Thursday, 18 January 2018

WTF, PFI?

When Carillon collapsed with a mighty clang, it prompted some people to have second thoughts about the wisdom of Private Finance Initiative contracts. Look at the original thinking behind PFI and you start to wonder why anybody ever had first thoughts about this way of doing things:
...why did we ever enter PFI contracts in the first place? The answer is provided on page 11 of the NAO report: PFI is off-balance sheet for national accounts purposes, which means it “results in lower recorded levels of government debt and public spending in the short term”.
The problem was that Serious People believed public spending and government debt in the UK were dangerously, unsustainably high.* They lay awake at night worrying about the terrible debts future generations would inherit, if we frittered their birthright away on fripperies like schools, roads and hospitals. What did they do about this alleged existential, intergenerational threat?

No worries - they had a cunning plan. Hide the up-front costs, so it looked as if they weren't spending the money they really were spending, then saddle future generations with the cost of running and maintaining this off-balance-sheet infrastructure, as well as handing over a massive wodge of public money in rent to a bunch of private companies who'll be billing our kids and their kids, long after the Serious People have moved on, their reputation for prudent management of the public finances intact.

So Serious People solved the perceived problem of handing whopping debts on to the next generation by making current spending seem to disappear, through the magic of creative accounting, then ... er ... handing whopping debts on to the next generation.

That's so mental, it's almost impressive.




*Plenty of people have argued convincingly that the idea of runaway public spending was wasn't true when the notion of PFI was first dreamed up and still isn't true.

Monday, 15 January 2018

"We're going to win so much, WE'RE going to be sick and tired of winning"

Trump didn't want to win the election:
"Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary."
Johnson didn't want to win the EU Referendum:
"Once he lost, Johnson would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Project Fear."
In Trump's case, we have to rely on the word of Michael Wolff and his sources, when they say that team Trump reacted to victory with shock and disbelief. In Johnson's case, we've actually seen the terrified "What have I done?" expression on his face, as he reacted to his victory like a man who's suddenly and unexpectedly been asked to deliver a funeral oration.

Having come first in a competition he never wanted to win, it now looks obvious that he views the prospect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with relief, not disappointment:
The foreign secretary has reportedly told friends that he would rather stay in the EU than accept a soft Brexit.

According to The Sun, Boris Johnson told allies that any Brexit result which left Britain outside of the EU, but still closely aligned to it, would be a "total waste of time," adding that "I’d rather us stay in than leave like that."

A separate report by Politico on Monday confirms this, stating that Johnson told allies that calls for Britain to remain closely aligned to EU rules and regulations after Brexit were "mad," adding that: "You’d be better off staying in."

He reportedly told friends that he believes Theresa May would be "worn down" by civil servants and persuaded to accept a bad Brexit deal that would leave Britain in a similar relationship to the EU as Norway.

Friends of Johnson have previously told Business Insider that the foreign secretary never had any intention of leaving the EU, but joined the Leave campaign purely out of his ambition to win the Conservative leadership. 
If you believe the Eurosceptic UK press, the chief enemies of Brexit are the treacherous "Remoaners" who voted and campaigned against leaving the EU. I'm not so sure.

With a few honourable exceptions (like the dogged and courageous Gina Miller), I think the Remain side have been pretty ineffective (such is the prevailing Brexit orthodoxy that even the most pro-Remain MPs routinely preface their criticisms with a feeble "Of course, nobody's trying to block Brexit", before coming up with some half-baked waffle about "a Brexit that works for everybody", whatever such a fantastic beast might look like).

But maybe, just maybe, the true enemies of Brexit come from inside the Brexit camp, from self-identified Brexiteers like Johnson and 'ol frog-face, who publicly claim to be with the program, but are secretly hoping it will go away, so they can forget about the complexity, hard work and harder choices that delivering Brexit would actually entail, and get back to their comfort zone of cheerfully fact-free scapegoating, while playing the victim from a position of cosseted privilege.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The seigneur of sark

I just wrote a slightly sarky post about Ukip's current leadership difficulties, but I'm just an amateur, only in it for the LOLs, and to let off steam. Matthew Norman, though, gets paid for writing this stuff and it shows in the superior quality of his sarcasm. Watch and learn as he fillets those Kippers like a Michelin-starred chef:
"The never-ending saga of the Ukip leadership continues with 'anti-far right' Henry Bolton in a pickle after his girlfriend turned out to be a bit racist

...In the most shocking political development since the last time Theresa May insisted she has been “very clear” about some piece of incomprehensibly opaque drivel, Ukip is on the verge of needing a new leader.

Certainly, the incumbent has earned a rest after a marathon stint. It’s almost three and a half months since Henry Bolton, a blazer-clad ex-copper, assumed the mantle...

...If and when Bolton departs to create another vacancy, he can leave feeling satisfied about a job well done. Running as a virtual unknown, he won by highlighting his enmity to all forms of extremism, but especially the “infiltration” of Ukip by the far right.

Since exposing racism under deep cover was his goal, here’s one political career that will not end in failure. Thanks to Bolton, a Ukip member has been suspended for racism of sufficient blatancy to earn an invitation to serve at the pleasure of the US President.

If there is a down side to his triumph, it feels almost too trivial to mention. But the suspended member is Bolton’s girlfriend, Jo Marney. Or his “mistress” as the Mail on Sunday quaintly prefers it when splashing today with her trenchant thoughts on Meghan Markle and matters of race.

For the record, the 54-year-old Bolton left his wife Tatiana for Marney, estimates of whose age vary from 25 to 29, just before Christmas. While that is a particularly cruel time for the mother of two tiny children to learn of her replacement by a much younger woman, at least Bolton broke the news with the chivalrous sensitivity expected of the holder of his office. He ended the marriage by text.

...After [Marney] launched a recent Facebook exchange with “I wouldn’t with a negro”, her correspondent’s “What’s wrong with black people?” allowed her to illustrate a gift for brevity. “Ugly,” she wrote, before segueing into a staccato riff on the approaching nuptials. “Harry’s marrying. God! Wet as a scrubber. Awful. A royal yank. Yuk.”

She then assuaged fears that her objections lay in Markle’s nationality, though not without raising fresh concerns about her understanding of reproductive biology. Markle’s “seed”, she wrote, will “taint our royal family … Tiny brain. She’s black. A dumb little ‘actress’ that no one has heard of.”

There may be the germ of an irony in that last remark. Marney describes herself as an “actress”, but without apparently having starred in seven seasons of Suits, or in fact having a credited in any production at all. Among the other careers she lists on Twitter are “music journalist”, “presenter” and “model”. The evidence available supports solely the latter, and only then in the sub-category of modelling prefixed by “glamour”.


Anyway, as the Socratic dialogue drew to its close on Facebook, Marney maintained her pithy form with: “Just don’t like her. She’s a black American … Next will be a Muslim PM. And a black king.”

...It is quite possible, after all, that Bolton, who was elected after warning that the wrong leader risked Ukip becoming the “UK Nazi party”, knew nothing of her opinions until today’s papers...

...While wishing him well in his next endeavour, it is probably too early to speculate about which of Ukip’s countless other anti-racism warriors will inherit the crown. One assumes Farage will be driven by near-poverty and that minor addiction to the spotlight to launch another positively final comeback tour...

...In the meantime, the thoughts turn to David Cameron. It was to neutralise the terrible menace of Ukip that he called his kamikaze referendum on EU membership. How he must surge with pride whenever he beholds the awesome might of the enemy he was prepared to sacrifice his country to defeat."
Savour the whole thing in its sarcastic magnificence here.

Henry and Wallis

Henry Whatsisname's leadership of Ukip continues to go from strength to strength. After a strong start, when Henry built his reputation as a very stable genius on that impressive boast that he could strangle a badger with his bare hands, Henry went on to demonstrate his family-friendly credentials by cheating on his wife and kids with a foxy Ukip groupie 25 years his junior.

As any fule kno, there's nothing the public love more than a celebrity romance (just look at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), so I'm sure that by showing his human side, Henry has astutely burnished the glamour of his führerschaft to an even more impressive sheen. I confidently expect bunting and street parties to follow the announcement that Henry and Jo Marney are now an item.
The happy couple

Already Henry's new companion and soulmate is helping the great leader in his stated mission of leading the party towards definitely-not-racist respectability:
UKIP has suspended the girlfriend of party leader Henry Bolton after she apparently made racist remarks about Prince Harry's fiancee Meghan Markle.

The Mail on Sunday has published a series of messages sent by Jo Marney.

In them, the 25-year-old model said Ms Markle would "taint" the Royal Family, that she had a "tiny brain" and that black people were ugly.

Ms Marney apologised and said her messages had been taken out of context.
Henry didn't want to comment. What will Henry do, if forced to choose between his duty and the woman he loves? It's all very Edward and Mrs Simpson.
"fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", as somebody once said...

Although, to be fair to Henry's Wallis, she may be a contemptible racist, but she isn't any more racist than the current President of the United States, or the UK's Foreign Secretary. Interesting times.





*Update and afterthought - Ms Marney contends that her remarks have been taken "out of context." Other than as a satirical parody of the sort of things you might hear a racist muppet say - which I assume wasn't her intention - can anybody explain what sort of context might excuse such remarks? Help me out, I'm struggling here.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The special relationship


Racist pillock who called Africans "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" supports racist pillock who called African countries "shitholes."

The USA and the UK. Two countries divided by a common outrage.

Corbyn: "I'm king of the world!" (spoiler: iceberg ahead)


Imagine that it's close to midnight on 14 April 1912 and we're on the bridge of the RMS Titanic. Watchers in the crows' nest have just spotted an iceberg ahead. What should we do?

There are two schools of thought.* Mister Barlow thinks that our top priority is to do everything possible to change course and speed, during our short remaining window of time, so that the ship can either avoid the berg, or try to hit slowly, at a speed and angle which gives us some chance of not sinking.

Mister Jones objects that while everybody's obsessing about the iceberg, conditions aboard the Titanic are unacceptable; the working poor are crammed into cramped, airless quarters in steerage, while the rich and powerful lounge about in their sumptuous staterooms, being waited on hand and foot, when not stuffing their faces with turtle soup and lobster at the Captain's table. Mister Jones is a fan of First Mate Corbyn's vision of something better, a Titanic that works for everyone.

Now I don't think Mister Jones is wrong. The massive levels of unfairness and inequality are wrong, bad and need fixing. But - forgive me if I'm being be a single-issue iceberg bore here - the iceberg is dead ahead, the time left for avoiding action is short, and if we hit and sink, who do you think will be first in the queue for the limited number of lifeboats (hint; it's probably not going to be the poor devils in steerage)? For the moment, I think that the pressing problem of iceberg avoidance deserves to occupy the top left quadrant of the Eisenhower decision grid.

That was my take on the "What - if anything - should progressives do about Brexit" debate, as argued by Owen Jones and Nick Barlow.

Credit to Boris Johnson for first suggesting the Titanic analogy.




*Of course, there are other courses of action, although the one being urged on Captain May by her senior officers ("Shut your eyes, full steam ahead and just keep on saying that we're definitely going to win the Blue Riband"), doesn't really involve enough neurological activity to qualify as a school of thought.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Everything now LÖUDER than everything else

Meet Alex. Alex is quite big in America. I don't know what he's talking about, but Alex is very loud indeed:


Maybe you're thinking "Only in America." If so, you'd be wrong. In the UK, fans of weird outbursts of RANDOM SHOUTING can just turn to whatever the headline writers in the Express are having a self-induced brain aneurysm about today:
Left-wing activist STUMPED in fiery BBC clash when she FAILS to answer simple question 

'It's political suicide!' Lord claims Brexit WILL be reversed but is SHUT DOWN by BBC host

'MILITANT trade unions' responsible for rail misery, blasts Transport Sec in radio row 

Davis and Hammond UNITE to warn EU against UNNECESSARY Brexit trade barriers 

'It hasn't stopped!' Lorry drivers are ATTACKED by Calais migrants EVERY DAY, haulage boss 

'EU will get hurt FAR MORE!' Farage warns Barnier's EU 'religion' could come CRASHING DOWN 

Toby Young RESIGNS from universities regulator: 'Forced out by TWITTER MOB' 

Now ban DRINKING STRAWS: Conservation group calls for crackdown on plastic 

'We're eating through YOUR airtime!' Tory MP completely LOSES IT with Sky News host in row 

French flu WARNING: Already battered by Aussie strain – now NHS faces new DEADLY virus
Which reminds me of everybody's favourite heavy metal quote "..could we have everything louder than everything else?.." A few years ago, we were told that comedy was the new rock n' roll. These days, it looks as if frothing outrage is the new heavy metal.

I guess that Ian Gillan actually had a sense of the ridiculous when he made his remark and intended it to be a funny comment about rock excess (such is the self-parodic nature of the genre that Spinal Tap could only ever have been an affectionate send-up). It's this self-awareness that seems to separate ridiculously loud rock bands from ridiculously loud opinionators like Alex Jones* and the Express headline writers.

I suspect that Alex and the tabloid shouty brigade would really struggle to get their heads round the idea that making everything louder than everything else is an inherently funny concept. I don't think they'd appreciate the element of paradox and logical impossibility. Or, for that matter, stop to think that if you shout everything at the top of your voice, eventually nothing seems especially loud or important.

I, for one, miss the playful self-awareness and sense of the ridiculous of Gillan's quip. For example, if only we'd held on to such a keen sense of the absurd, Michael Gove's malign career would have ended the moment he said, with a straight face, that all schools must be above average. Politics these days isn't just show business for ugly people; it's heavy metal for the thoughtless.





*Or maybe, as per Poe's Law, he's a very skilled parodist, in which case, fair cop, you got me, Alex.