Cleansing the Stables

As the UK summer silly season draws to a close and we enter the even sillier party conference season looms, Holdenforth takes a look a some of the less attractive features of the current UK economy.

Let us begin by glancing at what the more prominent media have been saying.

* The Daily Mail view – mostly a favourable report on the current situation and a confident prediction that all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds once the Remainers have been routed and their goose has been well and truly cooked.

* The Daily Mirror view – its position broadly is that the country is going to the dogs and this decline is attributable to the inept and divided Tory government. On the plus side all will be well after the next General Election which will be held before the end of 2018  and which will see a revitalised Labour Party under new and more effective management returned to power.

There follows a more detached view of the situation from Holdenforth.

What were the Augean stables?  

Augeus was the king of Elis in ancient Greece and he had a problem. His problem was that he owned 3,000 oxen whose stalls had not been cleansed for 30 years. If you do the calculation you will see that Augeus had on his hands, metaphorically, and, in all probability, a lot of bullshit.

Clearly a major cleansing operation would be required to restore the status quo ante and this task was sub contracted out to Hercules. Our hero proceeded to clean up using a novel water based method. Since then the term Augean Stables has come to mean any system in urgent need of a clean up.

Holdenforth believes that many sectors of the UK economy should be designated as belonging to the Augean sector, and as being ripe for the Herculean treatment.

We will now suggest a few sectors which might sensibly be designated as Augean sector and in addition, in keeping with the practice of this blog – we will suggest remedial measures.

We have looked briefly at a few sectors to get our Augean show on the road – there is no shortage of candidates but we did not want this blog to go on for ever. In every case the rot starts at the top and accordingly that is where is our modern day Hercules will be required to make a start.

I have already assessed several of the more promising candidates – the BBC, the rail industry, University Vice Chancellors and Academy schools – in previous blog entries, so let us now move onto some others that are under starter’s orders for the great Augean stables handicap. We have no doubt that there are many others and we suspect that the choices of most voters will be determined by the extent to which their lives have been  adversely  affected by the sharp practices of those at the top.

The Gamblers

“The Whore and Gambler by the State
Licensed, build that Nation‘s fate…
The Winner’s shout, the Losers curse,
Dance before dead England’s Hearse” 
Blake,  Auguries of Innocence

As I understand it, the Whore is not formally licensed by the state but it would appear that such laws that do exist are applied in a fairly relaxed fashion.

Blake might well be surprised at the rapid expansion of the gambling sector in recent years. In his 3rd and 4th lines he would need to make it clear that the managers of the various gambling activities are always, but always, the winners and the impoverished and the desperate always the losers.

The mission statement of the gambling sector always has been and remains – never give a sucker an even break.

In the long-gone days of my youth, the main gambling activities were based on horse racing, football results and bingo? We were vaguely aware of casinos in Monte Carlo and even in the west end of London but they were not for you and me.

Today, signs of gambling are ubiquitous and reach into the very core of our economy. One arm bandits, prize draws – these are even run by the banks, lotteries, scratch cards, and so on and so on – all enriching the managers and impoverishing the overwhelming majority of the punters.

The gambling sector is a strong candidate for the activity featuring the most antisocial elements of a decaying society.

 “It’s true I have many, many friends in politics, but they would not be so friendly if my business were narcotics instead of gambling. They think gambling is something like liquor, a harmless vice…”
Don Corleone to Virgil Sollozo in The Godfather

Even Don Corleone might have been startled by the remorseless expansion of the gambling sector.

We note that that this sector loudly asserts the case to preserve the freedom of all of us to spend our money as we so wish – the hall mark of a civilised society.

Holdenforth believes that this activity exploits the frailties and vulnerabilities of the poor. The gambling sector managers have done their homework – in the long run the bookie always wins – and never more so than today.

Holdenforth’s suggested solution: a prompt return to the arrangements of say 30 years ago with effective transparent curbs on the new comers to the sector.

 The pay day money lenders

Here we have an Augean sector similar to gambling but, if anything, more antisocial in terms of its impact on the poor and the vulnerable.

Holdenforth conducted an online search to establish a few representative interest rates. We found:

  • Wonga – 1,086%
  • Sunny – 1,277%
  • Quick quid – 1,295%
  • Getmyloans – 150% (sounds promising by comparison)

We at Holdenforth noted that the institutions holding our modest lifetime savings are paying around 0.5%.

This might explain why the usurers are wealthy and Holdenforth is not.

We were also puzzled as to why Wonga has found itself in financial difficulties given the advantages bestowed by its interest charges. It turns out that HMG, goaded into action by the excesses of the sector, brought in new laws to curb the likes of Wonga and the peevish customers have inundated the company with compensation claims.

The many adroit usurers out there have changed identities to evade the law and to keep the pressure on those caught short at the end of the month.

Holdenforth’s solution: tighten the law to bring the situation back to that which prevailed historically.

Rewards at the top of private sector enterprises

The Daily Mail and The Times – to their considerable credit – have worked tirelessly to highlight the propensity of significant numbers of senior managers in the private sector to spend rather too much attention to looting company funds and rather too little time to improving company performance.

A few recent examples will suffice to make this point.

 “Paul Pester – Former TSB chief… After the bank’s IT upgrade in April… there were reports of further outrages last weekend. Pester finally got his marching orders on Tuesday but not without a £1.7m cheque in his pocket.”
Daily Mail, September 8, 2018

“Bankrupt rules …. Theresa may arrived at Downing Street determined to combat the image that the Tories were soft on capitalism. Instead disgraceful abuses have continued in Britain’s boardrooms.

The construction and outsourcing group, Carillion. Went to the wall leaving employees, the pension fund and suppliers up a creek without a paddle in a giant Ponzi scheme. Directors and shareholders filled their boots. At house builder Persimmon. A Government subsidy in the shape of Help to Buy enabled CEO Jeff Fairburn to earn rewards worthy of Russian oligarch. Meanwhile overpaid directors at Melrose swallowed old established engineer GKN and will in all probability break it up for vast sums.”
Alex Brummer, Daily Mail, August 28.

Holdenforth would like it to be noted that so far as we know Mr Brummer is not a member of Momentum.

“Bank Crisis – Ten Years on – He helped save the UK from ruin , now FCA chief – Andrew Bailey – asks: ‘I don’t say this out of bloodlust, but so far as I know NO ONE has been properly punished’
Ruth Sunderland, Mail on Sunday, August 26, 2018

In the course of his interview with Ms Sunderland, the doughty FCA chief named and quite possibly shamed Fred Goodwin, Andy Hornby, Adam Applegarth, Bob Diamond Eric Daniels and James Crosby as candidates for examination and possibly punishment.

Holdenforth measures to curb the greedy and especially those who combine personal greed with managerial ineptitude include:

  1. Prompt P45s with no comforting mega cheque – or even with a micro cheque.
  2. Tax rates up to 100% to encourage those at the top to concentrate their energies on improving company performance
  3. Encourage the whistle blowers to spill the beans.

That should do for a start.

The Charity Sector

Here we have another sector thought by many, including Holdenforth – to be pure white, the sum of the tireless altruistic efforts of millions of volunteers to alleviate the problems of the poor  and  the needy here and abroad has sadly been exposed as harbouring and enriching a pretty scurvy collection of thieves, chancers and spivs.

“Sex abuse endemic in the British aid sector boys club – Report blasts culture of denial by charity chiefs”
Daniel Martin, Daily Mail, July 31

The abuses included:

* The ruthless bullying of possible donors

* The starting amounts paid out to charity managers

* the insistence of some managers running overseas charities to be supplied with sexual favours in exchange for the provision of relief

There was a strongly worded letter in The Times on September 8, 2018 from William Shawcross. Mr Shawcross echoed the view of Iain Martin that “the EU Commission is the appalling and arrogant heart of an imperious EU…”

Can this be the same Mr Shawcross be the same Mr Shawcross who was the chief of the Charity Commissioners whilst the abuses listed above were in full swing?

Truly it takes a useless bureaucrat to know one.

In conclusion

The current UK Augean stables are, as in the days of King Augeus, the responsibility of those at the top.

The problem is not confined to the private sector nor the public sector nor the no-mans land in between.

Effective reforms must start by curbing the antisocial habits of this group.

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Conference Season in the Shadow of Brexit

Let us begin with the Brexit basics.

Most of the current members of the House of Commons would have voted to remain in the EU IF the referendum electorate had been confined to Members of Parliament rather than to the electorate as a whole.

The number of MPs in favour of remaining will have grown in the past two years as they have grasped the appalling consequences of their actions – or, rather, lack of actions.

Most current members of the House of Commons are clear that the guilty politicians mainly responsible for the Brexit fiasco are as follows:

  • Cameron (for his stupidity in thinking that he could sub contract out one of his key responsibilities – that of decision making – to the electorate, an act of stupidity that cost him his political career).
  • BoJo (the catalogue of his unedifying combination of treachery and vaulting ambition has been covered in nauseating detail – no further elaboration required).  Suffice it to say that even his dwindling band of supporters are nodding to the charge sheet against Boris – typical of these is that dealing with BoJo is like trying to grip an eel in a bucket of snot.
  • Mrs May – for abandoning her lukewarm support for the Remain cause to jump ship and lead the Brexiteers solely to further her ambitions.

Nigel Farage was the main consistent advocate of Brexit. Like Caesar, he was constant as the northern star – and should not and will not be listed as one of the guilty.

Notes on the state of the parties with special reference to what might happen in the next few weeks as the conspirators from across the political spectrum gather

 The TUC Conference  

Time was when this Conference aroused as much interest as those of those of the major parties. However, the assault of Mrs Thatcher on their previously strong positions resulted in depleted memberships and gelded leaders.

On the plus side (from a Remain standpoint) some unions are arguing for a second referendum, a promising start to the season.

The Lib Dems

Not too much say about this tiny group. Sir Vince has been flying a few speculative kites but is thought by some to be too old to cope with the hard times that lie ahead.

On the plus side (again from a Remain standpoint) this is the only major party committed to a second referendum. Thanks for that, Vince.

 The Labour Party

“If 6 million Englishmen had had recently been killed in gas vans, I imagine I should feel insecure if I saw a joke a French comic paper about English women’s teeth sticking out… More rubbish is written about this subject (anti-Semitism) than any other I can think of…”
Letter from George Orwell to Julian Symons, 29 October, 1948

As usual Orwell gets quickly to the point. Holdenforth has been bemused by the furore over allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party since Mr Corbyn became leader. From my remote outpost, it seems that some in the Labour Party have been inept in their failure to focus attention on the disreputable actions of the government of Israel against the Palestinians. Some in the Labour Party have even managed to annoy those Jews in the UK that disagree with many of the policies and actions of the Israeli Government. 

Back to the matter in hand.

Holdenforth understands that there are two schools of thought in the many media columns about where Labour stands Brexit wise.

One school has it that Mr Corbyn had carried out a cunning Machiavellian review of the various options and is keeping his powder dry waiting for the main chance. The other school has it that Mr Corbyn resembles not just a swimmer out of his depth, but rather a non-swimmer floundering about and above the almost 7 miles deep Mariana trench.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

The Tory party – the current party of Government – or, if you prefer, the current management team.

Let’s keep this bit brief and to the point – as comprehensive a shambles as I have seen in my long lifetime – with leaders and ex leaders and would be leaders like BoJo and Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove all getting fearfully confused as they try to combine backstabbing with the full frontal kiss of Judas. A shabby, squalid farce but one not without its grim gallows appeal to those not directly affected.

 A word on one recent contributor to the UK political debate – Tony Blair.

I was briefly elated when I heard that Mr Blair had emerged from the sidelines to add his two pennyworth to the discussion. My elation was swiftly downgraded to gloom when Mr Blair devoted his comments to the denigration of Mr Corbyn, and even equated the prospect of a Corbyn premiership with that of a BoJo premiership. Worst of all he made only the most oblique of references to the subject that IS the politics of the UK until it is resolved one way or the other – Bremain or Brexit.

Holdenforth says – NOT a helpful intervention, TB! 

Let’s get down to business – What are the possible outcomes to the Bremain – Brexit conflict?

1. Brexit goes ahead – Britain leaves the EU at the end of March, 2019

This outcome is so appalling, so absurd that Holdenforth refuses to contemplate it. The UK voters will not be deceived a second time and certainly not now when advised by the Brexiteers to behave like lemmings and throw themselves over the cliff to drown in the briny below.

2. Remainers somehow force and win a second referendum.

This outcome would create even more confusion than that currently prevailing.

On the plus side it would be infinitely preferable to Option 1 and – an essential by product – would trigger a P45 for Mrs May. 

3. The preferred Holdenforth option.

Tory Remainers to force a Tory defeat in Parliament. Then the Remain party in the ensuing general election to win it.

The first act of the winner of the Brexit General Election – Brexel for short – to be a letter to Mr Tusk asking him to forget what has been happening – an outbreak of the high spirits so prevalent amongst ex public school boys in general and amongst Old Etonians in particular.

I have outlined the text of such a letter in a previous blog entry; a letter such as this should bring matters to a speedy, civilised and satisfactory conclusion. 

Please note: this approach spikes the guns of the Brexiteers because the stay or go decision is, by this outcome, returned to where it belongs: Parliament. We voters ought not to keep dogs and do our own barking.

I hope that the previous sentence does not annoy Mr McDonnell in the unlikely event that he ever reads it. He was not happy that one of his colleagues implored him to curb the activities of those in the Labour Party who were making life uncomfortable for those sitting members anxious for a quiet life, describing as dogs those annoying the persecuted MPs. It may be that Mr McDonnell does not share the widespread love of dogs in the UK.

“What happened?  What happened?  – I’m coming to that.”
WH Auden — The Witnesses

Let us put Auden’s question into a future setting.

What will happen? We’re coming to that.

In the EU

The various EU institutions, freed from the infuriating digression imposed by Brexit, can get down to tackling – not addressing – the formidable catalogue of problems in its various in-trays.

These include:

  • Immigration.
  • Sorting out the problems posed by free movement of peoples.
  • The Trump problem – possibly the biggest problem of all.
  • The need to put right the well documented problems within the EU institutions, notably the lack of democratic accountability.
  • The environment.
  • The problems in the Middle East that spill over into Europe.
  • The need to reach an agreement with Russia regarding the various border tensions.

Note – on the plus side the Irish problem simply disappears.

In the UK

Freed from the interminable list of problems posed by Brexit, the newly-elected enlightened UK government can tackle the pressing difficulties posed by the Augean stable conditions that are so widespread across the UK: across Higher Education, Academy schools, the gambling sector, the money lenders, business fat cats, the railways, the BBC, the charity sector (I can feel another blog entry coming on).

The bad guys (and girls) are flourishing in each and every one of these sectors mainly because Mrs May has just one item on her agenda (Brexit) and she got this one badly wrong.

This lamentable state of affairs will continue until the new government (not led by Mrs May, who will by then have received her P45) sends in its short and sweet apology for its regrettable behaviour and gets down to the job it was elected to do: to serve the interests of the electorate  by curbing the baddies and dispensing with the services of senior managers recruited from  the Arthur Daley business school.

A poignant note on which to end – What about the Moggies and the BoJo groupies? What will happen to them?

Their collective fate will be that of a balloon with a slow puncture – the stale wind that comprises their sole political asset slowly disappears leaving the EU fresher and the UK a cleaner greener land.

 

 

The Prospects for Bremain

The choice between Bremain and Brexit is, by a wide margin, the most important issue to arise in the politics of the UK since 1945.

For we Remainers the issue is – how can the absurd Brexit fiasco be jettisoned so as to enable the UK to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum and return to the comparatively sound and sensible political, economic and social arrangements developed over tens of decades throughout the EU. 

I outlined in a recent missive the fiasco resulting from Mrs May’s Cabinet awayday in July, that ultimately resulted in the resignations of David Davis and – after a brief consideration – Boris Johnson.

Things proceeded to go from bad to worse for Mrs May, not least in the media reporting of events. The Daily Mail railed against “the 12 Tory turncoats” who voted against the Government on the Customs Union issue. We Bremainers see this group as the doughty dozen, those prepared to risk the consequences of voting against their own party in order to keep alive the aim of reversing the leave outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

Elsewhere, it was reported that May had ruled out a second Brexit referendum, while according to the Times, May’s concessions to Tory Brexiteers had angered the Remainer faction. Oh, and Saint Theresa had apparently threatened rebels with a General Election if they didn’t fall into line.

Predictably the Tory party was in disarray as her futile attempts to unite the warring factions simple infuriated all sections, the Brexiteers, the Remainers and the great majority in the middle avid for and denied a quiet life.

How about a cool calm appraisal of the possible outcomes of the Bremain – Brexit struggle?

On July 18, The Times did us all a service by listing the various possible outcomes together with its estimates of the probabilities for each one.

Heading the runners and riders, with an anticipated probability of 40%, is that EU leaders will accept Mrs May’s proposals. Joint second favourites in the field are No Deal (sired by Johnson out of Rees-Mogg) and Canadian-Style Trade Agreement (trainer: D Davis), both on 20%. Bringing up the rear in the betting we have Staying in the Single Market and Customs Union (10%) and No Brexit (10%).

Taking a closer look at these two outsiders, the former is delightfully vague and so may appeal to MPs who just want a quiet life – that is the great majority. With the latter, Holdenforth feels that we are getting somewhere, but the odds are not promising. The Brexiteers would be very peevish if the odds on this scenario were to shorten – but Holdenforth has no doubt that they will.

In terms of political scenarios, the Times also estimated the likelihood of Mrs May calling a second referendum at 50%. To Holdenforth, these odds seem unrealistic given Mrs May’s clear rejection of a second referendum. It asserted that the probability of the Prime Minister calling a General Election (in effect a Back me or sack me assertion) was 20% (to which Holdenforth says: bring it on). Lastly, it estimated that there was a 30% chance of a leadership election: this is reported as being increasingly likely as the great silent apathetic majority of Tory MPs grow weary of the strife and opt to break the deadlock.

This analysis was wonderfully confusing. My initial thought after reading it was – who would be a whip in these conditions?

Indeed, the Times identified no less than 14 groups, together with estimates of their respective strengths as measured in terms of support by MPs.

Within the Conservative party alone, while the PM and her supporters comprise the largest grouping (there are estimated to be around 100 in this conclave), you have a dizzying collection of other cabals with a spectrum of opinions on Brexit. The Hard Brexiteers (the Moggies), of whom there are estimated to be 40 or so; the Paramilitary Brexiteers (Peter Bone and his ilk), accounting for around 5 diehards; the Brexit delivery group (a dozen or so Tories who are fed up to the back teeth with Brexit and just want to get the bloody thing over and done with), the Soft Brexiteers (15 or so of the Remainer tendency but no quite so Remain that they want to reverse Brexit); the Second Referendum Gang (Justine Greening and a few chums), who are (vaguely) aligned with the No Brexit Club for a Second Referendum (40+  MPs who want a referendum on Mrs May’s final deal), the No Brexit lobby (a further 15 MPs who want Brexit consigned to the dustbin) and the Pro Brexit single marketeers (30+  MPs who want it both ways and are said be nervous – not surprising given the ambiguity at the heart of their position.

The steady inexorable descent into chaos

So we have confusion piled upon confusion. This confusion stems in part from the confusion within the Tory party and in part from the vigorous exchange of raucous slogans masquerading as logical arguments

Meanwhile, we observed the grisly spectacle that was The PM’s Grand Tour of selected EU capitals trawling for sympathy and even future allies from west to east and from north to south – and finding neither allies nor sympathy. She was notably unsuccessful in her attempt to persuade carefully targeted EU leaders to support her Chequers plan. She was given the bum’s rush – an unseemly phrase to denote the increasing likelihood of a no-deal outcome.

Holdenforth thoughts on the “what next?” prospects.

There is no chance of a second referendum under Mrs May or indeed under any other Tory leader – it would be more than their job would be worth.

Accordingly, Holdenforth believes that the only way to reverse the descent into chaos is for there to be a “clear the air” immediate General Election.

Question: what would be the features of this General Election, or, to be more succinct, Brexel 2?

Answer: It would be a repeat of the Brexel One held in June 2016, the one won – or lost – according to taste – by Mrs May. The election would be fought over the single issue of the UK membership of the EU. Hodenforth strongly favours this option because it would solve at a stroke the major political problem of our time. To use a medical metaphor – it would lance the Brexit boil. If, as seems increasingly likely, the voters opted on this occasion to remain in the EU, this outcome would silence the yapping of the Moggies about democratic legitimacy and it would also return the in-out decision to where it rightly belongs – to Parliament.

We voters don’t believe in keeping a dog and doing our own barking.

(A digression – just think of the splendid entertainment that awaits the electors as our principled parliamentary representatives scramble to establish secure futures for themselves in the electoral confusion.)

So, what next for the Bremainers? What political actions are required to put Brexit out of its misery?

Holdenforth suggests that a combination of the following will do the trick.

1. Mrs May to be forced out of No 10 by losing a vote of confidence in the Commons. There will be NO leadership challenge. It will have to be the old heave ho.

2. The ensuing general election will trigger a major regrouping of current fragile allegiances as the politicians struggling in the briny are obliged to head for HMS Bremain or for HMS Brexit.

3. The parliamentary Bremainers will come mainly from the Labour Party, but a Labour Party stiffened by the support of some key leaders from yesteryear.

4. The Brexiteers will come from the Tory party and they will be weakened by the support of the Moggies – liabilities all.

As Dr Johnson was recorded by Boswell as saying, “Depend upon it Sir- When a man knows that he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I suspect that the exposure of current and would be parliamentarian to the harsh pre-Brexel conditions will be provide an effective test of the validity of Dr Johnsons observation and that the instinct for self-preservation will swing the quiet majority to the greater safety of the Bremain camp.

The Brexel 2 will be a re-run of the referendum in all but name. Bremain will be the only show in town.

The outcome will be that there will be majority in favour of the Remain cause as the voters belatedly grasp how they were conned the first time round.

After that?

No need at that point for any delay – just a brief note from HMG to the senior management of the EU to apologise for any little local problems triggered by Brexit fiasco.

Our application to invoke article 50 to be withdrawn and that as from now – it’s back to business as usual between a penitent UK and the EU.

A word from our conspiracy correspondent

Some innocent voters may have thought that our Parliamentarians are now relaxing by the sea and attempting to recharge their batteries as they try to put their mournful memories behind them.

Not so – August and September are the conspiracy months and the principal targets are Mrs May and Mr Corbyn.

The line ups are roughly as follows:-

In favour of toppling Mrs May – most Tory MPs. Sadly these conspirators are hampered by the absence of any plausible alternative.

In favour of toppling Mr Corbyn – most Labour MPs. This group of conspirators is hampered by the fact that there is a long list of contenders anxious to unseat Mr Corbyn. Sadly the snag here is that, just as most Labour MPs would like to hand Mr Corbyn his P45, so most Labour supporters would like to see the back of most of those urging him to stand down.

In recent days an amusing situation has developed within Labour as Tom Watson has striven to position himself as the authentic pure voice of the Labour party – this from one of the most odious members of the current House of Commons, a man who used parliamentary privilege to blacken the names of prominent political opponents without a shred of evidence then or since.

Truly we live in troubled times.

At the start of this blog I posed the question – what happens next?

Trying to make sense out of the Brexir chaos can be compared to trying to extract excrement from a rocking horse.

But rest assured: Holdenforth will stay on the case to the end, an end which we hope will be a decision to remain in the EU.

Image courtesy of Express newspapers

 

‘Twas Ever Thus…

Did the Prophet Ecclesiastes have a point when he asserted in Ecclesiastes, 1, 9, that “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun”?

A few days ago, I had occasion to consult my large collection of newspaper cuttings. My search was in connection with the vexed question of the rewards collected by senior business executives and specifically with the extent to which these typically large reward packages reflected effective executive performance on the one hand and the extent to which they reflected an enviable knack of extracting as much cash as possible from their employers using their privileged positions on the other.

I began to collect these cuttings around 20 years ago as part of my preparation to write a book about work, in particular which people had demanding jobs and who got what rewards for the work that they did – or maybe did not do.

I called the book  A Cushy Number and sales of the book soared into double figures when I published it on the net. Sales levelled out as I ran out of relatives and friends who might be persuaded to buy the book.

I have continued to add to my collection since then and almost all the cuttings refer to some aspect or other of job demands and job rewards.

As I looked through the cuttings, I was struck by the extent to which controversy about some jobs appeared to crop up repeatedly down the years. The controversy mostly revolved around the scale of the reward packages available to and all too frequently snaffled up by senior business executives.

What follows is a selection from my cuttings about a range of cushy numbers and my attempt to look at my findings in the context of the verse from Ecclesiastes – that there is no new thing under the sun.

2012 and all that

  1. “On pay, who decides how much it too much? Beware politicians offering simplistic anti market sound bites” (Kamal Ahmed, Sunday Telegraph, January 22, 2012)

Mr Ahmed subsequently received his reward when he was appointed to a senior position in the BBC, an organisation not noted for its enthusiasms for transparency when the pay of its own senior managers and its stars was involved.

2. “The going rate? Bankers and their rewards” (Letter to the Times from a Mr Patterson, February 1, 2012)

Mr Patterson noted that “public opinion, of which you appear to be scornful, is incandescent about executive pay in general and about bankers pay in particular… it is time to stop giving in to the blackmail of bankers threatening to move their businesses elsewhere.” Hear, hear, Mr Patterson.

  1. “ Public sector pensions a Ponzi scheme, says Charity… It would cost around a third of pay to  buy the equivalent privately” (The Times, May 12, 2012)

“More than 12,000 former public sector workers have retired on pensions worth at least £50,000 a year – twice the average national wage in Britain   – according to a report by the Inter-generational Foundation …. Taxpayer liabilities for public sector pensions have swelled to £45,000 a household, with government employees enjoying vastly better pension coverage than their private sector counterparts according to the charity.

“About 88% of public sector workers are entitled to pensions related to their final salaries, which are typically the most generous with only 10% in the private sector, the charity found.”

(No further comment necessary.)

  1. “Ministers urge rail chiefs to scrap £20M bonus pot” (The Times, February 6, 2012)

The article relates to the decision by the then Transport Secretary Justine Greening – currently in the news for her resolute stand on Brexit- to take the “unprecedented step” of attending Network Rail’s AGM  to oppose the plans to award a total of £20M to 6 senior executives of Network Rail.

I could not trace a cutting which reported on the outcome of the meeting but my guess is that the Big 6 duly collected the £20 million – what do you think?

  1. My next cutting poses a typically rhetorical question to which you and I and the rest of the paupers in the UK already know the answer.

“Are these the right people to police pay levels?” (The Times, January 10, 2012)

The opening paragraph of the report – by Patrick Hosking – noted that “Insurance company chiefs and fund management bosses who are being urged to crack down on top level board room pay are themselves paid in a similarly generous manner.“

Hosking went on to list the names and rewards of a random selection of top bosses. Michael Dobson (CEO at Shroeders) headed the list with £6.55 million, but there were also impressive performances by the likes of Michael McLintock (CEO at M and G, £5.41 million), Tidjane Thiam (CEO at Prudential, £4.86 million) and Martin Gilbert (CEO at Aberdeen Asset Management, £ 4.85 million)

I could go on – and on and on – but you get the picture. (And, to eliminate any doubt, the answer to the question posed by the Times is a resounding “no”.)

The report does not indicate whether those named were also shamed but those in the know suggest that any even marginal regret was purely cosmetic.

  1. “How children’s  home failed to protect its only resident from sex abuse by 25 men” (Andrew Norfolk, The Times, May 12, 2012)

“A teenage girl who in one night was sexually abused by 25 men was the sole resident of a privately run children’s’ home that charged £252,000 a year to provide her with intense and individual care.”

Evidently the care provided was not all that it might have been in terms of intensity and individuality.

  1. “Police chiefs hire retired colleagues on £1,100 a day” (Jack Doyle, Daily Mail, March 26, 2012)

The gist of the Doyle report – using information acquired by the admirable Freedom of Information Act – centred on the practice used by retired senior police officers to set up consultancy companies which would then be awarded contracts to supply advice to police forces. It was thought by some that the practice itself and especially the rates paid verged on the lavish – yet another example of sharp practice at the very top.

  1. “Back to work tsar  – a second fraud inquiry… Director of scandal -hit firm used to work for Cameron” (Daily Mail, February 23, 2012)

According to the report: “Police have launched a second fraud inquiry involving state contracts run by David Cameron’s millionaire “back to work” tsar Emma Harrison. Ministers were last night distancing themselves from 48 year old Mrs Harrison who was appointed by the Prime Minister to get 120,000 problem families back to work…”

I hope that the fraud enquiry launched by the police was rather better managed than the inquiry launched by Wiltshire police into the allegations made by the mysterious Nick in recent years.

Also – and given the track record of the rapacious Russian tsars down the centuries – ought we to find another word to signify the job of enquiring into this or that presumed  dodgy sector?

 So much for 2012 – what about 2006?

As with 2012, my selections are in no particular order and there is no shortage of material, but here are a few favourites

  1. “Ineptitude and political correctness gone mad -a devastating verdict from a Home Office insider” (Daily Mail, April 28, 2006)

The insider concerned was Steve Moon, “dismissed from the Home Office two years ago after blowing the whistle on a visa scandal allowing immigrants unchecked into Britain.”

The first paragraph from Mr Moon’s recommendatory reads: “The foreign convict debacle has shone a spotlight on the utter chaos that prevails within the Home Office. As Charles Clarke mumbles his apologies, we can see a department that is riddled with incompetence, deception and ill-conceived dogma.”

We are now in 2018 and nothing has changed other than the procession of hopeless Home Secretaries. We should note that one of this band of bunglers is now demonstrating her inadequacy on a rather larger stage, namely Mrs May.

  1. Radio 4 revolt at high pay of chattering DJs (The Times, April 23, 2006)

The report by Richard Brooks and Maurice Chittenden begins: “The head of Radio 4 faces turmoil among his presenters over the disclosure of the six-figure salaries paid to disc jockeys on Radio 2. Their indignation has little to do with how little they are paid in comparison. They are simply outraged that the corporation is paying so much money to people who chatter on air between playing records. The Radio 4 presenters have calculated that they are paid a fraction of the money given to Radio 2 DJs such as Jonathon Ross and Chris Evans.”

Here we are 12 years on and no further forward. Holdenforth readers will note that in a recent blog I argued that the problem of the BBC could be solved by the simple expedient of selling it off to the show business private sector where it belongs.

3. “RBS will set tougher targets for executive directors’ pay packets.” (Financial Times, April 20, 2006)

The article stated that RBS – in the personage of Sir Fred Goodwin had “assured Rrev, the powerful institutional investor group that it will set tougher targets for board executives in its executive share option plan”

I have been unable to ascertain what bonus was payable to Sir Fred following the collapse of  RBS. I recall that Sir Fred  was demoted back to plain Mr.

Even today there are siren voices – mine is one of them – calling for rather sterner measures to be taken against Mr Goodwin, partly as a richly deserved punishment and partly to deter his many would be imitators given the outcome for him as opposed to the outcome for the tax paper from the fate of RBS.

4. “Sack this skirt-lifting creep: in any commercial company John Prescott would be out of a job without pension or severance pay” (Libby Purves, The Times, May 9, 2006)

When I initially unearthed this cutting I mistakenly read an h for the k in skirt and wondered if there might be an element of homophobia in the Purves piece.

The scandal which triggered the Purves piece and a lot more besides was one involving the then Mr Prescott – now Lord Prescott – and an accommodating young colleague called Tracey Temple. The media had a field day.

There follows a representative sample from April and May of that year: ““Two Jags has betrayed his class, his principles and now his wife” (Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail)… ““He has nothing but contempt for women … even his wife” (Amanda Platell, Daily Mail)… “New Labour’s bit of rough gone wrong” (Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times)…. “John Prescott is a serial sex pest who shamelessly gropes anything in a skirt according to a former senior labour aide.” (Tricia McDaid, Daily Mail)

And now – back to Libby Purves and a few comments that she might not make so readily today.

“I keep on forgiving Boris Johnson on the grounds that he is clever” (Is he?) “and public spirited” (You could have fooled me) “and that he conducts private misdemeanours in his own time using his own bicycle.”

An early hint of things to come in the BoJo saga and, an important point to make here , possibly the gravest offence of Mr Prescott was that he was doing whatever it was that he was doing in the time of his employer.  Normally an offence to trigger a P45.

5. Senior managers – who gets what and why?

This has been an issue of considerable interest to those who follow business matters, to investors, to the likes of you and I  as we toil in the lower reaches of the management pyramid, and obviously, to the senior managers.

Firstly, C&W defending their bonus scheme, as reported in the Financial Times of May 16, 2006: “Cable and Wireless, the troubled telecommunications company has proposed a private equity -style bonus scheme for top management arguing that it provides a clearer link between performance and reward for the executives.”

There have been countless stories along these lines in the past few decades, with tetchy and ill paid financial reporters usually highly critical.

Cooler critics – such as myself – argued that it would be helpful if senior business managers spent a little more time on improving the performance of their employers and rather less on devising arcane and opaque reward schemes designed to deliver huge benefits regardless of the all important factor of company performance.

In the previous year (2005), a number of “hedge fund stars” earned – well, received – over $1 billion each, including James Simons (Renaissance Technologies, $1.5 billion) and the splendidly monikered T Boone Pickens Junior (BP Capital Management, $1.4 billion). George Soros, of Soros Fund Management, received a measly $840 million.

The sums mentioned do seem to verge on the excessive, but that is, of course, not the view of these lions of the financial arena.

(George Soros is currently – July 2018 – actively working to bring about a reversal of the 2016 in- out referendum – and a man who does that can’t be all bad.)

What about the boys enjoying the fruits of operating in the treasure island that comprises the financial sector?

Here, the largest earners (well, most fortunate recipients) included Peter Griffiths of Nationwide (£1.3 million), Neville Richardson of Britannia (£600,000) and John Goodfellow of Skipton (£600,000).

Nice work if you can get it – and I note that that senior managers in this sector continue to reap lavish rewards and simply ignore the howls of protest from the envious paupers

6  This next scandal  has run and run – and doubtless will continue to run and run – how about cash for honours?

“Cash for peerages link to Blair trust: Trustee is business associate of man who lent Labour secret £1m” (Mail on Sunday, May 21 , 2006)

“The Mail on Sunday can today reveal the link between a businessman caught up in cash for honours scandal and Tony Blair’s own private trust set up to fund his retirement. One of the trustees, City lawyer Martin Painser is a close associate of stockbroker Barry Townsley and manages his family fortune. In 2005 Mr Townsley secretly lent Labour £1million. He was nominated for a peerage …

Holdenforth wonders – Why else would he lend Labour £1m?

“Exclusive – Loans for peerages millionaire gives his first candid interview.” (Mail on Sunday, May 28, 2006)

“Property tycoon Sir David Garard, who loaned the party £2.3M and was later put forward for a seat in the Lords, is now being treated as a suspect in a police inquiry into alleged political corruption… He and several other Labour donors – some of Britain’s  wealthiest men  – have humiliatingly been interviewed under caution by Scotland Yard.”

Tell me the old old story.

Let us go back a hundred years with an extract from “Baldwin” by Roy Jenkins.

“Then in June (1922) the honours scandal passed from the baroque to the rococo stage. With an ill-fated exuberance which only a government is its last stages could achieve, Lloyd George succeeded in assembling five nominations for peerages, four of which were  discreditable”

This particular sharp practice has very long and colourful history but the wealthy amongst each generation show no sign of  reluctance to exchange  cash for an agreeable ennoblement.

  1. The alleged boisterous tactics employed by some members of the Momentum tendency has not gone down well in all parts of the Labour Party and these tactics have been used by a range of critics to berate Momentum for its anti democratic propensities.

I was interested by one cutting for 2005 which dealt with similar boisterous tactics employed by New Labour back in 2005.

“Walter rejects police apology” (Mail on Sunday October 9, 2005)

The background to the report was that Mr Walter Wolfgang was held by the police after being manhandled out of the of the Labour Party conference hall by Labour minders for shouting ‘nonsense’ as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was speaking on Iraq

Mr Wolfgang was 82 at the time of the incident.

Mr Wolfgang was spot on his heckle.

On a personal note – I met Walter Wolfgang whilst on a CND march in the mid 1960s. My recollection of him is that he was one of the mildest men it had ever been my privilege to meet.

But – even at the age of 82 – Walter had not grasped that it was wise to heckle New Labour big shots.

In those far off days, Alastair Campbell was the bullying Tsar for New Labour – and he was very good at the job.

8.

Summing Up

So – back to the beginning –  did the prophet Ecclesiastes have a point when he noted – just after Proverbs and just before The Song of Solomon -that “there is no new thing under the sun.”

Well – given the events of 2006, of 2012 and of 2018 – it would appear so. The scandals discussed have a remarkable staying power despite the attempts of the politicians and some elements of the press to change things for the better.

What about a few conclusions?

In no special order.

  1. In 2018 the scale of the problems posed by the huge number of polluted stables across the UK remains at an high and unfortunate level.

We will refer to this as the Augean stable problem named after King Augeus in Greek mythology.

  1. Sooner rather than later Holdenforth would like to the appointment of a latter day Hercules tasked with the cleaning up of these stables.
  2. The campaigning press has been tireless in flushing out the bewildering variety of social misdemeanours carried out by those at the top to enrich themselves and to impoverish the rest of us.

Sadly its efforts have been commendable but not notably effective. It is something of mystery as to why their collective zeal for good has brought about so little improvement

  1. The misdemeanours flourished as vigorously under New Labour as they have done subsequently under the Tory/Lib Dem coalition and latterly under the Tories.

Most of the abuses in the UK Augean stables were all too apparent under Blair and Brown.

  1. An unseemly but relevant observation:-

“Why does a dog lick its balls – because it can” – old proverb but not from the Book of Proverbs”. To adapt the old adage – Why do greedy bastards steal from the rest of us? Because they can still get away with it.

But why do we – the impoverished many – allow them to get away with it?

Holdenforth believes that the soon to be appointed modern Hercules WILL get the UK Augean Stables cleaned up.

  1. What does the Holdenforth want?

We want to demonstrate that Ecclesiastes COULD be wrong.

You ask – what is our policy?

Holdenforth  has just one policy with regard to the issues under review – to see the election of a  Government  committed to curb the activities of the rapacious social element at the top by  effective action to create a society in which there will be no hiding place for the acquisitive thieves.

You ask : what is our aim? To cleanse the Augean stables that pollute  the UK.

 

 

 

There’s No Business Like Brexit Business

Since my previous blog, then there has been a period of calm or, if you prefer, a period in which Brexit matters were briefly absent from the headlines whilst the various opposing factions got down to some serious plotting.

The peace process – Chequers style

Mrs May, presumably hoping to get her retaliation in first, convened an all-day cabinet gathering at Chequers on July 6.

Her objectives in calling the meeting were reported as being:

  • To spell out her plans for Brexit to her cabinet colleagues.
  • To bounce her cabinet into accepting her plans by the time-honoured tactic of giving them very barely enough time to read the plans, much less the time required to grasp their implications and consequences. This latter objective was said to apply especially to the perceived usual suspects.

The arrangements for the Chequers meeting appeared to your aged blogger to be based on the away days much beloved by bullshitters masquerading as managers with all the apparatus normally associated with such fraudulent gatherings.

It would appear from the copious leaks that emanated from the proceedings that great pressure was applied throughout to spell out the serious consequences of failing to unite behind her banner. Of these the most horrifying was that “Corbyn will get you,” a warning sufficiently terrifying as to subdue all but the most determined of her critics.

Those emerging from the day-long ordeal indicated that the outcome was that a united cabinet was now united behind a sound plan and that the next step was to present the said plans to our enemies in Brussels and, then – just like that – dictate the terms of a final agreeable Brexit.

The Sunday papers were full of praise for the latter day Thatcher – she had routed her internal fifth column critics and she was now about the to apply the same treatment to the pesky nuisances in Brussels (‘Iron Lady May has crushed the egos and the weasels’, trumpeted Dan Hodges in the Mail on Sunday). All downhill from now on.

Well – up to a point, Mrs May.

I awoke on the morning of Monday, July 9 to learn that Mr David Davis had resigned sometime around midnight. Good to see that our politicians are busy even at that unlikely hour.

This development had not been on the hymn sheet that the crowd of spokespersons clustered in No 10 were consulting, and there was confusion as the May team sought to minimise the problems arising from the departure of Mr Davis. To aggravate matters further Mr Davis made it clear in an interview on the following morning with John Humphreys that he had no intention of going quietly, by mounting a spirited and rational and plausible defence of his resignation on the Today programme.

So much for the overture.

As the day wore on, rumours began to circulate that BoJo had taken the day off – rather in the manner of his long trip to Afghanistan to avoid the Heathrow debate.

It emerged early in the afternoon that BoJo too had resigned and had poured petrol on the fire by noting in his tear stained resignation letter, a doleful despairing document etched in bitter tears, his grief at the betrayal of his beloved Brexit dream.

This development did indeed fox me – sorry about the pun, Liam – because I had always understood that the one consistent political principle pursued at all times by Boris was to advance the political career of Boris. It just shows how wrong you can be.

It has to be said that the timing of the BoJo resignation letter was masterly, because Mrs May was occupied and preoccupied with the formidable task of preparing to defend her Brexit plans to a House of Commons that was not wholly persuaded of her case and her cause. BoJo evidently holds firmly to the principle that you wait until your opponent is down before you kick them – nice work, BoJo.

The press coverage the following day broadly reflected the predilictions of the organs in question. True to form, Richard Littlejohn’s Daily Mail column urged the resignation of Mother Theresa (“She has repeatedly misled the British people and forfeited the trust of being our Prime minister”). Conversely, a Times leader opined that “The foreign secretary’s resignation is neither unexpected nor unwelcome. He has been a disruptive cabinet member and Mrs May has greater authority without him”. Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Rachel Sylvester’s column argued that “The fantasies promoted by Leavers have led us to the cold reality of a government in chaos and a PM no one dares to kill”: not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mrs May.

Brexit – What next?

Sadly, much of the Brexit debate will continue to focus on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10, rather than on the most important issue to arise in the politics of the UK since 1945: namely, how can the absurd Brexit fiasco be jettisoned to enable the UK to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum and return to the comparatively sound and sensible political, economic and social arrangements developed over tens of decades throughout the EU?

We Remainers note with glee (and BoJo notes with gloom) that the Brexit dream (for dream read nightmare) is dying.

What political actions will kill it off?

Holdenforth suggests that a combination of the following developments should do the trick.

1. Mrs May to be forced out of No 10 by either losing a vote of confidence in the Commons or by a successful leadership challenge. Holdenforth can assert with confidence that Mrs May will not opt to follow the action of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 and go voluntarily – it will have to be the old heave-ho.

2. The ensuing general election will be in effect a re-run of the referendum in all but name.

3. The outcome will be that there will be a majority in favour of the Remain cause as the voters belatedly grasp how they were conned the first time round.

4. No need at that point for any delay – just a brief note from HMG to the senior management of the EU to apologise for any little local problems triggered by Brexit – a spot of meiosis would be appropriate here, our application to invoke article 50 to be withdrawn and that as from now – its back to business as usual between a penitent UK and the EU.

It should also be observed that the great majority of the current crop of MPs understand only too well that Brexit was and is a huge national error but, as is the way with MPs, timidity, and looking after Number 1, take precedence over the national interest. In the Brexel 2 campaign, the Remainers should stop making obeisance to the sacred result of June 2016 and bellow out that the voters were conned by the insidious combination of the stupidity of David Cameron, the mendacity of Mr Farage and the astounding duplicity of BoJo.

Their campaign slogan should be “Goodbye Brexit: Hello, Bremain!”

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

1. The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

2. The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence, thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as confused as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the re-entry into the fray or rather into the political vacuum that is now so prominent a feature of the UK political scene, of former senior politicians: Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, John Major, George Osborne and the Miliband brothers,

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

Failing this, we would hope that Theresa May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

Brexit: The Show Must Go On (and On, and On)

The latest episode of the Brexit saga which ended on June 20th, centred mainly on the Tory Parliamentary Party with Labour MPs in the roles of spectators, gazing at the confusing proceedings with a mixture of bewilderment and torpor.

The setting was the House of Commons and the Leavers in the Parliamentary Tory party had gathered in strength to seek to reverse the attempts of the House of Lords to put a series of spokes in the Brexit wheel.

The threat to Mrs May came from the dozen or so declared Tory Remainers in parliament, and, lest anyone might be any doubt as to their identity, the Daily Mail published a rogues gallery of the dissenters.  

In the event, the Lords’ amendments were reversed, although not without the deployment of a good deal of traditional carrot and stick tactics by the Tory whips. The stick was just that – follow the party else or else. The carrots consisted of a series of understandings arrived at between Mrs May and the dissidents. Sadly, as I write, there appears to be some misunderstanding as to the precise nature of the understandings.

A week or so ago there had been a not especially adept rebellion by Mr Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, and his colleagues. So transparently simulated was the Scottish indignation that the sympathy of most of the neutrals was with the speaker, Mr Bercow, not normally the most popular figure in and around the Commons.

The parliamentary members of the Labour party awoke from their collective slumbers to produce an internal row of their own, although its origins and substance were so obscure as to baffle the neutrals.

Anything else to report before Holdenforth gets down to looking at the “What happens next?” prospects for Brexit?

Well yes – one or two minor matters to report.

In no special order of importance:

* The G7 conference convened to discuss the various trade problems triggered by the unilateral imposition of massive tariffs by the USA on a range of products and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the countries singled out for tariff treatment. This G7 conference, convened to repair broken fences, finished up as the G6 + 1 group, with the USA refusing to endorse the most modest of end of conference communiqués and the remaining 6 members issuing peevish denunciations of the disruptive Yanks. Holdenforth simply notes at this point that this development did little to advance the Brexit case to abandon the EU.

*The refusal of Mr Trump to sign the final G7 communiqué was swiftly followed by a dramatic meeting of those two giants of the global show business scene, Messrs Kim Jon Jung and Mr Trump. We, the great mystified British public, were advised that Mr Trump is happier in a one on one meeting where his well-honed deal making skills are easier to deploy than is the case where he is merely one of a larger group. The outcome of the Trump – Kim Jung Um summit was a communiqué every bit as devoid of content as the G7 / G6 gathering but with the significant difference that Mr T was writing the script.

* There was an unseemly disagreement between Italy and Malta about which of the 2 countries should accept a boat crammed with refugees from sub Saharan Africa. The matter was resolved when Spain agreed to accept the migrants, but clearly Europe will come under pressure to accept refugees as long as the conditions which trigger the exodus from their respective countries persist – a major headache for the EU

Back to Brexit  — What happens next?

Sadly the Brexit debate has tended to focus rather too much on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10 and rather less on what will be the situation when the various boisterous Brexit debates within the Tory party and between the various Westminster parties have ended and the dust has settled.

Crucially the key discussions – hereinafter referred to as negotiations – between the UK Brexit team and its counterparts from the EU are continuing and the reports emerging from these negotiations hint that the EU team sees the position of HMG growing steadily weaker.

An Iain Martin article in The Times on June 21 stated that, “The Commission’s bad faith behaviour has become so appalling that even some Remainers have now woken up woken up to the implications” and concluded, “A the fog of negotiations clears and it becomes obvious that the country is being stuffed, will feelings boil over into some sort of revolt”?

Holdenforth does not go along with this absurd view. Holdenforth has consistently argued that the deplorable state affairs triggered by the Brexit affair was and is the product of an appalling initial misjudgement by David Cameron to hold a referendum, the predictable jump by Boris Johnson onto what he saw as an opportunity to advance his political prospects and the consistent but wholly misguided efforts of Mr Farage to undo the commendable vision of the EU project to replace bellicose nationalism with civilised cooperation.

Holdenforth believes that:

*The stuffing of the UK – and, yes, there has been a lot of stuffing – has been largely the malign work of Mr Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

*The sooner that the UK wakes up to the true nature and purpose of Brexit, and puts the Brexit engine into reverse and politely requests of the EU authorities that HMG accepts that Brexit has been a huge mistake and that the UK begs to revert to a Business as Usual basis, the better.

For its part, the EU sees this ill-assorted trio as putting a wholly illusionary national interest ahead of all other considerations and sensibly refuses to do anything to assist the venture.

In his regular Times column published the day before the Martin piece Lord Finkelstein discussed with his customary clarity the formidable problems facing Mrs May and her cabinet as they attempt to steer the good ship HMG between the competing hazards posed by the Scylla of the Brexiteers and the Charybdis of the Remainers, each with their alluring sirens.

If this were simply a dilemma facing the Tory party then we, the great uncommitted, could sit back and enjoy the show.

But sadly that is not the case.

Lord Finkelstein seemed to me in his column to be so anxious to be scrupulously fair, to list all the competing forces and assess their relative strengths in various permutations and combinations, that he lost himself in the sheer exuberant variety of possible outcomes.

His final paragraph expressed his dismay perfectly:

 “To leave the EU without a clear idea of our future trading relationship would be lamentable, but to leave without a withdrawal agreement would be catastrophic.”

Holdenforth can do better than this. To leave the EU would be lamentable and catastrophic, and any other apocalyptic adjectives that come to mind – – no need for the accompanying qualifications.

How long can the great survivor stagger on?

Francis Elliot, the Political Editor of the Times, recently argued that “The PM has walked a fine line between equally unhappy Brexiteers and Remainers but can’t put off judgement day for ever. “

Mr Elliot lost no time in pointing the finger at those he saw as being responsible for the current shambles – Mr Cameron and Mrs May.

He wrote amusingly about what the public enquiry that will in due course be set up to review how we got into this fiasco. The enquiry will work along the lines of the Chilcot enquiry into Iraq, it will drag on for years and will decide that all those responsible were acting from the best of motives – expect a report around 2030 by which date I for one will have kept an appointment with the Grim Reaper.

Sadly Mr Elliot was woefully vague when he looked at short term issues and possible solutions.

HF will step in where Mr Elliot feared to tread – our readers rightly demand rather more snap and sharpness from our perusal of our crystal ball – so here goes.

Let us assess the prospects between now and the end of the party conference season in early October.

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

* The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

The logic from this quarter  is that if say Boris Johnson were to emerge as our new PM that he would be well positioned to take on and defeat Mr Corbyn in the subsequent general election.

On this latter point pundits of all political tendencies and of none were said to have been shaken by the reported 7 point lead by the Tories in the polls. If Jezza can’t lead Labour into a poll lead now – then when can he?

*The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as baffled as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the entry into the fray of former heavyweights, people like Tony Blair, George Soros, Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown, George Osborne, the Miliband brothers and so on and so on.

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) – the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

A word on the current balance of parliamentary power

The government of Mrs May is balanced precariously on a base built on quicksand and another shaky material the name of which escapes me.

No-one is more aware of this than Mrs May – after all her poor judgement in the summer of last year triggered Brexel One the outcome of which added significantly to the problems of the Tory government.

As I write the Conservative party consists of:

*A substantial number – but still a minority – of diehard Brexiteers. Let us refer to them as the Bill Cash Group.

* A dozen or so diehard Remainers. Let us refer to them as the Anna Soubry group. This doughty dozen are said to be prepared to risk the consequences of voting against their own party in order to keep alive the aim of reversing the leave outcome of the June 2016 referendum

* The silent majority of Tory members of Parliament who simply hope that the Brexit issue will go away – it isn’t going to. This group, with no ideological preferences either way, will be watching the polls, studying the media, and chatting amongst themselves. Their motives as regards stay or go will be determined by one simple consideration – what outcome is the most favourable for my career, with my mortgage to pay and the kiddies to feed – all significant factors.

Meanwhile, within the Labour Party, there is a similar spread of opinion as that which exists in the Tort party but without the intensity.

But as Lord Finkelstein has pointed out “The objective of the Labour leadership is only this – to bring down the government and defeat it in an election”

This factor, a second order factor, will make life difficult for Mr Corbyn and his colleagues as the media hawks come in for the kill.

We also have the Lib Dems – Dr  Cable and his tiny band. This group is committed to putting the outcome of the referendum to a test but lack the numbers to exercise much influence.

Sinn Fein – their long standing refusal that they owe any allegiance to the UK parliament rules them out of consideration.

DUP – the jokers in the parliamentary pack.

How about an injection of a spot of transparency – a favourite word these days – into the confusion?

The key Holdenforth assertion is that most MPs would, if the choice were available to them, vote to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

* The Brexit victory in the June 2016 referendum was NOT a clear demand by the British to leave the EU, but rather the outcome of an appalling error of judgement by Mr Cameron in agreeing to the referendum in the first place compounded by the squalid opportunism of Boris the bounder and Farage the cad. By the way: what exactly is the difference between a bounder and a cad?

* The Brexiteers, led – or rather misled – by that blond bloated bladder of wind – BoJo – are now all too clear that their day has come –  and gone.

* It was reported that Lyndon Johnson said of one of his tiresome colleagues that it was difficult to decide if it was better to have him inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in.  BoJo has established a third category – he is inside the tent and pissing inside it – a practice that has not endeared him to his colleagues in the tent. The long suffering UK voters will have noted his inept performance as Foreign Secretary in the past 2 years.

* Mrs May’s switch of allegiance following the referendum merely added to the catalogue of disreputable political actions perpetrated by the Brexiteers.

* On an oh by the way basis – if Mrs May, who ought to have known what was going on, can change her mind, why can’t the rest of us: we, who were bemused by the tsunami of mendacity, respectfully request a second opinion.

So what happens next?

More than two thousand words down the line and I still have no idea. Trying to make sense out of the Brexit chaos can be compared to trying to extract excrement from a rocking horse.

But rest assured: Holdenforth will stay on the case to the end, an end which we hope will be happy rather than bitter.

I hear you ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?

We hope that matters will proceed as I suggested in my recent blog, “Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering”: namely, that Mrs May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

As I Please: Trains on Stop, Hutton in Hay and the Rees-Mogg Roubles

How not to run a railway

The Centre of Gravity of the discontented UK rail users has now moved from south to north. The discontent in the south was based on a number of failures on the part of the operators, ranging from an inability to operate signals and points, an inability to ensure that the required number of employees were on duty, an interminably protracted dispute with the Unions as to whether or not guards were essential to passenger security, and a ticket pricing structure that had only one clear feature – steadily rising prices.

For obvious reasons, the senior management of the various railway companies blamed the Unions for everything, thus neatly sidestepping the factors causing the lengthy catalogue of failures across the sector.

The outcome of said failures was a disagreeable combination of late trains, cancelled trains, crowded trains and expensive trains, all conspiring to add to the miseries of commuting.

Other problems have included the decisions by two major franchise holders to abandon ship –  sorry about the mixing of metaphors – thus leaving the hapless Mr Grayling no option other than to bring the two areas back into the public sector.

The most recent fiasco has been the introduction of new timetables which has triggered cocks up on a gargantuan scale. The most irritating feature here has been the gap between the information provided by the new time tables and what was actually happening – or not happening – on the tracks.

The late and great Mr Bradshaw must be turning in his grave at the inability of his successors to manage this simplest of tasks.

Just one other point before we move on. In the best traditions of this privatised monopoly there are no reports of any managers being required to walk the plank – another mixed metaphor – although the handing out of a few P45s to selected senior managers would undoubtedly help the situation.

In a recent (June 5) Daily Mail editorial, Paul Dacre (or one of his compliant team) fulminated about the situation:

“No end in sight to this appalling shambles… Could there be a more incompetent way to run a railroad… The list of excuses is endless. But we’ve heard them all before and they no longer wash…”

So far, so good.

Sadly, the denunciations are not followed by any suggestions about what should be done. Instead, the editorial lapses into a whining oh dear oh dear mode: “Mr Grayling needs to knock heads together and sort out this mess.”

How, exactly?

Holdenforth can and will do better than this. We will not leave matters in this melancholy setting.

You ask – what is our policy? What remedies do we advocate?

In no special order:

  1. Put all the plans to bring in HS2 (High Speed 2) on hold for, say 5, years to allow time for the all-pervasive LS1 (Low Speed One) problems throughout the UK rail sector to be solved. It beggars belief that the advocates of HS 2 can still be heard clamouring for the money required to bring in HS2 – at least £56 billion at the last reckoning – to be poured into the flaky, shaky foundations of  shit and quicksand that comprise the UK Rail Network in 2018.
  2. Carry out a ruthless cull of the band of senior managerial mediocrities now running the industry (who are, by the way, on far higher salaries, allowing for inflation, than their public sector predecessors) and replace them with competent people. Those replacements to be required to demonstrate their ability to manage signals and points and manning levels and the introduction of new time tables and  ticket pricing arrangements – I could go on but you get my drift.
  3. HMG to accept that the UK privatized railway companies have provided an oasis of peace for the managerial refugees that would be unable to secure employment in any organisation that required its bosses to be able to perform.

I have every confidence that a few improvement along these lines – an appropriate metaphor on this occasion – would deliver a service capable of meeting the expectations of the most discerning of passengers.

A view of Brexit from Hay on Wye

The great Brexit debate simply refuses to make way for other news. On Bank Holiday Monday I attended a session at The Hay on Wye festival. The session was billed as a dialogue of sorts between Lord Adonis and Will Hutton. I had been expecting an agreeable, civilised discussion in which the pros – there are no cons – of remaining in the EU would be outlined and explained.

For a couple of reasons, the session did not turn out quite as I had anticipated.

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way. Adonis was excellent: always lucid, always plausible and mostly persuasive.

I was, however, surprised and slightly disappointed by the contribution of Will Hutton. This consisted of an interminable catalogue of raucous slogans bellowed out incoherently after the style of John Prescott.

This might have been acceptable to the converted – and a show of hands showed that over 95% of those present were committed Remainers – but it was decidedly not a speech to persuade the undecided.

I suspect that David Davis, seated prominently in the front row of the audience, was not particularly bothered by the ranting.

I have to confess that prior to attending the Adonis-Hutton show I had no clear impressions about what exactly Hutton stood for and what he had done.  I vaguely recalled that he had been a journalist and that he was and is the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford.

Later I looked him up online and was surprised to read that he and his wife had built up a large property portfolio in London and the Home counties, and that he had blotted his copybook in some way in his capacity as the Director of the Work Foundation.

This belated shedding of light on Hutton put a slightly different slant on his high decibel denunciations of the super-rich.

Some of the bombast bawled in Hay by Will Hutton put me in mind of the comment of King Lear – “I will do such things – what they are I know not!”

To be fair to Hutton, he told us that he had personally visited some of the areas that had voted for Brexit and that he understood the concerns of the locals. His tone here put me in mind of the comment of Edward the Eighth when visiting the distressed areas of South Wales in the 1930s – “something must be done.”

Quite so – but what exactly?

In between the Hutton slogans, Lord Adonis spoke of his enthusiasm about the case to reduce the voting age to 16 and about the case for the House of Commons to be relocated in the North of England. All good stuff but, as Mrs May has told us, Brexit will be a fact of life by the end of March, 2019.

The Hutton manifesto is all well and good and there will be those who accept that, if implemented, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

For its part, Holdenforth urges all Remainers, including Lord Adonis and Will Hutton, to park the froth in the long grass and concentrate on the one political task of campaigning to kick Brexit into the long grass.

An effective and simple campaign  to turn the Brexit engine round and get it running (on time, in the opposite direction) might just do the trick.

More Brexit News  —  the latest from the Soros camp

In a previous blog I warmly welcomed the emerging campaign led by George Soros to mobilise UK opinion to reverse Brexit.

Hear, hear, I wrote, well done George.

An article in The Times on May 30 quoted Soros as saying that the campaign for a second referendum would begin in the next few days, and that while “Ultimately it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do… it would be better however if they came to a decision sooner rather than later.”

Later in the same piece reference was made to the age of George Soros – 87. Later still we were informed that “the Tory MP Jacob Rees -Mogg – aged 49 – said that he would be happy for there to be another EU referendum- just not for three decades.”

It may be that the disparity between the ages of the two men account for the preferred haste of Mr Soros and the preferred languid procrastination of the other.

As far as Holdenforth is concerned – on the need for speed we applaud the declared alacrity of Mr Soros.

There is, however, one aspect of the Soros campaign that troubles Holdenforth.

A Times article the following day, headlined ‘Soros campaign chief evokes Nazis in call for new EU vote’ noted that Lord Malloch Brown, the Soros campaign chief referred to, “said that Europe’s problems had a horrible habit of infecting us anyway.”

Holdenforth begs Soros and his team to keep things simple – we face enough problems without bringing the most turbulent and odious regime in my long lifetime into it.

And now for something completely different –  The murder and rapid resurrection  of  Mr  Arkady Babchenko 

I awoke on the morning of May 31 to be told that a 41 year old Russian journalist had been shot in the back and killed in Kiev.

Boris-“quick Draw” Johnson was predictably one of the first out of the blocks – he said that “Britain was appalled by the killing.”

Well – up to a point…

The appalled British had barely digested the news of the murder when who should turn up beaming at the cameras and bursting with good health but the very same Arkady Babchenko.

The official explanation by the Ukrainian authorities was that the murder had been staged to forestall a murder attempt by who else – the Russians. The official report explained that the idea behind the spoof execution came from the confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, at Reichenbach – both men died at the scene, Moriarty on a permanent basis, Holmes for only as long as it took to dawn on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that the Holmes mine was by no means exhausted.

There followed a brisk debate in the media. On the one side there were those who thought that the Ukrainian version was sound and that the life of a brave man committed to the goodie cause had been saved by this shrewd spoof execution.

The other side took the view that the plot, absurd from the start, had misfired and that those responsible had taken careful aim and shot themselves in their collective feet.

Holdenforth inclines to the latter explanation although we were and remain happy to note that Boris Johnson retains his well-earned reputation as the fastest cock up politician in the west.

More notes on Jacob Rees-Mogg.

There is simply no keeping JRM out of the news these days.

The main news topic is his leadership of some Brexit campaign group or other. He leads with commendable elegance and displays impressive if antiquated scholarship: his themes are the past greatness of  Britain and the need for a return to the good old days when Britain led and the rest of the world followed and the right sort of chaps guided the fortunes of the nation and the world.

Holdenforth was pleased to note that JRM has just acquired a substantial residence in the Westminster area, a residence roughly equivalent to No 10 Downing street in its proximity to Parliament and in its imposing grandeur.

However, Holdenforth was slightly perplexed by the following item on May 27.

Under the headline, ‘Mogg’s Moscow Millions’ the Mail on Sunday subheader teased us with  “Revealed : How the Brexiteer’s firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin, including two blacklisted by the US , but has invested next to nothing in – yes, you guessed it- Brexit Britain.” 

The article, written by Neil Craven in London and Will Stewart in Moscow, reports, more in sorrow than anger, that “[Rees-Mogg’s] investment firm has a stake in a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin… that the hard-line Brexiteer owns almost a fifth of Somerset Capital Management… that on behalf of its clients SCM has bought shares in two Russian firms blacklisted by the US”.

There is lots more, but you get the picture. JRM, wearing his SCM hat is not averse to putting profits before principles.

I should imagine that the wealthy clients who have placed their hard-earned readies into the care of JRM and of SCM are concerned primarily with the returns on their investments and are quite relaxed about the methods employed to secure the best possible outcomes.

Whatever next for JRM as he grapples with the problem of balancing his political goals with his professional financial goals?

Will he continue in aristocratic mode, the aloof elitist? Or might he downsize to Jake Mogg, the populist and follow the example of Lord Stansgate – the toff who downsized to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and then to Tony Benn, the people’s friend.

Holdenforth will be keeping a watchful eye on the JRM phenomenon.