Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Ballad of Mario Draghi

When Draghi and Merkel were Pally
His words could create their own rally
But (keen not to spook her)
He hid the bazooka
And now he's just Comical Ali

Monday, 14 May 2012

That German growth plan in full...

Since Irish Govt. ministers seem to be spinning this weekend that they will return from Europe laden with a "growth pact" to go alongside the half-baked fiscal treaty which is being rammed down Ireland's collective throat on 31st May, it might be worth examining exactly what the Germans have in mind.

Guido Westerwelle laid out his thoughts in some detail in his policy statement on 11th May:

Westerwelle spoke in favor of a European growth pact, which would encompass six points as follows:
  1. Firstly, Westerwelle said the European Union would have to use its funding “better than before”, without spending more. With the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period planned at more than a trillion euros, the structural funds contained in that sum would have to be directed towards encouraging growth and competition in Europe, he insisted. This, Westerwelle said, was about shaping the future, which was what politicians owed the taxpayers of Europe. The Government, he said, had therefore put forward an action plan for better spending in the budget negotiations in Brussels.
  2. Secondly, he said, the European Commission had to take the remaining money from the European Funds – around 80 billion euros – and use the money now already to boost competitiveness in the member states.
  3. The third point Westerwelle gave was that the credit crunch currently affecting small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe had to be overcome. SMEs, he said, needed better access to loans, and the European Investment Bank had the expertise to be useful in this regard.
  4. Westerwelle’s fourth point involved developing Europe’s cross-border infrastructure, including the road, rail, energy and telecommunications networks. Doing so would mean exploring the option of funding through public-private partnerships, Westerwelle said.
  5. Fifthly, Westerwelle said that the internal market had to be extended to include the digitized economy, online trade and the energy sector.
  6. The Foreign Minister’s sixth point referred to strengthening free trade. Until progress towards a global free trade system could be made in the Doha Round, it was up to the EU, Westerwelle said, to conclude free trade agreements with the new and the long-established centres of power on the world stage.
All very admirable, no doubt, although not neccesarily enough to temper the unpleasant effects of mass hunger "structural change" already haunting Greece (the first to sign up to the fiscal pact) and threatening to make themselves felt in the rest of the periphery.

Cassius' own view is that the French will require something more substantial, possibly in the way of eurobonds or at least details of specific pork barrels projects to appease their voters. The catch? these 'extras' might appear, but I have a lingering feeling that the price of them will be a flat out Tobin tax or further measures towards tax harmonisation - both of which (ought) to be unacceptable to Ireland

Let's see what emerges


Thursday, 8 December 2011

It is Ireland, not Britain's, freedom which Cameron is being asked to sign away

The revulsion at negotiations in Brussels felt by the UK electorate, is natural and justifiable but the idea of a UK referendum - the proposed remedy - is misplaced.

As any medieval king could tell you, fiscal sovereignty - which the Franco German draft proposes Eurozone countries give up - is the one thing which really counts in a democracy. The ability to raise taxes and compel people by force to pay, is the first power we delegate at the ballot box. All else, spending plans, law and order, domestic and foreign policy - flows from that.

Will Cameron sign? - apparently, if British interests are protected, he will. And those interests will be easy to protect because they arent under attack. The UK is not being asked to cede power, because it isnt in the Eurozone. With the single exception of the Tobin Tax, easily kicked into the long grass to give Cameron a PR victory, nothing in the current draft could even be the proper subject of a UK referendum.

Those demanding a referendum in the UK are tilting at windmills, and Cameron and Merkel both know it... in fact the confusion suits Brussels well because what the technocrats really fear is referenda in countries which are actually being asked to cede powers, especially Ireland, where the principle of delegata potestas non potest delegari - enshrined in the constitution - stops a frightened, or ambitious, or frustrated Taoiseach giving away the power granted by the electorate.

If you were in any doubt that the Irish Government was keen to avoid asking it's own people before submitting to Brussels, the Irish Times, is not:

"HERMAN VAN Rompuy’s idea to use provisions already in the Lisbon Treaty to amend and toughen the treaty’s budget supervision protocol has immediate appeal. And not least for Ireland where treaty change has been, well, awkward. ... the European council’s president has reminded leaders of legal mechanisms in Lisbon that allow the amendment by the Council, acting unanimously, of the treaty’s budget control implementation procedures."

Merkel and the EU know perfectly well that Ireland would likely vote against a referendum.The Irish are an intelligent, proud people who fought hard for their independence and for whom the Euro has been more pain than gain. They know that their short-lived economic success was due as much to low corporate tax rates, high level of education, and changing technology as it was to the ultimately toxic monetary union which burst their banking sector with cheap money.

What the Irish people do not realise is that Cameron, ironically, might just be their last hope to get a say before democracy is sacrificed on the altar of Germanic and French political vanity.

If bulldog he be, David Cameron should remember that it was not Britain's interests which Chamberlain surrendered at Munich - in fact he probably safeguarded them, in the short term. It was Czechoslovakia, and ultimately Poland - small countries - which Chamberlain abandoned, and Churchill stood up for.

Before shutting one eye and permitting the abrogation of democracy in his closest neighbour, and the other small countries of Europe, he and William Hague should remind themselves of the words of Dylan Thomas, a poet from closer to home who wrote (in 1935)..

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,   
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over   
Man by a scribbled name.

From time to time, the responsibilties of leaders extend beyond the immediate needs of the countries which elect them. This weekend will show us whether Cameron deserves his rich Downing Street inheritance.


Monday, 23 May 2011

The changing landscape of Privacy

Cassius lunched yesterday with an eminent Lawyer, a man with a lifetime’s experience of picking up the pieces left by public figures who ought to have known better. Conversation turned to the CTB affair – what had gone wrong? What was the legal industry going to do about it? What about the media? Above all, can we blame the French?

Until now, the media Lawyer has lived off the newspaper editor in the same way that the gamekeeper lives off the local poacher – apparent enemies; they make their living from the same trespass. And the lawyers have a problem. The poachers are no longer a few well-worn local faces, but the massed ranks of Twitter and other social networks. Even valid injunctions are of limited use. Serve every individual? - notifying tens of thousands of Twitter users would be self-defeating. Seek to control Twitter, and other services? – Better ask Colonel Gadaffi

If the problem of privacy is to be solved, it will not be by lawyers. Try as they might, they are unlikely to turn this into the the goldmine they seek.

For traditional Media the outlook is equally grim. Deprived of a monopoly as the guardians of gossip, they can’t choose the stories the public are to read, and they can no longer profit from them either. In their stead, a new generation of bloggers has grown up. The best of them (GuidoFawkes and the up-and-coming FleetStreetFox spring to mind) combine the tenacity of the tabloid reporter with what amounts to a real time instinct for public decency

As curators, these newcomers are at least part of the solution. Contrary to what Lord Neuberger seems to believe, they are anything but out of control - because they can’t afford to be. Creatures of the Internet, every one of their posts and tweets is subject to democratic comment and - as Schillings have discovered to their cost - Twitter in full cry is as formidable as any libel suit or gagging order.

For Guido and his like, one inaccurate story or a tweet in bad taste would spell ruin.

So what is the poor celebrity to do? If the masses have become the new Media, then celebrities themselves are its publishers. They are certainly profiting from fame – we would be less bothered by the minutiae of these peoples lives if we didn’t have to watch a stream of freshly shaven footballing couples posing for cash in tasteless Cheshire mansions.

And what is the European experience? We lunched in an Alpine village where every other family is an international household name, and which – whilst there is juicy scandal daily - remains largely untroubled by reporters. Why is this? Is it because they have bigger gaols?

It seems not. It doesn’t happen here because celebrities behave as human beings, and are treated accordingly. When they have affairs, or snort cocaine off hookers, they do so amongst friends and if they are caught they are fairly matter of fact about it. Above all, they avoid hypocrisy.

The public, in Europe as in Britain, are less salacious than either tabloids or Judges might think, and as CTB is now finding out, it is easier to ask them to forgive than to force them to forget.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

A letter to CTB

Dear CTB

Last week, Schillings made an application on your behalf to identify those who might have broken the confidentiality order you obtained against Imogen Thomas and News Group. Such applications are commonplace where untruths have been posted or repeated.

But you know, and we know, that your case is not about the peddling of lies. It is about the power to keep a secret.

Your extra-marital affair with Imogen Thomas may, by European Law, be protected as part of your private life - tempered only by legitimate public interest - which has not yet been argued. In the meantime the allegation seems to be that Imogen wanted you to pay her to prevent her selling the story to the press.

In the hearing the Judge - although interestingly not you - suggested "blackmail", an ugly, soul destroying crime in which someone demands money to which they are not otherwise entitled by threatening to reveal ugly secrets about another. If you are a victim of blackmail, you deserve protection.

Is it really that straightforward? When you embarked upon an affair you made Imogen a part of your life story and she made you a part of hers. Absent an agreement between the two of you a reasonable man might feel that her story belongs to her, and yours to you. Why should you be able to restrain her from selling it? If you wished to conduct an affair in secret, maybe you should have signed a confidentiality agreement and paid her for the loss of her life story - as companies do with key employees?

Or maybe you should have kept your trousers on.

Has your application achieved its objectives? If the aim was to maintain what remained of your privacy you have failed utterly. You, your identity, and your affair are this morning a bigger story than ever. Your advisers, Schillings are social media specialists. They have increased their profile tremendously with this case, but they will certainly have warned you in advance of the of the situation you find yourself in this morning.

The internet has a vigourous, collective, morality. When writs against "persons unknown" are cast into a liberal, democratic community like Twitter the universal instinct is to tell the truth and shame the devil, to defend the underdog - and, right or wrong - it is an admirable instinct very much in tune with the British people - your fans.

And this is the rub. When the traditional media were the only publishers of stories to the masses, the courts could restrain by injunction, and lawyers had only to work out who to serve who to bill. This is the world view etched in the minds of the legal industry, and it is wrong. Lawyers who truly understood social media know that Twitter and others are changing publishing as fast as ITunes changed the music industry - today, the masses are the media and celebrities are the publisher.

But you already know that, because, like many celebrities today, becoming your own "publisher" has made you richer than you would ever have been in previous generations. You have profited from the attention of your public and you can hardly be surprised if they turn on you with vigour when you send lawyers against them with sinister applications.

Celebrity is your stock in trade. Nourish it, take care of it. If you dont want someone to sell their life story, dont become a part of it - take counsel from one of your more sensible colleagues, Ryan Giggs, who, in the words of his agent :

"appreciates he is doing something he enjoys, and he also enjoys what it brings, and by putting that with his family and his home, he's got the perfect life, so why bugger it up by playing away or insulting somebody?"

And if that is all too much for you, why not try, like Andrew Marr, being honest - even at this late stage. You might find your fans surprisingly sympathetic.



Sunday, 27 March 2011

UKUncut, unmasked

The actions of that petulant, ill informed, little mob yesterday in London are enough to force Cassius out of retirement.

Having seen a spokesman on Newsnight, Cassius was initially inclined to indulge them - give them the benefit of the doubt we all give to over-eager A-Level economics students. Even the loony left are entitled to a William Hague.

But the real problem with UK Uncut is the danger that their (usually young) followers face when they are taken in by this rubbish. It wouldnt be a problem if they chose to make their case democratically, at the polling booth - open to the scrutiny of their peers - but they dont. Instead of democracy, they stick to publishing innuendo and get their followers to do their dirty work - in the case of Fortnum and Mason by committing aggravated trespass. Getting arrested for a cause you believe in is one thing, honourable even - and to be admired, but getting arrested because you've been taken in by those who would capitalise on your limited understanding of economics is another thing entirely.

UKUncut's modus operandi is subtle, but straightforward. They complain in strident terms about their targets - Boots, Topshop, et. al. - accusing them openly of "tax avoidance" (no taxpayers deliberately pay more than they owe, everyone in the country is guilty), or latterly "tax dodging". This latter label has no meaning at all, but serves to confuse their followers who go on, via twitter, facebook and the rest, to accuse the same companies of "tax evasion" - ie. the deliberate concealment of sovereign liabilities, which is illegal. In doing so the poor protest-fodder are encouraged to commit, or repeat a libel - and one which UKUncut itself, no doubt on advice, has carefully avoided.

To add insult to injury - when you read UKUncut's publications carefully - you will see that despite the headline it is never the shops themselves which are accused of tax avoidance - it is their owners, overseas corporations - or in the case of Fortnum and Mason the charitable Whittington Foundation. UKUncut followers should note well - the shops you are occupying PAY the corporation tax which every company in the UK pays, they PAY the NI contributions of their employees, and they remit their dividends like every other UK company. The only difference is, usually, that they are ultimately owned or part owned by overseas corporations - who account for the dividend stream and pay tax on it in whatever jurisdiction they are resident.

If you want to ban foreign or multi-national ownership of UK companies, come out and say so - explain to your followers that that overseas investors could no longer create factories in the UK, that overseas brands might not have UK shops - and that some British brands might be better leaving UK altogether rather than suffer UK tax on worldwide profits. Explain that the majority of the FTSE100 would be forced to leave London because reciprocal tax arrangements (under which they enjoy the same tax treatment you are complaining about from other countries) would vanish overnight, along with the profits which fund the pensions of the majority of UK taxpayers.

And explain to your followers (if you still have any) that the collapse in tax revenues which would result from your particular brand of protectionism and class war would make the UK the first nation in the world to abandon free trade, and send it into it's own Soviet era. The standard of living in the UK would drop so fast that the current era of austerity would look like a consumer boom.

Come to the ballot box, and use the vote and the freedoms which other, braver, people have fought hard for. Make your case.

But until you do, leave Cassius' grocer alone.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

Nadine - misjudged comments, from the wrong person

The story has shifted a little in the past 48 hours, led by Nadine Dorries whose public remarks resulted first in a reprimand from David Cameron and, overnight, to action by Withers on behalf of the Telegraph in respect of allegations made by her.

I will admit to liking Nadine Dorries, and I have every sympathy with her on a personal level. However - irrespective of whether there is any truth in what she says, she is saying it badly. She is also the wrong person to say it. Long on self-justification, short on humility. For Nadine, discretion would definitely be the better part of valour.

Her initial blogpost refuting the allegations on the evening they were to be published was garbled. Even to those like Cassius who would want to see the best of her, it raised more questions than it answered, and left the distinct impression that she didn't have a main home (and therefore could hardly be paying additional costs) - or (in the alternative) if she did have a main home it was somehow special and secret.

Nadine has now turned to attacking the way the Telegraph have handled the story. She should ask herself how else could they have done it? They have so far published about 200 cases. If they included them in one single edition, the highet profile would have suffered disproportionately and many lesser but important offenders would have escaped attention. The Telegraph is not an unpaid auditor for the fees office, which has itself been sitting on the information and could have published it. Every MP is privy to their own claims (they, after all, submitted them) - and each is free to publish their own in order and pre-empt the "unfair treatment" which she is complaining of. It's not as if there is a shortage of spinners and media managers at Westminster.

But worse still she is pushing the "allowance" line - which I have written about here before. She thinks she is being clever by pointing to the fact that divorce courts have taken the allowance into account (I think she might be wrong, of which more later), but ignores the perfectly obvious point that allowances are not taxed. This is the definitive measure of whether expenses are "out of pocket" or not, and these most definitely are. The rules are clear.

Whether MP's are paid enough or not is neither here nor there. What matters is that those elected to positions of public trust have used and abused a system, and gained at the public expense. I don't care if the fees office told them to do it, or the whips, or whoever else - the Electorate are entitled to expect better.

Our MP's are the lawmakers. We elect them to do what is right on our behalf, and in doing so we place them in a position of trust. They have breached that trust, collectively and (in hundreds of cases) individually. The only solution now is that they publish their claims immediately, and come back to the country in a General Election to ask us to trust them again. Many of them might be pleasantly surprised.

Nadine Dorries, like Gordon Brown, appears to believe that the people are in some way unqualified to be the arbiters of all this, and that the cleansing should be subject to some rules or process. This betrays a total misunderstanding of the role of an elected politician. An MP is not an employee, but a trustee - holding power upon a trust settled by every individual Elector in his constituency, qualified or not, rich or poor, academic or illiterate, Tory, Labour or noshow. The Voters right to choose the people in whom they trust is absolute and unassailable. Not only should they be allowed to decide, unhindered by investigation and spin from Westminster, but they are the only people who can decide.

Nadine should accept that sometimes it is better to say nothing, and turn to face her constituents. It is their personal support, and not her public protestations, which will determine her future.