It is Obvious

Chris Rick has got altogether too much to say

Archive for October, 2011

Is this it?

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 31, 2011

It is obvious: even the weakest have strengths

I just heard that the Greek PM is going to put the EU bailout package to a referendum.  He has solemnly said that he will be bound by the will of the people.  I saw Joanna Lumley stitch Gordon Brown up over the Gurkhas on tv.  It has much the same feel.

He must have gone to the EU meeting on Wednesday knowing that he was going to blow apart the agreement unless a miracle happened and they just gave Greece a trillion to play with.  I wonder how he managed to keep a straight face.

So the deal lasted nearly 5 days.  Greece will do this in slow motion as a date for the referendum will not be set until the detail of the deal offered to Greece is revealed.  This is pulling the wings off flies as the Greek people will vote ‘No’.  I remember ‘Ohi’ day when I lived in Cyprus.  It was the day that the Greeks said ‘No’ to terms offered by Italy (and by proxy the Nazis) in 1939.  How ironic.

I can’t judge how that will be taken by markets tomorrow, but I could easily see my 4,500 prediction missed by just a day.  If not then I do have time to get out.

It is obvious: even the weakest have strengths that they demonstrate at the most inconvenient time

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Have you ever seen a poor bookie?

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 31, 2011

It is obvious: the devil is in the detail

I wrote about CDSs a while ago.  They are a form of insurance.  I’ll put my tongue firmly in my cheek here to save multiple occurrences of (sic).  Greece (say) comes to some bankers and asks to borrow money.  It gets counterintuitive here.  They say 10% and how much do you want.  Greece replies that the terms are good and how much have you got.  At this point the bankers start to worry – not a lot because it’s not their money.  They are worried because Greece has a good chance of not paying interest or giving the money back.  This is called the risk/reward ratio but it is not.  For the likes of the UK (I have to do it) (sic) we are a good risk we can borrow at 3%.  Why? because there are a lot of banks queueing up to lend to us and only the lowest rate gets the business.  For Greece there are not many takers so the ones that are there can put their interest rates up to just below the point where others will see it as a good deal and come into the market.  Not only is money lent to entities that don’t need it, the rates to those that do need it are so high they become self-fulfilling prophesies and send those entities into bankruptcy.

The banks that lend money to Greece can save the day and take out insurance – CDSs.  Another bank comes along and sees it can take 1% off the deal for the sake of writing a piece of paper.  They do so many of these deals that some are bound to fail so they have that assessed and factored into the rate they charge.  This only goes wrong when they all fail or, more accurately, the chance of default is wrongly assessed.  Enter the ratings agencies.  The banks went with them and did not look at the small print.  The ratings agencies are merely offering an opinion.  This means that risks are taken that are inappropriately assessed.

But that does not matter because the bank that wrote the CDS on the Greek debt now writes a CDS on their agglomerated CDSs.  Another bank comes along and sees a decent return for writing a bit of paper.  Indeed the bank writing the CDS based on CDSs might even be the bank that lent the money to Greece in the first place.  They are buying back their own risk and quite probably are unaware of this.  No matter they agglomerate their agglomerated CDSs and pass that on.  So the Greek 10% is spread over a lot of banks.  However at the bottom there is one bank carrying the full risk for a very low rate of return.  Trouble is that nobody knows who it is!

(The difference between a bank and a bookie is that the bookie very accurately assesses the chance of a horse winning a race and does it by reducing the odds on the horses so that whichever one wins he makes a profit.  If he can’t manage that then he lays-off the bet by ringing up a bigger bookie and making a balancing bet himself.  For CDSs or loans who is that bigger bookie?)

The risk is realised when there is a default on the loan.  Who decides that a loan is in default?  There is a central arbitration agency does this.  However if a bank says (to Greece): I know you can’t pay so I’ll only ask for half the original money back, I’ll take a much lower interest rate and I’ll let you take much longer to pay it back because I am a nice guy.  They do this in a fine balance of minimising loss compared with selling the debt to some risk taker at (say) 40 cents on the dollar.  They have agreed to the deal and so the loan is not in default.

Who is the risk taker?  It is just about anybody in the market, but likely a hedge fund.  It is probably some entity who has already taken out a CDS on the loan.  They will buy £1 stuff at 40p, have paid out 5p for a CDS, and will get a pound if it goes into default.  In the meantime they get 10p every year in interest or 25%.  They can’t lose and can win big with a default.

So it comes to the real thing with Greece and the EU deal of last week.  The banks are taking a 50% haircut and ‘suggesting’ it, so it is not a default.  Several problems here.  First the agency that speaks for the banks and agreed the deal only speaks for about 90% of the banks.  Second it is not all the debt that is being talked about.  Third the banks have not yet agreed.  Fourth the banks have sold much of their debt to hedge funds who most certainly only want a default.  So an even smaller proportion of the debt is included in the deal.  A large and growing proportion is in the hands of people who want a default.  Hence the average haircut is 28% and probably lower and getting lower all the time.

There is one lender of last resort, that bigger bookie: you and me.  On our behalf the governments of Europe have stepped in and said that they will repay loans that go bad.  They have done this by buying a lot of the loans into central banks.  Our taxes and those of our children will be used to repay the loans.

It is obvious: the devil is in the detail and there are a lot of devils about this time of year.

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Fear – the silent killer

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 30, 2011

It is obvious: don’t believe all you read

I have seen a lot of press coverage on the theme that the UK is now being excluded from the inner circle of EU nations.  We are a second class citizen in the EU.  There is some golden future that the UK will not now be part of.  We will be impotent.

Tosh.  All these things may happen but not because we are not part of the Euro.

I have an elephant in the cupboard and I will get him out in a moment.  First I would like to comment on economics and economic theory.  I read a lot about complex economic theories accounting for what happens when central banks take certain actions.  I hear of classic Keynesian theory, Monetarists, Output Gap and many others.  All of these are theories that perhaps did fit very well the economic modelling at a certain point in history.  Those points in history do not exist now.  The floundering of central bankers and governments shows that they are making ‘best-guesses’ and seeing what happens.  They have no idea.

We have not been so far up the growth curve before.  We have not been subject to imminent peak-oil.  There have not been 7bn people around before.  Nothing in macro-economics from the past will help much today other than the psychology of large numbers of people acting in the same way.  The past cannot repeat itself as the conditions are in place to prevent it ever happening the same way again.

Do you want to hear something funny?  Today David Cameron said: it was up to the Bank of England to ensure the inflation rate fell back.  And I thought it was down to the BoE to make sure it never went up in the first place.

I can hear some trumpeting.  I remember!  I’ll just open the door.  Seems pretty full in the cupboard today.  I know England aren’t playing.  Ahhh – got it.  There’s a load of baby boomers in there.  They aren’t doing much except consuming and asking me for money.

It seems they want pensions…and so does the rest of Europe.  They seem to want a lot more than I have got to give.  Never mind I’ll join them soon enough.

As I understand it all the pension schemes are reverse Ponzi schemes.  Everyone can have a pension provided there are enough people around to give them one on the long-term bet that there will be people around to give them a pension when they retire.  So who is going to miss out?  Everyone alive today to a greater or lesser extent.

Who will be the biggest losers in the pension shortfall?  Europe of course.

It is obvious: don’t believe all you read – you can trust me though

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He would say that wouldn’t he

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 28, 2011

It is obvious: words can have huge value

This is yesterday’s post but before I do that I need to mention Shaun Richard’s post for today.  He points out that the Japanese central bank is doing QE to reduced the value of the Yen.  The BoE is doing QE on the basis that it will not affect exchange rates but will increase growth and not inflation (Bah!).  On that basis, at best one of them is right.  However the evidence so far is that both of them are wrong.

On Wednesday afternoon I sat for a long time in front of my computer debating whether to sell all my shares.  The debate in my mind was whether the heads of EU states would come out with any statement let alone a sufficient one.  In the end I decided that they would come up with a statement, and luckily got that right.  I also decided that it would be a statement that the markets would like.  Or rather I decided that it would be one that a lot of people would be happy with while giving the ‘smart money’ a further opportunity to improve their positions.

Bear in mind that my prediction for the end of October was that the FTSE would be at 4,500.  Good job I didn’t act significantly on it!

If you want to see the statement from the EU expertly picked apart then you should read Shaun Richard’s blog for Thursday.  I have my take on it, gleaned from reading around the topic and applying a bit of logic.  This was arrived at in the face of a PR onslaught that the media complied with in full.

First I need to keep up with the message that all of these measures are not fixes to the problems.  They are merely measures to keep things going a bit longer.  How much longer I will try and work out.  I see no mention of any attempt to fix the problems.  Probably because there is nothing that can fix it other than everyone living a much less affluent lifestyle while the debts are paid off…and that is not going to happen.

The Greek bond haircut was advertised at 50%.  You should note that not everyone has agreed to this.  Also it only applies to some of the debt so the average haircut is closer to 28%.  This means the debt goes down to about 250bn, a level that Greece cannot service and another 200bn is being ‘lent’ to Greece to pay interest and government bills to tide it over until the economy leaps up from its slumber and powers off at 10% growth a year to enable all the massive debt to be repaid.  This alone puts a two year limit on things.

There is no mention of the amount of money the EFSF will be increased to in the statement.  Not sure where the 1tn comes from.  Whatever the amount is, it is not 1tn in cash.  It is a series of complex financial instruments to achieve that effect.  A very different beast.  Simply, 1tn is not enough.

The banks are having their reserves of quality assets increased by 100bn.  This is not enough.  A figure of double that was being talked about last week, and many of the people I read were saying 200bn was not enough either.

A lot of this is predicated on the Italian PM coming good on his promises made on Wednesday.  The only reason he needed to bring promises to the meeting was because he had not come good on any of his previous promises.

Also note that the statement contains no firm measures and has to be agreed by all parties.  Last time that took 3 months.  Provided they are given the time this will take much longer.

Consequently I am bemused at the reaction of the world’s stock-markets to the EU statement.  At least while these words have effect it gives me time to act.

It is obvious: words can have huge value and that value can be lost in micro-seconds

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Meerkat forces

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 26, 2011

It is obvious: give me a lever long enough (and a fulcrum) and I’ll move the world

I saw a film a long while ago  where some hero was out to save the world from an asteroid, I think.  The final scene was in the newspaper office as we did not know how he had fared.  There were two papers laid out and ready to print.  The first said ‘World saved, blah, blah, blah’.  The second said ‘Mission failed: we are all doomed.  Can’t think why they bothered with the second one.

So we wait for the heads of the EU nations to issue their communiqué.  We are looking for the black or white smoke from the chimney.

All we are going to get are words.  They are proven liars so why are we bothering to wait on the words?

Do not forget that what they are trying to agree to do is to patch the system until something better comes along.  They are not fixing the problem.  After two years they are lurching round to something that might just keep the world order going for another two years or so.  Do you have any confidence that in that time they will come up with a fix for the problems?  I don’t.

A lot of what they might hope to do is predicated on the economic growth of the countries concerned.  We need growth to be very small for the future and I think we are going to get that wish.  Growth, the enemy, will not come to their aid.

If you think my disdain for their efforts is misplaced let me give you a few examples.  The ECB has been supporting Spanish and Italian bonds by buying them to keep the interest rates that these countries can borrow at below 5%.  The ECB purchases earlier this month took the rates below 5%.  Today they are at over 6% and the ECB has a lot of dodgy loans on its books.  The Swiss are suffering as people have bought their Francs as a safe-haven.  The Swiss central bank bought lots of foreign currency happy to exchange it for their Francs and depress the exchange rate.  It is today well above the rate at which the Swiss central bank started buying foreign currency.  The Japanese central bank promised robust action to keep the Yen low.  Today it stands at near record rates against the dollar.  At least it seems they only lied and did not throw money away.

At every attempt the central banks driven by their political masters have got it wrong.  This is something that the UK came up against with its exit from the ERM.  Central action is limited by what is in the bank.  The markets, or to be more accurate, anyone who wants to bet against an incompetent, have almost unlimited funds.  There are plenty of people willing to lend money to these gamblers.

Finally.  The Greek haircut has been talked up to 60% I heard this evening.  It has inexorably moved from 21% to 50% and now 60%.  That is not the end of it.  At some point Greece will be declared in default and then the CDS’s will trigger.  At this point everyone holding Greek CDSs will go to their insurer and demand their money.  Then everyone will wait to see who is actually holding them.

It is obvious: give me a lever long enough (and a fulcrum) and I’ll move the world.  Trouble is I’m near the back of he queue and I can see a lot of market players already staggering off with very long levers in their arms.

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Ready Reckoner

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 26, 2011

Ready Reckoner

It is obvious: numbers can just slip by
I remember a time that economics was popularised in the unit of ‘hundreds of thousands’ of pounds.  It soon moved on to millions.  Now we are in the age of billions and trillions are becoming common.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

I just wanted to reverse out the 4-cents-a-passenger-mile syndrome.  As the Dreamliner completes its first commercial flight it is appropriate and I wonder what a passenger mile costs for it to fly?

So when there is talk of a £1bn and it involves the Bank of England or the UK government what does it mean to you?  Not a lot really.  Just £20 for every man, woman, child, pensioner, tax-payer and non-tax-payer in this country.

So we lent £9bn to Ireland…out of the goodness of our hearts.  We’ll never see it again.  That will £180.  I’ll be round to collect it later.

On our behalf the BoE is doing QE at £275bn.  That is £550…I’ll get it at the same time.  When the BoE exits from QE I’ll bring it round.  Interest?  Sorry that is not part of the deal.

What is our contribution to the Greek problem?  You thought we were not involved?  Alas the IMF is involved and we fund that – it will cost you another £100 or so.  Don’t worry Christine Lagarde is looking after our interests.  We’ll get it back…one day.

Keep a running total in your head as the numbers come up in the news each day.  You start off in the 10’s and 100’s, but you soon get into the thousands.

All of that is small stuff though.  The total UK debt from all sources, government and individual, is about £5tn or £100,000 from you.  Don’t worry it is all backed by solid assets: houses, Greek government bonds, and your children’s and grand-children’s future earnings.

It is obvious: numbers can just slip by.  You have to keep working on them.

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Film night

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 25, 2011

It is obvious: pilots have a vested interest in flying planes well

I am reminded of a Sam Peckinpah movie.  Just at the point where hugely significant events take place, usually bloody, at high speed, he cuts to very slow motion and drags it all out thus heightening the tension.

The heads of the EU nations will meet on Wednesday…but not their finance ministers.  This means that any meaningful announcement will not be made until some days after the heads of state have met.  Do not forget this is at a time that prompt decisive action was called for by…everyone.  And don’t tell me that they have to work out the details.  They should have/could have done that a long time ago.

Why is there a delay?  Because they can’t come to an agreement.  Any agreement that they do come to will be an inadequate compromise.  The whole world waits for the announcement.  Why?

Mervyn King for whom I had not got one good word to say dropped a bombshell to the commons committee today and it went almost without comment.  He said that the EU leaders might be gaining a little breathing space but they were not fixing the underlying problems.  Like all of us he is waiting for the solution to come along.

So he astounds us all, surely not just me.  He has spotted that the emperor has no clothes on.  The much heralded, and fictional, package of measures is not going to save us.  All it will do is to buy a little time.

It is 2 years since the last crisis and what has been done?  Nothing.  So why should we possibly expect something to be done in another 2 years?

There is a difference between debt and deficit that has to be grasped.  Now we have to distinguish between the plan to buy time and the plan that fixes the problem.  So far there is no sign of the latter.

Greece is a good example.  Owing £350bn that it can’t repay or pay the interest on, it is in the process of being lent another £200bn…that it can’t repay of pay the interest on.  There is talk of reducing the value of the loans – I assume the original ones only and not the new ones.  It started at 21% and is now going to be at least 50%.  In the meantime austerity measures are being imposed on Greece such that it will take some while for the country to recover economically to the point where it can service its loans.  Lets hope that it can recover to robust good health in two years because at that time it will owe…£350bn.  In two years everything will be just as it is now.  It reminds me of Jurassic Park where they painfully crawl out of the Jeep which is up a tree for some reason.  As they descend the Jeep also starts breaking branches and descends.  At the end there is a mad rush for the ground where the Jeep falls on them leaving them sitting in the Jeep just as they were at the top of the tree.

It is obvious: pilots have a vested interest in flying planes well – national leaders have no such interest in economies and much less competence

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Gizza job

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 25, 2011

It is obvious: Christine Lagarde is French

I’ll shout and I’ll scream and I’ll stamp my feet.  There.  Did it help?  Nope – still not got a job.  Let me see…who is it that owes me a job?  Whose responsibility is it to find me one?  Why haven’t I got one?  I looked.  There is nothing in the charter of human rights that says I can demand a job.  Nowhere did god give me a right to a job – or anyone else.  I know I’ll blame the Tory cuts.

I have heard mention of Tory Cuts several times this week.  I find that an interesting description.  I saw a policeman standing behind a clear plastic shield at Dale Farm last week being hit by a man with a long handled shovel, as hard as he could, and it was called police provocation.  (I notice that that particular shot was only aired on the news once while the tazering, with the prior assault by a heavy wooden beam edited out, got many airings.)  I feel sure that the cuts are not being done because the Conservative party think it will get them lots of friends or win the next election for them.  However if we did not have Tory cuts then what might we have?

I gave a simple analysis how sacking a £30,000 a year civil servant  saved the government £28,000.  I did not continue to show how, as a consequence two £15,000 a year jobs will also be lost in the area where that civil servant lives.  What has happened is that instead of the government paying for the person to work they pay him not to work…at a much lower rate.  This does not stop him getting another job, or the other two people.  What has happened is that instead of our taxes paying for him to work, £28,000 less taxes are paid for him not to work.  The other two were being paid by the government as well.  These people were in general fooled into thinking they had jobs by the Labour party.  All they had was money that came from people with non-government jobs.

How do we get to a decent economy?  Don’t start from here.  What?  For the last 13 years of Labour government two things happened.  First a lot of money was borrowed and spent.  I have detailed this in my early blogs and recently have calculated the body count for doing it.  Second a lot of future expenditure was brought forward wth PFI thus spending the tax revenue of our children and grandchildren today (yesterday).  At the same time we as individuals ran up a lot of debts.  This spending of debt increased the GDP over the duration of the Labour government by about 2% a year.  Look at the UK GDP growth graph and step it down by 2% – not pretty reading.

The Labour party thought it a huge giggle, leaving a note at the treasury saying they were really sorry but all the money had gone.  Indeed there is well document evidence of a frenzy of spending and committing to spending in the last weeks in power when they knew they were going to lose the election, just to ensure that there would be a structural deficit in place for the incoming government.

When we get to debt that is 85% of GDP we are at the point of a debt default spiral.  You want to know what one of those is?  Look at Greece.  This is the situation where Chirstine Lagarde runs your country for you.  She made enough of a mess of France I don’t want her running the UK.  In that situation the IMF requires cuts down to the bone that make the ‘Tory cuts’ look like scratches that barely break the skin.

Even with Tory cuts we are still going to increase the national debt by half a trillion before we get to surplus (no deficit) and can start to pay back the money we owe.  Clearly, paying back money we borrowed and spent means that we no longer have the extra borrowings to spend and some of our own money that we had got used to spending has instead to be used to pay off debt.  More importantly a lot of it is used to pay the interest on the loans.

If our economy was growing at 5% a year then we needn’t bother with any of this.  We can runalong increasing debt just behind the 85% of GDP mark…until growth stops.

We are faced with two choices.  The Conservatives are saying that they will cut expenditure and get us into surplus asap.  Will this work?  I think the chances are small to zero.

What of the Labour plan?  They are saying that we need to keep borrowing and spending.  We need to employ people on the government payroll.  They have some idea that the money can be spent to get growth so that the borrowing can tag along behind the 85% line.  This expenditure will ensure growth so that the deceit can continue until such time as growth fails.  What a load of tosh.  Then what happens?  Look at Greece except a lot worse…maybe Zimbabwe is a better model.  When you have a problem that you can’t service your debts, or your children can’t, then the Labour view is that you solve the problem by borrowing more.

I can very accurately assess the chances of the Labour plan working.

It is obvious: Christine Lagarde is French and I don’t want her running the UK

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Lie down

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 21, 2011

It is obvious: if you are going to lie make it unbelievable

Lehman Brothers was a classic example of my trigger theory.  That one was not so small!  In no small measure before and increasingly after, independent commentators warned of coming problems and in particular those of the Eurozone.  The PIIGS acronym was coined some time ago.

At that time the independent people also proposed a number of necessary steps to see the crisis off.  At least some of them would have worked and the cost would not have been so great.  As time went by politicians may have believed they had ‘saved the world’ when all they had done was delay making any significant decision.  As a result the number of options decreased and the costs of the still vaguely viable ones increased.  You can put things off hoping for something to come along and if it does alls is well.  If it doesn’t then all is a lot worse.  Nothing has come along.

A few days ago Merkel and Sarkozy met.  They announced that they had come up with a plan but would not announce it until the details had been sorted out.  The markets bounced up and all was well.  The problem was that nobody believed them.  Perhaps everyone just hoped and went along with it.

Today I dug a hole in the garden: got a couple of bodies to bury.  I am near the end of the civil engineering and plant slaughter I am undertaking.  About 3′ by 5′ and, so far, 2′ deep.  I am into nasty London clay with lots of pebbles in it.  As I was exhausted after 2 hours I decided to go and have a coffee on the high street and pay a cheque in.  I had a shower and drove past a guy a few houses down digging a trench with a mini-JSB.

In the coffee shop I read The Times.  Inside it tells me that the EU nations are trying to devise a plan and cannot agree one because of fundamental differences between France and Germany!!!!!!  Wait a minute.  Last week they had a plan and just needed to sort out details.  Either the heads of Germany and France lied to us last week or they are lying now.  We all know which it was.  No matter how well-meaning, and I don’t think it was, I cannot give any credibility to either of them a) for lying to us, b) for thinking for even one microsecond that we would believe them.

On the way back from the bank, and coffee, the trench digger had managed 30′ of deeper and same width trench as mine.  When energy becomes much more scarce and much more expensive we will be limited as a race by what we can build, but there will at least be employment for many people building what we can (maybe a couple of pyramids).  The proposed high-speed link from London to wherever will be able to keep all the unemployed busy for the next 20 years.  I wonder how many would sign up knowing they would be in a trench digging all day to get their benefits.

It is obvious: if you are going to lie make it unbelievable then when you are found out everyone is pleased they spotted it in the firtst place…and you got away with it.

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Up Dale, down Dale

Posted by chrisrick13 on October 20, 2011

It is obvious: I shouldn’t be writing this

I was not going to write about Dale Farm.  The cynical hypocrisy and the BBC persuaded me.

I am puzzled by the name ‘Travellers’.  From their accents they are Irish.  I don’t see Traveller as an ethnic group – it is a lifestyle choice.  It is much the same as tramp or hippie.  That being the case given their 10 year residence at Dale Farm they are better termed ‘Stayers’.

The eviction started yesterday, three weeks after the planned start, because the Stayers had gone through the courts to get the eviction notices declared illegal.  The judgement was given that they were illegal staying where they were.  Of course for good law-abiding citizens, having tested it out in the courts and failed, they accepted the rule of law and moved on.  Not a bit of it: cynical hypocrisy.

There are many other observations I could make, but I took my wife to the station and came back to see on tv (caught me) the police moving in.  There was a lot of coverage on 3 channels and I got a good real-time impression of events.  Highlights for me were: a man poking a policeman in the face with a 6 foot long beam.  On the third poke in the face the policeman tazered him.  I saw another man with a long handled spade whacking police shields as they stood there.

The police had been well trained for this media event.  They simply moved forward with shields to the front.  Inexorable force, but they didn’t hit anyone.  Any protester/Stayer that was overtaken by the line was just left to meander around.  I even saw one policeman ruffle the hair of a protester as she was overtaken by the line sending her into a rage.

Enforcing the rule of law was termed police provocation several times by protesters.  Note I have not mentioned Stayers, all the ones I saw were sitting on a bank off to one side watching.

I have to mention my heroes Razor and Blade.  Together with dozen of their mates they would have cleared the site in 20 minutes.

Roll forward to lunchtime when I had a break and allowed myself to put the tv back on.  To my amazement I discovered there were two Dale Farm evictions on the same day!  There was the one I saw in the morning and the one that the BBC reported in their edited broadcast for repeating during the day.

It is obvious: I shouldn’t be writing this, storms in teacups are not normally that interesting but the BBC can make them so.

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