30 March 2012

What would be the cost of the South West’s gain?

For a Google Blogger it can be intriguing to examine the ‘Stats’, in particular ‘Traffic sources’. These often provide details of the search which led to someone being directed to a particular post. Recently, and rather optimistically, there was an attempt to find the cost of moving Trident from Faslane to Devonport. Hopefully this particular seeker after truth bothered to read all of Would Scotland’s loss be the South West’s gain?, a recent post here on this subject, because the only cost information appeared in an Addendum, as  a quote from The Times (£):
The cost of moving Britain’s four nuclear submarines from the Faslane base on the Clyde, along with stockpiles of warheads and missiles, could be £2.5 billion, according to former senior military commanders. Admiral Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, said that the enormous logistical challenge would help those arguing that the £20 billion Trident renewal should not go ahead.
Where Admiral Lord West obtained these figures wasn’t explained, but some light on their derivation is shed from another quarter. BASIC (British American Security Council) describes itself as “a small but influential think tank with one very large idea: we want a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons”. One of its initiatives has been to set up “set up the Trident Commission, an independent, cross-party panel to examine the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy and the issue of Trident renewal”. According to its website, the Commission is under the co-chairmanship of:

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Des Browne), former Labour Secretary of State for Defence,
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Conservative Defence and Foreign Secretary, and
Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Other members of the Trident Commission are:
Professor Alyson Bailes, Former Head of the Security Policy Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK Ambassador to the UN
Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, former Chief of the Defence Staff
Professor Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Queen Mary, University College London
Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal and recent President of the Royal Society
Dr Ian Kearns, Chief Executive of the European Leadership Network.

What a lot of Top Kneddies! And in the usual British (though not American) way, none of these luminaries has any direct experience of submarines, missiles or things nuclear. (Incidentally, Lord Hennessy is a Professor at Queen Mary, University of London, not UCL).

Launched on 9 February 2011, the Commission has just produced its second Discussion paper, Defence-Industrial Issues: Employment, Skills, Technology and Regional Impacts, written by Keith Hartley, a retired academic with expertise in defence economics. Drawing on MoD figures (linked below), he states at paragraph 17 that:
The acquisition costs of the replacement are estimated at £20 billion to £25 billion for a four boat fleet (2011 prices: Fox, 2011; MoD, 2011). These cost estimates comprise: i) The submarines at a cost of £14.6 billion to £17.5 billion; ii) Warheads at a cost of £2.7 billion to £3.75 billion; iii) Infrastructure at a cost of £2.7 billion to £3.75 billion.
Hartley estimates that the annual running costs of the fleet of four submarines, once acquired, would be £1.1 billion (paragraph 68) so:
Aggregating acquisition and annual running costs suggests total costs for a four boat Trident replacement … of £87.4 billion over the period 2007 to 2062: hence, average annual costs of some £1.6 billion (2010/11 prices).
Although Hartley makes no such comparisons, it might be worth noting that the revenue needed to support the BBC is about £3.1 billion a year currently, and the International Development Department’s Jellbyish expenditures are about £6 billion pa. Defence in all costs about £39 billion a year.

Anyway, it’s clear from this where West’s £20 billion came from – the MoD’s minimum acquisition cost. Did Hartley shed any light on West’s other figure? Curiously, Scottish independence is mentioned in his paper, but only as a footnote to a discussion of the consequences for the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard if Trident were cancelled:
For example, if Scotland votes for independence, there might be questions about the future of the warship yards in Scotland. Current MoD policy favours retaining a UK warship building industry, including submarine construction. Scottish independence might mean that future warship building is undertaken in English shipbuilding yards, such as Barrow and Portsmouth. (page 25 footnote 29)
Perhaps the BASIC Trident Commission will be looking at the issue separately.

The National Audit Office (NAO) conducts examinations of major projects which might provide some perspective on the potential cost of re-siting Trident, if not exactly a benchmark. One such project, recently reported on, was HS1, the high speed railway between London and the Channel Tunnel. This was completed in November 2007 at a cost of £6.2 billion. HS2 comprised 68 miles (109 kilometres) of high speed railway line, twenty kilometres of tunnels under central London, a new maintenance depot, two new railway stations and refurbishing St Pancras station. 2010/11 prices could be 25% or so higher, say £7.8 billion, or about three times West’s figure.

Another NAO report in 2010 had looked at the BBC’s management of three major estate projects. One of these, the Broadcasting House project is a combination of refurbishment and new build on a site already owned by the BBC. According to the NAO, the BBC did not always follow best practice in running this project in its early stages, and presumably the outturn cost, expected to be just over £1 billion on completion in 2013, could have been lower. It is of interest in that it is a mixture of new build, re-siting and, presumably, above average technology requirements and is less than half the West figure.

Neither of these examples would suggest that £2.5 billion is a wild over- or underestimate. Using this figure, Hartley’s total costs for a four boat Trident replacement of £87.4 billion over the period 2007 to 2062 would rise to £89.9 billion (assuming that his £1.1 billion annual running costs are not significantly affected) and his average annual cost would be about £45 million higher. As Hartley explains in footnote 24 on page 22, he has chosen not to discount cash flows over time and make comparisons on a net present value (NPV) basis. This is the approach required by HM Treasury in their Green Book on Appraisal and Evaluation in Central Government. If he had, the increase in the average annual cost would have been greater.

In this context it is worth pointing out that HM Treasury are concerned that, for a variety of reasons:
The UK is an expensive place in which to build infrastructure. The weight of evidence confirms that costs are higher than in other European countries and demonstrates that, irrespective of its comparative position, there are significant opportunities to reduce costs in the delivery of infrastructure. (Infrastructure Cost Review: Main Report, paragraph 1.1)


20 March 2012

David Cameron – a gambling man?

Early on in his premiership, David Cameron stayed on after finishing the 8:10am spot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and intervened in the sports bulletin’s racing tips:
If you're a fan of the coalition you could go for Daring Dream in the 3.50 at Ayr and if you're slightly more sceptical about how our arrangements are going to work out you could try Midnight Fantasy in the 3pm at Wolverhampton. That's 10-1, Midnight Fantasy. I think that's going to be my nap selection.
Which suggested a certain familiarity with the turf, although both horses lost. As did his two choices after another Today appearance almost a year later. Again, while selecting Stormin’ Gordon and Red Samantha must have been irresistible, neither horse did well, coming in at sixth and ninth.

But the PM has some more serious races and winners to worry about. Firstly, the outcome of the election for Mayor of London on 3 May still seems as close as when I posted about it last month. Perhaps the next (now overdue) opinion poll will reflect some of the critical media coverage of Ken Livingstone’s financial arrangements. Cameron must surely want a Conservative win, for normal party reasons and to keep Boris Johnson away from the Commons.

Cameron’s trip to the US probably had far more media coverage here than there – as no doubt did Obama’s visit to the UK last year. A distinct impression was given that Cameron finds Obama more to his taste than any of the Republican candidates in terms of policies. But it’s interesting that the legendary James Carville doesn’t think Obama is a shoo-in in November. It would be surprising if Cameron hadn’t taken the opportunity to send appropriate signals to senior Republicans during the New York stage of his visit. In practice, the relationship between a future Republican president and the UK Coalition would be very likely to carry on as before. Nonetheless, if Obama doesn’t get back, Cameron might be seen in Britain as having got too close to the loser. All the brotherhood-of-world-leader type images being stored up for the next UK election would have to be junked too.

Finally, in the French presidential campaign Cameron seems to have hitched himself to Sarkozy, notably during an interview with Le Figaro in February:
Vous avez souhaité «bonne chance» à votre «ami» Nicolas Sarkozy? Comptez-vous lui adresser d'autres signes de soutien durant la campagne?
Nicolas Sarkozy est un dirigeant du centre droit et je lui souhaite bonne chance. Il a de grandes qualités de chef, c'est un homme politique courageux. Il a fait des choses extraordinairement importantes pour la France. Ce sera au peuple français de décider, je n'ai pas à interférer dans son choix. Nicolas Sarkozy a mon soutien. Je le dis clairement. Mais je ne suis pas sûr que si je sillonnais la France en bus pour le soutenir, cela serait efficace… 
You wished your "friend" Nicolas Sarkozy "good luck"? Will you send him other signs of support during the campaign?
Nicolas Sarkozy is a leader from the centre-right and I wish him luck. He has great leadership qualities, he is a brave politician. He has done some extraordinarily important things for France. It will be up to the French people to decide, and not for me to interfere in their choice. Nicolas Sarkozy has my support. I say it clearly. But I'm not sure if I were to criss-cross France on a campaign bus to support him, it would be helpful ...
In political terms this is understandable. The other main contender for the Presidency, François Hollande, aligns with the left of the Labour party (perhaps even to the left of the Liberal Democrats in the days before they joined the Coalition).  When Hollande came to London (with an eye on the French electors living in “Paris sur Thames”) at the end of February, he met Miliband but none of the Coalition. Both sides presumably had reached the same conclusion: such a meeting wouldn’t benefit them. Recent polls have been showing Sarkozy as running very close to Hollande in the first (multi-candidate) round of the election, but the latter still being ahead in the second (the two remaining best candidates) round on 6 May. The impact of the recent tragic shootings in South West France remains to be seen. The Times veteran Paris correspondent, Charles Bremner, reported (£) today (20 March):
Two weeks ago the top topic in France’s presidential campaign was not the economy or the euro crisis, but the manner in which Muslim and Jewish tradition requires animals to be slaughtered.
The matter was raised by Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the National Front, who is running in third place. She claimed that a majority of Parisians were being sold halal and kosher meat without being told.
President Sarkozy, who has taken a swing into National Front territory in his hunt for votes, then demanded that all meat be labelled to show whether or not it had been killed via Jewish or Muslim ritual. A few days later he pronounced that the issue was over — but the damage was done.
No one is making any link between the murders in Toulouse and Montauban and the presidential campaign, but the entry of the racial theme into the election left an exceedingly bad taste. It reflected the degree to which the airing of resentment over Muslim immigration has almost gone mainstream.
Cameron wrote to Sarkozy today in terms that he would, of course, have used to any French President in such circumstances:
I was appalled to learn of the recent shootings that France has suffered, including in Toulouse this morning. People across Britain share the shock and grief that is being felt in France, and my thoughts are with the victims, their friends and their families. I know that France will draw strength and comfort from your resolute leadership at this difficult time. You can count on my every support in confronting these senseless acts of brutality and cowardice.
There seem to be three very close races, two in May and one in November, on which Cameron has placed a Johnson-Sarkozy-Obama wager. While not an “accumulator” in betting terms, he is running the risk of a reputational loss at home if he is wrong on any of them. If a Republican takes over the Presidency in Washington next January, no doubt March’s visit will be forgiven and forgotten. Rebuilding bridges with a socialist in the Elysée after May might be harder work.


Most posts get overtaken by events but not many as soon as this one.

As far as the London mayoral race is concerned, the new polling data has arrived and shows Johnson at 54% against Livingstone at 46% (once down to a choice of two). So Cameron can probably start to think about his winnings on that one. I stand by my opinion that there won’t be that much damage to Ed Miliband. The poll shows that in a national election the Labour share of the vote in London is 46%, the Conservatives are on 34% and LibDems at 9%. It is Livingstone’s inability to enthuse Labour’s natural voters that’s the problem, although Miliband was probably unwise to express support in connection with the candidate’s financial arrangements.

The implications of the aftermath of the tragedy in France will become apparent in the remaining weeks of their presidential campaign. Perhaps the impact on voting will not be that great in the end.


Won one, lost one! Both were close run, but the winner is the winner. Boris Johnson took 51.5% of the votes in the London Mayoral race after redistribution of second votes. In France, François Hollande had [just under] 52% of the votes in the second round for the Presidency. From Cameron’s point of view, Boris didn’t do so well as to make him any greater a threat, but his victory might prove exploitable as the beginning of a turnaround in the Tories’ current misfortunes. However, Cameron’s having got so close to Sarkozy now looks inept. In the longer term the relative performance of the UK and France economies may be more of an embarrassment to him – or prove to be a vindication.

19 March 2012

Rentoul on Parker on Cameron

On 18 March in his Independent blog, John Rentoul praised a profile of David Cameron (£) by the Financial Times’ political editor, George Parker, which had appeared the day before:
Congratulations … for proving that long-form journalism is not purely an American thing. His assessment of David Cameron’s premiership … is a fine one with some nice quotations from the man himself and his friends.
I had found the article not particularly informative despite being over 5500 words. There seemed to be disappointingly little that was new and some of that was trivial – eg the PM holds meetings at 8:30am and 4:30pm – and:
At weekends Cameron tries to alternate between his constituency home in Dean, Oxfordshire, and Chequers, … Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has taken a break from the euro crisis here, watching DVDs of her favourite television series – the bucolic Midsomer Murders … [he jokes to his visitors] “As I said to Angela, if things had been different all this [a nearby panorama across southern England] could have been yours”
Last month, Cameron convened his MPs for a pep talk at Westminster, where his rightwing critics were treated to a polling presentation that showed Cameron polled 16 points above the Conservative party. “The message wasn’t very subtle: he’s the best thing they’ve got,” said one ally of the prime minister.
As well as watching DVD sets of The Killing, Cameron, we were informed, also likes Wallender, 24 and he is “fascinated by Strictly Come Dancing”. These aperçus are attributed to “Andrew Feldman, Party co-chair, Cameron’s oldest friend in politics, Feldman is a confidant and crucial link between the PM and the party on the ground.” Parker gives the impression of having relied on Feldman for quite a lot of his material and seems to have got quite star-struck when accompanying Cameron and team on a Tube trip to an east London branch of Tesco. The PM is:
... an imposing figure in the cramped Tube carriage.
... looks noticeably healthier than most of the people around him.
Although he goes on to quote Feldman:
One thing I’ve noticed about him is he looks a little tired: I mean it’s ageing – the process of being prime minister.
which supports my pet theory of accelerated prime ministerial ageing. Otherwise, there are a lot of the nice things that we’ve heard before: Baldwinesque, easy charm, “born-to-rule” demeanour, happy in his own skin, cool under pressure, always has good manners and is courteous. The criticisms are familiar too and few by comparison: does not put in the hours, Flashman, out of touch. They are, not surprisingly, mostly anonymous, so we can’t tell whether it was the same official who said:
He doesn’t have an inquiring mind – he never asks for more
For him, adjusting to life before becoming prime minister, that was the difficult bit
The two open critics had appeared in the FT before:
“He talks a lot about social mobility but in reality he knows nothing about it,” says Mark Pritchard, a Tory MP and secretary of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs. “It is impossible for him to empathise with people struggling to pay their gas bill. He has never wanted for anything and that is a problem with the electorate.” (5 March)

“The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys [Cameron and Osborne] who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes,” says Nadine Dorries, another Conservative MP. “What’s worse, they don’t care either.” (6 March)
In reality, the likelihood of the UK ever again having a Prime Minister brought up in straightened circumstances, let alone hardship, is slim. The last one was probably Jim Callaghan, although, as a child of the manse, Gordon Brown would have had a plain upbringing. Tony Blair, although from a comfortably-off background himself, had a wife and mother-in-law who had been through tough times. However, “Cameron’s Gang”, as Parker describes them, seems to consist entirely of clever men and women who, if not fat, are “sleek-headed … and such as sleep a-nights” eg:
Gabby Bertin, press secretary
The stylish media adviser has been by Cameron’s side since the dark days when he was struggling as Tory opposition leader and is liked and respected by the Westminster press pack. Bertin, posh and prepared to speak her mind, is Cameron’s kind of woman.
And, to judge from the overall impression of her boss conveyed by this article, she is doing her job well. In fact the whole team is comes over as being of a higher calibre than the equivalent put together by Blair, as far as one can judge from the records of, for example, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell. But perhaps the lack of eclecticism in Cameron’s team will turn out to be its major weakness.

16 March 2012

Reporting Exeter youth joblessness

A few posts back, I remarked that there are only two Labour-held parliamentary seats in England west of Bristol. One of these is Exeter where the MP is Ben Bradshaw, who was Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport in the Labour government up to 2010. Like many MPs he makes use of Twitter (@BenPBradshaw), and on 15 March he tweeted this:
Dreadful #Exeter and SW long term youth (18-24) joblessness rates up massive 230.8% & 183.6% respectively Feb 2011 - Feb 2012 #toryfail
I was a bit alarmed by the figures he quoted, not because of underestimating the seriousness of youth unemployment across the UK, but for numeracy reasons. I am wary of percentages, which are after all only a form of fraction, when they are greater than 100 (although I’m 110% committed to this blog of course), especially when they come with a decimal place and so have four significant figures.

The formula for expressing a year on year increase as a percentage is pretty simple. If a year ago there were M of something and now there are N, the calculation is:
Percentage increase = (N – M) * 100 / M
So, if 1000 youths were jobless in Exeter in Feb 2011 and 3308 were jobless in Feb 2012:
(3308 - 1000) * 100 / 1000 = 230.8%
but Exeter isn’t in Greece, and more than three times the number of jobless than there were a year ago seems a bit surprising. Helpfully, every month the House of Commons Library produces a Research Paper which “contains labour market figures for parliamentary constituencies, as well as a summary of the latest national and regional statistics” and the March 2012 issue (RP 12/12) contains the data for February 2012. Table 2 on page 39 shows that in Exeter the number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants who are 24 and under in February 2012 was 725, an annual % change of 13.3. The equivalent number of claimants in the March 2011 issue (RP 11/26), at Table 2 on page 35, was 640. Using the calculation above:
(725 – 640) * 100 / 640 = 13.3%
as in RP 12/12.

There are no detailed regional statistics in the Research Papers but RP 12/12 has some relevant graphics. On page 6 there is a chart (below) which shows that the South West has the lowest unemployment level of the English regions.

There are also maps showing the unemployment rate in the South West:

and the change in the claimant count:

While some nearby constituencies are worse (top quintile), Exeter is not well-placed in the fourth quintile, but on both these measures the situation is far poorer in the North East (below).

It may be that Ben Bradshaw has made use of some other data which do substantiate the figures in his tweet. If so, the discrepancy with the situation which the House of Commons Library Research Paper seems to be indicating ought to be addressed.


12 March 2012

The Times and the cyber techies (a techie gets tetchy)

From the online Oxford English Dictionary:
techie, n.
3.colloq. (chiefly U.S.). An expert in or enthusiast for technology, esp. computing; (also) a technician. Cf. techy adj.
techy, adj.1
Forms: 19– techie, 19– techy
Technologically sophisticated or complicated; characterized by expertise in or enthusiasm for technology, esp. computing. Cf. techie n. 3.

Pauline Neville-Jones’ opinion piece in The Times (£) on 9 March about cyber-security, Wanted: workers to fill half a million jobs, was subtitled In retail, defence, business and the police the hunt is on for ‘techies’. Could you be one? I will come to the rest of her article later, but the use of the term 'techie' intrigued me. I apply it to myself in this blog’s Profile, but I didn’t recall seeing it in The Times very often, if at all. So I searched the Times online database to derive the statistics for its use since 1 Jan 2011:

Bear in mind that over this period there will have been about 60 issues of the Sunday Times and about 360 of The Times, so you would have come across “techie/techies”, in one sense or the other, twice in 28 issues of The Times or in 6 issues of the Sunday Times. As an adjective, it’s often used to describe people: techie types, techie blokes, or even techie nerds. In fact, there is almost always a hint of deprecation about it (yes, by me too!).

The purpose of Neville-Jones’ article was to emphasise the importance of cyber-security and the consequent need for people with the skills needed to combat theft and espionage carried out against IT-based systems. Reading it, the prospects don’t look too good:
Government figures show that we will need more than half a million new IT professionals over the next five years. … The number of British students applying for IT-related courses is going down year on year, while foreign nationals fill the places. …
How can it be that in a field so central to this nation’s future and so potentially rewarding to those in it, we should be staring at a skills gap of daunting proportions and significance? …
The skills gap, which has its roots in the catastrophic decline in the teaching of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) over the past decade, is at last being gripped. The current inadequate ICT curriculum is being radically upgraded and new courses being developed. But will these courses be taught? Today, half the teacher training places in maths are unfilled and far too few British students are filling the centres of excellence in computer science at our universities.
In posts over the last 18 months I have touched on some of the underlying issues. For example: the way the terms engineer and technician are abused in the UK; how different things are in China; the realities of STEM training – the “math-science death march”.   Neville-Jones almost gave the game away when she remarked:
IT jobs are widely seen as being “techie” and dull. Not all of this is wide of the mark.
but then recovered with:
There is a real job to be done by existing professional bodies, universities and the Government to tell people just how broad, varied and rewarding a profession this is.
The Rt Hon. The Baroness Neville-Jones, DCMG (as Wikipedia indicates she should be styled) is a former diplomat who occupied important intelligence and national security posts, became a Conservative politician and then Minister of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office, and is now (as The Times article stated) “Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security”. Her own degree (Modern History from Oxford) was far from techie, and although she has no children of her own, I would be surprised if any of her godchildren, nieces, nephews and so on have pursued STEM-based occupations. To understand why that is likely to be the case when talking about the offspring of the UK’s elite, it’s helpful to return to the examples from Times online because these reveal their underlying attitudes towards “techie” types:
Who says techie types can’t connect? The Times 7 Feb 12
often the techies are not so hot on writing Sunday Times 20 Nov 11
a proper techie with thick-rimmed glasses The Times 30 Apr 11
Even the techies got excited The Times 19 Mar 11
sounding as emotional as a techie can get The Times 19 Mar 11
which shows that, in techie terms, I’m relatively up to speed The Times 16 Mar 11
(The Secretary of State for Education’s wife, that one)
we had an interval while the techies fiddled around with the communications systems Sunday Times 13 Mar 11
the sort of scientific language beloved of techies The Times 12 Mar 11
some slightly less chic techie types on the mezzanine The Times 19 Feb 11
Not greatly encouraging. But as I pointed out a year ago:
… “high achievers from poor families” don’t just lack material resources, but also … face a shortfall in “social capital” including access to networks, contacts and internships. In these circumstances, taking STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths), where what you know matters rather more than who you know, may be a better strategy than taking softer options with a more uncertain access to employment.
Meanwhile in China, a chemical engineering graduate from Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, Xi Jinping, is about to become President. While Baroness Neville-Jones probably doesn’t read the New Scientist very often, or even The Times’ monthly Eureka supplement, she is almost certain to be familiar with the prestigious US journal Foreign Affairs. She might then have found Adam Segal’s Feature article, Chinese Computer Games in March/April 2012’s issue, interesting, if a little depressing:
In February 2011, weeks after Google publicly announced that hackers had tried to steal its sensitive computer codes, security experts traced the attacks back to Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a vocational school in Shandong Province. Both schools denied any involvement, and it is possible that their computers were hijacked by others, but U.S. intelligence officials claim that 20 groups associated with the People’s Liberation Army and several Chinese universities are responsible for the majority of the attacks on Google, RSA, and other U.S. targets. Attributing responsibility is often hard. Some hackers drift in and out of Beijing’s orbit over time, whereas others are independent criminals with no links to the state. Overall, however, much of the hacking originating in China can be classified as government-sponsored or government-tolerated. Beijing sees such hacking as a good way to eke out economic and military advantage …
Segal would like to see a consensus built up between the US and Chinese governments, both sides recognising their common interests in an interoperable and high integrity internet. This is more a job for diplomats than techies:
Diplomats should take their cues from the planned dialogue on cyberspace between the United States and Russia, which is to include discussions about how each side’s military views the Internet and an effort to establish a hot line that could be used during a cybersecurity crisis. Washington and Beijing need to have a clear communications channel in case of emergency. To build trust over the longer term, the two sides should also discuss some common threats, such as the potential for terrorist attacks on power grids.
Nonetheless, he concludes:
Assembling an international consensus on norms about cyberspace, however, is a strategy that will probably take a long time to pay off, if it ever does. There is little the United States can do to alter China’s conception of cyberspace, a vision it is actively promoting abroad. With a growing population of 500 million Internet users, it is easy to see why the Chinese believe that the future of cyberspace belongs to them. In the meantime, the most pressing tasks for the United States are to raise the costs incurred by Chinese hackers and to improve the security of networks at home. Yet U.S. officials should be realistic: Chinese-based cyberattacks will not disappear anytime soon.
which all suggests that if you embark on a career as a cyber-security techie, it should last for years.


Anyone who has read all above will probably find this article interesting, particularly the different national perspectives, as were identified by Segal.

7 March 2012

Cornish Independence and the Conservatives

Barring flood and shipwreck, Devon and Cornwall don’t get much attention in the national media in the winter months. So it was a surprise on 5 March, even though it was St Piran’s Day (patron saint of Cornwall), when those parts turned up twice and in a political context too.

First, in the ‘dead tree’ version of The Times, the cover story of Times 2 (the drop out part attuned to those readers who might easily defect to the Daily Mail) was Could Cornwall go the same way as Scotland? with an article by Simon de Bruxelles, All quiet on the southwestern front, taking up a couple of pages inside. (It appears on the website (£) under Life and authored by ‘Simon De Bruxelles and Simon de Bruxelles’ which might be just a bit too much of a good thing.)

After a facetious start:
There are rumblings in the pasty mines, a deep seam of resentment welling to the surface as Scotland prepares to vote on independence.
and some mystical references to:
Cornish character … forged by the geography of the long, narrow windswept peninsula
as well as the Romans and the days before roads and railways, the article concludes with:
[Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party] wants Cornwall to be responsible for health, education, economic development, transport, energy, law, forestry and fishing, sports and the arts, the environment and agriculture, though it stops short of calling for full independence.
The same day a Tweet from Andrew Neil (@afneil) observed:
“Murdoch never much liked UK but post -hacking he hates it. His revenge is to campaign for its break up. Scot Sun will back independence.”
which might, at least at first sight, explain why The Times was giving space to Mebyon Kernow. But then the second national-level interest in the South West emerged. On the influential Conservative Home blog Tim Montgomerie reported The Tory masterplan to win 36 seats from Labour and 14 from the Liberal Democrats:
Nearly all of the winnable seats are in England - mainly the South West, North West and Midlands.
As there are only two Labour seats west of Bristol, any such gains in the South West will have to come mostly from the LibDems. This makes one aspect of the Times 2 article more interesting:
In recent years, Cornish separatists have been emboldened by the coalition Government. Cornwall used to be the heartland of Britain’s Liberal Democrats. Nothing, apart perhaps from a tax on pasties, could have done more to boost Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party, than the Lib Dems’ alliance with the hated Tories. The party recently won a fifth seat on Cornwall Council. It has four more than Labour and they hope soon to claim a sixth.
which sounds better than the reality that, of the other 118 councillors on Cornwall Council ( a unitary body since 2009), 47 are Conservative, 40 LibDem, 29 Independent, 1 Labour and 1 ‘Standalone’. The article’s reference to support for a referendum on self-government in the form of a petition attracting 50,000 signatures “more than 10% of the population” (actually the electorate), omits the fact that this was in 2000 before the unitary council.

Some heroic number-crunching by the Guardian Datastore has attempted to analyse the impact of the proposed constituency boundary changes (above), with the caveat that their work is “Based on a crude analysis of the composition of the new constituencies, using the 2010 election results in old ones. Assumes uniform vote across old constituencies”. Under new or old boundaries, in a future general election, if disillusioned former LibDem supporters in Cornish constituencies start voting MK, the beneficiaries are likely to be the Conservatives.

5 March 2012

Picasso at Tate Britain

Anyone with an interest in 20th Century British art will want to see Picasso & Modern British Art at Tate Britain. In November 1910, Roger Fry in his exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists introduced Picasso’s work to Britain having encountered it through Leo and Gertrude Stein in Paris. The Tate show traces Picasso’s subsequent influence in two ways. Firstly, his personal presence in the form of visits to Britain in 1919 and 1950 and also the showings here of his major works, particularly Guernica in late 1938/early 1939. Secondly, by revealing the responses of seven British artists whose work, if only at some stage, was affected by Picasso: Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney. About 90 works by these artists appear alongside more than 60 of Picasso’s, including some of his major works.

My post about the Lucien Freud exhibition at the NPG remarked that “So much is available about Freud and his work that it needs little description here” and that applies again. However, it is worth pointing out that Graham Sutherland’s landscapes can be further explored currently at Modern Art Oxford. Also, nearby in London there is an opportunity at the Courtauld Gallery to explore the influence on Ben Nicholson of Piet Mondrian. Nicholson was a sophisticated and cosmopolitan painter, eclectic in his sources which extended to the Cornish naïve painter Alfred Wallis.

The Tate show concludes with The Three Dancers (1925), purchased by the Tate in 1964 for £80,000 (about £M1.4 now). Elizabeth Cowling’s Visiting Picasso describes the diplomacy required of Roland Penrose to persuade Picasso to sell the work to the Tate direct from his studio. British admirers of Picasso should be eternally grateful to Penrose for securing for the nation a painting whose auction price now one can only guess at, but could well be in the $M150 - £M100 region. Penrose recounts the conversation he had in 1965 about the picture:
I said,'One can see the beginnings of "Guernica" in "3 Dancers".’
P[icasso].'Peut-être mais des deux tableaux je préfère de beaucoup les "3 D". C'est peint comme un tableau sans arrière-pensée.’*
Penrose had first met Picasso in 1936 and later had a key role in arranging Guernica’s UK tour. He resumed contact after the war, wrote a biography of Picasso in 1958, Picasso, His Life and Work and organised the Picasso retrospective at the Tate in London two years later. He introduced Picasso to a wider audience in 1960 than ever before with the following:
It is largely due to Pablo Picasso that the conception of art as a powerful emotional medium, rather than a search for the perfection of ideal forms of beauty, has become accepted among the artists of the twentieth century.
The turning-point in Picasso’s early career came when he was 25. The struggle in which the young artist found himself involved is forcibly illustrated in the great picture, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in Paris in the spring of 1907. It came as a shock to his friends that he should abandon a style that they had grown to love and produce instead a form of art that they could no longer understand. No one, not even Matisse, Braque and Derain, nor his devoted patrons, nor even his close friend and admirer Guillaume Apollinaire could stomach this work, which at first sight seemed to them outrageous. It took many months to digest this insult to their sensibility, but gradually they came not only to accept it but to find that it was exerting a profound influence on them.
Although since that time the work of Picasso has not always been cubist in style, the discoveries made between 1909 and the outbreak of the 1914 war (which ended his close association with Braque), have led to innumerable developments in his work and have spread their influence more widely than any other single movement in the arts.
The enveloping tenderness of maternity, the wonder of the human head, the dilemma of the artist in relation to his model, the sacrificial drama of the bullfight, the heroism of classical myths, the metamorphosis of living beings and inanimate objects, the mystery of landscape or the familiar domesticity of a still life: these themes have always absorbed him.
Although painting is his major art, the universality of his genius extends to sculpture, drawing, etching and ceramics, murals and designs for the theatre, poetry, the writing of plays and the cinema.
Picasso looks at the world with new vision, and by his art he enables us to do likewise.
In the summer of 1960 nearly half a million people queued at the Tate Gallery on London’s Millbank for the Picasso exhibition – I was one of them and a teenager (only just). In fact, it was the first major show that I had been to. I can clearly remember how crowded it was and I have wondered subsequently how much of it must have passed over me. However, the unexpected feeling of déjà vu visiting Tate Britain over 50 years later for Picasso & Modern British Art goes to show that not much in life gets totally forgotten.

Picasso & Modern British Art continues at Tate Britain until 15 July 2012 and then will be at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh from 4 August to 4 November. As well as providing a record of the exhibition, the Tate’s catalogue includes some informative essays and a fascinating interview with John Richardson, another biographer of Picasso, about the malevolent ‘capers’ of the Anglophobic collector Douglas Cooper.

*literally: 'Perhaps, but of the two pictures I much prefer the "3 D". It is painted without a second thought’; but the catalogue offers: ‘a painting in itself without outside consideration’ (page 212).