11 January 2018
Lens on the Week
BBC/WOMEN: The BBC has always prided itself upon being politically correct. Danny Cohen, former head/controller of BBC1, insisted that all panel and quiz shows should have at least one woman on the panel(s). The latest Dr. Who is an actress, whose appointment was greeted with great fanfare and applause. Yet it has been revealed that the organisation has discriminated (and is still discriminating) against women when it comes to salaries, in that women are being paid less than men despite doing the same or a similar job.
A BBC spokesman said that steps were being taken to remedy the problem. Lord Hall, the DG, has said in the past that he hoped that women would receive the same pay as men by 2020 (but why not do it now?). The spokesman also said that the BBC, in this respect, compared favourably with other organisations. This is similar to a point be made by the former head of the Benedictine order in England and Wales when addressing the scandal of paedophile priests. In an article in The Times many years ago, he claimed that the Roman Catholic Church had a much better record than other voluntary organisations, because the percentage of perverts in the Church was lower than that in, say, the Boy Scouts. Perhaps it would have been better to have had none at all.
PAROLE: There has been an outcry after the parole board announced that a serial rapist, John Warboys, was going to be released on licence.
In all such cases the parole board considers the evidence & then comes to a decision. In the Warboys case, no-one knows what material was before the board, what factors were taken into account and why they did what they did. Theresa May has announced that the procedure will be reviewed so that, at the least, the reasons for any decision, which may be regarded as controversial, will be made public. Until this change takes place, it is difficult to see how the parole board can be criticised when those complaining do not have evidence to justify the complaint.
DRINK & DRIVE: An article in The Times gives hope for those who wish to combine drink and driving. A company, Celtic Renewables, intends to use draff and pott ale (stuff that is left after distilling whisky) to manufacture biofuel for cars. Apparently, the new fuel can be pumped directly into petrol tanks without modifying the engine and can also be mixed with existing fuels. Perhaps in the future, when accused of drink driving, a motorist will be able to claim that he hasn’t touched a drop – he has just been affected by the fumes from the biofuel in his car.
END GAME IN SYRIA: With the distraction of Isis now more or less eliminated, the civil war in Syria appears to be moving into its final stages. Victory is in sight for the Assad regime (thanks to Russian and Iranian support) which has resumed intense aerial bombardments against the few remaining rebel enclaves (Idlib in the north west and Eastern Ghouta in Damascus). However, most of the north east of the country, beyond the Euphrates, remains under the control of the Kurdish forces which liberated it from Isis. The Syrian Kurds are more likely to seek some sort of autonomy for this territory within Syria, rather than claim complete independence, but it’s uncertain whether Assad would be willing to negotiate with them. It’s even more uncertain whether Turkey would tolerate any kind of Kurdish power-base on its border (Turkey accuses the Syrian Kurds of links with the PKK, the Turkish Kurds who are fighting for independence within Turkey). The USA has supported the Syrian Kurds in their fight against Isis; would it continue to support them against other enemies, and risk conflict with its ally Turkey or with Assad’s ally Russia?
THE GAMES NORTH KOREA PLAYS: Delegations from the South Korean government and the North Korean government met at Panmunjon on the border to discuss the possibility of improving relations and reviving co-operation between the two countries. They agreed to resume efforts to reunite families divided by the border and to hold military talks. A joint statement announced that North Korea will be sending competitors to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, with Pyongyang providing amenities and facilities for them. Two North Koreans – figure-skaters – have qualified for the Olympics so far. North Korea has participated in eight Winter Olympics since 1964 and in every main Olympics since 1972 (except Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988). The new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, has always called for more dialogue and co-operation between the two countries, but others fear that this diplomatic breakthrough is a ploy by the North to drive a wedge between the South and its ally the USA.
ANY BETS? It looks as if President Sisi will have a clear run in Egypt’s leadership elections later this year, if he seeks a second term. His main rival Ahmed Shafik announced his candidacy two months ago from self-imposed exile in the UAE, but he was then arrested, deported to Egypt, and detained for twenty-four hours (according to his family), and this week he withdrew from the election. Two other candidates find themselves unable to take part in the contest: Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer and critic of Sisi, has been sentenced to three months in jail for allegedly making a lewd hand-gesture in public, and Colonel Ahmed Konsowa was arrested just after announcing his candidacy and has been sentenced to six years in prison for expressing political opinions as a military officer.
In Russia, the opposition activist Alexander Navalny will be unable to stand in this year’s presidential elections because of the convictions (for fraud, organising unauthorised rallies, etc) he has received since declaring himself as a candidate. In China last year, Sun Zhengcai, who had been tipped as a possible future president, fell foul of anti-corruption investigations just before the Chinese communist party congress in which President Xi secured another five year term as leader.
RESURGENCE AT THE CO-OP: This column has followed with interest and sympathy the troubles of the Co-op group over the last few years, a period of alarm and gloom for staff and customers alike. At one stage it looked as though the entire group might fail, dragged down by huge problems in its banking division, but that perhaps underestimated its strength in two areas – its retail operations in the north of England where it remains food shop of choice for many loyal customers (through a network of both traditional local stores and supermarket outlets), and its national funeral and undertaking business. Now, with its finances stabilised and new senior management in place, the retail business is powering on – buying local corner store rival Nisa Retail for £137.5m (deal now in its final stages), opening 100 new shops in 2017 with 1,600 jobs, and with plans for another 100 new stores this year. Most of the new stores are in its traditional trading areas in the Midlands and north, with a particular strength in East Anglia, but also with a push into suburban London where the Co-op thinks it offers a value alternative to the private chains.
The strategy seems to be paying off. Adjusted for new openings, sales over the Christmas quarter were up 6%, ahead, the Co-op thinks, of any other food retailer. Seasonal specialities were up 9%, to £61m, note in particular sales of half a million litres of prosecco, suggesting that the tastes of the traditional Co-op member are evolving (it was a leader in the C19th temperance movement through its Methodist roots).
SWERVING DOWN THE ROAD: The Co-op may have good news; not so Tesla, the Californian domiciled electric car maker run by Elon Musk. Tesla has no trouble forward selling its cars – the waiting list is said to be three years long for intended big seller Model 3 which is priced at around US$35,000 – but it has had great trouble getting the things off the end of the production line. Production in the last quarter of 2017 was 1,550, the company said, against a target of 5,000, up from 220 the previous quarter, but still not great. What the company did not say was that the target a year ago was 25,000 cars a month by now. Production of all cars was down in 2017 from 2016, which is starting to concern investors; Mr Musk said the problem is getting work and supply methodologies to work smoothly together for a car that almost entirely consists of new technologies and products. This is especially said to be the case in relation to battery production. The company has presold 400,000 cars, and taken deposits of at least US$1,000 on each of them, so Mr Musk will be wanting to get a spring surge into his production facilities.
It’s a different picture at JaguarLandRover, which reported annual results this week. Sales were up in both divisions – Jaguar selling 178,000 cars and LandRover a remarkable 442,000. A lot of the latter are overseas sales, a big export earner for Britain, and a remarkable success for the group and its owners Tata, the Indian conglomerate. Sales have tripled since Tata bought the business in 2009. What is more remarkable still is that this is from selling expensive luxury cars, many four wheel drive, mostly with diesel engines. That is a concern to JLR who majored on diesels for economy and reliability and now are having to quickly develop a range of petrol engines, and as quickly as they can, a range of electric systems. The new electric assist Range Rover appeared this month, but all electric is some way off. Maybe they could do a deal with Mr Musk?