Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget liveblog

I do actually write about serious stuff at spearswms.com!

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Spear's will be bringing you live updates from the Budget with analysis of what this means. You can follow its tweets at twitter.com/spearswms

13.36
We'll be back with quotes from tax experts starting at 3.30. Join us then.

13.35
'All Labour governments run out of money. What's the point of this government of the living dead. If they can't manage the money, why don't they make way for the team that can?'

13.31
Great Cameron joke about applying the new scrappage scheme to the Labour government. Another one about the IMF. I like the wit.

13.27
Cameron doesn't talk about the 50% tax rate but goes straight to the man-on-the-street beer and petrol taxes. Might Tory grandees not be demanding greater indignation?

13.23
Call Me Dave is up. 'Any claim they have ever made to economic competence is dead, over, finished.' Public borrowing will be greater over next two years than in past 300 years. Total borrowing over next four years: £606bn.

13.22
HEADLINES

INCOME TAX: 50% above £150,000 from next April, a year early. Personal allowances over £100,000 fully withdrawn.

£1bn extra revenue over next three years from stopping tax evasion.

Pension tax relief restricted for those with incomes over £150,000.

UK net debt (including banks) to GDP ratio: 68% (2010-1) 74% (2011-2) 78% (2012-3) 79% (2013-4).

Public sector borrowing: £175 billion, 12% GDP this year.

13.21
'I commend this speech to the House.' Someone has to.

13.20
ISA limit is £7,200 - to go up to £10,200, £5,100 in cash, for 50s or over this year, next year for everyone else.

13.18
Pensions will rise by 2.5% regardless of inflation in December. Extra winter fuel allowance to be maintained.

13.16
"Hope for the future." As opposed to hope for the past or reality for the future, a reality of hurting those who contribute most taxes to the economy directly and indirectly.

13.14
A debt to GDP ratio of nearly 80% in 2013-4 is huge, much much bigger than he forecast in November. Guess it'll be Cameron's problem. This is all assuming that growth restarts - if it's postponed, this could rise.

13.13
Carbon to be cut by 34% - binding target.

13.12
Will the new tax rate make this a redistributive budget or the one that causes HNWs to flee?

13.09
North Sea oil extraction is expensive, so 2bn barrels to be taken out of smaller oil fields. Not a green budget then.

13.06
Corporate governance and remuneration at banks to be reformed, capital and liquidity, transparency of regulations. All in line with G20. Treasury paper to be published. Will be an interesting read for the Square Mile.

13.03
Darling has hit the easy target, walloping the rich by increasing a proposed tax rate of 45% for money above £150,000 to 50%. Labour can't have got many votes from this category anyway, but now it'll be impossible. It seems like it might well drive high-earners in the City away, or at least force them to be thoroughly devious.

13.00
Booze and fags up 2%, petrol duty up 2p in September.

12.58
INCOME TAX: 50% above £150,000 from next April, a year early. Personal allowances over £100,000 fully withdrawn.

£1bn extra revenue over next three years from stopping tax evasion.

1/4 of the pensions tax relief goes to top 1% of earners.

Pension tax relief restricted for those with incomes over £150,000.

12.57
UK net debt including banks: 68% (2010-1) 74% (2011-2) 78% (2012-3) 79% (2013-4).

Public sector borrowing: £175 billion, 12% GDP this year.

2010 onwards:

£173bn
£140bn
£118bn
£97bn

11.9%
9.1%
7.2%
5.5%

12.56
Learnt from interwar mistakes: no deflation to get out of a recession. Fiscal easing of 0.5% this year, 0.8% tightening each year until 2013-14. Budget deficit halved in next four years.

12.53
Tax revenues down (previously financial sector 27% public revenues), corporation tax and income tax revenues down, stamp duty down, tax as part of GDP 1.2% down.

12.51
Scrappage scheme: £2,000 discount on cars over ten years old. Mandy to give more details.

12.50
Guaranteeing mortgage-backed securities - isn't that how we got here?

12.48
Darling seems optimistic for future growth: he says we have a diversified economy, but with financial services and London weighing so heavily, where is this diversity? The pound is recovering meaning manufacturing isn't going to be (and isn't now) the source.

12.42
Economy to grow by 3.5% years after 2010.

Inflation down to 1% by the end of the year. RPI down to -3% in September. Deflation!

12.41
GDP -3.5% this year but to start growing again, suffering less than the Eurozone and elswhere. 1.6% contraction 4Q08, similar 1Q09.

1.25% growth in 2010.

12.38
G20 rehearsal, details of which you can see in my liveblog here.

Economy to start growing by end of year? What does he know that we don't?

12.35
Darling outlining our current crisis for the benefit of those who have been under rocks. Everyone else's economies and exports are declining too.

12.32
Investment will be protected and financial services rebuilt (does that mean RBS's smashed windows?). No repeat of inertia that led to last Depression.

12.30
Darling up.

12.11
A good post from Stephanie Flanders: watch out for the date the UK returns to positive growth (now 0.3% in 2010), the date the debt ratio gets under control (now 2015-16) and 'the forecast real growth in total spending from 2011-2016. In the PBR he was looking at average real terms growth of 1.1% a year.' Of course, debt-to-GDP ratio is also key (PBR in November said 57%).

12.03
Just watching PMQs. Business as usual.

11.58
Net borrowing for 2008-9 was £90bn, below expectations but above the Pre-Budget Report.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Venezuelan Sensation

From my blog at spearswms.com.

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Far be it from me to tread on the (extremely knowledgeable) toes of another Spear's blogger, Dr Vanessa Neumann, but I'd like to offer my two cents on one aspect of Venezuela: the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and authors of the most thrilling performance I have ever seen.

When I booked my tickets for Saturday night's performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring at the Royal Festival Hall, I said that people would mortgage their houses on the day of the concert for a spare ticket.

All right, it was October 2007 so I didn't know people would find getting a mortgage impossible in eighteen months' time, but the principle was right. I've never seen touts at a classical concert before.

By any standard, it would be hard to call the Rite of Spring dull. Its punishing polyrhythms, its violinists who attack their instruments, disc(h)ordant bassoons and a frightening, surprising ending keep you in permanent tension. It is the musical equivalent of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, with its African masks and sharp angles.

But the SBYO turn these notes and staves into a visceral, thundering, unutterably thrilling event, accelerating through barlines like a Ferrari with the pedal down, leading the dance in new and shocking ways. The orchestra seemed to understand in their very beings the violent passions of the music, and it flowed out through their explosive style.

The critical consensus is that they're great with the fortes, not so hot with the pianos, but I didn't find this true, either in the other works on the programme (three early 20th century Latin American pieces) or in their encore of Elgar's Nimrod, which was a warm tribute to their hosts. It is the thunder, however, at which they excel.

The orchestra is the product of El Sistema, the national programme for putting an instrument in every child's hands. This has resulted in not low-level enthusiasm for music but dozens of orchestras, including one world-beater.

If we could inspire Britain's youth away from their computers and into rehearsal rooms, perhaps we would have such a grass-roots orchestra to be proud of.

I don't feel confident about that. What I do feel confident about is that the SBYO will continue to thrill us for years to come.

Here is their signature piece, the Mambo from West Side Story at the 2007 Proms:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The faces of Cindy Sherman

I don't think I've ever seen quite so high a patron:picture ratio as at the Cindy Sherman opening at Spruth Magers on Grafton Street last night. The gallery verily overflowed with an unaccustomed mixture of Mayfair and Shoreditch, spilling out onto the street where neon t-shirts rubbed shoulders with tailored suits, all to see three pictures.

They are very good pictures, of course, and the attraction en masse was easily explicable. Cindy Sherman is an alchemical mixture of reality and fiction: she photographs portaits but they are not of real people; she is her own subject, but she is always heavily made up as other people; she has realistic settings but they are blurred or digitised; they are in gilt frames but they are modern productions.

These are not simplistic oppositions, the facile sarcasm which is so off-putting in certain artists. Literally and metaphorically, we want to get under Sherman's skin, to explore the difference between her false face and her true one.

I actually find Sherman's pictures much more psychologically intriguing than most traditional portraits, but that of course is because they are designed to be ambiguous rather than aggrandising or beautifying. We have to ask what sort of woman is portrayed, and what sort of woman would want to be portrayed that way.

The intense fictionality of Sherman's pictures runs alongside their truthfulness and the gap between them is where she leaves the viewer, wondering.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Art finally eats itself

From my blog at spearswms.com.

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It has gone beyond parody. Just like the fashion designer sending his models naked down the catwalk at the end of Robert Altman's Pret a Porter, an exhibition with blank canvases on the wall suggests either a brilliant post-modern stroke or a highly juvenile art-student mentality.

I'd plump for the latter, though Merlin Carpenter at Simon Lee Gallery did at least have the theoretically redeeming feature of painting on the canvases during the opening. I didn't stay long enough to see the art in progress because - oddly enough - there wasn't enough before that to hold my attention.

The blurb speaks of capitalist speculation and a Mad Ma(r)x future where values are created not just by money. A fine idea, but that's not terribly much to sustain a show, or rather the fifth iteration of this internationally-plied gimmick. Why eleven unpainted canvases? Is the point that much more significant than with just one?

The gallery will still try and sell these pieces in very much capitalist fashion, making a nonsense (or at least a hypocrisy) of the idea.

Questions of value are of course at the forefront of the mind today, but I just feel that if a G20 rioter were to have smashed the windows of Simon Lee Gallery last night, they would have been more bemused by the blank canvases than enraged or indeed empathetic with his point of view.

The charm of the medieval

From my blog at spearswms.com.

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I suffer for Spear's. The latest outrage was having to review a villa near Perugia, on which much more in the next issue.

Being in Umbria, I wanted to take the opportunity to visit nearby Tuscan Siena, Florence's overshadowed neighbour but easily its better in medieval art and architecture and a respectable second in the Renaissance race.

I was inspired to do so after visiting the National Gallery's Renaissance Siena exhibition, which was a revelation with its skilful and colourful Beccafumis and Pintoricchios.

The city itself is like a medieval keep, high stone buildings square on roads that run steeply up the hill. Siena is a city of hidden alleys rather than broad piazze, and turning aside from your track will lead you to discover the true medieval Siena: dark, cool, private, a respite from the marauding Florentines and the sun.

The ancient University has a small colonnaded square with a tremendous tromp l'oeil vaulted fresco where god and the devil pour out down to earth, but I only found this by stepping through a door I'm not sure I was supposed to. So it goes in Siena.

The dark, cool privacy was very much evident when I visited the Museo Civico, housed in the Palazzo Publico, outside of which spreads the coral shell of Il Campo. Being mid-March, I was the only person there, apart from a wedding party, the bride in scarlet dress, veil and heels, in Beccafumi's Sala del Consistorio.

The ceiling is covered with scenes of Classical justice, perhaps setting the marriage on an auspicious course. Beccafumi's frescoing technique is light and vivid, pale colours and figures easily arranged and not strained.

Contrast this with the effortful Sala des Risorgimento, telling of Victor Emmanuel's life and deeds, most of which appear to have been equestrian. There is none of Beccafumi's life - it is heavy-handed.

There is a suite of overwhelming rooms: the Sala del Mappamondo, where the council used to meet, is overlooked by Simone Martini's Maiesta (which is in turn overwhelmed by the Duccio Maiesta in the Duomo), and next door are the Chapel and Ante-Chapel, which retain the Sienese gloom but are illuminated by intricately patterned vaulted ceilings and scenes from the Aeneid prophesying a glorious Roman future.

The guidebooks say that the Sienese are a proud people (it is hard to imagine any city in Italy which could not be or is not proud), but the charm of Siena is that it is in reality far less reputed than its Renaissance rival.

The quiet modesty of the city is what makes its treasures that bit more pleasurable to discover: without heralds, without noise, Siena sits, waiting to be found.