Friday, 24 February 2017

Public knowledge of earnings

The Kinnocks are fair game for attacks (like the Daily Mail's) on their family earnings. There is no doubt they have done well out of public service. There is also little doubt in my mind that they deserve credit for what they have achieved, separately - Glenys Kinnock is far more than an appendage to her husband - and together. I would agree that their jobs were probably over-remunerated, though there is no sign of Nathan Gill or any of his anti-EU mates handing back any part of their MEP salaries. In the extended family, Helle Thorning-Schmidt in addition to being Denmark's first female prime minister can claim credit for bringing her country's economy back on track.

Maybe all have been fortunate in the well-paid billets they have slotted into since, but this is an age when a name is worth a lot, when the entire annual wage-bill of non-league Sutton United is less than the weekly pay of at least one celebrated Arsenal player. More worrying is the part that nepotism played in securing futures for the children.

So I am not going to rush to the defence of the Kinnocks' high standard of living. However, as one who also changed his mind about the EEC/EU over the years, I would object to the charge of hypocrisy on the part of Neil Kinnock over the EU. Circumstances change. The political and economic worlds are no longer what they were fifty years ago.

However, I do believe that those on the other side of the argument should be exposed in the same way. All the Kinnock remuneration is in the public domain, but we know nothing of the real wealth of such as Donald Trump or Nigel Farage. Does Trump own even more of the USA and the Middle East than he claims, or was he only rescued from bankruptcy by his election to the presidency? Farage's salary as MEP is known, but how much is Murdoch paying him for his less-than-onerous duties on Fox News? How much is left from the pay-offs from the City traders he used to work for?

By the way, do we know how much the non-dom Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, is worth?

Galton and Simpson

I have been mulling over the place of scriptwriting partnerships since the announcement of the death of Alan Simpson earlier this month. Well, actually I have been thinking about the subject since Galton & Simpson's virtual retirement from the field, but Alan Simpson's sad passing brought it to a head.

A hallmark of their quality was the fact that they were responsible for two great comedy series when so many struggle to produce one. Ted Kavanagh never repeated the success of ITMA, and A Life of Bliss was Godfrey Harrison's only claim to fame (though not famous enough IMO) while other hit shows of the 1950s like Educating Archie and Ray's a Laugh ran through a roster of writers. (To the people named here should be added Bernard Botting and Charles Hart.) A pair who almost made it were Monkhouse and Goodwin before there were irreconcilable differences in the partnership. Even the great Muir and Norden produced only two recognised hits, Take it from here (TIFH) and Whack-O! (In the days before armies of middle executives at the BBC, it was Frank Muir as head of comedy who gave Galton and Simpson their big break.)

It was too much to claim (as one contributor to Radio 4's Last Word did) that Galton and Simpson invented the British sitcom. All of the above (with the possible exception of Godfrey Harrison) were inspired by American originals relayed by AFN. What made Hancock's Half-Hour (HHH) distinctive from other BBC radio sitcoms was that it dispensed with the musical interlude (a hangover from music-hall, where many of the stars came from?) and the catch-phrase on which so many other comedy programmes, including the otherwise ground-breaking Goon Show, depended. The original HHH used gags almost as much as its predecessors, but like The Glums (the final segment of TIFH) steadily developed more character-driven humour. Still, the programme was led by a comedian. It was Hancock's decision to reassert himself as a star performer, which might have broken other script-writers, which gave Galton and Simpson the chance to take the final step for TV. Steptoe & Son was performed entirely by legitimate actors - as, come to think of it, was A Life of Bliss on radio.

Sadly, the trend is now back towards the formulaic American model, driven by ratings presumably, of a gag (set-up followed by punch-line) every twelve seconds at most. (See this analysis from The Atlantic Monthly.) Away from the mainstream, there are alternative comedy programmes which, to my eyes, are simply eccentric for eccentricity's sake. There is a need for broadcasters (and not just the BBC) to trust the judgment of a few experienced men, do away with the junior executives with their metrics and spreadsheets, and, when necessary, have patience.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Will there be state aid for Ford Bridgend?

Last year I floated the idea of Bridgend hosting the development of an electric power unit which Ford of all major motor manufacturers active in Europe lacked. Now it seems that UK state support may be offered to Peugeot-Citro├źn SA for such a development as part of an inducement to the French company to keep open the plants in England it is due to take over from General Motors. This would be on the same lines as those already on offer to such as Nissan.

Politicians and trade union leaders are urging the prime minister to make available whatever incentives she promised Nissan last autumn, when the Japanese manufacturer was persuaded to commit to making another new model at its Sunderland factory, despite concern about Britain leaving the European Union.

Whilst unpublished, those promises are believed to include regional support grants and technology and training funding that are within state-aid rules. Industry sources believe that Britain could create an electric car supply chain hub as Nissan has already led the way with production of the battery-powered Leaf and Jaguar Land Rover has committed to electrifying its fleet.

Outside the EU, UK would be free to offer state aid without so much as a slap on the wrist from Brussels. Both WTO and EFTA frown on discriminatory state aid, but neither seems to have the mechanism to punish states for this. However, these offers to manufacturers can hardly be endless. Would the Conservatives grant Ford equal treatment?

Roaming TV

There is a prospect of mobile telephone roaming charges being imposed on UK customers on the nation leaving the EU - though one suspects that they will be in the form of a thin end of a wedge at first. What has not been given publicity, as Mary Reid points out in Liberal Democrat Voice, is that UK could miss out on the removal of an Internet restriction which prevents viewers abroad accessing catch-up TV from their domestic channels.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Finally some good news on the deficit

No doubt Mrs May will arrange for a planted question in the Commons later today, and Brexiteers will proclaim it as the first fruits of the government decision to invoke Article 50, but the OBR gave us all a pleasant surprise with the January out-turn figures. It seems to me that the only way that Brexit could have influenced the figures is through increased exports as a result of the fall in the value of sterling since June. If so, the boost will be temporary. In any case, I hope the Chancellor does not give anything away in the spring budget now that things are finally going in the right direction.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A petition in support of fair votes

Scottish local authorities have it and the Welsh Government is considering giving the power to our councils to elect by proportional representation. Why should Westminster not join the rest of the civilized world and elect our national parliament likewise? There is a petition at

Monday, 20 February 2017

An epigram

“I like people, the Tories like themselves and the Labour Party like structures. Only the Liberal Democrats understand the interface between self, structures, society and individual responsibility."

Thank you, Ed Fordham.