Monday, 27 October 2014


A very bright daughter of a friend told me she was going to read Geography at University.  I couldn't resist asking her a simple 'prep school' geography question ; 'Where is the Gobi Desert?'   Now actually the Gobi Desert is not some tin pot little affair but covers some 500,000 square miles of Northern China as well as a fair chunk of Mongolia but she looked at me blankly and hadn't a clue what continent it was in let alone what countries . I tried another question; 'where is the Mekong river? ' another blank stare.

What on earth do they teach in schools nowadays?  When I did my common entrance aged 12 an important part of the paper was a map of the world on which you had to identify certain rivers, mountain ranges, countries and such like.  Virtually every twelve year old in my class would have been able to pinpoint both the Gobi Desert and the Mekong river on that map but this very intelligent eighteen year old couldn't do either.

And that perhaps is what's wrong with so much modern teaching - there are no foundations. No one makes children learn the names of countries, capital cities, oceans, and deserts in Geography any more, just as no one makes children learn the kings and queens of England and important dates any more. No one either - apparently - makes children learn poetry any more either but then the poetry which is taught in school is banal boring modern blank verse so it is hardly surprising everyone switches off in class.  Teach the children proper poetry - The Charge of Light Brigade by Tennyson, the Pied Piper by Browning or Lepanto by Chesterton to give but three examples and they would be a very poor lot of children who wouldn't be gripped and inspired but that would never do would it -these poets wrote poems everyone could enjoy without having them explained to them by so called experts so clearly they are not good and -even worse- they are not - that awful word - relevant    .

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Anniversary of the Hanoverian Succession

This coming Monday (Oct 20th ) is the 300 th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in British history yet no great parades through London are planned, no service of thanksgiving, not even a special issue of commemorative stamps.  Yet arguably what happened 400 years ago was one of most important occurrences not only in the history of Britain but in the history of the world. It was of course the accession of King George I, the Elector of Hanover, to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland.

Yet it so nearly did not happen. The Tories and much of the country at large hankered for the return of the Stuarts in the person of The Old Pretender, the son of the deposed James II.The Jacobites though lost through a mixture of indolence, overconfidence, and bad luck but it was a close run thing.  If they had prevailed and the Old Pretender had been crowned James III then the 18th century might have been very different. Instead of Great Britain becoming embroiled in war after war against France we might, instead, have allied ourselves with France against the likes of Prussia and Hanover. Think on that.  If France had been an ally then no French help would have been given to the American colonists in their War of Independence. Canada would have remained French, France would not have bankrupted herself in wars with Britain and therefore the French Revolution would not have happened.    

But instead of glamorous Stuarts we opted four hundred years ago for stupid boring Germans and by God they were all that and more. George I arrived with his two ugly mistresses, one of whom he created duchess of Kendal and the other countess of Darlington.  the duchess was tall and thin and immediately nicknamed the Maypole while the countess was small and fat and thus was called the elephant.

But it was to the sheer stupidity of the four George's, and to the first two's idleness in delegating all the business of government to such a clever man as Sir Robert Walpole, that caused the rapid transfer of power during the 18th century from the Crown to an elected Parliament and the development of that unique British invention - the Constitutional Monarchy.  Food for thought I think you will agree and surely one of histories big 'What If's' - is it worthy though of a celebration?  I cannot warm to the Hanoverians I'm afraid, they had no 'style' - no glamour- they were dullards all. No I am a romantic and the Stuarts for all their faults had style, they had romance and they were one and all glamorous so I for one would not be celebrating in any case but I am surprised that no else is.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Mansion tax and Property prices

Markets are supposed to be efficient.  But, just at this moment, London  residential property prices, seem to demonstrate that they are anything but.  The Labour Party is totally committed to the economically illiterate 'mansion tax' which they plan to levy on all properties worth over £2.0 million at a rate of 2%.  The Labour Party is also, despite it's inept leadership, quite likely to form the next government either on its own or with the help of what's left (not much I suspect) of the Liberal Party.

So - all things being equal- within rather less than a year a £3.0 million London house could be subject to a annual tax of £60,000! Now -in that event what happens to it's capital value? - come on thicko - think back to you basic maths and basic economics. It is going to collapse in value isn't it? In fact it is going to fall at the very least by just over a £1.0 million- taking it below the £2.0 million threshold but possibly by even more - why so?  Because all houses above it in value will also see their values collapse.  In other words the £5.0 million house which would, if its value did not change, carry an annual tax burden of £100,000 will also fall by at least £3.0 million.  Why the collapse in its value?  Because £100,000 represents an annual yield of 2.5% on £4.0 million.  In short you cannot expect capital values of London property at any level to be unaffected by the imposition of this ridiculous tax. So why are investors not baling out as fast as they can? It is a mystery to me.

An even bigger mystery is why there are 25,000 luxury homes either in development or planned with, a today's completion value, of £60 billion i.e. with an average value of over £2.0 billion.  Now it maybe that developers and owners of prime London property know something you and I don't - that Ed Milliband hasn't a hope of becoming Prime Minister, let alone Nick Clegg. I just wish I could be so sure.  But to me it looks like a hell of a gamble. After all -frankly -the upside in London property has to be very limited while the threat of a 'mansion tax' makes the downside a black hole.