Sunday, 16 December 2012

Some thoughts to ponder

Professor of politics, John Keane of the University of Sydney, writes: “ Young citizens see few intelligent political leaders who speak their language, actively represent their interests and work for equitable political change. For many 'liberal democracy' is phantom democracy, a game played by rich and powerful men trading in broken promises. They see that 'Big Money' and 'Big Lobbying' disproportionately win, and that the rhythms of parliamentary government are out of whack with environmental catastrophes. Parliamentary democracy seems reactive, dragged down by its inability to address large domestic & cross border issues. Especially worrying, many young people say, is the growing resort to executive rule. From drones & nuclear weapons to imposed fiscal austerity and environmental policy, decisions of basic importance to the lives of millions of people are being decided [or blocked] arbitrarily behind closed doors.” Whether he is right or not, the decline in 'Party' membership coupled with the decline in the numbers bothering to vote means that our leaders should be giving these thoughts very serious consideration. It is all very well for pensioners like the writer of this post to be politically active & turn out to vote but we are not the future.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tory EU haters & brain dead Labour

Hands up if you think it is possible to get any sense into the relationship between the UK and other EU countries. If no one put their hand up they are sadly all too correct. The Tory rebels who caused the defeat of the Government over the EU budget have not only shown us that the Tory party is undisciplined [ in sharp contrast to the LibDems] but have made it much less likely that Cameron can get any sort of movement towards the British position on the budget. So he might have to use the veto [which is not a veto] because if no budget can be agreed there is a formula that operates to keep the EU solvent & which will most likely involve an increase in the UK contribution. Well done those rebels. Of course they will then try & wriggle out by saying that this proves the UK should quit Europe. So what if we do quit? Does anyone with half a brain think that the rest of the EU would continue to offer the kind of trade deals that we get as of right from being in the EU? After we have been such a gold medal pain in the backside for decades? The rest of the EU would be more likely to ring the church bells in celebration of our departure. And what of Labour? Having attacked Cameron for 'leaving the room' and marginalising Britain how is Miliband going to explain having essentially forced Cameron to repeat the performance? We are supposed to be returning to old fashioned school discipline so perhaps he should write out one hundred times the definition of integrity.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Wealth does NOT trickle down to the poor

Some groundbreaking research for the Tax Justice Network, carried out by James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinstry and expert on tax havens, has shown that the super rich have hidden, and thus paid no tax on, assets of some £20trillion. Of the World's approx 7bn people about 10million are rich enough to play this game but only some 100000 are so disgustingly rich that they account for about half the hidden assets. The unpaid tax would be enough to wipe out Africa's debt or go a long way to solving the Eurocrisis. John Christensen of the of The Tax Justice Network said " For three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super -rich. This is a staggering failure [of world governance] - - - but politicians are still relying on trickle down to transfer wealth to poorer people"

Thursday, 18 October 2012

How dare the Germans copy us

David Cameron's pandering to UKIP & his right wing Europe haters by taking a shortsighted view of what is best for Britain - see previous post, obstructiveness, vetoes etc - has gained a convert. Angela Merkel scuppered the BAE/EADS deal because there wasn't enough in it for Germany. How unsporting of the Germans to follow the British example.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hatred of EU makes right wing Tories even more stupid than usual

Defence minister, Conservative Philip Hammond, has confirmed reports that the UK will seek to end participation in dozens of EU-level crime-fighting structures. This has got to be one of the most breathtakingly stupid of all the disasters promulgated by the Conservative part of the coalition. Right wing, anti EU, Tories have now so captured their party that even the most sensible of co-operations with Europe must now be sacrificed. Why don't they be honest for a change & all shove off & join UKIP.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"Punish the poor & benefit the rich" Tory slogan for 2015?

No one condones benefit fraud but in the UK welfare fraud stands at £1.2bn (1% of welfare spend). Corporate tax avoidance is £25bn. We've clawed back £4bn from tax avoiders & evaders trumpets millionaire, George Osborne, at the Tory conference yesterday in almost the same breath as he wants to cut £10bn from welfare. Is this any kind of balance? Fairness? All in it together? George told a heartrending tale of a hardworking soul having to get out of bed on a dark, cold, morning, endure the daily commute, work hard all day & then repeat the process in reverse. Contrast this lifestyle with someone on benefits able to have a lie in & stroll down to the pub for lunch. We have to deal with this unfairness and the justifiable resentment it causes he proclaimed to the joy of the Tory faithful, almost none of whom will have any idea what life is really like for most people on benefits. ONE MAJOR FLAW IN GEORGE'S IDEA IS WHERE ARE THE JOBS FOR THESE BENEFIT LAYABOUTS TO DO? There are 100's of applicants for every vacancy. Most people on benefits who can work would love to work. George airily dismisses LibDem ideas for a Mansion Tax and other ways to get a more reasonable contribution from those who can afford it. It seems clear that the Tory slogan for the next election should be “Hound the poor to benefit the rich”. Got quite a ring to it don't you think? Poor George. Shame the economy is in such poor shape he can't afford to put scroungers to work building Workhouses.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A poem

Georgie Porgie, wealthy & sly
Looked at welfare & it made him cry
The welfare system had become too slack
Action was needed to cut it back
So much easier to clobber the needy
Than do something serious to restrain the greedy.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Goodwill = bad valuations= big rewards for failure?

'Goodwill' is supposed to represent the increased value of a business arising from its brands, reputation etc etc  over & above what it is actually worth and is supposed to justify the higher price that you paid. The Financial Times reports that  Europe's 600 biggest companies wrote off 76bn Euros of goodwill last year. Over the last four years* these companies spent 1.6tn Euros and wrote off 219bn. This represents massive overpayment for duff acquisitions. It's probably worse than this because it takes time for the error to emerge. But these guys still reckon they are worth their massive remuneration packages ! Why bother training to do anything useful like surgery or engineering or whatever where an error can result in losing your job or even prison. 
*calculation by Houlihan Lokey

Israels posturing over Iran has done its people no favours

Following on from my previous post it appears that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has stepped back from threats of an imminent attack on Iran. In a speech to the UN General Assembly he has identified an Iranian 'Red Line'  as being likely next summer when, he believes, Iran will have amassed enough enriched Uranium to make one bomb. Western meddling in the Middle East & the wider Muslim world, especially in the last decade, has (with the possible exception of Libya) been an unmitigated disaster. A Syrian rebel spokesman was bewailing lack of western help. Because of Western bungling we are constantly vilified and, aided by Russian & Chinese posturing, it is time to say enough is enough. The Syrian problem must be solved by the governments of the Arab world, both secular and religious, by themselves.  The USA, and especially the UK, must NOT sign up to Israel's  new Red Line. Any military attack on Iran is unacceptable, especially  whilst  Israel retains its own huge nuclear arsenal. Western priorities must be the containment of Israel, isolating & protecting it from both external threats and its own belligerence, and to continue to seek a diplomatic solution with Iran. Netanyahu's posturing over Iran has done his people no favours.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Red Line approaches? I hope not

This post is going to look very strange alongside my last one of Sept 5th & I can already hear the shouts of 'hypocrite' & other less flattering comments. But some issues are SO big that all ones determination to fight on from the inside eventually evaporates. I do not read the Daily Mail, or the Mail on Sunday. I would find it hard to believe those organs of the print media over anything. Nor do I know what Sir Nick Harvey thinks or why he left the MoD. The 'Mails' report  that Nick was sacked from MoD because of outspoken opposition to a military adventure in Iran. Of course no one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon but with the State of Israel having a large number of them, which it denies, and with Israels dreadful behaviour over some 40yrs if I was an Iranian I'd most certainly want my own bomb. Whatever the solution, a military strike on Iran is not it and if Israel goes ahead unilaterally it must NOT be supported. Consequently, if the Coalition supports any military action by anybody over this issue with the LibDems doing anything but total opposition that will be the end of my nearly 60yrs support for the Liberal Party & its successors

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Dont't go - stay & FIGHT

It is a great shame that so many LibDems are so disillusioned that they are quitting the party. They have every right to be profoundly upset. The political ineptitude and betrayal, particularly by the Conservative part of the coalition, is little short of breathtaking. OK so immediately I have provoked a howl 'tuition fees' & 'betrayal' by the LibDems (the only so called betrayal that seems to count). But actually 'the howl' makes my point. Despite the £9000 figure the new structure is a much better deal for students than the old one - as those students who have studied it carefully are now beginning to realise. It was the way in which it was allowed to be misrepresented that was the huge ineptitude. Like wise the 'Granny-Tax' that is not a tax at all. And why on earth did we go ahead with the AV referendum. Leaving aside that Cameron betrayed the LibDems by campaigning against it, it was a lousy proposal in the first place. And look how Lords reform has been botched - does it really make any sense to have 815 peers? There was nothing in the Coalition Agreement about fouling up the health service - Tory betrayal again and handled so badly that, if it were not for the LibDems, who knows what the outcome might have been. Then the Murdoch thing & Jeremy Hunt promoted. Hunt, apparently, has the sublime ability to set aside his personal views & judge the issue fairly - something Cable allegedly could not do. Believe that you'll believe the moon is made of Cheese (Wallace & Gromit for PM & Chancellor anyone?). It was ALWAYS the Tory intention to give Murdoch BSkyB & Cable was in the way because he WAS doing it by the book. Now, thanks to Local Government 'Reform' ( better known as screw up) we have got the 'Bed Tax'. One woman, whose 17yr old daughter is a fully fledged Private in the Army, & who lives in 'social' housing is being clobbered for extra money because she wants to keep her daughter's room available for when she comes home on leave. Where is the kid supposed to sleep? In the bath?. LibDems please don't leave. There is nowhere else for you to go. The need to stay on the inside I fight like never before has never been greater. Labour are bigger hypocrites than the Tories & that really IS some achievement.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Always read the small print

Liz & I were booked into the Brambletye Hotel in Forest Row, Sussex, for the night of 1st September but regretfully had to cancel. I 'phoned the hotel at about 09.00 on the morning of 31st August to cancel & was told I still had to pay for the room as their cancellation policy was three days. I booked through Laterooms & indeed it does say that cancellation is 72hrs on Laterooms site. Serves me right for not checking. However I thought there was a good chance that they could let the room so I rang again on the morning of the 1st and was told they were indeed fully booked for that coming night. It therefore seemed reasonable for me to see if the cancellation fee could be waived. Later that day, after we had got home, there was message from the hotel so I 'phoned them. I was told that the room had not been sold and that the receptionist to whom I spoke in the morning was not aware that the room was simply being held for someone else pending their confirmation which had not been received so I would still have to pay. In several decades of staying in hotels I had not before come across the idea of asking for a room to be held pending confirmation. It is a neat way of avoiding a cancellation fee and my previous experience has always been that you are asked to commit, with a credit card, on the spot. According to the hotel's own website “ Cancellation & pre-payment policies vary according to room type. Please enter the date of your stay and check the conditions for your required room”. Interestingly the hotel has no vacancies for any Saturday night during September so I was very unlucky that they could not re-let my room. You learn a new business practice every day. In future I shall look VERY carefully at a hotel's cancellation terms and just not stay there if they want more than 24hrs notice.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Falling flat on your face George

"The problem facing western democracies is doubt about the ability of government to deliver rising living standards" so wrote George Osborne in January. He went on " My argument is that the way to address this doubt is not to run away from capitalism but to run towards it". Since when George has blundered into one mess after another, one might argue the most spectacular of which was his reduction of the 50p tax rate which blew out of the water the myth that "We are all in it together". He (& a lot of other Tories) seem unable to grasp the extent of the general anger at there being one set of rules for an incompetent group of money men an another set of rules for the rest of us.

Business ethics?

I've just been told by a message on this site that 'my browser is no longer supported,please go to one on the list". My browser is Mozilla Firefox - one of the most popular I believe but not one from the Google/Microsoft stable. I'm not well up on these things but to suddenly decide NOT to support it (I've been in this blog regime with this browser for some years) smells like an unpleasant business practice to me.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Pay & performance not connected in finance

Martin Arnold wrote in the Financial Times: "Yet what investors want is to link pay more closely to performance".But this is the nub of the problem. For a long time, & especially now,there has been a total disconnect between pay & performance. There has also been a total disconnect between rewards to senior staff & rewards to shareholders. It seems quite clear that the leaders of the financial services industry see themselves as guiltless in the mess that the rest of us find ourselves in and thus are entitled to carry on exactly as before. As long as that attitude persists no solution using existing 'business' mechanisms such as Martin Arnold discusses are possible.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ten years on - not much has changed & certainly not for the better

This was sent to Charles Kennedy on 7th May 2002 Dear In the last few weeks I have been reading and listening to scores of commentators about the rise of ‘the far right’ and voter behaviour, both in UK & France. None of them get the point. Of the 60million or so men, women & children in the UK more than 95% , from all ethnic backgrounds – even those who are third generation and longer English –go about their daily business trying to improve their lot and not be a bother to anybody. What reward do they get? ABSOLUTLY NONE. Not even a miserable thank you from main stream politics for trying to look after themselves. What a contrast when we get to a) the rich and powerful; b) any kind of minority group that can capture media attention and put up a ‘spokesperson’; and c) the professional criminal - to identify just three ‘special interest’ groups. It is perfectly OK (apparently), within main stream politics, for senior executives, either through deceit or incompetence, to cost the jobs and ruin the pension prospects of thousands of ‘ordinary’ people whilst feathering their own nest. And wash your mouth out if you dare to suggest that they might contribute their fair share of taxes. We mustn’t be ‘unfriendly’ to ‘big’ business. It’s OK to mouth platitudes of support towards small business but by and large, in terms of real support , small business can go to hell. Nor must we tax fairly the overpaid, and all too often talentless, prima donnas of the entertainment world. They threaten to go and live abroad. I’d be happy to contribute a one way ticket from my pension. If you can get your ‘cause’ (grievance) in front of the, ( particularly tabloid), media, and if you become a spokesperson for that cause, then, as that spokesperson, you have vested interest in not finding a solution to your grievance because the solution is not ‘news’ and you will sink back into obscurity. Main stream politics seems to be so terrified of the media that no one will blow the whistle on this nonsense. Contrary to the apparent belief of the ‘power elite’, largely concentrated around London, the general public are not total idiots. We know that a really serious criminal has to be very unlucky or make a stupid error to get caught, and that most of the people in prison do not need to be there for the protection of society but are in prison because we can’t think of what else to do with them and lack the courage even if we did know. We know that the police concentration on certain offences is to massage the statistics and help the ‘spin’. Try living in those bits of Burnley and Oldham & Preston that see street violence and then try and agree with the priority of Lancashire Police in their recent blitzkrieg on motorists. Joe Public has cottoned onto the idea that the private sector, (and privatised industries), is not inevitably more efficient – except at making lots of money for its executives - than the public sector. It has also realised that the endless ‘reforms’ – virtually every Secretary of State for Health and Education in the last 50 yrs. has ‘reformed’ those services – is just a recipe for another layer of management so now seven managers are needed to do that which previously took but one. We may not understand PPP and PFI but we do see that they are a ‘fat cats’ charter. We remember the Labour Partys bitter opposition to these when in Opposition and we see the Labour Party now and then politicians wonder why, if they told us the time, we’d think they were lying. We hear main stream politics banging on about consumers of public money being ‘accountable’. But we never hear politicians make the same noises about themselves. Everything must be ‘reformed’ except the House of Commons. Parliament was supposed to protect the ordinary people from the excesses of the ‘Executive’. Sick joke. We hear words like ‘accountable to Parliament’ and we see Vice President Blair take us to war without a Parliamentary debate on the subject. Parliament manifestly does as the Labour Whips tell it. We, the great unwashed 95%, are comprehensively ignored by main stream politics except when we are required to elect a fresh dictator into No10. AND WE ARE FED UP WITH IT. Consequently we vote for the ‘Apathy’ Party, or the BNP, or a bunch of people trying to get some common sense into a Hospital strategy, or a man in a monkey suit, - anybody, thank you, except mainstream politicians. As a Liberal Party supporter for almost 50 yrs I have tried briefly to articulate the disillusion. Please believe that this letter is not just a personal view, nor is it the view only of a politically active circle of friends. It may not be a scientific poll, but I have tried to extract from my children (ages 25-40) and their friends and others – including some who are living on social security and find it virtually impossible to get off it even if they wanted to – why they have no interest in politics. Their overall consensus is, that only those who are greedy, or selfish, or a pain in the backside, or a noisy minority, or crooked, or any combination thereof, get any attention paid to them and ‘help’ from ‘politics’, so it’s only when there is an opportunity to give politicians a poke in the eye without doing serious damage that they will bother to give a squawk of protest if there is a ‘protest’ candidate available. Now of course one can, and should, produce cogent arguments, based on facts, to show that the majority is not as ignored as it believes itself to be, but the perception will take some shifting. You have personally identified the need to engage more people in the political process but I am not convinced that the Party has understood why there is such disaffection with the entire process of politics, hence this letter. I would personally like to see much more aggression and passion and a lot less caution from those members of the Party who get media space. Then we just might inspire those who have no time for politics to get interested. The present low key approach is successful in favourably re-distributing the vote amongst those who still bother but does not attract the rest. Softly softly might catchee monkey but it was the wrong monkey. Yours sincerely,

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Declining political party membership.

Patrick O'Flynn, writing in the Daily Express of 16th June reports that one of his informants claims that the membership of the Conservative Party has fallen from 296000 when Cameron became leader to 160000 today. Just thought that might cheer us up a bit. Anybody want to take a wager that sometime towards the end of next year the Tories might dump Cameron just like they did the sainted Margaret? And guess who is positioning himself to take over? St. George of the Treasury?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Make Trident, not soldiers, redundant

Today more redundancy notices are being issued to our soldiers whilst Cameron, and particularly the odious Osborne, witter on about our 'brave troops'. Elsewhere there are reports of our soldiers contracting the WWI disease of trenchfoot - put down to the use of too much synthetic material presumably because it is cheap. But the Tory Party is still hell bent on spending tens of billions of pounds on a replacement for Trident. How wrong & fatuous is it possible to be and how long are the LibDems going to put up with being tarred by this idiocy? The strategic concept that eventually became Trident was conceived in the military & political environment of the 1950's.It worked well until, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was clearly past its use by date. Whatever world view of 'threats' to UK security you now take this particular weapon system has no value (unless you include war with the USA as an option ! !). But it gets worse. Cyber war is the new horror. Remember the Stuxnet virus? In 2010, when it became known, some of us were puzzled that it appeared to specifically target the Siemens Simatic logic controller. Siemens do not used Windows, or any other public operating system. It seemed likely that this was more than a typical hackers toy. Now we know. Thanks to some brilliant investigative reporting it originated within US Govt agencies in order to specifically disrupt the Iranian nuclear programme. You might think that was legitimate & a good idea & a lot less likely to cause loss of life than an Israeli air attack. You might be right. But the truly scary bit is that it was apparently quite easy for it to escape into the wider world.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The incredible (literally) Jeremy Hunt

On 4th May I wrote that only the LibDems are untainted by NewsCorp. Despite frenzied efforts to find something,all that has been discovered is that Fred Michel, before he worked for Murdoch, attended a fund raising dinner for Nick Clegg in 2007 before Clegg became LibDem Leader. Despite the fact that the ConLab party can commit a score of misdemeanors and get away with it whereas LibDems may only commit one, this hardly ranks at all compared to what has emerged today from Jeremy Hunt at the Leverson enquiry.The suggestion that Hunt could dismiss his personal, very pro-Murdoch views, from his mind once the BSkyB decision was his, whereas clearly Vince Cable could not similarly dismiss his anti-Murdoch views & thus had to be removed from the decision making, is as ludicrous as it is offensive. It is blindingly self evident that the Tories always intended Murdoch to get the whole of BSkyB and Cable, by refusing to be seduced by NewsCorps lobbyists, was in the way.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Service from Easyspace

An organisation for which I am Secretary has had our website domain hosted by Easyspace for some years. Just hosting - nothing more. Two years ago I was substantially overcharged for a late renewal. I wrote seeking a refund. My letter was not replied to and yes, I was remiss in not chasing it up. This cavalier attitude to real customer service, as opposed to what Easypace say about their service meant I had no intention of renewing when that subscription of two years ago expires on 16th June this year. I received an Email on 17th May 2012 from Easyspace saying " Easyspace auto renewal, successful renewal confirmation'. On 21st May I went into their control panel to discover that my personal credit cards details had been stored and a fee of £33.65 had been noted against the account. In that visit to the control panel I went through the process of changing my domain host for which I was charged a further £18 [which I put to a different credit card] Checking with my "stored" card supplier it was confirmed that the £33.65 fee had been taken on 17th May and naturally the card provider can do nothing about it. After much bouncing around the Easyspace website - including being pointed to a 'phone number which got the terse reply "This service has been discontinued" and automatic cut off - I finally called Easyspace Sales who gave me a number. On calling this I was told that no refund is possible. The voice simply said "It is all in the Terms & Conditions". I pointed out that I had seen those two years ago & was I seriously expected to remember the fine details? Would it not be consistent with the 'customer focus image' that Easyspace presents to send out a reminder? I asked what could be done & was told "I can send you a fresh set of Terms & Conditions". Customer service to be truly proud of ! ! I'm sure Easyspace are fully within their rights. Choose for yourself if this is a company with which you wish to do business and make sure you give them 60days notice of any change.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Coalition - PLEASE get a grip

The UK Treasury has admitted that the white paper on bank reform, based on the recommendations of the Sir John Vickers report, will not be published until June. If the legislation is passed much of it will not be implemented until more than 10yrs after the crisis that prompted reform. There's urgency for you. The Government can, of course,screw up education & the NHS & much else at very high speed. Meanwhile JP Morgan Chase follow UBS in uncovering massive trading losses ($2bn).JP Morgans boss, who doubtless will still be richly rewarded, admits to "errors,sloppiness and bad judgment".Then Clinton Cards is brought down with great loss of jobs by Barclays Bank & RBS selling the loans they have made to Clinton to an American competitor - American Greetings - who immediately called them in. If the banks don't see that it is their job to prop up failing businesses (& it probably isn't) it should not be the Taxpayers job to prop up failing banks. Even more so when Barclays think it is proper to set aside £2.1bn in bonuses & only £700m for dividends. The Government hopes that 'investors' will sort this mess out,but institutional investors are all too often part of the mutual backscratch society and vast numbers of ordinary retail investors don't get to vote on directors remuneration because their shares are held in 'nominee' accounts. To finally add insult to injury the Government is secretly trying to offload its shareholding (or part of it) in RBS & Lloyds at a considerable loss to the taxpayer. As its cover the Treasury Select Committee will be taking evidence on such disposal - not from the poor bloody infantry of taxpayers - but from such 'objective' individuals as the CEO of Standard Life,the Head of UK investments at Schroders and so forth. Then there's the BSkyB affair - - - No wonder the voters are deserting the Coalition in droves.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A little Respect does Labour a lot of damage

Before Labour get too cock a hoop about their local election gains they should remember the word 'Respect'. Nobody will deny that the local election results represented a strong backlash against the Coalition but they were not a ringing endorsement of Labour. The apparent ease with which George Galloway can chew up a Labour heartland should be a great worry for them. When it comes to arousing passions Galloway & Alex Salmond are streets ahead of Cameron, Osborne, Miliband & Balls, yes & indeed Clegg. Thatcher gave impetus to the 'Prime Minster as President' style of politics & was ably followed by Blair. LibDems have never gone down that route.

Only the LibDems are untainted by Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch said he never asked favours of politicians. Well of course not. He never needed to. It was clear even to me,as humble member of the exploited idiots who work hard, pay our taxes & don't make a pain in the butt of ourselves, that politicians would always know what Murdoch wanted and would smooth his path accordingly. The current links between the Tories & News International which are being exposed are no closer than those between Blair & Labour were. Tony flew half way round the world (at taxpayers expense?) to pay homage at the Court of King Rupert. In testimony last week it was helpfully confirmed that Tony's Europe policy was made in Wapping - not Downing Street. One document, also revealed last week, was a grovel from Gordon Brown pleading for the Sun to lay off & claiming mateship just days before the 2010 election. Just a few days afterwards the unelected emperor of the World is being ushered through the back door of No 10 to greet the new Prime Minister. Only the LibDems are untainted - despite huge efforts by NewsCorp to gain privilege access to Vince Cable when the BSkyB decision was his.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Politicians need us to have short memories

It was 1986 when Cecil Parkinson, Courtier of Queen Margaret of Finchley, started the de-regulation of UK Financial Services. Was it pure co-incidence that for most of the 20th century to that point the return on bank equity rose broadly in line with the growth of the UK economy [about 2%p.a.] but between 1986 & 2006 that return shot up to an annual average of 16%? I don't think so. Freed from constraint, & with the opportunity to make obscene levels of personal wealth for those at the top of the pile, the banks simply started to play roulette. Bankers bonuses are one of history's great thefts. A gigantic reward for failure. At long last shareholders are starting to flex their muscles & vote against such pay. But Government must do more. It is outrageous that Barclays Bank proposes a bonus pot of £2.1bn whilst spending only £700m on dividends.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

A missed opportunity budget

So now we have had the budget. The headlines were all about the so called 'Granny Tax' which is not a tax at all but a reduction in the age related allowance that was put in as a gimmick by Labour to avoid giving a decent basic pension. Long before you get to the average income level of about £26k it starts to be clawed back. And yes,my pension income is big enough to be affected by this & I don't mind. The rise in basic pension & other benefits are better & why should the retired be better off than those in work on a similar income? I don't have any of the expenses that my kids who are in the same £10k to £26k income bracket have to face. Nevertheless the budget is a hugely missed opportunity. The rise in stamp duty on mansions is trivial compared to the untouched and absurdly low Council Tax levied on properties worth millions. As Will Hutton says (Observer 25th March) "Anyone who believes that a 45% top rate will suddenly unleash a wave of dynamic entrepreneurialism needs to lie down in a darkened room". Meanwhile 7300 employees of AstraZeneca are to lose their jobs - presumably to pay for the two thirds increase in the Chief Executives remuneration. And just to bolster the delusions of grandeur that permeate the UK establishment we still spend more on defence than the police/the courts/the fire service/the prisons all put together.

Monday, 19 March 2012

50p is not 'clobbering'

What a shame it is that if you say the same thing often enough it becomes accepted wisdom. What a pity therefore that in her excellent piece "The one-trick coalition" [Observer 18th March] the estimable Heather Stewart uses the phrase " -- exodus of wealth creating entrepreneurs" in the context of the 50p tax. Similarly on BBC Breakfast a commentator reflecting on the tax said that the LibDems will find '---other ways of clobbering the rich'. If an extra 10p on people making over five times average earnings is 'clobbering' then I speak some different version of English. Doubtless some people making £150k+ per year do create wealth but the REAL wealth creators are the micro & small businesses that I deal with. They design & sell products around the world which are manufactured by similar sized firms in Britain. They each provide employment for perhaps between 8 & 20 people. Only the merest handful of Owners/Directors within these businesses get anywhere near £150000p.a. - many think themselves lucky to be 40% taxpayers. At the other end of the scale the Financial Services Industry has shed tens of thousands of jobs, seen share prices collapse and still thinks its executives deserve seven figure remuneration.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Time to respect the right to choose when to die

Tony Nicklinson had a massive stroke some 6yrs ago and is totally paralysed. All he can move is his eyes & blink but his brain is unimpaired. He cannot commit suicide [which is legal] by himself. Anyone that helps him may be charged with murder. He has recently [12th March] won a High Court ruling which will allow his case to be considered in open court. He doesn't want to go yet but what gives the likes of Ann Widdecombe, Baroness Finlay and their supporters the right to deny him the choice? Come to that what gives them the right to deny anyone that choice? Recently someone I knew died. His relatives were of the Widdicombe/Finlay school but were completely broken up by his suffering over the last couple of weeks of life despite the best palliative care that could be legally offered. I respect that. All I ask for is that my wish to just end it all at a time of my choosing is equally respected.

Immediately [c. 15.50 BBC News 12th March] the ruling was announced Baroness Finlay was on the TV arguing her usual case against assisted suicide. To many of us that case is threadbare. She pushed it further than usual by asserting that, if the Dutch experience [where assisted suicide is legal] was translated to the UK, there would be some 13000 such events here. This was presented as huge number but no evidence as to its origin was forthcoming. In reality there were 491348 deaths from all causes in the UK in 2009 [It hovers around half a million most years]. Twelve thousand of these were due to accidents.

Meanwhile Ann Widdecombe, whose views on assisted suicide are well known, had a headlined comment " If assisted suicide was put into law no granny would be safe" [Financial Times Magazine 10/11 March]. This reaches a new low in emotive distortion of the truth. She does not have a shred of evidence for that assertion. On the contrary all the evidence from countries, where the law is more sensible & compassionate than Widdicombe would allow, shows that her scaremongering is the opposite of the reality. The time is long overdue for the Law to recognise the consequences of advances in medicine over the last 50yrs and come up with a realistic mechanism giving freedom of choice to all.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Talent we can do without

The voices of the lobbyists threatening every kind of mass exodus & mayhem if the financial services industry is brought to heel are as shrill & persistent as ever. We must not fall for it. If one can find the time read 'The Hedge Fund Mirage - The Illusion of Big Money and Why it's too good to be true' by Simon Lack, published by Wiley. Just a couple of gems: "If all the money that's ever been invested in hedge funds had been put in Treasury bills instead the results would have been twice as good". For this spectacular achievement the rewards to the managers are indeed eye watering. Second gem says that from 1998 to 2010, once all the fees paid to those somehow involved in operating the funds have been factored in, the cumulative split was $9bn to investors and $440bn to managers and hangers on. Certainly the managers & hangers on are far from stupid but is theirs a talent that we really need?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Bonus bashing is NOT attacking wealth creation

Banker bashing (and CEO rewards in major businesses) continues to be much in the news. Much of the comment is about how to cut complex remuneration packages down to 'reasonable'. At a detail level some useful proposals are debated - including how do you define 'reasonable'. There are also some spirited defences of the current incentive system & resultant remuneration outcomes which include some valid comments. But the ALL miss the point. Few people would object to wealth creation. Few people would object to wealth creators getting rich. The problem is that, more often than not that is not what is happening. If it was we would see a fall in unemployment - not a rise & a growth in the economy. It has been said that we need a banking industry to oil the wheels of commerce. Of course we do but the banks are not lending to precisely those wheels. Instead we see that too many banking activities are for the benefit of the banking industry. Huge rewards are not 'earned' in the minds of ordinary citizens who struggle to get by, by shedding thousands of staff and seeing a share price tumble. Most of us do not get well paid for turning up at work and then getting triple pay whenever we do anything, be it good or bad. Then there is the ' we have to pay for scarce talent' myth. In a splendid letter to the FT of 11th Feb, Stella Pantelides points out if Boards had a Nominations Committee that was doing its job they would be identifying talent lower down the hierarchy who could increase the supply of potential CEOs. But that would dispel the 'scarcity' argument. Until these issues are effectively addressed bonus bashing is justified. I'm not holding my breath that George Osborne will deal with them

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

To live or die should be MY choice.

A 93yr old friend is dying a horrible and painful death. It was the end of November when it became clear that he was approaching the end but he still was mentally sharp and neither he nor his family wished for anything more than events taking their course. Those wishes were respected. He did not have to risk friends, family, carers, being prosecuted and having to jump through an array of 'safeguard' hoops in order to receive the care he needs. He has so far voluntarily succumbed to just over two months of constant pain despite the wonderful efforts of his hospice. For myself in a similar situation I have no doubt at all that I would have wished euthanasia as soon as it became clear there was no hope. My question is very simple. Who gives the Law & the opponents of euthanasia the right to deny me the respect for my wishes that is automatically given to my friend? We are constantly told that the issues surrounding changing the law to allow my wishes to be respected are 'complex'. They are not complex at all. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the opportunity that I seek would lead to slippery slopes and rapacious relatives getting rid of the tiresome elderly and all the rest of the completely spurious arguments presented by the 'all life is sacred' brigade [not so sacred of course when you send young people off to wars].

Friday, 3 February 2012

Whatever happened to 'Innocent ubtil proved guilty'

I can hear the smug cries of satisfaction & if Chris Huhne was indeed stupid enough to try & dodge, nearly 10yrs ago, a simple driving ban then OK. The law is the law even when it is silly & largely unenforced. But he's not been found guilty yet. And I wonder how many of those whose fingers will be pointed have themselves done the thing he is accused of. Of course the charge is not now a motoring one. It is perverting the course of justice which is indeed more serious but again not uncommon & when related to an initial relatively trivial offence surely does not warrant the display of self righteous condemnation that will surely ensue. Chris is going to defend the charge so there will be great public expenses as well. Doubtless I will now get taken to task for suggesting that speeding [we haven't been told exactly what speed] on the M11 late at night is 'trivial'. What happened to a sense of proportion? Especially for the LibDems speeding is up there with the worst of crimes, only equalled by daring to have a cigarette.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Scapegoat Fred

I have absolutely no sympathy for Fred Goodwin but I am also totally unimpressed with the pure window dressing associated with stripping him of his knighthood just weeks after an individual with a criminal record was awarded one. Hypocrisy rules OK. What about the luminaries on Fred's Board who either backed him, in which case they are just as guilty, or didn't realise what was going on, in which case they are the kind of incompetents that we can well do without. And what about the likes of Geoffrey Archer still hanging onto his peerage and so on and so on. What would REALLY hurt Fred, & the rest, would be to be stripped of their plush 'hello's'; 'goodbye's'; fat pensions & bonuses. Of course there are all sorts of legal issues if one attempted to do this. Since when has the law had any connection with justice? One thing is certain - the Tories will do nothing beyond ritual war dancing. Nick Clegg is arguing for higher taxes on the rich - cue cries of anguish & threats to take their talents abroad. Some might ask what talents? And add good riddance. Being pragmatic the arguments against fair taxation do not hold water. Both Obama, & [12yrs ago] George W Bush argue that no one should pay more than 30% of their income to Government. But in reality neither in the US or the UK is that happening. Only those on middle incomes pay that much. UK pensioners pay a marginal rate of about 60% as their Tax Free allowance gets progressively reduced. There are bagfuls of legal ways for the truly rich to pay very little. It has to stop.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Forgive me for weeping

Under the headline "CBI welcomes report on risks and rewards from climate change" todays reports: "Business leaders have applauded a Government report for highlighting the risks and rewards that climate change offers. DEFRA is right to highlight that, as well as the risks, there are opportunities to be had from adapting to climate change. For instance, the UK has much expertise it can sell in other countries, including advice on water efficiency, insurance and other financial products". Doesn't it occur to the CBI that we could and should ACTUALLY MAKE STUFF to deal with the risks & opportunities, & that might be more important than providing financial services.

Fair taxes - dream on

In a fascinating story buried in the House & Home section of the Financial Times about the buoyancy of the multimillion pound property market in the UK, a buying agent in central London, Simon Barnes, is quoted: "The wealthiest international buyers may have one nanny per child, a chauffeur, chef,personal trainer & nutritionist.Often this team travels with them". Salary costs for this squad are upwards of £150000 p.a. One property at £12million comes with additional mews & flat property linked to the main building to accommodate staff. The only problem that I have with any of this is the level of taxation that the people who can afford this stuff might escape. It would be good if someone who knew about such matters could enlighten us. Just on one issue an earlier post of mine [9th Jan] drew attention to the pathetic level of council tax incurred by such properties & the efforts of owners to avoid it. Like us ordinary mortals trying to escape paying less than 5p on something.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Devo - Max must not be an option

A recent YouGov poll shows that about a 60/40 majority of Scots want more devolution [Devo-Max] and a minority [40/60] want full independence. They are not stupid are they. The Financial Times [14th January] Looked at the issues. In summary Scotland receives a subsidy from the rest of the UK. [The University of Stirling reckons it's £4.5bn annually] Its economy has declined by 4% over the last 4yrs and is more sluggish than similar sized EU countries. Oil & gas revenue, which Alex Salmond thinks is his, has halved since 1999 & is predicted to be only a third of present levels by 2022. And what about these giant aircraft carriers that ALL UK taxpayers are paying for but which are largely being built in Scotland & the submarine base at Faslane? And what about the Banks? Salmond, whose skill as a politician leaves the UK cabinet & opposition for dead, thinks they are London's concern. When it was a Scot - Gordon Brown - who let them run riot in the first place !! So now we move to the emotional side. It is no surprise that the English are allegedly more enthusiastic for Scottish independence than the Scots. London based political pundits, Andrew Marr & Andrew Neil are Scots. Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Michael Gove, Danny Alexander, to name just a few, and a fistful of MPs representing English constituencies, and many others who have screwed up England are all Scots. I could live with this except that the Scots then endlessly parade themselves as victims of the wicked English. More devolution does not need a referendum and Devo Max must not be an option. If Scots want independence they can have it. All of it and not cherry pick the best bits.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

"Twas brillig and the slithy Gove did gyre and gimble in the schools" [with apologies to Lewis Caroll]

The Sunday papers were full of Education Secretary Michael Gove's bullying of parents, staff & governors of Downhills primary school all of whom overwhelmingly reject Gove's determination to force the school to become an Academy.

The Observer reports [8th January]: In January last year 92% of Downhills parents who returned a questionnaire said: "I am happy with my child's experience at this school." Yet the Secretary of State, using one of 50 powers he has awarded himself under new legislation since the coalition came to power, claims to know better and is involved in a battle to force it to do as he says and submit. The school has now called in lawyers and is accusing the Secretary of State of acting illegally. Downhills is just one example. David Wolfe, the barrister acting for the school, is also representing three others in similar disputes with Gove over attempts to force them to become academies.

This should come as no surprise - just as a huge warning. On the BBC about a year ago he said " -- we are taking [an approach] which is different. We trust teachers and we trust Heads" Oh yeah? Talking to the Policy Exchange before the General Election [17th March 2010] he said that if CfBIT, SERCO and anyone else wanted to set up a new school they will be allowed to. He has always intended to bring the profit motive into education.

Commenting on the story 'Shoutfromthebows', attended a speech by Gove at Haberdashers Aske & noted that that schools curriculum was " a straightforward description of the primary curriculum which I see week in week out in maintained schools" So there's a 'nil' difference to ponder. There may or may not be anything inherently wrong with academies - that is a separate argument. What is scary is the Ve haf vays of making you OBEY adopted by this man who belongs to a Party which pretends to believe in giving to ordinary people some control over their lives. Big Society - big joke - big con.

Gove's success in driving through change is fast making him a darling of the Conservative Right and the party's grassroots. He was recently awarded the title of politician of the year by ConservativeHome website, based on a poll of its readers. The one thing the Tory Right is afraid of is that Gove might have a big beast LibDem put alongside him. Be afraid, be very afraid & desert the LibDems for Tories at your peril.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Go after the REAL cheats.

Happy New Year. The piece of print media called the Daily Express, has got stuff all over it's front page about very entrepreneurial benefit exploiters making £60k+ a year.They are costing us poor taxpayers £15m a year. WOW. Of course this is wrong & should be corrected. But I wish I could understand why we poor bloody taxpaying infantry get so worked up about it. It plays into the hands of the REAL rip off merchants. Just one example of scores where we are being seriously ripped off by the rich & powerful.

Liberal Democrats calculate that some £750million is being lost every year in taxes when house purchases are hidden behind offshore companies. A one bedroom flat in the block called One Hyde Park I believe costs over £3.5m. The most expensive was reported at about £136m. Planning permission was granted for 86 apartments. About 60 have been sold - a significant number to overseas companies registered in Tax Havens. For example 25 apparently in the British Virgin Islands. Only 9 are paying Council Tax. Westminster City Council is trying to find out who owns the rest. The developers say they are not responsible for registering people for council tax. It seems the only way is for council officials to do a door to door survey - if they can get past the 'Security' at the entrance to the block.

So what is the huge burden of Council Tax that these poor rich people are not paying?
Council Tax valuations in Westminster ( and Blackpool) are as at 1991 property prices when Band H (the highest) values the property more than £320000. Currently, in Westminster, about 96.5% of properties for sale are in G & H. The Council Tax which is being avoided on One Hyde Park is just £1375.24 per annum.

In Blackpool, (which has the lowest average wage in England of just over £15000 p.a.), only about 10% of properties for sale are in G & H and the Council Tax charge on G & H properties is £ 3032 p.a.. Only those people in Blackpool living in a Band A,B,C, property pay what the Westminster millionaires should pay, but apparently don't i.e. £1375. This is a sick & disgusting story. One Nation? All in it together? Only in Tory fantasy land.

Where are you Daily Express?