Category Archives: News

it’s snow joke… (boom boom)

As if by magic winter has come along and it’s brought cold weather and snow – how unusual, that never happens! Well that’s what you might believe if you look at any of our media; so in the glorious cause of re-hashing articles and passing it off as news, I’m embarking on my yearly rant about the British media making a mountain out of a molehill. The British obsession with shutting down everything the second it looks a little bit snowy outside and the bizarre preoccupation with the weather that seemingly overlooks the fact that ten years ago our papers were screaming that snow was a thing of the past, that climate change nee global warming had consigned the idea of snow filled winters to the history books and fantastical Christmases inspired by Dickens.

So in the spirit of posting random stories about Snow, let’s revisit this classic article from the year 2000.

The Indie reports the death of Winter

Feel free to browse the whole article in The Independent archive

So there we are, rant complete: personally I hope it’s below zero and snowy until march – Climate change or not, I rather like the weather like this… I’m not convinced by the cries from both extremes that we’re heading to oblivion, sure we must have had an impact on the weather, but as we’re so rarely able to predict the weather more than 24 hours ahead (and even then with questionable accuracy) I’m buggered to see how we can say what it’ll be like in 100 years.

Ireland needs to act, now.

Basil comes a cropper. © BBC.

Basil comes a cropper. © BBC.

Many commentators are reacting to the news that Ireland and the European Union are talking about economic support as some sort of great shock – I’m really not sure why: Ireland’s recent austerity budget should have been a sure sign that they were in deep trouble. The cuts they made were not those of economy, rather they were those of widespread panic.

Of course the admission from Dick Roche that Irish banks were facing “serious liquidity problems”, and his almost flippant statement that “[I don’t think] the appropriate response to that would be for the European finance ministers to panic.” has of course had the exact opposite effect. With a ring of Mr O’Reilly promising Basil Fawlty that all will be well; the Irish economy looks set to firmly hit the buffers when it finally uses up the money it has presently loaned at some point midway through next Spring.

Media outlets are of course fanning the flames, with the meeting today between European Union finance ministers in Brussels being described as ‘crunch talks’; and while undoubtedly the first agenda item will be the state of Dublin’s finances, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is actually a regular monthly meeting – not an extraordinary quorum specifically called to negotiate bailing out Ireland.

But while it’s sure to be the star item on the agenda, quite what they’re say about Ireland remains a mystery: elements of the finance committee are sure to push for early action in the form of a bailout with the stability of the Euro being the key focus. Over the weekend a story filed by Reuters appeared to justify this assumption, with reports of a deal to shore-up that stability of the Irish economy [for the good of the euro] valued at an amount between 45€ billion and 90€ billion already underway.

With the ultimate bailout fund entirely dependent on how much trouble the Irish banks are really in yet to be revealed, it’s no real wonder that panic both political and on the markets is setting in – as it’s that ultimate amount that’s likely to be the figure that either scuppers or saves the Irish economy. A combined French, German & British dislike for taxpayers funding Ireland’s ludicrous bank assurance guarantee (which fully covered all losses, and not just those of the private citizen), is set to cause friction for the European finance committee bearing in mind Angela Merkel & Nicolas Sarkozy’s agreement a month ago for a new mechanism for securing sovereign debt, restructuring this debt in a way which would place private investors (most notably international bond holders) at risk for investing in countries that were heavily indebted or fiscally unbalanced.

The whole story though, is not yet on the table. It should not be forgotten that British and German banks are massively exposed to the Irish economy. Der Spiegel reported that during the European bank stress tests this summer, some of Germany’s biggest banks were revealed to be holding an estimated 101 billion euro ($138 billion) in Irish bonds. while British banks are exposed to a further 110 billion euro ($150 billion or £93.7 billion). Worryingly for both Britain and Germany a significant amount of that exposure is in taxpayer supported banks including RBS and the struggling Hypo Real Estate (which Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported as holding an estimated €10.3 billion portfolio in Irish debt).

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the financial powerhouses of Europe may have to swallow any plan for letting Ireland take the pain, the exposure closer to home most likely being seen to be too damaging economically and politically, but mark my words: any bailout will come with a litany of caveats. David Cameron will have nowhere to hide as under the noses of the coalition talks that followed this year’s election, then Chancellor Alastair Darling committed Britain to any future European bailout. He won’t however be alone, Angela Merkel is already leading the battle cry, and won’t be likely to stop if German taxpayers take yet another hit for bailing out a profligate nation to ensure the long term stability of the Euro.

This story is developing… as and when details come in I’ll write more.

Apple out of tune with the European single market?

Back in the heady days of the dot com boom we were endlessly told that we were witnessing a revolution, e-commerce sites and services would make international borders a thing of the past; the old worries of buying and importing goods and services would be a thing of the past; interestingly politics beat e-commerce to this in the European single market – a good thing I think we can all agree, but it seems that the more borders we break down the more artificial ones corporations with vested interests and their dedicated corporate lawyers seem to put up

Take for instance the iTunes store, an example of a digital company taking a traditional industry and dragging it kicking and screaming into the digital age: the music industry is practically luddite in it’s views, but iTunes, at least on the face of it would seem to have made it an open e-commerce industry allowing the users to buy anywhere in the world, but it’s not quite that simple. Try buying a track in Europe however and you might find that something you can buy in the UK isn’t quite so available 23 miles across the channel in France, or literally a hop skip and a jump across a border from Italy to Austria, making an utter mockery of the European Single Market, and making life frustrating in our ever more connected world.

It’s a true sign of the luddite nature of the music industry that the combined bureaucracy of the European Union is having to be brought to bear to strong-arm music licensing and distribution companies to sell their products to consumers in accordance with the laws of the lands they’re selling in. But for anyone that travels, or sits as an ex-pat or just happens to be based across borders it’s really great news that The European Commission competition commissioner Nellie Kroes is going to be bringing together industry executives with Apple’s Steve Jobs, Mick Jagger – presumably representing the musicians union/combined interest and the CEO of eBay, a firm which really has cracked pan-european trading to work toward bringing the true goal of a single market to the digital world, no matter what the excuses may be from companies still intent on keeping artificial borders alive in order to buck the market in their favour.

Unity Day

German Reunification

German Reunification (Photo via Wikipedia)

Today is unity day – it’s 20 years ago today that Deutschland was stitched back together, and although perhaps not as famous in visual terms as the fall of the wall – the official date of reunification is marked today for various historical reasons.

It’s always nice to be able to say, “I was there” – and I remember it well, I remember the endless fireworks of this day and the fall of the wall earlier  in 1989, I remember the god-awful trabants and the sudden politicisation of tone: some people made a real and conscious effort to talk about ‘Germany’, whilst others clung doggedly to West Germany.

Contrary to popular myth now, many people didn’t welcome reunification warmly – yes there was widespread belief that it was ultimately the right thing, but many people were (possibly rightly) afraid of what the ‘ossies’ might bring: some to this day still are – And while it’s fair to say that East & West Germany still have some very different ways of doing things.

Like any other nation in Europe it has problems it wishes and needs to resolve, all told though unification has heralded a period of strong economic and cultural growth, and Germany is now more respected and (legitimately) stronger politically than it’s been in it’s entire history. Long may this continue!

Brazil are out?!

I did promise myself I wouldn’t blog about the world cup – Football really isn’t my sport of choice, I’ve always found it difficult to follow a league game, and of late the international tournaments have been quite dull. But I must say that I’m supremely happy to see Holland & Germany progressing in the Cup. Holland’s victory over Brazil is a real twist, and Germany’s crushing of the useless England team only went to underline what’s wrong with continuing to pick the ‘cream’ of the overpaid, over strung premier league.

Biting hard at our local businesses.

It’s the end of June – already, doesn’t seem like two minutes since we were knee deep in Snow. It’s been a busy few weeks at work, and correspondingly it’s been a quiet few weeks on the blog: and the busyness couldn’t be more welcome – it’s been a quiet few months with work with the recession clearly having an impact not just on our business, but on many around us. Many commentators are trying to make out that the recession is a technical term, that it’s only having an impact on certain sectors – but I think that’s increasingly being shown to be untrue – recession’s take time to bite: they don’t suddenly arrive, instead they filter down, slowly using up reserves, making life more critical and making business ever more difficult for those that don’t quickly adapt to the conditions of the day.

It’s been a very sad few weeks on Berwick Street, admittedly it’s never going to win awards for being London’s most glitziest street, but over the years it’s developed a collection of great shops, cafés and restaurants that were always well patronised by anyone that considers themselves a local. Over the last few weeks we’ve lost a great indie fashion label, a record store that’s been on the street for as long as I can remember, a coffee shop that was always busy and the brilliant pie and mash shop, Pastry Pilgrim, all seemingly there one day, gone the next.

Businesses are like that – speaking from very personal experience, you always know things are going wrong, but the catastrophic end always sneaks up – you go from being a fighting chance to over in minutes: and it’s heart-wrenching. Often when you see coverage of ‘the recession’ you hear about job losses, but you don’t often see the individual tragedies, the small businesses, ignored by their banks, run on a pittance and run with heart, soul and endless back-breaking hours of toil: and as tragic as hundreds of people being laid off from a national chain might be, the death of a small business should be given equal billing – as it’s our small businesses that lead the recovery, they’re the major tax-payers, they’re the future – and that should never be forgotten.

So the next time you pass a closed up shop with a bailiff’s bolt through the front door, think long and hard about patronising your local businesses more – right now they need your business more than ever before. The bland, faceless chains will survive, but the businesses that enhance an area and offer you something unique won’t if you don’t spend your money with them. It’s not a good time to be in business right now – getting even a basic business overdraft is almost impossible, banks are raking through past failures and history to find any reason to turn people down. Landlords are getting jumpy about rents being paid, invoices are being paid later and later and some not at all, while all the big chains are more likely to be pushing out bargains to entice customers in to replace high value sales with volume sales that the small business simply can’t compete against.

This country needs entrepreneurs, it needs people to generate new products, new jobs and new markets. So never forget that our small businesses represent the grass roots of all business: because after all, every business has to start somewhere, and that start is almost always small.

Armed Forces Day

Today is armed forces day, so whatever you’re doing today, wherever you are, stop for a moment and have a think about our armed forces, the men, woman and families who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting the UK – they don’t do it for huge amounts of cash, and they certainly don’t do it for the thanks. So today, stop – think, and appreciate what they do: and if you’ve got some spare cash, why not throw some at Help for Heroes, Saafa or RAFBF (to name but three), to support the ones that don’t come home in one piece, don’t come home at all, or who suffer when they’re out of the service.

Bang On.

Matthew Paris in writing in The Times yesterday is absolutely bang on with his assessment of the David Laws situation. I urge you to read and comment.

Danny Alexander T-Minus 2 days to resignation?

Well, perhaps the headline is overplaying it a little, but it seems that the Daily Telegraph is now getting it’s teeth into Danny Alexander over avoiding capital gains tax – whether it’s legal or illegal will be the big question – Telegraph attempt to skewer Danny...whether an answer is needed before they decide he should be hung drawn and quartered is another thing.

The Telegraph is now full out gunning for the coalition, my spies tell me that they’re being briefed by Labour yes, but that to be be expected, more worryingly is the rumour that one or two Lib Dem staffers are briefing hacks that are way above their pay-grade. I’m not sure whether to believe this or not, I certainly wasn’t expecting a barage of messages surrouding David Laws yesterday though – so who can say who’s side they’re playing on.

What is true is that The Telegraph can no longer hide behind the veil of ‘the public interest’ in their theft of expenses data – if it is in the public interest, let’s have full disclosure; all out, right now… all parties all the data, otherwise it’s going to be a drip drip drip that does nothing but increase the circulation of The Telegraph (benefiting from the proceeds of Stolen goods one could possibly argue). It’s hard to see how the coalition can function effectively if one side of it is being taken apart one person at a time; it’s even harder to see how Nick Clegg’s reputation will recover after his protestations that his was a party of new politics, whiter than white.

Parliament, re-opened

Yes, we’ve all read it before in the newspaper, but today the Queen re-opened Parliament with a speech which sounded rather different to what we’ve become used to, no huge focus on terrorism and no awful news-speak about helping families (with yet more benefits that keep the poor dependant). Instead we got something altogether different: the word de jour is freedom: Scrapping of draconian ID cards and ID databases, Measures to help bolster civil liberties, Powers to set up new schools and open more academies (which are in effect just grant maintained?), Fixed-term Parliaments are now properly on the agenda and a couple of referendums, first on the voting system (a/v) which seems to be linked to a promise of reform for the new rotten boroughs so we equal out the size of constituencies, and if anything happens in Europe now we’ve got a guarantee of referendum on future EU treaties or major changes of power-balance from the UK to the EU (and one would presume vice versa?).

In other news there’s going to be changes to financial regulation but no detail, changes to the police with elected police officials (good news) as well as restoring the pensions link to earnings, and the rather vague promise of more power for the Scottish Parliament: whether the coalition is feeling brave enough to properly tackle the West Lothian question has yet to be seen.

It was nice to see a speech that for the first time in a long time didn’t feel like it’d make us worse of democratically: I still think with the cuts and the world-economic problems coming up, but I do feel like the power of the people has been dramatically realigned. Now the coalition has to stick together to get these things through.