Thursday, 22 June 2017

For Whom The Motorway Tolls





It is in the news that the M6 Motorway Tolls have been sold to an Australian investment group.

The story is here if you want it.   My reaction was that this seems a little odd. What would any right minded Oz want with this scruffy little bit of England?

The tale was a longer one I was told by one of the family. Before it had been on the balance sheets of 27 financial operators. Quite how or why any of this had happened was lost to me as it would be to most people. You might think a toll was a simple basic operation for clear purposes but no longer.

It was December 1958 when the wonders of the Preston Bypass were revealed to the nation. It was intended to stop the notorious traffic jams on the old A6 as it wended its way through the ancient borough of Preston and across the narrow Ribble bridge.

So many went to see it that the traffic jams went from Lancaster to Wigan. As for getting to Blackpool by car, it was quicker to go to Berlin was the old soldier's joke. In time the Bypass became but one small part of the M6 motorway as it ran from Shakespeare country to the border and that of Burns.

There were the usual debates about its use and purpose. Some thought it would be a little used luxury, others recognised that Britain seemed finally to be admitting that the age of the motor had arrived. Among them was the issue of whether it should be "free" or whether a toll be made to contribute to maintenance etc. costs.

This was an age when a flow of cash was seen as just that and when intended for a particular purpose would go to the authority or agency responsible for doing the work that needed to be done. Ideally, the cash from tolls would pay for the longer term costs and improvements as well as the short term ones.

More recently under a Labour government, in 2004 the new M6 tolls gave rise to political argument but by then cash was looked on with eyes of envy by financial operators who see it not as there to pay for something to be done, that task should be loaded onto others, notably taxpayers if you could get enough politicians drunk, if only on power, to agree to it.

The cash would become an asset and a base for credit and in turn operations in the many and various markets for trading and lending and lending and trading. The M6 is not just a road from here to there it is a desirable instrument wherever the financiers operate.

So as you wave the latest edition of your credit card over the thing at the entrance you are setting in motion a flow of money movement through the world from the Caymans to Hong Kong and Sydney and incidentally letting GCHQ at Cheltenham know that you are off to see grannie again.

It is not exactly a highway to heaven but it is as good as you are ever going to get. The bell tolls for thee.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

No Second Helpings





One subject that has been avoided in this blog has been diets and dieting, if only because I have a distaste for it. But Science Daily has had an article recently which was of interest.

DNA for dinner is not what the article is about, directly, but there is a school of thought that argues that man is what he or she eats, notably the DNA we have relates to the diets of our ancestors.

In the interests of diversity the farmers and the cowhands must be friends (see the musical "Oklahoma") but when it comes to eating and drinking perhaps we should be mindful of what we are in DNA terms.

If asked what you have been doing, the answer is Nutrigenomics; that is Nutritional Genomics.

Time to send out for the fish and chips.


Friday, 16 June 2017

Grenfell Tower Questions





It is difficult to avoid the disaster of Grenfell Towers and the tragedies that have ensued. To debate or comment needs care given the rapidity at which the story unfolds in both the media and on the web. Sometimes too rapidly for the editors. The Mirror online had a story on the question of sprinkler systems at Grenfell Towers along with an advert' about "Stinging funeral costs avoided by savvy over 65's".

Of necessity, the Prime Minister has stated an inquiry will be held if only to claim that something should be done and will be done. The key problem with inquiries of this kind is that they take years, become an expensive battlefield for armies of lawyers, confuse every issue and then report too late to be effective.

In the late second decade of the 21st Century with worldwide media, communication and information systems, let alone numbers of experts instantly on tap, the right method is to set up a capable team to pull it together to produce an analysis document of the key elements within weeks or even days.

The majority of our tower blocks date from the second half of the 20th Century. It had become fashionable for local authorities to have Chief Architects with large departments for whom big projects defined status and masculinity. Councillors liked them for much the same reasons. They proved that "something was being done" by virtue of the their physical impact.

What was worrying in the 1970's was that proposals often defied rationality, notably in mining districts riddled with subsidence going back centuries. To look at the alternative ways of meeting housing needs could mean a lot more time and trouble and attention to detail, despite being much less costly to both provide and maintain. In committee a chest beating chairman was all too likely to want a tower block.

In the case of Grenfell, the reports I have seen say the Kensington and Chelsea Council is the "owner", that is the freeholder. On the web property pages there have been flats for sale as leaseholds. The variations in price suggest large variations in condition and location within the block.

These leasehold prices seem to be way beyond the resources of many of the occupants who necessarily will be renting. Three questions then, what are the typical rentals and what are the ground rents payable by leaseholders to the freeholder and what are the annual service charges payable to the property management service?

There seems to be a Resident's Association, but does this represent all of the leaseholders, or only the rentals, or just those who are there? In terms of the current legislation is this Association a voluntary group or does it have the legal standing of a limited company?

It is claimed by the Council/Freeholder that the question of sprinkler systems had divided views among the residents some of whom feeling that the disruption and cost of installation was not needed. I believe it is often the case that when it comes to spending money in flat developments many residents want low cost as a priority.

A good deal of comment at present is saying this is the result of poverty for many of the residents who are low income and of deprived families. But how can they afford then to live there? The answer is the benefits to which they are entitled. What is that total? Say somewhere between half and a million a year for the block?

Which brings us back to the question of who owns the leases. 120 flats mean 120 leases and if the residents of most or many are rentals someone somewhere could be making a great deal of profit on the system. Just who might we be looking for in that area with the kind of money and incentive to invest in this kind of property?

This is something I suspect that will not be covered by the government inquiry. But then that might be because they will never really find out because the leaseholds might be owned by a chain of companies located offshore or else used as security for credits for borrowing for financial dealing.

Only their cladding will be a lot more protective than the kind used at Grenfell Towers.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Magic Money Trees





One of the great works of the past is the Rev. Gilbert White's "Natural History And Antiquities Of Selborne". He lived from 1720 to 1793, in rural seclusion in Hampshire but noted and commented on the immediate life about him, notably plants. His book has a web site and you are welcome to read it.

Yet he lived at a time when there was a magic money tree, MMT, and could not fail to be aware of what happened. If asked he might have advised that trees are fine when in full growth. But they can be chopped down, catch diseases, through their seeds create dense and impenetrable forests and be costly to maintain. Also, sooner or later their fruits run out.

In the Middle Ages the monasteries became the MMT's of their time. Then King Henry VIII, advised by Thomas Cromwell, and needing serious money to build, decorate, run and maintain his new 34 palaces; he might have called it infrastructure and job creation, nationalised them.

This induced a collapse in the economy. The monasteries etc. were at the centre of the wool trade, a major part of the economy, and critical to the foreign trade at that time. Also, they were the medical centres, education providers and retirement homes.

The ensuing land grab created new magnates and landowners and in the next century absolute monarchy went as well. This was because King Charles I, following the example of his father, King James I, subsidised the arts and spent heavily, only to lose his head.

It is possible to see MMT's in money economies as long ago as the Emperors of Rome and in other parts of the world, the Chinese Empires and those of say, the Mughals. There is always the question, what happened next?

This ten minute cartoon tells the tale of John Law in France at the beginning of the 18th Century in simple fun terms.

This three minutes of satire deals nicely with our very own British South Sea Bubble that enriched so few and impoverished so many. When the question arises about the 17th Century Tulip Mania the answer was it could never happen again.

The 19th Century was a period of one crash after another across the world all involving the search or believed findings of MMT's. See Wikipedia on "Long Depression" and "Baring crisis". This was central to the imperial policies of the European countries as well as both the militarism and nationalisms of their time. My posts on "Gold Fever" of 4 January and 2 May 2016 refer to these.

But my favourite MMT for personal reasons, I am proud to be Nesbitt, goes to that of the 1770's. The man was Arnold Nesbitt and there is a telling biography of him here read down  on the History of Parliament web site, Research, Members, as he was an M.P. along with his close colleague Sir George Colebrooke. It is strange how so many M.P.'s are involved in so many financial crashes.

It is my view that the Colebrooke and Nesbitt crash of The City in the 1770's cost us the American colonies. There are differences of view about this being a good or bad thing. It involved in particular the East India Company which meant that the effects hit almost everyone with wealth. It leads us inevitably to Jane Austen.

Jane, who lived at Steventon along the road from Selborne, had a close friend with a shared interest in exotic plants. She was Emma Colebrooke who had married Charles Bennet, Earl of Tankerville. Emma was the daughter of James Colebrooke, brother of George above.

One of the features then of the interests in plants was not simply as ornaments but in an age before synthetic chemicals their potential for profit as medicines or colourings or flavours. These Nesbitt's were family and close connections with the Sneyd's that Jane did know. Jane was certainly interested in money and how much men were worth, in any case a brother was a banker.

Coming to the present via a complicated story of family histories we end up in the Liverpool of the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, John McDonnell, a recent convert to the idea of planting an MMT to save us all from inconveniences, such as paying rents, repaying loans or counting the pennies. His Marxist beliefs would seem to contradict this, but there have been a number of nations recently who married Marxism with an MMT only to collapse into poverty and social breakdown.

There has been a row over John's education, he was at the De La Salle secondary school, whose alumni include Wayne Rooney but before that alleged to be at a high fee paying "prep school". This is a nonsense. The place he was at was then an RC seminary where many were called for the priesthood but few were chosen. It would only take a forbidden trip or two to the cinema etc. to miss the cut.

But it is possible that the Parish Priest who first recommended John was of a family linked to the McDonnell of McDonnell Earls of Antrim.  Also, John's grandfather at one time lived a couple of hundred yards away and in the same parish as the grandchildren of a Kavanagh of Carlow. In 1851 Morgan Kavanagh of Carlow was sharing a house with Karl Marx.

So when John changed from one faith to another the leap was not as long as you might expect. Moreover the connections go back to people close to and related to Arnold Nesbitt, creator of one of the great MMT's of modern times and the one which arguably went most spectacularly bust.

But John's MMT for the huddled masses and students also depends on rich people paying their taxes, admitting their liabilities and eschewing the off shore and other schemes.

In fact, he will have to persuade his fellow alumni Wayne Rooney and his associates, who recently lost a court case to the HMRC, to pay more tax than in the past.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Comparisons Are Odd





The Tories are now in troubled times.

Worse, with what is out there to be dealt with in the immediate future is far from promising.

But let us allow Ms. May and her much maligned advisers some credit.

They have managed to make Edward Heath, 1970-1974, look good.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Would You Believe It?





During the time of the Cameron coalition government the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg refused to allow the redrawing of constituency boundaries that were due; and which are now long overdue.

Ms. May did not attempt this as she might not have been able to get the majorities needed.

Now, we have another fine mess, Nick Clegg has lost his seat and the Liberal Democrats are a minor and divided party.

Meanwhile the constituency boundaries are becoming more and more out of date; and are likely to remain the same for years to come.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

What Is It All About Again





 In May 2010, I had something to say about the election of that year. It would bear repeating.

Quote:

At the time of the general election in 1945 everyone knew the scale of the mess and the nature of the disasters that the war had wreaked.  In most places we could see it, smell it and it affected almost every aspect of our lives.  The politicians then admitted most of it but even then we were not told the whole story by any of them.

Too many Conservatives retained illusions of imperial grandeur, too many Labourites wilder illusions that the centralised state could cure all and too many Liberals all the vague notions and muddled thinking left over from 19th Century theories.  We were given a United Nations but what we got was the Atom Bomb and forty years of Cold War.

At least then we had a relatively coherent system of government.  It might have looked like a patchwork and certainly had many variables but we did know who did what and why and where they worked from.

It is striking to think that the Counties of Rutland, Radnor, Clackmannan and Fermanagh and for that matter County Boroughs such as Oldham had a greater measure of independent responsibility and scope of action than does the United Kingdom at the present time.

What do we have now?  In the world of law there is a Supreme Court whose function seems to be to agree to a collection of supreme idiocies pronounced by others.  We have a set of courts where most of us have lost sight of who does what or why.

What we do know is that absent minded pensioners who sell a goldfish will be severely punished but serial violent burglars will be able to chalk up hundreds of offences before recognition and murdering drug dealing gangsters are protected.

Libel law allows the rich and powerful to defame anyone they like, break laws, stop criticism even if they are killing people and punish and ruin the innocent, especially anyone devoted to the idea of scientific debate.

There is a House of Lords which meets and deliberates at huge expense for very little reason or rhyme.  These hundreds of appointed cronies, time served politicians, party political subscribers and occasional nods to a limited number of minority interests with an effect on marginal constituencies occasionally gather to mutter into their microphones words that nobody listens to.

The House of Commons is the Deserted Village of representative government.  Once a busy place on screens now it usually appears a sea of green (benches) with very little activity that is either productive or makes any sense.

The administration rams through ramshackle, badly drafted, damaging laws in which the only certainty is that the unintended (expensive and damaging) consequences will outweigh by far any real benefits.

Each of these laws will impose great extra burdens on the taxpayer.  Most of these laws give the administration vast uncontrolled and unchecked power to do what they will through agencies and non-government organisations that each has a life of its own, largely free from any legal or other controls.

We do not have a “government” as such at any level.  We have a confusing collection of entities that rarely act either in concert or with any logic.  I have not even mentioned Europe that real controller of our destinies.

Despite “Freedom of Information” finding out what is going on is very difficult and the media have given up the job, now relying on interns reworking the output of all the public relations staff now employed and trawling the internet to pick up odd items.

So all these “campaigns” going on are a lot of clatter by power seekers hoping to get hold of the levers of finance and means of “added shareholder value”.  What they are not telling us is how little either the House of Commons or the House of Lords do, the way in which they have lost or surrendered authority and power, the scale of the mess, the spread of corruption, the extent of the destruction, or the kind of world or future we face.

What is it all about?  We are not being told and we are not going to be told.  But we will have to pay.

Unquote.

Here we go again.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Rights And Wrongs Of Man





It is reported that Mr. Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has demanded that the state visit of President Trump be cancelled.

He disagrees with most, if not all, of the President's recent views, notably on security matters and says that he is unwelcome in the UK.

The first funeral of a victim from the Westminster terrorist attack has just been held.

She was a lovely girl, a Scot from the Isle of Barra and a MacLeod.

Donald Trump's mother was a MacLeod from the nearby Isle of Lewis, also a Scot.

Mr. Khan was a solicitor who specialised in the law of human rights.

Weather Report





It is the sixth of June.

Wet and windy.

Again.


Monday, 5 June 2017

The Great Reset





Our leaders are telling us that all will be well because they are going to spend a lot more.

You do not have to worry because the money will be created and not taken from anyone, indeed the government will only have to give and keep on giving.

That there are other opinions might surprise you but Mauldin Economics is talking about a great reset.

If he is right someone will have to suffer.

Probably it will be you.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Closing Down Christianity?





I put up the post on Nationalisation before looking at the media and news and learning of the terrorist attack in London.

Another horror and tragedy for so many.

Had we been at a performance in London, perhaps at The Barbican or in the area we could have been heading for London Bridge station at the time.

What is omitted from most reports is that today is The Feast of Pentecost, or Whitsunday and the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, Southwark, by Borough Market and London Bridge has been closed by the authorities.

The only comment I will make is that it is not enough simply to put more police on the streets, they can act only when and after an attack occurs.

The issue is preventing the attacks by whatever means necessary.

Nationalising The Back Yard





In the late 1940's I was around when the new Labour Government put in hand the nationalisations it had promised. So the age of nationalised industries up until the 1980's were integral to my life.

Until cars came along and coach travel expanded if we travelled it was by rail. Until the impossible dream of central heating came true with choices of fuel we had to use coal. The railways used coal to power the great majority of their traction units. Iron and steel needed coal and coal needed iron and steel.

Etc. So what did it mean to the people living very ordinary lives? The answer is not much. The Second World War had meant extensive state control over almost all aspects of our lives. Beer was weak, spirits for the rich and what exactly was wine? Would our neighbour swap eggs for some of our sugar?

When travelling by rail we did not notice the difference except for the some of the paintwork at stations and on the locomotives. The engine drivers and firemen, guards, porters, station masters, district superintendents etc. were all the same people with just some shuffling around senior managers at the top and the legal imposition of politicians making the key decisions.

This appeared to be much the same in other industries. It took decades before real changes began to be made and then not by internal decision or progressive political thinking. It was the impact of economic change, world trade, new commodities, methods and science.

For the most part by the time the centralised control of these industries had managed to persuade itself and the trade unions that it was impossible to deny that real change was needed they were already out of date. So vast sums of government spending went on yesterday's men and their ideas about production, service and management.

At the time in the 1940's it was claimed that profits, that is the surpluses needed to cover interest charges and debt liabilities along with saving for the major future investments that were going to be needed after the ravages of war, would cease and the money would go to the people, or rather the  trade unionists. So who were the greedy profiteers?

Most of them were insurance companies and other UK companies, notably those with pension funds. In the last analysis many of the greedy profiteers were in fact widows and orphans and pensioners invested in funded schemes. Given the compensation paid by Labour they were well and truly screwed. They paid the real price.

Anyone in The City with their head the right way on and the really wealthy had long since ditched railway shares, avoided iron and steel and too many of the coal mines were coming to the end of their profitable lives. We had taken the best and easiest coal in the previous two centuries.

To return to rail, the increasing shortages of good steam coal was one of the problems. Going deeper into thinner seams was very costly and the issues arising from the increasing sulphur levels in the seams of ordinary coals being mined all added to this. A lot of the coal coming up needed expensive "cleaning".

As ever, the whole story is far more complicated that the simpleton statements of 21st politicians suggest. Nationalisation in the late 1940's may have seemed the logical next step from the central controls of the war years.

In fact 1940 to 1950 were lost years when radical reforms and technical change was deferred and delayed and in some cases forgotten because of the war and aftermath. The politics and industrial relations of the next two decades hampered progress.

What is most worrying is that none of the political parties or their leaders have the faintest clue about the realities of the relevant industries and their future beyond 2020.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Heimat Is On TV






A couple of days ago Sky Arts ran the first part of "Heimat" and it is being repeated on Monday and again. For those who watched the wilder shores of TV in the 80's this appeared, I think on Channel 4, and for many made absorbing viewing.

It is German and about the experience of life of a family and community in the south of Germany between 1919 and 1982. They are ordinary people caught up in events etc. that happened beyond their powers and often understanding. Later the series was extended to 2000.

The reasons why I watched in the 80's was that in dating and the events it matched those in my own family over that period. The opening scene has a lead character walking across the fields to his village in his return from WW1. I could imagine my grandfather returning to his village in the same year.

Then there was my service in Germany in the 50's when I marched out of the Army of Occupation and later visits in the 1970's during camping holidays. Germany now is another place in another time and I do not think I would like it.

But I think I will still watch the series again, at least the first parts.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Politics Weather And Medicine





It is said that Ms May has not been out and about so much recently and did not appear in the TV debate which has caused some comment.

It has been very warm and spending a long time in a TV studio can be hot work.

Ms May has diabetes and needs regular insulin.

According to the advice I have seen hot weather means care has to be taken by diabetics and the insulin can be affected.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

For Whom The Bell Polls





Long, so long ago, when the internet was young, I was less old and we were all starry eyed at the marvels that came onto our screen after only a half an hour or an hour long download a web site was born, a poll for government and politics.

Ever one for a freeby and eager to earn the points that would allow me to do more for less I signed up to Yougov. Not least was the feeling that I was now at the centre of power and making my mark. And it was so simple. At least the questions were simple and the structure of the poll easy to understand.

But as time went on, not only did I grow older and wiser to the devious ways of the online world (OK I know get on with it) so did the Yougov site change. It wanted to know more about me. It's questions became more complex. The polls were taking a lot longer and imposing on my tea breaks.

More to the point because the simplicity had gone, there were rafts of items offering choices which often did not suit my individual thinking. It was low level gut response in matters which needed thought. Often there was no scope for balance.

It became tiresome and when the e-mails dropped telling me about another poll, I began to skip them and for a while now have just deleted. I really could not be bothered to spend any real time and I no longer trusted either the structure or the questions.

Which brings me to the size of the samples etc. and how this is now. When it began the political parties and their people were naive about the polls, possibly because they under estimated their influence or possibly because statistics was beyond them.

Now, it is my opinion that as you have to volunteer for Yougov and others it is likely that the political parties have people who are gaming the system. Given the size of the samples, the complexity of the polls, and the rest, my view is that now they are too easily manipulated by relatively small numbers.

None of this will change my mind, because as a postal voter, mine has already been cast.