Friday, 7 November 2014


Quite possibly the biggest fuck-up ever in the virtual world...

BLIZZCON is an semi-annual video game convention held by Blizzard Entertainment to promote their major franchises. The first BLIZZCON was held in October 2005 at the Anaheim Convention Centre in the United States where it has been held since. The convention features game-related announcements, previews of upcoming Blizzard Entertainment games and content, Q&A sessions and panels, and playable versions of various Blizzard games.

The reason I attend BLIZZCON is because of Hearthstone.

However this year, two hours into the presentation the stream went down and when it returned it was just advert after advert after advert, rinse & repeat. Needless to say, everyone left...

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Energy in the UK

Energy prices have risen every year since privatisation in 1990, when the beginning of the privatization of the Central Electricity Generating Board began. The assets of the CEGB were broken up into three new companies: Powergen, National Power and National Grid Company. Later, the nuclear component within National Power was removed and vested in another state-owned company called Nuclear Electric.

Energy prices have generally risen about 30% since 2010 and are likely to be at least 10% per year from now on, and yet today we are told to expect blackouts this winter.

If energy policy was as good at building power stations as it has been at closing them, we would not be facing the risk of targeted blackouts this winter. The plant retirement rate has simply outrun the replacement rate. That we are even talking about the possibility of blackouts is in itself a massive policy failure. Even if the lights don’t go out, wholesale prices will jump to uncompetitive levels and consumers and businesses will pick up the bill.

To prevent blackouts, you have to allow for the unexpected. Since the summer, two nuclear reactors have gone offline and three other plants at Ferrybridge, Ironbridge and Didcot B have had fires. Not only has 4.4 gigawatts now gone offline, more stress is put on the remaining fleet to perform at a higher level.

Paying businesses to cut their power use at peak times to keep the lights on is no way to run a modern economy. The test for this winter will not just be whether the lights stay on, but how much UK wholesale electricity prices diverge from our neighbours in France.

The UK energy market has been distorted by government intervention for too long and we may now pay the price in blackouts or brownouts – when major consumers of electricity are asked to shut down for short periods. Just as coal has become the cheapest fuel, the UK has been closing down coal stations, expanding renewable subsidies and effectively making low-carbon Combined Cycle Gas Turbines uneconomic by pushing them down the merit order and forcing them to operate intermittently.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Deflation - what is it?

We know what inflation is:- noun

"the action of inflating something or the condition of being inflated"

specifically for economics:-
"a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money"

At present the "experts" are saying that the Euro zone is struggling with deflation, what is it and how does it affect us?

Definition:- "reduction of the general level of prices in an economy"

Well surely that should be good news, right? Most people are struggling with low pay, no pay rises, higher energy costs and other services, so how come deflation is raising it's head in Europe?

Prices are now rising at the slowest pace since the depths of the global downturn in October 2009, fuelling fears that the region is heading for a disastrous bout of deflation. A number of countries in the Euro zone are already suffering from deflation, including Italy and Spain as well as Greece, Slovenia and Slovakia, as the falling oil price, squeezed pay packets and weak demand take their toll.

Have you noticed in your local petrol station  how the price has been dropping over the past few weeks?

Deflation, or falling prices, can cripple economies because it makes debts harder to service and can lead to businesses and households putting off investment and spending, hitting corporate profits and costing jobs, and this is the reason why the Bank of England has suggested that the base rate will probably not rise from the 0.5% it has been at for the past six years.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Overpayment of Housing Benefit

Further to yesterday's blog, today's headline news is 26 billion pounds is being paid out in housing benefit, remarkably similar figures eh? Of course the government is putting it down to fraud by those nasty little low paid people!

Housing benefit is managed by both the department and local authorities. The DWP sets policy, entitlement rules and shares data and guidance with councils, which undertake day-to-day administration and pay claimants. Authorities then reclaim payments from the department.

Housing benefit goes to five million households on low incomes. Total payments in 2013-14 were £23.9bn. This included £900m in overpayments due to claimant error, £340m due to fraud and £150m due to errors by officials.

When the current population of low paid workers are finally given proper full time work as they were in before 2008, then this problem will solve itself.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Figures

Unemployment is down, again, below 2 million, the lowest for eight years, well let's take a look at the figures.

They claim that one million new jobs have been created over the past five years, these are 20 hour a week, £7.00 an hour jobs. They have replaced one million 40 hour a week, £32.00 an hour jobs.

The previous jobs taxed at 40% provided 26 billion pounds [40 * 32 * 52 * 1,000,000], the current jobs do not provide tax [20 * 7 * 52 * 1,000,000] as they are below the 10,500 bracket.

It was not enough to cheer investors however, with the FTSE 100 closing down 181 points or 2.8% at 6,211 – the biggest one-day fall since June 2013.

Despite the rise in UK employment, pay growth remained sluggish at 0.7% between June and August compared with a year earlier, prolonging the fall in real pay as wage growth continued to lag behind CPI inflation which was 1.5% in August and 1.2% in September. It was, however, a slight improvement on the 0.6% pay growth between May and July.

If the government are so keen on getting the countries deficit down, where are they going to get the income from?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Middle East update

Turkey has just attacked one of the UKs allies in Northern Syria!

Turkish F-16 and F-4 warplanes have bombed Kurdish PKK rebel targets in Hakkari province near the Iraqi border.

Last week Kurdish protests gripped Turkey's Kurdish-majority south-eastern provinces. At least 31 people died in widespread street clashes, as Kurds vented their anger at Turkey's passive policy over Kobane. The army imposed a curfew in some areas. But some of the fighting was reported to be between PKK supporters and Islamist Kurds sympathetic to IS. Inside Syria heavy fighting has been raging in Kobane since mid-September, as Syrian Kurds battle to defend the town against better-armed IS militants.

What happens now?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

British Politics

There is usually a protest vote at by-elections, and Ukip has been described as a pressure group, the sort that gets more votes at by-elections causing ripples in the community and making main parties stand up and take notice.

However, last week in Essex, the pressure group made an MP!

Is it a one-off? What happens if it is not a one-off? That is the more interesting question.

At the 2010 election no one party received an overall majority and we have a coalition. If Ukip get more MPs next May, the other parties will have to have less MPs themselves, so we might as well consign ourselves to being in a permanent coalition politically from now on, which means that all future decisions will be made by on a committee basis, and we know where that gets us!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Middle East Politics

The heading should give you a clue that the following is just a rambling, because trying to get a handle on the situation that is currently happening in Iraq and Syria is far too complex to put in a few paragraphs.

Currently the West is putting pressure on Turkey to get stuck in, as it's powerful army is just sitting on the Syrian / Turkish border watching what happens. The Turkish Foreign Minister has said that it is not practical for Turkey to get stuck in.

Two reasons for this are they are not happy helping the Kurds because of past history and Assad's biggest enemy at present is the Islamic State, tricky!

Apparently there are now over fifty countries involved in this dispute / war, so good luck getting that lot to agree to anything...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Such a little word

Moazzam Begg was given the chance today on Radio 4 to say that he did not support IS [Islamic State] but did not take it. Every time he was asked the question, he answered with a pre-prepared statement of his choice, very similar in fact to the usual politician, which he also says he is not. He was asked if he would like to see them stopped, and again the little word 'no' evaded him. Listening for the 20 minute interview I now realise why the government does not trust him, rather than condemning Alan Henning’s killers, me merely suggested that he might have been able to prevent it!

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that when he had been in Syria previously, he had been successful in helping to secure the release of hostages held by groups other than IS [Islamic State].

The well-spoken and articulate Begg said he was nothing more than an innocent teacher in Afghanistan, who was illegally abducted and cruelly tortured by the American military, both in Afghanistan and later at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.

But Begg's account is starkly at odds with the signed statement he gave to FBI agents while held in Afghanistan after his capture in February 2002 in which US officials insist was not obtained under duress, Begg admits to having attended three separate al-Qa'eda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan where he learnt to fire AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and use primitive explosive devices.

The interview this morning was a clear attack on his persecutors, however, to get his message across more strongly it might have been prudent to distance himself from IS [Islamic State] a little more clearly than he did.

Friday, 3 October 2014

What do Russians think about the collapse of the Soviet Union?

It is a very dividing question in modern Russian society. A lot of people have radically different opinions of the USSR, communistic government and ideology. Some see the fall of the soviets as an end of marvellous empire, others as a liberation. But the best example of this divide is a figure of Stalin.

For one part of the country, Stalin is still the most genius leader, who industrialized the country, won WWII, developed the atomic bomb and lay the foundation for the space age. Others see him as one of the world's bloodiest tyrants, who caused famine and terror, killed millions of his people in slave labour camps and entered the second World War on Hitler's side.

And for the last few years, every time, some time before the Victory Day [may the 9th, which marks the end of Great Patriotic War] starts another scandal about Stalin bus. Stalinists try to buy ad spaces [usually, paint buses and public transportation] with crowd sourced money to celebrate Stalin as a victor, while vocal groups of people oppose them. There's a fierce public debate, both sides see each other as stupid, evil, or both, and it ends while the level of hate in the society goes up once again and no one is really satisfied.

People in the former communist world are looking back at the changes that they have endured over the past two decades with more reservations. Many Russians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians are ‘profoundly unhappy’ with their current political systems. These citizens are not opposed to the idea of democracy per se, but they oppose the difficult changes democracy has brought. In all three countries, there is growing disillusionment rather than a rejection of democratic values.

A large number of Russians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians believe that ordinary people have suffered over the past two decades while business and political elites have benefited. The idea that attaining success must come at another person’s expense is still common, but Lithuanians and young Russians tend to view success as the result of personal achievement.

Putin’s Reaction was described as hostile in response to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the elections as a “knee-jerk reaction” and a sign of weakness. Adding that Putin lashes out at the West in order to avoid taking responsibility for fraudulent elections and other internal issues.

The post-election protests are not an “overnight event,” but the beginning of a story that has yet to fully unfold. Putin is not immune to the crisis of confidence that is going on in a number of countries. His decision to run for president in 2012 removed “even the veneer of choice” for Russian voters, and he will have to contain popular discontent to hold onto power.

The main reason for dissatisfaction and bitterness about the current replacement is that how Soviet or let us say people's property was plagiarized and given to few individuals who now effectively own 80% of all the resources of the country and spend it any way they like and have houses in London, Switzerland and France and fight each other in European courts for billions of ill-acquired money while most everybody else just works and lives to eat and pay for necessities.

I do not think anybody regrets Soviet Union going down except maybe for the elderly population who had most to lose, the ones that could not adapt and now live lesser lives today because every accomplishment they had belongs to those years and effectively lost their pensions and savings and any sense of pride they ever had for having accomplished anything in their lives.

If there was a somewhat fair privatization of Soviet resources where everybody would get a fair piece and while maintaining some world-class things about Soviets, for example, accessible quality education and medical service, and justice and honesty that people believed there was in the system that ordinary person is entitled to nobody would be bitter or nostalgic and had any feelings about losing things.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Conservative financial futures

The chancellor’s speech at the conservative party conference in Birmingham last Monday 29th September 2014, promised to push lopsided austerity, benefit cuts and targeted tax reductions further than ever before. Amid much whispering about the next Ukip defections, the nerves of the Conservative congregation needed soothing, and George Osborne duly reassured. He offered himself as a steadfast man who had stuck with his plan, after faint hearts had urged him to ease the retrenchment. The argument has lost none of its theoretical force, but the chancellor is no longer troubled with the past. He is focused instead on a present in which, he claimed, “Britain is the fastest-growing, most job-creating, most deficit-reducing advanced economy on earth”.

Conservatives at the conference are concerned that improved economic figures are not being reflected by better polling figures for the party. One aspiration of this conference is to convince voters that they will benefit from the recovery under the Conservatives.

It is as well to check the detail, and take account of the long lean years that came before, but the very fact that George Osborne can talk like this without being ridiculed is a supremely important political change. The bravado, however, invites doubts. After all, average incomes remain lower than at the dawn of the crisis. What’s more, after four years of Osborne Economics, there is a sense that this chancellor’s choices have redoubled rather than lightened the load of the poor and the middling. Instead of tacking or trimming, he resolves to press on.

The chancellor struck a confident note in general on Monday, and in one sense offered a strikingly honest pre-election statement about just how many people are set for further difficulties. But however confident Mr Osborne feels about the economy, he should not assume that the majority will be content to see low-paid workers with sky-high rents singled out for particular pain.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Greedy Fund Managers

Neil Woodford recently said "Choosing my words carefully, I think the industry has overcharged in many aspects. I mean, it is quite clear in the banking industry – and indeed in my own industry – that too often the industry has been guilty of charging active fees for index performance or worse".

He also said “Fund managers are constrained by the fear that if they were to under perform the index for a three, six or 12-month period, their careers would be in jeopardy.” However, this just raises the point that Fund Managers are habitually lazy in their approach towards their client accounts and have no intention of putting themselves out to provide future innovation in the fund market.

Neil Woodford graduated from Exeter University with a degree in Economics in 1981 and started working in the City at Dominion Insurance later that year. He joined Reed Pension Fund as a trainee equity analyst in 1983 and, after a spell in a corporate finance role for TSB, started managing money at Eagle Star in 1987. The following year, Neil joined the UK equities team at Perpetual in Henley-on-Thames, where he spent the next 26 years of his career crafting his distinctive investment approach and developing a reputation as one of the most highly respected and trusted fund managers in the industry. Neil Woodford was awarded the CBE in 2013 for services to the economy.

Neil Woodford, who launched his own business this year after leaving one of the largest fund managers in Britain, Invesco Perpetual, where he worked for more than 25 years, said some fund fees were too high when consumers could instead buy a tracker fund for a much lower cost.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The price of oil

This year has noticed a marked drop in the price of oil, in the last three months the price of crude has dropped from 114 to 97, this is mostly due to more production from countries like Iraq adding to global stock piles.

My reason for remarking on it now is I am curious how this is affecting Vladimir Putin and Russia?

Russia relies on oil and gas for around two-thirds of exports and half of federal budget revenues. Over the course of a year, each $1 fall in the oil price wipes around $1.4 billion off federal tax revenues apparently. The oil sector, along with finance and defence, is also among the targets of western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and what the United States and European Union say is its backing for separatist rebels in east Ukraine.

The question is did Putin move into the Crimea and Ukraine because of what he foresaw might happen to oil prices or is the drop only just starting to hit now?

What does a rat do when it is cornered, usually attack...

Does this mean that Russia is currently planning more expansion in the world, probably, so where would they strike next?

Monday, 22 September 2014

The West Lothian question

We keep hearing this statement being thrown around at the moment, so what is the West Lothian question?

The question was posed by Tam Dalyell in 1977 over non-English MPs' role at Westminster.

Simply put, it asks why Scottish, Welsh or indeed Northern Irish MPs have the same right to vote at Westminster as any English MP now that large areas of policy are devolved to national parliaments and assemblies in areas such as health, housing, schools and policing.

The question itself is famously attributed to the then Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, who raised it in 1977 when Jim Callaghan's Labour government proposed a devolved assembly in Edinburgh. An anti-devolutionist, Dalyell argued it would be unfair for Scottish MPs to have equal rights to vote on English-only legislation. Callaghan's plan failed to win a large enough Scottish majority in a referendum, and collapsed.

After last weeks Scottish referendum this question has raised its head once again and it is possible it is more difficult for the Labour party that the coalition parties because Labour have 41 active Scottish MPs and if the current suggestions went ahead, Labour would have even less power in parliament than they have now and with just over six months to the general election next May, this must be very tricky for Ed Miliband and his team.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Lessons learned

I have recently been in a meeting with HO concerning the next store opening and one of the points I raised with them was establishing a brief from the last store opening in a lessons learned risk assessment format. They seemed to portray that HO was well up to date with the issues of the previous store's initial progress, but I was not convinced.

Learning from the past is the key to getting it right in the future but its more than just writing a lessons learned report that will gather dust in the filing cabinet. Hard won lessons learned, need life beyond the end of project party. They need to be retold to others so that they too may avoid the same pitfalls. In a world where the pitfalls cost money, the value of lessons learned can mean the difference between profit or loss.

To start with you need an audience. There is no point gathering up all this experience if no one is going to read it. Identify key parties within the organisation or even the key suppliers who will be interested parties. These can be other project managers, the audit team, PM methodology team, quality assurance staff or even senior managers who will play the role of Project Executive in the up and coming projects.

Next you importantly need to make your point heard. If you think simply writing a report will do the trick, do not be surprised to find the organisation making the same mistake. So be proactive and setup a meeting with your standards teams, senior managers and colleagues to present and discuss the lessons learned report and make sure the key people required to action them are present.

Finally you need to follow it up. They may have heard you but did they actually put it into practice? This is my concern and in November I might find out whether my concerns are justified at the opening of another store.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Scottish Independence

This has been an interesting couple of years. Lots of things have happened, and if we are going to carry on together, which by the way we are very happy about, we need to sort a few things out.

Yesterday was always going to be difficult. No matter which way it went approximately half of you were going to hate it. Personally I blame Alex Salmond for putting the idea in your head in the first place when the result could only ever be division.

Perhaps it needed doing, and perhaps it did not. What is important now is to keep the best things from the referendum debate, and dump the bits that are frankly unbearable one moment longer.

Last night 84.5% of people expressed an opinion about the way their country was run. In the last general election it was just  63.8% and in 2001 it was a mere 58.2%. It's more than in the referendums held in 1997 or 1979.

Both sides in this vote used fear. Fear of what will happen if you go, and fear of what will happen if you stay. Salmond in particular blamed everyone else for all of Scotland's problems - poverty, problems in the NHS, even low turnouts were the fault of Westminster politicians. Neither side used logic and reason. It would be nice if they had, and I'll bet you anything the silent majority that didn't butt into every news programme would have appreciated it.

Alex Salmond said that it is a great day for democracy when 1.6 million people cannot have what they want, an independent Scotland. I hate to think how much all this has cost.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Phones 4U

It seems that our fragile recovery can still claim victims.

The good news:
Phones 4U is the UK’s second largest independent mobile phone retailer behind Carphone Warehouse, with some 500 high street shops in 2012. In 2010 sales increased by 20.4% to just under £750m, bolstered by further expansion of the in-store units at Dixons.

The bad news:
Vodafone hangs up on Phones 4U and ups distribution with Dixons Carphone.

There was nothing wrong with the business, however, the supplier has pulled the plug and the business has nothing to provide!

Carphone's decision this year to merge with electricals retailer Dixons is thought to have been prompted by growing unrest among its biggest customers – the mobile networks whose connections it sells. Three pulled its business from Carphone earlier this year. Hammered by the financial crisis and regulated price cuts to the cost of phone calls, with Europe tackling bill shock by imposing strict limits on how much customers can be charged for using their phones on holiday, networks have been looking for savings. An obvious place to cut was in the use of third-party resellers, who have enjoyed healthy margins in the UK compared with elsewhere in Europe. Vodafone has invested heavily in expanding its own-brand stores, making it less reliant on Phones 4u and Carphone.

Phones 4U said it remained profitable, with turnover of more than £1bn, underlying earnings of £105m in 2013 and significant cash in the bank, while credit rating agency Moody's, which downgraded its outlook for the company's ability to repay its debts last week, said Phones 4u had £205m in notes due by 2019, £430m due in 2018, and a £125m revolving credit facility.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Federal England

What is Great Britain, after all? You could call it the non-existent national core of the state, the United Kingdom; or the alter ego of England as the unacknowledged heart of the UK state. Although the ‘national’ UK politicians make great capital out of Great Britain or Britain as the personality of the state, does Great Britain actually exist in the present in any fundamental national, political or constitutional sense? Great Britain is indeed the ‘foundation’ of the UK state because that state’s parliament was constituted as the parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain through the Acts of Union between England [including Wales] and Scotland in 1707. When Ireland [later reduced to Northern Ireland] was added 100 years later to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, this was essentially an extension of the jurisdiction of the Great Britain parliament and government to include Ireland. So the UK, on this basis, remained Great Britain at its core.

The 1998 devolution legislation has changed the Union radically. The changes will be the permanent and most important achievement of the Blair government. However they have also unbalanced the Union to such a degree -by leaving England out of devolution altogether and by providing Wales with a mere fraction of what has been granted to Scotland- that unless balance is restored, the Union will come apart. The essence of a balanced Union is for each of the constituent parts to stand in the same relationship to the Union itself and to each other. That can be achieved in a very straightforward way by granting to both England and Wales their own parliaments with the same powers and executive as the Scottish Parliament, and the Union Parliament retaining the reserved powers it has now in relation to Scotland. The relationship of Scotland to the Union Parliament is the blueprint; and balance and justice can be easily achieved by extending it to England and Wales.

So Great Britain / Britain is just a ‘nation name’ or ‘national persona’ for the UK, not a formal nation in its own right. If you wanted to finesse this argument further, you could say that the reason why ‘Britain’ rather than ‘Great Britain’ tends to be used nowadays to evoke a national identity for the non-nation state of the UK is that ‘Great Britain’ refers back to the historical nation – ‘kingdom’ – of Great Britain about which people are vaguely aware that it ended when Ireland came on board; and that it is not, consequently, inclusive of Northern Ireland. So ‘Britain’ is used precisely because it is not the formal name of a state or a nation that does or does not exist in the present. Indeed, one might say that the power of the name ‘Britain’ to evoke feelings and ideas of nationhood is in inverse proportion to the actual existence, past or present, of such a state or nation.

Change has always happen and it will continue to happen, the question at the moment is will the Island be destroyed by federalism? I think not.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Iraq/Syria problem

Rumours abound that our government is about to do a deal with Bashar al-Assad so that we would be able to fly into Syrian air space without being shot at, fair enough you might say, but what are the details?

This is what I have said about the Syrian situation in the past:-

While it might be right to deal with the infection at the root cause, one has to wonder how the infection started in the first place. One reason might be that Bashar al-Assad treated his people so badly that a faction started which has now grown out of all proportions to the local region and is consequently spreading across the globe.

Perhaps we should bear this in mind while making deals with tyrants!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

What Police Force!

Crime victims are increasingly being told by some police forces to carry out their own investigations by speaking to neighbours, checking for CCTV images and seeing if their stolen property has been put up for sale on second hand websites, the official police watchdog has warned.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary [HMIC] says that for some high-volume types of offences, such as car crime, criminal damage and non-residential burglaries, this "DIY" approach to tackling crime is an "emerging trend" among some forces. They warn that in areas where the police have given up investigating these offences, they are "on the verge of being decriminalised".

The HMIC's report on the use of police time says that in too many cases once the victim had been asked to carry out their own investigation by police call handlers, the crime report was filed away without any further contact with the victim. The police have been given powers and resources to investigate crime by the public, and there should be no expectation on the part of the police that an inversion of that responsibility is acceptable.

Inspector of Constabulary, Roger Baker, who led the inspection, said: "It's more a mindset that we no longer deal with these things. Effectively what's happened is, a number of crimes are on the verge of being decriminalised. So it's not the fault of the individual staff – it's a mindset thing that's crept in to policing to say, 'We've almost given up.'"

He added: "When a crime has been committed, it's the job of the police service to go and find out who's done it and bring them to justice. They're the cops and we expect the cops to catch people, and my proposition to you is that unless you've got the powers of Mystic Meg or something like that, you not turning up and using your skills … it's going to be mightily difficult to bring people to justice."

Of course the police will just point the finger at the Government and say that austerity is the root of
their problems, and continue to bury their heads in the sand.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

London Airport

A plan for a brand new airport for London championed by the city's mayor has failed to secure the backing of a commission studying how to add hub capacity in the UK. The commission found that the likely "obstacles to delivery, high costs and uncertain benefits" are in line with today’s thinking that a London airport in deepest Kent is pointless, as well as outrageously expensive.

The commission said “While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London's. There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary. The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount.”

Time and public money should never have been spent on a project whose costs have been put at up to £100 billion. This is more than what they want to spend on HS2! The proposals must be cost-effective and offer value for money. There needs to be a credible funding mechanism based on realistic forecasts and today's passengers must not be expected to pay for tomorrow's infrastructure.

London, with five main commercial airports, has struggled with Heathrow, the U.K.'s principal long-haul airport, which has little margin to absorb operational or weather-induced disruptions. Advocates of more capacity have said an inability to accommodate new flights to routes into growth markets such as China puts the U.K.'s economic development at risk.

The rejection of the estuary scheme will leave just three options - two additional runway plans at Heathrow and one at Gatwick - still on the table for consideration by the commission, which is charged with recommending where airport expansion should come.

Expanding Gatwick will ensure the U.K. is served by two successful world class airports. It can liberate hub capacity at Heathrow and open up the opportunities for affordable long haul travel to emerging markets for the benefit of everyone. It already has an excellent connection to London with first class rail travel taking a mere 30 minutes from London Victoria. There is more than enough room to expand without disturbing the local populous.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

World growth

I always thought that China was in place to overtake the west with recent growth patterns, however the world bank says the experts have been getting carried away with bogus data using PPP [Purchasing Power Parity] rather than on actual exchange rates.

PPP based measures of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] (per capita) might make sense if we want to measure how much an average citizen can buy for given an average income, however, it does not make sense when we want to measure the size of the economy. There we have to use measures based on actual exchange rates and if we do that then it turns out that the Chinese economy is still significantly smaller than the UK or US economy.

My argument is that it makes no sense to use nominal exchange rates to compare the size of economies. Perhaps it makes sense if you want to look at the impact on global trade [China exports far more than the UK or US], but surely not if comparing domestic production. Take the US as an example, I recall the Euro being about 85 cents around 2002, then by 2008 it peaked around $1.60, and yet the US and Euro zone had roughly similar NGDP [Nominal Gross Domestic Product] growth rates over this 6 year period. Does anyone believe that comparing non-PPP adjusted GDPs would have given a meaningful comparison of the relative size of these two economies? Did the Euro zone suddenly go from having an economy much smaller than the US to one far larger, in six years? Maybe.

Now consider the effect of tax regimes. Suppose you adopt a VAT that provides revenue equal to 20% of GDP. Your nominal GDP at market exchange rates will suddenly jump by 20%, even though nothing has happened to the real size of your economy. Indeed the European VATs are one factor that explains why Europe often looks better against the US if you don’t adjust for PPP.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ashya King

I have just read that an arrest warrant has been issued for Ashya King's parents!

Unless I have missed something, I thought Mr & Mrs King had taken Ashya from a hospital against medical advice, not advisable perhaps, but an offence! What offence?

I have no idea why they did it and I am not going to pre-judge as I suspect there is more to it than has been reported, but is it really possible to arrest someone from taking a relative out of a UK hospital?

I am stunned.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The crumbling conservatives

Yesterday Tory MP Douglas Carswell announced at a special press conference that he is defecting to Ukip.

The Tory whips move into action mode by saying that the Conservative party will contest the by-election vigorously, to ensure that the people of Clacton have a strong Conservative voice in this Parliament and the next.

As well as saying his decision is regrettable and counterproductive, the other Tory response to this morning’s shock defection by Douglas Carswell is to point people to instances where Carswell has said that only David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2017 will guarantee a referendum. It is clear that Douglas Carswell no longer believes this to be the case, so much co that he is prepared to leave the party he has been fighting for to join another.

Douglas Carswell’s defection today to Ukip is terrible for David Cameron. But it is also deeply inconvenient for his band of eurosceptic brothers. He was a key member of a powerful ‘cell’ of MPs who met regularly to discuss strategies for pushing the Conservative leadership further on European policy.

But what happens to that eurosceptic cause now? They had been discussing how to get more detail out of the Prime Minister, and presumably Carswell had been a block to any ‘shenanigans’ on this. But just because he has left the building and seriously shaken up the Tories, it doesn’t mean that Carswell’s defection is helpful to the eurosceptic cause.

On the other hand, I expect Nigel Farage to have an extra pint today...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


The report is out now we need action and what do we get? Denial!

What do we want? Prosecutions.

Who should be doing this?

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and this is Stephen Williams MP.

Is it going to happen? Probably not.

What should happen is Stephen Williams should travel to Rotherham with his usual entourage, sack the lot, have them thrown out of the Town Hall and then they should be arrested, questioned and charged.

Can you see that happening?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Foreign student immigration

Apparently the government includes foreign students arriving from abroad to attend our universities and business schools in their immigration figures. Why?

The Office for National Statistics estimated that net long-term migration to the UK was 212,000 last year. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 a year by 2015, while Home Secretary Theresa May has spoken about reducing it to tens of thousands.

Students come to the UK to study and then graduate and return home whereas people who were seen as part of the immigration problem often had limited qualifications, do not have a job and put a strain on national resources.

I do not believe they should be included.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

European hot spots

Recently Germany has been in the spot light for underperforming industry & financial figures but it is not the only one. Italy is now going through what has been officially termed a triple dip recession.

This is an interesting theoretical nicety, but in fact what is happening in Italy at the moment goes a lot further than problems faced by a recession dating committee. The real issue that arises in the context of the Euro Area at the moment is a far more specific one. Will the ECB [European Central Bank] do QE [quantative easing]?

Everyone knows that Italy is back in recession following the 0.2% GDP contraction in the second quarter. Not only did this result suggest that Italy was now in a triple dip recession [or a twenty year decline], it also meant that GDP [gross domestic product] was back at the same level it had in 2000, when the country entered the Euro currency union, this is a surprise. The problem is that Italy has an appallingly low trend GDP growth rate [possibly negative at this point] and nothing which has happened since the financial crisis ended suggests it is going to improve radically anytime soon, in fact there are good reasons to think that  growth could  even deteriorate further.

The combination of low inflation and low growth means that it is the evolution of nominal GDP that really matters now. Nominal GDP is non inflation corrected GDP [or GDP at current rather than constant prices]. If inflation remains low or even becomes negative, then nominal GDP will hardly increase and may even continue to contract [as has happened in Japan]. The result is bound to be that the gross government debt to GDP ratio rises above the 135% it hit in March.

One of the arguments frequently advanced about how this dynamic could be turned around would be for Italy to run a “large” primary budget surplus. Now the emphasis here is on large since the country has in fact run a primary surplus [income / expenditure before paying debt interest] since the early 1990s, but that has not stopped the weight of the debt climbing and climbing.

Italy’s debt now looks certain to climb towards 140% of GDP and beyond [maybe hitting that level as early as Q1 2015], meaning someone somewhere in the official sector should be able to recognize that it is not on a sustainable path. The so called AQRs [bank asset quality reviews] are probably not going to generate too many surprises, but what about doing some realistic DSA’s [debt sustainability analyses]?

So EU leaders and the ECB now face a dilemma. Trying to make Italy comply with its EU deficit and debt obligations may well mean that the deficit comes down but in all probability the debt level will go up given the weak nominal GDP effect.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

British politicians

Recently Mirza Dinnay has been flying to Mount Sinjar in a helicopter to help the Yazidis people who are besieged there. Unfortunately their helicopter has crashed killing the pilot and Mirza Dinnay has suffered a broken leg and is now recovering in a Kurdistan hospital. He had reported as many as 40,000 Yazidis people trapped on Mount Sinjar, but last night the Americans reported fewer than 4000 spotted on the mountain after their reconnaissance mission returned. Presumably they have found a way out which is great news.

The UK has been running regular Tornado runs over the area mapping out the location for the purpose of surveillance and presumably passing the information back to aid agencies, so when Evan Davies of the Radio 4 programme Today asked the Secretary of State for International Development minister Justine Greening if she could clarify just how many people were on the mountain to the nearest 10,000 and she refused saying it was a military operation and we don't comment on military operations, I was surprised.

Either she has not been briefed on the situation, which makes her look like an idiot to the world, or she has been briefed and is just refusing to give over the information which is required by the listeners as it is the top human interest story of today.

Why do our politicians always get it wrong?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Post Office Telecoms services

Earlier this year I ended the contract with BT for the phone & broadband as it was too expensive. I got "Home Phone" from the Post Office.

On the 24th July I agreed to take on their broadband as an extra application to the account. They sent a mail confirming the arrangement and specifying what had been said over the counter that it would take about a fortnight. They confirmed I would have use of the service on Thursday 7th August.

Another mail arrived saying that the modem had been dispatched and would arrive before the start date. This was true, the modem arrived on Saturday 2nd August. Following the instructions it worked fine. now all I needed was for them to switch on the service on the 7th.

The day arrived and no service was available.

I phoned the usual help number, got through to an support person who was kind enough to point out that it could start at any time between when I phone in and midnight. I said you mean you have no intention of supplying me with broadband until tomorrow and they agreed.

I find the pettiness egregious in the extreme as I have started paying for the service I am not going to receive for one day, does this mean that someone in the Post Office has decided this as a way to increase profits? It’s pathetic…

Tomorrow dawns and guess what? Correct, no broadband service running, I phone in again.

This time I am told that they have made an administration mistake and it will take 48 hours for a guy to press a switch and activate my broadband. You must be joking!

This is the Post Office today and how they treat their customers...

On Sunday 10th August the 48 hours has expired and once again there is no broadband service available.

I duly phone the Post Office again to ask for the service only to be told that the department dealing with my issue [which I should remind you is their issue in accounts & billing] does not work on a Sunday. I point out to the support person that I am speaking with, that broadband is usually considered a 24/7 service and I am surprised that there is no one to answer my query, which they agree and point out that my service has not started yet because of “their” billing issues and is being dealt with by a department that does not work on Sundays. Could I please phone back tomorrow [Monday] to talk to them?

Anyone curious as to how many customers the Post Office has or why they are rarely recommended?

It is Monday morning 11th August and I have just phoned Post Office Telecoms on their support number 0345 600 3210 and received a message "Unfortunately we are experiencing technical difficulties and our engineers are working on the problem, please call back later" and the line goes dead. This is the main support centre for Post Office Telecoms. Am I the only customer they have?

Tuesday 12th August, I get though to the support centre with much apologies for yesterday and their technical difficulties. After going through the usual security checks, they have the pleasure to inform my broadband service has gone live, and consequently they are now charging me for it. Well you could have knocked me down with a feather...

How interesting I say, then how come the router still shows no internet service and my browser says no DSL available?

Unfortunately I now spend the next hour going through their procedures, restart the modem, change the micro switch dongle, are you sure your computer is switched on!! This ends with them conceding there is a problem and an engineer will have to be called, it apparently takes 72 hours to call an engineer, where is he Tibet?

Wednesday 13th at noon, OpenReach engineer arrives, sits down has a cup of tea while I explain the saga, as I am telling him about the previous engineer removing the Infinity plate and replacing it with an ADSL plate he says, "So you used to use Infinity then?", yes I reply, "I am just popping over to the exchange, won't be long" he says. 20 minutes later he returns and says switch on the router and PC. I do this. Hey presto - broadband.

BT left me hooked up to Infinity and the Post Office didn't think or didn't know to make the necessary changes, [wot a bunch of twats…]

Friday, 11 July 2014


This week I have seen focus being advised as a step forward in the brave new world and it reminded me of a story I read about others.

When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host at dinner, Gates' mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.” [according to The Snowball by Alice Schroeder].

I love the clarity of their answer but I am also concerned by how this can be, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” I am an advocate for focus in work, life and leadership. However, the subject has a nuance and depth that many people miss. For a start, most people think of there only being one kind of focus.

Focus as a Noun. When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Roger Bannister relentlessly pursuing his goal of breaking the four-minute mile, John F. Kennedy challenging NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade or, coming back to Bill Gates, a vision of a personal computer on every desk. The upside to this kind of focus is clear and compelling: you pursue a single objective and do not get distracted along the way; you build momentum as many different people aligned behind achieving this one goal.

However, there is a dark side to focus.

Focus as a Verb. Focus is not just something you have it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. Imagine if the moment you woke up this morning your eyes focused one time and then never adjusted again. You would be out of focus all day. Our eyes produce clarity through a perpetual process of adjustment.

The downside to thinking of focus as a verb only, is that it can lead to being overly reactive.

The answer is to develop and value both types of focus and that is an exercise for you this weekend  ;)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Universal Credit finished?

Is Universal Credit progressing as well as it should? On Monday Sir Bob Kerslake, who is not consistently helpful to political colleagues, dropped a bit of a bombshell during a Public Accounts Committee hearing. Discussing the Treasury and the business case for Universal Credit:

‘We should not beat about the bush: it has not been signed off.’
Labour got very excited about this, with Chris Bryant pointing out that last week Esther McVey told Rachel Reeves in a parliamentary answer that ‘the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has approved the UC Strategic Outline Business Case plans for the remainder of this Parliament’.

The DWP argues that this is wrong, and that the Treasury has ‘approved all funding to date’. Here is the full response:

‘Universal Credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year – the new service now available in 24 Job Centres, and last week expanded to claims from couples. The Treasury has been fully engaged in the roll-out plan and have approved all funding to date.’

Civil servants have not always signed off on Universal Credit as a principle: indeed, one of the reasons relations grew quite so bad between ministers and the department’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, was that he saw UC as just one of the DWP’s many projects, rather than the most significant one that he must devote a large chunk of his time to. That has long since changed after aggressive Westminster briefing against Devereux.

But Kerslake’s comments show that there are still shaky foundations under the reform, which should worry those, desperate to see it survive the general election. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Cambridge quintet

Members of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring were seen by their Soviet handlers as hopeless drunks incapable of keeping secrets, newly-released files from the Mitrokhin Archive have been made publicly available for the first time. OMG this is funny.

Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Kim Philby and Donald Maclean were recruited as Soviet spies while at Cambridge University in the 1930s.

Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union.

They include references to Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, two of the five men recruited while studying at the University of Cambridge during the 1930s. A short passage describes Burgess as a man "constantly under the influence of alcohol". Written in Russian, it goes on to recount one occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity. "Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement," translator Svetlana Lokhova explained.

Moving on to Maclean, the note describes him as "not very good at keeping secrets". It adds he was "constantly drunk" and binged on alcohol.

Oh come on, surely we were better off without this lot living in our country.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Facebook study scandal

Facebook's News Feed [the main list of status updates, messages, and photos you see when you open Facebook on your computer or phone] is not a perfect mirror of the world. But few users expect that Facebook would change their News Feed in order to manipulate their emotional state. 

In the report, the authors explained they had 'informed consent' from users because altering the information was consistent with Facebook's data use policy, which all users have to agree with to have an account. The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company's current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for 'data analysis, testing, [and] research.' Is it ethical, though?

I should point out that I do not have and have never had a Facebook account, mainly because their security provisions are pathetic, however learning of the ways they treat their customer base has not endeared me to open one.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What is wrong with local government?

Local councils have been hit hard by austerity, they would have you believe, however all they do is spend less when they have less, it is not rocket science.

One aspect that needs looking into is council culture, and we can start with communications.

Communications teams are going to have to learn to let go. By that I mean the all controlling communications team will need to relax the reins in some areas and just allow staff to do their own thing, especially in social media. This is a big challenge for communications teams, but an even bigger challenge for the culture of councils as a whole. The days of strict media protocols will not disappear, but putting more trust in staff to communicate and converse themselves, with support from communications colleagues, has to happen as soon as possible.

How do people today communicate with their local council? They stroll into the town hall, or read a notice on the board outside the town hall. 

David Sparks, who will be the LGA's first Labour chairman for 10 years, said local government needed to change. He called for councils to be given more power, including the ability to keep a bigger share of rates and taxes. He said local government had to be adapted for the 21st century.

Rather than just throw money at them, why not retrain councillors in today's form of modern communications. If only council officials were able to keep in contact with voters and the unfortunate, put upon council taxpayer.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Times change

The majority of MMO's in the last five years, assuming they managed to launch an endgame at all, have drastically reduced or eliminated both hard requirements [you must complete this attunement to zone in] and soft requirements [you must have X gear-score, but we are resetting the gear curve every patch] to enter compared to days of old. Excluding the two titles that launched in the last two months [for which the jury is still out], none of these titles have done especially well at retaining their subscription base, and have instead been forced to relaunch with different business models. Yes, Blizzard continues to release raids, but I do not see the increasing efforts to lower raid difficulty as a vote of confidence. Instead, it seems a reaction as more and more people and guilds either refuse to play them in the traditional formats or struggle to field the requisite rosters.

Business models are not a democracy, so the percentages do not matter. What matters is whether the content you are creating is retaining your revenue stream or not. A possible explanation of the trend, which I believe is what Carbine is banking on, is that it may not make sense to invest the time to develop raid content for the less dedicated crowd, because they are leaving in a few months anyway.

Raiders will often swear that WoW's first expansion, the Burning Crusade, was the pinnacle of the genre. I do not believe this is solely nostalgia, as TBC existed at a unique time in history. WoW opened the genre up to players who wanted to spend some or all of their time soloing, but at that point they faced little or no competition to retain those dollars. This left Blizzard free to do what Carbine may be attempting to do with Wildstar - pocket money from the majority, accept the risk that these people will run out of content faster than you can produce it and leave, and spend your effort on the minority who will only stick around with a robust raid game that's not feasible if budgeted solely on a per-capita basis.

That said, it is a different risk today than it was in January 2007. As other companies finally caught up to Blizzard's lead, WoW faced real competition for solo players dollars for the first time from titles like the newly launched LOTRO and the largely re-launched solo-friendly incarnation of EQ2. After cramming three full tiers of raids into the first four months of TBC, Blizzard spent much of the remaining time in that expansion, and arguably most of the time since, trying to make the game more accessible. You do not make that kind of change to a 10 million subscriber cash cow because things are trending in the way you wanted.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Islamic state

ISIS has declared an area from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Northern Iraq is to be a new Islamic state and the world seems to recognise this.

Jihadist militant group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. It also proclaimed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and "leader for Muslims everywhere".

An Islamic state is a type of government, in which the primary basis for government is Islamic religious law. From the early years of Islam, numerous governments have been founded as "Islamic", beginning most notably with the Caliphate established by Muhammad himself and including subsequent governments ruled under the direction of a caliph [meaning "successor" to the Islamic prophet Muhammad]. However, the term "Islamic state" has taken on a more specific modern connotation since the 18th century.

What perhaps is more surprising is that the world seems to accept this as the norm rather than considering Iraq and Syria as nation states.

Is this the way ahead?

"The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas," said the group's spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani. "Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day."

Through brute force and meticulous planning, the Sunni extremist group has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. Along the way, it has battled Syrian rebels, Kurdish militias and the Syrian and Iraqi militaries.

While I realise that man has conquered all his existence, surely we have reached a time where diplomacy and debate is more important than aggression, otherwise what is the point of organisations like the United Nations?

Friday, 27 June 2014

The bank steps in

Yesterday the Bank of England stepped into the financial market and put their foot down by limiting mortgage borrowing to four times salary. Yes it had been rumoured but was not expected. So why now?

The banks says we need a fire-break around mortgages to stop 'reasonable' behaviour becoming risky or 'irresponsible'. How does the bank see the countries recovery today as they currently control £350 billion of gilts?

They say we have seen the fastest job creation period in written history, that is quite a statement. What it does not show is that half the people with new jobs are doing 20 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week and that the average hourly rate has dropped recently. So has the bank taken this into consideration?

They also say that three quarters of debt has a floating rate, in other words they will be affected by rate rises in future, but one of the most popular questions is, “When will rates rise”.

Yesterday the bank reiterated that when the country gets back to full employment, rates will start to rise slowly. Do they mean when everyone has a 20 hour job or when everyone has a 40 hour job?

It is expected that rates will probably rise by a quarter percent at a time until 2.5% is reached and that will be approximately in 2017. Considering savers have been screwed since 2008, is this really good enough?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Has Labour reacted correctly?

Labour's thesis is that Cameron hired Coulson in spite of those warnings because he was desperate to get closer to the Murdoch Empire. The party is certainly right that Cameron was desperate: the Conservatives were not particularly worth joining in 2007 and so there would not have been an endless queue of former senior tabloid journalists desperate to join the team. Cameron is also a great believer in his gut instinct on people: he believes his convictions about those he meets are right, and he felt a good connection with Coulson. He sharpened up the Conservative brand and was instrumental in saving them from yet another existential crisis.

Those who dislike the Prime Minister already think he has terrible judgement, but are waiting to exact their own judgement on him until after the general election. As for whether Labour can make this electorally damaging for the Conservative party depends on whether the Miliband machine is running smoothly or whether it still has gremlins in the tank, as it did when the Labour leader managed to upset almost everyone by posing with the Sun and then apologising for doing so. The last few weeks have proven that quite a few people at the top of politics really shouldn't trust their guts so much.

Labour runs the risk of making sure the public loses the remaining confidence it has in politicians as a whole. You cannot selectively trash politicians when you use a hypocritical argument and the people know this. So if Harman, Prescott and others, back in 2007 knew that Coulson and the News of the World was phone hacking, what did them as member of the Government of the day do about it?

Miliband needs to be careful that his sanctimony doesn't get the better of him today, for Labour have serious questions to answer too. Cameron's judgement was poor but so is Milibands.

We need some statesmanship and leadership from our politicians, the public are tiring of this mindless petty points scoring which masquerades as 'policy'.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Leveson revisited

Have you forgotten about the who-ha caused by the Leveson enquiry, I am sure some people haven't and as it strikes at the very heart of what free speech in the country is about, I haven't.

Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all four charges against her, her husband Charlie Brooks was cleared of perverting the course of justice, her assistant Cheryl Carter was cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and News International's director of security Mark Hanna was cleared of perverting the course of justice. Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor, was cleared of being part of a conspiracy.

However, Andy Coulson has been found guilty on one count of conspiracy to hack phones.

Within minutes of the verdict being announced, David Cameron made a public apology in Downing Street about employing Andy Coulson back in 2011.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Current season

We are in a very sporty mood at the moment, the world cup in Brazil, don't mention England, cricket at Lords with Sri Lanka, and don't mention England and Wimbledon which hopefully will be dominated by Andy Murray again, a Scot.

The FA has quickly doused calls for Roy Hodgson to be sacked as manager and maybe that is for the best. England need to stick with their young players and let them mature.

Part of the reason England failed to win the first Test at Lord's was unquestionably the lack of a spinner. Peter Moores, the England coach, recognises the shortcoming. “We are going to have to identify our next spinner, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “All sides need the option of a front-line spinner to be able to play in all conditions.”

Murray has not won a tournament since his Wimbledon victory last July, with back surgery in September proving to be the biggest interruption in his career to date. The Scot is buoyed by an impressive record on grass, and especially at the All England Club, where he has reached the final for the last two years and the semi-finals for the last five. 

Interest is predictably high as Murray prepares to become the first British man to return to the All England Club as champion since 1936, with Fred Perry and why do we always harp so far back, oh that's right because they are the facts!

Friday, 20 June 2014


I awoke this morning to find myself standing outside my house in the garden! This was particularly strange as I remember going to bed and not getting up or leaving the house, and yet there I was standing in the damp grass. I decided to return indoors only to find that the door was locked! I then realised that instead of green, the grass was grey, in fact everything was grey, I appeared to have woken up colour blind. Luckily the bathroom window was ajar and I would have been able to reach over to open the main window, except that when I looked down, the white bones of my forearm leading to the bones of my wrist and eventually the joints of four fingers and a thumb took me by surprise, I took a step back, became very cold and woke up...

I just thought I would share that with you this Friday :)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Iraq politics

Is prime minister al-Maliki the right man for the job?

There are three main factions in Iraq:

Kurds 17%
Shias 61%
Sunnis 22%

According to the al-Maliki government there is a Sunni deputy prime minister, a Sunni head of the military and nearly half the local governors are Sunni, so they dispute the allegations of ignoring the Sunni population.

Critics blame al-Maliki and his Shia-dominated government for the worsening sectarian division in Iraq.

The US is now suggesting that they will offer stronger military action, in the form of air strikes if the current government stands down. Are they right to do this?

The al-Maliki government was voted in by the majority of the voters in the Iraq election in 2009, yet again a vision of democracy seems to be overturned by force. We in the west keep enforcing our views on the Middle East, but when they try to adopt our procedures, we do not seem to give them enough time to adapt.

Perhaps an enquiry into why an Iraqi army containing 300,000 are not willing to stand against a rebel force with less than 10,000 men should produce answers while meetings with Kurds, Shia & Sunni continue to take place so that they have a strategy to follow when the violence ends.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Hot Spots!

The Middle East and Arab states are not the only hot spot in the world. While the strife in Iraq
 spills over from Syria, trouble in Nigeria continues to escalate.

Nigeria came to our attention when 200 school girls were abducted in a single event last month.
 This came as a shock; however, the greater shock has been the Nigerian government's lack of
 response to the problem. At the beginning various conflicting reports came out, but after time it
 was clear that the Nigerian government were not in a position to do anything about the situation
 in northern Nigeria.

During this time and since on a nearly daily basis local Nigerians have died in terrorist attacks
 run by Boko Haram, yet another unknown until recently terrorist group. Like a lot of today's
 terrorists the organization seeks to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia, putting an
 end to what it deems Westernisation. The Boko Haram leadership has international connections
 to Al-Qaeda via Al-Shabab, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.


When a politician says "the situation in Saudi Arabia is very complex", this is a synonym for we
 sell arms to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia supply arms to ISIS...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Please do not adjust your screen!

I do not currently have access to the internet and am using the local library. The equipment has been setup in a user unfriendly way and I am losing the battle of formatting currently.

Thank you for your patience in this matter. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Where did ISIS come from?

We are aware of what is happening in Iraq at the moment because of 24 hour media, but who is ISIS?

The Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams (ISIS) is a militant terrorist group and off-shoot of al-Qaeda. 

ISIS has its origins in the insurgency against US forces in Iraq and was originally led by Abu Musaib al-Zarqawi. Known then as the Islamic State of Iraq, the group was brought to the brink of collapse by the killing of al-Zarqawi in a US airstrike in June 2006 and the intensive US counterterrorism campaign that seen US forces align with Sunni tribes. 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the current leader of the group, and used the conflict in Syria to revitalise the movement. 

The chaos in Syria allowed ISIS to hold this territory pretty securely. This isn't just a safe haven, though that matters a great deal. The war gave them a lot of access to heavy weaponry. ISIS also has a funding stream available to them because of local businesses and the oil and gas sector. Syria was a stepping stone and an important one, because of their success there, they have been able to show regional strength leading to a faster recruitment rate. This has helped them recuperate since leaving Al-Qaeda.

Right now, the Iraqi government has no answer to the ISIS threat. And a hard look at the reasons behind ISIS' rise and the causes of its current success suggest a grim future for the Iraqi government's efforts to beat back the dangerous militant group.

I am from the west, so I do not know everything about the area, the people or their beliefs, but I do believe we in the west must take some of the blame for today's situation.

Friday, 13 June 2014

DWP still...

First it was Universal Credit [UC], then it was the Disability Living Allowance [DLA], then it was Employment and Support Allowance [ESA] and now it is the Personal Independence Payment [PIP], to say that the Department of Work & Pensions is in chaos is an understatement!

New evidence has emerged of serious delays with the roll-out of the government's new PIP, after the parents of a disabled teenager told how he had been left for months without his disability benefits. They have been waiting nearly three months without any communication from Atos Healthcare, the company carrying out the PIP assessments in London and the south of England.

This is hardly surprising as Atos quits contract!

Attempts to tighten up scrutiny of disability claimants have also been thrown into chaos after the government's key provider of work capability assessments pulled out of the contract a year earlier than expected.

This week's concerns have alarmed disabled campaigners, who fear they are further signs that the entire reform process ' in which working-age disability living allowance is slowly being replaced by the new PIP ' is in trouble.

A DWP spokesman said: 'We will not comment on individual cases."

Atos has refused to comment, but its problems with both its PIP and DLA assessment work appear to be mounting.

DWP had to delay the start of the PIP reassessment process from 7 - 28 October, after the then minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, was forced by a judicial review taken by disabled people to order a new consultation on proposals to tighten the walking distance criteria for the PIP enhanced mobility rate from 50 to 20 metres. DWP was then forced to order further delays to the reassessment of many existing DLA claimants, with nearly all of the reassessments due to take place in Atos areas delayed. DWP decision-makers have also been left without expert medical advice for their more difficult DLA and attendance allowance claims, after Atos withdrew from much of the contract.

The DWP is overturning more than half of its own decisions in relation to some benefits. 

This has been revealed by Judge Robert Martin the outgoing president of the social entitlement chamber which deals with benefits tribunals. The DWP itself has yet to publish any statistics about the 'mandatory reconsideration before appeal' system introduced last year.

'Mandatory reconsideration before appeal' was introduced for personal independence payment (PIP) and universal credit (UC) from April 2013 and, for other benefits, for decisions made on or after 28 October 2013. It means that before a claimant can appeal a decision they have to ask for it to be looked at again by the DWP. Only once they receive written notification of the result of the reconsideration can they lodge an appeal, if they are unhappy with the revised decision.

The figures for reconsideration success were given by Judge Martin in the April edition of the Judicial Information Bulletin, which goes out to all tribunal members.

According to the judge, by 21st February 2014 the DWP had received 82,798 mandatory reconsideration requests and made a decision in 70% of cases, with decisions taking on average 13 days from the date they were received.

DLA decisions overturned 55.9%
ESA decisions overturned 23.0%
JSA decisions overturned 30.1%
PIP decisions overturned 13.9%
UC decisions overturned 71.1%

It is extraordinary that the DWP is overturning a massive 71% of its own decisions in relation to UC, but at least they have the excuse that it's a new benefit. But to be getting it wrong in more than half of all DLA decisions is even more astonishing.