substantial emigration to the sunshine retirement spots – so it is not surprising that there may well be a slow harmonisation of job rewards across the world.  Nice if you are a gainer; not so good if you a loser with a large mortgage.  The advent of a minimum wage across most European states is making the West an ever more attractive place to work and thus drawing in a greater labour force – a prime example of the law of unintended consequences.  The effects of globalisation you might say – not just Big Macs and Starbucks in every street.

Also a common driver of dissent are perceptions of wealth and power – as in 1848, the rich are seen as getting richer, and the poor as getting poorer, the politicians as out of touch and self-regarding. That may or may not be correct, but at times like this, what matters is the perception, not the reality; the legend, not the truth.  The reaction of the UK Remainers to the Leave vote must seem a clear demonstration to those feeling disenfranchised of just how remote from the metropolitan elite they are at the moment.

What happens next depends on the politicians.  1848 shook the world and led to a new political covenant – but it took a long time to get there.  If the politicians do respond to the concerns of the marginalised then we may have a period of change but we should avoid trouble on the streets.  We can but hope so – our thoroughfares are congested enough without putting up barricades.

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Issue 60: 2016 06 30:That old Churchillian feeling(J.R.Thomas)

30 June 2016

That old Churchillian feeling

Boris Johnson’s claim

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue MaleborisSet out the features you would like in your next male Tory Prime Minister.  A family man, you might say, with perhaps four children, to sketch in a happy home life and stability.  Some family background in politics so that he has an understanding of how politics work, but also the strengthening cynicism of the political insider.  Perhaps overweight and a bit disorganised to endear him to the electorate.  Well read, of course.  A career in writing and journalism would be good, to show a life outside politics but always with a foot in country, history, polity.  Not too young, to show experience.  Not too old, to display energy. A strong speaker with wit and originality and that so-desirable common touch.  A connection with the USA, maybe even a passport holder, would cement ties to our oldest ally.

Not easy to find, such qualities, especially if there are also things to avoid.  Things such as, let’s say, what?  A reputation for rebellion might damage his standing in the Conservative Party.  A dubious or controversial record in political office will not help, still less a tendency to offbeat or eccentric behaviour or even a liking for confronting danger – all suggest unreliability.  Periods out of office or switching of seats and allegiances, perceived as being for personal betterment rather than principle? Naked longing for high office? – tut tut, the party always prefers a seemly English modesty.  A reputation as a loner, avoiding the Commons tearooms, but keeping up with offbeat chums? Oh dear, oh dear, Mr Johnson, this really is not going to work.  Ah, sorry not Johnson, Mr Churchill.  Indeed, yes.  We’ll get back to you, Winston.  Maybe.

Boris has of course recently penned a bestselling biography of Winston, and no doubt he has learned much from his reading and research for it. Though comparing their sketched in backgrounds, you might think that he really does not have such a lot to learn.  If he has imbibed deeply at the Churchillian fountain, Boris will know that he could well be at a crucial point in a career which may yet be glorious, or a fading disaster.

In the mid 1930’s Winston Churchill’s political career was generally agreed to be over, even by him.  He was still an MP, but had held no ministerial office since 1929.  His support of the King in the abdication crisis brought him to the nadir of his reputation when he was shouted down in the House of Commons.  Since that humiliating experience he had spent most of his time at his house at Chartwell where he was trying to restore his financial position by writing a magisterial biography of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, his ancestor, completed in four volumes in 1938.

It sold well – Churchill was and is immensely readable – and its completion was timely in that it freed him to begin again to engage in active politics in 1938.

Now we tend to think of Winston as one lone voice warning against the rise of German fascism.  But, like Boris in the European Referendum, he was in truth but one of a number warning and counselling about events in Europe.  Churchill was by then a loner, it is true; he had alarmed and repelled many natural allies by his behaviour over the abdication, and had not sought to rebuild his reputation or his links within the party.  He had a small number of supporters who helped him and kept some informational channels open with the civil service and government – now under the Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain, who loathed Winston.  Brendan Bracken was the leader of these Churchill acolytes, an MP and owner of the Financial Times about whom very little is known, even now. Bracken worked mainly with Robert Boothby, a rebellious backbencher and socialite, and Churchill’s son in law, Duncan Sandys.  The main Tory group arguing against the appeasement of Hitler and for rearmament was led by Anthony Eden, who was foreign secretary from 1935 to early 1938, when he resigned in protest at both Chamberlain’s policy and his interference in foreign affairs.

Eden led a low profile group of about thirty M.P.’s and peers, who resolutely kept Churchill at arm’s length.

The completion of Churchill’s work on Marlborough had reinvigorated his appetite for politics; he later wrote that by 1938 he would have accepted any senior government job had it been offered; he was desperate for high office again.  Although he was warning constantly against Chamberlains’ approach to appeasement he rarely voted against the government.  He was in fact more loyal to the government that some members of the Eden group.  He was also under considerable pressure from his constituency association, who at one point threatened to deselect him as the Conservative candidate; that would have meant the end of his career – he was 64. (What Boris might ruminate on as his equivalent of the “Heathrow extension card”.)

Whatever Winston’s machinations and manoeuvrings, he was seen outside political circles as a noisy and aggressive opponent of peace and within the House as a “has been” who was over ambitious and intemperate, a man whose judgement was highly suspect, and who lacked any useful political connections.

War against Germany was declared on 3rd September 1939.  The same day Winston was appointed by Chamberlain as First Lord of the Admiralty, a junior sounding post but bringing him membership of the War Cabinet, a wide ranging mandate in a forum which Churchill immediately dominated.  On 10th May 1940, following defeat in Norway – ironically, the failure of a strategy driven by Churchill – Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became Prime Minister, at the age of 66. (Nowadays we would regard a political disaster leading to a Prime Ministerial resignation of this sort as a prime piece of devious engineering as per the “The West Wing” or “House of Cards”.  Nothing of the sort was suggested at the time, nor indeed would it have in any way been true.  How cynical we have become!)

No doubt Boris is hoping that his moment is weeks away rather than many more years. He has made many enemies in his political career, though the Tory Party is always remarkably forgiving to those who enable it to hold political office.  Certainly, until his declaration for “Leave” in February, Boris was regarded as perhaps lightweight, certainly ambitious, but a brilliant front man who would in the right circumstances be a popular and winning leader for the Conservatives. But his campaign for Brexit is seen as opportunistic and unprincipled; now there are a lot of backbenchers who will tend to be supporting “Anybody But Boris” as the leadership campaign cuts its bloody broadsword way through the summer.

Churchill was returned triumphantly to office because he was so dramatically proved right, his claim being underscored by his  having the right talents at the right moment.  Boris may in the end be proved to have made the right judgment, especially if the EU itself starts to collapse in the next couple of years as other countries start to move towards their very own Brexits.  But in reality whether we do in the end Leave, and the effect that has, will be known unknowns for probably five years or more.   And in the meantime Boris has to disown the reputation of being an unprincipled and not very effective trimmer.  He will have a lot to prove, whether he succeeds in achieving the highest office in the land this autumn, or whether his Churchillian parallels have yet further to run.


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Issue 60:2016 06 30:Week in Brief International

30 June 2016




EU:  Following the UK referendum result, European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker demanded a rapid application of Article 50 by the UK.  Other EU leaders warned the UK against delaying the application, and insisted that negotiations could not begin until the application was made.  They also insisted that there could be no access to the free market without also the free movement of people.

While the six founding member states met for a summit in Berlin to discuss the UK referendum result, nine other member states met at Warsaw to discuss reform of the EU.

FRANCE:  President Hollande executed a u-turn when pressure from the hard-left CGT union forced him to allow a protest march which his interior minister had banned.

Unions staged a day of action to continue protests against President Hollande’s attempts to reform the labour laws.  Police fired tear gas and arrested 28 protestors in Paris, where tens of thousands marched.  81 arrests were made across the country.

GERMANY:  A gunman took hostages and opened fire in a cinema in the town of Viernheim.  He was shot dead by the police.  There were no other casualties.

ICELAND:  A history professor, Gudni Johannesson, won the presidential election.  The departing president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, invited the UK to join a group of other non-EU nations including Iceland, Greenland, Norway and the Faroe Islands

ITALY:  More than 7000 migrants sailing from Libya were rescued during two days of good weather.  Thousands more are arriving each day.

Police arrested a mafia boss in a remote Calabrian village. Ernesto Fazzalari, previously sentenced to life for murder, dealing in drugs and arms, and membership of the mafia, had been on the run for 20 years.

NATO:  NATO conducted exercises in the Baltic, its largest ever in the region.  It announced that it would send four battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.  France announced that it would send four Mirage 2000 planes to the Baltic in September.  Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, warned that such activities are inflaming tensions with Russia and could be seen as warmongering.  NATO has also started exercises in Ukraine this week.

RUSSIA:  New surveillance laws were passed; telecommunications companies and internet service providers will have to keep records of customers’ communications for police scrutiny for up to six months.  Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence officer living in Russia where he was granted asylum after leaking intelligence documents, criticised the new law.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, complained to President Putin about increased harassment of western diplomats by Russian security forces in Moscow.

SPAIN:  The solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 landed at Seville after a non-stop 71-hour flight from New York.  Its pilot, Bertrand Piccard, is the first man to cross the Atlantic in an electric plane.  The flight was the fifteenth leg of a record-breaking around the world journey that began in Abu Dhabi last year.

In the general elections, the conservative Popular Party of prime minister Mariano Rajoy won the most seats (137 out of the total 350), followed by the centre-left Socialist party (85 seats), the anti-austerity party Unidos Podemos (71 seats) and the centrist Citizens (32 seats). The Popular Party improved on its results in last December’s inconclusive election, but still do not have an outright majority. The political deadlock will continue while they try again to form a coalition; Rajoy failed to persuade the Socialist Party to join the PP in a grand coalition, so he will try to form a minority government.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN:  A Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 Nepalese security guards in Kabul.  The Nepalese government subsequently banned its people from working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

ARMENIA:  The Pope referred to the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as a “genocide”.   Turkey’s deputy prime minister criticised the statement.

CAMEROON:  Parliament has voted to change the law against adultery so that it now applies to men as well as women.  The change will now go to the senate and the president to be endorsed.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Moise Katumbi, who was planning to stand against President Joseph Kabila in elections later this year, has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $1 million.  Mr Katumbi fled the country when a warrant was issued for his arrest, and there are claims that his prosecution was politically motivated.  President Kabila has been in power since 2001 and is barred by the constitution from standing in the next elections; however, he has given no indication that he will retire.  This week, a group of Catholic bishops urged him to step down when his term expires.

IRAQ:  The Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Fallujah as government troops completed retaking the city from Isis.

ISRAEL:  Israel and Turkey announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties.  They were cut six years ago after nine Turkish people were killed when Israeli commandos raided a charity flotilla on its way to Gaza.

Yishai Shlissel, an orthodox Jew, was given a life sentence for killing a teenager and wounding five other people in last year’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

LIBYA:  The battle for Sirte continues, as forces loyal to the government of national accord continue to advance into the Isis-held city.  There are reports that Isis is using the civilian population as a human shield.

NIGERIA:  Médecins Sans Frontières has reported a refugee crisis in Borno state, with thousands fleeing from Boko Haram and hundreds starving to death.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Rioting in Pretoria continues to escalate, with shops looted, vehicles burned and roads blocked.  At least five people have been killed, many injured, and 200 arrested.  Businesses run by refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Bangladesh have been targeted.  The protestors are demonstrating against the imposition of a mayoral candidate by the ruling ANC.

One of President Zuma’s four wives was questioned over allegations of poisoning the president, and ordered off his property with their three children.

The treasury has reported to the constitutional court about the £12 million of public money which President Zuma spent on his home, and has recommended that he should repay £385,000 of it.

SYRIA:  The Syrian Democratic Forces (an alliance of mainly Kurdish YPG militia with some Arab forces), backed by Western airstrikes and special services, fought their way into the Isis held town of Mabij after a three-week siege.  Manbij is a vital link in the Isis supply chain between Raqqa and the Turkish border.  However, the fighting also saw clashes between the SDF and local Arabs of the Free Syrian Army group, which is also Western-backed.

The New Syrian Army, a rebel group backed by the UK and the USA, has attacked the Isis-held town of al-Bukamal, in an attempt to separate Isis forces in Syria and Iraq.

Government forces attacked rebel areas north of city of Aleppo, with ten days of intense bombing by Russian and Syrian warplanes (there were allegations of cluster bombs and phosphorous).

TANZANIA:  A huge reserve of helium gas has been discovered beneath the Great Rift Valley.  Helium gas is relatively scarce but essential in various medical and other scientific procedures.

TURKEY:  Turkey and Israel announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties.  They were cut six years ago after nine Turkish people were killed when Israeli commandos raided a charity flotilla on its way to Gaza.

President Erdogan made a statement, addressed to President Putin of Russia, expressing regret for the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkish planes near the Syrian border last November. The message could be a first step towards restoring economic and political relationships between Turkey and Russia.

The new Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, announced that Turkey was ready to begin friendly talks with President Sisi of Egypt.

Marchers attempting the banned gay pride parade were cleared by police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Three suicide bombers killed at least 28 people and wounded 60 others in an attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

YEMEN:  Peace talks have stalled.  Eighty people were killed when forces of the Saudi-led coalition attacked Houthi rebels in Taez.  A suicide bombing claimed by Isis killed 42 people.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA:  General elections will take place this weekend.  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal), who ousted Tony Abbot nine months ago, is leading the polls against Bill Shorten (Labour).

CHINA:  A Canadian human rights group has reported its conclusions that the Chinese state is harvesting the organs of executed political prisoners for transplants.  China insists that all transplanted organs are donated by volunteers.

Tens of thousands of protestors demonstrating in public have persuaded the authorities to scrap plans to build a waste incineration plant in Xiantao and a pesticide factory in Qianjiang.

A bus crashed and burst into flames in Hunan, killing at least 35 people and injuring 11 more.

PAKISTAN:  A popular Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, was murdered in his car by a gunman on a motorbike.  The authorities are considering it an act of terror; Sufis are often the targets of the Taliban and other militants.

A group of 50 clerics in Lahore announced that transgender people have rights under Islamic law to marry, to inherit and to Muslim funeral rites.  Marriage was not included in the laws passed by the Supreme Court five years ago giving transgender people a number of rights.


BOLIVIA:  President Morales has called for the Gregorian calendar to be replaced by the calendar of the Aymara, the Andean people to whom he belongs.  It is year 5524 in the Aymara calendar.  The Ayamara year has 13 months, and each month has 28 days.  There are 36 recognised groups of native peoples in Bolivia, making up over 60% of the population: the Aymara and the Quechua are the two biggest groups.

BRAZIL:  A member of Australia’s Paralympic team and a physiotherapist were robbed by gunmen while training in a park in Rio.

A jaguar escaped from a parade in an Olympic ceremony in Manaus and was shot dead by a soldier.  The mascot of Brazil’s Olympic team is a jaguar.

Police are threatening to strike during the Olympics if they do not receive overdue pay.

The spread of the zika virus has caused the demand for abortions to double, according to a report by ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’.

COLOMBIA:  The government and Farc rebels announced a ceasefire and a disarmament deal.  The Marxist rebels have been fighting for over fifty years in a conflict which has claimed a quarter of a million lives.  The two sides have been involved in peace talks in Havana since 2012.

PANAMA:  The enlarged Panama Canal opened, after the completion of a $5.5 billion engineering project to expand it for the new generation of larger ships.  There is now a new standard ship size: New Panamax.

USA:  170 Democrats staged a 25 hour sit-in in Congress to protest about the continued defeat of gun-control legislation.  The protest was led by Georgia congressman John Lewis (a 76 year old veteran of the Civil Rights movement) and supported by Senator Bernie Sanders (who joined them), Hilary Clinton and President Obama.

18 people died after heavy rainfall caused flooding in West Virginia.  Hundreds of houses were damaged and power was cut off from thousands of homes and businesses.

Hilary Clinton could face new allegations of corruption after it was claimed that calendars and planning schedules show that she had secret meetings with businessmen and donors when she was Secretary of State.

Ten people were stabbed in Sacramento, California, in a violent confrontation between about 30 white nationalists gathering for a rally of the right-wing Traditionalist Worker Party and about 400 anti-fascist counter-protestors.

VENEZUELA:  The opposition completed its process to validate the signatures on the first petition required for a referendum on President Maduro’s future.  If it now gets official recognition that at least 1% of the population signed, then it will launch the second petition which requires 20% of the population to sign.

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Issue 60: 2016 06 30: The Morning After (John Watson)

30 June 2016

The Morning After

Reflections on the referendum.

By John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shotbrexit 1A deep dark cloud of gloom has descended over the London Borough of Islington. Here in the citadel of Remain, in an area full of lawyers, bankers and doctors, the Referendum result has hit us like an exploding shell.  How could 52% of our countrymen have disagreed with us?  Were they all too old, too stupid, too blind, too ill-educated?  Was it our fault for not explaining it all to them properly in words of one syllable?

I have always been an “In” myself, ever since the heady days of 1973 when I campaigned in the previous referendum, through a spell as a member of a pro-European political group to a career in the city, based on lawyering European deals. And then “poof!” All the certainties blown away in a moment, that horrible second when we heard the Newcastle result and began to realise that nothing would be quite the same again.

And yet it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.  For years the gap between the EU and the population of the member states has been widening, a little like the gap between a departing ship and the dockside. You don’t have to look very far to see why.  Look at the way in which the EU spent money (not least on its own offices) while the people of Greece were being racked for the last cent on the altar of austerity. Look at the way in which provisions from the Constitution which had been rejected in French and Irish referenda in 2005 reappeared in the Treaty of Lisbon two years later.  There is nothing technically wrong about that.  The treaty was approved by each member state but you can see why ordinary members of the public, those outside the political elite, began to feel that something was happening over which they had little control. Something way beyond the project to which they had given their consent at the time of their country’s accession.

Two things then happened to widen the gap.  The first was the migration of workers from Eastern Europe.  Now the decisions from which the public felt excluded began to effect their lives.  Many of the concerns about jobs and the strain on services were no doubt exaggerated, but there is no point in pretending that they were all racist or based on hate.  People believed that the neighbourhoods in which they lived and which they loved were being changed, possibly beyond recognition, by a bureaucracy which was too remote to understand.   It is not hard to see why that worried them.  The second was that things began to go wrong.  The huge achievements of the EU in integrating post war Europe and creating the single market became obscured by more recent failures, the unfortunate consequences of the EU’s overtures to the Ukraine, an inadequate response to the refugee crisis, a failure to bring the continent out of recession.

This wasn’t all the fault of the EU Commission.  It is no easy business managing a block of 28 countries which are reluctant to surrender their sovereignty.  The only answer was to call for greater union, for greater powers at a time when many Europeans already felt that they had been sucked into an experiment which was out of control.

It was inevitable that there would be an explosion, so the question became where.  Would it be France, where some 60% of the population are opposed to EU membership, or the UK where we now know that 52% are opposed, or the Netherlands, or Denmark, or Italy?  Someone was going to be the first to say that this was not what they had signed up for and that they were going to be the first to jump off the train.

I’m sorry it had to be us.  The country that walked away was inevitably going to pick up extensive collateral damage and my own instinct would have been to let the train run on in the hope that someone else would take the dangerous step. Perhaps that makes me wise. Perhaps it makes me overcautious but I am certainly not going to insult those who were bolder than I by calling them too old, too stupid, too blind or too ill-educated.

So where are we now? What sort of arrangements can we expect to emerge over the next two years? Well, there are lots of things which will presumably go on as before, albeit under new agreements. Take the sharing of information about terrorists, for example. That is an area where GCHQ leads Europe and it is hard to see why the EU would not wish to continue with intelligence sharing arrangements. What about academia? Why wouldn’t the Erasmus scheme continue and why would the research departments of universities in the UK and the EU not continue to work together?  Then there are things like the protection of the environment where common interest dictates a common approach.  Also patents and antitrust, where there seems little point in splitting things up. One would have thought that the exit agreement should contain a list of areas where things can go on exactly as before.

Against that, there are things which will certainly have to change.  Although existing EU legislation will presumably remain part of English law unless specifically repealed, new EU rules will only take effect if ratified by the UK legislature or in areas (such as those mentioned above) where things are delegated to the EU.  All this sounds reasonably easy to deal with (well, in relative terms anyway), but there is one issue which overshadows everything. What access will we have to European markets?

Lots has been written about the Canadian model, the Norwegian model, the Swiss model and reliance on the World Trade Organisation rules, rather as if they were sweets in the bag and that there was a good chance of the two sides deciding that they liked the same flavour. There is, however, a knot and it is a difficult one to undo. The EU links participation in the single market with the free movement of people. The Leave campaign was built on the proposal to restrict the free movement of people. It follows that it will be very difficult indeed for the UK to have unrestricted access to the single market.

That is quite a knot to unravel but, as so often with this EU debate, all is not quite what it seems.  The toxic gap between an EU centric political class and a populace which feels threatened is not exclusive to the UK but exists in other countries as well. Take France and try this as a scenario:

Next year there will be a French general election and currently the National Front of Marine Le Pen is surging in the polls. At some stage panic breaks out, exactly as it did when Mr Cameron was threatened by UKIP, and the other French parties come to the conclusion that the only way of keeping the far right out of power is to offer a referendum too.  As the referendum campaign takes hold it becomes obvious to the establishment that the only thing that will save them is a relaxation of the movement of people rules. By then, though, it is too late to get the relevant changes agreed by all twenty-seven members.  Nasty!  This is what Mrs Merkel, a wise and sensible politician if ever there was one, must have nightmares about when she has dined too well.

Ask yourself this then.  If you were committed to the continued existence of the EU, what would you do now? There is only one sensible answer. You would try to lance the boil by starting negotiations about the softening of the movement of workers rules so that the governments of member states have the ammunition to deal with challenges from the political fringes.  At some stage, then, the EU will probably revert to rules which would have defused the issue in the UK.

This is not the sort of thing for which you would hold your breath, and once notice is served under clause 50 of the Lisbon Treaty there will be a hard timetable.  Still, if we ultimately have to accept free  movement of workers as a condition of whatever market access we end up with, it will perhaps be a consolation that we are signing up to a freedom whose days are probably numbered.

There is another way of looking at this too.  The social challenges of the next few years will be novel and hugely important.  How do you combine a growing number of relatively fit old people with opportunities for the young?  How do you prevent robotics from destroying the employment market?  Will our independence from the EU enable us to tackle these issues in a more flexible and practical way than would be the case if we were part of it?  Of course the EU is wrestling with these points too but their tradition is far more academic than ours and Darwinism alone tells us that to find solutions in areas like these one needs plenty of experiments rather than a solution imposed from the top.

There is a long way to go here and lots of moving parts.  No one really knows how it will work out or whether any of the suggestions made above will be borne out.  One thing only is certain.  A big risk was taken on Thursday and we committed ourselves to a small boat on a stormy sea.  If I have to embark on a trip of that sort I can think of no one who I would rather have in my boat than the British people, be they Leave or Remain.


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Issue 60:2016 06 30: Organisation (Lynda Goetz)

30 June 2016


I want that perfect life!

by Lynda Goetz


Lynda Goetz head shotI occasionally day dream that one day my life will be organised.  I am not sure by whom though; after many decades, I have come to the sad conclusion  that it is not going to be by me.  Somehow, in spite of all my good intentions and best efforts, it just never seems to happen.  When I used to write for magazines about people’s houses, I would look at the immaculately ordered homes and wonder why mine just never seemed to be in this organised state.  I suppose, to be fair, that if you are having your home photographed for a magazine, you are going to ensure that the detritus of everyday living is safely stowed out of sight in the cupboard under the stairs, the attic, the airing cupboard or wherever, but somehow it always felt as if others managed to lead a more ordered existence than I ever have.

This of course extends not simply to the chaos of ‘stuff’ generated by everyday family life, but to the general administration needed to make life work.   Oh, I do, of course, manage eventually to get this sorted, but I am quite convinced it takes me at least five times longer than it should because I do not deal with it efficiently.   If I did, I would not, for example, spend half an hour looking for the bill that the window cleaner dropped off last time he came, or the bill from the builder’s merchant, or the invitation from the electricity company to choose a new tariff, all of which were on the kitchen table the last time I saw them.  Nor would I have to go through the last year’s worth of emails (at last count there were 8473 unread!) to find the one relating to my daughter’s car insurance which I have a feeling needs renewing.   At least the discovery some years ago of the ‘Search’ function in the mail box has made that task slightly less time consuming, although it doesn’t help much when I can’t remember which insurer I used for that particular car.  Was it Aviva, Endsleigh, NFU or some other less well-known name?  Typing ‘insurance’ into the search box brings up several hundred emails,  including offers for house insurance, pet insurance, travel insurance or life insurance.  This, by the way, is not because I am so technically unsavvy that I have failed to put a filter on my incoming mail, but simply because at some time I have searched for, communicated with, or even used these companies and have either failed to unsubscribe from their weekly efforts to interest me in their other products or, in spite of efforts to do so have not succeeded.  I daren’t resort to deleting all emails relating to insurance, in case I unknowingly send into oblivion something of importance.

I do have two filing cabinets in the study.  Admittedly it is sometimes hard to open them because of all the other stuff piled in front of them (mainly magazines I intend to read one day when my life is organised or boxes of photos which I will put into an album one of these years), but when I can, after a tidy up, manage to reach them, it does appear as if there is some sort of system in operation.  There is but, unfortunately, any system is only as good as the operator.  On days when the filing on the kitchen table needs removing (because we need more than three feet at one end to eat off, as family or friends are joining us) I add to or  even create a new ‘Miscellaneous’ file.  This is intended to be temporary.  The contents will be redistributed to their correct files when I have the time.  In the meantime they are at least off the kitchen table.  I can put a huge and beautiful bunch of flowers from the garden in the centre (as well as some smaller ones which won’t need to be removed so that people can talk to one another) to draw everyone’s eyes away from the window sills which are not only adorned with plants, but odd items which do not seem to have a home: loose change in bowls; screws; paper clips and pen tops; not to mention the important letters which I did not want to lose in ‘the black hole’ that is the kitchen table – oh and dust!

I used to have someone who came weekly to help with the cleaning.  This has not been possible for the last seven years as, for most of this time, I have been living in a permanent building site.  That is not because I am creating something out of Grand Designs, but because my partner is a builder and does all the building in between his other jobs.  (In the same timescale, one of our neighbours has had their farmhouse renovated; lived in that for four years; had an entirely new house built and moved into that two years ago.  Needless to say it is immaculate.  I wonder if they’d like it photographed for a magazine).  I have also moved from a larger house to a smaller one, but failed to downsize my possessions at the same time.  This, unsurprisingly, has resulted in the proverbial ‘quart into a pint pot’ syndrome.  Numerous attempts to increase the storage space just means there are more out-of-sight places in which I need to look to find things I really do need.  I am well aware that the ownership of too much stuff is something of a First World problem, but how come other people seem to be able to throw things cheerfully into a skip or dump them in a charity shop?  Many of these now get so much decent stuff that they would probably turn their noses up at my squirreled possessions anyway.  Why would you want to clutter up your beautifully re-designed shop with twenty ‘Beanies’ when these soft, coloured toy animals are a long out-of-date craze (my daughters’) and you could give room instead to a stunning pair of unworn shoes which someone purchased in a Cinderella moment and has never been able to cram her feet into?

Then there are the clothes, which any ‘de-clutterer’ would have had you throw out instantly on the grounds that they have not been worn for over three years.  Well, what if multi-coloured floral patterns come back in? Ah, see, they just have! At least I have not really changed size in decades (we will ignore the slight thickening of the waist which does mean that some skirts and trousers are a little tight so not really wearable for now) and most of those old clothes do fit.  What if I were one of those people who, as a result of yo-yo dieting, needed three different sizes of clothes depending on which stage of the cycle I was in?  I do remember once going to a sale where a whole barn was devoted to selling the wardrobe of one lady, in sizes from 10 to 16. She must have needed several dressing rooms to organise those!

As I said earlier, though, I am not sure that having the space is necessarily synonymous with being organised.   My ex-husband was convinced years ago that if we moved from a London home and cottage in the country to one larger house (yes, I know, another First World problem), then life would be simpler and better organised.  In some ways it was, but a larger house meant more room to hoard stuff.  There was the attic proper as well as the attic playroom (rarely used of course so ideal for storage).  There were the spare bedrooms and extra cupboards.  So where did I put that bag of outgrown kids clothing I was going to give to my sister when she visited?  Perhaps the answer is simply to own less stuff, but we are constantly being encouraged as consumers to spend and purchase more, most of which is designed with as short a shelf life as possible so that we will go out and replace it.

Does the answer lie with technology?  There is no doubt that my filing cabinet full of cardboard and paper is very 20th century, even Dickensian, but would I honestly be any better off if I had it all on my phone or tablet in the form of Apps?   Looking at all the Apps I already have and don’t use, or do use but can’t access the right area when I want to, and all those photos on my phone which I do intend to edit and put into a photo book one of these days, not to mention all those files full of emails I should simply have deleted, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that organisation is one of those things you are either good at or you’re not.  Clearly, if I really do want that perfectly organised life I should just enlist the help of someone for whom the word ‘admin’ does not invoke a mental groan and a mild feeling of panic.  I could, and probably will, continue to infuriate those around me by my total inability to generate order out of chaos, unless, that is, I am asked if my kitchen could be photographed for a magazine.  In that case, I will chuck all the duplicate cooking utensils; the gardening and building tools; the laundry basket of un-ironed clothes; the outstanding paperwork and the unread magazines into another room or the cupboard on the landing and sort it all out when I have time.  In the meantime, I will look supremely unflustered and totally in control as I pour tea for the photographer.


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