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Stuart Lennon

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Christmas Time

Merry Christmas!

I’m looking forward to some tasty food, some classy grape based beverages and the company of friends and family – including the little fellow above, Nero the dog.

The world’s media and thousands of talented bloggers will produce long, detailed and weighty reviews of 2016. I daresay there will be much talk of war, terrorism, politics and death. It really has been quite some year.

Nero’s year has been altogether simpler.

Food has been plentiful. Walks too. He has been particularly pleased with the variety of armchairs, couches and beds provided for his comfort. Most satisfactory.

Every time Margaret and I return, Nero jumps up and down at the back door, waiting to hear the key in the lock. When he does, he speeds across the room to his toys, selecting one as a welcome home present. Whether we have been gone five minutes or a few hours, his enthusiasm is entire and unlimited.

He loves curling up on a couch in front of the fire, even more if he can share the couch with us.

Each morning, I awake to Nero tip-tapping across the wooden floor in the bedroom. In between long yoga-like stretches, he has taken to ‘huffing’, ensuring that I’m awake.

Together we head out in the early light for a walk around the village. We take the same route each morning, yet every day is a brand new adventure, full of exciting scents, animals to chase and people to deafen with barks.

We make the world very complicated.

Be more Nero.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Hold the front page! Candidate wins election.

tantrum

Oh, I’m sorry. But really. Can we not just get over ourselves?

What has actually happened?

The USA has chosen its 45th President (The 20th Republican).

There is some debate over the exact allegiance of some of the Presidents, but one reasonably popular set of numbers is 15 Democrats, 20 Republicans (including the Donald), 4 Whigs, 4 Democratic-Republicans (really), 1 Federalist and 1 George Washington.

I am far from a fan of the winning candidate. I find many of his utterances utterly repulsive. In their intention, their content and frequently their grammar. I am not alone in those feelings.

Yet 60 million (give or take) Americans voted for him in the election.

Depending on whom you listen to, this is because those voters are stupid or sexist. Racist or angry. Scared or scary. Some will tell you that he only won because the opposition was so poor.

As I write, disappointed citizens are demonstrating against the President-elect. Social media contains images of people likening Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. The pollsters, the same ones that got the election completely wrong, are telling us that the redneck, misogynist, racist dumb-asses have won the day.

A detached observer might note that hip, liberal, political elite are throwing around unfounded hyperbole and nonsense about all those who voted for hyperbole and nonsense.

Many in the media are drawing parallels with Brexit. Not least the Donald himself. Once can see why. In both campaigns there was a degree of complacency. The British public wouldn’t vote Leave, surely. The Americans wouldn’t elect Donald Trump, obviously.

In both cases, there is a rush to explain how the redneck/mysogynist/racist/sexist/scared/scary dumb-asses have thrown the world to the dogs with scant consideration for themselves or their children. My God, think of the children!

Look, I am prepared to accept that I might be wrong. The UK may be about to plunge into depression and need to beg the Greeks for a bailout. Donald may be the front-man for the four horses of the apocalypse.

Is it too much of a stretch to believe that people voted for what they believed was best, quite probably for a whole range of reasons?

The British people have voted to leave the European Union.

The American people have voted for a Republican candidate in the election.

Those that disagree with those choices have every right to continue to make their case, voice their opinions and even demonstrate. These are rights in a democracy. However, I’m not sure that patronising and insulting those who disagree is a very effective way of winning them over.

This xenophobic cockwomble, for example, would still vote for Brexit.

 

 

Keep Calm!

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Every time I think things are calming down…

Sterling is down, the FTSE is up, consumer confidence is up, no down, no it’s…

“HARD BREXIT!”

“Boo! Soft Brexit!”

“Wait! No Brexit.”

I do wish that everybody would take a moment and calm down.

The UK voted to leave the European Union. To do so, it must trigger a process. It must say, “We are leaving.” There then follows a period of negotiation, on how the UK and the EU will interact.

That’s it folks. No Armageddon. No plagues of locusts; essentially, a lot of chat.

As the Prime Minister has indicated that she is going to trigger the process, the negotiations have, in effect, started. The ones that we get to hear about are the pointless ones – where politicians posture and spout nonsense, all the time checking polling indicators after each comment.

Again, the nonsense is not from one side or the other – everyone is talking rubbish.

Negotiations can be daunting things. Actually though – they are straightforward.

Right now – there are no tariffs between the UK and the EU. Post exit, they could be left as they are, revert to World Trade Organisation defaults or be somewhere in between.

On the UK side – pretty much everyone is happy for there to be no tariffs. Where there is difference is on what other things might need to be accepted. Free movement of labour being the current hot topic.

The EU side is a little more interesting. There is an open secret that many EU leaders fear that should the UK prosper outside of the EU, then the Union itself is under threat. They want the UK to struggle. “There must be a price.” This is a political imperative.

For the majority of member states, free trade with the UK is profitable and contributes to economic prosperity. There is a clear economic argument for free trade to continue, unfettered.

Were I a cynic, I might believe that some EU leaders will only offer access to the single market at a price that they know the UK won’t pay. I might believe that they are prepared to put their own political agendas before the interests of their citizens welfare and prosperity.

The negotiations around Brexit may become about the reshaping of the EU, they may not. The UK may have unfettered access to the internal market, it may not.

The British civil service rates itself as the best of the best. With some justification, it considers itself as the body that gets “the real work done.” The diplomats and technocrats are doubtless already working away. We should keep calm and let them get on with it.

Let me leave you with a quote from Sir Humphrey Appleby, in “Yes Minister” 1980.

“Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.”

Tears and Tantrums

Brexit

Honestly. What did we think would happen?

The United Kingdom is not terribly united today. A voting turnout of 72% has voted 52/48 in favour of leaving the European Union.

So, 48% of the voting public is feeling pretty miserable.

That’s the thing about a referendum. Unless there is a landslide, then a significant proportion of the electorate is going to be ticked off when the results are announced. Judging by my telephone and social media feeds this is what has occurred. Emotions are running high.

I have been open about my preference for ‘Leave’. I posted here.

Like everyone else, I know lots of people on both sides of the argument. Most are passionate about their views. Some, on the ‘Remain’ side, are now feeling very angry, upset and concerned. They see the vote as a catastrophic error. These are the people posting increasingly strident views on social media. It would be unreasonable to expect those friends ‘not bothered’ or those on the winning side to be furiously posting, I suppose.

The geography of the voting makes things even more vexing. In a nutshell, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London wanted to remain, and everyone else wanted to Leave. This has led to calls for another referendum on Scottish Independence and even on Northern Ireland uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

Oh dear. Lots of tears and tantrums.

Financial markets have reacted badly. I don’t want to belittle this – but the markets betted heavily on a remain vote. In fact the only exit polls were conducted by Hedge Funds. When the vote started going the other way – ‘panic’ ensued. Panic, in this case, means that traders holding positions that supposed a remain vote, unwound those positions to mitigate losses. Large UK companies have not suddenly become worthless.

What happens now? Put simply, nobody knows. They are working it out as I write, and probably still will be while you read.

I have been struck by the continued arrogance of the media, the pollsters and the politicians. A simple question was asked and a simple answer given. Yet, the talking heads are still explaining that people voted because they are racist, or because they are old, or because they don’t understand.

This combination of outraged friends and ‘establishment’ arrogance leaves me feeling the need to justify myself.

So, for the record.

I am not racist. I’m no teenager, but I’m not a pensioner either. I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of business, politics and logic. I am not a wide-eyed little Englander. I still voted leave.

I respect everyone’s right to a view. I admire the passion and commitment. I am refreshed that the continent is actively engaged in looking at how best to move forward.

Brexit – The end of days?

Bullingdon Club

I wrote a post about Brexit not long ago. You can read it here.

This blog is not really intended to be political, but sometimes I can’t resist.

The terribly dashing chaps highlighted in the photo are the poster boys of the Leave and Remain campaigns. Increasingly, both campaigns are spouting sensationalist rubbish.

They would have us believe that the day after the referendum, businesses will collapse, or instantly prosper. Our borders will become impenetrable, and fortress UK will sink like a stone, or soar like an eagle. Other European countries will heave a huge sigh of relief, either glad to see the back of us, or delighted that we have stayed in.

I hate to disappoint. Actually, absolutely nothing will happen. The vast majority of ordinary people in mainland Europe will barely register that we had a referendum, let alone know the result. Should we choose to exit, it will take at least two years to negotiate the terms.

Mr Cameron has hinted that Brexit will prompt war, pestilence and plague and Mr Johnson suggests that having defeated Napoleon and Hitler, mighty Britain will finally be subdued and made vassal by bureaucrats in grey suits.

If we are talking war – I would look a little further East to Mr Putin.

Should we stay or leave, business will get on with it. That’s what business does. The world will continue to turn.

In my never humble opinion, the EU is finished anyway. While our Eton boys biff away, the Italian banks are once again on the point of collapse and when they go down, they will take the state with it. The European Central Bank will come up with a plan, as it did for Cyprus, Greece and Ireland. Given that the Italian economy is an awful lot bigger, the plan will need to be an awful lot bigger too. Ferocious austerity will be imposed on Italy. (Good luck with that.) There will need to be gargantuan write-offs of debt, and German citizens will need to accept another kick in the living standards to keep Italy afloat: At least until Spain collapses anyway.

In the past, countries could use interest rates and quantitive easing (printing money) to influence their economies. That option is no longer there, meaning that countries in real trouble are saddled with the exact opposite monetary policy that they need.

Let me add a disclaimer here. This is just my opinion. I do not work for the IMF, ECB, BOE or even The Economist. But I’m right.

Grexit, Brexit, Anyexit. None of these will fatally the EU. The EU was fatally wounded in 1999 when the Euro was introduced. It’s just taking a bloody long time to die.

BREXIT. Yes Please.

Brexit

I love Europe. I have lived in several countries on the continent and visited pretty much all of the rest. I speak a few of the languages. My wife has an Italian ID card.

Whether it be for business or pleasure, I am forever travelling around Europe.

Then why do I want Britain out of the European Union? (BREXIT)

I live in a village in England. I vote for my parish council, my borough council, my independent Police Commissioner and my Member of Parliament. Lest I be worried about under-representation, there is also the House of the Lords; for whom I don’t vote. To support all of these folk, the UK has constructed enormous bureaucracies, that support the democratic structures of the UK and implement the policies agreed.

As a member of the EU, the UK also has to elect members to the European Parliament, as does every member state. To ensure that these people are able to effectively discharge their duty, the EU has also built an enormous bureaucracy to support it, in many languages across a wide area.

Who are these structures paid by?

Well, by the tax-payer, of course.

As I am sure every European has experienced – each element of these mammoth structures is desperate to constantly prove its importance; by fixing something. Should there be an absence of things needing to be fixed, there is no let up – they simply fix things that aren’t broken, or even break things, so that they can fix them.

In my business life, I have spent some time inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’. The term is surprisingly accurate. There is a bubble. Life within the bubble involves quite a lot of lunch, long and voluminous meetings about not very much at all and the occasional migration, when the whole bubble packs up and becomes the Strasbourg bubble for a while. (On a positive note, I should point out that the lunches were excellent, and always involved good wine.)

Everyone in the bubble is very well paid.

By the tax-payer, of course. 

For me, BREXIT is about paying for less idle and needless government.

Politicians and the bureaucrats are in the business of shaping our perceptions. (Bullshitting in other words.) I will give one more recent example.

Mr Obama, President of the United States has recently popped over to the UK to share his wisdom. He seems like a friendly enough sort of guy and he is President of the United States of America – so I, for one, was interested to hear what he had to say.

Mr O thinks that the UK should stay in Europe – apparently to save the US the bother of having to negotiate individually with the UK. It’s just so much easier to do everyone in one go.

Not the most persuasive argument.

There was even a mild tone of threat – as he explained that it might take ten years for a UK outside of the EU, to negotiate a trade deal with the USA. The sub-text (sorry, bullshit) for this line of argument is that trade deals are BIG. Difficult. Tough. Require LOTS of highly skilled (and paid) negotiating teams.

Here is my effort to help the world move forward.

Mr O. Take the trade agreement that you have with the EU and save it in a word document. Do a ‘search and replace’ or two. Replace EU with UK for example. Proof-read it, make a couple of manual changes where necessary and sign it. I think we could start on Monday morning, and be on the first tee by lunch-time.

You’re very welcome.

I am led to understand that the Brussels bubble is very similar to the Westminster bubble. It may well be. I will tell you one key difference:

On June 23rd, I have a chance to vote myself out of the Brussels bubble and the enormous cost of it.

 

cyprus-map-political

I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ –  union with Greece.

Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

Paratroopers.

The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

 

immigrants

Stop spouting uninformed nonsense about immigration and immigrants.

I posted about this before.

I am prompted to do so again by the horrific images currently all over the media.

A school of thought is emerging that we have an obligation towards refugees but that economic migrants are a major problem.

I don’t want to pontificate, so I will limit myself to a story or two.

I married the daughter of two immigrants. Economic migrants in fact. In post-war Sicily, there simply was no work.

My father-in-law packed a bag and worked in Germany, Switzerland and Glasgow before settling in London and becoming a postman. Hardly the Cosa Nostra is it?

Once he had saved enough money to buy a house, he brought his wife and three daughters over. His wife and ultimately daughters got work in the local hospital.

My wife came along in London as a little surprise. Testament to the poor quality of British television in the sixties perhaps.

Margaret got a university degree and has never been without work.

Britain has done well out of these particular economic migrants.

I even got a wife out of the deal, which I’m very pleased about.

This year, my wife’s cousin has made the move from Sicily. In post-crisis Sicily, there is simply no work.

My cousin-in-law packed his bag, come to London and become a bus driver. He is hoping to soon have enough money to bring his wife and child over.

The parallels are obvious.

On the phone the other day, my cousin asked my wife why no English people drove buses in London.

All of his colleagues are immigrants. All of them.

I daresay that some would say that all the bus driver jobs are taken by immigrants.

For this to be true, I would need to believe that the major bus companies are intentionally filtering out indigenous English people at interview stage.

I really can’t see why this would be.

We might speculate why immigrants are that much more successful in becoming bus drivers than the indigenous population.

We might wish to look at motivations of employers and applicants.

Anecdotally, an employer might tell you that an immigrant is more likely to be flexible, and to find a way to work.

There are good people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. There are bad ones too.

That a man (or woman) wants to build a good life for his family is to be admired, not feared.

We must stop demonising immigration and immigrants.

From the Oxford Dictionary

Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements: e.g. ‘it flattered his vanity to think I was in love with him’

1529

 

He certainly had a way with words didn’t he?

Are we living in the Age of Vanity?

An age where people ‘share their status’ – through a variety of media.

People seem much keener to tell the world that they are shopping in Harrods than they are to let us know that they have gone to the corner shop to buy milk.

Judging by Facebook, the world is a place where everyone is fabulously wealthy, taking exotic holidays and drinking only the finest Champagne. And their children? Oh don’t get me started on that…

“Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?”

I am a writer. I want people to read my words. Ultimately, I want people to pay to read my words. Vanity is an essential driver.

In the new world of publishing, I am expected to ‘build my following’, to attract followers on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. I am not even sure that I understand Instagram! (Nevertheless – I can be found on all of those channels and more, feel free to follow me.) I am expected to persuade you good people to subscribe to my blog.

In the age of vanity, the more popular that I can demonstrate I am, the better support I would get from a publisher.

This is just business sense I guess; but it does seem a little backwards.

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E for Election

 

In the UK, it is that time again.

Next month the country will elect a new government for the next five years or so.

Between now and polling day, we will be subjected to an enormous amount of posing, pontificating and promises.

Someone, somewhere has decreed that the ‘big’ issue is immigration.

The thesis is that Britons are tired of foreigners coming into the UK, claiming benefits, exhausting public resources, taking over communities and thereby worsening the lives of those people already here.

A variation on the theme is that the foreigners are stealing the jobs of the poor hard-working Brit.

Parties all the way along the political spectrum are offering solutions to this problem.

What utter nonsense.

In the UK we are lucky enough to live in a country where on one street we can eat the finest examples of cuisine from every continent.

Our universities are crammed full of bright and enquiring minds from every corner of the earth.

The very name of the place should give it away – ‘The United Kingdom”. It has always been our way to embrace multiple cultures, nations and races. The diversity of the population has always been what has made this country so vibrant and exciting to live in.

There is competition for work. There is strain on limited resources. This country, like any country, faces problems. Immigration is not one of them.

While the politicians tilt at windmills, pose for the cameras and pursue the perfect populist sound bite, they neglect the work that needs to be done to make things better.

There’s only one thing for it.

We will have to bring some immigrants in to do the job.

It is the British way.

 

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