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P. S. Briggs "Patrick Briggs" (London)

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Samsung Battery Charger Kit for Galaxy Camera - White
Samsung Battery Charger Kit for Galaxy Camera - White
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3.0 out of 5 stars The charger works fine with the Samsung BP2000 battery provided with my Samsung ..., 18 Aug 2014
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The charger works fine with the Samsung BP2000 battery provided with my Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC200). However the battery sold with the charger is not compatible with my Camera and does not work in it.

A Half-Forgotten Triumph: The story of Kent's County Championship title of 1913
A Half-Forgotten Triumph: The story of Kent's County Championship title of 1913
by Martin Moseling
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Were those the days? Well maybe they were - but all too briefly, 5 May 2014
To Kent fans of a certain age, like me, the "Golden Age" of Kent cricket means the glorious 1970s when the County Championship was won three times and there were no fewer than seven trophies in the various limited overs competitions. But earlier in the century, when the County Championship was the only game in town, Kent won it four times in eight years - 1906, 1909, 1901 and 1913. This book tells the story of the last of these triumphs - what was, as it turned out, to be Kent's last win in any competition for fifty-four years.

In 2014 we are looking back a hundred years to the start of the Great War and as we do so we will also be telling the story of 1913 - a year that was the end of an epoch in more ways than just at Kent cricket. The Edwardian era ended not with the death of Edward VII in 1910 but with the outbreak of the War in July 1914. Few among the thousands who cheered Kent's Championship win could have had any premonition that life for all was to change irrevocably less than a year later. Of those who played for or against Kent in 1913 twenty were to perish in the Great War - including Colin Blythe, one of the main architects of the victory, at Passchendaele in 1917. 1913 was, as Florian Illies called it in his extraordinary best-seller the "year before the Storm" and it is surely with this in the back of our minds that we read Moseling and Quarrington's excellent book.

The format of "A Half-Forgotten Triumph" is to take Kent's games chronologically - match by match. The research is comprehensive and there are copious quotes from contemporary reports - all of which are meticulously referenced. Along the way there are a few digressions which add colour to the text and are interesting in their own right. For example the (eventually) sad story of Albert Trott an umpire in Kent's match against the MCC, and one of the five cricketers to play Test cricket for both England and Australia in the nineteenth century, is told in a long footnote.

Just how important County cricket was at the time shines through almost every page. There were no tourists in 1913 so not only was public attention only on the County game but all of the star players took part in every match if they were fit to do so. Frank Woolley played 28 matches for Kent that season and Colin Blythe 31 - bowling 1043.1 overs and taking 160 wickets at 15.48. The opening Day ("Ladies Day") of the match versus Nottinghamshire in Canterbury Week had an attendance of over 13,000 at the St Lawrence Ground. And there were stars on view as well. Percy Fender, JWHT Douglas, Wilfred Rhodes, Gilbert Jessop, Jack Hobbs, Sydney Barnes, Herbert Strudwick, Plum Warner, Patsy Hendren... Oh for a time machine to go and see some of these in their prime! On the boundary edge there were a few great cricketing names as well - Lord Harris, the formidable Chairman of Kent's Committee, Arthur Conan Doyle a member of Tunbridge Wells CC, W.G. Grace (who needs no introduction) all make fleeting appearances.

Well we may not have a time machine but this marvellous book is the next best thing. The authors in a separate chapter called "The Social Scene" describe the cricket weeks, the wandering clubs like the Band of Brothers, the Club Balls and the many grounds at which Kent cricket was played. Did you know that there was talk in the MCC of playing a Test match at Dover? Me neither! The authors do not dig too much into the changing and problematic cricket scene that was underway at the end of that Golden Age. Derek Birley in his "A Social History of English Cricket" said that "By 1914 pressure to turn what was a gentlemen's pastime into a business had exposed the weaknesses of the [county] system" and once the nasty affair of the Great War was over this was to be revisited and eventually we were to arrive at where we are today where Mammon calls every tune. But why not slip back a century and wallow a bit in Kent's triumphant year. Were those the days? Well maybe they were - but all too briefly!

This review by Paddy Briggs first appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of "The Journal of the Cricket Society"

Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
by Robert Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.56

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and scholarly book on the rise of UKIP. Essential reading for anyone interested in British politics, 18 April 2014
"Revolt on the Right - Explaining support for the radical right in Britain" by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

When I revealed on Twitter that I had bought a copy of "Revolt on the Right" Patrick O'Flynn, UKIP's "Director of Communications" and previously the Political Correspondent of the right wing and populist Daily Express told me to "read it" as I might "learn something". It was a classic line from Mr O'Flynn with whom I have crossed swords amicably (mostly) in the past. Whether he thought I had bought the book to look good on my bookshelves I don't know (unlikely as it has a bright photograph of Nigel Farage pint and fag in hand on the cover). Anyway I bought it to read it and I have now done so. And, yes, I did indeed learn something from this outstandingly good book about modern British politics.

"Revolt on the Right" is, of course, about the United Kingdom Independence Party - but it is a great deal more than this. This is because it places UKIP's rise firmly in the context of not just the political world of the UK but our social circumstances as well. It also places UKIP in Britain alongside the new Right of Centre and often "insurgent" parties elsewhere in Europe as well. This is a book for political anoraks, like me, but it is as I say, much more. This is for three reasons. First the book is exceptionally well written - it is immensely readable and very well structured. Secondly it is extremely well researched - there is quantitative and qualitative support for every statement and assertion. Thirdly it is a cracking good story! The rise and rise of UKIP does matter - and for reasons that go beyond Party politics as well, of course, for the established political Parties.

Back in the 1980s I was an early recruit of the Social Democratic Party - the SDP. It is the only political party I have ever joined and I am proud of having been a member. This is because I strongly still associate myself with the values and policies of the SDP. The SDP story is told in "Revolt on the Right" because it is the only comparable example of a fourth party being successful - albeit briefly. It is worth dwelling on the SDP for a moment because in 1983, in alliance with the Liberals, they secured 25.4% of the UK vote - and yet just 3.5% of the seats (23). It was scandalous. In that year Mrs Thatcher garnered 42.4 % of the popular vote but 61.1% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is the First Past the Post political system that distorts - I would say invalidates - much of our politics. In the 2015 General Election the same rules will apply and the authors confirm that the chances of UKIP securing any seats are slim.

The UK’s iniquitous voting system contributes to the disillusionment with conventional politics that emerges as one of the three main reasons for UKIP's rise. There is a "populist backlash against the established political class" among UKIP voters. It is "None of the above" politics at its most raw. "Revolt on the Right" documents what is elsewhere often referred to as contempt for "LibLabCon" - the idea that all three main parties are the same led by the same Oxbridge educated elite who all cluster around broadly the same political imperatives. As the authors put it both Labour under Blair and the Conservatives under Cameron tried to build "election winning coalitions in a middle class society" and this created a class of "left behind" voters (or often non-voters). This has become the recruiting ground for UKIP, as it was for the British National Party (BNP) before. In “Revolt on the Right” the authors quote David Aaronovitch who said that both parties attract “ordinary” people who feel “betrayed by the political class”. More specifically they are the “older, less skilled and less well educated working-class voters”. This analysis is crucial and it may come as a surprise to those who see UKIP’s potential support as being among Eurosceptic Conservatives who are disenchanted with David Cameron. Certainly some UKIP voters are middle-class defectors from the Tories – but the vast majority are from the “left behind” blue collar population.

That UKIP has replaced the BNP as the right wing Party of protest is clear from the authors’ analysis. As recently as the 2010 local elections the BNP secured nearly 350,000 votes to UKIP’s 226,000. By 2013 UKIP had risen to an astonishing 1.14 million while the BNP had fallen to a derisory 13,000. The jibe that UKIP’s leaders are the “BNP in blazers” is unfair and untrue. But a significant proportion of their recent voter support in elections clearly does come from those who voted for the BNP in the past – perhaps holding their noses as they did it! What are these voters voting for and to what extent is UKIP a Party whose appeal is that it allows a respectable protest vote to be made without there being a charge of racism – as of course there had been with the BNP? And to what extent are UKIP’s policies important as opposed to their status as a repository for votes against the liberal, metropolitan elite of the three main parties?

The authors analyse UKIP’s policies as really only being in two areas – Europe and immigration. True there are some other totemic right of centre policies thrown into the mix, including a social conservatism (e.g. against Gay marriage) which will attract older Tory defectors. But in essence UKIP is about two things – withdrawal from the European Union and an end to immigration. Over recent times these positions have become inextricably linked as the doors have been opened to EU citizens from countries like Bulgaria and Romania – something that UKIP has successfully exploited among its target group. The unease that many in the “left behind” group feel about immigration and the directly linked opposition to the EU is the driver of UKIP’s success. You can regard UKIP as being like a three-legged stool with the legs being (1) Opposition to the current political class (2) Opposition to the European Union and (3) Opposition to immigration. Take one of these legs away and the stool falls over. Interlink them, as UKIP has increasingly realised it needs to do, and you have a sturdy construct that it’s hard to push over!

What UKIP is against is clear. What it is for is another matter. And the same applies to its supporters and prospective voters. The social group that UKIP aims at used to be that which “Old Labour” could rely upon. Here an appeal that cites immigrants and the devilry of the EU as being the causes of unemployment, housing problems and difficulties with school places will be successful. Where Old Labour delivered public sector jobs, council housing and good non selective education the new political class of any established Party fails to do this – in the minds of the “left behind”. Making the EU and immigrants and the Oxbridge educated political elite responsible for the current malaise goes beyond scapegoating, though it certainly is that. It gives a concerted focus which although it has been present in the appeal of Far Right parties across Europe has previously been absent in Britain. The rise of UKIP has changed that. The BNP did the same but was clearly lacking totally in respectability. Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin are miles apart, but many of their erstwhile and current supporters are the same.

"Revolt on the Right” tells how good luck (e.g. the formation of the Coalition) and sometimes smart judgment has given UKIP its current strong position. It does not presume to analyse the intellectual logic of UKIP’s main policy positions. Those of us who oppose UKIP completely – this reviewer cannot think of one UKIP position with which he agrees – need to do more than just be contemptuous of what we may see as bigotry and prejudice. The case for Europe and the case for the benefits of past immigration are strong, but they need to be put far better. The case for believing in the inherent decency of politicians like David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg is also strong – but the more they distance themselves from the people and the more elitist they seem the more difficult it is to make. I would offer one reason why UKIP despite its recent successes lacks real credibility as a political movement that will endure. Unlike the SDP UKIP has attracted no politician defectors from any other political Party – a few minor characters aside. There are, I would guess, at least twenty or thirty Conservative MPs whose views are more in line with UKIP than they are with Cameron’s Conservatives. Not one of them has done what a similar number of Labour MPs once did and move to a new Party. This curiosity is not discussed in Ford and Goodwin’s book at all and I wonder why. But if in the run up to the 2015 election a few Tory MPs do defect then that election could be very interesting indeed! If not then we can expect a UKIP vote of 15% - 20% to deliver no MPs at all (Farage aside if he chooses the right constituency). The palpable injustice of that might just cause a revolt for electoral reform – and that really could change the face of British politics!

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money, 29 Mar 2014
Completely useless. Doesn't work either on iPad Air or Mini iPad. I tried but sadly a big waste of money.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2014 1:32 AM BST

Aqualine 6ft Twin 70W T8 Non Corrosion Anti Corrosive Weatherproof Fluorescent Fitting Light Lighting IP65 (Suitable for Greenhouses as well)
Aqualine 6ft Twin 70W T8 Non Corrosion Anti Corrosive Weatherproof Fluorescent Fitting Light Lighting IP65 (Suitable for Greenhouses as well)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good value. Attractive unit. Easy to install., 4 Mar 2014
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Pretty serviceable bit of kit at a reasonable price. Installation straightforward but it's a two person job! Don't try and do it on your own.

The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century
The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century
by Tom Bower
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Oil, money, greed - and hypocrisy. The shady world of the international oil industry, 28 Jan 2014
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Tom Bower rather specialises in telling the stories of the crooks, near crooks, charlatans and risk-takers that rose to the top, and then sometimes spectacularly fell, in modern times. Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowland, Richard Branson, Conrad Black and Simon Cowell have all been subjects of his especially brutal style of biography. In "The Squeeze" the characters are at least as colourful and twisted as these for the book is about, as Bower puts it, "Oil, Money and Greed in the Twenty-First Century".

Having spent four decades or so in the oil industry with Shell, albeit not at the top (though close to it at times) I was staggered by the revelations in "The Squeeze". There is not a multinational oil corporation, a national oil company, a trader or anybody else which comes out of the history of the oil industry over the last twenty years with much credit. And Bower does not even discuss in detail the biggest bunch of crooks of all - the leaders of Enron whose dysfunctionality and illegalities are well known. I often tell a story of how back in 2000 I travelled on business to Houston to visit Shell's US Company "Shell Oil" whose headquarters are there. On my way from the airport with one of their executives I was taken on a detour to see a sports stadium the newly named "Enron Field", home of the Major League Baseball team the Houston Astros. "That's what we (Shell) should do" he said pointing at the stadium "and we could learn from Enron in how to run an Energy company as well. We are much too risk adverse in Shell".

Risk is endemic in the oil business and always has been and it's very hot at times - so those who can't stand the heat are well advised to keep away from the kitchen. Maybe those who can stand the heat are a particular breed of men (nearly all men) because irrespective of company top executives of the oil majors have been a particularly unusual breed. There was Lee Raymond at Exxon who ran this giant Corporation as a personal fiefdom and who was so capitalist that he would have made Milton Friedman seem like a Marxist. Raymond's response to the Exxon Valdez disaster Bower describes in graphic detail - less than sympathetic to those who suffered from the tanker's massive pollution would be the polite way of putting it. Then there was John Browne at BP who was a flawed genius whose flaws became more apparent as his power at the top tightened. He had a "fatal vanity" and like Raymond he was all powerful "Only `yes men' were tolerated" says Bower "dissenters were withered by his intellectual power". Phil Watts at Shell also conformed to this stereotype. He succeeded Mark Moody-Stuart as Chairman in part on the grounds that "He is a good Christian, and very thorough" as the latter put it. Watts was generally hated in Shell and when he steered the company into the abyss over the "Reserves scandal" (well documented by Bower) such friends as he had disappeared and many were secretly pleased as security men marched him unceremoniously from the Shell Building in The Hague on 1st March 2004.

If men like Raymond, Browne and Watts can reach the top of a multinational oil company it does say something about the oil business. But even these questionable characters pale into insignificance compared with the Russian oligarchs! After the economic liberalisation of the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union there were to be rich pickings for the clever Russian entrepreneurs in the energy business. Lee Raymond retired from Exxon with a package worth $400m - that would be petty cash to those Russians who made countless billions thanks to the grace and favour offered them by Vladimir Putin and their own extra-legal carving up of the revenues from the Russian oil and gas fields. Bower tells this story and in particular how Putin and theses men ran rings around Shell, BP and Exxon. For example Shell caught the Russians at a bad time (for them) over the initial structuring of the ownership and profit streams from the Joint Venture Sakhalin project. When things changed as oil prices rose a more confident Putin simply walked away from the original agreement and imposed on Shell one that was much more favourable for Russia. He did the same with BP over the TNK-BP joint venture. Beware of Russians bearing gifts!

It is the hypocrisy that comes through most notably in "The Squeeze". Both BP and Shell indulged in extensive advertising and promotional campaigns to position themselves as environmentally friendly and morally robust corporations whilst never instituting the internal systems and controls that would have made this credible. BP's cost-cutting mind-set under John Brown was to lead directly to the explosion at the Texas City refinery in March 2005 which killed 15 people. Bower describes the "rusting pipes" which "pockmarked the unmodernised plant". Shell launched with great fanfare its commitment to "Business Principles" just a few short years before it institutionally lied about its hydrocarbon reserves. These scandals are far from the exception - the underlying take out from "The Squeeze" is that the business and personal rewards are potentially so great in the Oil industry is that nobody behaves honourably whether an OPEC oil minister, a Russian President or a Company Chief Executive. It's a sobering thought. Even more sobering is the fact that a year after the book's publication BP's oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico exploded after a blowout, killing 11 people, injuring 16 others and causing massive pollution. Like Texas City this was directly attributable to poor maintenance standards and processes. Plus ca change.

Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket
Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket
by Lord Charles Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A very English tale of hypocrisy and deceit, 3 Nov 2013
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Charles Williams was a First Class cricketer and after retiring from the game in 1959 he had a distinguished career in business and public service. He became Baron Williams of Elvel in 1985 and a Privy Councillor in 2013.

"Gentlemen & Players, The death of amateurism in cricket" is a concise (just 200 pages) but thorough record of the extraordinary story of the attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to end the divide between amateurs and professionals in cricket which had endured for over 100 years. It is written with style and panache and with a real sense of Lord Williams leaning over to us and whispering "You're not going to believe this but..." ! It is a story of the English class system, of privilege, of Victorian cricket administrators still alive and well in the post war era and doing harm by neglect and ignorance. It is a story of hypocrisy and mendacity, of meetings behind closed doors, of the establishment looking after its own and of deceit. And yet, as Williams generously says at the end of the book, the guilty men (my description!) were really "...honest men doing what they honestly believed to be in the best interests of cricket". Well maybe so but these were the same "honest men" who connived to try and keep England's planned tour to Apartheid South Africa in 1968 alive - the D'Oliveira Affair - and who fought tooth and nail against Kerry Packer in 1977. And that particular brand of conservatism is still alive today in that same MCC Committee whose predecessors feature in Williams story.

That in the second decade of the 21st Century England's finest cricket ground, Lord's, is owned by a private members club and that this Club, the MCC of course, is still responsible for the "Laws of Cricket" may seem absurd. But back in the early 1960s this same club actually ran English cricket and a fair proportion of world cricket as well. The distinction between amateurs and professionals only existed to any significant extent in the English First Class game and by the mid 1950s (if not earlier) it was an anachronism. It was hugely offensive. The amateurs were "Gentlemen" but the professionals were not - they were "Players" and paid for their labour. The amateurs were the Officer Class, the players the other ranks. The amateurs had been to Public School and University (usually Oxbridge) - the professionals had not. And so on. This was about class and the venal presumption that our leaders had to be the "right sort of chap" - especially those who could deal with the serfs. The top amateurs were mostly batsmen whose cover drives were sublime Raman Subba Row, MJK Smith, "Lord" Ted Dexter, Denis Silk, Tony Lewis, Colin Cowdrey, Roger Prideaux were some of the leading amateur batsmen in 1960. In the same year the bowling averages were dominated by professionals -Statham, Moss, Trueman, Larter, Illingworth, Shackleton, Higgs, Titmus... On the scorecards the amateurs had their initials before their names "M.C.Cowdrey". The professionals had their initials after their names "Statham, J.B." And the Captains were mostly amateur but in 1952 the Yorkshire professional Len Hutton had been appointed Captain of England, a role he preformed with conspicuous success. His county continued to appoint amateurs though - as did most of the others.

The offensiveness of the amateur/professional divide in the post-war era seems self evident to us from today's standpoint and it was offensive to some at the time as well. Hypocrisy abounded. The amateurs in many cases weren't true amateurs anyway, Some has sinecures at the Counties as "Secretary" or "Assistant Secretary" - roles which involved them in not doing very much at all and being paid for it. So long as they turned out and played for the County for the season of course! And on tours these "shamateurs" received compensation for loss of earnings and often made considerably more money than the professionals who were honestly paid! It was these anomalies and the surrounding complexities of trying to maintain a system which was plainly unworkable which was finally to lead to the end of the amateur/professional divide in 1962 when all cricketers became just that - "cricketers". But before this happened there were years of bungle and confusion with an MCC committee actually being charged with pronouncing whether specific individuals were really amateur or not.

This book, as well as telling the story of the end of amateurism in First Class cricket, also includes some wonderful pen portraits of players of the era. Williams knew them all and he quite rarely describes individuals pretty honestly warts and all. I found his descriptions of, for example, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May particularly revealing.

This is a book about change and a record of how when a necessary change involves the removal of privilege and a challenge to established conventions in Britain it is likely to take a very long time to happen! It is not really a story of "Heroes and Villains" - there were good men on both sides of the debate. But in the 1960s, as it is sadly still so today, the life of the progressive, the people who point to the absurdities of part of our system, is likely to be made uncomfortable by the men in the better suits.

Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy
Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy
by Iain Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

4.0 out of 5 stars It wasn't just Fred!, 16 Oct 2013
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Iain Martin's "Making it Happen - Fred Goodwin, RBS and the men who blew up the British economy" is a fine piece of investigative journalism and a beautifully written and very readable account of this sorry tale of corporate misgovernance. Whilst Goodwin is the main villain - rightly - there is nevertheless a sense of "Murder on the Orient Express" to the story. In Agatha Christie's detective story, you will recall, the denouement was that ALL of the suspects were guilty! The fall of RBS was the same. Fred the Shred brought down RBS, but he didn't achieve this without the connivance, neglect, self-interested actions, greed and incompetence of many others. Martin points the finger at Fred, of course, and provides the evidence. But others do not escape - there were many guilty men in this affair.

Fred Goodwin was born in 1958. This means that at the time of Margaret Thatcher's "Big Bang" in 1986 he was in his late twenties and ideally positioned to be one of Thatcher's children. He was making his way as a junior accountant at the time with Touch Roche. Less than ten years later he was Chief Executive of the Clydesdale Bank appointed by its Australian owners, Iain Martin says, because of his "ferociously logical approach to problem solving and the capacity to learn quickly". So Fred was not a banker and had no practical hands-on experience in a Bank at all. In a way, in the post Big Bang world, this was an advantage. Banks, especially maybe Scottish banks, were pretty conservative institutions and if they were to take advantage of the new financial freedoms they would need to change. On the other hand Fred Goodwin had none of the detailed understanding of bank processes and daily priorities that a career banker would have had. When growth in the good times is needed the Goodwins, gung-Ho and oozing self-confidence are what you need. But when things start to get difficult you want such people as far away from the levers of power as possible.

In the mid 1980s the Royal Bank of Scotland was dull, unambitious and pretty moribund - a "tired bit-part player" Iain Martin calls it. It was a takeover target for one on the far larger English banks. Lloyds had had a go as had Standard Chartered. It was at this time that the fervent Scottish Nationalist George Mathewson joined RBS - he was soon to become CEO. He formed an alliance with fellow Scot George Younger, the Chairman, and together they decided to do everything that was necessary to make RBS successful as an unashamedly nationalistic Scottish bank. A major step was the acquisition, in 1988, of Citizens Bank in the US. Mathewson and Younger succeeded in their ambition to transform the Royal Bank and by 1997, the year of Labour's return to power after thirteen years, Mathewson was hunting around for a successor. A year later Fred Goodwin, on the back of his success at Clydesdale, was hired. This was to be twist or stick time for the Royal Bank. True the Bank was out of the doldrums but to move onwards and upwards a step change was necessary. After a battle with their rival Scottish Bank "Bank of Scotland" RBS acquired the much bigger, but rather tired and complacent NatWest. Fred Goodwin led this successful coup and was rewarded with the CEO job when Mathewson moved upstairs as Chairman shortly after the NatWest takeover.

The early years of the new millennium were to be bonanza time for the financial services industry. Tony Blair left Gordon Brown to run not just the Treasury but much of domestic policy as well. The growth of the banks was extraordinary. Interest rates set by the Bank of England were low. Lending was growing exponentially. Fred Goodwin strove to make RBS a leader in all this. Its size, with NatWest being integrated, made it a player on an international scale. And Citizens gave them a solid foothold in the rapidly growing American financial services sector. Most importantly financial regulation in the UK was not just "light touch" but confused and often non-existent. Iain Martin is excellent on how regulation fell somewhere between the Bank of England, the understaffed Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Treasury. The key, of course, for Brown was to interfere as little as possible. He had a cunning plan which was that credit-fired growth would make the Financial Services sector so profitable that the taxes on the profits they paid would fund an expansion in spending on public services. Socialism (sort of) would be paid for by uber-capitalism.
It is instructive to look back and see not just how disastrous this regulation lacuna was but how Britain's opposition got it 100% wrong. Typical was David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2005 (the speech which got him the leader's job a couple of months later). Cameron said

"Everyone knows that business need deregulation to compete with China and India. Who is standing in the way? The great regulator and controller, Gordon Brown."

In fact the opposite was the truth. Far from regulating and controlling Brown (a disastrous Chancellor Iain Martin calls him) stood back and let Fred Goodwin and his like get on with it! For a while it worked. In his "Mansion House" speech in June 2007 Brown said the Government would ensure Britain stayed a "world leader in stability... by ensuring [her] macroeconomic framework remains a world benchmark". That was "delusional drivel" says Martin!

The uber-capitalism was alive and well in Fred Goodwin's RBS. Soon the now "Sir Fred" began to act like a "Master of the Universe". There were private jets. Fleets of Mercedes specially painted in RBS Blue. Sponsorship of a Formula one team, of the Rugby 6 Nations and all the usual trappings of power and privilege. "Compensation packages" for the head honchos escalated exponentially as well. Bankers' bonuses were born and reborn. A grand new headquarters building near Edinburgh Airport was planned on an 80 acre site and in 2005 it was completed and opened by the Queen.

Banking can be divided between the traditional retail and commercial segment, with its branches and its domestic and business customers (the Royal Bank's home territory for two hundred years), and "Investment Banking" the (comparatively) new kid on the block. The latter grew massively across the world in the 1970s and after - especially in Britain post big bank. It is in Investment Banking that the big numbers apply. The scale of the trades, the complexity, the innovation and - of course - the rewards given to the successful practitioners. In RBS's US investment banking subsidiary Greenwich Capital many employees had salary and bonuses in the high millions of dollars per annum! This company moved in a big way into collaterised debt obligations (CDOs) which, in theory, provided reliable income streams from repackaged mortgage securitisations. Iain Martin describes all of this in an illuminating chapter "Safe as houses". Mortgagees pay their monthly amounts and these find their way via CDOs to RBS, or its subsidiary. What could go wrong? Especially as Greenwich was at the upper end of the category with its AAA or "Super senior" portfolios. "RBS does not do sub prime" said Sir Fred. Well actually they did, and he didn't know. Probably.

Let's reflect for a moment on this world of around 2004/5. Gordon Brown opened American Investment Banker Lehman Brothers' massive new offices in Canary Wharf on 5th April 2004 and made a laudatory speech commending their "greatness" and "innovation". There would, he frequently said at that time, be no return to "Boom and Bust". Credit is the driver of business and the source of income to banks. Credit is what makes buying a property possible for private individuals. The banks make money on the spread - the difference between what they pay for money and what they can sell it for. And they made a lot. Interest rates are the key tool. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve in the US would use interest rates to keep the financial economy booming along reducing rates (for example) if the Stock Market wobbled. Eddie George at the (newly responsible for interest rates and inflation) Bank of England did the same, as did his successor Mervyn King. The increased liquidity from this would keep people spending, and borrowing, and lending. By the mid 2000s Bank balance sheets, leveraged to the hilt, were approaching five times the size of the UK economy (GDP). In 1970, before the Big Bang and the "Loadsamoney" era, they had been at 38%. The Royal Bank of Scotland was sailing along on this boom, its profits growing every year and its business portfolio widening, especially in the Investment Banking sectors. It had a touch of the Lehmans, a lot of the Northern Rocks (home loans) and many, many other fingers in financial services pies from Insurance to Leasing. It was diversified in business and geography. But Sir Fred wanted more, much more. His eyes fell on the Dutch Bank ABN Amro.

The synergies between ABN Amro and RBS were questionable to say the least. It was a big bank, with international interests, but a far from coherent structure. Iain Martin describes it as a "conglomeration of various inefficient units patched together". It was an unappetising mix of the good, the bad and the decidedly dodgy. There were bits Fred Goodwin definitely wanted and bits he certainly didn't. Part of the problem was that he wasn't sure of which bits fell in which category! When he heard in late 2006 that Barclays was interested it became a battle and Fred engaged in earnest as it was announced that Barclays was in formal talks the following Spring. He wanted to be bigger than Barclays it was, astonishing as it may seem, as simple as that! Goodwin put together a consortium which comprised RBS, Fortis the Belgian Bank and Santander from Spain. By June there was a deal which was, Iain Martin emphasises, approved by every one of the RBS Board. Iain Martin lists all 17 of them to make sure that we get the message that this wasn't just Fred Goodwin being cavalier! Meanwhile there was bad news from the US. In February HSBC said it was providing for $10 Billion of losses relating to the American mortgage market. It soon became apparent that the RBS American subsidiary was deep into this mess as well. "...the CDO machine at Greenwich was disintegrating". In The UK by September 2007 Northern Rock was in trouble. Around the world financial markets were in turmoil and financial institutions were under threat. The extent of that threat was unknown but no prudent Bank would surely go for a grandiose acquisition at this time. Surely?

RBS's takeover of ABN Amro was completed in October 2007. Iain Martin's "It was obvious... that RBS had completed the purchase of ABN Amro at an extremely difficult moment" is a masterpiece of understatement! The Royal Bank's balance sheet had doubled overnight! At £1.9 trillion it was "bigger by at least £400bn than the output of the entire British economy"! Well the rest of the RBS story really follows on inevitably form the position it found itself in after the Dutch acquisition and given the global financial circumstances gathering pace. Only a £12bn Rights issue in April 2008 stopped the bank from going under as money haemorrhaged away in the US and elsewhere. This was temporary relief. In September Lehman Brothers went bankrupt to be followed by a raft of other financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. The game was up. A month later RBS had to rescued by the British Government - eventually to the extent of £45bn. £750 from every man, woman and child in Britain (or £9,000 from every Scot!).

As I said at the beginning of this review although Fred Goodwin was the main villain of the piece in this sorry story it is fairer to call it a collective misjudgement. Unlike with Enron (and Arthur Anderson) eight years earlier nobody went to jail because, extraordinary though it may seem, no laws were actually broken. That there was fiduciary incompetence and irresponsibility on a massive scale by Fred and others is not in doubt. But they didn't break the law! The only conclusion from this is that the Law was an ass! Gordon Brown was proud of his light touch regulation but that it was so light touch that nobody was legally guilty in the RBS story is surely a scandal in itself. Brown failed. The Bank of England failed. The Financial Services Authority failed. Britain's political leaders on both sides of the House failed abysmally. The media failed. Accountants and Auditors failed. Risk managers failed. All the highly paid employees of RBS failed as did those charged with monitoring and guiding them. That they did not, as in "Murder on the Orient Express" wilfully slay their victim is by the by. The effect was the same. The Bank was dead and bereft of life due to the negligence, greed and incompetence of many. It wasn't just Fred.
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Philips DCB352 Docking Entertainment System (discontinued by manufacturer)
Philips DCB352 Docking Entertainment System (discontinued by manufacturer)

4.0 out of 5 stars Tip re DAB reception, 22 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a decent bit of kit with good sound, solid construction and flexible playback options. I would like to offer one tip about DAB. Initially the reception was not very good with breaks and lots of noise. When I unfurled the FM aerial, however, the DAB reception hugely improved! Don't ask me why - I can only assume that the aerial is both an FM AND a DAB antenna. It doesn't say this anywhere but it must I think be the case!

No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s
No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s
by Andy McSmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A colourful and thoughtful romp through the Thatcher years, 12 May 2013
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The old joke is that if you remember the 1960s you can't have been there. For me this applies to the 1980s not as a joke but as a reality. I did not live in England during the Thatcher years at all so, with one caveat, indeed I wasn't there. The caveat was that I lived in Scotland from 1983-1986 which was the most tumultuous time of the decade of all because of the miners' strike. But from 1980-1983, when I lived in The Netherlands, and from 1986-1990, when I was in Hong Kong I wasn't even in Britain. I mention this not to imply that I was completely unaware of what was going on but to suggest that watching the goings on in Westminster (in particular) from a rather distant standpoint did remove me from the detail. So reading Andy McSmith's colourful romp through the decade has told me things I didn't know - and it often surprised me.

McSmith treats the decade not chronologically but by subject. So there are chapters on Thatcher's rise and her fall, female emancipation, political protest and the rise and fall of the SDP, the Princess of Wales, Race relations, The Falklands, new Television, the Miners' strike, Band Aid, The Big Bang, Fleet Street, Northern Ireland, Gay rights, Local Government reform, Privatisation and Football. Just listed like that reminds us how busy a decade it was! Behind all of these events and changes was the drive and determination of Britain's most single-minded peace time leader of modern times. The abject disinterest of Mrs Thatcher in even paying lip service to the idea of government by Cabinet and by a team sharing collective responsibility is staggering. "And what about the vegetables? Oh they'll have the same" as "Spitting Image" put it. Any history of Britain in the 1980s must have Margaret Thatcher as its central character and McSmith does this in a balanced way. Her strengths were her weaknesses - as for all of us - but what is remarkable is that for "The Lady" pretty much everything was seen in black and white. When she was good she was very good - but when she was bad she was horrid.

In 1982, when I lived in Leiden and worked in Rotterdam, my Dutch friends looked at me in something of a new light once the Falklands War broke out. The Dutch are a pretty pragmatic lot and the idea that a Nation would commit money and huge military resources to retake a few islands in the South Atlantic where only a couple of thousand people lived out of some sort of "honour bond" was preposterous. With hindsight I think they were right - but at the time I defended what Margaret Thatcher was doing and was proud of her eventual victory. And my Dutch friends thought it pretty magnificent as well, but winning the war did not remove their conviction that we as a nation were eccentric or even slightly mad.

In 1983-86, as I said, I was living in Scotland and although I didn't realise it at the time Mrs Thatcher's centralised Westminster-based control of key areas of policy in those years, and later, was to destroy the Conservative party in the country and hasten the rise of the Scottish National Party. The miners were defeated. The steel industry decimated (Ravenscraig's closure the most socially damaging aspect of this for the Scots). Devolution, which had been on the agenda in the 1970s, wasn't even discussed because Mrs Thatcher didn't believe in it. And the Poll Tax, that most regressive of personal taxation measures, was actually introduced first in Scotland in 1989, on a people still reeling from the changes earlier in the decade. And the supreme irony is that all of Thatcher's changes were only possible because the social security costs resultant from swingeing industrial closures across the United Kingdom were paid for from revenues from Scotland's oil!

Mrs Thatcher was in many ways an accidental Prime Minister securing the Conservative Party leadership with votes from many MPs who didn't actually want her but did want to get rid of Heath and clear the decks for a credible successor. They saw her as a stalking horse, which of course the result confirmed she was most certainly not. The self-confidence Thatcher had when she stood for the leadership of her party in the mid 1970s turned into a huge self-belief later in the decade, won her the 1979 election and carried her on to two more election victories and to policy decisions that would change the face of Britain forever.

Margaret Thatcher's "There Is No Alternative" convictions, her supporters and detractors alike would agree, forced change on Britain in areas where conventional consensus politics might never have succeeded. The differences, of course, come from our different beliefs as to whether all of these changes were right. The miners' strike, its defeat and the consequences of this defeat illustrates this well. A Social Democratic Government, New Labour say, might have concluded that for men to work long, dangerous hours underground producing coal we didn't need in pits that were uneconomic was unacceptable in the latter half of the twentieth century. Gradually such pits would have closed but surely the social implications of closure would have been better handled? The financial resources, from North Sea oil and gas, were available to do this. Thatcher, who really did say "There is no such thing as Society" and some around her, like "On your bike" Norman Tebbit, had an attitude to the miners which would have shamed a Victorian mill owner. The defeat of Union power was the goal and the miners and their families were the (mostly) innocent victims. Of course the leadership of the NUM, and especially Arthur Scargill, did not help - nor did a supine and confused Labour Party. But with the miners, with the IRA, with the nation of Argentina and many other targets for Mrs Thatcher the alternative of negotiating a settlement was never an option.

Thatcher had no taste for negotiation. An omission in McSmith's book is the story of the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese something that happened in the early part of the decade and where she did briefly play a hands-on role in the discussions with the Chinese. I lived in Hong Kong later in the decade by which time the deal had been done and it was obvious that it had all been pretty shabby and unnecessary. In the first place many in the Territory thought that a concession of Sovereignty linked with a leaseback deal would probably have been achievable. Alternatively an independent Hong Kong on the Singapore model but under distant Chinese Sovereignty was also possible. Mrs Thatcher went for an option which handed over the Colony and its people with few protections and no escape route for them. Remember this was the action of someone for whom Communism was the ultimate ideological and actual threat and the People's Republic of China was then, and remains, the world's largest Communist/Totalitarian State - by far. Remember also that the justification for the Falklands war was that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders to remain British and not to be handed over to rule by a politically repellent foreign power were paramount. The people of Hong Kong in 1980 were no less British than the people of the Falkland Islands. With one difference - the Hong Kongers were ethnically Chinese! There was a minimum of consultation with the Hong Kong people before the territory handover deal with the Chinese was done - and no check by referendum that it was acceptable to them. And none but a handful of the residents of Hong Kong was offered British citizenship - they were essentially abandoned and told to fend for themselves. And all because Britain's Prime Minister hadn't the stomach for protracted negotiations and saw things in black and white - or yellow and white in Hong Kong's case.

The "Big Bang" reform to the City of London was another area where we swung from one extreme (an ossified and privilege ridden monopoly) to the other (free for all) without the possibility of a more measured series of reforms being considered. As with mining, change was necessary but the almost total destruction of the Building Societies, the massive expansion of Bank lending and the creation of the "Loadsamoney" mind-set showed that there was little or no concern for "Society" behind the changes. Similarly with the sale of Council houses. This was based on the solid Thatcherite belief in a "Property Owning Democracy" linked with a conviction that housing was best left to the vicissitudes of the private sector. Local authorities were not just forced to sell their housing stock at below market value prices but specifically forbidden to invest the revenues from these sales in creating a housing stock for the needy. The massive expansion of the financial sector led to the creation of ever wider gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Pre Thatcher the head honchos of the banks had been paid perhaps five times the salaries of their middle managers. In the years to come this gap was to widen to twenty or thirty times, or more. A civilised society is not an equal society but one where differences are acknowledged and broadly seen by all to be fair. Reward ability, performance and achievement by all means - but for "Loadsamoney" greed to be so rewarded? Society struggled, and struggles, with this.

The Thatcher style, single-minded and mostly not open to counter-argument certainly achieved results - at a cost. But when the problem was as seemingly intractable as Northern Ireland a rather more subtle approach was required. To be fair Mrs Thatcher did pave the way for Tony Blair's eventual success more than ten years later with the "Anglo-Irish agreement" of November 1985. But the prime minister was unlikely to accept the need also to talk to the militarised republicans and unionists - not least because she lost two close political friends, Airey Neave and Ian Gow, to IRA attacks. And, of course, she was herself a target in the ghastly and lethal Brighton hotel bombing of 1984. Courage, which Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly showed in Brighton, can be a close relative of bloody-mindedness, pig-headedness - even fool-hardiness. If you start from the black and white premise that you will never "bow to terrorist demands" then you cannot be conciliatory even when the lives of the IRA hunger strikers were at stake, and Mrs Thatcher wasn't and ten of them died.

During the Labour governments of 1964-1970 and 1974-1979 significant social reforms took place - perhaps their major achievement. None of these changes, including the decriminalisation of private homosexual acts and the abolition of the Death Penalty, were reversed in the Thatcher years and indeed some further modest progress was made. Thatcher was a social conservative but we should perhaps not see this only from the perspective our more enlightened times. She was not alone in seeing financial, law and order, defence policy and social (and other) conservatisms as being part of a single Conservative whole. To Mrs Thatcher the idea common today that you could be (say) fiscally conservative and socially liberal would have been anathema. The regret is that further change was delayed under Thatcher not in the main that the law was reversed. However her social conservatism did lead her to say in 1987 that children were being "....cheated of a sound start in life" because they were being "...taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay." This led directly to the infamous "Clause 28" legislation which prohibited "...the teaching in any maintained school the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." Thatcher supported this change to the law although, as Andy McSmith points out, it turned out to be a "pointless piece of legislation" and no prosecutions were ever brought. The Conservatives eventually lost out, but not until 1997 and only in part because they were the "Nasty Party" - symbolised by the perception that under Thatcher they had been "Anti-gay".

Andy McSmith argues persuasively that although many of Margaret Thatcher's economic measures were fiercely and in some cases violently opposed broadly the majority of the British population supported her. I think this is probably true although the other reason for her three election successes was the electoral system. Notwithstanding the Falklands bounce in the May 1983 election the Conservatives only got 42.4% of the vote. The SDP in alliance with the Liberal Party had 25.4% - only just behind Labour on 27.6%. But the "First Past the Post" electoral system did not at all allow these figures to be represented in seats. Here the Tories got 397 to Labour's 209 - and the SDP/Liberals got just 23. The figures in 1987 were broadly similar. A divided opposition and the electoral system were as important to Margaret Thatcher's victories as were her own qualities.

In our politically confused times with a Coalition Government (the very idea would have been anathema to Thatcher) and broadly a continuation of the Blair/Brown consensus in many areas of governance it is extraordinary to read the story of the 1980s when it was all very different. "Consensus" was a word not in Margaret Thatcher's lexicon - except as a term of abuse! Virtually all of the changes she introduced had unintended consequences - some benign others malevolent. As Hugo Young put it shortly before he died in 2003:

"There turned out to be no such thing as society, at least in the sense we used to understand it. Whether pushing each other off the road, barging past social rivals, beating up rival soccer fans, or idolising wealth as the only measure of virtue, Brits became more unpleasant to be with. This regrettable transformation was blessed by a leader who probably did not know it was happening because she didn't care if it happened or not. But it did, and the consequences seem impossible to reverse."

The story of the "No such thing as Society" years is well told by Andy McSmith. And today, in the year of Lady Thatcher's demise, it is good to be reminded just how we landed in the world we have today.

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