Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Time To Rat (John Watson)

29 September 2016

Time To Rat

The plight of the Blairites.

By John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shot“Poor Tom’s a-cold” cries Edgar in Lear, but he isn’t the only one.  Following Corbyn’s emphatic endorsement by the membership of the Labour party, Blairite MPs too must be feeling the draughts of oncoming winter.  Of course it is all meat and drink to the press.  With a taciturn government anxious not to say anything which might prejudice our position in the forthcoming EU negotiations, real political news has been rather thin on the ground.  No wonder then that they have descended on  the tensions within the opposition like sharks jumping into a goldfish bowl.

“Will there be a purge?”asks one.  “Will Corbyn let bygones be bygones?” asks another.  Will deselection stalk the land like some mediaeval plague?  Every speech is analysed for hidden threats, for indications as to what Mr Corbyn and his circle really think.  Will they be generous or will they turn on those who have sought to undermine them?

It is all complete nonsense. Whether Mr Corbyn turns vindictive or offers an olive branch, decisions on deselection will not be made by him but by constituency parties. Imagine that you have a constituency with a Blairite MP and a left wing membership.  The members will feel, quite rightly, that the MP does not represent their views.  Why then should they support him?  Why should they go out canvassing on wet and windy nights?  Why should they deliver election addresses with which they do not really agree?  Surely the logical thing is to choose a candidate who shares their views.  Then they can campaign away happily, glowing with a satisfaction engendered by the belief that they are doing a public good.

Whether or not moderate MPs are deselected will, therefore, not depend upon whether Mr Corbyn forgives them or even embraces them, but rather on whether their local constituency parties believe that they will represent their views.  For many of them the writing must be well and truly on the wall.

So what should they do to avoid inevitable extinction at the next election?  There are a number of possible strategies. One, let’s call it the “Vicar of Bray route” after the eighteenth century song, is to trim their views to the prevailing wind and take a place in the shadow Cabinet.  It’s not heroic perhaps, but no doubt when the wind changes again they will argue that they stayed at the centre of the party to maintain a moderate influence or some nonsense of that sort.  For those who cannot stomach that, there is the possibility of standing as an independent.  The prospects there are bleak.  History has not been kind to those who stand as independents against their former party – not least because it is difficult to carry activists with them and seats are hard to win without some form of party machine.  Also, even nowadays, party names count for a lot. In the US a “yellow dog Democrat” is someone who would vote Democrat even if they put up a yellow dog as candidate.  They have their equivalents here .

If standing as an independent is out, the only alternative is to defect to one of the other parties. The obvious choice might seem to be the Liberal Democrats; after all they, like the Labour Party have certain socialist credentials. But they are not riding particularly high at the moment, and in many constituencies that would make joining them the equivalent of jumping into a lifeboat with a hole in it. There is a heroism about that, of course, but, on balance, perhaps not.

That leaves the Tories as a possible home, and just over a year into a new Tory government there are certainly attractions. To begin with we are talking about people who are at present Labour MPs so there will be no incumbent Tory member in their constituencies. At this stage there may be no candidate either but even if there is it might be possible to get an opportunity somewhere else.  To cross the floor and then ingratiate yourself with the local and national parties might be a worthwhile strategy.

There is a little point of principle, of course, but here things have suddenly got easier. Mrs May has come to the office of prime minister with a reformist agenda and, for the moment at least, on a wave of public goodwill. Could you not argue that your socialism has always been based on the need to break down social divisions and improve social mobility? Mrs May’s agenda makes her party the most likely to achieve this.

From the government’s point of view, anyone crossing the floor would be welcomed with open arms. The Conservative majority is only 16 and that puts their program at the mercy of small groups of “nutter” MPs who combine together in revolt. At the moment that doesn’t matter too much. Tory MPs who brought down Mrs May’s government and wrecked the Brexit negotiations would be forgiven neither by the public nor the party.  However, in due course, as the government loses its initial popularity, that may change.  Then an increase in the government majority would be valuable indeed.  In these circumstances someone crossing the floor to the Tories would surely be welcomed enthusiastically.

Of course ratting isn’t particularly popular, particularly with those you leave behind and the best thing is to do it over a matter of principle.  You wait until your leader says something particularly unacceptable (it probably won’t be a very long wait in the case of Mr Corbyn) and then, weeping crocodile tears of sadness, you hold a press conference announcing that in future you will feel forced to accept the Tory whip.  That isn’t to save your skin, of course.  Oh no, your personal preference would be to stay with the party you love and help it through its tribulations.  No, you are doing this out of your duty to your constituents.  After all, it was to serve them that you went into politics.  Ideally the Band of the Grenadier Guard playing “Jerusalem” can just be heard, fortuitously and faintly, in the distance.

Well, perhaps it’s like that or perhaps the theatricals take place on the floor of the house itself with you shaking your head disapprovingly at what one of your colleagues has just said and, slowly and sadly, making your lonely way across the chamber to howls of derision from behind and jubilant cheers from in front.  The Tory publicity people will help you choose the exact formula. One thing is certain, however.  If it is to be done “then t’were well it be done quickly”.  Mrs May’s honeymoon period will not last for ever, so that a switch of support which may be viewed generously now could be hard to justify later.  Also, the longer you leave it the more chance that the constituency will already have selected a Tory candidate.  So if you want to fight the next election with a party machine at your back and are not particularly choosy as to which one, there is just one rule to follow.  Best rat now!


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Issue 73:2016 09 29:The Lives of Others (J.R.Thomas)

29 September 2016

The Lives of Others

Cruz? Sanders? Rubio? Where are they all?

by J.R.Thomas

getting tired

Rogue Male

Ted Cruz. Remember him?  And Marco Rubio; his name might be familiar to you? Before we move onto this week’s main event, the debate Tuesday night in Hofstra University, New York, between the winners; whatever happened to the losers?

On the blue side, Bernie Sanders is still Senator Bernie Sanders.  Elected in 2012 to his Vermont seat, he retains it until 2018, and with it all his Senate responsibilities and advantages.  Senator Sanders, as we can go back to calling him, is one of the most powerful operators on the Hill, chairing several key committees and retaining an almost unrivalled network of contacts – on both sides of the party divide.  Although a Democrat contender for President and joining the party for the duration, he will presumably be letting his membership lapse at renewal.  Bernie is proud to be an independent Senator, the only one, and most of his recent activities have been to pursue his enthusiasms such as environmentalism, low wage legislation, and the Flint water poisoning case.  He has endorsed Hillary for President on several occasions and has spoken at several rallies in support.  The Sanders family look to be in line for a further electoral disappointment soon – the Senator’s brother, Larry, is the selected Green candidate for the Witney (UK) by-election caused by David Cameron’s resignation.  Larry Sanders is 81, his kid brother Bernie a mere 75. There’s life in those Sanders’ and no mistake.

Mr Cruz is not on the campaign trail – not for The Donald anyway.  Ted is still furious at the way he and his family were roughed up by Trump rhetoric, and in any case has a little problem all of his own, caused, not least, by his failure to support Mr Trump.  Like Bernie, Ted is a serving Senator not up for re-election until 2018 (unlike Bernie he is regarded in the Senate as an outsider and a troublemaker), and his state is Texas, which is a divided land at the moment.  On the GOP side the big hatters are Trump enthusiasts, so the sulks of their Senator are not being well received.  So not well received, that Rick Perry, the former governor of the state, has announced that he will run for the Senate in 2018, and is already leading comfortably in the opinion polls.  Hard work ahead for Ted seems likely.

Marco Rubio is Senator for the other corner of the South, Florida. He had a little problem of his own making following his withdrawal from the nomination race.  He had announced even before his run for the nomination that he was fed up with the Senate as a powerless body and would not run again.  His seat is one that comes up in November, so Marco looked as though he might be unemployed in 2017.  But surprisingly, in view of the invective blasted between them during the primaries, there is a rapprochement between Donald and Marco.  And Marco has announced that Florida needs a Senator like him this time, to “maintain the balance of power that the Senate holds…”  So he is running again, he is supporting Mr Trump for the presidency, and Mr Trump is supporting him.  He won the Senatorial primary by an overwhelming majority – 72% – and on the evidence of the opinion polls to date he is well ahead of Democrat challenger Patrick Murphy, so will be back in Washington next year, maintaining that balance of power.  And ready for another run at the Presidency in 2020 or 2024.

And those others in that crowded Republican race who started with glorious dreams last fall?  Mostly gone back to the day jobs – Jeb Bush to a grumpy retirement; the Bush bloc refuses to even mention Mr Trump, in polite conversation anyway.  Chris Christie is still governing New Jersey, though campaigning strongly for The Donald (we are avoiding jokes about building bridges) and must surely be in line for high office if Donald wins.  John Kasich will govern Ohio until 2018 and then may want to prepare another run at the nomination in 2020.  And Ben Carson has also resumed the political stage, campaigning for racial harmony and for more understanding amongst Americans of ethnicity and history. He endorsed Trump when he gave up the nomination race last march, and has supported him since.  Trump in return has said that there would be a place in the White House for Dr Carson, who he described recently as “amazing…a brilliant guy with a brilliant heart”.

So to Hofstra. The candidates greeted each other as old friends – as indeed they are.  But after that, in conventional terms it looked like a strong victory for Hillary; she was better prepared, well rehearsed, confident, calmly in control.  Donald was none of those things, though he was passionate, and at the points where he was thought likely to slip in the rapier (Hillary’s health, Bill’s bimbo eruptions), he didn’t. Whether this was careful coaching by his team, a natural fundamental decency, keeping the killer stuff until later, or your correspondent’s favourite conspiracy theory, that he is fronting to deliver Hillary the election, who knows.

“In conventional terms…” we say.  And we say that, knowing that in normal times, the debate would be reflecting in the polls as a Clinton victory, rewarded by a welcome surge to the lady.  But these are not normal times.  The polls in the next few days will be very revealing.  Could it be that the Clinton smooth controlled presentation will be seen as more evidence of that establishment sheen that Trump accuses her off so often, that she is a machine politician, and that Donald is the one true unpolished authentic true voice of core America; and thus result in Trump gathering more of the angry vote?  Mrs C put great efforts into suggesting that Mr Trump is racist and anti-women, that he is secretive about all sorts of things he should be open about – especially his tax returns.  She made much of this latter – dangerous given the Clinton’s astonishing accumulation of wealth since Bill left the Oval Office.  She pointed out that the only time Donald revealed his tax returns (for a court case) he was shown as having paid no tax. “That makes me smart” Donald too quickly replied, as his team no doubt wished they could rewrite and replay that particular response.

Before Tuesday Donald had pretty much caught Hillary in the polls; in some key marginal states he was ahead.  It is a great tribute to Mrs C and her team (and a sign of their long experience) that she is remaining so outwardly calm and assured.  Polls are not always a guide to reality, as Mr Cameron would no doubt be pleased to advise after his electoral victory and Referendum surprises (both of them).  This column has defended the pollsters in the past; here we go again.  (copyright, sort of: R Reagan).

Opinion polls are very carefully devised to try to cover a representative selection of the electorate, to weed out untruths, and counter misleading responses.  But in the end they only report what respondents tell them.  And one thing that pollsters are aware of, and occasionally draw attention to, is that people do not always tell the truth when metaphorically stopped by the man with a clipboard.  In particular, if you are a voter who has views that may be unfashionable, or derided in the media, or not those which you think your interlocutor might want to hear, you might be inclined to tell fibs, or simply to say “Don’t Know”.  That has applied to Conservative voters, to Leavers from Europe and Remainers in Scotland, and we suggest, to intending Trump voters.  Indeed, given the current media stance in the USA, you need a certain degree of bravery to admit to being a Trump supporter at all.  Which might suggest that The Donald last week was not level-pegging in the polls, but ahead.  Whether Tuesday night will change that, we shall soon know.

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Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Dear Sirs And Madams (Chin Chin)

29 September 2016

Dear Sirs and Madams

How to address a bishop

By Chin Chin

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is a cutting-edge UK law firm and the edge which it is currently cutting lies in the field of manners.  Until recently the firm, when writing to a group of people such as, for example, the members of a company, would begin its letters “Dear Sirs”.  That was, of course, in line with long-standing general practice but the firm, or perhaps its marketing department, became worried that it might irritate the ladies and so, being a group of well-mannered chaps and chapesses, the partners decided to do something about it.  It is understood that in the UK they will begin general letters “Dear Sir and Madam”.  In the US they will use “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen”.

The awkwardness of these modes of address illustrates the difficulty caused by the fading of the old convention that the masculine includes the feminine.  That is not to say that it isn’t right to move on; actually it is neither right nor wrong but firms who offer their services to female clients had better do whatever modern manners demand.  It just isn’t all that easy to find something which sounds right.

It isn’t too difficult when there is only one woman.  Writing to a board comprising two men and one woman, to start “Dear Sirs and Madam” is euphonious as well as accurate.  Many firms have used that over the years.  Logically, then, you would think that if there were two women it should be “Dear Sirs and Madams” but, quite apart from the implication that the recipients are running a brothel, that doesn’t sound right at all.  Why not?  Perhaps it is because the plural of Madam should be the French form Mesdames.  Let’s try it.  “Dear Sirs and Mesdames”.  That is certainly better than the “Sirs and Madams” version but maybe a little continental for a country going through negotiations for Brexit.  I forget which European politician it was who reacted to the vote by saying how good it would be to get rid of both us and our horrible language (presumably he had overlooked the fact that the Irish speak English too) but maybe it isn’t the moment to make things sound more French.  Anyway it would hardy do in Australia.  Try saying it with your mouth full of flies.

Using “Dear Sir and Madam” when there are lots of them doesn’t work too well either.  To replace the rule that the masculine includes the feminine by importing another to the effect that the singular includes the plural is not really an improvement and, taken literally, is certainly no more accurate.  “Ladies and Gentlemen” sounds better, if a little theatrical, but try putting the definite article in front and you get a distinctly creepy feeling.

Perhaps that is because of literary associations.  Imagine two young women lost in a wood.  A possible rescuer appears and addresses them.  If he (yes, it is a he, this is literature, after all) begins “ladies” he could be a perfectly respectable knight.  “Dear ladies”, however, is a warning sign.  Possibly he is a seducer, possibly a necromancer.  At the least he is a wicked uncle and it is that sycophantic “Dear” before “Ladies” which gives him away.  It is worse, of course, if the lost young people are boys.  Then.  “Gentlemen”, would be fine but “Dear gentleman” would be an indication that the speaker was a relative of Gollum and that the dungeons await.  Maybe it is different in the States but, if I were Freshfields, I’d keep the “Ladies and Gentlemen” and drop the “Dear”.  Otherwise their clients will wonder who they are getting into bed with.

It seems rather odd to waste so much energy on finding a correct form of address when the old conventions ran for so many years without a problem.  Actually, a quick look at  “Debrett’s Correct Form” will show you that the correct mode of address has always been a subject of fascination and study.  How should you address a bishop?  (“My Lord” if you are his servant, “Bishop” if you meet him socially).  How do you address the youngest son of a peer?  (By the word “Lord” followed by his Christian name as in “Lord Peter”.  His wife will rather oddly become “Lady Peter”).  Then there is the  vexed question, so dear to our transatlantic cousins, of who is entitled to add the word  “Esquire”.

Fortunately this obsolete term has now retreated from English envelopes following the decision by government and business to extend it to everyone, rather than as previously to descendants of knights, men in her Majesty’s commission such as JPs and members of the bar.  Once everyone could use it, it ceased to become a courtesy and it became merely a waste of ink.

Incorrect form

Incorrect etiqette

Why does anyone bother with all these conventions?  They are not works of art.  They add not a penny to GDP.   Logically we should all ignore them but until everybody does so one would rather not get them wrong.  If you meet a Bishop at a dinner party, you would rather address him as his equal than as if you were his servant.

Mistakes of course can easily happen.  A friend of mine is the chairman of the bench in an English country town.  As such he might expect to be addressed as “Sir” or “your worship” but, noble fellow though he is, he is certainly not entitled to the appellation “your Majesty” which one defendant bestowed on him.  In his place it would have been tempting to let them continue to use it for a bit, just to see what it felt like but reputations in provincial England are delicate things so he felt he should point out the error before it went too far.

The other source of error is computers.  Faced by the name Lord Smith, the average computer will put Mr Lord Smith on the envelope.  The Inland Revenue once did this to an Earl.  When the error was pointed out the Inspector of Taxes sent an apology which he ended with the lines:

“and I shall belt the knavish churl

who did not know his belted earl”

So there you are.  Surprising things can emerge from the most unpromising material.  It is just a question of finding a taxman who can write humorous verse.


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Issue73:2016 09 29: Week in Brief financial

29 September 2016


NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background

STORM BREWING:  So much of what we value has come from the North Sea – kippers, Cromer crabs, oil and gas.  Trouble is, they are all running short – and the ones that might soon have the biggest effect on our lifestyles are diminishing oil and gas. Early projections were that oil would run out by the year 2000, so the fact that we are still pumping over 50 million tons of oil per year means that it is going better than we might have hoped.  Indeed, production, after a long slow decline since 1999 has picked up in the last couple of years, and in spite of low oil prices, continues to rise.  Partly that is because production costs – extraction costs – have fallen.  Ironically some of that is due to falling energy prices but more is due to big advances in technology, extraction cost per barrel in the North Sea field has fallen from US$29 three years ago to US$16 now.  That means that it continues to be economic to pump oil onshore – but those costs do not allow for pumping machinery rapidly wearing out; before long, big new investment will be needed.  Three years ago – at the end of the era of US$100 a barrel oil prices – investment peaked at nearly US$15bn, but now it is down to (forecast) US$9bn this year. That may sound still a big sum, but the oil is getting more and more difficult to get out, lying as it does in deeper and less accessible fields

Oil and Gas UK, which represents the North Sea producers – the OPEC of the Dogger Bank if you like – is calling on the Government and the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond to encourage fresh investment into the oilfields. It points out that the fall in expenditure has badly hurt east coast towns dependent on the industry, especially Aberdeen which is a world centre for technology in the oil and gas business. Time, says OGUK, for encouraging investment, especially with oil prices slowly rising. It has produced some interesting figures – the UK has had about 43bn barrels of oil out of the cold water to its east; but the remaining reserves could be another 20bn barrels, and with improved technology cutting production costs, now is the time to start thinking about getting it out.

MEANWHILE:  ON LAND…:  The Labour Party Conference has decided that all attempts to extract shale oil and gas should be banned.  This was proposed by the party leadership and endorsed by conference.  The main interest at the moment seems to be in shale gas and it is mostly found in two large rural areas, Ryedale in North Yorkshire, and the Forest of Bowland over the border in Lancashire.  It is not entirely clear why the Labour Party has taken this line – the trade unions at the conference have said that they generally back fracking as being a cheap source of energy that will assist job creation.  Barry Gardiner, the shadow energy secretary, says that Britain should do more to develop sustainable technologies and use energy more efficiently.  The ban was supported by Greenpeace, but strongly opposed by the GMB Union.  The GMB, which was founded as the Gas Workers Union, is a major contributor to the Labour Party, criticised the proposed ban as “madness”, and meant that “we will be buying gas [instead] from hangmen, henchmen, and head-choppers”.  (Neither Yorkshiremen nor Lancastrians could quite be described thus).  The Ryedale field is now moving towards production capability and, although local planners have rejected applications to begin drilling in the Forest of Bowland, that is likely to be overturned on appeal so that the field there may open in late 2017.

DOORS SHUT:  The surprise result of the Referendum in June caused big problems for several major property investment funds.  Reading the vote as likely to lead to a flight of capital from the UK and property being a notoriously illiquid asset, several of the major funds closed their doors to withdrawals, some also hurriedly selling property assets, word has it, at considerable discounts, so as to improve their liquidity positions.  This has not gone down well with investors nor with the Financial Conduct Authority, the regulator for the industry, which has now begun an enquiry into the asset management industry and as to how it might better handle sudden demands for redemptions and investors desire for liquidity.  In the meantime, most of the funds have quietly reopened to investors – with no great rush to take money out. Three of the biggest are yet to reopen – Standard Life which has a £2.5bn fund, but has said it will reopen in mid-October, M&G, which has funds totalling around £4bn and has not yet given guidance as to when it will once again permit withdrawals, and Aviva, a smaller fund, which has indicated that it will not welcome investors wanting to get their money out until 2017.

DOORS ALWAYS OPEN:  During opening time anyway.  A property fund without liquidity problems is a surprising thing – but not when it is a pub operator. Mitchell and Butler, which has its roots in two Victorian era Midlands breweries and chains of pubs, has long eschewed the former and concentrated on the latter. And it has evolved successfully with the times, disposing of many under-performing pubs and getting into wine bars and food led operations – its best known brands now are the Browns restaurants and the All-Bar-One wine bars.  It likes to own its own premises if it can – though that is not so easy when it also wants to trade in strong locations where property yields are very low. The company has under-performed for several years – blaming the need to invest in keeping its operation up to date and fighting off purchasers after the owned estate, but now sales are rising and margins improving.  The shareholders will be pleased – the share have fallen over the last three years, unlike most of the rest of the sector which has showed a steady performance.

A RUN:  (A)WAY SUCCESS?  If you are the government of a remote island, unspoilt, with beautiful beaches and a romantic history, but with a failing economy and a need to create jobs and income to keep young people there, what are you going to do?  Get into the tourism business, of course.  Western and increasingly, Eastern, urges to find unknown places, safe surroundings, and enjoy semi-solitude in luxury accommodations have created strong demands for new destinations.  The government of St Helena in the South Atlantic began their inward investment campaign for a tourist industry by persuading the British government (St Helena is a Crown dependency) to build a new airport.  Experts were hired, an airport designed, projections of 30,000 and more tourists agreed.  In April the airport was finished and a formal opening flight went out to inaugurate the facilities.  But things did not go well – the plane was only able to land at its third attempt – the experts had somehow overlooked that the western side of the island is beset by strong Atlantic gales.  Nearly £300m worth of airport is effectively unusable at the moment, and the new tourist industry is on hold until somebody thinks of a solution…

(as at 27h September 2016; comments refer to changes on last 7 days; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.25%, unchanged: 3 month 0.38% (steady); 5 year 0.33% (falling).

Euro€: 1 mth -0.37% (steady); 3 mth -0.30% (steady); 5 year -0.31% (rising)

US$: 1 mth 0.52% (falling); 3 mth 0.86% (steady); 5 year 1.14% (falling)

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.16, £ steady

£/$: 1.30, £ steady

Euro/$: 1.12, € steady

Gold, oz: $1,337 rising

Aluminium, tonne: $1,647, steady

Copper, tonne: $4,773, rising

Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $45.29, slight fall

Wheat, tonne: £126, steady

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 6,807 (slight fall). FTSE Allshare: 3,607 (falling)

Briefly: Those who specialise in metals have been forecasting for some time that key metal prices were about to increase. This week may be starting to see the beginning of that – but they are still below level of this time last year. Otherwise, a very steady week with little movement in markets, exchange rates, or interest rates.

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Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Social Media Marketing (Lynda Goetz)

29 September 2016

Social Media Marketing

The importance of exposure.

by Lynda Goetz

Lynda Goetz head shotGemma Arterton, the English actress who has gained Hollywood status (although apparently only B- by her own admission) declared in an interview with The Guardian’s Eva Wiseman that she was not interested in pandering to ‘the money people’, who are apparently increasingly looking at actors’ following on social media to determine casting.  The theory seemingly goes that if an actor or actress has more ‘followers’, then more people are likely to go and watch a film in which they appear, so box office takings will be higher.  In an act of direct opposition to such tactics, Miss Arterton declared she has deleted all social media apps from her phone.  She does not consider that posting Instagrams of what she had for breakfast, lunch or dinner or of what she is wearing or who she is dating should have any bearing on her ability to do her job.  Good for her.  She is absolutely right, of course, but can she and other actors get away with such a stance?  Indeed can any of us, these days?


Gemma Arterton – Less ‘exposure’

This trend has already attracted criticism in the publishing industry, where an online presence has proved almost indispensable to would-be authors getting into print.  It is entirely unsurprising that it should have spread to the film industry as well.  Were you to research the role of social media in marketing, there are endless sites you could visit, but the conclusion, in pretty much every case, whether it be an academic paper or a business which can ‘help’ you with marketing your own business, seems to be that the role of social media is vital in today’s markets.  Whether you are selling widgets, services, houses, books or films or indeed effectively yourself as writer, actor, politician or stand-up comic, it would seem that social media is an indispensable tool in your armoury.

A Fashion Week Special in The Telegraph focusing on Milan, highlighted the fact that ‘Italian luxury brands are leading the way in chasing social media audiences like never before’.  Young faces in the front row of the Dolce & Gabbana show included a 21-year-old American ‘internet personality’ with 51.6 million followers, one Cameron Dallas; Swedish singer Zara Larsson (1.9m Instagram followers) and the girlfriend of Will Smith’s son, Jaden, Sarah Snyder, a model with 883k followers.  Max Mara, Fendi, Versace, Bottega Veneta and Moschino simply used American sisters, Gigi and Bella Hadid (‘fashion models and television personalities’ according to Wikipedia) with nearly 30 million followers between them, to model their clothes, thus ensuring maximum social media coverage for their shows.  (Just by way of comparison, Versace itself has only just over 900k followers).  So, as in the case of film producers, it appears that models, like actors, are being booked not simply on their catwalk appeal or ability to ‘do the job’, but on their social media reach.

As the author of an article on a site for a business offering social media services suggests, the aim of the game for most actors starting out is exposure.  The writer concludes that ‘at the end of the day your social media presence is fast turning into the current-day version of your hard-copy CV and headshots’.  He must have a point here and whilst many of us may rail against the intrusive nature of social media, not to mention the time-wasting aspects of it, it is almost certainly here to stay.  As an actor, a writer, a politician or whatever, it may not be possible to simply turn off our social media apps or indeed refuse to have any in the first place.  I promise I will get round to opening those Twitter and Instagram accounts.  But will I have any followers?  OMG will I really need to put up pictures of my breakfasts or of what I am wearing?  No, surely not.  No-one is going to want to know what writers wear, are they?  Or perhaps they are and the future circulation of The Shaw Sheet will depend upon it.  As an online publication, we clearly cannot ignore the trend; after all, even The Gazette, the official public record for 350 years, and set up as an ‘alternative to scurrilous gossip and rumour’, according to its own history page, has Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.  I’m not sure though that any of its writers will be getting Instagram accounts any time soon, but then they probably aren’t looking for exposure either.


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Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Reflections from an allotment (J.R.Thomas)

29 September 2016

Reflections from an Allotment

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue MaleThe Shaw Sheet does not have, as yet, a gardening correspondent.  In spite of that, we had thought to bring our readers insights into the emotions of Labour’s leader as, the struggles of the leadership challenge over, he finds time to relax once more on that famous allotment.  But, alas, we fear that our attempts to interview him on socialist vegetable growing techniques, or on the vexed question of whether cycling home with a bunch of cut flowers each Sunday for Mrs C might be sexist behaviour, would founder on our obvious ignorance of how to grow the reddest roses and how to store carrots for the winter.

Mr Corbyn, we surmise, must be ruminating, as he picks the caterpillars off the cauliflowers, on the strange standards of his comrades as they fulminate on his and Mr McDonnell’s alleged attempts to pack the Labour Party administration with persons of a redder hue. And, as he leans on his spade, watching the earthworms do their vital work, he must he be even more perplexed by the trade union opposition to increasing the number of trade unionists who sit on the JTUC, the Labour Party union representative body.  Unattributed mutterings suggest a forthcoming Corbyn axe, not to his cordon of apple trees but to the staff who run Labour’s offices.  No matter that Mr Corbyn had denied any such intent.  At a union and staff meeting last week there was “an air of menace” said one of those there, with “Jeremy standing in the corridor outside”.

Mr Corbyn recently certainly said that loyal party members have been treated unfairly by the party administrators, not least by being suspended for paying the wrong subscription or filling in a defunct application form.  This has led to fears among staff that there may be a wholesale clear-out in the office post Jeremy’s re-election.  That may be true; and if you work in an office and persistently decline to carry out your manager’s wishes, you may be familiar with the sense of dread that news of his promotion might bring.  Demotion to “Basement – Filing” would be the least of it.  If Mr Corbyn, who is, after all, the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party, cannot get his own party machine to do what he wants it to do, he would be in a very bizarre position.

The corbyn allottment?

The Corbyn allottment?

In any case, as so much in current Labour Party politics, all is not what it seems.  There was a time when the staff of the party were not politicised – like civil servants, their views were private and irrelevant.  They were there to do a job, and, whilst party big wigs had a few loyalist advisors, most paid staff got on with their work and did their campaigning, or not, at weekends.  It was Tony Blair who changed all that, through his handmaiden Alistair Campbell; the leader had a project; and if you weren’t for the project you were assumed to be against it.  The party machine became dominated by loyalists, and those who weren’t kept very quiet.  Mr Brown also had a project and he began pruning and hoeing to make the party machinery hum with his project, though he didn’t get very far before it was Ed Milliband’s turn with the spade and secateurs. Ed made very few changes, which leaves Jeremy with not only a Parliamentary party that mostly does not care for his politics, but also a party machine that has little sympathy for him either.

Our editor wrote in these very pages last week of the increasing tendency of even supposedly liberal democrats not to accept adverse results.  Determination not to accept defeat is fine for climbing to the tops of mountains, or getting outdoor tomatoes to ripen; but it is not so good in democratic societies where we all, or at least the vast majority of us, must cleave to the rules if our polity is to work.  Mr Corbyn, and, even more, Mr McDonnell, would perhaps, in their most candid moments, say that they do not really accept the structure of our democracy in the UK; but equally, they seek to work within it, for now, at least.  And to do that they need the party machine to do what they want.  They are the bosses; for the moment, it is their machine; it must, as it always has previously, do as it is told.

Mr Corbyn might also expect a more sympathetic hearing on the changes to the Labour Parliamentary Party which he and his friends are quietly threatening to bring about.  Their view is that local Labour Party members have the right to, in a favourite leftish word, “mandate” the parliamentary candidates, the aspiring and the sitting MP’s.  This is after all how things are done in the USA, maybe not a great example of leftish activism but certainly a great democracy.  Every four years (six for the Senate) paid up party members reselect their candidates in the primaries or the caucuses.  Even sitting Presidents must expose themselves to this process; sometimes it is a shoo in, sometimes not; but the electorate are always entitled to say “thank you, but no more”.  That is what the Corbyn collective wants to happen in the Labour Party.  It is hardly the stuff of violent revolution.  (That may come later, when the complexion of the parliamentary party is sufficiently red to start one.)  It is in fact, a very democratic approach to representation.

MPs do not like a reselection process, of course.  On a practical level many give up external careers for the House of Commons, and to be ejected by their local party after five or less years would be disastrous.  A promising clamber up the greasy ministerial ladder could be destroyed by one kick to the bottom rung by disgruntled activists.  And at a deeper level the tradition in the UK is that MPs are independent, not seeking easy popularity to hold on to their seats, free to do what they see as best for their country, not to do the electorate’s bidding or pursue its whims.  But that is old fashioned theory that in practice had vanished by the time suffrage was semi-universal by the middle of the nineteenth century.  If a modern M.P. wants to get on in his party, he had better be polite to those who control the party.  What Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell are trying to do is to give more control over representation to the electorate, or at least to that part of it that has paid its £25 to join the Labour Party.  Why they are trying to do this, and whether they would be so keen on grassroots democracy if those grassroots were Blairite rather than Corbynite is another matter entirely.

We seem to have moved into an era when consensus has broken down in many areas.  There is a tendency to oppose on grounds of personality, or to set up tension between the established and the outsiders.  We see it in the USA with Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders getting enormous support from those supposedly disenfranchised from the eastern liberal consensus.  We saw it in the UK with the Referendum results, in France Marine Le Pen is a major beneficiary, and in Germany Mrs Merkel’s long career seems likely to run aground on the rocks of opposition from populist left and right.

Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell are revolutionaries of a sort we have not previously seen so close to the levers of power in the UK, allotments or no.  But if we want to challenge their ideas, to reject their ideology, surely we should be concentrating on their ideas and as to why those are flawed and inappropriate for our times, not criticising the few parts of their behaviour that is in full accord with, could indeed enhance, our open democracy?

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Issue73:2016 09 29:Reports of the death of the City of London are exaggerated(Frank O’Nomics)

29 September 2016

Reports of the death of the City of London are exaggerated

Technology and global markets are bigger threats than Brexit

by Frank O’Nomics

Dear Frank, my children are hoping to pursue a career in finance. Do you recommend that they learn German or French?

Not an unreasonable question given the debate about the impact of Brexit on the prospect of the City of London maintaining its pre-eminent status as the financial trading capital of Europe.  The major concern has been around the issue of so-called “passporting”, whereby EU-based firms can readily sell financial services to others in Europe.  Without this facility, on Britain’s departure from the EU, the way is seemingly opened up for a significant part of this business to move to the continent, and it seems that a number of European cities are already looking to fill the void, with Paris, Frankfurt and even Warsaw making overtures to international banks and insurance companies.  This matters because the City employees 414,000 people (with a further 145,000 in Canary Wharf) and generates 3% of UK GDP.  The latter number may not sound much, but the ripple effect across London of a decline in this figure would be significant, and London as a whole generates 22% of UK GDP, paying almost one-third of the total tax take.  The prize is a big one, with 35% of EU wholesale financial services activity occurring in London, and 58% of international insurance premiums.  We should then be very concerned by the prospects of losing this business, but it is worth remembering that the City has withstood many serious storms in the past and has always found a way to sustain its ascendancy.  If anything there are other concerns that need addressing just as urgently as Brexit, and there is an argument to suggest that Brexit itself could present at least as many opportunities as it does problems

There is no doubt that, even before the Brexit vote, the international banking community was looking at contingency plans in the event of a leave vote.  However, these remain contingency plans after the event.  Banks are more concerned with restructuring their businesses in the light of the continued decline in trading volumes, increased regulatory obligations and major technological changes.  In adding to these problems, plans to move their business elsewhere would seem foolhardy, given the need to negotiate with a large range of new regulators and no guarantee that the staff that they need will be available.  There are it seems, no first-leaver advantages.  It is all very well to express concerns about the potential loss of access to the 11% of workers in the City that come from outside of the EU, but finding the other 89% in Frankfurt, Paris (where labour laws are particularly uncompetitive) or Zurich would be exceptionally difficult.  It is not just the immediate workforce that is key, there would also be issues with finding the ecosystem of professional services firms, such as lawyers and accountants.  On top of this there is the accommodative approach of the UK government, which could not be guaranteed elsewhere with potential regime changes looming in both France and Germany, as well as the obvious benefit of the language of business being English.

The passporting issue is clearly an important one, but there is hope that sense will prevail and some form of market access will be achieved by exploiting “equivalent” regulatory status. Quite why the EU would not want to agree to something similar to passporting seems strange when they have been considering giving passports to countries outside Europe, to the likes of Japan, Canada and Switzerland, so that they can market their investment funds. Further, a preoccupation with the passporting problem ignores the potentially bigger opportunity for London of being free to negotiate financial trade with other areas of the world which are not as growth constrained as the EU looks as if it will be for many years.  Already London has become the second biggest clearing centre (after Hong Kong) for offshore Chinese renminbi trading and there is a valid argument that the UK should be focused more on competing with New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, rather than the EU.  Indeed, while London remains the world’s foreign exchange hub, it has lost ground against Asia and the US, and has dropped behind New York in over-the-counter interest rate derivatives trading.  A survey released this week by the Bank for International Settlements showed that continental Europe’s foreign exchange presence is virtually non-existent.  Overall, when one takes a look at the major banks globally (when looking at Tier 1 capital ratios) the only European bank in the top 10 is HSBC, who have their base in London, with the rest being either Chinese or American.

Having covered the people and trading issues, the other big factor which determines where international businesses will site their financial trading is technology.  Financial services are likely to be significantly transformed by a number of key developments.  At a retail level, the move to develop robo-advice, whereby human financial planners are rendered obsolete, will automate a great deal of investment.  Trading at a wholesale level has undergone a rapid transformation as more and more is executed electronically rather than via voice, and, in the back office, blockchain technology is revolutionising processes which will mean more job losses in time.  The important point here is that London has become a “fintech” hub, with many of the companies at the forefront of the technology revolution based here.  If financial services firms are to survive they need to be involved in, and on the top of, all of these developments and leaving London will only make this more difficult.

There is in all of this a great danger of arrogance and complacency, and much will still depend on the result and nature of Brexit negotiations.  A CBI survey this week showed that, despite some signs that business volumes were picking up, a balance of 13% of firms were still less optimistic than they had been in the previous quarter, only a small improvement from the minus 16% number from the same survey conducted prior to the referendum in June.  A hostile exit as opposed to a careful transition will clearly have very different implications, with estimates of the fall in investment banking revenues from a hard Brexit seen as high as 20% (£9 billion), but sanity and self-interest should leave us to expect the latter scenario.  As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of Big Bang, an event that transformed the City into being able to compete as a leading global financial centre, we should remember how well it coped with the Asian crisis in the nineties, the dot-com issues of 2001 and then the post-Lehman environment since 2008, and realise that the ability to adapt has remained very strong.  Overall then, it is less of a question of which foreign language one needs to learn to support a healthy career in financial services, but more a question of the role that you apply for, many of which could be made redundant by the pace of technological development, rather than by Brexit.

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Issue 73:2016 09 29:Week in Brief International

29 Setember 2016


UN Flag to denote International news


BOSNIA:  The Serbian half of Bosnia held a referendum on Saturday about keeping Jan 9 as its national day.  The Bosnian Constitutional court has ruled it illegal – the Bosnian Serb declaration of independence on 9 Jan 1992 triggered the three year Balkan war.  The EU has just accepted Bosnia’s application for membership.

FRANCE:  Two Belgian policemen were arrested for driving 13 illegal immigrants, who had left a French lorry at Ypres, back across the French border in a police van.  The French interior minister summoned Belgium’s ambassador to explain the incident.  Police unions in Belgium have protested against the arrests and have threatened industrial action.

HUNGARY:  A referendum about EU migrant quotas is to be held this weekend.  The EU has told Hungary to accept 1,294 refugees.  Viktor Orban’s government is defying the EU and running an anti-immigrant campaign.

ITALY:  Rome’s new Five Star Movement mayor has cancelled the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, saying that Rome is still paying off debts from the 1960 Rome Olympics.  Boston and Hamburg have also cancelled their bid.  Los Angeles and Paris remain.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has postponed the referendum about his proposed reforms to the Senate (Italy’s upper house) from October to December. He has said he will resign if he loses the vote.

UKRAINE:  Gennady Tsypkalov, the former prime minister of the breakaway pro-Russian state of Luhansk, has died under mysterious circumstances.  He was arrested last week for allegedly plotting a coup against Luhansk’s present leader, Igor Plotnitsky.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  A boat packed with migrants capsized off Rosetta; 300 of the 500 passengers are feared drowned.

The diplomatic row with France over the EgyptAir crash continues; France complained of delays in returning the bodies of victims, and claimed that Egypt is pushing for a terrorism cause, which would blame France (the plane was loaded/boarded in France).

IRAN:  Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei has banned women from cycling.

IRAQ:  Isis is reportedly stock-piling chemical weapons for the defence of Mosul, Iraq’s second city.  Its forces in northern Iraq have been using rockets armed with mustard gas.  Coalition air forces (including the UK’s) are bombing Isis positions in Mosul, and have dropped millions of leaflets warning inhabitants of the approaching attack.  The nearby town of Shirqat was taken from Isis.

An Isis suicide bomber killed six people and wounded 18 others in Baghdad. An Isis bomb and gun attack killed 12 people in Tikrit.

JORDAN:  A writer who was about to stand trial for insulting religion (he had posted an anti-Isis cartoon on Facebook) was shot dead outside the courthouse.  An imam has been arrested.  The writer was a secularist from a Christian family.

LIBYA:  An oil tanker left the port of Ras Lanuf for Italy, the first shipment of oil since the civil war broke out over two years ago.  The port was seized from the UN-backed government of national accord last week by forces loyal to the rival eastern parliament.

SOUTH AFRICA:  At least 31 students were arrested outside Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, as protests against tuition fees became violent.  Rioting is spreading to universities across the country.

SYRIA:  Washington blamed Moscow for last week’s attack on aid convoy.  John Kerry called for grounding of all aircraft in Syria.  Russia is sending an aircraft carrier to region.  Fierce fighting continues in Aleppo.  Three nurses and two ambulance drivers from International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations charity were killed by bombing.  Three hospitals were hit, as were three of the White Helmet’s four rescue centres and one of the city’s two water distribution plants  as Russia and regime forces unleashed the  heaviest bombardment in months on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.  Planes dropped napalm, phosphorous and bunker-busting bombs in what is suspected to be preparation for a ground assault.  There were 150 airstrikes in 72 hours.  USA and western countries including the UK and France condemned Russia and Syria for the escalation at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

The UN is ready to resume aid convoys to besieged towns, following last week’s suspension.

TURKEY:  A roadside bombing by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) killed two security officers and wounded eight others in Mardin, south east Turkey.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  The government has signed a controversial peace deal with a warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is listed as a terrorist by the UN and the US because his Hezb-i-Islami militia has been responsible for the deaths of aid workers, civilians and western troops.

CHINA:  China announced a National Gene Bank, to be located near Shenzen, which will contain genetic information of millions of Chinese people.

INDIA:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi is threatening to block water supplies to Pakistan, in retaliation for the recent attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed.  Modi blamed Pakistan for the attack and condemned Pakistan as a terrorist state.

JAPAN:  Japan announced that it would take part in joint naval patrols with the US in disputed waters of the South China Sea.  China then flew more than forty air force planes over the Miyako Strait between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa.  Japan and China dispute territory in the East China Sea.


BRAZIL:  Prosecutors are to begin investigations into allegations that the new president, Michel Temer, is connected to the Petrobas state oil company corruption scandal.

USA:  Rioting continues in Charlotte, North Carolina, in protest against police shooting an apparently disabled black man dead in his car.  A state of emergency and a curfew has been declared.  There were also protests in Tulsa, Oklahoma, against police shooting dead a black pastor – a police officer has been charged with manslaughter.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened by President Obama in Washington DC. It is the Smithsonian’s nineteenth museum.

Five people were shot dead in a department store in Burlington, Washington State. A Turkish immigrant has been arrested.

The live TV debate between Trump and Clinton last Monday was watched by a record 84 million people in the US.

VENEZUELA:  The national election committee has said that no referendum on the future of President Maduro can take place this year, thus avoiding the possibility of a general election.  The opposition has organised a petition triggering a referendum; if the president loses a referendum this year, there will be an election, but if he loses it next year he will simply be replaced by his vice-president.  The decision is likely to provoke widespread protest.

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Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Own Gaul (Richard Pooley)

29 September 2016

Own Gaul

It won’t do you any good, Sarko.

by Richard Pooley

photo Robin Boag

photo Robin Boag

“You must accept that your ancestors are the Gauls.”  This was the message ten days ago from ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy to those immigrants who wished to become French citizens.  He was immediately mocked by politicians and commentators from across the political spectrum.  Najat Vallaud–Belkacem, France’s Education Minister, reminded Sarkozy that “there are also Romans, Normans, Celts, Niçois, Corsicans, Arabs, Italians, Spanish.  That’s France.”  She could have added many, many more – e.g. Catalan, Basque, Breton, Flemish, Portuguese, Polish, Ivorians, Senegalese, Vietnamese, and, yes, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish.  The tribes of France are numerous.*  Vallaud-Belkacem is herself French-Moroccan (and perhaps a future Socialist party candidate for the presidency; she will be Francois Hollande’s campaign manager should he decide to seek re-election).  What makes Sarkozy’s statement even odder is that his own ancestors are certainly not Gauls. His father emigrated from Hungary to France.  His mother was born in France but her origins were Greek and Jewish.

Who were these Gauls that Sarkozy thinks future Syrian or Afghani-born French citizens should regard as their forebears?  And why is he making such silly remarks?

The Gauls were Celtic tribes who occupied much of what are now France, Belgium, Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria from the 5th Century BC. The area of ‘Gaul’, famously described by its conqueror Julius Caesar as “divided into three parts”, extended northwards beyond the borders of modern France.  So, should we regard the Bretons to be the true ancestors of today’s French people?  After all, they’re Celts, aren’t they?  Oh no, wait a minute, didn’t the Bretons come over from Cornwall to escape those Germanic Anglo-Saxons after the Romans left Britain?  Ah, yes, but surely René Goscinny (whose parents were Polish Jews) and Alberto Uderzo (whose parents were Italian) placed Astérix’s village in Brittany because this was the Gaulish heartland?  Actually, no.  Goscinny left it to his illustrator to decide and Uderzo loved Brittany.  Well, how did the Romans regard the Gauls?  The Roman historian and soldier Ammianus Marcellinus described them in the late 4th Century AD as:

“… of a lofty stature, with a fair and ruddy complexion: terrible from the sternness of their eyes, very quarrelsome, and of great pride and insolence.  A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Gaul if he called his wife to his assistance; she is usually very strong and with blue eyes…”

Oh dear, Sarkozy; “of a lofty stature” does not seem to have come down to you from your supposed ancestors.  Maybe the description of the Gaulish wife is more to your liking.  But then again your wife, Carla Gilberta Bruni, was born in Italy, the product of an affair between her Italian mother and her Brazilian father.

The Gaul as the ur-Frenchman was an invention of France’s historians, politicians and educationalists during the middle to late nineteenth century.  Napoleon III wanted to finish the job started by his uncle, Napoléon Bonaparte (christened Napoleone di Buonapartea, his first language was Corsican, an Italian dialect): to create a nation state called ‘France’ in which everyone spoke the same language and learned a common history.  In the 20th Century, right-wing French nationalists have perpetuated the notion that only those with Gaulish ancestors can truly be called French.  Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain, hero to all French people during the First World War, traitor to many (but certainly not all) during the Second, promulgated it.  So too has Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National.

Perhaps Sarkozy has been influenced by the name of his political hero, Charles de Gaulle.  The surname makes it unsurprising that de Gaulle’s father came from a long line of Normans and Burgundians (but weren’t those Normans called that because they were men from the North, i.e. Vikings?).  Yet de Gaulle’s mother’s ancestors included Scots, Irish, Flemish and Germans.

It’s the growing popularity of the Front National and Marine Le Pen which explains why Sarkozy is spouting this nonsense about immigrants accepting Gauls as their ancestors.  A poll last Thursday confirmed what has been predicted for nearly a year: she will win the first round in the French presidential election next April with 25-28% of the vote.  The poll also reinforced what continues to be the opinion of the French media and every French person I have asked: she won’t win the second round and become president.  Whoever comes second in the first round will be swept to power in the second by a combination of his genuine supporters (it will definitely be ‘his’) and the ‘Anyone but Le Pen’ brigade.

The person who appears most likely to be that successful second round candidate is the Republican Party’s Alain Juppé, the 70-year old former prime minister (1995-1997) and current mayor of Bordeaux (1995-2004, 2006 – now).  In a poll conducted on 15/16 September, Juppé was viewed favourably by 39% of voters of all persuasions.  His two main rivals in the Republican Party, the 61-year old Sarkozy and 62-year old Francois Fillon (another former prime minister), each got an approval rating of 23% from all the voters sampled.  The hapless Francois Hollande got just 16%, by the way.  Among those respondents who declared themselves to be on the right, Juppé scored 69% and Sarkozy 64%.

There are seven candidates who will contest the Republican Party’s primary on 20 and 27 November to decide who will be their standard bearer.  This is the first primary it (and its previous incarnation, the UMP) has ever held.  Juppé, Sarkozy and Fillon are the clear favourites.  Anti-Corbyn members of the British Labour Party may wish to stop reading at this point though.  The primary is open to any French voter who pays 2€ and signs a document which says they share the Republican Party’s values.  Already there are reports of Socialists and Front National supporters paying less than the price of a coffee (well, a Parisian one) in order to join in the fun.  They, no doubt, will vote for whoever will pose the least danger to their man (probably) or woman (definitely) respectively.

Sarkozy seems to think that he needs to distance himself from the more moderate Juppé if he is to have any chance of winning the primary.  So, he is trying to appeal to the nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiments of far right voters.  But I believe he has misjudged them.  First, why would they vote for a paler version of Le Pen and why would they vote for someone who in their eyes is an immigrant?  Secondly, they don’t give a damn about their supposed 2000-year old ancestors.  They simply want to stop any more non-white Muslims coming into France and would love to see a lot of their non-white Muslim fellow citizens kicked out as well.  They think that only Le Pen and the Front National will make this happen.

I don’t have to go far to see how unmoved the French are by the myth of their Gaulish ancestry.  I live just two kilometres from the site of the Gauls’ last stand in 51 BC against Julius Caesar and his Roman legions.  The French government recently declared that the Battle of Uxellodonum took place on and around the cliff-sided puy which rises to the west of our village, much to the chagrin of two other villages in southern France who had advanced their cases for decades.  The mayor of our village managed to find enough money to build a large car park close to the spring on which the besieged Gauls relied for their water supply and which Caesar successfully blocked.  Signs appeared advertising this major event in French history.  Local museums displayed Roman and Gaulish finds from archaeological excavations.  And nobody came.

The only car I have ever seen in the car park is ours.  But then, Mr Sarkozy, perhaps this Englishman is looking for his roots.  After all, my surname probably means that I have ancestors who were French chicken farmers.  But were they Gauls?  At least, Mr Sarkozy, I am of a lofty stature and have fair hair.  And my English wife is indeed very strong (though her eyes are not blue).  And we know that some of her ancestors were French Huguenots.

It’s all so confusing, this ancestry lark.

*read chapters two and three of The Discovery of France by British historian and keen cyclist Graham Robb for a quirky but fascinating description of these tribes.


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Issue 73: 2016 09 29: Week in Brief: UK

29 September 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit Blues

NEWS FROM THE FRONT: As Mrs May remains taciturn, speculation continues as to the position the government will take in the negotiations over Brexit.  International Trade Secretary Liam Fox favours the “Hard Brexit” option under which priority would be given to limiting free movement of people, even at the risk of excluding the UK from the single market. The assumption here is that because the EU is a net exporter to Britain, they will allow us access in any event. The approach has, however, caused nervousness in the City because it jeopardises the passport arrangements under which financial services can be sold throughout the EU by British firms. The Office for Budget Responsibility is to draw up a revised forecast for the autumn statement on the assumption that less revenue is generated by the banking sector. It is thought that the reduction in tax collected could be as much as £10 billion.


  • Mr Dopfner, chief executive of the German publisher, Axel Springer, suggests that freedom from EU rules would enable Britain to bring in a talent-oriented immigration policy, something which he believes will result in the British economy outperforming that of the continent within five years;
  • the Office for National Statistics has concluded that Brexit has had no effect on the UK economy to date;
  • the OECD has increased its forecast for this year’s growth from 1.7% to 1.8% but has dropped the forecast for next year to 1%; and
  • according to the Bank of England, retailers are planning to reduce packet sizes in order to avoid increasing prices to reflect the fall in the pound.

BREXIT REVELATIONS: A new book by Cameron’s former director of communications reveals that Mrs May persuaded him to drop an emergency brake on immigration in the face of opposition from Angela Merkel. The softer line of cutting benefits for new arrivals did not prove sufficient to persuade the British public to vote Remain.


LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Jeremy Corbyn secured re-election as leader of the Labour Party with 62% of the vote.  He says that he will reach out to his critics who he regards as part of the Labour “family”.  He has refused, however, to interfere in the way in which constituencies select their candidates for the next election, pointing out that it is not his decision. Tension remains between Mr Corbyn and the moderate Labour MPs.  Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has warned that continuing division risks splitting the party. Owen Smith, who opposed Mr Corbyn, will not be serving under him.

LABOUR CONFERENCE: Among other things:

  • the opposition to Fracking announced by the shadow energy secretary has been criticised by the trade union GMB, which says that that it would make  Britain dependent on unsavoury Middle Eastern regimes;
  • a dispute has broken out over the party’s policy on nuclear disarmament, with Clive Lewis, the shadow defence secretary, having parts of his speech rewritten on the autocue by Seamus Milne just as he was about to deliver it. He was not pleased;
  • Mr Corbyn proposes to fight the next election on an open door EU immigration policy. He says that Labour is not concerned about numbers but would provide extra cash for public services which came under stress as a result of a growing population.
  • Motions adopted include tax increases for high earners, nationalisation of the railways and the energy sector, limits on the use of the private sector by the NHS, enhanced union power, full employment, the abolition of University fees, and an end to the waging of “aggressive wars of intervention”.

General Politics

CALAIS: President Hollande, who has undertaken to dismantle the jungle camp at Calais, is to call on Britain to take more unaccompanied children with relatives in the UK.

IVORY: Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Minister, has announced a ban on sales of ivory, apart from antiques made before 1947.  London Zoo points out that this is short of the total ban on ivory promised in successive Tory manifestos. It is also short of the measures taken by the US.

TURKISH KILLING: The results of an investigation by The Times into files which alleges a link between the murder of Turkish dissident Mehmet Kaygisiz in 1994 and Turkish Intelligence, has raised concerns that Turkey might be involved in a black operations in Europe. Three female members of the Kurdistan Workers Party were shot dead in Paris in 2013.


HACKERS: According to David Anderson QC, the Independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, British Intelligence thwarted an attempt by Kremlin-sponsored hackers, Fancy Bear, to close down all government websites and major UK broadcasters at the time of the general election. The hackers had previously succeeded in closing TV 5Monde, one of France’s biggest television networks.

MI6: MI6 is to recruit 1000 new spies, increasing the size of the force to nearly 3500 by the 2020s. The total rise across the intelligence services will be 1900.


MENTAL HEALTH: According to data obtained by “the Times”, about two thirds of the Clinical Commissioning Groups within the National Health Service are proposing to cut the proportion of their budgets which is spent on mental health. That conflicts with government commitments that mental health spending should rise in line with overall budgets.

NURSING MISCONDUCT: The Nursing and Midwifery Council will no longer publish details of allegations against nurses and midwives in advance of disciplinary hearings . Its approach contrasts with that of the General Medical Council where allegations are published in advance.

DOCTORS STRIKE: Groups within the British Medical Association are seeking to intensify resistance to the new doctors’ contract following the collapse of the BMA’s strike programme.  The BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee has been criticised for calling strikes and then having to cancel them.

GP LISTS: Figures published by the NHS disclose that 57.3 million people are registered with English GPs, more than the 54.3 million population shown by the 2011 census.  Much of the discrepancy arises because of failures to remove people from lists when they move away, but it is expensive as practices receive £141 a year for each patient.  Capita will be writing to patients who have not seen their GPs for 5 years to ascertain whether they should still be listed.

Other News

LLOYDS FRAUD: Feezan Choudhary has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role as mastermind of a £113 million fraud under which bank details were obtained from small businesses and money drained from their accounts. He was supplied with details of customers accounts by Lloyds bank staff and the bank is now in dispute with its customers as to its liability to reimburse them. It is said to have required some of them to sign confidentiality agreements, presumably as a condition of reimbursement.

UNIVERSITIES: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings shows Oxford at number one, ahead of Caltech and Stamford. Cambridge is rated four and Imperial College, London is rated eight.

ROLLERCOASTERS: Merlin Entertainments, which operates the Alton Towers amusement park, has been fined £5 million for breaches of Health and Safety legislation following the crash of the Smiler ride on 2 June. Two young people each lost a leg in the accident

NO DYCE: Sam Allardyce has stepped down as England manager after only one game following a sting by reporters from the Daily Telegraph.  He was recorded negotiating a deal to work for what he believed to be an agency and discussing bypassing rules on third party ownership of players.


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