A Christmas competition with a difference – and the chance to win a bottle of champagne

 
Paul Ormerod
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Mike Ashley's Sports Direct has come under intense criticism (Source: Getty)
For the prolonged holiday break, a quiz is appropriate. But one with a difference: not just questions, but comments to go with them. A prize of a bottle of champagne to the best answers – just email them to me.
The last couple of years have seen the rise of populist left-wing movements. Syriza in Greece is the most prominent example. Podemos in Spain polled well in the general election in that country on Sunday, securing just over 20 per cent of the vote. In neighbouring Portugal, the ruling conservatives were displaced this year after internal constitutional wrangles involving a motley alliance of leftists. Even in the United States, Bernie Sanders, the senator who openly proclaims himself a socialist, is attracting support in the Democratic primaries. Socialist incumbents were re-elected last month in Seattle, the home of Microsoft.
Many people have serious doubts about the practical viability of the programmes of these parties. But criticism is not limited to the right. The Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan notoriously pronounced at the height of the economic crisis of the 1970s that “we used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, in so far as it ever did exist”. But which famous socialist went even further and once said, and where: “certain comrades deny the objective validity of the laws of political economy under socialism. These comrades are profoundly mistaken”?
Thinking of workers’ rights, Sports Direct has come under intense criticism this month for the alleged way in which it treats its staff. The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier MP, has called for an HMRC investigation into low pay and the “humiliating and demeaning” working conditions at the company. Whatever the truth of the allegations (and Sports Direct has insisted that it is acting within the law), working in a warehouse on low pay isn’t much fun at the best of times. But things could be worse. Where and when could workers be sent to jail for being late for work twice within a single year and with what offence were they charged?
On a lighter note, England is in action in the first Test against South Africa in Durban beginning on Boxing Day. Brian Statham, the great England fast bowler (and great Lancastrian) wrote over 50 years ago that he expected all the batting records to end up eventually in Asia. It looks like a good prediction. The highest all-time partnerships for the first five wickets are now held by Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, including the highest of all, the 624 for Sri Lanka’s third wicket against South Africa in 2006.
But our boys still hold one truly outstanding record. Jim Laker’s match statistics of 19 wickets for 90 runs against Australia in 1956 is still by far the best bowling return, not just in Tests but in any first class match. As an approximation, what is the probability that this will be beaten in 2016? Extra marks for your reasons why. Happy Christmas.
Paul Ormerod is an economist at Volterra Partners, a visiting professor at University College, London, and author of Positive Linking: How Networks can Revolutionise the World. Please email answers to pormerod@volterra.co.uk

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