Monday, May 16, 2016

Ponters Pensées 16.5.16

Spain's 'Weird' Timetable: Not long after I came to live here in 2000 I realised I'd have to knock 2 hours off the time of everything to equate an event with its British equivalent. Here's El País saying the same thing in 2016.

Spain's High Speed Train: Just in case you didn't read the Don Quijones article I cited yesterday, here's the relevant bit. Especially if you pay taxes here: The fast train to Mecca is going nowhere, very slowly. According to sources close to the Spanish consortium, it will be impossible to finish the project by the official deadline of January 1, 2017. The consortium will need at least an extra 12-18 months to finish the work. . . But that doesn’t mean the 12 Spanish companies, 3 of which are large publicly owned companies, won’t get paid. As has happened already on numerous occasions with Spain’s world-beating construction industry, taxpayers in Spain will be shanghaied into finishing the job.

The EU and the Looming Brexit: For those interested in the future of the EU, here's a must-read article from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, entitled Devastating Mori poll shows Europe's peoples share British rage. A taster: The reason many big international investors are twitchy ahead of the referendum on June 23 is that they believe a vote for Brexit will precipitate demands for similar plebiscites in other European countries (France, Holland) - and that the eurozone could then spectacularly unravel.  There's a 2nd article on this theme at the very end of this post. I can't just link to it as it's from The Times.

Moscow's RT TV Channel: Yesterday I read its Wiki entry and was highly amused to see it was set up to present a more complete picture of life in our country, reflect Russia's opinion of the world, and present a more balanced picture than that of Western media. Given that it hardly ever tells us anything about Russia, this has to be a triumph of spin in itself. It is, of course, nothing more or less than a blatant propaganda outlet for the Russian government, whose entire ethos is one of almost hysterical criticism of the West and, especially right now, of Turkey. So obvious is this, it's hard to see how anyone can treat it an anything but a source of humour. Which is not to say it doesn't make some accurate criticisms of Western policies and actions. But this is hardly what it says it's about. And it's less than surprising that Ofcom has repeatedly found RT to have breached rules on impartiality, and of broadcasting "materially misleading" content. Incidentally, the never-knowingly-objective reporter (Oksana Boyco) who was floored by a Great Dane a few weeks ago is now back on the box, after a suitable break. And as stridently biased as ever. I wonder if she really believes what she spouts. But I guess it's possible. Either that or she's sold her soul.

Ukraine's Eurovision VictoryHere's The Telegraph on Russian reaction. And here's a few quotes from The Times today:-
  • The results of the contest are politically motivated and partly the result of the propaganda war waged against Russia: The deputy head of the culture committee in the Duma.
  • The juries gave low marks to the Russian singer because the West wanted to belittle Russia: The pro-Kremlin website, LifeNews
  • Next year Russia should send Sergey Shnurov (a singer well known for his obscenities) to the final in Ukraine. Win or not, he’ll tell everyone where to go: A deputy prime minister.
  • The organisers took great pains to deprive Russia of victory. There was Ukrainian blackmail along the lines of, ‘Russia’s victory would be a catastrophe’, ignoring viewers’ preferences. Such is the new approach to art in the countries of ‘developed democracy’: The Crimea region’s deputy prime minister.

Paranoiacally bad losers?

Finally . . . The Filofax: This 1910 invention was re-launched in 1975 and became a must-have for the Yuppy generation. I'm pleased to say I never owned one. Anyway, the chap responsible for this marketing triumph is given an obituary in today's Times and, since I can't just link to it, here it is in its fulsome entirety. I'll just add that I share with him the history of being frequently caned and strapped at school. But it seems he was never threatened with being sent down from his university:-

David Collischon knew he was leading a revolution in personal organisation when Harrods started stocking Filofaxes and Woody Allen admitted to having 14 of them.

The leather-bound personal organisers had been invented in Philadelphia in 1910, and were used by engineers, army officers and harassed clergymen, but never caught on with the public.

Collischon, a British marketing executive, bought the original company and made the Filofax perhaps the best-known must-have accessory for upwardly mobile aspirants in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s and, more pejoratively perhaps, the icon of the yuppie. He trumpeted Filofaxes for their ability to hold credit cards, maps, tickets, pencils, sticky notes and much else. There were more than 100 accessories, many of which inspired the designs of today’s phones and apps. Deluxe versions cost £200; the Financial Times dismissed the Filofax as “a souped-up diary”.

Thousands of people made them the hub around which they led their lives. Losing one was worse than losing a phone today — few users had a back-up.

In the mid-1950s, Collischon, who was tall, silver-haired and fond of Prince of Wales check suits, walked into Chisholm’s, an old-fashioned stationery shop in Kingsway, London, where he saw a Filofax for the first time. He was fascinated. “I used to go in at lunchtime, borrow the shop’s book of samples, sit in a coffee bar and design my own version. It appealed to my sense of order, tidiness and capacity to store so much information in such a small and conveniently portable way.”

In 1921, a British company, the publisher Norman & Hill, had begun importing the Lefax system from Philadelphia at the suggestion of a secretary, Grace Scurr who coined the name Filofax — an abbreviation of “file of facts” — and became the company’s chairwoman.

Collischon began to turn an obsession into a business in 1974 when he and his wife, Lesley, ordered Filofaxes from Norman & Hill for their fledgeling mail-order business, Personal Systems. However, they abandoned the venture because of two disparate events, the death of his father and the introduction of VAT.

A year later, with a mortgage and two young children, Collischon feared he might be made redundant by his employer, Gower Press, part of Rank Xerox. Under the name Pocketfax, they tried again. The business was started with £500 left to Lesley by her Aunt Daisy — it was all they ever invested in the business.

The couple started by assembling their own mail shots. “We typed 1,000 envelopes addressed to companies and stuffed five smaller envelopes into each one for different executives, achieving 5,000 mailings for 1,000 postage stamps,” he said.

Working with a designer, Collischon gave the system a facelift, creating stylish binders in plain and exotic leathers and increasing the range of inserts to cover business needs, from personal expenses forms and year planners to time zones and graph paper. Demand soon stretched Norman & Hill’s resources and, in 1980, Collischon bought the firm for £8,577. “For that I got the name, the stock and £17 of assets,” he said.

The fashion designer Paul Smith put a Filofax on display in the window of his trendy Covent Garden shop, and began selling them as a fashion item. In four years, Collischon’s business went from 30 retail customers to 100,000. Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty and other leading department stores stocked Filofax. Collischon used three simultaneously. “It appeals to the man on the move,” he said.

On the wall of his office was a letter from a Captain Healy of the Royal Marines, who had just returned from the Falklands conflict, where his boat was sunk. The letter orders a replacement, adding: “I am keen to re-establish my system as soon as possible.”

At the peak of the Filofax’s popularity in 1987, Collischon floated the company on the stock market, valuing it at £17 million. He and his wife sold a slice of their shareholding for £2 million, and a few months later Collischon was awarded the President’s Medal by the Institute of Public Relations.

A year later, the company opened a flagship showroom in Mayfair and the shares soared from 120p to 200p. By then, though, doubts about what was essentially a one-product company were beginning to emerge.

Filofax shares fell to 60p in January 1989. In September of that year Collischon had to declare a loss. “The yuppie image has done us a lot of harm,” he claimed. “The time has now gone when anything with the Filofax name on it simply walked off the display stand.” The shares fell to 36p.
Collischon sold his remaining shares for £2.7 million in 1990 and stepped down as chief executive. “The company had grown beyond my wildest expectations,” he said, “but it had also outgrown my personal expertise. I was beginning to develop strong doubts in my own ability.”

In 2001, Filofax was merged with Charles Letts, the diary printer. The combined business is now owned by an American private-equity group.

Collischon admitted that he had paid the price for failing to diversify. Most devotees deserted Filofax for digital technology. It returned to being a product for the specialist user — and loyal fans who still cannot do without one.

Robert David Collischon was born in King George’s Hospital, Newbury Park, London, in 1937, the only child of Vera and Robert, general manager of a cardboard company that made jigsaws and paper doilies. His family had emigrated from Frankfurt and settled in London. The family flat in Walthamstow was destroyed in the Blitz.

After being expelled from two schools, Collischon went to Chigwell, where he was frequently caned and bullied. Not surprisingly, he hated it, regarding his school days as “a waste of time and irrelevant”, except for aero-modelling and producing a play.

He left school at 16 and, through a friend of his father, got a job as a warehouseman with Collins Publishers in Covent Garden. He worked his way up into the publicity department, where he showed early marketing flair. For Alistair MacLean’s HMS Ulysses, he made a model of the ship for display.

He spent National Service in the army in Malaya, rising to acting captain, and returned to Collins’s publicity department. He met his future wife, Lesley, at a Young Conservatives dance. “In every way, she was the girl I had been looking for,” he said, “and I made up my mind that evening that one day I would ask her to be my wife.” They married in 1965. After teaching physical education and history, she became Filofax’s personnel director. Later, she volunteered for the Samaritans and was a justice of the peace. They had three children: Lois is a social worker; Hayley is a teacher; and Adrian, a chef, is a director of Eden Caterers. They all attended the Davenant Foundation School, where Collischon was a governor. His wife and children survive him.

The chairman of the Davenant governors asked Collischon to chair the board of finance of the Chelmsford Church of England diocese. In recognition of his work, he was appointed an honorary lay canon.

In 1980, he joined the Worshipful Company of Marketors, a City of London livery company. He expanded the membership and became Master in 2003.

Collischon was also a skilled woodworker, who wrote a book on the subject for Collins’s pocket series, “How to Do It”. His main relaxation was sailing. “All our family holidays involved water,” Hayley said. They explored the many estuaries and rivers on the east coast and sailed to France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Channel Islands. Parkinson’s disease forced him to give up sailing.

Despite his marketing background, usually a sign of expansiveness, Collischon — a stickler for detail and a firm taskmaster — was proud of his ability to cut costs. He liked to tell of the American who visited Norman & Hill’s antiquated premises near Liverpool Street station and exclaimed: “Gee, this is straight out of Dickens, where’s Scrooge?” Pointing to Collischon, a senior executive said: “You just passed him.”

A Brexit cartoon:-

The EU

Even Sir Humphrey would agree: the only way to subvert the EU is to leave. Dominic Lawson.

When preparing for an election, politicians are faced with a binary choice. Are we going to run a positive campaign or a negative one? Do we wish to inspire or to scare the public?

It is increasingly clear that the campaign to convince the British electorate to vote “remain” in the EU referendum on June 23 is following the second approach.

Last week it reached a fresh pinnacle of panic with the prime minister’s claim that if we voted to leave the EU it could trigger war. It can only have been through great good luck that Europe avoided such catastrophe during the quarter century after the EEC came into being but before the UK signed up in 1973. Of course David Cameron doesn’t believe this for a second. When the EU won the Nobel peace prize in 2012, he didn’t join his fellow heads of government in Oslo to collect the award. Instead, he pointed out it was Nato that had kept the peoples of western Europe safe.

This infuriated the European Commission. But it could hardly have been an unexpected snub. In his entire political career, Cameron has never had a good word to say about the EU. This is unsurprising, given that the nation’s first glimpse of a youthful Cameron in front of the camera was as Norman Lamont’s political adviser when the then chancellor was humiliatingly forced to announce sterling’s exit from the European exchange rate mechanism.

It is true that Cameron has consistently ramped up his Euroscepticism to placate his own backbenchers — no more clearly than in the Conservative leadership election of 2005, when he pledged to pull the Tories out of the main centre-right group in the European parliament, the European People’s party.

But he kept that promise and, to the fury of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, started a new European parliamentary group of rightwing anti-federalists, with “controlled immigration” and “the sovereign integrity of the nation state” as two of its founding principles.

The point is: Cameron had no choice over whether to run a positive or negative campaign for June 23. A positive campaign would have required at least a degree of enthusiasm for what is sometimes called “the European ideal”: the prime minister has sufficient self-awareness to see that this would make him look not just inconsistent but completely ridiculous. Besides, he doesn’t believe in it.
So the only sort of campaign he could ever have led is a negative one. Or as Boris Johnson put it: the “remain” camp “are the Gerald Ratners of modern politics; they say the EU is crap, but we have no alternative” (other, that is, than instant penury and the moral obloquy of causing the Third World War). Cameron’s attested fury at this remark suggests only that his rival, Uxbridge’s La Pasionaria of Brexit, had scored a palpable hit.

There are still some lonely Tory figures who believe that the UK should be, to use the phrase beloved of Tony Blair, “at the heart of Europe” — and that Britain should abandon sterling to join the euro. That remains the view of the last surviving minister from the Edward Heath era on the Tory benches in the Commons: Ken Clarke, the vice-president of the European Movement UK.

But Clarke, though a magnificent campaigner, has been all but silenced. His views are, in their way, completely logical. If the UK wants to play a powerful role within the EU, it has to be part of the central group, whose requirements are the driving force behind all the policies emanating from Brussels. That is the eurozone — whose members, by the way, now have the votes they need in the Council of the European Union to pass what they want passed and block what they want blocked.

By contrast, Cameron’s views seem to tally with the outline of Britain’s policy towards what was the EEC, as set out in a 1980 episode of Yes Minister. As the permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby explained to the perpetually bemused Jim Hacker: “Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe . . . why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?”

When Hacker objects that this is “all ancient history”, Sir Humphrey responds: “Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing.”

Seen in this light, the battle between the stars of the two campaigns (who happen to be entirely within the governing Tory party) is that of a faction led by the PM, which thinks we should continue with the strategy of fighting against a European federal superstate from within the organisation, and a group, led by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, that believes this traditional British foreign policy can now only be achieved from outside.

I think the latter have the better of this dispute. Certainly, that seems to be the message of the markets. The reason many big international investors are twitchy ahead of the referendum on June 23 is that they believe a vote for Brexit will precipitate demands for similar plebiscites in other European countries (France, Holland) — and that the eurozone could then spectacularly unravel.

Given the immense economic repression — especially in terms of youth unemployment — imposed by adherence to the euro, rational people should welcome its demise. It would be analogous, but on a vast scale, to what happened in the UK after sterling’s exit from the ERM. It is odd, to put it mildly, that Cameron doesn’t see it this way. His old boss, Norman Lamont, definitely does.

The prime minister has actually thrown away our ability to subvert from within the movement towards a European superstate. In exchange for the promise of piffling adjustments to possible future in-work benefits for Europeans coming to the UK, Cameron agreed that Britain “shall not impede the implementation of legal acts directly linked to the functioning of the euro area” and “will not create obstacles but facilitate such further deepening [ie, creating a political union]”.

Thus is discarded — for what? — our chief remaining bargaining lever against the sort of Europe that for centuries it has been our foreign policy objective to prevent. Perhaps this objective is now somewhat too grandiose. But what is the replacement strategy? Cameron’s approach is not “the best of both worlds”, as he claims; it is the worst.

It is not as if, were the vote to be for “remain”, the government proposes to make nice with Brussels. A European ambassador, with barely suppressed rage, recently told me he had witnessed the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, say that Britain would be at least as vexatious a disputant within the councils of the EU as it had been beforehand.

Hammond was one of those apparently hardline Tory Eurosceptics who said he would be in favour of Brexit unless the EU were fundamentally reformed. Now he, too, is adopting the Cameron-Ratner strategy: the EU is crap, but less crappy for us than the alternative.

Imagine how difficult this would have been to pull off if the “remain” campaign had stuck by its original title of Yes.

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