TILLERSON – THE TOOTHLESS TIGER

THE G7 FAINTHEARTS –

For reasons of self-interest, the G7 foreign ministers refused to back UK Foreign Secretary Johnson’s proposed further sanctions against Russia for its complicity in the gas attack on innocent civilians last week in Syria. They have therefore denied the US Sec of State an important weapon with which to threaten the thug Putin on his mission today to Moscow. 

While Tillerson’s behind the scenes talks with Russian foreign minister Lavrov will no doubt be tough, the threat of added sanctions to an economy which is already under severe strain would have been crucial. In 2015 Russia was isolated with its economy in tatters. While a subsequent economic collapse was avoided, and oil prices rebounded somewhat, short term forecasts for the Russian economy remain dire. The ongoing Eastern Ukraine conflict and Western sanctions can only make the current economic situation worse. 

Unless oil prices plunge again, the IMF has forecast a return to growth. However, with oil and gas in 2015 accounting for some 44% of government revenues, the commodity price slump has hit hard with high inflation hurting families and government coffers taking a hit. The World Bank predicted that poverty rates were set to return to 2007 levels, threatening nearly ten years of gains.

According to The Times, Russia’s Reserve Fund had shrunk by two thirds since 2014 and was expected to run out by this year unless there was a ‘significant’ rise in oil prices. Once these reserves are fully drawn, the Russian government indicated that it may have to start drawing down from the National Wealth Fund to cover budget shortfalls. But this fund is meant to finance future pensions and investment projects.

It is apparent therefore that Putin can ill afford further stresses to his pro-market economic policies. Importantly, he has so far been able to avoid social unrest but this will not last forever. According to outside sources, nearly half of young people in Russia now look to the net and foreign reports for their daily dose of real news, not the fake stuff churned out by the Putin-controlled media.

As we all know, the West’s past policies in both Iraq and Libya can only be described as disastrous. So far our record in Syria has been far from inspiring. There is little doubt that the alternative to the Syrian tyrant Assad, as things now stand, is a radical Islamist regime. As unpalatable as it sounds, we may need to keep Assad on for the short term as his immediate overthrow would not be in anyone’s interest.

To avoid this chaotic scenario, let us hope that Tillerson tonight will manage to somehow engage Putin’s cooperation towards adopting a strategy on Syria which will at least lower the current bellicosity between the great powers. We might even dare to hope for something more. Could there still be a place for the old-fashioned stick AND carrot approach in international diplomacy?

MIDNIGHT 29 MARCH 2019

WE WILL STAND ON OUR OWN!

The 730 days to Brexit countdown begins today as Article 50 is triggered in Brussels. Its perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Britain’s exit from the EU need never have happened had the former PM Cameron come back from Brussels with just one or two concessions. Plainly, he thought his communication skills could win the referendum battle for his remain side without some meaningful movement on issues from other member states. Some maintain he didn’t try hard enough. Many in the UK were particularly unhappy over the free movement of peoples across our borders. The European Court of Justice’s supremacy in this country over certain matters also created much resentment.

Undoubtedly, the UK joining up to the original European free trade area was an excellent idea. However, over the past 40 years, this community of economic cooperation slowly morphed into a federalist structure reaching into many aspects of people’s lives in all member states. Not all interference was bad, but its overarching influence was seen to be increasingly dictatorial. People in the UK became ever more resentful of the not so faceless, non-elected bureaucrats in Brussels.

Despite the unending pessimistic drivel churned out by the BBC since the referendum result became known – not for nothing is it known to many as the British Bolshevik Corporation – there is a definite mood of optimism in the country that we have the right kind of leader in Mrs May who will deliver the best for Britain in the negotiations ahead. 

These should not be seen just as tough, as all these parrot-like commentators keep telling us, but also as sensible. The contents of the PM’s letter to Donald Tusk later today will be revealing on the likely tone of these negotiations, but in a gesture of goodwill and positivity, I hope Mrs May straight away will confirm her readiness to guarantee the future rights of the 3.3 million EU citizens living in the UK.

The EU negotiators will also need to be sensible. It is surely impossible for them to go into the talks thinking they hold a stronger hand than we do. If so, there is little doubt that they will soon feel the heavy hand of German car and French wine exporters, to name but two.

Best of British, Mrs May!

WELL DONE RUTH DAVIDSON!

THE SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVE LEADER PUTS ANDREW MARR IN HIS PLACE –

No one watching this morning’s Andrew Marr show on BBC1 could have been left in any doubt about this so called impartial commentator’s position on the Scottish Independence issue. 

Davidson put in a sterling and feisty performance against a truculent Marr who constantly interrupted her clear and spontaneous answers to his hostile grilling. He was simply not interested apparently in the majority public opinion in Scotland which undoubtedly is that we need another referendum like we need a hole in the head.

It is well known that Ms Davidson had to be dragged kicking and screaming across her own self-imposed red line some years ago on what is now known as Devo-max. This is roughly the devolution of the majority government powers from Westminster to Edinburgh, with the exception of defence and foreign affairs. 

However, that is in the past, and Ms Davidson’s insistence today on being heard in a hostile setting is tribute to her skill as a communicator. Of particular note was her message that the media generally in London should learn the difference between what the SNP want, and the very different views of the majority of Scots.

Anyone looking for a clear and unambiguous definition of the UK Government’s stand on the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the EU vis-a-vis Scotland, can do no better than listen to what Davidson insisted on saying despite Marr’s constant interruptions.

Its time Marr took a holiday!

THE BIZARRE SHAKING HANDS WITH THE UNBELIEVABLE

MRS MAY PLAYS IT RIGHT –

NOW FOR A FEW FINISHING TOUCHES – TO THE SNP!

Discard the headlines in most of today’s British press as many of us know that Mrs Sturgeon’s curve ball on a proposed Indyref2 next year had been expected by Downing Street for some time.

This blog has consistently argued that not only should Mrs May decide the timing of any second Scottish referendum, but that the deciding vote on such a vital issue as the split-up of the UK should be a minimum of 60%.

It is to be hoped that the Tory leadership in Scotland is actively pursuing this latter aspect with the Prime Minister. However, so far there has been a deafening silence from its Holyrood leader and others at the top. If it does come to a second referendum, for whatever reason, it should also be remembered that independent estimates put the number of Scots who voted Yes for independence two years ago, but who voted for Brexit, at some 400,000! These people obviously will be a prime target of any future No campaign. There is headway to be made from this group.

Sturgeon’s consistent attempts to turn Scotland into the poor man of Europe are both despicable and bizarre as she knows that the economic argument for independence will become even more unwinnable as the Brexit negotiations get underway. She is gambling on winning a referendum in the short term, largely based on the emotional vote of her core support, as opposed to the chances of losing it in say, two years down the road. By then it will have become crystal clear to everyone that in order to survive as an independent country, any Scottish government would have to either increase taxes dramatically, or seriously cut spending. 

This would obviously have major adverse effects on all our public services, in particular education and health. It must also be remembered that the Scottish deficit is £15Bn, 9.5% of our GDP compared to 4% for the UK as a whole. This figure is the highest in the EU and way ahead of Greece even at 7.2%!!

What about the currency? If a separate Scotland joined the EU, as current rules require, it would almost certainly have to use the Euro. As we all know, this has been a monumental disaster for the many countries in the EU with widely differing economic systems and problems. Does Sturgeon want Scotland to join the same sinking ship?

The SNP’s determination to ruin the country against all good economic sense is unbelievable. 

So Mrs May’s equal determination to play the long game in order to preserve the Union is much to be admired. In fact, her best course is to withhold approval for any second referendum until after the next Holyrood elections in 2021 when a proper mandate for this will be readily apparent or otherwise.

THE ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND –

SELL—–SELL—–SELL

We shall all be paying close attention tomorrow to see what’s in the Budget for us, but one measure we’re unlikely to see is the announcement that the Government has decided to sell the public stake in this disastrous entity called a bank.

As the latest results for this albatross outfit which is owned 72% by the British taxpayer makes such dismal reading, serious thought must now be given to selling off the disaster. In February its chief executive announced that he would take his £1m bonus for last year and that the bank will pay out total bonuses of £343M!

This is despite racking up its ninth year of losses, some £7bn! We are told that the so called bank will return to the black next year despite potentially high cost legal claims by the US Dept of Justice. There will also have to be severe cost-cutting, job losses and branch closures. In view of RBS’s track record, why should we believe that it will turn the corner by 2018? What other unanticipated disasters may be looming? The total losses made by RBS since 2008 amount to a staggering £58bn!

There have been previous calls to sell off the public stake in RBS which according to some estimates would bring in £20bn. It has also been suggested that this money should go to help the NHS or to help buffer the impact of Brexit.

However, a more sensible course would be to use the £20bn raised from a sale to establish a ‘State Mortgage Lending Corporation’. The money would then remain in the lending sector and could be utilised by say, first time borrowers to secure loans for housing on better and possibly softer terms than they can currently obtain from a high street lender. Builders may also be able to obtain loans on easier conditions for low cost housing.

While it made good sense for the nation to bail RBS out of its misery in the 2008 financial crisis for the common good, now is the time to divest.

Think again Chancellor.

WELL DONE PHILIP HAMMOND –

SHAME ON THE WEAK-KNEED TORY WIMPS !!
Just putting this latest short blog to bed from a delightful guest house in the foothills of the Himalayas, somewhere between Darjeeling and Kalimpong, prior to returning to the UK shortly.

Now into my eighties, I was unsure of whether it was very smart to travel so far upcountry. But my fears were unjustified and although my friends from my early days here nearly 60 years ago, the immensely likeable Captain Tendufla who owned the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling, and the great Sherpa Tensing who was Director at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute there are now gone, the same serene and heady atmosphere continues to pervade the whole District.

I recall that one of the most coveted jobs in India was that of manager of Lloyds Bank in Darjeeling. A more idyllic existence could hardly be imagined. We were all captivated by the superb view from his office window of the snow covered peak of Mt Kanchenjunga. The bungalow in which he lived was also to die for, I wonder which lucky man, or woman, has that job now?

As a frequent visitor to India, and this time to a more rural part of the sub-continent, I’ve always been greatly impressed by the enormous goodwill and friendship accorded we Brits by Indians everywhere. With the upcoming Brexit negotiations in mind, my Indian friends wish us well for the future and are keen to further develop the strong cultural and trade ties between us.

So I have no doubt that a more outward looking Great Britain, while still retaining strong links with our friends in Europe, will have a great and successful future in expanding our ties with other great trading nations including India.

How encouraging then the words of Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, at the weekend when he declared that the British People have a great fighting spirit, that we would fight back if the EU blocked a Brexit trade deal, that we will forge new trade deals around the world, and that the UK will go from strength to strength!

Compare this Churchillian rhetoric to the vacuous comments by the weak-kneed wimps of the Tory Left, John Major, Michael Heseltine and others who have joined that peerless epitome of political opportunism, the Socialist Tony Blair, in trying their best to reverse the Brexit process. Shame on them!

No one is listening to these bitter yesterday’s men!

REFORM OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS

RULE OF THE FAT CATS

SNOUTS IN THE TROUGH

We Brits are in no position to criticise how other countries are run as long as our upper house at Westminster is allowed to remain in its present far from satisfactory form. 

The Lords is comprised of some 800 members and its primary function is to scrutinise and revise legislation passed by the House of Commons. Only China’s National Peoples Congress is bigger! While some of its Peers across the political spectrum are undoubtedly hard-working, others owe their place in the House to the worst excesses of political cronyism. Many sit there on the basis ‘lose an election to the Commons, get a seat in the Lords’! Currently, almost 27% of its members were previously MP’s. Almost 7% are former political staff or other party hacks.

Members of the Lords can claim an allowance of £300 each day, plus travel costs. Many Peers are said to sign on simply to claim this money, and promptly leave without attending or contributing to any debate in the chamber, let alone staying long enough to vote. 

Over the decades, there have been a number of attempts to radically reform the Lords. Most of these have failed due to insurmountable political pressure from one direction or another, and the problem has been considered an intractable one. Tory Peer Michael Heseltine emerged from the jungle canopy overnight to declare that he intends to rebel against the Government’s Brexit Bill currently being debated in the Lords!

A good number of fat cat Labour and some other Tory Peers, in receipt of huge monthly pensions from the EU, are also expected to obstruct the Brexit Bill, which Mrs May won in the Commons with a thumping great majority. They will thus effectively be frustrating the will of the British people as expressed in the Referendum. Their EU pensions are so eye-watering that for most Brits they are the stuff of fantasy. According to some reports, one well-known Labour Peer is said to be paid nearly £88000 a year, another nearly £40000, and yet another three at least £35000 each!

Its therefore time to introduce much-needed reform to this unrepresentative body. Many approaches to change are being pursued and at a recent meeting of ‘HL Reform Now’ it was argued that the many different views represented could be accommodated, on an interim basis at least, until it is seen how the changes are working. As a basis for further discussion, it was broadly agreed that the number of Peers be reduced from 800 to 500, of which 200 would be political appointees of the right calibre and commitment, 100 would be appointed from distinguished people in the Arts and Sciences, plus other areas of public life, and 200 would be directly elected from all parts of the UK. There was wide agreement against abolition of the Lords.

Once reformed, the Lords would remain a strictly ‘scrutinise and revise’ body as now and would not have the power to block any bill passed by the Commons. Should Mrs May be unable to obtain the agreement of the other main political parties to reform the Lords, the question should be put before the people in a referendum. Action is long overdue