The Bank of England’s latest announcement of quantitative easing, widely referred to as QE2, prompts as many questions as it does answers — particularly for investors and pension-holders. Under a QE regime, money printed out of thin air is used to purchase government bonds from banks and other private sector investors. The theory then has it that long-term interest rates will fall, and banks will have more money to lend to eager borrowers.
The financial crisis has unleashed a great debate about rebalancing Britain’s economy. The conventional wisdom is that our prosperity during the Nice decade (non-inflationary continuous expansion, that is) was over-dependent on finance and that we need to refocus our attention on high-quality manufacturing.Under New Labour, and the Tories before them, manufacturing was allowed to wither, declining from 18 per cent of GDP in 1996 to just 12 per cent now.
Voter apathy? Don’t you believe it. Ever since we asked our readers to nominate this year’s best parliamentarian, our digital post bag has been full to bursting. Nominations have come from as nearby as Westminster and as far away as Australia. They have spanned all three major political parties, and Ukip besides. And they have been by turns witty, insightful and impassioned. This really is democracy in action.
A few weeks ago, I attended a planning seminar at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire organised by the Historic Houses Association (HHA). It was a chilling presentation which contained a clear message: the current planning proposals — which close for consultation next week— pose a serious threat, not just to our countryside, but to our heritage. With the removal of Public Planning Statement 5 (PPS5) from the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), there are now few safeguards to prevent developers building 300ft-high industrial wind turbines right next to historic castles, new sprawling social housing next to the walls of stately homes or 12th-century village churches.
The arguments for wind farms just became obsolete. We’re entering an era when gas will be cheap, plentiful – and greenWhich would you rather have in the view from your house? A thing about the size of a domestic garage, or eight towers twice the height of Nelson’s column with blades noisily thrumming the air? The energy they can produce over ten years is similar: eight wind turbines of 2.5 megawatts (working at about 25 per cent capacity) roughly equal the output of an average Pennsylvania shale gas well (converted to electricity at 50 per cent efficiency) in its first ten years.
The government wants you to save more. You might think that odd for two reasons. First, because if you are an average person you’re unlikely to have much extra to save; your mortgage payments may be lower than they were, but what the financial crisis has given you with one hand it is ripping away with the other. High inflation is destroying the purchasing power of your net income. Secondly, if you watch the news at all you will know about the paradox of thrift.
The exciting thing about showbiz is, you never quite know where you are. I thought of a good test some weeks ago. I phoned Denee, my agent’s assistant.‘Can you ring Audi and see if they’ll give me a car. But for goodness sake be discreet.’I know it sounds grasping, but I’d been forced to it. Orlando Bloom had a A4 3.0 TDI A4 when we did Pirates, which he let me drive up Regent Street because he was worried about his carbon footprint; Kate Winslet was in a Q7 last year in Cornwall when I got lost following her because I couldn’t understand her directions; and Michael Gambon has an R8, but he probably paid for that.
The first editor of the magazine turns a quizzical eye on 50 years of a ‘national institution’Not long after the 50th birthday of what was once the most successful humorous magazine in Britain, one of the best-known writers of the day delivered a damning judgment. Whereas in its early days, Max Beerbohm wrote in 1899, Punch had made a reputation by its youthful irreverence, wittily lashing out in all directions, it had now become staid and respectable, ‘a national institution’.
Old hands in Westminster are confident that they know what lies behind the Liam Fox-Adam Werritty relationship. With a knowing glint in their eye, they lean forward and whisper: ‘He’s a lobbyist.’ They’ve seen it all before, they say. It explains why Werritty thought it was worth spending tens of thousands of pounds just to be in the same city as the Defence Secretary. ‘We all know the drill with these people,’ one senior Tory explains.
In The Fear Index, the latest thriller by Robert Harris, now heading for the Christmas bestseller lists, a brainbox hedge fund manager with little in the way of interpersonal skills discovers that his computer-driven trading system has flown out of control and threatens to send the world’s stock markets into a tailspin. Anyone familiar with Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein will recognise the genre of the oddball genius consumed by his own creation — populist fiction at its best.
If young people don’t want to learn languages, it might be because the teaching materials are so drearily trendyTonight’s homework: learn ‘Bonjour’, ‘Je m’appelle,’ ‘Comment t’appelles-tu?’ ‘Ça va?’ ‘Ça va bien’, ‘Pas mal’, and ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est?’. And the tired child, already sick to death of French, having been taught it since the age of three but never methodically, starts climbing the Everest of trying to master these horrible, spiky phrases, with their sudden apostrophes, their unexplained hyphens, and the dangly fives under some but not all of the ‘c’s.