La La Land and the vicars

3 Jun

All Gas Gaiters

Off last night to see La La Land for a second time at our local cinema club. I enjoyed it the first time, and was looking forward to seeing it again.

Why see it again? Was it that good? I had thought so, but I had noticed from Facebook that this wasn’t a universal view (search for elwin cockett la la land – Elwin’s an archdeacon, hence the title and picture 😎).

So why did it affect me so much? It’s the storyline – in our jobs and careers, do we chase our dreams, or do we make compromises?

So if that’s the theme, perhaps not surprising that the vicars don’t get it. But many of us have been there, and juggled with how relationships will work if our jobs pull us physically apart. Or whether to compromise on the job we want to take the job  that pays the bills. Or, as in the ending, we’ve thought about the great ‘might have beens’ of life and relationships.

I know they can’t sing – but that’s not the point. It’s more about Mia’s audition lyrics – ‘Here’s to the ones who dream, / Foolish as they may seem. / Here’s to the hearts that ache. / Here’s to the mess we make.’

Brexit the day after: on the stairs

30 Mar

So I’m sitting in the cafe in St James Park, looking out towards Whitehall – the pulsating heart of British Government. I’m wondering how many of my former civil service colleagues are suffering from ‘Divorce Separation Blues’ (Avett Brothers).

And why ‘on the stairs’? It seems to me the relationship between Britain and the EU is rather like going to a party. We were reluctant to go to this particular gig – we thought the vibes might be better elsewhere (EFTA anyone?), and we were worried they wouldn’t let our friends come in with us (viz, sheep from New Zealand). Then eventually we said we’d go on certain conditions (‘It all depends on the terms – H. Wilson).

No sooner had we arrived than we had a quick vote on whether to stay, and ever since we got in we’ve been complaining about the food, the drink, the other guests, and how the party is organised.

Now we’ve decided to leave to explore the world, and we’re on the stairs on the way to the exit door. Will we have second thoughts? – apparently the guy who drafted Article 50 doesn’t share the common view its irrevocable. But more to the point, will the other guests ever let such a arkwark fellow back in?

Perhaps De Gaulle was right when he described us as a ‘maritime nation’ ill suited to join his European party?

Can Scotland remain in the EU?

14 Mar

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’, as Evelyn Waugh’s famous journalist might have said.

But let’s start at the beginning. As Parliament clears the way for Article 50 to be triggered, Nicola Sturgeon is requesting a second referendum on Scottish independence – with a promise that, if she wins, she will keep Scotland in the EU.

Is that possible? Wouldn’t an ‘independent Scotland’ have to join the queue of countries lining up to join the EU? Well, the Scottish Government has an alternative solution – just don’t leave the European Economic Area (EEA) in the first place.

Doh…now you’ve pulled a fast one. You’ve switched from talking about the EU to the EEA – what’s the difference? Well, the EEA Treaty signatories are the members of the EU and the members of EFTA, and leaving the EEA is a separate legal process to leaving the EU. It is open to debate whether this would be an option for the UK – see some of my earlier posts – but it could make sense for Scotland, particularly since the EEA Treaty has some provisions for differential treatment of regions within signatory countries. So Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government, if they won a referendum, could say ‘when you give notice of your intention to leave the EEA, please exclude Scotland’.

Now it has to be said the legal eagles think this is impractical – see the LSE blog at http://bit.ly/2no1wwX for example. But it does raise some interesting points. If Scotland can do it, what about other areas that were strongly ‘Remain’ – London, for example, and Northern Ireland?

And for the Scottish Government, it’s beautiful politics and possibly good economics. A Scotland inside the EEA when the rest of the UK is outside could be quite attractive to some businesses south of the border. Financial services, in particular, might well find a base (or an expanded base) in Edinburgh quite appealing.

Triggering Article 50 is beginning to look like opening Pandora’s Box.

 

 

 

The Kerslake Review of North Essex Garden Communities – perhaps not what you thought?

28 Jan

sir-humphrey

Some commentators seem to think that this recently completed report supports the plans of the local councils to create 32,000 new homes in three different locations. For example, the Essex County Council website has an item entitled ‘Leading housing expert supports Garden Communities project’.

However, it helps, when reading this report (available at http://bit.ly/2ky7cTu) to recall that Lord Bob Kerslake – a former permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is rather a ‘Sir Humphrey’ character. As readers of a certain age will know, Sir Humphrey was the fictional civil servant advising the hapless Jim Hacker, and was master of the rather subtle way of saying things.

A reading of the report shows that some translation is required from mandarin-speak of the Sir Humphrey variety to the modern idiom. For example, when the report says ‘The council’s ambition for this project is impressive’ we can translate this as ‘there’s little chance of them delivering this as it stands’. Similarly when referring to the timetable as ‘ambitious’, and strongly advising  ‘that they complete the Planning Advisory Toolkit to evaluate their readiness’ we can see clear mandarin-speak for ‘you are not ready – there’s a lot more work to do’.

Perhaps the most damning but understated finding is on delivery capacity: ‘the current team is too small to deliver the next stage of the project; all but two staff deliver this project alongside other work (italics added)’. This is an incredible statement for a project designed to, as the report notes, ‘add over 80,000 to the existing population – equivalent to the City of Bath’.

Against this background it is no wonder that Braintree District Council have pushed back a key meeting to 5th June from February.

But the report is not content to challenge delivery and timescales – it has an appendix saying that the concept needs a clear ‘strategic narrative’. A good challenge – which invites the local councils to come clean on whether they simply plan more dormitory suburbs or have a genuine strategic plan for a significant expansion of North Essex.

In short, it’s a good report – but it doesn’t give the support to the North Essex Garden Communities project that some commentators think it does.

Seasons Greetings

10 Dec

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I confess – I’m stumped. I can manage a picture (the Christmas Tree in Brussel’s Grande Place, where I’ve recently attended the LSE’s excellent Brexit conference) but after that…

So we leave the EU, and Donald Trump is president. I suppose to look on the bright side, the EU debate may turn out, for the UK at any rate, to be a storm in a teacup, of more interest to ‘the international liberal elite’ (? how does one join this elite? is there a discount for retirees??) than the rest of the country. And in the States, the mid-terms are only a couple of years away (assuming Russia isn’t running the country by then).

But my Cassandra instincts tell me otherwise. Ten years of ‘austerity’ plus exit from the EU look to me like a return to the 1970s – with Southern Rail obligingly providing the industrial action. As for the US – how can so many supposed ‘Christians’ think backing out  of an international climate accord is a good idea?

Perhaps the UK will ‘muddle through’. I can recall the great economist Nicky Kaldor saying in 1980 (as the UK economy fell off a cliff) that we shouldn’t underestimate the resilience of the people and the companies at the micro level that made the macro economy work. Well, that resilience is certainly needed now.

And the US? – well, as I say, I’m stumped. Or should that be Trumped?

 

 

Greenspan – hero or zero?

8 Nov
alan-greenspan

Mallaby on Greenspan

Good session last night at the LSE with Sebastian Mallaby talking about his book on Greenspan. You can see some pics on Twitter via #LSEGreenspan.

The discussion on whether interest rates/monetary policy should be used to deal with asset bubbles was interesting. Mallaby’s view was that the Fed could at least set interest rates, whereas trying to use regulation to deal with asset bubbles (and financial irregularities in general) was much more difficult – attempts to do so were bound to be mired in Washington politics and/or the ‘balkanisation’ of US regulation.

The position has echoes of Keynes ‘monetary policy a l’outrance’ – taking bold an decisive action to deal with a slump or boom. But Greenspan – ‘the man who knew’, as Mallaby explained, was not a man willing to act or confront. Knowing is only half, perhaps less than half, of what a central banker needs to succeed.

 

Business model innovation – Clayton Christensen article in MIT Sloan Review

7 Oct

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Good piece by Clayton Christensen and others on this – see http://bit.ly/2dReEdm. Includes  a useful business model descriptor and a life cycle of business models which reflects Michael Porter’s great chapter in Competitive Strategy on the transition to industry maturity.