Stay Safe (2)

The rolling Mandelification of Martin McGuiness, a man directly responsible for at least 200 murders, came to a juddering halt with the attack at Westminster on Wednesday by Khalid Masood. In my day it was bombs and bullets, now it's a kitchen knife and bad driving. There isn't much to cling to in the 'it could have been worse,' department when we have dead and wounded in double figures but actually, it could have been. The weather in London was pretty damp on Wednesday and the bridge could have been very much more crowded with tourists as is usually the case. That the terrorist attacked the most heavily armed part of London is also a bonus. I don't need to articulate the alternatives.

The attack came as a surprise to no one. Well, no one except the BBC who fail to understand that while the deaths are a tragedy for those concerned, in the minds of the perpetrators the BBC's blanket coverage completely justifies their actions. An absence of detached proportionality is unhelpful in the defence of the public and the sight and sound of multiple reporters maximising their air-time and seemingly vying for reporter-of-the-year award has been somewhat distasteful. I suppose that is what we get with the monster that is 24 hour news.

Then, the well-practised government machine rumbled into view and I was reassured to see the Acting Deputy Commissioner on the steps of New Scotland Yard telling us that there is no cause for alarm. In doing so he was echoing the words of the old head of the Anti Terrorist Squad, Commander Churchill-Coleman who always used to say, 'there is no cause for alarm,’ usually as he was standing in front of half a London postcode that had recently been removed from the map by a PIRA bomb. As is normal routine, this was followed by the Prime Minister giving us her ‘we will not allow our way of life to be changed by the terrorists.’ That is what Prime Ministers do. Then, the Mayor of London told us that Londoners will carry on as usual. Let me tell you son, Londoners don’t have a choice. 

Police Officer and fellow ex Gunner Keith Palmer; murdered.

Police Officer and fellow ex Gunner Keith Palmer; murdered.

The truth is, the people offering us the free advice to not be alarmed and not to worry will very much have their own lives changed with elevated personal security. Another truth is that there are some very bad people out there who, given the opportunity, will happily ruin your day with the maximum violence on the maximum number of people they can bring to bear. The threat manifests itself in many different ways. Earlier in the week the Met warned financial institutions that following  the delivery of two explosive packages to European financial institutions another intended for a British financial institution was intercepted. The mantra from the Met is ‘be alert, not alarmed.’ This brings us to the subject which I have covered many times before of ‘situational awareness.’ Here is a reminder with a piece I wrote in April last year after the Brussels airport incident,

It is an unfortunate fact that a terrorist attack in the UK is inevitable. While our security and intelligence services do good work in keeping us safe, as the Provisionals used say, 'we only have to be lucky once.' 

The attack may come in various shapes and forms from a random and impulsive ‘lone wolf’ attack to organised and coordinated attacks on multiple targets. Moreover, the threat is constantly evolving. We can expect constant improvisation and innovation from the terrorist in both method and design. Technical advances, miniaturisation and advances in chemical engineering among others will all eventually be reflected in the terrorists arsenal. 

While the probability of being caught up in any of these incidents is remote, advice for innocents caught up in incidents, and the ensuing melee’, is sparse. Jihadists present a fractured and complex threat across the European mainland, holiday destinations and within the UK. They are committed, in many cases well trained and as evidenced in the Brussels attack, they have a good bomb-maker. The tradecraft of the Brussels attackers though was sloppy and unrefined reflecting the fact that the terror threat doesn’t come in a neat, one profile package. Here then are my thoughts on different scenarios

COL. JEFF COOPER WAS A LEGEND IN THE US SHOOTING AND SELF-DEFENCE WORLD. IN ADDITION TO BEING INSTRUMENTAL IN REFININGAND POPULARISING MANY MODERN PISTOL AND SELF-DEFENCE TECHNIQUES HE BELIEVED, IMPORTANTLY, THAT THE MIND WAS THE BEST SURVIVAL TOOL.

COL. JEFF COOPER WAS A LEGEND IN THE US SHOOTING AND SELF-DEFENCE WORLD. IN ADDITION TO BEING INSTRUMENTAL IN REFININGAND POPULARISING MANY MODERN PISTOL AND SELF-DEFENCE TECHNIQUES HE BELIEVED, IMPORTANTLY, THAT THE MIND WAS THE BEST SURVIVAL TOOL.

Bang!

For individuals caught up in an incident the reason why will matter least. The instinct of survival should have primacy but that is often not the case. Most citizens take a ‘well, if it’s got my name on it…’ fatalistic approach to the prospect of a bad thing happening. They feel events are anyway beyond their control and there is little one person can do. Moreover, in the aftermath of an incident, especially one involving an IED, people are disorientated and shocked leaving many unable to grasp what has happened, far less grip their own vulnerability and seek a route to hiding or safety. This is true of trained individuals and ordinary folk. Bombs are violent, bloody and indiscriminate instruments of war. They create fear through destruction and after the short silence, mayhem ensues. There are however, steps that the ordinary decent public can take to mitigate some of the risk. In the first instance, much depends on luck. There isn’t much anyone can do if you are standing a few metres away from the seat of an explosion but let’s take things one step at a time and look at how we can employ our own situational awareness to increase our chance of survival before, during and after an incident.

Don’t Be A Victim

Taking the fatalistic approach to life may seem to fulfil what is expected of ourselves as Britons displaying a 'business as usual,' phlegmatic approach to life. Indeed, various governments play the same record after every incident, ’This will not change our way of life.’ Well, mine changed as soon as the Provisionals started bombing the Mainland back in the Seventies.. Having the right mindset is critical. Denial, ignorance and complacency are no defence against nail packed semtex packages. Acceptance of the threat is the first step in not becoming a victim. Don't live in a bubble.

Most people exercise situation awareness whether they recognise it as a valuable tool or not. Walking down a dark street at night for example will inevitably create a state of heightened sensory awareness of everything around. While we can’t replicate that same heightened state of awareness throughout the day, (it would simply be exhausting), there is a reasonable medium whereby you are alert to your surroundings. US law enforcement frequently use a system called Coopers colours to describe the five common levels of situational awareness. For ‘awareness,’ read ‘alertness.’

In condition White you are relaxed, tuned out and unaware of events around you. Unaware equals unprepared. The kind of constant vegetative state that many urban dwellers seek refuge in; hood up, plugged in to music, eyes down. People who are 100% dependent on luck for survival; people happy to become statistics, in an ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that this is happening to me,’ way.

In condition Yellow you are relaxed but aware of what is around you. You are paying attention to activities and sounds around you. You will be in a state where you will not be completely surprised and will be taking normal precautions. You may be running ‘what if,’ scenarios in your mind and have pre planned exits in mind. (This is a dynamic process. For example, when driving down a suburban residential street you probably already say to yourself, ‘the car in front may turn right,’ or 'that child ahead may run into the road,’ and be prepared to brake. That is typical of condition Yellow action). This is the minimum mindset everyone should adopt, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings, in crowds or when with people not known to you.

In condition Orange you are more focused and may have identified a potential threat. Someone following you, for example an unruly bunch of NEDS approaching or something more sinister. If a bad thing happens in condition Orange you should be expecting it and not be surprised. You will have a definite plan of action and escape routes in mind. The driving analogy here might be driving in icy or foggy conditions when you are totally focused and ignore any distractions outside keeping the car safely on the road.

In condition Red the threat identified in Orange becomes real and triggers action, be it flight, fight or hide.

There are some points to note about these different levels of situational awareness. The first is that people cannot operate in a heightened state of alertness for prolonged periods. It is tiring and induces stress which is unhealthy. People should simply practice being in a constant state of relaxed awareness and be prepared to elevate that alertness for brief periods as required. Adopting a minimum level of awareness will anyway, lead to the avoidance of many situations that could otherwise escalate. This process is simply introducing some rigour into what will come naturally to most people anyway but usually in situations they are already familiar with such as driving, watching young toddlers play, using an ATM and even Christmas shopping. You can practice your situational awareness skills easily and at will. Examples include checking exits whenever you walk into buildings, always leaving a gap between you and the car in front when in waiting traffic, watching vehicles in your rear view mirror to see if any are taking the same turns and start people watching. Look at people and work out where they might be from, their education, distinguishing marks, what kind of mood they are in, what their life story is. Observation can be practiced and honed until it becomes intuitive. The British excel at this game. Note our obsession with shoes from which we can derive a massive amount of instinctive background information. This process of seeing, and interpreting, rather than just looking soon embeds itself into the subconscious and becomes part of one’s natural state.

Understand Your Environment

Clearly, you are more vulnerable to attack either individually or as part of a crowd in some environments than in others. Travel to many countries necessitates a heightened state of awareness as indeed a visit to a major attraction in London does when compared to a visit to a village flower show. On a micro level however alertness can often prevent a bad thing happening or increase the observer’s probability of survival if it does. Criminals and terrorists have a significant advantage because they have surprise. That advantage is magnified if the victims freeze rather than react. The bad people though will often plan and reconnoiter their attack. Suspicious activity makes the terrorist vulnerable and they are not very good at camouflaging their behaviour when either marking potential targets or in the run up to an attack. They will be edgy and their adrenaline will be pumping. This is why some take drugs before an attack to dampen the natural response of their bodies to stress. Many adopt an intense stare before an attack. Wearing unseasonal clothing, suspicious bulges under the clothes, unnatural perspiration, avoiding eye contact, mumbling and fidgeting, using hand signals with other perhaps unsighted individuals are all give away signs. A citizen identifying out of character suspicious behaviour will tend not to want to make a fuss. Make a fuss. Better to suffer the embarrassment of a false alarm than to be a quadriplegic for life

As a young soldier I recall attending a lecture and demonstration of let’s call them ‘sneaky IED’s.’ These would be devices hidden in lamp posts, telephone boxes, gate posts, window boxes and so on. I asked the instructor, who had entertained us with some very impressive bangs, how we might know if one lamp post out of the hundreds we walked past on patrol in Belfast every day might have an IED inside it. He said, ‘the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up.’ What did he mean? Every day, in going about your normal business, your mind processes everything it sees and hears. It might be in the home, the journey to work, in the workplace or place of leisure, your brain is expecting every detail and matches it to what has gone before. It isn’t something that you consciously think about but sometimes, there might be something out of place. A person, an object or things happening in the wrong sequence and while it may not trigger a conscious thought or response you get, ‘a feeling.’ That ‘something isn’t quite right,’ feeling is the ‘hairs on the back of your neck rising.’ Don’t ever, ever ignore it. It may be something unthreatening, something completely trivial and innocent but something has changed and your mind is warning you that something is different.

Depending on the study, brain scientists tell us that our conscious mind processes 40-126 chunks of information per second. Our unconscious mind, on the other hand, is processing upwards of 12 million chunks of information per second. If you’re consciously trying to continually evaluate your environment for threats in addition to actually engaging in conversation with other people, the conscious mind just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do both well and it puts a considerable amount of stress on the mind.

But, if you give the mind the tools it needs to unconsciously identify and rank dangers and threats it can work in the background while your conscious mind is fully engaged with people around you.

AN INFORMATION FILM, MADE BY THE POLICE, WHICH IS FULL OF GOOD ADVICE AND EXPOUSES THE BRITISH APPROACH OF 'RUN, HIDE, TELL.'

Action!

If a bad thing happens and you are caught up in a terrorist attack the first and obvious thing to do is dart to the nearest cover and quickly ascertain where the threat lies. You must determine where the terrorist or terrorists are less you run blindly into the danger, or killing zone. Gunfire in built up areas for example is notorious for being difficult to pinpoint because of the echoing around buildings. 

Shooter

If the attack is a live shooter or shooters do not panic or give up. You have a good chance of escape to safety if you keep your head. Knowledge dispels fear. Here is the knowledge. 

In most cases active shooters are not well trained and as explained earlier, will be 'pumped up,' with adrenaline flowing and very possibly, under some kind of intoxication. Most casualties are shot at close range. Our aim is obviously to increase that range. Using the acronym MDACC which represents, Motion, Distance, Angle, Cover & Concealment we have all we need to exponentially increase our survival rate. Forget everything you have seen in movies. It is very difficult to hit a moving target, even for trained soldiers and law enforcement professionals. The average target presented to soldiers in Northern Ireland was a moving target with a 3 second exposure. Very few such targets were hit. 

Most tactical shootings happen at distances of less than seven meters. Few people can consistently hit a stationary target beyond 25 meters with a handgun, much less a moving target. Most people can put 25 meters between themselves and an attacker in just a few seconds, so motion and distance improve a target's chances of escape. Think and move. If in doubt, seek sanctuary, secure it and protect yourself as best you are able. Then, prepare to fight.

CONVERSATION ON ACTIVE SHOOTER SCENARIO FROM STRATFOR.

The angle at which a target runs away is also important because shooting a target that is moving straight away is easier than shooting a target running away at an angle, since the second scenario would require the shooter to swing the barrel of the weapon and lead the target, a difficult task even for an experienced marksman. Both require practice, even with a rifle or shotgun. If the target can run at an angle behind objects like trees, cars, office furniture or walls that obstruct the shooter's view of the target (concealment) or stop bullets (cover), that is even more effective. Think and run.

It is important to distinguish between concealment and cover. Items that provide concealment, such as a bush or tree leaves, can hide a target from the shooter's line of vision but will not protect them from bullets the way a substantial tree trunk will. Likewise, in an office setting, a typical drywall-construction interior wall can provide concealment but not cover, meaning a shooter will still be able to fire through the walls and door. Similarly, a car door or the boot doesn't afford the same protection as does the bonnet with the engine block inside. Still, if the shooter cannot see his or her target, they will be firing blindly rather than aiming their weapon, reducing the probability of hitting a target.

In any case, those hiding inside a room should attempt to find some sort of additional cover, such as a filing cabinet or heavy desk. It is always better to find cover than concealment, but even partial cover,  something that will only deflect or fragment the projectiles, is preferable to no cover at all.

Bomb

Let's not mince our words here; bombs are a bastard. When a device is detonated all hell breaks loose. If you are in line of sight of the device then you are at risk from the shockwave, fragments and debris. Distance is the best defence. The blast from even a small device will be magnified inside a building. There will be a shockwave which will damage everything in its path, (including your internal organs), fire, heat, noise and steel and glass fragments travelling at high velocity. If you are some distance from the explosion and are not medically trained leave the area immediately helping the infirm or children as you are able. Do not loiter to take photographs, make telephone calls or seek comfort from strangers. Avoid obvious meeting points such as squares and precincts and avoid crowds. There may be secondary devices planted at such locations. 

If you are closer to the blast, and survive, switch on. It is easier said than done given you may suddenly be deaf and shaken beyond any previous experience. Live shooters may be on the loose. Seek cover if you are able and remember, you are at risk from falling shards of glass from buildings for a long time after the explosion. 

AMERICAN PUBLIC INFORMATION FILM ON RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. THERE ARE MANY SUCH VIDEO'S AVAILABLE, MOSTLY FROM THE US. HERE IS ANOTHER, THIS TIME FROM LA WHERE I GUESS THEY HAVE HAD PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE IN THIS FIELD.

Wounded

If you are wounded it's not game over. The body will not give up and cease functioning but the mind is likely to. Escape out of the line of fire is doable if you want it to be. As with every survival situation, the will to survive is everything. Most people do freeze and go into shock which allows the shooter the opportunity to let loose with a close range killer shot. When shot apply an improvised pressure bandage using anything to hand to both the entry and exit wound if there is one which won't always be in line with the entry wound. If you are shot and get to a hospital alive you will probably live, such is the excellence of trauma care these days.

Fight

Advice from British law enforcement backs off from fighting the terrorist. Not so in America, as we might expect, where they promulgate the Run, Hide, Fight approach. I favour this. Be under no illusion, if you are cornered and your life is in danger, as a last resort only sudden maximum violence on or at your attacker using any improvised weapons to hand will keep you alive. 

RUN and escape, if possible.

  • If safe to do so, use an accessible path.
  • Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Keep your hands visible.

HIDE, if escape is not possible.

  • If you are in an office, stay there and lock or barricade the door.
  • If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door.
  • Close, cover, and move away from windows.
  • Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
  • Remain quiet with all sources of noise silenced.

FIGHT as an absolute last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger. DO NOT seek out the shooter. 

  • Attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.
  • Act as aggressively as possible against him/her.
  • Be prepared to cause severe or lethal injury to the shooter.
  • Throw items and improvise weapons.
  • Yell.
  • Commit to your actions.

Law Enforcement

Don't expect too much from law enforcement officers arriving on the scene. If caught up in the initial incident they themselves will have adrenaline pumping and may also be shocked. Be wary of first response directions issued under pressure by disorientated officers which may also send you into harms way. When armed officers arrive do exactly what they say. Make no sudden movements and do not approach them in haste or you might get an unwelcome response. They will be extremely keyed up. Mistakes can happen. Avoid shouting, gesturing and pointing and keep your hands where they can be seen. You may be roughly treated by first responding officers. Their priority is to neutralise the threat. They may push you down for your own safety or may treat you as a suspect until otherwise proven. Suck it up and do as you are told. Also, paramedics and doctors arriving will seek out the badly injured first. If they don't come to you think of it as good news. Wait your turn if wounded and rely on self help. They will get to you. After reaching a place of safety identify yourself to the police as a witness. If waiting try to recall the sequence of events and take notes in as much detail as you can remember where possible.

Urban Zombies

There is a modern trend which seems to be almost hard coded in the mind of the urban dweller to reach for a smart phone and either start recording any incident that takes place in his or her vicinity or to telephone a loved one. As an immediate action following an incident both are stupid and both are selfish. 

Taking photographs or footage of injured people, rather than helping them, is callous. It is also dangerous. Current popular tradecraft among Jihadists points to them detonating an IED then switching to a 'live shooter,' attack to kill the confused and disorientated civilians around them, or, they open fire then detonate. Indeed, shots were heard before the Brussels airport devices detonated and what was left of an AK 47 later recovered. 

Survival for those in the midst of the mayhem is absolutely dependant on their will to survive and their ability to quickly gather their wits to a heightened state of situational awareness and take action. Taking pictures or telling your Mum you're OK is all a bit pointless if you are about to take a couple of 7.62mm rounds to the chest. 

For the injured and dying words fail me of how they must feel when fellow travellers start snapping away. If I end up lying on the pavement in Piccadilly with my legs in bits all over Regent Street I'll be more than a little animated if I found myself full frame on someone's iPhone 6s. Perhaps we need a Good Samaritan or Duty to Act law which enshrine a duty of action and legal protection in doing so in law. Unfortunately, in these extreme situations such Act's would not be reasonable given many of the people reaching for their iPhones are doing so while in a state of shock and are themselves reaching out for comfort and security by the only means known to them. iPhones don't stop bullets though. 

Simple actions that could immediately be taken by the Home Office would be to prevent individuals generating money from opportunistic photographs and to heavily fine news agencies that solicit, (often while events are in progress) and pay for such pictures and footage. Perhaps too it is time for the return of the Public Information Film instructing citizens of 'actions to take in the event of a terrorist incident.' The Government does a good job in calming a sense of elevated fear and keeping 'business as usual,' but the hard fact is that it is only a matter of time before the terrorist strikes again on home soil.

Most of all, those Urban Zombies who wander around town with white ears buds stuck in their ears oblivious to all around them and reach for their smart phone when a bad thing happens are likely to discover that its a fast track route to being a dead Urban Zombie.

Summary

No one except the terrorist wants us to swap a normal way of life for paranoia and fear. That however, does not preclude accepting and understanding that risk exists and some simple steps to elevate our personal situational awareness can help mitigate that risk. Adopting the right mindset which is appropriate to your environment and being ready and able to elevate your preparedness and then react vigorously if a situation develops will all contribute to enhanced survivability. Finally, bloody minded determination and aggression will see you through the darkness should you be embroiled in an incident. Do not ever, give up. That's the point when the bastards have won. 

Finally, if it is all too dramatic for you and you had rather not bother my departing advice is move to Glasgow. They've got it taped up there (starts 1:13).
 

Opportunity!

An old colleague and friend of mine has two tickets in a corporate box for England v Ireland on Saturday in Dublin. He paid £350 each but didn't realise when he bought them many months ago that it was going to be on the same day as his wedding.

 

If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in taking his place please get in touch.

 

It's at the Registry Office in Winchester at 4:30pm. The brides name is Nicola; she's 5'7'', about 9 stone (57kg), is very easy on the eye, has her own income and is a rather good cook.

 

Sturgeon Loses The Plot

Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain. The vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.’ Nicola Sturgeon - Scotland's First Minister; June 24, 2016

So spoke the Scottish First Minister the day after the referendum last June. Anyone puzzled as to why she yesterday announced her party’s intention to pursue IndyRef 2 should be under no illusion about what the Nats are about. They are hard coded to pursue independence at any moment of opportunity and to do so all the time. Logic, good sense and good governance come way behind their short, medium and long term pursuit of that single aim. In this context, soft or hard Brexit are simply an irrelevance. If it wasn’t this torch they would find something else. The ‘once in a generation,’ mantra during the last referendum was insincere. It was simply a tool to push undecided’s over the line.

Without question, many Scots are firmly in the independence camp and probably always will be. For some it is a rational conclusion that they have come to having weighed up their optionality. For many, it remains an emotional response in tune with how they see their position in relation to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. Unfortunately few, especially those leading the SNP, can present an economically coherent case for independence which would underpin the political case. The SNP’s manifesto for independence in 2014 estimated oil revenues at £7.9bn. Following the fall in the oil price that number is some 90% or more lower. An independent Scotland simply could not absorb such a financial shock. The Scottish governments own figures show that they spend £127 for every £100 raised in tax, a ratio that is difficult to find anywhere else in the developed world. For every £100 pounds spent per person in England, £120 is spent in Scotland. The SNP will attempt to talk through, over or round the fact that Scotland’s deficit at 9.5% of GDP is the worst in the developed world. That number alone would keep the door to Europe firmly slammed shut even if resistance from some European countries such as Spain did not already exist. Had Scotland gained independence the country would now be staring down the barrel of slashing and burning state spending by 15% or raising taxes by 19% or a combination of the two. The quantum of those rises would be to raise the basic rate from 20% to 39% or VAT to 40%. Alternatively, an 82% cut in health spending would get them there. It is difficult to think of any country that has embarked on such a vicious austerity programme in peacetime. Regardless of oil revenues being high or low, it is a fact that Scotland has run a deficit every single year since devolution in 1999 and the deficit has deteriorated over recent years, and is now running even higher than during the aftermath of the 2008 Crash. Even in 2011-12, when the North Sea oil price peaked at $125 per barrel, Scotland's deficit was 5.7% of GDP.

So why go now? Bearing in mind that to Nat’s any opportunity is a good opportunity, the SNP are not actually in the commanding position they enjoyed three years ago. They have been in government now for 9 years and it is slowly dawning on Scottish voters that the SNP is not perhaps as capable at running a country as they are election campaigns. Despite the constant lecturing and grievance chasing it is apparent that while there is an open debate and willingness to explore new ways to improve public services efficiently in England, and which are meeting with some success especially in education for poorer children, few such improvements are evident in Scotland. Partly because the SNP are wary of upsetting some of their core constituencies, such as teachers, their solutions always veer toward more centralisation, more money, more government. The Scottish electorate are alert to this and the popularity of Sturgeon is consequently on the wane with the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, somewhat implausibly ahead of Sturgeon in the approval ratings.

Sturgeon’s move is simply irresponsible. She is putting her party’s historic political aims above the best interests of Scotland. The timing is theatrical. To demand a referendum as Brexit is being finalised will create an unnecessary distraction both to the UK and to Europe. I can guarantee the last thing the EU will want or need, if it still exists then in its current form which I very much doubt, is a small country with a banana republic sized deficit clinging to its coattails. The UK government will though acquiesce and offer a referendum but probably after Bexit, that is, after 2019. The SNP will stamp their feet and have sequential hissy fits about not being taken seriously or ‘insults to Scotland,’ but the only people who will take them seriously will be themselves. A growing number of Scots are fed up with their holier-than-thou ranting and simply want things done that matter to them and done properly. The English meanwhile are less and less animated about independence and that is more evident the further north in England you travel. As the English demographic has changed so have traditional ties to Unionism. Millennials for example, for the most part, see self-determination as an entirely fair and reasonable aspiration; ‘if you want it, have it.’ It would suit the SNP to have a much more robust response from the English but I think they will be disappointed. In fact, the quieter and more mature arguments that are presented the more likely they are to enrage them all the more which is kind of satisfying.

So, what should Sturgeon have done?

Seen through an SNP lens, I see Brexit quite simply as a lost opportunity to quietly build a firm economic platform for succession on a ten year timeline. Instead, all Mrs Sturgeon has succeeded in doing with her ill thought out announcement is to put a cap on Scottish property prices, to disincentivise long term inward investment and put a question mark over firms and central government looking at expansion in Scotland. In her stilettos, I would have done the following,

  • Seen Mrs May and offered quiet cooperation in return for,
    •  No change to the Barnett formula
    •  More shipbuilding orders
    • No further defence reductions in Scotland
    •  Inward investment incentives from Westminster for areas of special need
    •  HMG help and assistance overseas in capturing inward investment
    • (insert other items from economic shopping list as desired)
  •  Stepped down from the soapbox marked ‘grievance,’ and focused on internal matters pertinent to Scots; employment, housing, education, NHS Scotland etc. Adopt a stance of industrious humility and work tirelessly to organically improve the Scottish economy
  • · Stop obsessing about the single market (which, after all, was a creation of Mrs Thatcher through her former trade Secretary Frank Cockfield!). Scotland is in a single market. It is called the UK. Stop being emotional and start being pragmatic. Is it really sensible to leave the UK and then have your economic relationship with your biggest trading partner, (64%) negotiated by Brussels
  • Immediately sterling was devalued thrown open the doors to the country to visitors from across the world and aggressively pursued the tourist dollar / Euro / Yen. Pursue them with a generous international marketing budget and do so on a three year view
  • Dial back the incredibly short sighted pious remarks made about the US President and make friends. Usually, US Presidents go straight to Ireland and effect a sort of Plastic Paddy persona, playing to the gallery on their own East Coast and Chicago. A US President with a Scottish mother, who actually likes Scotland a lot, doesn’t come along very often. A successful visit to Scotland by Trump could unleash a tsunami of tourists from the Southern States and at least a reasonable shot at business investment.
  • Raid every educational establishment in the UK and US, business and the media for the best Scots, (or other), minds available and begin to establish the intellectual and economic case for inward investment and beyond that, independence. It simply does not exist at the moment.
  • Monitor Brexit and quietly learn from negotiating mistakes and inevitable errors of judgement.
  • Be humble and learn from success stories such as education in East London instead of dismissing everything south of the border as irrelevant.

In summary, Mrs Sturgeon and the SNP should cease and desist generally from the hectoring Calvanistic tone adopted in every interview or speech. Scots may be proud and they may be romantic but most are also gritty realists who can see through the flannel, (the SNP’s own independence newspaper’s circulation is down 30% in 12 months). They can also see that the SNP are not making any friends. Friends that economically at least, Scotland very badly needs. The big danger for Scotland is that the rest of the UK simply gets worn down by the SNP’s incessant moaning and just gives in. That would be tragic for Scotland and tragic for the UK. Having a next door neighbour throwing itself into economic Armageddon would not be good for any of us. Referendums are unpredictable but I’ll be hoping for 3/3 and will be relying on old fashioned Scots common sense when I place my bet today. Growth in Scotland has been put on ice with a breathtaking display of selfishness and arrogance which potentially sets Scotland on a road with a destination signposted ‘Catastrophe.’  It need not be so.

Slight Flaw in the Budget

Phillip Hammond delivered a reassuringly dull budget this week. The furore over the self-employed will pass or be diluted. Just what investors like to see. In fact, Hammond holds many of the traits fund managers like to see in CEO’s; ‘reassuringly dull,’ covers it nicely. Mr Hammond said that according to the OBR borrowing will be less than predicted that borrowing will be £51.7bn in 16-17, down from the predicted £68.2bn. The Chancellor has promised in fact to drop the deficit below 2% by 2021 and eliminate it completely shortly thereafter.

That would take nothing short of a miracle.

Britain’s national income has exceeded expenses expressed as a percentage of GDP for just two brief moments in the last 30 years. The first followed the stock market’s mid-80’s surge and the second was in the final stages of the Tech boom in the late 90’s. The market peaked shortly thereafter turning the surplus into a big deficit. The financial condition of the UK has been deteriorating for decades now. A 1.5% budget surplus in 2000 reversed before it reached its ’87 peak of 2% in 1988. The budget gap wasn’t closed at all in 2007 prior to the financial crisis despite booming stock and property markets. The subsequent 2008-9 deficit beat all previous records. In terms of debt to GDP, UK debt in 2010 was the third highest in the world being beaten only by Greece and Italy.

This is probably as good as it gets. The living-in-fairyland inhabitants of Westminster moan without pause about austerity. They are in for a shock. Mr Hammond’s positive read on government finances is not a ramp for take-off; it is a warning that the edge is near.

Into Each Life, Some Rain Must Fall

Yesterday was an interesting day but actually, the fun actually started the evening before on the train to Waterloo.

Whilst on my way to a dinner in aid of the fantastic Children's Trust I received a call from the Coastguard saying the US Coastguard had received a distress signal from the Golden Arc Expedition. That was interesting because the expedition finished 8 weeks ago and one of the boys is now in Barcelona and the other is in New Zealand. After a flurry of calls to locations east and south we established that the signal must have come from the VHF radio which was stolen in Puerto Rico back in November. Whilst no one would wish ill on anyone at sea there is a certain karma there. Mrs Flashbang relaxed and we went to dinner.

During dinner I discovered that my imaginative and audacious plan for Mrs Flashbang's birthday present the next day had one minor flaw. I didn't have the winning raffle ticket. I wondered if I would still have a wife the next morning.

The next morning I was relieved to find I still had a wife and lucky me, a flat tyre. It was raining very hard. I called recovery and a jolly man appeared an hour later. It was still raining. The jolly man stopped being the life and soul when he split the locking nut when trying to remove it, 'it's very common on Land Rovers sir.' I've been driving them for 30 years but you learn something new every day. With the wheel stuck he called the recovery truck and I wait for two hours. It was raining just a bit harder when they came and took my car away to the garage for repair. I was left to ponder just what the cost of 'well, its a very tricky and niggly job sir,' will be.

I had a quick lunch with a friend and we laughed about it all.

I stopped laughing when I returned home. I could hear the dogs were distressed. That would be because of the water pouring out of the front door. There was a lot of water. Burst pipes will do that. Four hours later, I finished the initial clean up and waited for the plumber. Happy Birthday plans were amended somewhat.

Still we said, 'no one got hurt.'

Just then daughter called. Daughter has always wanted to fly in a helicopter. She had just ticked that box being medevaced off a Swiss mountain with a suspected broken arm. 

Poured an agricultural sized gin and Mrs Flashbang said, 'What else could possibly go wrong?' 'Well,' I thought to myself quietly, 'it is only quarter past eight.' 

Army; Is the Door Open Or Is It Shut?

Kevan Jones, the Shadow Minister of Defence, recently asked in a written question what the shortfall was in Infantry establishment numbers. The answers are a cause for concern.

Regular Infantry establishment and shortfall numbers (MOD)

The very first thing which leaps off the page is the total number. As of the 1st December 2016 the British Army had a total Infantry strength of 19,420 against an establishment of 20,164. Of the serving total, some 4,380 were serving outside their parent regiments in training establishments, Special Forces and the like leaving an available Infantry pool of 14,860. That is a risible number for a country of our size and commitments. Life in the infantry is very physical and injury is common. It would not be unreasonable, (although no figures are quoted), to suppose that at any time between 5 and 10% of the nominal roll is unable to fight because of short or long term medical issues. If we take the lower end of that we have a fighting strength of 14,117. I do not doubt for a second that those 14,117 men are any the less soldiers than any of their forbears but the number is simply not big enough to prosecute anything but the most modest localised conflict.

Army Reserve establishment and shortfall numbers, (MOD)

Then we have the Reserves. Of a Reserve Infantry establishment of 6,048 the actual strength is 6,240 of which 1,420 were serving outside their parent units on 1st December 2016 leaving 4,820 available for Regimental duty. That apparent surplus is encouraging. It would be interesting to know though how many of the 1,420 serving outside their parent units are actually serving with regular battalions and does that in itself improve, at least optically, the poor regular Infantry numbers? Also, I can't reconcile the numbers in the written answer with those provided in the table above which was published with the answer and which reflect, apart from the Parachute Regiment, a recruitment and retention shortfall of great concern. For example, the London Regiment is shown as being 38.6% below establishment, the Yorkshire Regiment 30% and the Royal Regiment of Scotland 24%. The huge shortfall in Junior Non Commissioned Officers must be a particular worry. 

Ever since the unseemly rush to reap a so called peace dividend with Options for Change in 1990 all three Armed Services have been the larder that successive governments have raided to pay for other vanity projects. The Reserves have been lauded as a plausible adjunct to total strength to be called upon when needed allowing regular infantry numbers to be hosed. It seems to me that is not quite how life is working out, either for the regular or the reserve infantry.

Why is that? Why are young men seemingly increasingly reluctant to join the regular or reserve infantry and what can be done about it?

 

From a 1970"s recruitment poster. By coincidence, the Corporal standing beside the target was my training Corporal in basic training at Glencorse. He was Royal Scots, hell of a sniper too.

From a 1970"s recruitment poster. By coincidence, the Corporal standing beside the target was my training Corporal in basic training at Glencorse. He was Royal Scots, hell of a sniper too.

The reasons are many and varied but a good starting point is to accept that it has never been easy to maintain the Infantry at full strength, especially during times of relative economic health. Even during the 1970's, (although infantry battalions were significantly larger than they are now), it wasn't unusual for a battalion doing an operational tour to be supplanted with men from another battalion to bring them up to full strength. Moreover, the Army is in a constant state of renewal needing a steady intake of new recruits throughout the year, every year. On average, it is a young man's game. Without recruits from the Commonwealth the numbers would be even worse. They matter more than they did then however because the overall numbers are so low. A recruiting shortfall seemed serious back in the days of a 165,000 strong Army. It's a bit more of a wide awake moment when the Army is less than half that size.

It is also common to lose experienced young Officers and NCO's after a prolonged conflict. Many feel they have 'done the script,' and when it looks like years of training and routine lie ahead rather than adrenaline-pumping action they leave. That sentiment spills out into recruitment. While it sounds perverse, it is easier to recruit in times of strife than in peacetime. While the Army probably needs a prolonged period to gather itself after years of active service and to execute the latest reorganisation it doesn't help recruitment. 

Somewhat at odds with this is a reluctance among the soldiery to be posted far from home when in the UK. Being close to Mum and girlfriends at home is considered a good thing which is probably why when I look at the Arms Plot the Army has made efforts to keep regiments as close as is practical to their home recruiting areas. More important from an infantry perspective is that many recruits are sons of soldiers and while some fathers are proud to see their sons join their old regiments many advise them to go in the opposite direction with the echo of words from their own fathers and grandfathers ringing loud, 'get a trade son.'

The amalgamations of the 1990's and 2000's which turned much of the infantry into multi battalion super regiments have not helped. Generally, regiments which retained their identity and culture such as the Parachute Regiment and the Guards have fared better than others like the Royal Regiment of Scotland who are some 12.6% light on establishment numbers. The creation of the RRS was not especially well managed when compared to others like the Rifles but the RRS faces other headwinds with constant reruns of IndyRef on the front page not helping either officer or soldier recruitment.

Engaging Capita to manage military recruitment was a grievous error which no one seems to want to admit or correct. I have met many young men and women in recent years who have been driven to exasperation trying to navigate their way through the recruitment process. Required standards of entry, specifically medical, have also been too onerous. If a potential recruit had a bad cough at the age of six its enough for Capita to bin the application. A risk averse recruitment policy will get you exactly what it sets out to do but it ignores the fact that our infantry have always been imperfect. Many have come from broken homes, have endured various kinds of deprivation in growing up either social, educational or parental but have transformed themselves and their life chances after time in uniform. Capita have quotas. They don't have imagination. They are also inefficient. The MOD signed a contract with them in 2013 partly to 'mitigate the risks of ICT.' The new computer system is still nowhere in sight. 

Another drag on recruitment may be the perception that Her Majesty's Government in general, and the MOD in particular, are not quite as loyal to the Armed Services as one might like to believe. The recent scandalous hounding of former servicemen for made up crimes in Iraq, done without a squeak of protest from Main Building, is a disgrace. So too is the interviewing of former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland which includes Chelsea Pensioners, one of whom was questioned in relation to a 45 year old incident when he returned fire on a terrorist. What makes this much worse is the long roll of terrorists who were given a free pass by Tony Blair. Military housing and education for dependents also require attention as do other areas of concern such as mental health support.

Finally, David Cameron's feckless political decision to allow women to enlist in the infantry is unhelpful in maintaining the tight bond which is built and nutured in infantry sub units. Without engaging in operational arguments I simply contend that it produces another headwind to core Infantry recruitment and retention.

So, what is to be done?

I have a simple plan, the implementation of which should be immediate and which will lead to recruiter postbags overflowing with applicants forthwith.

It's good to talk

Get every Infantry CO and RSM in a room and ask them what they think the problem is. Then, have a big dinner and give them half a cellar of wine and find out what the problem really is. Spend two days in sub groups coming up with plans specific to their regimental recruiting needs. Subject to that,

Ask the Rank & File

Get out and nail down a large sample of recent leavers. Ask them why and ask them 'what would it take for you to come back.' Do the same with a large sample of recent applicants who didn't ultimately enlist and ask them the same. Then, issue an essay competition with a reasonable cash prize and invite officers and men to present their own solutions. There are a lot of creative and active minds in the Army. Unlike the Americans however, new thinking is rarely encouraged or listened to. Rather, based on often erroneous assumptions, decisions are made and then magically become 'the way,' and are adhered to without measurement or review. Afghanistan was a rather shining example of that but lets not go there.

Sack Capita and end the obsession with digital recruiting. It isn't working.

Looking from the outside in it has never been more difficult to enlist, at any level. The roadblocks and timelines presented to potential recruits deter all but the most enthusiastic. That may be the plan but it is not a very clever plan. There are no end of vacant high street properties on which very short leases could be taken for the establishment of temporary 'pop-up,' recruitment offices. They should open in the evenings and weekends with effort focused on those regimental recruiting areas where there is a shortfall. Get back to basics. Social media is a tool to be used where appropriate, not a means to an end.

Create an 8 Week Outward Bound 2nd Chance course for teenage offenders.

Take over an old camp like Cultybraggan in Perthshire and recruit 'lite' offenders who both want and would benefit from a second chance. If they can prove themselves through the medium of civilianised adventure training that they have the potential to become self motivated individuals with a sense of self worth and pride then they win the opportunity to apply for military service and other government and local government agencies including the police, fire brigade and ambulance service with a line through their conviction.

Education

The Royal Navy has taken a proactive and creative approach to filling some of the critical skills gaps which it faces. The Army should too but the best actions need to be taken at a political level. Resurrect the plan I presented to the then Minister, Bob Ainsworth, seven years ago which I described here. That is, to offer any serviceman serving a minimum of five years fully paid tertiary education on resettlement, from an MBA, degree to apprenticeships. US Armed Forces benefit from this in something called the Montgomery Amendment to the GI Bill. Give soldiers a reason to enlist and stay for longer than three years. 

Pay & Conditions

Give all servicemen an immediate 10% pay rise. OK, even with reduced manning numbers I guess no government will do it, such would be the noise generated by every other public lobby group, (although it didn't stop Mrs T). The government could think smarter though. Long term government borrowing rates have never been cheaper. The government should issue government backed bonds to raise a fund and use it to offer 30 year fixed low rate mortgages to servicemen with low deposit and credit requirements. To administer it the MOD have a choice. HMG could buy what remains of the Co-Op Bank, (no one else wants it); go ahead with the planned divestiture of Williams & Glyns from RBS, (which was recently put on hold) and use W&G as a Services bank, (HMG still owns 70% of RBS) or sub contract it out. Once the platform is proven they could extend the offering to NHS staff, Emergency Services and so on. Our Armed Forces have a tradition of breaking the cycle of limited life aspirations for men and women who have not enjoyed great life chances in childhood. Time for politicians to convert words into action.

Postings

A cycle of UK training in geographically limited training areas with occasional spells training in Canada and the odd tour every 20 years to the Falklands and Belize interspersed with the odd tour somewhere dusty to train tribesmen has a somewhat limited appeal after the first three years. Time for the Chiefs of Staff to get on the phone to their US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand counterparts and ramp up Long Look, (if they still call it that), the exchange programme with other armies. Get the numbers up and spread it through the ranks, send whole platoons or companies to Fort Bragg for six months. Why not? Soldiers need challenge and they need variety.

Structure

Time for a root and branch review of the super regiment structure which can start with the CO's and RSM's conference above. What and where are the good, the bad and the ugly. Can it be more successful with tweaks, does it need a major overhaul or should  we dial back the clock? The Army has been in a constant state of reorganisation for 26 years which has mostly been a challenging game of how to do more with less while retaining the look and feel of a serious and credible permanent member of the Security Council. More dramatic change could be detrimental in the short term but it is more important that the platform is robust to serve with a long duration view.

Raise a new Regiment / Battalion

The infantry has been in organised numerical decline since 1991. Enough. No one wants to join an organisation that is contracting with all the implied career implications that entails. A boost with the raising of an additional battalion would lift the Infantry and indeed the whole Army. In any event, we badly need a lift to the infantry establishment. Only a fool or a general quietly hoping for a knighthood would agree that we have sufficient fighting strength. The options here are varied and open, ranging from taking the Argylls back to battalion strength from their current company sized ceremonial role, to bringing back a regiment from suspended animation to adding a battalion to one of the better recruited super regiments or perhaps a second guards battalion to the Grenadiers or Coldstream. Obviously, another Gurkha battalion could be raised in a heartbeat.

More imaginative thinkers may wish to consider that with 15% of British citizens having been born abroad the Army no longer reflects the national demographic. The discussion about creating a Sikh regiment pops up now and again, (it's always the Sikhs), and perhaps one day a company or battalion may be formed. More striking is the absence of recruits with names ending in -'ski' of Eastern European origin. A composite battalion might be the answer but there is definitely a job waiting for a charismatic and thoughtful leader. Such a leap forward into the past could only be done if mandated by the government but why not?

In summary, the numbers in the tables above tell the story. The Army has halved in size yet shortfalls currently exist across the Infantry. Not only does that reduce our fighting capability but it also reduces the available pool from which to select candidates for promotion or for Special Forces duties. The danger of then falling into a spiral of falling standards and morale and yet larger shortfalls is never far away. The life of an infantryman is far from glamourous. They though don't need our love or a cuddle. They simply need respect and the knowledge that there is switched-on support behind them. There is no organisation on the planet better able to 'make do,' than is the British Army, just as there is no organisation less able to say 'no,' or to admit to weakness. As voting taxpayers, concerned citizens if you like; we have a part to play in highlighting the structural failings of the Army, and those of their political masters, because if we don't who will? If pressed, I would put the whole thing into one sentence by asking the MOD and Chiefs of Staff, 'why are you going out of your way to make the Infantry so unattractive and difficult for our sons and nephews to join?'

Still Waters

For reasons I won't bore you with I found myself trawling through the obituaries from the Second World War of old boys from my children's school. The most famous of them was the indomitable Roger Bushell, remembered for his exploits as Big X at Stalug Luft III in what became known as the Great Escape, (although at the time of publishing in 1949 it was more modestly known as the great break away). Bushell though is only one of many old boys who gave their lives. 

The forward to the Wellington College Roll of Honour, said this,

"Perhaps it was this feeling of the inevitable which was responsible for a greater forbearance in the attitude of boys to each other in the years immediately preceding the war-and it was this generation which suffered most. In this brief period of spring before the autumn storms, the tree blossomed with the promise of abundant harvest. Games, though still holding pride of place, ceased to be the only passport to success. Scholarship, music, art, literature and drama, claimed and secured recognition and a devoted following. Yet in all this there was a feeling of frustration and unreality. Boys talked little of their future, and we hesitated to speak of it to them. They knew, and we knew, the road along which destiny pointed the way. They were neither boastful nor morbid. They turned the gifts they had acquired to the stem uses of war and went forth, without any heroics, to play their part in securing the freedom of mankind. Their lives in epitome are a record of men and boys, confident in themselves, confident in their cause. They did not live to see the triumph."

The short obituaries tell of success on the sports field and in the classroom at school and of heroism and fortitude in battle. From the Boer War and Great War veterans who pushed and pulled to get into uniform again to the youngest eighteen year olds, straight into service from the Upper Sixth. Of them all, this simple obituary of a 2/Lt Money left the deepest impression. Still waters run deep.

Second Lieutenant ROBERT COTTON MONEY, The Cameronians, was in the Hardinge from 1932 to 1937. He was a quiet boy, wrapped up in his books and field sports. On May 27th, 1940, during the retreat on Dunkirk, he heard that a friend in the Hardinge had been left behind seriously wounded. Towards dusk against advice and orders he set out to look for him and from that journey Roy Money did not return.

 

Birthday Blog

For the boys

Glancing down the sidebar at the archives I am reminded that the blog is seven years old this month. My repository for random thoughts, ideas and occasional middle aged rants has become something of a good companion. Certainly, writing now and again has proved to be somewhat more cathartic than shouting at the dogs when no one else will listen which, understandably, is most of the time. To write a successful blog it should be regularly updated, (best done at specific times daily), and the more specialised it is the more likely it is to harvest a strong and loyal readership. I do none of those things, preferring an eclectic and individual approach about things that mostly interest, concern or amuse me. As a result, the number of hits vary enormously with some posts receiving many thousands of hits while others immediately sink without trace. Attempting to analyse the readership is simply baffling with the most unlikely posts spiking in popularity without obvious reason. The post on dialects for example remains the best read post on the blog of all time.

So, to mark our seventh birthday, and to prove just how shallow your correspondent really is,  I happily represent one of the early posts from 2010 and shall stare at the skies all weekend with an air of hope and optimism. Just to demonstrate the equal opportunity blogger that you know I am, here's one for the girls.

For the girls

Europe; Coming Unglued

The financial media have, as usual, been watching a different movie.

The financial media have, as usual, been watching a different movie.

A friend recently said in reply to a comment, 'I think we're going to hell in a basket.' She is probably right but not for the reasons she thinks. My friend was referring to the consequences of Brexit. I am referring to the structural issues which are baked into the Eurozone and which are coming unwound at a pace which is very likely to accelerate throughout 2017. Standing close to an exploding bomb is never a good idea. The further away we are the better although it will take more than the English Channel and the political aspiration, if not commitment to leave, to save us from at least some of the backblast.

Political risk in Europe appears to be growing. The truth is, it never went away. It was simply subdued temporarily by successive ECB bailouts which have rescued (some) ailing banks but have done nothing to correct the systemic flaws in the Euro which have ruined southern European economies. Now, as political risk takes front and centre stage with Le Pen soaring in the polls the underlying economic risks which have been fermenting for years are at risk of ripping loose. The means of transmission are again, most likely to be the banks. You see, nothing has really changed.

We saw during the last period of Euro stress in 2011-12 that a sell off in bonds hit the balance sheets of European banks who tend to hold their own governments debt which increased their need for bailouts. In turn, that hits depositor and investor confidence which damage the banks even more creating a death spiral requiring direct central government intervention. As you may have guessed, the three countries with the banking sector most exposed to their own governments debt are Italy, Spain and Portugal.

With the ECB scaling back its bond purchases and the rising incidence of inflation yields have been rising. More importantly, spreads have been widening reflecting growing risk between member states.

Markets have so far placed a low delta on a Le Pen victory in France. Markets are being naïve. The French electoral system is designed to keep the door firmly shut against extremist parties but with the other candidates carrying baggage of their own her defeat is far from certain. Italy’s election meanwhile could result in a government under the influence of the Five Star Movement of the Northern League, both of which are committed to leaving the EU. Markets would not wait for an EU referendum result in these countries. Merely scheduling one will result in financial chaos. Meanwhile another Greek crisis similar to 2015 looks baked in when they run out of money in July.

Investors are hardened to serial crisis in these countries but are broadly complacent in their thinking that after a lot of fuss there will be another bailout and normal business will resume. Italy’s banks still hold 276bn in bad loans and the countries debt to GDP ratio stands at 134%. With 12% of the country’s bank assets being held in national debt there is a financial death spiral just waiting to be triggered. A small issue here is that Italy is the third biggest economy in the Euro block. That won’t be an easy fix.

Portugal meanwhile is back where it started with debt as high as it was in 2010. The 78bn Euro bailout there did not reverse economic trends. It did though, save the banks, for now.

The ever sensible and cautious Germans have been trying for years to neutralise this threat, first with a proposal to limit the amount of domestic sovereign debt that a bank could own. Germany failed. The second German proposal was adopted. That was to require that bank bond holders take a draw down, to zero if necessary, before government money could be used to bail out. Unfortunately, when Banca Monti Dei Paschi ran onto the rocks in December the rules were bent out of shape by using out of date stress tests and reimbursing debtholders saying they had been misled. That prevented a political fuss in Italy but has left the potential financial death spiral in place.

Other ideas, mostly based on the ‘bad bank,’ approach have circulated in recent years and include creating two classes of bonds, pooled together from the Eurozone countries, and divided into ‘safe,’ and lets call it ‘less safe.’ Loosely, that would be Germany plus one or two other countries and the rest. Unfortunately, the Germans are not big fans of either of these plans or any of their derivatives. The Germans in fact have been playing a quite crafty and streetwise game and who could blame them. German banks have pulled back their lending to non-German companies in the Eurozone over the past few years. Their appetite for shared risk is diminishing and the banks preference for keeping their money inside their national borders reflects this.

Germany itself has its own handcart of problems. Germany will of course work hard to keep the Eurozone together but it is not without its critics from both within and from outside. Germany is under constant criticism for having the largest trade surplus in the world, something that has not gone unnoticed by the Trump administration. It is ironic that Germany is the most powerful member of the very institutions that were imposed upon it in post war Europe. Indeed, the Euro was created years later in part to tie a reunified Germany to France and losing the Mark was the price paid for reunification. The trade off for Southern Europe in being unable to devalue was access to Northern European borrowing rates which allowed much needed structural reforms to be put firmly on the back burner.

Monetary union with fiscal union blocked potential wealth distributing mechanisms and acceptance of risk sharing required Southern Europe to gift their fiscal policies to Brussels. The Eurozone crisis and subsequent austerity measures have created fertile ground for growing resentment which has fanned the flames of populist movements which are gaining traction across the Eurozone. The refugee crisis and local political scandals have poured kerosene on an already politically volatile state. Growing recent civil unrest in France, (not much reported in the UK), and less violent demonstrations in Germany, reflect the heightened political volatility.

Political and economic structural tensions in Europe will continue to rise across the Continent in the coming months. They may well be contained and then abate. Protectionist rhetoric from Washington however complicates matters somewhat and are anathema to Germany’s export led economy. How the global economy, which has been designed and built around the free movement of people, goods and services reacts to fundamental changes driven by Washington remains an open question. Certainly, a much stronger dollar would be deflationary and wipe out the glimpses of inflation we are now seeing and that has a world of implications starting with Emerging markets and the $9tr of foreign dollar denominated loans which are ticking away.

With, for the moment, inflation at the gates and with bond yields rising in France and the periphery, the increased cost of debt repayments will do nothing to stabilise matters. Equities meanwhile have been skipping along without a care in the world. They may be about to stumble. For what it is worth, I firmly believe that the whole rotten construct is closer than most believe to coming completely unglued. Let’s hope that the financial boffins at the Bank of England are earning their money and are stress testing the banking and clearing system to destruction. It won’t be so very long before risk managers across the City are once again obsessed with counter party risk.

As a quiet postscript, those investment banks such as HSBC and Morgan Stanley who are making noises about moving some staff to Frankfurt and Paris, good luck. You are going to very much need it.

Foot Tapping

music_millenium_records4.jpg

The weekend break in the Six Nations gives me the opportunity to feed my somewhat neglected blog. Not having finished a couple of longer pieces, here then, is a cleaner to gap fill.

I previously wrote about the joys of spending a rainy Saturday afternoon perusing the dusty recesses of Tower records in Piccadilly and unearthing eclectic music pieces. Writing it at the time reminded me of my first visit as a young teenager to the sort of trendy record shops that you always felt were a hazardous risk to personal and public hygiene. You know the sort of place, racks of LP's with an unshaven hippie with unwashed dank and greasy hair behind the counter who treated you with contempt and disdain if you uttered anything resembling a polite question. The first time I went into one of those places I walked out with my first, and last, LP; Bridge Over Troubled Water. I couldn't make head or tail of the rest of the nonsense and never went back. 

itunes and Youtube mean I don't have to do that ever again.......... and the joy is, I keep finding eclectic and interesting music, often surprising myself while doing so. Here then are three tracks which, while may be old news to you, have added a little bit of joy to my weekend.

I have an abiding affection for old Music Hall and a deep and sincere love for Twiggy. Here then is the magic mix. The English language expended adequate adjectives for Twiggy decades ago; lets just say she is a very special girl and this is a rather fun old time song.

Timi Yuro.......... possibly the most explosive voice I've ever heard. How could it have taken me this long?
 

Darlene Love hitting the Wall of Sound. Spector, deviant pond-life that he is, was a musical genius. What a girl though, what a voice, what is there not to love?

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentines Day!

Well, Happy Valentines Day then. I wish I could muster more enthusiasm but its never been a priority for me. Disappointment hit me early in life when what I thought was a witty little poem crashed and burned. I didn't write it; I copied it from a 1974 issue of Punch magazine. I think it may have been the line, 'and when the moonlight flits across your...... ' which failed to find any romantic resonance with the unfortunate recipient. I wept no tears when Punch went out of business.

I set the tone early in marriage by refusing to bow to the commercial outreach of schmaltzy corporate America by doing nothing. So set is that trend now that if I were to pop up with a dozen roses and a dinner booking it would be viewed with deep suspicion and result in the sort of intense questioning not seen since that frightful scene with Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. 

Of course, those who took the other fork in the road marked, 'what do you mean it's Valentines Day tomorrow.... bloody hell,' have made a neverending rod for their own back. I wish them luck. You can never get it 100% right. The shame is, the vast majority of men can't stand the whole charade and would much prefer to make their own gestures at a time and place of their own choosing.

For those stuck on their own I wouldn't worry. It's not such a bad place to be. It's a bit of a shame that you'll probably end up dribbling down your shirt in a nursing home with no visitors but it could be worse; well, probably not.

Thing is, people, (especially, but not only young people), don't much talk to one another. The concept of going to the pub and chatting to girls is dead and buried. Some girls have told me they would quite like to be chatted up, not having ever experienced it but then that would require them to go to a pub, something else which is in steep decline. It baffles me how a fast dating app like Tinder can be acceptable but talking to a stranger off the cuff is deemed to be odd, unusual or something 'your parents did.' Part of the fun and challenge of the game was to strike up a conversation, get blown away and try again. They don't know what they're missing because the truth is, one half of the population has lost it's sense of fun and social courage and the other half wishes they would man up and just bloody ask the question.  

Anyway, for all you lads on your own tonight, here's Norman to jolly things along.

Hurrah!

We'll take that on the chin lads...

It's back. The best six weeks in the calendar with skill, drama, heartbreak and joy throughout. The Six Nations lifts the soul and gladdens the heart, whatever the hue of your jersey. It's one big happy pill to take you away from whatever aches, pains and worries may ail you. I absolutely love it.

What is there not to love about French rugby?

The French are in town today and of course we all hope they are back on track and closer to rediscovering their old flair and elan.  I have posted this before, but here again is the clip of the unforgettable try scored by Philippe Saint-Andre in 1991, who didn't have a great spell as a manager, but whose try against England was voted in England's centenary year, 2009, the best try ever scored against us at Twickenham.