Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Farage Barage Takes Off, But Will He Follow Salmond Down a Sink Hole ?

The #EUref is likely to be held in 2016 after the next general election. Barring that is a Lib-Lab pact, and in fact it is very likely that the Lib Dem vote to collapse due to the electoral system, with the two main parties winning many of their seats if the vote is split by UKIP in England and SNP in Scotland.

In the run up to the #EUref it is then a likely scenario that UKIP and rebel eurosceptic Tory back benchers will be able to achieve two significant political achievements. Firstly reducing immigration by a few different measures, not all anti-EU some being anti Islamic, and secondly forcing a straight IN/OUT vote on the EU.

When compared to #indyref north of the border there are some strange, mirror image political variables and some stark similarities. Nigel Farage risks not only losing the way Alex Salmond did, and he must personally take the blame for the timetable, the pound and the EU, but also the would be fascist leader of England risks political oblivion in a No vote to leaving the EU.

The situation is a skewed mirror image of the Scots Referendum,  because public opinion is actually more favourable in England at least, if not NI and Wales, than it was in outset to the Yes vote North of rivers tweed and Solway.  Also instead of having a long lasting, loyalist union, fighting wars and sharing the hard times with some degree of mutual respect and union of purpose and identity, the No campaign have the opposite. Instead of the case for Scots where Great Britain and the security of the union could be played as a whole pack suit of cards, with the Royals and the Ace of the pound on top, the No campaign who oppose exit to Europe have nothing to cling too, especially not the blue bureaucratic flag with the ring of stars. There is no emotional attachment to Europe from the majority of people in the whole UK.NI, no past to be called up, no warm and fuzzy feeling.

Another virtue for this Farage-through-the-looking-glass versus Scotchlandshire's #indyref is that the Scots had over 95% of the media stacked against them. Both by partisan editorial, the power of vested interests in STV and BBC, and by of course the usual journalistic vigour in going to the attack on weak policies and promises with few facts. Farage has as much as a half of the national newspapers on his side roughly, that is Eurosceptic so far. It has suited their readership and headline sales to portray immigration as a major woe in the UK, especially assylum seekers and Romanian 'vagrants'. The UK media is generally not owned by the same groups as on the continent and has therefore no money men backing the EU. The murdoch empire seem Eurosceptic or happy to sell copy on that basis.

People on the street and those in finance have the same problem in seeing the benefits of Europe as many of those who would like to reform the relationship and indeed the whole EU. The benefits are of course macro economic and on a basis of international trade and freedom of movement of labour. On the second point that includes the principle that eventually you should enjoy the same rights as an employee, or indeed business owner, which ever member state you live and work in. This extends to health and safety, where Britain is both ahead of many other countries and very keen on being obedient and EU directives into law and some times in the echelons of public service, interpreting them wholly overly zealously and making a mockery of the rules, which the papers love. They are only making fools of themselves if you actually know anything anout HSE.

On that point, it is professionals in HSE, making our places of work and public interaction safer, international traders in goods and finance/investments, multinational managers and especially engineers and quality assurance managers who actually are exposed to the daily administrative benefits of the EU. Far from adding beaurocracy, being able to sell goods under one set of labelling and to agreed qaulity standards is hugely advantageous. Being able to trade and invest within the frame work of cross border laws or a legal playing field which is more even than delaing with 16 countries or more, is a huge time and cost saving advantage, and means that the city of london and the LSE can enjoy much higher parasitic profits on the back of investment and trades than if they had to use more complex legal and trading vehicles to deliver investment, conduct trades in shares etc and then take dividends if they had to deal with legal, computing and of course political boundaries and idiosyncracies.

It seems though that many people working in finance in England and the City are unaware of even some of the direct values and benefits of the EU, warts and all, let alone of the indirect financial benefits. Economics for their level is not granular enough to see that share prices are influenced by the ability to sell one product in at least 10 countries, with one labelling. That say engineering services can be standardised across all member states, plus Norway, and respected internationally by adhering to an ISO European Norm. The financiers do not see that companies who generate real margin, multiplying value are those in food, energy,  manufacturing and technical services that benefit from the ISO EN structure and being able to employ staff from all  over the EU who are qualified and can deliver to those quality standards. And despite all the media guffawing at straight cucumbers, and the definition of a sausage, they fail to see the value of common standards in reducing administration costs and allowing companies to expand sales internationally.

And there is the rub,  the reality street for UKIP and the Tory back bench rebels.  When it comes to nearer the time they will be facing a large back lash from the key international value creation companies, from agricultural wholesalers, from retailers, and probably a very big NO voice from the energy sector. This will then rub off as uncertainty on the stock exchange and 'funny money markets'.

Already though, some key bankers have decided the UK/OK outside the EU will be a very not OK place, open to the cold shoulder of a scorned lady, Angela Merkel, with a powerful stock exchange hungry to take continental investment and banking away from London. The Bank of America, somewhat bigger than the Scottish Economy, are already making contingency plans ie lightly veiled threats, to leave to relocate to Dublin in the event of a pull out.

The Scottish #indyref showed one thing from companies and the 'markets' - they do not like uncertainty and politicians with wish lists and unsubstantiated promises or even presumptions, build a lot of nerves.

In this then, the journalistic style of the BBC and some key national newspapers will change to being openly partisan in the same way they faced Salmond and the YES north of the border, by shouting it down with big figures, businesses threatening to leave and so on.

The UK leaving the EU is a far bigger economic affair than the Scots leaving the old, pretty irrelevant union and hoping to remain in the EU. For the man in the street it means Jobs and Prices. Foreign labour often takes up the jobs with skills gaps or so lowly paid that many in the new graduate majority young work force, refuse to take, and wil live with Mum and Dad rather than putting up with the cheap side of town rentals the Poles and other east europeans just get on with.  Romanian beggars and their criminal husbands are another issue which does not need to be addressed with a referendum.

Unlike the #indyref over the waters of the Tweed, the EU will not be offering a pledge to keep the UK in. There has always been animosity in France and other social democracies towards the UK, as it being a platform for the influence of the USA in particular its military ambitions but also economic power (ironic in the days the TTIP comes into force maybe) . The thought of a UK with the ability to then  use a 'pledge' to try and get a very special arrangement is basically not going to fly. The EU will use all the scare tactics and start to swing public opinion in the UK over time, or simply prepare themselves to inviting bankers and investors to hop over the channel, while making it clear to others that there is no certainty on there being any new agreement which will benefit businesses in an Indy UK.

Like Alec Salmond, Farage could reach out for  Norway as an example, and look to EFTA re-entry. However Norway and Iceland would not want a raving right wing fascist partner and the possibility for discussion about fishing rights. Norway like to cooperate with the EU subtly, on their own terms if possible, in the back rooms of early decision making and early sounding out of directives. They do not want the UKIP with inexperienced blundering nationalist with a big N "diplomats" bludgeoning their way into these committees as an EFTA partner.

Scotland on the other hand could and should have done more work on this with Norway as a potential temporary house for pre EU entry. There is already cross N Sea cooperation by companies and institutions, a common interest in sustaining fisheries , the Norwegian ownership of Scottish fish farms and an amicable histroy between the two nations. Norway with an economy of around 300 billion Euros GDP is at least twice the size of the Scottish economy, so in EFTA it would have a smaller, similar partner. Politically too, Norway like the rest of Scandinavia is a social democracy and not the right wing radical direction the UK has taken since 1979, despite a recent conservative coalition win, they are left of UK Labour on many policies and maintaining much of the status quo. The swedes have just rejected 8 years of cajoling down the Thatcher route of tax cuts for the wealthier, privatisation and power to employers, and voted to  hark back to a more even society, while also splitting the right wing vote by the new fascists in the Svenskademokratinene. The Bedroom tax in any scandinavian country would lead to a media and public scandal when the first wheelchair user was made homeless.

Farage as Herr Chancellor as he would want, and a proposed post #EUref Tory Leader, ie  2015/16 contender to Cameron, would stand like Alex Salmond thinking that they would have all the economic playing cards in their hand, when in fact it is a game of poker ready to be called by a higher royal flush. They cannot go into an #EuRef with that arrogance. They can of course come out of an EU ref YES to separation with a good deal of arrogance,  but face the reality of negotiating themselves a place less strong than even softly/softy/catch/a/monkey Norway has today.

Timetable is another thing. There is indeed provision for EXIT of a member, or indeed a member's distant colonies  where the precedent has been set by Greenland exiting and some French islands. There is provision for discussion of enlargement, criteria for accession and new membership of states outside the EU, but of course as a blinding hole, there by no coincidence, not for States who are divisions of previous member states. The Czechs and Slovaks did the deed prior to EU membership, the Catalans are yet to vote, while the Salmond timetable was based on thin air and wishful thinking, the same as any Farage lead approach to the EU for a new external relationship would be.

The fight will start now, post Scotias vote, to try and limit the traction of UKIP coming into the next election, but it will be hard to avoid a straight ballot on In/Out and Cameron has promised a referendum now and it will be in the manifesto. He cannot get away with a three question or a Quebec subtefuge ten line question with UKIP holding anymore than 20 seats in parliament. It will have to be in out, and then the battle lines for international business are drawn, fight this the way the Scots were  fought, big figures, big risk, low Farage credibility on negotiating back in from the new Cold place out twixt N.Sea and Atlantic.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

High Speed Two Should be Turned on Its Head! North End First!

High speed two is going to be the biggest civil engineering project in Southern England since the Channel Tunnel, and in fact both for their day , the biggest in the whole of the UK.

With the Scottish Referendum behind us, now the media is trying to paint many positive pictures about the benefits of Union, which must seem a bit trite for those follk living in the 'North of England' Traditionally or colloquoally considered to start northwards from an imaginery line from Stoke in the west to Sheffield in the East. A massive investment is to be made in infrastructure which benefits the wealthier,  high employment area of England first.

The real benefits will be firstly in jobs in the south east and London in particular where a new route is proposed with a new major terminus rebuilt at Marlebone potentially, or integration to St. Pancras International with a N London route. No matter what the route, it will be expensive and so far indications predict the first sod or pnuematic drill will sound in Greater London such that land there is bought first before the expected up tour in the economy.

So it is difficult to see the real wisdom behind the project when you think that the long-term overheating London economy could do with moving jobs north,  rather than bringing more people into London. In this , the public sector could lead the way by moving more administration jobs out of the capital and the south east, which has in fact been an on /off strategy in UK politics with the DVLA in Swansea,  Student Loans Office in Glasgow, Tax Help Line Office in the NE and so on.

House and Property Prices as a Potential Capitalist Alterior Motive?

I am very against distortions in markets caused by governments,  and this by all means has two means by which it distorts the UK economy as a whole.

Firstly it will influence property prices, even if compulsory purchases keep the direct acquisition price down. Any removal of housing stock and commercial property in London and the suburban home counties will push up prices elsewhere.  More directly there will be a need for many workers and managers, who will be drawn for such a large project from the whole of the UK as for the "Chunnel" and they will need accomodation, be that rental , hotel or bought for the senior management.

Secondly it is not about prices in London, but also about overcoming the percieved future needs for labour in London, mainly in the finance sector, which can at times struggle to attract enough people in some disciplines or has to pay them large salaries. With daily commuting from the nearer end of the West Midlands being much easier and with higher capacity at rush hour, suddenly London gains new suburbs like Coventry, Knowle and Dorridge. Lucky cockneys eh?

So therefore there can also be a major boom in house prices there too.

This is as far as the first part of the 17bn, and rising, will go in the first phase and if there was not a continuing upswing in the economy, it may well only go that far for quite some time.

Benefits of HS2 for the 'Up North'

There will be some benefits for the folk north of birmingham. Average speeds south of Brum' will increase from 70-90 mph for express trains, to 140 mph with peak runnng of 186 mph. This then secures a sub one hour run from say Birmingham International or new station. The trains are likely to be similar to the current class 395 which run on the Kent HS1 route, although the route may also be suitable for current tilting 390s. I imagine that in fact both will run, with different train operating companies buying access to different 'diagrams' in railway speak. Some diagrams by virtue of capacity on the route and intermediate stops, will maybe be 120/140mph peak speed, suitable for through services from the North and Scotland, currently running these Pendolinos. Class 395 type high speed trains could and indeed should be able to run on ordinary track and thus reach all the major cities in the North currently wired up to the West Coast Main Line (WCML)

There in lies several benefits. With a faster corridor to London, more services can be covered with any given number of trains which are economic to run on it. In other words, if a train can be routed down there be that a 395 or an older 390, then if there is a profit to be had it will run, and then that train itself will be able to do more runs per day to-and-from say Manchester.

To a point this is a win-win for passengers and T.O.C.s and railtrack or who ever owns the track bed of  HS2. However it means that there can actually be more competition for through trains from HS2 to Manchester and so on, thus pushing track access charges upwards if they are deregulated or reviewed in light of more demand by the renationalised Railtrack. Also HS2 could lock people into the benefits of the 45 minute reduction and companies will then expose themselves to super inflationary track access charges or a milking strategy will be rolled out against passengers, where the old WCML services have been locked out by new line services. This is acheived quite simply by terminals reaching capacity such as Piccadily or Glasgow Central. Once you own enough diagrams in and out of Manchester for major inter city trains then, you can block out peak time competition by literally sitting on the platform for the time currently allowed to disembark passengers, clean the train and allow for safe alightment.

We have seen the privatised rail industry as a super inflationary sector for passengers on the most attractive, non subsidised routes. Why this should be reversed with such a potential displacement of capacity is doubtful, Trains running at 186 mph top speed use a lot more energy than those running at the current top speeds of 100mph and 125 mph  depending on section of the WCML. The per mile track access charges for HS2 will be far higher than for WCML. It will be expensive and once commuters are locked into jobs in the south, prices will rise above the rate of wage inflation.

So the benefits for HS2 part 1 are dubious when actually examined under an economic historical precedent.

However when HS2 part 2 goes ahead, then that boosts inter city traffic within the whole area, making it much more attractive than the car. For trips to london, it makes it quicker than flying, although it has to be said that if you need to travel city centre to city centre, then currently Manchester and Leeds (ECML route) it is quicker by train, while Glasgow is only an hour slower than by plane when transport to the airport, check in, security, boarind and disembarking are taken into account. But do you need to get from Leeds to Manchester in half an hour if it is going to cost you sixty five quid each way? Are we not best served with more electrification of existing routes, more intra regional expresses and more London through services?

Alternative Strategy for HS2 Or Just Plain Simple More Sensible Alternatives

My suggestion would be to either turn it completely on its head, and start on the Leeds/Manchester portion or to actually not bother with HS2 as we know it today..

The alternative as I propose and have blogged on before , but here in a shopping list:

#Fully integrate advanced train protection and any resignalling needed for 140 mph running on the current WCML.
#Electrify York-Leeds immediately
# Build a diversion freight route first just diesel using the proposed Aylesbury route or the great central route, to divert the slow 50 - 80 mph freight off the WCML
# Electrify the Birmingham -Oxford- London route and make passing lanes for express services and high speed freights to overtake local or slow frieght services.
# Build new main line interconnectors (which would include the "Aylesbury" route for freight partly) between all the raidal routes out of London, in effect a peripheral m25 and an inner Northern Circle. The outer circle could be as far out as Rugby, Bedford, Reading, the inner circle using mainly existing routes and rail routes which have been made into A roads around North London in particular.
# Electrify Crewe-Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton to allow freight diversion/ displacement and extra capacity northwards.
# Make the WCML four lanes where ever possible in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Warwichshire
# Resurvey Leeds-Manchester and Manchester Sheffield for most cost effectiive routes with 125-140mph peak speed as a target, average speed non stop 100 mph.
# In the WCML southern end past Willesden and Wembly and the frieght terminals, build elevated second layer 2 to four lane tracks over the existing tracks for through expresses, with freight and stopping services using the lower deck.
# Rebuild Marlebone station with a twin level design, and connect this with electrified routes to the Oxford route, the WCML and integrate cross london trains from there and also Heathrow Direct Trains, Stanstead Direct trains, Gatwick via Thameslink
# Interconnection for the midland line would be used for through trains to the Channel Tunnel or connections to this at St Pancras.
# Resurvey the WCML in terms of upgrading current track to 125mph and 140mph, and consider building shorter high speed stretches where geography and land prices / compensation would be a good pay off.
# Consider tunnel sections northwards to Carlisle and in the Southern Uplands in the route to Glasgow which could have maximum time savings and provide new capacity by overtaking slower trains on the existing routes 'above them'
# Move away from standard track access tabulation charges to a highest bid per diagram system,  with long term ownership of diagrams and restrictions on re-sale or under utility in the contracts.

To the layman, this last point is explained as followed
Trains run to timetables and in fact those timetables of course between different operators, are shared with there being only so much capacity on the routes. Faster trains are given priority and  overtake slower frieghts of commuter trains in stretches where there are more than two lines, or  at stations which have extra platforms. Some timetabled trains are more attractive than others for passengers to get to work, or to reach the terminus from local transport in order to set out, often just outside the rush hour so they avoid hiking baggage around through masses of commuters pouring out at 0820-0845.  Some timetabled services are fast through trains, while on others they are as well making additional stops as they cannot go any faster because of slower services infront of them at the key bottlenecks on the network or WCML in particular, in towards N. London and eventually Euston.

Some of these timetables when you consider the complete traffic on the route for the day, are actually quite historic, and it can take time, or innovation to change them. The last changes were the move to 125mph pendolinos (deisgned gfor 140mph actually) and some sections where traffic can go in the opposite direction at the same time.

Current track access charges are pro rata, but amount to a given cost for a company over the years. If they instead bought out right the lease on a given timetable for say 10 years, with clauses on potential improvements to speed, then they could pay a large sum then and only a small running cost if any to track, stations and stabling points.  The most attractive timetabled trains would attract the highest bidders. The least attractive would then have low bids, and be subject to subsidy or public rail operation, but could always there after be open for new bidders to take over them. Railtrack or who ever owns the track bed and stations, then recieves a major investment at the front end which it can use on immediate pressing infrastrutural needs on that route, and also pool for long term developments and as a private company, they could invest that money in other investments in order to make a return to pay for the regular maintainance and so on. For the WCML which is electrified, that cost would most likely need to be a running cost because of the uncertainty about prices over time, and the ability for the supply chain to negotiate cheaper or greener supply purchases.

The train operating companies gain by securing their favoured timetabled trains in terms of cost-return, and over the long term in being able to secure that profitable timetable train over a long time, such that they can lease or buy newer trains to keep up with the demands for safety and reliability en route, while also pleasing passengers. They can then secure long term investment in their businesses to pay for the bid sums, and the operation and upgrades to stock or better leasing agreements with stock owners like Angel Trains.

The government gains because the rail industry has bid a market price they think is  realistic, and competed to win it. Those train services which operators  consider with bids lower than cost of running (which gets complicated) the track, stations and signalling are then considered for either subsidy, public TOC or actually to be reconsidered for actual viability and if the timetabled service could be removed  such that other trains such as freight etc could use up the capacity. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Trident "II" Economics and Equity

The Royal Navy's four trident ssbm system submarines are reaching the end of their life cycle, that is to say the reactor systems have a finite life and the rest of the 'boats' will become uneconomic to repair in relation to new build.

For the missiles and possibly other components, these will actually continue to be part of the ongoing upgrade life extension programme that Lockhead Martin and the US navy have embarked on, where current stocks of missiles arre upgraded and standardised to new, lower cost common sourced components.

How do the actual costs of a new system of submarines and the price paid to the US contractors and government compare to the potential utility of the system? Is there any actual societal 'cost-benefit-?

Firstlty there are of course the open costs> new submarines, refurbished missiles. Even here there are several other hidden costs. The nuclear fission materials in both the submarines' reactors and the warheads are established and maintained in the UK, with nuclear power statiions such as Dounreay and Annan in Scotland actually, and the defence facilities in England carrying out the work. To the authors knowledge this is not clearly included in the acquisition cost for the system, neither is it clear what level of cross subsidy the system recieves by virtue of having specialist facilities at these sites available at all times. Furthermore much of the second generation of 1960s and 1970s reactor facilities such as these are reaching the end of their own life cycle, and are highly questionable in terms of cost per MWh in total cost of life cycle.

That brings us to another hidden cost of the SSBM gauranteed mutual destruction system: decommissioing. The Polaris system has had a declared accountable cost of 180 million Sterling for the UK system, however the hidden and perpetual costs of this must surely be far higher. Once again there are hidden costs in maintaining specialist facilities and personnel above the contractual costs, which may not be transparent or collatable in terms of parliaments, budget holders, annual accounts, retainer fees and any facits of secrecy which may muddy the waters.

Trident mark I, UK, will have its submarines decommissioned within 2025 given the current timetable, meaning that their active service life span will be at least a decade longer than Polaris. These 'boats' are far larger of course than Polaris and hence have more nuclear material and more contaminated material. Currently the it is only some of the materials whcih can 'economically' be removed, those in other words which are designed for reprocessing and disposal, like fuel rods, and those in which in fact Sellafield has current facilities to tackle. The hulks of submarines including cooling fluids are then just in limbo, for thousands of years as there is no deep mine storage facility pallatble to the electorate, who incidentally have consistently supported the actual weapons system for three decades.

Other hidden costs will be then for the new system, the ongoing upgrade to the missiles themselves in the USA, the missiles system commissioning launches from the Cape Canaveral area, the ongoing replenishment of the fissile and fussile radioactive materials, the reactor service costs,  maintenacne and upgrade for shore facilities at faslane and couplort, and potentially Devonport  , any alterations to off site nuclear facilities eg Sellafield and Dounreay, and as mentioned the cost of decommissioning and any other life extension of the system. Then there are of course the running costs which are in terms of personnel and materials directly incurred by the Royal Navy, and in fact relatively Trident is supposedly a lighter cost than Polaris was, this being reflected in fewer navy personnel and support workers being based at Faslane and Coulport than during the 'hey days' of Polaris in the late 70s and into the 1980s were there were in excess of 2000 personnel and 1200 civilian workers based at HMS Neptune, Faslane.  Trident has a smaller crew in fact than Polaris had.

It is Ironic that English society in particular is not willing to pay for the fully safe disposal of the remaining polaris hulks nor are they interested in the associated deep-permanent-store facility proposed for Cumbria, yet it is willing to commit to a third SSBM system with eventually this legacy remaining above surface.

What has Trident Achieved for Great Britain?

It was somewhat Ironic that the biggest insurgency to British soveriegn territory happened in the year that the Trident system was agreed between the governments of Reagan and Thatcher. The Argentine Junta knew that the UK had in fact not an independent will and mandate to use its nuclear defence system in a preemptive attack in response to conventional warfare. It took a huge risk in taking the Falklands, betting that the UK would be forced by the USA and EU to negotiate a settlement which they maybe speculated Spain and Italy would sway towards concession of the territories they invaded. Conventional forces, conventional casualtiies ensued as the British managed just to mount a fleet of ships, many of them commandeered to travel and defeat the Argentine occupation force.

In the subsequent two decades, there have been several incursions and invasions of 'allied' soils, in particular Kuwait and Georgia. More recently there have been the Chinese and N.Korean insurgencies over 'disputed' island territories, and of course the current running crisis in Ukraine at time of writing and complete annexation of Crimea.  Where there is a perrceived element of legitmacy it seems the super powers will just ingore the theories and practice of 'detente' and cross borders.

The missioning of UK Trident harks back to a time when the British Empire was still a significant source of economic export and material supply in a UK driven trading system. UK "interests" and protectorates are often still quoted by military sources in the MOD and Whitehall who retain both the view there is some need for an independent defence outside of NATO, and within which they would have the public beleive that a nuclear element has a unique deterrent effect which could be exercised as a preemptive attack against non nuclear nations. This is of course a subtefuge, because the UK is aligned to international treaties which limit the use of nuclear weapons, and render them actually under the leash of NATO and in particular the USA.

The other supporting argument used by the UK is that the system stands actually shoulder to shoulder with the US, unlike the totally independent French nuclear arsenel, and that this is a many quilled bow against the enemy. An enemy which had in fact then become a loose ally against islamic powers, with Putin's forces training with Nato and submarines visting HMS Neptune, a sight completely unthinkable in 1982 when Trident was initiated for the UK.

The Final arguement is the so called 'red tide' doomsday scenario, a constant philosophical, moral and much parodied debate since 'M.A.D' detente was a practical fact by the late 1950s. Here sits a Trident commander with the knowledge that all communications are down, and the sitting order to attack if no contact can be made assuming  that the UK has been hit by a major nuclear catastrophe. Then the commander can give presumably Putin or his successor, a bloody nose over the corpse of his homeland. The nightmare scneario which is the fantasy end game of the old cold war or the new world 'disorder'

The Rejection of Alternative Military Utiltiy and Conventional Multi Tasking

As the primary defence mission of the cold war era evapourated into political history, the new world disorder began. Fuelled by the new axis of evil, Iranian neo conservative state isalmism and the continued ethnic cleansing and settlement in Palestine by the Israelis as the justifying elemenet for the new interpretation of "Jihad" the struggle for religious identity and rights subverted to the totalitarian view and godless violence of the Iranian supported organistations conducting terror attacks.

In this light, the US Trident system of 14 'boats' was seen as a dead sitting capital item, and some utility was sought in fitting two missiles per submarine as a new type of ICBM velocity weapon, as part of a rapid strike capability against targets identified as hostile and threatening. Russia of course complained because they too of course can detect any launch of an ISCBM and may interpret it as an illegal preemptive nuclear attack on an allied land, such as Iran.

Counter Arguement Against the Cheaper, Wider Tasking Cruise Missiile System

The latter section reveals the UK admiralty's counter arguement which supports trident. Trident cannot be confused, and of course it will probably never be used. However the cruise missile system could be confused by an enemy or a land or group associated to the opposing super powers.

This is used in only a closed loop arguement and not in light of the reality. However there are many limitations in terms of 'M.A.D' deterrence.  A cruise system is far more limited in nuclear capacity and range. They are single target deployment with limited megotonne capacity. Your submarines must be deployed in certain spheres and cannot operate from any point in the world. Cruise missiles are also more vulnerable to surface to air defences and other electronic or secret counter measures.

The arguements against a cruise system though were facile until 2013, when the once infamous Tomahawk system was degraded to carrying only conventional war heads ( a stock pile and capacity for actually carrying W80 type nuclear warheads still exists though). Until 2013,  that they could be confused where Trident is not is a tautology, because cruise delivery which has a nuclear warhead capactiy, was widely used during the wars in Iraq. By nature of small launch flash and sub radar approach, they are harder to detect and discriminate from other short range missiles in a theatre of war. The final arguement  which negates the view of confusabilitty causing escalation is that every time a B52 flies it must be presumed that it has nuclear capacity on board. The US still refuse to deny that any strategic bomber does or does not carry nuclear weapons

Putin has to live with cruise missiles, the russians have a capacity to respond to a first nuclear strike with such MAD force that they must actually presume that for instance any 'confused vector' cruise attack against pro russian Ukrainian rebels is conventional. It is conceivable that the entire nuclear capacity of North Korea could be obliterated by conventional cruise sub radar attacks and 'star wars' interception of any missiles launched in that time.

The Royal Navy already has a torpedo tube based medium range Tomahawk Cruise Missile capacity, and a proposed longer range missile submarine would be smaller and far less expensive than Trident II. It would of course also offer a wide range of missioning for anti enemy fleet attack, NATO fleet escorting,  territorial water patrol, anti terrorist surgical strikes and possibly hunter-killer anti submarine action.

Comparing the Cost Benefits of Public Spending

Trident and High Speed 2 are the two largest capital projects the Westminster government is currently committed to and a likely opposition win in the next general election is unlikely to over turn either committment unless public dissatisfaction with the enourmous spending becomes an issue. As is the case with Trident versus disposal of nuclear materials, as long as Trident submarines are based out of sight in the Scottish Sea Lochs, the English public regard the system as a politically desirable entity and not a reality of a huge investment in an uniused system of just four submarines, with only one or two actually able to act upon the 'four minute' warning at any time, and those vulnrable to interception by Russian and Chinese hunter killer submarines which regularily tail Trident from the western approaches to Scotland. Indeed it is alleged that secret missions from both these super powers breached british territorial waters in order to gain the 'fingerprint' sonar trace of each new Trident boat as it was set on commissioning exercise from the Clyde. How far into the North Channel, Irish Sea or indeed lower Clyde estuary these intrusions came is not publically known. Trident is then a show of stregnth and just that, it is theatre and not a practical reality nor an invulnerable system due to there being often only one submarine able to launch an attack, and that submarine must be considered comprimisable due to the size of the Russian fleet of hunter/killers in particular.

A dissipated system using cruise missiles would provide the enemy with a far greater challenge by virtue of uncertainty. This is anotherr counter arguement based on the "trigger" -happiness of the Russians and Chinese

So the actual defence utility is questionable, with the engine of LSE being more effective against Putin's ambitions for post USSR neighbour lands with high ethnic russian sub populations.

The calculations to make are simple, we need only go into them as a philosophical exercise> how many job years compared to civilian or conventional personnel woudl the cost of Trident deliver? How many major Hospitals? How many air ambulances? How many paid university places for students from poor backgrounds? How many new treatments for cancer or antibiotics which private sector are unwilling or financially unable to create?

Really it is the complete diminishment of 'British Interests' in terms of both former commonwealth countries and dependencies or in terms of international industry which negate the utility of any independent nuclear arsenel. Only France maintains the same, and this is partly on the same arguments of non NATO spheres of operation. Other European countries with borders to Russia or Ukraine lack independent deterrents and rely on NATO alliance for both strategic defence and local security back up, as we see currently in the Baltic nations and Poland, with a return to facing to Moscow as the eastern aggressor.

Britains commercial industries are owned by the Chinese and Indians. Her export growth markets are also there. Many former dependencies are now moving ever further away from the UK politically towards becoming republics who see the UK as unimportant.  What British Interests are which would include the need for a doomsday only nuclear capacity is then the question. "Loss of Empire nferiority complex" or historical conservative romanticism are two of the real political reasons for public support for spending on Trident II.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Lloyd Cole Blues

Sometimes some folk must feel that their greatest achievements lay ahead of them, while other times for other artists the heavy sinking feeling lies in the stomach that your greatest work is well behind you.

This is how I feel about Lloyd Cole, after listening to yet another album based on half hearted lyrical endeavour and soft country rock. Borrowed riffs and refrains from the rock anthology, or just cut and pasted from his own previous back catalogue in order to keep a sense and feel that it is him. This disappointment has gone on too long. Maybe his epitaph will have to just be Rattlesnakes.

It started not with his debut as a solo artist, but with his second album as merely himself, "Don't get weird on me babe" which seems to have set the mold for all his subsequent work (bar his adventure into electrica recently) as being soft rocky, poppy stuff trying to maybe be modest and grown up and following a thread he was content with. The country and western influences from its' pre 1970s-cheese fest are tamed by studio drums and mediocre chorus. Why bother Lloyd? Is there hope Wim Wenders will use you as an understated backing track to a new detour back to little mid west USA?

Lloyd still shines though in the blinding light of the early days of "Lloyd Cole and The Commotions" . When I last saw him live many moons ago at the Usher Hall, Edinbra, he returned to much of this body of work in an acoustic (with pick ups ) set - you could say that solo tour was his own "unplugged". His voice was often nervous, failing completely in range at crucial points he used to master, but some songs in the set were performed with a subtle wonder which recaptured the spirit from the 1980s master piece and monolith, "Rattlesnakes".

The band then were forged in the dark alleyways and delapitadated studios of the west end and Argyll  areas of Glasgow, Scotland. They chose a unique underground americana image and theme as a back drop for the music on Rattlesnakes, which fed upon the three preceeding decades of american rock, blues and country music. As  an alternative rock band, this put them slightly at odds with the antipathy amongst youth towards the US in those  Reagan years, , but as fortune would have it the style was enough for them to bypass any wilderness years on an independent label "also ran" list, when they were signed to Polydor for the release of said monolith and masterpiece "Rattlesnakes" in 1984.

Rattlesnakes still is a colossus, head and shoulders above much of 1980s jingle indie, and an album which echoes its uniqueness down the years. The new comers quietly walked on stage with a sideways glance, all smouldering angst and threw alternative rock a sucker punch with their flashing genius. There it stands, Rattlesnakes, stark in much of its use of rythm guitar and steel edged riffs, with often cynical song writing with lyrics which twisted from hopeless romantic endulgence to bitter memories.

Lloyd and band took americana as a theme not from NYC, or SF but from the run down small towns, the tired, the bitter, the angry, the apathetic of the underbelly of the US. The beats. The unseen beaten. That is what his sultry look portayed, a lost son from the mid west wilderness of the soul. He grasped that US feel from a pretence of eternal 1950s vapours and made it cool. His americana was James Deanesque, the anti hero, all passions spent age 21, a rebel with only love as a cause.

Later on this foray into Americana must have inspired Scotland's next venture into Americana, "Texas" into a steel guitar fuelled  success bigger than the Commotions but at the cost of commerciality, lower artistic credibilty and Charlene Spitteri being on everything but roller-skates as she was rolled out cross media by the fame-machine.

It was only many years later that I discovered that Lloyd Cole drew much of his lyrical inspiration from the student life as a philosophy undergrad' at Glasgow Uni' in the early eighties. He transposed his uber middle class experiences there, often the minutiae of  failed love affaires, into a beat-american gestalt which was more than a facade, it was the soul of the band. Later that decade I walked in his very shoes, working-hard-for-my-union-card by doing promo work towards the covetted QM student union Palais Pass. Access all bands, free for some fly postering. Watch out for Miles Cooney. Footnote: Excludes Motorhead's infamous summer ear bleeder.

He wrote more over of the romance of the time, and the romances no doubt of his life while at the 'varsity. In both their debut and surprising follow. In the early eighties there was both modern romance and post punk leathers, which gave a "free love, so fucking what" cycnicism from the proto existential consumenrist generation those times spawned. Love was explosive, only to be left with smoke blown in your face and eyes turned away. If the truth be told "all we ever shared was a taste in clothes" could be a romantic mantra for the leather clad post punk. Free Love became your right of choice for both sides, while also your right to cut it all off as a gesture of your own free will. Lives and motivations separated especially at the end of academic years, which must have been about 1982-83 for Cole himself. Love as a wrapper you wore to the art school concerts, just to throw away when you were bored by the contents being human.

Although "Rattlesnakes" must be taken in reverance, it was not the one-vinyl-press wonder you may infer, or Wiki critic scribblers may have 'documented' for the biased annals of the electric interweb. It was followed up by the softer, jangly and more playful "Easy Pieces" which gave us more from Lloyds loves and travels in particular as a young man in his formative years of first independence. It even endowed his discography with the indie danceable "Lost Weekend" which I must have swayed my shoulders and hips to while flirting with a flower-print mini dress clad indie-chick or two way back when....where did it all go wrong?

The rot did not being at all with Cole's venture into a Solo career. I guess I could speculate or google on why the Commotions fell away, but suffice to say Lloyd had a lot left in him he wanted to get out alone, and he did that in his first album. It was a sultry, life weary Cole who came with a dark, heavy yet eminently listenable ablbum which was as creative in melody and lyrics as the previous body of work while perhaps being harder hitting alternative rock in sound and intention.

After "Lloyd Cole" with the daubed X, another must-own CD of the time, he then as mentioned wavered over to a more C&W, pop rock album "Weird on Me..." which could have stood alone as a venture into a softer sound and style,  and indeed is far from being a terrible concoction by any means. However he has persisted there after with album upon album of B sides, with his voice wavering or not being engineered into anything more than "Lloyd Cole gets old, slowly but surely".

Perhaps the problem lies in his own modesty and the self confessed fragilities which have blighted his life.  Maybe he would like to forget his 'pretenious' 1980s as many a 'proper grown up' looks back upon that twenty-something me of high living and irresponsibility. I would have at a guess that in fact it was because Polydor signed them, and made main stream, prime time slick videos with them, and put them on the circuit that actually like Kurt Cobain, the meteoric projection into fame was too much. Better then to have smouldered away some more years as the original line up, struggeling and doing minor town hall gigs as an indy label band through to a mainstream success in the 90s maybe as a matured product with a marketable, authentic back catalogue.

Lloyd, you can choose to gather some inspirational people around you, be they musicians or be they urban street dwellers, or small country town eccentrics, and set off in a  new direction, or you can carry on with this long moan of a catalogue of errors, of sounds-just-like-me-like-i-should-sound B sides and make some A sides, even if it takes you ten years. Tour minor venues with a band. Play rock and roll, but  remember your indy roots. We will always love and remember you for Rattlesnakes and your first solo album, but please let there be more. Sulking and play acting are back on demand, all part of the show, let it go on.